The Duke of Alencon Appears in “Shakespeare” once the Author is Edward de Vere – Reason No. 70 Why Oxford wrote the Works

In the traditional biographies of William Shakespeare, you will find no hint that Francois de Valois, Duke of Alencon may be depicted in any of the Shakespeare plays* – mainly because his courtship of Queen Elizabeth had ended by 1582, when William of Stratford was just eighteen.  On the other hand, Edward de Vere the seventeenth Earl of Oxford was then thirty-two, having lived at the center of the political storm of the French Match during the previous decade; and with Oxford in mind as the author, a curtain is lifted and Alencon may be seen in several Shakespearean plays, starting with Cymbeline, King of Britaine.

* If any reader finds such a hint in Stratfordian biography, please let us know.

Francois, Duke of Alencon

Francois, Duke of Alencon

Elizabeth was on royal progress in the summer of 1578 when the French envoys arrived to begin negotiations for her marriage to Alencon, youngest son of Catherine de Medici, the most powerful woman in Europe.   The Queen received the French diplomats at Long Melford, where she sent for her highly favored courtier Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, who was then twenty-eight, to perform a dancing exhibition for the delegation.  Shockingly, however, Oxford refused to obey his sovereign – not once, but twice. Catherine de Medici of Florence had married Henry II of France in 1547 at age fourteen.  She became a political force upon his death in 1559, as the mother of three successive kings: Francis II, who died in 1560; Charles IX, who died in 1574; and Henry III, then twenty-three.  Catherine had been the regent in charge for young Charles when persecutions of Huguenots (French Protestants) erupted in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, when thousands were killed in Paris and throughout France.

    Catherine de Medici           1519-1589

Catherine de Medici

Now in 1578 Catherine was promoting the marriage of her fourth and youngest son with Elizabeth Tudor.  The Duke of Alencon was about half the age of the Queen of England; he was twenty-three, she was forty-five.  In boyhood his face had been scarred by smallpox, which also had slightly deformed his spine.  Alencon had rebelled against his royal family in 1575, proclaiming himself a protector of the Huguenots; nonetheless he was still a Catholic and, given that his brother Henry III was childless, the young Duke was next in line to the French throne.  So the prospect of a French Match had sent Elizabeth’s court into a state of turmoil. Leading the heated opposition were Puritans (right-wing Protestants) such as Sir Francis Walsingham, head of the Secret Service, and Sir Philip Sidney, not to mention Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who had wanted to wed the Queen himself.  Many feared that if Elizabeth married Alencon, she might die without a successor by blood, leaving her widowed King Consort free to bring England under French control; and Walsingham, for one, predicted riots in London and around the country. It appears, however, that  Elizabeth was playing a role within a grand romantic drama on the world stage, playing her part in the prospective French Match to prevent an alliance between France and Spain – for as long as possible, at least, so England could build up naval strength capable of withstanding a Spanish invasion by armada.  Enticing Alencon into the courtship, the Queen was buying time.

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, was Chamberlain 1572 to his death in 1583

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, born circa 1525, was Lord Chamberlain from 1572 to his death in 1583

In the following year Oxford would publicly support the French marriage along with his great friend Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex, who was a kind of father figure to him.  (Oxford had seen military action under Sussex against the Northern Rebellion in 1570; also it was Sussex, as Lord Great Chamberlain, who brought plays to court.)  Also supporting the match was William Cecil Lord Burghley, the most powerful man behind the throne.  Burghley, Sussex and Oxford may have understood that it was all a charade, but Elizabeth would play her part so well that even they could not be sure of her intentions. In 1578, however, Oxford was still able to express his rage against the Alencon marriage, and his refusal to dance for the French envoys made that clear.  The day before, Elizabeth had publicly and unfairly reprimanded Sussex for failing to furnish enough “pieces of plate” for the Frenchmen, so Oxford was already angry at the Queen — who, he correctly believed, was being influenced against Sussex by Leicester. The Spanish ambassador reported that Elizabeth “sent twice to tell the Earl of Oxford, who is a very gallant lad, to dance before the ambassadors; whereupon he replied that he hoped Her Majesty would not order him to do so, as he did not wish to entertain Frenchmen.  When the Lord Steward took him the message the second time, he replied that he would not give pleasure to Frenchmen, nor listen to such a message, and with that he left the room.  He is a lad who has a great following in the country…”  It’s hard to imagine anyone daring to publicly embarrass the Queen in such a way – especially Queen Elizabeth, who was so protective of her public image – not to mention in front of the French ambassadors when critical negotiations were beginning.  How Oxford skated through this episode without being tossed in prison or worse is a wonder; but it seems he was not even reprimanded, indicating the favorable position he held in her eyes at the time.  In any case Edward de Vere vehemently opposed the Alencon marriage and, it appears, he wrote the first version of Cymbeline, King of Britaine, performed by none other than Sussex’s company of actors on Sunday, December 28, 1578, at Richmond Palace, where it was recorded as An history of the crueltie of A Stepmother. “Following up Oxford’s refusal to dance,” Eva Turner Clark wrote in 1930, “he wrote a new drama in which, disguised as a play of early Britain, he told the story of the French Queen’s efforts to get her son married to the English Queen … the arrival of the Spanish ambassador, and the danger of war with Spain and France over the Low Countries.” Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn described the relevant part of the play in 1952 this way: “A wicked Queen [Cymbeline’s wife = Catherine de Medici] endeavors to contrive a match between her stupid, villainous son [Cloten = Alencon] and the daughter [Imogen = Elizabeth, in part] of a king of ancient Britain [Cymbeline], whose stepmother she is, hoping to advance her cause of making her son King of Britain by the judicious use of poisonous herbs and compounds.  The prototype of this wicked Queen was Catherine de Medici, who, while practicing occultism and astrology, was supposed to have poisoned more than one person whom she wished out of the way.”

