The Earl of Southampton: Re-posting No. 28 of 100 Reasons Why Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford

One of the most compelling reasons to believe Edward de Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare” is the central role in the Shakespeare story played by Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton.

Henry Earl of Southampton in his teens, by Nicholas Hilliard

The grand entrance of “William Shakespeare” onto the published page took place in 1593, as the printed signature on the dedication to Southampton of Venus and Adonis, a 1200-line poem that the poet called “the first heir of my invention” in his dedication. The second appearance of “William Shakespeare” in print came a year later, with the publication of an 1800-line poem, Lucrece, again dedicated to Southampton.

The Lucrece dedication was an extraordinary declaration of personal commitment to the twenty-year-old earl:

“The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end … What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours … Your Lordship’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.”

“There is no other dedication like this in Elizabethan literature,” Nichol Smith wrote in 1916, and because the great author never dedicated another work to anyone else, he uniquely linked himself to Southampton for all time.

Southampton at 22 in 1595

Most scholars agree that the Fair Youth of Shake-speares Sonnets, the sequence of 154 consecutively numbered poems printed in 1609, is also Southampton, even though he is not identified by name. Most further agree that, in the first seventeen sonnets, the poet is urging Southampton to beget a child to continue his bloodline – demanding it in a way that would ordinarily have been highly offensive: “Make thee another self, for love of me.”

“It is certain that the Earl of Southampton and the poet we know as Shakespeare were on intimate terms,” Charlton Ogburn Jr. wrote in 1984, “but Charlotte G. Stopes, Southampton’s pioneer biographer [1922] spent seven years or more combing the records of the Earl and his family without turning up a single indication that the fashionable young lord had ever had any contact with a Shakespeare, and for that reason deemed the great work of her life a failure.”

“Oxford was a nobleman of the same high rank as Southampton and just a generation older,” J. Thomas Looney wrote in 1920, adding that “the peculiar circumstances of the youth to whom the Sonnets were addressed were strikingly analogous to his own.”

William Cecil Lord Burghley, Master of the Royal Wards

  • De Vere became the first royal ward of Queen Elizabeth in 1562, under the guardianship of William Cecil (later Lord Burghley), and in 1571 he entered into an arranged marriage with the chief minister’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Anne Cecil.
  • Henry Wriothesley became the eighth and last child of state as a boy in 1581-82, also in the chief minister’s custody, and during 1590-91 he resisted intense pressure to enter into an arranged marriage with Cecil’s fifteen-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere.

The young lady was also Oxford’s daughter, making the elder earl, in fact, the prospective father-in-law. Scholars generally agree that in the seventeen “procreation” sonnets Shakespeare’s tone sounds much like that of a prospective father-in-law or father urging Southampton to accept Burghley’s choice of a wife for him, although the poet never identifies or describes any specific young woman.

Lady Elizabeth Vere, who married William Stanley Earl of Derby in 1595

J. Dover Wilson writes in 1964: “What man in the whole world, except a father or a potential father-in-law, cares whether any other man gets married?”

Obviously, de Vere and Wriothesley both had an extremely important personal stake in the outcome of this marriage proposal coming from the most powerful man in England, who must have had the full blessing of his sovereign Mistress.

Looney noted that both Oxford and Southampton “had been left orphans and royal wards at an early age, both had been brought up under the same guardian, both had the same kind of literary tastes and interests, and later the young man followed exactly the same course as the elder as a patron of literature and drama.”

The separate entries for Oxford and Southampton in the Dictionary of National Biography, written before the twentieth century, revealed that “in many of its leading features the life of the younger man is a reproduction of the life of the elder,” Looney noted, adding it was “difficult to resist the feeling that Wriothesley had made a hero of De Vere, and had attempted to model his life on that of his predecessor as royal ward.”

A Notice of the Essex-Southampton Trial of Feb. 19, 1600 (1601) with Edward de Vere given prominence as a judge on the tribunal

By the time Southampton came to court at age sixteen or seventeen, Oxford had removed himself from active attendance. It seems that the two shared some kind of hidden story that tied them together:

= As royal wards, both Oxford and Southampton had Queen Elizabeth as their official mother. Even though their respective biological mothers were alive when their fathers died, under English law they became wards of the state, and the queen became their mother in a legal sense.

= Tradition has it that Shakespeare wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost in the early 1590s for Southampton to entertain college friends at his country house; but given the sophisticated wordplay of this court comedy and its intended aristocratic audience, it is difficult to see how Will of Stratford would or could have written it.

= Oxford in the early 1590s was Southampton’s prospective father-in-law.

= After the failed Essex Rebellion in February 1601, Oxford sat as highest-ranking earl on the tribunal for the treason trial of Essex and Southampton.

= The peers had no choice but to render a unanimous guilty verdict; there is evidence that Oxford then worked behind the scenes to save Southampton’s life and gain his eventual liberation, as in Sonnet 35: “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate.”

