The Writings of Charles Wisner Barrell 5.4

“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 4)
Copyright 1942 by Charles Wisner Barrell
First published in The Shakespeare Fellowship News-Letter, June 1942.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6


Exploration of Edward de Vere’s private life now makes it possible to identify through contemporary documentation a group of individuals with whom the poet Earl shared highly dramatic emotional experiences.

Persons of exactly the same character, physical appearance and social station are minutely described in Shake-speare’s Sonnets. Moreover, the Bard pictures these persons as intimately associated with him in a series of circumstances identical with those that can be proven to have existed between the 17th Earl of Oxford, his dark-haired, dark-eyed mistress, Anne Vavasor, and their bastard son, later internationally admired as Sir Edward Vere, Lieutenant-Colonel of Lord Horatio Vere’s famous British regiment that played an heroic role in the long struggle for Dutch independence.

The presentation of these hitherto unknown facts throws new light upon the Sonnets, gives them their long-sought human background, and at the same time strengthens enormously all previously published evidence that the head of the great Vere family in Elizabethan times was the authentic “Shake-Speare.” —The Editors.


During generations past, considerable time, money and reading patience have been expended in trying to make the realistic human elements in Shake-speare’s Sonnets fit the baffling biographical data of William of Stratford. But these efforts have carried no conviction whatever. Not one single definite documentary fact has ever been turned up to prove that the Warwickshire native, in his own person, ever had any of the human contacts or actual experiences that provide the immortal warp and woof of these poems. As a matter of fact, in all essentials the Stratfordian biographical outline contradicts most significantly the generally admitted autobiographical elements that give the Sonnets such vital interest.

In discussing and endeavoring to interpret the poems from the orthodox angle, the situation long ago degenerated into a mere matter of Prof. So-and-So’s conjecture. Heavy thinking and involved writing have been substituted for actual facts.

Cut off as they have been from their real life background for more than three hundred years, and incidentally misread most scandalously by proponents of Sir Francis Bacon, whose ridiculously exaggerated claims have done much to bring serious study of the authorship mystery into disrepute, it is no wonder that the Sonnets have baffled so many readers, despite the “plain, truth-telling” characterizations with which they abound.

It was not until the years subsequent to 1920, when Mr. Looney introduced us to Edward de Vere as the authentic Bard, that the long-hidden, human groundwork and creative motives of the Sonnets could be brought to light with any degree of documented realism.

In 1930, Rev. Dr. Gerald H. Rendall, Hon. Canon of Chelmsford and former Headmaster of the Charter House School, published a scholarly work entitled Shakespeare Sonnets and Edward de Vere; followed in 1934 by another volume that should be read by every student of the Oxford authorship evidence, viz.: Personal Clues in Shakespeare Poems and Sonnets. In these works Dr. Rendall gives us many-sided proof of Edward de Vere’s responsibility for the Sonnets, as witnessed particularly by the deep Renaissance scholarship and cosmopolitan point of view which are known to have been characteristic of the literary Earl. Dr. Rendall did not attempt, however, to identify Anne Vavasor as the “Dark Lady,” nor when we wrote these well-rounded studies did he have any inkling of the fact that Vere of Oxford had a bastard son who bore “name of single one” with him.

As a matter of fact, no Oxfordian investigator can claim the honor of having been the first to place the dynamic Anne within the Shakespearean creative orbit. This was done as long ago as the year 1852 by no less an orthodox authority than the indefatigable James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips, author of the Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare. Halliwell (as he was then known) published for the first time an Elizabethan manuscript copy of Verses made by the earle of Oxforde and Mrs Ann Vavesor. They are included in his rare volume, Shakespeare’s Reliques, along with other poems known to the Bard and later drawn upon by him for situations and figures of speech in works issued under the name of “Shakespeare” or “Shakespeare.”

So it will be observed that Anne Vavasor enjoys the full blessing of orthodox authority as a personal entity in the Shakespearean creative background.

