Wednesday, July 19, 2017

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

Edward de Vere,
17th Earl of Oxford.
Standard Citation: Purdy, Gilbert Wesley. “How Edward de Vere Didn't Depart Italy (it turns out).Virtual Grub Street. 19 July 2017.

Going back over the documents relating to the Edward de Vere’s return from Venice to England, I am led to a number of observations.  In Edward de Vere was Shakespeare: at long last the proof, I stressed certain documents suggesting that the Earl of Oxford, De Vere, had to have left Venice in December 1575 and departed from a port along the western coast of Italy headed for Marseilles.

True, Benedict Spinola’s brother, Pasquale, had informed him that “the illustrious Count” was preparing to leave Venice after Carnival.  He passed the information along to Oxford’s father-in-law, Lord Burghley, in a letter dated March 23, 1576[1].  But De Vere had written to Burghley from the town of Siena, well south of Venice, on January 3, 1576[2].  Upon his return to England, he’d told stories of visiting Rome.  Spinola had provided bills of exchange to receive funds at both Rome and Naples.  Edward Webbe had written of seeing the Earl in Palermo, Sicily.  A trip to Sicily would require ship passage, the timing of which would have been precisely consistent with a return trip via the southern French port of Marseilles.


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.  A stop of only two weeks in Rome (the Earl’s subsequent stories implied longer), before sailing for Sicily, would have seen the Earl back in Venice well after Carnival even then not yet having had time to inform Pasquale of his intended schedule.  Pasquale’s letter would have taken time to get to Benedict who then could not have written Burghley by March 23.  Viola!  Edward had to have left Venice in December.

But I find myself reminded (by virtue of my review), of the choirboy, Orazio Cuoco, who left with Edward to perform in England.  After his return to Italy, when interrogated by the Venetian authorities about “Millort de Uoxfor,” he stated that they departed Venice after the last day of Carnival.[3]  That Pasquale Spinoza can have been mistaken, I could conceive, but that both he and a member of Edward’s party were mistaken is highly unlikely.  The party departed Venice on March 5 or 6 of 1576.  His luggage departed ahead of time to await him in the French city of Lyon.


 In Benedict Spinola’s letter of March 23, he also mentions his surprise that the Earl of Oxford did not redeem his bill of exchange for Naples.  This strongly suggests that he did redeem the bill for Rome.  It now seems more likely that Edward did visit Rome at some length and then returned north at speed in order to arrive at Venice in time for Carnival. 

But how was he seen in Palermo?  More on this in Part 2.




[1] March 23. 685. Benedetto Spinola to Lord Burghley.  Calendar Of State Papers, Foreign Series, of the Reign Of Elizabeth, 1575-77.  London: Longman & Co., Paternoster Row ; Trubner & Co., Ludgate Hill : 1880.  277.
[2] Nelson, Alan.  Alan H. Nelson Homepage, UC Berkley.  http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~ahnelson/
PERSONAL/760103.html.  “Endorsed (B): 3 Ianuary 1575 The Erle of oxford by M spinolas packett. Received ye 17 of february.”
[3] “Archivio di Stato di Venezia, Savi all’Eresia, Santo Uffizio. b. 41” tr. Noemi Magri. The Oxford Authorship Site (Nina Green), www.oxford-shakespeare.com/
DocumentsOther/Archivio_di_Stato_1577.pdf  “A printed version of Dr. Magri’s English translation is available in the January-February 2002 edition of the De Vere Society Newsletter, and in Malim, Richard, ed., Great Oxford (Tunbridge Wells: Parapress, 2004), pp. 45-9.”




  • Desperately Seeking Bridget (de Vere).  "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,..."




Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Edward de Vere's Memorial For His Son, Who Died at Birth May 1583. (p. 4)

The strength of the traditional interpretation remains what it has always been.  We have virtually no biographical information about William Shaksper of Stratford so who can possibly say that any sonnet does not fit his life?  Every bit as creative as the Bard himself, generations of scholars have collectively composed a story in which Shakespeare is deeply smitten with Henry Wriothesley, the “Fair Youth”.  What sonnets do not seem to fit the story well must be bent to fit.  In spite of the son/sun imagery and the clear statement that the sun was the poet’s joy for but one hour, this is said to be a sonnet about the poet’s disappointment with some flaw in the “Fair Youth”.   Thus fitted, all is gratifyingly consistent.


