“Shake-speare’s” Own Secret Drama
Discovery of Hidden Facts in the Private Life
of Edward de Vere, Proves Him Author of the
Bard’s Sonnets (Part 3)
Copyright 1942 by Charles Wisner Barrell
First published in The Shakespeare Fellowship News-Letter, April 1942.
In previous pages of this inquiry I have emphasized the belief of many alert students of the Shakespearean creative mystery that the Sonnets provide the one master-key to their author’s personality.
I have also pointed out the lamentable inability of orthodox Stratfordians to connect William Shakspere of Warwickshire in any actual documentation with the personalities and events that are described so vividly in these poems.
Even when we give whole-hearted assent to the consensus of “authoritative” opinion which identifies the handsome young nobleman in many of the Sonnets as Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton, the same paragon of knightly perfections to whom the poet dedicated his Venus and Adonis in 1593 and his Lucrece in 1594, we find no connecting links between Southampton and the citizen of Stratford-on-Avon.
This statement may appear amazing to thousands of casual admirers of the Bard who have accepted as biographical gospel the conjectural declarations of the professional pundits that the shadowy William and the Adonis of Southampton “must have been” bosom friends. Nevertheless, it is true.
Not one scintilla of contemporary documentation exists to show that William Shakspere of Stratford ever met Southampton. The late Mrs. Charlotte C. Stopes, one of the most indefatigable explorers of Elizabethan records, also wrote the life of the Third Earl of Southampton. Although she spent many years at the task, Mrs. Stopes was unable to find any historical warrant whatever for the assumption that the peer and the alleged “Swan of Avon” were personally acquainted. Towards the end of her career, this great student of the Shakespearean period admitted to Capt. B. M. Ward, author of The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, that her own faith in the Shakspere-Southampton legend had been decidedly shaken by this absolute lack of corroborative evidence. And there the case rests.
But we find an entirely different situation when we present the credentials of Lord Oxford, head of the Vere family, as the true William Shakespeare and author of those highly realistic poems addressed to the youthful peer of Southampton. Every element then assumes its proper proportion. Statements in the Sonnets that would be preposterous if written by a fortune-seeking young fellow from the provinces to a wealthy and enormously influential courtier who could make or break a dozen “parcel poets” in as many days, now become understandable. For Oxford was not only Southampton’s social equal, he was considerably his superior in courtly rank, his senior by some twenty-three years and an outstanding master of most of the arts that the younger man admired. In other words, the head of the great Vere family, representing seventeen generations of nobility, could speak with a full mouth out of a full heart to the Third Earl of Southampton, whose title dated only from the days of Henry VIII.
This is exactly the spirit that we find animating so many of the sonnets which the authorities say were composed for the guidance or delectation of young Henry Wriothesley. The pervading mood of these personal messages is serious. They are patently designed to influence the youth’s thinking and actions. Several are bitterly critical. The poet strips off his perfumed loves to guide his quill with the bare fist. And so while it is reasonable and understandable to figure Lord Oxford (“most excellent in the rare devices of poetry” as his contemporaries describe him) as the author of the verses, it is quite illogical to believe for one moment that the Stratford commoner, endeavoring to make his way in Elizabethan London with his pen, would dare adopt such a course with the egotistical, high-spirited and hot-tempered Southampton—a man whom history proves to have loved his own way before all others.
Moreover, while the Stratford-Southampton dossier is empty, the records connecting the Veres and young Wriothesley are intimate and explicit.
During a period of some two years, from the winter of 1589-90 to 1592, efforts were made to secure Southampton’s consent to a contract of marriage with the Lady Elizabeth Vere, eldest daughter of the poet Earl of Oxford.
We know this from a series of letters that passed between the little Lady Vere’s grandfather, Lord Burghley, and Southampton’s grandfather, Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague, corroborated by other documentation in the handwriting of Sir Thomas Stanhope and the Jesuit leader, Father Henry Garnet. Viscount Montague’s letters state that Southampton’s mother also heartily approved the match.
