3rd Baroness Norris of Rycote.
Daughter of Bridget de Vere.
1. The least well known of Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford’s, daughters is Bridget. She was born on April 6, 1584, and was the middle of the three daughters born to Edward and his Countess Anne Cecil.
2. Even most people who assert that the Earl of Oxford was the poet and playwright Shake-speare (a group to which I resoundingly belong) do not seem to know that she was engaged, in 1598, to William Herbert, soon to inherit the Earldom of Pembroke, much less that she is likely the model for the character of Katherine in the play Jack Drum’s Entertainment, based more or less upon the events of that love story. The contract between the families would fall through, however, and Bridget would marry Francis Norris in 1599. Norris would inherit the title Baron Norris of Rycote two years later upon the death of his grandfather.
3. Herbert would go on to become the Lord Chamberlain to King James I. His brother Philip would marry Bridget’s younger sister Susan, during the Royal Christmas holidays of 1604, and, shortly thereafter, be created the Earl of Montgomery. The two brothers would oversee the publication of the First Folio of the plays of Shake-speare.
4. Bridget’s years as Lady Norris (or Norreys), Baroness of Rycote, have been represented as nearly barren of historical record. Francis Norris’s grandfather was much more in the news at Court than he and clearly among the most blunt, aggressive lords of the time. Signs are that the grandson followed suit and was even psychologically unstable. Bridget may have lived a dark life under his domination. The two had a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1603.
5. For some reason, Francis and Bridget had a small private wedding. Such a fact was quite unusual for persons of their station. Suggestions have been made that the recent death of her grandfather, William Cecil, the Baron Burghley, essentially the highest ranking non-royal citizen of the realm, and/or a number of recent deaths in Norris’s family led to the decision.
6. Until her marriage, her Uncle Robert Cecil, Principal Secretary of England, had managed her financial affairs. In October of 1601, he entered a final accounting of her finances in his records. In it we learn that her portion from her grandfather’s will was ₤6,537 in ready money and ₤1,256 in jewels, plate and other chattel. She already received over ₤600 annually from unspecified rents.
7. Bridget’s final balance, however, left her with a debt of some hundreds of pounds largely due to an unspecified “purchase” amounting to ₤6,217. Her Uncle being zealous in her behalf, it appears likely that this represents his having placed the bulk of her inheritance into a trust or annuity out of the reach of her husband and possibly also as a safeguard against her lending to her father, Edward de Vere, from whom it is said Burghley had rigorously arranged to protect his granddaughters’ inheritances.
8. In 1605, Lord Norris fell ill for what would be a protracted time. The next we hear of Lady Norris is recounted in Charles Dalton’s excellent history of the Wray family.
The next mention made in the letters in the State Paper Office (from the published abstracts of which letters I derive my information) regarding the young Lord Norreys, is in a letter dated 1605, and is as follows: “Lord Norreys is at Bath, separated from his wife.” And a letter dated a few months later says: “Lady Norreys is at Cope Castle, separated from Lord Norreys.”
9. The well-known public servant Dudley Carleton seems to have been able to get along with the erratic Baron as well as anybody. As matters worsened, Cecil, then Earl of Salisbury, called upon him to intervene with Francis. Bridget had set up house in Cope Castle (later known as Holland House). In April of 1608, Carleton received assurance from Norris that “His half-yearly payment to his wife is ready.” Another letter, of August 1608, preserved among the State Papers of the time, gives an overview:
“Lord Norreys is very ill at Bath, and not likely to recover. He is practising to disinherit his daughter. The Earl of Salisbury is desirous Carleton should go to Bath to prevent so unjust an act. It would confirm the scandal cast upon Lady Norreys at the time of her separation from her husband.”
The two were already continuously separated for some two years by this time. This was in no small part because the Baron had traveled to the continent (largely to Spain) in respect of the extended illness for which we have only the most limited information.
10. Among the reasons the Baron may have wished to disinherit his daughter, Elizabeth, might have been the pregnancy of his mistress Sarah Rose. He could not, however, yet have known that the child would be a boy. Young Francis would be the Baron’s cherished child and would, via an indenture established in 1619, receive a portion of his lands upon his death.
11. All we would seem to know of Bridget de Vere, Lady Norris, between 1608 and the Baron’s death, is that she resided at Cope Castle, and received a semi-annual allowance for her needs. For the time being, her uncle, Robert Cecil, was watchful for her welfare, Dudley Carleton as his primary agent. Upon Cecil’s death, in 1612, what protection and support she might have received would have come from Edward de Vere’s son, by his second marriage, Henry de Vere, the 18th Earl of Oxford, and from the far more powerful Herbert brothers, the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery.
12. Suddenly, around the year 1610, the Baron Norris was much more in the news of the time. The Vere’s and Herberts were by no means the only supporters Bridget had. In that year, the Baron is said to have been rebuked for his behavior toward her, by Peregrine Willoughby, after services in a church. Willoughby was the second son of Mary de Vere, sister to Edward de Vere. Norris, as aggressive and unstable as always, drew upon Willoughby, on the spot, and seriously wounded him. Willoughby’s servant was killed.
13. While Norris was every bit the unstable peer described here, however, he was also a cultured, a spirited and a dedicated member of the King’s social circle. James I highly valued those qualities in him. During the next session of the courts, Norris was found guilty of manslaughter and was released after a short incarceration. He requested and received a pardon from the King.
14. In 1620, the King further showed his favor by creating Norris the Earl of Berkshire and Viscount Thame. Perhaps as the result, he began being particularly violent and unstable in 1620 and in 1621, and, during the latter year, was arrested for physically jostling Lord Scrope in the House of Lords, in Parliament. Such an act in such a place against such a person could not be overlooked and Norris was imprisoned for a time as punishment. In January of 1622, shortly after his release, he was found dead of self-inflicted crossbow wounds. The coroner’s verdict was suicide.
15. Even to gather together this much about Bridget de Vere’s life and the events surrounding it, requires unusual persistence. It would seem to be all that is generally known of even among the few professional historians who have spent time researching her life. Actually, it is somewhat more than was harvested until now.
16. Upon the finding of suicide, the Bridget was stripped of the titles that came with her husband. Francis’s lands were confiscated to the crown. She could no longer style herself Countess of Berkshire or Baroness Norris. Unless one searches with unusual persistence, it seems, at this point, as if Bridget disappears from history. No one is precisely sure when she died.
17. Bridget’s 19 year old daughter, Elizabeth Norris, however, became a ward of the King, who lodged her with her uncle, Philip Herbert, the Earl of Montgomery. Montgomery would manage her estate until she should marry. This arrangement led to the standard rumors that the pretty young woman became Montgomery’s mistress.
18. But Bridget did not disappear. Her powerful allies at Court, through the Vere and Pembroke lines, the latter great favorites of King James, arranged that her daughter Elizabeth could take back the title of Baroness Norris de jure (i. e. by legal judgment). It is unclear just what lands might have been restored but they must have been considerable given the interest for her hand in marriage.
19. And marry Elizabeth did. Her uncle had been determined to make her a match with a brother of the young Court favorite, the Earl of Buckingham, which she resisted. Her personal choice fell upon Edward Wray, gentleman Groom of the Bedchamber to the King. Montgomery’s word being law, she took matters into her own hands:
The Earl of Berkshire's daughter who was kept at the Earl of Montgomery's, got out of the house early, walked three miles on foot, and was there met and taken to Aldermary Church where she married Mr. Wray; of the Bedchamber; they thence went to the Earl of Oxford's house in Fleet Street, he being in the plot. Lord Montgomery sent to fetch her away but Oxford would not give her up. His commission is taken from him and Wray put out of the Bedchamber.
20. In an interesting sidelight, Pembroke and Montgomery were also engaging the services of Ben Jonson, while all of this was going on, to produce the aforementioned First Folio of the plays of Elizabeth’s grandfather, Edward de Vere, who wrote under the penname William Shake-speare. The edition would come out in November of 1623 while Edward’s son, Henry, pleaded to be released from prison.
21. Oxford’s freedom was short lived, sad to say. He was reputed to be more than a little overweight. Two years later, in June 1625, he died at The Hague from “a sunstroke” he suffered from over exerting himself during the battle of Breda.
22. Oxford’s biography in the Dictionary of National Biography refers to the cause of death as “a fever”. This perhaps due to the fact that the Earl also suffered a minor bullet wound. Such a wound suggests that Infection might have been the cause. Horace Walpole, however, who is the ultimate historical source of obscure information about the noble houses of England, directly states, in a note in his Life of Edward, Lord Herbert, that Oxford died of “a sunstroke” suffered during the battle. The fierce engagement, at Terheyde, in which he received his wound occurred mid-May. The city capitulated on June 2nd. Somewhere within those two weeks Oxford, having over-exerted himself, removed to the Hague where he perished, the word of his death being dispatched to family and friends by June 12th.
23. As for Bridget, it is said that, shortly after her husband’s death, she was being mentioned as a prospective wife of Philip Mainwaring. Upon her husband’s death, she would have been 38 years old. Mainwaring was member of the House of Commons, in Parliament, and a hanger-on at court who years later would manage to acquire a knighthood at the cost of a highly dubious reputation for serial brown-nosing.
24. That she did not marry Mainwaring is clear, as she did marry Hugh Pollard. Pollard was the son of a wealthy and influential country squire. In 1627 his father would be created Baronet of King’s Nympton. Hugh himself would inherit the title in 1641.
25. Bridget gave Pollard his only child, Margaret. This would suggest that she remarried very shortly after her first husband’s death. I can find neither birth records for Margaret nor funerary records for her mother. At present, the only fact that would seem to be known about Margaret is that she was born. Bridget is said to have died in 1630 or 1631. Based upon what evidence I cannot say. She would appear to have shared one last trait with her father, Edward. The two were the only two members of the direct line of the Earls of Oxford, during their time, who do not seem to have been interred at Westminster Abbey.
26. There is, then, only one further and fascinating fact left to learn of Bridget de Vere’s life. Her daughter Elizabeth remained titled “Baroness Norris,” but the title did not extend to her husband. Nevertheless, Elizabeth would have a daughter, Bridget, born in 1627, who would receive the title upon her mother’s death. This may have been because of the terms by which she received the de juris restoration of her title. Or it might reflect the Royal disfavor at Edward Wray's having disobeyed the laws regarding marriage contracts between noble families.
27. Edward being the third son of a Baronet, he lived his life without title and with moderate wealth. Dismissed from Royal service in any capacity and refused knighthood, presumably for his infraction, he and Elizabeth, the 3rd Baroness Norris, lived all their lives quite apart from London and the Court.
28. Elizabeth’s daughter, named after her grandmother, however, would marry well — eventually, very well. Bridget first married Edward Sackville, second son of the Earl of Dorset shortly before her mother’s death in October 1645. Sackville, it turns out, was murdered the next April by one of his own soldiers at the Abingdon Garrison. The presumption is that the death was a result of the Civil War then in progress.
29. Soon afterwards, Bridget married Montague Bertie, the Earl of Lindsey. It may be interesting to note that Bertie was another of the Willoughby Berties, descended from Mary de Vere, sister of Edward de Vere. For this reason, when Henry de Vere’s death ended the direct Vere line of the Earls of Oxford, the hereditary position of the Earls of Oxford, as Lord Great Chamberlain to the King, was awarded to him, the husband of Edward’s great granddaughter.
30. The Marriage was the Earl’s second. He and Bridget added three sons and a daughter to his already burgeoning progeny. James, the eldest of the sons, would become the 5th and last Baron Norris, and the Earl of Abington, as the Barony was allowed to lapse upon his death in favor of the latter title.
31. Bridget herself would become the grand matron of the various families to which she was related. In 1649 or 1650, she received a poetry manuscript of 52 pages dedicated to her in her full panoply of titles: “To the Right Noble and vertuous Lady, the Lady Bridget, Countess of Lindsey, and Baroness of Eresbie and Ricot, in verse, with Verses to the Right Hon. Francis Lord Norreys, Earl of Berkshire (in his day).” The Francis Lord Norreys, refers to her grandfather, the 2nd Baron Norris, indicating that the verses to Francis were written at the time Bridget de Vere’s husband was still living and that the poet must have been a servant of the Baron.
32. The poem to Francis appears as a fragment, in the manuscript, perhaps a reflection on how long the poet had kept it among his manuscripts.
O true nobilitie, and rightly grac’d
With all the jewels that on thee depend;
Where goodnesse doth with greatnesse live embrac’d,
And outward stiles on inward worth attend;
Where ample lands in ample hands are plac’d,
And ancient deeds with ancient coats descend:
Where noble bloud combi’ d with noble spirit
Forefathers fames doth, with their forms, inherit:
Where ancestors examples are perus’d
Not in large tomes or costly tombs alone,
But in their heires; and, being dayly us’d,
Are (like their robes) more honourable growne:
Where Loyalty with Piety is infus’d,
And publique rights are cherished with their owne;
Where worth still finds respect; good friend, good word;
Desart, reward. And such is Ricot's Lord.
But what make I (vaine voice) in midst of all
The Quires that have already sung the fame
Of this great House, and those that henceforth shall
(As that will last) for ever sing the same?
But if on me my garland justly fall,
I justly owe my musique to this name:
For he unlawfully usurps the Bayes,
That has not sung in noble Norrey's prayse.
In playne (my honour’d Lord) I was not borne,
Audacious vowes, or forraigne legs, to use;
Nature denyed my outside to adorne,
And I of art to learne outsides refuse.
Yet, haveing of them both enough to scorne
Silence & vulgar prayse, this humble Muse,
And her meane favourite, at your command
Chose, in this kinde, to kisse your noble hand.
The poet, William Basse, began as a musician and writer of songs, in 1602, and wrote occasional poems, for many years. He also wrote poems to pass in manuscript between his friends, as was then the style for gentlemen, before he finally published a volume of his poems, late in his long life, in 1653.
33. For all the man was a fine poet, well worth preserving, he is actually known now for a single poem. In 1633, the first volume of the collected poems by John Donne was published. In that volume was an “Epitaph upon William Shakespeare”. The poem was not republished with any of the subsequent editions of works of John Donne.
34. Instead, it was next included in the 1640 edition of the poems of William Shakespeare, under the initials “W. B.,” and the title “On Mr. Wm Shakespeare, he dyed in aprill 1616”. Numerous manuscript copies discovered later establish the attribution of the poem to William Basse.
35. But the “Epitaph” is a very special poem, indeed. It is an undisputed fact that Ben Jonson’s elegy on Shakespeare, in the front matter of the First Folio, contained lines written in direct response to the “Epitaph”. Therefore, it had to be written before the First Folio was being produced, in 1622-23.
36. Moreover, the “Epitaph” seems clearly to indicate that the author understood Shakespeare to have no monument, at the time they were written, and no epitaph on a simple tomb in which he lay. It is for this reason that the poet provides his “Epitaph”.
Epitaph upon William Shakespeare
Renowned Spencer lye a thought more nye
To learned Chaucer, and rare Beaumond lye
A little neerer Spenser, to make roome
For Shakespeare in your threefold, fowerfold Tombe.
To lodge all fowre in one bed make a shift
Vntill Doomesdaye, for hardly will a fift
Betwixt ye day and yis by Fate be slayne,
For whom your Curtaines may be drawn againe.
If your precedency in death doth barre
A fourth place in your sacred sepulcher,
In this uncarued marble of thine owne,
Sleepe, rare Tragoedian, Shakespeare, sleep alone;
Thy unmolested peace, vnshared Caue,
Possesse as Lord, not Tenant, of thy Graue,
That vnto us & others it may be
Honor hereafter to be layde by thee.
Jonson’s answer (and the new title given to the “Epitaph” in its next appearance, in the Poems of 1640) could easily be construed as an attempt to explain away these incongruities in a highly popular poem which was widely circulated in manuscript prior to the First Folio and would subsequently be even more widely circulated in one of the most popular books of poems published between the Folio and the Poems of 1640.
37. What has yet to be noticed is that there is another among the incongruities involved with this “Epitaph”. William Basse, the poet who wrote it, was a familiar and servant to Francis, Baron Norris, husband of the original Bridget, Baroness Norris, the daughter and son-in-law of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, who wrote under the penname Shake-speare. How remarkable a coincidence that two of the sons-in-law of De Vere oversaw the publication of the First Folio of the plays of William Shake-speare and that a servant of his third son-in-law wrote the earliest known poem celebrating his greatness after his death, a poem that seems to described not the Monument in Stratford but a simple, unadorned slab of marble such as that under which Edward de Vere was buried in Hackney.
38. The Earl of Lindsey was a staunch Royalist in the English Civil War. Upon the execution of King Charles I he retired from public life and managed to keep his lands intact. Bridget, his wife, died in March of 1656, some months after the birth of her last child, Mary, in September 1st, 1655. She was buried in the St. Andrew’s Chapel, at Westminster Abbey, the final resting place of many of the members of the branch of the Vere family directly descended from the Earls of Oxford.
 Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is portrayed as Edward Fortune, Katherine’s father.
 Calendar of the manuscripts of the Most Honorable the Marquess of Salisbury, Historical Manuscripts Commission, 1906. Volume 11 @ 399.
 History of the Wrays of Glentworth 1523-1852, Volume 1 (1880) by Charles Dalton @ 180.
 Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, James I, 1603-1610. (1857) @ 422.
 Wrays @ 183; Dom. James I August 30, 1608 @ 454.
 Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 14. @ 565.
 Wrays @ 184.
 The Extinct Peerage of England (1769) by Samuel Bolton. @ 204.
 Wrays I @ 193.
 Edward de Vere was Shake-speare: at long last the proof (2013) by Gilbert Wesley Purdy @ ix-xii.
 The Fighting Veres (1888) by Clements Markham @ 427-8. “The Earl of Oxford was wounded and received a sunstroke, dying at the Hague a few months afterwards, aged thirty-six.” The Life of Edward Lord Herbert of Cherbury. Written by himself. (1778) ed. Horace Walpole. Note @ 184. “Henry Vere earl of Oxford. He died at the Hague in 1625 of a sickness contracted at the siege of Breda where being a very corpulent man he had overheated himself.” The Walpole note seems clearly to be the source of this assigned cause of death in later works.
 The Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 58, 234-5 @ 235.
 Fighting Veres. Note @ 428. ‘In a letter to his Countess, dated May 15, 1625, at Gertruydenburg, he wrote: “This letter is to show I am well lest reports might err. The vanguard attacked Terheyde under the Lord General Vere and myself. Our nation lost no honour, but many brave gentlemen their lives. My ensign T. Stanhope was killed upon the place. Captain J. Cromwell is dangerously hurt. We fought as long as our ammunition lasted, and I was shot in my left arm.” (Letter in possession of Miss Conway Griffith, Carreglwyd, Anglesea. Fifth Report of Comm’rs App.’
 Wrays @ 198.
 Ibid. @ 201.
 Wrays @ 203. ‘The date of Edward Sackville's death is given in the Gentleman's Magazine, as mentioned in a topographical account of Witham: “I646, April 11. Mr, Edward Sackville, second son to the Right Honourable the Earl of Dorset, unfortunately slayne by a souldier of Abingdon Garrison, near Commer, in the County of Berkshire, was buried here May 18.”’
 Ibid. @ 204-5. Mr. Dalton refers to Bridget’s “numerous estates,” bestowed with her upon Bertie, which seems to be an assumption. I am not aware of any accounting which shows what lands of the 2nd Baron Norris, which reverted to the Crown, he being a suicide, were subsequently returned to the Baron’s heirs. My assumption is that some portion of the lands must have been returned in order for Norris’s immediate female descendants to remain attractive marriage matches.
 The poetical works of William Basse (1893) ed. Richard Warwick Bond. @ 153-4.
 The Pastorals and other Workes of William Basse (1653). This volume is by no means a collected poems and it did not include the “Epitaph Upon Shakespeare” as w ell as a great many other of Basse’s poems. Most were drawn from his later poems.
 The poetical works of William Basse @ 115-16. I have restored the phrase “Under this carved” to “In this uncarved” as it appeared in the earliest known texts. The later variant was made the standard text in order to make it conform with the facts of the Stratford Monument. Shakespeare’s Centurie of Prayse (2nd Edition, 1879) by C. M. Ingleby. Expanded and edited by Lucy Toulmin Smith. Pp. 136-140 @ 137. A note by Toulmin Smith makes clear that the earlier manuscripts of the poem read “In this uncarved” and the later manuscripts “Under this carved”. Her dating of the various manuscripts is in perfect accord with the accepted scholarship. ‘We believe that the Fennell version (adopted as our text) “In this uncarved marble” is an earlier, as it is unquestionably a much finer reading, than either “Under this carved marble,” or “Under this sable marble,” which last occurs in the Sloane copy.’
 Wrays @ 208.
More from Virtual Grub Street on Shake-speare and Edward de Vere:
- Shake-speare and the Influence of Ronsard
- Shake-speare's Greek
- Check out the English Renaissance Article Index for many more articles and reviews about this fascinating time and about the Shakespeare Authorship Question.