On the other hand, reading the text as written presents its own issue.  The use of the word “disdaineth” suggests an insensitivity from which the modern mind draws back offended.  While here it is chosen for its manifold play on words with the multiple meanings of the word “disgrace” from line 8, such wordplay itself feels cavalier.  For all Anne is not at all a good poet, we sympathize with the unmitigated pain her poems display.  For all Edward is a great poet, on the other hand, and this one of the greatest sonnets in the English language, the modern reader is bound to be disappointed that he was not less a poet and more devastated.  Might wish that there had been no question as to whether the poet might react with disdain toward a son so weak as to be defeated in the battle to live.





The rest of the poems written by the Countess of Oxford on the death of her son follow:



In doleful ways I spend the wealth of my time:
Feeding on my heart, that ever comes again.
Since the ordinance, of the Destins, hath been,
To end of the Seasons, of my years the prime.
With my Son, my Gold, my Nightingale, and Rose,
Is gone; for 'twas in him and no other where:
And well though my eyes run down like fountains here,
The stone will not speak yet, that doth it inclose,
And Destins and Gods, you might rather have ta'en,
My twentie years: than the two days of my son.
And of this world what shall I hope, once I know,
That in this respect, it can yield me but moss:
Or what should I consume any more in woe,
When Destins, God, and worlds, are all in my loss.


The heavens, death, and life have conjured my ill:
For death hath take away the breath of my son:
The heavens receive, and consent, that he hath done:
And my life doth keep me here against my will.
But if our life be caused with moisture and heat,
I care neither for the death, the life, nor skies:
For I'll sigh him warmth, and wet him with my eyes:
(And thus I shall be thought a second Promet)
And as for life, let it do me all despite:
For if it leave me, I shall go to my child:
And it in the heavens, there is all my delight.
And if I live, my vertue is immortal.
"So that the heavens, death and life, when they do all
Their force: by sorrowful vertue th'are beguiled."


Idal for Adon never shed so many tears,
Nor Thet for Pelid, nor Phoebus for Hyacinthus,
Nor for Atis, the mother of prophetesses,
as for the death of Bulbeck the gods have cares.
At the brute of it, the Aphroditan queen
Cause more silver to to distil from her eyes
Than when the drops of her cheeks raises daisies;
And to die with him, mortal she would have been;
The Charits for it break their perukes of gold,
The Muses and the nymphs of caves; I behold
All the gods under Olympus are constraint
On Laches, Clothon and Atropos to plain.
And yet Beauty for it doth make no complaint,
For it lived with him, and died with him again.


My son is gone and with it death end my sorrow;
But death makes me answer: ‘Madam, cease these moans,
My force is but on bodies and bones;
And that of yours is no more now, but a shadow.


Amphion’s wife was turned to a rock.
How well I had been had I had such adventure,
For then I might, gain have been the sepulchre
Of him that bear in me, so long ago.




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Edward de Vere's Memorial For His Son, Who Died at Birth May 1583. (p. 3)

sonnets (33-36) in which Shakespeare feels betrayed by the “Fair Youth”.  In its imagery it is a bit of a one off.  Being presumably a “Fair Youth” sonnet it is said to be about the young Henry Wriothesley.

The sonnet is not in itself so unquestionably about the particular short-lived son of Edward de Vere that it can identify De Vere as Shakespeare, or the child as Bulbeck, solely on its own merits.  It is only one of the dozens of sonnets, that I have presented in my books Edward de Vere was Shakespeare: at long last the truth and Was ShakespeareGay?  And Just Who Was He Anyway?, that perfectly match the known biographical facts of De Vere’s life.  The pattern is striking.  In that context, the sonnet can only be De Vere’s memorial to his son who died at birth.

The sonnet is numbered 33.

XXXIII

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine
With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
But out! alack! he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask'd him from me now.
Yet him for this, my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth.

The poet’s eager anticipation is palpable.  His joy that the child is a male bathes majestic landscapes in glorious sunshine as in his finest memories, unleashes the dominant sun/son imagery.  But, then, “he was but one hour mine “.  He was swallowed up by clouds (the meaning here of “stain”[1]) and disappeared like the sun “unseen to west with this disgrace”. 




I would suggest that the only reason that the meaning has denied analysis for centuries is because interpretations that might fit badly with the myth created around William Shakespeare were never permitted to come to mind.  Freed of that restraint, I would suggest that the meaning of this sonnet is actually quite clear.

