Elizabeth Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Wins “Dark Lady” Debate

The Phoenix Portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1575 – National Portrait Gallery, London

On Sunday (October 14), during its annual conference convened this year in Oakland, the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship held a three-way debate about the identity of the so-called Dark Lady of the Sonnets. Each of us agreed in advance that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is the author and that Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton is the so-called Fair Youth, leaving the identity of the woman open for debate. John Hamill argued for Penelope Rich; Katherine Chiljan made her case for Anne Vavasour; and I supported Queen Elizabeth, who won by a secret-ballot vote of the membership in the audience. Each of the others made a formidable case, in his or her 20-minute opening presentation, making for an afternoon session of special excitement. Here, in full, is the overview I gave at the outset:

Making sense of the Sonnets can begin with the realization that these intensely personal lines were set down by the highest-ranking earl at the royal court – and that the beloved younger man is also a member of the court. But finding the story in the sonnets becomes possible only by also identifying the right woman.

Even if we knew nothing of the author, it’s clear this woman is someone of incredible importance to him, and wields enormous power over him – a woman with whom he’s been involved in a long, complicated relationship – whom he’s believed in and defended, even when she has failed to live up to his belief in her – a woman for whom, in the end, he has sacrificed the truth and betrayed himself.

I’d like to present evidence that the powerful, dominating woman we call the Dark Lady can only be the same powerful, dominating woman who pervades the lives of both those earls, and who pervades so much of Oxford’s writing – from his own early Shakespearean sonnet professing his devotion to Queen Elizabeth to his portraits of Venus and the Phoenix, Cleopatra, Titania, Olivia, Portia, Silvia, Queen Gertrude, and more. His final words to this powerful, deceitful, inscrutable woman sum up their long relationship that has now, in the end, drained his soul and left him in bitter disillusionment:

And all my honest faith in thee is lost;/ For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,/ Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,/And to enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness,/ Or made them swear against the thing they see./For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,/To swear against the truth so foul a lie.”

Has there ever been a more wretched confession of shattered illusion and self-betrayal?

Three themes about Queen Elizabeth as Dark Lady:

First, context: Identifying the queen allows us to locate the time frame and historical circumstances for these sonnets – a context every true story must have.

Second, metaphor: The darkness of the woman is not literal but metaphorical; and the metaphor is inseparable from Elizabeth and her imperial frown.

Third, language: Oxford employs the same words to and about the Dark Lady that he’s already used to and about the queen, and used exclusively for her.

Context: The overall context is that Oxford desperately wanted the Sonnets not only published and eventually read, but also, hopefully, understood – by readers in the future. The Sonnets are for “all posterity” and “eyes not yet created,” even when “tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.” So there must be an important story here, for us. He’s playing the long game, which means the story must transcend all strictly personal issues, no matter how deeply felt. It must involve some major situation to be recorded by English history. Given all we know about Shakespeare, the story must also involve some great issue of his own time; and the most pressing issue was the urgent need for an uncontested – and, therefore, peaceful – royal succession.

The vital publishing life of Oxford’s Shakespeare plays coincides with this growing alarm: What will happen if the queen dies before naming her successor? The great issuance of Oxford’s plays under the Shakespeare name occurred in the final years of her life, up to her death. The man was still trying to guide and protect her and his country.

And the contents of his revised history plays reflect this intensifying crisis. The British author Peter Lake aptly titles his recent book “How Shakespeare Put Politics on the Stage: Power and Succession in the History Plays.” His recurring theme is that Shakespeare was using history to raise awareness of the current crisis and ways of dealing with it. Elizabeth’s urgent responsibility was to put a successor in place, to avoid civil war and even possible takeover by a foreign power. But she could not – or would not – carry out this responsibility, and finally the tension boiled over in the Essex Rebellion of early 1601.

The rebels began by paying for a special performance of Oxford’s play Richard II, which Elizabeth knew was about her and the possibility of her being deposed, even killed. The earls were hoping to prevent Robert Cecil from further manipulating the queen to ensure his own survival. Oxford had portrayed Cecil as the hunchbacked tyrant Richard III; and now the secretary was terrorizing Elizabeth (“They were planning to kill you!”) and keeping her under his firm control. For Oxford, after a lifetime of service to queen and country, it was all crashing down with his cunning former brother-in-law maintaining total command of England. As James of Scotland put it, Cecil had made himself “king there, in effect.”

Now the context begins to reveal itself. Our goal, in my view, has always been to read these autobiographical sonnets to and about the Dark Lady (nos. 127-152) in conjunction with events that must comprise the framework and foundation of Oxford’s story. And once we see Elizabeth as this woman, it becomes clear that the story unfolds between the two most important events: the failed rebellion of 1601 and the queen’s death two years later in 1603. These moments, destined to be marked by history, are the two bookends. Then, from one to the other, the sonnets and events begin to illuminate each other and to bring the story to life.

It begins with Sonnet 127 on that tragic night when most young nobles of Elizabeth’s court have been jailed on charges of having plotted against her life. The age of “Gloriana” has come to an end. It’s over – and “therefore” the eyes of their sovereign mistress have turned “Raven black.” The ravens had become dread symbols of executions on the Tower Green. When Anne Boleyn was decapitated, it was said that “even the ravens of the Tower sat silent and immovable on the battlements, gazing eerily at the strange scene: a queen about to die!”

Now two former favorites, Essex and Southampton, are both set to die on that same Tower Green, so it’s no wonder the aging queen is in “mourning” as at a funeral. After the head of Essex is cut off, the beloved Fair Youth is next, and now his fate is also up to Elizabeth.

Imagine Oxford’s emotional turmoil over this tragic situation! He might even blame himself. All three of them – Southampton, Oxford, Elizabeth – are suffering. And so Oxford addresses the queen in words echoing those of Christ on the cross: “Of him, my self, and thee, I am forsaken, a torment thrice threefold thus to be crossed.” What other kind of situation would compel this proud nobleman and great author, who hated hyperbole, to liken his own suffering to that of Christ?

