Chapter 7

“William Shakes-speare”
Man of the Renaissance
by Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn

Chapter Seven


A SALIENT PHASE of the Italian Renaissance was reflected in Il Cortegiano (The Courtier) by Castiglione, which was one of the most significant books of the first half of the century. Oxford was delighted when he heard that his former Cambridge tutor, Bartholomew Clerke, was engaged in translating into Latin this treatise upon the attributes of the ideal courtier. An English translation had been made in 1561 by Sir Thomas Hoby, a brother-in-law of Lady Burghley.

Castiglione, a friend and contemporary of Raphael and of the Platonist Cardinal Bembo, was an exponent of the humanistic side of the Renaissance, which retained the finest medieval traditions of chivalry. This was precisely what Lord Oxford stood for, to the extent that he may be said to have modelled himself upon the type of the perfect courtier as delineated by Castiglione. The other, the political aspect, exemplified by Machiavelli, which discarded the concept of honor, advocating expediency, fraud, and force in government, had no appeal for him at all. It was this theory which guided Burghley’s life. And their antipodal attitudes constituted the great schism between the two men. A curious fact is that the aesthetic phase of the new enlightenment, which embraced chivalry and honor, took little account of religious dogmas or the issues of the Reformation; and Oxford himself found no interest in these matters, while Burghley became the leader of the Protestant movement in England and was a confirmed foe of the theatre and the arts.

Baldassare Castiglione, a native of Urbino, had been an habitué of the court where Elisabetta, widow of Duke Guidobaldi, had held famous literary evenings. When the rapacious relatives of the Medici Pope seized the principality, Elisabetta and her train fled to the country, Castiglione becoming an exile in Spain. Here he wrote Il Cortegiano, re-creating the elegant manners and brilliant conversation of Elisabetta’s salon and thus, in a way, dramatizing the personages who had made up that cultivated milieu. His work had had an electric effect upon the susceptible romantic mind of the young English Earl. Not only did he respond with ardor to the courtly precepts embodied in the book, he adopted and developed the method Castiglione had taken from earlier writers, dramatizing the personages of Elizabeth Tudor’s court and those of foreign princes as well, to the degree that his plays presently became “the abstracts and brief chronicles of the time.” (1) Hamlet himself was an exemplar of the perfect courtier.

In The Book of the Courtyer (1901), the author, Miss M. A. Scott, declared that Benedick and Beatrice were suggested by the Lord Gaspari Pallavicino and Lady Emilia of Castiglione; while we believe that Lorenzo’s beautiful speech about music in The Merchant of Venice may well have been inspired by Count Lewis’s discourse in “praise of Musicke” in The Courtier: “how it hath bene the opinion of most wise Philosophies that the world is made of musick and the heavens in their moving make a melody, and our soul framed after the very same sort….” Of course the scholarly young Earl would have known that this was Plato’s idea too, derived from Pythagoras.

Having already read Castiglione’s work, no doubt in Italian as well as in the English version, Lord Oxford welcomed Clerke’s translation into a classic Latin, and he himself wrote, also in Latin, a preface to the book, which the pedant Gabriel Harvey was later to refer to as a “courtly epistle more polished even than the writings of Castiglione himself.” This Latin preface, written before he was twenty-two years of age, has been called “his first serious incursion into literature.” It is such a graceful, courtly and eloquent document that we are constrained to quote it in extenso:

Edward Vere, Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England, Viscount Bulbeck and Baron Scales and Badlesmere to the Reader—Greeting.

A frequent and earnest consideration of the translation of Castiglione’s Italian work, which has now for a long time been undertaken and finally carried out by my friend Clerke, has caused me to waver between two opinions: debating in my mind whether I should preface it by some writing and letter of my own, or whether I should do no more than study it with a mind full of gratitude. The first course seemed to demand greater skill and art than I can lay claim to, the second to be a work of no less good will and application. To do both, however, seemed to combine a task of delightful industry with an indication of special good-will.

I have therefore undertaken the work, and I do so the more willingly, in order that I may lay a laurel wreath of my own on the translation in which I have studied this book, and also to ensure that neither my good-will (which is very great) should remain unexpressed, nor that my skill (which is small) should seem to fear to face the light and the eyes of men.

It is no more than its due that praises of every kind should be rendered to this work descriptive of a Courtier. It is indeed in every way right and one may say almost inevitable that with the highest and greatest praises I should address both the author and translator, and even more the great patroness of so great a work, whose name alone on the title-page gives it a right majestic and honourable introduction.

