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Monstrous Adversary: The Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Volume: 40
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 548
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  • Book Info
    Monstrous Adversary
    Book Description:

    The Elizabethan Court poet Edward de Vere has, since 1920, lived a notorious second, wholly illegitimate life as the putative author of the poems and plays of William Shakespeare. The work reconstructs Oxford’s life, assesses his poetic works, and demonstrates the absurdity of attributing Shakespeare’s works to him. The first documentary biography of Oxford for over seventy years, Monstrous Adversary seeks to measure the real Oxford against the myth. Impeccably researched and presenting many documents written by Oxford himself, Nelson’s book provides a unique insight into Elizabethan society and manners through the eyes of a man whose life was privately scandalous and richly documented.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-359-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Editorial Procedures
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The life of Edward de Vere (1550–1604) was almost exactly contemporaneous with the latter half of the sixteenth century, and just overlapped the reign of Elizabeth I at both ends. As 17th Earl of Oxford he was among England’s premier noblemen – very few approached being the seventeenth of anything. But he held no office of consequence, nor performed a notable deed. He served, it is true, as Lord Great (or High) Chamberlain, but that office was purely ceremonial, and quite distinct from that of Lord Chamberlain.¹

    Oxford neglected to serve others for the simple reason that his first aim...

  8. PART I Roots 1548–1562
    (pp. 7-33)

    On 12 April 1550 a son was born to John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford, probably at Castle Hedingham in rural Essex.¹ Noting the time of birth, the Earl consulted his astrologers (Fig. 1). The news was dire:²

    The mathematicians that calculated the nativity of this Earl Edward told the Earl his father that the earldom would fall in the son’s time.

    The earldom did in fact shrink almost to nothing during the life of the child now born.

    The lands that supported the Oxford earldom lay not in Oxfordshire, but in Essex, just east of London and its...

  9. PART II Youth 1562–1571
    (pp. 34-67)

    The 16th Earl’s household remained intact for precisely one calendar month after his death. Then, on 3 September 1562, his servants rode the forty-odd miles to London, bringing the heir to a new home, as described by Machyn:¹

    The iij day of September cam rydyng owt of Essex from the funeral of the yerle of Oxford his father the yonge yerle of Oxford, with vij-skore horse all in blake [=black] throughe London and Chepe and Ludgatt, and so to Tempulle bare, and so to (blank), betwyn v and vj of the cloke at after-none.

    Machyn’s figure of seven-score (140) retainers...

  10. PART III Emancipation 1571–1574
    (pp. 68-116)

    At the approach of his twenty-first birthday, Oxford was poised to escape the constraints of wardship. The Queen proposed a celebratory tournament at Greenwich in Lent (Ash Wednesday fell this year on 28 February), as noted by the French ambassador on 23 January:¹

    They say that the day after tomorrow [the Queen] will go down to Greenwich for the rest of the winter, where the tournament-place is already in preparation for this coming Lent, in which Oxford and Sir Charles Howard will be among the combattants.

    But the tournament was postponed to the beginning of May.

    In March Oxford’s name...

  11. PART IV Exploration 1574–1576
    (pp. 117-163)

    On 13 September 1574 Anne addressed a letter from Theobalds to Sussex, who as Lord Chamberlain was in charge of allocating lodgings at Hampton Court, whither the Queen would return from the West:¹

    My good Lord, Because I think it long since I saw Her Majesty, and would be glad to do my duty after Her Majesty’s coming to Hampton Court, I heartily beseech your good Lordship to show me your favour in your order to the ushers for my lodging: that in consideration that there is but two chambers, it would please you to increase it with a third...

  12. PART V Alienation 1576–1579
    (pp. 164-194)

    On 21 August 1576 the Privy Council issued a directive concerning ‘lewde wordes’:¹

    A letter to Sir William Walgrave, Sir Thomas Lucas, knightes, Henrye Golding and John Tornour, esquiers, for thexamininge of a Dutche man touchinge lewde wordes by him used against the Earle of Oxford, &c., acording to the minute, &c.

    Walgrave was an Essex magnate, as were the now-familiar Lucas, Golding, and Turner.² The Dutchman and a companion were imprisoned until 15 February 1577:³

    A letter to the Bailiffes of Colchester to set at libertie Walter De Fourde and Basirie Linghoer, Duchemen, committed to the goale for having...

  13. PART VI Intrigue 1579–1580
    (pp. 195-248)

    From 17 to 27 August 1579 Elizabeth entertained Alençon and his French ‘Commissioners’, having arrived without the contemplated exchange of hostages. While Oxford seems to have been sympathetic to a possible marriage, the determined opposition of Sir Philip Sidney and his uncle Leicester may have triggered an incident between Oxford and Sidney known to history as the ‘tennis-court quarrel’.¹

    Sidney, born in 1554 and thus four years younger than his rival, had been formally pledged to Anne Cecil before she married Oxford instead (Ward, p. 61). Sidney had accompanied Lincoln to Paris in 1572, along with Henry Burrough and Charles...

