SNAPSHOT: DE VERE – The Northern Rebellion and a Taste of War (1570)

“The Queen’s Majesty sendeth at this present the Earl of Oxenford into the north parts to remain with my Lord of Sussex & to be employed there in her Majesty’s service …” – Sir William Cecil, Master of the Court of Wards (and future Lord Burghley), March 30, 1570, authorizing payment of forty pounds to Edward de Vere for “his charges whilst he shall remain in those parts.” 

Thomas Radcliffe,
third Earl of Sussex (c.1526-d.1583)

“Those parts” of northern England and the border counties of Scotland would have seemed a “strange and foreign place” to young Oxford, writes Mark Anderson, adding that so far most of the earl’s life (as he approached his twentieth birthday) probably had been spent “within a one or two days’ ride from the queen and her court.” Now, accompanied by servants and soldiers, de Vere embarked upon a ten-day, 270-mile journey on horseback to the front lines – venturing into a feudal world where the calendar seemed to have stood still.

Queen Elizabeth’s forces had been mobilized to prevent the Catholic nobles of the north from advancing upon London with their armies. The rebel leaders had hoped to replace the Protestant daughter of Henry VIII with Catholic Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, who had fled to England for safety and remained Elizabeth’s captive. By now the English columns had soundly crushed the rebellion; but Thomas Radcliffe, third Earl of Sussex, was obeying his sovereign’s command by waging a campaign of barbarous reprisal that would “leave a memory in Scotland whereof they and their children shall be afraid” to attack England ever again.

“Nothing in Elizabeth’s life is more dreadful than the callous savagery which she permitted, and more than permitted, in the slaughter and pillage that followed the northern rebellion,” the old Dictionary of National Biography states, adding that she “did as her father would have done in the fury of his wrath.”

Here, then, is one snapshot: Edward de Vere, coming upon his first taste of war and entering the terrible scenes of its final chapters – a seemingly endless, scarred landscape of ongoing death and destruction … hanging corpses … charred ruins, still smoking … eight hundred rebels hanged … three hundred villages burned … fifty castles razed …. forty other buildings leveled … an orgy of government retribution.

Now another picture comes into focus: a snapshot of Oxford with Thomas Radcliffe, third Earl of Sussex, 44, apparently serving on his staff. Sussex was a man of courage, bluntness, intellect and empathy. Twenty-four years Oxford’s senior, he would become a father figure, mentor, colleague, friend and close ally in mutual antipathy toward Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the queen’s intimate favorite, who was rumored to be a serial poisoner. Upon his deathbed in June 1583, Sussex would harshly warn Sir Christopher Hatton about Leicester’s malignity: “Beware of the gypsy. He will betray you. You do not know the beast as well as I do.”

“The earl of Sussex was one of the great nobles of the Elizabethan period,” the Encyclopedia Britannica records. “Though his loyalty was questioned by his enemies, it was as unwavering as his patriotism. He shone as a courtier; he excelled in diplomacy; he was a man of cultivation and even of scholarship, a patron of literature and of the drama on the eve of its blossoming into the glory it became soon after his death” – that is, during the rest of the 1580s, when his protégé the earl of Oxford would act as the foremost patron of writers working to create that very blossoming that would reach its climax with “Shakespeare” in 1593.

Hume Castle

Oxford served in Scotland when Sussex was still in anguish over the orders he was carrying out. As commander of the English forces, gifted with strategic brilliance and military prowess, he nonetheless abhorred what his sovereign ruler had told him to do. Back in January he had written to the Privy Council recommending a policy of restraint; he would execute “some” of the rebels to make an “example” of them; otherwise the “principal offenders” would be imprisoned, and, crucially, England would “extend her Majesty’s mercy” to their lowly, poor followers.

The queen, however, was “wound up to a pitch of anger that spurned this suggestion,” Elizabeth Jenkins writes. On her command to Sussex, only those same poor followers of the Catholic earls were being hanged. What made this policy so odious was her motive: Elizabeth Tudor was furious about the cost of putting down the rebellion; therefore, those with greater wealth and power were spared and allowed to buy their pardons with cash or land.

