We have the poet who calls himself Shakespeare within our grasp now, and we must not let him get away. We will have to proceed cautiously, step by step, logically, to pick him out from the small illustrious group he's in.

First, we know there is general agreement that it's the canopy over Queen Elizabeth we're dealing with here.

Next, we know that the poet Shakespeare 'bore the canopy.'

Who would have borne, or carried, the canopy? To answer that we have to take a brief look at the Middle Ages.

The Mediaeval period in European history. or the Middle Ages there, including the British Isles, is a time into which 99 percent of the population wished they'd never been born. It was a dreary, poverty-stricken period for the common folk. This lasted from the fall of the Roman Empire in the 400s AD for over a thousand years. There was untold hardship through famines, bubonic plagues like the Black Death which killed off about a third of the population, there was enforced service on the property of the lord of the manor six days a week by villeins and serfs, tied to the land they worked on. They could not travel even from village to village. Sanitation was minimal or absent. Poverty, disease, war and famine kept the population at a low level despite the complete absence of contraceptives. Literacy was at an all time low. It may surprise you to know that in 1072 William the Conqueror, Matilda his wife and Queen, and the Archbishop of Rouen, all signed a document with crosses for their signatures.

Royal Progresses were something to be feared. A King and his entourage went from place to place around his kingdom. He stayed at the local Castle but the minor followers and support staff spread out like a plague of locusts over the local countryside for food and shelter. It was certain death for half starved common folk to touch deer in the king's forests. King William Rufus (the Red "who feared not God, neither regarded man") died when he was shot in the back with an arrow while hunting deer in the New Forest. The murderer was never found.

These are the generations when Royal privileges were born. They had real meaning in those far off times. There were no banks, of course. The treasure chest had 3 locks, each key held by a different trusted person. The treasure chest travelled with the king. Proximity to the monarch was generally reserved for trusted blood relatives and retainers. The 'bedroom' was probably cold and draughty. That's why a bed had a canopy over it, and curtains around the sides. The bedroom was a 'bedchamber.' The word chamber has survived to this day in 'chamber music' for small instrumental groups, and court chambers for judges. A chamber pot was a silver pot in which the monarch urinated and defecated. Some trusted person had to carry away and dispose of the contents of the chamber pot as there were no flush toilets. Only a trusted person could get this close to the king, while he was without armour, perhaps in bed clothes or naked in a (rare) bath.. The king needed help with putting on and taking off his royal robes, loyal retainers to provide safe food and drink. The chamberlain ran the commissary and had access to the king. A Knight of the Garter had equally close proximity to a royal presence, as did a Knight of the Bath. These titles had real meaning in those primitive days because they described what those people immediately surrounding the king had to do.

A Duke generally had to have royal blood in him. He was next to the king in status. The king's personal sword was a two-edged broadsword. It represented the power of the king in the days of warrior kings. For ceremonial processions it gradually developed that the most trusted person nearest the king in lineage and fealty, a duke, carried the 'sword of state' in front of the king. Next in trust were other dukes and then marquises. These were sometimes executed for choosing the losing side in internecine warfare, as each of them had his own private army of retainers, or they succumbed to disease, or died in a foreign war or Crusade, and so were replaced to some extent from time to time. The next nearest position in a procession was carrying the canopy over the monarch. This would have golden thread and protected the king from rain and sun. The carriers were the next most senior and trusted nobles. A disloyal noble that close would have a perfect opportunity to assassinate a monarch. It was a tribute to the system that it didn't happen in England. After the dukes and marquises in order of rank and proximity to the royal personage came the earls, then the viscounts, and last, the barons. Mere knights were not nobility or Lords at all, they were gentry and known as Sir.

It's generally said that the Middle Ages ended in the mid 1400s when printing presses began, and men like Wycliffe, Cabot and Leonardo were opening up new horizons in men's minds. It was not, I think, until Henry 8th succeeded his parsimonious father Henry 7th, who had built up the royal treasury, that the modern age in England began. Henry 8th as a young man was immensely popular with his subject people. He was athletic, a poet, musician, and began by having executed both Empson and Dudley, the chiefs of his father's tax gathering system, . He broke off the draining of the country by constant tribute to the Pope in Catholic Rome. He dissolved the rich, corrupt, monasteries, pensioning off the monks in proper fashion, but seizing their vast lands and wealth. And after England went through a brief taste of Protestant reform under Edward 6th, and return to Catholic repression for 5 years with Queen "bloody" Mary, Elizabeth came to the throne, a daughter of Henry 8th by Anne Boleyn. The Middle Ages had burst at the seams, and Modern England was truly born. This released an incredible expansion in the minds of people, reading, writing, exploring, discovering. All the energy pent up under centuries of feudalism and Catholic repression finally came to the surface.

During Elizabeth's 45 year reign the process of government and a civil service administration became sufficiently entrenched to introduce Poor Laws that lasted hundreds of years, to help the indigent or incapable. The old mediaeval terminology in Court procedure and precedence remained but had become a ritual, not a necessity. Old customs die hard. To this day in England university professors hold 'chairs,' That dates back almost to about 800 years ago when universities were being created. Then, the students sat on the ground and only the 'professor' or someone who professed to have knowledge (in Latin) of a subject had a chair to sit on.

It's with this knowledge at the back of our minds that we can look at Shakespeare's opening 4 lines of sonnet 125:

Were't aught to me I bore the canopy

With my extern the outward honouring,

Or laid great bases for eternity,

Which prove more short that waste or ruining?

This is one sentence, with two commas and a question mark at the end, so it's a question. The poet compresses his thought, making it not an easy task to unravel the meaning from language of over 400 years ago.

Because there has been considerable debate over what this sentence means, first, I think we have to parse or by clausal analysis look at the structure of the sentence and its component parts. Remembering the immortal words of a teenager confronted by a harassed parent:

Where did you go?