However, in all honesty, we must admit that Halliwell-Phillips, despite his monumental labors in behalf of the Stratford native, ended his career as a Shakespearean scholar in a far less “orthodox” mood than he had begun. After serving for a period as custodian and collator of ancient records at Stratford-on-Avon, he finally resigned in high dudgeon and in 1887 issued a book denouncing the general atmosphere of the place in such words as these:


Still, if he had but known it, Halliwell-Phillips had the key to the whole Shakespeare mystery in his hands when he found the ancient manuscript which appears to be the collaborative work of Edward de Vere and his dark-haired mistress. The rhymes were evidently composed prior to 1581, during the earlier days of their liaison. They read as follows:

Verses made by the earle of Oxforde
and Mrs Ann Vavesor

Sitting alone upon my thought in melancholy mood.
In sight of sea and at my back an ancient hoary wood,
I saw a fair young lady come, her secret fear to wail,
Clad all in color of a Nun and covered with a vail;
Yet (for the day was calm and clear) I might discern her face,
As one might see a damask rose hid under chrystal glass.
Three times with her soft hand full hard on her left side she knocks,
And sighed so sore as might have moved some pity in the rocks.
From sighs and shedding amber tears, into sweet song she broke.
When thus the Echo answered her to every word she spoke.

Ann Vavesor’s eccho.

O heavens, quoth she, who was ye first that bred in me this feavere? Vere.
Who was the first that gave ye wound whose scar I wear for evere? Vere.
What, tyrant, Cupid! to my harm usurps thy golden quivere? Vere.
What wight first caught this heart and can from bondage it deliver? Vere.
Yet who doth most adore this wight, oh hollow caves! tell true? You.
What nymph deserves his liking best, yet doth in sorrow rue? You.
What makes him not reward good will with some remorse or ruth? Youth.
What makes him show besides his birth such pride and such untruth? Youth.
May I his favor match with love; if he my love will try? Ave.
May I requite his birth with faith? then faithful will I die? Ave.

And I that knew this lady well
Said, Lord how great a miracle,
To her how eccho told the truth,
As true as Phoebus’ oracle.

These verses bear the unmistakable evidences of combined authorship, Oxford’s personality being apparent in the opening and closing movements. There is another manuscript version owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library, which not only credits Oxford as author in the heading, but which has the name “Vavaser” appended. In any event, “it seems certain that Anne had a hand in this commemoration of a highly mannered intrigue which was to end soon after in major catastrophe for both of the star-crossed lovers.”

Shakespearean echoes of this echo ballad have been pointed out many times. They appear in Juliet’s balcony speech when she says:

Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud;
Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies,
And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine,
With repetition of my Romeo’s name.

Again, in Venus and Adonis we have a direct and unmistakable paraphrase of the verses bearing the joint superscription of the Earl of Oxford and Anne Vavasor. When Adonis rejects the advances of the goddess, leaving her as one deserted in “some mistrustful wood.” Venus reacts in the same manner that Anne herself had reacted in the vicinity of “an ancient hoary wood”:

And now she beats her heart, whereat it groans.
That all the neighbor caves, as seeming troubled,
Make verbal repetition of her moans;
Passion on passion deeply is redoubled:
‘Ay me!’ she cries, and twenty times.
‘Woe, woe!’
And twenty echoes twenty times cry so.
V.&.A. 1. 829-34.

An Elizabethan scholar of unquestioned standing, Dr. Rendall says that the utilization of so much creative imagery from the then unpublished private verses of the Earl of Oxford and his mistress “constitute conclusive proof that the Venus and Adonis came from the hand of Edward de Vere.”

It naturally follows that the same hand wrote the Sonnets; also it is logical to believe that the woman who had been the poet’s inspiration and creative collaborator in the fullest sense of the phrase must figure prominently in these keenly autobiographical poems.

Study of Anne Vavasor’s career, personal character and painted portraits, in parallel with Oxford’s documentation and Shake-speare’s Sonnets, leads me to identify forty-one of the sonnets unhesitatingly as written to or about this “whitely wanton with the velvet brow.”

I will set these down in the same Arabic numerals that they bear in the original 1609 edition, as follows:

Nos. 38, 43, 57, 58, 61, 76, 83, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 98, 109, 112, 113, 114, 115, 127, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151 and 152.

As all authorities agree, the original manuscript or “fair copy” of the Sonnets came into the hands of Thomas Thorpe, the publisher, surreptitiously. The author, as Oxfordians know, was dead and all evidence indicates that no member of his family or other personal representative took any part in arranging or proof-reading Thorpe’s printed version.

Therefore, the numerals that the poems bear cannot be accepted as representing the chronological order in which they were written. In fact, it seems to me that Nos. 153 and 154, the two last sonnets in the book, were probably among the first to be composed by Edward de Vere in the 1570’s when he came back to England from Italy, bringing with him a touch of the Venetian ague which his letters from Venice tell us he had contracted there. 1

On the other hand, many of the sonnets that bear low numerals, such as Nos. 19 and 22, addressed to the “fair youth,” Edward Vere, bear every evidence of having been done late in Lord Oxford’s life.

Analyzation in detail of all personal elements apparent in the sonnets written to or about Anne Vavasor calls for specialized study and more space than we can give the necessary documentation at this time. Several of the poems are dominated entirely by sex motives. These have been annotated quite extensively by Havelock Ellis and other psychologists. Sonnet 151, beginning “Love is too young to know what conscience is” belongs to this group I take it to have been written by Oxford during the early period of his affair with Anne, perhaps during, 1578 or ’79.

On the other hand, Sonnet 152 was written many years later, after the birth of Edward Vere the younger, some time after Anne had married John Finche; in fact, very likely after this untamable “haggard hawk” had drifted down the wind to rest on the arm of old Sir Henry Lee at Woodstock in 1590.

We will reprint Sonnet 152 in full, not only to instance the stark passion which springs from the very bottom of a human heart hard hit with jealousy—giving the lie direct to those followers of Sir Sidney Lee who claim that these poems are mere “literary exercises”—but to bring out clearly the fact that both the writer and his promiscuous mistress are married, though not to each other. This was the situation with both Edward de Vere and Anne Vavasor during a considerable period of their intimacy.

In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn,
But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing;
In act thy bed-vow broke, and new faith torn,
In vowing new hate after new love bearing.
But why of two oaths’ breach do I accuse thee,
When I break twenty! I am perjured most;
For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,
And all my honest faith in thee is lost:
For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,
Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy;
And, to enlighten thee, gave eyes to blindness,
Or made them swear against the thing they see;
For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eve,
To swear against the truth so foul a lie!

Also in Sonnet 143, a masterpiece of recrimination, Oxford accuses Anne of hypocrisy, a characteristic she is known to have possessed, and again he brings out the fact that she has made adultery a fine art. Authenticated records of her career prove this beyond all shadow of doubt.

O, but with mine compare thou thine own state,
And thou shalt find it merits not reproving;
Or, if it do, not from those lips of thine,
That have profaned their scarlet ornaments
And seal’d false bonds of love as oft as mine,
Robbed others’ beds’ revenues of their rents.

The name Vavasor means literally “a chief of vassals.” “Shake-speare” very significantly plays directly upon this in two of his most outspoken sonnets addressed to the wayward “Dark Lady.”

That god forbid that made me first your slave,
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand the account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal, bound to stay your leisure.
Sonnet 58

But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee.
Who leaves unsway’d the likeness of a man,
Thy proud heart’s slave and vassal wretch to be.
Sonnet 141

There is another sonnet (No. 91) which undoubtedly dates from the early period of Oxford’s association with Anne Vavasor. This may very well be a commentary in remembrance of Anne’s verses in the Echo Ballad wherein she refers to her lovers “birth”‘ and “pride” which she will “requite . . . with faith.”

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force;
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill;
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humor hath its adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure;
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me.
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost.
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast:
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away and me most wretched make.

Here we have the nobleman speaking in the first person, present tense. I challenge anyone with ordinary knowledge of the meaning of the English language to put any other construction upon these words. If written by a commoner such as Willm Shakspere, who had been a butcher’s apprentice and a horse groom, as his biographers state, this sonnet would be the silliest example of “sour grapes” imaginable. But, as a matter of fact, it is a direct, clear statement, notable for its sincerity. When this was written, Oxford possessed every one of the enviable adjuncts of social prestige which “Shake-speare” enumerates: “birth,” “skill,” “body’s force.” (athletic prowess), “hawks and hounds,” while his reputation as a sartorial fop who introduced “new-fangled” fashions from the Continent was publicly satirized by Gabriel Harvey and other writers. Yet the poet scorns his material advantages:

All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me.
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost …

We may well ask: What have the professionally orthodox Shakespearean commentators been doing with their eyes and their sense of logic all these years?

Perhaps Gilbert K. Chesterton offers the best answer to this scholastic mystery in his Dream of Bottom the Weaver:

Once, when an honest weaver slept
And Puck passed by, a kindly traitor,
And on his shoulders placed the head
Of a Shakespearean commentator . . .

Documentation relating to the movements of Anne Vavasor after she had officially expiated her sin in giving birth to Edward Vere the younger in March, 1581, is not readily available. We know that Oxford, the infant’s father, was released from the Tower on June 8th of that year and can naturally assume that Anne was allowed to quit the grim confines of the historic prison at the same time. She evidently went back to her parents’ home in Copmanthorpe, Yorkshire, with her child.

Among the State Papers, Domestic, of Elizabeth’s reign, are a series of letters written by Charles Arundel, a brother of Sir Matthew Arundel of Wardour, when Arundel was in confinement during 1580-81 as a result of charges that Oxford had made against him. Lord Henry Howard and others as Catholic conspirators paid by Spain to stir up trouble in England. Arundel’s letters had been intercepted by secret service agents of the government.

In one of them he tells of a conversation he had had with Oxford in prison and of Oxford’s efforts to draw him out with these words:

“Charles, I have ever loved you, and as you have already given me your word to my mistress, so now I crave it myself.”

Arundel goes on to say that these conversations with Oxford took place “after long speeches in secret between him (Oxford) and my cousin Vavisor who was the means of our meeting.”

Another of these Arundel letters is addressed to an unnamed lady, and as it contains derogatory references to Oxford, while the writer condoles with the lady regarding her “disgrace and banishment,” we can readily believe that Arundel intended it for Anne Vavasor following her release from the Tower in 1581.

Charles Arundel was one of the most sinister traitors that the Elizabethan period produced. He received a substantial salary from the King of Spain for many years, was finally forced to flee England to save his neck, and died abroad, disgraced and unmourned of honest men. The fact that he was one of Oxford’s bitterest enemies is all to Oxford’s credit. The most regrettable feature of their relationship is that a long catalog of criminal charges that Arundel listed against Oxford in an effort to distract attention from his own sins, have been solemnly adopted by prominent but careless historians as a true evaluation of Oxford’s character. This is about as sensible as it would be to accept at face value a German-American Bund leader’s commentaries on the personality of Mr. J. Edgar Hoover.

Capt. B. M. Ward has identified Charles Arundel as one of the turncoat Elizabethans responsible for the writing and circulation of that scurrilous classic of anti-English propaganda, Leycester’s Commonwealth, which caused such a furor in 1584. The Earl of Leicester is described in this book as the real ruler of England, a monster of depravity whose leisure is entirely devoted to the seduction of the ladies of the Court:

Neither contented with this place of honor, he hath descended to seek pasture among the waiting Gentlewomen of her Majesties great Chamber, offering more for their allurement, than I think Lais did commonly take in Corinth, if three hundred pounds for a night will make up the sum: or if not yet will he make it up otherwise: having reported himself (so little shame he hath) that he offered to another of higher place, an hundreth pound lands by the year with as many Jewels as most Women under her Majesty used in England: which was no mean bait to one that used traffic in such merchandize: she being but the leavings of another man before him, whereof my Lord (Leicester) is nothing squeamish, for satisfying of his lust, but can be content (as they say) to gather up crumbs when he is hungry, even in the very Laundry itself or other place of baser quality.

