THE SIX FINALISTS
It may still be a formidable task to trace the life history of each of the six
finalists in sufficient detail to find the only one who is the real Shakespeare.
Let's apply some simple tests to see if we can reduce their number even
further. First, taking them in alphabetical order, their dates of birth and
William Cecil, Lord Burghley, 1520 - 1598 (78 years)
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex 1566 - 1601 (executed) 35 years
Sir Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke 1554 - 1628 (74 years)
Sir Walter Ralegh c.1552 ? 1554 - 1618 (executed) (64 - 66 years)
Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset 1536 - 1608 (72 years)
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford 1550 - 1604 (54 years).
It's fortunate we began with their dates because we can eliminate one finalist
immediately. The First Folio, published in 1623, in its introductory material
states that Shakespeare is dead. It's true that, for various reasons, much of
what this introduction says about Shakespeare is regarded by many as suspect,
but a large volume requiring considerable effort to produce, and publishing 36
plays which it attributes to Shakespeare, would not, I suggest, state a bare
faced lie as to Shakespeare's being dead if he were still very much alive. This
means we can strike Sir Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, off our list, as he died in
These men were senior officials hand-picked by the Queen as her closest, most
loyal, and most trusted advisors and executives. Any one of them, if a traitor,
could have killed her in an instant, so close to her were they in their official
duties. But she had chosen well; they loved her and she loved them for their
ability, trustworthiness and masculinity. The exception was de Vere.
Apparently an ancestor had won a battle for a previous monarch against rebel
forces and saved the king's life and his kingdom for him. As a reward, that de
Vere was made Lord Great Chamberlain, the senior, closest and most trusted
earl, and it was a hereditary title. Edward de Vere held the title, as did his
father before him and his legitimate son Henry after him. You will see from
our list the Queen never did give him an official working position, though he
asked for it many times. But he was unswervingly loyal and devoted to her
throughout his and her life. Here's what these remaining finalists did (H =
Royal Household appointment; M = Minister; C = Commander of the Military
William Cecil (created Lord Burghley 1571)
(M) Principal Secretary of State 1558-1572
(M) Lord Treasurer 1572-1598 (died)
(M) Master of the Royal Wards 1561-1598
(C) Earl Marshal (with 2 others) 1592-1596
Royal Ward 1576-1587
(H) Master of the Horse (outdoors) 1587-1601 (executed)
(C) Earl Marshal 1597-1601
(C) Master of the Ordnance 1597-1601
(C) Lord Deputy of Ireland 1599
Sir Walter Ralegh
(H) Captain of the Bodyguard 1588-1603 (imprisoned by James 1st)
(M) Lord Treasurer 1599-1608 (died)
Edward de Vere
Royal Ward 1562-1571
(H) Lord Great Chamberlain (hereditary) 1562-1604 (died).
No appointment to any office, but the highest ceremonial position.
All these 5 men wrote poetry and that is why they're on our list; they found
their way into an anthology of 16th century verse. One of them is Shake-speare,
the poet/dramatist who bore the canopy, as any one of them could have done,
and probably did.
THE MERES TEST
Next we can put our remaining five finalists through what I'll call the Meres
Francis Meres (1565 - 1647), born in Lincolnshire is said to have obtained a
degree at Cambridge. We're told he says he obtained Masters degrees at both
Oxford and Cambridge. He became rector at Wing, in Rutland county, where
he died. In his literary work he was unable to gain the patronage of his cousin
who was Sheriff of Lincolnshire. He wrote what's called a 'commonplace' book
which he named Palladis Tamia: Wits Treasury, published in 1598. It was a
miscellany of anecdotes and sayings grouped in moral and religious sections. In
between the 600 or so pages appeared a block of 16 pages which have been
quoted by just about everyone writing concerning Elizabethan literature. Since
this literary world was centred in London, about 125 miles away to the south,
some have questioned how the country parson who lived apparently in the
same parish almost all his adult life could have such detailed knowledge of the
literary scene as he sets forth in those 16 pages, said to contain literary
assessments of no less than 125 English writers and artists. The answer is
simple. He was a brother-in-law of John Florio, who in 1598 dedicated his
substantial Italian dictionary A Worlde of Wordes to his young patron the Earl
of Southampton. Florio was also Southampton's tutor. Shake-speare, as we
already know, dedicated his two very long narrative poems to Southampton:
Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). The Folger library
has a copy of Meres' book, apparently, but no one seems to want to provide the
world at large with the entire 16 pages. Researchers just quote the parts that
serve their immediate purpose. Our aim is different. It would be very helpful
to have the entire 125 references, but as that's not going to happen we have to
piece together what we can from various secondary (or further removed)
I have listed in columns what we're told Meres writes as sentences, and I've
numbered the paragraphs:
1. As the Greek tongue is made famous and eloquent by Homer, Hesiod,
Euripides, Aeschilus, Sophocles, Pindarus, Phocylides, and Aristophanes, and
the Latin tongues by Virgil, Ovid, Horace, etc. ... so the English tongue is
mightily enriched and gorgeouslie invested in rare ornaments and resplendent
Sir Philip Sidney
That's said to be in the order given by Meres. As it doesn't appear to be
chronological and is not alphabetical, presumably it's based on supposed merit,
or possibly is random. Meres then apparently lists the works of these writers
he's named. Only Shakespeare's are generally quoted by researchers. He
omits some of the major tragedies, but includes Love Labours wonne, no
longer in existence.
...these are our best for Tragedie,
The Lords Buckhurst (sic)
Doctor Leg of Cambridge
Doctor Edes of Oxford
Maister Edward Ferris
The Author of the Mirrour for Magistrates,
...the best for Comedy amongst us bee
Edward Earle of Oxforde
Doctor Gager of Oxforde
Maister Rowley, once a rare Scholer of lerned Pembroke Hall in Cambridge
Maister Edwardes of her Majesties Chappell
eloquent and wittie John Lillie
Anthony Mundye our best plotter
4. LOVE POETS
.. these are the most passionate among us to bewaile and bemoane the
perplexities of Love,
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder
Sir Francis Brian
Sir Philip Sidney
Sir Walter Rawley (Ralegh)
Sir Edward Dyer
You will have astutely noticed that Sir Francis Brian, Wheatstone, Samuel
Page, and Breton were not included in the Oxford Anthology. But neither were
they included in the list of the Queen's senior officials.
