Daughters and Dedications: Re-posting No. 57 of 100 Reasons Oxford Wrote the Shakespeare Works

Only three men received dedications of Shakespeare works. Each man had been engaged to (or was married to) one of Oxford’s daughters:

Elizabeth de Vere (1575-1627) was engaged to Southampton but married William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby

Henry Wriothesley, third earl of Southampton, to whom Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594) were dedicated, was then engaged to Oxford’s eldest daughter Elizabeth de Vere. He refused to marry her despite pressure from William Cecil, the girl’s grandfather and his guardian. Elizabeth de Vere married William Stanley, earl of Derby at Greenwich Palace on 26 January 1595, when A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the view of many scholars, was performed for the guests.

The only other “Shakespeare” work dedicated to a named individual (I thus omit the “Mr. W.H.” in the Sonnets of 1609. whom I believe to be Southampton) was the First Folio in 1623, with thirty-six plays in over nine hundred pages, offered to “THE MOST NOBLE And INCOMPARABLE PAIRE OF BRETHREN”:

William Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke (1580-1630)

William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, who had been engaged in 1597 to Oxford’s second daughter, Bridget de Vere; and

Philip Herbert, earl of Montgomery (William’s brother), who married Oxford’s youngest daughter, Susan de Vere, in 1604.

The Folio of 1623 appeared nineteen years after Oxford’s death and seven years after Shakspere’s death.  The introductory matter, supervised by Ben Jonson (who also wrote its main epistles), never explicitly identifies the Warwickshire man; instead, it contains one reference to the dramatist as “sweet Swan of Avon” and a separate mention of thy Stratford moniment,” leaving it to people in the future to conclude that Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon was the great author. It is upon this shaky foundation that an entirely  fictional “biography” has been built.

Philip Herbert the first Earl of Montgomery (1584-1650) at age 25 in 1609

Oxfordian researcher Ruth Loyd Miller called the Shakespeare folio “a family affair” that began with the marriage of Susan de Vere and Philip Herbert during the 1604-05 Christmas season, six months after Oxford’s reported death on 24 June 1604.  Court festivities for the wedding included performances of seven “Shakespeare” plays, an unspoken tribute to the absent author.

The first two plays were “The Moor of Venice” (Othello) and The Merry Wives of Windsor.  Two more were performed, before and after the main event:

26 December: Measure for Measure

27 December: Wedding of Susan de Vere and Philip Herbert

28 December: The Comedy of Errors

In January the performances continued with Love’s Labour’s Lost, hosted by Southampton, followed by Henry the Fifth and The Merchant of Venice, the latter presented twice.

Susan de Vere dancing in Ben Jonson’s “Masque of Blackness” on 6 January 1605 at Whitehall in the Old Banqueting House

Also presented was Masque of Blackness by Jonson at Whitehall Palace; its performers included the bride and groom, Susan and Philip; Elizabeth de Vere and her husband, Derby; and Bridget de Vere’s former fiancé William Herbert, earl of Pembroke.

“This was the beginning of a long and intimate association between the daughters of the Earl of Oxford and their families, and Ben Jonson, climaxed in 1623 with the publication of the First Folio,” Miller writes. Jonson remained “particularly close” to Susan de Vere and the Herbert brothers, Pembroke and Montgomery, with Pembroke bestowing on Jonson twenty pounds every New Year “with which to purchase books.”

It was also the start of “an active, determined and intense campaign by Pembroke for the position of Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household,” Miller continues, noting the position “had purview over the office and properties of the Revels Office” and those of the Lord Chamberlain’s Company, now the King’s Men.

Jonson published a folio of his own works (the first of its kind in England) in 1616, listing “Shakespeare” as having acted in two of his plays, Every Man in His Humour of 1598 and Sejanus of 1603 (without mentioning him as a writer).

Ben Jonson’s 1616 Folio of his Collected Works

Jonson’s costly folio was dedicated to Pembroke, his patron, who apparently financed it; in addition, Pembroke arranged at that time for Jonson to receive an annual pension of 100 marks. Jonson’s folio was issued just a few months after the death of Shakspere in April 1616, an event that occurred without any public comment. The identification by Jonson that year of Shakespeare an actor would be repeated in the front matter of the Folio of 1623 as “The Names of the Principals Actors in all these Places” – a further attempt to emphasize the Bard as strictly a theatrical man. It should be noted that the 1623 Shakespeare folio included only his plays; conspicuously, it contained none of the poems and sonnets, nor any mention of Southampton, to whom the poetry had been dedicated.

In 1621 Pembroke temporarily increased Jonson’s pension to 200 pounds.  Having become the Chamberlain, now “all [Pembroke] wanted to do was retain” his position, Miller writes, “and under no conditions was he willing to accept more lucrative posts unless he might leave his place to his brother Montgomery.” The logical deduction is that Pembroke was fiercely committed to publishing Shakespeare’s plays in folio.

The Shakespeare dedications all lead back to Edward de Vere and his daughters and other relatives. To repeat Miller’s phrase, what we have here is “a family affair.”

[This post is now no. 99 of the book 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil.)

The Earl of Southampton Described as a “Prince of Illustrious Lineage” after the Queen’s Visit to Oxford University in 1592

In 1999 the British scientist and Shakespeare authorship scholar John M. Rollet, who died in 2015, reported evidence that Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton (1573-1624) was regarded at court as the son of Queen Elizabeth. Among this evidence is a narrative poem in Latin, commemorating her Majesty’s weeklong visit during September 1592 to Oxford University, in which Southampton is called Dynasta – defined in the sixteenth century as a hereditary prince or ruler of great power, which would make him the queen’s successor by blood and heir to the Tudor dynasty.

Henry Wriothesley
Third Earl Southampton

Apollinis et Musarum Eukita Eidyllia or Worshipful Idylls of Apollo and the Muses, was written by John Sanford (1565-1629), chaplain of Magdalene College. Published in twenty-four pages on 10 October 1592 by Joseph Barnes, the university’s printer, the two-part poem primarily focuses on the nobles of her Majesty’s retinue who attended a banquet at the college in their honor.

“Apollo and the Muses, exiled from Greece, make their way to Oxford, encounter the Queen, and each Muse offers a prayer for the welfare of her realm,” Dana F. Sutton writes about the first part of the poem. The second part, a description of the Magdalene banquet, is filled with the flattery to which Elizabethan courtiers were accustomed; and after fulsomely praising Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex (1566-1601), Sanford abruptly offers an exceptional description of Southampton:

Post hunc insequitur clara de stirpe Dynasta.

Lure suo dives quem South-Hamptonia magnum

Vendicat heroem…

Rollet found these lines “truly astonishing … I could hardly believe my eyes when I read them and tried to make sense of what they meant … It is the word ‘Dynasta’ which is so astonishing, because its meaning is precise: a lord inheriting great power, a prince, a ruler …

“It is a rare word in Latin, and is taken over directly from the Greek. Its root is the same as that of ‘dynastic’ and means ‘possessing power’ or “great power.’ The only rulers or princes ‘possessing great power’ in Tudor England were the Tudors, culminating in Elizabeth. To call Southampton ‘Dynasta’ – or in modern English, a ‘Dynast’ – can properly mean only one thing: that he was held to be in the line of succession of the Tudor dynasty.”

