3. Historical Notes – Who the Governor left Behind or What did he take to his Grave?

Perhaps my short story, 6.WTFR- Who the Governor Left Behind should have been titled, “What the Governor Took with Him”

When David Collins died in 1810 he was buried in State in a Hobart park. His coffin was markedly over-sized. Did he take something with him? Rumour had it that it was his papers. Papers. Neither coin nor cash. Papers. He died in debt.

In 1925, one hundred and fifteen years later, his coffin was exhumed overwatched by a lawyer. His family’s descendants – in England or perhaps Australia, we are not told who, engaged the lawyer specifically to retrieve the papers he took to his grave.

Why? What was he hiding?

After pottering about with mouldy letters and history books and pondering over historical volumes, I was faced with three alternatives:

  1. An extramarital affair – or two
  2. The guarded family secret of a well-heeled aristocrat unearthed but unexploited by his grandfather
  3. A 17th Century smoking gun
What was in his coffin?
  1. An Extramarital Affair- or two

We know that he had extramarital affairs, but he died in debt. He was neither a wealthy man nor to the manor born. Being the founding Governor of Hobart, perhaps the most remote colony in the British Empire, it’s easy to assume he didn’t have many creature comforts. He shouldn’t have had anything of great material value to leave behind. Could the verification of his paternity of two Australian families – one in New South Wales and the other in Hobart – be enough reason to exhume his bodily remains? Did his descendants want verification that their ancestor was a bigamist on paper as well as in life? It doesn’t seem like impetus enough for an exhumation. Would they want the stigma?

Elizabeth de Vere Stanley, Countess of Derby and Lord of Mann – public domain
  1. An Aristocratic Family Secret well hid

What if the question of paternity was attached to the line of old English nobility? The titles of Earl of Oxford, Lord Bulbeck and Great Lord Chamberlain of England were being contested by three parties after the death of the 18th Earl of Oxford, Henry de Vere. Henry’s half-sister, the Countess of Derby and Lord of Mann, Elizabeth Stanley; his first cousin, Robert Willoughby, Lord Eresby; and Robert de Vere, his more distant cousin, were all claimants.

The Countess’ paternity was questioned by her father during her lifetime before he eventually accepted her as his daughter: was she really?

David Collins grandfather was the 18th century historian and genealogist, Arthur Collins who collected the papers surrounding the challenge and compiled them for his book, Historical Collections of the Noble Families of Cavendish, Holles, Vere, Harley and Ogle (1752). Could these papers wrest a position in the peerage away from one family in favour of another? What about a fortune in land, historical monuments, antiques and jewels? (And estate upkeep and tax, some would argue.)

By 1925 any argument over fortune or peerage would be moot. By then the Earldom of Oxford had passed onto its third creation. In 1925, it was the Earldom of Oxford and Asquith with no obvious links back to the family of the first creation, Vere.

Could Arthur Collins have collected a more dangerous document? But what would account as being dangerous or controversial two centuries after the historian’s death and 400 years after the earliest document in his collection was written? What would still be causing a stir in 1925?

Did Edward Oxenford leave behind a will?
  1. A 17th Century Smoking Gun

1925 – between the wars –the roaring 20s- the heady days of wowsers and flappers- before the Great Depression. And 5 years after the release of J.T. Looney’s Shakespeare Identified. The book that introduced the world to the man who would become the greatest rival to William Shakspere of Stratford for the authorship of England’s greatest cultural monument, the plays and poetry of William Shakespeare, Edward de Vere. Or more correctly, Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford (EO henceforth).

Looney’s book must have created quite a stir in Shakespearean circles.  Henry Clay Folger, the founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library went out and purchased E.O.’s Geneva Bible. Sigmund Freud got behind the argument, incorporating EO in his professional work as an example. Other vocal adherents included celebrated writers of Tudor and Elizabethan History including Alan Gordon Smith, and Sir Geoffery Callender, and the novelist, John Galsworthy. (1)

The authorship question wasn’t new. Other contenders had popped up throughout the 19th Century including: Francis Bacon, EO’s colleague; The Earl of Derby, EO’s daughter’s brother-in-law; Christopher Marlowe; and even a case or two for a group of authors (Delia Bacon’s The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded (1857) proposed a group of authors including Bacon and EO and in 1892, Our English Homer proposed another list including Bacon). (2)


The authorship question continues to be controversial. Can you imagine what a paradigm shift would do to the integrity of academics who are staunchly opposed to the idea? In 1925, the same paradigm shift would have similar repercussions – confusion, retraining, embarrassment, concerns over job security and validity.

Is getting history right worth the fuss?

Does the truth matter?

Should it?

The truth would usher in a clearer picture on how, when and why the works were created. The author’s intent could be clarified. A greater understanding of the society that fostered the works would be gained.

Imagine if there was consensus on those sonnets!

Evidence – Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and Circumstantial

Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford aka Edward de Vere (1550-1604)
Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford aka Edward de Vere (1550-1604)

J T Looney’s work was compiled with a forensic approach. He asked what sort of person was capable of having all the formative influences, contemporary experience, access to documents and books (there were no public libraries in England at the time) and social sensibility. He realised he was searching for an aristocrat, educated in latin, greek, French; well-read in the classic; astute in law; well versed in palace etiquette; a lover of sport, music, theatre, poetry – a man who lay unappreciated for his exceptional talents. (3).

He was convinced it was Edward de Vere. His argument has swayed thousands. The problem with it is that it’s based on circumstantial evidence – a mountain of it. There are no primary or secondary documents connecting him to the works. He has left behind poetry – juvenilia and a healthy log of contemporary tertiary evidence that he was a very fine playwright and poet.

One of the chief concerns raising questions over William of Stratford’s being the author is the lacuna of documents written in his own hand discussing anything literary – anything at all.

A similar claim can be made of the Earl. History has provided us with a cache of letters but other than an oblique reference to something nebulous he was teaming up with Francis Bacon on, he makes no mentions of his plays nor his poetry.

Another concern over William of Stratford’s being the author is his will. He makes no provisions for his supposed literary output, nor for any book he may have had in his possession. Did he have a garage sale – erhem, stable sale, before he died or did he not own any? Books were considerably more valuable in the days before mass publication than they are today.

Again, when considering EO’s claim – or anyone else’s -the will becomes an issue. Sonnet 81 tells us that he had a very high opinion of his own literary output. He had to have made provisions for his papers. If E.O. had a will and he was indeed the man behind the pseudonym Shakespeare, then that document alone could clear up the issue.

So where is the will?

Collins’ Historical Collections of the Noble Families of Cavendishe, Holles, Vere, Harley and Ogle (1752) itemises the will of the 16th Earl, explains the way the Vere line was able to hold onto the Earldom for the centuries it did, and explains where the entail was gone around to allow a woman’s line to succeed. It doesn’t detail any other earl’s will. Was this because Collins didn’t have any other will to write about or because there was nothing in those wills’ that could impact the succession?

Mouldy docs

The Will

Arthur Collins (1684-1769) stated that he held the papers regarding the succession issues in the Vere family after EO’s son’s death. Reading this, logic led me to enquire whether the Collins Family Papers now held by the Mitchell Library contained the mythical will. Looking through the Collection I found two things:

  1. Papers regarding the colony of New South Wales, letters home and bits and pieces from historical collections gathered by Arthur Collins
  2. Mould infested papers on microfiche

I found no legible references to any Vere outside of the Historical Collections of the Noble Families of Cavendishe, Holles, Vere, Harley and Ogle.

De Vere vs Oxenford

The mouldy papers were a concern. Snatches of words could be made out but no real meaning. I doubted that a will could be among them from the look of what was legible.

What is concerning is that mould was allowed to fester in the Collection before it was purchased for the library. That up unto the 19th Century the family knew of its importance is obvious in a list of its more notable contents that was drawn up in 1872. If the family were able to recognize a notable name, it would have made that list.

EO is known today as Edward de Vere but he signed his name Edward Oxenford. He was following in his father’s footsteps in a way. John de Vere was born a John Vere but styled himself John de Vere according to Arthur Collins. His son took it a step further by tying his name to his title.

If any documents signed Edward Oxenford were to have been part of the Collection their importance would have been missed.

If the will is lying forgotten (and hopefully not mouldering) in someone’s basement, unless the name of Edward Oxenford is well known, it won’t surface.

Was the will that could decide the Shakespeare Authorship Question with finality buried with the Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania in 1810? Why would it be? Was there something so controversial – so dangerous in the life of EO that a bigamist in 1810 would have it buried with him? Could it have been buried with him by mistake in a bundle of family papers?

If you believed the key to uncovering the secret of Shakespeare lay buried with your ancestor, would you hire a lawyer, jump on a steamship to the end of the Earth and have his coffin exhumed from a State Park?