Of major interest to us is his list of playwrights for Tragedy and Comedy. For
Tragedy only one of our finalists obtains recognition: the author of the Mirror
for Magistrates. I happen to have Dr. S. H. Steinberg's Historical Tables.
Under the Column 'Cultural Life' for 1559 he shows: T. Sackville Mirror for
Magistrates. For Comedy the only one of our finalists with recognition is
Edward, Earl of Oxford. Although it would have been preferable to have
several of our finalists on Meres' lists, at least we have two, and in the final
analysis one is all we need.
We cannot exclude the 3 finalists that failed our Meres test. That's because
Meres may not have included all the dramatists. In fact, we know he didn't: for
example, John Marston; unless Meres did include others and our secondary
sources have not repeated them all, which seems unlikely. But the three who
failed this test have to be relegated to second string finalists. Let's begin with
our first, William Cecil, Lord Burghley.
His candidacy is based on his appearing in the anthology and being a senior
official to Queen Elizabeth for so many years. There must have been many
state occasions when he could have borne the canopy. He was employed by
Henry 8th (d. 1547), Edward 6th (d. 1553), Mary 1st (d. 1558), and Elizabeth 1st
until his own death in 1598. He dutifully attended Mass while Mary reigned,
but at heart he was a Protestant with leanings towards Puritanism. He and
Elizabeth led England safely through perilous times. She referred to Cecil as
'my spirit.' He served her as Chief Minister, Secretary of the Treasury and
Chief Minister of the Privy Council.
Many years ago after about 4 years at sea I was not well, but was appointed
for a brief period of time as a Movement Control Officer on an Admiral's staff
who was a Commander in Chief. The volume of printed signal messages I
received in the underground HQ was remarkable, about 30 - 50 an hour. There
were always 5 or 6 different scenarios requiring immediate attention going on
at the same time. It was all I could do to eat (and dine well there), sleep, and
keep up with the spate of information which needed action. A surgeon
Admiral looked at my file, talked with me briefly, then gave me his five word
diagnosis "I think you've had enough." It's because of this long ago experience
that I can have a better understanding of the life of William Cecil.
The Cecils were a minor gentry family that rose to wealth and power under
Henry 8th, profiting from the dissolution of the monasteries. Born in 1520 Cecil
went to St. John's College Cambridge and Grey's Inn, One source says he was
a Professor of Greek, but I've not found corroborating evidence. In any case he
trained as a scholar and a lawyer. In the 1540s he married the daughter of a
mathematician, Sir John Cheke, who introduced him to Dr. John Dee in 1551.
Dee is said to have had the largest library in England, and Cecil was not far
behind in this. Cecil was very prudent in the affairs of the country and his own
life. But he built the largest and grandest house of the age, Burghley House,
really a mansion or small palace. It has a chapel. The construction continued
from 1565-1587. You can see pictures of it on the Web. This must have been a
consuming hobby for him. He spent large sums on his buildings and gardens
which were famous throughout Europe. He hosted the Queen at least a dozen
times at Theobalds, Wembledom, Cecil House and Burghley House.
Cecil, under the supervision of Queen Elizabeth, had a country to run. How did
he do it? First he needed information. This came by:
1. Maps. He collected maps, and turned them into atlases. He had maps for the
whole of England, with notations he made on such things as areas dangerous
for invasions, where the military stores and bases were, who were the local
gentry, their alliances, who could be trusted for loyalty, the routes for military
forces, who were the Justices of the Peace (and so distributors of justice and
responsible to the Crown). He had maps of foreign countries, and maps of the
world with trade routes noted on them.
2. Agents. Through 'moles' information about possible insurrections could be
evaluated and acted upon before they got out of hand. There was a network of
these 'spies' or informers providing reports and information.
3. Parliament. He needed to know what was going on there and he received
copies of every statute. It was not a democracy although moving in that
direction. The House of Commons could not debate as it liked about any topic.
4. Reports from England's ambassadors abroad.
5. Reports from foreign ambassadors at Westminster
6. Military and naval reports. Ireland was a concern because if not controlled
the Spaniards would incite the largely Catholic population and make the
country a springboard for an attack on England.
Decisions had to be made based on the information flowing in from these
various sources and from discussions held. There were meetings with the
Queen, and other Ministers. Cecil chaired the Privy Council which met to deal
with allegations and information provided by various people or cities, and help
make policy decisions.
There were religious matters and problems to contend with. Not the least was
the fact that in 1570 Pope Pius 5th excommunicated Elizabeth and in the years
following issued a Papal Bull exonerating in advance anyone assassinating her
Finally, the country began to flourish but the government was not wealthy.
Caution and prudence were needed as well as fiscal restraint to assist in the
peaceful growth of the economy and not disturb the delicate balance required
in both foreign and domestic policy.
In his private life Cecil in such spare time as he had seems to have been a good
husband, loving father of his two sons and daughter Anne, who married
Edward de Vere. He was Master of the Wards, and took over responsibility
for the upbringing of his three granddaughters, the children of Anne. But all
this does not necessarily mean that he could not have been Shakespeare,
although it is most unlikely.
Both Cecil and William Ewart Gladstone were learned men. Some 300 years
later than Cecil, Gladstone went to Eton and Christchurch college, Oxford. He
took a double first at Oxford, in mathematics and classics. Both men were
deeply religious. Gladstone spent 63 years in Parliament, was party leader for
26 years, prime minister for about 12 years. He wrote books and articles
extensively on a number of subjects including classical scholarship,
particularly about Homer, Christian doctrine, ecclesiastical history, national
finance and foreign policy. But when we compare so briefly their lives we can
see that Gladstone did not have continuous unremitting service to his country
for almost all his adult life in the executive way that was demanded of Cecil.
Cecil's one poem in the anthology is #85, stated to be in manuscript form. It's
to his daughter, Anne Cecil, upon Making her a New Year's Gift, which the
poem tells us is a spinning wheel. The first stanza contains these unmemorable
Yet, for your years, and New Year's gift,
This housewife's toy is now my shift!
To set you on work, some thrift to feel,
I send you now a spinning wheel.