Born July 2, 1575, under circumstances that had brought about a long estrangement between her father and mother, Lady Elizabeth Vere was hardly fifteen years of age when the negotiations for her marriage with the boy Earl of Southampton were initiated. Southampton, on the other hand, had not reached his seventeenth birthday, as he had been born October 6, 1573. Child marriages were common in those days, for the coalition and maintenance of property rights, seems to have been the main consideration among the nobility. Only in rare cases were the emotional reactions of minors, one to another, considered as controlling factors in such “arranged” marriages among the high aristocracy.
In this particular case a wedding did not eventuate, though determined efforts were made to bring it about. In his letter dated 1594, Father Garnet claims that the Earl of Southampton had been forced to pay a fine of 5,000 pounds—presumably to Lord Burghley—for “refusing the Lady Vere.” While this statement cannot be taken literally, considering its source, for the Jesuits lost no opportunity to circulate gossip derogatory to the Lord Treasurer, it does prove that the attempts to bring about an alliance between the poetical Earl of Oxford’s eldest daughter and the same handsome peer who can be identified as the subject of so many of Shake-speare’s Sonnets, caused considerable comment during the early 1590s.
The first seventeen of these sonnets not only describe a young nobleman in terms that realistically match the youthful paintings and other contemporary word-pictures of the Third Earl of Southampton, but every one of them urges upon him the duty of marrying to insure that “eternity” for physical and mental excellencies which only self-reproduction can give. The whole spirit here is that of the intellectual veteran, addressing a youth with whom he seeks a permanent family connection:
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold
Against the stormy gusts of winter’s day
And barren rage of death’s eternal cold?
O, none but unthrifts: dear my love, you know
You had a father; let your son say so. (Sonnet 13)
The last line suggests that the young man’s father is dead, as was true in the case of Southampton. He had been left an orphan at the age of nine. Moreover, in tracing the Vere-Wriothesley lines of argument with which these immortal human documents abound, another set of facts must be kept in mind, to wit:
None of the surviving letters and documents relating to the wished-for marriage of Henry Wriothesley and Elizabeth Vere mentions in any way the young lady’s father, although he was her only surviving parent at this time and her legal representative whose consent must have been required for any matrimonial negotiations of a serious nature.
This has been taken to mean by unthinking readers that the Earl of Oxford, who cared more for poet than for politicians and who sacrificed property to support playwrights, much to the disgust of obtuse historians—took no interest whatever in his daughter’s welfare. But such was by no means the case, as can be amply proven by a whole mass of letters in the Cecil family collection at Hatfield House, dated three or four years later when Elizabeth Vere was engaged to marry William Stanley, Earl of Derby. From these, and others written by Lord Oxford during the early years of his daughter’s life with Derby, it is apparent that the poet Earl not on1y loved his eldest daughter dearly, but that he worried much over her welfare, forced Derby to show her more consideration than he had been wont, and on occasion left a sickbed to tend to her affairs. All of these matters are on record, though few of them have been published or even hinted at. Far from being the “bad father” that Oxford’s foolish enemies have pictured him, his own words, frequently delivered with the true Shakespearean ring, prove him to have been most sympathetic and understanding in the problems that beset his eldest daughter’s love affairs and matrimonial career. That he watched over her “tender years” with solicitude there can be no question. And that, lacking a suitable dowry for her, as he laments, he produced the magnificent spectacle of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to celebrate this “sweet little lady’s” wedding to William Stanley on June 26, 1594, 1 much excellent evidence testifies. But that is another story to be told in another place.
The fact that Oxford penned no surviving correspondence of the ordinary kind to promote his daughter’s alliance with the Adonis of Southampton in 1590 or thereabouts is of marked significance in this study of Shake-speare’s Sonnets. It would indicate that the first seventeen sonnets in the book are really the missing letters that Elizabeth Vere’s father addressed to Southampton as his intended son-in-law, urging the youth to
Make thee another self, for love of me.
In 1590, when the marriage negotiations were at their height, Southampton was seventeen years old, which gives the seventeen sonnets arguing matrimony additional point.
It is possible to date with considerable logic the composition of these marriage-promotion poems within the 1590-92 period. For, as Mrs. Stopes has pointed out, several of the most striking figures of speech that “Shake-speare” uses in urging the young aristocrat to marry and beget a son reappear in Venus and Adonis, published in 1593 with the dedication to Southampton. These repetitive exhortations are put in the mouth of the lascivious Venus, and Mrs. Stopes is certainly right in observing that the author of the Sonnets could hardly use them with any degree of sincerity or good taste after they had been given such wide publicity by the lustful queen of wantonness. Venus and Adonis is a satire on Southampton himself, a gorgeous commentary on his known refusal to follow the advice given him in the early Sonnets. There can be no other way to reconcile these parallel figures of speech.
