The leading candidate for William Shakespeare the Elizabethan poet/dramatist has been, beginning in the 20th century, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. There are said to have been about 60 candidates in all for this prestigious position. But that huge number is passed along by writer after writer on this subject. I suggest it's grossly exaggerated by whoever started it. Probably even 20 is an overstatement.

If we begin by considering the case for de Vere and find he's a close fit, in his life and in what the poems and plays of the poet/dramatist tell us, then we don't need to go further. If the fit is not close enough we'll have to look elsewhere. So, first, let's look at Edward de Vere's life. To identify him, we'll call him de Vere.

De Vere was born in 1550 at Hedingham Castle, in north east Essex. The de Veres traced their ancestry back to before the conquest in 1066 by William of Normandy, who was accompanied by a fighting de Vere. The line carried the bluest of blue blood, probably more of it than Queen Elizabeth, since she was the daughter of Henry 8th and a commoner, Anne Boleyn. At Castle Hedingham the keep of the castle still stands. It's said to be the 2nd finest in Europe. You can see a colour photo of it on the web. It's a very fine piece of architecture.

The 16th Earl, de Vere's father, is said to have had his own company of play actors. Queen Elizabeth was 25 when she became queen in 1558. About 1561, when she was 28 and de Vere was 11, she and her retinue spent about a week at Castle Hedingham. In those days, when not on state business, daytime was spent in hawking and hunting, and the evenings in banqueting with entertainment by musicians, and dancing, acting performances called interludes, masques, and plays, provided by the host's resident players.

At about the age of 9 de Vere had already entered St. John's college, Cambridge university. He took his degree at age 14. But his father died in 1562 when he was about 12, and he then inherited the 86 family estates and titles of 17th Earl of Oxford, and Lord Great Chamberlain of England, plus several other titles. De Vere's mother was Margaret Golding, and her brother Arthur Golding was a classical scholar who translated Ovid's Metamorphoses from the Greek and was probably a tutor for de Vere.

After his father's death de Vere had to report to William Cecil, Elizabeth's private secretary and secretary of state for the entire country of England. It was the law that minors in the nobility had to become wards of the state until they became 21. Cecil was the Wardmaster for Elizabeth. So, a few days after his father's death young de Vere rode on horseback the 40 or so miles to Cecil's mansion in London, accompanied by 140 retainers on horseback, all dressed in black.

For de Vere, the next 9 years experience as part of Cecil's household was like living in the White House in Washington, or 11 Downing Street, next to 10 Downing St. in London. The centre of the nation's business ran through the frugal and parsimonious hands of William Cecil under Elizabeth, until Cecil's death in 1598. Arthur Golding was an officer in the Court of Wards under Cecil. De Vere's curriculum included Latin, Greek, French, geography, drawing, cosmography, penmanship, dancing, shooting, fencing, exercise, and prayer and presumably music since he played the lute and virginal keyboard instrument. His principal tutor was the Dean of Litchfield, a scholar. De Vere had, in fact the finest education the country had to offer. After obtaining his degree at Cambridge he continued his education at Gray's inn, the law college. His uncles included the Earl of Surrey, a poet, and Lord Sheffield, a musician and a poet. Even Cecil's garden was famous for its variety of trees, plants and shrubs and his chief gardener had written a book on the General History of Plants.

When de Vere was 13 his half-sister Katherine, who had married the Baron of Windsor, sued for his estates claiming his father's marriage to Margaret Golding was not legal. This was the earl's second marriage and Katherine was his daughter by his first marriage. This first marriage was to Dorothy of the Neville family, in 1536. Apparently in 1546 she left the earl on the grounds of his 'unkind dealing' and the bad company he kept. Dorothy claimed that in 1546 the earl went through a bigamous form of marriage with a Joan Jockey at White Colne church. The river Colne was in north east Essex. The countess Dorothy took this report 'very grievously.' There was also a report that the earl kept someone called Anne at Tilbury Hall. Tilbury is a port on the river Thames downstream from London and about 40 miles south of Castle Hedingham. It seems he ended both relationships before his wife Dorothy died, in 1548. Apparently 3 of the earl's men, led by Lord Sheffield and Sir Thomas D'Arcy, later baron Darcy of Chiche, both being brothers of the earl, went to Joan Jockey's house in Earl Colne, broke down the door, pinned her down, and permanently disfigured her nose, which it's said was a punishment in those days for a woman who was a whore. It's said that the earl's men were not dismissed after the incident.

