The Real Sir Edward Dyer
The Facts of His Life versus the Fiction of Alden Brooks
Copyright 1943 by Charles Wisner Barrell
First published in The Shakespeare Fellowship News-Letter, August 1943.
O what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
Sir Walter Scott
In the April NEWS-LETTER I pointed out some glaring instances of historical misinformation in Alden Brooks’ recent book, Will Shakspere and the Dyer’s Hand, wherein an attempt is made to present Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607) as author or “Great Reviser” of the Shakespearean plays and poems.
My comments were meant chiefly to correct the absurdly false picture of the poet-dramatist Earl of Oxford that Mr. Brooks includes in his album of Elizabethan distortions.
Let us now consider some of the attested documentation relating to the actual career of Sir Edward Dyer—not in the fictionized form that Mr. Brooks offers it—but as such material appears in Ralph M. Sargent’s authoritative life of Dyer, supplemented by the comments and correspondence of Sir Edward’s contemporaries and associates. There are many such revealing references in the Elizabethan State Papers, the Hatton letters, the Cecil manuscripts, and the letters and documents of the Sidney family.
From these sources it can be shown that Alden Brooks misrepresents many of the vital circumstances of Dyer’s own career quite as freely as he re-writes contemporary accounts of Lord Oxford’s activities.
Such treatment of historical material may be tolerated in novels and in the never-never zone of cinema invention, but it certainly has no place at all in an alleged serious study of the Shakespeare authorship question.
To put it bluntly, this kind of writing is an imposition on unwary readers. It is indeed unfortunate that Mr. Brooks’ publishers have not seen fit to label the fictionized handling of essential material in Will Shakspere and the Dyer’s Hand in plain type on the dust-cover of the volume.
According to the authoritative testimony, Edward Dyer was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Dyer, High Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset during the early years of Elizabeth’s reign. Sir Thomas died in 1565, and from the inquisition post mortem on his estate, it appears that his son Edward was born in 1543. Lady Dyer, née Anne Poynings, a personal friend of the Queen, with some gifts as a versifier, had succumbed to a mental disorder in 1564.
Edward Dyer attended Broadgates College, Oxford, but left without taking a degree. He supplemented his formal education with some years of travel on the Continent, evidently familiarizing himself with the rudiments of the Latin languages. He had inherited his mother’s poetical aptitude, and also made himself proficient in music.
Returning to England at about the time of his father’s death, Dyer appeared at Court, where the Queen gave him good countenance. He was then about twenty-one years of age. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, being at the height of his power, Dyer attached himself to the favorite’s retinue and was soon known as Leicester’s personal secretary and confidential agent. In 1560, Secretary of State Cecil (later Lord Burghley) had told the Spanish Ambassador Quadra:
“The Lord Robert has made himself master of the business of the state and of the person of the Queen.”
Leicester was, indeed, generally recognized as having the authority of an uncrowned king of England—an authority, by the way, that he used with heartless and unscrupulous rapacity. In the eyes of most historians his career is forever stained by acts of selfish cruelty, oppression and the most unblushing disregard for the rights and lives of others—when they obscured his own.
A number of Leicester’s contemporaries who were in position to know considerable about his doings have accused the Earl of personal implication in the sudden deaths of several prominent personages. These unfortunates included, among others his first wife, Amy Robsart; the Lord Sheffield, and Walter Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. It cannot be denied that in the demise of each of these the Queen’s favorite found immediate personal advantage.
No less an authority than Sir Robert Naunton, author of the Fragmenta Regalia, a commentary on Elizabeth’s chief courtiers, particularizes Leicester’s known proficiency as “a rare Artist in poison,” and passes him down to posterity as “well seen in the reaches of Caesar Borgia.”
In his conversations with Drummond of Hawthornden, Ben Jonson is quoted as saying that Leicester’s own death finally came about through a well-merited stroke of retribution. Having married Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex, immediately after her warrior husband’s untimely taking off, Leicester soon found the union to be the reverse of a happy one. So he thoughtfully presented his third spouse with a bottle of “rare cordial,” recommending it as a restorative in any faintness, “in the hope that she might be cut off by using it.” But Lettice—whether wittingly or not—turned the tables on his Lordship by giving him a dose of his own medicine one day when he was feeling out of sorts.
Yet Leicester, despite his well-documented reputation for lawless ambition and polite homicide, had the hypocritical effrontery to represent himself as the head of the Puritan political interests in Parliament.
