Peregrine Bertie and Mary Vere = Petruchio and Kate in “The Taming of the Shrew” (and drunken arguments at the manor house)

In 1931 the Oxfordian researcher Eva Turner Clark suggested that a play performed at Richmond Palace on January 1, 1579 was an early version of The Taming of the Shrew by Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford, containing the farcical war of words between Katharina and Petruchio to caricature the marriage of his sister, Lady Mary Vere, and Peregrine Bertie, son of Richard Bertie and Catherine Willoughby Duchess of Suffolk.  The play was recorded as A Morrall of the marryage of Mynde and Measure, which may refer to the “measures” by which Petruchio plans to tame the “mind” of Kate, his willful bride.

(Grandma's Graphics) - Click on Image to Enlarge the View

(Grandma’s Graphics) – Click on Image to Enlarge the View

Ms. Clark cited a letter from Thomas Cecil in September 1578 to his father, William Cecil Lord Burghley, reporting that an “unkindness” had grown between the young bride and groom ever since the wedding in December 1577, adding his prediction that Lady Mary “will be beaten with that rod which heretofore she prepared for others.”  That is, Peregrine Bertie was going to “tame” his “shrew” of a wife with her own sharp-tongued medicine.

Peregrine would later become known as “brave Lord Willoughby” as well as Oxford’s good friend.  (In 1582 he would visit the royal Court of Denmark and bring back reports which, it appears, were available to the author of Hamlet.)  In any case, as Ms. Clark suggests, Oxford found the verbal battles between his sister and brother-in-law to be ready-made fodder for his comedy:

“Lord Oxford was far from being mindful of the feelings of others; and if his characterizations of Katharina the Shrew were recognized at Court as a portrait of Mary de Vere, Lady Willoughby, this would have greatly added to the enjoyment of the play.”

my lady suffolk

That’s pretty much what I recalled about this matter until recently re-reading My Lady Suffolk (1963), a portrait of the Duchess by Evelyn Read, wife of Conyers Read, best known for his two-volume biography of William Cecil Lord Burghley.  Ms. Read includes details which, in my view, make it virtually certain that Oxford drew upon the unhappy marriage of his sister and Peregrine Bertie for what would become The Taming of the Shrew as by Shakespeare:  the new bride and groom, finding themselves alone together in a home out in the countryside, were so fond of wine that they got into wild drunken arguments while making a mess of the place.  Ms. Read describes it in more delicate language:

“After their marriage, Peregrine and his bride went to live at Grimsthorpe [the great Lincolnshire manor], while Catherine and Richard Bertie stayed in London.  They moved into a house in Hampstead, which at that time was not part of the city but was country, and somewhat rolling country at that … In spite, however, of the beautiful surroundings in which they started their life together, Peregrine’s marriage to Lady Mary did not begin auspiciously.  The bride’s temper was a hot one, and perhaps Peregrine himself was none too patient.  Also, it appears that they took no pains at all in the upkeep of Grimsthorpe.”

Grimsthorpe  (North Front)

(North Front)

On March 12, 1578, the Duchess wrote to Burghley about her fears that the young couple will “so govern” the mansion “as my husband and I shall have small comfort of it and less gain,” adding that she and her husband would have to pay “for what disorders they make … That my Lady loves wine,” the Duchess went on, asking rhetorically, “Who knows her knows not that?”  [In other words, Mary’s love for wine was no secret; and neither, for that matter, was that of her brother Edward.]  “And my son hates it not,” she continued, by way of sarcastic understatement; but then, in a strange twist of logic, she requested Burghley to allow the couple to import two more barrels or casks of wine, adding her prediction “that it shall be all drunken quickly in their house than orderly or well spent.”

Catherine Willoughby Duchess of Suffolk 1519-1580

Catherine Willoughby
Duchess of Suffolk

Ms. Read continues: “Catherine went on to ask Burghley to do this as promptly as he could, in order that the young people would stay longer in the country, ‘if they outrage not too much so as we shall not be able to bide it.’  This letter is revealing of Catherine’s concern about the way her son and his wife were living, and of the fact that apparently she felt that they were drinking more than was good for them.  It seems surprising that she asked Burghley to make the wine available to them, since obviously she did not approve of the way they would drink it; but perhaps she had faced the fact that they were going to do it anyway, and felt that on the whole it was better for them to stay in the country than to come back to town, which they might well do if they could not get what they wanted at Grimsthorpe.”

Six months later Thomas Cecil wrote to Burghley that he and his wife were traveling and stopped to see Peregrine and Mary at Grimsthorpe, where they found “such disagreements as have fallen out there.”  He added that  “more particularly as yet I cannot write at this time,” except for his prediction that “Lady Mary will be beaten with that rod which heretofore she prepared for others.”