What did you do?


let's see if we can analyze this complicated sentence by Shakespeare.

My suggestion is that "I" is the subject of the sentence.

What did "I" do?

"I" "bore" something,

What did "I" bear?

"I" "bore" "the canopy."

This must then be the main clause, with "bore" as the copula, or verb expressing action, and "the" as the definite article describing a specific object, and "canopy" as the object, or predicate, of the clause.

Then comes "with." 'With' is a preposition governing a noun or pronoun expressing the relationship between the first noun and another word. The "with" is a qualification of "I." So, we have:

"I (with my extern the outward honouring) bore the canopy."

This subordinate clause beginning "with" is complete, having (my) extern as the subject, the verb as "honouring" and the object as "outward." This then becomes:

"My extern honouring the outward."

There follows a comma after honouring, so we start a new subordinate clause introduced by the conjunction "or" joining it to the previous clause:

"Or laid great bases for eternity"

The subject of the clause must again be "I" to activate the verb "laid."

What did "I" lay?

"Great bases". So "bases" is a noun, and is the object, while "great" is an adjective here, describing the kind of "bases" (although 'great' can also be a noun).

What were the "bases" for?

"for eternity"

This is a sub-clause describing "bases." "for" is a preposition introducing the noun "eternity."

So we have:

"I ... laid great bases for eternity."

But now we have a dependent clause qualifying the word "bases", not the word "eternity." That's because "bases" is a plural word, and "eternity" is singular. The verb "prove" relates to a plural noun. We would say "bases prove", 'eternity proves.' So the "bases"

"Prove more short than waste or ruining."

This only makes sense, I suggest, if we take into account the whole phrase "bases for eternity" because the proving short relates to the failed expectation of eternity.

We have yet to consider the first four words of this sentence:

"Were't aught to me"

These are the words that ask a question, the sense of which is carried to the question mark at the end of the entire sentence. Without those four words the sentence stands on its own as a statement (I did so and so.) But now we have the question in front of this "Were't aught to me (that) I did so and so?"

The meaning of the first half of this sentence therefore seems to be, grammatically:

"Were't aught to me (?) (that) I (honouring the outward with my extern) bore the canopy"

The third line (of this first sentence) says:

"or laid great bases for eternity"

The words seem straightforward enough, but what do they mean?

As they are preceded by a comma, they are sectioned off from the comment about the canopy. But as the question mark is at the end of the entire sentence and not after the canopy clause, we have to go back to the question clause and repeat it for this line, which then does not need the conjunction 'or' and can be stated

"Was it anything to me (I) laid great bases for eternity?"

Now we need to consider what these words meant, or probably meant, 400 or more years ago, and in doing so translate them into modern usage.


This is 'were it' shortened to become one stress instead of two. 'Were it' is itself short for 'if it were, which is conditional, and is better English than 'if it was.' It's also in the past tense. But there is a question mark at the end of the sentence, so 'if it were' doesn't fit, as it's not a question. But 'was it" is a question and so must be the meaning. And making it a question as the sentence requires means that it's not conditional.


This is an archaic or poetic noun, and means 'anything.' It's not the same as 'ought' which can be a noun or a verb. As a verb 'ought' has survived to this day: 'you ought to do this' where 'ought' implies a duty or advisable thing to do. You can see the meaning is not the same as 'aught' which we have in the sonnet.


There's a verb 'bore' which means make a hole in something. 'Bore' would then be in the present tense. 'I bore (a hole in ) the canopy' doesn't make any sense here. The meaning doesn't fit. So that's not the correct verb.

There's a noun 'bore' meaning the inside hollow of a firearm or gun or cannon. This meaning doesn't fit either.

Another 'bore' is a tiresome person and yet another 'bore' is a tidal wave building up in a river estuary.

None of these fit the sense, and 'I bore' indicates 'bore ' is a verb in the sentence, not a noun. But neither does the verb 'bore' to bore someone by talking too much fit the sense here.

This leaves the past tense of the verb 'to bear' which is 'bore.' 'To bear' survives in 'grin and bear it,' meaning put up with it. 'Bore' the past tense of this verb is an archaic use, and the verb 'to bear' has the poetic or formal meaning of 'to carry.' Its secondary meaning is to carry visibly, such as bearing an insignia or even a name. But to fit the context here I think it has to be the poetic and formal first meaning, 'to carry' in the past tense. It's actually a better word than 'carry' here, because 'bear' implies supporting something at shoulder height or above, while 'carry' more generally means under one's arms or below head level.


As its first meaning a 'canopy' is described as a covering suspended or held over a throne.

Now we can put together the first line:

"Was it anything to me (that) I carried the (Queen's) canopy(?)(over her head)"

Now the second line:


This is not a recognizable word in the English language at present. There is a Latin word 'externus' meaning 'external.' It's probable that the poet used or created an anglicized version by dropping the Latin ending. The word external means outside of, visible, generally used as an adjective, as in 'for external use only.' In this sonnet the poet uses 'extern' as a noun: 'my extern.'


This is close to a duplicate of 'extern.' It means outer, towards the outside, external, material or visible. We might say today 'outward appearance.' But this poet has the merit of brevity.


This is part of the verb 'to honour.' It means to respect highly, confer dignity upon.

It seems to me there are two aspects to the verb 'honour.' One I would describe as passive: I am honoured (to be here) (someone is bestowing an honour on me by inviting me here). The other I would call active: I am honouring my commitment (doing something about my commitment) (keeping it); or: I am bestowing an honour on someone (by giving that person an award). It is in this active sense that Shakespeare is 'honouring' something.

Now we can put this line together, first in the sequence used by the poet:

"With my exterior the outer (appearance) honouring"

It would read more easily in English if 'honouring' were not at the end of the phrase, then

"Honouring the outer (appearance) with my exterior"

which we can translate as :

"Gracing the ceremony with my presence."