The Queen’s great infatuation for her “Robin” may be attributed to his strikingly handsome exterior and his genius for flattery and dissimulation combined with a flamboyant show of patriotism of a highly personalized and self-aggrandizing type.
This was the man to whose interests Edward Dyer devoted himself with zealous skill for many years and under whose patronage the lyricist made headway at Court.
Alden Brooks emphasizes this connection in an effort to prove that Dyer introduced pronounced Leicesterian propaganda elements into the Shakespeare plays and poems. In making up his “Pattern of the Poet,” an arbitrary outline of requirements that he claims any candidate for the authorship of the works must meet, Brooks declares:
The Poet was a friend of Leicester.
The first version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream told of a quarrel between Titania (Elizabeth) and Oberon (Leicester) and the detailed account of the Kenilworth Water Spectacle, essential to that quarrel, is written in the Poet’s style. (1)
The Poet was present at the Kenilworth Entertainment of 1575.
The first version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a topical play written on Leicester’s behalf to win the Queen’s pardon for his marriage to Lettice Knollys.
Claims for such evidences of Leicesterian propaganda in the Shakespearean works cannot be substantiated. If Mr. Brooks has any real evidence of the existence of a so-called “first version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream” especially designed to soften the Queen’s rage over Leicester’s bigamous marriage to Lettice Knollys, he should produce it forthwith, for it would establish his immortal fame as a discoverer.
Having already gone through a secret marriage ceremony with Lady Sheffield in 1573, Leicester also became the husband of the widow of the Earl of Essex in 1576. He took every possible precaution to hide these dual alliances, and the marriage to the Countess of Essex was only revealed some three years later by Simier, the French Ambassador. It was with great difficulty that Elizabeth was restrained from imprisoning Leicester in the Tower when this came out. And Lettice Knollys Devereux Dudley was prohibited from appearing at Court during Leicester’s lifetime.
It is preposterous, under these circumstances, to state that Leicester would countenance the production of any play specifically designed to refocus the high-tempered Queen’s attention upon his derelictions.
Contrary to these unwarranted conclusions of Mr. Brooks, no unprejudiced investigator has ever been able to point out any clear-cut pro-Leicester sentiment in the Shakespeare plays. Indeed, the opposite is the case. Kenilworth Castle is mentioned in Part 2 Henry VI under its original name of “Killin-gworth” as one of the 15th century strongholds of the Lancastrian King, but the reference has no further significance. On the other hand, the names of Dudley and Leicester as personal designations are conspicuously absent in Shakespeare’s voluminous cast of characters, although the dialogue spoken during the enactment of The Princely Pleasures at Kenelworth in 1575 is loaded with direct and flattering references to the mighty Dudley. It would, therefore, seem to be obvious that Shakespeare purposely avoids saying one good word for the Queen’s longtime favorite. Neither does the Bard honor the Earl’s Dudley progenitors in the chronicle plays. There was, it is true, very little that could be stated to their advantage: both the grandfather and the father of the Earl of Leicester having been executed for high crimes and misdemeanors. But not a line, not a syllable does the dramatist emit to extenuate or exculpate their faults. It seems to me that if Edward Dyer had been this dramatist he would certainly have used his great talents to some effect to whitewash the background of the nobleman in whose service he can otherwise be shown to have labored so assiduously.
Moreover, Leicester is known to have patronized several writers who furthered his curious Puritan policies. Why, then, we must ask Mr. Brooks, would the Earl’s confidential secretary and avowed partisan—if he really were responsible for the Shakespearean works—adopt a course so contrary to his patron’s interests by presenting the bitter satire of a hypocritical “Puritan politician” such as Malvolio is designated in Twelfth Night; and make it a habit to insert other unkind references to Puritanism throughout so many of his writings?
Like other of Mr. Brooks’ key arguments, this one—that “the Poet was a friend of Leicester“—simply does not stand up under analysis.
In fact, it can be emphatically stated without the slightest fear of refutation that the creative spirit of the plays and poems is distinctly hostile to all those peculiar practices by which Leicester achieved and retained his power in the state.
Prof. Sargent tells us that in May 1573, Edward Dyer acted as one of the witnesses to Robert Dudley’s secret or “mock” marriage to Douglas Howard (Lady Sheffield)—who gave birth to Leicester’s son three days later. This affair, immediately following the sudden death of the Lord Sheffield under circumstances that would undoubtedly have brought about Leicester’s indictment in modern times, became one of the most unsavory scandals of the age. Yet on page 445 of his book, Mr. Brooks speaks of Dyer’s part in the affair only as testifying to “the strength of his friendship for Leicester.”
The new “Shakespeare,” it would appear, must be one in whom servility supplants all conscientious scruple.
Again, Brooks reproduces a letter written by Dyer to Leicester on May 28, 1586, after his Lordship had gone to the Netherlands as General in command of all English troops sent out to assist the United Provinces in their heroic struggle against Spanish tyranny. Historians of the Lowlands wars tell us that at this time Leicester headed a fair-sized army of picked fighters, many of them proven veterans, well equipped and eager for action. But back in England, it seems, the Earl’s confidential agent at Court is worried over the prospect of Leicester’s being forced to give an account of himself in the field. So he writes this letter—unfortunately too long to quote here—the burden of which is “that there be causes why a general should not fight . . . And the greater honour is to overcome without danger than with it.” In other words, play safe; take no chances . . . lest “your Lordship be overthrown.” (My italics.)
Believe it or not, the author of Will Shakspere and the Dyer’s Hand seriously offers this remarkable epistle as a sample of genuine Shakespearean correspondence, straight from the Great Reviser’s quill!
Disregarding the distinctively active martial connotations of the name Shakespeare itself, who can picture the daring and dynamic soul who brought to life a galaxy such as Hotspur, Henry the Fifth, the fire-eating Fluellen and “the brave Talbot,” ever putting ink to paper to advise the leader of a well-equipped English army on foreign soil how not to fight?
Of course such an effort would be futile. The temperament of Dyer, as exposed in his letters, and the creative temperament that gives the plays their abounding vitality are poles apart. Shakespeare was no cagey and careful “sure thing gambler” such as Dyer writes himself down. The Bard was a reckless and prodigal genius, expending his most loving brush-strokes upon those characters who neither fear their fate nor doubt their own deserts too much to risk an all-out grapple with destiny.
Finally, when Mr. Brooks attempts to use Dyer’s letter to Leicester to demonstrate verbal parallel, between his candidate and the writer of the plays, the effort becomes painful. For he cannot point out a single distinctively Shakespearean figure of speech in the whole document—which runs to more than four hundred words. The nearest he can come to it is in the dual use of the word ornament, as follows:
. . . the many virtues and ornaments as the world acknowledgeth besides to be in you. DYER.
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament. . . Sonnet 1.
Of course, the word ornament as applied to a courtier in Elizabethan days was no more distinctively Shakespearean than the word courtier itself. But in The Merchant of Venice, the Bard uses it in a way that would apply very aptly to Leicester:
The world is still deceiv’d with ornament.
In any event, it appears to be the consensus of opinion that the Earl of Leicester’s military reputation was not helped by his proneness to follow advice such as Dyer gave him. At the end of his biographical commentary on the Earl, Sir Robert Naunton remarks that as a general “we read not of his wonders; for they say that he had more of Mercury than of Mars; and that his device might have been, without prejudice to the Great Caesar, Veni, vidi, redii.” (I came, I saw, I came away.)
Also, in his chapter on The Defeat of the Spanish Armada in Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, Sir Edward Creasy curtly refers to “the imbecility of the Earl of Leicester” as a military leader. Yet Alden Brooks writes with apparent seriousness of Edward Dyer’s relationship to this unproved hero as one of the determining factors in the development of the real Bard’s patriotic and martial fervor!
Evidently through Leicester’s backing, the Queen in 1570 bestowed upon Edward Dyer “the stewardship of the manor and woods of Woodstock, Oxford, and its members, for life, and the rangership and portership of the park.” This was considered a choice plum of patronage and Dyer was much envied for his good fortune. But almost immediately afterwards he fell under the Queen’s displeasure and was forbidden her presence.
Commentators on Dyer’s life at this period have scented a mystery in Elizabeth’s annoyance with her protégé. But the later disclosure of those circumstances which show Dyer as Leicester’s witness at the time of the Earl’s secret marriage to Lady Sheffield, indicate that the Queen had as early as 1571 learned of Dyer’s activities as a liaison man in the promotion of Leicester’s relationships with other women; so that personal jealousy and pique may have been the real explanation of Elizabeth’s withdrawal of her favor from the Earl’s secretary. We know that she had sought a new companion for herself just about this time in the person of Christopher Hatton. And, to balance matters, Dyer proceeds to cultivate Hatton and to give him detailed advice on how to retain the fickle affections of the Monarch, who has also expressed herself as exceedingly fond of the young Earl of Oxford.
In the famous letter from Dyer to Hatton, first reproduced by Nicolas in his Life and Times of Sir Christopher Hatton, Dyer warns Hatton against presuming too far on Elizabeth’s frailties as a woman, but to make headway obliquely by
. . . hating my Lord of (Oxon.) in the Queen’s understanding for affection’s sake and blaming him openly for seeking the Queen’s favor.
This epistle, which bears date of October 9, 1572, is seldom quoted in its entirety, as it contains realistic comments reflecting on the “Virgin Queen’s” chastity. But even more illuminating to our present purpose is the insight it offers into Dyer’s own psychology. Here we see how well the pupil has learned his lessons at the feet of his Machiavellian master, Leicester. The supple convolutions of his thought glide and coil with truly ophidian grace. Listen, as Master Dyer advises Hatton how to further himself by making life miserable for Oxford, the Queen’s admired wit and entertainer:
. . . behaving yourself as I have said, your place shall keep you in worship, your presence in favour, your followers will stand to you. At the least you shall have no bold enemies, and you shall dwell in the way to take all advantages wisely and honestly to serve your turn at times. Marry, this much I would advise you, 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 your advantage.
Otherwise you shall, as it were, warder him and keep him in order. And he will make the Queen think that he beareth all for her sake, which will be a merit in her sight; and the pursuing of his revenge shall be just in all men’s opinions, by what means soever he and his friends shall ever be able.
Mr. Brooks again seeks diligently for Shakespearean connotations in this cynical document. He brings forth a parallel phrase or two, such as “common reason,” “best and soundest,” “avouched,” “marry” and “friends” compared to “glue”—all of which may be found in everyday Elizabethan usage. But in the overall effect, the psychological import of this brief essay on How to Stab an Unsuspecting Rival in the Back, Mr. Brooks misses out completely. He never even mentions Iago.
That Shakespeare had known an Iago in real life, who can doubt? But that Iago was Shakespeare himself is not only doubtful—it is unbelievable.
The anti-Oxford intrigue that Dyer plotted in Hatton’s behalf was apparently set afoot with the full knowledge and approval of Leicester, who had no use at all for the youthful Lord Chamberlain of England. “Gypsy Robin” disliked Oxford, not only because the Queen “took great delight” in the young courtier’s unconventional wit, dancing, flair for theatricals and remarkable prowess as a “spearshaker” in the lists, but for the reason that Edward de Vere was the avowed protégé and admirer of that representative of the old nobility, Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex.
Honest, able and skilled in the fine arts, a good soldier and a true gentleman, Sussex looms today as one of the patriots of the Elizabethan Age. A cousin of the Queen, he is said to have won Leicester’s hatred by advising Elizabeth, after the unexplained death of Amy Robsart, that she would do well to disavow any serious intentions of marrying Leicester as the people of England would not tolerate their Monarch’s alliance with a favorite, freed of previous matrimonial obligations under such circumstances. From that time forward, Sussex and the man he contemptuously dubbed “The Gypsy” were at swords’ points. Posterity has long since decided who was the better representative of English honor. But in the days when Edward Dyer was doing Leicester’s bidding the fact that Lord Oxford was the close friend of Sussex, his student in military tactics and statesmanship, was enough to mark the youthful peer out for persecution by the Leicester faction—of which Dyer was “the brain.”
Many of the unexpected thwarts and discomfitures experienced by the playwriting Earl (“the best for comedy among us”) during the two decades that followed can be traced to the hatching of this Leicester-Dyer-Hatton conspiracy to destroy Oxford’s personal credit. Dyer’s art in the business—far from indicating him as the Great Reviser of the Shakespeare plays—testifies to nothing more than his genius for deceitful intrigue.
In addition to serving the undercover interests of Leicester and Hatton, Dyer helped Sir Francis Walsingham work out his vast and intricate secret service system. It can be gathered that he was excellently suited for such a task.