For what more difficult, more noble, or more magnificent task has anyone ever undertaken than our author Castiglione, who has drawn for us the figure and model of a courtier, a work to which nothing can be added, in which there is no redundant word, a portrait which we shall recognize as that of the highest and most perfect type of man. And so, although nature herself has made nothing perfect in every detail, yet the manners of men exceed in dignity that with which nature has endowed them; and he who surpasses others here has surpassed himself, and has even outdone nature which by no one has ever been surpassed. Nay more, however elaborate the ceremonial, whatever the magnificence of the Court, the splendour of the Courtiers, and the multitude of spectators, he has been able to lay down principles for the guidance of the very Monarch himself.

Again, Castiglione has vividly depicted more and even greater things than these. For who has spoken of Princes with greater gravity? Who has discoursed of illustrious women with a more ample dignity? No one has written of military affairs more eloquently, more aptly about horseracing, and more clearly and admirably about encounters under arms on the field of battle. I will say nothing of the fitness and the excellence with which he has depicted the beauty of chivalry in the noblest persons. Nor will I refer to his delineations in the case of those persons who cannot be Courtiers, when he alludes to some notable defect, or to some ridiculous character, or to some deformity of appearance. Whatever is heard in the mouths of men in casual talk and in society, whether apt and candid, or villainous and shameful, that he has set down in so natural a manner that it seems to be acted before our very eyes.

Again, to the credit of the translator of so great a work, a writer too who is no mean orator, must be added a new glory of language. For although Latin has come down to us from the ancient city of Rome, a city in which the study of eloquence flourished exceedingly, it has now given – back its features for use in modern Courts as a polished language of excellent temper, fitted out with royal pomp, and possessing admirable dignity. All this my good friend Clerke has done, combining exceptional genius with wonderful eloquence. For he has resuscitated that dormant quality of fluent discourse. He has recalled those ornaments and lights which he had laid aside, for use in connexion with subjects most worthy of them. For this reason he deserves all the more honour, because that to great subjects—and they are indeed great—he has applied the greatest light and ornaments.

For who is clearer in his use of words? Or richer in the dignity of his sentences? Or who can conform to the variety of circumstances with greater art? If weighty matters are under consideration, he unfolds his theme in a solemn and majestic rhythm; if the subject is familiar and facetious, he makes use of words that are witty and amusing. When therefore he writes with precise and well-chosen words, with skilfully constructed and crystal-clear sentences, and with every art of dignified rhetoric, it cannot be but that some noble quality should be felt to proceed from his work. To me indeed it seems, when I read this courtly Latin, that I am listening to Crassus, Antonius, and Hortensius, discoursing on this very theme.

And great as all these qualities are, our translator has wisely added one single surpassing title of distinction to recommend his work. For indeed what more effective action could he have taken to make his work fruitful of good results than to dedicate his Courtier to our most illustrious and noble Queen, in whom all courtly qualities are personified, together with those diviner and truly celestial virtues? For there is no pen so skilful or powerful, no kind of speech so clear, that is not left behind by her own surpassing virtue. It was therefore an excellent display of wisdom on the part of our translator to seek out as a patroness of his work one who was of surpassing virtue, of wisest mind, of soundest religion, and cultivated in the highest degree in learning and in literary studies.

Lastly, if the noblest attributes of the wisest Princes, the safest protection of a flourishing commonwealth, the greatest qualities of the best citizens, by her own merit, and in the opinion of all, continually encompass her around; surely to obtain the protection of that authority, to strengthen it with gifts, and to mark it with the superscription of her name, is a work which, while worthy of all Monarchs, is most worthy of our Queen, to whom alone is due all the praise of all the Muses and all the glory of literature.

Given at the Royal Court on the 5th of January 1571. (2)

We have italicized several phrases, in order to pose the following points: (1) “nature herself has made nothing perfect,” etc., and “some notable defect” are reflected in Hamlet’s speech to Horatio about the “mole in nature … the stamp of one defect”—I.4.24 et seq.; (2) “in the mouths of men” is identical with the concluding phrase of Sonnet 38; (3) “set down in so natural a manner that … it seems to be acted before our very eyes” is a statement which suggests to us what it may have suggested to Lord Oxford himself: the future dramatic work which was to be based in part upon Castiglione’s method and which we know has “added a new glory to [the English] language,” making of it, as he was to do more than any other man, “a polished language of excellent temper.” (3)

The young idealist who wrote this beautiful Latin prose did not perhaps suspect that he himself was to surpass Castiglione before many years had gone by, writing as forcefully and engagingly in English as he was now able to do in Latin, because through his own genius the English language would be made richer and more flexible, would be given “majesty and light.” He grasped these bright sparks emanating from Italy’s Renaissance with a truly Jovian exuberance and power, and he more than any other man may be said to have generated and directed the new culture, the flowering of the human spirit, in England.