A final snapshot: Oxford would have witnessed Sussex’s twelve-hour siege of Hume Castle. Bombardment of the fortress was followed by Lord Hume’s suit for a parley, to which Sussex agreed. The defenders were allowed to retire upon abandoning their weapons – the way “Shakespeare” would depict Henry V laying siege to Harfleur, followed by the Governor’s suit for a parley and the king’s mercy.


Mark Anderson, Shakespeare By Another Name, 2005; pp. 42-43

J.R. Black, The Reign of Elizabeth, 1939; p. 143

William Camden, Annales; Anno Domini 1570

Dictionary of National Biography – Elizabeth I; Thomas Radcliffe

Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition, Vol. XXVI

Nina Green, The Oxford Authorship Site, Documents; National Archives SP 15/19/37, f.88

Paul Hammer, Elizabeth’s Wars, 2003; p.83

Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great, 1959; pp. 153-155, 252

J.R. Neale, Queen Elizabeth, 1934; p. 189

Charlton Ogburn, Jr., The Mysterious William Shakespeare, 1984, 1992; pp. 467-469

B.M. Ward, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, 1928; p. 48

Edward de Vere’s “Crown” Signature – and More

Over the years many Oxfordians have been mystified by what appears to be a “crown signature” that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford used at age nineteen at the end of a letter to his guardian William Cecil (the future Lord Burghley) on November 24, 1569.

Edward de Vere's "crown" signature that he used on letters to William and Robert Cecil from 1569 until the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603

Edward de Vere's "crown" signature that he used on letters to William and Robert Cecil from 1569 until the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603

He referred to himself as “Edward Oxenford” and continued to use the same crown-shaped signature on letters to William and Robert Cecil for more than three decades until the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, after which he reverted to a different form of signature.

What did it signify?  Why did he stop using it after the Queen died?  Couldn’t such a signature have amounted to a claim that he deserved to be a King or at least a King Consort? Was he taunting both Cecils, father and son, with extremely sensitive information of which they were aware?  Otherwise, couldn’t they have accused him of treason?  What do you think?

In Oxford’s letter of November 1569 he requests Cecil’s permission to take part in the military campaign against the uprising of the powerful Catholic earls in the north of England.  He reminds the chief minister that “heretofore you have given me your good word to have me see the wars and services in strange and foreign places,” but that Cecil had been unable to “obtain me license of the Queen’s Majesty.”

“Now you will do me so much honour,” he adds, “as that by your purchase of my License I may be called to the service of my prince and country as at this present troublous time a number are.”

“If your father will do me any honour” – 1 Henry IV, 5.4

“I come to thee for charitable license” – Henry V, 4.7

“That in your country’s service drew your swords” – Titus Andronicus, 1.1

“And showed how well you love your prince and country” – 2 Henry VI, 4.9

“But in this troublous time, what’s to be done?” – 3 Henry VI, 2.1

“So are a number more” – 2 Henry IV, 3.2

The following spring Oxford was allowed to accompany the Earl of Sussex as the campaign was winding down and they pursued the fleeing rebels and their allies into Scotland.

A terrified Elizabeth commanded barbarous reprisals, to the point where some 90 fortified castles were razed and 300 villages were savagely pillaged and destroyed and 800 captives were hanged — and we are left to wonder about how this harsh reality of war affected the young man who, more than two decades later, at age forty-three in 1593, would adopt the warrior-like pen name “Shakespeare” on his dedications to nineteen-year-old Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, his son by the Queen who deserved by blood to succeed her on the throne.

PS – The lines from the plays with matching words or phrases come from the magnificent book SHAKESPEARE REVEALED IN OXFORD’S LETTERS by William Plumer Fowler, Peter E. Randall, Publisher, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 1986 — one of the great Oxfordian works, with 872 pages showing how Edward de Vere’s letters are filled with Shakespearean language and unique Shakespearean forms of expression.

I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Fowler a few years before he died, in his nineties, and he recited Sonnet 33 while expressing his belief that Southampton was the son of Oxford and the Queen.  A retired lawyer and recognized poet, he was a graduate of Roxbury Latin School, Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, not to mention that he had been an ardent Stratfordian and, for twelve years, president of the Shakespeare Club of Boston!

Now, there was a man who trusted his head and his heart, his mind and his gut instincts; and there, I might add, was a man of courage.

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