= On the night of Oxford’s reported death on 24 June 1604, agents of the Crown arrested Southampton and returned him to the Tower, where he was interrogated all night until his release the following day.

= Henry Wriothesley and Henry de Vere, eighteenth Earl of Oxford (born in February 1593 to Oxford and his second wife, Elizabeth Trentham) became close friends during the reign of James; the earls were known as the “Two Henries.” As members of the House of Lords, they often took sides against the king and were imprisoned for doing so.

On the eve of the failed rebellion led by Essex and Southampton in 1601, some of the conspirators engaged the Lord Chamberlain’s Company to perform Shakespeare’s royal history play Richard II at the Globe; many historians assume, perhaps correctly, that Southampton himself secured permission from “Shakespeare” to use the play with its scene of the deposing of the king. On the other hand, it is possible that Robert Cecil himself arranged for it, so he could then summon Essex to court and trigger the rebellion, which had actually been scheduled for a week later.

Once the rebellion failed and Southampton was imprisoned in the Tower on that night of 8 February 1601, all authorized printings of heretofore unpublished Shakespeare plays abruptly ceased for several years.

After Southampton was released on 10 April 1603, the poet “Shake-speare” wrote Sonnet 107 celebrating his liberation after being “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” that is, subjected to a sentence of life imprisonment.

The White Tower where Southampton was imprisoned

When Oxford reportedly died on 24 June 1604, a complete text of Hamlet was published.

As part of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations surrounding the wedding of Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Oxford’s daughter Susan Vere in December of 1604, the Court of James held a veritable Shakespeare festival. In the days before and after the wedding, seven performances of the Bard’s plays were given. (The royal performances appear to be a memorial tribute to the playwright, rather than a tribute to a living author.) One performance was a revival of Love’s Labour’s Lost, for King James and Queen Anne, hosted by Southampton at his house in London.

After Hamlet in 1604 all publications again ceased, for four years. (King Lear was printed in 1608; Troilus and Cressida was issued in two editions during 1608-09; and Pericles appeared in 1609.) Then the silence resumed, for thirteen more years, until a quarto of Othello appeared in 1622; and finally the First Folio of thirty-six Shakespeare plays was published in 1623. Fully half of these stage works were printed for the first time; the folio included none of the Shakespeare poetry, nor any mention of Southampton or the Sonnets.

The connections between Oxford and Southampton are numerous and significant; the link between the two earls is crucial for the quest to determine the real Shakespeare.

[This post is now Reason 53 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford, edited by Alex McNeil with editorial assistance from 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 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)


An Agreement with “The Monument” on the Possible Dating of Sonnet 81 — in “Brief Chronicles” for the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship

In the current Brief Chronicles (No. VII, 2016, published 12 January 2017), edited by Roger Stritmatter, PhD with Michael Delahoyde, PhD for the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship, researchers Elke Brackmann and Robert Detobel suggest a possible dating of Sonnet 81 that coincides with the one expressed in The Monument (2005), which presents a time frame for the central 100-sonnet sequence:

Sonnet 27 upon the failed Essex Rebellion on 8 February 1601 ….. to Sonnet 125 upon Queen Elizabeth’s funeral on 28 April 1603  ……… (plus Sonnet 126, the “envoy” ending the sequence)


Sonnet 81 begins with a sense of the younger man’s impending death:  “Or I shall live your Epitaph to make…”

That opening line, Backmann and Detobel write, “would suddenly take on a piercing dramatic quality” if the youth’s life had been threatened. (Well, yes!) And in fact, they note, the life of Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, was definitely threatened when a tribunal on 19 February 1601 sentenced him to be executed for his role in the rebellion.

Robert Detobel

Robert Detobel

The case for Southampton as the younger man in the Sonnets “can now be considered firmly established,” they continue, adding, “We know of one point in time in his life (and within the generally accepted period of composition of the sonnets) when he was in great danger and/or about to die. This was in February 1601, when he was sentenced to death for high treason. It is also useful in this context to recall that the use of the word ‘epitaph’ is suggestive of death in a foreseeable future…”

Essex was beheaded on 25 February 1601, but Southampton’s penalty was commuted into lifelong imprisonment.  “The exact date of the commutation is not known,” Brackmann and Detobel write, “but it must have occurred before the end of March.”

Therefore, Sonnet 81 could have been written “between February and March when Southampton’s life was in the balance,” they suggest, adding, “It could also have been written later in the year, during the first six months or so of Southampton’s imprisonment in the Tower, when he was reported to have been very sick.”


We might add that Oxford could not know, during the next two years, whether Southampton would be left to die in the Tower. Everything depended upon Robert Cecil being able to bring James of Scotland to the throne upon Elizabeth’s death — and it appears, from our reading of the Sonnets, that the Earl of Oxford was forced to help the Secretary engineer the succession of James.