Later he attached himself to the rising star of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex—Leicester’s stepson and successor in Elizabeth’s affections. Characteristically enough, while ostensibly the confidential adviser of the overtrustful Essex, Master Dyer can now be proven by Prof. Sargent to have really been the intimate friend and political agent of Sir Robert Cecil—Essex’s most wily and implacable enemy. (2)
It is, moreover, plain that Dyer insinuated himself into Essex’s inner circle with the full knowledge and consent of Cecil for the express purpose of keeping the Cecil party informed of the rash young nobleman’s affairs. In fact, when we examine the documentary evidence of Dyer’s dual relationship to these bitter opponents in the struggle for political control during the climacteric last decade of Elizabeth, Dyer’s rare achievement of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds is only explainable on the grounds that Cecil himself was master of the hunt.
“I have been this morning at Winchester House to seek you, and I would have given a thousand pounds to have had one hour’s speech with you, so much I would hearken to your counsel and so greatly do I esteem your friendship,” writes Essex to Dyer in July, 1587, after the Queen has reproved him for insulting speeches he has directed at Sir Walter Raleigh in her presence.
It would appear from this situation very much as though Essex had been following the same advice that Dyer had given Hatton years, before as to “hating my Lord of (Oxon.) in the Queen’s understanding, etc.”—but with youthful impetuosity had overdone the matter.
It is highly significant to note that the Dyer-Essex correspondence has been preserved among the private papers of Sir Robert Cecil. Another of Dyer’s missives, addressed to the unsuspecting Essex, bears date of May 1598:
I beseech you to open all letters of mine that come that way and not to stay the time of sending to me. For so it is most meet. Of the rest I can say nothing but ever more and more bound, I am liking more and more, enkindled with desire, to do your Lordship grateful service.
In Sargent’s book (p. 146) we are further informed:
On the night of Essex’s return (from Ireland in the autumn of 1599) Sir Edward Dyer was in the Court faction that dined with Essex.
Then we come across this statement by Sargent, based on his study of the extant evidence that Dyer was really Sir Robert Cecil’s own active henchman from 1592 onward:
. . . it was Cecil who procured him his chancellorship and knighthood; more, it was Cecil and Cecil alone who saved Dyer from financial disaster at every crisis of his later years . . . there was more than political association. When Sir Robert’s wife died in 1597, he chose Sir Edward Dyer, as one of his closest friends, to be a pallbearer at her funeral.
We may be sure that a master-strategist of the caliber of Sir Robert Cecil would never have admitted Dyer into his confidence if he had not had positive assurance that Dyer was actually representing him, no matter how openly Sir Edward wore the Essex colors. Still true to his early training under Leicester, Dyer’s proficiency in the art of double-dealing is unquestionably the key to his private character.
Alden Brooks draws no moral from this important circumstance beyond arguing from premise to conclusion that:
The Poet was abnormally secretive. . . Dyer was abnormally secretive.
The Poet possessed a deceptive public manner. . . Dyer possessed a deceptive public manner, etc.
But the ultimate conclusion to be drawn from the recorded facts of Dyer’s career certainly cannot be that the man’s pronounced predilection for deception, secretiveness and double-dealing in personal relationships automatically fits him into the heroic mould of the Bard.
Shakespeare, above other writers of his age, celebrates the sacred ties of friendship and faithfulness to an accepted trust. He gives us Antonio and Bassanio, Romeo and Mercutio, Hamlet and Horatio, Lear and Kent, and the litany to a loyalty that survives crime, neglect, the very “edge of doom” in the Sonnets. In fact, the Bard himself is the trustworthy companion and adviser of faltering humanity. Even in his blackest moods he never quite lets his friends down. It is inconceivable that in real life he would play the part of a Sir Edward Dyer, or, for that matter, of a Sir Francis Bacon in relationship to the unhappy Essex.
On the other hand—as J. Thomas Looney has pointed out—the extreme loyalty that the literary Earl of Oxford displayed to his friend, the Duke of Norfolk, in 1571 when the latter was sentenced to execution as a partisan of Mary Queen of Scots, is hardly to be matched in Elizabethan annals, except in the pages of Shakespeare.
One of the minor fallacies that is given currency by many editors of the plays and poems—and which is built up to exaggerated proportions by Alden Brooks—is the assumption that “Shakespeare was a follower of the Earl of Essex” and introduced laudatory allusions to him into the choruses of Henry the Fifth and elsewhere. The fact is that all of the early editions of this play published between 1600 and 1608 lacked the choruses and every one of the passages that have been construed as praiseful of Essex. And although promoters of the Essex rebellion are known to have bribed members of the Lord Chamberlain’s Company to put on performances of Richard II featuring the banned scenes in which the Monarch is deposed, as propaganda for the Earl’s scheme to depose Elizabeth, Shakespeare himself certainly had no hand in the matter, for the author of Richard II was not mentioned under this name or any other when the affair was later investigated by the Queen’s authorities. The Bard cannot be shown to have favored the grandiose schemes of Leicester’s step-son with any more enthusiasm than he displays on behalf of Leicester himself. Indeed, the distinctively negative reactions that the plays and poems yield in this respect, indicate that their author had no desire whatever to be accounted one of the Essex party. The fact that the young Earl of Southampton, to whom Venus and Adonis and Lucrece were dedicated, became Essex’s sworn adherent does not alter the evidence in the least as it relates to the creator of those works and his attitude toward the nobleman who was beheaded for treason in February 1601.
We have seen that Dyer, for ulterior purposes, sought openly to curry favor with Essex, although no documentation can be produced to connect Southampton with the supple Sir Edward.
On the other hand, Southampton can be definitely connected with the literary Earl of Oxford on a very intimate basis. Over a period of some two years, serious efforts were made to have Southampton contract himself to marry Oxford’s eldest daughter—a circumstance that is generally believed by most Shakespearean students (even including Alden Brooks himself) to be commented upon at length in the first seventeen of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
Moreover, it can now be shown that although Lord Oxford wanted the handsome young Southampton for a son-in-law, he heartily disliked Essex.
In a letter addressed to Sir Robert Cecil under date of October 20, 1595, (3) Oxford encloses a message to Lord Burghley regarding the latter’s suggestion that Oxford, to protect his chances of securing the Queen’s approval of his long-sought right to the keepership of the Forest of Waltham and the Park of Havering, “make means to the Earl of Essex to forbear to deal for it.” This, says Oxford, he “cannot do in honour, having already received divers injuries and wrongs from him.” (My italics.) And he adds, philosophically: “If her Majesty’s affections be forfeits of men’s estates, we must endure it.”
This would seem to offer the best of personal reasons why the author of the Shakespearean works refrains from paying tribute to the otherwise highly lauded Earl of Essex.
In 1601 Oxford sat as one of the senior Lords Tryors of Essex and voted for his execution for high treason. But his action did not do violence to former pledges of undying loyalty to the misguided Earl. And it is to be noted that although Southampton also was sentenced to capital punishment by the same court, a special recommendation of mercy was entered in his behalf which resulted in a commutation of the extreme penalty. In other words, the man to whom Venus and Adonis, Lucrece and many of the Sonnets are addressed had a powerful friend at that particular court who came to his rescue in his hour of doom. Sir Robert Cecil filed the official plea for mercy. But behind Cecil was his brother-in-law Oxford (“most excellent in the rare devices of poetry”) who had once sought Southampton as husband of his eldest daughter.
One of the points at which Alden Brooks abruptly departs from the documentary facts of Sir Edward Dyer’s career occurs when Brooks attempts to build up his conjectural portrait of Dyer as a hack writer, employed by the Stratford literary agent. On page 481 of the Brooks opus we read:
In the summer of 1591, Edward Dyer, forty-seven years old, withdrew from active political life to reclusion in Winchester House.
In 1592 Dyer had been “again returned to Parliament from Somerset” and took active part in the deliberations of that body, serving on important commissions.
We have already shown that Dyer was also engaged in the political concerns of the Earl of Essex in 1598 and later, quite evidently filling the role of an informer for the Cecil party.
The records of Dyer’s part (writes Sargent, ingenuously) fell into the hands of Cecil, who preserved them. (4) (My italics.) One, a letter from Essex on 4 March 1598 to his agent John Udall, reveals that Sir Edward Dyer is acting as a liaison man between Essex and a Scottish nobleman who has offered to perform some secret services in Ireland.
Thus we see that Brooks’ statement regarding Dyer’s withdrawal from active affairs is entirely misleading. Dyer was actually a prominent Parliamentary figure during these years of alleged withdrawal “from active political life,” besides being engaged in political intrigue which involved high stakes and important personages.
