Testimony of Orazio Cogno before the Venice Inquisition on August 27th, 1577

The following English translation of this transcipt was done by Society member Dr. Noemi Magri of Mantova, Italy.


Introduction to the transcript by Nina Green, editor of the Edward de Vere Newsletter.

Through the efforts of Dr. Magri we now know what it was the Venetian Inquisition really wanted to find out from Orazio Cogno. Contrary to Alan Nelson’s earlier pronouncements, it appears that all the Inquisition was interested in was (1) finding out whether Orazio Cogno had lived ‘Catholically’ while he was absent from Venice, and (2) obtaining from Orazio Cogno information about Oxford’s associates in Venice and about various Venetian nationals who were living in England. That the Inquisition was very much interested in this latter point is suggested by the fact that the information given by Orazio regarding Venetians living in England is repeated in the margins of the document.

The document also provides strong evidence that Oxford was not a Catholic. While living in Venice, of course, Oxford ate fish on Fridays and fast days, and went to Mass. However, once he was back in England, although he allowed religious freedom to his Catholic servants, Oxford himself did not live “Catholically,” and ate meat on Fridays and on Catholic fast days. Moreover, Dr. Magri points out that while Oxford was in Venice, he attended Mass at the Greek Orthodox Church because the Greek Orthodox liturgy more closely resembled the Protestant service than the Catholic.

And finally, the document gives the reason why Orazio Cogno left Oxford’s service. A Milanese merchant, Christopholo da Monte, felt that Orazio would be “perverted,” i.e. become a heretic to his faith, if he remained in England. He gave Orazio money, and embarked him on a ship for Flanders in the company of other Italian merchants.


The Testimony

On the day of Tuesday 27th of the month of August 1577 in the presence of most illustrious Master Pasquale Ciconia.

Being summoned to the Holy Inquisition, there appeared Orazio, son of the late Francesco Cogno, altarist in the church of Santa Marina1 and, being asked about his age, he answered, “I am 17 years old”.

It was asked him (or He was asked), “Have you been outside this State?”. He answered, “Yes, Sir”.

It was asked him, “In which country?”. He answered, “In England”. Being asked, he said, “It has been a year and a half, I think, since I left this town to go to England”. Being asked, he said, “I went with an earl, a relative of the Queen of England, called Milord de Oxford”2

It was asked him, “How long did you stay in England?” He answered, “Eleven months”. Being asked, he said, “I have always been at the house of this earl”.

It was asked him, “What job (duty) was yours in his house?” He answered, “I was a page”.

It was asked him, “Have you been with others, besides him?” He answered, “No Sir, in England”.

It was asked him, “How long ago did you leave England?” He answered, “Seven or eight months”.

It was asked him, “How long ago did you arrive here?” He answered, “I arrived here on the day of the Assumption of Our Lady, just past”3.

It was asked him, “With whom did you leave England?” He answered, “Alone, Sir”.

He was asked, “Say where you have been and with whom in these seven or eight months”. He answered, “I was in Flanders 4 months with captain master Zuan Battista da Monte4 and then I left Antwerp where I had stayed all that time with the said captain and went down to Burgundy in transit, from Burgundy to Lorraine in transit and then to Savoy, then to Cremona, from Cremona to Mantua, from Mantua to Padua, from Padua to Venice”.

It was asked him, “Where did you leave the captain?” He answered, “At Fontanelli, north of Cremona”5.

It was asked him, “With whom did you come from Fontanelle to here?” He answered, “Alone”.

It was asked him, “Who set (put) you with the English earl?” (i.e. at the service of the English earl) He answered, “No one”.

It was asked him, “How did it happen that you went with him? (or: “What made you go with him?). He answered, “He heard me sing in the choir in Santa Maria Formosa6 and he asked me if I wanted to go to England with him and so I went”.

It was asked him, “Did you ask anyone for advice whether you should go or not?” He answered, “I asked my father and my mother and both advised me to go; then they died of plague”7.

He was asked, “This earl, where is he now?” He answered, “In England”.

He was asked, “Was he used to live (or: Was he living) Catholically?” He answered, “No Sir”.

It was asked him, “After he invited you, in this town, to go with him, how long did he wait before leaving?” He answered, “On Thursday before Lent, I went to live (or: I moved to) in his house and we left on the following Monday of Carnival”8.

It was asked me, “On the Friday and Saturday following Thursday before Lent, what food was eaten in his house?” He answered, “Fish”.

He was asked, “In England and on the journey to England, what did he eat for Lent >on the journey< and on fast days?” He answered, “Fish on the journey because no meat is served in inns”.

It was asked him, “And in England, on fast days, Fridays and Saturdays, what (food) did he eat?” He answered, “Fish and meat”.

It was asked him, “Did he let his family eat meat on these days?” He answered, “No Sir”.

It was asked him, “Did he let you have meat on fast days?” He answered, “No Sir. In his house he also had an attendant and a manservant who were Catholic”.

It was asked him, “Did he ever make (or: let) you listen to sermons of heretics?” He answered, “No Sir”.

It was asked him, “Did you voluntarily go to listen to sermons of heretics?” He answered, “No Sir, but I used to go to Mass in the house of the Ambassadors of France and Portugal”.

It was asked, “Was there anyone in England who wanted to make you read prohibited books and to teach you the doctrine of heretics?” He answered, “Yes Sir”.

It was asked him, “Who were these people?” He answered, “A man called Master Alexandro, I think he has been banned from Venice on account of religion9. Another one, Ambroso da Venezia10 who is a music-player (or: musician) of the Queen of England; he has two childrren and has got married there, even though, as I have heard, his wife lives here in Venice and, so they also say, he used to send money to her. And there are also five Venetian brothers who are musicians of the Queen and play the flute and the viola11; and there is a Venetian gentlewoman from Ca’ Malipiero12 who has a school and teaches reading and the Italian language13; and I don’t know of anyone else”.

It was asked him, “Did you ever speak with the Queen?” He answered, “Yes Sir, and I sang (have sung) in her presence”. Being asked, he said, “She wanted to convert me to her faith”. Being asked, he said, “Some merchants, that is, master Christopholo da Monte, Milanese, told me that I would be perverted if I stayed here [i.e. in England] and he didn’t want me to stay there any longer and he embarked me for Flanders in company with other merchants and he gave me 25 ducats to go away (literally; or: in order that I could leave that place)

It was asked him, “Did you ask the earl for leave?” He answered, “No Sir, because he wouldn’t let me go (or: he wouldn’t have let me go)”.

It was asked him, “On the journey to Antwerp and other places where you have been, did you live Catholically?” He answered, “Yes Sir, I have come with Italian Catholic soldiers”.

It was asked him, “After you’ve come back here, did anyone ask you about the earl with whom you went?” He answered, “No Sir”.

It was asked him, “Who associated with the earl in this town?” He answered, “No one here from this town. He used to go to Mass at the Church of the Greeks14 and he was a person (man) who spoke the Latin and Italian language well”.

Being asked whether the earl had ever tried (or: wanted) to convert him to his faith, he answered, “No Sir. He let everyone (people) live as they wanted (do at will)”.

After this deposition was made, he [i.e. Orazio Cogno] was dismissed.