In summing up this argument, let us repeat the conclusions of that super-conservative Stratfordian, Sir Sidney Lee himself:
“The opening sequence of 17 Sonnets, in which a youth of rank and wealth is admonished to marry and beget a son so that his ‘fair house’ may not fall into decay, can only have been addressed to a young peer like Southampton, who was as yet unmarried, had vast possessions, and was the sole male representative of his family.”
It should also be observed that Sonnet 2 in this opening sequence begins with these words:
When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held.
In this same year of 1590 when Southampton was being pressed to engage himself to Elizabeth Vere, the poetical Earl of Oxford was forty years of age.
Thus is the personal realism of the poems, long recognized by fellow poets such as Wordsworth, Shelley and others, maintained. Just as “Shake-speare” reiterates throughout the volume, it is a case of “mutual render, only me for thee.”
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast:
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d. (Sonnet 23)
Over and over again we have this emphasis upon the autobiographical nature of the poet’s words. This highly personal strain also makes the sonnets doubly cryptic as they are usually read—without any key to the real personalities described herein.
For instance, it is quite impossible to fit William of Stratford into the logical chronology which starts with the 1590 efforts to find a wife for Southampton. For one obvious reason, the simile of “forty winters” immediately loses all literary force.
William of Stratford was then but twenty-six. And none of his rashest proponents have even attempted seriously to claim that the young “horse groom” was then in position to give intimate personal advice to Henry of Southampton.
The Earl of Oxford, seeking a son-in-law for his favorite daughter, is the only logical candidate for this office. “Most excellent” of the Court poets, though fallen on evil times, he answers all requirements of the case. And. incidentally, Francis Meres’ (1598) comment on “Shakespeare’s sugred sonnets among his private friends” becomes crystal-clear in its implications.
We have spoken of the failure to find an understandable place in this Southampton-Vere chronology for the runaway husband of Anne Hathaway.
Other unsatisfactory labors envisage attempts to picture William Herbert, later Earl of Pembroke, as the young nobleman here addressed. For, while strange as it may seem, Herbert’s parents sought to marry him to the Earl of Oxford’s second daughter, Bridget Vere, in 1597, and a long letter has been found in Oxford’s own hand, approving the match, William Herbert simply does not measure up to the realistic descriptions of the “faire youth” of the early sonnets. Far from being an Adonis with incandescent eyes and long blonde locks that curled into “buds of marjorum” like those that made Southampton the outstanding male beauty of his day, Herbert is described as stout and swarthy. And although he developed into one of the great personalities of his age, of stronger character-fibre than Southampton, he was the reverse of beautiful. There is no record of anyone writing sonnets to celebrate the glory of his person.
All circumstances considered, there can, I think, be little question that Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, was the real-life original of the young nobleman in this highly personal drama. Many pages of additional evidence can be submitted to prove this beyond reasonable doubt.
But for the present, we must take up the identification of the other young man in the Sonnets, together with the lacing of his mother, that amazing and mysteriously enchanting “Dark Lady” whose personality has alternately fascinated and repelled the greatest critics of English literature, just as it exerted the same effects upon the poet Earl of Oxford, whose unmistakable hand appears in the composition of these great word-pictures from the long ago.
The dark lady who filled the same place in the life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, that the “Dark Lady of the Sonnets” occupied in the career of “Shake-speare” was known in real life as Anne Vavasor.
Born about 1560-62, she was a daughter of Henry Vavasor, Esq., of Copmanthorpe near the city of York, and his wife Margaret Knevett, daughter of Sir Henry Knevett of Buckenham Castle, Norfolk.
The possessor of great physical magnetism, a keen, mocking wit and pronounced literary affiliations, Anne Vavasor, as she appears in the records gathered from widely scattered contemporary sources, was perhaps the most remarkable of all the aristocratic courtesans of the Elizabethan Age.