The Duchess of Suffolk continued to be heartbroken over her son’s marriage up to her death on September 19, 1580, at sixty-one.  In March of that year, she had written to the Earl of Leicester about “the evil hap of my dear son’s marriage” and pleaded with him to reassure Queen Elizabeth that she was not in danger of “losing my head.”  As long as Catherine Willoughby lived, Ms. Read notes, she could not help her son: “Obviously Lady Mary was behaving very badly, and obviously part of her bad behavior was directed at Peregrine’s mother” – but exactly why Mary railed so bitterly against the Duchess is apparently lost to history.

The troubled marriage of Oxford’s sister must have been gossip whispered throughout the royal court.  When Petruchio declares that he is “born to tame you, Kate, and bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate comfortable as other household Kates,” most members of that select audience would have roared with knowing laughter.

P.S. — I’ll have more about the outspoken, formidable Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, in the near future.


Lord Willoughby, Oxford’s Brother-in-Law, at the Court of Denmark in Elsinore, the setting for “Hamlet” — Reason 74 why Edward de Vere was “Shakespeare”

“Travel up to Hamlet’s Castle in the city of Elsinore, where you will see the outer walls and towers of this historic fortress immortalized by Shakespeare…”

Castle Kronborg at Elsinore -- the setting for "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark"

Castle Kronborg at Elsinore — the setting for “Hamlet, Prince of Denmark”

Tourists are encouraged to visit Castle Kronborg, known as Hamlet’s Castle, but the advertisers are not quite sure why “Shakespeare” chose Elsinore (as opposed to Copenhagen) as the setting for his great play about the Royal Court of Denmark.  Given the Stratfordian view, which dates the play’s composition circa 1600, they point to the Elsinore castle’s historical prominence because of its strategic location at Sound Oresund (three miles across from Sweden).  Whenever the tourism promoters decide that Hamlet was actually written by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, however, they will find a far more obvious and logical reason.

Peregrine Bertie Lord Willoughby 1555-1601

Peregrine Bertie
Lord Willoughby

In the summer of 1582, Queen Elizabeth sent Oxford’s brother-in-law Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby de Eresby, on a special mission to the Royal Court at Castle Kronborg in Elsinore.  Under the rule of King Frederick II, Denmark had become one of the great powers on the Continent and claimed the right to levy dues on all foreign merchant ships passing through its sea lanes.  Willoughby’s task was to invest Frederick as a Knight of the Garter while trying to persuade him that English ships trading with Russia should be free of molestation as they sailed through.

Willoughby remained at the Elsinore castle from July to September 1582, soaking up the atmosphere of the great fortification.  He and the king became great buddies during that time; and although the mission itself was not entirely successful, he wrote a colorful and detailed chronicle of it, circulated at the English Court and still preserved at the British Museum, entitled “Relation of my Lord Willoughby’s embassy into Denmark, in his own hand.”  In the account he described daily hunting expeditions and nightly revels with drinking bouts that prompted “many affectionate and loving speeches to Her Majesty and all of the Order,” adding that these grand toasts were “performed after a whole volley of all the great shot of the castle discharged, a royal feast, and a most artificial and cunning fireworks.”

Castle Kronborg

Castle Kronborg

Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984) points to the January 1896 issue of Contemporary Review in which a scholar (Jan Steffanson) observed that the author of Hamlet manifests a “correct knowledge of Danish names, words, and customs of his time” along with “a local knowledge of the royal Castle of Elsinore, which he could not have derived from books.”  The dramatist shows a detailed knowledge of one particular room in the castle and a familiarity with the strictly Danish custom of drinking “cannon healths” by which the cannons are fired every time the king drinks:

King.  No jocund health that Denmark drinks today

But the great cannon to the clouds shall tell…

(A flourish of trumpets and ordnance shot off, within.)

Hamlet.  The king doth wake tonight and takes his rouse,

Keeps wassail and the swaggering up-spring reels;

And, as he drinks his draughts of Rhenish down,

The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out

The triumph of his pledge…

King.  Give me the cups;

And let the kettle to the trumpet speak,

The trumpet to the cannoneer without,

The cannons to the heavens, the heavens to earth,

“Now the king drinks to Hamlet!”

Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby was married to Oxford’s sister Mary Vere.  At dinner Edward de Vere’s brother-in-law would have regaled them and other family members and friends with hilarious tales of King Frederick at the Court of Denmark in the castle at Elsinore.  And that would be just one reason why many Oxfordians have concluded that Edward de Vere wrote the first version of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark in 1583 or 1584, nearly two decades before the traditional dating of that great play, which he would have revised right up until his reported death on June 24, 1604.  It would also be another of these 100 reasons to conclude that Oxford was the great author who, in 1593, began to use the pen name William Shakespeare.

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