This is a remarkable statement because the poet considered that his exterior presence honoured the external occasion, or added to the impressive nature of the ceremony, not that he was honoured to be carrying the canopy for the Queen. It's supreme egotism. He must have thought that the general populace standing watching the royal procession would have said to one another 'Oh, look, there's Lord so and so carrying the canopy for the Queen' and that this function performed by him would lend prestige to the formal occasion.

There were very few noblemen who could inspire that effect. Down through the centuries there have been famous names that stood the test of time, such as Lancaster, Mortimer, Percy, and York. This poet seems to think he stands with them. Such men are few and far between. William Cecil, a commoner, created Lord Burghley by the Queen is not one of them, though he was her chief minister for most of his and her long life. Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Ralegh are not included. These were popular heroes but mere knights, only gentility, not noblemen. It certainly eliminates Bacon and Marlowe. None of these classes of unheralded contenders for Shakespeare could ever have carried the canopy and used those six words in line 2 of sonnet 125 which have wiped out at a stroke many of the candidates for Shakespeare, if that's what the words mean.

But all that being said, this poet is a master of the English language, and his choice of the word honouring is subtle. You probably noticed that the two meanings we gave for the verb 'honour' were opposites. Both are legitimate meanings: the one, to pay respect to, the other, to bestow respect upon. Here we've used the second meaning, prompted by the word 'aught' which implies that interpretation. But this poet is an Elizabethan, and probably intended both meanings. One, paying respect in his outward form and attitude in carrying the canopy, the other, inwardly asking himself if it meant anything and feeling he was gracing the occasion by performing the task.

If it is a great nobleman, as these six words in line 2 of sonnet 125 imply, the poet will have to have been, in descending order: a Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount or Baron. There was a Duke in Elizabeth's reign, the Duke of Norfolk. He made the mistake of being a fervent Catholic in a Protestant reign. He was executed for treason in 1572. With so early a death I think we can eliminate him as a candidate without further study of his life.

There was but one Marquis, the Marquis of Winchester, who we may have to consider as a candidate. A number of earls remain. These include William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby; Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex; and several other earls who were literary men, and one of them has to be the poet Shakespeare, based on one interpretation of line 2 of sonnet 125.

But to continue with our word analysis where we've reached the third line:


This verb is in the past tense, so it's something that has already happened, something the poet has done or experienced by the time of writing this sonnet. Knowing how literal he is, he must have actually done this.


A base, as a noun, is something on which anything stands or depends, it's a support or foundation. It can be an army base, a supply area in the rear of an army, or a base camp for mountain climbers. A 'base for eternity' seems to mean something intended to endure for a very long time.


I suggest this poet is not patently religious, there has been no evidence for that in his work we've reviewed so far, so we may set aside theological interpretations and look for something more commonplace, such as an infinite time or even just a very long time. I think the meaning implied here is that whatever he did or arranged was meant to endure. (But see Note 4)

Our restatement of the line seems to stand without further adjustment. but before we attempt to interpret it I think we need to consider the next, and last, line in the sentence

which prove more short than waste or ruining.

This phrase doesn't fit with carrying a canopy, so it must apply to the great bases confirmed by the word short being opposite to the length of eternity. Prove is plural, and so agrees with the plural bases. Eternity is singular, and if it were doing the proving it would have to be 'proves' not 'prove.' So the great bases prove, in the present tense.

This poet has said many times in different ways that he considers his literary work to be immortal. This is different. A base is a material thing, not a literary form. and a literary form of his doesn't fit the context because he's asking does it mean anything to him, and we know as well as he does that he would never ask that kind of question about his literary work. Whatever the material things were that were meant to be great bases turned out to be no such thing. Their eternity concept it transpires in the present tense is ephemeral.

If the poet is, as all indications now are, a great nobleman, in the time of competitive expansion around the world by Spain, Portugal, England and the Netherlands, English monarchs and nobility were investing in overseas exploration and venturing in colonizing, The search was on for the North West Passage to China for the silk and spice trade, so valuable in days before dry cleaning and refrigeration. There were colonizing schemes for New World territories. Virginia was named after the so called Virgin Queen.

Queen Elizabeth herself, her Ministers and nobles of the court put up money for these ventures. Some were hugely successful, some moderately so, some failed abysmally. I suggest this nobleman had suffered a huge loss in what was meant to be an enduring and profitable venture. The loss was sudden, then, because it occurred with more rapidity than wasting money at court and ruining one's fortune in the process.

This concludes our analysis of the first sentence of sonnet 125. The remaining ten lines of this sonnet are much less significant for our purposes. The poet has said before what he says here

Have I not seen dwellers on form and favour

Lose all and more ...

Pitiful thrivers, in their gazing spent?

No, let me be obsequious in thy heart..

So this poem, like so many others, seems to be to the Queen.


I happen to have J. R. Tanner's Tudor Constitutional Documents, with historical commentary. This tells us that the Duke of Norfolk was brought to trial before the Earl of Shrewsbury as Lord High Steward, and 26 Lords Triers. (Norfolk was indicted for having compassed and imagined the death and deposition of the Queen, the overt act being that he had endeavoured to marry Mary Queen of Scots well knowing that she claimed the crown against Elizabeth ...). From the same volume we find that in the Mary Queen of Scots trial, in 1586, the Special Commission included 29 peers. This shows us there were plenty of peers to choose from (peers being the nobility) in our search for Shakespeare.

A further complication is that the Queen reigned for 45 years. During that long time there must have been a number of state occasions and processions during which 'the canopy' was borne over the Queen. One such occasion would have been the opening of Parliament. Fortunately for us she only summoned a Parliament into existence 5 times in her reign. To get a better idea of the circumstances when the canopy was in use, let's look at the description of the opening of Parliament in 1563, about 5 years after her accession to the throne. (This comes from Tanner) (a banneret is a person knighted on a field of battle for valour)(miniver is plain white fur)(a caul was a close fitting cap worn by women)

(the Chapel was the Chapel Royal)

On Tuesday the 12th day of January (1563) ...about eleven of the clock in the forenoon, the Queen's Majesty took her horse at the Hall door and proceeded in manner as followeth:

First, all gentlemen, two and two, then esquires, knights, and bannerets, and lords being no barons or under age.

Then the trumpeters sounding.

Then the Queen's Serjeant Mr Carus, in his surcoat, hood, and mantle unlined of scarlet.

Then Mr Gerard, The Queen's Attorney, and Mr Russell, Solicitor.

Then Anthony Browne, Justice of the Common Pleas, and Mr Weston of the King's Bench.

Then the Barons of the Exchequer.

Then Mr Corbet and Mr Whiddon, two Justices of the King's Bench.

Then Sir Thomas Saunders, Chief baron of the Exchequer, and Sir James Dyer, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.

Then Sir William Cordell, Master of the Rolls, in his gown, and Sir Robert Catlin, Chief Justice of the King's Bench; and these Justices And Barons of the Exchequer in their scarlet mantles, hood, and surcoat edged with miniver, the mantle shorter than the surcoat by a foot.

Then Knights Councillors in their gowns ...

Then Sir William Cecil, Chief Secretary, and Sir Edward Rogers, Comptroller.

Then William Howard, bearing the Queen's cloak and hat.

Then Barons, in all 40 but there in number 30...their mantles, hoods and surcoats furred, and two rows of miniver on their right shoulder.

Then proceeded the Bishops, all that were there present were but 22 ... their robes of scarlet lined, and a hood down their back of miniver.

Then the Viscounts, their robes as the Barons, but that they had two and a half rows of miniver, as the Viscount of Bindon absent, Viscount Montague and Viscount Hereford present.

Then the Earls, but 19 present ... their robes of scarlet with three rows of miniver.

Then the Marquis of Winchester, but now as Lord Treasurer, and the Marquis of Northampton; the Duke of Norfolk went as Earl Marshal.

Then the Lord Keeper's Serjeant and seal, and after Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, in his gown.

Here Clarencieux and Norroy.

Then the Queen's Serjeant-at-Arms and after, Garter.

Then the Duke of Norfolk with the gilt rod as Marshal, the Lord Treasurer with the Cap of Estate, and the Earl of Worcester with the Sword.

Then the Queen's Majesty on horseback, a little behind the Lord Chamberlain and Vice Chamberlain; her Grace apparelled in her mantle, opened before, furred with ermines, and her kirtle of crimson velvet, close before, and close sleeves, but the bands turned up with ermines, and a hood hanging low round about her neck of ermines. Over all a rich collar, set with stones and other jewels, and on her head a rich caul. And the next after her the Lord Robert Dudley, Master of the Horse, leading the spare horse. And after all other ladies, two and two, in their ordinary apparel. Beside the Queen went her footmen, and along on either side of her went the Pensioners with their axes; after the ladies followed the Captain of the Guard, Sir William St Loe, and after him the Guard.

In which order her Majesty proceeded to the north door of the church of Westminster, where the Dean there and the Dean of the Chapel met her, and the whole Chapel in copes; and St Edward's staff with the inlet in the top was delivered unto her, her arm for the bearing thereof assisted by the Baron of Hunsdon; the Canopy borne over her by Charles Howard, esquire, { and 5 knights}; her Grace's train borne up and assisted, for the weight thereof from her arms, by the Lord Robert Dudley, Master of the Horse, and Sir Francis Knollys, Vice Chamberlain; and so orderly proceeded to the traverse beside the Table of Administration ...

The sermon being ended and a psalm sung, her Majesty and the rest orderly on foot proceeded out of the south door ... and... into the Parliament Chamber, where the Queen stayed a while in her Privy Chamber till all the Lords and others were placed, and then her Highness came forth and went and sat her down in her Royal Place.... At the side of the Queen sat on the ground three or four Ladies and no more; and at the back of the rail, behind the Cloth of Estate, kneeled the Earls of Oxford and Rutland, under age, the Earl of Desmond, the Lord Roos, the Lord Herbert of Cardiff, and divers other noblemen's sons and heirs...

The reference given by J. R. Tanner is D'Ewes, Journal, p.58.

This is Sir Simonds D'Ewes Journal. I have not personally seen this Journal but he apparently edited the Journals of both Houses of Parliament (Lords and Commons) for Queen Elizabeth's reign and published this in the 17th century. It is frequently quoted by scholars of the period. It seems that D'Ewes, not Tanner, put 'and 5 knights' in brackets. So from our perspective: 'who bore the canopy?', the record is useless, except to tell us that it took six people to do it.

There are two further points we can make here. The first is that Charles Howard esquire was no ordinary commoner. He was a Howard, and the Queen surrounded herself with members of this noble family. Charles must have been a young son not yet advanced in rank in 1563, because in 1585 Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham became Lord Admiral to the Queen and commanded the naval forces with such notables as Sir Francis Drake under his command when the Armada was defeated in 1588. In 1596 he was also created Earl of Nottingham.

As to the 5 knights they may not have been knights, technically. That's because the order of precedence of the great Officers of State had been laid down in 1540.

First, the Lord Vice Regent.


the Lord Chancellor

the Lord Treasurer

the Lord President of the Privy Council

the Lord Privy Seal

These four being of the degree of a Baron or above shall sit in the Parliament. In all assemblies of Council, above Dukes not being of the Blood Royal,

And these six

the Lord Great Chamberlain of England

the Lord High Constable of England

the Earl Marshal of England

the Lord Admiral of England

the Lord Great Master or Steward of the King's House

the Lord Chamberlain of the King's Household

These six are placed in all assemblies of Council after the Lord Privy Seal, according to their degree and estates; so that if he be a baron, to sit above all Barons; and if he be an Earl, above all Earls.

At the opening of the Parliament in April 1571 Sir Nicholas Bacon was officially known as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, but his duties were those of the Lord Chancellor. So that, although technically a knight, he might have been deemed a baron for State ceremonial occasions. But this does not help us identify the 5 knights who helped Charles Howard bear the canopy.

For the description of the State opening of Parliament in 1571 we turn to B. M. Ward who in turn is quoting D'Ewes Journals. The procession is summarized. It seems much the same as in 1563 except that, being 8 or so years later some of the names have changed. A Knight of the Bath is mentioned but not named. Finally in the procession came Lord Clinton, the Lord Admiral; the Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain; the Earl of Worcester as Earl Marshal (because the Duke of Norfolk was in prison); Her Majesty in her coach in her imperial robes; behind the coach rode the Earl of Leicester, Master of the Horse. Leading her Majesty's palfrey; then the Maids of Honour also mounted, with the Bodyguard riding on either side of them. After attending a service in Westminster abbey the Queen, with her train borne by the Earl of Oxford, was conducted to the House of Lords.

And the canopy and its bearers? Not a word. Perhaps it wasn't used. We're just not told.

Now Let's turn to a procession of 60 Knights of the Garter and other Courtiers, on its way to St George's chapel, Windsor, on June 18, 1572, on the occasion of the installation of the Duc de Montmorenci as a Knight of the Garter. We are told the Sword of State was carried before the Queen on this occasion by the Earl of Oxford, as Lord Great Chamberlain and therefore next in rank to the absent 2nd Marquis of Winchester, And the canopy? No mention even as to whether it was used.

Frustrated again, we will look at some third party evidence by onlookers describing the ceremonial celebrations of thanksgiving after the successful defence against the Armada, in 1588. The first is an anonymous ballad called "A joyful ballad of the Royal entrance of Queen Elizabeth into the City of London, the 24th of November in the thirty-first year of Her Majesty's reign, to give God praise for the overthrow of the Spaniards." As it's quite long, here are two relevant excerpts;

(after describing in verse the lengthy procession as we've come to know it thanks to Tanner):

The Lord Marquess of Winchester bare-headed there was seen,

Who bare the sword in timely sort before our noble Queen;

The noble Earl of Oxford then High Chamberlain of England

Rode right before Her Majesty his bonnet in his hand.

Then all her Grace's pensioners on foot did take their place

With their weapons in their hands to guard her Royal Grace;

The Earl of Essex after her did ride the next indeed

Which by a costly silken rein did lead her Grace's steed.

. . . . . . . . . .

And after by two noblemen along the Church was led,

With a golden canopy carried o'er her head,

The clergy with procession brought her Grace into the choir;

Whereas her Majesty was set the service for to hear.

and so on.

Again the elusive canopy.

In the "List or Roll of all Estates that were in this Princely Proceeding, according as they were marshalled" in Sir William Segar's "Honor Military and Civil" (1602) we have

At the front from left to right:

Garter King at Arms

The Mayor of London

An Usher of the Privy Chamber

Lord Great Chamberlain of England

Sword borne by The Lord Marquess

Earl Marshal of England

To left and right of these were the Sergeants at Arms

Then followed the Queen's Majesty in her Chariot

Her Highness' train borne by the Marchioness of Winchester

The Palfrey of Honour led by the Master of the Horse

The Chief Lady of Honour

All other ladies of Honour

The Captain of the Guard

Yeomen of the Guard.

On each side of the followers of the Queen were the Gentlemen Pensioners Esquires of the State Footmen.

We're told by B.M. Ward that the then Earl Marshal was George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, the Marquess of Winchester carried the Sword, and the Lord Great Chamberlain was, by hereditary title, Lord Oxford.

Ward puts all this together saying that when we consider the places occupied by Oxford and Shrewsbury in the procession 'there can be little doubt that they must have been the two noblemen who carried the Golden Canopy over her Majesty's head as she walked up the nave of St. Paul's...'

I'm not so sure, after reading Tanner quoting D'Ewes. If it took five knights and a Howard to carry the canopy in 1563, either it was a different, smaller, lighter canopy, or the wording of the ballad has been misconstrued. There's a comma after 'led'. It could, or perhaps should, be read that the two noblemen led her - perhaps by leading the way, - as to lead means conduct or guide, especially by being in front. If so, then who carried the canopy is not mentioned in either account. To be practical, it was likely that at least four persons were needed, each carrying a staff attached to and holding up to an appropriate height a corner of the canopy, which was probably of fairly costly and heavy material. If it was 6 or 8 feet long, six persons might well be needed. (See Note 5).

But all this is conjecture. The fact is that we still don't know who carried the canopy on this auspicious occasion.

The next, and last reference to a canopy that I've come across is at the state funeral of the Queen, in 1603. Joseph Sobran in his 1997 book Alias Shakespeare page 139 says

The old Queen died in 1603. Oxford was probably one of the six earls who carried the canopy over her bier.

This tells us that Sobran doesn't know because he would not have said 'probably' had his source given the names. We can't even be sure they were all earls.

The net result of all this information about processions and canopies in sources referring to state occasions over a period of 45 years is that we have produced one name only, Charles Howard. He alone that we know of could truthfully have written in sonnet 125 'I bore the canopy.' Worse than that, the period may extend to the date of the so called "first Folio" of 1623, which at least provides a 'terminus ad quem' or end of the line, since it refers to Shakespeare as then dead.

We'll have to come at this problem another way. Here's how I propose to do it.

Queen Elizabeth was not a constitutional monarch. That came later after the Interregnum governed by Oliver Cromwell. Queen Elizabeth ran the country from her Royal Household and through her appointed Ministers. It is, I suggest, a reasonable assumption that the Queen would only have permitted either her Ministers or officials she knew well, the trusted members of the Royal Household, to be so close to her in a ceremonial procession as to be carrying the canopy over her head. She would not have picked up a half dozen knights 'off the street' or elsewhere in the country to carry the canopy.

It so happens that thanks to B. M. Ward we have a list of all the senior positions in her government and household, and the names of the officials who served in them for her entire reign. By my count there are 30 positions and 101 names. Those 101 will I suggest include all the bearers of her canopy during her reign.

Shakespeare will have been one of them because he said he bore the canopy. And he said he honoured the occasion by doing so. Therefore he must have been a senior official. I'll list all the 30 positions here, and in Note 1 list the 101 names, alphabetically for ease of reference.

The Court was divided into the following sections:

The Royal Household

The Queen's Ministers

The Queen's Naval and Military Commanders

The Queen's Ambassadors, resident overseas.

I suggest only the first three sections are of interest to us here.


This was headed by the following personnel. (Note, I have shown the rank, title or status of the individuals holding these position: D = Duke, M = Marquis, E = Earl, B = Baron, K = Knight, O = other, or commoner)

Lord Great Chamberlain (E)

Master of the Horse (outdoors) (E)

Lord Steward (downstairs) (E)

Lord Chamberlain (upstairs) (E or B)

Vice Chamberlain (K)

Master of the Revels (K & O)

Comptroller of the Household (K all but one O)

Treasurer of the Household (K or B)

Treasurer of the Chamber (K, Lady Widow, B & one O)

Master of the Great Wardrobe (K)

Captain of the Bodyguard (K)


Lord Chancellor (K)

Lord Treasurer (M or B)

Principal Secretary of State (K )(O overlap)

Chancellor of the Exchequer (K)

Lieutenant of the Tower (K)

Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports (K or B)

Master of the Ports (K one O)

Master of the Royal Wards (K or B)


Earl Marshal (D, E, B)

Master of the Ordnance (E, K)

Master of the Armoury (K)

Lord Admiral (E)

Treasurer of the Navy (K & three O)

Lord deputy of Ireland (E, K, B)

Lord President of the North (D, Archbishop, E, B)

Warden of the East Marches (E, B, K)

Warden of the Middle Marches (E, B, K)

Warden of the West Marches (B, K)

Governor of Berwick (E, B, K)

As you can see, there are plenty of knights and more senior personnel to choose from for canopy bearing.

Here's my second assumption. The Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse contains 877 pages of poems. 73 names of poets included are listed in the index.

Shakespeare is generally acknowledged to be one of, if not the greatest of, poets known ever to have lived on this planet. I believe we have reasonably established that Shake-speare, as his name appeared in various early publishings, is a pseudonym. He must, I suggest, have written and had published work before the highly polished very long narrative poem that first bore the name Shakespeare. Probably some of his more youthful efforts would have been in his own name. It seems reasonable therefore to expect to find part of this poet's early work included among the 73 names in the Oxford index. The 73 names are given alphabetically in Note 2.

Because the 'First Folio' (1623) is third party evidence that Shakespeare was then dead, although some question its veracity, for greater certainty I've also included a Note 3 with the Index of Authors from the Oxford Book of Seventeenth Century Verse (956 pages). This gives us a list of 101 names of authors. It adds no new names to our list of candidates.

We should, I suggest, now be able to narrow the field of candidates for Shakespeare to those in the Royal entourage who also appear in the index of poets. Let's see how many candidates are on both lists. One of them should be the elusive Shakespeare:

William Cecil (Lord Burghley)

Robert Devereux (2nd Earl of Essex)

Sir Fulke Greville (Lord Brooke)

Sir Walter Ralegh

Thomas Sackville (Earl of Dorset)

Edward de Vere, (17th Earl of Oxford)

(We might possibly include Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, poet, as her husband, William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke is on the Royal Household list as a sometime Downstairs Steward).

And that, members of the internet jury, is our list of finalists. Any one of these, I suggest, except the Countess of Pembroke, could have carried the canopy, and written a poem saying that he did, which leaves us with six male candidates. Our next task will be to eliminate five of them, and that we'll attempt in the next chapter.






Bacon, Sir Nicholas (Ld. Chan.)

Bedingfield, Sir Henry, (Tower)

Benger, Sir Thomas (Revels)

Berkeley, Sir Richard (Tower)

Bertie, Peregrine, Lord Willoughby de Eresby ( E. Marches, Berwick)

Blount, Sir Richard (Tower)

Blount, (Sir Michael) (Tower) (son of Sir Richard)

Blount, Charles, Lord Mountjoy, (Earl of Devonshire 1604) (Ordnance,Ireland.)

Bromley, Sir Thomas, (Ld. Chan.)

Brooke, Henry, Lord Cobham (Cinque)(imprisoned)

Brooke, William, Lord Cobham, (Stew. Up & Cinque)

Buck. Sir George, (Revels)

Burgh, Thomas, Lord Burgh (Ireland)

Caesar, Sir Julius, (Chanc. of Exch.)

Carey, George, Lord Hunsdon, (Chamb. Up)

Carey, Henry, Lord Hunsdon (Earl Marshal, Chamb. Up, E.Marches, Berwick)

Carey, Sir Robert, (W. Marches, E. Marches, M. Marches)

Cawarden, Sir Thomas, (Revels)

Cecil, William, Lord Burghley (Earl Marshal, Lord Treas., Prin. Sec. State)

Cecil, Sir Robert, (Baron & Viscount 1603, Earl 1605) (Prin. Sec. State)

Cecil, Thomas, Lord Burghley (L.P. of North).