Charlotte Stopes translated the lines in 1922 as “After him [Essex] followed a Prince of a distinguished race, whom, rich in her right, Southampton blazons as a great hero.”

Rollet consulted with experts before arriving at a more specific version: “After him there follows a hereditary Prince of illustrious lineage, whom as a great hero the rich House of Southampton lawfully lays claim to as one of its own.”

If Henry were the natural son of the second Earl of Southampton and his countess, Rollet writes, there would have been no need for the House of Southampton to legally claim him; but if he were the natural son of Queen Elizabeth and yet had been effectively adopted and accepted by the second Earl, he would be simultaneously a Tudor prince and the lawful third Earl of Southampton.

“The writer of the verses chose a rare word to convey his precise meaning,” Rollet concludes, “and he would only have felt safe in doing so if it was widely believed among well-placed people that Southampton was indeed the Queen’s son.” He notes that the poem was an official publication of the university, with its coat of arms on the title page; therefore its authorities had “approved this graceful reference to Southampton’s supposed status” and it “would be expected to bring credit to the university if he ever ascended the throne.”

Within the poem a recurrent theme is the prospect of Elizabeth’s death. (She had just entered her sixtieth year.) “Late may the gray hairs sprinkle her temples, the wrinkles of years wither her brow, or a staff support her limbs broken by old age,” a Greek god declares. “Have no anxiety, sovereign, a sure place [after death] is readied for you,” another tells her, adding, “Yet I shall pray that you be late in coming into this kingdom [of heaven].”

During the early 1590s, there was increasing anxiety over the prospect of Elizabeth dying without a designated successor. This growing worry seems part of Sanford’s description of her visit and may explain his bold description of Southampton as a Tudor heir whose presence would resolve the looming crisis.


John M. Rollet first presented “Was Southampton regarded as the Son of the Queen?” at the 1999 Shakespeare Oxford Conference in Boston. After adding to the paper twice, he included his findings in William Stanley as Shakespeare: Evidence of Authorship by the Sixth Earl of Derby (MacFarland, 2015). Sanford’s lines comprise one of three strands of evidence showing “beyond a reasonable doubt that Southampton was regarded in the early 1590s as having a status appropriate to a son of the Queen.”

Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton was officially born on 6 October 1573. At age eight he became the eighth and final royal ward of Elizabeth in the custody of William Cecil Lord Burghley. (Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, had become the first royal ward in 1562 at age twelve.) When Wriothesley turned sixteen in 1589, he came under pressure to agree to an arranged marriage with Elizabeth Vere, Burghley’s granddaughter.

(Oxford had succumbed to similar pressure from Cecil by marrying his daughter, Anne Cecil, in December 1571. After Elizabeth Vere was born in 1575, he denied his paternity and separated from his wife until late 1581, after which they had two more daughters. Anne died in June 1588.)

Modern Biographies of Southampton:

Charlotte Stopes: The Life of Henry, Third Earl of Southampton, 1922

A.L. Rowse: Shakespeare’s Southampton, 1965

G.P.V. Akrigg: Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton, 1968

The Queen’s Visit to Oxford during 22-28 September 1592 was the second and final one. (The first occurred in 1566, when de Vere had received his MA at sixteen.) Southampton had been incorporated MA in August before the royal visit and was among the noblemen accompanying her. “By now,” Akrigg writes, the young earl “was spending a good part of his time in attendance at the Court.”

The Full Text of Apollonis et Musarum Eukita Eidyllia or The Idylls of Apollo and the Muses on the Most Auspicious and Welcome Arrival of Queen Elizabeth is online in the original Latin and an English translation by Dana F. Sutton at The Philological Museum.

Translations of the Lines Describing Southampton vary according to authors, presented here with the “Dynasta” versions in bold italics:

Stopes: “After him followed a Prince of a distinguished race, whom (rich in her right) Southampton blazons as a great hero. No youth there present was more beautiful or more brilliant in the learned arts than this young prince of Hampshire, although his face was yet scarcely adorned by a tender down.”

(Stopes mistakenly attributed the poem to Philip Stringer, a Cambridge man who attended Burghey during the queen’s visit to Oxford and wrote his own Latin account of the event, which survives in manuscript and is presented by John Nichols in The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, Volume 3, 1823.)

Rowse: He entirely ignores the Latin lines with “Dynasta” and simply reports, “Southampton is singled out for the characteristics by which Shakespeare describes him: his physical beauty and the cheeks hardly yet adorned with down.” (Only Rowse would know why he ignored the most striking part of Sanford’s description of Henry Wriothesley.)

Akrigg: “After him there follows a lord of lofty line whom rich Southampton claims in his own right as a great hero. There was present no one more comely, no young man more outstanding in learning, although his mouth scarcely yet blooms with tender down.”

Sutton: “After him follows a magnate of high degree, a man whom by right Southampton claims as her great lord. No gentleman more comely was present, no youth more distinguished in the arts, though the down scarce grows on his gentle face.” [Magnate – a person of great influence or importance or standing.]

It should be noted that Rollet translated “Dynasta” as it would have been understood during the Elizabethan age, when Latin was commonly written and spoken at the universities, and not as scholars of the twentieth century would translate the word.

Rollet’s Evidence that Southampton was regarded as the son of the queen also includes (1) a letter from Philip Gawdy in May 1593 indicating that Southampton was expected to be made a Knight of the Garter, at an age when only the monarch’s kinsmen had previously been elected; and (2) a English poem in 1593 by George Peele, indicating that Southampton at nineteen shared immortality with the queen, indicating “a very special relationship to her indeed.” [The poem has a short Latin ending with “Stirps generosa rosa” or “The offspring of the [Tudor] rose is noble.”

Note: From what I can tell, Rollet continued to believe (based on the Sonnets) that Edward de Vere and Queen Elizabeth were the natural parents of Southampton; however, he was careful to present his evidence “as an uncommitted investigator,” as he writes on p. 66 of his book about William Stanley as Shakespeare.

A Timeline of Events in the Life of Henry Wriothesley, second Earl of Southampton (1545 – 1581): Was he the Real Father of the “Goodly Boy” Born on Oct. 6, 1573?

Here is a Timeline of significant events in the life of Henry Wriothesley, second Earl of Southampton (1545 – 1581), mostly in relation to his imprisonment for 18 months in the Tower of London ending on May 1, 1573. A question is whether the earl had any visits in the Tower with his wife; that is, was the “goodly boy” born Oct 6, 1573 conceived after such a visit in January 1573, or, instead, was some other man the actual father? Some of the letters mentioned in this Timeline were obtained courtesy of Christopher Paul. At some point I’ll try to put up full texts of the letters.

2ND Earl of Southampton
1545 – 1581

April 24. 1545 – Thomas Wriothesley’s son Henry Wriothesley, future second Earl of Southampton, is christened “Henry” in honor of King Henry VIII.

November 1, 1545 – Thomas Wriothesley’s daughter Elizabeth Wriothsley marries Thomas Radcliffe, third Earl of Sussex (who will become a father figure to Edward de Vere). She will die in 1554.

February 16, 1547 – Thomas Wriothsley is one of the executors of King Henry’s will; and in accordance with the dead king’s wishes he is created Earl of Southampton, first of the new creation. He is relieved of his duties as Lord Chancellor.
April 12, 1550 – Edward de Vere, the future 17th Earl of Oxford, is born at Castle Hedingham in Essex (unless the official record is incorrect).

