Newly Discovered Oxford-Shakespeare Pictorial Evidence
Copyright 1944 by Charles Wisner Barrell
First published in The Shakespeare Fellowship Quarterly, April 1944.
The engraving reproduced above is the upper portion of the frontispiece to Sir Symonds D’Ewes’ Complete Journal of the House of Lords and the House of Commons Throughout the Whole Reign of Queen Elizabeth of Glorious Memory, published in London, 1693.
This work is recognized as authoritative. Sir Symonds D’Ewes was born in 1602. He was a cousin of Sir Francis Bacon. He became the owner of Lord Oxford’s ancestral estate of Lavenham, and through his marriage into the Clopton family of Suffolk and Warwickshire, provides an interesting link in the Oxford-Shakspere associations. Sir Symonds’ historical and antiquarian collections covering political and social affairs of the Tudor and Stuart periods were among the largest and most accurate ever assembled. We have no means of knowing at the present time who made this engraving of Queen Elizabeth at the opening of Parliament, surrounded by her chief counsellors and officials of state. But the fact that it illustrates D’Ewes’ Journal gives it more than ordinary documentary weight.
Let us see who these personages may be. Sir Francis Walsingham and Sir Christopher Hatton are both identifiable, while Lord Burghley is shown as a man well up in years, and Leicester is not visible at all. The scene, therefore, must be meant to represent the opening of the Parliament of February 1589—following the defeat of the “Invincible Armada.”
Lord Treasurer Burghley—he of the long white beard and black hood—props the throne at Elizabeth’s right hand. Appropriately enough, he holds the state purse.
At Gloriana’s left stands Walsingham, Principal Secretary of State, the “Queen’s Moor,” identifiable by his keen, saturnine countenance and black hair. This was the last Parliament that Sir Francis attended. Worn out by his exertions during the tense and fateful days of the Armada, he died in 1590. Leicester had passed away in the autumn of 1588.
Immediately below the throne is a large wool sack which bears the caption “The Lord Chancellor’s Seat.” It is shown unoccupied, so that the Queen will not be obscured in any way. But Sir Christopher Hatton, the Lord Chancellor, can be plainly seen in the full picture, sitting on the long sack, just to the viewer’s right of his official place. Hatton’s hair is characteristically parted and smoothed down. His associate judges are pointing to him as their chief. The Parliament of 1589 also marked Hatton’s last appearance in these surroundings, for he died in November 1591, and the next Parliament was not held until February 1593.
Having thus fixed the date which our scene must represent, we can venture to identify some of the other notables pictured.
The official holding the ermine-trimmed Cap of Maintenance at the foot of the throne—on the Queen’s right—should be William Paulet, 3rd Marquess of Winchester, for all authorities agree that this function was the hereditary right of the Marquesses of Winchester. Moreover, Paulet attended this Parliament. Next to the Marquess is either Sir Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon, Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household, or his Vice. Chamberlai, Sir Thomas Heneage. Behind Winchester and the Chamberlain, we see the Serjeant at Arms of the House of Lords with the crowned Mace.
And now we come to the most important of our identifications. For at the foot of the throne—Queen’s left—stands none other than Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, holding aloft the ceremonial Sword of State in his official capacity of Lord Great Chamberlain of England. J. H. Round and other authorities on Elizabethan officialdom tell us that one of the distinctive duties of the Lord Great Chamberlain was “the disposition of the Sword of State.” On such occasions as the assembling of Parliament, he bore this ancient symbol of defence before the monarch. And if unable to be present himself, could depute his office to some other nobleman in the Queen’s good graces.
The official who stands at Oxford’s left in our antique sketch can be identified as the Earl Marshal, George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. Behind Shrewsbury appears the Garter King of Arms in his heraldic robe. Supervision of the office of Garter King of Arms was, and still is, one of the duties of the Earl Marshal, and the Garter King attends him during such public ceremonies as the present one.
In the background, Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber appear to be represented behind Lord Burghley, while at Sir Francis Walsingham’s left we seem to have three of the Privy Counsellors. Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, can be recognized as the stoutest of these veterans. The figure with the twisted neck, peering out from behind the tapestry, should be Burghley’s son, Sir Robert Cecil. Years later, it will be recalled, Cecil hid himself behind the arras to eavesdrop on the testimony of Essex at the latter’s examination for treason. This engraved pose is certainly typical of the master-spy.
All of these identifications may prove of general interest, but the picture of Oxford in his role of Lord Great Chamberlain of England will be particularly welcomed by every student of the Oxford-Shakespeare case.
When we consider the fact that Edward de Vere, Earl of, Oxford, was undisputed holder of the oldest patent of nobility in England during the final fifteen years of his life—1590 to 1604—it seems strange indeed that so few pictures of this prominent and gifted man have come down to us.
There are more than twenty well-known life-paintings and miniatures of the Earl of Leicester, at least thirty contemporary portraits of Essex, some six or seven each of Buckhurst and Hatton, while Sir Sidney Lee mentions fifteen extant portraits of the 3rd Earl of Southampton. Yet Edward de Vere was even more at home in the field of art than any of these—and outranked every one of them with generations to spare in social prestige.
It is, therefore, surprising—or shall we say consistent with the aura of studied neglect which has obscured the true personality of Lord Oxford—to find that up to the present only three representations of the Poet Earl have come to light in an unchanged and easily recognizable state.
These are: the life-size, half-length canvas of Oxford at 25, painted by a Flemish artist named Lewyn or Levins during the Earl’s first visit to Paris in 1575, and now the property of the Duke of Portland; the less-than-life-size panel portrait evidently painted in 1585-86 by Marcus Gheeraedts the Younger and now owned by the Duke of St. Albans; and the drawing in the British Museum by Marcus Gheeraedts the Elder, showing Oxford, aged 22, carrying the same Sword of State e have here, before Queen Elizabeth during a Garter procession at Windsor in June 1572.
An engraving of the Gheeraedts sketch was made during the 17th century by that great master, Wenceslaus Hollar. A reproduction of Hollar’s work was printed in Capt. Bernard M. Ward’s biography, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (1928). Mr.Looney had reproduced the Duke of Portland’s painting as the frontispiece to “Shakespeare” Identified in 1920; and the first photographic reproduction to be made of the Duke of St. Albans’ panel appeared among the illustrations that I used in the January 1940, issue of Scientific American to identify the Ashbourne “portrait of Shakespeare” as a slightly disguised original painting of Lord Oxford by the Dutch master, Cornelius Ketel.
These three pictures—the Hollar engraving, the Portland canvas and the St. Albans Panel—have been the touchstones of pictorial research in solving the Oxford-Shakespeare mystery, beginning with Mr. Looney’s great work in 1920. I am now happy to have the privilege of adding this fourth sketch of the Poet Earl to this invaluable collection. It is unique, in that it shows Oxford at a later period of life than any of the others, while responding graphically to Shakespearean comparisons.
In delineating Oxford in his official state capacity here, the fact that he was Lord Great Chamberlain of England is emphasized. But how many students of this remarkable man’s career have ever realized that there are several documents of the Shakespearean Age in which the playwriting Earl—listed first by Francis Meres (598) as “the best for comedy among us”—is specifically referred to as “the Lord Chamberlain,” instead of “the Lord Great Chamberlain?”
Such is the fact—a circumstance of truly startling implications—which must give professional Stratfordians food for serious cogitation. For the establishment of these previously unnoted references will throw a powerful new floodlight upon Oxford’s relationship to the public presentation of his plays, illuminating at the same time realistic reasons why he was automatically debarred from claiming credit for their composition.
The present engraving makes one such outstanding reason very plain indeed. As official defender of the Crown, the Earl obviously would avoid bringing such an honor into disrepute by ever openly acknowledging his activities as a public entertainer—even though he might be the rarest genius in this field that the world has yet produced!
“And art is tongue-tied by authority,” laments the Bard in one of his best-known sonnets.
We have known for many years now that Lord Oxford was considered a poet and dramatist of exceptional merit by his contemporaries; also that he was the patron of various companies of players, some of whom were celebrated for their association with Shakespearean roles.
Add to these well-documented facts this additional “clincher”‘: that Oxford, the poet-dramatist and patron of Shakespearean actors, was known in many Elizabethan circles merely as “the Lord Chamberlain,” and the mystery surrounding the actual personality of this key figure in our real life drama resolves itself as neatly as the denouement of a Sherlock Holmes story. For everybody knows that it was “Mr. William Shakespeare” himself who was the principal playwright of “the Lord Chamberlain’s company.” This official of state, whose nickname among his fellow playwrights was “gentle Master William,” obviously produced his own plays. It becomes equally obvious that in doing this he was obliged to employ business agents among others, a certain native of Warwickshire whose name could be confused in the public mind with the Lord Chamberlain’s own well-selected pseudonym. Thus has “art” been most effectually “tongue-tied by authority” for more than three hundred years!
In another paper I intend to present the contemporary evidence for the Poet Earl as the authentic “Lord Chamberlain” of Shakespearean fame. The attested documentation should prove quite as revealing as the steel-cut outlines of the same man’s figure in this long-neglected engraving.
Every new thing we learn about Lord Oxford turns out to have strong Shakespearean connotations. No tiresome rumbledumble of Baconian cyphers or windy suspiration of hallowed Stratfordian conjecture comes between this man and his work. For instance, Oxford’s familiarity with the Sword of State, here so clearly shown, reverberates in the plays. “Shakespeare” knows all about the “deputed Sword” and its companion symbols of state authority, such as the Spiritual and Temporal Swords of Justice. He has also given real thought to their emblematic relationship to heavenly justice and mercy—something that no other dramatist of the period appears to have done. In Measure for Measure, we read:
No ceremony that to great ones ‘longs,
Not the king’s crown nor the deputed sword,
The marshal’s truncheon nor the judge’s robe,
Becomes them with one half so good a grace
As mercy does.
Again, at the end of Act III, Scene 2. the Poet says:
e who the sword of Heaven will bear
Should be as holy as severe.
Turning back to our 1589 engraving, we find that the crudely rendered sketch of Lord Oxford’s head recalls three or four of the best known ancient paintings that have passed for generations as “life portraits of the Bard.” There is only one pronounced difference. Oxford has a full head of hair here. But, as my X-ray and infra-red dissections of three of the old “Shakespeare portraits” bear witness, the original sitter for these paintings also had plenty of hair on his head—before it was deliberately painted out to confuse the Earl’s personality with that of the bald-headed business man of Stratford-on-Avon.
The engraving corroborates Oxford’s identification as the subject of the ancient Hampton Court “portrait of Shakespeare” with new and particular verisimilitude. For in the painting the Poet holds in his right hand the same type of cross-hilted ceremonial sword that we here observe in the Sword of State. In fact, the Bard’s “weapon” would have been recognized generations ago for what it is—the chief appurtenance of the office of Lord Chamberlain of England—were it not for the fact that the decorated blade of the sword in “Shakespeare’s” hand was long since crudely blackened to disguise these tell-tale characteristics.
Here is a pretty problem in visual evidence for the Stratfordian experts to resolve in favor of their candidate, Willm Shakspere. Step up and take the stand, gentlemen! Who will be the first this time to discredit our Oxford-Shakespeare testimony with lordly gesture?