Cheyney, Sir Thomas, (Cinque)

Cheyney, Sir John, (Treas. Hshold)

Clinton, de, Edward Fiennes, Lord Clinton, (Earl 1572) (Lord Admrl) died 1585)

Crofts, Sir James, (Compt. Hshold, Berwick)

Dacre, William. Lord Dacre (W. Marches)

Devereux, Robert, Earl of Essex, (Ireland, Horse, Earl Marshal, Ordnance)

Drake, Sir Francis, (Treas, Navy)

Drury, Sir William (Ireland)

Drury, Sir Drue, (Tower)

Dudley, Ambrose, Earl of Warwick (Ordnance)

Dudley, Lord Robert, Earl of Leicester (Horse, & down Stew.)

Egerton, Sir Thomas, (Lord Ellesmere, 1603) (Lord Chanc.)

Eure, Ralph, Lord Eure (M. Marches)

Fitzalan, Henry, 12th earl of Arundel, (down stwd)

Fitzwilliam, Sir William, (Ireland)

Forster, Sir John, (M. Marches)

Fortescue, Sir John, (Wardrobe, Chan. Exch.)

Grenville, Sir Fulke (Treas. Navy)

Harvey, Sir George (Tower)

Hastings, Henry, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, (LP of North)

Hatton, Sir Christopher, (Ld. Chancell, Vice Chamb., Captn. Bodyguard)

Hawkins, Sir John (Treas. Navy)

Heneage, Sir Thomas (Vice Chamb., Treas. Chmbr)

Heneage, Lady, (Treas. Chmbr) (widow of 2nd Earl of Southampton)

Herbert, William, 1st Earl of Pembroke, (down Stwd)

Home, Sir George, (Earl of Dunbar, 1605) (Wardrobe)

Hopton, Sir Owen (Tower)

Howard, Thomas, 4th Duke of Norfolk (executed) (Earl Marshal, LP of North)

Howard, Sir George, (Armoury)

Howard, Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham (Earl Marshal, Ld. Adml. up Stwd)

Howard, William (Lord Howard of Effingham (up Stwd)

Howard, Charles, Earl of Nottingham (down Stwd)

Howard, Thomas, Earl of Suffolk (up Chamb)

Hutton, Matthew, Archbishop of York (LP of North)

Jernegan, Sir Henry, (Horse, Vice Chamb.)

Jobson, Sir Francis, (Tower)

Knollys, Sir Francis, (Treas. Hhld, Vice Chamb.,Treas. Chamb., Compt. HHld )

Knollys , Sir William (Lord Knollys 1603) (Compt. Hhold, Treas, Hhld)

Lee, Sir Henry, (Armoury)

Mansell, Sir R. (Treas. Navy)

Mason, Lady, (Treas. Chamb.)

Mason, Sir John, (Treas. Chamb, Ports Master)

Mildman, Sir Walter, (Chanc. Exch)

Neville, Henry, 5th Earl of Westmorland. (LP North)

Parry, Sir Thomas, (Cap. Hhld, Treas. Hhld)

Paulet, William, 1st Marquis of Winchester, (Ld. Treas.)

Percy, Thomas, &th Earl of Northumberland (E. Marches, M. Marches)

Perrott, Sir John, (Ireland) (imprisoned)

Peyton, Sir John, (Tower)

Puckering, Sir John, (Ld. Chan)

Radcliffe, Robert, 5th Earl of Sussex, (Earl Marshal)

Radcliffe, Thomas, 3rd Earl Sussex (Ld. Dep Irelnd, Lord Chamb. up, LP North)

Ralegh, Sir Walter, (Captn Bdgd) (imprisoned 1603)

Roger, Lord North, (Treas. Hhld)

Rogers, Sir Edward, (Vice Chamb, Compt. Hhld, Captn Bdygd)

Russell, Francis, 2nd Earl of Bedford, (E. Marches, Berwick)

Russell, Sir William (Ireland)

Sackville, Thomas, Lord Buckhurst, Earl of Dorset 1604, (Ld. Treas.)

Sackville, Sir Richard, (Chanc. Exchq)

Scrope, Henry, Lord Scrope, (W. Marches)

Scrope, Thomas, Lord Scrope (W. Marches)

Sheffield, Edward, Lord Sheffield, (LP North)

Sidney, Sir Henry, (Ireland)

Smith, Sir Thomas, (Prin. Sec. State)

Somerset, Edward, 4th Earl of Worcester (Horse)

Southwell, Sir Richard, (Ordnance, Armoury)

Stanhope, Sir John, (Lord Stanhope 1605) (Vice Chmb, Treas Chmb, Pt Mstr)

Stanley, Henry, 4th Earl of Derby (Ld. Stew. Down)

Talbot, George, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, (1578-1590 died. Earl Marshal)

Vere, de, John, 16th Earl of Oxford, (Ld. Gt. Chamb)

Vere, de, Edward, 17th Earl of Oxford (Ld. Gt. Chamb)

Vere, de, Henry, 18th Earl of Oxford (Ld. Gt. Chamb)

Waad, Sir William (Tower)

Walgrave, Sir Edward (Wardrobe)

Walsingham, Sir Francis, (Princ. Sec. Of State)

Warner, Sir Edward, (Tower)

Wilton, de, Arthur, Lord Grey (Ireland)

Wilton, de, William, Lord Grey, (E Marches, W Marches, Berwick)

Wotton, Sir Edward, (Compt. Hhld)

Young, Thomas, Archbishop of York, (LP of North)