  14. PART VII Sedition 1580–1581
    (pp. 249-275)

    On a Friday before Christmas 1580, apparently on 16 December, in the Presence Chamber at Greenwich, Oxford publicly accused his three erstwhile friends of sedition – indeed, of treason.¹ Oxford named Henry Howard as the most villainous person on earth, and the entire Howard clan as the worst noble family on earth.² Throwing himself on his knees before the Queen, he confessed to a pro-Catholic conspiracy over the past four years involving himself, Howard, Charles Arundel (who was present), and Francis Southwell. More particularly, he accused Howard of having reconciled to Rome through the offices of the mass-priest Stevens; and he...

  15. PART VIII Release 1581–1585
    (pp. 276-299)

    On 11 November 1581 Oxford sued for the guardianship of four-year-old Henry Bullocke of Much Wigbrowe, Essex, made a ward by the death of his father. In a will signed on 19 January 1579, Henry Bullocke the elder named his wife Agnes, daughter Marie, son Henry, and an unborn child as his beneficiaries. Four days earlier, on 15 January, Bullocke had sold his estate of DawesaliasBacons in West Mersea to his brother-in-law Richard Wiseman for £160. He appointed Wiseman one of two executors, holding him responsible for the £160 (along with the rest of his assets), and requiring...

  16. PART IX Reiteration 1586–1591
    (pp. 300-335)

    On 21 June 1586 Burghley wrote to Walsingham:¹

    I pray yow send me word if yow had any commoditie to spek with hir Maiesty to spek for my Lord of Oxford, and what hope ther is, and if yow have any to lett Robert Cecill vnderstand it, to releve his sistar, who is more troubled for hir husbandes lack, then he hym self.

    Oxford had petitioned the Queen, with Burghley’s support, for an annuity to repair his damaged finances, incidentally bringing relief to Anne. On the morning of 25 June Oxford wrote to Burghley from court (LL-16):²

    My very good...

  17. PART X Renewal 1592–1595
    (pp. 336-354)

    On 5 April 1582 J. Farnham had written to Roger Manners:¹

    … Mistress Trentham is as fair, Mistress Edgcumbe as modest, Mistress Radcliff as comely and Mistress Garrat as jolly as ever …

    Now, almost ten years later, Elizabeth Trentham was no doubt still a beauty – but more importantly an heiress. Listed as a Maid of Honour on the subsidy roll of 10 November 1590, she had exchanged New Year’s gifts with the Queen in 1584, 1588, 1589, and doubtless in intermediate years.² Elizabeth was the daughter of Thomas and Jane Trentham of Rocester, Staffordshire, whose offspring included at least...

  18. PART XI Re-engagement 1595–1599
    (pp. 355-393)

    On 20 March 1595 Oxford addressed a letter to Burghley which opened with a reflection on a subject that, in his own word, had ‘consumed’ the earlier years of the 1590s (LL-51):

    My very good Lord vpone yowre message vnto me by yowre servant [Michael] Hykes, I receyved no small comfort, that God puttinge into yowre hart to fauoure and assist me in my swtes to her Magestie after a longe travell [=travail], and doutfull labor, I myght obteyne sume ende to my contentment. Wherfore I most ernestly, and hartely desyre yowre Lordship to have a feelinge of myne infortunat...

  19. PART XII Decline 1600–1604
    (pp. 394-426)

    On New Year’s Day 1600 the Countess of Oxford exchanged gifts with Queen Elizabeth.¹ In July Oxford wrote to Cecil from Hackney, entreating his aid in securing the governorship of the Isle of Jersey (LL-30):

    Althoughe my badd succes, in former sutes to her Magestye, haue giuene me cause to burye my hoopes [=hopes], in the diepe Abis and bottome of dispayre, rather then nowe to attempt, after so many tryales made in vayne, & so many oportunites escaped, the effects of fayre woordes, or frutes of gowlden promises. yet for that, I cannot beleue, but that there hathe bene...

  20. PART XIII Aftermath 1604–1613
    (pp. 427-442)

    On 1 July 1604, before Oxford’s body was in the ground, steps were taken to secure to Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford, the hard-won rights to Waltham Forest and Havering Park:¹

    Brief of the evidences of Henry de Vere, Earl of Oxford, manifesting his right to the custody and stewardship of the King’s forest of Waltham, Essex, and to the custody of the King’s house and Park of Havering at Bower, Essex.

    Dowager Countess Elizabeth was doubtless eager to have the property transferred to her son. Unlike Margery, who in 1562 had released Edward de Vere into William...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 443-486)
  22. APPENDIX: Manuscript References for LL and LIB Documents
    (pp. 487-491)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 492-504)
  24. Index
    (pp. 505-527)
    (pp. 528-529)
  26. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)