Back in 1911, the legal expert Edward White declared that Sonnets 133 and 134 “clearly refer to the confinement of Southampton in the Tower” and “express the poet’s desire to go his bail by substituting his person for that of his friend, in jail.” It’s Elizabeth who has Southampton in her prison, so Oxford begs her: “Prison my heart … but then let my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail. Who ere keeps me, let my heart be his guard; thou canst not then use rigor in my jail.” In other words: “I will not let you execute him in my prison!”

White also declared: “The poet proffers to forfeit himself as security for Southampton.” Oxford tells the queen: “So now I have confessed that he is thine, and I my self am mortgaged to thy will. My self I’ll forfeit so that other mine thou wilt restore to be my comfort still.”

Now he begs her Majesty to relieve his suffering by executing him instead: “O call me not to justify the wrong that thy unkindness lays upon my heart … Kill me outright with looks and rid my pain.” An old saying was that “monarchs have killing looks.” They kill, literally, with their eyes.

Waiting in the Tower, Southampton writes a lengthy poem to the queen, trying to save his life – the only poem by him that we know of. (Before Essex was executed, he, too, had written a poem to her Majesty while in the Tower. So clearly poetry was an important means of communicating with the queen – which makes three earls and former royal wards, each writing verse for Queen Elizabeth in relation to the very same dire circumstances.) In Southampton’s poem, discovered just several years ago, the earl reminds Elizabeth: “Only mercy is the prince’s own.” Only the monarch can deliver mercy; and when she does spare his life, a relieved Oxford responds in Sonnet 145: “Straight in her heart did mercy come.”

But time to settle the succession is running out; nor does Elizabeth seem to care about the ultimate fate of Southampton, who might be left to die in the Tower as a condemned traitor in perpetual confinement. So Oxford wails in amazing lines such as these in Sonnet 147: “Past cure I am, now reason is past care,/ And frantic mad with ever-more unrest;/ My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,/ At random from the truth, vainly expressed.” His continued loyalty to the queen stands at complete odds with her failure to name a successor and protect England from chaos and bloodshed.

James of Scotland has a blood claim, but with complications. He’s a foreign king, born on foreign soil, technically not qualified, and even more deeply unqualified in his character, not to mention that he’s also the willing pawn of Robert Cecil. For all that, however, he does have a claim; but still Elizabeth refuses to name him.

In the end Oxford delivers those final bitter words to the dying female monarch who has always been the most important person in his life: “And all my honest faith in thee is lost.” And now we can see the metaphor of the queen’s darkness.

Oxford established the metaphor in Sonnet 25: “Great Princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread/ But as the Marigold at the sun’s eye,/ And in themselves their pride lies buried,/ For at a frown they in their glory die.” Elizabeth’s favorite courtiers behave like her flower, the marigold, all opening to the warm light of “the sun’s eye” – her sovereign eye; but with just a frown casting her shadow of royal displeasure, their glory dies in darkness. That’s the metaphor, set forth by Oxford himself, and it’s inseparable from Elizabeth.

Of the twenty-six sonnets in this series, only five involve her darkness, and each time it’s a variation of that same metaphor:

In the opening sonnet (127), after eight lines, he reports: “Therefore” – “Therefore my Mistress’ eyes are Raven black,” – the raven, harbinger of death – “her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem” – the eyes of mourners at a funeral. It’s a metaphor. In 130, “My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Back in those lines about the marigold, the queen’s eye was the sun; now, because of her imperial frown and negative view, the sunlight has disappeared. All is dark.

How the queen looks at someone or something is also what she does; and in 131 he tells her: “In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds.” In 132 her eyes have “put on” black, again in mourning; but if her eyes are already black, why would she have to put it on? Finally, in 147, she’s “as black as hell, as dark as night.” And that’s it for the darkness, all metaphor, all tied to the power of the queen’s negative view that turns day into night.

And now the language, to and about the queen:

For example, in 134: “I my self am mortgaged to thy will.” In a letter to Cecil about the queen, he promised not to “contradict her will.” A common saying was, “Others debate, but the king wills.”

In 140 she has “tongue-tied” or silenced him, the same as when his art is “tongue-tied by authority.” Well, the queen is authority; and she’s the only one who can tongue-tie or officially silence him.

He writes to her in 149 about being in “thy service.” He had told Burghley, “”I have engaged myself so far in her Majesty’s service to bring truth to light.” What other woman has he ever served? Also in 149 he’s “commanded by the motion of thine eyes.” In a private memo he urged the queen to give her “commandment.” And in King John he wrote about “the motion of a kingly eye.”

In his early sonnet about the queen, Oxford had blared forth his “love” and “constant truth” on her behalf. He was loyal and consistently honest. Now, as she nears death, he writes about her side of that commitment: about “thy” love, “thy” truth, “thy” constancy – the same three words; but in the end, she has had no love or truth or constancy. She has betrayed him and England itself; and therefore he has sworn falsely, all his life, by supporting and praising her.

Recall him telling how he has engaged himself in her Majesty’s service to bring truth to light; but now all his honest faith in her is lost. He admits he has had to “swear against the truth so foul a lie.” What other woman could force this strong-willed man of high rank, for whom truth was the most sacred value, to swear against it for her sake?

Soon after Oxford died the following year, 1604, came the printed full Hamlet. He must have labored to revise and expand this magnum opus right up to his last breath. In the final scene, Fortinbras comes down from the north to rule Denmark amid its royal wreckage, just as Cecil triumphantly brought James down from the north to rule England its crippled royal court. Hamlet bemoans his “wounded name” and implores Horatio to “tell my story.”

Five years later, 1609, the Sonnets are published for posterity; and I have no doubt they contain the story Horatio promised to tell the “yet unknowing world” about “how these things came about.” Here is Edward de Vere’s most personal voice – his own story – and the most direct revelation of his authorship.

