At last, continuing our alphabetical order, we come to a finalist who is known to have been a playwright. We know this because his play was published, and the publisher says the authors were Thomas Norton who wrote the first three acts and Thomas Sackville who wrote the last two acts. It's the first known play written in England in English, in blank verse in iambic pentameters. This set the pattern for subsequent Elizabethan drama. It was also in five acts, setting the tradition for subsequent play writing. To introduce each act music was performed, played by an instrumental ensemble. Before each act there was a dumb show (so called because tragic, whereas mime is farcical). At least one scholar says he thinks Sackville wrote the whole play because the five acts are so well woven together as one piece. So, technically, this play, Gorboduc, has a secure place in the history of English play writing. More than that, I suggest it at once puts Sackville in the same league as Shakespeare. It wasn't only published in print. It began its life by being performed at the Inns of Court as part of their Christmas celebrations. Queen Elizabeth heard of it and in mid January had it performed before her at Court in Whitehall. Sackville was about 26 at the time it was published.

Sackville (and Norton) show complete mastery of their chosen subject, style, verse form and presentation. The play had a very potent topical message for the young Queen . She came to the throne after Queen Mary who had married King Philip of Spain. The whole country of England and her ministers, having just emerged from the brutal religious cruelty of Mary, are saying to Elizabeth: marry and have a male child who is the undisputed heir. The plot of the play concerns an ancient English king, Gorboduc, reigning before Christian times, who disregarded good advice and divided his kingdom between his two sons, while he was still alive and in reasonable health during his successful, peaceful, prosperous reign. Ferrex, the older son, accepted the division of the kingdom in good heart, although he was well aware that he should have by right received the whole kingdom at his father's death. He thought it likely that his younger brother, Porrex, who was hot-headed might try to take the whole kingdom. So Ferrex gathered an army together for protection. The younger brother's advisers told him of this and said Ferrex was gathering an army and planned to attack him. Porrex therefore gathered an army and attacked first, killing Ferrex in the ensuing battle. The Queen, who loved the older son better, was grief stricken and killed the younger son. The populace rose against the King and Queen and killed them both. The Duke of Albany (Northumbria area) took advantage of the situation to attempt seizing the crown for himself. Civil war followed. The formerly fair land became more like a desert country in the ensuing carnage and loss of prosperity.

Queen Elizabeth was considered a bastard by some Catholics, She had been enabled as a monarch by the 3rd Act of Succession passed by Parliament (1544), and so had acceded to the throne not by royal descent of lineage alone and Henry 8th's legal will, but by an Act of Parliament. No wonder the young Queen Elizabeth wanted to see the play. Throughout her long reign, with all its triumphs and vicissitudes, I suggest she would never have forgotten the message of this play. Here are some relevant excerpts from the last two Acts:

Act 4, Scene 2, line 267, the Chorus

When greedy lust in royal seat to reign

Hath reft all care of gods and eke of men;

And cruel heart, wrath, treason, and disdain,

Within ambitious breast are lodged, then

Behold how mischief wide herself displays,

And with the brother's hand the brother slays.

Act 5, Scene 1, line 42, the wise councillor Eubulus speaking

That no cause serves whereby the subject may

Call to account the doings of his prince,

Much less in blood by sword to work revenge,

No more than may the hand cut off the head;

In act, nor speech, no, not in secret thought

The subject may rebel against his lord

Or judge of him that sits in Caesar's seat,

With grudging mind to damn those he mislikes.

Though kings forget to govern as they ought,

Yet subjects must obey as they are bound.

Later in the same lengthy speech (line 86) Eubulus tells how to deal with rebels:

Persuade by gentle speech and offer grace

With gift of pardon, save unto the chief,

And that upon condition that forthwith

They yield the captains of their enterprise

...This shall I think ...make

The captains to mistrust the multitude,

Whose safety bids them to betray their heads;

In Act 5, Scene 2, Arostus says (line 115)

That ye, my lords, do so agree in one,

To save your country from the violent reign

And wrongfully usurped tyranny

Of him that threatens conquest of you all,

To save your realm, and in this realm yourselves,

From foreign thraldom of so proud a prince,

Much do I praise;

and later in the same long speech, line 153

If ye shall all with one assent forbear

Once to lay hand or take unto yourselves

The crown, by color of pretended right,

Or by what other means so ever it be,

'Till first by common counsel of you all

In parliament the regal diadem

Be set in certain place of governance;

and he ends his speech, commencing at line 174:

And with that heart wherewith ye now prepare

Thus to withstand the proud invading foe,

With that same heart, my lords, keep out also

Unnatural thraldom of stranger's reign;

Ne suffer you, against the rules of kind,

Your mother land to serve a foreign prince.