The second stanza of the two is, in my opinion, no better. Apparently it was
written in 1568 when she was about 13 and he was 48. He would have
developed a flair for poetry long before that if he were to become a poet.
The main problem with Cecil's candidacy for Shakespeare, as I see it, is that
Cecil kept voluminous records, as well he might in his political and
administrative positions. He may have written the odd poem. The one printed
in the anthology is rather an apology for a poem than memorable verse. But
where are his plays?
There is no evidence apparently that he ever wrote one, let alone 36 which
included much bawdy material. And as a closet Puritan he regarded
playwrights as anathema and plays as the work of the devil. You may
remember in an earlier chapter we found Cecil referring to de Vere's theatre
acquaintances as his 'lewd friends.' And even if Cecil did write plays would he
have skewered the various notables in Elizabeth's royal household the way
Shakespeare is said to have done? He had to work and co-operate with these
people every day. Would he have lampooned himself, whether or not he was
called Polus? All this would require duplicity far beyond the character profile
we have for Cecil.
The man we are looking for who called himself Shake-speare tells us he was
lame, had a mistress, was a homosexual, and he probably had syphilis. There is
no evidence that any of this applies to Cecil. I conclude that we are justified in
striking Cecil from our second string list of finalists because of lack of any
positive evidence that he was a playwright, and considerable negative evidence
against any available time or inclination on his part to be one.
He was born on November 10, 1567 at Netherwood, Herefordshire. He
became a Royal Ward on the death of his father in 1576, when he was about 9
years old. At that time he inherited the titles of 2nd Earl of Essex, Viscount
Hereford, Lord Ferrers, and Lord Bourchier. He became the step-son of the
Earl of Leicester when that Earl married his father's widow, Lettice Knollys.
He attended Trinity College Cambridge and in 1586-1587 joined his
step-father in the Netherlands where Leicester commanded a force assisting
the Lowlander Protestants in their fight against Spanish overlordship. He
served as a cavalry officer and distinguished himself in action at the battle of
The Queen was immediately attracted to this young man and soon after his
Wardship was over she made him Master of the Horse. That's why, in the
Armada ceremonial procession, the ballad quoted in Chapter 20 said he was
next following the Queen, leading her 'steed' by a 'costly silken rein.' He was
just 22, she about 55, and in those days almost old enough to be his
grandmother. She apparently had him made a Knight of the Garter, an honour
supposedly by election among his peers. We're told he also received a
monopoly of the duties on imported sweet wines, which made him a wealthy
As we noted in chapter 7 Sir Philip Sidney was mortally wounded during a
foray in the Netherlands in 1586, dying soon afterwards. Young Robert
Devereux married his widow in 1590. This was done secretly. Most of the
Queen's favourites married and did this secretly, hoping she would not find
out and go into one of her towering rages at them for it. She did find out and
developed one of her tempers when she heard of the marriage. But in 1591
Devereux was granted command of an expedition to Normandy to help Henry
of Navarre, Henry 4th of France, Unfortunately it was not a success.
Devereux was said to be headstrong, impetuous, even rash and impudent when
dealing with the Queen. Francis Bacon, who was only about 5 years older,
suggested he try politics. Apparently both these younger men felt that
Burghley was an obstacle to their careers. Instead of giving Devereux more
power the Queen allowed Burghley to quietly transfer his power and position
to his son Robert Cecil. Burghley had amassed power and wealth, but he was a
moral man. Robert Cecil seems to have been cunning and devious. He was
stripped of his power and position by James 1st and died apparently suffering
from venereal disease at about age 49.
In 1595 the Spanish landed in Cornwall and torched Penzance and Mousehole
(pronounced Moozl). In 1596, with Howard commanding the naval forces,
Devereux the land forces, and Ralegh in command of a naval squadron, an
English force seized the Spanish port of Cadiz. Ships were damaged and sunk,
military stores destroyed, they held the port for 2 weeks before setting sail for
home again, with booty. Devereux, known as the Earl of Essex, was only 30,
but this was probably the highlight of his military career. Essex and Sir Walter
Ralegh became national heroes. But in 1597 they failed in an expedition to
intercept the Spanish treasure fleet off the Azores.
In 1599 Devereux apparently asked for and was given the title of Lord
Lieutenant of Ireland. He led the largest English army so far sent to deal with
the Irish 'rebels.'
He was overly self-confident. He should have known better. He was no match
for the Earl of Tyrone, fighting on his own home ground. He made an
unauthorized truce with the Earl, and returned to England and the Court
without permission. The Queen was furious. According to one report she boxed
his ears: he drew his sword, but sheathed it again. After all this the Privy
Council (with Robert Cecil perhaps the prime mover) confined him to virtual
house arrest. He was banned from the Court. Eight months later, in 1600, a
special council tried him for disobedience and deprived him of his offices. He
apparently wrote to James 6th of Scotland saying that Ralegh and Cecil were
implicated in a plot to replace the Queen with the Spanish Infanta, not James,
and that Ralegh with his power and influence in the West Country (where he
came from) and as Governor of Jersey, could offer the invading Spanish the
assistance they would need. This was like a knife in the back for Ralegh, as
James did succeed Elizabeth, and remembered very well Devereux's
accusation against Ralegh. Devereux was trying to strike back against Robert
Cecil and Ralegh who he thought were destroying his career, politically with
the Queen and financially. His intent was not to dethrone the Queen but to
replace his perceived enemies in power with others of his own following. He did
not have a well conceived plan, but was desperate and saw power was slipping
away from him.
Because he did not hide his feelings, Essex house in London apparently became
the centre for all the major dissidents in England. Devereux even tried to
persuade his replacement as Lord Deputy for Ireland, Charles Blount, Lord
Mountjoy, to bring his armed forces to England to help Devereux. But Blount
had made headway against Tyrone, and finally defeated him. Blount was not
interested in so risky a venture as providing Essex with armed forces against
the Queen's entrenched ministers. Early in February 1601 the conspirators
met at the Earl of Southampton's house to discuss plans. It seems that
Devereux himself was not there. The players at the Globe theatre were paid to
perform a play about Richard 2nd , which dealt with deposing a monarch.
Elizabeth thought the play was a suggestion as to her own possible abdication.
