Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Historical inaccuracies in the film Anonymous: #2

In the movie Anonymous, a rebellious London crowd pours out of The Globe theater, incensed by the suggestive performance of a Shakespeare play, and is cut down by troops of soldiers pre-positioned in order to slaughter them by the evil Robert Cecil.  The director of the movie explains that he intentionally changed the play from Richard II to Richard III in order to highlight that the Earl of Essex’ enemy was Cecil, the Queen’s Principal Secretary, rather than the Queen per se.  Both Cecil and Richard III were hunchbacked.

In fact, the Earl of Essex himself did not precisely know what he intended to accomplish by his rebellion.  He was furious at having lost certain royal monopolies once gifted to him by the Queen, in respect of his acts of insubordination while he commanded the Queen’s troops in Ireland.  His overbearing pride was further wounded to think that the world was watching his loss of prestige.  After his arrest he would claim that he had planned to remove Elizabeth’s evil counselors, not the Queen herself.  But the play his allies had commanded was not Richard III.  London theater goers were not treated to an evil hunchback on the stage but Richard II, a weak monarch with poor judgment in the selection of counselors who was forcibly deposed by nobleman who felt the monarch was not competent to rule.


It might be thought that it was an ally of Essex who commanded the play, and not Essex himself, and therefore he may not have known what had been done in his name.  Yet it is a matter of historical record that the play was publicly acted on more than 40 occasions over an extended period.  The Earl’s own coterie regularly attended the performances.  He could only have known.

At no point, during any of the 40 or so performances, or during the Earl of Essex’s machinations, did the army massacre a single person, commoner or gentleman.  If the army had been commanded to do so, London would have risen against the Queen.  Not because it supported the Earl of Essex but because the city possessed very powerful rights and was quite prepared to defend them even against the monarch.  The genius of Cecil was that he managed the defeat of the rebellion without firing a single shot (not the kind of thing to grip a movie audience).

In part because of the news that Richard II was being played in London for weeks, the Queen and her counsel were working behind the scenes to assure the loyalty of the civil magistrates of London.  The people never rose up in small group or large.  When the moment came that Essex would act, the London watch and strategically placed military units cordoned off the city.  The few citizens that did not immediately obey the order to clear the streets were arrested.  Essex found himself eerily alone.

Realizing that he had failed to gather the least support, and that he would soon be arrested, the Earl returned to Essex House and he and his close supporters resolved to resist.  No preparations had been made for such a step, however, and he lacked gunpowder and other essential supplies.  Soon all saw the wisdom of surrender.  Still, however briefly and foolishly, he had taken up arms in this fashion, against his Queen, and, in light of the fact, was guilty of treason.




    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.