The VVV in Oxford’s Crown Signature

In The Marian Crown in Oxford’s Signature I explored the possibility that the crown or coronet was a stylized form of Marian Mark. The paraph over Edward de Vere’s signature could look like an M or a W with an attached serif.



Yet in the neatest and, I believe, earliest version we have it is clearly a VVV.

crownsignature2I was working on the cabala of Sir Thomas Tresham and how his Triangular Lodge intersects with the play Love’s Labour’s Lost when I stumbled over another VVV and understanding finally clicked.

Sir Tresham was a Catholic recusant (from the Latin recusare, for refusal to attend the Church of England) whose personal papers and building “follies” are great resources for understanding the cryptocoding that Shakespeare and other wits used (whether religiously conformist or not). What follows is an excerpt from the greater story I’m working on that is pertinent to understanding the VVV in Oxford’s signature. Without getting into the larger story we will allow Love’s Labour’s Lost, the Tresham papers and triangular lodge to walk us through the symbolism used by Shakespeare/Oxford. Bold face and italics were added in places for emphasis.

In Love’s Labour’s Lost (IV:1), published in 1598, Don Armado’s ‘love letter’ to Jacquenetta contains the following passage:

“More fairer than fair, beautiful than beauteous, truer than truth itself, have commiseration on thy heroical vassal! The magnanimous and most illustrate king Cophetus set eye upon the pernicious and indubitate beggar Zenelophon…”

Often called “The King and the Beggar Maid”, this otherwise obscure story was also referenced in Romeo and Juliet (II.1), Richard II (V.3) and 2 Henry IV (V.3) which all saw publication between 1597 and 1598. The legend tells the story of an African king who did not desire women but was struck with love upon sight of the impoverished Zenelophon (sometimes called Penelophon) whom he makes his exalted Queen.

Don Armado continues in regard to King Cophetus

…And he it was that might rightly say, Veni, Vidi, Vici which to annothanize in the vulgar! – O base and obscure vulgar! – vidilecet, He came, saw and overcame: he came, one; saw, two; overcame, three…”

We will return to this “base and obscure vulgar” form of the VVV. First let us allow Holofernes to explain how gematria works, though using Roman numerals rather than gematric values:

 If sore be sore, then l to sore

Makes fifty sores: O sore l!

Of one sore I an hundred make

By adding but one more l.

Extemporaneously composing these lines and the greater humorous rhyme, Holofernes prides himself on this “gift that I have, simple, simple; a foolish extravagant spirit, full of forms, figures, shapes, objects, ideas, apprehensions, motions, revolutions…”

Since there are different ways of applying gematric principles including “simple” and Tresham was learning Hebrew and translating it into Latin as he studied it is important to determine how he employed gematria and the values that he was using in the interest of shedding light  on what Shakespeare was doing. In discussing Sir Tresham’s use of gematria the editor of the T.B. Clarke Thornhill collection of the knight’s papers noted

“The number 26 is obtained from the “ineffable name of God” by counting the places of its four letters in the Hebrew alphabet; and the other name ‘which He himself signified to Moses’, in like manner gives the total of 21.” [1]

From the start we can note that of the congeries of threeness in LLL there were 26 threes in Act I of Love’s Labour’s Lost and 47 in the entire play. This means there were 21 threes in the last four acts (47-26= 21).

In his article “New Light on the Gardens and Lodge at Lyvedon”, regarding Tresham’s unfinished summer lodge in the shape of a Greek cross, Andrew Eburne explains 

Like those of the lodge itself, the measurements of the garden had particular symbolic significance: the perimeter of 108 yards, or 324 feet, was surrounded by a walk very slightly longer, at 326 feet. This was the number of the Godhead: the ‘Pentagrammaton’ JHSUH, which by assigning numeric values to each letter (I=10, H=5, V=6, S=300) Tresham symbolized by the sum of 326.[2]

Again, we can count the number three (3), 26 times in Act I, but what do these numbers mean?

The name which “He himself signified to Moses” was Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh or “I am that I am” which does not equal 21, but the short form, Ehyeh or “I am” traditionally begins with the Hebrew letter Aleph which has a value of 1 followed by heh-yod-heh. Given the supplied values AHYH equals 21 (1+5+10+5).

The Tetragrammaton was the Holy name of God, using the letters yod-heh-vav-heh or YHWH to total 26 (10+5+6+5). The Ehyeh and the Tetragrammaton look very similar in Hebrew script and it is theorized that the Tetragrammaton was derived from the verb hayah,“to be”. Because the J, I and Y were interchangeable in this regard, as were the U, double-U and V, by transliteration YHWH could also be represented as JHVH.

Combining JHVH with the Latin transliteration of the first three letters of the Greek name for Jesus – IHS – 16th century Christians derived the Holy Name of Jesus. Beginning with the Tetragrammaton or Yod-heh-vav-heh one only needed to add the Hebrew letter shin (300) to obtain the Pentagrammaton or yod-heh-shin-vav-heh. By transliteration YHSVH could take the form of JHSUH, but the gematric number remained 326 (10+5+300+6+5). Plainly speaking the difference between God and Jesus, between the Tetragrammaton and Pentagrammation, between 26 and 326, was a shin.

“Tresham celebrated this by placing the letter shin in a central position” on the painted cloth he designed for the “long gallery window” at the palatial recusant prison at Ely “alongside the letters e, a, e” as Francis Young noted in a Cambridge talk he gave on Tresham’s occult architecture. The e, a, e represented the phrase generally given as ehyeh asher ehyeh that translates, in the alternative, as “I am what I am” which Young adds is “the literal meaning of the Tetragrammaton”. He explains, “E, a, e plus shin therefore equals a concealed reference to the Tetragrammaton.” [3]  If anything the addition of a shin would signify the Pentagrammaton but Tresham creatively combined and otherwise disguised symbols so they would pass unnoticed under the eyes of the authorities.

In V.1 Armado’s page Moth makes fun of such cryptocoding after Holofernes, trying to make sense of his wit pleads, “Quis, Quis, thou consonant?”

Moth:           The last of the five vowels, if You repeat them; or the fifth, if I.

Holofernes:  I will repeat them, – a, e, i –

Moth:           The sheep: the other two concludes it, – o, u.

Interrupting the schoolmaster’s “I”, Moth says, “The sheep” and then concludes, “Oh, you!” The letters a and e are flagged only in the sense that they are not part of the joke, but it is the Hebrew letter shin that Armado is thinking of when Moth exclaims “A wonder, master! Here’s a Costard broken in a shin” (III:1).


Note that the Shin is similar in structure to the double U which we linked to the double Vs in literature and the crowned overlapping Vs of the Virgin Virginum symbol in the Marian Crown post.




The Hebrew letter shin in and of itself carries the meaning of teeth, press and sharp. While Costard is the name of the rustic that Armado reported for fooling around with Jacquenetta, it was also an apple (and French Costard among the varieties that Tresham recommended for an orchard in 1597).[4] Expecting a pun, Armado anticipates “Some enigma, some riddle…” After a chain of exasperations it is made clear that Costard in fact tripped and hurt his leg and Armado directs, “We will talk no more of this matter.” Costard agrees to leave off “Till there be more matter in the shin.” After Armado and Moth exit, Costard bemoans “My sweet ounce of man’s flesh! My incony Jew”, a joke playing off of a bitten apple, payment of a pound of flesh in The Merchant of Venice, and the “Hebrew shin”.

Three, four and five formed the first Pythagorean Triple, creating a perfect right angled triangle. Additionally Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh had a gematric value of 543. Shin was the 21st letter in the Hebrew alphabet, resonating with the gematric value of 21 for Ehyeh or “I am”. In the Renaissance mind, none of these facts existed as discrete, unrelated entities. The four letters of the Tetragrammaton were often placed inside a triangle or pentagram and the shin could be used as a coded substitute for the Ehyeh. All numbers devolved back to the primordial one and God was “the unitie from which all number proceedeth” in the philosophy expressed by La Primaudaye in The French Academie, a text that could have served as a resource for the men of Love’s Labour’s Lost.[5]

Sir Tresham would count the 26 vocalizations of the word three in Act I as surely as Shakespeare intended them to be tallied, and interpret 3, 26 times to reference not only the 3 figure Trinity and 4 letter Tetragrammaton (26) but the 5 letter Pentagrammaton (326) as well. That the folio listed Act V of Love’s Labour’s Lost as “Actus Quartus” was not a mistake but a joking reference to Costard’s busted up shin in Act III for you cannot turn a 4 (the Tetragrammaton) into a 5 (the Pentagrammaton) with a broken “shin”.

As for the shortened form of Ehyeh or “I am” which totalled 21, equaling the number of threes contained in Acts II through V, Oxfordians have noted that Oxford and Shakespeare both used the phrase “I am that I am”, a translation of the name “which He himself signified to Moses”, in strikingly similar contexts, Oxford in a defiant letter to Burghley and Shakespeare in what is perhaps coincidentally Sonnet 121. The personal use of the phrase that God employed to identify himself in the burning bush was not exclusive to Oxford and Shakespeare. The closing line of a dedicatory letter written by one C.K. for a volume printed by Valentine Simmes in 1596 read, “I cease: being, I am that I am and while I liue, will liue to loue you.” [6]

Tresham left a clear key and explanation of the system of cryptocoding that was in use on the Triangular Lodge, in the play LLL, throughout the Sonnets and even in the closing of C.K.’s dedicatory letter. On the Triangular Lodge the key is expressed by a row of three circles adorning each face of the chimney tower. Fittingly the loftiest riddle incorporated into the lodge is also closest to heaven, higher even than 1595, the year that his beloved brother-in-law the Lord Vaux and the Jesuit Robert Southwell died. That year and the band of circles were replicated on all three sides of the central chimney tower, ensuring visibility.


The hollowed out central circle is dark while the outer two are more shallowly carved and lighter. We will represent this pattern as light dark light. The Hebrew for I am that I am is Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh. The Latin translation is Sum Qui Sum and as Eburne astutely explained of Tresham’s notations regarding the name that God communicated to Moses from the flames of a burning bush: 

Moreover this last name in Latin, sum qui sum, again signifies the Trinity, being three words of three letters each and the middle letter of each word gives V.V.V.

C.K’s “I am that I am” and “liue, will liue to loue…” is a variation on this formula. In this case the third letter in live, live and love supplies the V.V.V.  He has used two phrases to signify what the sum qui sum does in one.

Consider the fact that the stylized crown or coronet that surmounted Oxford’s signature was comprised of a zigzag that can be read as VVV joined together with four dots on top.crownsignature2Veni Vidi Vici could serve as one representation of this brilliantly anamorphic glyph that the Earl began using by age nineteen but Shakespeare has Don Armado suggest that his gloss on the phrase is the “base and obscure vulgar” translation, hinting at the existence of a more elevated and refined interpretation.

Tresham preserved that higher order information, explaining that V.V.V. “inferreth via, veritas and vita” – shorthand for a phrase of self-identification that Jesus used in John 14:6. [7] I am that I am or, in Latin, Sum Qui Sum is but one manifestation of the Trinity and Via, Veritas, Vi(t)a is another but the latter expression is derived from the former, as the son from the father. By means of the VVV monogram hidden in the Sum Qui Sum the Lord’s self-identification in the burning bush, his “I am that I am”, contained within itself the seeds of Christ’s self-identification – “I am the way and the truth and the life” – the son being both produced from and one with the father in a sense that could only be grasped, initiates believed, through the mystery of the holy trinity.

The derivation of Christ’s Via, Veritas, Vi(t)a from the Sum Qui Sum of the Father by means of the VVV monogram is mirrored in the way that the Pentragrammaton proceeds from the Tetragrammaton by the addition of the letter shin. Professor Young explains that Tresham had studied the teachings of Johann Reuchlin regarding the Christian Cabala and the Northamptonshire magnate specified in his papers: “The four-sided name of God, Tetragrammaton (that great name of God) is attributed to his son…as the Son proceeds from the Father, so his name is produced by that of the Father.” [8]

While I have not had a chance to read Reuchlin yet or either of the following books, The Revelation of St. John Revealed (1582) was J. Sanford’s English translation of a Latin text written by James Brocard, a man that Oxford’s cousin turned enemy Henry Howard had denounced as “Brocarda”, the “cabalist at court” in his Defensative Against the Poyson of Certain Prophecies in the following year. Working on principles similar to those we are examining here Brocard believed that the omega or end was contained in the alpha or beginning, that “Moses (and a fortiori Adam) contains Christ.”[9]

That all of this runs along the lines of that more sublime interpretation hinted at by Don Armado is suggested by the verbiage “He came, saw and overcame.” Veni, Vidi, Vici or came, saw, overcame was the “base and obscure vulgar” interpretation but Don Armado (or rather Shakespeare) then left a pointed clue in case the illiterate Jacquenetta (or the reader) missed the significance, writing, “he came, one; saw, two; overcame, three.”

1 Light Ehyeh Sum Via Came
2 Dark Asher Qui Veritas Saw
3 Light Ehyeh Sum Vi(t)a (Over)came

Thus King Cophetus overcame instead of conquering. It could even be why Oxford at some point chose Vero Nihil Verius as his motto. All could be used to covertly signify the Holy Trinity and the identification of the Son with the Father. It becomes apparent that the lodge and the play drew from the same well of wisdom teachings. Moreover these works alone or together could be used as teaching tools to initiate others into this higher order esoterica, drawing others to the well.

It is important to note that the Trinity was retained in Elizabeth’s religious settlement, addressed first in the 39 articles of religion.

            Article I: Of Faith in the Holy Trinity

There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness…And in the unity of this Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

I think the system used by Tresham and Shakespeare reconciled the Trinity to the number mysticism of the greater stream of wisdom teachings and employed it as a kind of mathematical “proof”. The “one, in Cabala, as well as more generally Pythagorean and Christian mysticism, has tended… to be the number of pristine holiness and integration, whereas the two has commonly represented division, separation, fragmentation, stimulation, and fall” as Phillip Beitchman notes. [10] Reflecting a conception that still survives in the masculine or feminine attributions of zodiac signs and in the nouns of the romance languages, odd numbers in general were accounted masculine, positive, active, dominant, and light while even numbers were considered feminine, negative, receptive, passive and dark.

Beitchman points out that the “Pythagorean title” of God’s Arithmetic by Francis Meres, published in 1597, “hints it to be very much imbued with the spirit of cabalistic numerology” but its numerology is “fanciful”, displaying a kind of naivety such as when Meres deduces that “two is a better number than one” because “Adam was granted a mate”. More in keeping with the Cabala, Beitchman observes is “Spenser’s contrast between two heroines, Una and Duessa, truth and falsehood, accorded, respectively, Books One and Two of The Fairie Queene”, where “Una is never so distorted by Duessa’s stimulations and betrayals that she loses her clear preeminence; and though her knight loses sight of her for a while, it is clear equally that it is the Truth of the One he has lost sight of, in falling, however ineluctably, under the spell and lure of the Two.” [11] The struggle between Elizabeth and her cousin Mary Queen of Scots could even extend to ordinals apparently.

The Light-Dark-Light pattern sorted out the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, pulling the Christ from the “eclipsed” and “feminine” second position and restoring him to full solarized glory. Yet by stressing the Father as the one and the Son as the three and emphasizing their similarities the system adopted by Tresham and Shakespeare also subtly highlighted (or boldfaced) that figure who had suffered demotion in the Elizabethan Church, the “dark lady”: the Marian Queen of Heaven. Mary retained her role as the mother of Jesus but Marian worship or the Marian devotions of the Roman Church were strictly suppressed. Elizabeth had styled herself as the Virgin Queen, co-opting the symbolisms of that Queen of Heaven as well as the lesser goddesses, such as Venus, Diana and Fortuna. This self-deification was an act of empowerment for a woman whose beheaded mother was tearfully proclaimed “the Queen of Heaven” by a grieving Thomas Cranmer but it was also a tactical defense. The Pontiff had released Regnans in Excelsis in support of the failed 1569 Northern Rising, declaring her to be a heretical, “pretended” and illegitimate Queen, which led to the succession of attempts to assassinate Elizabeth and place the crown on the head of her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, many of them relations of Tresham, making the goal of the man who fought so long for toleration of loyal Catholics that much more difficult to obtain.

Marian devotions were therefore dangerous and especially for a man like Tresham, who was piously Catholic and related to a succession of plotters. Yet if the Holy Ghost had impregnated Mary, in Judaism there was the Shekinah, variously a seat, a dwelling, a presence, and the feminine aspect of God, and this had been popularized with the spread of the Cabala. In the Gnostic systems the feminine aspect of God was Sophia or wisdom.  If Elizabeth could be “masqued” in the guise of a goddess, the Heavenly Mary, Mother of Christ, could be cloaked by the Holy Ghost. That stress on the light-dark-light pattern of the Trinity may have provided recusants with a covert means of affirming their identity as Roman Catholics and their devotion to Mary under a government which by then had zero tolerance.

Those who conformed religiously could also adopt this code that subtly set apart the female principle in that primordial love triangle for reasons of their own. This may be what Shakespeare did in his sonnets. The author brilliantly adapted this form of cryptocoding, but he was not promoting the dark lady, lover, goddess and mother figure, who Shakespeare in any case could not seem to separate from England’s own Virgin Queen. Instead he championed the “fair youth”.

The structural design that Oxfordian Hank Whittemore discerned in Shakespeare’s Sonnets may find further explication in this occult system of numerology that can be pieced together from the lodge, the play and the Tresham Papers. Setting aside the opening and closing “envoy” sonnets, (both devoted to Cupid, that incony little god of love), Whittemore identified an internal design of a century of sonnets bookended on either side by groups of 26.