The success of this “deal” between Edward de Vere and his former brother-in-law is expressed in Sonnet 107, the high point of the sequence — with Oxford declaring that Southampton had been “supposed as forfeit to a confined doom,” but that now, upon the queen’s death, Henry Wriothesley was free. The queen died on 24 March 1603 and Southampton was released from the Tower on 10 April 1603; and this view of the biographical/historical context of the central 100-sonnet sequence (1601-1603) is the basis for The Monument…

Your monument shall be my gentle verse,

Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read… (Sonnet 81)

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,

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



“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.


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”

Mark Rylance and Derek Jacobi Discuss “Reasonable Doubt” about the Stratford Man as “Shakespeare”

These two great actors are so enjoyable to watch and listen to!  They deserve our thanks and our respect…


“Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy” – Oxford to Elizabeth I (the Dark Lady) in Sonnet 152, Echoing His Own Early Sonnet to the Queen

Another  way in which Elizabeth I can be seen in the Sonnets appears in number 152.

Sonnet 152 contains key words that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford had used in a much earlier sonnet to/about her.     oxford11

In about 1573, when he was twenty-three, Oxford expressed his devotion to the Queen by asking himself a series of rhetorical questions; the unspoken answer, in each case, was “Elizabeth.”

    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…

    Love then thy choice wherein such choice doth bind

(Emphases added)

(Only Elizabeth, the divinely ordained monarch, could bestow “grace” upon him.)

The three words/concepts emphasized above – constant, truth, love – are clustered within a single line of Sonnet 152:

    For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,

    Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy

Following is the full sonnet by Oxford, one of the first of the Elizabethan reign written in the form to become known as “Shakespearean,” again with added emphasis on those three key words or concepts:

    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.

                                           Earle of Oxfenforde


In Sonnet 152 he speaks decades later to the same sovereign Mistress, using some of his same words; but now Oxford turns those earlier lines upside-down.

Now he expresses profound feelings of betrayal and heartbreak.

In the earlier sonnet, above, he reveals his pure belief in the Queen despite whatever “tears of bitter smart” she has caused him to shed.

But now, below in Sonnet 152, he writes that “all my honest faith in thee is lost” — an unambiguous statement of his disillusion and desolation.

The pure faith in his sovereign Mistress has given way to shattered faith and raging fury.

He is angry not only at Elizabeth and her lies but at his own complicity in them — angry at himself for his continued loyalty to a royal liar.

The simplicity of the early sonnet by a young, idealistic courtier-poet has given way to the complex maturity of an experienced master whose spirit, like that of Hamlet, has been beaten down to the point of near insanity:  “Past cure I am, now Reason is past care,” he tells her in Sonnet 147, “And frantic mad with ever-more unrest;/ My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,/ At random from the truth, vainly expressed.”

In the final line of Sonnet 152, he has ultimately betrayed “truth” or himself,  echoing his motto Nothing Truer than Truth and winding up with “lie” as his final word to the Queen he once had loved:

                                 Sonnet 152

    In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn,

    But thou art twice forsworn to me love swearing;

    In act thy bed-vow broke and new faith torn

    In vowing new hate after new love bearing:

    But why of two oaths’ breach do I accuse thee,

    When I break twenty? I am perjured most,

    For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,

    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.

Without the identification of Edward de Vere as the author of Sonnet 152, we are deprived of the equally crucial knowledge of Elizabeth Tudor as the “dark lady” whose dark or negative viewpoint has turned the world, England, from day to night.

The Queen, to whom the younger Oxford was so devoted, has forced him to “swear against the thing” he sees.

To maintain his continued service to her, he has adopted a state of “blindness” toward her false public image.

Southampton in the Tower: 1601 - 1603

Southampton in the Tower: 1601 – 1603

He has allowed her to break “two oaths” – one made to him, and one made to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, the “fair youth” of the Sonnets.

Sonnet 152 is a bitter cry of emotional pain, recorded not for contemporary eyes, but, rather, for “eyes not yet created” (Sonnet 81) in posterity — for those of us who, because his “monument” to Southampton has survived, can read his words today.

Without the knowledge that Oxford is writing to Elizabeth, the scope and depth of this personal suffering is inexplicable.

Without Elizabeth identified as the so-called dark lady, the lines of Sonnet 152 seem inflated, fatuous, hyperbolic.

This suffering on Oxford’s part begins to explain the resounding silence of “Shakespeare” upon the Queen’s death.

There’s much more to come in this compilation of ways the Queen appears in the Sonnets; meanwhile, here is the list to date, arranged according to the sonnet numbers in the 1609 quarto:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 – Sonnet 152: “Thy love, thy truth, thy constancy” – Echo of Oxford’s sonnet to Elizabeth

“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”

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