In the same, last, scene, Eubulus, in a lengthy speech which ends the play has this to say, line 242

These mischiefs spring when rebels will arise

To work revenge and judge their prince's fact.

This, this ensues when noble men do fail

In loyal troth, and subjects will be kings.

And this doth grow, when lo, unto the prince

Whom death or sudden hap of life bereaves,

No certain heir remains, such certain heir,

As not all-only is the rightful heir,

But to the realm is so made known to be,

and commencing line 253 of the same speech

Alas in parliament what hope can be,

When is of parliament no hope at all,

Which, though it be assembled by consent,

Yet is not likely with consent to end:

While each one for himself, or for his friend,

Against his foe shall travail what he may;

While now the state left open to the man

That shall with greatest force invade the same...

No, no, then parliament should have been holden,

And certain heirs appointed to the crown,

To stay the title of established right

And in the people plant obedience

While yet the prince did live whose name and power

By lawful summons and authority

Might make a parliament to be of force

And might have set the state in quiet stay.

and the last four lines to end the play:

...Yet must God in fine restore

This noble crown unto the lawful heir;

For right will always live and rise at length,

But wrong can never take deep root to last.

(Exeunt). (The end of the tragedy of King Gorboduc).

No doubt Sackville and Norton were well aware that for a play set in pre-Christian times a parliament was an anachronism (Note 1), but they were clearly more concerned to comment constructively on the situation in England in their time than merely relate ancient history, if history it was.

Who was Thomas Sackville? Sir John Sackville, the grandfather of Thomas, married Margaret Boleyn. Anne Boleyn married Henry 8th in 1533, and they produced a daughter who was to become Queen Elizabeth. I have made a serious effort to establish the exact family relationship between Margaret and Anne Boleyn. This includes researching through 4 relevant volumes in my own history library, 3 university library books, including one by a Sackville descendent (which has a pedigree table, but without dates); and on the Web, the Cambridge History of English and American Literature, The Columbia Encyclopedia, and 5 genealogical sites on the Boleyns and Sackvilles. The best I can tell you is that Sir John Sackville (born about 1489) and Margaret Boleyn (also born about 1489, said to have been an aunt of Anne Boleyn and a daughter of Sir William Boleyn) between them produced a son, Sir Richard Sackville (1516-1566), the father of Thomas who was born in 1536. Sir Richard is said to have held responsible positions under King Edward 6th, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Sir Richard is said to have been a first cousin to Anne Boleyn. It's said that Thomas Sackville was a second cousin to Queen Elizabeth. If these dates are correct then there are only 1536-1489 = 47 years between the birth of Thomas Sackville and that of his paternal grandfather.

Thomas was born on the Sackville estate at Buckhurst, in the county of Sussex. By about age fifteen he was in residence at Oxford. In 1555 at about age nineteen he married Cicely Baker of Kent, the daughter of a Privy Councillor to the Queen. At about that time Thomas was also admitted to the Inner Temple for the study of law. We're told he did not graduate from Oxford or the Inns of Court, but in the year Elizabeth came to the throne, 1558, Sackville was elected to Parliament for Westmoreland. In 1560 Jasper Heywood commended Sackville's poems. In 1562 came the first performance of the play Gorboduc. Sackville was now about twenty six. Thomas Norton, who married Archbishop Cranmer's daughter, was about four years older than Sackville. In 1563 Sackville was again elected to Parliament.

In 1563 Sackville's Induction and Complaint of the Duke of Buckingham appear in a published edition of A Mirror for Magistrates. This was an ambitious work, commenced about 4 years earlier, running when completed to over 1400 pages, and reciting the tragic consequences of the actions of various personages in history from the time of Albanact (1085 B.C.) to the reign of Queen Elizabeth. There is a difference of opinion among scholars as to whether Sackville masterminded the whole concept, or was more a contributor. In Sackville's time an induction meant a preamble, a prologue, or an introduction. How did he deal with this? With Dante's (1265-1321) Divine Comedy (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) behind him plus mediaeval works on Hell and Damnation, Sackville writes in stanza form: ababbcc. In 553 lines he leads us through an embodiment in hell of Remorse of Conscience, Dread, Revenge, Misery, Care, Sleep, Old Age, Malady, Famine, Death and War. It is a remarkable performance with a difficult subject. He is in complete control of his medium and subject matter. Sorrow is his guide. For no great reason, but just as an example, here are two stanzas, commencing at line 526

"Lo here," quoth Sorrow, "Princes of renown,

That whilom sat on top of fortune's wheel,

Now laid full low, like wretches whirled down,

Even with one frown, that stay'd but with a smile

And now behold the thing that thou, erewhile,

Saw only in thought, and what thou now shalt hear,

Recount the same to kesar, king, and peer."

Then first came Henry, Duke of Buckingham,

His cloak of black all pill'd and quite forworn,

Wringing his hands, and fortune oft doth blame,

Which of a duke hath made him now her scorn.

With ghastly looks, as one in manner lorn,

Oft spreads his arms, stretch'd hands he joins as fast

With rueful cheer, and vapour'd eyes upcast.

With these two major works behind him, he is still only 27 years old. But he lived to be 72 years of age. So what was he doing for the next 45 years? Most scholars follow the explanation of Niccols, editor of the 1610 version of the Mirror. Here's what he wrote:

This worthie president of learning, intending to perfect all this storie himselfe from the Conquest, being called to a more serious expence of his time in the great state affaires of his most royall ladie and soveraigne, left the dispose thereof to M. Baldwin, M. Ferrers and others...

Niccols was writing 47 years after the 1563 publication, and after Sackville's own death. Baldwin in the 1563 edition had a preface that explained Sackville's part by saying that when Sackville had heard that some of the Council would not permit the book to be printed (probably because certain material was too recent),

...hee purposed to have gotten at my handes all the tragedies that were before the duke of Buckingham's backward, even to the time of William the Conqueror, he determined to continue and perfect all the story him selfe....And therefore to make a meete induction into the matter, hee devised this poesie.

Whatever the reason, nothing written by Sackville seems to have survived after the Mirror printing in 1563. He was already on a tour of France and Italy in that year. He was imprisoned in Rome, but when the authorities found out who he was they treated him with great respect and he had an audience with the Pope. On the death of his father in 1566 it's said that Thomas Sackville inherited vast estates and became very wealthy. In 1567 he was knighted, and raised to the peerage as Lord Buckhurst. The next year, 1568, he was sent on an official visit to France. He persuaded the Queen Mother there to make a motion for the marriage of Elizabeth with the French Queen Mother's second son, the Duke of Anjou. By 1569 Sackville was in office as joint Lord Lieutenant of Sussex. In 1571 came his second official visit to France to congratulate Charles 9th on his marriage. He returned to England with Paul de Foix to continue the discussion of Elizabeth's marriage and was in that year granted an MA at Cambridge.

In 1572 Sackville was made a member of the Privy Council and employed as Commissioner at state trials. In 1586 it was Sackville who announced the death sentence to Mary Queen of Scots. In 1587 he was sent to examine affairs in the Low Countries and particularly Leicester's conduct. The Queen was very displeased with Leicester, her long time favourite, because he was offered rights and privileges by the Low Countries and had virtually set up a personal court as a ruler there. Sackville was recalled, and placed under house arrest for about nine months. One source says because he followed Elizabeth's instructions too closely. Another source says Leicester accused him of mismanagement which caused his recall. But Leicester died the next year and Sackville was appointed Commissioner for Ecclesiastical Causes. We met this Commission in our review of Ralegh's life (in chapter 21). The following year, 1589, Sackville was elected a Knight of the Garter. Before year end he was back on an embassy to the Low Countries. In 1591 he signed the treaty with France on behalf of Elizabeth, and she was personally involved in his election as Chancellor of Oxford. Not surprisingly, the following year he became an MA at Oxford, and as Chancellor received the Queen there on her official visit.