After the performance the publisher, John Wolfe, was examined by Sir
Edward Coke the famous jurist, and stated to him that Dr. Hayward was the
author. Dr. Hayward was then taken to the Tower to compel him by torture to
name the actual author. The Queen now sought to discover in conversation
with Francis Bacon at Twickenham Park, the real author of this Richard II. In
his "Apology" he wrote:
...her Majesty, being mightily incensed with that book, which was dedicated to
my Lord Essex, being the story of the first year of King Henry the Fourth,
thinking it a seditious prelude to put into the people's heads boldness and faction,
said she had good opinion that there was treason in it, ...when the Queen would
not be persuaded that it was his writing whose name was to it, but that it had
some more mischievous author and said with great indignation that she would
have him racked to produce his author, I replied, 'Nay, Madam, he is a Doctor,
never rack his person but rack his stile; let him have pen, ink, and paper, and
help of books, and be enjoined to continue the story where it breaketh off, and I
will undertake by collecting the stiles to judge whether he were the author or
Apparently Bacon by this means persuaded the Queen to let Dr. Hayward go
unharmed. It's said by scholars this was not Shakespeare's play as his Richard
2nd was favourable towards the monarch being deposed.
Cecil and the Privy Council knew what was going on, and ordered Ralegh to
double the guard in Whitehall. They also sent word to Devereux to attend a
meeting of the Privy Council. He declined, saying he was ill. But that evening
he attended the Globe performance of Richard 2nd. The next day there was a
one on one meeting, in rowboats in mid Thames river between Ralegh and Sir
Ferdinando Gorges, Governor of Plymouth Fort, representing the Essex
faction. Shots were fired from the Essex party side, but no one was hit. The
meeting broke off. By now about 300 had gathered at Essex House with
Devereux present. The mere force of numbers coming to the Essex house
showed that some action was imminent. The Lord Keeper, the Lord Chief
Justice, Sir William Knollys and the Earl of Worcester arrived to inquire in
the Queen's name the reason for this riotous assembly. All four were seized
and held there. The followers of Devereux, Earl of Essex, were urging him to
action; valuable time was being lost.
They poured out into the street towards the City of London, led by Essex,
calling out that there was a plot against his life, and a plot to put the Spanish
Infanta on the throne. But word had already gone out from elsewhere that
Essex was a traitor. Perhaps Cecil and Ralegh had forestalled him. The
expected popular support did not happen. Instead people wisely kept away.
Without the general public on his side his supporters gradually began to
disappear. By the time he reached St. Paul's he was heading a small silent
uneasy group. The Sheriff allowed Essex into his house for refreshment, but by
now Essex realized he was as good as dead already. When he came to leave
London he found chains across the Lud Gate and soldiers there. Fighting
broke out, one man was killed, Blount, who was there, was wounded. Essex
eventually reached his own house to find the four Queen's representatives had
been released. The place was surrounded by troops and then artillery took up
positions. Lord Admiral Howard threatened to blow the house up. Devereux
surrendered and was taken to the Tower.
After the subsequent trial for treason Blount, Meyrick, Sir Charles Danvers,
and Essex's secretary were all executed. The Earl of Southampton was given
(life) imprisonment. Francis Bacon was a chief prosecutor at the trial of Essex
who was found guilty and executed. He was about 35 years old at the time.
Was this man Shakespeare? He had been a patron of writers and had
numerous books dedicated to him. Isaac Oliver's painting shows a man with
the face of a humanist. He was also 'a nature not to be ruled.' His two
contributions included in the 16th century anthology are well written. One
contains, it would seem, the bitter and hopeless feeling he experienced when, as
he saw it, the Queen turned against him. Here's the 4th stanza:
Love, farewell, more dear to me,
Than my life which thou preservest,
Life, all joys are gone from thee,
Others have what thou deservest.
O! my death doth spring from hence,
I must die for her offence.
He was obviously brilliant, and perhaps could have been Shakespeare, but was
he? There are, I think, three main objections. First, although Chopin died at
40, Mozart at 35, and Schubert at 31, all with prodigious musical outputs, they
were, and were known to be, full time musicians and composers. Essex was an
educated man with poetic propensities, but was primarily, it seems, a soldier.
Next, Shakespeare's work moves from comedy to history, to tragedy to
romance and fantasy. Some of his sonnets are by an older man in
contemplation of approaching death from natural causes. This indicates a life
moving to maturity, such as that of Beethoven, a man who lived to be 57 and
showed great development in his 9 symphonies. Essex, like Mozart. Didn't live
long enough to show this kind of compositional development. The third reason
against Essex as a candidate for Shakespeare is that there is apparently no
evidence that he ever wrote a play.
There are other deeper reasons to doubt the candidacy of Essex. To be
Shakespeare he had to become lame, he had to have a need for using a
pseudonym and choosing Shake-speare in particular. He had to have at least
homosexual tendencies, and probably have syphilis. He needed to have studied
law for the precepts and terminology to flow naturally into his work, and in
his 35 years he needed to have written two very long polished narrative poems,
many shorter poems and 36 plays. If he did all that, then we can call him
It seems to me, on reviewing his life, that he was fundamentally a man of
action. His notable successes and failures were in military affairs. When
goaded by the Queen's anger and her minister's actions against him he didn't
write a scathing play about it, he went to see an old play, which if he was
Shakespeare was not one of his own, but he didn't leave it at that. This perhaps
gave him the courage to take his chances in open resistance to the government.
He marched at the head of his supporters to the city of London to raise
popular support against the Queen's established ministers. It was a foolhardy,
perilous venture, no more so, probably in his mind than attacking Cadiz. But
there he had seasoned troops and Ralegh and Howard with him. Now he had
them against him. I suggest he was a brilliant young man who could do almost
anything. In 1598 he had written to Elizabeth:
I was never proud till you sought to make me too base. And now, since my
destiny is no better, my despair shall be like my love was, without repentance.
I think he wrote poems because he was brilliant, and so could do it, not because
he was a writer who devoted his life to it. I can find no evidence that he ever
wrote a play, or was lame, or homosexual, or had venereal disease. I suggest
we can, perhaps reluctantly, cross him off our list of candidates. The last word
should go to the Earl of Essex himself who we're told wrote to Francis Bacon in
1600 saying I am a stranger, in all poetical concerts, or else I might say
somewhat, of your poetical example.