If I may venture a gloss on what the poem says: I felt at that moment like I have felt before majestic, sun-drenched landscapes I have viewed with wonder that suddenly surprised without warning (like the transition between these two quatrains), the sun swallowed up in clouds “stealing unseen to west” toward the disgrace, the unpleasantness of death.[2]  That’s just what that moment was like when my sun/son was for one hour with me and then disappeared behind the clouds to be seen no more as he stole away toward the west (i.e. death).  Yet I do not love him less for this.  Who can love him less for his eclipse when the sun itself cannot prevent its own eclipse?




[1] Or with our sighs we'll breathe the welkin dim,
And stain the sun with fog, as sometime clouds
When they do hug him in their melting bosoms.
Titus Andronicus, III. i.

She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass.
If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,
Why then, she lives.
King Lear, V. iii

Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,…
"Sonnet 35"

Stain, v. …to eclipse.  obs. (Very common in the 16th century)
Oxford English Dictionary

[2] Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Live register'd upon our brazen tombs
And then grace us in the disgrace of death;…
Love’s Labours Lost, I. i.

Disgrace, [n.]... 2.b.  A misfortune obs.  7.  Want of grace.  a. of person: ill-favouredness obs.
Oxford English Dictionary



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Edward de Vere's Memorial For His Son, Who Died at Birth May 1583. (p. 2)

Cecil was not the most powerful commoner, at the time, in England, for nothing.  In the wake of the dispute, Anne’s name occasionally shows up in the Court accounts instructing the staff to provide accommodations for her during summer progresses and festivities at Court.  The accommodations do not mention shared quarters with her husband.

After many adventures, the brilliant and unstable Earl of Oxford separated from his wife, spent lavishly until he was effectively bankrupt and impregnated a Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen.  The Queen punished her courtiers ferociously if they were discovered to have deflowered one of her Ladies.  His final punishment was exile from Court until he would return to his wife and exile from the favor of the Queen for the rest of her life.

Soon after husband and wife finally established a family home, we learn more about Anne’s life.  In May of 1583, she gave birth to a son and heir to the Earldom of Oxford.  All during her pregnancy she surely felt that things were turning very much in favor of her happiness.  Perhaps the child (their second) would be male.  A male heir could only endear her to her husband.  The child was indeed a boy and all indications would seem to be that both parents were thrilled.  It is believed that the child probably died the same day but certainly lived no more than a few days.


Even the children of nobility died young in large numbers in those days.  But not every parent was inured to the fact.  Anne wrote poems about her mourning that show she was devastated at the death.  While the poems were not emotionally raw in any contemporary sense, they were in terms of the time.  I give one here and attach the others at the end of this essay:

Had with morning the Gods left their wills undone,
They had not so soon 'herited such a soul:
Or if the mouth, time, did not glutton up all,
Nor I, nor the world, were deprived of my son,
Doth wash with golden tears, inveying the skies,
And when the water of the Goddess's eyes,
Makes almost alive, the Marble, of my Child:
One bids her leave still, her dolor so extreme,
Telling her it is not her young son Papheme,
To which she makes answer with a voice inflamed,
(Feeling therewith her venom, to be more bitter)
"As I was of Cupid, even so of it mother:
And a woman's last child, is the most beloved.

Although the poems are also not particularly good, they do show an educated mind, trained — in the Medieval fashion just being shed in England at the time of her youth — to take examples from classical mythology.




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.

In Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609), published shortly after De Vere’s death, however, there is a sonnet that centuries of commentators have declared is about the “Fair Youth” of the sonnets and simultaneously exhibits a son/sun imagery.  It is generally said to be the first of a short series of 



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Edward de Vere's Memorial For His Son, Who Died at Birth May 1583.

Standard Citation: Purdy, Gilbert Wesley. “Edward de Vere's Memorial 
For His Son, Who Died at Birth May 1583.”Virtual Grub Street. 5 July 2017.
Hedingham Castle, the ancestral
seat of the De Vere family.

We do not know much about Anne de Vere née Cecil, the Countess of Oxford, wife of Edward de Vere.  Even noblewomen generally left little biography behind them.  But some brief introduction is in order before we proceed to the memorial poems she and her husband wrote to mourn the son who may only have lived outside the womb for minutes.