In 1925 – was it worth it? It seemed like the whole world had heard about the authorship question and Edward de Vere and were curious.

What was Buried with the Governor?

Our rakish Governor – David Collins – public domain

In 1979, gravedigger, Jim Reynolds, was interviewed for the ABC by Jim Adnum. There were no papers in the coffin. There was no room for them. The coffin contained another coffin tightly packed within it. The inner coffin contained the embalmed remains of the Governor, just as was reported in 1810 in the Derwent Star.

The Governor did have papers and books that were destroyed immediately after his death. They were believed to have been the documents surrounding the settlement of Hobart. What was he up to? The newly arrived Governor Macquarie wasn’t too happy with him.

Who did the Governor Leave Behind?

A family in Sydney. Another family in Hobart and a wife in England. Could our rakish Governor also have left behind the novelist, Louisa Sidney Stanhope?


  1. Who Was Shakespeare?, Munn. Orson D. Ed., Scientific American. NY: Munn & Co Inc, 1940. 162:1. (264)
  2. Shakespeare-Oxford Society website, History of Doubts surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare’s works, 11/12/2006
  3. for a complete list scroll down on this page – https://shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org/shakespeare-identified-100/


Collins Arthur, Historical Collections of the Noble Families of Cavendishe, Holles, Vere, Harley and Ogle (1752) – available online via ECCO – Eighteenth Century Collections Online


Shakespeare-Oxford Society website, History of Doubts surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare’s works, 11/12/2006

Who Was Shakespeare?, Munn. Orson D. Ed., Scientific American. NY: Munn & Co Inc, 1940. 162:1.

Australian Broadcasting Commission, Interview by Mr Jim Adnum with Mr John Reynolds, 1979.

Derwent Star, Tuesday April 3, 1810.

Herald, Byways of History: The Man Who Failed – An Australian Birthday Story, (26/01/1956)

The Mercury, Old Letters Shed New Light on Life of Hobart’s Founder, Phillip Kingsley,(18/06/1982)

The Mercury, David Collins: Fickle, Lonely, Deep in Debt, (01/04/1986)

Sydney Morning Herald, Relics Throw Light on Early Settlement, (23/03/1963)

Sydney Morning Herald, David Collins: Founder of Hobart, (28/03/1931)

Collins Family Papers, Mitchell Library, CY1450; CY2120; CY2119

2. Historical Notes

2. Historical Notes – Who the Governor left Behind and The Earl and the Bed Trick

Perhaps my short story, 6.WTFR- Who the Governor Left Behind should have been titled, “What the Governor Took with Him”

When David Collins died in 1810 he was buried in State in a Hobart park. Rumour had it that his papers were buried with him.

In 1925, one hundred and fifteen years later his coffin was exhumed, specifically to retrieve his papers.

Why? Was he hiding something?

  1. An extramarital affair– or two
  2. The guarded family secret of a well-heeled aristocrat unearthed but unexploited by his grandfather
  3. A 17th Century smoking gun
Elizabeth de Vere Stanley, Countess of Derby and Earl of Mann ( 1575 – 1627 ) Public Domain

The Guarded Family Secret of a Well Heeled Aristocrat

Elizabeth Stanley, Countess of Derby and Lord of Mann wasn’t acknowledged by her father, the Earl of Oxford, until she was six or seven years old. His marriage to her mother, Anne Cecil, Lord Burghley’s daughter, was arranged in an unusual manner even for arranged marriages in the Elizabethan age. It seems to have even perplexed Anne’s father, the most powerful man in Elizabeth I’s court, despite the fact that he did the wheeling and dealing.

It was surprising that he married his daughter a year before he had hoped. She was young but not overly young for the marriage market of her day. Perhaps she was too young for her own body– had her menses come in? Is that why her father hoped to have waited another year?

She wasn’t too young to not have an eye for a certain gentleman: Sir Phillip Sidney, the soldier-courtier-poet. But something happened to change her father’s plans abruptly in 1571. Oxford outranked Sidney in the peerage and so was a more desirable match on paper.

Edward de Vere (Oxenford), Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), was raised in Anne’s home as one of her father’s wards in his Court of Wards. They knew each other from a very young age as he was deposited in the Burleigh household after the death of his father in 1562.

Oxford had kin of his own he was more partial to than the Burleighs, e.g., Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. Around the time that the marriage of Anne and Edward was arranged, Thomas Howard through no conceit of his own was embroiled in a Scottish plot to overthrow Elizabeth and place Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne with Norfolk as her consort.

Imprisoned in August 1569, Norfolk was released in August 1570 only to be arrested again when another plot, the Ridolfi Plot, against Elizabeth was uncovered in 1571. It seems that while Norfolk lived, a possible marriage between him and Mary, Queen of Scots would lend legitimacy to her claim on the English throne. Consequently he was sentenced to death in June 1572.

Anne and Edward married in December 1571. Could Burleigh’s abrupt decision to marry his daughter to Oxford have anything to do with Edward bargaining for his kinsman’s life? No such record exists but what has come down to us is Edward threatening Lord Burleigh that he would ruin Anne if Norfolk was executed.

And Norfolk was executed.

And it took a bedtrick to reconcile Edward with Anne. When the bedtrick happened hasn’t survived. Could it have been the consummation of their marriage as I supposed in my short story, The Earl and the Bed Trick?

Edward spent 1575 abroad – travelling through France and spending much time in Italy. During his sabbatical his eldest daughter Elizabeth was born. When he returned to England he denied paternity. After fathering a child with his mistress and a stint in the Tower he was released and recommenced his relationship with his wife in 1582.

The long suffering Anne Cecil would die and Edward would remarry and produce a male heir with his second wife, Elizabeth Trentham. Elizabeth De Vere Stanley was still alive at the time of her younger step brother’s death. So confident was she in her parentage and place as the eldest daughter of the 17th Earl of Oxford that when her brother the 18th earl died without an heir she pursued his titles until her untimely death. That she had such confidence speaks of the strength of her relationship with her father later in life – he was a theatre impresario as was her husband, the Earl of Derby.

Earlier she had married the Earl of Derby with the Queen in attendance at Greenwich Palace and it’s said that the entertainment was the first ever performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Derby was not her first suitor. She was to marry the Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s patron, but he cried off. She and Derby had a tempestuous marriage with rumours of her affairs with the Earl of Essex and Walter Raleigh early on. These rumours settled and she proved herself in another arena, as the Lord of Mann.

Lieutenant Governor of Hobart, David Collins, whose oversized coffin was unearthed in search of papers in 1925

Late in her life she took on parliament to override an entail on her brother, the earl’s, titles after his death. She had proven herself as the first female lord of the Isle of Mann, taking over the administration of the Island from her husband and formally being made the Lord of Mann (1612-1627). Why not the title’s centred in her paternal family?

The papers needed to argue her case to take the titles of Earl of Oxford, Lord Bulbeck and Great Lord Chamberlain of England as well as the arguments for her cousins Robert Willoughby and Robert Vere were at one time in the possession of the antiquarian Arthur Collins.

Arthur Collins wrote a History of the Historical Collections of the Noble Families of Cavendishe, Holles, Vere, Harley and Ogle, in 1752 using those documents. Could Collins have unearthed the truth about her parentage? If she wasn’t the daughter of Edward de Vere, could her descendants be affected? Would this have warranted the unearthing of the oversized coffin of Arthur Collins’ grandson, David, in Tasmania in 1925?

It seems a stretch, however, what would the implications for history be if Arthur Collins stash of Vere family documents hid something more interesting…

Coming Soon – What was hidden in the coffin possibility #3 – A 17th Century Smoking Gun


If the 17th Earl of Oxford wrote the works of Shakespeare, where is his paper trail? He had to have let the cat out of the bag to someone. He liked to brag. He talked over-the-top – especially in Europe – Duke of Oxford. He dressed over-the-top, an Italianate fop, apparently. He lived over-the-top, over-the-top of his income. His was an expansive personality. Why wouldn’t he have written letters speaking of his literary output? Not to have seems contrary to the vanity of his ego. So where is it? Where is the letter regarding his background reading? The personal response to the reception of his plays and poetry? The whine over his enforced anonymity?

Has history overlooked him? Has something more sinister been enacted? Was it a case of damnatio memoriae in the New Rome, London? A government conspiracy to silence him? Was it compounded by the involvement of acrimonious in-laws (the Cecils)? It wouldn’t be the first time in history that such a white-wash was enacted – think of Ancient Egypt, of King Tut.

King Tut, Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt

King Tut, Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt

Photo credit: Rob DeGraff via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 Or is the lack of evidence due to something a little more mundane? Could it be that his history is mouldering away in a provincial attic because his name and signature are obscure? When the family tree is being drawn up, the document with his signature may be put aside as his name doesn’t belong on the family branches.

