The Road to Polisy, Part III

Whether Oxford was likely to have seen Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors and its anamorphic memento mori that scholars so often compare to Yorick’s skull in Hamlet is a two-fold question, a matter of proximity in physical space and within a social network.

During Oxford’s 1575-76 grand tour, that painting was displayed at the Dinteville’s estate in Polisy, France. Beginning with a family they knew whose art and culture Shakespeare often drew on in moments of pivotal transformation, Parts I and II explored dozens of allusions to the Gonzagas of Mantua and their network of relations which stretched over the Alps to France yet rarely extended further than second cousins from Guglielmo Gonzaga, 3rd Duke of Mantua. While continuing to look at Gonzaga/Dinteville contacts, Part III will explore the Polisy family’s ties with the de Tournons of Roussillon and Tournon sur Rhone. If the road to Polisy began in Mantua, it also ran through Roussillon.

Helene de Tournon who died for love was alluded to in several plays, inspiring Ophelia’s funeral which was juxtaposed with the skull of Yorick in Hamlet. Scholars have long compared Shakespeare’s use of anamorphism — particularly his treatment of Yorick’s skull — to that skull of curious perspective limned in Holbein’s painting. I will now present material that supports the assertion that Yorick’s skull was inspired by Holbein’s The Ambassadors and that the author linked that memento mori and Helene de Tournon’s funeral in Liege because the Dintevilles and de Tournons were closely interrelated.  

Love and death were themes of unending fascination for the author but these were purposeful insertions since Hamlet and two other plays were flagged with Act V allusions to Helene de Tournon linked with anamorphic memento mori/messengers of death. In two of the plays tagged in this way — Hamlet and All’s Well that Ends Well — these point in a structured way to interior caches of information that confirm the identities of figures shadowed in those plays, those from Roussillon in the case of All’s Well and from Polisy in the case of Hamlet. It is the precise mirroring of this architecture that allows us to more strongly assert that the author did view that anamorphic skull in Polisy, that he met Tournons and Dintevilles and — whether he intended to send this message or not — that he was not the man from Stratford-on-Avon.

We’ll briefly review the family network we’ve covered so far because to get to Tournon-sur-Rhone, Roussillon and Polisy during the Fifth War of Religion we have to make our way through Gonzaga controlled duchies and a gauntlet of warring commanders from their network of relations in France, just as Oxford did when he made this journey in 1576. It may seem that stitching together Gonzagas, de Tournons and Dintevilles is casting a wide net but this was the net cast by the author.  Love’s Labours’ Lost was the third play flagged with a Helene de Tournon allusion and messenger of death in Act V. While I have not found the same internal linking structure, LLL references Gonzagas and their French relations, including starring roles for those noble commanders who won the peace in the Wars of Religion. I will include evidence that the Lt. General of Champagne, Joachim de Dinteville was also given a hat tip in LLL for his part in that achievement, as I attempted to demonstrate was true in the case of the closely associated Louis Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers in Part II. It is with this last noble male Dinteville that “the wheel is come full circle,” allowing us to appreciate the inventive ‘daisy chain’ of anamorphically flagged caches of information that the author built into these plays.

Significant French relations of the Mantuans included Henry of Navarre, the Prince of Conde, the Dukes of Longueville, Guise, his brother Mayenne and the Duke of Nevers who was a brother of the Duke of Mantua. All of these figures were descended from and/or married into lines descended from Rene, Duke of Alencon, although that title was waylaid by royal privilege and had since been bestowed on Francois de Valois who in 1576 was leading the war against his brother, Henri III.

Federico II Gonzaga, the 1st Duke of Mantua, had himself come of age in the French court and married Margaret of Paleologa, godmother of Henri III and granddaughter of Rene d’Alencon through his daughter Anne.


On left, Anne d’Alencon (d. 1562) On right, her daughter Margaret Paleologa (d. 1566)

Among the children of Federico II and Margaret were Guglielmo (b. 1538), who became the 3rd Duke of Mantua, and Louis, a year younger, who was sent to live in France at age 10 with his grandmother Anne of Alencon. Louis Gonzaga gained title to the duchy of Nevers by marrying into the line that Anne’s sister Francoise founded with the Gonzaga’s cousin Charles IV de Bourbon, Duke of Vendome, descended from Federico II’s aunt Clara Gonzaga.

Of those related commanders in the French Wars of Religion, Navarre and Conde were grandsons of Vendome and Francoise d’Alencon. The Dukes of Nevers, Conde and Guise married three sisters from the house of Cleves who were granddaughters of this couple. (Parrott, p. 156). The three sisters, Conde, Nevers, his brother in Mantua and Henry of Navarre had parents who were first cousins (sisters in the case of Conde and his wife). Guise and Mayenne were slightly more distant cousins to the Gonzagas through d’Este descent.


Clockwise from left, the Dukes of Nevers, Guise and Conde married three sisters: Henriette, Catherine and Marie of Cleves

These men were even more recursively related to each another and to the French royals, yet Nevers would only deepen his ties to these lines. Henri I d’Orleans, the Duke of Longueville married Nevers’ daughter Catherine. Later Nevers and Mayenne would each marry a daughter off to the other’s heir.

These men were kin but they were also combatants. This nexus would provide a roster of commanders for both sides in the French religious wars, including the Fifth War of Religion whose end-run seige of Paris Oxford witnessed firsthand. With Alencon bolstering his faction of more tolerant Catholic Politiques with a Protestant coalition of commanders — Henry of Navarre, the Duke of Conde (whose duchy actually lay in the realm of the Emperor) and another duke from Germany named Jan Casimir — the king agreed to negotiate a degree of religious toleration. Yet this policy would fuel the rise of the militant Catholic League headed by Guise and later by Mayenne, leading to decades of bloodshed and war that continued even after their Bourbon kinsman — Henry, King of Navarre — stepped up to the French throne. The following charts show the French and Italian sides of the Gonzaga family tree (with a sample of Shakespeare references and Dinteville connections.)



Gonzagas were partly French by acculturation as well as by blood. Federico II Gonzaga had established close ties with the French by the time he left the court of Francis I at age 19 to take the reins in Mantua, and was soon elevated to a duke by the emperor. He was likely to have known Gaucher I de Dinteville (p. 130), Seigneur D’Echenay & de Policy, bailly of Troyes, Master of the King’s Household and Governor of the Dauphin, and to have also met his son who entered the court that year, 14 year old Jean de Dinteville, who would one day commission and appear in Holbein’s painting.

After the 1st Duke of Mantua died, his brother the Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga served as protector of Mantua until Guglielmo, the third Duke, came of age. Cardinal Gonzaga was a favored French party candidate for Pope in 1559 along with his cousin the Cardinal D’Este from Ferrara and the French Cardinal de Tournon. The two northern Italians were promoted successively in bids to place an ally of France at the head of  the church after the French Cardinal’s campaign failed.


Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, Cardinal Francois de Tournon, Cardinal Ippolito d’Este

That powerful Cardinal Francois de Tournon (1489-1562), likened to the foreign minister of Francis I, was charged with the military provisioning of French forces on either side of the Alps which may have occasioned contact with Gaucher I de Dinteville, who was also Francis I’s Lieutenant of Italy. In “spring 1536” Guillaume de Dinteville, younger brother of the future Ambassador, “was sent to recruit 6000 foot and 500 light horse in Italy commanded by a number of royal pensioners: Francesco di Gonzaga, Guido Rangone, Annibale di Gonzaga.” (Potter 149) A family who historically provided condottierri or generals for the Pope and the Emperor, Gonzagas led troops on both sides in that war between the Emperor and Francis I. Though those Gonzaga commanders hired on by the French acquitted themselves well and were rewarded, one being inducted into the Order of St. Michael, the occupational contacts (and hazards) of such work were evident when the dauphin Francois died in the summer of 1536 at the Chateau de Tournon and the prince’s squire the Count of Montecuculli was arrested on suspicion of administering poison in his water. Though it is now believed that even Montecuculli was innocent of causing the dauphin’s fatal illness, under torture the squire confessed, reversed himself and then implicated others including Fernando Gonzaga of Melfetto, an imprisoned imperial general and Guillaume de Dinteville, the squire of the stables in the dauphin’s household, who had recruited the Gonzaga generals on the French side. Guillaume’s cousin the Grand Maitre Anne I, Duke of Montmorency, was at odds with the dauphin and favored his brother who became Henry II (in whose household Guillaume’s brother Gaucher II was first a “child of honor” and then Pannetier). Perhaps because Montmorency was the supreme commander in the war against the Emperor he could be not openly suspected and Guillaume’s innocence was quickly confirmed. The Prince of Melfetto and his colleagues protested that the Montecuculli had been executed without cross examination and Federico II Gonzaga sent an ambassador to assist their cause. Yet it was the Cardinal de Tournon, skeptical of the charges against Gonzaga, who convinced Francis I that there would be repercussions if the Emperor’s generals were executed.  (Decrue, 280-282; Hackett, 406; Hervey, 107-108; Brown, p. 7)

The Cardinal de Tournon  founded the College of Tournon and built the castle in Roussillon which he granted to his nephew Just II de Tournon, father of the Helene de Tournon whose death found its way into Shakespeare. The title of Count of Roussillon had belonged to Charles de Bourbon who was the second husband of Anne de la Tour, Helene de Tournon’s grandmother. As the 2nd count died childless, the title was inherited by his sister Suzanne and after her death in 1531 the Roussillon property  was granted to the Cardinal Tournon. After being widowed, Anne de la Tour went on to marry a third husband Jean de Montmorency, Seigneur d’Ecouen, brother of the Duke of Montmorency, both men cousins of the Dintevilles, so we might consider this their first family connection to a Comptesse of Roussillon. Yet it was through her first marriage to Francois II de la Tour, Vicompte de Turenne, that Anne de la Tour was mother to the famous courtly maid of honor Claudine or Claude de la Tour who married Just II de Tournon. Since Just II had received the property and title from his uncle, Claude de la Tour did wind up with her mother’s former title.

It was no coincidence that two of the three French party candidates for Pope during that fiercely battled 1559 conclave were northern Italian. If France and the Empire were no longer battling it out for territory on either side of the Alps, the demesnes of all three men lay on a circuit continually used by elite travelers. We first mapped this circuit in Part I while studying the network of northern Italian artists in France who had trained with the Gonzaga sponsored Rafael and his acolyte Giulio Romano, the Mantuan chief designer who was the only artist Shakespeare mentioned by name. This group included Romano’s student Primaticcio, chief designer at Fontainebleau, who provided stucco work in Mantua before and after his stay in the Polisy chateau where he would have viewed the Holbein painting. Primaticcio in fact maintained long term working relationships with figures at all three sites: Fontainebleau, Mantua and Polisy. (Brown, 15-16, 270, Catholic Encyclopedia, Vasari)

Nearly twenty years later, on his way back from Poland to claim the crown of France in 1574, Henri III was feted at the Villa Foscari near Venice. On departure he traveled with the Venetian doge in the ducal boat, followed in procession by a gondola transporting Mantua and Nevers, his godmother’s sons, and their cousin the Duke of Ferrara, who was also a kinsman of the king.

1-4kinsmenBeFunky Collage1.jpg

Gulglielmo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua; Louis Gonzaga, Duke of Nevers; Alfonso II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara; Henri III of France

Shakespeare would hint that Belmont in Merchant of Venice was modeled after the Villa Foscari according to Noemi Magri, in part, by alluding to the visit of the “Marquis of Montferrat” (Mantua’s secondary title, though the Emperor had elevated it to a dukedom by the time Oxford visited). There were celebrations in the D’Este’s Ferrara and the Gonzaga’s Mantua, a sojourn in Venice where the king was “always accompanied” by Nevers and d’Este. The Dukes of Mantua, Nevers and Ferrara were three of the five men noted as Henri’s companions at celebrations in Turin, the fourth being their rival the  Duke of Savoy who ruled over that city and the fifth, the grand prior of France. (Journal de Henri III, p. 40) The king also visited “Roussillon enroute to Tournon then to Avignon” in that year. (Hess, p. 399). Similarly when we hear that the Queen mother Catherine de Medici, Charles IX, Margeurite de Valois and Henry of Navarre stayed at the castle in 1564, by the Decree of Roussillon establishing Jan 1st as the New Year on the calendar, it was remembered because it was another standout event in a crisscrossing stream of elite visitations.

Closing the house he kept in Venice, Oxford perhaps retraced Henri III’s steps across northern Italy when he returned to Paris in 1576. Whether taking the canal route through the northern cities or the straight shot of the Po River, Oxford would twice pass through thickets of Gonzaga ruled towns on his way to Turin in the foothills of the Alps. Each blue square marks a city or town among the many controlled by the Gonzaga family, enough to demonstrate the way they controlled important accessways to the Po River and the canal system.


Beyond Turin was the Mont Cenis Pass (green dots, below) which Anderson identified as Oxford’s likeliest route over the Alps.(Anderson, p. 106)


After crossing the Alps, Oxford was in range of another Montferrat, this one not controlled by Gonzagas, and beyond lay Lyons where he had preshipped his belongings. Yet as an English high noble esteemed by the French royals he was quite likely to have traveled by way of the Compte de Roussillon’s estates in Tournon sur Rhone and Roussillon. As Oxfordians stress a Count of Rousillon and his estate appear in All’s Well that Ends Well. 


Roussillon was further north on the Rhone River, not 40 kilometers away and almost halfway to Lyon so he may have headed directly to the castle. The count that Oxford would have met was Just Louis de Tournon, son of Just II and Claude de la Tour . As W. Ron Hess notes similar to the way that there was an attempt to match the Count of Rousillon with “Madeleine (Maudlin), daughter of Lord Lafeu (pronounced in English …’lafoo’)” in that play, in 1583 the real life Comte de Roussillon married “Madeleine, daughter of the Duc de LArocheFOUcauld” (Hess, p. 402).