This information regarding de Vere's father comes from a Stratfordian professor who states that it derives from a record of a series of depositions taken in 1585. He doesn't tell us why these statements were made almost 40 years after the alleged incidents, or what the circumstances were surrounding the depositions. The same source tells us the 16th earl then contracted to marry Dorothy Fosser of Haverhill, Suffolk, but after the banns had been read twice, he instead travelled to Belchamp St. Paul's in Essex where 'in a clandestine ceremony conducted by a suborned vicar of nearby Clare, Suffolk, he married Margery, half sister of Arthur Golding.' We hear no more about the 16th earl's life, apparently uneventful until his death in 1562.

Now we can better see why Katherine, Edward de Vere's half sister, and her husband Baron Windsor, were prompted to claim Edward's estates. Their claim stated that Edward de Vere was a bastard as the marriage to Margaret Golding was not legal, and that Edward de Vere could not therefore inherit the estates.

Fortunately for de Vere the claim was not upheld. But he had to go through all this, proud and haughty young aristocrat as he was, at age 13. This is one of those incidents that can never leave you for the rest of your life. For example, it's said that some time afterwards the Queen with her often cruel sense of humour had reminded him of the incident and called him her 'little bastard" causing him to burst into tears and rush away from her presence.

De Vere's mother remarried shortly after his father's death. It's said she married an undistinguished gentleman, not of the nobility, and apparently dropped out of de Vere's life after that. He was busy with tuition all day at Cecil's mansion in London, or at Oxford or Cambridge or Gray's Inn, or with attendance at Court at the Queen's pleasure.

The Stratfordian source previously mentioned tells us that de Vere remained at Cambridge less than a year and never received an earned degree from Cambridge or Oxford. However, whether earned or not he received a BA degree from Cambridge in 1564 at age 14, and an MA degree at Christ Church College Oxford in 1567. He is said to have taken the 3 years of legal study at Gray's Inn.

It would appear that the instruction he received from his private tutors was at least as rigorous and scholarly as he would have received at either university, so that it seems to me to make little difference as to whether his degrees were awarded in recognition of his private education, social standing in the realm and personal ability or by completing a university curriculum. His private tutor the Dean wrote to his Wardmaster Cecil, when de Vere was about 13½ years old "I clearly see that my work for the Lord of Oxford cannot much longer be required." That year de Vere wrote a half page letter in French to Cecil. And during the Queen's visit to Cambridge he had acted in a presentation in Latin of Aulularia of Plautus at King's College chapel.

In 1564, when de Vere was 14, Arthur Golding wrote to him "it is not unknown to others, and I have had the experience thereof myself, how earnest a desire your honour hath naturally graffed (sic) in you to read, peruse and communicate... as well the histories of ancient also of the present estate of things in our days and that not without a certain pregnancy of wit and understanding. Let these and other examples encourage your tender years... to proceed in learning and virtue... and yourself to become thereby the equal to any of your predecessors... whereof your great forwardness giveth assured hope and expectation... Your Lordship's humble servant, Arthur Golding."

Meanwhile, for the 9 years of wardship Cecil was running up substantial itemized bills on de Vere's account. £10 for one pair of black velvet hose. £15 for drugs during an illness, a total of £145 in one quarter year, with of course paper, nibs, and a number of books including Tully, Plato, the Geneva Bible, Chaucer, Plutarch. He read Plutarch in French 10 years before Lord North's translation into English.

There has been some discussion as to whether Cecil, a lawyer as well as Secretary of State, dealt fairly with his wards' estates. It may well be that he did. Even today a lawyer as administrator of an estate is entitled by law to charge a percentage of the entire estate as a set fee every year: a percentage fee of total disbursements, another percentage fee for total receipts, and another percentage fee for total assets under administration. Any sales of assets such as real estate would incur further fees, and all disbursements by the administrator for the estate would be charged. Over time it is not difficult for an estate to be whittled away by such charges. In any case it's said that over a 15 year period de Vere parted with 49 estates to pay bills, while Cecil, starting with very little when he came to power, by his death had amassed 300 landed estates. But it was not all one sided. Cecil had in effect been entrusted by Elizabeth with running the country of England under her policy direction. De Vere must have met at Cecil's mansion, or at Court, just about anyone of importance in England and heard about plots, counterplots, and rivalries of the various monarchs and prelates in Europe and met some of the participants.