July 30, 1550 – Thomas Wriothesley, first Earl of Southampton of this creation, dies at nearly forty-five; and his son Henry Wriothesley, age five, becomes second Earl of Southampton. He passes into the custody of the royal Master of Wards. His mother, the widowed Countess of Southampton, is a devout Roman Catholic; and during the five years under Queen Mary [1553-1558], she will raise the boy as a Catholic. His country seat at Titchfield will become a bastion of Catholicism.

November 1558 – Elizabeth Tudor, twenty-five, becomes Queen Elizabeth I of England.

February 19, 1566 – The second Earl of Southampton, twenty-one, marries Mary Browne, age thirteen. She is daughter of Anthony Browne, first Viscount Montague, whose mansion at Cowdray is another bastion of Catholicism.

February 1568 – The second earl of Southampton settles his estates and his now master of his own affairs and a married man.


February 1569 – The Earl of Sussex writes to Sir William Cecil asking for his “helping hand for the young Earl of Southampton [whose Catholicism must be worrying the government] that he may be charitably be won than severely corrected.”

Summer 1569 – Queen Elizabeth on progress spends one night at Tichfield as Southampton’s guest.

Southampton & Montague Attempt to Flee

November 1569 – Northern Rebellion of the Catholic earls begins.

December 1569 – Southampton and his father-in-law Montague, who had both been involved in treasonable plans with the rebellion leaders, set sail for Flanders. But contrary winds force them back to England, where they are greeted with orders from the Queen to come immediately to Court to explain. [Akrigg, p. 8]

[Queen Elizabeth would be furious with the Second Earl of Southampton, given that her father King Henry the Eighth had created the earldom in the first place and, too, given the irony that the earl’s wealth had come from the dissolving and plundering of the Catholic monasteries.]


[The Queen and her ministers are anxious to come to an amicable agreement with Southampton and Montague. They smooth things over and Montague is appointed a Joint Lord Lieutenant of his county, as evidence of royal trust in him. Montague would follow through on his commitment, keeping his Catholic religion while never again conspiring against Elizabeth, who would point to him as evidence that she could get along with Catholics so long as they were loyal to her. In fact he will pledge his undying defense of her at Tilbury in 1588, when the Spanish armada is arriving and she reviews the army there.]


May 1570 – John Felton pins a copy of the Bull of Pius V, excommunicating Elizabeth, on the door of the Bishop of London’s house. The Pope has ordered subjects “that they presume not to obey her, or her monitions, Mandates, and Laws” under pain of excommunication. This poses an internal crisis for the Earl of Southampton.

[The earl seeks out John Leslie, Bishop of Ross, agent in London of Mary Queen of Scots, now in her English captivity. He asks the bishop whether he should, or should not, continue to serve his queen. The interview takes place secretly at night, in the seclusion of the Lambeth marshes, but is cut short by the arrival of the watch. So far the Crown is unaware of this meeting.]

June 16, 1570 – Council members Lord William Howard, Sir Francis Knowles, and Sir William Cecil write to Beecher, below. (The date below may be incorrect; this is from the Losely Papers, 229)


June 18, 1570 – The Privy Council orders Southampton arrested and confined incommunicado in the house of Beecher, Sheriff of London. He is “to allow him to have conference with none save such his domestic attendants as he should have selected to wait on him; that he should neither write nor receive any letters which should not be subjected to the Sheriff’s inspection; that he might be allowed to walk in the Sheriff’s garden in the absence of strangers” provide that the sheriff or one of the sheriff’s trusted servants is with him. [Losely Papers, 230]

July 14, 1570 – Anthony Montague writes from his house at Cowdray to Mr. More, begging him to inquire of his son-in-law if he can do anything more in his behalf.


July 15, 1570 – The Privy Council has has Southampton transferred to the custody of William More at his country home in Losely. The Council instructs More to induce the earl to join in household devotions using the Book of Common Prayer in conformity with the Church of England. [Southampton will finally comply.] The plague is raging in London and the Second Earl of Southampton is in poor health; the Queen has him moved to More’s custody.

[Losely Papers comment under 15 July 1570: “The reports of Mr. More to the Council on this subject are curiously minute and detailed. The uniting in the Common Prayer was considered at that period a sort of test of the loyalty of suspected persons.” Montague “exerted all his influence” to obtain the earl’s release; “nevertheless he remained in durance at Losely for three years, when he was permitted to remove to the seat of the Viscount at Cowdray in Sussex.” (But that period would include the earl’s eighteen months of imprisonment.)

July 16, 1570 – The Earl of Southampton writes from London to Mr. More. He has sent letters from the Council that “I am appointed to continue with you for a time.” He’d rather be at his own house; “otherwise I am glad they have placed me with so honest a gentleman and my friend; and so desiring to come to you tomorrow, I bid you farewell with hardy commendations to your wife.” (Losely 231)

August 10, 1570 – Sheriff Beecher writes to Mr. More about sicknesses in London. (It may or may not have been the plague, though.)

October 18, 1570 – The Council writes to Mr. More desiring to be informed by private letter from him if the Earl of Southampton is attending Common Prayer in his house; “and in case he have not so done already, then we require you, as of yourself, to move and persuade him thereunto, and of that he shall do or hath done, and shall answer thereupon, we pray you advertise us with convenient speed.” This is signed from Wyndes (Windsor?) by W. North, F. Bedford, R. Leicester, W. Howard, F. Knollys, James Crofts, W. Cecil and Walter Mildmay. [ Losely Manuscripts 233]

[MR. MORE REPLIES: He told the earl to have Common Prayer twice a day in his house; the earl said he “had no disposition to come out of his chamber to pray, but rather to occupy himself in prayer, thinking it to be no great difference to do the one or the other, and therefore desired me to think that he did not absent himself from the same as of one that condemned (?) the service, for not only he had usually Common Prayer in his own house,” but he also did the same at Court. Mr. More was determined; the earl finally came to service and stayed from beginning to end,” and he has expressed willingness. More is still persuading, so the earl is again willing to be present for service. And so prayer continues.]

October 31, 1570 – Viscount Montague writes from Cowdray to Mr. More that his daughter purposes to make suit for her husband’s liberation. “I cannot a little marvel that my Lord of Southampton having dealt and written as lately you know he hath, no resolutions follow of his release.” He says his daughter had had cause to hope the best. “If there appears to you no likelihood of his discharge, I pray you send me word by this bearer what you think, to the end his wife may stay no longer, but for discharge of her duty to make suit as she may. I trust and make myself assured he hath and doth not want your best means to further him.”

[MR. MORE WRITES A DRAFT LETTER TO LEICESTER – (Indicating in so many words that he fears the Earl of Southampton may commit suicide.) He understands that Leicester and others have interceded with the Queen for the earl’s enlargement. “He is fallen into that heaviness and pensiveness of mind as that I see it will either breed in him some present sickness or some great inconvenience hereafter. I have used the best persuasions I can to stay him from the same, but it little prevails, and his answer is that his restraint of liberty is very painful to him, because he doubts the same to be such discomfort to my Lady his wife as may be to her great harm, yet the indignation and displeasure of her Highness which he thinketh vehemently turns against him, because he says his friends’ earnest labor unto her Grace in his behalf can take no better place, doth so far pass the other in grief of mind unto him, as that his life seemeth to him very tedious. Of which I thought it my duty to advertise your Lordship, because I perceive his hope of qualification of the Queen’s Majesty’s displeasure against him rests chiefly in you, by whose good care if he may effect the same, it shall not only be greatly to his comfort but also bind him in honor to be at your commandment during his life.”