Sir Walter Ralegh
Ralegh is said to have been born 'about' 1552. He came from a Devon family,
as did Drake. This southwest area of England was prime seafaring country. As
he rose to power he became concerned about the snide remarks of some of the
Queen's senior courtiers as to his background. This snobbery prompted him to
have his genealogy checked. His line was traced back to D'Amerie of Clare,
Clare of Edward 1st (king 1272-1307) This Clare descended from king Henry
1st ( king 1100-1135, showing he had Plantagenet blood in him as did the
Queen. That gave him the necessary passport to Elizabeth's exclusive inner
circle. There was no question as to his ability, and Elizabeth took a fancy to
him, adding him to her growing line of favourites. Each in turn was devastated
when she dropped him for the next: Leicester, de Vere, Ralegh, and in due
course this happened to him, supplanted by Essex, making these two bitter
Ralegh's achievements were remarkable. A soldier in France and Ireland, He
sent his ships to north and south America, he sailed personally to the Azores,
Cadiz and Guiana. The ambassadors of France, Spain and Venice reported
regularly on his activities. The king of Denmark wanted him for his Admiral of
the Fleet. He was appointed Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard, a post he held
for 15 years until her death. He was involved in colonizing schemes for north
America. If today you look at a map of the eastern seaboard of the US, off the
coast of Virginia you will see Raleigh Bay. There's a county called Raleigh in
West Virginia, and a city called Raleigh in North Carolina.
He was a man of letters and a savant. Imprisoned by James 1st, principally it
seems because as an import(from Scotland) the king was afraid of the
popularity of Ralegh; but yet James allowed his son Prince Henry to go to the
Tower for private tutoring by Ralegh. He became a member of Parliament,
and although he had a weak voice was listened to with respect for his opinions.
His execution by the king when he was in his mid sixties, after 15 years
imprisonment, was I believe a shameful blot on the king's character. Ralegh
has remained a popular hero in England to this day. It's not surprising that the
local metropolitan library system here in Canada has 63 books on Ralegh
listed. The three universities here have many more. I've not cross-checked for
duplication of titles, but suppose 100 books in all on Ralegh would not be an
Ralegh's father's third wife was the widow of Otho Gilbert and was the
daughter of Sir Philip Champermouth. She brought three sons to the
marriage; Sir John Gilbert, Sir Anthony Gilbert and Adrian Gilbert. Our
Ralegh was their son. His elder brother was Carew, his sister was Margaret.
Through this marriage Ralegh was related to the most distinguished families in
the southwest of England, which helped his career.
There seems no factual evidence as to Ralegh's early education, but he must
have studied the Classics at some time because his History of the World has
many classical references. He was apparently 'an indefatigable reader,
whether by sea or land.' In 1569, at the age of about 17, he was a volunteer in
the Hugenot army in France. In 1572 he was listed as an undergraduate at
Oxford. He is said to have attended Oriel College, and in 1575 his name
appears in the registry of the Middle Temple law school. It's said he did not
stay long enough to graduate from either place. In 1578 he and his brother
joined their half-brother Sir Humphrey Gilbert in a maritime discovery
venture, unsuccessful through storms and desertions. In 1580 he served in
Ireland, suppressing rebels in Munster. In 1581 he was at the Court in
England and that's when he became a favourite of the Queen.
His physique was good. He was six feet tall, handsome and bold, had black hair
and beard, with a good natural wit and judgement. He spoke with a broad
Devonshire accent all his life. He could be introspective or supremely active
physically, all his life. He was proud, and could be quarrelsome. He was a man
Some one must have sponsored Ralegh at Court. It may have been Leicester.
He rose rapidly in Royal favour. The Queen loved to hear his reasons and
began to take him as 'a kind of oracle.' This upset the others. He already had
valuable military experience. It's not known whether he did actually lay down
his cloak over the mud for the Queen to walk on. This was in the days when
men 'carried their fortunes on their backs' in the costly clothes the upper
classes wore. Ralegh gained in power and prestige. He was granted a monopoly
In July 1582 he signed an agreement for the founding of a colony of English
Catholics in North America. He took shares in the company and provided a
ship of his own design, the Bark Ralegh, 200 tons, costing £2,000. His
Lieutenant in Ireland was in command, but the voyage was a disaster.
The Queen made him richer in May 1583 by granting him the 'Farm of Wines'
by which every vintner in the kingdom had to pay Ralegh during his lifetime
an annual licence fee of £1. This brought in about £1000 a year.
In April 1583 the Queen gave Ralegh two manors formerly owned by All Souls
College, Oxford. The Queen leased him part of Durham House which he used
as his London residence. He had an establishment of about 40 people there.
Many courtiers wrote poetry and passed it around in manuscript form among
their friends. This was just a social convention in the close inner circle. It was
far too personal for printed distribution by a publisher. Here's an example
Ralegh to the Queen
Fortune hath taken the away my love
my lives soule and my soules heaven above
fortune hath taken the away my princess
my only light and my true fancies mistres.
The Queen to Ralegh
Ah silly pigge wert thou so sore afraid,
morne not (my Wat) nor be thou so dismaid,
It passeth fickle fortunes powere and skill,
to force my harte to thinke thee any ill.
On 6th Jan 1585 Ralegh was knighted by the Queen. His coat of arms had a
roebuck at the top and two hounds, one each side, below it, looking up. The
inscription reads 'The arms of Walter Ralegh, knight, Lord and Governor of
Virginia. (The Queen had chosen Virginia as the name of the new colony).
Ralegh had six seals, five relating to his official offices and one private seal.
The imperfect reproductions I have seen may indicate a spear or more likely a
sword, on the private seal.
He became Warden of the Stanneries (the tin mines of Cornwall and Devon).
He was given vast estates in Ireland (one source says 42,000 acres). In 1587
came his appointment as Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard, which meant
close personal attendance on the Queen. He was apparently a good
administrator, but his rapid rise created enemies in the Court circle.
Ralegh was responsible for the colonizing expeditions that ended with the 'lost
colony' of Roanoke. He was made a member of the Defence Commission
against Spain but it's not known whether he took part in the naval battles. In
1589 he left the Court for Ireland, where he became a friend of Edmund
Spenser the poet, and his patron after the death of Sir Philip Sidney in the
Low Countries warfare.