Here is Oxford’s cry that his own wounded name “be buried where my body is.” Here is the truth of the great author at the royal court of England; his devotion to Southampton; his long, conflicted relationship with the queen; his fury and despair over her failure to protect his beloved isle, not to mention her unwillingness to liberate Southampton. Here is his confession of misguided loyalty and self-betrayal for her sake; and his swift disappearance within the black hole of official anonymity: “I, once gone, to all the world must die.”

Only when Queen Elizabeth is recognized as the powerful “dark lady” will the context, metaphor and language of the Sonnets enable Oxford’s untold story to finally come into focus – for posterity, for history, for us.

Oxford’s Thousand-Pound Grant: Re-posting No. 25 of 100 Reasons He Was “Shakespeare”

“But if Her Majesty, in regard of my youth, time, and fortune spent in her Court, and her favors and promises which drew me on without any mistrust, the more to presume in mine own expenses…” – Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford to Robert Ceil, 2 February 1601, describing how he had gone bankrupt in financing his activities (which were not specified) for Queen Elizabeth and the English government.

On June 26, 1586, when England was two years into the official war with Spain and bracing for King Philip’s invasion, the queen signed a warrant granting Oxford an extraordinary allowance of 1,000 pounds per year (roughly equivalent to about $400,000 today; also, in Elizabethan times a pound could buy much more than now). The grant was to be paid to him by the Exchequer, by the same formula for payments to Francis Walsingham and his wartime secret service: in quarterly installments with no accounting required.

Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

At this time the English government desperately needed all available cash for military defense; moreover, Walsingham required a constant flow of cash to pay foreign and domestic spies. Back in 1582 the Queen had given him 750 pounds; in 1586 she raised it to 2,000 pounds, but that would be the limit for her spymaster, even during the crucial year 1588.

Sir Francis Walsingham (1532-1590)

Why would Elizabeth, known for being a parsimonious (some would say miserly) monarch, choose to support a “spendthrift” nobleman who had “wasted” the vast bulk of his great inheritance?  Why would she do so at this most perilous moment for the nation?

De Vere’s grant went unnoticed by historians until two years after John Thomas Looney published his work on Oxford as “Shakespeare” in 1920.  Inspired to conduct further research, B. M. Ward discovered Elizabeth’s signature on the Privy Seal Warrant and then looked at surviving records for all other salaries and annuities paid from the Exchequer during her reign.  Aside from sums paid to King James VI of Scotland for political reasons, Ward found that the grant to Oxford was larger than any other except for the award to Walsingham and an annual 1,200-pound grant to the Master of the Posts for the ongoing expenses of that office.

As Ward noted, there is no hint as to the purpose of the grant except that it was “to be continued unto him during Our pleasure, or until such time as he shall be by us otherwise provided for to be in some manner relieved, at what time our pleasure is that this payment of one thousand pounds yearly to our said cousin in manner above specified shall cease.”

Blackfriars Playhouse – In the 1580’s Oxford gave the lease of it to John Lyly

By 1586, the thirty-six-year-old de Vere was, in fact, broke; he surely did need “to be in some manner relieved,” but the circumstantial evidence clearly suggests he had been working with Walsingham (and William Cecil Lord Burghley) to serve the government’s interests.  The evidence points to him playing a multifaceted role behind the scenes that included, but was not limited to, the issuance of his own “comedies” for the stage.

Oxford actively patronized two acting companies performing at the private Blackfriars Playhouse and at the royal court.  He patronized and/or employed many literary men for whom he provided working space, inspiration, guidance and freedom from the wartime suppression of written words and speech.  Some of the writers in his service, such as Anthony Munday and Thomas Watson, operated as secret service agents (as did Christopher Marlowe) while using their artistic activities as public cover. Others working under his wing included Robert Greene, John Lyly and Thomas Lodge.

The anonymous play The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth was performed by the Queen’s Men in the 1580’s

“The formation of the Queen’s Men in 1583 should be regarded particularly in connection with the intelligence system,” Scott McMillin and Sally-Beth MacLean write in The Queen’s Men and Their Plays (1998). “The point is not that the Queen’s Men were spies, but that traveling players wearing the Queen’s livery would have been useful to Walsingham – perhaps for occasionally bearing messages to the right persons, more obviously for showing that the central government was attending to the nation through its licensed travelers.”

With two companies on tour (except during the winter season, when they played at court), the Queen’s Men performed plays that would rouse patriotic fervor and encourage unity among Protestants and Catholics in the face of the coming Spanish invasion.  To call this “propaganda” would be true, but not the whole of it. Oxford had spent much of his fortune on helping to bring the European Renaissance to England – a result of his travels in 1575-1576 through France, Germany and Italy, and his employment of various artists who would create the great surge of English literature and drama in the 1580s, leading to the emergence of “Shakespeare” in the following decade.

The writers in Oxford’s orbit were creating a new English language, culture and national identity; these were weapons as important as ships and guns in building England’s ability and will to withstand attack. We cannot expect, however, to find these matters written down in the Queen’s Privy Seal Warrant authorizing his grant.

In the early 1660s, the Rev. John Ward, vicar of Stratford Parish in Warwickshire, recorded local rumors in his diary that “Shakespeare” had “supplied the stage with two plays every year and for that had an allowance so large that he spent at the rate of a thousand pounds a year.”

The Armada Battle

In fact, Oxford received his annual 1,000 pounds during the rest of the Anglo-Spanish War, from 1586 through the death of Elizabeth in 1603 and the succession of James, until his own death in 1604.  That amounts to eighteen years, and, of course, two plays per year equals thirty-six, the number of works published in the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in 1623.  There is no record that Will Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon ever received any allowance from the government or from anyone else.

It looks as though Rev. Ward had come into some accurate information about England’s greatest writer, even though, by that time, the author’s identity had been paved over and sealed by official history.

(Note: This post now appears as No. 43 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford.)

Re-Posting No. 23 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: Those “Haggards” that “Fly from Man to Man”

When John Thomas Looney was still searching for the true author in the early 1900s, he opened an anthology of sixteenth-century verse and looked for poems in the stanza form that Shakespeare employed for Venus and Adonis. Looney thought it likely that “Shakespeare,” whoever he was, had previously written poetry in that form, with six lines, each of ten syllables, using the rhyme scheme of a quatrain followed by a couplet [ababcc].

Poems in that form were “much fewer than I had anticipated,” Looney recalled; he found just two that could have come from the same hand that wrote the Shakespearean verse.  One was anonymous; the other was a poem about “Women” by Edward de Vere, with this opening stanza:

If women would be fair and yet not fond, [a]

Or that their love were firm not fickle still, [b]

I would not marvel that they make men bond, [a]

By service long to purchase their good will: [b]

But when I see how frail these creatures are, [c]

I muse that men forget themselves so far.  [c]

Oxford’s verse stood out, conveying “a sense of its harmony with Shakespeare’s work,” in terms of “diction, succinctness, cohesion and unity.”

What then caught Looney’s attention was the earl’s use of “haggard” – a wild or imperfectly trained hawk or falcon — as a metaphor for “fickle” women in the second stanza:

Queen Elizabeth and her attendants out hawking — Her Majesty is riding side-saddle; the man at left has just released his hawk, while above a hawk is bringing down a bird

To mark the choice they make and how they change,

How oft from Phoebus do they cleave to Pan,

Unsettled still like haggards wild they range,

These gentle birds that fly from man to man:

Who would not scorn and shake them from his fist

And let them fly (fair fools) which way they list?

In the several places where Shakespeare uses “haggards” (or the singular form) he almost always employs it as a figure of speech referring to wild, untamed, fickle women.  In Oxford’s poem the word refers to women who “fly from man to man,” a sentiment identical to Shakespeare’s use of the word in Othello:

“If I do prove her haggard, though that her jesses were my dear heart strings, I’d whistle her off and let her down the wind to prey at fortune.”  [3.3.263]

As Ren Draya and Richard F. Whalen report in their edition of Othello from an Oxfordian perspective, the Moor’s speech is “an extended metaphor from falconry, the sport of aristocrats.”

[Haggard = a female hawk captured after getting its adult plumage, hence still wild, untamed; Jesses = leather straps tied to the legs of a hawk and attached to a leash; “Whistle her off … down the wind” = send her off the way a hawk is turned loose when not performing well and sent downwind.]

Further striking parallels in Shakespeare are to be found in the third and final stanza of Oxford’s poem, which refers to the “lure” or decoy bird:

Yet for disport we fawn and flatter both,

To pass the time when nothing else can please,

And train them to our lure with subtle oath,

Till, weary of their wiles, ourselves we ease;

And then we say, when we their fancy try,

To play with fools, O what a fool was I!

A falconer in the sixteenth century

The same idea is expressed in The Taming of the Shrew when Petruchio speaks of himself as a falconer training his wife, Kate, as a falcon who needs to be kept hungry (or less than “fullgorged”), so she’ll continue to follow his lure:

“My falcon now is sharp and passing empty, and till she stoop she must not be full-gorged, for then she never looks upon her lure.  Another way I have to man my haggard, to make her come and know her keeper’s call, that is, to watch her, as we watch these kites that bate and beat and will not be obedient.” [4.1.176]

[Kites = birds of prey, such as the falcon; bate = beat down and weaken a female bird who still won’t obey.]

Just as Oxford writes of men who use a “subtle oath” as a lure or bait to “train” women to their wills, Hero in Much Ado About Nothing speaks of “the false sweet bait that we lay” for Beatrice, of whom she says, “I know her spirits are as coy and wild as haggards of the rock.” [3.1.32-36]

Coming back full-circle, in Venus and Adonis the poet writes of the Goddess of Love and Beauty: “As falcons to the lure, away she flies…” [1027]

“What we have in this instance, as a matter of fact,” Looney writes, “is a complete accordance at all points in the use of an unusual word and figure of speech.  Indeed if we make a piece of patchwork of all the passages in Shakespeare in which the word ‘haggard’ occurs we can reconstruct De Vere’s single poem on ‘Women.’

“Such an agreement not only supports us in seeking to establish the general harmony of De Vere’s work with Shakespeare’s, but carries us beyond the immediate needs of our argument – for it constrains us to claim that either both sets of expression are actually from the same pen, or ‘Shakespeare’ pressed that license to borrow (which was prevalent in his day) far beyond its legitimate limits.  In our days we should not hesitate to describe such passages as glaring plagiarism, unless they happen to come from the same pen.”

Sonnet 91 speaks of hawks, hounds and horses; and if the Sonnets are autobiographical, as they appear to be, then we are hearing the voice of a nobleman spontaneously referring to various aspects of his everyday world:

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,

Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,

Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,

Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse…

Prince Hamlet exclaims to the players, “Masters, you are all welcome,” adding spontaneously, “We’ll e’en to’t like French falconers, fly at anything we see!” [2.2]

Juliet calls out: “Hst! Romeo, hist! O for a falconer’s voice to lure this tassel-gentle back again!” [2.2]

A falcon swooping down…

A terrifying stanza in The Rape of Lucrece portrays the rapist Tarquin as a falcon circling above his helpless prey:

This said, he shakes aloft his Roman blade,

Which, like a falcon towering in the skies,

Coucheth the  fowl below with his wings’ shade,

Whose crooked beak threats if he mount he dies;

So under his insulting falchion lies

Harmless Lucretia, marking what he tells

With trembling fear, as fowl hear falcons’ bells. [505-511]

(Coucheth the fowl = causing the bird to hug the ground; Falchion = sword; marking = listening to; Falcons’ bells = bells were attached to the hawks or falcons.)

Oxford was an expert falconer; so, too, was the author known as Shakespeare.