  1. The Church of Santa Marina was demolished in 1810. The square on which the church was situated is still called ‘Campo (=square) Santa Marina’ and it is north of the famous St. Marks.
  2. In MS, the name ‘Milord de Oxford’ is repeated in the left-hand margin.
  3. i.e. August 15th.
  4. In Ms, the name ‘captain master Zuan Battista da Monte’ is repeated in the left-hand margin.
  5. Now Fontanella-Grazioli, north-east of Cremona, on the road to Mantua.
  6. One of the most famous churches in Venice. It is in Renaissance style and is situated north of St. Mark’s. The name comes from the Latin ‘formosa’, ‘virtuous and beautiful’, an attribute of Our Lady to whom the church is dedicated. Tradition reports that the Virgin appeared in that place in the VII century. The church stands in Campo Santa Maria Formosa, a large square which in the past was, and still is, one of the liveliest centres of outdoor performances, as theatre plays, music, tumblers. Stately palaces built in the 15th and 16th century surround the ‘campo’.
  7. The first few cases of plague registered in Venice between July 1575 and February 1576 had been kept secret. The infection broke out violently in the summer of 1576 and went on until the beginning of 1577. Therefore Carnival celebrations were allowed to take place in February-March 1576.
  8. In the year 1576, Easter fell on April 22nd; therefore Ash Wednesday fell on March 7th; Thursday before Lent on March 1st; and Monday of Carnival, the day when Lord Oxford left Venice, on March 5th.
  9. In the left-hand margin: Alexander Forlan” and just below it: “Furlan”.
  10. In the left-hand margin: “Ambroso da Venezia, a musican of the Queen of England; he has two children and has got married”.
  11. In the left-hand margin: “Five Venetian brothers who are msucians of the Queen; they play the flute and the viola”.
  12. Malipiero House (Ca’ short for “casa”, “house”) was the home of the Malipiero family. It is situated in Campo Santa Maria Formosa. It was built in the first half of the 16th century. The top floor was added in the 19th century. The Malipiero family is one of the most distinguished aristocratic families in Venice. They number two dogi (Orio, 1178-93) and Pasquale (1457-62), ambassadors, renowned musicians, literary men and generals.
  13. In the left-hand margin: “A Venetian gentlewoman who has a school”.
  14. San Giorgio dei Greci (The church of St George of the Greeks) situated east of St Mark’s, was and still is the most important Greek-Orthodox church not only in Renaissance Venice but also in Italy and Euope. The Greek community officially founded in 1573 was particularly flourishing at the time of lord Oxford’s visit, i.e. two years after the church had been inaugurated. Its printing-house and library housing rare incunabula, manuscripts and books had certainly appeased the earl’s thirst for learning. There he also had the opportunity to practise his Greek.

Master F. W. D., R. I. P.

by John M. Rollett

This article is being published similtaneously in the online Ever Reader No. 5 and in the Fall 1997 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter.


Donald W. Foster’s 1987 article with the title “Master W. H., R. I. P.” (PMLA 102, pp. 42-54) is a masterpiece. No wonder it received the annual award for the best article published that year. The mysterious Dedication to the Sonnets, as it was generally known, but which Foster prefers to call (correctly, I am sure) an Epigraph, has for the last ten years been laid open in its full glory: a printer’s error, a typo, has sent generations of commentators and scholars on a wild goose chase of epic proportions. “Mr. W. H.” is, after all, “Mr. W. S.” and the mystery evaporates in a puff of printer’s ink!

Donald Foster’s critical apparatus is formidable, and each crux is resolved by numerous extracts from contemporary literature, giving evidence of assiduous reading. The principal method might be called ‘the argument from the weight of parallels’. If there are ‘x’ examples of a word being used in a certain sense, and only ‘y’ exceptions, where y is substantially less than x, then we may be reasonably confident that the word under scrutiny (in the Epigraph, as we must now learn to call it) carries the sense of the x examples, and the few y examples can be mulled over, and then safely dismissed from consideration. The logic is flawless.

Thus the word “begetter”, when used in connection with a poem or other publication, nearly always means “author”, with one exception (y = 1). Therefore it probably means “author” in the Epigraph, and so “Mr. W. H.” is to be identified with Shakespeare, and the “H” explained away as a misprint for “S”. And it so happens that there are other examples of initials being incorrectly printed in other epigraphs or dedications. Similarly, the adjective “ever-living” is almost always applied to the Almighty, “our Lord”, who therefore must (with due reservations) be identified with “our ever-living poet”. Sure enough, parallels abound where the Almighty is given a number of different avocations, in different contexts, and if ‘Poet’ is not precisely to be found among them, then surely it may legitimately be added to the list.

We can now see that the Epigraph should be understood somewhat along the following lines. “To the author of the ensuing Sonnets, Mr. W[illiam] S[hakespeare], all happiness! – together with that eternity promised by Our Ever-living Lord, wishes [Thomas Thorpe], the well-wishing adventurer in publishing [this slim quarto].” At last, the puzzle which eluded 160 or more years of determined investigation has been finally solved. This leads us into a paradox. How is it possible that such scholarship, such industry, such brilliance, such combing of sources, such plausible and judiciously argued trains of thought, should result in a conclusion which is totally, utterly, and completely – wrong?

It has been said that the devil is in the details, and so it will emerge. But first I am reminded of Niels Bohr, who once upbraided a PhD student, telling him “You are not thinking, you are just being logical.” I will give three examples to show where Donald Foster has gone off the rails and why, and to show how impeccable reasoning can, on occasion, lead one straight into the wilderness.


The opening phrase contains a word, “begetter,” which has been a stumbling block for commentators from the beginning of critical interest in the Dedication (that is to say, Epigraph). Some have thought it might mean “inspirer,” and some “procurer” (of the manuscript for the publisher). Another group has speculated that it might refer to the poet’s urging of the young man of the first seventeen sonnets to procreate, and beget a son of his own, just as his father had done; the reluctant “begetter” is then again the young man. But for Foster a “begetter” is, in this context, by all relevant parallel passages, the “author,” as many quotations indicate, and so it is in this sense that we are to understand it in the Epigraph (and amend an “H” to an “S”).

Unfortunately, Donald Foster has overlooked something. The Epigraph is addressed not to “the begetter.” It is addressed to “the onlie begetter.” For Foster, it might just as well read “the begetter,” or “the one begetter,” or “the sole begetter,” or “the unique begetter,” or “the singular begetter.” However, to an educated Elizabethan reader the phrase “the onlie begetter” conveys a whole complex of meanings, for the simple reason that it is a quotation, or rather an adaptation, from a well-known text. In the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 1, verse 14 (Geneva version and others), occurs the phrase “onely begotten Sonne.” Thus for an Elizabethan familiar with the Gospels, the phrase “onlie begetter” is irrevocably linked with the word “Sonne.” Since the theme of the first seventeen sonnets is the urging of the young man to beget a son (Your Father had a son, let your Son say so; Make thee an other selfe for love of me), it follows inevitably that the “begetter” is to be understood as the young man, just as for 160 years the majority of commentators have supposed. And indeed, in the one exception quoted by Foster (y = 1), Daniel (in his sonnet “To the countess of Pembroke,” prefaced to “Delia”), says that his verse has been “[b]egotten by thy hand.” So we have a parallel, in which the dedicatee is also cast in the role of the author, having inhabited the poet’s mind to such an extent as almost to have guided his pen.


