Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Crocodiles, Prester John and where the Earle of Oxenford wasn't.

Edward de Vere in Transit:

Pt. 1 - How Edward de Vere Didn't Depart Italy (it turns out).

Pt. 2-1 - The Earle of Oxenford a famous man for Chivalrie

Pt. 2-2 - Crocodiles, Prester John and where the Earle of Oxenford wasn't.


Standard Citation: Purdy, Gilbert Wesley. “Crocodiles, Prester John and where the Earle of Oxenford wasn't.Virtual Grub Street. 10 January 2018.


In part 1 of the “Edward de Vere in Transit” series, we’ve seen that the historical record argues against De Vere having visited Palermo during his southward tour from Venice to Rome.  This being the case, we ask ourselves how could Edward Webbe report having seen him there?  In part 2-1, we see that the chronology given by Webbe informs us that he was a slave of the Tartars until the Earl had been to Italy, for his only visit, and returned home to England.

From there matters only get worse.  Having returned to England, Webbe ships out again this time with the fleet of Captain William Burrough on a voyage which was the source of popular London news fondly remembered by Englishmen (though not included in the 1589 edition of Hakluyt).  But he does not seem to know the year the fleet set sail.  The voyage occurred in 1570[1] — before the burning of Moscow and certainly before there had been time to return to England after being ransomed from 5 years of slavery.

Webbe’s vessel, we are informed, foundered on the rocks and he returned to England and shipped out on a merchant vessel to Leghorn.  In case the reader holds out hope that he is simply confused about his dates and this might place him in Italy in time to see the Earl of Oxford, perish the thought.  The ship arrives in Leghorn to discover it is under new ownership.[2]  It is loaded with cargo and sent to Alexandria.  On its return it is captured by the Turks and Webbe spends the next 6 years as a slave of the Turks.[3]



While a Turkish slave, Webbe is employed as a gunner.[4]  This affords him the opportunity to travel throughout the East on various military expeditions paralleling those he has apparently read about in Sansovino’s Universal History… of the Turk.[5]  He cites each famous place name but rarely describes anything uniquely endemic, and, when he does, the eye-witness description is incorrect.  He is more confident to cite detail about Cairo than elsewhere.  He describes it all as a person who has read (or, perhaps, heard) a description rather than as an eye-witness.  He informs the reader that the pyramids are corn silos.   “There are seauen Mountaines builded on the out side, like vnto ye point of a Diamond, which Mountaines were builded in King Pharoes time for to keepe Corne in, and they are Mountaines of great strength.”  This has been a common myth, in the West, throughout history but not among the residents of Cairo.  Had they been Webbe’s source, they would have told him that the pyramids were the tombs of the Pharaohs. 

Nile crocodiles, he informs us, are fish that resemble giant dolphins.  They certainly look like no such thing viewed first-hand.  They might be said to look vaguely like some early renderings of dolphins by medieval artists who did not draw them from experience but from description of them as sea-monsters.  But Webbe had been a sailor for all his adult life that he wasn’t a slave.  He should know full well that the two looked nothing alike.

“[W]e staide,” he tells us, “to see the cutting or parting of the Riuer of Nilo, which is done once euery yeere, vpon the 25 of August,”:

the grounde through out the lande of Egipt is continually watred by the water which vppon ye 25 day of August is turned into the cuntries round about, by means of ye wonderfull growing and swelling of the water vpright without any stay at all, on the one side thereof, it is to ye height of a huge mountaine, which beginneth to increase the 15. day of August, and by the 25. of the same moneth it is at the highest, on which day it is cut by ye deuiding of 2 pillars in a straunge fort, neere to the cittie of ye great Caer,…

Actually, this is recognizably a description of the annual flooding of one or another irrigation canal to a region outside of Cairo important enough to merit such expensive construction and maintenance.  The author grossly overstates the size of the dam at the head of the canal and believes there is only one canal whereas there were a number.  Webbe had been years exclusively among Turks.  How did he know the Gregorian calendar dates for these events?  These details give every indication a second-hand account.