He signed his name ‘Edward Oxenford’ or ‘Oxenforde’, or used his title, the Earl of Oxford, but doesn’t seem to have used his family name, Vere, outside of his acrostic poems or perhaps to thinly veil his identity. ‘De Vere’in signature form doesn’t seem to figure at all during his lifetime. Yet today, he is most commonly referred to as ‘Edward de Vere’.

Does a rose by any other name still smell as sweet? In this case it may wreak of damp or be riddled by bookworms (literally). You see, if he wrote about his creative output in letters they may have been addressed to any part of the English, French, Italian, German, Latin or Greek speaking world of his day. Potentially these letters are not restricted to Great Britain but an extensive part of Europe as well. Perhaps they have been thumbed through and pushed aside as a curiosity because his signed name, Edward Oxenford, is not recognizable. A mild curiosity may persist – what was he to the family? the local school teacher, curate, scribe? Eventually the weight of constructing that family tree relegates his name to obscurity once more.

If the name, Edward Oxenford, were to be promoted in the same way that Edward De Vere is, could more of his story come to light? Could that irrefutable piece of elusive evidence finally emerge to elucidate Edward’s enigma?

Happy 466th Birthday, Edward Oxenford(e)!

2 monuments, 1 church, 2 Shakespeares

“Shakespear’s Monument in the Chancell (not in the Parish Church of Stratford Upon Avon) by adjoyning it (I have seen it) Mr Garter Anstis offer’d to get me a cast of it his face . . .( I have got it)”

George Vertue, c.1737

So what if there were two monuments in or adjoining the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford? What’s the big deal? So what if the Darmstadt Death Mask is the cast of the now long forgotten other monument? What is the significance to history and to Shakespeare?

Droeshout’s Engraving for the First Folio.


Shakespeare is a shadowy character. He is a body of work with a whisker of a biography. The only images of him that we are supposed to acknowledge as true representations were made after his death. The first is the Droeshout engraving in the opening pages of the First Folio of his collected works and the other is the funerary monument set into the chancery wall of the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. The high domed head, the goatee, the gravity-defying shirt collar of the Droeshout and those intense, heavy-lidded eyes are instantly recognizable. But are they true representations?

File:Dugdale sketch 1634 Detail.jpg

A thumbnail sketch, from life, of the monument by William Dugdale (1636). Notice the sack of grain? wool? agriculture! See the differences in the top of the monuments.

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since about the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

The earliest visual reproduction of the Stratford monument depicts a very different figure to the portly fellow with the beatified features we see in the Holy Trinity Church today. The original sketch by Dugdale in 1636 shows a leaner man with a drooping moustache whose hands jealously covet his sack of agriculture. The quill and paper are missing. The cupids and square pediment above the entablature are different. Could the Dugdale sketch be an accurate depiction of the monument Vertue saw adjoining the church in 1737? If it is, how did the church come to have two monuments? What is the implication of the difference in the two monuments?

For those who question the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, the Dugdale sketch is evidence in their favour. Shakespeare is depicted in his relationship to the town – a successful grain merchant, not a renowned poet. Apologists have attempted to explain away the sketch by postulating hypotheses that the sketch is inaccurate because it was a quick depiction, copied from another monument and finished later. Another view follows the idea that the Dugdale depicts Shakespeare’s father. The monument would have to be altered to accommodate the bardolatry of the son. But what if the monument was not altered but remade? Remade to be more inline with the Droeshout engraving? What if the Dugdale-depicted monument is not of the father but of the son who was miserly in his grain dealings and not a magnanimous, philosopher-poet?

For the true-believers, the Stratford Monument is the one , the only, the ever-present (since sometime after April 23, 1616) icon of the true Bard. Intransient. Immutable. Omnipotent. Vertue’s jotted notes in his Notebooks wreak of brine, in the same way the Dead Sea Scrolls may have. Vertue’s notes confirm that there were two monuments. Taking Dugdale into account, they were different. One is of a merchant, the other is of a writer. Were the writer and the merchant the same person? When did the one monument replace the other? Was the earlier bust replaced in an innocent practice of bardolatry or was a concerted cover-up involved?

photo credits

 – Droeshout Engraving

Photo credit: The British Library / Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions

 – 1636 thumbnail sketch by Dugdale (1605-1686) of the Stratford Monument, from Wikimedia Commons

 – Stratford Monument as we know it:

Image from page 183 of “Shakespeare’s England” (1895)

Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images /Foter / No known copyright restrictions

The Mask, the Monument, the Antiquarian & the Antipodean SF

“Shakespear’s Monument in the Chancell (not in the Parish Church of Stratford Upon Avon) by adjoyning it (I have seen it) Mr Garter Anstis offer’d to get me a cast of it his face . . .( I have got it)”

George Vertue, c.1737.

Writing an, “about me” page or biog is daunting. Attached to my blog, I inevitably feel that I have to somehow justify why I would have the knowledge or know-how to interest you. The other question that it confronts me with is, why blog? And then, why WordPress? The simple answer is that I’ve been told to. Along with, ” If you want to write you must read a lot, and write every day.” As well as the idea that when you blog you put yourself on the line. You have to push yourself to be clear in your thoughts and focus on communicating your ideas. Because WordPress was the buzzword at writer’s festivals, I chose this platform. I think it was a good choice as we who blog here are a part of a writer-reader community. I think it’s paid off. Why?

I’ve just had my first short story published in the Anitpodean SF – issue 206. My story is Regene-eration and, yes, there is a theatrical element to it. If you are interested in reading it – GO AWAY NOW!!!!! Because I’m going to write about the inspiration behind it before my thoughts trail off.

AntipodeanSF Issue 206

AntipodeanSF Issue 206

We write about what we know, what we think we know or what we can imagine. In my case I had recently read Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel’s, The True Face of William Shakespeare and was inspired.  I read the coffee table version of her thesis that used forensics, professional criminology techniques, old fashioned reading and archival research to find the true likeness of William Shakespeare and in the process test the authenticity of the Darmstadt Death Mask. What is the Darmstadt Death mask? Why, it’s an authentic plaster cast of the face of the man from Stratford, complete with an inscription date of its execution, 1616, and with the down turned moustache and gaunter face of the first sketch-picture of the Stratford monument by antiquarian William Dugdale! So we are told. Hammerschmidt-Hummel’s thesis is an impressive case study.

Her extraordinary research techniques are fun and fascinating, if not convincing. (I can’t have faith in the results of a study that seriously considers images painted with the subjective eye of another human being as being true and precise testimonies of the appearance of their sitter. One of the first pitfalls I was warned against in studying life drawing is that we who draw/paint portraits will err with our judgement primordially making our sitter look a little like ourselves.) Where I admire Hammershimidt-Hummel’s work is in her archival research. The Darmstadt Death Mask turned up in the 19th Century with the claim that it was Shakespeare’s Death Mask but its provenance was incomplete. How did it come to be in Germany?

Hummel tells us that it first appeared in 1842 in an auction catalogue for the possessions of Count Franz Ludwig von Kesselstatt, former Canon at the Cathedral in Mainz. It was displayed in the British Museum in 1864 as Shakespeare’s Death Mask, despite the lack of explanation of how it came to be in Germany. Hammerschmidt-Hummel came across the following quote in her archival searches:

“After his return from Vienna, he (Franz Ludwig von Kesselstatt) went to Strasbourg and Nancy to improve himself, stayed there until March 1775, and then set off on his Journey to London.” (1)

So he went to London. She presents no evidence for his having purchased the mask and indeed whose mask it may have been. Many men died in England in 1616. It could be anyone’s death mask. Where is the evidence that Shakespeare of Stratford had a plaster death mask made?

When I read The True Face of William Shakespeare, I got sooooooo excited. You see I had gone through the Walpole Society’s compilation and publication of the 18th Century English antiquarian, George Vertue’s (1684-1756) Notebooks, and read this:

“Shakespear’s Monument in the Chancell (not in the Parish Church of Stratford Upon Avon) by adjoyning it (I have seen it) Mr Garter Anstis offer’d to get me a cast of it his face . . .( I have got it)”(2)

Vertue I [v.106, BM 586],The Volume of the Walpole Society, XVIII (1929–1930)

And then he repeats this in a different notebook:

“. . . to Stratford on Avon – W(m) Shakespear Poet his monument in the Church his bust got a cast of it in plaister”

Vertue [v.47 BM 30] (3)

Vertue furnishes us with two mysteries here.