In the margin of this 1584 publication, opposite the reference to “another of higher place” who has been offered “an hundreth pound lands by the year,” we find printed in type the name of “Anne Vaviser.”

Whether Anne had actually become a member of Leicester’s harem at this time we cannot be positive, for the authors of Leycester’s Commonwealth are not to be accepted as trustworthy historians. Nevertheless, the book had some basis of truth; otherwise officials of the day would not have taken such vigorous action to prevent its circulation. 2 In any event, many of the sonnet-s addressed to the “Dark Lady” mention her intrigues with other men and the stratagems she employs to make material advantage of her charms.

Why should my heart think that a several plot 3
Which my heart knows the wide world’s common place?
But we are getting ahead of our narrative.

Although Anne evidently returned to her Yorkshire home in 1581, she was not forgotten. Her friends at Court championed her cause in true cloak and sword fashion. Oxford was obliged to fight a duel.

The Earl had been confined to his house on the Queen’s order after leaving the Tower and debarred from Court circles for two years. But on March 3, 1582 we learn from the diary of the Rev. Richard Madox:

“My lord of Oxford fought with Master Knyvet about the quarrel of Bessie Bavisar….”

Despite the garbled name, the woman in the case was Anne Vavasor, “Master Knyvet” being her uncle, Mr. Thomas Knevett of the Privy Chamber.

In a letter written by Nicholas Faunt to Anthony Bacon a day or two later, we are also told:

“In England of late there hath been a fray between my lord of Oxford and Mr. Thomas Knevet of the privy chamber, who were both hurt, but my lord of Oxford more dangerously. You know Mr. Knevet is not meanly beloved in court: and therefore he is not like to speed ill, whatsoever the quarrel be.”

Incidentally, it is worthy of note that Mr. Knevett survived to become one of England’s unique heroes. As Sir Thomas Knevett, he led the party that captured Guy Fawkes red-handed amid the powder kegs in the cellar of The House of Parliament. In recognition of this feat, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Knevett of Escrick.

When great men meet on the field of action, the sparks are apt to fly. This was the case on March 3, 1582. Oxford was so badly wounded that he seems to have been physically handicapped for the rest of his life. In letters written to his father-in-law, Lord Burghley, and to his brother-in-law, Sir Robert Cecil, a few years later, he speaks of “mine infirmity” which prevents him from getting about quickly on his feet; again he says: “I am sorry that I have not an able body which might have served to attend on Her Majesty in the place where she is. . . .”

“Shake-speare” mentions the same kind of physical disability several times. In Sonnet 89 he pleads with his mistress:

Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault,
And I will comment upon that offence:
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt.
Against thy reasons making no defence.

One of the finest tributes that the poet pays to his bastard son is in Sonnet 37, where the contrast between the boy’s physical perfection and the father’s lameness is used with telling effect.

As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by fortune’s dearest spite.
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth:
For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,
Or any of these all, or all, or more,
Entitled in thy parts do crownéd sit,
I make my love engrafted to this store:
So then, I am not lame, poor, nor despised.
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give
That I in thy abundance am sufficed
And by a part of all thy glory live.
Look, what is best, that best I wish in thee:
This wish I have; then ten times happy me!

Two of the most magnificent sonnets in the English language are those numbered 73 and 74, both written late in Lord Oxford’s life, and both addressed to the son that he loves more dearly as he feels his time draw nigh. The second of these contains what I take to be a direct reference to the permanent injury that the poet-peer had received at the hands of Thomas Knevett in 1582:

When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee:
The earth can have but earth which is his due.
My spirit is thine, the better part of me:
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead;
Me coward conquest of a wretch’s knife.
Too base of thee to be rememberéd.