He was apparently (and unwisely) connected with the poetic group 'the school
of night' led by his friend the mathematician Thomas Harriot and including
George Chapman and Christopher Marlowe. The group was thought to be
skeptical of Scripture and atheistic. Marlowe lost his life just before he was
due to be interrogated by the authorities on suspicion of atheism.
In 1594 The Commission in Causes Ecclesiastical held an enquiry. Evidence
was given as to the questioning at a dinner party by Carew and Walter
Raalegh of a cleric, the Rev. Ralph Ironside. Carew had asked 'what is the
soul?' Ironside quoted Aristotle, but Ralegh pursued the questioning. The
enquiry never did interview Ralegh and the enquiry seems to have gathered
In 1595 Ralegh went on an expedition with the scholarly adventurer Lawrence
Kemys in search of the City of Gold, El Dorado. They penetrated some 300
miles up the Orinoco river (now in Venezuela) after which it soon branches into
11 tributaries. In 1596 Ralegh published his Discoverie of the large, rich and
beautiful Empyre of Guiana.
From the Indians of the Orinoco river Ralegh heard the story which
eventually did more than anything else to discredit him - the famous legend of
the nation of people "whose heads appear not above their shoulders. They are
called Ewaipanoma. They are reported to have their eyes in their shoulders
and their mouths in the middle of their breasts...." Ralegh brought back chief
Topiawari's son to England and he testified the Ewaipanoma were mighty men
and used 3 times bigger weapons as the Guianans and had slain many of his
father's people Ralegh didn't hear about them until he'd left but wrote
..I saw them not, but I am resolved that so many people did not all combine or
forethink to make the report.
Shakespeare used the story briefly in Othello (Act 1. Scene 3, lines 144 - 146))
And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders. This to hear
Would Desdemona seriously incline.
And in the Tempest (Act 3, Scene 3, lines 43 - 47)
When we were boys
Who would believe...that there were such men
Whose heads stood in their breasts?
1596 was the year he commanded a naval squadron under Howard in the
successful raid on the Spanish port of Cadiz. Ralegh was crippled by a
wound in the leg received towards the end of the engagement:
a grievous blow, interlaced and deformed with splinters
But the island voyage of Ralegh and Essex in 1597, intended to seize the
Spanish treasure fleet returning from the West Indies, was a failure.
His wife was Elizabeth Throckmorton, one of the Queen's Maids of Honour.
She is described as fair, with blue eyes, not assertive, and not a beauty. The
actual date of marriage seems uncertain; their child may have been born
before they were married. There is contradictory evidence. (Note 1). When in
1592 the Queen found out about their affair she had one of her fits of rage and
put them in the Tower. (Notes 2 and 3). She finally allowed Ralegh back to
Court, but never allowed Elizabeth Throckmorton back and Ralegh's
favourite's position was no more. It looks as though Ralegh caused her
pregnancy and was pursued by the Throckmorton family until he married her.
At some apparently unspecified time after the marriage Ralegh had an
illegitimate daughter, in Ireland, and perhaps a son, whether both by the same
mistress is not clear. Ralegh and Elizabeth stayed married to the end of his life
in 1618. When King James put Ralegh in the Tower, she certainly stuck by her
man, living with him in the Tower until driven out by the plague to take
residence nearby. She survived until 1647. She seems to have been supportive
and stayed by him throughout their marriage.
In 1600 Ralegh was made governor of the island of Jersey but he apparently
made more enemies (including Robert Cecil and de Vere) in the events leading
to the Essex treason trial and execution. De Vere was one of a select group
listening to the Queen play the keyboard virginals instrument when news came
in of the execution of Essex. She continued playing, causing de Vere's bitter
pun when jacks start up, heads go down. The reference was to the mechanics of
the instrument where a jack rising hits the hammer end to cause it to go down
and pluck a string to create a musical note. But for de Vere that was only an
allegory for what he meant: the upstart mere knight being instrumental in the
death of an earl.
When James 6th of Scotland became James 1st of England in 1603, he was led
by Ralegh's enemies to think the Devon man was opposed to his succession, and
on questionable evidence he was found guilty in a trial during 1603 of intrigue
with Spain against England and a plot to replace James with Arabella Stuart.
Reprieved, he was kept in the Tower where he devoted himself to literature
and science, including a history of the World, 5 volumes and incomplete at his
death according to one source, but published in 1616 according to another.
In 1616 he was released to return to the Orinoco in search of gold, warned of
the death penalty for molesting Spanish possessions or ships.
On 30th January 1617 King James signed a warrant fully and wholly enlarging
him. Ralegh paid £500 on account for a new ship to be called the Destiny and
began planning his expedition; a venture in search of gold. The fleet
encountered heavy weather, taking 6 weeks instead of 2 to reach the Cape
Verde Islands. They had gone almost far enough south but were still only a few
hundred miles off the coast of Africa, with the central Atlantic to cross, which
took another 5 weeks. 42 men died on the Destiny alone, including several
important senior personnel. Ralegh himself was very sick, his personal cook
and valet died. Ralegh was still sick when they arrived.
The expedition failed, as perhaps James hoped it would. James may also have
hoped he would die there as Drake and Hawkins had died in mid America
before him. But despite hardship, loss of life and mutiny around him, he
survived to return home. Unfortunately, Lawrence Kemys had captured a
small Spanish town. The Spanish ambassador demanded Ralegh be punished.
They did not bring back gold, On the way to London. Ralegh said I know well
that as soon as I come there, I shall go to the Tower, and that they will cut off my
head if I use no means to escape it. (Note 4).
Ralegh was taken to the Tower of London, and on 10th of August 1618 was
executed under the original charge of treason 15 years earlier.
Now we have to determine, was this man Shakespeare?
Here are two excerpts from Ralegh's poetry included in the 16th c anthology.
#267, opening stanza
Farewell false love, the oracle of lies,
A mortal foe and enemy to rest,
An envious boy, from whom all cares arise,
A bastard vile, a beast with rage possessed,
A way of error,, a temple full of treason,
In all effects contrary to reason.
And the last stanza
Sith then thy trains my younger years betrayed
And for my faith ingratitude I find,
And sith repentance hath my wrongs bewrayed
Whose course was ever contrary to kind,
False love, desire, and beauty frail adieu!