November 1570 – Southampton is freed from More’s custody.

April 1571 – Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford enters the House of Lords.

September 1571 – The government learns the full scope of the Ridolfi Plot, which had been simmering for a year, centered on the Duke of Norfolk, who was to raise an English Catholic army, release Mary Queen of Scots and then, with help from a Spanish invasion force, capture London and put Mary on Queen Elizabeth’s throne.

[The Bishop of Ross was deeply involved. He is arrested and learns that the Duke’s secretaries incriminated him. He is threatened with death on the scaffold, panics and tells all, spilling the story of meeting Southampton in the Lambeth marshes. Akrigg: “An English earl who had asked a Roman Catholic bishop whether or not he should obey the Queen had to be severely punished.” Elizabeth, at this point, would be so enraged at the earl that she would just as soon have him tried for high treason and executed. There is apparently no trial, however.]

October 1571

Late October 1571 – The second Earl of Southampton, twenty-six, is arrested and placed in the Tower of London, where he will spend the next eighteen months.

[Akrigg only speculates that the earl, at his own expense, could “maintain and furnish a chamber and could occasionally receive a license for a visit by his kin, but it was a grim life all the same.” He does not state what “kin” ever did receive permission to visit him, although one visitor near the end will be his father-in-law Montague.]

April 4, 1572 – The Second Earl of Southampton writes to Burghley from the Tower. [CSPD 1547-1580, Vol. I, p. 439; Vol. LXXXVI]. He hopes that through Burghley’s favor he may be able to obtain the Queen’s good will. He denies charges of misconduct while in prison. He requests to be restored to his liberty and Her Majesty’s favor. He has suffered “no small grief” that reports of his conduct in the prison are such that “thereby her Majesty’s displeasure should be more and more kindled against me (the heavy burden whereof to my great grief and discomfort I have now long time sustained).” This is a long letter, rambling on, mostly about the charges of bad behavior but also about the Queen’s negative attitude toward him, which he hopes will change.

April 20, 1572 – Mary Browne, Countess of Southampton, writes to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, praying to be allowed to join her husband, who is a prisoner in the Tower. [Dudley Papers, DU/Vol. II, 21, f. 78; the original is archived at Longleat House; it is difficult to read and we have transcribed only the second half – courtesy of Christopher Paul, transcriber.] She writes from her father’s house, signing as “Your assured poor kinswoman, M Southampton.”

July 15, 1572 – William Cecil Lord Burghley is made Lord Treasurer.

July 1572 – Mary Browne, Countess of Southampton writes to Burghley asking his advice. Her mother in law [the earl’s mother] wants her to make suit to the Queen’s Majesty on behalf of her husband. “Marry, perceiving by my Lord my father, as also from my Lady Clinton, how unprepared the Queen’s Majesty is as yet to receive our suit, and how unwilling sundry of my Lords of the Council be that I should as yet press her Majesty therein, I can hardly resolve what to do, especially for that I fear my absence will be used by some as a matter to my discredit …” She wants to know what he thinks she should do. She signs it Your Lordship’s poor friend and cousin, M. Southampton (Cotton MS.)

July 16, 1572 – The Countess writes again to Burghley, saying her husband in the Tower is “sick I fear of a burning fever, as also troubled with a swelling in his stomach, which he was never till this time trouble withal.” She continues: “Therefore I beseech you for God’s sake, be a mean for some more liberty for him, and that I may have recourse to him to attend him in his sickness, if his full enlargement [liberty] will be not obtained.” [Clearly she has not yet been allowed to visit him in the Tower.]

“Truly, my Lord, if he be no better attended now in his sickness than commonly he is, I much fear his life will not be long. The necessity of the present cause compelleth me to be thus earnest for liberty to go to him, which I hope shall not be denied him being sick, and have been granted to others in health. Thus expecting your Lordship’s answer of some good comfort upon the which my Lord his well-doing resteth…”

August 1572 – St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestants in France – another reason for the Queen and Burghley to be afraid for their lives, and for the Queen to continue her fury against the earl of Southampton.

December 22, 1572 – An informant writes to the Duke of Alva, “The Earl of Arundel has been released … There are good hopes, too, of his son-in-law Lord Lumley, and the Earl of Southampton.”

January 1573 – Elizabeth visits Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth. Oxford is with her on the visit. (ARCHBISHOP VISIT NUMBER ONE)


February 13, 1573 – The Earl of Southampton writes to Lord Burghley that he had been told by his wife and father-in-law how much kindness he owed him, and how grateful he was.

[There is no evidence that either the Countess of Southampton or Viscount Montague had visited the Tower and gave him this information in person; on the contrary, if either one had visited, there would be a record of it, as there will be a record when Montague does visit in the following month.]

Other notes on this letter of 13 Feb 1573 to Burghley:
The earl begins, “Understanding my very good Lord as well by my wife, as also especially from my Lord Montague how many ways I am beholding and bound in good will unto your Lordship…”

He is desperate for the “recovery of her Majesty’s favor.” He has enclosed or attached “the form of a letter which I wish to be delivered to her Majesty,” and he is “beseeching your Lordship” to read it and change it as he thinks best “and for the delivery thereof so to appoint either by my wife (if so her Majesty would like best to accept it) or else by your Lordship’s good means, so as she may read and peruse the same. “ He closes “from my wearisome prison.”

February 14, 1573 – The Earl of Southampton writes to the Lords of the Council – a humble letter of submission and entreaty that they would testify to the Queen his wish to do dutiful and faithful service to her, and help him to regain her favor, without which liberty would be worse than bondage. [Landsdowne MSS 16/23]

[Note: The earl gives no indication that he is aware of his wife’s pregnancy. She would be five or six weeks along by now. Perhaps she herself doesn’t know yet that she is pregnant. ]

[In this letter of 14 Feb 1573 the earl speaks of “the continuance of my misery as specially the previous and heavy answer of her Majesty given to my poor wife after her long suit [indicating that her pleas to be able to visit him in the Tower have been rejected] and travail that the sore of her Majesty’s opinion towards me is not either cured or by any my so aforesaid means removed” – confirming that in fact the Queen loathes this man who would have supported her murder.

[It has been said that at no time was the Queen more afraid and angry than she was at the time of the northern rebellion of Catholic earls, and her fierce retribution included the order to Sussex to hang several hundred men who had joined the rebellion. Her anger at the second earl of Southampton would have been part of the Queen’s overall emotional reaction that must have lingered long, fueled also by the recent St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France.]

After humble begging, he refers to “the 16 months close imprisonment” that he has endured so far – the phrase “close imprisonment” referring, at the very least, to his relative isolation in the Tower without having been allowed any visitors including his wife and father-in-law. Also, if the Countess has discovered her pregnancy in just the past week, she may have made a special plea to visit her husband and have conjugal relations with him, to try to cover up her adultery.]

February 14-March 30, 1573 – There is no letter pleading with the Council for the earl’s release because of his wife’s pregnancy. Certainly this would be a factor in considering whether to release him or not; unless, of course, she had become pregnant by some other man.