Donald Foster has found numerous examples of the use of the compound adjective “ever-living”, most of which (‘x’) refer to the Almighty. He is surprised not to find even one example which refers to a living person, in particular Queen Elizabeth, but has located a few which refer to attributes of a dead person, for instance Henry Vth, described by Shakespeare in Henry VI, part 1 (IV, iii, 51-2) as “[t]hat ever-living man of memory” (‘y’). Foster is not remotely to be faulted for overlooking the passage in Covell’s Polimanteia (ed. A. B. Grosart, 1881, p. 32), where he urges some member of the Inns of Court to write in such a way as to “give immortalitie to an ever-living Empresse,” the Queen herself. Whether this example would have affected his approach in any way is hard to guess. And the possibility, which follows logically from the smaller set of y examples, that “our ever-living poet” might be dead, is not mentioned, even to be ruled out (although it must surely have occurred to him). Hence the identification of “poet” with “Lord” becomes a necessity to save appearances.

Foster’s interpretation of “our ever-living poet” to mean “our ever-living Lord” is flawed for another reason: the use of the possessive pronoun “our.” His examples of the use of the epithet “ever-living”, as applied to the Almighty, mostly employ the word “the,” as in “the only and ever-living Saviour,” “the ever-living Lord God,” and simply “the Ever-Living”; in none of his examples is the pronoun “our” used in place of “the.” But the use of “our” instead of “the” in the phrase “our ever-living poet,” with “poet” standing for “Lord”, suggests a rather too familiar relationship with the Maker of All Things; “Our Lord,” when He looks after us, but “The Ever-Living Poet,” when He is at His writing-desk. Had the Epigraph read “that eternitie promised by the ever-living poet,” it might (perhaps) have carried Foster’s meaning. But “our ever-living poet” rules it out. Foster’s interpretation won’t do.

What the writer of the Epigraph is actually saying (pace D. W. F.) is that the immortality conferred upon the dedicatee, by our ever-living poet in these insuing sonnets, is additionally wished upon him by the well-wishing adventurer T. T., as he sets into print and launches forth upon the booksellers of Paul’s the aforesaid slim quarto; Your name from hence immortall life shall have.

(3) “Mr. W. H.”

With disarming confidence, Donald Foster opines that “[n]one but the party faithful” still suppose that Thomas Thorpe (“a commoner”) would dare to address a Lord, such as Henry Wriothesley (Earl of Southampton) or William Herbert (Earl of Pembroke), as “Master,” and therefore “Mr. W. H.” can only be a commoner (eg Shakespeare, with a typo “H”), notwithstanding the fact that for well over a century commentators have taken it for granted that the notation “Mr. W. H.” is designed to obscure, rather than to suggest, the status and identity of the dedicatee. Nevertheless, in several of the sonnets we get a distinct impression that the young man addressed is well-born. He is invoked or alluded to in various places as “Lord,” “prince,” “sovereign,” “king,” and elsewhere it seems that he is a man of substance and distinguished lineage. So it follows that the young man cannot be “Mr.” W. H. When, we might ask ourselves, is a lord not a lord? No great knowledge of Elizabethan history is required to furnish an answer.

In February, 1601, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, launched an ill-fated rebellion against those he believed were controlling the government of the country, and had out-manouvered him in influencing the Queen and the Council’s deliberations. Within three weeks he had been beheaded, and his most devoted follower, also convicted of treason, had been attainted, deprived of his lands, stripped of his earldom, and confined to the Tower, where he signed himself “of late Southampton, but now . . . H. Wriothesley.” Here, from February 1601 until the accession of James I, when he was freed and soon after (July 1603) restored to his earldom, he languished, a commoner, plain “Mr. H. W.” A lord and no lord. It might well be the case that the Epigraph was written during his incarceration and bundled up with the manuscript of the sonnets, to be later passed on to Thorpe and printed as found. The Epigraph is so different from Thorpe’s other dedications –which are exuberant, witty, full of puns, making free use of alternations between roman and italic fonts, and none of which is signed “T. T.”– that it is easy to suppose that someone else wrote it, the initials “T. T.” being added for the sake of form, not as an indication of authorship.

And why should someone other than Thorpe have written this mysterious Epigraph, and for what purpose? Are we meant to read between the lines? Is there a subtext? Does it contain secret information, hidden in some simple manner? Is it a cryptogram, as several commentators have suggested? Time will tell, no doubt. And then the mystery will finally have been resolved. Requiescat, Mr. W. S. Resurgat, Mr. W. H.!

Copyright, J. M. Rollett, 1997

this is the intro text for Everreader 5 – do NOT type a title for it!
LEAVE it as it is.
(the text is in the excerpt area below)

Shakespeare’s Disgrace

by Joseph Sobran

This article was first published in the Spring 1997 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter.


Do Shakespeare’s Sonnets refer to real people, events, experiences, and emotions? Or are they mere “literary exercises” about fictional characters, in which even the narrator is not to be literally identified with the author? Or are such questions, as the scholar Samuel Schoenbaum held, “unanswerable.”

Those three questions amount to a brief history of scholarly interpretation of the Sonnets. It used to be assumed that the poems were more or less literal accounts of the poet’s relations with the mysterious pair, the Fair Youth and the Dark Mistress, and that it was at least possible that these murky figures might be identified as real denizens of Elizabethan England. Let us call this the Realist view.

On their face, the Sonnets bespeak real and often painful emotions the Youth and the Mistress cause the poet. But the Sonnets proved very hard to fit into the accepted life of Shakespeare of Stratford.

In the mid-nineteenth century some commentators, uneasy with the Realist view, countered with what might be called the Fictional view of the Sonnets. The Sonnets became, for this school of thought, mere “poetical exercises,” in which Shakespeare wrote under an “assumed character” that was not his own.

But the Fictional view was hard to sustain too. After all, the Sonnets are unsatisfying as a story; they lack adequate exposition, to say the least; and they show none of Shakespeare’s genius for vivid characterization. This gave rise, in the mid-twentieth century, to a compromise, which might be called the Agnostic view: we don’t know and will never know whether, or to what extent, the Sonnets were rooted in the poet’s real experience, so we may as well ignore all that and read them purely as poetry. This has become the prevalent view among the mainstream Shakespeare scholars, many of whom are downright scornful of attempts to glean biographical information from the Sonnets. W.H. Auden, for one, has censured such attempts as “idle curiosity.”

Recently, however, a fourth view has been asserted: the Homosexual view. Its most powerful advocate is Joseph Pequigney, whose 1985 book Such Is My Love has already exerted considerable influence. Pequigney argues that the poet’s love for the Youth is unmistakably homoerotic, and that only prudery has prevented mainstream scholars from acknowledging what should be obvious.

Just as the Agnostic view was a variant of the Fictional view, the Homosexual view can be seen as a return to the Realist view. Since no Elizabethan poet would be likely to feign homosexual love -sodomy was considered an abomination and a capital crime – we can presume that if Pequigney is right, the poet is hinting at biographical information of startling implication.

Pequigney’s book has a certain air of advocacy and special pleading, but his argument is essentially sound and, I would say, undeniable. It should be compelling even to people who don’t welcome his conclusion. After all, the poet makes it clear enough that he has committed adultery, and we accept this not because we approve of adultery but because the evidence is simply indisputable. In the realm of historical fact, the central question is always, What happened? The historian who is indifferent to morality is a bad man. But the historian who lets his moral views decide questions of fact is a bad historian.