We know that she was the daughter of William Cecil and Mildred Cooke.  Cecil was the First Secretary (sometimes called the Secretary of State), to Queen Elizabeth I, from her ascent to the throne of England until he was created Baron of Burghley and appointed Lord High Treasurer on July 13, 1572.[1]  Upon the death of the Earl of Leicester, in 1588, Burghley became the Queen’s closest friend and adviser.

Mildred Cooke was a wonder of her time.  Her father, Sir Anthony Cooke, had given his five daughters the same education as his sons.  Not only did she know contemporary languages and Latin but she was particularly fluent in Classical Greek.  This some 100 years before England could boast even a small academic community of male scholars in the Greek language.  Acquisition of the language was something of a wonder and a sign of the highest intellectual achievement.

Being born from such distinguished parents the occasional curious fact emerges from one or another document.  From Cecil’s diary we learn that “Litell Tannikyn,” as her father lovingly called her, was born on a Saturday night between the hours of 11 and 12, in the bedroom on the Thames River side of his house at Canon-Row, Westminster.

die Sabati, nocte, intr hora undecima et duodecimo, in domo mea Wesmonast. in cubiculo prox. Thamesi, edidit in partu uxor mea Mildreda.  Int' hor. 3* et 4* post meridie filia que postea die lune baptizata nome suscep. Anna, imponetibus illud Walto Mildmay, milite, Anna Comit Pembrok, Anna Dona Petre.[2]

She was baptized the following Monday.  Sir Walter Mildmay, her father’s closest friend at the time, stood as god father.  Anna, the Countess of Pembroke, stood as god mother.  It is said that, while Tannikyn lived, she was her father’s favorite child.


William Cecil surely thought he was establishing his beloved daughter for a long life as matron over one of the most prestigious and wealthy families in England when he arranged for her to marry Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.  The nuptials were celebrated on December 19, 1571, in a grand ceremony at Westminster Cathedral.  The reception was held at Cecil’s grand estate at Theobalds.  It hosted the Queen herself, the great nobles and officers of the realm, and the senior diplomatic representatives of many of the countries of Europe.




Edward de Vere had no intention, however, of losing his place as the Queen’s favorite at Court.  He remained in constant attendance at whichever palace the Court occupied at a given time.  He continued to travel in the Queen’s retinue wherever she went on progress.  He did not choose to bring his wife with him.  After some time, her mother, Mildred, complained, and Cecil found himself in a very uncomfortable position between an angry wife, a devastated daughter and an offended Queen.




[1] Purdy, Gilbert Wesley.  Edward de Vere was Shakespeare: at long last the proof, Richmond, VA: The Virtual Vanaprastha, 2013.  58.
[2] Burgon, John William.  The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Gresham, 1, 228.  London: Robert Jennings, 1839.  (Cited from Landsdowne MS. No. 118, f. 91.)  


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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Shakespeare's Apricocks

Shakespeare’s natural world has been much commented upon over the centuries.  As in so many matters, his grasp of gardening, in particular, has been declared at times to be exceptional.  One popular 19th century commentator even went so far as to assert that he must surely have worked as a gardener at some point during his youth.

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.  In Richard II the Duke of York’s gardener and his helper have a conversation which includes the following (iii.4.30-37):

Gardiner.
Go, bind thou up yon dangling apricocks,
Which, like unruly children, make their sire
Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight:
Give some supportance to the bending twigs.
Go thou, and like an executioner,
Cut off the heads of too fast growing sprays,
That look too lofty in our commonwealth:
All must be even in our government.

It was Shakespeare’s habit to bring in common folk, of this sort, for comic relief and/or information.  These get off easily compared to most.  They’ve been brought in simply to give excuse for a series of gardening metaphors.

What Shakespeare got wrong here, is that there were no apricot trees in England in the 14th century.  While it is unlikely that the playwright was particular about such anachronisms, we as readers are a bit richer for this one.  For not only were there no apricots in the garden of the Duke of York but there were no apricots in any gardens at least until the 1520s.  Even then it is an educated guess that the trees were first introduced into England through the gardens of Henry VIII.[1]  The first certain mention of the tree in the country is found in 1548, in William Turner’s The Names of Herbs.