In 1598 Sackville joined Burghley in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate peace with Spain, and went to the Low Countries for the last time for the renewal of a treaty with the United Provinces. After Burghley's death in 1598 Sackville became his successor as Lord Treasurer. In 1601 Sackville was appointed Lord High Steward, and presided at the trials of Essex and his fellow conspirators. In 1603 King James appointed Sackville Lord Treasurer for life, and he sat as a peer in judgement on Lords Cobham and Grey. In 1604 he was created Earl of Dorset. He negotiated a treaty with Spain, and received a pension of £1,000 from the King of Spain. In 1605 Sackville entertained King James at Oxford. In 1608 Sackville died suddenly while at the council table in Whitehall.

It's generally assumed that Niccols was right and that Sackville, after showing great promise as a writer, became a politician and diplomat, assisting the Queen in delicate and highly responsible missions in a position of trust. That is apparently the case, but you may have noticed there are significant gaps in the career we have outlined. What was a man of his ability doing:







1573-1586 (1)


1592-1598 (2)




(1) Being a Privy Councillor would not have taken all his time

(2) Being Chancellor of Oxford would not have taken all his time

That's about 25 years not fully accounted for. With his ability as a poet and playwright it's possible he could have created the entire output of Shakespeare in those 25 years.

Now let's correlate chronologically the known output of Sackville with that of Shakespeare. A partial list of Shakespeare's plays was provided in chapter 10, but here we need to list all the attributed plays. None of the dates are, of course, when they were written, but apparently best estimates as to when they were first published or performed. Two somewhat different sources are used for the Shakespeare dating, the second source in brackets. No other events are listed, except the first permanent public playhouse, built in London by James Burbage, father of the famous actor:

1559 1st edition of A Mirror for Magistrates


1561 ) Gorboduc first acted

1562 )

1563 2nd edition of A Mirror for Magistrates with Sackville's Induction













1576 The THEATRE playhouse built















1591 Shakespeare's Henry 6th (parts 1,2, and 3) (1590)


1593 Richard 3rd (1591) The Comedy of Errors(1592) Venus and Adonis

1594 Titus Andronicus (1590) The Taming of the Shrew (1592)

1595 The two Gentlemen of Verona (1594) Love's Labour's Lost (1593)

1596 Midsummer Night's Dream (1595)

1597 King John (1596) Merchant of Venice (1596) Richard 2nd (1595)

Romeo and Juliet (1595)

1598 Henry 4th (Part 1: 1597)(Part 2: 1598)

1599 Julius Caesar (1599)

1600 Henry 5th (1599) As You Like It (1599) Much Ado About Nothing (1598)

1601 12th Night (1600) Troilus and Cressida (1602)

1602 Merry Wives of Windsor (1601)

1603 All's Well that Ends Well (1603) Hamlet (1601)

1604 Othello (1604) Measure for Measure (1604)

1605 King Lear (1605) Macbeth (1606)

1606 Anthony and Cleopatra (1607)

1607 Timon of Athens(1608)

1608 Coriolanus (1608) (1608 Pericles)

1609 Sonnets

1610 Cymbeline (1609)

1611 The Winter's Tale (1611)

1612 The Tempest (1611)

1613 Henry 8th (1613: with Fletcher).

It's interesting that Pericles is not included in the first source used, Even more interesting is that The Rape of Lucrece (1594), the longest known poem Shakespeare ever wrote is excluded from both source lists. It reminds me of the censoring activities of the famous Victorian Dr. Bowdler (1754-1825) who edited out all the prurient scenes, jokes and remarks from Shakespeare's plays so that what was left would be suitable reading for families (and for schoolchildren or public performances). In subsequent editions, those that you and I can buy in bookstores, we just don't know how much has been eliminated from the original texts. It's emblematic of this type of thinking that causes the two sources I used to omit the Rape of Lucrece. You may recall that I found nothing pornographic in either the Venus or the Lucrece poem, perhaps for good reason. It's possible the editions I used had any such stanzas edited out.