This post is now number 23 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016), edited by Alex McNeil (with other editorial help by Brian Bechtold)

Sonnets 107 to 125: Southampton’s Liberation on April 10, 1603 to Elizabeth’s Funeral on April 28: Nineteen Sonnets = Nineteen Days

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent. (Sonnet 107)

“The particular sonnet [107] which, according to Sir Sidney Lee and other authorities, welcomed Southampton’s liberation from prison in 1603 [April 10], is one of the last of the series … and makes references to events that took place in 1603 – to Queen Elizabeth’s death and the accession of James I.” — J.T. Looney, “‘Shakespeare’ Identified”, 1920, p. 430 [page 365 in the edition by Ruth Loyd Miller]

“In another connection we have had to point out that Shakespeare’s sonnet 125 seems to be pointing to De Vere’s officiating at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral [April 28, 1603]. This may be taken as his last sonnet; for 126 is really … a parting message to his young friend.” – Looney, pp. 395-96 [page 335 in Miller’s edition]

Looney agreed 107 marks Southampton’s liberation on April 10.

He believed that 125 marks Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on April 28.

The nineteen sonnets from 107 to 125 cover one-for-one the nineteen days from April 10 to April 28.

Is this a coincidence? Or is it deliberate?

Sonnet 126, the envoy*, completes the sequence of twenty.

These follow the eighty from 27 to 106 (Southampton’s time in the Tower).

Eighty plus twenty = One Hundred or a Century.

* Sonnets 26 and 126 are both envoys, creating the 100-sonnet center.

1——-26 27——————————–126 127————152

  (26)                         (100)                             (26)

Re-Posting No. 19 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford: The Polonius-Hamlet Family

An obvious link in the chain of evidence connecting Edward de Vere to “Shakespeare” is the similarity of his and Hamlet’s family relationships:

Queen Gertrude as played by Glenn Close

Gertrude is the mother of Hamlet, while Elizabeth was the legal mother of Oxford, when he was her ward.

Polonius as played by Eric Porter

Polonius is chief adviser to Gertrude, while Burghley (William Cecil) was chief adviser to Elizabeth.

Hamlet is engaged to young Ophelia, daughter of Polonius, while Oxford became engaged to young Anne Cecil, daughter of Burghley.

Ophelia as played by Helena Bonham Carter

Ophelia’s older brother, Laertes, goes off to Paris, his behavior causing great distress to his father, who recites the famous “precepts” to him as guidance. Anne’s eldest brother, Thomas Cecil, went off to Paris, his behavior causing great distress to his father, Burghley, who wrote him long letters full of wise “precepts” as guidance. Later he would also write his famous precepts to son Robert Cecil.

Claudius, who fatally poisons Hamlet’s father and marries the prince’s mother the queen, thereby becoming king, reflects Elizabeth’s lover Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was suspected of many poisonings. Oxford may have concluded that Leicester had caused the death by poisoning of his own father, John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford.

In Hamlet, the Shakespeare play carrying the most autobiographical tone of them all, we find the main character in virtually the same web of family relationships at court as Edward de Vere.  Traditional scholars may ask rhetorically, Well, now, you’re not claiming this as proof that Oxford wrote Hamlet, are you?” We might reply, “No, of course not, but doesn’t this give you a little queasy feeling in the gut?  Don’t you have the slightest tremor of doubt that Will of Stratford could have, or would have, written such a play?  Do you think this mirror image of family relationships can be mere coincidence?”

James Shapiro of Columbia University argues in Contested Will that “such claims about representing on the public stage some of the most powerful figures in the realm betray a shallow grasp of Elizabethan dramatic censorship.”  He adds that Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels, “whose job it was to read and approve all dramatic scripts before they were publicly performed, would have lost his job – and most likely his nose and ears, if not his head, had he approved a play that so transparently ridiculed privy councilors past and present.”

Perhaps it is Shapiro himself who betrays a shallow grasp of what is really happening on the public stage. The author himself supplies a further clue to this when an exasperated Polonius, speaking of Hamlet, tells Gertrude: “He will come straight.  Look you lay home to him.  Tell him his pranks have been too broad to bear with, and that your Grace hath screened and stood between much heat and him.” Hamlet-Oxford has taken too many liberties, unbearably so, but nonetheless the queen has protected him from “much heat” and/or reprisals by government officials [such as Tilney] and his enemies at court.

Otherwise, Shapiro is right: not only Tilney but also the playwright surely would have lost his head … if he had been Shakspere of Stratford!

(This post, with great help from editor Alex McNeil, is now No. 9 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford)

 

Re-Posting No. 16 of “100 Reasons” why the Earl of Oxford = “Shakespeare”: Bertram in “All’s Well That Ends Well”

The leading male character in All’s Well That Ends Well is Bertram, Count of Rousillon, a young French nobleman whose callous self-absorption leads to bad behavior toward his wife. In many respects, Bertram is a representation of a young English nobleman, Edward, Earl of Oxford, whose callous self-absorption led to bad behavior toward his wife.

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), author of the “Decameron, On Famous Women”

The play is based on a tale by the great Florentine author -poet Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) in The Decameron, a collection of one hundred novellas that became the model of Italian prose for writers in the sixteenth century.

Illustration of the “Decameron”

A now-lost stage work entitled The Historie of the Rape of the Second Helene, recorded as performed at Richmond Palace on 6 January 1579, might have been an early version of All’s Well, which did not appear in print until the 1623 First Folio.

“All’s Well That Ends Well” in the First Folio of 1623

If the play performed at Richmond was in fact an early draft of All’s Well, observes William Farina in De Vere as Shakespeare, “then perhaps the play reflects de Vere coming to grips with his own bad behavior toward his wife, in which case Bertram would represent Shakespeare’s own unvarnished and unflattering self-portrait of the artist as a young man.”

The early version would have been written solely for Queen Elizabeth and members of her royal court, who would have quickly understood its contemporary allusions and inside jests.