The Earl of Oxford seems to have met this magnetic girl with the dusky hair and eyes and disdainful, falcon-like features some time during 1578 or 1579 when she was seventeen or eighteen years old, and was being introduced to Court life in London by her uncle, Thomas Knevett of the Queen’s Household, or her older cousin, Lord Henry Howard. The latter was also first cousin of Edward de Vere.
At this time Oxford was living apart from his wife, Anne Cecil, daughter of the Lord Treasurer Burghley. Much documentary evidence, brought to light by Captain Ward and others, indicates that it was Henry Howard who caused the break between the Earl and Countess of Oxford by carrying tales and making poisonous insinuations regarding Anne Cecil de Vere’s chastity. We also find him mentioned in letters that report meetings between Oxford and Anne Vavasor. In any event, Lord Henry Howard’s long career of crime, espionage and double-dealing-ending with his implication in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury—makes him the perfect Iago of his age. It is very likely that he also played the part of the far-seeing pander in 1578-79, hoping to wreck the Vere-Cecil alliance beyond all repair, by encouraging Oxford’s liaison with the country cousin from Yorkshire. He is known to have done just this sort of thing in the notorious Somerset-Howard-Overbury case.
By 1579-80, Anne Vavasor had secured the much-coveted billet of Gentlewoman of the Royal Bedchamber. Such positions at the Court of Gloriana usually meant marriage to a peer and “hie for high fortune” if the young woman made the most of her contacts and flattered the Queen assiduously enough. Anne Vavasor had not only great gifts along this line—as her later career proved—but her personal magnetism and keen brains seemed bound to insure her enviable position in life.
Yet all these fair prospects ended in sudden shipwreck. Anne found herself violently in love, carried away by the attentions of the nobleman famed for dancing, music and “the rare devices of poetry.”
Finally, the catastrophe broke like a thunderclap. We read this succinct account in a letter to the Earl of Huntingdon from Sir Francis Walsingham, head of the Elizabethan secret service, bearing date of March 23, 1581.
On Tuesday at night Anne Vavasor was brought to bed of a son in the maidens’ chamber. The E. of Oxeford is avowed to be the father who hath withdrawn himself with intent as it is thought to pass the seas. The ports are laid for him and therefore if he have any such determination it is not likely that he will escape. The gentle woman the selfsame night she was delivered was conveyed out of the house and the next day committed to the Tower. Others that have been found any ways party to the cause have also been committed. Her Majesty is greatly grieved with the accident, and therefore I hope there will be some order taken as the like inconvenience will be avoided.
Here is a pretty kettle of fish, indeed! All of the raw ingredients of Elizabethan drama—illicit love, betrayal, cruel vengeance by the powers that be, the cowardly disappearance of the man in the case who leaves the woman to face the music:
O, never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seem’d my flame to qualify.
As easy might I from myself depart
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie:
That is my home of love: if I have rang’d.
Like him that travels, I return again:
Just to the time, not with the time exchang’d,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe, though in my nature reign’d
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stain’d.
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good;
For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou, my rose: in it thou art my all. (Sonnet 109)
This sonnet seems to have been “Shake-speare’s” reaction to the situation. “Rose” or “Rosalind” can be clearly shown to have been Anne Vavasor’s nickname—being the last four letters of her surname, spelled backwards. 2 Vavasor frequently appears in the records as Vavesor, also as Vavysor, Vavisor and later as Vavasour.
Walsingham’s suggestion that the Earl of Oxford planned to flee the country to escape the consequences of his seduction of the Queen’s personal servant may or may not have had basis in fact. There is no record of Oxford having been arrested. But a few days later he is known to have been committed to the Tower on her Majesty’s order. Adultery in high places frequently resulted in condign punishment and equal disgrace for man and woman, under Elizabeth’s system.
Although the Earl was released from the Tower on June 8, 1581, the repercussions of this unhappy affair, with its public humiliation and implications of cowardice, pursued him for many a long day. He seems, in fact, to have suffered more in reputation than Anne Vavasor.
By the same token, we have here the essential groundwork for the plot of the Bard’s Measure for Measure, a problem play that has piqued the curiosity of all of its editors who have tried to reconcile it with the Stratford canon. Says Dr. Henry N. Hudson, who edited the edition that I studied in school:
“The strongly-marked peculiarities of the piece in language, cast of thought, and moral temper, have invested it with great psychological interest, and bred a special desire among critics to connect it in some way with the author’s mental history,—with some supposed crisis in his feelings and experience.”