Dead is the root whence all these fancies grew.
This was apparently published in a collection dated 1588.
And here are the opening and closing stanzas of another poem, this one
published in a 1591 collection
Like to a hermit poor in place obscure
I mean to spend my days of endless doubt,
To wail such woes as time cannot recure,
Where none but death shall ever find me out.
A gown of grief my body shall attire,
My staff of broken hope whereon I'll stay;
Of late repentance linked with long desire
The couch is framed whereon my limbs I'll lay;
And at my gate despair shall linger still
To let in death when love and fortune will.
The title The Hermit doesn't really fit Shakespeare, the poem does not have
quite the compression of thought of Shakespeare's sonnets, but the sentiment is
close. And Ralegh had the kind of tragic life that seems to be the fate of great
writers, artists, and composers.
Ralegh fits our necessary profile for Shakespeare in many ways. Once he was
part of the Court inner circle. He could have carried the canopy. He had a
mistress although we don't seem to know whether she was black haired,. which
is a requirement. He became lame. He was a prolific writer and poet. He had
wide practical experience. He was knowledgeable about falconry.
But there are other tests for Ralegh to pass before we can say he was probably
Shakespeare. Did he write plays? Where is the evidence he ever wrote a single
play? The answer seems to be: none. Shakespeare located about a third of his
plays in Italy. Ralegh's experience was west, not east of England. Was he
homosexual? We have no evidence for that, Was he syphilitic? We have no
evidence for that either. Finally, he spent his 15 years of imprisonment in
experimenting in the practical sciences and writing his History of the World.
This doesn't look in the direction of playwriting. Playwriting involves a
somewhat different art from poetry and prose. It requires creating and
sustaining a variety of male and female characters, a plot for them to unfold
and a denouement that strikes home to the audience. It was in this art that
Shakespeare achieved his immortal fame.
In conclusion, although some events in Ralegh's life and traits of character are
as required, I think we have to see if we can find a closer fit.
In the next chapter we'll consider our two remaining finalists. One of them has
to be Shakespeare.
SIR WALTER RALEGH AND ELIZABETH THROCKMORTON
As to whether their son Damerei was illegitimate or the birth occurred after a
hasty marriage there seems to be much conjecture. Apparently there are very
few available facts about their affair, which are
1. Elizabeth Throckmorton (Eliz) was the daughter of Sir Nicholas
Throckmorton of Warwickshire. He had been an ambassador to the Court of
France for Queen Elizabeth. Eliz was the only female child and had six
brothers. Arthur, her second brother was a close friend.
2. Her father died in 1571, when she was six years old. He left her £500 but her
mother lent it to the Earl of Huntingdon who apparently never repaid it,
despite family efforts to get it back.
3. Arthur kept a diary. He noted 8th November 1584 that Eliz was sworn of
the Privy Chamber of the Queen, in other words she became a Maid of
4. Dated March 10, 1592 Ralegh wrote to William Cecil
...I mean not to come away, as they say I will, for fear of a marriage... I would
have imparted it unto yourself before any man living, and therefore i pray,
believe it not and I beseech you to suppress, what you can any such malicious
report. For I protest before God, there is none, on the face of the earth, that I
would be fastened unto.
It's been said that this was a lie, but I believe it to be the truth.
5. March 20, 1592 Arthur diarized
My sister was delivered of a boy between 2 and 3 in the afternoon. I wrytte to Syr
Walter Rayley and sent Dyeke the footman to whom I gave him 10s (ten
6. On April 10th Arthur wrote
Damerei Raelly was baptised by Robert Earl of Essex and Arth. Throckmorton
and Anne Throckmorton. (Arthur's wife).
7. On April 17th Damerei was put out to nurse with relatives and Eliz returned
8. On May 6th Arthur said Ralegh sailed from Falmouth to the West Indies.
It's said he returned May 16th.
I suggest either he didn't go to the West Indies or he voyaged at an incredible
maintained speed day and night of over 23 knots (28 mph.) which is faster than
the fastest sailing ship's record ever in a day (23 knots, a China clipper.) Or,
Arthur's note 'Browne came from Sir Walter' didn't mean Ralegh personally,
only that he came from his residence.
9. On May 19th Arthur notes
Browne and Sir George Carew came to have me seal the writings between Sir.
W. Ralegh and Eliz.
It's been assumed by some that this was a marriage settlement. I don't think
so. I suggest that Ralegh, as he told Cecil, had no intention of getting married
and that this was a paternity settlement, agreeing to pay support and
maintenance for Eliz and the child.
10. It's said that on May 21st Eliz and the child were at a Throckmonton
London residence but a week later at Durham House, Ralegh's London
11. On May 31st, 1592 Ralegh was committed to the custody of Sir Robert
12. On June 1st Eliz was committed to the custody of the Vice Chamberlain,
Sir Thomas Heneage.
13. Ralegh was confined to Durham House in the care of his cousin Sir George
14. On August 7th 1592 Arthur wrote in French that his sister went to the
Tower and Sir W. Raelly.
15. The note by Arthur might mean that Ralegh was already in the Tower and
she was later sent there also, because in a letter to Cecil Ralegh wrote From the
16. The reason for these imprisonments has not been found. There were no
formal charges, no hearings, no evidence was given that we know of. The
Queen apparently just decided to have it done.
17. In Camden's Annales for the year 1595 he says
Walter Ralegh, Captain of the Queen's Guards, for defiling the honour of a lady
of the Queen, whom he afterwards led in marriage dismissed from favour and
kept in prison for many months is now set free but banished from the Court.
18. His imprisonment was not particularly severe. His friends visited him at
will, he had his own servants in rooms close to him. He carried on business as
usual through deputies, messengers and letters.
19. Late in 1592 a Ralegh expedition returned to England with a richly laden
Portuguese carrack (a large armed merchant ship). There were disputes over
division of the booty, the Queen was determined to get her share, and Ralegh
was released to deal with the matter. He was not re-imprisoned.
Two previous favourites, Leicester and de Vere had suffered the Queen's
wrath. Leicester, realizing at last that the Queen would never marry him. after
the mysterious death of his wife Amy Robsart had cleared the way, secretly
married Lettice Knollys. When the Queen found out she went into one of her
rages and was going to put Leicester in the Tower. William Cecil in effect said
'you can't do that. He did nothing wrong. All he did was get married.'
De Vere's case was different. He was already married when he got Anne
Vavasour, a Maid of Honour, pregnant and she gave birth to an illegitimate
child. The Queen put them both in the Tower for that.
I suggest Ralegh's case was parallel to that of de Vere, not Leicester. It's true
Ralegh was a bachelor at the time, but he caused the unmarried pregnancy of a
Maid of Honour, which is why Camden in his Annales used the word 'defiled'
and that finished the careers of both Eliz. who was never re-accepted at Court,
and Ralegh as a member of the Court inner circle.
This scenario as I've interpreted it, shows us that Ralegh did not marry Eliz
until later, probably under pressure from the Throckmorton brothers.
It seems no one has found the entry of the marriage in a register, which would
immediately remove the uncertainty. The best information we seem to have is a
portrait of Ralegh and his legitimate eldest son Wat, said to be date 1602, and
that Wat was then 8 years old. This means he was born about 1594, and as he
was legitimate, a marriage by about 1593, placing it about a year after the
Why was the child born to Elizabeth Throckmorton on March 29, 1592
baptized as Damerei? This is an unusual name. Searching for an answer I
came across the word demarara. It's a yellowish brown raw cane sugar, which
came originally from the Demarara region of Guyana. On a large map of this
area today you will find a Demarara river, on the coast Georgetown
(Demarara) and the region with the word DEMARARA printed across it.
Ralegh published his book on the Discovery of Guiana in 1596. I suggest
Elizabeth Throckmorton was first attracted to Ralegh by his being a teller of
tall tales about Guiana and that the child was a product of their growing
intimacy, hence the name Damerei, or however it should be spelled. Arthur
Throckmorton spelled Ralegh variously as Rayley, Raelly, Ralegh.
Why was Damerei, the child of Elizabeth Throckmorton and Walter Ralegh,
who I suggest was born as an illegitimate child before their marriage, not
apparently included in Ralegh's will? Damerei was, after all, a product of
them both and they apparently stayed married and in close relationship for the
rest of Ralegh's life.
One possibility is that Damerei had died before the will was prepared.
A second likelihood is related to the quotation we have from her brother
Arthur's diary for May 19, 1592
Browne and Sir George Carew came to have me seal the writings between Sir W.
Ralegh and Eliz.
I believe there may have been more to this than the custody and maintenance
in favour of Eliz. which I previously suggested was involved. I think neither
parent was in a position to take personal care and responsibility for the
upbringing of this child. Ralegh was a busy, much travelled man. Eliz. was
trying to get quickly back to Court full time again as a Maid of Honour to the
Many years ago I had a very able young client, son of a client. The young man
would obviously have a brilliant career. He was already a leader and
successful business man while still in his late teens and at a university. He came
to me one evening in privacy at my office and brought his beautiful red haired
girl friend. I thought they were made for each other. They had a terrible story
to tell. She was the daughter of a minister. She was also pregnant. Neither dare
tell their respective parents. What were they to do? For about 3 hours we
discussed the various options open to them. All I could do was help them trace
every option through from inception to consequence. It was a harrowing
experience. In the end they decided to have the child adopted, which meant
they would lose all contact with it forever.
With this experience behind me and piecing together what I can of the
Ralegh/Throckmorton situation, I believe the agreement sealed by Arthur and
Ralegh's representatives was that the child would be brought up by the
Throckmorton relatives as their own child, and the natural parents were to
relinquish all rights as to custody, but that Ralegh in consideration thereof was
to provide a lump sum payment on signing. This would make a legally binding
contract with consideration on both sides. Apparently no more is heard of
Damerei, who would have become a Throckmorton.
If any scholar of the period has more or better information on this I would be
very glad to hear of it and pass it on in this note.
Ralegh's attempted escape.
For the 1617 voyage to Guyana in search of gold press gangs had been used to
get men for the crews. There were numerous desertions. Many men died at
sea. Ralegh himself was very sick with pleurisy. He returned to Falmouth in
Cornwall, age about 63-4, and he had no gold for the king. The unsympathetic
James said he was utterly disgusted with the excesses of Ralegh.
The Lord Admiral instructed Sir Lewis Stukeley to arrest Ralegh and bring
him to London, but apparently he was not given a written warrant. When
Stukeley arrived at Falmouth he told Ralegh he was sent to arrest him and
take him to London. Eliz wanted him to try to escape to France. Ralegh and
King, one of his trusted and loyal officers, rowed out one night to a French ship
anchored in the harbour. When only a short distance from the ship Ralegh
changed his mind and they rowed back to shore. Apparently he thought it
ignoble to run away from whatever fate awaited him. He might also have
thought it unwise to leave Eliz and their only remaining son alone in England.
Eventually the party proceeded to London, Ralegh having sent Eliz and her
group on ahead. Ralegh was either somewhat mentally and physically sick or
intentionally appeared to be. After they arrived, Hart, a friend of Ralegh,
provided two wherries for an escape down the Thames to one of the port towns
where he could ship out to the continent. Stukeley apparently agreed to go
along with them.
We're told that during this attempted escape he gave 2 of his 4 pistols to
Stukeley and they all embarked, Stukeley and Ralegh in one wherry and King
and young Stukeley, in the other. (A wherry is a rowboat large enough to take
passengers and goods). They had gone a very little way when Ralegh saw
another larger boat which turned downstream and followed them. Stukeley
playing his part, began to curse and call himself a fool for allowing himself to
be involved in an affair like this. He swore he would kill the oarsmen if they
did not row on. They reached Greenwich. The boatmen said they would not be
able to reach Gravesend by the morning on that tide. There were 2 or 3
ketches in the river (a ketch is a 2 masted fore-and -aft rigged sailing boat).
Hart said he was not sure which was his. Ralegh was convinced they were all
betrayed. And so they were. They rowed to the shore at Greenwich. As soon as
they were ashore Stukeley told Ralegh and King he was arresting them in His
. . . . . . . . . .
This chapter is greatly indebted to John Winter (Michael Joseph, London,
1975) for his excellent biography of Sir Walter Ralegh, although various other
sources have been consulted as well.