(To Arrange for His Release)

March 30, 1573 – Lord Montague is licensed to confer with his son-in-law “touching matters of law and the use of his living.”
The conference must be “in the Lieutenant’s presence,” that is, in the presence of the Lieutenant of the Tower. [The record of this visit, which required licensing by the Privy Council, makes it highly unlikely that the earl had ever received other visits, which surely would have been recorded if not requiring license. In fact, for example, visits to the Third Earl of Southampton in the Tower during 1601-1603 were recorded and such records are extant.]

At stake for Montague and his daughter is the danger of scandal, not to mention the danger of the Elizabethan government getting angry at them. This holds true for the second earl also.

[March 30, 1573 – By now the Countess of Southampton is most probably nearing three months of her pregnancy with the “goodly boy” to be born October 6, 1573; that is, conception for a normal nine-month pregnancy would have occurred on or about January 6, 1573.

[Given the lack of evidence that the Countess of Southampton had ever visited her husband in the Tower during his imprisonment, two tentative conclusions are inevitable: (1) the Countess had committed adultery and had become pregnant by another man, and (2) her father’s visit to her husband in the Tower was to inform him of the situation and explain to him that the Council, or Burghley, will release him from the Tower if he agrees to accept the forthcoming child as his own.

[Hereafter the Crown will keep the earl under strict supervision and control, again using William More of Losely, but also using Lord Montague as a poster child for loyal Catholic subjects. Montague is pledging utter loyalty to the Crown under the threat of his own imprisonment, but he would also want to avoid the scandal of his daughter as an adulteress, so his compliance is doubly assured.]

March 31, 1573 – At Greenwich – Acts of the Privy Council – A letter to the Lieutenant of the Tower signifying her Majesty’s pleasure “for more liberty of the Earl of Southampton and Sir Henry Percy, Knight, and that he should consign the said Earl to Mr. Moore.”
April 1573 – There is nothing to report about Southampton so far.



May 5, 1573 – THE COUNCIL GIVES MR. MORE PERMISSION TO ALLOW SOUTHAMPTON’S WIFE, FRIENDS AND SERVANTS TO VISIT HIM [at More’s home], to allow them to ride out together, and even to visit Dogmarsfield, the house he is rebuilding. But Mr. More must go with them. He must return to Mr. More’s house the same night. “And so desiring you hereof not to fail,” the Council tells More.

[This appears to be the first time the Earl of Southampton and the Countess of Southampton have been together since before his imprisonment.]

May 5, 1573 – “Whereas, upon the humble submission of the earl of Southampton, the Queen’s Majesty’s gracious pleasure was, that he should be set at more liberty, her highness hath made special choice of you with whom he might for the for the time remain, till some further order be taken: which we have thought good to signify unto you, desiring you as well to permit unto him the access of my lady his wife, his other friends and servants which shall repair unto him, as otherwise suffer him to go some time abroad [beyond his estate] with them for taking the air, so that it be with your liking and in your company.”



October 6, 1573 – Southampton writes to William More that God has sent him “a goodly boy.”

“After my most hardy commendations, both to you and your good wife: Although it so happed by the sudden sickness of my wife, that we could not by possibility have her present as we desired, yet have I thought good to impart unto you such comfort as God hath sent me after all my long troubles, which is that this present morning, at three o’clock, my wife was delivered of a goodly boy (God bless him!) the which, although it was not without great peril to them both for the present, yet now I thank God, both are in good state. If your wife will take the pains to visit her, we shall be mighty glad of her company; and so, with my hardy commendations to your son Polsted and his wife, and to good Mr. Soundar, if he be with you, I end for this time, bidding you hardy farewell. From Cowdray, this present Tuesday 1573. Your assured friend, H. Southampton.” [Losely Manuscripts, 240]

[It would seem the Earl has taken pains to avoid writing that the “goodly boy” is in fact his son and heir to the Southampton earldom. There are no other surviving letters, from or to Viscount Montague, Mr. More, the Countess and the Earl of Southampton himself.]


“It is strange that there has been preserved no record of his baptism … There appears to be no later allusion to the godparents of the young lord … The Registers of Tichfield for that period are not extant. We know very little about the young lord’s childhood. The first is in the will of his grandmother, the Lady Jane, dated 26 July 1574; by it she left various bequests to ‘my Son’s son, Harry, Lord Wriothesley.’ This gives us at least the clue to his baby-name, and a reference to his baby expectations.” — Charlotte Stopes writes this in her 1922 biography of the third earl, indicating that the boy was being called ‘Harry’ in honor of King Henry VIII, known as Great Harry [Wouldn’t this be odd for a Catholic family?] and, perhaps, that the ‘expectations’ for him were that he himself will become a king.

(12-18 MONTHS)

[“Quite apart from the powerful disincentive to psychological involvement caused by the high infant mortality rate, most upper-class parents, and many middle- and lower-class ones, saw relatively little of their children because of the common practice of ‘fostering out.’ In the upper classes, babies were put out to wet-nurse at birth, usually away from home, for between twelve and eighteen months … Not only were the infants of the landed, upper-bourgeois and professional classes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sent out to hired wet-nurses for the first twelve to eighteen months, but thereafter they were brought up mainly by nurses, governesses and tutors.” – Lawrence Stone, “The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800]

[Therefore we consider that the “goodly boy” born on October 6, 1573 is now put out to wet-nurse for twelve to eighteen months or until October 1574 up to as late as April or May 1575.]

JULY 1574: The earl’s mother dies; in her will she names her son’s new son Harry. Meanwhile, the Queen grants the earl a small office, giving him a sign of favor for his new loyalty. She makes him Commissioner of the Peace for his shire and he makes a survey of its defenses.

SEPT 1574: The earl appears to be acting bizarrely. He is now impoverishing himself, lavishing funds upon the building of his great new mansion at Dogmersfield, and, too, maintaining a much larger retinue than needed. He is recklessly bankrupting himself, as if he cared more for his posthumous image than for his current life.

From here on the earl and his wife the Countess are quarreling and reconciling, back and forth.

1577: The earl, upset at his wife’s intimacy with a man named Donsame, forbids her to ever see him again. When her affair actually began is unknown to me. Had it begun while her husband was in the Tower?

JAN 1580: The earl learns that his wife has been with Mr. Donesame at her father’s home of Cowdray. He now knows, if he has not known earlier or all along, that the Countess and the commoner Mr. Donesame are lovers.

The earl breaks with his wife and with her family. The Countess is banished from her husband’s home and grounds. She goes to live at one of his Hampshire residences. She is kept from here on under close surveillance. She is permitted to have carefully selected guests only on occasion.

FEB 1580: The Privy Council records that the servants of the two households, the Montagues and the Wriothesleys, are quarreling – as with the Montagues and Capulets.

MARCH 21, 1580: The Countess writes to her father Montague claiming that one Thomas Dymocke has taken over her husband’s house and his life. [I do not know exactly when Dymocke entered the picture, but obviously it was before now.] She blames Dymocke for her husband’s rage at her.

[And in 1598 she will claim that Henry the Third Earl of Southampton “never was kind to me.” In Oxford’s world “kind” is a loaded word, that means not only “nice,” etc., but kindred.]

JAN 16, 1581: The second earl is imprisoned [not sure when he is released] in consequence of the new Act against Catholics. His health has been declining and it will continue to decline as the government puts more pressure on him.

AUGUST 1581: The Council learns that the earl was in communication with Jesuit martyr Campion, through Thomas Dymock. The earl is now under increasing strain.

OCT 4, 1581: The earl dies at his Itchell house next to Dogmersfield.

DEC 1581: The boy Southampton, third earl, enters Cecil House in London as a royal ward of the Queen. The earl of Oxford had been the first; Southampton is now the eighth and last. Oxford returns to his wife Anne and all is well with the Cecil family.


Did Oxford Have Sonnets Delivered to Southampton in the Tower? The Evidence is Yes — And that Southampton Used Them to Write His Poem to the Queen

Here is evidence that Edward de Vere seventeenth Earl of Oxford was able to send some of his Shakespearean sonnets into the Tower prison room of Henry Wriothesley third Earl of Southampton to help him write his poem to Queen Elizabeth, pleading to be spared from execution.  Included at the end is a modern-English text of the poem indicating key words that also appear in the Sonnets.  This paper was delivered recently to the Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference in Portland, Oregon.   

The Southampton Tower Poem

Hank Whittemore

In February or March of 1601 the Earl of Southampton wrote a poem from the Tower of London, to Queen Elizabeth, begging for her mercy.  And in this paper I would like to present strong evidence that in the Tower he received some of the private Shakespearean sonnets from Oxford that helped him in the composition of his poem to the Queen.

The Tower

The Tower

He had been imprisoned on the night of February 8, 1601 after the so-called Rebellion had failed; he and Essex stood trial eleven days later; both were found guilty of high treason and sentenced to be executed.  Essex was beheaded six days later, on the morning of February twenty-fifth; and then Southampton languished in his prison room waiting to be executed.Southampton wrote his poem to Elizabeth during the next three or four weeks, until around the twentieth of March, when he was unexpectedly spared the death penalty.   His sentence was quietly commuted to perpetual imprisonment – not only quietly, but secretly, because no official record of the reprieve has ever been found.

His poem written in the Tower was discovered by Lara Crowley, assistant professor of English at Texas Tech University, and printed in the winter 2011 issue of English Literary Renaissance.  Professor Crowley found the poem in the British Library, in a collection of miscellaneous folios prepared in the 1620’s or ‘30’s.  It was preserved in the form of a scribal copy, entitled “The Earl of Southampton prisoner, and condemned, to Queen Elizabeth.”  The seventy-four lines consist of thirty-seven rhymed couplets in Iambic pentameter – same as the Shakespeare sonnets, five feet or 10 beats per line; and same as the six rhymed couplets of the envoy to the fair youth series, Sonnet 126.  It’s the only poem Southampton is known to have written.

Professor Crowley calls it a “verse letter” to the Queen – in other words, even though it’s a literary work, it is nonetheless nonfictional and functional – intended as a means of communication and persuasion.  Crowley also refers to it as a “heartfelt plea” by Henry Wriothesley for his life.  She focuses on several key issues:

Southampton's was reduced to "Mr." in the Tower and "the late" earl

Southampton was reduced to “Mr.” and “the late” earl in the Tower

One is the authenticity of the poem.  In this regard she cites certain details within the poem that would be known only to Southampton himself and just a few others – the prison doctor, the Lieutenant of the Tower and Secretary Robert Cecil.  Also favoring authenticity is that Southampton wrote several letters to the Privy Council, as well as one to Cecil – and many of the key words in the poem are also employed in these letters.

A second issue is the question whether Southampton wrote the poem all by himself or with someone’s help.  Is it even possible, Crowley wonders, that some more “practiced” poet wrote it for him?  Could such help have come from Mr. Shakespeare?  Highly improbable, given the restricted access to Southampton, but she puts forth the question and lets it float out there.

A third matter is the literary quality of the poem.  Crowley notes the work is “unpolished” – but then we might predict that from a man expecting to face the executioner’s axe at any moment.  Unpolished though it may be, she writes, “the poem proves lyrical, powerful and persuasive.”

           Robert Cecil

Robert Cecil

Most important to Crowley is that the poem triggers a historical question: Why was Southampton spared?  There must have been a concrete reason; but there is nothing in the record, from the government or from anywhere else, with an explanation of what happened.  The professor dismisses any idea that Cecil was moved to save Southampton out of sympathy.   At this point he had the power – apparently even over Elizabeth – to make, or not make, this decision – and if he did spare a convicted traitor, he would have demanded something that he dearly wanted in return.

Of course, what he dearly wanted now was to bring James of Scotland to the throne.  At stake was Cecil’s own position of power and even his life; and now he faced a long, uncertain time of waiting for the Queen to die, during which time he had to conduct a secret and even treasonous correspondence with James that her Majesty might discover at any moment. It would take more than two years – a time of almost unbearable tension for Robert Cecil – and the question, given these high stakes, is what he might have demanded and gotten in return for sparing Southampton’s life.

The Southampton Tower Poem was of interest to me right away, because I realized it could have some bearing upon the theory of the Shakespeare sonnets as expressed in my edition The Monument.  A central aspect of the theory is that on the night of the failed rebellion, Edward de Vere began to write a string of sonnets – a sequence that he ultimately arranged in correspondence with each day (or night, if you will) until Southampton was either executed or given a reprieve. Oxford knew that Southampton’s fate would be determined sooner than later; in fact it took approximately forty days and forty nights until the reprieve; and in my view, no matter what the precise number of days, Oxford deliberately lined up exactly forty sonnets from number 27 to number 66.

I believe he made it forty to correspond with the forty days and forty nights that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness, as in the Gospel of Matthew; and part of the evidence for this conjecture is in Sonnet 76, where he points to that very section of the Gospel:

“And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights … And when the tempter came to him … he answered and said, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God’” – Matthew, 4.4

And in rather blatant correspondence, Oxford writes:

“That every word doth almost tell my name, showing their birth, and where they did proceed” – Sonnet 76

Now if those forty sonnets correspond with the forty days from the eighth of February 1601 to the nineteenth of March, we then have Southampton in the Tower during the very same time, waiting to learn his fate – and we know that in those days and nights he wrote his letters to the Council and to Cecil and, also, his poem to Elizabeth, pleading for mercy.  So if the theory of forty sonnets (27 to 66) during that time is correct, we should be able to predict that we’ll find some relationship between Oxford’s sonnets to Southampton and Southampton’s poem to the Queen.

First, a few markers:

 “When to the Sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past” – Sonnet 30

Given the premise that the sonnet is written just when Oxford is summoned to the sessions or treason trial, it would seem to be extraordinary corroboration.

Thy adverse party is thy Advocate – Sonnet 35

“Your (legal) opponent is also your (legal) defender.” – Duncan-Jones, editor

“Thy adverse party is thy advocate” would seem to describe Oxford’s role on the tribunal at the trial, having to be Southampton’s adverse party by voting to find him guilty and sentence him to death, but also promising to work behind the scenes as his advocate or legal defender.

To my knowledge, this is the only explanation of that line in terms of linking it to a specific historical and biographical event – the trial, and Oxford’s role on the tribunal – and also in terms of its accuracy and precision as a recognized legal reference.  And the line serves to suggest that Oxford had some way of helping Southampton – helping him write those letters to the Council, not only with words but with substance – and that he may have urged Southampton to plead with Elizabeth through poetry.  It would be logical to infer that in playing his role as advocate or defense counsel, Oxford either helped him write the poem, or at least suggested its themes if not its words.