In 1567, when he was 17, while practising fencing at Cecil's mansion, de Vere wounded an unarmed undercook named Thomas Brincknell with a thrust to his thigh. The man died the next day. Cecil apparently packed the jury which determined that Brincknell caused his own death by wilfully hurling himself on de Vere's rapier. Apparently the man was drunk at the time. It's known that Cecil had a network of spies and it's been suggested that the man was spying on de Vere for Cecil. The unfortunate result was that the man's death was adjudged suicide which meant de Vere was free of charges but the man was denied Christian burial and his pregnant widow and 3 year old son were stripped of their assets and "abandoned to relatives or the parish church."

During the time when I was in the navy and was a navigating officer on a ship engaged in some combined exercises with ships of other nationalities, a UK motor torpedo boat tried to cross the bow of a foreign destroyer but came too close and was cut in half. The engine room crew didn't stand a chance and a man on deck was killed. We picked up the survivors including the young "straight" or full time navy lieutenant in command. Later, in our wardroom I said to him "you must fell pretty bad, 3 men killed and lost your boat." "No", he said, "just an error of judgement."

I don't know which point of view de Vere would have expressed about the death of the undercook.

When de Vere was 20, and still under wardship, after some persistent requests to see military service, he was sent to the north as an aide to the earl of Sussex who had the unpleasant task of subduing the rebels and disposing of the survivors of a rebellion led by the earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland. The north was mainly catholic and the south of England mainly protestant. Towns were burned down and hundreds of men taken from their homes and put to death. It's not apparently known what part de Vere had in this or whether he was involved at all. He was there for two months.

Whatever he may or may not have done regarding the rebellion in the north, Stowe in his Annals described his return to Vere House in London ...

And so to his house... with four score (80) gentlemen in a livery of Reading tawny, and chains of gold about their necks, before him and one hundred tall yeomen in the like livery to follow him, without chains, but all having his cognizance of the Blue Boar embroidered on their left shoulder.

We have come a long way from the life of William Shaxper in our search for the greatest poet/dramatist the world has ever known.

When he returned to London he faced one of the most significant events in his life. His wardmaster Sir William Cecil, administrative head of the government of England, told de Vere he was to marry Cecil's daughter Anne Cecil. She was going to be only 14 at the time of the marriage. It was the wardmaster's right to order this marriage. And it would greatly benefit the aspiring house of Cecil to have a marriage to the premier earl of the realm and Anne as the Countess of Oxford. This kind of strategy was how Cecil was building up his own family resources. He applied the same principles to state business and increasing the resources of England. The circumstances surrounding this marriage seem to have developed something like this:

De Vere was outraged. Her had seen this girl as a child of 6 when he joined the Cecil household just as he was becoming a teenager. He probably still regarded her as a child. He certainly would not want Cecil as a father in law. The only thing they had in common was that they had both attended St. John's college, Cambridge. She was apparently a quiet girl, completely under the domination of her father. It would be like having an enemy spy in your camp to have his daughter as a wife. Bereft of family as he was, de Vere went to the only person he could for help - the Queen. He told her he would not marry Anne - she was a commoner, he was an Earl. The Queen sympathized, but he was too late. Cecil had already discussed it with her and talked her into approving the plan. What Elizabeth did was typical of her. The marriage was postponed a few months, by which time Anne was 15, and the Queen elevated Cecil to the peerage as Lord Burghley. De Vere now had no cause for objection. The marriage took place. It was a grand affair at Westminster Abbey. The Queen was present. Anne had been one of her Maids of Honour and was now Countess of Oxford. There was one final silent objection de Vere could make. Apparently he didn't consummate the marriage. In those days before contraceptives there was no child after the first year of marriage, or after the second.

At age 21 de Vere was no longer a ward, and Elizabeth monopolized his time, keeping him at court. Apparently Anne's mother, now Lady Burghley, was sharp tongued and didn't hesitate to tell the Queen she was not giving the marriage a chance. The Queen, born in 1533, was now 38. The love of her life had always been, and would always be, Robert Arundel, the earl of Leicester. They had both spent part of their youth in the Tower of London and probably met there. Both were in constant fear of execution then. She called him her 'sweet Robin.' Elizabeth had pet names for her favourite courtiers. Archbishop Whitgift she called her 'little black husband.' He was probably often reproving her for her 'wanton' conduct. De Vere was her 'Turk.'

Elizabeth and de Vere shared ability to converse, read and write in several languages, their love of music, both played keyboard instruments, and he the lute also, they both loved and excelled at dancing, hunting, hawking, riding, writing poetry and love of plays. During the next few years he was the darling of her Court. She once sent for him to come and dance for her when a French emissary was in Court, but he twice refused, sending word he would not dance before a Frenchman. He was not punished for disobedience. But in all the long years until her death and his, she never ever gave him a position of authority. She had Cecil, Walsingham, Leicester, Drake, Hatton, Raleigh, Sussex, Essex, and others involved in governmental affairs of state, but never de Vere. Not that he didn't ask, frequently. Once, during the wars in Flanders, he was permitted to go as a soldier to join Leicester who was in charge there. But he was back in two months. Either Leicester sent word to the Queen that he was unsuitable or she thought he was, or she didn't want to risk losing him there, and he was either sent back by Leicester or recalled by her. It's doubtful that he asked to go back home.

De Vere was known as the madcap earl. Attendance at the House of Lords, where he was entitled to take a seat at age 21, might have subdued him a little but the Queen avoided parliaments like the plague and only called 5 in her 45 year reign. But she did call one in 1571 and the young earl did apparently take his seat in the Lords at that time. As she had entered he was carrying her train as the ceremonial Lord Great Chamberlain.

In 1571, with de Vere still 21, the Queen held a 3 day tournament, 'a solemn joust at the tilt, tourney and barriers,' (one day of each). The challengers were de Vere, Charles Howard, Sir Henry Lee and Christopher Hatton, who all did very valiantly, but the chief honour was given to the earl of Oxford, according to Stowe's Annals. This was a holdover from mediaeval feudal rather brutal sport. The challenger commonly came to the east gate of the lists... the Constable spoke to him 'For what cause...' in a ritual and the challenger replied in ritual language. The Constable opened his visor to verify he was who he said he was in making the challenge. Prizes were determined on:

1. who broke the most spears as they ought to be broken

2. who hitteth three times in the height of the helm

3. who meeteth two times cournall to cournall (parry and return)

4. Who beareth a man down with the strike of a spear.

Apparently the weapons were blunted to prevent death or serious injury, although deaths at tourney were not unknown.

One of the Defendants in the tournament wrote to the Earl of Rutland

the earl of Oxford's livery was crimson velvet, very costly...there is no man of life and agility in every respect in the Court but the Earl of Oxford.

He performed "far above the expectations of the world" winning against older more experienced competitors. Apparently he was a brilliant horseman and had a eulogy in Latin verse written to him about that. He was not the only excellent rider though; Leicester was another and so was Hatton. But de Vere is said to have taken first prize in all 3 tournaments he is known to have participated in, this one, and two others in later years.

These activities did not distract him from his greatest loves: poetry and music. He already had writers dedicating their work to him and he himself was writing poems, some signed, some apparently anonymously. It's been said many times that you can usually identify his work because he deliberately weaves E.Ver(e) or 'ever' into it and one meaning of the word in the original French was 'truth.' The word 'truth,' and the family motto being in Latin 'Vero Nihil Verius' ( Nothing Truer than Truth, or, Nothing Truer than Vere) is like a refrain echoing through his work.

The Queen apparently in his earlier days at Court called him Phoebus and Cupid, and when he was obstreperous Boar, the blue boar being the hereditary emblem or cognizance of his family.

As early as 1569 when de Vere was only 19 Thomas Underdowne had dedicated to him his translation of Heliodorus' Aethiopian History. During de Vere's lifetime 33 books and music compositions are known to have been dedicated to him. The organist John Farmer who dedicated two books to him said

without flattery be it spoke those that know your Lordship know this, that using this science (music) as a recreation your Lordship have overgrown most of them that make it a profession.

