“The Follies Of Stratfordian Presumption”

A traditional “Punch & Judy” show in Stratford-upon-Avon

I find a lot of Stratfordian literature which supports or defends the notion that William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon was a poet and playwright has inspired me to write articles which posit the idea that a nobleman, namely Edward de Vere wrote the works of the pseudonymous “William Shakespeare”. In some instances Stratfordian hypotheses and false suppositions are the cause of either bouts of indignant rage or hilarious laughter for me. Especially so when I detect a bias in thinking or when mere supposition and the joining of the dots with additional strings of idle conjecture purport to reinforce the Stratfordian perspective. I have already written several articles in an attempt to set the record straight such as “A Biography of William Shakspere”, a timeline of the lives of “William Shakspere & Edward de Vere” and “The Glaring Disparities in the Shakespeare Authorship Question”. Therefore I have read a number Stratfordian books which take issue over authorship and other biographical details about the actor from Stratford (eg: “Shakespeare And His World”, F.E. Halliday, 1973). Perhaps Stratfordian publications are now dwindling under the onslaught of alternative theories and nominations for the “Bard of Avon”, I’m not entirely sure. I don’t have a large library of resources from which to draw on myself, I generally get some from the local market, some online and others from the local Scrivener’s Bookshop. Some I appreciate steer clear of the controversy while others carry opposing views when presenting their opinions or views in publications.

I often carry with me, especially whenever I’m inclined to stop off at the local pub, a copy of David & Ben Crystal’s “THE Shakespeare MISCELLANY” (Penguin Press 2005). It contains snippets of statements FOR and AGAINST the Stratford Authorship Question throughout in an attempt at impartiality and perhaps to maintain sales too! There was a sense with the onset of the millennium to defend and uproot or throw doubt over alternate views in the Shakespeare Authorship Debate although I presume the Stratfordians prefer there being more than one or possibly two candidates for authorship of the 1623 Folio, at least that is one of their lines of trashing more elevated academic research into the topic. Nevertheless, the Crystal’s Miscellany (which conveniently fits into a coat pocket) is full of interesting facts and exhaustive lists which on reflection and with hindsight they might have enlarged upon. For example on page 68 there is a short insert entitled “Brooke or Broome?” which proceeds as follows:

“In the Merry Wives of Windsor, the jealous husband of Mistress Ford disguises himself as ‘Master Brooke’, to gain evidence of Falstaff’s wrongdoing. But in the First Folio, the name is altered to Broome-despite the change destroying some of the puns in the play. On being told by Bardolph that ‘a Master Broome below would fain speak with you’ Falstaff ripostes:

“Such Broomes are welcome to mee, that o’erflows such liquor.”

Only brooks can overflow the wordplay does not work with Broome. So why was the name changed? Very likely the company remembered the “Oldcastle incident” (P. 42), when someone – probably Lord Cobham who objected to the name of his ancestor being presented as a buffoon in Henry IVth Part One, and caused it to be changed to Falstaff. The Cobham family name was Brooke.”

A 15th century engraving depicting the execution of Sir John Oldcastle

The reference on page 42 explains that “Shakespeare was ‘moved to change’ the name and in the epilogue of Henry IVth Part Two he wrote: “That Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man”, which remains cryptic and ambiguous to me. Did he mean that Oldcastle was not the man they thought he was? On reflection it “appears” to be a grovelling correction by a humble playwright and gives the reader the sense that the author, as a gentleman was simply mistaken or sorry as well as apologetic for rendering Oldcastle a lascivious rogue in a history play? But it was not the only cryptic allusion intended to pour vitriol onto Edward de Vere’s opponents and detractors for whatever reason. And it made me wonder whether Edward de Vere had at any time coveted the post as Governor of the Cinque Ports? His brother Francis de Vere was I believe awarded the post of Cinque Warden but I’m not sure when or for how long. Or, perhaps he was making a pun or comparison on his own title as Baron Bulbecke? (See: “Oh, But What’s In A Name?”). Given that Richard IInd was presumably written before Henry IVth Part One, in which the character Falstaff first appears, he was previously listed in the dramatis personae as Sir John Oldcastle, but the Lord Chamberlain, Henry Carey (1583 Lord Chamberlain’s Men) objected to the lewd depiction of him by “Shakespeare”, who he knew was a good and honest man who had died a Protestant martyr.

Portrait of Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon

Henry Carey (1st Baron Hunsdon)-1583 cousin and step-brother to Queen Elizabeth 1st was the son of Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s sister and Sir William Carey although it was rumoured he was actually the son of Henry VIIIth. He took command in the Northern Rebellion (1569-71), was made a Knight of the Garter in 1561 and governor of Berwick in 1568. He reconstituted his own players troupe in 1594 as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men with theatre manager Richard Burbage and the playwright “William Shakespeare”. He was also a commissioner at various treason trials eg: Mary, Queen of Scots and the Duke of Norfolk. His son George Carey (2nd Baron Hunsdon)-1596 succeeded his father Henry Carey serving under the Earl of Essex and undertaking missions to Scotland (1569-71). He acceded to his father’s title in 1595 and as Lord Chamberlain in 1596. The post gave him patronage of the company of Shakespeare and the Burbages (Cuthbert) firstly at the Theatre then moving to the Globe in December 1598. On the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603 he helped his son, Robert Carey (1560-1639) to escape to Scotland with the news that paved the way for James 1st accession to the English throne. He eventually became Earl of Monmouth in 1626.

The “Lost Years Debate” has spawned 100’s of biographical theories about William Shaxpere and his whereabouts

Around the time he held the post of Master of the Revels the Privy Council became suspicious of theatrical plays that had allusions which would give rise to street riots and spontaneous rebellions in the streets of London. This happened on numerous occasions especially whenever historical accounts were performed as plays. Chris Lautaris’ book “Shakespeare & the Countess” describes how the Dowager Countess, Elizabeth Russell became “Shakespeare’s Nemesis”, forcing the closure of the Blackfriar’s Theatre, which ostensibly gave rise to the construction of the Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames.

An artist’s impression of the interior of the Blackfriar’s Theatre

Henry Brooke, the tenth Baron Cobham whose distant ancestor was Sir John Oldcastle complained about his family’s defamation. His son, also called Henry succeeded him in 1597 and probably forced “Shakespeare” to change the name to Falstaff. “But Oh, what’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet!” Brooke was for some time Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in the early 1590’s. The eleventh Baron Cobham was also related as brother-in-law to Robert Cecil and to the Dowager Countess, Elizabeth Russell who petitioned the Privy Council to close the theatres in 1597 because of the onset of plague. The name of Richard Field, the printer of Shakespeare’s early plays and poetry was also on that petition. Or so the conventional academic theory goes. But the real reason they closed the theatres was the danger that certain plays would arouse the populace to riot in the streets of London, as intended by the Earl of Essex in 1600 (Essex Rebellion) who paid to have Shakespeare’s play Richard IIIrd to be performed which featured the deposition of a monarch. The monarch that the Earl of Essex had planned to depose was of course Queen Elizabeth. The post of Master of the Revels was then officially occupied by Edmund Tilney (?-1610) distantly related to the Howard family he was appointed to the office of Master of the Revels in 1579, enrolling actors for the Queen’s Men in 1583 and by 1589 was advising the Lord Mayor of London on the censorship of plays. His father actually fought alongside Richard IIIrd at Bosworth and later attainted and executed, and in 1597 George Buck was awarded the Master of the Revels by Queen Elizabeth although the office had been originally promised to the poet John Lyly, the Earl of Oxford’s private secretary. Could this have been another reason for the Earl of Oxford to take offence and portray Oldcastle as a lascivious rogue? Buck worked alongside the incumbent Master of the Revels and did not succeed Edmund Tilney (died 1610) until 1608. George Buck (1562-1622) relocated the Master’s Office to St. Peter’s Hill in 1610, no doubt to escape any possible repercussions. Nevertheless and for whatever reason, his personal signature appears on all the Shakespeare plays registered at the Stationer’s Office after 1606. It seems the family fortunes and status was rescued by the Duke of Norfolk who settled them at Long Melford, Suffolk. He accompanied the Earl of Essex and Thomas Howard in the Cadiz expedition.