*         *         *In August 1572, the Queen made a progress to Warwick in the “borough of Warwick,” spending several days at Kenilworth Castle as guest of the Earl of Leicester. In the procession arriving at Warwick, at about three o’clock in the afternoon, were:

Her Majesty in the coach, accompanied with the Lady of Warwick in the same coach … the Lord Burghley, lately made Lord Treasurer of England, the Earl of Sussex, lately made Lord Chamberlain to Her Majesty, the Lord Howard of Effingham, lately made Lord Privy Seal, the Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England, the Earl of Rutland, the Earl of Huntingdon, lately made Lord President of the : North, the Earl of Warwick, the Earl of Leicester, Master of the Horse, and many other lords, bishops, and ladies….(4)

After the Recorder had delivered a speech about the history of Warwick and recited Latin verses composed by Mr. Griffyn, the Queen beckoned him to her side.

“Come hither, little recorder,” she said; “it was told me that you would be afraid to look upon me or speak boldly, but you were not so afraid of me as I was of you.”

In a play, or masque, by Edward de Vere, which was first produced as A Pastorall of Phyllida and Choryn, and later elaborated to make a full-length drama, the following lines occur:

Where I have come, great clerks have purposed
To greet me with premeditated welcomes;
Where I have seen them shiver and look pale,
Make periods in the midst of sentences,
Throttle their practic’d accent in their fears,
And, in conclusion, dumbly have broke off,
Not paying me welcome. Trust me, sweet,
Out of this silence yet I pick’d a welcome;
And in the modesty of fearful duty
I read as much as from the rattling tongue
Of saucy and audacious eloquence. (M. N. D.: V.l.93-l03.)

The Earl had accompanied the Queen on many progresses, and in some cases no doubt the Recorder was timid instead of self-possessed. He himself was Elizabeth’s recorder par excellence; it charmed and flattered her to have this poet depict her in gracious and stately guise which would seem to have been altogether true of her at Warwick.

… the Bailiff, Recorder, and principal burgesses … rode two and two together before Her Majesty … to the Castle gate, where [they] … stayed … making a lane…. Her Majesty passing through and viewing them well, gave them thanks, saying withal: “It is a well-favoured and a comely company.”

On the Queen’s return to Warwick Castle after the visit to Kenilworth,

it pleased her to have the country people resorting to see her dance in the Court of the Castle … which thing, as it pleased well the country people, so it seemed Her Majesty was much delighted, and made very merry.

At Warwick an elaborate entertainment was arranged in the form of a sham battle, for which two forts were especially constructed. The contesting armies, one led by the Earl of Oxford, the other by the Earl of Warwick, fought with mortar-pieces, calivers, and arquebusses.

… the wild fire falling into the river Avon would for a time lie still, and then again rise and fly abroad, casting forth many flashes and flames, whereat the Queen’s Majesty took great pleasure….

A farmhouse at the end of the bridge was accidentally set on fire while the farmer and his wife were asleep. With difficulty they were rescued by the Earl of Oxford and Fulke Greville, who had fought on the opposing side in the battle—as, strangely enough, he was afterward to be ranged against Oxford in more realistic affairs. The farmer was reimbursed by the Queen for the damage done his house.

It was ten months afterward that the birth of Leicester’s illegitimate son occurred, the mother being Douglas Lady Sheffield, recently widowed.

Elizabeth’s infatuation for the Earl of Oxford was at its most ardent at this time. She had visited him at Havering of the Bowre in July, and certain persons had begun to grow anxious. It was in October of this year that Oxford wrote Burghley, hoping for the alleviation of “your heavy grace towards me.” Apparently she still “wooed him.” Nichols records that “in the latter end of May [1574] the Queen passed six days in retirement at Havering.” (5)

Probably no one was more upset by the Queen’s amorous attentions to her young favorite than Sir Christopher Hatton. Ten years older than the Earl, Hatton had become one of the Queen’s Gentlemen Pensioners in 1564, after she had been attracted to his “handsome figure and graceful bearing.” Her Majesty’s half-brother, Sir John Perrot, remarked that he had “danced his way into the Queen’s favour in a galliard.” And he was sufficiently ambitious and astute to remain in it, no matter at whose expense. He was tireless in flattery and wrote Elizabeth numerous love-letters of the most fawning type. He was the one whose pretended love-story, “The Adventures of Master F. I.,” Oxford had mischievously published in 1573 over the signature, or posy, Si fortunatus infoelix, which, to save Hatton embarrassment, Gascoigne had subsequently claimed as his own version of “one of Bartello’s riding tales.” (The qualifying Si in the posy injects the note of doubt. It is not Hatton’s posy; the suggestion is, If it were—)