The redoubtable Charlton Ogburn now objects to the Homosexual view as “slander”; but, in his book The Mysterious William Shakespeare, he acknowledged that the question of the poet’s homosexuality “has always been the main issue” about the Sonnets. Though he proposed an alternative theory-that the poet was actually writing to his son-he admitted frankly: “The reader will be justified in deeming my answer too ingenious by half.”

The Sonnets contain history. To that extent the Realist view is right. I believe that the Homosexual view is also right, though not in the way Pequigney assumes. He argues that the Youth, though a real person, could not have been the Earl of Southampton, the favorite candidate among the Realist commentators, on grounds that Shakespeare could not have addressed a nobleman in such amorous terms. He has a point.

But if the Youth was the Earl of Southampton, it follows that the poet could not have been the mainstream scholars’ “Shakespeare of Stratford.” It could well have been Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

The mainstream scholars’ long and inconclusive debate about the Sonnets’ factuality parallels the authorship debate they regard as benighted. The parallel is no coincidence. The debate is generated precisely by the assumption-shared by the Realist, Fictional, Agnostic, and Homosexual schools-that the poet can only have been “Shakespeare of Stratford.” If we remove that assumption, most of the vexing data fall into place with surprising simplicity.

The first 17 Youth Sonnets urge a handsome young man to marry, not so much to preserve his line (though this is fleetingly mentioned) as to propagate his own personal beauty. The Realist scholars have usually taken this to mean that Shakespeare had somehow been engaged to help persuade the young Southampton to marry at a time when Lord Burghley was pressing him to accept a match with his granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere. The young earl, still in his teens, was reluctant. The poet sweetly chides him, arguing that he has a duty to beget a son, in much the same terms that Venus lectures Adonis in the long poem dedicated to Southampton.

Oxford, of course, was Burghley’s son-in-law and Elizabeth Vere’s father. He was perfectly situated to join the campaign to drag the young man to the altar. If he was the author of the Sonnets, we can reasonably infer from his lyrical response to the young man’s beauty that he had fallen in love with Southampton himself. This is the key to the otherwise inexplicable line in Sonnet 10: “Make thee another self, for love of me.” In begetting a son by Elizabeth Vere, Southampton would create a blood-link between Oxford and himself. Coming from a common poet, the line would be absurd. Noblemen didn’t beget sons for love of the poets they patronized.

Even after the subject of procreation is dropped, the poet remains in love with the Youth, promising to immortalize him in his verse: “Your monument shall be my gentle verse” (81). The chief arguments of the Sonnets are strikingly adumbrated in Oxford’s 1573 letter to Thomas Bedingfield, printed as a preface to Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comfort. Just as the Sonnets argue that the Youth has no right to withhold his beauty from the world, Oxford argues that Bedingfield has no right to withhold his book from his countrymen; just as the Sonnets promise that they will be the Youth’s eternal “monument,” Oxford assures Bedingfield that his book will be a “monument” after Bedingfield himself is “dead and gone.” Oxford even anticipates the language and imagery of the Sonnets. Compare “Thou art the grave where buried love cloth live” (31) with Oxford’s gentle charge that Bedingfield seems determined to “bury and insevil your work in the grave of oblivion.” (Further parallels are cited in my book Alias Shakespeare.)

It is further proof of the Realist view, by the way, that the poet never names the Youth, even after promising to make his name immortal. This would surely be a strange way to treat an imaginary character!

Apparently a long, sometimes turbulent affair ensued between the poet and Southampton. The poet is clearly in love with the Youth in an erotic sense. He is fascinated by his physical beauty. He is obsessed with him. He idealizes him. He is jealous of him. He suffers during his absence. He speaks of “pleasure,” “desire,” and “appetite,” likens the Youth to “food,” and even praises the odor of his breath. There are anxieties of infidelity on both sides. And of course the poet is inspired by the Youth to write some of the most eloquent love poetry in the language. This is something more than ordinary male camaraderie. At every point the poet seems to resemble Oxford rather than the Shakespeare of the mainstream scholars. The poet is decidedly older than the Youth; he constantly contrasts their ages. The Youth is, of course, young, a “boy.” The poet is “old,” “beated and chopped with tanned antiquity,” bearing “lines and wrinkles,” in “age’s steepy night.” He looks at the past with regret and to the future with the sense that his death is not far off. Time is running out for him. He likens himself to “a decrepit father” who “takes delight” in the Youth as in his “child” (37), implying a gap of a generation. Again this fits Oxford (who was twenty-three years older than Southampton) but not the scholars’ Shakespeare (who was only nine years older).

The poet’s forwardness with the Youth is good evidence that he was of the same rank. He woos him boldly; he calls him “thou”; he addresses him as “my love,” never “my lord”; he even jokes about his genitals (20). These would be amazing liberties from a commoner to a lord, but not from one lord to another. The poet feels free to scold the Youth. He says, in a tense moment, that “we must not be foes” (40), which would also be slightly grotesque coming from a commoner to a lord who would have little to fear from a poet’s enmity. Even when the poet is abject, he is not deferential in a social sense. He speaks of “possessing” (and losing) the Youth (87) and likens himself to a “deceived husband”-more evidence that there was no gap of rank between them. When the poet says, “I may not evermore acknowledge thee,” it is a strain to imagine a commoner speaking to a lord: the prerogative would be entirely on the other side.

The mainstream scholars have never given due attention to one of the most important motifs of the Sonnets: the poet’s disgrace. The reason for this neglect is probably that it puzzles them. Nothing in the standard life of Shakespeare suggests notoriety at any time. But the poet himself refers to it in a dozen of the Sonnets, from 25 to 121, in such emphatic terms as “disgrace,” “outcast,” “bewailed guilt,” “shame,” “blots,” “vulgar scandal,” and “vile esteemed.” He implies that he is well known, as Oxford indeed was. He hopes only for the relief of an obscure grave:

My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you. (72)

Oxford, of course, had lived a scandalous life. In 1584 a social inferior, Thomas Vavasor, could taunt him about “thy decayed reputation.” (The most stinging word was “thy.”)

Sonnet 121 hints that the poet’s scandal was sexual. He speaks angrily but guardedly about others’ gossip about his “frailties” and “sportive blood.” Whatever this was, it was more scandalous than adultery, about which the Mistress Sonnets are explicit and jaunty. The poet is no prude, but he shies away from mentioning the specific charge against him. Was it homosexuality, or even pedophilia? In 1580 three of Oxford’s enemies discussed whether to accuse him of “pederastism.” One said he couldn’t attest it, but another accused him of “buggering” servant boys, whom he named. This may have been pure slander; many of the charges the three made were preposterous lies, and nothing seems to have come of this one. Yet even a calumny may point to a perceived vulnerability. And Sonnet 121 sounds as if the poet was fighting off some such rumor about himself.

The poet fears that his unnamed disgrace will also rub off on the Youth. Sonnet 36 is devoted to this apprehension – “Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame.” What kind of disgrace is so contagious? A reputation for sodomy certainly would have been. The poet also repeats his anxiety about shaming the Youth along with himself. This puts the famous Sonnet 71 in a new light: the poet cautions the Youth against mourning for him after his death,

Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I have gone.

He can hardly mean that the “wise world” mocks people merely for grieving at the death of friends. More likely he means that if the Youth is observed mourning for him, sophisticated society will draw certain conclusions about their relationship-and that those conclusions may be warranted.

Such utterances are baffling if we imagine them coming from the Shakespeare of the mainstream scholars, who reduce them to bland “universal” or “poetic” truths, rather than specific intimations about real individuals. But if I am right, they tell us a great deal about Oxford and Southampton. Much more may be gleaned from later Sonnets, where the poet first frets about losing the Youth, then confesses and tries to excuse his own infidelity. (Again, a fuller treatment will be found in my book.)

For now we may note a couple of other details. In two of the Sonnets, 37 and 89, the poet refers to himself as “lame.” Mainstream scholars are at a loss to explain this; most of them surmise that it is “figurative.” But in a letter to Burghley dated March 25, 1595, Oxford wryly refers to himself as “a lame man,” and other letters use the word “lame” similarly. Whatever he and the poet mean by it, they both use the same word. Surely few poets have described themselves as “lame,” figuratively or otherwise.

Finally, many Oxfordians have noted the odd first line of Sonnet 125: Were’t aught to me I bore the canopy . . .” Yet once more, the mainstream scholarship has no good explanation. But the line could well refer to a courtier’s function on solemn state occasions of helping carry the royal canopy over the monarch. As Lord Great Chamberlain and a leading courtier, Oxford was prominent at such occasions.

In sum, Oxford closely fits the profile of the poet. He is of the right age; he is of equal rank with the noble Youth. He knew both Burghley and Southampton; and his own daughter was the center of their tussle over marriage. He was first a brilliant courtier and, later in life, a notorious figure, apparently all but ostracized at court; his scandals included rumors of sexual deviancy. He was in some sense lame. By the 1590s he had good reason to feel what the poet of the Sonnets so deeply feels: that time is running out, and that his name has been irreparably ruined.

Not one of these things can be said with warrant about the Shakespeare the mainstream scholars have constructed from a few old documents and the claims of the First Folio. The prima facie case for his authorship collapses against the self-revelations of the Sonnets.

Shakespeare and the Fair Youth

by Charlton Ogburn, Jr.

This article was first published in the Summer 1997 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter.


Joseph Sobran is a man of brilliant intellect. The case for Oxford as Shakespeare cannot but be significantly advanced by his advocacy. The past spring will surely be remembered for having brought us not only Dr. Daniel Wright’s “First Annual De Vere Studies Conference” at Concordia University but also Alias Shakespeare. Sobran’s analysis of the Sonnets in the spring issue of the Newsletter is notably astute, especially in drawing for the first time the parallels between the Sonnets and the young De Vere’s preface to Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comfort. There is, however, one enormous exception to the value of his treatment. He has put us to the necessity of rescuing Oxford from the charge of conducting a homosexual relationship with the young friend, certainly the Earl of Southampton. The charge is one that must fail upon examination.

If the poet’s deep attachment to the young friend had been homosexual, common sense tells us that in addressing a sequence of sonnets to him, he would never have devoted the first 17 to urging the 20-year old to marry and thus terminate the relationship-write an absolute finis to it, unless we believe the bride would condone its continuation, of which she could hardly have failed to be aware. Further, Oxford would most assuredly never write a major work of English literature for all posterity-”as long as men can breathe, or eyes can see”-to be dedicated, we must believe, like the two long narrative poems, to “The Right Honourable Henry Wriothesley,” if he had believed that it would give grounds for believing that he had tarred the young earl with the charge of sodomy. This was a monstrous wickedness indeed at the time, a crime even punishable by death, Sobran admits. But “After all,” Sobran states, “the poet makes it clear that he had committed adultery.” So why not sodomy and even “pederastism.” Ye gods! The widest gulf separates the two. In support of his accusation, Sobran declares that “Oxford, of course, lived a scandalous life.” In support of this slander he quotes Thomas Vavasor, brother of Anne, whom Oxford had got with child in by no means the last of her sexual foibles; it was their uncle Thomas Knyvet who fell upon Oxford (or so I judge to have been the case) and wounded him, this being evidently the wound he would bear for life. What kind of witnesses are these for blackening Oxford’s character?

Then there are Henry Howard and Charles Arundel whose treason Oxford exposed and who replied with a sheaf of accusations against him beginning “To record the vices of this monstrous earl were a labour without end” and going on to enumerate nearly all of which men are capable. They make a fine pair to quote in attestation of Oxford’s pederasty.

A final thought on the subject: Had Oxford had homosexual impulses he would surely have betrayed them, even if inadvertently, in other poems and in his plays. Yet the only reference I can recall is its attribution to Achilles in Troilus and Cressida, when it is treated with disgust.

So why was Oxford in “disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,” when “I all alone beweep my outcast state”? (29). He tells us: “Alas, ’tis true I have gone here and there and made myself a motley to the view.” (110) He chides Fortune

That did not better for my life provide
Than public means that public manners breeds (111)

He has squandered his estates-not, of course, without Burghley’s help-and must depend on the subsidy from the Queen. Moreover, he

… is shamed by that which I bring forth.
And so should you, to love things nothing worth. (72)

Oxford has disgraced a family name as noble as any in England by writing for the stage, by playing “kingly parts in sport” himself under his pseudonym “Shakespeare” when otherwise he might have “been a companion for a king,” and, doubtless worst of all, by associating with actors on their own level as Prince Hal with the patrons of the Boar’s Head Tavern. When Oxford elicited laughter from the crowd on his appearance in the entourage visiting Plymouth to honor the returned Francis Drake it was not because they had seen him pick up boys on the Embankment but because, surely his reputation from the theatre had preceded him, because of such antics as when he appeared riding a footcloth nag in parody of a French M’sieur. Oxford could not-thank heaven-help being what he was, and if he was abetted by a good sherris sack, what of it? But for a de Vere to have so betrayed his forebears as he saw himself doing under the compulsion of his genius, which habitually disclosed the world to him as a stage-it was a recurrent torture. At least he could warn his young friend not to love things nothing worth, Southampton being notoriously drawn to the theatre.

Finally, the poet explicitly rejects the sexual relationship with the young man in which Sobran finds the meaning of the sonnets addressed to him. Nature having fitted him “for women’s pleasure,” we read in Sonnet 20, “Mine be thy love, and thy love’s use their treasure.” And I know of no indication that Oxford favored a match between his daughter Elizabeth and Southampton. As is made clear in Sonnets 3 and 16, what is important is the latter’s marrying, not whom he marries.

We may ask, then, in conclusion, what was the relationship of the poet and the beloved youth? In Sonnet 37, quoted by Sobran, we read:

As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by Fortune’s dearest spite
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth.

Where is the parent who does not read that with a pang of recognition, or who does not know, with a full heart, what he meant in writing in Sonnet 96, “Thou being mine, mine is thy good report.” “All through the Sonnets,” A. L. Rowse observes, with surprising discernment, “there is a quasi-parental element.” Then, in Sonnet 57, we find the poet addressing the youth as “my sovereign,” “to whom in vassalage (going on to 26) thy merit hath my duty strongly knit.” Having enlarged elsewhere on the reasons why I have felt, after long resistance, constrained to see in the Sonnets a father’s devotion to a son of whom he had long been deprived and, further, a son whom he found reason to acknowledge as his sovereign –and remember we are speaking of a poet embodying both surpassing emotion and the feudal tradition– I shall not take up space by rehearsing my argument here.