  Elizabeth I of England   Armada Portrait 1588

Elizabeth I of England
Armada Portrait 1588

Oxford was writing about his own political world and trying to influence Elizabeth and her policies.  Personally and politically he had much at stake; and with this in mind, the play we know as Cymbeline is suddenly comprehended in new and dynamic ways — providing just one answer to the question of why the identity of “Shakespeare” matters.   In this early work first staged at court, Oxford can be seen warning Elizabeth about the character of Catherine de Medici and her son, Alencon, as in the opening lines of a soliloquy within a play that would be revised at least twice (in the 1580s and 1590s) before its publication for the first time in the Folio of 1623: That such a crafty devil as is his mother Should yield the world this ass!  A woman that Bears all down with her brain; and this her son Cannot take two from twenty, for his heart, And leave eighteen… Once J.T. Looney identified Oxford as “Shakespeare” in 1920, it became possible to see Alencon in the plays.  A surge of new research began and the work of Eva Turner Clark appeared in the U.S. in 1931 as Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays, wherein Ms. Clark noticed portraits of Alencon in early versions not only of Cymbeline but also As You Like It, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, 2 Henry VI, Antony and Cleopatra and A Midsummer Night’s Dream — to be covered by the next Reason to believe Oxford was the great author. Catherine de Medici - 2(For a revisionist view of Catherine de Medici, see the biography by Leonie Frieda: “Poisoner, despot, necromancer — the dark legend of Catherine de Medici is centuries old. In this critically hailed biography, Frieda reclaims the story of this unjustly maligned queen to reveal a skilled ruler battling extraordinary political and personal odds — from a troubled childhood in Florence to her marriage to Henry, son of King Francis I of France; from her transformation of French culture to her fight to protect her throne and her sons’ birthright. Based on thousands of private letters, it is a remarkable account of one of the most influential women ever to wear a crown.”)

Number 40 of 100 Reasons Why the Earl of Oxford was “William Shakespeare” — Evidence that “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Originated in the Early 1580’s as a Masque about Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Alencon

A multi-faceted reason to view Edward de Vere Lord Oxford as “Shakespeare” involves the time frame.  To put it simply, most or all of the Shakespeare works were originally created ten or more years earlier than we have been told.

Oliver Chris & Judi Dench as Bottom and Titania in Peter Hall’s 2010 production at the Rose Theatre, Kingston

For example, studies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream reveal that its first version was a court masque parodying the farcical French Match of 1578 to 1581, when marriage negotiations between Queen Elizabeth (Queen Titania) and the Duke of Alencon (Bottom, disguised as an ass) were in full swing – but, alas, Will Shakspere was only seventeen in 1581, still very much in Stratford and not yet married, forcing orthodox scholars to date the original composition of the Dream to no earlier than 1594!

One result is that few if any books about Shakespeare mention anything about a relationship between that masterful romantic comedy and the French Match involving Elizabeth and Alencon.

The initial appearance of the name “William Shakespeare” was on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley Lord Southampton in 1593.  This alone is a problem for the mainstream scholars, because it means that the very first publication by the young man from Stratford was a highly sophisticated, cultured narrative poem, one of the best ever written in England, yet he’d been in London just five years or even less.