In 1572 Castiglione's The Courtier, translated into Latin by Bartholomew Clarke, de Vere's tutor at Oxford university, was published under de Vere's (Oxford's) sponsorship. De Vere wrote the preface himself, also in Latin. This is almost two pages long in small print and it's been described as 'graceful, courtly and elegant.' De Vere himself was writing poems in English and Latin. It's said that after 1573 'he never signed his verses with his own name.' There is one poem in the Oxford 16th c. Book of Verse (1932 edition) shown as by Queen Elizabeth, but apparently the original is signed E of O. These early poems are competent enough, but he was too young and too popular with the Queen at Court then to have suffered enough and had enough experience for his verse to have much bite and tautness to it. I see no point in quoting from his verse and getting into arguments as to whether stylistically he was or was not, and was capable of or not, of being William Shakespeare. Somebody was, and my reasoning is that writers do their finest work when writing about things they know best or have experienced personally. I'm posting to the Web as I go along so at present I have no more idea than you do as to how this enquiry is going to end. De Vere at present to us is just a candidate and his cause will, in my view, stand or fall on a match between his life experience and what William Shakespeare wrote about. And that's why we're going through the main events in de Vere's life with some particular attention.

In 1572 de Vere staged a 'spectacular mock battle for public entertainment at Warwick Castle.' It was part of the Queen's annual summer progress around the country. The location was on the banks of the river Avon. De Vere was a commander of one side in this performance which involved hundreds of soldiers. Cannons sent firebrands across the river. Two wooden forts were constructed for the occasion. The Earl of Warwick commanded the opposing force.

In August, 1572 came the massacre of St. Bartholomew in Paris, France, which was intended to wipe out the Protestants in that city. Many in England were shocked by this event. Christopher Marlowe wrote a play called The Massacre at Paris. De Vere wrote a friendly letter to Cecil warning him to be careful of his own safety. Cecil was a staunch Protestant, with leanings towards Puritanism, an extreme form. That is probably partly why he was so opposed to plays, playwrights, actors and theatres.

1573 was an eventful year in de Vere's life. Thomas Bedingfield provided his translation of Cardanus Comfort to de Vere, saying he was too modest to publish his work, which was a meditation on death by a leading Italian mathematician, Geronimo Cardano. De Vere wrote a long prefatory letter saying that the author should not keep his work from the world. It's an eloquent piece of writing, effortlessly maintains the same polished standard throughout, and is somewhat dense in style.

A pivotal event occurs on May 20, 1573. On that day 3 of de Vere's men, Danye Wylkyns, John Hannam and Maurice Dennis, alias Deny the Frenchman, according to a later letter of accusation sent to Burghley, attacked with muskets two of their former associates, now Burghley's men, at Gad's Hill, on the road between Gravesend and Rochester. These two men, William Ffaunt and John Wotton, in their letter charged that their attackers "lay privily in a ditch awaiting our coming with full intent to murder us" and "our late noble Lord and master (Oxford) who with pardon be it spoken, is to be thought of as the procurer of that which is done." Another source tells us

shots were fired at close range, but no one was hit. The gunfire was so close, the letter said, that the saddle girth on one of the horses broke and the rider was thrown to the ground. "It please God to deliver us from that determined mischief" the victims told Burghley. They went on to complain that the same men "beset our lodgings" in London and forced them to flee to Gravesend, where they still felt themselves to be in danger. They pleaded with Burghley to provide them with security from their attackers and from Oxford "as the procurer of that which is done". Oxford may have been more than just the instigator. The victims mention his 'raging demeanor" which suggests they saw him at the scene...they do not accuse him of having been there...

We're told that de Vere interceded on behalf of his men but Burghley punished them. We're not told how. I have consulted 8 secondary sources on this important incident, both Stratfordian and Oxfordian. Each contains some different snippets of information. None give the letter of complaint in full. As my days of access to original research material have long gone, we have to be content with what we can piece together from these secondary sources. There are a number of unanswered questions here. Was there any indication of personal injury? Was there any theft? If not, was there merely harassment? Was all that happened at Gad's Hill that shots were fired, which either intentionally or unintentionally missed? Was the only injury that a man and his horse were frightened and as a result the man fell off his horse? Why did the attack continue when the victims reached their destination? If the attackers rode off towards London, how did they know where to find the victims later? Did the attackers verbally threaten the victims, and if so, what did they say? How did the Earl of Oxford intercede, was it in writing, if so, to whom, and what did he say? And finally, how were the men punished, was there a court case and a judgement?

I have a volume of Tudor constitutional documents, printed from the originals. That's because one of my history tutors was a constitutional historian. If it were a question of early Canadian history, I have, for example, a copy of the 1839 Durham Report. But this Gad's Hill incident is of no historical significance. I was not even aware of it in my study of history. But in the foggy world of literature and literary criticism it is an important event. Is the problem here that perhaps none of the 8 secondary sources I consulted had read the original documentation and each copied one from another or some other secondary source. That happens more often than one might suppose. The end result is that we have a very imperfect report on this important incident. It seems most probable that de Vere inspired it, and that there was never any intent at theft or injury, but we don't know why he initiated it and we don't have access to the full circumstances and accusatory letter.

But back to de Vere. The next year, 1574, ambassador Henry Killigrew at Edinburgh wrote to Walsingham, Elizabeth's 'spy master', dated July 18,

My Lord of Oxford and Lord Seymour are fled out of England and passed by Bruges to Brussels.

It's also suggested that he went in connection with one of many catholic plots to replace Elizabeth as Queen. Apparently he had made efforts to help his cousin the Duke of Norfolk who had been accused of involvement in one such intrigue. But Norfolk was arrested in 1569, about the time of the northern rebellion of Northumberland and Westmoreland, when as we saw, young de Vere went briefly as an aide to Sussex, who put it down. And Norfolk after due process was executed in 1572, so the whole Norfolk incident is irrelevant in 1574. The puzzle is why use the word 'fled' when de Vere was in such favour at Court, and was throughout his life a devoted subject to Elizabeth, as an honourable feudal Lord would have or should have been. Others say he went to Flanders, which might relate to the protestant resistance in the Netherlands led by William the Silent against Spanish catholic overlordship. Whatever his reason for going, he did not first inform the Queen and ask her permission. Either he did not know he should have, or thought it no great matter and she would not mind. When she found out she sent his friend Thomas Bedingfield to bring him back, and he returned promptly. There was no serious repercussion as a result of this incident.

It seems clear that de Vere had no seditious intent and that catholic plotters 'saught conference with him, a thing he utterly refused.' Burghley played an important part in soothing everyone down and vouching for de Vere's patriotism. Burghley seems to have had his hands full tidying up after his unpredictable son-in-law. Fortunately for de Vere, his father-in-law had experience in running England for Elizabeth and so was equal to the task of dealing with de Vere. But de Vere seems never really to have appreciated what Burghley did for him from time to time. He probably just expected it of him as the proper thing to do.

After his return from the continent de Vere told his then friend Charles Arundel (which some years later Arundel, a Catholic, tried to use against him) that while he was in Flanders the great Spanish General the Duke of Alba was so impressed with him that he made him Lieutenant General over all his armed forces then in the Low Countries. De Vere then went on to describe in great and convincing detail how he dealt with the siege of a city, personally led an attack, ending

then Master Beningfield, as the devil would have it, came in upon his swift post-horse and called him from this service by Her Majesty's letters, being the greatest disgrace that any such general (ever) received. And now the question is whether this noble general were more troubled by with his calling home, or Beningfield more moved with pity and compassion to behold this slaughter, or his horse more afraid when he passed over bridges at sight of the dead bodies - whereat he started and flung in such sort as Beningfield could hardly keep his back...

The detail, far more extensive than this excerpt I've taken tells us what a wonderful imagination de Vere had, and how convincing he must have been to so dupe Arundel. De Vere must have been most amused by it.