Let me, rather, join the reader in grateful congratulations to Joseph Sobran for his having shown incontrovertibly that the poet of the Sonnets cannot possibly have been a man still in his early thirties, newly arrived from the provinces and barred in the class-structured society of Elizabethan England from enjoying anything like the relationship with the sought-after young earl set forth in the Sonnets. Equally, we are in debt to Sobran for having, indeed, left no room for doubt that the poet was Edward de Vere.

The Earl of Oxford and the Order of the Garter

By Peter R. Moore

This article first appeared in the Spring 1996 Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter


In August 1995 Prof. Alan H. Nelson, acting at my suggestion, microfilmed the records of the elections to the Order of the Garter for the years 1569 to 1604 from the register in the British Library, where it is Additional Manuscript 36,768. The purpose of this article is to examine the tale that these elections tell about the standing of the Earl of Oxford during his adult years.

I have never seen the Garter elections cited in history books as evidence of the standing of English courtiers, though they say a great deal about who a courtier’s friends were, about the formation of factions and alliances, not to mention who had the monarch’s favor. For example, the nineteenth century myth that the poet Earl of Surrey detested Sir Thomas Seymour collapses in the face of Surrey’s votes for Seymour in 1543 and 1544 (see Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, 18.2.517 and 19.1.384). Other old stories from the history books can receive support or refutation from the evidence of the Garter elections. But new evidence often does much more than simply providing a thumbs up or thumbs down on the received wisdom. We often find entirely new motives, twists, and dimensions in old tales of who, what, when, where, how, and why. The Garter elections could add a great deal, for example, to our understanding of court factions in the reign of Henry VIII.

The information about the Earl of Oxford’s life that is currently in print is highly incomplete, given the available records, and a new material is becoming available, largely thanks to Prof. Nelson. Moreover, as with Surrey, myths have proliferated, such as that Oxford cruelly rejected his wife in 1576. Both B.M. Ward and Conyers Read, biographers respectively of Oxford and Lord Burghley, concealed their knowledge of a memorandum in Burghley’s hand showing that Lady Burghley carried off her daughter after she reunited with her husband upon his return from Italy (see H.M.C. Salisbury, 13.128; Ward, Earl of Oxford, 123; Read, Lord Burghley, 136). We must expect more surprises.

We will begin by considering what the Order of the Garter is and how members were selected. We will then take a look at some other nominees besides Oxford; the Garter elections are of particular interest at the end of a reign when a transfer of power is imminent, and Elizabeth’s reign is no exception. Finally we will examine the record on Oxford. The purpose of considering other nominees before taking up Oxford is twofold. First, we cannot make much sense out of the Garter elections or, for that matter, anything else that happened four centuries ago, without establishing the historical context. Second, we shall discover interesting things about people who are part of the story of Oxford’s life.

The Order of the Garter was founded by Edward III in the 1340s and consists of the sovereign and 25 Knights of the Garter (KGs). Membership in the Order remains the highest honor bestowed by the British monarch. The great prestige of the Order is due in large measure to its exclusiveness; no one may be elected KG unless the death or degradation of an incumbent creates a vacancy. During the period 1569-1604 there were about sixty peers, so the Order of the Garter was far more exclusive than the peerage. In contrast, the French Order of St. Michael was debased in the mid sixteenth century by being awarded to all and sundry, and so in 1578 Henry III created the Order of the Holy Spirit, limited to one hundred knights. Given the much larger population of France in those days, the Holy Spirit was about as exclusive as the Garter. The ninth, eleventh, thirteenth, fifteenth, and twentieth de Vere Earls of Oxford were Knights of the Garter.

Selection of KGs worked in the following manner. Whenever a vacancy existed an election was held to select a new member, normally at the annual meeting or chapter on St. George’s Day, 23 April, at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. Each KG present voted for nine men, three in each of the following categories: ‘princes’, ‘barons’, and ‘knights’. ‘Princes’ means earls, marquesses, dukes, and royalty (or, earls and above), while ‘barons’ and ‘knights’ are self explanatory. A viscount, who ranks between an earl and a baron, could be nominated under either category, ‘prince’ or ‘baron’. In Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the heir to an earl or above could be nominated under his courtesy title, while a duke’s younger son could be nominated as a ‘baron’. If ten Knights of the Garter were present at a given election, with each KG listing nine nominees, then as many as ninety names could be listed, though the more likely result would be about twenty. Then the votes were tallied and presented to the Queen, who picked whomever she pleased or no one at all.

As an example, we may consider the election of 1572. Nine members were present, and they voted for seventeen names. The top finishers were these: the French Duke of Montmorency, the newly created Lord Burghley, and the Queen’s first cousin, Sir Francis Knollys, each received nine votes; Sir James Croft received eight; the Earl of Oxford and Lord Grey of Wilton each got seven; four other men got either six or five votes; and Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford got four. Three places were vacant, so the Queen selected Burghley, Grey, and Hereford as the new KGs; later that year Burghley became Lord Treasurer and Hereford was created Earl of Essex. Hereford’s wife was the Queen’s first cousin once removed (the daughter of Francis Knollys), and Hereford had shown great energy opposing the Northern rebellion of 1569-70, hence the Queen’s favor.

Who received votes and how did the Queen make her choices? The category of ‘princes’ included about twenty Englishmen, though a significant number of them were already KGs, but also included favored foreign royalty and near-royalty, as well as Irish earls. Twelve KGs voted in the election of 1590, and Henry IV of France and James VI of Scotland were up for the first time, and so all twelve KGs made Henry their first pick and James their second; four English earls split the remaining twelve votes. The category of ‘barons’ included about fifty men, less those who were already KGs, but they didn’t have to compete with foreigners. There were about three or four hundred knights in England at this time, but the nominations for the category ‘knights’ were confined to a very tight circle of high Court officials, military commanders, and the Queen’s viceroys for Ireland, Wales, and the North. In the elections of 1578 and ’79, all voters listed Sir Francis Knollys, Sir James Croft, and Sir Christopher Hatton, in that order. It is easy to see which knights got votes, namely the Queen’s closest servants, and the number of votes received is a good index of a knight’s standing.

Why noblemen got votes is not so easy to say. Mere rank was not enough. In 1576 William Paulet succeeded his father as third Marquess of Winchester, and Paulet lived until 1598. During that time England had no dukes and no other marquesses, so Winchester stood alone above the earls. And yet he received only twelve votes for the Garter during the entire period. His record is particularly sad compared to that of his cousin Sir Hugh Paulet, Governor of Jersey, Vice-President of Wales, and second-in-command at the defense of Le Havre, who received twenty-eight votes in the last five years of his life, 1569-73. Sir Hugh’s son, Sir Amias Paulet was Governor of Jersey, Ambassador to France, and jailer to Mary of Scotland; he received twenty-three votes in the period 1580-85. The Marquess of Winchester’s problem was that he was a stay-at-home, whose best Garter year, four votes in 1580, coincided with his only significant office, Lord Lieutenant of Dorset.