Essex wrote a much longer poem to Elizabeth from the Tower, during the few days between the trial and his execution.  In that case, however, it was absolutely necessary for Cecil to destroy Essex by sending him to his death; therefore I would think it fairly certain that he made sure Elizabeth never did see the Essex poem.  In Oxford’s case, however, the proposition here is that he made a deal with Cecil, which included supporting the succession of King James … not to mention severing his relationship to “Shakespeare” and any connection to Southampton.  In return Cecil would make it possible for Oxford to help Southampton gain a reprieve.   And given the likelihood that Oxford advised Southampton to write a poem to her Majesty, the question is how he might have helped him — which brings us to another marker, this one in Sonnet 45, when Oxford refers to:

Those swift messengers returned from thee,

Who even but now come back again assured

Of thy fair health, recounting it to me.  – Sonnet 45

There are two topics here – one, he appears to be referring to messengers on horseback riding back and forth between Oxford’s home in Hackney and the Tower – and this may well indicate that he’s been able to get copies of sonnets delivered to Southampton. This, in my view, is quite in the realm of the possible and even the probable – first because of Oxford’s high rank and seeming ability to get away with so much, apparently because the Queen protected him; second because John Peyton, Lieutenant of the Tower, had been appointed by Cecil back in 1598, and owed his allegiance to him; and third because if Oxford made a deal with Cecil, it was in the Secretary’s best interest to enable such communication between Oxford and Southampton, so Oxford could play his part by helping him.  And this would include the proposition – the hypothesis, at this point – that as part of such communication, copies of the sonnets got into Southampton’s possession in the Tower.

The other part of these two lines is the clear reference to Southampton’s health.  He had fevers and swellings in his legs and other parts of his body, but he was being treated and apparently his health was improving.  In his poem to the Queen, Southampton refers specifically to his leg problem.

I’ve left my going since my legs’ strength decayed …

And it turns out that within Southampton’s Tower poem, as predicted, there’s a strong correspondence with Oxford’s Shakespearean sonnets.

At least forty-seven key words in the Shakespearean sonnets also appear in Southampton’s poem, of which the following twenty-four words might be emphasized:

Blood, Buried, Cancel, Condemned, Crimes, Dead, Die, Faults, Grave, Grief, Ill, Liberty, Loss, Mercy, Offenses, Pardon, Power, Princes, Prison, Sorrow, Stain, Tears, Tombs…

There are at least four distinct themes shared by both the Sonnets and the Southampton poem.   

1.      Crime – Fault – Offence – Ill Deed

2.      Grief – Loss – Sorrow – Tears

3.      Prison – Death – Tomb – Buried

4.      Plea/Beg – Mercy – Pardon – Liberty

First, the Crime or Fault or Offence

“The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief

  To him that bears the strong offence’s cross.” – Sonnet 34

“I beg liberty to cancel old offences

  Better go ten such voyages than once offend

  The majesty of a Prince, where all things end” (Southampton)

“All men make faults, and even I in this” – Sonnet 35

“Where faults weigh down the scale” – (Southampton)

 “To you it doth belong

  Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime” – Sonnet 58

“Let grace so…

  Swim above all my crimes” – (Southampton)

Second, the expressions of grief and loss and sorrow:

 “But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,

 And night doth nightly make grief’s length seem stronger” – Sonnet 28

 Sorrow, such ruins, as where a flood hath been

  On all my parts afflicted, hath been seen:

  My face which grief plowed…” (Southampton)

 “Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss” – Sonnet 34

 “And I with eating do no more engross

 Than one that plays small game after great loss” (Southampton)

And also in this category, here’s a comparison:

 “To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face” – Sonnet 34

 “And in the wrinkles of my cheeks, tears lie

 Like furrows filled with rain, and no more dry” (Southampton)

A third category is Southampton as a prisoner condemned to be executed and feeling buried alive.  And here I think is an amazing comparison — Oxford in my view pictures Southampton and his friends in prison, who are not yet executed, but existing unseen in the darkness of coming death – and he weeps while picturing Southampton himself as a living grave.

“Then can I drown an eye (un-used to flow)

  For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night

  How many a holy and obsequious tear

  Hath dear religious love stolen from mine eye…

  Thou art the grave where buried love doth live…” – Sonnets 30 & 31 

Southampton, in turn, pictures the prison itself as a grave or tomb, in which he is buried alive, and legally dead, that is, found guilty of treason and condemned to death.

“While I yet breathe, and sense and motion have

  (For this a prison differs from a grave),

  Prisons are living men’s tombs, who there go

  As one may, sith say the dead walk so.

  There I am buried quick: hence one may draw

  I am religious because dead in law.” (Southampton)

 And a fourth area of comparison involves the Queen’s singular ability to grant a pardon.

“The imprisoned absence of your liberty

  To you it doth belong

  Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime” – Sonnet 58

 “Not to live more at ease (Dear Prince) of thee

  But with new merits, I beg liberty

  If faults were not, how could great Princes then

  Approach so near God in pardoning men?” (Southampton)

We know Oxford’s concept of the monarch being able to substitute mercy for justice – as he would write to Cecil later, about King James (but really about any monarch): “Nothing adorns a king more than justice, nor in anything doth a King more resemble God than in justice, which is the head of all virtue…”  Southampton expresses the same idea by writing that “mercy” is an “antidote to justice” — mercy as a remedy to ensure the right kind of justice.

Wisdom and valor common men have known,

But only mercy is the Prince’s own.

Mercy’s an antidote to justice… (Southampton)

He associates the Queen with the miracle worker who cured Naaman’s condition, and he mentions the River Jordan, thereby linking Elizabeth with Christ, the ultimate exemplar of mercy.

Had I the leprosy of Naaman,

Your mercy hath the same effects as Jordan. (Southampton)

The vast majority of these key words, within these basic categories, fall not only within those first forty sonnets numbered 27 to 66, but, moreover, virtually all the key words from the Shakespeare sonnets used by Southampton come from the first twenty of them.  And most of those words are found within the first ten – within the sequence of Sonnets 27 to 36 – and the key words from these sonnets are also used by Southampton in his poem to the Queen:

SONNETS 27 to 36:

Sonnet 28 – SORROWS, GRIEF



Sonnet 32 – DEATH, DIED




Sonnet 36 – BLOTS (i.e., STAIN)

The proposition is that upon the night of the failed rebellion, Edward de Vere began to write and compile sonnets that would ultimately correspond with the days of waiting to see if Southampton would live or die by execution.  The further proposition is that Oxford, while trying to work a deal with Cecil to save Southampton’s life, was able to send messages – including some of these sonnets – to Southampton in the Tower.

Now, with the existence of a poem that Southampton himself wrote to the Queen, the added proposition is that he drew upon Oxford’s sonnets for words, concepts or themes as well as inspiration.  And given the preponderance of such words and themes within the forty sonnets 27 to 66, covering those forty days, the further proposition is that Southampton drew mainly from these particular sonnets, which, as a practical matter, would have been delivered to him in the Tower before any of the others. 

I suggest that what we have here amounts to very near certainty, if not absolute proof, that the real-life context of these Shakespearean sonnets is in fact the plight of Southampton in prison after the failed Essex Rebellion and his desperate need for a reprieve from the Queen; and I must add that – in this context of time and circumstance – Queen Elizabeth becomes, without question, the so-called Dark Lady of Sonnets 127 to 152, wherein we find:

“Straight in her heart did mercy come”(Sonnet 145)

Following is a modern-English version of the Southampton Tower Poem (February-March 1601).  Emphasized are key words that also appear (in one form or another) within the Shakespearean Sonnets 27 to 126.

The Earl of Southampton Prisoner, and Condemned, to Queen Elizabeth:

Not to live more at ease (Dear Prince) of thee

But with new merits, I beg liberty 

To cancel old offences; let grace so

(As oil all liquor else will overflow)

Swim above all my crimes.  In lawn, a stain

Well taken forth may be made serve again.

Perseverance in ill is all the ill.  The horses may,

That stumbled in the morn, go well all day.

If faults were not, how could great Princes then

Approach so near God, in pardoning men?

Wisdom and valor, common men have known,

But only mercy is the Prince’s own.

Mercy’s an antidote to justice, and will,

Like a true blood-stone, keep their bleeding still.

Where faults weigh down the scale, one grain of this

Will make it wise, until the beam it kiss.

Had I the leprosy of Naaman,

Your mercy hath the same effects as Jordan.

As surgeons cut and take from the sound part

That which is rotten, and beyond all art

Of healing, see (which time hath since revealed),

Limbs have been cut which might else have been healed.

While I yet breath and sense and motion have

(For this a prison differs from a grave),

Prisons are living men’s tombs, who there go

As one may, sith say the dead walk so.

There I am buried quick: hence one may draw

I am religious because dead in law.

One of the old Anchorites, by me may be expressed:

A vial hath more room laid in a chest:

Prisoners condemned, like fish within shells lie

Cleaving to walls, which when they’re opened, die:

So they, when taken forth, unless a pardon     

(As a worm takes a bullet from a gun)

Take them from thence, and so deceive the sprights

Of people, curious after rueful sights.

Sorrow, such ruins, as where a flood hath been

On all my parts afflicted, hath been seen:

My face which grief plowed, and mine eyes when they

Stand full like two nine-holes, where at boys play

And so their fires went out like Iron hot

And put into the forge, and then is not

And in the wrinkles of my cheeks, tears lie

Like furrows filled with rain, and no more dry:

Mine arms like hammers to an anvil go

Upon my breast: now lamed with beating so

Stand as clock-hammers, which strike once an hour

Without such intermission they want power.

I’ve left my going since my legs’ strength decayed

Like one, whose stock being spent give over trade.

And I with eating do no more engross

Than one that plays small game after great loss                                              

Is like to get his own: or then a pit

With shovels emptied, and hath spoons to fill it.

And so sleep visits me, when night’s half spent

As one, that means nothing but complement.

Horror and fear, like cold in ice, dwell here;

And hope (like lightning) gone ere it appear:

With less than half these miseries, a man

Might have twice shot the Straits of Magellan;

Better go ten such voyages than once offend

The Majesty of a Prince, where all things end

And begin: why whose sacred prerogative

He as he list, we as we ought live.

All mankind lives to serve a few: the throne

(To which all bow) is sewed to by each one.

Life, which I now beg, wer’t to proceed

From else whoso’er, I’d first choose to bleed

But now, the cause, why life I do implore

Is that I think you worthy to give more.

The light of your countenance, and that same

Morning of the Court favor, where at all aim,

Vouchsafe unto me, and be moved by my groans,      

For my tears have already worn these stones

Some of the Evidence that Oxford Sent Copies of His Sonnets to Southampton in the Tower — And that They Influenced Southampton in Writing His Poem to Queen Elizabeth

Continuing our discussion of the poem entitled The Earl of Southampton Prisoner, and Condemned, to Queen Elizabeth, written by Southampton in his Tower of London prison room during February-March 1601…

Inside Traitors Gate, where Southampton and Essex were brought by boat around midnight into the Tower of London, on the night of February 8, 1601

In the 74-line poem he begged the Queen for mercy, which was granted in the third week of March 1601; and as suggested in The Monument, the forty Shakespeare sonnets 27 to 66 were written in correspondence with the forty days and nights of that tense time.

Was Oxford sending copies of individual sonnets to Southampton?  Because he was the highest-ranking earl of the realm, or for other reasons, was he able to have manuscript copies delivered to the younger earl in the Tower?

(In Sonnet 45 he writes of “those swift messengers returned from thee/ Who even now come back again assured of thy fair health, recounting it to me.”  Southampton was ill in the Tower at that time, with painful swellings in his legs; and in his poem to the Queen he refers to “my legs’ strength decayed.”)

The Tower of London

It would seem that Southampton was influenced by these specific sonnets, given that he used key words (in one form or another) to be found in that same forty-sonnet sequence.  Here is a partial list of such correspondences:


Sonnet 63: When hours have drained his blood

Southampton:  Like a true blood-stone, keep their bleeding still


Sonnet 31: Thou art the grave where buried love doth live

Southampton: There I am buried quick…


Sonnet 30: And weep afresh love’s long-since cancelled woe

Southampton: To cancel old offenses…


Sonnet 58: Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime

Southampton: Swim above all my crimes


Sonnet 31: As interest of the dead

Southampton: As one may, sith say the dead walk so


Sonnet 54: Die to themselves.  Sweet Roses do not so…

Southampton: Cleaving to walls, which when they’re opened, die


Sonnet 35: All men make faults

Southampton: Where faults weigh down the scale…


Sonnet 31: Thou art the grave where buried love doth live

Southampton: (For this a prison differs from a grave.)


Sonnet 34: Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief

Southampton: My face which grief plowed…


Sonnet 50: For that same groan doth put this in my mind

Southampton: Vouchsafe unto me, and be moved by my groans


Sonnet 34: And they are rich, and rich, and ransom all ill deeds

Southampton: Perseverance in ill is all the ill


Sonnet 58: Th’imprisond absence of your liberty

Southampton: But with new merits, I beg liberty


Sonnet 34: Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss

Southampton: Than one that plays small game after great loss


Sonnet 34: To him that bears the strong offense’s cross

Southampton: To cancel old offenses


Sonnet 58: Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime

Southampton: So they, when taken forth, unless a pardon


Sonnet 65: But sad mortality o’ersways their power

Southampton: Without such intermission they want power


Sonnet 52: By new unfolding his imprisoned pride

Southampton: Prisons are living men’s tombs…


Sonnet 34: Th’offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief

Southampton:  Sorrow, such ruins, as where a flood hath been


Sonnet 33: Suns of the world may stain, when heaven’s sun staineth

Southampton: In lawn, a stain/ Well taken forth may be made serve again


Sonnet 34: Ah, but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds

Southampton: For my tears have already worn these stones

So much of our ability to understand the Sonnets and to feel their emotional weight depends upon the context in which they are viewed.  Are they homosexual love poems within a bisexual love triangle?  Or are they private, highly sensitive messages, in poetical form, written during a time of tremendous grief and danger?

The former view has no documentary record to support it, while the latter view (expressed on this blog site) has an underpinning of contemporary history supporting it at every twist and turn: the failed Essex rebellion of Feb 8, the trial on Feb 19, the execution of Essex on Feb 25, the trial of other conspirators on March 5, the execution of two men on March 13, the execution of two more men on March 18 and so on.

Now the Southampton Tower Poem places yet another historical and biographical fact in evidence.

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