The Hyphenation of “Shake-speare”:

On page 72 of “Shakespeare’s MISCELLANY” the authors attempt to explain why the name “Shakespeare” occasionally appears hyphenated while on other occasions it is a whole word or name. The general consensus among Oxfordian academics is that the name “Shakespeare” is in fact a pseudonym employed by the 17th Earl of Oxford and to distinguish that name from the Stratford actor, William Shaksper of Stratford-upon-Avon it first appeared in print with a hyphen (Venus & Adonis, 1593). So, it was vital from a Stratfordian point of view to offer literary enthusiasts a simple yet plausible explanation for the use of the hyphen in his name. The general conjecture or supposition is laid out in the book as follows:

“All five versions of Shakespeare’s signature have one thing in common: they have no middle ‘e’. The familiar form, Shakespeare, first appears in print in the 1593 letter of dedication which preceded his first published work, the poem Venus & Adonis; and printers thereafter generally retained it. Why? A likely reason is the nature of Elizabethan typesetting practice. Adding extra symbols was a way of separating pieces of type which would otherwise be awkwardly juxtaposed. A notable feature of printed works at the time was the way some letters had long curling ascenders or descenders. Two of these, side by side would often clash, and this would have been the case when a ‘k’ with a long-curling right hand leg came up against the left-curling foot of the Elizabethan ‘long s’. We can see an instance of the problem below in the memorial by I.M. (John Marston) at the beginning of the Folio, where Shakespeare’s name is printed in italics, and both a letter ‘e’ and a hyphen are needed to keep the descenders apart. We have the printers to thank, it seems, for the name that has come down to us.”

A sample of William Shakspere’s handwriting style

To the memorie of M. W. Shake-speare.

Well, so the Stratfordians assume and have falsely conjectured to explain such a minute detail is that it is not a pseudonym or for that matter an attempt at a cipher or code. (See “Shakespeare’s Codename” for an in-depth analysis). However, when we carefully examine how printers from the time tackled the problem of long curling ‘k’s’ and ‘s’s’ it seems that it was not such a big problem after all. Having examined several instances where “Shakespeare’s Name” appears on only very few instances was it hyphenated by the typesetter to avoid ‘curling conflation’. One simple solution for the type-setter or compositor was to employ capitals with a hyphen or to avoid using the long-curling ‘k’ or ‘s’ at all (See also “Shakespeare’s Signatures” for an alternative explanation why Shakespeare signed his name sometimes Shaksper or Shagspere). In the title page to “A Passionate Pilgrim” the name “Shakespeare” appears with a long ‘k’ and long ‘s’ with very little confusion or conflict. On the title page of “Loves Labours Lost”, the first play to be printed with his name, there is no hyphen and the text does not use long ‘k’s or long ‘s’s. In the title page of Shakespeare’s Sonnets the name Shakespeare appears hyphenated in capitals; (SHAKES-SPEARE). Similar anomalies and discrepancies appear in the official documentation in Shakespeare’s granting of a coat of arms by the College of Arms where his name, which appears at the top right of the document, is again spelt “Shakespere”, that is without an ‘a’. Whilst the spelling of common names in the 16th century was not standardised or formalised it would explain why the name appears in so many different spellings on both official and informal documentation (eg: Richard Quiney’s letter asking for a loan). However, for a full explanation of this preposterous fraud see “Shakespeare’s Coat of Arms”. In official documents owned and displayed by the Folger Shakespeare Library (such as his marriage licence, property lease, and other legal documents) his name is spelled differently in every instance. The same is true of his wife Anne Hathwaye whose name changes to Anne Whately, or Anne of Shottery or Agnes Hathawaye (See “Shakespeare’s Signatures”). It should be noted that in 1584 Fulke Sandells, who was an executor in 1582 for William Shakspere to surreptitiously acquire a marriage licence by posting a surety of £40 from the diocese of Worcester for the 18-year old Will Shakspere and Anne Hathwaye of Shottery (8 years his senior and pregnant by whom?), was in fact testifying in London for the Earl of Warwick in a claim to some land situated in Shottery. But 16th century documents can be misleading and confusing for the layman and even the experts (See “Facts & Fallacies About Shakespeare”).