The First Mystery

Could Kesselstatt’s mask be the plaster cast John Anstis made from a monument to Shakespeare residing in a room adjacent to the Church in Stratford? The Charnel House perhaps? George Vertue’s notes are intriguing. He was compiling information about all the painters, limner’s and engravers who were active in England to his day. Like many early antiquarians, he gathered a lot of information that he never edited into a history. His Notebooks were not kept for the use of anyone outside of himself. They are lists of art and in whose household he had seen them or where one of his antiquarian buddies had. Entries are not dated nor in chronological order and he seems to have filled some of them simultaneously.

Just before Vertue’s death, Horace Walpole (1717-1797) purchased his Notebooks and compiled the first history of artists working in England. Walpole, a connoisseur in his own right, edited the Notebooks and presented the history from his own understanding.Could he have also purchased the plaster cast? The plaster cast is not listed in the auction catalogue for the sale of Vertue’s books. He may have sold it privately before his death. Walpole being a connoisseur with a taste for the macabre would have been a candidate to purchase it.

Walpole is credited with writing the first English Gothic novel, The Castle of Ortranto (1764). Shakespearean scholar, Samuel Schoenbaum, in his Shakespeare’s Lives(4) reports his more macabre interest in Shakespeare. Apparently in 1769, Walpole offered a challenge to anyone who could furnish him with the skull of Shakespeare.  When it was presented to him in 1794, he declined to pay. If we entertain the idea that Walpole purchased the mask along with the Notebooks in the 1750s, he may have offered the challenge so that he could validate the authenticity of the mask. By the time he was offered the skull, he may have already on-sold the mask and therefore had no need of its authentication. Why would he sell the mask you may ask? In building his dream manor, Strawberry Hill, he was conscious always of his available funds.

Walpole is remembered today as a letter writer as well as an art historian and connoisseur. His letters are an important source of information for his times. He wrote them with his eye on posterity. He is said to have asked them all back and edited them and so they survive in a form that he would have approved for print. Did he mention the mask or Kesselstatt in any of his letters for 1775-6? Not that I could pick up. Would he have wanted posterity to know of such a deal if he did?

Thus the mystery of the provenance remains. But then there is the other mystery. George Vertue makes reference to there being TWO monuments in the 1730s – one in the Chancel and one in the room beside it! Are these the two he meant. . .?

File:Dugdale sketch 1634 Detail.jpg

A thumbnail sketch, from life, of the monument before by William Dugdale (1636). Notice the sack of grain?wool?agriculture! See the differences in the top of the monuments.

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford

The Shakespeare Monument as it has appeared since about the 18th Century and can be seen today in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford


(1) Hammerschmidt-Hummel, Hildegard, The True Face of William Shakespeare, Chaucer Press, London, 2006, p.117.

(2)George Vertue, “Notebooks”, The Volume of the Walpole Society, XVIII (1929–1930), XX (1931–1932), XXII (1933–1934), XXIV (1935–1936), XXVI (1937–1938), XXIV (1947; Index), XXX (1951–1952; Index).

(3) ibid.

(4)Schoenbaum references Argosy and C.C.Langton, A Warwickshire Man, How Shakespeare’s Skull was Stolen and Found, (1879) in:

Schoenbaum, Samuel, Shakespeare’s Lives, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1991.

photo credits

The cover of Antipodean SF issue 206 features the cover art  – Who wins? (credit – Photovision, Pixabay)

1636 thumbnail sketch by Dugdale (1605-1686) of the Stratford Monument, from Wikimedia Commons

Stratford Monument as we know it:

Image from page 183 of “Shakespeare’s England” (1895)

Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images /Foter / No known copyright restrictions

W.S., the Also Wrotes (or Edits)

Who was W.S.? Was he really mocking Shakespeare in his pamphlet, Bought Wit is Best, or Tom Long’s Journey to London to buy wit? Did he know Shakespeare to be an illiterate from the country? Did he actually teach Shakespeare how to write comedies? For SAQ enthusiasts getting access to EEBO is worth it just to read this pamphlet. It holds a number of works attributed to W.S. from the late 16th Century and early 17th Century. Not all of them appear to be from the same author. It’s their content that has to be considered when trying to group them as having passed through the editorial or authorial hands of W.S..

What has puzzled me about the Elizabethan writer Edward Oxenford, Earl of Oxford, is that he was lauded as being the best for writing comedies by his contemporary Francis Meres, but none of his comedies is said to have survived. Meres mentions many poets, but the best of each age he places first.

Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford aka Edward de Vere

Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford, aka Edward de Vere

“The best Poets for Comedy among the Greeks are these, Menander, Aristophanes . . . and among the Latines, Plautus, Terence, . . . so the best for Comedy amongst us bee, Edward Earle of Oxforde, . . .”

Francis Meres Palladis Tamia (1598)(1)

I love this quote as by listing first the Ancient Greek comic writers then the Latin, followed by the English, it puts them on a par. Meres also relates the styles of the first among each age. Plautus and Terence deferred themselves to Menander, as in Shakespeare’s time, Shakespeare greatness was compared to Plautus and Terence. In their comedies of mixed identities and convoluted storylines each of these playwrights passed on a Chinese whisper that informed their plots. Oops!. . .  I said Shakespeare and not Oxford. But was Shakespeare, Oxford? I don’t hold the proof for that but I think I have an argument that Oxford was W.S.(Musario).

Musario was the beloved of the Muses, the comic impresario of 1590’s London. He was London’s greatest wit, a well read scholar of the upper classes. According to the W.S. pamphlet, he taught Tom Long, the country bumpkin, how to write comedy. If we take Francis Mere’s 1598 word for it, a simple socratic deduction would conclude that Musario had to be the Earl of Oxford.

But this is just one pointer. It’s unsatisfying. The argument needs more. I went over my past searches for lost plays by Oxford.

The first pamphlet I came across was The Complaint, which made me suspect erroneously, that Edward Oxenford(e) had written it. I came to this incorrect conclusion based on the biographical references in the prefatory epistle.  In my mind, he is most likely to have been its editor. Soon afterward I discovered EEBO and started searching for works by W.S.. Since then it has been a waiting game as more and more early modern lit is scanned and made available. Following is a list of works that I consider that Oxford either wrote or prepared for print, based on those searches. For some, Oxford’s authorship has already been debated and rejected or held. The criteria for my search has not taken into consideration the style of writing but the content and the possibility, however remote, that Oxford had a hand in them. They are all credited as the work of W.S.. Dates of publication are purely based on my searches and are the earliest that I have found. A date of publication is not a date of authorship, particularly in Elizabethan times.

1574 – A Newe Balade or Songe of the Lambes Feast and Another out of Goodwill (By W.S. Veritatis)

1581- A Compendious or Briefe Examination of Certayne Ordinary Complaints (aka The Complaint by W.S. Gentleman, at one time attributed to William Shakespeare, now shown to be by Sir Thomas Smith)

1595 – The Lamentable Tragedie of Locrine . . Newly set foorth, overseene and corrected, by W.S. (A play also attributed to William Shakespeare and reprinted in the 3rd Folio of Shakespeare’s works) – An edited piece by W.S.?

1602 – The True Chronicle Historie of the Whole Life and Death of Thomas Lord Cromwell As it has Sundry Times publikely acted by the Right Honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his servants. Written by W.S..(A play also attributed to William Shakespeare and reprinted in the 3rd Folio of Shakespeare’s works)

1607 – To the Faithful Christians – A religious pamphlet/diagram, dense with biblical references signed, “Christes unworthy minister, that desireth your edification. W.S.”

1607 – The Puritaine or the Widow of Watling- Streete Acted by the Children of Paules, written by W.S..(A play also attributed to William Shakespeare and reprinted in the 3rd Folio of Shakespeare’s works)

1612 – A Funerall Elergye in memory of the late virtuous Maister William Peter of Whipton neere Excester – thought also to have been written by Shakespeare at some time.

1634 – Bought Wit is Best, or Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit, the Prefatory Epistle is signed by W.S..

Of the earliest of the works above, in signing W.S. Veritatis on A Newe Balade or Song, W.S. provides us with a surname that is a play on Oxford’s family name, Vere. In the Complaint he furnishes us with particulars of his personal life and situation in 1581 that match the Earl’s. He also forces us to consider that he may have been an editor of others’ works. Oxfordian scholar, Nina Green, argues convincingly that The Widow of Watling Streete, was written much earlier than 1607, in the 1570s. (2) She offers, “a matrix of topical references in the play” to argue that it may have been written by Oxford.

Is this enough to require an academic investigation into the possibility that the Earl was W.S.? And if the Earl was W.S., a writer and editor and also Musario, could he also have been responsible for the finished works of Shakespeare? It is a bit of a leap – Oxford as W.S. to W.S. as Shakespeare. However, five of the seven titles signed W.S. above have been considered as the works of William Shakespeare.

Oops! I’m assuming that you’ve already heard that Shakespeare’s authorship of his plays and poems is disputable – along with his image.