Meanwhile, Anne, his wife, and her parents, seemed to think that if she could become pregnant by him, de Vere might pay more attention to his home life. He'd been married close to 3 years and no child yet. There are rumours, perhaps apocryphal, that the 'bed trick' was foisted on him. This was a popular theme in the Renaissance world. Simply put, the man was induced to have a night time tryst with a woman in the dark so that he would think she was someone other than who it really was. Afterwards the duped man would find out who he had really gone to bed with. Whether this actually happened to de Vere we don't know. It may merely have been his feudal aristocratic sense of chivalry that made him leave alone a 15 year old girl until she grew up. Thomas Wright in his History of Essex, written in 1836, reported that it happened to Lord Oxford, planned by Burghley. But this is a report about 260 years later. In any case it appears she had sexual relations with him before he left for the Continent early in 1575. It's doubtful one night together would have produced a child, so presumably the sexual relationship once started continued for some time before he left England. On this occasion he left with the Queen's permission.

He spent about 2 months in Paris, France where he was entertained by the royal family: king Henry 3rd, the queen mother Catherine di Medici, and Marguerite de Valois. He had budgeted £1,000 for his tour, and Burghley was apparently still in control of his funds although he was no longer a ward. He took a mere 8 retainers with him. While in Paris he heard from Burghley that his wife was pregnant. He wrote back

My Lord, your letter has made me a glad man...I thank god therefore, with your Lordship, that it hath pleased Him to make me a father, where your Lordship is a grandfather... and hopes it will be a boy.

De Vere had his portrait painted and sent it, with 2 fine horses, as a gift to Anne.

Burghley was spying on him and received reports that his conduct in Paris was exemplary. Even the painter was persuaded to send back a surreptitious report to Burghley. This is no more, and no less, than Burghley did with his own son, Thomas.

From Paris de Vere went to Strasburg, in Germany, and met there the scholar Johannes Sturm. He is said to have left on April 26, 1575 for Venice. It seems he made this city his base for excursions into other Renaissance cities in northern Italy, visiting at least Genoa, Milan, Padua, Verona, Florence, Siena. The painter wrote to Burghley that he lost track of him in Italy and did not know whether he had gone to Greece or elsewhere in Italy. It seems that de Vere may have suspected the painter was secretly reporting to Burghley. It may be that - as another report says - he went by ship from Venice around the Italian coast to Palermo in Sicily. He would no doubt have seen the famous Etna volcano and Stromboli, an island with an active volcano. While in Palermo it's said he issued

a challenge against all manner of persons whatsoever, and all manner of weapons, as Tournament, Barriers, with horse and armour, to fight a combat with any whatsoever in defence of his Prince and Country.

There were no takers.

De Vere must have returned to Venice in northern Italy, for while in Padua, on September 24th he received news from Burghley that his wife had given birth to a daughter on July 2nd. De Vere thought that the delay in receiving the packages with the news might be "by reason of the plague being in the passages none were suffered to pass.." This presumed substantial delay may be significant, as we will soon see.

About this time he sent Anne a Greek bible with a poem by him in Latin inscribed on the flyleaf. It is full of puns on Vere, Veritas, Vera, and ends (in translation)

So that, thus alleviating the absent longing of thy dear husband, thee, a Vere, may be called the true glory of thy husband.

It seems their private correspondence has not been found, if it still exists.

There is apparently extant a letter from a Sir Stephen Poole to a John Chamberlain, written Sept. 21, 1587, from Venice. This is 11½ years later. In the letter he says he is happy to be lodged among a great number of

signoraes, Isabella Bellochia in the next house on my right hand. And Virginia Padoana, that honoreth all our nation for my Lord Oxford's sake, is my neighbour on the left side. Over my head hath Lodovica Gonzaga the French king's mistress her house...

One Virginia Padoana, courtesan, is twice cited for breaking Venetian sumptuary laws (dressing too expensively) in March 1581 and October 1595. This is 5 and 19 years later than the time of de Vere's visit.

It so happens that I made a fairly detailed study of the history of Venice in my Is Our Civilization Dying? (See my web site for the complete study.) In it I found (chapter 4) that Venice began to go downhill morally, politically, and militarily, soon after the end of the 1500s. The information about Virginia Padoana may or may not tell us she was a high priced prostitute at the time of de Vere's visit. She certainly was 5 years later, and very likely was when he was there.

De Vere overspent on his tour by another £3,000 and had to borrow 500 crowns from the rich Paduan banker Baptista Nigrone. Money urgently needed was finally received through the Venetian banker Pasquino Spinola.