A sample of Edward de Vere’s handwriting style in italic cursive

The Hermit’s Prophecy:

In 1621, more than a century after the 13th Earl of Oxford’s death, Sir Francis Bacon disparaged the 13th Earl’s relationship with Henry VIIth (while Bacon was imprisoned in the Tower of London he wrote the play Henry VIIth), recounting a story of the King’s severe displeasure with the Earl for keeping an excessive number of retainers, and claiming the King exacted a fine of 15,000 marks. Sir George Buck (Master of the Revels and the butt of de Vere’s portrayal of his family line viz: Sir John Oldcastle alias Falstaff in “Henry IVth Part One” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor”) repeated the tale, reporting the fine as being some £30,000 and incorporating it into the prophecy of a hermit who foretold woe to the Oxford earldom and its ancestral relatives for their role in the death of the pretender, Perkin Warbeck and the Twins in the Tower:

“And this dealing with them being reported, and near to Heveningham Castle, the chief seat of the Earl, it came to the ears of an old hermit who lived in the woods near to Heveningham Castle, and who was held to be a very good, devout and holy man. And this man as soon as he heard this news was much troubled and grieved afterward, because he much loved the ancient and noble family of Oxenforde. And in much anguish of spirit, he said the Earl and his house would repent and rue this guilt and bloody pursuit of these innocent princes. And for the events of which prophecy, this hath been observed, viz., that not long after the Earl was arrested for a small offence, and so small that no man thought that a man of his merit and credit with the king could be called in question. He was also fined £30,000, the which in those days was a kingly sum. After this he lived many years in great discontent, and died without issue or any child lawfully begotten him. Ross concluded that, for many reasons, the story is and remains apocryphal to this day.”

In Act IV, scene 3 of Edward IIIrd, Charles advises King John that he has witnessed a prophecy by a hermit before engaging in the forthcoming battle:

“I have a prophecy, my gracious Lord,
Wherein is written what success is like
To happen us in this outrageous war;
It was delivered me at Cresses field
By one that is an aged Hermit there.
[Reads.] “When feathered foul shall make thine army tremble,
And flint stones rise and break the battle ray,
Then think on him that doth not now dissemble;
For that shall be the hapless dreadful day:
Yet, in the end, thy foot thou shalt advance
As far in England as thy foe in France.”

Indeed, one might argue that the 17th Earl of Oxford had inherited the hermit’s curse and living out the prophecy himself because he lost all ownership or association with the Shakespeare Folio of 1623 as well as several volumes of poetry including “Venus & Adonis”, “The Rape of Lucrece” and “Shakespeare’s Sonnets” which are now attributed to one William Shakspere of Stratford-upon-Avon (See the “Twin Lives of William Shakspere and Edward de Vere”). However, the grandson of Evelyn Waugh, Alexander Waugh has commented via a video entitled “Saint or Sinner” on the moral, philosophical and religious character of Edward de Vere in order to explain a supposition regarding de Vere’s male offspring, Henry de Vere (b. 24th February 1593, Stoke Newington). Waugh suggests that the boy was in actual fact the result of a sexual liaison by the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley (Edward de Vere’s illegitimate son by Queen Elizabeth) with Penelope Rich and that Edward de Vere secretly endorsed the sexual affair in order to obtain a male heir who would inherit estates that were held in trust by Lord Burghley. Furthermore, the accusations of sexual impropriety and incestuous scandal continued in the female line when Oxford’s daughter Elizabeth Vere who, having rejected the hand of the Earl of Northumberland agreed to marry the 6th Earl of Derby, William Stanley, was accused of having had sexual liaisons with Robert Devereux and Sir Walter Raleigh (as early 1595). How much substance and credulity there may have been to these allegations is unclear. At the time the Earl of Oxford was anxious to secure his daughter’s annuity which had not been finalised or officially executed. As a result of the 6th Earl of Derby’s wife’s claim that she was with child and the suspicion that Ferdinando Stanley had in fact been poisoned with Lord Burghley’s consent to remove Ferdinando’s opposition to the match with Elizabeth Vere further complications arose.

Detail from a portrait of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The Earl of Oxford‘s fears were ill-founded although matters were strained and delayed for a variety of reasons as occurs in the marriage ceremonies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. However, in letters to Cecil in May and June 1603 he again pressed his decades-long claim to be restored to the keepership of Waltham Forest and the house and park of Havering, and on 18 July 1603 the new King granted his suit. On 25th July Oxford was among those who officiated at the King’s coronation. He also submitted a claim to serve as Queen’s chamberlain at her coronation. On the 2nd of August King James confirmed the renewal of Oxford’s annuity of £1,000. When Oxford’s daughter Susan went to meet the new Queen, Anne of Denmark, in the spring of 1603, Thomas Bellot helped defray her expenses. In a letter dated 22 July 1611 written by Oxford’s second wife, Elizabeth Trentham, we learn that Oxford’s son, Henry de Vere, entered the service of James Ist’s son, the Prince of Wales, at about this time. Two of Oxford’s daughters were included in the masques at court in the Christmas season of 1603-4. On 15 January, Dudley Carleton described the festivities to John Chamberlain:

“We have had here a merry Christmas. . . . The first holidays we had every night a public play in the great hall, at which the King was ever present, and liked or disliked as he saw cause, but it seems he takes no extraordinary pleasure in them. The Queen and Prince were more the players’ friends, for on other nights they had them privately, and have since taken them to their protection.”