Furthermore, Sargent shows that during the years 1593-95, at least, Dyer was serving with Sir Thomas Heneage as under officer for the Duchy of Lancaster, an important post, involving the handling of considerable revenue. A report on the affairs of the Duchy, dated September 1595, bears the joint signatures of Heneage as Chancellor and Dyer as his associate. Yet Brooks does not mention Heneage or the Duchy of Lancaster in his book—a circumstance that argues studied suppression. Even more reprehensible is the author’s insistence that during the last sixteen years of his life Dyer was a forgotten man, a hermit in his lodgings at Winchester House, “one whose day has now passed, a frequenter of the shadows . . ,” driven by want and neglect to toil as an editorial “play doctor” for the fictional Simon Legree of Stratford.
At last (writes Sargent) in 1596 Dyer was knighted and made Chancellor of the Order of the Garter. The office carried a stipend of 100 pounds per annum (5) . . . As Chancellor of the Garter, however, he had been elevated to a place of uncommon esteem . . . Elizabeth especially guarded the prestige of the Order of the Garter as the most select honorary body in the kingdom. In the whole of her reign, only fifty-one persons, English noblemen or foreign potentates, were ever granted the Garter . . . Although Dyer’s office admitted him to meetings of the order, it made him, as it were, an honorary servant of the members. His particular duty gave him custody of the Seal of the Order: according to the rules of the body (my italics) he must be daily at Court, ready to provide the Queen with the Seal whenever she might desire it. Whenever he appeared in public the Chancellor of the Garter wore about his neck a jewelled chain bearing ‘a golden Rose enclosed within a Garter.’ On all state occasions he took rank following the Privy Councillors and preceding the Chancellor of the Exchequer . . . In the eyes of many of his countrymen, Dyer, now Sir Edward, had become an enviable and venerable dignitary.
So it would seem to be abundantly apparent that Dyer—far from being a poverty-stricken and forgotten recluse at Winchester House, dependent upon the largess of the rough-and-ready go-getter from Stratford—was actually a prominent figure in the highest and most active social and political circles of his day.
Elizabeth’s Court was the dynamic core from which all governmental and social influences radiated. And as Dyer’s position as Chancellor of the Garter obliged him to attend Court daily, and be at the beck and call of the Queen, how foolish it is of Mr. Brooks to try to make the facts appear otherwise!
Finally, Rowland Whyte, the secretary of Sir Robert Sidney, specifically informs us that Dyer was one of the active figures at Court during the period that Brooks finds it necessary to picture him as a recluse back at Winchester House. (6) During 1597, Whyte writes to Sidney in reference to Sidney’s efforts to become an official of the Royal Household:
I have in deed too often troubled you with the Presence Chamber, but to give you Satisfaction, it was my Lady of Warwick, and Sir Edward Dier, that in their love to you, did wish your Enemies had not had that only Way to hurt you in her Maiesty’s Favor, who speaks often of it . . . For Sir Edward Dier in plain Termes told me that he heard the Queen had such an Impression of it grounded in her, as she thought you too young for any Place about her.
Here is the real Dyer: in the thick of Court politics to his ears, and plainly taking a hand in guiding the Queen’s choice of her confidential servants. What nonsense it would be to suppose that the Chancellor of the Noble Order of the Garter, a daily attendant upon the Queen, would sacrifice a position so ideally suited to his temperament to become the hack-writing puppet of the synthetic Stratford bounder that Alden Brooks has created!
Charles Wisner Barrell
1. The Princely Pleasures of the Courte at Kenelworth, the contemporary account of the spectacles put on for the Queen’s entertainment at Leicester’s seat in 1575, credits George Gascoigne with authorship of the most important of these devices. In her Life of Elizabeth, Agnes Strickland says that George Ferrers wrote the lines spoken in the water spectacle.
2. A notable lapse in Alden Brooks’ general argument for Dyer as Shakespeare appears on p. 223 of his book, where he has Richard III staged as a lampoon on Dyer’s benefactor, the physically misshapen Cecil.
3. Calendar of MSS. of the Earl of Salisbury, Vol. 5, p. 426.
4. All circumstances considered, it seems perfectly clear that Dyer himself turned this correspondence over to Cecil.
5. Together with other worth-white perquisites, for any person filling this office was assured ample funds to maintain the dignity of the position.
6. Sidney Papers, Collins, Vol. 2, p. 31.