Further consider that for Tresham

Another favorite is 111, obtained from the initial Js of Jesus, Jesu, Jesum, which also “collected together in arithmetical wise” make 111; via: 1, 10, 100. Also the final letters of this declination of Christ’s name, again give sum.[12]

While the reasoning is unclear, this suggests that if Sir Tresham read the sonnets in manuscript form he may well have interpreted the 26-100-26 to signify something like “Tetragrammaton*Jesum*Tetragrammaton, another means of expressing the identification of the son with the father. In the sonnets we find the love triangle of the Older Poet-Creator, the Dark Lady and the Fair Youth, echoing the light-dark-light pattern. Ehyeh, the “I am”, could take on the context of “I create” or “I build” which made constructions like sonnets, plays and a “connegerie lodge” particularly apt mediums for expressing such devotion. This pattern overlay the sonnets, lending a numinous, eternal quality to those cryptic love poems written by the poetic creator to his less than heavenly dark lady and to a fair youth he addressed in terms of reverent kingship and may well have hoped to see inherit the throne, figures Whittemore identifies as Oxford, Queen Elizabeth and Southampton. This resonates whether the “Prince Tudor” theory that the Queen and Oxford had a son who was Southampton holds literal truth or merely tapped into emotional truths of the relationship between the Queen and Oxford, the oldest royal ward raised at Cecil House and the youngest of those foster brothers, the one who was not even given the designation of royal ward, thereby denied a status as the Queen’s foster son, the Earl of Southampton. If recusants could use the Holy Ghost to signify Mary, Shakespeare could use the “dark lady” position in the Trinity to explore his relationship with his own “dark lady” – whoever you might take that to mean.

One phrase that Tresham used to symbolize the trinity was “tres unum sunt” or “Three are one” from the Comma Johanneum, often inserted into the First Epistle of John.                       

For there are three that bear record in heaven

The father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost:

And these three are one. 

The line “tres unum sunt” appealed to Tresham for obvious reasons, Tres being his nickname and the Ts at the beginning and end were also his initials. Additionally, as he pointed out, the three words of four letters agreed with the “nomen dei duodecim literarum” or literature regarding the 12 letter name of God.[13]

Note that in the Comma Johanneum the son was the second figure which may also have been C.K.’s conception (liue, liue, loue). Yet since the third letter in each word generated C.K.’s V.V.V., his version may hint to the positioning of Jesus as the third member of the Trinity as well, only more discretely. C.K.’s adaptation indicates to me that this was not confined to Oxford, Tresham and the crew at Essex House.

Was the crown signature Oxford’s V.V.V., his trinity, his I am that I am or sum qui sum and via, veritas, vita all in one? Was this a symbolic genuflection to the heavenly royal family?

One last note, Tresham had his own variation of the VVV. Just as the Virgin Virginum mark could be turned upside to create the M for Mary which is also a Marian mark so it seems the trinity of Vs could also be reversed. For if this was Oxford’s version…


…the same shape turned upside formed the “pyramidal” gables that “crowned” Sir Tresham’s lodge, topped with three trefoil tipped spires. Rushton-Triangular-Lodge TB

[1] Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on Manuscripts in Various Collections, Vol. III, The Manuscripts of T.B. Clarke-Thornhill, Esq., London: 1904, p. xliv

[2] Eburne, Andrew. The Passion of Sir Thomas Tresham: New Light on the Gardens and Lodge at Lyveden, Garden History, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring, 2008), p. 129

[3] Young, Francis, Esoteric Recusancy in the Elizabethan Age: The Occult Architecture of Sir Thomas Tresham, paper Delivered at the ‘Visions of Enchantment’ Conference at the University of Cambridge, 3/18/2014, PDF at, p. 7

[4] Eburne, p. 122

[5] Hankins, John Erskine, Backgrounds of Shakespeare’s Thought, Hassocks: The Harvester Press, 1079, p. 639, Quoting La Primaudaye, The French Academy

[6], citing a dedicatory letter of The first part of the nature of a vvoman Fitly described in a Florentine historie. Composed by C.M. (London : Printed by Valentine Simmes, for Clement Knight, 1596), C. K. writes “To my very good friend Maister T. A. Gentleman of the middle Temple,” and signs off: “I cease: being, I am that I am, and while l liue, wil liue, to loue you.”

[7] Clarke-Thornhill, p. xliv

[8] Young, p. 6-7

[9] Beitchman, Phillip, Alchemy of the Word: Cabala of the Renaissance, p. 210, 220

[10] Beitchman, p. 218

[11] Beitchman, p. 219

[12] Clarke-Thornhill, p. xliv

[13] Clarke-Thornhill, p. xlii


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