Bacon, Sir Francis

Baldwin, William

Barnes, Barnabe

Barnfield, Richard

Best, Charles


Bolton, Edmond

Breton, Nicholas

Campion, Thomas

Cecil, William, Lord Burghley

Chapman, George

Chettle, Henry

Churchyard, Thomas

Clifford, George, Earl of Cumberland

Constable, Henry

Cornish, William

Daniel, Samuel

Davies, Sir John

Davison, Francis

Davison, Walter

Dekker, Thomas

Devereux, Robert, Earl of Essex

Drayton, Michael

Dyer, Sir Edward

Edwardes, Richard

Elizabeth, Queen

Fairfax, Edward

Fletcher, Giles

Gascoigne, George

Golding, Arthur

Greene, Robert

Greville, Fulke, Lord Brooke

Griffin, Bartholomew

Grimald, Nicholas

Hall, Joseph

Harington, John, the Elder

Harington, Sir John

Hawes, Stephen


Henry VIII, King

Herbert, Mary, Countess of Pembroke

Heywood, John

Howard, Henry, Earl of Surrey

Howell, Thomas

Hunnis, William

Lilliat, John

Lodge, Thomas

Lyly, John

Marlowe, Christopher

Marston, John

More, Sir Thomas

Munday, Anthony

Nashe, Thomas

Oxford, Earl of (Edward de Vere)

Peele, George,

Pikeryng, John

Proctor, Thomas

Ralegh, Sir Walter

Sackville, Thomas, Earl of Dorset

Shakespeare, William

Sidney, Sir Philip

Skelton, John

Southwell, Robert

Spenser, Edmund

Tichborne, Chidiock

Tilney, Charles

Turberville, George

Vaux, Thomas, Lord Vaux

Warner, William

Watson, Rhomas

Wever, R

Wilson, Robert,

Wyatt, Sir Thomas





Aldrich, Henry

Ayres, Philip

Ayton, Sir Robert

Basse, William

Beaumont, Francis

Beaumont, Sir John

Beaumont, Joseph

Beedome, Thomas

Behn, Aphra

Bonham, T

Brome, Alexander

Browne, Sir Thomas

Browne, William

Bunyan, John

Burton, Robert

Butler, Samuel

Carew, Thomas

Cartwright, William

Cary, Thomas

Chalkhill, John

Chapman, George

Cleveland, John

Cokayne, Sir Aston

Corbet, Richard

Cotton, Charles

Cowley, Abraham

Crashaw, Richard

Daniel, George

Davenant, Sir John

Donne, John

Drayton, Michael

Drummond, William

Dryden, John

D'Urfey, Thomas

Etherege, Sir George

Fanshawe, Sir Richard

Felltham, Owen

Field, Nathaniel

Flatman, Thomas

Fletcher, Giles

Fletcher, John

Fletcher, Phineas

Ford, John

Ford, Thomas

Godolphin, Sidney

Graham, James. Marquis of Montrose

Greville, Fulke, Lord Brooke (already on the 16th C. anthology list and the Royal Household list and a candidate)

Habington, William

Hall, John

Hammond, William

Heath, Robert

Herbert, George

Herbert of Cherbury, Lord

Herrick, Robert

Heywood, Thomas

Hume, Tobias

Jonson, Ben

Jordan, Thomas

Ken, Thomas

King, Henry

Kynaston, Sir Francis

L'Estrange, Sir Roger

Lovelace, Richard

Marvell, Andrew

Massinger, Philip

Mayne, Jasper

Middleton, Thomas

Milton, John

More, Henry

Norris of Bemerton, John

Oldham, John

Paman, Clement

Parker, Martin

Philips, Katherine

Pope, Walter

Quarles, Francie

Randolph, Thomas

Rowley, William

Sackville, Charles, Earl of Dorset

Sandys, George

Sedley, Sir Charles

Sempill, Francis

Sempill, Robert

Sherburne, Sir E.

Shirley, James

Stanley, Thomas

Strode, William

Suckling, Sir John

Sylvester, Joshua

Taylor, Jeremy

Townshend, Aurelian

Traherne, Thomas

Vaughan, Henry

Vaughan, Thomas

Waller, Edmund

Wanley, Nathaniel

Webster, John

Whiting, Nathaniel

Wilmot, John, Earl of Rochester

Wither, George

Wotton, Sir Henry.

There were 8 'others' among the Queen's senior staff during her reign:

Davison, William

Gonson, Benjamin

Hawkins, John

Killigrew, William

Langford, Roger

Randolphe, Thomas

Skynner, John

Wilson, Dr. Thomas

None of them appear in the 16th or 17th c. anthologies. Thomas Randolphe (1567 - 1590) is only a near miss for the Thomas Randolph (1605 - 1635) in the 17th c. anthology.



In The Winter's Tale (5.2.91-3)

that Italian master Julio Romano, who, had he himself eternity and could put breath into his work

and in The Rape of Lucrece (214)

or sells eternity to get a toy

the meaning given for 'eternity' is 'immortality.' (Both by the same editor.)

Today, the strict meaning of eternity is: that always has existed and will exist; without beginning or end.

Immortality means: living for ever, or undying, or divine, which doesn't seem to me to get us any closer to Shakespeare's usage of eternity and his meaning in sonnet 125.

I don't find in the contexts quoted that 'immortality' fits any better than our modern meaning of eternity being 'for ever' or 'a very long time' in The Winter's Tale; and in the Lucrece poem than our meaning of 'the hereafter.' In sonnet 125 the colloquial sense of a longer time than circumstances justify, for example 'I waited an eternity at the doctor's office' doesn't seem appropriate, nor does the meaning 'the hereafter' which brings us back to 'a very long time.'

Since writing this chapter it has been pointed out to me that if there were six noblemen carrying the canopy, two would be in front of her, two beside her and two behind her. Then the ballad could be accurate in saying she was led by two noblemen, with a golden canopy o'er her head. That brings us back to Ward's point that probably Oxford and Shrewsbury carried the canopy (as the first two of six, and so led her.)

But this is still conjectural. We do not know the details.


To Chapter 19 To Chapter 21

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