Malus armeniaca is called in Greeke, Melea armeniace, in highe duche Land ein amarel baume, in the dioses of Colo kardumelker baume, in frëch Vng abricottier, and some englishe më cal the fruite au Abricok. Me thynke seinge that we haue very fewe of these trees as yet, it were better to cal it, an hasty Peche tree because it is lyke a pech and it is a great whyle rype before the pech trees, wherfore the fruite of thys tree is called malum precox. There are in Colö great plentie of hasty peche trees.[2]

The “we haue very fewe of these trees as yet” makes clear that the tree was still rare in 1548.


In fact, the apricot tree and its fruit would not become common until the reign of Charles I, when a new variation was brought back to England by the famous botanist John Tradescant (the Younger).  John Marston would mention the fruit in a play[3] early in the century but he was so smitten with the plays of Shakespeare, and borrowed so much from his master, that we do not have any reason to feel confident he’d ever actually seen the tree.  The first mention of the fruit in a major play seems to have been an infamous scene[4] from John Webster’s Duchess of Malfi, first published in 1616.  Even at that late date it was clearly associated with the gardens of the nobility.  It was a fruit with class distinctions.

The passage from Richard II is actually quite knowledgeable about the details of how 




[1] Cecil, Evvelyn, A History of Gardening in England, 97. “The greatest addition to the number of cultivated fruits was the apricot, which was certainly introduced before the middle of the sixteenth century, probably by Henry the Eighth's gardener Wolf about 1524.” 
[2] Britten, James. The Names of Herbs, by William Turner A.D. 1548, 52.
[3] Marston, John.  The Fawne (1606), I. ii.  “…pare thy beard, clense thy teeth, and eat apricocks…”  The apricots are intended to mark him out as a gallant.
[4] Webster, John.  The Duchess of Malfi (1616) II.i.all.


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  • Desperately Seeking Bridget (de Vere).  August 24, 2014.  "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,..."

Shakespeare's Apricocks (p. 2)

gardeners go about their craft.  It is not the only such passage among the plays.  Not only is he right about the proper care for the tree in the month of May (or early June, the month in which, history records, Bolingbroke captured King Richard), and that the fruit would be heaviest at that time, but he is well aware of the appearance of the tree and that it would have been considered an essential plant for the au courant nobleman’s garden at the time the play was written.  Throughout his plays, Shakespeare seems to have been quite conversant in the cherished new plants that were found only in the private gardens of the nobility.

Private botanical gardens[1] were the very expensive hobby of the Royalty of England, a tiny handful of noblemen and the experts who supplied their needs, until well into the 17th century.  After Queen Elizabeth’s botanical garden, (inherited from Henry VIII) at Nonesuch, William Cecil, Lord Burghley’s gardens at Cecil House on the Strand, and later at Burghley House in Stamford, would seem to have been without parallel.  Before the garden could be designed and installed at Burghley House — the work of 20 years under the guidance of the famous herbalist John Gerard — the gardens of the Carew family at their seat in Beddington may have been the finest privately held botanical gardens in the country.


Francis Carew is credited with introducing the orange tree to England.  It had to be before the following letter to him as Cecil’s sometime Paris agent in such matters:

When this messengar was redy to depart, my Lady Throkmorton gave me a lettre from Tho. Cecill, wherin he maketh mention that Mr. Caroo meaneth to send home certen orenge, potngranat, lymon, and myrt trees. I have alredy an orrenge tree; and if the price be not much, I pray you procure for me a lymon, a pomegranat, and a myrt tree ; and help that they may be sent to London, with Mr. Caroo's trees;…[2]

This order is almost certainly intended for the gardens at Cecil House on the Strand which Sir William had moved into, in a state of partial completion, in 1560.  His gardens there were also impressive, in time, but in later years Burghley House had not just one orange tree but a small orchard, each tree residing in a large tub, such that it could be carried to spend the winter inside of an early version of a greenhouse.  Presumably, his lemon trees made the trip as well.

As most Oxfordian’s know, the young Earl arrived at the house on the Strand on September 3, 1562, a year and a half after this shipment of trees.  He lived mostly at the 




[1] I use the term “botanical” loosely here, to describe gardens that regularly featured plants new to the country as part of their program.
[2] Cecil, William to Francis Carew, March 25, 1561, from Westminster.


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  • Shake-speare's Greek.  May 08, 2014.  "It is not at all clear from Jonson’s limited comments on Shakespeare, throughout his life, whether he was aware that the Bard may have actually translated a Greek text popular for many centuries."