Carleton next describes a masque in which Oxford’s two daughters, as well as Susan’s future husband, Sir Philip Herbert, all played their parts:

“On New Year’s night we had a play of Robin Goodfellow, and a masque brought in by a magician out of China. . . . for the ordinary measures they took out the Queen, the Ladies of Derby, Hertford, Suffolk, Bedford, Susan Vere, Southwell the elder, and Rich. In the corantoes they ran over some other of the young ladies, and so ended as they began, with a song, and that done, the magician dissolved his enchantment and made the masquers appear in their likeness to be the Earl of Pembroke, the Duke, Monsieur d’Aubigny, young Somerset, Philip Herbert the young Bucephal, James Hay, Richard Preston, and Sir Henry Goodyere. Their attire was rich, but somewhat too heavy and cumbersome for dancers, which put them beside their galliards.”

An artist’s impression of a medieval musical concert

On the 12th of September 1577, the 17th Earl of Oxford’s daughter Frances Vere, was buried at the parish church of All Saints, Edmonton. So, three daughters and the absence of a male heir was a feature of the play “The Tragedy of King Lear” as well as Edward de Vere’s own life and family circumstances. In 1591-2 Oxford disposed of the last of his large estates. In Michaelmas term 1591 he had sold Castle Hedingham, the seat of the Oxford earldom, to Lord Burghley to be held in trust for his three surviving daughters by his first marriage, Elizabeth, Bridget and Susan Vere. On the 7th February 1592 he sold Colne Priory to Roger Harlakenden, who purchased the property in the name of his son, Richard. The sale resulted in further lawsuits by the Earl of Oxford for fraud against Roger Harlakenden which dragged on into the next generation. On 24th February 1593 Oxford’s only surviving son and heir, Henry de Vere, was born at Stoke Newington, where it was reported that ‘the Earl of Oxford is sometime resident in a very proper house’. However, the Earl also had an illegitimate son by his mistress Anne Vavasour who in James 1st’s reign was knighted. The Earl of Oxford’s London residence in Hackney was actually situated down the road from a bedlam house and presumably of some psychological interest to the Earl since the question of sanity enters many of Shakespeare’s plays including for example the character of Ophelia in “Hamlet”, in “King Lear” and the character Malvolio in “Twelfth Night”. By the time the Earl had settled his family and their future he had retired from the theatrical and aristocratic circles where he had played such a creative, illustrious and controversial part.

Portrait of Elizabeth Russell, Dowager Countess of Bedford

The other character to be involved in intrigues from the Office of the Revels was Sir William Brooke (10th Baron Cobham) whose daughter Elizabeth Brooke married Robert Cecil in 1589, so Henry Brooke (11th Baron Cobham) became Robert’s brother-in-law. His son Henry Brooke (11th Lord Cobham) lived in Kent but had a residence at Blackfriar’s (as did Elizabeth Russell, the Dowager Countess of Bedford) he was succeeded by his son Henry (12th Lord Cobham) 1597. He opposed the return of James 1st and was accused of conspiracy in placing Arabella Stuart on the English throne. Arrested, imprisoned and questioned but was later released in 1603. His noble family was also descended from the Lollard martyr, Sir John Oldcastle. The younger son of William Brooke, George Brooke (1568-1603), became 10th Baron Hunsdson, and he expected to be made Mastership of St. Cross at Winchester but the post was awarded to one of King James’ favourites instead. This rejection was probably the reason that he plotted with Lord Grey of Wilton to kidnap the King and force him to change his counsel expecting the role of Lord Treasurer. However, he was arrested in July 1603, imprisoned and executed for his involvement in the “Bye Plot”.

“We all love Shakespeare, whoever he was…”

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The links to my publications 
“Shakespeare’s Qaballah”,
a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry,