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Sunday, August 02, 2015

Historical inaccuracies in the film Anonymous: #1.

In the film Anonymous, about Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, the young Earl is depicted killing a servant of William Cecil, Principal Secretary to Queen Elizabeth.  Oxford was a ward of Cecil.  It is well known that the Principle Secretary was given to the use of spies, household servants among them.  The servant has hidden behind an arras, ala the character Polonius, in Hamlet.  De Vere, hearing him, thrusts a dagger through the arras mortally wounding him in the chest.

Edward did, in fact, kill a servant of the Cecil household.  According to the official inquest, the 17 year old Earl was fencing in a courtyard at Cecil’s London residence, on July 23, 1567, with a local tailor, when he killed an under-cook, who happened to be in the area, by running him through the thigh with his foil.

In Anonymous, Cecil arranges for a finding of “self-defense”.  While the director placed the servant behind a curtain in order to evoke the scene from Hamlet (a popular conflation among those of us who understand Oxford to have written the plays of Shakespeare) and to add to the film's attractions for its key demographic, the historical inaccuracy of a finding of “self-defense” is less explicable.  Cecil actually arranged for a finding of “suicide”.  The under-cook, it was said, had been drunk and thrown himself on the sword.  It is not clear why the scriptwriter was either unaware of the actual finding or dissuaded from including it.

Far more problematic still, in the film the evil Cecil (also a popular characterization among Oxfordians) blackmails Edward.  The Earl will receive a verdict of self-defense if he will agree to marry Cecil’s daughter Anne.  In this way, Cecil, a commoner at the time, will associate his family with the wealth and power of a senior Earldom.  The alternative is a guilty verdict and “the ax” (beheading).

To begin with, the laws pertaining to royal wards at the time were perfectly clear that the guardian had the right to marry the ward to whomever he chose including his own daughter.  The ward had no legal say in the matter.  Cecil did not need to blackmail Oxford.  He was at liberty to force the marriage, with perfect impunity, as so many guardians had done and would continue to do.

History is clear that Edward de Vere did indeed marry Anne Cecil, 4 ½ years later, in December of 1571.  Cecil had an embarrassing letter to write as a result.  By all appearances, he had not ordered Edward to marry his daughter or anyone else for that matter, regardless that a guardian stood to make large sums for such arranged marriages.  He had nearly closed a marriage contract between Anne and the heir to the Earldom of Rutland.   A letter was dispatched apologizing profusely for the sudden turn of events.  In it he declared of Edward that “I love hym so derely from my hart as I do myn own sonne,” and, Edward being reputed to be a bit of an empty headed fop, “ther is much more in hym of understandyng than any stranger to hym wold think.”   

Cecil would hardly have forgotten that he’d already arranged for Anne via an earlier blackmail.  He was, above all things, a man who never lost track of the play of the game.  At the very least, he quite properly considered that an Earl in the hand is worth two in the bush.

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