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.

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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

SNAPSHOT: DE VERE – The Royal Ward at Nineteen (1569)

When Edward de Vere was nineteen in 1569 and still a royal ward of Elizabeth I living under William Cecil’s roof in London, his purchases included items such as:

“Fine black cloth for a cape and a riding cloak … one doublet of cambric [thin cotton or linen fabric of fine close weave, probably white], one doublet of fine canvas, and one of black satin … the furniture of a riding cloak … one pair of velvet hose, black … Ten pairs of Spanish leather shoes … a rapier, dagger and girdle [belt or sash] … … six sheets of fine Holland [cotton cloth], six handkerchiefs and six others of cambric … four yards of velvet, and four others of satin to guard and border a Spanish capeone velvet hat, and one taffeta hat [of lightweight fabric]; two velvet caps, a scarf, two pairs of garters with silver at the ends, a plume of feathers for a hat, and another hat band …”

These notations come from an old account book containing “Payments made by John Hart, Chester Herald, on behalf of the Earl of Oxford” for the first nine months of 1569. In his biography of the earl, B.M. Ward observes that such details make it possible to “vividly picture” de Vere in his daily life at the time:

“Rather below medium height, he was sturdy with brown curly hair and hazel eyes. On his head a velvet cap with a plume of pheasants’ feathers fastened on one side. A black satin doublet, velvet breeches, and silk stockings supported by silver buckled garters. On his feet the broad-toed, flat-footed, soft leather shoes of the period. At his side a light rapier, passed through a silver-studded belt.”

This snapshot becomes a short video:

“Thus clad, he would go down to the river stairs at the bottom of Ivy Lane. The liveried watermen would be ready waiting at the steps with the canopied barge; and then they would go upstream, perhaps, to the Palace at Richmond …  On another morning, perhaps he would order one of his four geldings [castrated male horses]; and having discarded the Court silks and satins for the more serviceable cloths, he would ride out from Cecil House westward along the Strand past St. Martin’s Church, with a hawk on his wrist. Here he would canter along the soft turf at the side of the narrow country lane till he came to the little village of Kensington. An hour’s hawking, with its wild gallops over fields and through woods; and so back to London with the bag of partridges and herons tied to his saddle.”

The word-picture concludes that evening. This young noble, “tired with the day’s chase” and now in his library, is surrounded by the books he loves. [The same account book lists 1569 payments for his purchases of “a Geneva Bible gilt, a Chaucer, Plutarch’s works in French, with other books and papers … two Italian books … Tully’s and Plato’s works in folio, with other books, paper and nibs (pen points)”] “We may be sure,” Ward writes, “that his active mind was attracted by the wealth of Renaissance literature that was then beginning to flood England,” adding that the 17th Earl of Oxford’s enthusiasm for Italy “originated no doubt from the Italian books he had read, perhaps surreptitiously, while he was a royal ward.”

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Ward, BM. The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford 1550-1604 From Contemporary Documents, 1928, pp. 31-35

“A Magnetic Sense of History, Art, Politics and Human Nature” – from “Kirkus Reviews”

It’s gratifying to receive such a wonderful reaction to 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford from Kirkus Reviews.

100-reasons-cover-front-only-for-thumbnail-resized_2-10_26_16

Knowing full well that Kirkus maintains total independence, I had no expectation of what kind of response the book might receive. This review came as a welcome surprise, to say the least, and may well count as new evidence that the Oxfordian movement is gaining ground outside the confines of our own community. Thanks to the editorial expertise of Alex McNeil and, too, from Brian Bechtold, as well as from Bill Boyle of Forever Press; and most of all, my gratitude to the readers of this blog site who contributed helpful comments all along the way, over the course of some three and a half years, making it possible to even think about compiling and revising the “100 Reasons” into a cohesive book.

Here’s the full review:

A book offers an energetic defense of the Earl of Oxford theory regarding the authorship of the plays of William Shakespeare.

“In this work about Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, the competing theories—proposing Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley, the Earl of Derby, and, of course,  Shakespeare himself—are given their day in court as well. (Indeed, examining and discarding these notions constitutes part of the quite literal 100 reasons presented in the volume.) As the alternative possibilities are explored, Whittemore makes a progressively stronger case for the Earl of Oxford as the sole author of the works of Shakespeare. Beginning in the book’s introduction by questioning how such a seemingly unremarkable man as Shakespeare could demonstrate such near-miraculous genius, Whittemore takes the reader on an intricate journey in scholarship regarding the theater and the Renaissance period. He touches on the first Oxfordian supporter—John Thomas Looney—and builds profiles of the various players in Shakespeare’s world, from Queen Elizabeth I’s chief adviser, Lord Burghley, to her spymaster, Francis Walsingham. During this odyssey, an image of de Vere himself emerges: a brilliant, controversial man and an intimate of Elizabeth’s court with poetry and theater in his blood—an ideal alternative to Shakespeare for reasons ranging from creativity to insight into statecraft. While mainstream academia largely dismisses questions of authorship in studying the works of Shakespeare, Whittemore strongly champions the Oxfordian argument in this tour de force defense while remaining a highly entertaining writer. A breezy but very intelligent tone is maintained throughout the book; the reader is neither patronized nor boggled by minutiae and jargon. Instead, there is a magnetic sense of history, art, politics, and human nature injected into a smooth and eminently readable storytelling style. It is obvious that the author’s research has been painstaking, but the resulting document is more than painless—it’s downright pleasurable. The text itself is immaculate, as one would expect from such a seasoned nonfiction writer and scholar. One may or may not accept the Oxfordian argument, but Whittemore ensures that the reader will never again lightly dismiss it.

“An engrossing and thoughtful literary examination.”

  • “Kirkus Reviews”

Max Perkins to Ernest Hemingway: “That Stratford Man Ain’t No Shakespeare!”

“It is certain, to my mind, that the man Shakespeare [i.e., Shakspere] was not the author of what we consider Shakespeare’s works.”

— Maxwell Perkins, writing to Ernest Hemingway on August 13, 1942. (From Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins, Scribners, 1950)

Perkins and Hemingway in Key West, Florida in January 1935

Perkins and Hemingway in Key West, Florida in January 1935

Max Perkins was the editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons for some of the greatest novelists of his time, including not only Hemingway but also Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among many others.  Given that the works of these three writers so closely reflected their individual lives and perspectives, this devoted editor (who got so thoroughly involved in his authors’ joys and sorrows) was in the perfect position to see that the soaring, universal works of Shakespeare utterly fail to reflect the life and perspective of William Shakspere.

To Perkins, given what he knew firsthand, the traditional belief that the Stratford man could have written those works was absurd.

At the time he wrote that letter to Hemingway, the editor was reading the proofs of Will Shakspere and the Dyer’s Hand (1943) by Alden Brooks, who had put forth the candidacy of Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607), the English courtier and poet.  In his biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978), A. Scott Berg reports that Perkins was able to get the Dyer book published “only because of his obstinacy.”

“For some time the book had been a mania with him,” Berg writes.  “At every editorial conference Perkins brought it up and the board unanimously voted it down. ‘So, being a man of infinite patience,’ one Scribners employee recalled, ‘he would reintroduce his suggestion at the next conference, with the same result.’ What charmed Perkins about the work was that it credited Sir Edward Dyer, an editor, with Shakespeare’s success.”

[Note: I am not sure what Berg means by saying Dyer was an “editor,” but he appears to suggest that Perkins was rejecting the Stratford myth at least partially because of some kind of narcissistic bias or vanity.  If so, I disagree.]

Eventually the board agreed to publish the book “to please Perkins,” Berg reports. “Max sent copies to many critics, hoping to rouse support.  Nearly every one dismissed the work as mere speculation.  Still Perkins retained his faith in the book and his respect for it.”

The reason for this tenacity, I suggest, is that he had come to realize the unbridgeable gap between the literary and dramatic works of Shakespeare and the personal experience of the Stratford man.  It must have come as a profound shock. Max Perkins, who was so attuned to his writers and how their lives affected whatever they wrote, could feel that gap in his bones.

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Postscript: Edward Dyer is rather infamous among Oxfordians because of his letter to Sir Christopher Hatton on October 9, 1572, offering advice on how to compete with Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford for the love and intimate favor of Queen Elizabeth.  His counsel, in short, was to be every bit as cynical and hypocritical as an Elizabethan courtier could be, and then some.  He exhorted Hatton to “acknowledge your duty, declaring the reverence which in heart you bear, and never seem deeply to condemn her frailties, but rather joyfully to commend such things as should be in her, as though they were in her indeed; hating my Lord Ctm [Oxford, Lord High Chamberlain] in the Queen’s understanding for affection’s sake, and blaming him openly for seeking the Queen’s favor.  For though in the beginning when her Majesty sought you (after her good manner), she did bear with rugged dealing of yours, until she had what she fancied, yet now, after satiety and fullness,” he should “use no words of disgrace or reproach” toward Oxford so that the earl, “being the less provoked, may sleep, thinking all safe, while you do awake and attend your advantages.”  [Emphasis added to those words appearing to suggest that Hatton and Elizabeth had engaged in sexual intercourse.]

 

“To Gain Knowledge and Understanding of the Ways of Men” – Queen Elizabeth, Describing the Earl of Oxford in Letters of Introduction to Foreign Princes

It’s my pleasure to pass on news of work by Alexander Waugh, who has obtained English translations of two Latin letters by Queen Elizabeth, addressing the princes of Europe on behalf of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford as he was about to set forth in early 1575 on his foreign travels. The translations were obtained after “quite a sweat and a consultation with two serious Latin scholars,” he reports, adding, “What I think is really tremendous about this is that Elizabeth says her recommendation of Oxford is not the normal thing but ‘in all sincerity’ (‘ex animo’) or ‘from the heart’, because of his ‘outstanding intellect’ (‘praestantes animi’) or ‘outstanding mind.’”

oxford11

In the second letter the queen uses “ingenio,” which refers to innate talent and natural capacity or, quite possibly as the Latin word suggests, genius. Waugh aptly remarks that these introductions of Oxford from the Queen of England are not merely standard letters prepared by a clerk for her Majesty to sign off.  Instead they refer in specific ways to a specific young nobleman, not quite twenty-five years old, taking the trouble to emphasize his unique qualities and indicating a special interest in his mission “to gain knowledge and understanding of the ways of men in different cities and regions.”

1 Elizabeth, by the grace of God, etc.  To all individual kings, etc. 

An illustrious and highly accomplished young man, our beloved cousin, Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford, Viscount Bulbeck, Lord of Scales and Badelsmore, Great Chamberlain of England, plans (with our good grace) to travel overseas to gain knowledge and understanding of the ways of men in different cities and regions. We therefore sincerely request your servants, your most excellent educators and your own kindness, that when he comes into any kingdom, territory, land or jurisdiction of yours, not only will he be permitted to stay there freely and to pass through without impediment, but he will be treated with all kindness for our sake, and will be welcomed so that we may see your friendship and benevolence towards us reflected in your treatment of this most noble earl, our kinsman (whom we recommend not in the usual way, but in all sincerity, on account of his outstanding intellect and virtue). When this young nobleman shows himself worthy of your kindness by virtue of his manners, we too, as a sign of thanks for things great and small, shall never forget to repay you generously, and by any means, when the time and occasion may arise.  In witness whereof etc.

Hampton, 24 January 1574 [=1575], in the seventeenth year of our reign.

2 Elizabeth by the grace of God etc.   To the most powerful Prince and Lord Maximilian the Second, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary and Bohemia, eternally Augustus, our brother and kinsman and dear friend, greetings. 

An illustrious young man, greatly adorned with many virtues – Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford, Viscount Bolbeck, Lord of Scales and Badelsmere, Lord High Chamberlain of England, our most beloved subject and cousin – is presently setting out from England to visit your royal court of many princes and will be passing through the cities and regions of your empire, to benefit from the knowledge thereof. He is endowed, by his very nature, with manners, virtue and learning. We therefore earnestly desire your Imperial Majesty to protect this young nobleman by your authority, to grant him your favour, to help him with recommendations, and to favour him with all kindness, so that he may understand that our greatest recommendation holds weight with your Imperial Majesty. Nothing else could give us greater joy. May God preserve your Imperial Majesty in health and safety.

Hampton [Court], 24 January 1574 [=1575], in the seventeenth year of our reign.

The full Latin texts are on Nina Green’s website The Oxford Authorship site to be found at this location.

“Were’t Ought to Me I Bore the Canopy” – the Funeral of Elizabeth I, the Dark Lady of the Sonnets

“On 28 April 1603, more than a month after her death, Elizabeth’s body was taken in procession to Westminster Abbey. It was an impressive occasion: the hearse was drawn by four horses hung with black velvet, and surmounted by a life-size wax effigy of the late Queen, dressed in her state robes and crown, an orb and scepter in its hands; over it was a canopy of estate supported by six earls.” – Alison Weir, The Life of Elizabeth, 1998

Our continuing demonstration of Elizabeth I of England in the Sonnets now includes the clear reference to her funeral procession in Sonnet 125:

Were’t ought to me I bore the canopy,

With my extern the outward honoring…

No, let me be obsequious in thy heart…

funeral of Eliza

“Canopy – a cloth covering, carried tent-like over the head of a dignitary in a ceremonial procession … Through its relation to ‘obsequy,’ ‘funeral,’ obsequious had the specialized meaning ‘dutiful in performing funeral rites,’ and invites a reader to think of the canopy as borne in a funeral procession.” – Stephen Booth, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, 1977

Sonnet 125 occurs immediately before the “envoy” at the end of the long opening sequence to the so-called Fair Youth, whom we identify as Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.  As noted in The Monument, there are nineteen sonnets and nineteen days from Sonnet 107 on 10 April 1603 (when Southampton was released from the Tower) to Sonnet 125 on 28 April 1603, the date of Elizabeth’s funeral (when the end of the Tudor dynasty was official) – or exactly one sonnet per day, and surely not a coincidence.

The bitterness of “Shakespeare” toward the Queen reflects Oxford’s own bitterness toward the female monarch he had served, adding to our evidence that Elizabeth is also the Dark Lady of Sonnets 127 to 152, wherein he rages at her in lines such as those at the end of Sonnet 147: “For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,/ Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.”

“If, then, we take Sonnet 125 as being the Earl of Oxford’s expression of his private feelings relative to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, we can quite understand his not troubling to honor her with any special verses (under his own name or that of “Shakespeare”).” – John Thomas Looney, “Shakespeare” Identified, 1920

Sonnet 125

Wer’t ought to me I bore the canopy,

With my extern the outward honoring,

Or laid great bases for eternity

Which proves more short than waste or ruining?

Have I not seen dwellers on form and favor

Lose all and more by paying too much rent

For compound sweet; Forgoing simple savor,

Pitiful thrivers in their gazing spent?

No, let me be obsequious in thy heart,

And take thou my oblation poor but free,

Which is not mixed with seconds, knows no art,

But mutual render only me for thee.

   Hence, thou suborn’d Informer, a true soul

   When most impeached stands least in thy control.

(The “suborned informer” is Time itself, or the Official Record created by those in power, who are liars; and Oxford is saying: No, Time, you will not crush me, because this “monument” containing the Truth will endure and be triumphant.)

(Oxfordians have had some discussion of whether Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was officially entitled to “bear the canopy” during Queen Elizabeth’s funeral procession. In my view, however, that discussion misses the essential point – that Oxford is using this great occasion as a clear “historical marker” within his “monument” of verse for posterity, and, too, using it as the allegorical or metaphorical basis upon which to record his true thoughts and feelings for future generations.  The end of the Tudor dynasty is, in fact, the end of his story.)

The List to Date:

1 – Sonnet 76: “Ever the Same” – the Queen’s motto in English

2 – Sonnet 25: “The Marigold” – the Queen’s flower

3 – Sonnet 131: “Commanded by the Motion of Thine Eyes” – to a monarch

4 – Sonnet 1: “Beauty’s Rose” – the Queen’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose

5 – Sonnet 107: “the Mortal Moon” – Queen Elizabeth as Diana, the chaste moon goddess

6 – Sonnet 19: “The Phoenix” – the Queen’s emblem

7 – Sonnet 151: “I Rise and Fall” – the courtier as sexual slave to his Queen

8 – Sonnet 128: “Those Jacks that Nimble Leap” – recalling the Queen at her virginals

9 – Sonnet 153: “Against Strange Maladies a Sovereign Cure” – the Queen’s touch

10 – Sonnet 154: “Sleeping by a Virgin Hand Disarmed” – the Virgin Queen

11 – Sonnet 125: “Were’t Ought to Me I Bore the Canopy” – Elizabeth’s funeral

“Sleeping by a Virgin Hand Disarmed” – Elizabeth the Virgin Queen, Dark Lady of the Sonnets

Elizabeth I with a crescent moon jewel in her hair with three pearl droplets on her forehead -- Nicholas Hilliard miniature circa 1595-1600

Elizabeth I with a crescent moon jewel in her hair with three pearl droplets on her forehead — Nicholas Hilliard miniature circa 1595-1600

Thus was I sleeping by a brother’s hand

Of life, of crown, of Queen at once dispatched.