The Oxford-Knevett duel developed later in 1582 into a full-blown feud, Anne Vavasor’s Catholic relatives representing the one “house” and Oxford’s Protestant relatives and retainers the other. During a period of several months, battles royal with sword and dagger were fought in the highways and byways of London.

They resulted in the killing and wounding of several men, in addition to Oxford and Knevett, the principals. Finally the Queen herself had to step in and put a stop to the senseless butchery which had grown out of Edward de Vere’s ill-starred love affair with Anne Vavasor.

Does this footnote to Elizabethan history awaken a familiar echo in the memory of any lover of the Shakespearean drama?

At least it so affected the Elizabethan scholar. Albert Feuillerat in 1909 when he wrote his finely documented study of John Lyly (the poet Earl of Oxford’s secretary and stage manager). Referring to the private war of 1582 between Oxford’s retainers and Anne Vavasor’s relatives, Feuillerat remarks:

“The streets of London were filled with the quarrelling clamors of these new Montagues and Capulets.”

As Oxfordian research brings to light the hundreds of parallel incidents, personal characterizations and clear-cut echoes in literary imagery which connect Edward de Vere and his circle of intimate associates with the creative structure of the Shakespearean works, these circumstances should be borne in mind:

1. Such parallels have always received foremost consideration by critics and biographers of the world’s greatest creative artists. To prove this, read any good life of Edmund Spenser, Oliver Goldsmith, Lord Byron. Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Count Tolstoy of Russia, etc., etc. Great art usually stems from the artist’s own experience. The denial of this truism constitutes the greatest weakness of all “orthodox” Stratfordian biographers and convicts them of fundamental lack of logic and common sense.

2. If a single one of the documentary parallels which illuminate the case for Lord Oxford as “Shake -speare” had ever been traced home to Willm Shakspere of Stratford there would never have been any such thing as an “authorship mystery.”

3. The multitudinous parallels between Oxford’s career and personal documentation and the Shakespearean plays and poems could be set down merely as interesting “coincidences” but for one final significant fact:

Oxford is specifically referred to many times by his contemporaries as the “first” or “most excellent” of all the Elizabethan poets and comedy writers, but is also characterized as one “whose doings” cannot “be found out and made public with the rest.”

4. The inevitable conclusion must be that Oxford supplies the long-sought human entity with all the qualifications of natural genius, taste, education, training, association and contemporary reputation as poet and playwright to account for the masterly Shakespearean works. These cannot be attributed to the Stratford business man on the same realistic grounds of general fitness, training and first-hand corroborative testimony of known associates.

Charles Wisner Barrell

Part 5


1. In sonnets 153 and 154, “Shake-speare,” “a sad distemper’d guest,” visits a hot bathing spring located, like classic Hippocrene, in a cold mountain valley,” where he seeks “a healthful remedy for men diseased,” etc. Commentators innumerable have stated that the poet is describing an episode at Bath, though the geographical characteristics mentioned do not match those of Bath. I would suggest, instead, that Oxford, the real author, had in mind Buxton Springs, in the High Peak country of Derbyshire, where the hot and cold thermal baths were much in vogue with “distemper’d” courtiers of Elizabethan days. Many of Oxford’s known associates, including Lord Burghley and the Earls of Shrewsbury, Warwick, Leicester and Essex all took the cure at Buxton. One of the favorite medicinal springs in Buxton at that period was “St. Anne’s Well.”

2. The book was ordered to be suppressed by letters from the Privy Council, in which it was declared that the charges against the Earl were to the Queen’s certain knowledge untrue; nevertheless they produced a very strong impression, and were believed in by some who had no sympathy with Jesuits long after Leicester’s death. Ency. Brit.

3. “A several plot,” an enclosed field.

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