To Claim a Kingdom

Oxfraud may have a point when he observes that Elizabethans did not number their Earls, putting a kibosh on the significance of the number 17. Of course he spends quite some time kicking a dead man and would never inform a reader that Master of Revels George Buc called Oxford “a magnificent and very learned and religious man” or that George Chapman remembered that the Earl “was beside of spirit passing great/ Valiant, and learned, and liberal as the sun/ Spoke and writ sweetly of learned subjects/ Or of the discipline of public weals.” Unlike Alan Nelson, Oxfraud did not even compliment Oxford’s lovely and legible handwriting, although he does give the Earl props for claiming descent from Lady Godiva.


If the seven slashes on the flourish that underscored his signature did not signify that he was the 17th Earl of his line it opens the way to the interpretation that it simply linked the number seven with Edward which is in itself quite meaningful. To understand why we have to look at religion for a little bit but as Buc noted de Vere was a highly religious guy. When he wasn’t being blasphemous that is.

Speaking of blasphemy and ordinals, Oxford’s enemy the conspirator Charles Arundel “used conflicting numbering systems to enumerate de Vere’s vices” as Mark Anderson noted.

“First, I will detect him of the most impudent and senseless lies that ever passed the mouth of any man…His third lie which hath some affinity with the other two is of certain excellent orations he made…The second vice, wherewith I mean to touch though in the first I have included perjury in something [sic] is that he is a most notorious drunkard and very seldom sober…thirdly I will prove him buggerer of a boy…fifthly to show that the world never brought forth such a villainous monster, and for a parting blow to get him his full payment, I will prove against him his most horrible and destable blasphemy in denial of the divinity of Christ our Savior and terming the Trinity a fable… that Joseph was a wittold [cuckold] and the Blessed Virgin a whore. To conclude, he is a beast in all respects and in him no virtue to be found and no vice wanting.”

Unfortunately Stratfordians like Oxfraud have taken as the gospel the word of a malicious man who could not keep track of his lies and was forced to flee England after his involvement in the Throckmorton Plot that threatened the assassination of Queen Elizabeth and also ensnared Oxford’s cousin Henry Howard who was arrested. This tends to support Oxford’s warning to the Queen about Arundel and Howard which was what incurred their animosity in the first place. Shakespeare anyway “gave DOGBERRY the last word on that matter. ‘Marry, sir, [the accused] have committed false report,’ says Much Ado’s constable. “Moreover they have spoken untruths, secondarily they are slanders, sixth and lastly they have belied a lady, thirdly they have verified unjust things, and to conclude, they are lying knaves.’”[1]

Yet there was that I AM THAT I AM line in his letter to Burghley, making Oxford the only other Elizabethan we know of besides Shakespeare to take God’s line of self-identification to Moses during the burning bush incident and apply it to himself.

Blasphemous? Yeah. Also religious? Yes.


Charles Arundel was part of an unnamed secret society generally referenced as the Catholic Courtier Group that supported the Jesuit mission to reclaim England for the Roman Catholic Church. As the Earl of Oxford and his cousin Henry Howard once swore an oath that was similar to vows taken by members of the secret society and they did so with Arundel, a documented member of that group, Edmund Campion’s biographer Richard Simpson postulated that Oxford and Howard must have belonged to the shadowy society as well. However they were said to have sworn their oath four years before which was several years prior to the formation of the secret society. In any case it was the later group of secret oath-takers that greeted Campion when he landed up in England again and Oxford would soon turn Arundel and Howard in with intimations of treason.

When calling the Jesuit father Edmund Campion to the English mission, Cardinal Allen noted that the Jesuit General, the Pope and God had “at last granted that our own Campion, with his extraordinary gifts of wisdom and grace, should be restored to us. Prepare yourself then for a journey, a work, a trial…” Campion was an extraordinary charismatic and communicator, “a diamond of England” the Lord Treasurer William Cecil had called him before his path carried him away from England and her church, but now Cardinal Allen was sending him home again because “Our harvest is already great in England: ordinary laborers are not enough.” Those who “sought the Child’s Life”, Allen stressed, still lived. [2]

The reference could have alluded to those who were attempting to destroy the Counter Reformation movement in England, which sometimes took the symbol of a phoenix reborn from the ashes of the old. There is the off chance it might have referred to the 14 year old King of Scotland who as the son of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots remained a figure of interest to the Holy See, though his life would not be threatened in a hostage situation for another few years. The line more obviously suggested the story of Herod’s slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem in an attempt to prevent his prophesied overthrow, and shadowed English pursuivants with the spector of Herod’s child-killing soldiers. The messianic inspiration of the undertaking can be discerned elsewhere in the English mission, which was alluded to as “the Harvest” in a letter by Dr. Ely and later by Campion who enthused, “The harvest is wonderful great.”[3] “The Harvest” signified all those souls they were reclaiming for the Roman Church (including, apparently, William Shakspere’s father) but also called to mind the forecasted winnowing of souls in the second coming beliefs of militant messianism which existed in undercurrents throughout Christian history.

Though their weapons were words, the Jesuits were a military style order and terrifying to Elizabeth and Burghley. The manifesto known as “Campion’s Brag” was released prematurely by Southampton’s relative Thomas Pound, one of the founders of the secret Catholic Courtier Group, and soon was delivered up to the Privy Council. It read, in part:

“Many innocent hands are lifted up to heaven for you daily by those English students, whose posterity shall never die, which beyond seas, gathering virtue and sufficient knowledge for the purpose, are determined never to give you over, but either to win you heaven, or to die upon your pikes. And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league—all the Jesuits in the world, whose succession and multitude must overreach all the practice of England—cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God; it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: So it must be restored.”[4]

The strain of Messianic belief that ran through their time has been little explored but in the year before Allen sent his letter, tucked into the end of the Mirror of Mutability, a book in multiple places dedicated to Edward de Vere, Anthony Munday included the ode “Ad preclarum et nobillissimum virum, EO” (the last a play on Oxford’s name and initials) in which the pseudo-Catholic bid his “noble master, farewell” on an incipient journey. He hoped that his master’s “desires which are dear to us all prevail” and prayed for his “success in the struggle”. De Vere’s intended flight was not just a simple desire to escape the dominating restraints of Elizabeth and her advisers, Munday was suggesting. It was more akin to a great mission.

The spy then stated plainly that he hoped to live to see the coming “Alexis” which is Greek for savior, alluding to a Christ-like figure who he also called “Phoebus”. This sun/son figure would “return scattering his beams upon the earth” while bearing “bitter physic” – bitter medicine – for “Fortuna”, one of the goddesses linked to Elizabeth as all fortune in the realm relied on her favor.  The ode was thick with code words that would seem to lay Munday and Oxford open to charges of seditious intent yet was never questioned or suppressed by the authorities. As Munday was unlikely to so openly betray his wealthy patron and sponsor, and least of all to incriminate himself, we must presume that this ode was inserted for a purpose.

Oxfordian Ron Hess believes that Oxford worked in the field of intelligence, or even attempted to set up his own arm of intelligence to rival those of the Puritan influenced Walsingham, Leicester and Burghley. Munday would spend the first half of 79 at Allen’s English college overseas, as he later claimed only pretending to be a Catholic. In this case by his silent complicity and continued association with Munday, Oxford (who purportedly really was an adherent to the old faith during this time) may have allowed the spy to make use of his credentials within the Catholic community. Munday, with Oxford’s help, was either setting out “bait” for disloyal Catholics “to bite at” or as Hess beleives laying part of the groundwork for a more elaborate secret service operation.

Oxford could have remained genuinely Catholic (albeit freethinking and libertine) while engaging in such a scheme with his friend Munday. He may have been Catholic and loyal to the crown, professing or secretly practicing the old religion while viewing with concern the potential for foreign intervention and the influence of the activist English Catholic expatriate community in Europe. At the time, Elizabeth was still considering a marriage of mixed religion with the Duke of Anjou and Alencon, who was backed by the Earl of Sussex, Oxford, Howard, Charles Arundel and, one presumes, the shadowy secret society that Thomas Pound founded with courtier George Gilbert that year.

However with the government desperate to capture Campion, lines would be severely scored and enforced in 1580 and around Christmas Oxford would denounce his prior Catholicism and turn in his cousin Henry Howard, Francis Southwell and Catholic Courtier Group member Charles Arundel.

Writing up accounts of his infiltration of the American College overseas, Munday became increasingly and virulently anti-Catholic, leading some to suspect that Oxford was as duplicitous as Munday in these matters. Yet we might point out that besides literary and dramatic interests in common, the desire to protect the Queen remained a preeminent concern for both of these men. This was also a goal shared most fervently between Oxford and his father-in-law fellow French Match supporter Lord Burghley, though the two at times had very different views as to how her safety could be secured and very different religious affiliations. The truth was it was not only illegal to be Catholic, but increasingly painful as the government began clamping down with fines, arrests and further restrictions. What they said and did to succeed in Elizabeth’s kingdom may have had little to do with their own beliefs. For instance when Munday soon after went to work with the inhumanely zealous priest hunter Topcliffe, it was perhaps because his original patron and employer had been arrested and banned from the court, not for religion or anything Arundel said, but because his mistress Anne Vavasour, a relation of the Howards, had given birth to his illegitimate son.

We should note the strain of messianism that showed up in the poem addressed to “Virum, EO.” Such beliefs were not confined to any one branch of Christianity. In fact, the belief in an imminently arriving savior had taken on a distinctly English and secular cast for many as evidenced by recurring prophecies that a “dead man” would arise to save England. The dead man, it was believed, would either be the legendary King Arthur or an incarnation of Edward VI who would emerge triumphant to restore God’s right order to the Isle. This monarch, it was said, would rule as Edward VII. This might seem a protestant prophesy, but it continued to be heard after Elizabeth ascended the throne. [5] A citation in 1891 was distinctly Catholic, noting that “although the holy Mass was abolished in the days of Edward VI” it would be “restored in the reign of the next prince of the same name, King Edward VII…”[6] With the crisis of a childless and unmarried woman at the helm and no assurance of a peaceful succession, such a prophesy would sooth even supporters of Elizabeth, who suffered no less anxiety over the future course of the country. This homespun prediction would comfort Catholics, Puritans and Church of England conformists alike, accounting for its widespread popularity.

Considering that some fervent believers, Catholic and Puritan, expected a savior bourne not on a cloud but of English blood could the poem have referred to Oxford’s belief in the mythos of “Edward VII”? Besides Munday’s ode to “Virum, EO”, there was perhaps some relevance in the  back and forth accusations between Oxford and his enemies Henry Howard and Charles Arundel regarding a hand painted book in his possession that used birds in depictions of allegorical prophesy, by the fact that Henry Howard and John Harvey, neither of them friends of Oxford by then, wrote books bashing believers in prophesy, with Harvey specifically addressing the Edward VII predictions. There was also the report made in the last days of Elizabeth’s life that he was promoting the idea of an English peer to succeed the Queen and his “crown signature” which he would abruptly stop using after her death. This elaborate construction on the page if it did not signify that he was the 17th Earl of his line, could also be taken as de Vere equating himself with the prophesied Edward VII. As he grew older it may have come to signify his devotion to an “Edward VII” and the ideal of a royally descended English noble succeeding Elizabeth.

Some Oxfordians point to a Henry as an Edward VII figure for Oxford. Some even believe that the legitimate son of Oxford’s second marriage, a Henry, was named after that man who would later be the boy’s mentor: Henry Wriotheslesly, the Earl of Southampton to whom Shakespeare dedicated Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece.

Though Southampton was a Henry, near messianic prophesies of an expected savior of the Isle may also explain why the author of Shakespeare’s Sonnets used terms of royalty when addressing the “Fair Youth” – often believed by Strats and NonStrats to be Henry Wriothesley because the only dedications Shakespeare ever made were two, and both of these addressed in a familiar yet devotional manner to the Earl of Southampton. That Shakespeare addresses the Fair Youth in terms signifying royalty was first recognized by Oxfordian Gwynneth Bowen in 1960 and Stratfordian Leslie Hotson in 1964. In other words one need not be an Anti-Stratfordian or even hold Tudor Rose theories to recognize that Shakespeare addressed the Fair Youth in royal terms.

Though the relationship of the author to the Fair Youth and Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s Sonnets sounds like a bisexual love triangle to modern ears, Hank Whittemore’s The Monument explores in depth that sense of “kingship” in addresses to the Fair Youth, holding to the “Tudor Rose” variant which posits that Southampton was the illegitimate son of Oxford and the Queen. In this view, the Sonnets are a hybrid of devotional poetry and covert communications, though sometimes an odd turn of phrase threatens to give the game away. For instance sonnet 35 reads like a tearful missive from one lover to another but when taken awry has been viewed by Whittemore as an address to the Earl of Southampton at the time of his joint trial with the Earl of Essex after their rebellion. “All men make faults, and even I in this, authorizing thy trespass with compare” appears in the same sonnet where he reassuringly vows in legal terminology “Thy adverse party is thy Advocate”.  Shakspere, we should note, was not known to be a participant in the proceedings although at least four authorship candidates were involved in the trial. Yet the real blame, the author is clear, belongs to him and not to the Fair Youth. In the very next sonnet he is overcome with grief, and warns “I may not evermore acknowledge thee, lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame.” These interpretations of Sonnets 35 and 36 are not accepted by Stratfordians, although number 27, in which the fair youth hangs suspended in the author’s imagination like a jewel in the night is commonly accepted as referring to Southampton’s arrest and detention in the tower after the Essex Rebellion. So to Stratfordians 27 references the political crisis when Southampton’s life hung in the balance, but all those legal references a handful of sonnets later — that’s just a lover’s spat because the Stratford man could not have secretly served as Southampton’s advocate in the courtroom or behind the scenes in the juror’s chambers.

It must be noted that just as Oxford was the first royal ward of Queen Elizabeth and raised in Lord Burghley’s household, Southampton was the last of the pseudo Tudor princes raised at Cecil House. Given rumors that were current which claimed Elizabeth had born multiple illegitimate children, it is entirely possible that the wards speculated whether they or one among their number were natural born heirs to the kingdom.

Whether you believe the sonnets were written by the Earl of Oxford or the gentleman from Stratford-on-Avon or another, whether Southampton was only distantly royal or immediately descended from Elizabeth, the author may have seen Henry Wriothesley as a man who could be King – an heroic Edward VII kind of figure who could unify a country fractured by religious differences. That was the hope that was settled on the thin shoulders of Prince Henry after James I ascended the throne. At least by 1608, a handful of years before Prince Henry died at such a tragically young age, the Edward VII prediction was twisted into a new Puritan variant which prophesied that Henry would be the awaited reformer.

King Henry the Eight

Pulled down abbeys and cells.

The next of the name

Shall down with bishops and bells. [7]

Yet Henry was also loved and supported by Catholics such as Ben Jonson. His mother Queen Anne was believed to either be Catholic or extremely sympathetic to the old faith. The mourning that greeted his death was genuine and came from all quarters.

The Edward VII “dead man who will rise” references in popular prophesy may have been a secular, sublimated version of those messianic expectations glimpsed in Allen’s reference to Campion about those who still “sought the Child’s Life” and that of Munday to de Vere regarding Phoebus/Alexis as a solar Christ and savior figure. The reference to “the Child’s Life” underscores the value of the task that Allen was assigning to Campion. Even if the phrase was intended as an abstract or coded reference to the Counter Reformation, this was no mere political campaign for the Jesuits. They literally believed themselves to be foot soldiers and servants of Christ, and like many of their countrymen may have been concerned that their savior could return to find England unprepared. The work by the Spanish Jesuit Francisco Ribera that introduced into early modern eschatological debate the concept of futurism – the idea that the end times of Revelations would arise at some future point in history – would not be published until 1591. Like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the Lutheran scholars who published between 1559 and 1574 “The Magdeburg Centuries” with its stretched out historicist view of end time theology, many Protestants believed that they were living in an extended end time period foretold by scripture and viewed the succession of Popes heading the Church of Rome as the Antichrist. Ribera’s effort to counter these accusations would have enormous influence. His futurist postulation that the end time events described in the Book of Revelations and Daniel would be contained in a single 3.5 year period instead of spread over 1260 years has influenced the millenarian beliefs of Christians, Catholic and Protestant, increasingly over the centuries, but that theory lay a good dozen years in the future when Allen wrote the letter. The chances are that Allen and Campion also believed that they were living in the extended period of the end times, a long rolling, slowly unfolding apocalypse that would end with Christ reborn in England.

The pressures of the continuing Reformation and Counter Reformation were only intensified by the idea that God was himself English and that his son would be born on the isle, a belief that would reach critical mass within the century following the 1559 publication of John Aylmer’s “An harborowe for faithfull and trewe subjects…” In this work, which included in margin notes the bold statements “God is English” and “Christes second birth in England”,  Aylmer imagined the land of England saying to her people: “What greater honour could you or I have, then that it pleased Christ as it were in a second birth to be borne again of me among you?” That second birth was the Protestant movement, according to Aylmer, beginning with the proto-Protestant Lollard movement inspired by the Englishman “John Wyclefe, who begat Husse, who begat Luther, who begat truth…” [8] Yet some perhaps took the prediction more literally and there were a number of itinerant messiahs around, the most famous of which was William Hacket.

“The Lord hath vowed himself to be English,” the Puritan MP Job Throckmorton would proclaim to Parliament in 1587, just weeks after the execution of Mary Queen of Scots and for many this assertion would be proved after the failed attack of the Spanish Armada in the next year. God was not just English however. The isle would host the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem spoken of in Revelations though this was by no means a certainty, some warned. In a book published “posthumously in Latin in 1609” Thomas Brightman offered the warning that if England failed in her Reformation, God might “translate his Court and Palace to some other place…” and by 1635, William Twisse would wonder if “the glory of the New Jerusalem” would appear in the Virginia Colony rather than the Isle.[9]

This was the evolving protestant theology that the Counter Reformation was up against. The stakes were quite high for the Jesuits. If England was going to host the messiah and his kingdom, it could only be because she was restored to the one true Catholic religion, the Church of Rome.

For Oxford the meaning of Edward VII may have carried a personal signification, based on the days when he was Elizabeth’s favorite for at that time, it seems, he may well have been her lover. In 1573 Gilbert Talbot wrote to his father, the Earl of Shrewsbury: “My Lord of Oxford is lately grown into great credit, for the Queen’s Majesty delighteth more in his personage and his dancing and valiantness than any other. I think Sussex doth back him all he can. If it were not for his fickle head he would pass any of them shortly. My lady Burghley, unwisely, has declared herself, as it were, jealous, which is come to the Queen’s ear, whereat she has been not a little offended with her. But now she is reconciled. At all these love matters my Lord Treasurer winketh and will not meddle in any way.” [10]

Taken alone that could simply be a manner of speech. When a letter advised “If you have any love to make” to Sir Raleigh and his wife they would be in the Tower of London, the sender did not mean the phrase literally. Yet in a letter Mary Queen of Scots threw in Elizabeth’s face what Shrewsbury’s wife, Bess of Hardwick, told her: “Firstly that one [Robert Dudley] to whom she said you had made a promise of marriage before a lady of your chamber had lain numberless times with you.. and that you would never lose the liberty of making love and gratifying yourself with new lovers, regretting this, said she, that you would not content yourself with Master Hatton and another of this kingdom…That even the Earl of Oxford dared not reconcile himself with his wife for fear of losing the favour which he hoped to receive by courting you.” [11]

Indeed when the poet-diplomat Edward Dyer wrote Sir Christopher Hatton with advice on how to woo the Queen and prevail over the then current favorite the Earl of Oxford, he noted that she “descends very much in her sex.”

Being her first noble foster son and apparently it was believed her lover after he came of age, one can imagine why de Vere might dream that he would one day become Edward VII. That his claim to the throne was based on a claim to her alone would be in keeping with why he abruptly stopped using the signature with a crown – though admittedly an Earl’s coronet – above his name and seven mysterious slashes below upon the death of Queen Elizabeth. With her, apparently, died the dream that he or another pseudo Tudor prince he was devoted to might be the one prophesied, that son of England, the Good King who would arise to save their country, reuniting a fractured England.

There would be no Edward VII, nor a Henry IX, not in their lifetimes. Yet Oxford still remains the most plausible candidate for the authorship of the poems and plays of William Shakespere. While he’s doing all that kicking Oxfraud should remember that dead kings can yet arise to claim a kingdom.

  • [1] Mark Alexander, Shakespeare by Another Name, pp. 172-173
  • [2] Richard Simpson, Edmund Campion: A Biography, pp. 223, 133-134
  • [3] Simpson, p. 247
  • [4] Simpson, p. 228
  • [5] Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, see Chapter 13. Also see Howard Dobin’s Merlin’s Disciples, pp. 51, 218: n58
  • [6] Prophesies that Edward VII would restore Catholic rule to England may have persisted for centuries. In 1891, The Catholic World (Vol. LIV, No. 319, October 1891, pp 843-844) included a variation of this prophesy. In discussing a newer prophesy that “the last of …three prelates… shall complete the holy work of laying again the foundation of true religion in this Protestant country,” the author urges “Complete the work, I say; for does not another and older prophecy declare of the good work begun half a century ago, that although the holy Mass was abolished in the days of Edward VI. it will…be restored in the reign of the next prince of the same name, King Edward VII?”
  • [7] [5] Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, see Chapter 13, around n. 117.
  • [8] The Seventeenth Century, Studies in the History of English Thought and Literature from Bacon to Pope, by Richard Foster Jones, John Foxe and the Puritan Revolution, William Haller, Stranford University Press, 1951, P 209
  • [9] Anglo-American Millennialism, from Milton to the Millerites, Ed. Richard Connors & Andrew Colin Gow, 2004, Koninklijke Brill, NV, Leiden, The Netherlands, p. 23
  • [10] Mark Alexander, Shakespeare by Another Name, pp. 66-67
  • [11] The Private Character of Queen Elizabeth, London, 1921, p. 167. Quoting a letter from Mary Queen of Scots to Elizabeth, 1584


3 thoughts on “To Claim a Kingdom

  1. A brilliant essay and thanks for the nod to The Monument and especially to the double-image writing of the sonnets, notably Sonnet 35. A cautionary note: to my knowledge, Stratfordians have not yet come near accepting Sonnet 27 as referring to the Essex Rebellion and/or to Southampton’s imprisonment on the night of the failed revolt. I wish it were so! Once this shift of “paradigm” is effected, the whole of the “diary” of the sonnets is transformed. One clue to Sonnet 27 beginning a whole new chapter, aside from the obvious introduction of “dark” words such as black, night, etc., and soon the onslaught of legal language, is that immediately preceding Sonnet 27 is the “envoy” or “postscript” number 26, which is generally seen as concluding the first sequence of 1 to 26. Reinforcing this view is that 126 is the recognized envoy to the sonnets addressed to the younger man (Southampton), preceding the so-called dark lady sequence (also of twenty-six sonnets). The symmetry is obvious: 26 … 100 … 26. In any case, thanks for the great blog and please keep on!

  2. Thanks Hank. A mention you made on your blog at one point sent me researching Edward VII prophecies so between the I AM post and sonnet reference you’ll have to credit your blog as the inspiration. Once you see the double speech and kingship theme in the Sonnets you can never go back to looking at them in the traditional way.

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