But back to Sackville and Shakespeare. What becomes immediately obvious from our list is that we have a gap of more than a generation between Sackville's 1562-3 A Mirror for Magistrates and Shakespeare's Henry 6th, in 1590-1, a lapse of about 29 years.

The Shakespearean plays, once they began to appear, continued in a steady flow for 22 years. There was publication or production until five years after Sackville's death. It's not a problem that it could have been Sackville, but if so, how did it transpire as it did? Who dealt with publication on his behalf after his death? Why were the first 8 plays published anonymously as we noted in chapter 10. Neither Gorboduc nor his contribution to the Mirror epic was anonymous. Why would he have needed anonymity? Why would he have chosen William Shakespeare as his pseudonym? What would have been the connection? Who was Sackville's black haired mistress mentioned in the Sonnets? Did Sackville have a mistress? Did he have a male lover? Did he become lame? To all these pertinent questions we have no certain answers either because we just don't know or the questions don't seem to apply to Sackville. Sackville began with a pointed political drama, a tragedy. His next work involved another political tragic figure. His work shows absolutely no evidence for interest in any female. Contrast Shakespeare with his first published work as Shake-speare on Venus and Adonis and his next on the Rape of Lucrece. Why would Sackville have published these two poems when he was 58 years old?

Was Sackville Shakespeare? We have to admit his personal profile doesn't seem to fit very well. He appears to have been a generation earlier, and a high statesman for Elizabeth. His early verse in texture and form was innovative but closer to the Mediaeval tradition and Spenserean style. That could have changed as he grew older and more experienced in writing. Unfortunately there seems to be absolutely no evidence that he did continue as a poet/playwright during his long life. He could have been Shakespeare, but we have no evidence to support a claim that he was.

But yet there remains a problem with Sackville's life and career, He was in his youth a writer, and one with very high ability. Words flowed easily from his brain and pen. Writing is not like something coming from a spigot you can turn on and off. I know for a fact even from my own life experience as well as observation of others that if you have a writing propensity it has to express itself. Writing is not easily suppressed. Writers have lost limbs and even lives for saying what they had to say.

This is a long way round to state that I do not believe Thomas Sackville could have just stopped writing in 1563. But where is what he produced after that? There is no trace of it. All we find is a political career of an extremely high order, entrusted with the most personal missions overseas for the Queen who never left England. He must have produced written reports for the Queen. unless he merely made notes and detailed his negotiations on her behalf verbally. He must have made speeches in Parliament, publicly as Chancellor of Oxford, and as a Privy Councillor for the Queen. Perhaps that activity satisfied his creative ability and talent for expression in writing. We simply don't know if it did.

There is but one other candidate left for us to consider. I suggest we set Sackville aside for a while and see if our last candidate for Shakespeare is our man. If he fails, we will have to come back to Sackville.



In early English history, long before the Conquest by the Normans, the shiremoot was a representative assembly, but the Witenagemot or Witan (wise men), in effect a council of chiefs, was not a representative group. The king could summon anyone he chose to the Witan: archbishop, bishops, abbots, thegns, earldormen, and the king's dependents, or ministrii. The choice by the Witan for kingship was made from members of the royal family on the basis of talent, not primogeniture. Alfred (the Great) was preferred to the sons of Ethelred 1st. Alfred issued his laws with the consent of the Witan. The Witan's consent was necessary for the imposition of taxes and it was the final Court of Appeal. The peace of 886 AD was made by Alfred with Guthrum and 'the Witan of all the English nation.'

Before Alfred's time and that of the heptarchy (7 kingdoms united), when Kent and Mercia were nations, the Witan for each performed the same functions. Mercia was itself an aggregation of earlier smaller states. The later Witans comprised about equal numbers of senior clergy and earls, and both together about equalled the ministrii of the king. The Witans varied in size from about 20 to about 100 men

Sackville and Norton probably knew most, if not all of this, but their play was about an earlier, pre-Christian era. We know that because the characters in it generally refer to gods, except for the 4th line from the end (see the last quotation) which refers to God. The provenance of their play may even have pre-dated the Witan. But there was certainly no parliament then as the Elizabethans knew it.

To Chapter 21 To Chapter 23

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