(Hamlet, 1.5.74-75)

And so the General of hot desire

Was sleeping by a Virgin hand disarmed.

(Sonnet 154, lines 7-8)

These two sets of lines are obviously similar, even in their poetical structure; each line of each pair contains ten syllables or beats, achieving the same rhythm.  And the similarities continue.

The first set is spoken by the Ghost of Prince Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet, who is telling his son how the current monarch, King Claudius, murdered him and stole not only his life but both his crown and his widowed queen.

In the second set, from the so-called Bath sonnets at the end of the sequence, the poet refers to “the General of hot desire,” who is also “Cupid” and “the boy” (Sonnet 153) as well as “the little Love-God” (Sonnet 154); and this boy-spirit has been “disarmed” or rendered unable to defend himself.

The overall similarity of “sleeping by a brother’s hand” and “sleeping by a Virgin hand” is even more striking in light of the fact that Shakespeare loves to depict a monarch’s “hand” as the agent of his or her rule, as when King Louis of France [1423-1483] in 3 Henry VI tells Queen Margaret: “Yet shall you have all kindness at my hand…” (3.3.149).

The hand of the monarch is godlike in its power for good or evil – in Hamlet it’s the murderous hand of King Claudius and, in Sonnet 154, it’s the cruel hand of the Virgin, who is also called “the fairest votary,” mirroring “the Imperial Votaress” of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  She is Titania, Queen of the Fairies, widely recognized as a representation of Elizabeth I of England, the Virgin Queen, as noticed as early as 1607 in The Whore of Babylon by Thomas Dekker, writing about “Titania, the Faire Queen, under whom is figured our late Queen Elizabeth.”

This is the tenth posting of an ongoing series on Elizabeth as the “dark lady” of the Sonnets.  In fact it becomes possible to see her as the only real-life woman within these consecutively numbered “little songs” published in 1609.  The Queen’s presence in Sonnet 154 has been seen long before now; for example, by Sir George Greenwood in The Shakespeare Problem Restated of 1908:

“In Shakespeare’s version (of the original Greek epigram, as expressed by both Sonnets 153 and 154), it is not ‘amorous nymphs’ but ‘nymphs that vowed chaste life to keep,’ and it is not nymphs generally, but one of them that is said to take up the ‘heart-inflaming brand.’ This nymph is described as ‘the fairest votary,’ and in the companion sonnets as ‘a maid of Dian’s.’  Who is meant?  I cannot doubt that this ‘fairest votary’ is the same as ‘the Imperial Votaress’ of the Midsummer Night’s Dream, against whom ‘Cupid’s fiery shaft’ was launched in vain, being ‘quenched in the chaste beams of the watery moon’ – and we all remember that famous portrait of Elizabeth as Diana with the crescent moon on her brow.”

Katherine Duncan-Jones writes in the Arden edition of the Sonnets that Shakespeare “allows for a possibility that Cupid’s assailant is Diana herself.”  In that case, the “boy” or “Cupid” of this unified masterwork is the so-called fair youth, Henry Wriothesely, third Earl of Southampton, whose assailant is Queen Elizabeth herself.

For what I believe is the only coherent explanation of this reading, we must move into the realm of the so-called Prince Tudor theory — the conclusion that Southampton was Oxford’s own son by the Queen, born in May or June of 1574.  In that realm, the two Bath sonnets of 153-154 refer to the one and only visit of Elizabeth and her court to the City of Bath, which occurred in August of her 1574 summer progress, when Oxford was traveling with her; and then we are presented with an allegorical representation of the Queen’s negative or “dark” attitude toward her royal son, who had been born just months before.

Queen Elizabeth has “disarmed” the boy-child with her own monarch’s “hand” or royal power, by refusing to acknowledge him (which Oxford surely viewed as a form of regicide) while going off on her progress that year as if no such birth had ever happened:

And the Imperial Votaress passed on,

In maiden meditation, fancy-free …

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2.1.163-64)

“Against Strange Maladies A Sovereign Cure” — Queen Elizabeth as the Dark Lady … in Sonnet 153

Here’s the ninth item on our continually growing list of ways in which Elizabeth I of England appears within the Sonnets, adding to the evidence that she herself is the powerful dark lady, whose dominating “eye” or viewpoint permeates the sequence – for example, turning the younger man from “fair” to “black” with an imperial frown.

Roman Bath at the City of Bath, England

Roman Bath at the City of Bath, England

These items are being highlighted one by one, in no particular order; and now we focus on Sonnet 153, wherein the author journeys to the medicinal springs of a hot bath in search of “a sovereign cure” but finds, instead, that only “my mistress’ eye” can save him.

I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,

And thither hied, a sad distempered guest.

“‘I … thither hied.’ Whither?” Sir George Greenwood mused in The Shakespeare Problem Restated (1908).  “Surely here is an allusion to the City of Bath, popular in Elizabethan times as ‘against strange maladies a sovereign cure’ … Here, then, I believe, we have an allusion to the poet’s ‘Mistress,’ the Virgin Queen, and to the City of Bath … Was Shakspere at Bath with the Queen?” he asked, referring to the man from Stratford, before replying, “I think it probable that ‘Shakespeare’ was.”

More than a dozen years before Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was identified as the great author, Greenwood had become convinced that he must have been a nobleman close to Elizabeth Tudor. “The real problem of the Sonnets is to find out who ‘Shakespeare’ was,” he wrote in the same volume of 1908.  “That he would be found among cultured Elizabethan courtiers of high position, I can entertain no doubt.”

Queen Elizabeth I and the Royal Maundy

Queen Elizabeth I and the Royal Maundy

It turns out that Elizabeth visited Bath in the west of England only once in her entire reign of nearly forty-five years, according to the meticulous work of Mary Hill Cole in The Portable Queen (1999).  It was a stay of two nights during August 21-23, 1574, as part of her progress.  Earlier that summer Oxford had bolted across the Channel to the Continent on an unauthorized trip only to return three weeks later, catching up to her Majesty at Bristol and continuing with her and the royal court to Bath, with its ancient Roman shrines built around natural springs with healing waters:

Cupid laid by his brand and fell asleep.                                

A maid of Dian’s this advantage found,       

And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep        

In a cold valley-fountain of that ground:             

Which borrowed from this holy fire of love,        

A dateless lively heat still to endure,        

And grew a seething bath which yet men prove

Against strange maladies a sovereign cure:                

But at my mistress’ eye love’s brand new-fired,

The boy for trial needs would touch my breast.

I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,         

And thither hied, a sad distempered guest.                

But found no cure; the bath for my help lies      

Where Cupid got new fire: my mistress’ eye.     

POSTSCRIPT: “Against strange maladies a sovereign cure”

Carole Levin writes in The Heart and Stomach of a King (1994):

“By the Tudor period the monarch had become clearly associated with the Maundy ceremony. The ceremony of washing the feet of the poor, done in imitation of Christ washing the feet of his disciples at the end of the Last Supper, was a part of the Easter vigil … The use of these religious ceremonies fit well with Elizabeth’s self-presentation as the Virgin Queen, an image she presented to her people as a means to replace the Virgin Mary and help heal the rupture created by the break with the Catholic Church …

Christ washing the feet of disciples

Christ washing the feet of   disciples

“Elizabeth’s progresses were critical in systematically promoting the cult of the Virgin Queen for people of all classes all over the country … The continuation of the Maundy ceremony and touching for the king’s evil were manifestations of the sacred aspect of monarchy Elizabeth represented to a people suffering from the dislocations of so many changes in church and state.