Exactly so. But the story of Claudio, who is put in prison and in jeopardy of his life because—”He hath got his friend with child”—cannot be made to fit the Stratford requirements. It belongs right here, in the personal history of Edward de Vere.
Some may object: “But Oxford would never write so sordid a commentary, on his own experiences.” The answer is obvious. He never did—under his own name.
The son, born to Anne Vavasor and Edward de Vere that night in the early spring of 1581 in the “maiden’s chamber” at Greenwich Palace under such dramatic circumstances, lived to justify in full his own illegal entry upon the Elizabethan scene.
He was given the name of Edward Vere, undoubtedly for the express purpose of keeping him in the forefront of his father’s attention. Oxford had no son by Anne Cecil and Anne Vavasor may have hoped eventually to marry the Earl, for the estranged Countess of Oxford was in poor health at this time, as much documentation proves.
During the years 1580 to 1585, representing the conception and early infancy of this boy. Oxford sold no less than thirty-two of his estates to raise ready money. There can be no doubt that part of the proceeds went to the support of Anne Vavasor and young Edward Vere.
The boy had excellent blood in his veins—and not altogether from the Vere side. Anne Vavasor was descended from the Dukes of Norfolk and the Knevetts who played a leading part in the establishment of the Tudor dynasty, while the great Vavasor clan of Yorkshire was famous for its jurists, soldiers and beautiful women. Perhaps the outstanding Roman Catholic family of its day, the Vavasors had been given special permission by Henry VIII to retain their own parish chapel at the time of the dissolution of Roman church properties. Anne may have been a motivating factor when Oxford turned Roman Catholic during the period of their early association.
The fact that the 17th Earl of Oxford had a bastard son who bore “name of single one” with him has never been known to historians and genealogists of the Shakespearean period. This is my own discovery and represents much grim sleuthing among the records. Its implications are vital to a full understanding of the highly complex character of the poet peer, and also to a comprehension of those sonnets in which “Shake-speare” tells a beloved youth:
I may not evermore acknowledge thee.
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name.
* * * * *
Even for this let us divided live,
And our dear love lose name of single one.
That by this separation I may give
That due to thee which thou deservest alone.
This momentous decision of the poet’s not to appear publicly with his namesake was probably reached in 1593 when Oxford’s new Countess, Elizabeth Trentham, gave the peer a male heir, legally qualified to inherit the Earldom of Oxford. In the same year of 1593 the name “William Shakespeare” first appeared in English literature—on the dedicatory page of Venus and Adonis. Young Edward Vere was then in his thirteenth year. It thus becomes obvious that the playwriting nobleman took a pen-name to cover the works that were so essentially autobiographical in structure that they could not help but revive old scandals and cause pain to his growing children and to his new wife whose whole purpose in life seems to have been to reestablish the fallen glory of the Earldom of Oxford.
Oxford may have wished to marry Anne Vavasor after his first wife died in 1583. That is to say he may have considered taking up his life with her again, for legal marriage was by this time impossible. Anne had not only engaged in a whole series of liaisons of varying degrees of significance, she had gone through a marriage ceremony with one John Finche, identifiable as one of the captains employed in the Levantine trade. Finally, at about the same time that Anne Cecil de Vere passed away, Anne Vavasor found herself again enceinte, this time evidently by the veteran soldier and Queen’s Champion, Sir Henry Lee of Woodstock.
Throwing over Finche, her legal husband, and rejecting all possibilities of a final reconciliation with Oxford, she went to live with the wealthy and doting Lee who was Keeper of the Manor and Royal Forest at Woodstock. Her son by Sir Henry Lee—who was old enough to have been her father—was born in 1589. He was called Thomas Vavasor, but later in life took the name of Thomas Freeman. One of the most interesting and significant epigrams on Shakespeare that have come down to us from the early 17th century bears the name of Thomas Freeman. 3
That Anne took young Edward Vere with her to the Lee menage seems very probable. 4 Many men adored this woman, including the Earl of Leicester and Edmund Spenser, and her sons were no exception, as later events bear witness. There is every reason to believe, also, that Oxford retained a deep and abiding interest in Anne Vavasor and that he spent much time in her company, even after his 1591 marriage to Elizabeth Trentham. That he was insanely jealous of her and that he objected passionately to the arrangements that allowed his brilliant and charming namesake to live under the roof of his successful rival would be quite natural. One thing we do know very definitely. The entire situation here is realistically described in the Sonnets.