Family connections helped. The second Earl of Essex received his first Garter vote in 1587 from his stepfather, the Earl of Leicester. In 1603 Lord Howard de Walden was able to cast all three of his ‘baron’ votes for fellow Howards. The only votes ever received by the dissident Catholic second Earl of Southampton were cast by his father-in-law and coreligionist, Viscount Montague, in the elections of 1574-78. Montague was not present to vote in 1579. Southampton rejected his wife in early 1580, and so he failed to get Montague’s vote in that year and the next, whereupon he died.

The Queen’s choices seem to have been influenced by three factors besides personal favor: rank, service, and good behavior (from her point of view). As Sir Robert Naunton remarked, Queen Elizabeth was partial to the nobility (including noblemen by courtesy), and it shows in her Garter selections. In the first three decades of her reign, only one ‘knight’ received the Garter, Sir Henry Sidney in 1564. But in her later years the Queen grew more democratic: Hatton finally got it in 1588, Knollys in 1593, and Sir Henry Lee in 1597. Barons were more than twice as numerous as earls, but Elizabeth selected slightly more earls for the Garter, showing again her preference for rank. Separating service to the Queen from her personal favor is difficult for she combined the two. Her leading favorites over the course of her reign were the Earls of Leicester and Essex, Sir Christopher Hatton, and Sir Walter Ralegh. All received offices of great responsibility, and the first three were also Privy Councillors and KGs (Sir Walter just missed on both counts).

Among the men whose standing can be judged by the Garter elections are Thomas and Robert Cecil, Henry Howard, Walter Ralegh, and the third Earl of Southampton.

The Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) is quite scornful of Thomas Cecil, Lord Burghley’s older son, though it allows that he eventually received the Garter in 1601 for helping to suppress the Earl of Essex’s rebellion, which the DNB calls a “foolish riot.” But Thomas Cecil regularly received votes from 1590 on, with the numbers steadily increasing; in 1601 he was picked by eleven out of thirteen members. Robert Cecil never received a vote until 1604, when he got fourteen votes out of sixteen, being finally elected in 1606. What is truly remarkable is that Robert, by then Lord Cecil, didn’t get a single vote in the election of June 1603, with King James on the throne and Lord Cecil clearly confirmed as the new King’s right hand man. Presumably the Knights of the Garter respected the frequently displayed military skills of Thomas, while the Queen valued his abilities enough to make him President of the North in 1599. Meanwhile the KGs probably resented Robert’s status as his father’s understudy, and the Queen failed to put in a word to help him garner some votes.

Lord Henry Howard, Oxford’s enemy in 1580 and 1581, held the rank of younger son of a duke, but never received a vote during Elizabeth’s reign, though he picked up five out of six as James’ favorite in June 1603, and was elected unanimously in 1604. (Incidentally, one must be careful with names and titles when examining the Garter register, especially when the prolific Howard clan is involved. The “Lord Howard” who received numerous votes in 1599 and 1600 is the same “Lord de Effingham” who received votes in 1601 and 1603, that is William, Lord Howard of Effingham, heir to the Earl of Nottingham. Lord Henry Howard was son of the Earl of Surrey, who was heir to the third Duke of Norfolk. Lord Henry’s brother became the fourth Duke of Norfolk, and Henry was treated as a duke’s son.)

Sir Walter Ralegh’s rising political power at the end of Elizabeth’s reign and his sudden collapse may be seen in the Garter elections. He received single votes in 1590, ’92, ’96, and ’97, then four out of nine in 1599, eight out of thirteen in 1600, and nine out of twelve in 1601. Reeling under the new King’s disfavor, Ralegh received a sole vote from his friend the Earl of Northumberland in June 1603, shortly before being arrested for treason (Lord Henry Howard had been poisoning James’ mind against Ralegh for several years). As a Virginian, I rather like seeing Ralegh’s prosperity, but the Earl of Oxford felt otherwise. It will be recalled that he said of Ralegh’s rise, apparently at the time of Essex’s execution, “When jacks start up, heads go down.” Ralegh’s rise in Garter votes exactly coincides with Essex’s fall, 1599-1601.

Biographers have remarked on the popularity of the third Earl of Southampton, which is borne out in the Garter elections. He got four out of twelve votes in 1595 at age twenty-one and ten votes out of twelve in 1596. In 1597 all ten voters picked the Duke of Wuerttemberg, thereby reducing the votes available for English earls, but Southampton managed to pick up two, including Lord Burghley’s vote for the first time. But Southampton did not get the Earl of Essex’s vote in 1597 (though he did in ’95 and ’96); the attachment of Southampton to Essex begins with the Azores voyage later that year. The theory of an Essex-Southampton social circle going back to the early 1590s is a myth originating in a misdated letter. G.P.V. Akrigg’s Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton provided the evidence to puncture the myth, but Akrigg failed to realize its significance; the Garter election of 1597 provides more evidence. In 1599, newly arrived in Ireland, Southampton was decidedly in the Queen’s disfavor owing to his begetting a child by one of her maids of honor, whom he secretly married, but he still received four out of nine votes. In 1600, presumably even more deeply out with the Queen as a result of the Irish campaign, Southampton yet polled six votes out of thirteen. In 1603 only six KGs voted, all selecting James’ Scottish favorites, the Duke of Lenox and the Earl of Marr, as two of their three ‘princes’. Of the six remaining ballots in the ‘prince’ category, Southampton and the Earl of Pembroke each got three, and James selected both English earls as KGs.

We now turn to the Earl of Oxford. With regard to the Garter elections, Oxford’s life can be divided into four phases: 1569-80, 1581-4, 1585-8, and 1590-1604.

Oxford received numerous votes from 1569 to 1580 and probably would have gotten the honor, except that the Queen preferred someone else. In 1569 and ’70 the underaged Oxford received the vote of William, Lord Howard of Effingham. In 1571 Oxford was picked by all ten voters.

In the eight elections from 1572 to 1580, Oxford averaged close to eight votes annually and never less than four. Oxford’s supporters included not only the Earl of Sussex, as one would expect, but also the Puritan leader, the Earl of Leicester. The various misdeeds and alleged misdeeds of Oxford’s youth –such as trying to rescue the Duke of Norfolk in 1571, or running away to the Low Countries in 1573– seem to have had no effect on his standing with the KGs, though they may have prevented the Queen from selecting him. Lord Burghley always voted for Oxford as his first choice among English ‘princes’ (foreigners were always listed first), even during his separation from his wife from April 1576 to 1582. Burghley’s forbearance stands in marked contrast to Viscount Montague’s reaction to the rejection of his daughter by the second Earl of Southampton. Burghley’s various writings on the breakup of the marriage invariably take a hurt or defensive tone, rather than expressing outrage, presumably reflecting the primary role of Lady Burghley in the separation. Incidentally, Lady Burghley’s invasion of Oxford’s house at Wivenhoe, trying to raise his servants against him and carrying off his wife, occurred in April 1576 while Oxford and Lord Burghley were at Windsor Castle for the chapter of the Garter.

