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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Historical inaccuracies in the film Anonymous: #3

When Edward de Vere and Vavasour had their affair, Anne, the Countess of Oxford, was in no position to arrive home to find them together.  Etc.

In the Shakespeare authorship movie Anonymous, Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, takes a lover who he calls “Bessie”.  Bessie was the nickname of Anne Vavasour, with whom the Earl did indeed have an affair.  In the movie, Anne, the Countess of Oxford, arrives at one or another Oxford manor, to find Vavasour leaving after a night sleeping together with the Earl.  Vavasour is clearly pregnant.

The Queen is informed.  Edward and Anne Vavasour, his mistress, are arrested and thrown into prison (presumably The Tower).  Vavasour has their child while under arrest.  The day after the delivery, the decision is made to free Edward upon conditions.  He is no longer allowed to attend at Court.  The Baron Burghley — Edward’s father-in-law, the Great Lord Treasurer and closest advisor to the Queen — adds one further condition of his own: Edward is to return to the Countess, his daughter.

In fact, Edward and his Countess had not lived together since he left for a European tour on February 7, 1575.  The reasons he refused to return to her are not clear.  When Edward and Vavasour had their affair, Anne, the Countess of Oxford, was in no position to arrive home to find Edward and his mistress together.  Edward had lived a bachelor’s life at or near the Royal Court between his return from Europe, in April 1576, and March 23rd of 1581, when Vavasour delivered her child.

Anne Vavasour lived continuously at Court in one or another of the Lady-in-Waiting chambers.  For this reason it is highly probable that Edward and she never shared an actual bed on so much as a single occasion during their affair.  The voluminous female dress of the time prevented her pregnancy being detected until the end.  

Between June 26th and July 4th of 1580 — the span within which Anne Vavasour would have conceived if her pregnancy was of the normal length — the Queen and her Court were installed at her favorite country residence, Nonsuch Palace.  The palace sat in the midst of impressively large hunting parks and gardens, even in Royal terms, and was essentially a palatial hunting lodge.  It being a working vacation, the Ladies in Waiting were likely tucked away wherever a bit of space could be found and more or less forgotten when not in attendance.  If their rooms were not sufficiently private to allow trysts (and they likely were not), thousands of acres of woodlands were available for very private romantic walks.

So then, she and Edward were never rousted out of a shared bed, on any of Edward’s estates, to be escorted to The Tower.  They may have had opportunity for sexual intercourse on as few as one occasion, in some private spot in the woodlands surrounding Nonsuch, and surely did not have opportunity with any regularity.  Vavasour delivered her child nine months later, most likely at St. James Palace, where the Court had removed for the session of Parliament of that month, and she and her child were immediately thereafter escorted to The Tower.  Edward went on the lam in order to avoid the same fate.  Once found, he was placed under house arrest.  Upon his release from a brief token stay in The Tower he was indeed forbidden to attend at Court.

Regardless of all (including his powerful father-in-law’s desires), Edward still refused to set up housekeeping with his wife.  The two remained estranged.  In 1582, amidst considerable effort by the Baron Burghley, pleading in his behalf, the Queen declared that there could be no hope of a return to Court unless Edward reconciled with his wife.  By May of 1583, Oxford and his Countess were living together and a son was born to them.  The child died a few days after birth.  In June, after a stormy audience with the Queen, at Burghley’s estate in Greenwich, he was given permission to once again appear at Court.

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