Ah, wherefore with infection should he live
And with his presence grace impiety
That sin by him advantage should achieve
And lace itself with his society?
Why should false painting imitate his cheek,
And steal dead seeing of his living hue?
Why should poor beauty indirectly seek
Roses of shadow, since his rose is true?
Why should he live, now Nature bankrupt is,
Besgar’d of blood to blush through lively veins.
For she hath no exchequer now but his,
And proud of many, lives upon his gains.
O, him she stores, to show what wealth she had
In days long since, before these last so bad. (Sonnet 67)
In succeeding chapters of this study we shall analyze others of the forty or more sonnets that are addressed to this bastard son, proclaiming his many excellencies although the poet laments:
I may not evermore acknowledge thee
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame.
For the time being let it suffice to say that Lord Oxford and his survivors so effectually concealed this interesting relationship that Edward Vere the younger has remained a mystery to British historians and genealogists up to this present writing.
In his fifteenth year, the boy was sent to the Continent and entered as a literary student at the University of Leyden. The discovery of this fact represents a little adventure in research which can be told later.
A year or two afterwards he appears as a soldier in the regiment of his father’s cousin, the great Sir Francis Vere. Tall, strong and vigorous, he developed into one of the outstanding military heroes in England’s Lowland campaigns against the Catholic powers.
By the year 1600, before he had reached the age of nineteen, Edward Vere became captain of his own company. Although there can be little question that his father’s influence helped him, young Vere was a great soldier in his own right, “the captain jewel of (Lord Oxford’s) carcanet.” He is mentioned in military dispatches as a master “at push of pike.” At the same time, he kept up his literary studies, translated the histories of Polybius from the Greek and was a friend of Ben Jonson. Excellent evidence exists (which will be considered elsewhere) that Edward Vere was in addition one of the noteworthy dramatists of the Jacobean period—one of those mystery playwrights whose real identity has never been made clear, beyond his close literary affinity to Shakespeare.
On April 15, 1601, this heroic son of the 17th Earl of Oxford was knighted at Newmarket by King James. Later he had charge of the English army in the Lowlands when his cousin, Sir Horatio Vere, was leading an expedition into the Rhine country.
Sir Edward Vere’s character and versatility is also witnessed by the fact that he was returned as a member of the British Parliament, representing Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, in 1623. Col. Josiah Wedgwood, historian of Parliament, speaks of him as one “whose identity is not absolutely clear.”
Upon his death at the siege of Bois-le-Duc in Flanders, August 13, 1629, all the leaders of the English army attended his funeral and his regiment was taken over by Robert Vere, 19th Earl of Oxford.
Many letters, by and about Sir Edward Vere have been preserved among the Sidney family papers and in the manuscripts of the Earl of Ancaster.
All told, the love and admiration which “Shakespeare” expressed for this splendid representative of young manhood seem to have been amply justified. The “crooked eclipses” which the father feared might obscure him never eventuated. In the world of action he added honor to the name of Vere, full measure, pressed down and running over. Oxford’s own dreams of military fame had been thwarted. It must have been one of the great joys of his latter years to see these lost dreams come true in the person of his “other self,” the living embodiment of the debonair and valorous Bastard in King John.
An interesting contemporary comment on this unusual man is to be found in a letter written in 1631 by the great John Hampden of Parliamentary fame to his friend, Sir John Eliot, while the latter was in prison for opposing the policies of Charles I. It seems that Sir John Eliot had proposed to send his younger son to the Lowlands to learn the art of war in the train of Lord Horatio Vere. In his reply to Eliot’s proposal, John Hampden says:
“. . . if Mr. Rich. Eliot will in the intermissions of action, add study to practice, and adorn that lively spirit with flowers of contemplation, he’ll raise our expectations of another Sr. Edw. Veere, that had this character; ‘all summer in the field, all winter in his study’; in whose fall fame makes this kingdom a great loser . . .”