(1) Quoted from the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship: www.shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org/wp-content/uploads/Meres.pdf ·

(2) Edward de Vere Newsletter, no.4., De Vere Press, June 1989,February 2001.

W.S. Gentleman – Elizabethan Editor

Who was W.S. – MusarioVeritatis – Gentleman?

“TO THE MOST VER-tuous and learned Lady, my most dear and soveraigne Princesse ELIZABETH, by the Grace of GOD, Queene of England, Fraunce, and Ireland: Derfendresse of the Fayth.&c.,

. . . And although this be of itselfe so clear and manyfest that it cannot bee denied, yet could not I forbeare (most renowned sovereigne) being as it were, inforced, my your Maiesties late & singular clemency, in pardoninge certayne my undutiful misdemeanour, but seeke to acknowledge your gracious goodnesse and bounty towardes me, by exhibiting unto you this small and simple present . . .”

W.S. Gentleman, 1581. (1)

Thus saieth the prefatory epistle of one of the foremost sources of information on the social conditions of Tudor England, A Compendious or Brief Examination of Certayne Ordinary Complaints, of Divers of our Country Men in these Our Dayes. The Complaint, as it is often referred to, was before its time, about two hundred years. It is the first economic pamphlet written in English espousing the idea that, “economic forces and individual self-interest would, if freed and encouraged, contribute automatically to national prosperity and common well-being.” (2) It recognises the possibilities of free-trade as a viable economic system to distribute wealth and marry unlimited wants with limited resources. It does not go as far as advocating for the total removal of industry protection or government regulation but was making suggestions that could easily offend the Tudor monarchy and its advisers. The idea of free trade driven by self-interest as an economic model, would come into its own in the West in the mid 18th Century when Vincent de Gournay coined the term laissez faire, after reading Francois Quesnay’s writing on long debated Chinese views on government intervention. These views were expanded on by Adam Smith later that century.

The Complaint comprises three consecutive dialogues between a Doctor (representing scholars/clerics), husbandman (farmer), knight (landed class/aristocracy), a capper (artificer/tradesman) and a merchant. They all have grievances about the economy. The central concern is the great dearth (inflation) in spite of a lack of scarcity of crops; also the desolation of counties due to enclosures; urban drift, unemployment and riots; and the division of religion setting people against each other. Their grievances are aired. The reasons for their complaints are examined and solutions are suggested. Enclosures and the chase for greater lucre has led to more fields being used for particular crops rather than a variety of agriculture; the price of food is increased; the Capper can’t afford to pay his apprentices because they want too much; imports have risen and so has their cost; merchants are forced into debt to stay in business; and the knight is struggling under inflation as he is on a fixed income and isn’t able to raise his rents due to laws preventing this.

The Complaint went through many print runs. It is an important piece of writing. In the form in which it was originally printed in 1581, it was reprinted in 1751, 1808, 1813 and 1876. People wanted to know who wrote it. It’s recognized author has gone through many name changes. In 1751 William Shakespeare was said to have written it. In the early 19th Century, this attribution was challenged and a search for the true owner of the initials W.S. was made. William Stafford was found to have been proposed by Anthony a Wood (1632-1695). The attribution was convincing. Stafford was indeed granted clemency by the Queen for his Catholicism. Reprints of The Complaint were then made that included the original title page amended to include William Stafford’s full name. In 1876, The Complaint was reprinted for Furnivall’s, New Shakspere Society. It was shown that W.S. could not have been William Stafford as in 1581, Stafford was still a hidden Catholic. Furnivall searched the Domestic State Papers and found no notice of William Stafford in any plot against the Queen until 1587.

In 1893 it appeared in a longer, slightly different form, The Discourse of the Commonweal of this Realm of England. Essentially these two pamphlets are the same. The Discourse, however, is the proof that the work was composed far earlier than when it was first printed in 1581. It has been determined via textual references that The Discourse was written in August-September, 1549. These references include the mention of the Enclosure Commissions of 1548; the imposition of a tax on cloth that occurred in 1549; the August 6, 1549, ban on ‘stage plays, interludes, May games (and) revels’ ; and comments on the importation of counterfeit coinage, the scandalous carriage of old currency out of the country and the valuation of the angel at 30 groats.(3) The Complaint was found to be an edited version that brings the Discourse up to date with the results of the enactment of at least one of the recommendations of The Discourse i.e., the debasement of the currency had been reversed, yet inflation persisted.(4) It also addresses the Queen, whereas the earlier Discourse addresses the King.

Sir Thomas Smith (1512-1577)

Sir Thomas Smith (1512-1577)

Did the writer sit on the pamphlet for three decades and then decide to edit it for print? Did someone else edit it?. The Complaint attempts to change the relevant currency values that were applicable to English currency from when it was written to when it was printed 32 years later and fails. The Discourse cites the devaluation (debasement) of English currency for being a cause of the current inflation. By 1581, Elizabeth I had revalued her currency so the updated Complaint omits the dialogue regarding this and includes instead current thought based on the 1568/74 french economic work by Jean Bodin, La Reponse de Maistre Jean Bodin, where he blamed the influx of gold from the New World as the reason for inflation. By comparison to the rest of the pamphlet, this explanation is glossed over and not massaged from different angles as other points are.(5) Other variances occur with differences in the turn of phrases. The Compliant differs with curious additions and omissions from the originals, signature, conversational style

An example of an omission from the merchants speech in the first dialogue occurs when the merchant praises his father-in-law’s charitable works, stating, “And the custom of this city, how it was redeemed by my father-in-law of late.” W.S. drops this altogether for no apparent reason in the Complaint. Elsewhere in the first dialogue, W.S. makes a long addition to the Doctor’s speech on learning which appears in the following quote in italics:

“May we not through cosmography see the situation, temperature, and qualities of every country in the world? Yes, better and with less travail than if we might fly over them ourselves. For that that many others have learned through their travails and dangers they have left to us to be learned with ease and pleasure. Can we not also through the science of astronomy know the course of the planets above and their conjunctions and aspects as certainly as we were among them? Yes, surely that wee may: for tell mee, how came all the learned men heare to fore to the exact and perfit knowledge thereof? Came they not to it by conference and making of circumstances?(yes in deede), so that out of their writings we learned it.”

W.S. it seems felt very strongly about learning through the sharing of information, the reading and testing of that knowledge. This addition reads like a concurrence more than an afterthought.

Could W.S. have been the editor of a work by someone else?

If the writer and the editor were two different people, who were they? We know that the Discourse was controversial. Five scribal copies of it have survived.(6) A note on the Albany MS version of the Discourse informs us that it was knocked back from publication. In its original form it was regarded as too controversial for print. Who would write such a thing? The writer of the Discourse (as opposed to the editor of the Complaint) has this to say of himself:

“. . . albeit I am not of the King’s Council to whom the consideration and reformation of the same does chiefly belong, yet knowing myself to be a member of the same Commonweal and called to be one of the Common House where such things ought to be treated of, I cannot reckon myself a mere stranger to this matter; no more than a man that were in a ship which were in danger of a wreck might say that, because he is not percase the master or pilot of the same, the danger thereof did pertain nothing to him.”(7)

On the scribal copy owned by William Lambarde, that bares his name, there is a handwritten note that W.S. was not the author but it was most likely Sir Thomas Smith (1513-1577), Secretary of State during the reign of Edward IV or John Hales (1516?26?-1572), Clerk of the Hanaper. When the full Discourse was printed in 1893, its 19th century editor, E. Lamond, supported John Hales, as the author. Dewar deftly argues against Hales and for Smith.(8) To quote her:

” ‘The Authorship’ where these arguments are developed fully and a contrast is drawn between the Discourse and the known views of John Hales, e.g., his dislike of the civil law, his approval of active lay participation in Church affairs, his discouragement of the manufacture of cloth within the realm, his totally different explanation of the inflationary phenomena of the time, and above all his adherence to the traditional, ‘commonwealth’ view that the troubles of society arose solely from the greed of men for private profit which should be restrained by law.”

(Dewar p. xxiii, footnote 41)

Fundamentally, Hales strongly held belief that the dearth was a product of greed, conflicts with the Discourses progressive view that self-interest coupled with economic forces could help alleviate economic stress. She sees in Lamond’s argument for Hales a lack of understanding of the facts of Smith’s life. She asserts Smith on the ground that the conversational style of the dialogue reflects his other works and the content itself is echoed in his other writings, in particular his dislike of the debasement of the currency. Today, Smith’s authorship is often asserted in library records for this work.

If Sir Thomas Smith was the writer, who then could be the editor?

From the prefatory epistle and its omissions and additions e.g., a religious slagging that was inserted into the Complaint that does not appear in the Discourse we may confer certain attributes to the editor.

  1. W.S. was a Gentleman, i.e., he was upper class
  2. W.S. was given a royal pardon in 1581
  3. W.S. had sway with the Queen and/or her advisors to receive this pardon
  4. W.S. had access to the highly sensitive writings of Sir Thomas Smith, making him either a scribe, a student or a close family member/friend
  5. W.S. wasn’t an economist
  6. W.S. had a high regard for learning and scholarly pastimes
  7. W.S. had a penchant for tweaking phrases
  8. W.S. had a strong need to publically disparage the Pope and by association Catholicism at the time of printing.

Dewar proposed  Sir Thomas Smith’s nephew and future heir, William Smith. William Smith on inheriting his uncle’s properties could be thought of as a gentleman. In 1580 he was summoned back from Ireland where he was trying to restore his Uncle’s properties in Ardes. That this activity would have invited the occasion that he would be in need of the Queen’s clemency is questionable. How much sway he had with the Queen or her advisers would have rested with his uncle if indeed his activities in Ireland required a royal pardon. After his uncle’s death in 1577, he inherited his uncle’s estate. His personal notebooks bare witness to his copying from his uncle’s writings in 1580. After seeing his notebooks, Dewar paints him to be quite dull-witted. She ascribes to him all that she sees that is clumsy in the text – the tweaking of phrases and the bad maths. She can’t imagine that he had the capacity to read the Frenchman, Bodin’s work and then update the Discourse with it. William Smith, did sign his name Wm. Smythe, Wm. Sm., and W.S.. He is not known to have had anything else printed. Nor does she mention him in relation to any Catholic plots that would require vindication and an affirmation of a dislike of the Pope, like in the case of William Stafford. William Smith, is not a perfect fit.

Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford aka Edward de Vere (1550-1604)

Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford aka Edward de Vere (1550-1604)

W.S. says of himself with phrases amended from Sir Thomas Smith:

” . . . albeit I am not one to whome the consideration and reformation of the same doth especially belong; yet knowing my selfe to bee a Member of the same Common weale, and not to further it by all the ways that possibly I may, I cannot recken and account my selfe a mere straunger to this matter; no more than a man that were in a shippe, which being in daunger of wracke, might say, that because he is not the Maister or Pylate of the same, the daunger thereof doth pertayne nothing at all to him.”(9)

Is there a better candidate?

In consideration of the authorship of the songs by W.S. Veritatis could the Earl of Oxford, Edward Oxenford (aka Edward de Vere) have used the initials W.S. again to edit the Complaint? The Earl was definitely a Gentleman by class. He was given a royal pardon in 1581 after having been thrown into prison. He had committed two misdemeanours: impregnating one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting; and being embroiled in a Catholic scandal. In renouncing Catholicism, the name-calling towards the end of the Complaint, is a public exorcising.(10) He had some sway with the Queen in his lifetime in that he was at one time one of her favourites and that his father-in-law was William Cecil, Elizabeth I’s closest adviser. Did he have access to Sir Thomas Smith writings? Sir Thomas Smith was his tutor. An economist he is not known for being, but he was fluent in French, was a patron of writers and had a variety of scholarly books dedicated to him. As for playing with phrases, he wrote a poem or two.

Mary Dewar believed that Sir Thomas Smith himself did the updating of the pamphlet in 1576, when he was said to have revisited the writings of his younger days. She believed William Smith then prepared it for print. She disliked the frenetic tweaking of phrases. In her opinion it is clumsy and obscures the meaning somewhat. I must disagree, as I found myself turning to the Complaint more often than the Discourse when I needed greater clarity in comparing the two versions.

Was Edward Oxenford, W.S. Gentleman?

Was W.S. Gentleman the editor of this pamphlet, the lyricist W.S. Veritatis, the pamphleteer W.S. of Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit or Bought Wit is Best, the playwright W.S. responsible for The Puritan Widow or The Widow of Watling St, The History of Thomas Lord Cromwell and the Tragedy of Locrine?


(1) Gentleman, W.S., A Compendious or Brief Examination of Certayne Ordinary Complaints, of divers of our Country Men in these Our Dayes, Thomas Marshe, 1581.

(2) Hughes, E., The Authorship of the Discourse of the Commonweal Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, XXI, 1937, p.168.

(3)Dewar, Mary, A Discourse of the Commonweal of this Realm attributed to Sir Thomas Smith, Folger Shakespeare Library, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1969, p.XIX.

(4) The Devaluation of the currency, or debasement, occurred when coins were minted with a greater alloy content and were not valued as highly overseas. The value of English currency fell.

(5)The Lambarde MS, held by University College, London ; Yelverton MS (BM Add MS48047 ff174-227); Bodleian MS (Add. C. 273); Hatfield MS; Albany (Phillipps)MS held by State University of NY. (Dewar)

(6) Dewar argues that the writer himself amended this section. I disagree in that it doesn’t display his indepth explanatory style.

(7)Dewar, Mary, A Discourse of the Commonweal of this Realm attributed to Sir Thomas Smith, Folger Shakespeare Library, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1969, p.11.

(8) Dewar, Mary,The Authorship of the ‘Discourse of the Commonweal’The Economic History Review, New Series, Vol. 19, No. 2 (1966), pp. 388-400.

(9) Furnivall, F.J. (ed.), William Stafford’s Compendious or Brief Examination of Certayne Ordinary Complaints of Divers of our Countrymen in these Our Dayes, New Shakspere Society, Series VI, No. 3, 1876, p.15.

(10) W.S. refers to the Pope through the Doctor’s speech in the third dialogue as, “that whore of Babylon.” ibid. p. 98.

An Interview with Rambler

If the 17th Earl of Oxford was the creative force of the works of Shakespeare, how is it that no one let the cat out of the bag? Ok, he was an aristocrat and writing was beneath him – he couldn’t disparage his own reputation. But he didn’t live in isolation and certainly having his works publicly performed invited commentary. Where is it?

Bought Wit is Best, or Tom Long’s Journey to London to buy Wit, is only the surface of commentary on the Earl, his relationship with other writers and William of Stratford. What lies beneath is a watery wonderland of allusions and in-jokes waiting to be explored. Rambler does just this on Quake-speare Shorterly blog. His blog is an eye-opener.

Plays of the time are full of insider jokes and references that he fastidiously unpacks in his posts. His blog demonstrates how well playwrights of the time knew each other, worked within each other’s circle of influence, and responded to Oxford/Shakespeare.

1. How did you first come to doubt that William of Stratford wrote the works?

I wasn’t interested in Shakespeare until my curiosity was aroused by reading a paragraph in a non-literary newsletter about J.T. Looney’s book. (“Shakespeare” Identified as Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.)

2. Did you discover allusions to Oxford in the Elizabethan drama first, or did you have an idea that Oxford was the one and go looking for him?

Reading about Vere (as I prefer to call him) in Looney was my first exposure to early modern literature. So after reading Looney I was already intrigued. Only later, after I’d read an Oxfordian book by H.H. Holland, did the identification of Vere in certain Shakespeare plays set me on my present path.

Shakespeare/Vere aka “Unknown Man clasping a Hand” By Nicholas Hilliard, with the kind permission of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.(1)

3. What is the most painfully, obvious allusion to Oxford that has been overlooked by mainstream scholars?

In the world of literary allusion, nothing is obvious.To put it another way, with circumstantial evidence there’s no such thing as ‘too much’. My approach entails an accumulation of allusions, such that the sheer weight of numbers becomes as close to irrefutable as possible in this kind of investigation.

For example, one of the most powerful discrete observations was made in Holland’s book, Shakespeare Through Oxford Glasses, published in 1923. While studying, Romeo and Juliet, he noted certain lines which seemed to him to bear on Vere’s genealogy. Here’s a transcript from pages 71-2 of his book:

Turning to the Oxford allusions, we will first consider Romeo’s remark in Act 1, Scene 4: “For I am proverbed with a grandsire phrase. I’ll be a candleholder and look on.” It is admitted that this may be taken for a very ordinary remark to be used in the play. So far as the play is concerned, it presumably means that as the proverb – which is as old as the time of his grandparents – has it, he will be a candle-holder and look on. This is quite a natural thing to say, assuming that there were such a proverb in existence, and there is no reason to question it. When, however, a lookout is kept for personal allusions, there are points in the remark which are noticeable. If it is not a presumption to say so, it does appear a clumsy way of expressing the meaning, to say he is proverbed with a phrase; and if this clumsiness is admitted, and it is consequently accepted as not the real meaning, then it appears that Romeo had some family motto, or something of that nature, to which he is punningly alluding. There is nothing, however, in his name to cause such a remark. Now turn to the Earl of Oxford. His grandmother’s name was Elizabeth Trussell. “Trussell” is an old way of spelling, “trestle”. [OED: “16-17 trussell”, under the entry for “trestle”] and an old meaning for the word trestle is a stand or frame for candles or tapers burning in religious worship [OED:”Obs.”]. It can, therefore, be literally said that through his grandmother, the Earl was a candle-holder. In his grandmother’s name of Trussell, he is, in fact, proverbed with a grandsire phrase, and consequently he will be a candle-holder and look on. If it is merely a coincidence it is a most extraordinary one.

Quite some time – several years, probably – after reading Holland, I saw a remark by Gabriel Harvey: “I cannot stand nosing of candlesticks, or euphuing of similies, ala Savoica,” which seemed to refer somehow to Vere and his relationship with Lyly at the Savoy. I wondered whether the “candleholder” (Vere/Shakespeare) and the “candlesticks” (Harvey) might not be a kind of related literary argot for Vere, a marker for someone not to be named outright. I was faced with the daunting task of exploring large areas of early modern prose and poetry and drama in order to confirm or explode my suspicions. Naturally there are considerable areas that I’ve not touched, because the field is so vast. Nevertheless, there are very, very strong indications that the word, “candlelight” is an allusion to Vere. So there seems to be a constellation incorporating candleholder-candlestick-candlelight. As more ground was covered in my investigation, it emerged that contemporary writers expanded the circumference of this marker group to include other concepts associated with light when they wanted to allude to Vere.

So Holland’s claim that Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet was alluding to Vere by means of the word, candleholder, was compelling but not conclusive, and of course has been dismissed by orthodox scholars, because you can’t prove a one-off. So far I’ve seen about a half-dozen uses of the word, candlelight, by several different authors, which seem to indicate Vere. You can either interpret this as sheer coincidence or as deliberate strategy by Vere’s contemporaries. That’s the way it is with circumstantial (textual) evidence and inductive reasoning: you take your choice. The candle/light constellation isn’t the only one I’ve discovered.

4. Do you have a favourite allusion?

See question 3. I also have a favourite type of allusion. As we know, the orthodox, i.e., Stratfordian chronology of Shakespeare’s plays is sacrosanct, broadly speaking. Hamlet, 1599-1602. Twelfth Night, 1601-2. No real wiggle room. It’s particularly gratifying to uncover allusions to Shakespeare plays in works by other writers at a time when Shakespeare’s plays had, according to the scholarly consensus, yet to be written.

For example, the character of Dowsecer in George Chapman’s, A Humorous Day’s Mirth. This successful play was written in 1597 and published in 1599. There is one scene which is clearly derived from Hamlet; in fact much of Dowsecer’s manner and personality shadows that of Hamlet. Millar Maclure, preeminent Chapman critic in his day, wrote in his 1966 literary biography of Chapman that, “Premonitions of Hamlet abound in this scene”. A less challenging explanation than that some mysterious psychic powers were bestowed on Chapman is that Hamlet was already in the domain of Shakespeare’s fellow writers.

Another instance relates to Twelfth Night. In his 1599 play, Every Man Out of His Humour, Ben Jonson supplied a remarkably accurate precis of the plot of Twelfth Night, a play which, we are confidently told, wouldn’t be composed for another two years. Still, the presence of more, yet more, psychic phenomena amongst Shakespeare’s contemporaries has made some critics nervous – as it should. The late Anne Barton, one of the most respected critics of recent times in 1981 called Jonson’s summary an, “alarmingly prescient account of Twelfth Night, a play Shakespeare had not written”. Three years later she wrote her literary biography entitled, Ben Jonson, Dramatist, by which time she had somehow suppressed her anxiety. She substituted for the phrase, “alarmingly prescient account of Twelfth Night,” the more quaint, though almost equally fantastic, “wistful anticipation of Twelfth Night“. Trepidation alleviated by a sprinkling of magic dust.

5. In his day, Shakespeare was not the most popularly patronised playwright. In light of the allusions, on the whole, how do you think other playwrights/poets saw him?

Every other writer perceived Shakespeare differently, and their views must have changed over time. So there is no, “on the whole.” A repeated theme seems to imagine Vere as an ass-genius, idiot-savant, wise fool. As a man who squandered his birthright, and violated the traditions that accompanied it. When they discuss him at all, other writers see Shaxper(2) as an ambitious parvenu in London, an aspiring man-about-town, someone whom Vere had taken under his wing but who ultimately disappointed the earl.

6.“Exit pursued by a bear,” – what does it mean?

It means that he exits and a bear is chasing him. Or it might allude to the Earl of Leicester, whose family emblem was a bear and ragged staff. Or it might be a metaphor for something else entirely. That’s what I mean by an accumulation of evidence. If the same or a similar stage direction or text were found elsewhere, it might give you some indication of what the direction in Winter’s Tale means. As things stand, the Winter’s Tale phrase remains a singleton, a one-off, with no precedent and no subsequent (which is a noun I just invented). There are no referents available for corroboration, so any interpretation remains guesswork.

Thank you, Rambler, for your detailed responses throwing light on Vere and his peers and allowing me to interview you for my blog.

Image Credit

(1) Nicholas Hillard’s Unknown Man clasping a Hand, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

(2) One of the many variations of the name used by the family of the countryman from Stratford who went to London and donned the mantle, William Shakespeare. (Crafty Theatre)


W.S. Veritatis – Elizabethan Lyricist

Who was this W.S. who mocked the countryman who came to London to make commerce with comedy? Who was he, who claimed to be the greatest wit in London? Who was this pamphleteer behind, Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit? Whose were the plays printed besides Shakespeare’s in the 3rd and 4th Folios? Who else’s plays were published in quarto editions bearing William Shakespeare’s name during the Stratford man’s lifetime?

Looking for works published with the initials, W.S. from the middle of the 16th Century until the publication of the Third Folio in 1664(1) I hoped to find an answer. Above the earliest instance of his initials, that I found, was a couple of songs by W.S.: A New Balade or Songe of the Lamb’s Feast and ANother out of Goodwill. They were published together in a pamphlet in Cologne in 1574. At the bottom of ANother out of Goodwill, W.S. signed the pamphlet  “PER W.S. VERITATIS”. The songs are printed with dense side references expressed with archaic Biblical abbreviations e.g., Math.22.a., Esa.2a.25b., and 2Tess.1.a.2.b..

Questions arise: why was the pamphlet printed in English and in Cologne; for whom was it intended; why does a song need textual notes; how are the biblical abbreviations to be deciphered; and who was W.S. Veritatis? With the kind permission of EEBO, I present this vernacular translation of the first of the two songs.

A New Ballad or Song of the Lamb’s Feast (1574)

I heard one say:

Come now away

Make no delay:

Alack, why stand ye then?

All is doubtless

 in readiness

There wants but Gesse,

To the Supper of the Lamb.

For he is now blest in very deed (refrain)

That’s found a Guest in the Marriage-weed. (refrain)

Continue reading

WS- Pamphleteer, Playwright, Poet…Persona Incognitus

Scaramouche, Scaramouche! But who is Mufario, and why does he hide his face behind a mask?

Musario, Musario! But who is Mufario, and why does he hide his face behind a mask?



“Musario, Musario! But who is Musario? And why does he hide his face behind a mask? You don’t know? Well, I’ll tell you . . . ” – misquoted from Scaramouche, MGM, 1952.



In my recent post, 3.What Authorship Question: Shakespeare? Who? Homer? I toyed with the idea that Shakespeare’s plays were written by several hands. Why? His universal view of women changes between the genres of his plays, and does so in a stratified way i.e., his comedies show a greater understanding than his histories.

Group Theory is not a new concept in terms of the discussion of the Bard’s immortal plays. It dates back to at least Delia Bacon’s, The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded, 1857. Despite the vaccuous, vapid logic of people who haven’t actually read her manifesto, and who will tell you otherwise, she was not a Baconian but a Groupist. She proposed a group of writers working together with the aim of bringing enlightenment to their audiences using that great educator of the soul, storytelling. Her group included Walter Raleigh, Francis Bacon, and the Earl of Oxford, among others.

The idea that more than one hand created the works, is popular today also among orthodox Shakespearean scholars who concede collaboration. A book that I have found very persuasive on the topic is John Mitchell’s, Who Wrote Shakespeare? (1996). In it he goes through the candidates, popular to his day, and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of their cases beginning with William of Stratford. If he had to choose a single candidate, he leans towards Bacon because he sees in the workings of Bacon, “(a) subtle, devious mind and (a) practical idealistic purpose.” (1). However, a single author doesn’t satisfy him and he at one point proposes a group headed by Oxford (2), that included the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Rutland, Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe, and of course, Bacon was an integral member .

The problem with Group Theory is talk. If such a Group existed and were sworn to secrecy, wouldn’t someone let the cat out of the bag? And what of the theatre shareholder who bore their label, William Shakespeare, wouldn’t he talk? Where is the evidence of this talk? Can it all be restricted to euphemistic and oblique references in plays whose meaning has now exited, pursued by a bear?

Well, it’s not all obscure. Sonnet 81 is the author’s paeanful dirge to his unacknowledged authorship. I am not the first, nor the last, to proclaim its importance to the SAQ. It’s the alpha and the omega of why William Shakspere was not the author, William Shakespeare. However, it isn’t the only published slight.

Bought Wit is Best, or Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit, by the anonymous pamphleteer, W.S., is very telling. The pamphlet is a parody of Theophrastus’ ancient parody on human character, Characters. Tom Long is a countryman who comes from the town of Gotham(3) where the citizens have the reputation of being witless. He has been sent to London by the aldermen because the town has been prevailed upon to stage a comedy or masque for the entertainment of its lord. The problem is that there is no one in the town with the wit to write it, so they have sent Tom off to procure wit by the horse-load. Unfortunately, Tom can’t read. If he is to learn wit, it has to be spoken to him. He hears tell of a marvellously witty scholar, Musario, who he presently encounters.

Musario proceeds to satirise all different kinds of scholars that he sees in society. Because life is a School of Repentance, his witty scholars are just people who have had to learn wisdom from their experiences. His advice to these people is that rather than suffer the consequences of experience, buying their wit would be preferable. Conversely, he also promotes the idea that by their suffering and repentence they have paid for their wit, or wisdom if you like.

Musario has a broader understanding of wit than we commonly use today. For Musario wit is wisdom, experience, understanding, and the ability to laugh at our own foibles. Thus he associates having wit with the capability to write comedies.

Musario is presented, and then presents himself, as a doyen of wit. The point of view of the author quickly moves from a god’s eye perspective to Musario’s perspective. Tom Long is presented as a country bumpkin. Coming from a place of no wit, he stays in London at least another five years after which time he has Musario’s words of wisdom published. Why? “So by mingling wit and mirth together, he might please those that desire to be merry.”

John Dee Seal

John Dee’s alchemical seal

The question to be asked of the pamphlet is whether Musario had in mind certain people who he was satirising? One of the scholars, Mr Phantastes bears a great resemblance to the polymath, John Dee. Musario describes a humoursome man with too many professions to spend his estate on, who cannot focus on one. He dabbles in alchemy to the point that he changes his own form until he looks, “a page of Saturn … melancholy black, looking so pale and wan.” Is he having a bit of fun at specific wits of London? Were they contributors of Shakespeare’s canon?

To tackle this question the first thing that has to be determined is when the pamphlet was written as opposed to when it was published. Musario tells us that it was first published 5 years after he wrote it. The copy that I have read was published in 1634. Nowhere on the front cover does it state whether it is a first or subsequent printing. By this reckoning the latest it could have been written is 1629. But when is the earliest? To ascertain this we may look at the names Musario gives his Wits. One of them is Pierce Pennilesse the Ploughman. Pierce Penniless first appeared in print in a pamphlet by Tom Nashe in 1592. It was an incredibly successful pamphlet of the early 1590’s going into three print runs and being translated into French.  It stands to reason that Bought Wit is Best was first published after Pierce Penniless, His Supplication to the Divell but soon enough in memory for the reference to have meaning.

 A probable date of composition for Bought Wit is Best is in the 1590s. Shakespeare’s greatest period of writing in London. Shakespeare, like Tom Long, was from the country and came to London to do commerce in wit. But if Tom Long is supposed to be Shakespeare, why is it that he can’t read? Mufario couldn’t mean William Shakespeare? Was he of the opinion that it pained Shakespeare to write, too?

Who was Musario anyway? Was Musario a construct of the author W.S., or was he W.S.? Who is Tom Long supposed to be? Is Gotham really the historic town in Lancashire? Is London meant to be London?

Who was the pamphleteer, playwright, poet and lyricist, W.S.? In the 1600s the publishers of the third and fourth folios knew him to be William Shakespeare. They published three of W.S.’s plays in the Third (1663) and Fourth (1685) Folios of the Collected Works of William Shakespeare: The History of Thomas Lord Cromwell, The Puritan Widow and The Tragedy of Locrine. All of these plays had been printed in quarto editions during the lifetime of William of Stratford with the initials, W.S.. According to Wikipedia, The Puritan Widow has now been reattributed to Thomas Middleton on stylistic comparison; the Tragedy of Locrine is still of unknown authorship, but it’s stiff verse excludes it from Shakespeare’s hand although he may have edited it; and the penmanship of The History of Thomas, Lord Cromwell, has also eluded scholars and baffled them with the strange way the first half of the play is more polished than the second.

For scholars, the three plays in question just don’t live up to their expectations of Shakespeare. But what of his juvenilia? Did he not cut his teeth somewhere? Was he born with a full set of teeth? Why were these plays excluded from the first and second Folios? Was there an induction process whereby only the best plays were included? These plays by W.S. were added to the canon alongside 4 others. Of the seven, only Pericles, Prince of Tyre has been acknowledged a genuine Shakespeare original. However, even Pericles is said to have been a collaborative effort.

Interestingly enough, when reading through the Wits satirised by W.S., a few bring to mind characters in Shakespeare’s plays.  Antonio from the Merchant of Venice can be though as having bought his wit thus:

There is a third way of buying wit, and that is by suretyship, when some young man or any other (being of a good nature, and so more easily deceived) is willing to pleasure his friend, and to stand between him and harm by being bound for him and by setting his hand and seal to it, makes so fair a hand, that in short time his friend shrinks away and he is left to the mercy of the creditor… (4)

Shakespeare’s fascination with the cuckholded husband also runs through a few of the characters as a consequence of their actions. Is this enough to pin the Shakespeare name on the pamphlet? Would he lampoon himself as being from the country, unable to read, unable to write comedy, and from a society whose greatest foible was its propensity to go to court over petty concerns eg a trespassing goose?

W.S. holds Tom Long apart from Musario. In fact, Musario’s wits are almost all Londoners. Be they men or women, they are from the merchant class or above. They are educated and have money to spend. He doesn’t understand the countryman’s concerns and can only poke fun at his antics involving lawyers in the city.

From Musario’s judgements we can infer certain things about him. He is a man-about-London-Town, a scholar and a wit. He has knowledge enough of English folklore, Old Testament stories and Greek mythology but not the confidence to quote in Greek, though he bandies about his Latin. He hints at his once having been wealthy when he talks of prodigal youth waxing philosophically. His advice to women on choosing a husband brand him an aristocrat. In marriage to choose money over birth/social rank is folly. As is choosing money over wit. In fact his advice is best kept by those with money and/or rank. In this pamphlet he presupposes that living in the country, in an agricultural profession precludes having wit.

The exhibited knowledge in this pamphlet overlaps with that of Shakespeare the writer down to Ben Jonson’s claim that his Latin was better than his Greek. But why would he lampoon countrymen, his own? And if he did, why doesn’t the satire encompass the various issues of countrymen and their character stock types? For Musario, countrymen are litigious, petty, uneducated “Goodmen Clodpoles” who in coming to the city can best hope for local preferment on their return having gained city wit.

We aren’t told whether Tom Long learns enough wit from Mufario to write his own comedies. From the little factual information that has come down to us about William of Stratford, the evidence of his life resonates with Tom Long and the Goodmen “Halfpenny” and “Clodpole” of Bought Wit is Best: a litigious nature, an extended stay in London, a return home a success, an interest in civic advancement (the attainment of the coat of arms for his father) a delving into the production of comedies, and a questionable education (the only evidence of his handwriting are the near illegible signatures and the story that it pained him to write.)

Was Tom Long meant for William Shakspere of Stratford? Are the Wits satirised in the pamphlet Shakespeare’s collaborators? Who was W.S.?

Further Reading

For references to the greatest poets in the Elizabethan Age, that omit Shakespeare and pre-date the publication of the first folio see: http://shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org/peacham-on-oxford/

On Pierce Penniless https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierce_Penniless


  • Mitchell, John, Who Wrote Shakespeare, Thames and Hudson, London, 1996, Chapter IX: A Last Look Round, 259.
  • ibid, p.244.
  • During the reign of King John the citizens of Gotham did not want the upkeep of a new highway by their town so they feigned madness to dissuade the powers that were from building the King’s road through there. The legend of the madness of their citizens stuck.
  • S., W, Tom Long’s Journey to London to Buy Wit or Bought Wit is Best, E.A. for Francis Smith, London,1634. From EEBO.

Photo Credit

John Dee’s seal

Photo credit: Arenamontanus / Foter / CC BY