He left Venice in March, 1576 travelling through Milan and Lyon, France. He arrived back in Paris, on his way home, on March 31, 1576.

Now comes probably the most significant event in his whole life. He had been out of England for 15 months. On April 4th his steward, the manager of his estates who had just arrived in Paris to meet him, told him that the child born by de Vere's wife during his absence was not his. The steward said that Burghley had misrepresented the date of the birth, it was September, not July. Now the strange delay in receiving 'packages' of letters from Burghley took on a more sinister meaning. If the steward's information was true, Burghley would have had to wait for the child to be born in case he might have announced the wrong sex, or it might have been still born.

De Vere did not then know it, but Dr. Masters, the Queens' physician wrote a report to Burghley which apparently survives and states that on March 7th he had examined the Countess of Oxford and confirmed her pregnancy. The letter is quite long, but in it he reports Anne as saying

Alas, alas, how should I rejoice seeing that he that should rejoice with me is not here; and to say truth stands in doubt whether he pass on me and it or not...

The Queen was aware of all this, and that de Vere had said in her presence that if Anne were of child while he was away it was not his. Apparently he had last had intercourse with her in October, and would expect to have known whether there were missed periods before he left at the end of December. Burghley it seems did not know he had not been with his wife after October and apparently assumed he had been with her in December just before he left England. Whatever the details, we can deduce that his correspondence with Burghley about the birth in early July he could accept, but if it was a September birth and Burghley had covered it up, then the child was not his.

Uncertainty about this haunted de Vere for the rest of his life. He had already been called a bastard publicly for gain by his older half-sister, and now this. Nothing could be more humiliating to a man, and to de Vere, already a poet and man of letters, highly educated and a public figure, it was devastating, and right or wrong, could never be undone.

On January 3, 1576 according to a note by Burghley, de Vere had "confessed to Lord (Henry) Howard that he lay not with his wife but at Hampton Court." This was in October. Knowing this Burghley would have realized that a September birth would not be accepted by de Vere, but a July birth would.

On de Vere's passage across the Channel from France to England his ship was attacked by pirates. He refused to land at Dover, where Thomas Cecil, Anne's brother, was there to greet him. Instead he landed at London, where his wife and Burghley were there to meet him. It's said he passed them by without recognition and went straight to the Queen, She it was who had connived with Burghley to marry him to Anne, which he did not want and had tried to avoid. It was not, then, a love match, since he knew Anne and what she was like as they grew up in the same household. And look at the consequences in de Vere's public life. He was now a subject for snide remarks and ridicule. There was no one but the Queen to turn to. His father was dead, his mother had quickly re-married a nonentity and dropped out of his life, his half sister had tried to disenfranchise him. This incident, and that fateful meeting with the Queen which followed it is I suggest, the most important event in his life.

On his tour abroad he had met the King of France, a Medici, a Guise, and a Valois. These were names to conjure with in history, and he had met them all, on equal terms. He met the highest born society and nobility in northern Italy, now becoming decadent. He had apparently, in his conceit and self assurance, issued a tournament challenge to all and sundry in Europe! And he returned to this - the loss for ever of his good name. He could not escape the consequences for the rest of his life.

He wrote to Burghley 27th April, 1576:

My Lord, although I have forborne, in some respect, which should (be) private to myself, either to write or come unto your Lordship...but now urged thereto by your letter...until I can better satisfy or advertise myself of some mislikes, I am not determined, as touching my wife, to accompany mean if it standeth with my liking, to receive her into your doth very well content me...I do not doubt but she hath sufficient proportion for her being to live upon and to maintain herself..this might have been done through private conference before, and had not need to have been the fable of the world...but I do not know by what or whose advice it was to run that course so contrary to my will or meaning, which made her so disgraced to the world, raised suspicion openly, that with private conference might have been more silently handled, and hath given me more greater cause to mislike.. Wherefore - now you shall understand me- not to urge me any further....

Edward Oxeford.

The friendly relationship with the whole Burghley family was now finished. And to make matters worse, it seems Burghley had been blabbing openly about the event. But through all this Burghley apparently still controlled de Vere's assets.

To Chapter 5 To Chapter 7

Back to Index Page

Back to Edward Furlong's Home Page