Did Gervase Markham Leave Clues to the Authorship Question?

The blog Hidden Epitaph has an interesting post regarding references to Oxford as the 17th Earl of the line and possible hints of his secret authorship in Gervase Markham’s Honour in his Perfection in 1624. Markham is pretty obscure so I wanted to find out more information about this author.

As the blogger points out Markham in a misspelling not only called the Earl an “Eale”, a chimerical hybrid of an ox, boar and other animals, but after moving on to praise the “Fighting Vere” cousins mentioned “on∣ly in that Storie there is one pretty secret or mysterie which I cannot let passe vntouched, because it brings many difficulties or doubts into the minde of an ig∣norant Reader; and that is, the mistaking of names…”

Gervase Markham

Gervase Markham


There’s more at the link but I just wanted to document the connections of Gervase Markham. While he rivaled the Bard as a top selling contemporary writer and at least one Stratfordian scholar posited that he was the Rival Poet of Shakespeare’s Sonnets he remains obscure.

The Earl of Essex and the Trials of History: Gervase Markham’s ‘The Dumbe Knight” by Lesal Dawson documents that both Gervase and his father Robert were close to Essex, and that Gervase served under Essex, Southampton and Francis Vere:
The military career of Gervase Markham brought him into contact with several members of the Essex faction, most notably Henry Wriothesley, earl of Southampton, a military companion and patron of his work. Markham ‘euer loued and admired this Earle’ and had ‘liued many yeares where [he] daily saw this Earle’ whom he had known ‘before the warres, in the warres, and since the warres’.1l Markham’s military career followed that of a typical ambitious courtly soldier, with time served in the Low Countries, Cadiz, and Ireland. At some point, Markham served in the Low Countries under Sir Francis Vere,12 and in the summer of 1596 he participated in the Cadiz expedition, of which he wrote an eyewitness account.13 In the following year he accompanied South- ampton in the Garland on the Islands voyage, and was one of the small group of men led by the earl who fought their way out of a Spanish ambush at Porte Algado.’4 It was most likely as part of Southampton’s retinue that Markham served in the 1599 Irish campaign. (Updated 5/20/16, abstract link).

Besides a military career that ranged from captain under Essex in Ireland to service under Charles I, Markham was one of the most prolific writers after 1592, “a general compiler for the booksellers” in the estimation of Sir Egerton Brydges. Topics included husbandry, wifery, horsemanship, military tactics, hunting, hawking, fowling, fishing, archery, heraldry, poetry, romances and drama as cited by Nathan Drake. He was “well versed in the French, Italian and Spanish Languages” and his encyclopedic knowledge base also included cooking and medicine which formed the backbone of Country Contentments, published 11 times between 1615 and 1675. In “England’s Parnassus, 1600, he is quoted thirty-four times, forming the largest number of extracts from any minor bard in the book.” According to Drake his works are “in many respects, curious and interesting, and display great versatility of talent.” His sales were increased by repackaging works, breaking books into sections and republishing the parts under separate titles or reissuing work with new dedicatees when a former mentor died. He was so prolific that in 1617 the booksellers made him sign an agreement not to publish any more on what we would now consider the subject of veterinary medicine.[1]

Gervase’s paternal great grandfather Sir John Markham of Cotham (c. 1486-1559) first married Anne, the daughter and heiress of Sir George Neville. Their eldest son John died young but only after fathering sons with his wife Catherine Babington, including Gervase’s father Robert.[2]

Sir Robert Markham of Cotham (1536-1606) was disfavored by his grandfather though legally his heir. By his first wife Mary Leeke, Robert fathered eight children including a Robert, a John and Gervase, born c. 1568. Like his grandfather, the elder Robert served multiple times as Knight of the Shire and High Sheriff of Nottingham under Elizabeth I and was elected several times to Parliament.[3]

The elderly Sir John Markham’s 3rd marriage was to Anne (d. 12 Oct. 1554), daughter of Sir John Strelley. The five children of this marriage included Thomas of Ollerton (b. 1523), Frances and Isabella. They were aunts and uncle of Sir Robert Markham although their children, his cousins, were close in age to Gervase and his siblings.

It must be noted that while letters to his “cousin Harington” were friendly and showed “that he had a very shrewd insight into the complicated intrigues of the times”, Robert feuded with his uncle Sir Thomas Markham of Ollerton and other relations. One angry letter from Thomas to Robert, remarkable for the fact that it was written by an uncle approximately 78 years old to a nephew pushing 70, described an incident where an observer said, “My Lord, mark Robert Markham for he is drunk, and that maketh him so loud.” Thomas warned Robert, “therefore I am to advise you to drink smaller drink and then I shall not be so much troubled with your Worship’s drunken lying railing.”

“Also touching Charles Chester,” Thomas Markham continued, “…he and I this Michaelmas term last, met twice or thrice a week at the Mermaid, in Bread Street, where my Lord Compton, Mr. Pope, Mr. Catesby, my brother Sheldon his son, with diverse others of good account” were also present “and then I found kindness at his hands, whereby I judge him of better and more grateful nature than your Worship, so as I thank God you are not able to compare me to so arrant an ungrateful knave as yourself.” Previously these kinsmen had at least exchanged cordial messages however “what befell in the meantime that made this great alteration is better known to you than to me. But as I guess it proceeded from your ungrateful lying son Robert, and also the instigation of your poetical and lying knave Gervase. Thus I find these two shew themselves rightly your sons, presuming of your accustomed boasting of your bastardly deceit…”

As both Robert Sr. and Thomas had been Justices of the Peace, they were equally aware of “the manner of the warrants that are to be granted in that behalf”. This mention, one presumes, was made in case Robert was tempted to pursue a vendetta through the courts. Thomas was not frightened of his nephew “for all the lands that you have, notwithstanding your privilege and my delay, for I think myself very well able to beat you, if you will attempt any violence against me in your own person.” The willingness to throw down and mention of the “delay” in his advancement made me recheck references. I thought perhaps they were two of the cousins but one would then have to come up with another example of a Thomas Markham who was a “brother” to a Sheldon (or whose child had married a Sheldon) arguing with a kinsman who had a poetic son named Gervase and another named Robert. These were very tough septuagenarians.

Thomas further wrote that Robert “had best let that lying brag cease to say that you are the best of my house, for Griffin may justly reprove you in that, and so it is like he will.” Having predicted that his son Griffin was likely to surpass his aged nephew in honor, Thomas Markham signed and dated the letter for February 4th, 1600 (since their year did not change until March, this would be February 4th 1601 and written the day after Southampton held the first planning meeting for the Essex Rebellion).[4]

This letter spurred a response from Gervase. “Sir, The reverence I bear to age and my love to modesty shall ever hold me within those gentle limits” and “any passion of fury, doth in my conceit disgrace both age and modesty. You have charged me in a letter to my father that I have been an instigator of these unkindnesses which have passed between you, to which I do answer, it is altogether untrue.” He predicted  that those “unhappy disunions in our own bloods will if you will continue them be the utter ruin of both your estimations” and attributed the feud to the workings of mutual enemies who “do as in a theater sit and laugh at our each others devouring.” As for calling him a “poetical lying knave” he answered “For my love to poesy if it be an error, I confess myself faulty”. He “mourned for mine hours misspent in that feather-light study, yet can I name many noble personages who with greater desire, and more fervency have continued and boasted in the humour, which though in others it be excellent, in myself I loathe and utterly abhor it; but for the ‘lying knave’, with him dwell it which unjustly gave it to me.” He then announced he would “give my soul to god or thrust the lying knave into his bosom”, supported his father’s cause and promised “hereafter I will prove no knave but your nephew.”[5]

For better or for worse, first cousins of Robert and first cousins once removed for Gervase included:

  • Griffin Markham (1564?-1664?), the son that Thomas Markham mentioned in his letter. Griffin Markham was a Bye Plotter in 1603 who insisted that he “heard it was usual in Scotland for the king to be taken of his subjects, and kept in strong hold until he had granted his subjects’ request.” The Bye Plotters planned to kidnap King James to force him to grant religious tolerance or “freedom of conscience” for Roman Catholics. Griffin was sent into exile, thereby dashing Thomas Markham’s hopes that his son might prove to be “the best” of their house.
  • Elizabeth Markham, daughter of Thomas and sister of Griffin. Elizabeth married Edward Sheldon, son of Sir Ralph Sheldon of Beoley and brother of Oxford’s sister-in-law Katherine Trentham.
  • Sir John Harington of Kelston, the Queen’s “saucy” godson, son of Isobel Markham and the poet Sir John Harington. This godson of the Queen wrote A New Discourse in which he bravely defended his uncle Thomas Markham along with Sir Ralph Sheldon, father of his cousin-in-law Edward Sheldon who was the book’s dedicatee. The fathers of Edward Sheldon and his wife were being slandered over their Roman Catholicism.
Sir John Harington of Kelso

Sir John Harington of Kelston

  • Anthony Babington, son of Frances Markham who was a sister of Thomas and Isobel. Babington was executed over the Babington Plot.[6]

Anthony Babington

Gervase had married Anne Gelsthorpe in 1600. It must be noted that while the Markhams were busy feuding in the run up to the Essex Rebellion of the family names in these notes only Catesby appeared on the lists of rebels.[7] Yet Gervase would prove a staunch supporter of the Earls. He was said to have written the play The Dumbe Knight in 1608 to vindicate the Earl of Essex in his 1601 rising, and in 1624 published Perfection in his Honour to laud the Earl of Southampton and his allies the sons and successors of Oxford and Essex. For all their family warfare both sides may have been sympathetic to Essex and Southampton. Also note that through his cousins Gervase Markham lies in proximity to the Sheldons, the family of Oxford’s sister-in-law, who are absolutely surrounded by authorship connections. I consider this one more reason to take a close look at possible authorship clues in Markham’s works.

[1] Drake, Nathan. Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838), pp. 246-47 

[2] History of Parliament 1509-1558, Markham, Sir John (by 1486-1559), of Cotham, Notts

[3] Grosart, Alexander B. Miscellanies of the Fuller Worthies’ Library, Memorial-Introduction (1870-76) 2:3-31; Drake, 246-247; HOP 1558-1603, Markham, Robert (1536-1606), of Cotham, Notts.

[4] Grosart, letter from Thomas Markham to Robert Markham, 4 February 1600/1?, see above

[5] Grosart, letter from Gervase Markham, see above

[6] DNB 1885-1900, Volume 36, Gervase Markham; Harington, John. The Epigrams of Sir John Harington, ed. Gerard Kilroy, Ashgate Publishing, 2009, p. 7

[7] CP 76.56. February 12, 1600/01

Also see DNB entries


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