“Elizabeth deliberately performed these ceremonies with as much drama as possible, a holy or sacred theatre … Blessing and curing with the queen’s touch was yet another aspect of religious functions subsumed by the monarch … As with touching, Elizabeth began celebrating the Maundy from the very beginning of her reign … There were carpets and cushions on which the queen could kneel and basins of holy water …”

In Macbeth the author writes of a “most miraculous work in this good King,” who tends to the needs of “strangely-visited [sick and suffering] people, all swollen and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,” and “the more despair of surgery, he cures…” (4.3)

Roman Bath at the City of Bath, nighttime

Roman Bath at the City of Bath, nighttime

A most miraculous work in this good King,

Which often, since my here-remain in England,

I have seen him do.  How he solicits Heaven,

Himself best knows; but strangely-visited people,

All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,

The more despair of surgery, he cures…          

Macbeth, 4.3.148-152

The list to date:

1 – Sonnet 76: “Ever the Same” – the Queen’s motto in English

2 – Sonnet 25: “The Marigold” – the Queen’s flower

3 – Sonnet 131: “Commanded by the Motion of Thine Eyes” – to a monarch

4 – Sonnet 1: “Beauty’s Rose” – the Queen’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose

5 – Sonnet 107: “the Mortal Moon” – Queen Elizabeth as Diana, the chaste moon goddess

6 – Sonnet 19: “The Phoenix” – the Queen’s emblem

7 – Sonnet 151: “I Rise and Fall” – the courtier as sexual slave to his Queen

8 – Sonnet 128: “Those Jacks that Nimble Leap” – recalling the Queen at her virginals

9 – Sonnet 153: “Against Strange Maladies a Sovereign Cure”

Queen Elizabeth as the Dark Lady: “Do I envy those Jacks that nimble leap to kiss the tender inward of thy hand”

“Prominent among these favorites was Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford … He was an agile and energetic dancer, the ideal partner for the queen, and he had a refined ear for music and was a dexterous performer on the virginals.” – Carolly Erickson, “The First Elizabeth” (1983)

How oft, when thou my music music play’st

Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds

With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st

The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,

Do I envy those Jacks that nimble leap           

To kiss the tender inward of thy hand…

(Emphasis added)

Queen Elizabeth's Virginal

So begins Sonnet 128, the second verse of the Dark Lady series (127-152); and with Oxford viewed as the author, it is plainly about Elizabeth I, who was fond of playing on her virginals – a musical instrument of the harpsichord family, with “jacks” or wooden shafts that rest on the ends of the keys. The presumption here is that Oxford, an expert musician, composed pieces that he and the queen would play together:

Oxford had been jealous of Sir Walter Raleigh, a “jack” who had leaped into the court’s attention in 1580, when he went to Ireland to help suppress an uprising. He soon became a favorite of the queen, and in 1587 he was knighted and appointed Captain of the Queen’s Guard.  Later he helped the government bring Essex to his tragic ending upon the failure of the Essex Rebellion and was said to gloat at the time of the earl’s execution.

“When the news was officially announced that the tragedy was over, there was a dead silence in the Privy Chamber, but the queen continued to play, and the Earl of Oxford, casting a significant glance at Raleigh, observed, as if in reference to the effect of Her Majesty’s fingers on the instrument, which was a sort of open spinet, ‘When Jacks start up, then heads go down.’ Everyone understood the bitter pun contained in this allusion.” – Agnes Strickland, “The Life of Queen Elizabeth” (1910), p. 674, citing “Fragmenta Regalia: Observations on the late Q. Elizabeth, her times and favorites,” Sir Robert Naughton (1641)

[The Monument views the chronological arrangement of the Dark Lady series as beginning with Sonnet 127 on the night of the Rebellion on February 8, 1601; in this context, Sonnet 128 would follow upon the execution of Essex a little more than two weeks later on February 25, 1601.  The placement is a perfect fit within that context of the contemporary history.]

The lines about “those Jacks that nimble leap/ To kiss the tender inward of thy hand” recall a letter from Essex to Elizabeth in 1597: “And so wishing Your Majesty to be Mistress of all that you wish most, I humbly kiss your fair hands.”

Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh

Francis Bacon apparently recalled the same incident with the virginals (or perhaps one that occurred much earlier) in “Apophthegemes New and Old” (1625): “When Queen Elizabeth had advanced Raleigh, she was one day playing on the virginals, and my Lord of Oxford, & another Noble-man, stood by. It fell out so that the Ledge, before the Jacks, was taken away, so the Jacks were seen [i.e., making them visible]; My Lord of Oxford and the other Noble-man smiled, and a little whispered.  The Queen marked it, and would needs know what the matter was?  My Lord of Oxford answered that they smiled to see that ‘when Jacks went up, Heads went down.’”