Oxford was forbidden from Court until June 1583 as a result of having a son by Anne Vavasour in March 1581. In 1582 and 1583 Oxford and his followers had to defend themselves against attacks by Vavasour’s kinsmen and their men. Moreover Oxford was involved in a scandal of charges and countercharges with Lord Henry Howard and Charles Arundel beginning in December 1580, though we have little evidence of how seriously the charges against Oxford were taken. Oxford received no votes in the four Garter elections during 1581-4. The Queen’s anger explains the results for 1581-3, but Oxford’s failure to get any votes in 1584 (an election that Burghley missed) indicates that he was still not fully rehabilitated. His disfavor in these years may be contrasted to the third Earl of Southampton’s situation in 1599-1600, when he continued to receive votes despite his sexual misconduct. Clearly Oxford’s standing with his fellows was seriously damaged.

Oxford was allowed back at Court in June 1583, but the Queen was not fully mollified. In May 1583 she was still concerned about the charges made by Howard and Arundel, and she permitted Oxford’s return to Court only after “some bitter words and speeches.” Oxford’s standing presumably improved further after Charles Arundel fled to France in the wake of the discovery of the Throckmorton plot in November 1583, which resulted in the reincarceration of Lord Henry Howard. Arundel was further discredited in September 1584 by being named as one of the co-authors of the libelous Leicester’s Commonwealth. That Oxford was fully restored to the proper status of his rank in the period 1585-8 is shown by the Garter elections and proffers of two military commands.

In April 1585 Oxford received five votes out of thirteen for the Garter, while that summer he was offered command of the cavalry contingent of the English expeditionary force to the Netherlands. In 1587 Oxford got four votes out of eight, and he received three out of seven in 1588. In the summer of 1588 Oxford was offered command of the key port of Harwich during the fight against the Spanish Armada, and he was prominent in the victory celebrations in November. Lord Burghley voted for Oxford in all three elections, always naming him first among the ‘princes.’ Two recently made KGs who voted for Oxford were the seventh Lord Cobham and the third Earl of Rutland. Oxford’s other supporters had all voted for him before 1581, namely Henry Stanley, fourth Earl of Derby, Henry Herbert, second Earl of Pembroke, and Charles, second Lord Howard of Effingham and Lord Admiral (the future Earl of Nottingham).

It is worth noting that Oxford’s daughter Elizabeth married Derby’s son William in 1595, Oxford’s daughter Bridget almost married Pembroke’s older son William in 1597, and Oxford’s daughter Susan married Pembroke’s second son Philip in 1605. These marriages seem to have been arranged by the Cecils, and the fathers were dead in several cases, but the Garter votes support a connection between Oxford and the other two earls. Charles Arundel had accused Oxford of plotting to murder Lord Howard of Effingham, who was the first cousin of Lord Henry Howard’s father, the poet Surrey. But Effingham’s three subsequent votes for Oxford seem to indicate that he didn’t take the charges seriously. Derby, Pembroke, and Howard of Effingham had one obvious thing in common –they were all patrons of major acting companies (see the DNB or The Reader’s Encyclopedia of Shakespeare for dates and other details of their troupes).

The Garter election of 1589 produced two new KGs, Lord Buckhurst and the fifth Earl of Sussex, but the votes were not recorded. Buckhurst was the Queen’s cousin, a Privy Councillor, and several times an ambassador, and presumably benefitted from the death of his enemy Leicester in 1588. Sussex was the military commander of Portsmouth, and he emptied his magazines to replenish the English fleet with powder and shot during the Armada fight the previous year. Lord Admiral Howard of Effingham and Lord Hunsdon had previously been Sussex’s leading supporters for the Garter, the Admiral being Sussex’s first cousin, Hunsdon his first cousin once removed, both were present for the 1589 election, and so Sussex was selected.

Oxford received one vote throughout the period 1590 to 1604, that of his brother-in-law, Thomas Cecil, second Lord Burghley, in 1604. Oxford’s loss of his father-in-law’s vote is easily explained by Anne Cecil’s death in 1588, but his failure to get anyone else’s vote seems to indicate that he was living under something of a cloud in this period. The least dramatic explanation of Oxford’s disrepute would be his financial collapse around 1590, accompanied by the loss of his daughters to Burghley, their guardian after 1588 (and Robert Cecil became their guardian when Burghley died in 1598).

But Lord Sussex was even more broke than Oxford. Between his election as KG and his installation, Sussex wrote a letter to the Queen explaining that his inherited estate yielded but 450 pounds per year, while he owed her a debt of 500 pounds per year. Sussex begged that his annual payment be reduced to 200 or 250 pounds. Oxford had his 1,000 pound pension from the Queen, he also had lands worth at least several hundred per year, though we do not know the size of his debts. On the other hand, his second wife was a woman of some wealth.

To judge Oxford’s lack of votes during 1590-1603, we must compare him to his peers. Twenty-five other Englishmen held the rank of marquess or earl in that period, and fifteen of them were KGs by 1603. One of the remaining ten, the fifth Earl of Derby, died a few months after inheriting his title, and there was no election during his short period as an earl. So we are left with nine earls and marquesses besides Oxford who never became KGs. But several of them, such as the Earls of Kent and Hertford, regularly received a respectable number of votes, as Oxford did during 1585-8. Those who did worst were the third Earl of Bedford and the second Earl of Lincoln, who received three votes each from 1590 to 1603 and one vote each in 1604, followed by the fourth Marquess of Winchester, who received two votes under his courtesy title in 1590 and ’91, and no votes after that, even after becoming a marquess in 1598. Last we find the third Earl of Bath, who received zero votes in the entire period 1590 to 1604. So Oxford comes in behind Bedford, Lincoln, and Winchester, and barely beats Bath.

Lords Winchester, Bath, Bedford, and Lincoln were all nonentities. None of them rates an entry in the DNB, nor even the kind of sub-entry given to the sixth Earl of Derby at the beginning of the entry on his son, the seventh Earl. Examination of GEC’s The Complete Peerage confirms the DNB’s verdict on these four lives of non-achievement, especially that of Lord Bath, whose invisibility must set the record for Tudor earls. But Oxford was anything but a nonentity, and he didn’t go into rural hibernation after 1588.

B.M. Ward entitles the final section of his biography of Oxford “The Recluse,” stating that “[f]rom 1589 onwards the life of Lord Oxford becomes one of mystery” (299). From 1589 to about 1593 we are indeed in some doubt as to Oxford’s activities, but we know where he was after that –at Court and living in or near London. He was still in the Queen’s good graces, so it seems, he had a new wife and son, his daughters were getting married, and he was in the picture. But, from the point of view of the Knights of the Garter, he seems to have become a pariah. Ward quotes Oxford’s first modern editor, Dr. A.B. Grosart: “An unlifted shadow somehow lies across his memory” (389). As the Garter elections show, Grosart hit the nail squarely on the head.

In the Summer 1995 Shakespeare Oxford Society Newsletter, I discussed the appropriateness of Shakespeare’s self-description in Sonnet 37, “lame, poor, [and] despised,” as applied to Oxford. Regarding the word “despised,” I quoted Sir John Peyton’s 1603 comment that Oxford lacked friends. The Garter elections powerfully reenforce Peyton’s evaluation. The seventeenth Earl of Oxford had been a man of popularity and prestige, but he fell from favor and honor twice, first in 1581, then again after 1588. Shakespeare’s personal sense of disgrace is found throughout his Sonnets: the poet is barred from “public honour and proud titles” (25), he wants his name buried with his body (72), he knows himself to be “vile esteemed” (121). Shakespeare alludes to the cause of his dishonor several times, most clearly in Sonnet 110: “I … made myself a motley to the view.”