A revised version for the public playhouse in the 1590s may have been the “unknown” Shakespeare comedy to which Francis Meres refers in Palladis Tamia (1598) as Love labours Wonne.

[There is no record of a All’s Well being performed until 1741.]

Following are some of the ways in which Bertram appears to reflect Oxford:

ROYAL WARD

When Oxford’s father died he was summoned to London as a ward in subjection to her Majesty the Queen of England. All’s Well begins when, upon his father’s death, young Bertram has been summoned to Paris as a royal ward of the King of France:

Countess: In delivering my son from me I bury a second husband.

Bertram: And I in going, madam, weep o’er my father’s death anew; but I must attend his Majesty’s command, to whom I am evermore in subjection.

A Scene from “All’s Well That Ends Well”

MARRIAGE

When Vere came of age in 1571 a marriage was arranged between him and his guardian William Cecil’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Anne, a commoner.  Bertram is leaving behind the young Helena, a commoner’s daughter who had fallen in love with him:

“I am undone.  There is no living, none, if Bertram be away.  ‘Twere all one that I should love a bright particular star and think to wed it, he is so above me.  In his bright radiance and collateral light must I be comforted, not in his sphere.”

The King promises to elevate Helena’s family to the nobility so she and Bertram can marry.  In real life, Elizabeth raised up her chief minister from commoner status to become Lord Burghley, so that Anne, who had grown up with Oxford in the same household and undoubtedly loved him, would be of the nobility and able to marry him.

MILITARY SERVICE

Oxford, who had served in the 1570 campaign against the rebelling Catholic earls of the north, nonetheless hungered for more military service but had been kept behind for being too young.  In the fall of 1572, after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre [of Protestants] in France, he begged Burghley to allow him to serve on a ship or abroad “where yet some honor were to be got,” adding he was also “most willing to be employed on the sea coasts, to be in readiness with my countrymen against any invasion.”  He was continually blocked, however, and his complaints are echoed by the Count in the play:

“I am commanded here and kept a coil with ‘Too young’ and ‘The next year’ and ‘’Tis too early’… I shall stay here the forehorse to a smock [a woman’s lead horse], creaking my shoes on the plain masonry [palace floors, instead of rough battlefield], till honor be bought up [exhausted], and no sword worn but one to dance with.  By heaven, I’ll steal away!”

Oxford did “steal away” from England without authorization, in the summer of 1574, but he was forced to return three weeks later.

“The Decameron” by Boccaccio — a hundred stores narrated by seven women and three men during the Plague of 1348

PROMISE

Oxford finally received permission to travel abroad in early 1575 and spent more than fifteen months in France, Germany and Italy, with his home base in Venice.  Back in England, when the earl’s wife revealed she was pregnant, Elizabeth “sprung up from the cushions” and said, “I protest to God that next to them that have interest in it, there is nobody can be more joyous of it than I am!”   A bit later, however, she repeated the promise Oxford had given her “openly in the presence chamber that if she [Anne] were with child, it was not his!” (This is in a letter from Dr. Richard Master, court physician, written to Lord Burghley on March 7, 1575, while Oxford was at the French  court in Paris.)

De Vere had promised the queen that he would not sleep with his wife, just as we find the count saying the same in relation to his wife, Helena:

“Although before the solemn priest I have sworn, I will not bed her … O my Parolles, they have married me!  I’ll go to the Tuscan wars and never bed her … I have wedded, not bedded her, and sworn to make the ‘not’ eternal.”  And writing to Helena: “When thou canst … show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband; but in such a ‘then’ I write a ‘never.’”

BED TRICK

Bertram fathers a son by means of a “bed trick,” a scheme hatched by Helena whereby another woman goes to bed with him and then, in the dark, Helena trades places with her.  In The Histories of Essex (1836) gossip of similar details is recorded about Oxford, Anne and her father:

“[Oxford] forsook his lady’s bed, [but] the father of Lady Anne by stratagem contrived that her husband should unknowingly sleep with her, believing her to be another woman, and she bore a son to him in consequence of this meeting.” [Anne gave birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, in 1575.]

Also the Master of the Horse to Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery [who married Oxford’s youngest daughter, Susan], refers in a memoir to “the last great Earl of Oxford, whose lady was brought to his bed under the notion of his mistress, and from such a virtuous deceit she [Susan] is said to proceed.”  [Again, the child was Elizabeth Vere.]

The bed trick also appears in Measure for Measure.

All’s Well includes a backdrop of the wars in the Netherlands between Spain and the Dutch in the 1570s, along with what Farina describes as “enormous amounts of esoteric knowledge regarding the history and geography of France and Italy, as well as Renaissance literature and courtly social customs” — a further link in the chain of evidence pointing to Oxford as the author.

Another source of the play is William Painter’s English translation of Decameron, published in 1566, when de Vere was sixteen and graduating from Oxford University. The earl knew Italian and undoubtedly also read Decameron in its original language, which “Shakespeare” appears to have done — although traditional scholars have been unable to explain how the Stratford man could have read the Italian version.

[This post is No. 73 in 100 Reasons Shakes-peare was the Earl of Oxford]

… “The World’s Hopeful Expectation” … “The Hope and Expectation of Thy Time” … “The Expectation of the World”

“When Parliament convened in February 1593, the queen was fifty-nine years old, her age intensifying public concern over that ‘uncertain certainty,’ the as-yet-unsettled succession on her death … Despite, or rather because of, the decisive importance of this question, it remained largely invisible on the landscape of public discourse. Elizabeth’s government was determined to see that this preoccupation had no outlet. Public discussion of the succession was forbidden, declared treason by parliamentary statute … The aim of the Crown’s policy was wholly to remove the question of royal lineage from discussion by subjects…” – Robert Lane, The University of North Carolina Press *

Henry Wriothesley
3rd Earl of Southampton

Such was the situation in 1593 when “William Shakespeare” appeared for the first time as the printed signature on the dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesely, Earl of Southampton, to whom he wrote:

“I leave it to your Honourable survey, and your Honour to your heart’s content, which I wish may always answer your own wish, and the world’s hopeful expectation.” **

The same poet would use a variation of “the world’s hopeful expectation” in his play of royal history Henry IV, Part 1, when the King chastises his wayward son, Prince Hal, for wasting his gift of blood and failing to prepare for his kingship:

The hope and expectation of thy time is ruined, and the soul of every man prophetically do forethink thy fall.” (3.2.36-38]

By pointing to “the world’s hopeful expectation” for Henry Wriothesley, the poet was consciously and deliberately proclaiming him as the long-hoped-for successor to Elizabeth, who was adamant in refusing to name anyone to follow her on the throne. “Shakespeare” had carefully selected those words, both to address the young earl directly and to publicly advertise this solution to the nation’s crisis. He was voicing his own hope for Southampton to be named the future Henry IX of England.

Robert Lane observes that a major weapon against the Crown’s suppression of public discussion was the power wielded by Elizabethan writers. Plays, for example, “provided a forum for examination of the issue in a manner sufficiently oblique to avoid government retaliation.” Lane then proceeds to focus on how Shakespeare in his history play King John “thoroughly, almost systematically” engages “the specific issues entailed in the succession crisis of the 1590s.”

Yes — and this same “Shakespeare” – Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford – was so concerned about the crisis that he used the launch of his new pen name to voice his own “hopeful expectation” for Southampton as a prince. Here was Oxford’s answer to avoiding civil war over the crown; to preventing a foreigner from gaining the throne; and to finally ending the inherent danger to England caused by the Virgin Queen’s silence.

In Part 2 of Henry IV, after Prince Hal becomes King Henry V, he admits the public had viewed him as a wastrel unworthy of the Crown; but now he vows to wipe away that negative “expectation of the world” and fulfill his destiny as a great monarch:

My father is gone wild into his grave,

For in his tomb lie my affections,

And with his spirit sadly I survive

To mock the expectation of the world,

To frustrate prophecies and to raze out

Rotten opinion, who hath writ me down

After my seeming. The tide of blood in me

Hath proudly flowed in vanity till now.

Now doth it turn and ebb back to the sea,

Where it shall mingle with the state of floods

And flow henceforth in formal majesty. (5.2.123-133)

In my view, Oxford dearly hoped that in the future Henry Wriothesley would use similar words, expressing similar sentiments, about “the tide of blood” that flowed in him.

///

x “‘The sequence of posterity’: Shakespeare’s King John and the Succession Controversy” by Robert Lane, The University of North Carolina Press, 1995

xx My emphases

Re-Posting Reason 7: Oxford Wrote One of the First “Shakespearean” Sonnets of the Elizabethan Reign

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-1547) – Beheaded a few years before Oxford, his nephew, was born; as a poet he introduced the “Shakespearean” sonnet into England and Oxford followed suit soon after becoming a courtier at twenty-one in 157

Poetry was part of Edward de Vere’s family heritage.  He was a boy when the lyrical verses of his late uncle the Earl of Surrey were published, and among them were the first English sonnets in the form to become known much later as the “Shakespearean” form.

Soon after Oxford turned twenty-one in 1571 and began his steep rise in the royal favor, he himself composed one of the first sonnets in that form during the Elizabethan reign.

Oxford’s sonnet consisted of a series of questions to himself about the one who was the center of his universe. The answer to each rhetorical question was Elizabeth, who — “above the rest in Court” — was the one who gave him royal “grace.”   (Only a monarch could give grace.)  All his loyal devotion was directed to his sovereign mistress.

The words and themes of this early work will reappear in the more mature verses published in 1609, five years after Oxford’s death, entitled SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS.

We’ll take a look at a few of these parallels, but, first, his Shakespearean sonnet:

Who taught thee first to sigh, alas, my heart?

Who taught thy tongue the woeful words of plaint?

Who filled your eyes with tears of bitter smart?

Who gave thee grief and made thy joys to faint?

Who first did paint with colors pale thy face?

Who first did break thy sleeps of quiet rest?

Above the rest in Court who gave thee grace?

Who made thee strive in honor to be best?

In constant truth to bide so firm and sure,

To scorn the world regarding but thy friends?

With patient mind each passion to endure,

In one desire to settle to the end?

Love then thy choice wherein such choice thou bind,

As nought but death may ever change thy mind.

The Shakespearean sonnet form using Sonnet 129 as an example

The opening line – “Who taught thee first to sigh alas, my heart” – will be echoed decades later by “Shakespeare” in Sonnet 150: “Who taught thee how to make me love thee more.”

Oxford’s phrase “Above the rest” in the second quatrain will be repeated in Sonnet 91: “Wherein it finds a joy above the rest.”

His theme in the first line of the third quatrain – “In constant truth to bide so firm and sure” – will find similar expression by “Shakespeare” in Sonnet 152:

“Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy.”

Queen Elizabeth I circa 1565-1570, when she was age 32-37

It’s fitting that Oxford’s sonnet to and about Elizabeth is echoed so strongly in the later Dark Lady Series of the Shakespeare sonnets (127-152), given the premise of The Monument that the “dark lady” is the Queen herself – not, I should add, because of any dark physical coloring but because of her “dark” or negative attitude and actions toward the “fair youth,” Henry Wriothesley third earl of Southampton.

[This circumstantial evidence was originally posted here more than six years ago; now a slightly expanded and edited version appears as No. 22 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (October 2016)].

Re-Posting Reason No. 3: Oxford Sponsored “The Courtier” — A Primary Inspiration for Prince Hamlet

“O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword,
The expectancy and rose of the fair state,
The glass of fashion and the mould of form…”
— Ophelia speaking of Prince Hamlet

When Shakespeare created his greatest and most self-revealing character with the words and actiions of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, he drew upon his own intimate knowledge and obvious love for Baldesar Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano, that is, The Book of the Courtier, one of the great volumes of the High Renaissance.

Castiglione’s & The Book of the Courtier

Portrayed in the book is a group of real-life thinkers, politicians, soldiers, clerics, diplomats and wits who gathered together at the Palace of Urbino in 1507 to play a game, over four evenings, to try to piece together a portrait of the perfect courtier.

Their conversations about courtliness ranged “from chivalry to humanist debates about language, literature, painting and sculpture,” John Lotherington writes in his introduction to a 2005 edition from Barnes & Noble Books, “to the art of conversation and the telling of jokes, the role and dignity of women, the delicate job of guiding willful princes, and finally to love and its transcendent form in pure spirit.”

The Courtier, published in 1528, attempts “to refashion the medieval ideal of the chivalrous knight and to fuse it with the Renaissance virtues of learning and grace,” James Oscar Campbell writes in The Reader’s Encylopedia of Shakespeare (1966), adding that Shakespeare “may have derived the ‘merry war’ of Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing from a similar battle in The Courtier.”

The Ducal Palace at Urbino

“Shakespeare may have read Castiglione in Italian,” Charles Boyce writes in Shakespeare A to Z (1990) — a fairly amazing statement from one who supposedly believes the author was William Shakspere of Stratford upon Avon, who was unlikely to have been able to read works in Italian.

Translated into English in 1561 by Thomas Hoby, The Courtier exerted a strong influence on the courtly ideals of the reign of Elizabeth I of England.

The Courtier in English as translated by Thomas Hoby in 1561

A little more than a decade later, in January 1572, having just come of age as a courtier, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford made possible the publication of a new Latin translation of Castiglione’s work by one of his former tutors, Bartholomew Clerke.  To give it the biggest send-off possible, Oxford even wrote an eloquent introduction, also in Latin, which Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare (1984) called “a remarkably finished piece of work for a 21-year-old writing in a classical language.”

Oxford’s first biographer B. M. Ward wrote in 1928 that becoming a leader in war had been Edward de Vere’s goal, “if only because that was the normal expectation for any young nobleman seeking to fulfill his destiny,” but having been denied military service it was “only natural” that the young earl then turned to literature.

The Latin translation of The Courtier by Bartholomew Clerke in 1571, published from the Royal Court with Oxford’s blessing

But Ward also noted that most likely Edward de Vere had been captivated by literature from boyhood.  He had taken degress at Cambridge and Oxford universities at ages fourteen and sixteen; before age twenty his library had included works of Chaucer, Plutarch, Cicero and Plato, not to mention the Geneva Bible and “other books and papers.”

In 1571, the year before he issued his former tutor’s Latin translation of The Courtier, his uncle Arthur Golding noted in print that that he knew from personal experience how Oxford had taken a keen interest in “the present estate of things in our days, and that not without a certain pregnancy of wit and ripeness of understanding.”

Oxford in January 1572 was receiving the highest royal favor at Court.  The intimacy of his relationship with Queen Elizabeth was the subject of much scandalous gossip; the year before, he had married the Ophelia-like daughter of William Cecil Lord Burghley, the Polonius-like chief minister to the Queen.  Although he had grown up in the household and custody of Burghley, the architect of the Protestant reformation, Oxford leaned away from the Puritan movement and instead fell in love with classical languages and the old feudal values of knighthood and chivalry.

Elizabeth Tudor, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)

In his early twenties, he was the latest descendant of noble earls stretching back 500 years to William the Conqueror and, in every way, the man whom Walt Whitman would describe as one of the ‘wolfish earls’ who must have written the Shakespeare plays:

“Conceived out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism – personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) — only one of the ‘wolfish earls’ so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendent and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works — works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded history.”

When our modern world realizes sooner than later that Edward de Vere wrote the Shakespearean works, students will find more and more ways in which those works reflect his devotion to the ideas and ideals set forth by Castiglione, of whom the young earl wrote enthusiastically in his preface:

“For who has spoken of Princes with greater gravity?  Who has discoursed of illustrious women with a more ample dignity?  No one has written of military affairs more eloquently, more aptly about horse-racing, and more clearly and admirably about encounters under arms on the field of battle.  I will say nothing of the fitness and the excellence with which he has depicted the beauty of chivalry in the noblest persons.”

Drayton Henderson wrote a book in 1934 with a title that directly declared its theme:  Hamlet as a Castiglionean Courtier.  He also wrote introductory notes for the Everyman edition of The Courtier, stating that “without Castiglione we should not have Hamlet.  The ideal of the courtier, scholar, soldier developed first in Italy, and perfected in the narrative of Il Cortegiano, was Castiglione’s gift to the world,” adding, “Hamlet is the high exemplar of it in our literature.  But it is not only Shakespeare’s Hamlet that seems to follow Castiglione.  Shakespeare himself does.”

Hamlet the character is drawn in large part from Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier … Shakespeare created Hamlet as a special work of self-delineation … and it turns out that the leading candidate for the real author, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, strove to embody the “perfect courtier” as recorded by Castiglione in The Courtier — which, in turn, as a young man newly arrived at Court, he had read over and over and then caused to be published.

The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s eye, tongue, sword…

In the spring of 1570 the 20-year-old courtier Edward de Vere had been a soldier while accompanying the Earl of Sussex near the end of the Northern Rebellion, witnessing some battles of that English civil war; he was already known as a brilliant scholar;  he was famous for his sharp tongue and was the new champion jouster of the Whitehall tilt yard …

So that’s my Reason No. 3 why Oxford was author of the “Shakespeare” works.  The next installment, No. 4, will focus on the actual contents of the wonderful 1,100-word preface Oxford wrote for his former tutor’s Latin translation of The Book of the Courtier — a piece of writing that one day will be the basis of an essential chapter in the biography of the man who wrote the tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:

O Horatio what a wounded name!
Things standing thus unknown shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity a while
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story…

(Note: This post became Reason 7 in 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford by Hank Whittemore)

 

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

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