The Lafeu of the play is an older French lord who supports the character Helena, though during that interval when she is believed dead he considers marrying Madeleine to the Count of Rousillon, as Shakespeare spelled it. The real life Madeleine who married the Comte de Roussillon was the daughter of Francois III, Comte de la Rochefoucauld and de Rousy, Prince de Marcillac, Baron de Verteuil and a well regarded gentlemen of Henry II’s chamber.


A respected military commander, La Rochefoucauld first married Silvia, daughter of Galleoto Pico della Mirandola and Ippolita Gonzaga, who was a daughter of Ludovico Gonzaga, Count of Sabbioneta and Lord of Bozzolo, and his wife Francesco Fieschi (see second chart above). Rochefoucauld’s first father-in-law was kin to the famous philosopher Pico della Mirandola while his mother-in-law was a second cousin once removed of Mantua and Nevers and an aunt of Vespasiano Gonzaga, the Count and later Duke of Sabbioneta (developer of the Little Athens and Duke’s Oak that Roe connected to Midsummer’ Night’s Dream). Rochefoucauld’s brother Charles also married Silvia’s sister Fulvia, further strengthening the Comte’s ties to the family of his in-laws.(Potter, p. 95, n 251)

Those Rochefoucauld wives were also nieces of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga, called”El Cagnino”, who succeeded his father as the Gonzaga Lord of Bozzolo. Just as Guillaume de Dinteville recruited Gonzaga men when procuring horse and arms for Francis I, it was El Cagnino who his brother Gaucher II first fled to for assistance during a period of exile followed soon after by Guillaume and that’s another story, but Guillaume de Dinteville later married Rochefoucauld’s cousin, and Rochefoucauld and his brother, as mentioned, would marry El Cagnino’s nieces.

Silvia died in 1554 and three years later Rochefoucauld married Charlotte de Roye, an aunt of the Prince of Conde.


Charlotte de Roye, mother of Madeleine, passed away in 1571. Madeleine’s father was one of those protestant leaders successfully targeted for murder on St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1572. In 1583 the Count of Roussillon and Madeleine la Rochefoucauld married with Henri III in attendance, with the king’s journal only noting that the Duke of Guise hadn’t attended because his cousin was getting married that day. Considering the Guisan role in the massacre that killed Rochefoucauld his absence was probably best, although Henri III’s brother Charles IX, their mother Catherine Medici and the Duke of Nevers have also been suspected as ringleaders. (Journal de Henri III…, 158).

An elderly family member of the bride (no word on whether she attended the wedding), Louise de Rochechuart was born to Francois, the Vicomte de Rochechouart, and Jacquette de la Rochefoucauld. Louise was that cousin of the slain Rochefoucauld who married Guillaume de Dinteville, by then Signeur d’Echenay, after 1551 Baron Chacenay, also Capitaine of Langres. She was the woman believed to have been in possession of The Ambassadors when Oxford passed through the area.

Guillaume, as mentioned, was the brother of Jean de Dinteville, Signeur of Polisy, Bailly of Troyes who was limned in Holbein’s painting while he was Ambassador to Henry VIII’s  England. After the Ambassador’s death in 1555 Guillaume inherited his titles, estates and the painting. In 1559 Guillaume, by then Seigneur D’Echenay &  de Polisy, also passed on. Though their oldest daughter Claude, age 14, was primary heir, Louise Rochechouart may have retained the equivalent of a life estate on the chateau in Polisy  because there would be an official inventory of the contents, including that painting, when she died in 1589 according to Hervey and Brown.

That the dowager Dame of Polisy was a first cousin once removed of Madeleine, Countess of Rousillon, was the second family connection and the third occurred when Louise’s brother Claude, Vicomte de Rochechouart (d. 1636) married Blanche de Tournon, a sister of Just II. So Louise’s brother was additionally a brother-in-law of the late Count and dowager Countess of Roussillon.(Histoire Genealogique, 17)

To give it perspective, this made Blanche de Tournon the sister-in-law of both the elderly Dinteville widow who held possession of The Ambassadors and the dowager Countess of Roussillon who was presumably the inspiration for the dowager Countess of Rousillon in All’s Well that Ends Well. Blanche was also an aunt to the Count of Roussillon who had a counterpart in that play and of Helene de Tournon who was alluded to in this and two other Shakespeare plays. Blanche’s husband and his sister were of course both cousins of Rochefoucauld and his daughter who married the Count of Roussillon and those two also received hat tips in All’s Well.

Blanche and Just II had a sister named Helene de Tournon who was married to Jean de la Baume, Comte de Montreval, and he was a second cousin of the Dinteville brothers, thus tying these families together a fourth time. (Histoire Genealogique, 17) Montreval’s parents were Marc de la Baume, Comte of Montreval and Anne Chateauvillain. She was the widow of the Comte’s cousin Jacques de Dinteville, Royal Huntsman of France, Seigneur of Chenets and Dammartin. There is a record of when word of this cousin’s marriage to his sister-in-law was sent to Gaucher I de Dinteville whose titled properties along with his late brother’s would descend to his son Guillaume. (p. 307, n2, Histoire Genealogique 719)

We have pointed out four different ways that the family who inherited Holbein’s painting was related to the family at Roussillon (and some significant contact between these family lines and the Gonzagas). The lady holding The Ambassadors may have known the de Tournons quite well since her brother and their cousin’s daughter both married de Tournons, and then there were the family connections via her husband’s relations. Though it was on another river altogether, the Chateau of Polisy was really just a step away from those estates in Roussillon and Tournon-sur-Rhone, linked by genealogy, which in itself partly resulted from geography, with all of these houses laying on that travel circuit that flowed from the Seine to the Rhone and once over the Alps, to the Po and the northern Italian canal system.


Rochechouart, Rochefoucauld, Tournon


Dinteville, Baume

Rather confusingly in All’s Well “Helena” was not the daughter of the dowager Countess of Rousillon but her ward. This character was in love with the Count of Rousillon rather than being his sister. The countess says of Helena: “her father bequeathed her to me; and she herself, without other advantage, may lawfully make title to as much love as she finds” and encourages the orphan to match with her son the count. It would be interesting to know whether the orphaned Madeleine was in the care of the de Tournons. Rochefoucauld had married de Roye on May 31st 1557. Since their first two children were sons, Madeleine couldn’t have been born much before 1560 and so was seventeen or younger when Oxford traveled through France.

In shunting aside Madeleine ‘Lefou’ and naming ‘Helena’ as the young Count of Rousillon’s intended, the author sets up a risque bit of comedy. In I,3, while hinting that she would like Helena to be her daughter-in-law, the dowager Countess of Rousillon repeatedly calls herself the mother of this young woman.

Countess: …i am a mother to you.

Helena:  Mine honourable mistress.

Countess: Nay, a mother:

Why not a mother? When I said ‘a mother‘,

Methought you saw a serpent: what’s in ‘mother‘,

That you start at it? I say, I am your mother

Helena pleads that the count who she secretly loves “must not be my brother.” The Countess of Rousillon wants to know why “daughter and mother so strive upon your pulse” then says, “Now I find…your salt tears’ head: now to all sense ’tis gross/ You love my son; invention is ashamed/ Against the proclamation of thy passion.” The joke was that Helene really was the daughter of the countess and sister of the count.

In Act V Helena, rejected by the count, is thought to be dead. The fate of the real life Helene is also hinted at in Act V of LLL when the princess and her attendants speak of a noble lady killed by Cupid: “He made her melancholy, sad and heavy; and so she died.” Abel Lefranc believed that this was a reference to Roussillon’s Helene. (Hess p. 400). Yet there was an even stronger allusion to her tragedy in Act V of Hamlet. In 1577, after rejecting his love Helene de Tournon in order become a priest, the Marquis de Varembon was stricken off his horse upon encountering her funeral procession, similar to the scene where Hamlet, coming off a rant on the anamorphic qualities of old Yorick’s skull, is horrified to encounter the funeral procession of the rejected Ophelia.

To this day actors hold Yorick’s skull at arm’s length, gazing upon it in a distinctly oblique manner which reminds us of that one has to take an extreme sidelong view from near the edge of the frame to get that grinning rictus in The Ambassadors to morph into shape. The gesture of gazing at the skull at the end of an outstretched arm held low was featured in the earliest known depiction of Hamlet and Yorick’s skull, a printed copy of an engraving by John Hall of London (d. 1797) and more examples of 2hamletholbeinskullthat earlier pose are here. Eugene Delacroix, in 1839 and 1843, alternatively showed the gravedigger holding up the skull, with Hamlet’s downward gaze reminiscent of the angle one must take to view the Holbein skull. It’s probably coincidence but also a reminder that either the high on the right or low on the left point of view will result in a correctly proportioned skull.

The actors may have stressed this in the handover of Yorick’s skull. Hamlet then moves the audience through rapid fire perspective changes, offering different glosses on that skull, which scholars now recognize as inherently anamorphic. Abandoning Yorick, his conversation is interrupted by an approaching funeral procession which is both Ophelia’s and Helene de Tournon’s, with Hamlet’s horror and devastation also belonging to Lord Varembon. For the author these were also tricks of “curious perspective”.

Imagine a noble Elizabethan theater goer, recently returned from his grand tour, who is struck by the manner in which Hamlet and the gravedigger are handling the skull. “Is the playwright alluding to that painted skull in Polisy?” he might wonder. Ophelia’s funeral procession might provide the clincher.  “Look how the author connected the tragedy of Helene de Tournon with a skull of curious perspective,” our theater-goer in the know might say to his friend. “That skull and the lady are tied together because Claude, the Vicompte la Rochechouart is the Lady of Polisy’s brother and an uncle of Helene de Tournon.I believe they are also cousins of that poor doomed girl’s sister-in-law, the young Countess of Roussillon. The author must have seen that perspective painting in Polisy, but who the devil could he be?”


Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

From Roussillon Oxford would sail north to pick up the belongings that he had preshipped to Lyons and perhaps he carried letters of introduction to related noble houses like the chateau of Polisy. He and his companions then continued north by land or by water at least until shortly before Dijon when the river meandered off in the wrong direction. From there he could travel north to Langres and the Marne River, or northwest to the “Source de la Seine”. Either would carry him to Paris yet Oxford was not just navigating a physical landscape but a socio-political one. At this point in the journey Duke Casimir offered Oxford the chance to view his mercenary troops on parade. Having taken control of Langres, this German Protestant prince was encamped in an area where the militant Duke of Guise traditionally held sway, his estate of Joinville laying further up the Marne. The Roman Catholic houses of Guise and Montmorency had long battled to control the court and crown and both could be treacherous. According to James Westfall Thompson, when an agent of Montmorency was arrested as a spy in March 1575, the crown heard “that a secret engagement existed between Queen Elizabeth, some of the German princes, and the enemies of the French king at home; and that Conde, having expended some 30,000 crowns, had raised 8,000 cavalry which might be expected to arrive at the frontier by the middle of August, although it was given out, and believed by some, that these reiters were intended for service in the Netherlands.” (Thompson, p. 504) Thompson also stated outright that “A secret alliance had existed between the count palatin, England, and the prince of Conde since July, 1575.”(p. 521). The Count Palatin was Casimir’s father.

Realizing that he needed all of the Catholic support that he could get, Henri III released Montmorency who had been imprisoned for involvement with Alencon in the Plot of the Malcontents. While not actually jailed like Montmorency, Alencon and Navarre had been kept under heavy watch. Yet in September 1575 Alencon joined Conde and his reiters who had indeed crossed into France. Guise was shot in the face while defending Langres against his brother-in-law Conde’s mercenaries, so “almost all the soldiery in the service of the King was withdrawn from Dauphine and Languedoc and concentrated in Burgundy and Champagne.” (Thompson, p. 506) Though Conde’s army and the king’s regiments were now apparently fighting each other further south, Casimir’s army had marched into Langres, the third army to move into the town in twice as many months. It was no coincidence that forces kept converging in Langres. The Seine and the Marne were strategically important for supplying the capital. By the time Oxford passed through the area Henry of Navarre had joined the alliance and their forces were preparing to march north and rendezvous with Casimir’s army for an attack on Paris.

Thirty years later, though George Chapman remembered the 25 year old Oxford as “the most goodly fashioned man I ever saw”, “of spirit passing great”, “valiant and learned and liberal as the sun,” he also gave Oxford shallow and contentious reasons for refusing to view those troops. Yet the ceremonial viewing of Casimir’s troops by the Lord Great Chamberlain of England could have had repercussions for Anglo-French relations, not to mention stirring up the local peasantry. Mobs had attacked Protestants in Troyes after the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and the “spontaneous nature of the rising of the country in the summer of 1575” was “by no means confined to the south of France. In Champagne, the nobles, some of them vassals of Guise, and peasants united to fall upon the reiters.”  Even Guise’s wife Catherine of Cleves had fled their chateau in Joinville in the previous summer for fear of being caught in “a sixteenth-century Jacquerie” (the Jacquerie being one of the most notorious French Peasant Risings). (Thompson, p. 502).

So Oxford would have avoided the Marne altogether. The Seine began just 19 miles northwest of Dijon and would take him to Troyes with its castle that appears in the play Henry V, and then past Longueville, Fontainebleau and finally into Paris, but first Oxford would have to sail past Polisy.


There is a representation of “the Ambassador” and his brothers in a painting called Moses and Aaron before Pharaoah.


Detail of Moses and Aaron before Pharoah, painter unknown.The Dinteville brothers,          L to R: Jean, Gaucher, Francois, Louis, Guillaume

We’ll look at this painting in Part IV, but on the far left was Jean de Dinteville, five time Ambassador to England, Lord of Polisy and Bailly of Troyes posing as a very Johnite Moses. Over his shoulder was Gaucher, the Lord of Vanlay and Capitaine of Bar-sur-Seine. The eldest brother Francois, the Bishop of Auxerre, posed as Aaron in the center. Second from right was believed to be Louis, who was a knight commander in the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Seneschel of Rhodes. Guillaume, the Lord D’Echenay , Capitaine of Langres and husband of Louise Rochechouart wore the fabulous hat on the far right.

When Oxford passed through the only surviving noble male Dinteville was a cousin, Joachim, Seigneur of nearby Dinteville and Meurville.  The brothers Dinteville and Joachim were distant cousins, yet the older branch in Dinteville remained close to the nearby cadet house of Polisy. In fact it is easy to confuse the former Ambassador Jean de Dinteville (d. 1555) with Joachim’s father, the Jean de Dinteville (d. 1545) who passed to his son the titles of Dinteville and Meurville.

Joachim, born in 1540, lost his father when he was about 5 years old. The middle aged former Ambassador, Jean de Dinteville, increasingly crippled from a debilitating illness, passed his duties onto his brother Guillaume but continued to mentor and tutor students at his Polisy estate so he may have helped to educate and guide his young kinsman.Gaucher II, Lord of Vanlay passed on in 1550 and midway through the decade the Bishop and the Ambassador also died. Guillaume became the last uncle to pass on in 1559. His daughter and heiress Claude had married Francois, the Lord Cazillac in the early 1560s. Joachim had married Marguerite de Dinteville who was the only surviving child of the late Gaucher II, tying these lines together again.

Age 36 when Oxford passed through the area, the lord of Dinteville and Meurville had not yet figured in the religious wars which have been described as essentially a feud between the Protestant house of Conde (Bourbon) and the Catholic house of Guise (Lorraine). Ties to the Lorraines were not incidental. Charles III, Duke of Lorraine would marry his heir to the 3rd Duke of Mantua’s granddaughter and a daughter would marry the Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany. Lorraine had installed Joachim’s sister Renee de Dinteville as the princess-abbess of Remiremont. Dinteville and Meurville were ranged between Troyes and Langres, the latter town where Guise had recently earned the nickname ‘la Balafre’ or ‘Scarface’ after taking that bullet to the face. Cousin Claude’s primary inherited chateau was in Echenay,  right next to Joinville. Yet down past Auxerre was Nevers, and farther along the Seine was Longueville. Dinteville had to navigate between all of these high nobles.   

However Dinteville’s lack of advancement shows that he was not favored by Guise who controlled all appointments in the area. The Governorship of Champagne and Brie, an influential position that had belonged to a previous Duke of Nevers, was held by a Guise lackey. The Lieutenant General of Champagne and Brie was Charles de la Rochefoucauld, Lord of Barbezieux, a cousin of Louise and Claude de la Rochefoucauld, but he served as an ally of Guise. Joachim’s lack of higher offices and positions by age 41 may also have gone hand in hand with his protestant associations, but increasingly after 1576 the king would use Dinteville to counter Guise. As Mark W. Konnert notes the seigneur had connections among the Huguenot nobility, in 1577 “dissuaded the nobles of the bailliage of Troyes from signing the articles of the Catholic League”, was assigned as a minder of Alencon in the Netherlands in 1578, and assisted Navarre and the Queen Mother Catherine Medici when negotiating concessions for protestants in the Treaty of Nerac in ’79. By 1580, threatened by the spread of the League, Henri III switched Barbezieux to another position and made Dinteville the Lieutenant General of Champagne and Brie. Dinteville’s subsequent summit between the nobles of Champagne was “a triumph of diplomacy and fence-mending” and he would be the king’s man, countering Guise and his appointed officials as carrots gave way to sticks and finally swords. For instance the Lord of Dinteville led and lost a battle against Guise in Chalons in 1585 but would be credited with helping the mayor of Langres save that strategic city for the crown, convincing the council to stand with the king.  (Konnert, p. 32-33, 148 on).


Leaders of the Catholic League: Henry I of Lorraine, Duke of Guise and his successor Charles I of Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne

Perhaps intently feeling the pressures of being wedged between his two brothers-in-law, Conde and Guise, Nevers held to a policy of “explicit loyalty to the king” which resulted in his appointment in 1588 as Governor of Champagne and Brie, while Longueville became Governor of Picardy, removing even these fiefdoms from the control of Guise. (Parrott, p. 157)  Though Mayenne took over control of the League after his brother’s death, he finally turned to help Navarre, by then the king France, Nevers, and Longueville defeat the extremists of the League. As we saw in Part II Shakespeare would honor this achievement by naming main characters after Navarre, Longueville and Mayenne in Love’s Labours’ Lost and, as I proposed in Part II, making a hat tip to the more controversial Nevers (or to Nevers and Mantua) as the “good old Mantuan” in that same play. Indeed the courtly Academy of Navarre in LLL is thought to be modeled after one that existed in Mantua called the Academia degli Invaghiti, and both the real and fictional academies were filled with relations of Nevers and Mantua. Nevers belonged in this group by virtue of his Alencon bloodline and close association with his relations in combating the League but as a man who was once part of the faction behind the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre he could not be openly praised in an English play. Nor could any Gonzaga, their house closely tied to the Roman church and counter reformation and this is why allusions to the Mantuans are often veiled in the plays.

Before and after he came under the command of Nevers, Dinteville would execute the war against the League in the hotly contested region of Champagne-Ardenne. Henry IV would induct the Lord of Dinteville into the Ordres du Roi which meant that he became a double knight of the Order of Saint Michael and the Order of the Holy Spirit, in this following in the footsteps of Louis Gonzaga, the Duke of Nevers, who under Henri III had become the first on the list of non royal and non ecclesiastical figures to achieve this double honor (Cazillac and the rest of these men were inducted at various points as well).

What about Charles de Gontaut, the 1st Duke of Biron who as the character Berowne was included with Navarre, Longueville and Mayenne in LLL? Besides his role as a hero in the French wars, Biron’s sister Claude de Gontaut Biron married Madeleine’s brother, Charles de la Rochefoucauld, Comte de Roucy so we’re still within the network of the above family trees.


What about Joachim de Dinteville? As an integral member of the cadre who fought the League and won the peace in France could he also merit a reference in the play? We’re on the lookout for a small hat tip in LLL that could allude to this second tier noble who is interesting precisely because he was one of those in closest proximity to the anamorphic skull in The Ambassadors. Though we have other reasons to look at Mercadé, this role may be Dinteville’s hat tip. Earlier in Act V,2 the princess spoke of a woman killed by Cupid, thought to reference Helene de Tournon. Now before the scene ends, as Stanley Wells describes:

“The messenger brings news of death. He must be a sombre figure, and his unexpected appearance when the mirth is at its height casts a chill over the scene. One of the most remarkable things about this highly verbal play is that the most important communication is made wordlessly…” Wells, p. 62

“Even so,” wordlessly, his tale was told, as if Mercadé himself is that message of death, a living memento mori.

Princess:      Welcome, Mercadé,

But that thou interrup’st our merriment.

Mercadé:       I am sorry, madam, for the news I bring

Is heavy on my tongue. The King your father –

Priness:        Dead, for my life.

Mercadé:       Even so. My tale is told. (LLL V,2)

Richard Wilson noted of the line “The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo”:

The closing lines of Love’s Labour’s Lost relate the figure of Mercadé to Mercury, the messenger of the gods and the guide to the underworld, while his name also affiliates this ambassador of death with Doctor Macchabré of the danse macabre [dance of death]. (Richard Wilson, p. 94)

Hans Holbein attained fame when his woodcuts of the danse macabre were published in 1526. It was a common theme but he was the first to turn the theme into biting reformation era satire.


The theme of the memento mori was reinforced within Holbein’s most famous painting, including a skull pin on the Ambassador’s hat which led historians to believe that “remember death” was Jean de Dinteville’s motto. Yet Shakespeare’s Act V flags and their linked internal structures provide the strongest argument for Joachim de Dinteville’s role as the messenger of death.

Note that the use of Yorick’s skull as a memento mori is juxtaposed with Ophelia’s funeral in Act V (scene 1) of Hamlet. A looser association occurs in LLL when Mercadé brings his message of death to the Princess who earlier in the same scene spoke of a woman killed by Cupid.(V,2). In both cases we have an allusion to Helene de Tournon in association with a messenger of death/memento mori in Act V of a play.

So what happens in Act V of All’s Well that Ends Well? In V,3 the king hopes that Bertram, Count of Rousillon will get over the death of Helena, the woman that he rejected, and accept Lafeu’s daughter Madeleine (Maudlin) as his wife. The king’s question is: “You remember the daughter of this lord?” Bertram confesses that he admired her at first, but then:

Bertram:  Where the impression of mine eye infixing,

Contempt his scornful perspective did lend me,

Which warpt the line of every other favor;

Scorn’d a fair colour, or exprest it stol’n;

Extended or contracted all proportions

 To a most hideous object:..

The Count of Rousillon describes how he distorted her image, listing various anamorphic methods employed by Shakespeare, but look at the last example. In creating The Ambassadors‘ skull Holbein also “extended or contracted all proportions to a most hideous object.”

Thus it was that Madeleine (or is it now Helene because he seems to have conflated the two) becomes an anamorphic figure of death haunting the living:

Bertram:   …whom all men praised, and whom myself,

Since I have lost, have loved, was in mine eye

The dust that did offend it.

The king understands how we only treasure what we have lost — “not knowing them until we know their grave…and after weep their dust” — and that the Count of Rousillon is really talking of Helena, emphasizing again a confusion between Madeleine and Helena.

King:  Be this sweet Helen’s knell, and now forget her.

Send forth your amorous token for fair Maudlin:…

So again we have a dead Helen(a) and the painful grief of the man who rejected her in Act V. She is herself the figure of death that haunts the living though she turns out to be alive and she is also the anamorphic transformation, fusing the elements of the other Act V flags into one in Act V of All’s Well. The number of scenes in Acts 1 through 5 are respectively 3, 5, 7, 5, 3. Act I has only three scenes just like Act V. So Act I deserves scrutiny and should yield further information. Act I, scene 3 was Helena and the Countess of Rousillon’s ‘mother-daughter’ act which was not just a risque skit but was actually serving as a confirmation key. The countess insisted repeatedly that she was Helena’s mother, Helena argued that she couldn’t be the Count of Rousillon’s sister, confirming their identities. Then the countess uses a curious phrase, saying that she had found the “salt tears head.” Before we could only suspect but taking the two “light” scenes together the author all but tells us “Of course ‘Helena’ is the Countess of Roussillon’s real daughter and Madeleine la Rochefoucauld the one who’s really supposed to marry the Count. Think thou that I know not that?” In this case V,3 led us to I,3.

In Hamlet the scenes in Acts I through V number 5, 2, 4, 7, 2. So Act II is on the ‘light’ side just like Act V; both have just two scenes. We already know that Act V, scene 1 was flagged with Yorick’s multifaceted skull and the Helene de Tournon style funeral. We traced the connections between the the family who owned The Ambassadors and Helene de Tournon’s relations, taking this as a confirmation that the author could well have had a letter of introduction to the Dintevilles and access to the Holbein painting but did the Bard embed a confirmation key in Hamlet as he did in All’s Well? If he linked Polisy and the Ambassadors and its anamorphic memento mori in the very same manner would you accept that he saw that skull?

In II, 1 Ophelia tells her father that Hamlet accosted her like a lunatic after she withheld herself from him as Polonius had requested. It’s a very spare scene but it’s II,2 that we want to examine since it was the last scene of the flagged act that carried the confirmation key in All’s Well and for other reasons that will become clear. Act II, 2 opens in the castle.

King: Welcome, dear Rosencrantz and Guildenstern!…

…Something have you heard

Of Hamlet’s transformation; so call it,

Sith nor the exterior nor the inward man

Resembles that it was. What it should be,

More than his father’s death, that thus hath put him

So much from the understanding of himself,

I cannot dream of…

The king has called these two young gentlemen back from Norway to find out what “more than his father’s death” is the cause of “Hamlet’s transformation”, another reference to anamorphism. As in All’s Well the king’s question serves as a guide. After Rosencrantz and Guildenstern agree to spy on Hamlet and exit, Polonius enters. His very first words:

Polonius: The ambassadors from Norway, my good lord,

Are joyfully return’d…

Claudius: Thou still hast been the father of good news.

Polonius: Have I, my lord? Assure you, my good liege,

I hold my duty as I hold my soul,

Both to my God and to my gracious king;

And I do think, or else this brain of mine

Hunts not the trail of policy so sure

As it hath used to do, that I have found

 The very cause of Hamlet’s lunacy.

King: O, speak of that; that I do long to hear.

Polonius: Give first admittance to the ambassadors;

My news shall be the fruit to that great feast.

Claudius: Thyself do grace to them, and bring them in.

[Exit Polonius]

Claudius: He tells me, my dear Gertrude, he hath found

The head and source of all your son’s distemper.

The Bad Quarto of 1603 gave a slightly different version. Polonius, in this version named Corambis or double-hearted,  does not promise to give his answer later, the king’s line is omitted and the queen’s speech might suggest that the advisor has already given his answer or alternatively that she hopes he really does have the answer. I have bold faced the key words once again. After “Rossencraft, and Gilderstone” leave:

Enter Corambis and Ofelia.
Cor. My Lord, the Amba s s adors are ioyfully
Return’d from Norway.
King Thou still ha st beene the father of good news.
Cor. Haue I my Lord? I a s s ure your grace,
I holde my duetie as I holde my life,
Both to my God, and to my soueraigne King:
1070And I beleeue, or else this braine of mine
Hunts not the traine of policie so well
As it had wont to doe, but I haue found
The very depth of Hamlet’s lunacie.
1073.1Queene God graunt he hath.
Enter the Amba s s adors.

First, how do we know that it is II,2 that we should examine as opposed to II,1?  Returning to the standard version, after Polonius exits the king says, “He tells me, my dear Gertrude, he hath found/The head and source of all your son’s distemper.” (II,2) This is similar to when the Countess of Rousillon said to Helena “Now I see/the mystery of your lonliness, and find/Your salt tears’ head.’ (I,3) In both cases the words found/find and head are used and the cause of their distemper/lonliness is likened to locating the head or source of a river. In both cases ‘finding the head’ caps the end of extra-dimensional content, which in All’s Well confirmed the identities of real life figures shadowed in the play.

This is not random. In both instances we wound up here after following Act V Helene de Tournon references to a rejected lady who is dead (Ophelia) or believed to be dead (Helena), with both connected to a hideous anamorphism and painfully grieving lover. We then then tracked back to the act that was equally ‘light’ ie. also having the same minimal number of scenes. With these key phrases we are assured that we have hit the right coordinates: we have ‘found the head’.

After The Ambassadors speak of the international intrigue swirling around the Polack (probably codespeak for Henri III who abandoned the throne of Poland to accept the French crown) Polonius is ready to enlighten the king. He thinks that Ophelia following his instructions to make herself unavailable is what made the Prince lose his mind but we know that’s the wrong answer. There are only two scenes in Act V and Act II. We might expect that V,1 would lead us to II,1 but  we arrive there only to find that short scene with Ophelia that led Polonius to a mistaken understanding in the first place. Nothing else transpires in this scene. The author says in effect wrong answer, move along, and that’s when we arrive at II,2 where the king significantly says that Polonius has claimed to have ‘found/the head and source.”

In both cases the king’s question served as a guide and pointer. In AW V,3  he asked “You remember the daughter of this lord?” meaning Madeleine, and by seeking out the act that had the same minimal number of scenes we wound up at the salt tears’ head, the ‘mother’ scene in I,3 that confirmed the real life identities of the characters. In both I,3 and V,3 there seemed to be a bleed-through from the real world (he “must not be my brother) or some confusion that stemmed from their real world identities (asked if he remembers Madeleine, who is like the displaced ghost of the real life Count’s wife, he instead begins talking about Helena).

My own question was whether the skull in Hamlet was inspired by Holbein’s skull in Polisy. In Hamlet II,2 this other king wants to know what beyond the death of his father is the cause for “Hamlet’s transformation” since “nor the exterior nor the inward man/  Resembles that it was.”  Now it’s Hamlet who is undergoing an anamorphic reformation. He is being changed into a horrid disfigurement of a noble prince, a figure of madness, just as Bertram in his mind turned the fused Madeleine/Helena into a horrid disfigurement of a woman in Act V of All’s Well. The overt answer is that Hamlet is mad because his uncle Claudius murdered his father, seized the crown and married his mother but we’re looking for the covert answer.

In Holbein’s The Ambassadors the anamorphism is an unrecognizable contortion. It’s only when we look at it in another way, obliquely or with an angled mirror, that we are able to view the memento mori because it is oriented on a different dimensional plane than the rest of the picture. So whenever you see the author referencing anamorphism in any of its many forms he’s signalling that there is another way to look at what you’re seeing, extra dimensional content to be uncovered. It is crucial to unlock these little puzzles since the extra dimensional material is going to be real world content deliberately included by the author.

Both the good and bad quartos tell us that it is Corambis/Polonius who possesses the answer. He thinks he has the answer and it’s the wrong one. Yet his opening words in that scene are ‘The ambassadors’ and then the trail of policie (policy) emerges from his blather. Here are the key phrases that I bold typed from the speech that precedes the entrance of the two Ambassadors:

The ambassadors…

…the trail of policy…

…I have found

The very cause of Hamlet’s lunacy.

King Claudius immediately says, “O, speak of that; that I do long to hear.”

Entreated to speak of the cause of Hamlet’s lunacy, Polonius says plainly: “Give first admittance to the ambassadors.” Note his very first and nearly his last words in this exchange are “the AmbassadorsThough his intent is merely to put the king off until after those figures have departed, the author has both concealed and revealed the correct answer in his speech.This passage is serving as the confirmation key right up to the point when the king mentions that Polonius “hath found the head.”

In a 2001 article on how Hamlet used words as weapons, Hank Whittemore, who in The Monument analyzed the “double image” speech of Shakespeare’s sonnets, on reaching Act II, scene 2 in his analysis observed that “Hamlet/Oxford is defined in terms of his ability to speak and write; his need for secrecy and wordplay; and that all other characters, so far, are defined in terms of their ability to speak and hear truth.” (p.9 )  Indeed, the king does not hear the truth that Polonius unwittingly uttered. This method of revelation via “double image” speech was particularly fitting since Oxford’s father-in-law Burghley, for centuries taken as the model for Polonius, authored a treatise condemning the Jesuit tactic of equivocation. This method of “double speak” employed words that were technically true but would be understood quite differently by the authorities.

Shakespeare used the word policy over 45 times in the canon but its significance here lies in the context and the sound of the word. “O, speak of that; that I do long to hear”signifies an aural clue. Turn back and the last thing Polonius said was that he found the cause of Hamlet’s lunacy. In the sentence prior he had just given that oral clue: “the trail of policy...” The soft c in policy is the same sound as the s in Polisy. Here is the French pronunciation of Polisy.

The author was using the method of “double image speech” that Whittemore detected in the sonnets, communicating on a second level through use of symbolic keywords with multivalent meanings, in this case using policy as a homonym for Polisy. Seeing the reference to the trail of Policy (Polisy) I guess I gave this series of posts the wrong name but I hadn’t discovered that part yet. Yet perhaps Oxford did actively seek out and track down The Ambassadors which is suggested as the very  cause of Hamlet’s, and by extension, the author’s lunacy. As Polonius himself observed, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”

This can also be read in a political context because the English word policy translates into French as politique. The Politiques rallied around Alencon, believing that a policy of compromise and religious toleration was necessary for the attainment of peace in France. It has been my view that Oxford was part of a faction in the English court that was working toward religious toleration or “liberty of conscience”. Tolerance did win in France, which is why the author gave hat tips in LLL to the men who made peace after the last French War of Religion: Navarre, Longueville, Mayenne, Biron and, as I believe, Nevers and Dinteville.

The English word policy translating into the French Politique also worked well in association with “Polisy“, “the Ambassadors” and the Dintevilles themselves. Acting as a diplomatic bridge between two sides was always the function of the Dintevilles, from their skilled navigation among the great powers of the upper nobility to Jean’s diplomatic efforts as ambassador during Henry VIII’s split from the church to Joachim assisting in negotiations with Huguenots on behalf of the French crown and checking the League as much by use of diplomatic skills as by weapons of war.

One more point about Joachim de Dinteville possibly being shadow played in Mercadé. LLL has an Act V Helene de Tournon allusion and messenger of death, but their only connection lies in the fact that both involve the Princess (her remembrance, her message) and are reminders of mortality shadowing a scene of light frivolity. Not only is this Act V scene flagged less distinctly, but I could not find that clearcut internal linking mechanism. So why did the author go out of his way to invoke Helene de Tournon in the lady killed by Cupid? Why include a very human figure of death who was no more than an apologetic messenger? Consider that the author intended for these three to be taken as a series. What do we see when we look back to the other Act V flags and their linked scenes? We find Polisy and the Ambassadors, Roussillon and de Tournons, those interlinked family lines. What man was a part of that family network and associated with LLL’s commanders in the French Wars of Religion and also connected in some way with a figure of ‘death’? Joachim de Dinteville easily steps into the role of this messenger.

Holofernes was called “A Death’s face in a ring” – a memento mori in the form of a memorial ring – when harassed in  the same scene and in IV,2 said “Ah, good old Mantuan!” and gave an “Old Mantuan, Old Mantuan” twist on the “Venetia, Venetia” proverb (“Who understandeth thee not, loves thee not) before singing notes in a sogetto cavato sequence. This method of intoning the vowels of an esteemed figure’s name via musical notes was originally developed by Josquin de Prez to honor a D’Este grandfather of Nevers and Mantua. The notes ut-re-sol-la-mi-fa or u-e-o-a-i-a do not fit Giovanni Baptista Spagnuolo (1447-1516) as suggested at least as early as the Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. II of 1907. Baptista does fit the a-i-a but the rest does not correspond to the preceding u-e-o and it is unclear if they or any source have recognized the notes as a sogetto cavato sequence. In Part II I suggested Duke Gonzagia. A mix of English and Latin is allowable when Shakespeare had “a fancy” for dressing someone “in the shape of two countries at once” (MAAN). The “Old Mantuan, Old Mantuan” seemed to me a generalized tribute to the two middle aged brothers from Mantua, both Gonzaga Dukes. Yet I was looking at the letters of the word when the author may have been stressing the sounds. Louis is pronounced Luee in French which would neatly account for the ut-re. It is still debatable but this French-Latin sogetto cavato sequence would be a fitting tribute to a French Mantuan who helped win the peace alongside his close relations that we know were honored in this play.

I use the analogy of a priest hole for the literary linking mechanism that the author used. It may help to think of an example that Oxford may have been familiar with, a type known as a double hide which existed at King’s Place, the Hackney estate where he spent his final years, believed by some historians to have formerly been the Vaux residence:

“At Hackney the Vaux family had another residence with its chapel and “priest’s hole,” the latter having a masked entrance high up in the wall, which led to a space under a gable projection of the roof. For double security, this contained yet an inner hiding-place.” Allan Fea, Secret Chambers and Hiding-Places, p. 11

In All’s Well and Hamlet, a Helene de Tournon reference combined with a hideous anamorphism and the grief of the suitor who rejected her marked the entrance. Further examination led us to pass through to another act that had the same minimal number of scenes, the equivalent of a passageway tunneled deeper into the interior structure. There we found phrases that confirmed that we had ‘found the head’, equating the discovery of the reason for their distemper/lonliness with locating the head or source of a river. In both cases those confirmations lay alongside a further cache of information, telling us in All’s Well that the author was aware that “Helena” was really the Countess of Roussillon’s daughter and the young Count’s sister, that he does remember Madeleine la Rochefoucauld. In Hamlet we find that he followed the trail of Polisy to see the Ambassadors and its anamorphic skull — maybe he ‘found the head’ by following the rivers —  and that he and his art were transformed by the experience.

If Oxford took the Seine he would travel through Polisy before reaching Troyes. If traveling overland from Langres his party would encounter Dinteville and Meurville on the way to Troyes. Claude’s husband, the Baron Cazillac was the “Governor of Troyes” in the latter part of the century according to Mary Hervey (p. 16). The green circles on the map below mark only the primary inherited titled estates of the younger generation of Dintevilles. Claude had inherited d’Echenay and Polisy, her sister Jeanne became the Dame of Chacenay (right next to Polisy so not shown), Joachim and Margeurite possessed Dinteville, Meurville and Vanlay. Any way you look at it Oxford was heading into the home grounds of the family that had access to The Ambassadors. 


Those three legs of his return to Paris — the Po, the Rhone and the Seine — may have inspired the phrases that relate to finding the head or source of a river/fountain. Given the circle of associations, the author could have heard tale of the Holbein skull in the French court, Mantuan ducal palace or in the castle of Roussillon, yet he would have to find accommodation with recommended local nobles at every step of the way.  At a certain point it begins to seem inevitable that Oxford would find the Holbein painting in Polisy, that Shakespeare would see that skull.


Please note that I was unable to locate at least two sources that I read long before I started this project which partly helped in my understanding. I am particularly searching for a Stratfordian source that did try to connect Hamlet’s skull to the skull in Polisy using textual allusions in Hamlet and an Oxfordian source that reviewed Oxford’s return to Paris and suggested that he could have viewed the skull. If you have knowledge of these or other helpful sources please share in the comments. I would also like to acknowledge again the findings of Michael Delahoyde, Noemi Magri, John Hamill, Richard Paul Roe and also Hank Whittemore who have contributed in major part to my understanding of Shakespeare’s anamorphic references and/or their links to the art in Europe.

Linked Sources:

Anderson, Mark. Shakespeare by Another Name: The Biography of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man who was Shakespeare, Dara England and Untreed Reads Publishing, 2005, 2011.

Brown, Elizabeth A. R., The Dinteville Family and the Allegory of Moses and Aaron before Pharoah, Metropolitan Museum Journal, v. 34, 1999

Compaigne des Libraires. Histoire Généalogique Et Chronologique De La Maison Royale De France, Des Pairs, Grands Officiers de la Couronne & de la Maison du Roy: & des anciens Barons du Royaume: Avec Les Qualitez, L’Origine, Le Progrès & les Armes de leurs Familles …, 1733

De Courcell, Jean. Histoire généalogique et héraldique des Pairs de France.., 2012

L’Estoile, Pierre. Mémoires et registre-journal de Henri III, Henri IV et de Louis XIII,  1837

Hervey, Mary F.S. Holbein’s Ambassadors: The Picture and the Men, George Bell & Sons, 1900

Lalore, Charles. Les Sires and les Barons de Chacenay, 1885

Hess, W. Ron. The Dark Side of Shakespeare: An Ironfisted Romantic in England’s most Perilous Times, Writers Club Press, 2002

Konnert, Mark W. Local Politics in the French Wars of Religion: The Towns of Champagne, the Duc de Guise and the Catholic League, 1560-1595, Ashgate Publishing, 2006

Magri, Noemi. Places in Shakespeare: Belmont and thereabouts, De Vere Society Newsletter, June 2003, reprinted in Great Oxford, editor Richard Malim, Parapress LTD, 2004

Parrot, David. Chapter Four: A ‘Prince Souvereign’ and the French Crown, Royal and Republican Sovereignty in Early Modern Europe, Ed. Ragnhild Marie Hatton, Robert Oresko, Cambridge University Press, 1997

Potter, David. Renaissance France at War: Armies, Culture and Society, c. 1480-1560, Boydell Press, 2008

Thompson, James Westfall. The Wars of Religion in France: 1559-1576, University of Chicago Press, 1909, republished First Rate Publishers, 2015

Wilson, Richard. “Worthies Away”: The Scene Begins to Cloud in Shakespeare’s Navarre, Representing France and the French in Early Modern English Drama, editor Jean-Christophe Mayer, Associated University Presse, 2008

Wells, Stanley. Shakespeare: A Life in Drama, W. W. Norton & Co., 1997

Whittemore, Hank. Prince Hamlet, the “Spear-shaker” of Elsinore, Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter, Spring 2001

Whittemore, Hank. The Royal Imagery of the Sonnets – And the Genius of the Double Image, Hank Whittemore’s Shakespeare Blog, 2011



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