Is it not possible that John Hampden knew that Sir Edward Vere was the son of the greatest writer of the Elizabethan period, and that he had carried on in his own person the classic traditions of the “courtier-soldier-scholar” which he had learned at first-hand?
Much remains to be written about Sir Edward Vere and his true place in the literary and military annals of his day.
Meanwhile, readers who have followed our biographical detective report thus far have a right to ask how we can be so sure that this man who bore the same combination of names as the 17th Earl of Oxford really was the son born to Anne Vavasor and the playwriting nobleman on March 23, 1581.
The evidence in this particular is explicit and unimpeachable. It consists of personal testimony given under oath before masters of chancery by Sir Edward Vere himself under date of August 24, 1612, at a time when Anne Vavasor was being sued by the heir of her late paramour, Sir Henry Lee, for the return of certain goods and chattels which the said heir claimed had been unlawfully withheld by Anne from the inventory of Sir Henry’s estate.
As a witness for the defense, Sir Edward Vere describes himself as “aged 32 years or thereabouts” and in the body of his testimony-which, incidentally, bears his signature—refers to Anne Vavasor as his mother.
In the Public Record Office this documentary evidence is catalogued under “C. 24/379 Town Depositions.”
As any son born to Anne Vavasor and Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, in March 1581, must of necessity have been “aged 32 years or thereabouts” on August 24, 1612, there can be no further question of Sir Edward Vere’s identity.
In succeeding chapters we shall study and date many of “Shake-speare’s” hitherto obscure sonnets that realistically match the combined chronology of the poet Earl of Oxford, Anne Vavasor and this long lost son.
The portrait of Sir Edward Vere, evidently painted at about the time he was knighted by King James, has never before been reproduced. It is owned by the Townshend family of Raynham, Norfolk, who very graciously allowed me to have it photographed for publication. [Editor: Good scan not yet available.] The Townshends are lineal descendants of the famous Lord Horatio Vere of Tilbury who was Sir Edward Vere’s commanding general for many years.
In his painting, which had been excellently preserved, at least up to two years ago, Sir Edward is shown to have been dark-eyed and black-haired. His resemblance to his mother is unmistakable, particularly in the wide-set eyes, the moulding of the brows and the sweep of the dark hair away from the forehead.
In the autobiographical Sonnets “Shake-speare” continually dwells upon the physical likeness that his “lovely boy” bears to the Dark Lady.
A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion:
An eve more bright than theirs, less false in rolling
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth. (Sonnet 20)
Authenticated portraits of Anne Vavasor which were in existence at the outbreak of the war show her to have had dark hair and eves, strikingly set off by a pale, damask-rose complexion. One of these is owned by Viscount Dillon, the present day representative of the family that inherited the estates of the Elizabethan Sir Henry Lee. The other, which is reproduced in these pages, [Editor: Good scan not yet available.] was also in the possession of Lord Dillon’s ancestors for about three hundred years. Just prior to the war it had been purchased by Mr. Francis Howard of London. A striking composition. dominated by the gorgeous Renaissance costume, it is from the brush of Marcus Gheeraerts the younger, the same Elizabethan master who painted the portrait of the 17th Earl of Oxford owned by the Duke of St. Albans.
That all of these portraits will be used some day to illustrate a new and completely annotated Vere edition of the Sonnets seems reasonable to believe.
Charles Wisner Barrell
1. This is the accurate date of the Stanley-Vere nuptials as given in Burke’s Peerage. Note that the marriage celebration included June 24th. Midsummer Eve, which is the setting for Shakespeare’s Dream.
2. Mrs. Eva Turner Clark was the first to observe that Anne Vavasor might prove to be the “Dark Lady”: see her study of Love’s Labour’s Lost (1933). Later, in The Man Who Was Shakespeare, Mrs. Clark shows that this same “northern lass” is the original of Spenser’s Rosalind in The Shepheardes Calender.
3. This is from Runne and a Great Caste by Thomas Freeman (1614) and begins:
Shakespeare, that nimble Mercury thy brain
Lulls many hundred Argus-eyed asleep.
4. Some time later Edward Vere gives testimony regarding his life in Sir Henry Lee’s household.