Habitually affectionate toward Hatton, Elizabeth called him her Sheep. Others called him a “frippery gentleman,” and later “the dancing Chancellor.” In 1571 he had become a member of Parliament and the following year was appointed Captain of the Bodyguard. But although he was doing extremely well, he was disturbed by the Queen’s partiality for the dashing young Earl of Oxford, so much so that he appealed to his friend Dyer, in 1572, for advice as to how to proceed.

Dyer’s reply, Machiavellian in craft, did not beat about the bush:

First of all [he wrote], you must consider with whom you have to deal, and, what we be towards her; who though she do descend very much in her sex as a woman, yet we may not forget her place, and the nature of it as our Sovereign.

After much weighing of special considerations, the letter continues:

But the best and soundest way in my opinion is to put on another mind; to use your suits toward Her Majesty in words, behaviour, and deeds; to acknowledge your duty, declaring your reverence which in heart you bear, and never seem to condemn her frailties, but rather joyfully to commend such things as should be in her, as though they were indeed; hating my Lord Ctm (6) in the Queen’s understanding for affection’s sake, and blaming him openly for seeking the Queen’s favour… . Marry, thus much would I advise you to remember, that you use no words of disgrace or reproach towards him to any; that he, being the less provoked, may sleep, thinking all safe, while you do awake and attend to your advantages.

Hatton seems to have been mindful of this advice for the remainder of his life.

Some time afterward, while taking the cure at the “Spaw,” he wrote Elizabeth in reference to a gift he had received from her:

God bless you for ever; the branch of the sweetest bush I will wear and bear to my life’s end: God witness I feign not. It is a gracious favour most dear and welcome unto me: reserve it to the Sheep, he hath no tooth to bite, where the Boar’s tusk may both raze and tear.

The Boar, the gay young Earl, who saw and heard everything that went on at court, was one day to have prime sport with this fatuous appeal.

In September 1573, Lord Oxford began making financial arrangements for an extended trip abroad: he had long felt an overweening desire for travel and was becoming impatient. There is a memorandum in the Hatfield MSS written in Cecil’s hand, dated July 10, 1570, implying that the Earl had already made a trip to Italy:

Whoever saith that I did stay my Lord of Oxford’s money here so as he had no money in Italy by the space of six months they say so untruly.

But there is no other record of such a journey, and it must be that the entry is misdated. In any event, the same accusation could have been made, and, indeed, was made, respecting his sojourn abroad in 1575-6.

His failure to obtain a commission for military service was bitter to him. Elizabeth liked to keep her intellectual courtiers near her, as she was later to tell Blount when he sued to go abroad. In 1569 she had said to Oxford, upon his beseeching her for permission to join in a revolution against the King of France:

I cannot wish that a man of such note among my people should find himself on the side of one who is fighting against his King. (7)

However, if he could not procure a military commission, Oxford had his heart set on travel at least; he was determined not to fritter away his youth in the elaborate and tedious routine of court-life.

He did not, as it happened, get leave to go that year but accompanied the Queen on a visit to the Archbishop of Canterbury in March 1574.

Toward the end of June, Gilbert Talbot wrote his mother, Lady Shrewsbury:

The young Earl of Oxford, of that ancient and Very family of the Veres, had a cause or suit, that now came before the Queen; which she did not answer so favorably as was expected, checking him, it seems, for his unthriftiness. And hereupon his behaviours before her gave her some offence. (8)

Then, suddenly, Oxford ran away. He left England in the company of his friend, the young Lord Seymour, without permission and secretly, arousing great consternation at court.

The first news of his whereabouts came in a letter received three weeks after his departure from Henry Killigrew, Ambassador at Edinburgh, written to Walsingham, dated July 18th:

My Lord of Oxford and Lord Seymour are fled out of England, and passed by Bruges to Brussels.