From Cairo he is taken next as part of a 500,000 man military force to conquer the land of Prester John.[6]  That wondrous mythical medieval king also has giant sluices at his control and drowns 60,000 Turks.  A peace is brokered and Webbe sees Prester John served his daily meals by 60 kings with gold crowns and frolics with that great king’s menagerie of 77 elephants and unicorns.  There is also “a Beast in the Court of Prester lohn, called Arians, hauing 4 heades, they are in shape like a wilde Cat, and are of the height of a great mastie Dog.”

At the end of the 6 years of such marvelous travels, Webbe finds himself in Constantinople.  He is eventually released from his servitude at the behest of the English ambassador, William Harborne.[7] 

He does return through Italy along a path that could possibly place him together with the Earl in Palermo.  The year, however, is 1588.  The Earl has not been in the country for some 13 years.



[1] Webbe, Edward.  Edward Webbe, chief master gunner, his trauailes (1590).  Edward Arber, ed.  36. n. 1.
[2] Ibid, 4.  All other alternatives closed to him, Arber suggests (with a question mark for date) that somehow he must have seen Edward de Vere during this stopover.
[3] Ibid., 20.
[4] Sansovino, Francesco.  Historia Vniversale Dell Origine Et Imperio De Tvrchi;… (1560, 1564, 1568, 1582).  “I Turchi nel arriuare spararono due uolte l'artiglierie, laqual fui liuellata tanto attache appena toccò le Lance, & si crede che i Bombardieri Christiani de quali si serue il Turco lo facessero a posta,...” 230.  The Turks fired their artillary two times, the which were leveled so low they nearly touched the Lances, & if one can believe it Christian gunners are drawn from among the Turkish slaves to man the posts… 
[5] Ibid.  Webbe also appears to get his information about the great celebrations of Moslem circumcision from Sansovino.
[6] Webbe, 24.
[7] Ibid., 28.


  • Let the sky rain potatoes! December 16, 2017. "In fact, the sweet potato had only just begun to be a delicacy within the reach of splurging poets and playwrights and members of the middle classes at the time that The Merry Wives of Windsor (the play from which Falstaff is quoted) was written.  The old soldier liked to keep abreast of the new fads."
  • Leonard Digges and the Shakespeare First Folio.  November 30, 2017.  "Upon receiving his baccalaureate, in 1606, Leonard briefly chose to reside in London. After that he went on an extended tour of the Continent which ended around the year that Shaksper died."
  • Enter John Lyly.  October 18, 2016.  "From time to time, Shakespeare Authorship aficionados query after the name “John Lyly”.  This happens surprisingly little given the outsized role the place-seeker, novelist and playwright played in the lives of the playwright William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere."




Sunday, January 07, 2018

The Earle of Oxenford a famous man for Chivalrie

Edward de Vere in Transit:

Pt. 1 - How Edward de Vere Didn't Depart Italy (it turns out).

Pt. 2-1 - The Earle of Oxenford a famous man for Chivalrie

Pt. 2-2 - Crocodiles, Prester John and where the Earle of Oxenford wasn't.


Standard Citation: Purdy, Gilbert Wesley. “The Earle of Oxenford a famous man for ChivalrieVirtual Grub Street. 7 January 2018.


The question, then, from part one of this series, is how can Edward Webbe have seen "the Earle of Oxenford a famous man for Chiualrie" in Palermo, Sicily, issuing “a challeng against al manner of persons whatsoeuer, and at all maner of weapons, as Turniments, Barriors with horse and armour, to fight a combat with any whatsoeuer”?  How can De Vere ever have visited that city?  

Edward Webbe’s biography in the old Dictionary of National Biography includes only the biographical material that can be extracted from the long famous book of his travels, Edward Webbe, Chief Master Gunner, His Travailes.  In 1868, Edward Arber did his usual fine job of editing what has since been the standard popular reprint edition.

Three editions of Webbe’s popular account seem to have been published in rapid succession.  The final complete edition was executed for William Wright.  It is the only edition to include the date of publication on the title page: 1590.  Wright’s shop was extremely busy even compared to other book  sellers of the day.  Among his specialties were news sheets on foreign matters and travels.  The thin Webbe quarto would fit particularly well there.

Wright’s operation deserves our attention for another reason.  At about the same time that he offered the Webbe account he began publishing new works by Robert Greene, the greatest pamphleteer and literary jack-of-all-trades of the day.  Wright seems first to have licensed Greene’s The Royal Exchange (1590), “Fyrst written in Italian and dedicated to the Signorie of Venice, now translated into English, and offered to the Cittie of London.”  Greene did, indeed, read some amount of Italian, but all evidence indicates his knowledge of the language was limited.  No Italian original has ever been found.

In 1591, Wright published The Second Part of Conny-catching.  In 1592, he published A Groats-worth of witte, bought with a million of Repentance.

Edward Arber, the editor of the reprint edition of the Travailes is about as fine an example of an Elizabethan scholar as might be imagined.  His work is impeccable as the rule.  His tables and attempts to give the text a viable chronology are well crafted, as always, but surely he knew that a great deal remained to be explained.  It can only be said that legitimate travel texts from the time were often inconsistent and reported the most ridiculous sights and incidents as direct personal experience.  Such matters do not disqualify an account.


Webbe tells us that he was just 12 years old when he traveled with Captain Jenkinson’s 1566 ambassadorial mission to Moscow.  The account of this mission and many matters relating to Russia and the Turk had just been published the year before in the 1589 first edition of Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, Voyages, and Discoveries of the English Nation.  Hakluyut’s book was just the latest and most popular of the enormously popular genre of travelogues recounting newly explored and/or discovered lands.  The public was ravenous for the stuff.

Webbe does understand that Jenkinson remained in Russia for 3 years.  At the end of this time, he tells the reader, the Crim-Tartars burned Moscow and took he and 6 other Englishmen as slaves.  There is a problem with this account, however.  Jenkinsen’s embassy left Russia in 1568 and the Crim-Tartars burned Moscow in May of 1571.  Hakluyt did not include direct information on the latter event in his 1589 first edition.  It was very well known recent history but no accounts seem to have been published by 1590 that could have reminded the author of the exact chronology.

Webbe’s problems only begin here.  He claims that he was a Tartar slave for 5 years.  Again, it was widely known that the Tartars had taken English slaves from among the survivors of their sack of Moscow.  It was just the kind of lurid detail to stick in the English mind as an identifying trait of the savage Tartars.  The only detail he gives of his 5 years among the Tartars is an observation on their newborn children that is as exotic as it is fictional.  At the end of the 5 five years, he informs the reader, the 7 men were ransomed by “friends”.  He returned to England.  The earliest this could be is 1576.  The Earl of Oxford is on his way back to England and the author has never set foot in Italy in order to have the chance to see him or hear his challenge.

So then, what are we to make of all of this?  More to come in Part 3.


Be sure to check out the other articles on Shakespeare and the Authorship Question here at Virtual Grub Street.  Here are just a few:


  • Enter John Lyly.  October 18, 2016.  "From time to time, Shakespeare Authorship aficionados query after the name “John Lyly”.  This happens surprisingly little given the outsized role the place-seeker, novelist and playwright played in the lives of the playwright William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere."
  • Shake-speare and the Influence of Ronsard.  May 22, 2014.  "If Shake-speare were actually born in 1564, the question should naturally arise as to why so many of the sources for his works were written between 1560 and 1580,..."







Saturday, December 16, 2017

Let the sky rain potatoes!

Drawing of the sweet potato
from Gerard's Herbal (1597)
The journalist Gwynn Guilford has written an exceptional article [link] recently on the enormous cultural impact of the potato.  It seems that “white people” have dominated the world because of that tuber.  Certainly, it had more than a little help from a number of other factors.

Corn, she she informs us, had a much easier time of it.

When brought back to Europe, potatoes weren’t an easy sell at first. Unlike the other important New World crop, maize, their
appeal wasn’t immediately obvious. At first, the European upper class hailed potatoes as aphrodisiacs. (This explains why Shakespeare’s perpetually horny buffoon Falstaff bellows, “Let the sky rain potatoes!”)
To keep our interest up, she includes a quote from Shakespeare that has been used to decorate more than one account about the tuber.

But, actually, Falstaff was referring to the sweet potato.  The mistake is understandable as Guilford has all but cut-and-pasted a considerable portion of the Wikipedia article on the “History of the Potato,” including its blithe ignorance of what it meant  that the first known mention of the potato is a shipping document that shows its point of embarkation as the Canary Islands.  The islands had just the right climate to grow sweet potatoes and did a booming business for the century or two that the delicacy joined bananas as their cash crops.

While the white potato (to which Guilford refers) was introduced to Europe only some 20 years later than the sweet potato it took well over a century before it even began to be a staple crop in Ireland.  This regardless that it was indeed the perfect crop for the British climate.  Even in chilly Britain, white potatoes grow like… well… potatoes.  The yield per acre is high in terms of the  number of spuds and even higher in terms of nutriment.   It is a member of the nightshade family, however, and it is said that this is the reason that it languished for so long.  People were afraid that it (and its cousin the tomato) were poisonous as the “deadly nightshade” they had learned to avoid.  Others attribute the slow dispersion of potato farming to the bitter taste.

It was the sweet potato that was considered an aphrodisiac (never the white potato).  Almost certainly because it had (like that other aphrodisiac, the cucumber) a vaguely phallic shape.  It could not have hurt the reputation that it had to be grown in the Canary Islands or Spain and shipped to upper class tables.  Those who can afford to buy expensive foods, of course, tend to enhance the aphrodisiac qualities.


As I have mentioned, in my book Edward de Vere’s RetainerThomas Churchyard: the Man Who was Falstaff, the sweet potato is just another item in Falstaff’s world, like fowling pieces, Bilbo swords, Banbury cheese, and sack, etc., that did not exist until well after the time of Prince Hal (King Henry V).  Neither did the old poet-soldier exist until well after that time.  He, like his trappings, lived resoundingly in the mid to late 16th century.

In fact, the sweet potato had only just begun to be a delicacy within the reach of splurging poets and playwrights and members of the middle classes at the time that The Merry Wives of Windsor (the play from which Falstaff is quoted) was written.  The old soldier liked to keep abreast of the new fads.

There is one more mention of the potato in Shakespeare.  This one, from the play Troilus and Cressida, is even more curious:

Thersites. How the devil Luxury, with his fat rump and potato-finger, tickles these together! Fry, lechery, fry!
The Sweet potato variety we see in Gerard’s 1597 Herbal is not a particularly apt comparison to a finger (even a nice fat male finger). Its roots, on the other hand, would have been about the right size, but we would seem to have no other record that they, too, were considered edible much less aphrodisiac.

It is difficult to avoid  the possibility that fried slices, or longer, thinner varieties, of sweet potato might have been called “potato-fingers” as early as the 1590s.  (More than one commentator is confident that the reference is common slang for the penis.)  Gerard, our only authority on the matter, has some interesting things to say that we will explore as we proceed to investigate in our second part: “Shakespeare’s Annotators and the Saga of Potato Commentary”.







  • Falstaff's Sack. August 7, 2017.  'The question Mr. Hart addresses is “Just what is sack?”.  This is not the first time the question has been addressed but his is a particularly thorough attempt at an answer.'
  • Did Falstaff Write a Poem for Lowe’s Chyrurgerie?  December 2, 2017. "Can honour set-to a leg? no: or an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is honour? a word. What is that word, honour? air."
  • Check out the English Renaissance Article Index for many more articles and reviews about this fascinating time and about the Shakespeare Authorship Question.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Leonard Digges with Context (Shakespeare Authorship and the Small World Problem, Part 1)

Oxfordian research has certainly become the obsession of many.  The search for irrefutable proof has led to the inspection under high powered microscopes of anything that might prove to be evidentiary.  The record of every birth, marriage and death that has survived to the present day is being sought out, evaluated, and given its proper place.  Every name in every variant spelling is given a genealogy, a region and location.  Every record that shows more than one name is evaluated for what it might suggest about family and social relationships.  Internet comment threads on the matters are followed as eagerly and as deadly seriously as episodes of The Game of Thrones.

Traditional scholars availed themselves more sparingly of the same sources.  Their search for relationships have handed down possible Stratford Shaksper links and methodologies to be wielded by the “Strat” (Stratfordian) Authorship effort. Thomas Russell married Anne Digges we are told.  They moved to Alderminster.  Alderminster is some 5 miles outside of Stratford-Upon-Avon.  Leonard Digges, Anne’s son, wrote one of the commendatory poems for the First Folio.  “Voila!” cry the Strafordian opposition.  “Shakespeare and Digges were personal friends.  Digges, after this fashion, establishes with certainty that the Stratford man wrote the plays in the Folio.”

I’ve recently pointed out the reasons why Digges is highly unlikely to have known Shaksper of Stratford-Upon-Avon, the propinquity of Alderminster aside, and received, by way of Stratfordian reply, that Digges was friends at Oxford with a fellow student who was a young member of the Stratford Combes family, that the King’s men performed at Oxford during Digges time as a student, that young men like Digges were great fans of the theater and especially Shakespeare, etc.

Onlookers have added that Digges was sure to have met Shaksper during his his return to Alderminster on college vacations.  But, while Thomas Russell had lived in Alderminster prior to the Digges’s move there, the Diggeses had not.  After the death of Leonard Digges’s biological father, Thomas Digges, the family continued to live in London.  The extended family was very well established there.

Upon his own father’s death, in 1559, Thomas Digges was taken in as a ward of John Dee.  As an adult, Thomas would carry on his famous father’s mathematical and astronomical pursuits.  Upon his father’s death he inherited not only wealth but friendships with all the finest intellectuals of London and its environs including Baron Burghley and his guardian John Dee.  He would also serve in parliament, and other official capacities, building still more considerable wealth and high-end social connections in and around London.


Some years after Leonard’s father died, his mother was proposed marriage by Thomas Russell, a lawyer.  As was so often the case with a widow’s second marriage, Russell’s offer was an excellent financial move.  He would be marrying up and gaining ₤12,000 and more into the bargain.  His wife’s fortune, however, was bequeathed upon the condition that she never remarry.[1]  She is said simply to have dispensed with the formalities of wedlock and moved into Russell’s house in Alderminster near Stratford-Upon-Avon. 

A Mr. David Kathman has written that the entire family moved to Alderminster[2] but there would seem to be no evidence to the effect that either of the sons accompanied her.  There is plenty to argue that, absent direct evidence to that effect, the son’s should be considered to have remained behind in London. Dudley the elder son would sue his step-father in the London courts, in future years, over the provisions of his father’s will.  He is said to have included aspersions in the legal paperwork describing Thomas Russell in the most disrespectful and insulting terms.[3]

Alderminster would have no educational facilities to even begin to compete with those available in London.  The sons’ futures would have been severely impaired by leaving the benefits and the social milieu of the city.  Upper middle class young men with the least ambition would have chosen London without hesitation.  Their mother had certainly forfeited any right to override their personal choices had she wished or the choices of a suitable adult prepared to step in as guardian.

The original will had left Dudley, the elder son, a wealthy man upon reaching 24 years of age.  He would have been able to borrow against the inheritance from the moment his father died. Leonard, the second son, was bequeathed enough to live modestly and to pay for an Oxford education.  Their mother’s household having moved, the London house would always be available to them free of charge.  Or they might have stayed with family or friends until they reached their majority and rented out the house for additional income in the meantime.

So then, context is essential.  There is little likelihood that Leonard Digges ever lived in Alderminster or traveled there during his Oxford vacations.  All signs are that he lived in Oxford and London during all of his life that he was not traveling in Europe.  There is only one occasion that we know with certainty that he visited Stratford-Upon-Avon.  He seems to have arrived at the invitation of the aforesaid young Combes who he had befriended as a fellow student at Oxford.  It was 15 years after the death of Shaksper of Stratford and the letter that tells us of his visit also informs us that he was not familiar with the place and had to ask questions of the locals in order to learn a  bit about it.  He gives no sign that he even briefly visited the house or the tomb of Shaksper.



[1] Green, Nina.  The Oxford Authorship Site.  http://www.oxford-shakespeare.com/Probate/PROB_11-86-204.pdf.
[2] Shakespeare beyond Doubt, ed. Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells, 127.
[3] Green, http://www.oxford-shakespeare.com/Probate/PROB_11-86-204.pdf.  Palmer, Alan and Veronica.  Who's Who in Shakespeare's England,  210.  




Saturday, December 02, 2017

Did Falstaff Write a Poem for Lowe’s Chyrurgerie? (p. 2)

Much more then men they be,
And ought like Doctors be enstald:
In seats of high degree.
What doth preserve the lives of men,
May clayme due honor right,
And should be praysd by tong and pen,
as farre as day gives light,
Long studie gives a glorious crowne,
A garland deckt with flowers,
Under whose shad, of rare renomine,
The Muses makes their bowers:
To set and see whose gifts excell,
In wit and cunning skill.
Who best doth work; who doth not wel,
And who bears most goodwill
To vertue, learning, and good mind,
The muses favour those,
And gives them grace of their owne kind
great secrets to disclose,
Revives ther wits, makes sharp their sence
To judge, [            ], and know
Whose tong is typt with eloquence,
And whose fine pennes do flow,
And who the liberall art detaines,
And mortall vertue have,
In whome a hidded skill remaines:
And cunning knowledge brave.
It seemes a stranger here of late,
Hath from the gods divine,
Got credit, honour, and estate,
To please the Muses Nine.
The Surgeons of our King likewise,
Doth praese him for his skill,
His printed bookes may well suffice,
To win the worlds goodwill.
His merits far surmounts the love,
I beare to men of worth,
My pen doth but affection move,
His deeds doe set him forth.
His knowledge makes blind bonglers blush
Their boldnes bring him fame,
Vaine [Vale mine] not worth a rush,
Where Low, but showes his name.
You paultry, senceles, saucie Jackes:
That patch up wounds in post,
Trudge hence, trusse up your pedlers packs,
He cares not for your boast,
His face and brow from blot is cleere.
The Sages of our soyle,
Bids Doctor Low, still welcome here,
To your great shame and foyle.
Who well deſerves, is honoured much,
As tryall dayly showes,
Who hath good name, is wise and ritch,
And is loved where he goes.
Since of this Doctor and his Art,
Those vertues I rehearse,
I him in every poynt and part,
Salute with English verse.
Lowe, it seems, was not particular about who wrote his commendatory poems.  Presumably, Churchyard, being regularly published, was all the qualification the surgeon understood.  Lowe was too young to have been a field surgeon known to the old poet back during the day.


For all Lowe became quite famous we know little about his personal predilections, whom he might have met where, etc.  His book, however, teaches us that he is smitten with Galen even more than was common among his fellow medical men at the time.

Could Shakespeare be satiring Falstaff’s commendatory poem on a subject he can only pretend to understand?  Might that be why there would appear to be nothing written by Galen on the apoplectic deafness Falstaff attributes to him?  While in Lowe’s book similar conditions are addressed not by Galen but by Hippocrates?[1]

I decided not to include this in Edward de Vere’s Retainer Thomas Churchyard: the Man Who was Falstaff as it is a bit of a long reach (pending further information).  The many correspondences between Churchyard’s life and works and the character of Falstaff, given there, were chosen as being less speculative, more demonstrable.

Still, the coincidence is thought provoking if for no other reason than the fact that Lowe’s Discourse: of the Whole Art of Chyrurgerie was written in 1597[2] which would establish that year as the earliest date for 2 Henry IV.  Just a thought.



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[1] Shahan, John M.  Beyond A Doubt?, Shakespeare, 105. About Hippocrates being referred to in The Merry Wives of Windsor. “Hoeniger also suggests that Shakespeare likely knew passages from Hippocrates’ Prognostic, and speculates that Peter Lowe’s Whole Course of Chirurgerie (1597), which included the first translation of the Presages of Hyppocrates was the author’s likely source.”  This is also said of a reference in Richard II but that play was written in the late 1580s.  Presumably after Humphrey Llwyd’s translation of aphorisms from Hippocrates, Treasury of Healthe, published in 1585, and dedicated to William Cecil, Baron Burghley.
[2] Watt, Robert.  Bibliotheca Britannica lists a 1596 edition that does not seem to be verifiable by any second source.  II.618v.  “LOWE, PETER, a native of Scotland, and Founder of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow; died there in 1612.—The whole Course of Chirurgerie; wherein is briefly set down, the Causes, Signes,
Prognostications, and Curations of all sorts of Tumours, Wounds, Vlcers, Fractures, Dislocations, and all other Diseases, vsually practised by Chirurgeons, according to the opinion of all our auncient Doctours in Chirurgerie. Compiled by Peter Lowe, Scotchman, Arelian Doctor in the Facultie of Chirurgerie in Paris, and Chirurgian Ordinarie to the King of Fraunce and Nauarre. Wherevnto is annexed, the Booke of the Presages of Deuyne Hippocrates, deuyded into three partes; also the Protestation which Hippocrates caused his Scholars to make. The whole collected and translated by Peter Lowe, &c. Lond. 1596, 1597, 1612, 1634, 1654, 4tº,...


  • How Edward de Vere Didn't Depart Italy (it turns out).  July 19, 2017.  "It seemed that Pasquale Spinola must have been mistaken or misled.  There would not have been nearly enough time to visit Florence, Siena, Rome, Naples and Palermo and to return to Venice.  Such a trip took considerable time in the 16th century."
  • Edward de Vere's Memorial For His Son, Who Died at Birth May 1583.  July 5, 2017.  "The brief Viscount Bulbeck being the son of the renowned poet and playwright Edward de Vere, we might have hoped to have the text of the father’s own memorial poem.  As far as traditional literary history is concerned, no such poem has yet been discovered."
  • Shakespeare's Apricocks.  February 21, 2017.  "While he may never have been a gardener, he does seem more than superficially knowledgeable about the gardens of his day.  One detail of such matters that he got wrong, however, is as much to the point as any."
  • John Donne's"Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day".  December 13, 2016.  "Today, December 13, is Saint Lucy’s Day.  In John Donne’s time, when the old calendar was still in use, it fell upon (and was, therefore, the feast of) the winter solstice."
  • Enter John Lyly.  October 18, 2016.  "From time to time, Shakespeare Authorship aficionados query after the name “John Lyly”.  This happens surprisingly little given the outsized role the place-seeker, novelist and playwright played in the lives of the playwright William Shakespeare and Edward de Vere."

Did Falstaff Write a Poem for Lowe’s Chyrurgerie?

Not everything that might connect Thomas Churchyard with the character Falstaff went into Edward de Vere’s Retainer Thomas Churchyard: the Man Who Was Falstaff.  Some that did not can go a long way toward demonstrating how the selection process proceeded.  At the same time, looking at the “close calls” can make clear what might at some point, with the addition of further information, rise to the level of “evidence”.

Just one of Sir John Falstaff’s seemingly unaccountable characteristics, for example, is his mention of having read the ancient physician Galen of Pergamon.  Galen originally wrote in Greek but his works had long been translated into Latin by the 16th century.  Sir John says of the illness of King Henry IV:

Fal. And I hear, moreover, his Highness is fallen into this same whoreson apoplexy.
Ch.Just. Well, God mend him! I pray you, let me speak with you.
Fal. This apoplexy is, as I take it, a kind of lethargy, an't please your lordship ; a kind of sleeping in the blood, a whoreson tingling.
Ch. Just. What tell you me of it? be it as it is.
Fal. It hath its original from much grief, from study, and perturbation of the brain : I have read the cause of his effects in Galen : it is a kind of deafness.[1]
As I have pointed out in my book, Churchyard was able to read Latin well enough to do a self-serving but serviceable translation from Ovid and a few other odds and ends.


Moreover, in the Henry IV plays, the old pikeman is in the habit of using medical imagery.  Reflecting on the value of honor, he sees the injured soldier in the field in just such terms:

Fal….  Can honour set-to a leg ? no: or an arm ? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is honour? a word. What is that word, honour? air.[2]
It is not unusual that a soldier should picture the effects of the battlefield in such terms.  Somewhat less common, Falstaff describes a man’s love life with the ladies in battlefield terms.  The combatant’s pike is metaphorically… well… it shouldn’t take too much to figure out what it is.  Pikeman and pike, injured, come off the battlefield toward the surgery.

Fal. If the cook help to make the gluttony, you help to make the diseases, Doll : we catch of you, Doll, we catch of you; grant that, my pure virtue, grant that.
Dol. Ay, marry, our chains and our jewels.
Fal. Your brooches, pearls, and ouches: — for to serve bravely is to come halting off, you know: to come off the breach with his pike bent bravely, and to surgery bravely; to venture upon the charged chambers bravely,…[3] 
The Galen, though, is not the kind of reading which might occupy a soldier’s time.  Either in Greek or Latin.  Falstaff was not only a flim-flam man of the highest skills, he was a man with a level of culture not heard of among enlisted ranks.  Few among the enlisted ranks could read English at the time much less Latin.

But, his time in the wars long over, we find Churchyard writing a commendatory poem for Peter Lowe’s Discourse: of the Whole Art of Chyrurgerie. Wherein is exactly set downe the Definition, Causes, Prognostications, and Cures of all sorts of Diseases, both in generall and particular, which at any time heretofore have been practized by any Chirurgion: According to the opinion of all the ancient professors of that Science.

The Noblest Science under sunne,
That most mens lives doe save,
The art that greatest praise hath won,
Whereby great helpe we have,
Is Surgerie, for knowledge there,
In highest grace doth shine.
The skill is honoured eueriewhere,"
for specially griefes divine.
When wrath and rage makes quarrels rise;
And men in furie fight,
In Surgeon such great knowledge lies,
Greene wounds are healed streight.
Flesh cut, bloud lost, and every vaine, .
And sinnowes shronke away,
He can by art restore againe:
And comfort their decay.
The mangled bones are set and knit,
In their owne proper place,
And everie Limme in order fit,
Comes to their force and grace.
By surgeons mean who quickly sees,
The daungers as they are:
And mends the mischiefs by degrees,
with knowledge and great care.
Hath instruments to search each joynt,
Each skull or brused bone.
And can with balmes and oyles anoynt
The nerves and vaines each one.
Knowes all the nature, and each kinde
Of hearbes, of flowers, and weedes,
And can the secret vertue find
Of blossomes, leaves, and seedes.
Heales cankers, ulcers, and old sores,
Hath precious powders small
To eate proud flesh, and rotten sores, ---
And drie up humor all. ---
What griefe of body can be named,
But he can helpe in hast[e]?
Yea though the liver be inflam'd;
Or lights and lungs doe wast[e].
In time and temper he can bring
The lack of each lame part,
As though in hand he had a string,
To leade mans life by art.
Halfegods good Surgeons maybe cald,


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[1] 2 Henry IV. I.ii.
[2] 1 Henry IV. V.ii.
[3] 2 Henry IV. II.iv.




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