The actual occasion of the incident matters little in terms of its placement in the Dark Lady series or its relationship to Sonnet 128. The point is that there is, in fact, documentary evidence that the Queen and Oxford were together while she played on the virginals and he came up with his now-famous, spontaneous quip about the leaping jacks being like Raleigh, an upstart “jack” at the royal court.  To express his bitterness at Raleigh in relation to the execution of Essex, there was no better allusion than this one.  [In addition, all recollections of the quip have the same rather obvious allusion to an execution-by-beheading.]

Sonnet 128

How oft, when thou my music music play’st

Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds

With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st

The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,

Do I envy those Jacks that nimble leap

To kiss the tender inward of thy hand…

Whilst my poor lips, which should that harvest reap,

At the wood’s boldness by thee blushing stand.

To be so tickled they would change their state

And situation with those dancing chips,

O’er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,

Making dead wood more blest than living lips.

Since saucy Jacks so happy are in this,

Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.

The list of ways in which Queen Elizabeth permeates the Sonnets of Shakespeare continues to grow:

1 – Sonnet 76: “Ever the Same” – the Queen’s motto in English

2 – Sonnet 25: “The Marigold” – the Queen’s flower

3 – Sonnet 131: “Commanded by the Motion of Thine Eyes” – to a monarch

4 – Sonnet 1: “Beauty’s Rose” – the Queen’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose

5 – Sonnet 107: “the Mortal Moon” – Queen Elizabeth as Diana, the chaste moon goddess

6 – Sonnet 19: “The Phoenix” – the Queen’s emblem

7 – Sonnet 151: “I Rise and Fall” – the courtier as sexual slave to his Queen

8 – Sonnet 128: “Those Jacks that Nimble Leap” – recalling the Queen at her virginals

Queen Elizabeth as Dark Lady – “The Long-Lived Phoenix”

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

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

Devouring time, blunt thou the Lion’s paws,

And make the earth devour her own sweet brood,

Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce Tiger’s jaws,

And burn the long-lived Phoenix in her blood. (Sonnet 19)

Elizabeth I of England had “adopted the Phoenix as an emblem of herself,” Roy Strong notes in The Cult of Elizabeth. “The Phoenix Jewel in the British Museum is a badge of gold bearing a profile image of the Queen.”  The Phoenix is the mythological bird with a life span of more than 500 years.  When its life is over, it burns itself upon a wood pile set ablaze by the sun but then rises from its own ashes.

This linkage is taken up by Shakespeare in Act Five of Henry VIII, when Archbishop Cranmer predicts that when the newly born Princess Elizabeth finally dies she will leave an heir to the throne:

“But, as when bird of wonder dies, the maiden Phoenix, her ashes new create another heir as great in admiration as herself, so shall she leave her blessedness to one.” 

(The line is ambiguous. Does “Shakespeare” really believe that James of Scotland will be “as great in admiration” as Gloriana?  Or is he referring to the hope that she will produce an heir to rise from her own “ashes” or genetic material?)

This reference to the Phoenix is just another way the author of the Sonnets refers to Queen Elizabeth – one of many ways on this list, to which I’ll keep adding, to provide more evidence that the 1609 sonnet sequence continually points to her Majesty as the third member of the triangular relationship being chronicled.

It was she, of course, who refused to settle the “succession crisis” that plagued England, most especially during the final years of her reign. Clearly the author (Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford) is furious at her for jeopardizing the country’s future.  In that regard it’s undoubtedly fitting that later in Sonnet 19 he pleads with “time” on behalf of his beloved fair youth (Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton):

Him in thy course untainted do allow

For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.

As Cranmer says of the princess in the same scene of the Shakespeare play, Henry VIII’s newly born daughter will grow to become “a pattern to all princes living with her, and all that shall succeed.”

(All italics in the Shakespearean lines are my emphases.)

The List as it now stands:

1 – Sonnet 76: “Ever the Same” – the Queen’s motto in English

2 – Sonnet 25: “The Marigold” – the Queen’s flower

3 – Sonnet 131: “Commanded by the Motion of Thine Eyes” – to a monarch

4 – Sonnet 1: “Beauty’s Rose” – the Queen’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose

5 – Sonnet 107: “the Mortal Moon” – Queen Elizabeth as Diana, the chaste moon goddess

6 – Sonnet 19: “The Phoenix” – the Queen’s emblem

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