This was a daring act even for the “madcap Earl.” Immediately it began to be bruited about that he had gone to join the Catholic enemies of the Queen, but this rumor was based solely upon the fact that the Earl of Westmoreland, who had been attainted after the rebellion in 1569, was an exile in Brussels, and the suspicion that any Englishman who left the country secretly was a Catholic sympathizer hostile to the Queen. A man named Woodshaw wrote Burghley sometime after the escapade was concluded:

There was great triumph among the northern rebels … when they heard of the Earl of Oxford’s coming over; it was said that he was flying, and that the Earl of Southampton had fled to Spain. In a council held at Louvain, it was concluded that the Earl of Westmoreland should ride to Bruges to welcome him, and persuade him not to return; but the Earls did not meet. It were a great pity such a valiant young gentleman should communicate with such detestable men.

But he did not communicate with them. A letter, written presumably by Walsingham after the affair was cleared up, stated that “Her Majesty’s rebels in the Low Countries” had “sought conference with him, a thing he utterly refused.”

These men had not been in the back of Oxford’s head when he so impetuously took his leave. Does it not seem curious that the Second Earl of Southampton should also have fled, just as inexplicably and just as summarily? (This question will be examined in good time.)

The Queen was outraged by her Turk’s French leave. Burghley bustled round, striving to fathom, striving to mitigate, the rash behavior of his son-in-law. He wrote Sussex, who had been doing all he could in his young friend’s behalf:

I must heartily thank your Lordship for your advertisement of my Lord of Oxford’s cause, wherein I am sorry that Her Majesty maketh such haste…. My Lord, howsoever my Lord of Oxford be for his own part [in] matters of thrift inconsiderate, I dare avow him to be resolute in dutifulness to the Queen and his country.

Although even the astute Lord Treasurer seems not to have suspected that this may have been a personal matter between Oxford and the Queen herself, he did rightly estimate the young Earl’s integrity. Before the end of July Elizabeth had dispatched his friend, Thomas Bedingfield, to bring him home, and all went smoothly. He presently wrote a sonnet to her in private extenuation.

In order to make his peace and ask forgiveness, on his arrival in England, Oxford started out with characteristic impulsiveness in pursuit of the Queen, who was by then on a progress to the West country; but he must have been persuaded to curb his haste, for several days later he met his wife and father-in-law in London, and repaired with them to Theobalds to await Her Majesty’s return. Burghley appealed to Sir Francis Walsingham for help in the matter of a royal pardon and received the following reply:

I find Her Majesty graciously inclined towards the Earl of Oxford, whose peace I think will be both easily and speedily made, for that Her Majesty doth conceive that his evidence in his return hath [countered?] the contempt of his departure; and the rather than avow his honourable and-dutiful carriage of himself towards the rebels … an argument of his approved loyalty, which, as appears tonight, shall serve. (9)

“As appears tonight.” Elizabeth’s ministers knew from experience their Royal Mistress’s vacillating ways. Lord Burghley wrote again to Secretary Walsingham:

Sir, Yesternight your letters came to Master Benigfeld [sic] and me signifying Her Majesty’s pleasure that my Lord of Oxford should come to Gloucester now at Her Majesty’s being there. Whereof he being advertised by us was very ready to take the journey, showing in himself a mixture of contrary affections, although both reasonable and commendable… . Hereupon he and Master Benigfeld departed this afternoon to London, where the Earl, as I perceive, will spend only two days or less to make him some apparel meet for the Court, although I would have had him forbear that new charge, considering his former apparel is very sufficient, and he not provided to increase a new charge.

I must be bold by this letter to request you in my name most humbly to beseech Her Majesty that she will regard his loyalty and not his lightness in sudden joy over his confidence in her clemency, and not his boldness in attempting that which hath offended her…. I think it is sound counsel to be given Her Majesty that this young nobleman, being of such quality as he is for birth, office, and other notable valours of body and spirit, he may not be discomforted either by any extraordinary delay or by any outward sharp or unkind reproof…. If he shall not find comfort now in this amendment of his fault, I fear the malice of some discontented persons wherewith the Court is over-much sprinkled, set to draw him to a repentance rather of his dutifulness thus in returning, than to set in him a contentation to continue his duty….

His further request to Walsingham to “remember Master Hatton to continue my Lord’s friend” reveals Burghley’s lack of suspicion at this time in that quarter. (Space precludes our quoting the letter in full. Lord Burghley was inordinately prolix and wrote voluminously upon all questions that arose.) Since Dyer’s advice to Hatton had been explicitly to “use no words of disgrace or reproach towards him [Oxford] to any, that he, being the less provoked, may sleep, thinking all safe, while you do awake and attend to your advantages,” lack of suspicion on the part of Burghley, and no doubt of Oxford too as yet, is understandable.

Both Hatton and Dyer were well described by the word “reptilia,” Lord Willoughby’s epithet for court-climbers. Hamlet was to call them “region [i.e., regina’s] kites.”

Upon making his peace with the Queen, on August 7, Oxford set about writing an historical play, in which he himself was thinly disguised as the truant Prince who begs forgiveness of the King, his father, and changes his mode of life when full pardon is granted.

In this play, The Famous Victories of King Henry V, Prince Hal took part in an escapade which actually occurred, not at the time in which the historical action of the play was set, but in 1573, the year before the play was finished, on exactly the day and month, May 20, given in the play. There is preserved in the Domestic State Papers (10) a letter addressed to “the Right Honourable the Lord Burghley” from Gravesend, May 1573, signed by “Willm ffaunt and John Wotton,” setting forth the complaint that they had been waylaid on Gad’s Hill near Rochester, “by three of my Lord of Oxenforde’s men … who lay privily in a ditch awaiting our coming with full intent to murder us.” From the details given in the letter there can be no doubt that the Gad’s Hill episode in the drama is based directly upon the actual scrimmage: the men were patently travelling on business connected with the Exchequer, hence their appeal to the Lord Treasurer Burghley. A point of special interest is the fact that, since King Henry IV began the fourteenth year of his reign on September 30, 1412, and died the following March, there was no May 20 during his fourteenth year as sovereign. Other circumstances in the play were derived from Hall’s Chronicles, published in 1548, not from Holinshed’s of 1578.

In another play, written four years later, which was first called Murderous Michael, and in a later revision, Arden of Feversham, the incident of the highway robbery is spoken of again:

Dericke (to the Thief, who has inquired the way to Eastcheap). Whoops hollo! Now, Gad’s Hill, knowest thou me?
Theefe. I know thee for an asset
Dericke. And I know thee for a taking fellow upon Gad’s Hill in Kent.

The Prince, in I H. IV, was to speak truly when he said (II.2.97-8) that

it would be argument for a week, laughter for a month, and a good jest for ever. [E Ver.]

As far back as 1569, a Puritan pamphlet, called The Children of the Chapel stript and whipt, declared that “plaies will never be supprest while her Maiesties unfledged minions flaunt it in silks and sattens. They had as well be at their Popish service in the devil’s garments.” And in 1574 (the year The Famous Victories appeared), the Queen “granted a license to James Burbage, John Perkyn, John Laneham, and two others, ‘servaunts to the Earl of Leicester,’ to exhibit all kinds of stage-plays during pleasure in any part of England.” (11)

After Lord Oxford’s peace was made with the Queen she kept him with her on the progress which continued until September 16. He then returned to Theobalds, while Elizabeth proceeded to Hampton Court.

Three days before he rejoined his wife at Theobalds, Anne wrote to Lord Chamberlain Sussex:

My good Lord, Because I think it is long since I saw Her Majesty, and would be glad to do my duty after Her Majesty’s coming to Hampton Court, I heartily beseech your good Lordship to show me your favour in your order to the ushers for my lodging; that in consideration that there is but two chambers, it would please you to increase it with a third chamber next to it, which was reserved last time for my Lord Arundel’s men, and, as I was informed by my Lord Howard, he had it when he lay in the same lodging. I shall think myself bound to you for it, for the more commodious my lodging is the willinger I hope my husband will be to come thither, thereby the oftener to attend Her Majesty. Thus trusting in your Lordship’s favourable consideration I leave to trouble your Lordship any further, with my most hearty commendations to my good Lady, your wife. From my father’s house at Theobalds.

Your Lordship’s poor friend,

It was a sad thing to have a queen for a rival in a brilliant young husband’s attentions. But there is also evidence in Anne’s flimsy little subterfuge that an inducement was needed to lure him even to the Queen at Hampton Court. No doubt he was eager to return to his “new country Muses at Wivenhoe,” or to his apartments in the Savoy with his literary companions. The new play in hand would have whetted his appetite for the dramatic work which was to prove a ruling passion all his life.

He did go with his wife to Hampton Court, however, and according to Burghley’s diary, they spent October there.

Belonging to this period is a curious story recorded by Wright in his History of Essex, which relates that Lord Oxford

forsook his lady’s bed, [but] the father of Lady Anne by a stratagem contrived that her husband should unknowingly sleep with her, believing her to be another woman, and she bore a son to him in consequence. (12)

This story and its probable source will be examined presently. (Chapter Eight.) Incidentally, the Countess of Oxford’s first child was a daughter, not a son. Several years later, it is recorded that, on January 6, 1579, “The historic of the Rape of the second Helene was shewen at Richmond on Twelf dale at night.” And in that play, written by Lord Oxford, subsequently revised and given another title (All’s Well that Ends Well), the same incident occurs—as it did also in a later play (Measure for Measure) written in the early ’80s.

During the interim at Theobalds which preceded the sojourn at Hampton Court, there were many supper parties given, and life was socially very gay. Lady Lennox came—the mother of Darnley—the Earl and Countess of Northumberland, and Lady Hunsdon: Burghley methodically entered the names of his distinguished guests in his diary.

Lord Oxford was in high spirits at this time. An interesting sidelight upon his sprightly and whimsical talk when dining with men friends is offered in a story which Charles Arundel was to use against him some years later. Although upon this occasion Arundel was striving desperately to discredit Oxford and pretended he had been serious, it is obvious that the Earl had been telling a tall tale with gusto for the invention.

While on his recent brief trip to Flanders, he had evidently visited the Spanish lines outside Bommel during the siege against the Dutch. Always interested in martial affairs, he seems to have taken delight in making a good story out of this experience, and the more wine he had had, the more grandiose the story was. As reported by Arundel, it went thus:

At his [Oxford’s] being in Flanders, the Duke of Alva, as he [Oxford] will constantly affirm, grew so much to affect him for the several parts he saw in him, as he made him his Lieutenant General over all the army then in the Low Countries, and employed him further in a notable piece of service, where according to his place he commanded and directed the Ambassador of Spain, Mondragon, Santio d’Avila, and the rest of the captains; but those who I have named, as he will say of all others, were most glad to be commanded by him. And so valiantly he behaved himself as he gained great love of all the soldiers, and no less admiration of his velour of all sorts. And in this journey he passed many straits and divers bridges kept by the enemy, which he let them from [i.e., captured from them] with the loss of many a man’s life. But still he forced them to retire, till at the last he approached the place that he went to besiege; and using no delay the cannon was planted and the battery continued the space of ten days, by which time he had made such a breach as by a general consent of all his captains he gave an assault, and to encourage his soldiers this valiant prince led them thereto, and through the force of his murdering arm many were sore wounded, but more killed. Notwithstanding being not well followed by the reiters [and] others, he was repulsed, but determining to give a fresh and general assault the next day Master Beningfeld, as the devil would have it, came in upon his swift post-horse, and called him from this service by Her Majesty’s letters, being the greatest disgrace that any such general [ever] received. And now the question is whether this noble general were more troubled with his calling home, or Beningfeld more moved with pity and compassion to behold this slaughter, or his horse more afread when he passed the bridges at sight of the dead bodies—whereat he started and flung in such sort as Beningfeld could hardly keep his back….(13)

As Ward observes, “It seems ludicrous in the extreme that Arundel should have brought forth this story seriously, as it is so obviously reminiscent of a convivial evening.” But at the time he did so, he was fighting for his life. He went so far as to assert that he could prove Oxford had been in earnest, adding, “And if in his soberest moods he would allow this, it may be easily gathered what will pass him in his cups.” In the end, Arundel managed to escape to Paris, “where he joined the English fugitives and was paid as a spy by the King of Spain.”

These accusations belong to a later date, but we anticipate a little here, in order to give an idea of the Earl’s fanciful discourse when he was in the company of bibulous friends.

We have said that the Queen persistently refused Oxford the opportunity for either military or naval service, wishing to keep him at court. Certainly he was an ornament to the life there. He was a brilliant conversationalist who could entertain foreign ambassadors in their own language; his ebullient spirits enlivened the atmosphere; he was an excellent dancer, to say nothing of a provider of divertissement; and his presence afforded Elizabeth much personal satisfaction. But now, appeased, it would seem, by his dramatic offering which so poetically expressed his contrition, (14) touched by the devotion and loyalty displayed in the sonnet he had written her, moved at last by the fervor of his longing to spend a year or two in study on the Continent, she relented to the extent of giving him a license to travel abroad. She had evidently promised that she would do so one day, for she allowed other young courtiers to travel, but she had been reluctant to give him up.

There is an anecdote on record which may apply to this very situation and time. It is undated and the young courtier is merely called “Sir Edward” by the Queen. This very fact—that he is given no other name in the record—would make us suspect that he might be Oxford. The incident is altogether apropos, for Oxford often complained that the Queen was prone to promise more than she was willing to perform.

The story goes thus: As a courtier “who had been for a long time urging her to grant him some favour she had promised … was walking in the palace garden. Elizabeth put her head out of her window and asked him: ‘What does a man think of when he thinks of nothing?’ To this he replied: ‘Of a woman’s promises.’ She then said, ‘Well, Sir Edward, I must not confute you.'” (15)

However this may be, seven days after she had signed the formal permit, Lord Oxford departed. In the hope that she would yield, he had already made most of his preparations. He had arranged for gradual liquidation of his own obligations and of the debts his father had left. He changed the entail of the Vere estates, making his favorite cousins, Horatio and Francis Vere, two of his heirs.

The Christmas, 1574, performance of The Famous Victories would seem to have influenced Elizabeth, for she gave him his license the following week. He remained for the New Year and Twelfth Night festivities, his New Year’s present to the Queen being “a very fair Jewel of gold, containing a woman holding a ship of sparks of diamonds, with three pearls pendant, and three small chains of gold set off with sparks of diamonds.”

The young Earl was in fine fettle. He was going to see Italy at last.


1. Such a portrayal of contemporary persons and events was in the best classical tradition, having been practiced both in the Athenian and the Roman theatres. Thomas Heywood relates that Julius Caesar once acted a part with such vehemence that he stabbed to death the villain of the piece.

2. 1572, that is, by the revised calendar. Translation by Ward.

3. If the Shakespearean philosophy of language did not derive from Castiglione’s, it certainly partook of it. We cite a few precepts from the First Book of The Courtier (Everyman ed.; pp. 56 ff.):

“Then must hee couch in a good order that hee hath to speake or to write, and afterward expresse it well with wordes … apt, chosen, cleare, and well applyed, and (above all) in use among the people: for very such make the greatnesse and gorgeousnesse of an Oration … And this doe I say, as well of writing as of speaking…. Likewise … to have the understanding to speake with dignitie and vehemence and to raise those affections which our mindes have in them, and to inflame or stirre according to the matter…. I would have our Courtier not only (to) choose gorgeous and fine wordes out of every part of Italie, but also … to use some of those termes both French and Spanish, which by our custome have beene admitted … Sometime I would have him take certaine wordes in an other signification than is proper to them, and wrasting them to his purpose (as it were) grade them like a graffe of a tree in a more lucky stoche, to make them more sightly and faire, and (as it were) draw the matter to the sense of the verie eyes, and (as they say) make them felt with hande, for the delite of him that heareth or readeth…. Neither would I have him sticke to forge new also, and with new figures of speech, deriving them featly from the Latins, as the Latins in old time derived from the Grecians. Doe you not knowe, that figures of speech which give such grace and brightnesse to an Oration, are all the abuse of Grammar rules, but yet are received and confirmed by use, because men are able to make no other reason but that they delite, and to the verie sense of our eares it appeareth, they bring life and a sweetness….”

One could scarcely find a clearer definition of Shakespeare’s artistry, his special magic in the use of language.

4. Ward; p. 69; quot. Black Book of Warwick. Printed in Bibliotheca Britannica, vol. IV.

5. Progresses; vol. 1, pp. 307, 387.

6. Nicolas, in his Life and Times of Sir Christopher Hatton (p. 18, note) suggests that “my Lord Ctm” stands for Oxford. Mrs. Clark believes that through an error in transcription “Chn” for “Chamberlain” became “Ctm,” there being an equal number of pen-strokes in both. The only copy is in Hatton’s Letter-Book and may have been mix-transcribed by his secretary. Dyer’s letter is quoted in full, Appendix, Note 2.

7. F. Chamberlin: The Sayings of Q. Eliz.; p. 153.

8. Nichols: Progresses; vol. I, p. 378.

9. Ward; p. 95; cit. Harleian MSS., 6991.50.

10. S.P.Dom. Eliz., 91.36.

11. Nichols: Progresses; vol. I, p. 422 and p. 488, note.

12. A History and Topography of the County of Essex: Thomas Wright, 1836. On p. 516 the author repeats all the scurrilous and baseless gossip which the slightest knowledge of Oxford’s life proves to be false.

13. S.P.Dom. Eliz., 151.45. Actually Oxford was fabricating a yarn concerned with two different occasions, 1571 and 1574; for Alva was not in Flanders after Dec. 1573.

14. In The Famous Victories the reconciliation-scene between the King and the Prince, although it lacks the maturity and depth or the corresponding scene in H. IV, is nevertheless dignified and moving.

15. F. Chamberlin: The Sayings of Q. Eliz.; p. 40. Probably from Camden.

Contents | Chapter Eight