THE SHAKESPEARE IDENTITY PROBLEM

CHAPTER 7: THE SEARCH BEGINS - PART 2


We left Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, when he was 26 years of age, experiencing intense anger and frustration and in the depths of despair. He had already lived almost half his life. He died at age 54, said to be of the plague, which was not unusual in those days. Death might otherwise come by execution or on a field of battle. Old age by our present standards was a rarity.

It may be helpful for us to compare de Vere's life with that of another Elizabethan poet, Sir Philip Sidney. He was 4 years younger than de Vere. He went to Shrewsbury school and Christ Church college, Oxford. He died at age 32 from wounds in battle. His death was typical of the man. Fighting to help the Protestants in the Netherlands he set out one day with a small force that included Sir William Pelham who had forgotten his leg armour (greaves). Sidney at once threw off his own greaves. Later he was wounded in the leg but managed to return to the camp. There he refused a cup of water in favour of a dying soldier saying ' thy need is greater than mine.' The whole country mourned his death. About 200 elegies were written in his honour. He is described as poet, statesman, and soldier. He had toured Europe and happened to be in Paris at the time of the St. Bartholomew massacre which he witnessed. He went to Italy, spent some time in Venice, went to Austria, and Poland where it's said he was offered the then vacant crown, and returned to Vienna acting apparently in a quasi-diplomatic capacity for the Queen and Burghley. He was summoned home by the Queen. In 1577 he was sent to congratulate the new Elector Palatine and Emperor and promote the Protestant cause. He met Don Juan of Austria and went on to Heidelberg and Prague. He proposed a Protestant League and Church Conference in a speech to the Emperor and advocated a general league against Rome and Spain. On his way home he visited William the Silent (of Orange), the Protestant leader in the Netherlands. But he was a man of letters and an accomplished poet, and even from this briefest of biographies we can see he was cast in a very different mould from the unpredictable, tempestuous, arrogant, irresponsible, artistic de Vere. 17th Earl of Oxford, who apparently was never asked by the Queen or Burghley at any time in his entire life to undertake any diplomatic duties abroad and was regarded more with envy and dislike by his peers than with the praise received by Sidney.

We know de Vere could write poems. Even a Stratfordian professor who is strongly opposed to the candidacy of de Vere writes

1576 saw a second edition of Cardanus Comfort, and a first edition of A Paradise of Dainty Devices, a poetic anthology with the initials 'E.O.' (Earl of Oxford) on its title page and attached to 6 poems. Anthologies with Oxford's name or initials appeared in print every second year on average, to the end of Elizabeth's reign.

We know de Vere wrote plays. Most scholars quote Francis Mere's Palladis Tania where de Vere's name was first in a list of 17 playwrights. Mere said he was 'best for comedy.' That was in 1598. The same book mentioned Shakespeare and listed 12 plays by him. Unfortunately Mere did not list titles of any of the comedies of de Vere and none with his name have survived.

So we have excellent 3rd party evidence that de Vere wrote poems and plays. From our perspective that merely makes him a candidate. What we are going to regard as a definitive test is how closely his life ties in with the poems and plays. If the match is weak, or doesn't exist, then whether he wrote poems and plays or not he cannot be the elusive Shakespeare. That's because I am convinced that successful writers write their best work about what they best know about.

De Vere had persuaded the parents of an Italian choirboy and musician, age 16, to let him be taken to England, apparently for a year. His name was Orazio Cogno. He lived in De Vere's mansion in London for about a year, as a 'page' but performed at least once for the Queen who urged him to convert to the Protestant religion. He came to know about 5 or 6 musicians to the Queen who were from Venice. She is said to have had a total of about 60 musicians. In later testimony from a court of Inquisition back in Italy he stated that de Vere 'speaks Latin and Italian well.' When asked 'did you obtain the Conte's licence to leave' he said 'no, he would not have allowed me to leave.' We further learn that everyone in de Vere's household was allowed to live as they wished, so that Orazio was able to attend masses in the houses of the French and Portuguese ambassadors. De Vere's relationship with Orazio Cogno is of some importance and will come back to haunt him, as we will soon see.

The Spanish ambassador wrote at one time with hopes de Vere would join the Catholic cause, but nothing came of it. De Vere seems neither to have been a devout Catholic nor Protestant, He was brought up as a Protestant at Hedingham Castle, and then spent 9 years as a ward in Burghley's staunchly Protestant mènage. Perhaps he was more of a Pantheist or even an Agnostic.

De Vere was still in favour at Court, but things were very different for him now. His self esteem had been dealt two very hard blows, bastardy and cuckoldry; whether true or not, the stigma was there. He was separated from his wife, who had gone back to live with her parents, Lord and Lady Burghley. His love life so far had not been great. He had been forcibly married to a young girl he did not want, who then perhaps for all he knew was adulterous. He was sexually teased by a wanton Queen who did this with several of her young courtiers, knowing that they dare not make advances back to have actual sex with her, as she was their Queen and could destroy them with a whim at any moment. And he had sex with a high priced Italian courtesan, who taught him more than he ever dreamt of about sex, but not love, and probably gave him syphilis.

But his spirit was indomitable. He was now concentrating more on writing poems, and plays for the Court. He began to consort with other playwrights, principally the so-called 'university wits.' There were some very fine writers among them but some were also quite dissolute, particularly Greene. De Vere knew some or all of them, Greene, Nash, Peele, Marlowe, Kyd, Lyly, Lodge, and others. On his return from the Continent de Vere apparently bought Fisher's Folly, today known as Devonshire Place, but known after de Vere's purchase as Vere House. It seems to have been a mecca for playwrights. We're told that by 1585 within about 5 minutes' walk lived Marlowe and Kyd (who lived with him), Greene, Poley, and the famous actors James Burbage, Edward and John Alleyn. Burghley regarded them all as dissolute and de Vere as mixing with his 'lewd friends.' This behaviour was not likely to improve relationships in his marriage. His cousins were also interested in the dramatic arts and he was friendly with them: Henry and Philip Howard, Charles Arundel, and Francis Southwell.

Lady Suffolk was one of those who wanted to see the de Vere marriage put back together. She wrote to Burghley with a plan. This was to 'borrow' Anne's infant daughter Elizabeth and walk into a room where de Vere was without saying whose child it was, to see if he would recognize any consanguinity of blood. She also mentioned he was on the point of buying a house on Watling Street. We're not told whether either of these plans came to fruition. The estrangement of de Vere from his wife continued.

Oxfordians say the earlier versions of, for example, Timon of Athens, or the Comedy of Errors, were written by de Vere and later improved, updated, and partly rewritten by him. The Stratfordians say these older plays were more primitive efforts written by others and Shakespeare took these and rewrote them to his own impeccable and mature style. Starting with a different premise, I propose to side-step this type of argument and consider only the poems and plays attributed to Shakespeare.

As to de Vere, he has certainly told us what he is going to do. This should help us decide whether or not he's Shakespeare. I have said earlier I would not quote his poetry or get into the argument as to whether it shows stylistically he could or could not be Shakespeare. But I need to quote one poem now. This one is different, because it's de Vere telling us he has had enough, and what he's going to do about it. And being a Vere, with all his emphasis on truth, we should listen to what he says:

Fain would I sing, but fury makes me fret,
And Rage hath sworn to seek revenge of wrong;
My mazed mind in malice is so set,
As Death shall daunt my deadly dolours long;
Patience perforce is such a pinching pain
As die I will, or suffer wrong again.

I am no sot, to suffer such abuse
As doth bereave my heart of his delight;
Nor will I frame myself to such as use
With calm consent, to suffer such despite;
No quiet sleep shall once possess mine eye
Till Wit hath wrought his will on Injury.

My heart shall fail, and hand shall lose his force,
But some Device shall pay Despite his due;
And Fury shall consume my careful corse,
Or raze the ground whereon my sorrow grew.
Lo, thus in rage of ruthful mind refus'd,
I rest reveng'd on whom I am abus'd.

Earle of Oxenforde

He has told us precisely what he is going to do. By sheer Wit, or intellect, he is going to portray in poems and plays (devices) what has happened to him. He will expose the perpetrators of the injuries to him and his good name for the pitiful objects of humanity that they are. The names will be different, of course, and the plots taken from history, comedy, or fantasy, but the message will be there, plain and clear. His life will be an open book for the reading. And I, for one, believe him. He has the ability to do what he says he's going to do. This is no idle threat. De Vere's line in the poem just quoted

Or raze the ground whereon my sorrow grew

is no idle boast either. It tells us exactly what he's going to do, as we shall soon see.

We're very fortunate to have come across this poem. It makes our enquiry straightforward. De Vere has truth as his motto and in his name. When we've finished looking at his life we will look at Shakespeare's poems and plays to see if they have the evidence of de Vere's plan for retribution in them. If so, then he's Shakespeare, if not, then he isn't.

De Vere was trying to improve his own finances, but while keeping his distance from Anne his wife, apparently made over to her his estate at Wivenhoe in Essex and his Savoy apartment in London.

In 1576 Captain Martin Frobisher had left Gravesend with two ships to find the Northwest Passage to China. Humphrey Gilbert, Michael Lok, and Dr Dee - an astronomer and astrologer, a friend of De Vere's and known to the Queen, -had been planning the voyage for some years. It was a financial failure. Within 4 months the ships were back in England. 5 of the Queen's ministers lost money on this venture, but not de Vere. But in 1577 they tried again, the Queen leading the way with a £1,000 subscription. Finding some promising looking ore en route they returned. There was some excitement in England as to its value, was it gold ore as claimed? Now, just before the 3rd expedition of 11 ships set out, de Vere wrote a letter to the Commissioners for the Voyage to 'Meta Incognita' as an offer

to be an adventurer in the project for the sum of £1,000 or more... which sum or sums upon your certificate of admittance, I will enter into bond shall be paid for that use unto you upon Michaelmas day next coming... From the Court, 21 May 1578... Edward Oxenford

Before the ships set sail de Vere contributed a further £2,000, buying the stock from Michael Lok, and de Vere was now the principal investor, But when the ore was brought back and tested it proved to be iron pyrites or 'fool's gold.' It looks like gold but isn't, and is almost worthless.

Frobisher and 40 infuriated men went to Lok's house accusing him of being 

a false accountant to the company, a cozener of my Lord of Oxford, no venturer at all in the voyages, a bankrupt knave

'Cozen' = to cheat, to defraud.

Lok apparently already knew by the test assays, before the 3rd voyage set sail, that the ore was worthless. He was committed to prison. But all this did not get back for de Vere his lost £3,000. And before the end of the 1570s his total investment losses are said to have been about £5,000.

In 1579 de Vere hired John Lyly to be his personal secretary. This was no ordinary relationship on both sides. Lyly had attended Magdalen college Oxford and received his BA degree in 1575, when he was 21. He had petitioned Lord Burghley for a fellowship to afford to continue there, but was unsuccessful. In 1578 he became 'instantly famous' with the publication of a prose romance 'Euphues, or the Anatomy of Wit.' In 1580 Lyly published a sequel 'Euphues and his England.' The hero's name, Euphues, comes from the Greek word for witty or graceful. Lyly's style was rather ornate in sentence structure 'based on parallel figures from the ancient rhetoric' and loaded with proverbs, references to history and poetry, ancient writers, textbooks, and imagination. He had actually created a new style of writing, called euphuism to this day. A thumbnail biography of Lyly says 'Lyly's style had a marked impact on contemporary writers, not the least on Shakespeare.' Strangely, this biography fails to mention that he worked for de Vere for '10 or 12 years' according to one source and 'his association began in 1573 and continued into the 1590s' according to another, and that all his plays were created while he worked for de Vere. The brief biography states Lyly 'got control of the First Blackfriars theatre in 1583, the year he married a Yorkshire heiress.' That's not quite the whole story. Apparently de Vere leased the First Blackfriars theatre in 1580, revived his family tradition of maintaining an acting company, and John Lyly produced plays there that were then performed for the Queen and her Court.

Now we get more external evidence that de Vere was writing poems and plays. William Webbe in 'A Discourse of English Poetrie' praised the poetry of certain Lords and gentlemen in the Queen's Court with Oxford 'the most excellent among the rest.' The author of 'The Art of English Poesy' said that some noblemen 'have written excellently well as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest of which number is first that noble gentleman Edward, Earl of Oxford.' Lyly wrote a number of prose comedies for boys' companies while working for de Vere, and only one in verse, in 1594. Lyly had dedicated his second Euphues work to de Vere. Anthony Munday, also a playwright, was also a retainer of de Vere's and he dedicated his 'Mirrore of Mutabilitie' to de Vere.

In 1578 the Queen gave de Vere

...in consideration of the good, true and faithful service done and given to us before this time by our most dear cousin Edward, Earl of Oxford... we do give and grant all that our Lordship or Manor of Rysing... (with) as much more of those lands in fee farm as shall make up the (annual) sum of £250.

Where did these lands come from? From the estates of the decapitated Duke of Norfolk who de Vere had earlier tried to save. It seems generally to be agreed that Elizabeth gave away nothing, so what was the service for this rather small annual income? Perhaps it was to cover the cost of employing John Lyly, possibly Anthony Munday as well. She didn't spell it out, so we just don't know what the consideration was going from de Vere to the Crown in exchange for the payment.

In mid 1578 the Queen and her Court made a 'progress,' as a Court journey was called, to Cambridge. De Vere, with his superior horsemanship, rode a spirited steed next to the Queen's coach. He was at the height of his favour at the Court at this time. Gabriel Harvey met the Court at Audley End to welcome them, with Latin verses he had composed for the occasion. He began with a very long and fulsome eulogy to de Vere who probably enjoyed it. But the rest of the Court must have been bored and frustrated by it. Harvey praised his mind and fiery will, including the following sentence

Pallas striking her shield with her spear-shaft will attend thee.

Pallas was Pallas Athene, the spear shaker and ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, poetry and the fine arts. This fitted well with de Vere; one of his titles was Lord Bolebec, or Bolbeck, whose crest was a lion shaking a broken spear, and de Vere had been a champion at the Tournament lists. Harvey's panegyric continued

...how greatly thou dost excel in letters. I have seen many Latin verses of thine, yea, even more English verses are extant; thou hast drunk deep draughts not only of the Muses in France and Italy, but hast learned the manners of many men, and the arts of foreign countries...

De Vere had known Harvey during his student days at Cambridge. Harvey correctly points out in his euphemistic style that war is imminent and urges de Vere to

...throw away the insignificant pen, throw away the bloodless books...Minerva strengthens thy right hand... within thee burns the fire of Mars. Thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes a spear, who would not swear that Achilles had come to life again...

All this and much more was spoken in Latin before the Queen and the entire Court. The Queen knew that de Vere had been pestering her and her ministers for active service at war so this speech would have resonated with de Vere, including the 'shakes a spear' phrase plus de Vere's own lion and broken spear crest. I think we have to chalk up half a point for de Vere as a candidate based on this. But only half a point because it does not account for 'William.'

So, July 1578 is the height of fame and fortune for de Vere, having survived allegations of bastardy and cuckoldry, what more could go wrong? Plenty, and go wrong it did. His 3 courtier companions, cousin Lord Henry Howard, Charles Arundel and Francis Southwell, were all Catholics. De Vere seems to have had no theological problem consorting with friends of either faith. But in December, 1580 he found those three friends were involved in yet another Catholic plot to replace Elizabeth. He severed relations with them and denounced them to the Queen as conspiring for the Catholic powers. They were placed under house arrest. All three denied the charge.

Howard and Arundel wrote letters to the Privy Council accusing de Vere of conspiring with the Spanish to overthrow Elizabeth (sedition) being a habitual drunkard and very seldom sober (a drunkard), vowing to punish the Queen for calling him a bastard (treason), swearing that Elizabeth had a miserable singing voice (defamation?), communicating with the dead by magic (necromancy), denying the divinity of Christ (blasphemy), buggering a boy that is his cook, and many other boys by his own confession as well as by witnesses - the list including Orazio Cogno the Venetian boy, some of the boys complaining and weeping (sodomy with a boy = pederasty). Some of these charges were serious, and if authenticated would be punishable by death. Burghley was a member of the Privy Council, and whether he exerted any influence in de Vere's favour we don't know, but the charges were not pursued, and the three accused were released after a few months.

De Vere now had 3 more enemies and a serious charge of homosexuality with young boys. He apparently never did deny any of the charges against him. They were just not taken up by the Privy Council. Also, a Stratfordian professor tells us that Henry Howard stated that Oxford had the Neopolitan disease. Every nationality seemed to 'pass the buck' on this. The English called it the Spanish disease, the French called it the English disease. The disease was syphilis.

I don't know whether Henry Howard included this in his list of charges against de Vere or stated it elsewhere. If de Vere had the disease he presumably got it from the courtesan in Venice. But she was still alive and called a courtesan 19 years later. A medical book I happen to have gives this description:

contagious disease, the early stages are mild but years later the effects may be widespread and ultimately fatal. Primary - first manifestation occurring soon after infection. The usual sign is a chancre usually in the genital area. Secondary - second stage, some months after infection, the infected person may notice little, but is highly infectious. Tertiary - usually widespread disease of one part of the body, e.g. neurosyphilis. The patient becomes progressively disabled, but is not, at this stage, infectious.

Howard also said de Vere was applying a salve to his legs. This might refer to the disease, or could have been due to an accident in a gondola at Venice where he was said to have hurt a leg. We cannot be sure from this patchy evidence whether or not he had the disease. He apparently didn't die from it as his death notice said 'Plague.' Perhaps something later in his life story or in Shakespeare's plays - if he becomes a successful candidate - may give us more clues. If he's not a successful candidate, it's not of interest to us.

But there's more to come. The Howard threesome affair had scarcely died down when something arose that affected his court life, which had been so far his greatest triumph and unsullied. The Queen was surrounded by educated young ladies called her 'Maids of Honour.' They were loaned to the Queen as it were in trust to look after them, coming from noble or wealthy families. Close personal attendants on a monarch had to be trustworthy to reduce the risk of assassination. As well as performing their mundane daily intimate duties around the Queen, these Maids included some who were precocious and lobbied for favours for their families, something like professional lobbyists at Washington, in the U.S. With all the young courtiers around them, there was much opportunity for sexual misconduct, and the Queen was heavy handed if she came across such behaviour. It's said one unfortunate Lady merely asked permission to marry. The Queen not only spoke very sharply to her, she rained blows upon her and broke one of her fingers.

The Queen is said to have been fair with reddish hair; Anne Cecil said to have been fair, and petite; de Vere had brown hair with a reddish tinge. And one of the Maids of Honour was a 19 year old somewhat sharp faced damsel called a 'beauty' with jet black hair, who had a quick wit, a great sense of humour and high intelligence. She, it seems, made advances to de Vere. She was what in earlier days was called a Siren - a woman who could get the attention, fascinated attachment and sex from the man she wanted by whatever strategy worked. And that's what Anne Vavasour did with de Vere. She's also spelled as Vasavor and Vavasor. She enticed him into a torrid love affair with her.

He should have known better. There could be no good outcome. He couldn't marry her. He was married to Anne Cecil, though they lived apart. The Queen thought of de Vere, Leicester, Hatton, men close to her who she favoured, as untouchable. Her Maids of Honour were also untouchable. Elizabeth probably had a child by Leicester, the evidence is quite strong, but years later after giving up hope of marrying her he secretly married someone else. When Elizabeth found out she was in a rage and nearly put Leicester in the Tower (but had no legal reason). She insulted his wife from that day on. She had deliberately kept de Vere away from his wife and we don't really know what went on between the Queen and de Vere. But now the inevitable happened. Anne Vavasour became pregnant.

When the child was born on 21 March 1581 Elizabeth clapped Anne and the infant into the Tower, and when she found out that de Vere had fathered it, the word went out to get him. He was searched for, found, placed under arrest by 29 April, brought back and put in the Tower. Stratfordians say he 'took French leave' and was brought back; Oxfordians just say all three were put in the Tower. It makes little difference. The Queen was outraged. His Court life as it had been with Elizabeth was finished.

It may seem to you that I have been unfair to Anne Vavasour. After all, she was only 19, but de Vere, a married man, was 30. Thomas Knyvet and Thomas Vavasour certainly thought it was all de Vere's fault, as we will soon see. But apparently she had a reputation for promiscuity, or I suggest a more accurate description could be sexual precocity. She married a few years later but subsequently left her husband to become the mistress of Sir Henry Lee. She bore him an illegitimate child and after his death re-married, was convicted of bigamy and fined £200. We're told the fine was later remitted, but not told why.

I have tried to find out who raised the de Vere illegitimate child. Did Anne Vavasour take him around with her from man to man? Or did de Vere take care of his upbringing. There's no evidence I've been able to find that he did. The child was called Edward Vere. 'By the time he was 17 he was a distinguished soldier fighting with Sir Horatio Vere in the Low Countries, and something of a poet as well.' 'In 1607 he was knighted, (as Sir Edward Vere), having distinguished himself as a captain under Sir Francis Vere.' 'Eventually he became a lieutenant colonel.' None of these comments tell us how he was raised, but the references to the two 'fighting de Veres' who were Oxford's cousins, plus Edward Vere's military history suggest he was probably raised by Horatio or Francis de Vere.

During this eventful year of 1581, de Vere's company of actors began making tours of the smaller cities in England: Bristol, Coventry, Dover, Norwich and perhaps others. They continued giving performances throughout 1582, 1583, and 1584. It's said they visited Stratford on Avon in 1584. This raises some interesting possibilities. In 1583 his company played at court under Oxford's name, but Lyly took them there, and Evans did in 1584. Hunnis, master of a boy's choir, Evans and Lyly worked together under de Vere's direction.

In December 1581 Anne, de Vere's wife, wrote to him

...my good Lord, I beseech you in the name of God which knoweth all my thoughts and love towards you, let me know the truth of your meaning towards me, upon what cause you are moved to continue me in this misery, and what you would have me do in my power to recover your constant favour, so as your Lordship may not be still to detain me in calamity without some probable cause whereof I appeal to God, I am entirely innocent...most sorry to perceive how you are unquieted with the uncertainty of the world, whereof I myself am not without some taste... Good my Lord, assure yourself it is you whom only I love and fear, and so am desirous above all the world to please you...

Elizabeth released Anne Vavasour, her infant son, and de Vere from the Tower after a few months, but he was banished from the Court. However, all was not yet over in the Vavasour affair. Thomas Knyvet a 'well connected courtier' generally said to be 'apparently a kinsman of Anne Vavasour" attacked de Vere with a 'sword.' In the ensuing ?sword? ?rapier? fight both men were wounded, de Vere apparently seriously. Street fighting later erupted between retainers on both sides over the next year or two, and 4 men were killed. I suspect Knyvet's conduct, apparently surprising de Vere and attacking him with intent to maim or kill, seems more like the conduct of an infuriated lover than a kinsman. It was not until 1585 that Thomas Vavasour, whose name does indicate he was a relative, issued a somewhat lengthy formal challenge in writing, accusing de Vere of leaving others to do his fighting and saying don't hide behind your nobility for 'I am a gentleman.' He continued

if there be yet any spark of honour left in thee, or iota of regard for thy decayed reputation...

Although Thomas Vavasour had called him a coward, apparently de Vere did not take up the challenge. Meanwhile, Burghley seems to have pleaded with the Queen on de Vere's behalf, pointing out that imprisonment and injury was double punishment for the same offence. He concluded de Vere was 'ruined' as far as she and her Court were concerned. But after 'some bitter words and speeches' the Queen pardoned de Vere in mid 1583 and he was allowed to return to Court, though clearly things could never be the same between them.

De Vere had returned to cohabiting with his wife in December 1581, perhaps after receiving her plaintive letter. The son she bore him in May 1583 died one day after birth. Whatever de Vere's motives were, he apparently kept his wife more or less in a state of pregnancy from returning to her until her death in July 1588. The most charitable reason we can find for his doing this is presumably to try to get a male heir, a son. Instead she bore him 3 more daughters. Two survived, Susan, and Bridget.

Thomas Vavasour had begun his challenge with these two sentences:

If thy body had been as deformed as thy mind is dishonourable, my house had yet been unspotted, and thyself remained with thy cowardice unknown. I speak this that I fear thou art so much wedded to that shadow of thine, that nothing can force to awake thy base and sleepy spirits.

No one knows what the tantalizing phrase 'that shadow of thine' means.

But there is a possible and perhaps likely explanation. De Vere had been accused of necromancy: dabbling in the world of alchemy, astrology, spirits, seances, prediction by communication with the dead, magic, secret societies, and the like. It's probably best described as the world of the occult. This world bordered on the religious, where Catholic priests exorcized those allegedly possessed by a Devil. Richard Mainy tells of exorcisms carried out at Lord William Vaux's house in Hackney in 1588. Dr. Dee, the astrologer and astronomer, was a friend of de Vere. John Lyly who was secretary to de Vere seems to have been accused of 'black arts' by Gabriel Harvey. And in 1582, Lyly ended a letter to Burghley with a strange postscript

Loth I am to be a prophitt, and to be a wiche (witch) I loathe. Most dutiful to command John Lyly.

All this is by way of introduction to saying that "Books of Shadows" were membership books of secret societies. We know that early in his life de Vere was moving in that direction because in 1573 a poem of his was published with the title Labour and its Reward. He begins

The labouring man that tills the fertile soil,
And reaps the harvest fruit, hath not indeed
The gain, but pain; and if for all his toil
He gets the straw, the lord will have the seed

After a few more metaphors he says this

The mason poor that builds the lordly halls,
Dwells not in them, they are for high degree;
His cottage is compact with paper walls,
And not with brick or stone, as others be

In four lines there seem to be some remarkable references to freemasonry: halls, high degree, compact, and paper walls (the Old Charges or constitution and history of the freemasons). It's doubtful this could be mere coincidence. De Vere would not be the only public figure to be interested in the occult, Sir Isaac Newton living in the next century was another. But Thomas Vavasour's reference to 'that shadow of thine,' and 'thy base and sleepy spirits' seems probably to be an oblique reference to de Vere's supposed involvement in the world of necromancy.

Various poets and playwrights were dedicating their works to Oxford in the 1580s. He was still being called the best for comedy, but by the end of the decade this would surely change because the early promise of fame and fortune was being replaced by disaster and calumny.

In 1583 de Vere's brother-in-law Lord Willoughby was sent on a diplomatic mission to Denmark. He returned to talk in some detail about what he'd experienced at the royal court at Elsinore, including firing cannon for each round of drinks.

In 1584 de Vere won his last tournament at Court.

In August 1585 after requests to Elizabeth and Burghley for military duties against Spain he was sent to the Netherlands to take command of a cavalry regiment, but was replaced by the younger Earl of Essex in early October. He sent his baggage ahead to England but it was captured by pirates. The most reasonable explanation for his quick return is that although an excellent horseman he was not suitable material to lead a regiment. You cannot afford to have incompetent leadership in a war; it costs precious lives. That was the allied problem in World War 1.

In 1586, the Queen gave de Vere an annual grant or pension for life of £1,000. It was to be paid in equal quarterly instalments, a wise precaution, or de Vere might have spent all of it before the first quarter ended. In the grant order there is no explanation as to what caused the grant, pension, or annuity to have been made.

Although we are not concerning ourselves with political history here, a significant political event occurred in 1586 which must have had an effect on de Vere's life. This was the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots. To help us understand the circumstances, here's how it happened. Her ancestry was that Henry 7th, king of England, had a daughter named Margaret. She married James 4th, king of Scotland. Their son became Henry 5th, and his daughter was Mary who became Mary Queen of Scots. In 1568 her forces had been defeated in battle in Scotland and she had fled to northern England. She was a problem for Queen Elizabeth because Mary was a focal point for Catholic European powers to rally supporters in various plots to overthrow Elizabeth, who kept Mary in close confinement or 'house arrest' guarded in a castle or elsewhere for about 19 years. The Babington plot against Elizabeth apparently involved Mary although the evidence is circumstantial, and she was brought to trial in 1586. The charges involved complicity, as a foreign head of state could scarcely be charged with treason. Mary was denied counsel, as though the charge was treason, and she stood alone facing a court of men: the Archbishop of Canterbury; Hatton, the Lord Chancellor; Burghley, the Lord Treasurer; and 43 others, namely 29 peers, 9 Privy Councillors who were commoners, and 5 judges. Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was one of those peers.

The Queen of Scots defended herself with courage. The abstract of the trial is most touching to read. The actual event must have been harrowing to witness for any sitting there, thinking to themselves, 'there, but for the grace of God, go I.' Despite her remarkable skill and dignity the end result was a foregone conclusion. She was found guilty. This was in October. Elizabeth procrastinated until the following February before allegedly signing the execution order at the urging of her ministers, then throwing it on the floor. Her secretary was later charged with exceeding his authority in having the sentence carried out. He was fined 10,000 marks and imprisoned.

Witnessing this trial and the events surrounding it, as de Vere did, must have had a profound effect on his impressionable character. He was 36 at the time.

Anne Cecil, de Vere's wife, died of fever in the royal palace at Greenwich during June, 1588, at the age of 32. There appears to be no evidence whether or not de Vere was present at his wife's death.

An account of the funeral has survived from the record of Sir William Dethicke, the Garter King of Arms

She was interred in Westminster Abbey on June 25th attended by many persons of great quality and honour. The chief mourner was the Countess of Lincoln, supported by the Lords Windsor and Darcy, and her train borne by the Lady Stafford, and among the mourners at the funeral were the ladies Russel, Elizabeth Vere, Willoughby, sister to the Earl of Oxford, Cobham, Lumley, Hunsdon, Cecil, wife to Sir Thomas Cecil, six bannerets were borne by ...

Elizabeth Vere was Anne's eldest daughter. This quasi-official record does not mention the presence of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, her husband, or her father and mother, Lord and Lady Burghley, or either of their two sons, Robert and Thomas Cecil, both brothers of Anne Cecil, the deceased. Lady Burghley died in 1589 and may have been too ill to attend. The Queen was present at the marriage, but it seems she did not attend the funeral.

The Spanish Armada was crossing the Bay of Biscay in July, no doubt being shadowed by smaller, faster English ships which would have sent word to English ports (by rotation of ships) as to the enemy's progress. England was in a state of emergency, preparing for imminent war. This may explain the apparent absence of Lord Burghley and his son Robert, who succeeded him in office after his death, but may or may not account for the apparent absence from the funeral of Thomas Cecil and Edward de Vere, husband of the deceased Anne.

Some Oxfordians, apparently basing their claim in part on a ballad, say de Vere outfitted a ship and was about to take part in the defence against the Armada when the Queen recalled him. A Stratfordian professor says that de Vere 'did not take to sea' against the Armada, and 'so far as we know' never owned the ship Edward Bonaventure. He continues

Martin Frobisher reported in 1581 that Oxford was interested in buying this ship, the asking price was £1,800, Oxford's offer of £1,500 was apparently rejected. In any case the Edward Bonaventure was owned by a syndicate in 1588 and not by Oxford.

We might think that de Vere could not further disgrace himself in the eyes of the real world, but he did. The Spanish Armada proceeded through the Channel between France and England, while being pursued and harassed from up wind by Drake and other English mariners, The Earl of Leicester, in charge of the English army, asked de Vere to assume the governorship of the port of Harwich, in Essex. De Vere must have known it well, it was only 25 or so miles from Castle Hedingham and about 15 from his estate at Wivenhoe. He refused, saying it was beneath his dignity. From a personal point of view he was quite right. Even in the 21st century Harwich has a population of only 15,000 and is just a small ferry port to the Continent.

De Vere was not considering the whole strategic picture. Leicester, with 23,000 men at Tilbury, in the Thames estuary east and downstream from London, was only about 40 miles south from Harwich, along the Essex coastline. This was because the English plan was to defend London, with 36,000 men stationed there, and assumed the Spanish fleet, once linked up with their land forces in the Netherlands, would make for the level Essex coast and the ocean going port of Tilbury rather than upwind to the south of England with the high cliffs at Dover. This was no ordinary alarm. It was the biggest threat to England's independence since the conquest by William of Normandy over 500 years previously. When the little nation faced this emergency, de Vere had put his personal feelings ahead of his country's safety.

The Order of the Garter was an elective honour by peer vote, and from this time on, de Vere's support in the elections was insufficient to obtain it, and so remained until Elizabeth died.

At the time of his marriage to Anne Cecil, de Vere had signed an agreement for Castle Hedingham, the ancestral home of the de Veres, to be her 'jointure' (i.e. her sole estate limited to her for her use) after her husband's death, for her lifetime, secured by a bond of £4,000 to be void on her death. This contract, secured by a substantial bond, looks like the work of lawyer Burghley.

After the death of his wife Anne in 1588, de Vere had a house with 3 daughters, one 12 year old, the other two being infants. In 1591 what he did was turn the lot of them over to Burghley, and he honoured the marriage agreement even though Anne had died first, and gave the Castle Hedingham estate, his patrimony, the principal seat of a long line of Earls of Oxford and de Veres, to Burghley in trust for his minor age children.

The keep of the castle still stands. Its height is over 100 feet, and is a solid square with walls said to be 12 to 13 feet thick. There's a banqueting hall next to ground level, with a minstrels' gallery still intact. Above that are three floors of 'chambers.' Built in the 1100s it appears to have been constructed as a keep with motte, moat and bailey. If that's so, there was never a castle with substantial living quarters surrounding the keep. A motte was a natural or artificial mound on which the structure was built. A bailey was an enclosing wall inside the moat. Hedingham castle, close to the mediaeval village of Castle Hedingham, apparently had a fine Tudor style bridge constructed over the moat (now dry) in the 1400s. If the keep is all there ever was for residential living, it seems a bit sparse for the prime residential site for the premier earldom of the realm.

But de Vere kept his word, as we knew he would:

... raze the ground whereon my sorrow grew...

He issued a warrant authorizing the dismantling of part of the building, probably the bailey, and many of the outhouses. A history of Essex says he destroyed all the pales of the 3 parks, wasted the standing timber, and pulled down the walls that enclosed the castle.

Some Oxfordians say that's not true. De Vere did have some old outhouses torn down and the castle may have been in need of some repair, but de Vere did not destroy it. But if you go to a web site on Castle Hedingham one of the first statements you'll find is that the keep is still there, but the castle no longer exists. So it's not completely clear what there was originally and what was destroyed.

Here's what was happening to de Vere's patrimony:

YEAR


1576

1577

1578

1579

1580

1581

1582

1583

1584

1585

1587

1588

1591

1592



Total

ESTATES SOLD
 

5

3

2

5

13

1

4

5

7

2

2

1

1

3

__

54

__

Much has been written about de Vere's having wasted away his family estates. There is some truth in this. He once stated in a letter to Burghley that his own interests and what he wanted to do with his money came first for him. But a perusal of the will of his father, the 16th Earl, shows he was long on estates but surprisingly short on cash.

Here's an official bill de Vere received from the government in 1590:

 

£

Forfeitures to the Court of Wards

11,000

Forfeiture of Covenants upon the Livery

4,000

Upon his Wardship

3,000

Other obligations

4,000
_______

TOTAL

22,000

You can see that no less than £14,000 is directly related to Burghley's activities on de Vere's behalf. Livery is an allowance for food or clothing provided for retainers and allowance for provisions for horses; at law it's also the legal delivery of property and a writ allowing this, so it looks as though Burghley was involved in these charges also.

To put this £22,000 debt in perspective, the Queen's total ordinary revenue from the entire country of England for the fiscal year 1588-9 was £294,819. So de Vere was hit with a bill representing a sum equal to 7.5% of the annual revenue of the entire kingdom. That, I suggest, was Burghley's response to how de Vere treated his daughter.

It was also Hatton's revenge. He was an implacable enemy of de Vere who had mocked him and made him seem foolish in some of his plays given at Court. Hatton was now Lord Chancellor and he had forced the settlement of de Vere's debts. Elizabeth apparently did not take kindly to this treatment of her poet/dramatist. She laid a demand on Hatton for 'arrears of 10ths and first fruits' for a staggering amount - almost twice his charge to de Vere. This seemed to be such a shock to him that he died soon afterwards, the same year.

Burghley did something else after his wife's death in 1589. On their family tomb in Westminster Abbey he had an elaborate inscription engraved, his position statement vis à vis de Vere and an indelible record for all time, translated as

Lady Elizabeth Vere, daughter of the most noble Edward Earl of Oxford and Anne his wife, daughter of Lord Burghley, born 2nd July 1575. She is fourteen years old and grieves bitterly and not without cause for the loss of her grandmother and mother, but she feels happier because her most gracious Majesty has taken her into service as a Maid of Honour.

Lady Bridget, the second daughter of the said Earl of Oxford and Anne, was born on April 6th 1584, and although she was hardly more than four years old when she placed her mother's body in the grave, yet it was not without tears that she recognized that her mother had been taken away from her, and shortly afterwards her grandmother as well. It is not true to say that she was left an orphan seeing that her father is living and a most affectionate grandfather who acts as her painstaking guardian.

Lady Susan the third daughter was born on May 26th 1587. On account of her age she was unable to recognize either her mother or her grandmother; indeed it is only now that she is beginning to recognize her most loving grandfather, who has the care of all these children, so that they may not be deprived either of a pious education or of a suitable upbringing.

There could scarcely be a more permanent and damning indictment of de Vere than this, and it also states unequivocally that the daughter Elizabeth is de Vere's and no one else's daughter.

In fairness to these two men, de Vere and Burghley, it should be said that fate had thrown these opposites together in an inextricable yet incompatible relationship. Each was, in his own way, at heart a noble soul, the one a statesman who, though called a fox, and crafty, used every quality he had to steer his country safely through perilous times for over 40 years. The other, called a madcap earl, used his fertile and vivid imagination to become a renowned poet and dramatist and be so acknowledged in his own right and in his own day, whether or not he was Shakespeare. These two opposites were tied together for almost their entire lives, but their life styles and destinies were by nature diametrically opposed. Each tried time and again to be polite and friendly towards the other, but every time they did so, the fundamental divide between them stared them in the face. De Vere was unstoppable, Burghley was immoveable. It is not for us to judge between them.

De Vere's fortunes seem to have reached their nadir in December, 1590. That was when Thomas Churchyard became involved. He was a writer and a poet and may have been the son of the Churchyard who was a page of Henry 8th and later was a Steward of estates for de Vere in his youth. If it's the same Churchyard, by 1590 he would have been quite elderly. There is surviving correspondence which shows that de Vere ordered him to rent some rooms in a London house. Whether de Vere knew it or not, the owner of the house was Julia Penn, the mother in law of Burghley's private secretary, Michael Hicks. It seems the rent for the rooms taken in her house was not paid promptly. Churchyard wrote to her

I stand to that bargain, knowing my good Lord so noble ... and of such great consideration ...that he will perform what I promise... I absolutely here, for the love and honour I owe my Lord, bind myself and all I have in the world, for the satisfying you for the first quarters rent of the rooms my Lord did take...

Churchyard entered into a bond with Julia Penn for £25. She wrote to de Vere

the grief and sorrow I have taken for your unkind dealing with me ... make me believe you bereft of all honour and virtue to be in your speech and dealing....You know my Lord, you had anything in my house whatsoever you or your men would demand, if it were in my house. If it had been a thousand times more I would have been glad to pleasure your Lordship withal. Therefore, good my Lord deal with me in courtesy...

Churchyard then wrote to her

I never deserved your displeasure, and have made Her Majesty understand my bond, touching the Earl, and for fear of arresting I lie in the sanctuary, For albeit you may favour me, yet I know I am in your danger, and am honest and true in all mine actions...

It seems someone on Julia Penn's side of the affair reported it to the Queen. This would not have been difficult as the Burghley faction was involved. Apparently this is all that exists so we don't know how it ended. For Churchyard's sake, it's to be hoped de Vere paid his rent.This is very paltry stuff for the premier Earl by rank in England, in 1590 now 40 years old.


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