Orthodox scholars, trying to fit the original writing of the Dream to the contours of Will of Stratford’s life, place the start of his composition in the very next year, 1594.  But was our struggling young playwright creating A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the public playhouse?  No, folks, no such apprenticeship for him, and not according to “the almost universally held belief among critics that the play was written for a private performance, clearly a part of the festivities attendant upon an aristocratic wedding,” writes Oscar Campbell in The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare (1966).

Elizabeth Vere (1575-1627), who married William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby on 26 January1595 at Greenwich Palace, where a new version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” may have been performed during the festivities

“The only existing text,” Dr. Campbell tells us, “is the version of the comedy designed to be presented in the great hall of an Elizabethan gentleman’s country house, or possibly at the Court, on an occasion at which Queen Elizabeth may have been present … [Virtually all scholars acknowledge Queen Titania as a portrait of Elizabeth] …

“Many weddings of the nobility solemnized about the years 1594-1596 have been suggested as the occasion for which the play was written.  One considered most likely by many historians is that of Elizabeth de Vere, the daughter of the Earl of Oxford, to the Earl of Derby, which took place on January 26, 1595.”

Greenwich Palace, where the wedding of Lady Elizabeth Vere and the Earl of Derby took place

Now, let’s get this straight … a young man from Stratford upon Avon, near the start of his London career as a playwright, designs a play not for the public theater, but, instead, for a private wedding of the nobility.  He includes a major female character, Queen Titania, representing Elizabeth Tudor, and has her fall in love on stage with an ass!  Moreover the play is performed in front of that same female monarch, who is known for her extreme vanity, and for the amusement of her full court at Greenwich Palace!

Was it impossible?  Well, I’d say miraculous.

But let’s remove the constricting timeline of the Stratford fellow’s life and look at some of the perfectly logical evidence that A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece that evolved through two or three or more of the author’s revisions, according to changing circumstances over more than a dozen years, from the Alencon affair reaching its climax in 1581 to a wedding of the nobility at Court in 1595.

“Tips of the iceberg” keep appearing to indicate the presence of this “hidden” history of the play; and Dr. Campbell is honest enough to mention some of these anomalies, as when he writes: “Certain textual inconsistencies indicate that the play as we have it has been revised, and that the lines which deal with the fantasy form only one of two textual layers.” [My emphasis]

The easiest way to eliminate the mystery is to realize that the first version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was an Elizabethan version of a Saturday Night Live skit, written by thirty-year-old Oxford in 1580.  At the time he was still in the highest favor of Elizabeth (though not for long); he and John Lyly, his private secretary and stage manager, were presenting plays for aristocrats at the private Blackfriars playhouse and for Her Majesty at Court.  The earl had been personally involved in the often-ludicrous Alencon affair, even to the point of twice refusing in 1578 to obey the Queen’s command to dance for the French diplomats, who had come to England to negotiate terms of the royal marriage.

Hercule Francois, Duke of Anjou and Alencon (1555-1584)

Oxford was “identified” as Shakespeare in 1920 by J. Thomas Looney.  It took hardly more than a decade for Eva Turner Clark in 1931 to suggest in her Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays that earl had the Dream performed as a masque (probably for the Blackfriars audience, poking fun at both Elizabeth and Alencon) in 1581, before presenting it in some more complete form for the Queen during the Christmas season of 1584 at Court.  Then he would have revised the play yet again, a decade later in the mid-1590’s, for its performance during the Greenwich festivities for his daughter’s marriage to the Earl of Derby.

In the play, Titania courts Bottom while he wears his ass’s head.  Bottom repeatedly refers to “monsieur,” a comical reference to Alencon, who would not yield to the pressures on him to leave England, just as Bottom says: “I see their knavery; this is to make an ass of me; to fright me, if they could.  But I will not stir from this place …!”  [It must have been hilarious.]

“My Oberon!” cries Titania.  “What visions have I seen!  Methought I was enamored of an ass!”

When Alencon finally left the country in early 1582, writes Clark, “he realized that his dream of being Elizabeth’s consort and sovereign of England had come to an end, just as Bottom’s dream of a life in fairyland.”

I recommend an essay by Dr. Roger Stritmatter entitled On the Chronology and Performance Venue of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dreame’ in the 2006 edition of The Oxfordian, and to look up the work of Dr. Earl Showerman on this subject as well as others.  There is much, much more to Reason No. 40 to believe it was Oxford who adopted the “Shakespeare” pen name at age forty-three in 1593.

[A footnote: Oxford had been publicly in favor of the Alencon match, along with William Cecil Lord Burghley, the Queen’s chief minister – both realizing that the prolonged affair would keep France from an alliance with Spain and give England time to prepare for the inevitable Spanish invasion by armada.  In private, Oxford was surely against the match.]

%d bloggers like this: