Oxford and Robert Greene

All of Oxford’s covers were real people.  William of Stratford was a real person, so was John Lyly, Anthony Munday, George Gascoigne, and George Pettie.  Some of these are more easily connected to Oxford than others.  No one denies that Lyly and Munday were his secretaries or that Gascoigne was a member of the Cecil House coterie during the time he lived there.  If he was the “Richard Vere” recorded as studying under Canon Thomas Bernard at Christ Church College in 1564, then George Pettie was his schoolmate.  Others like Thomas Lodge, Arthur Brooke, Barnabe Riche and Richard Edwards hover within sight of solid connections, though still not quite within reach.  William of Stratford’s connection through Richard Field requires more solid evidence of a Field/Oxford connection than their shared connection to Blackfriars.  Most elusive of all is his connection to a viable Robert Greene.

Yet there is a Greene-Oxford connection that may repay the effort when someone has the time to do the kind of research that can only be done at the Essex County Record Office in Chelmsford.  Someone with local credentials within Essex might be received most warmly.

Rooke Greene of Little Sampford

Rooke Greene, Esq., as he was usually termed, was certainly a gentleman.  As the son of an Essex squire, Sir Edward Greene, he and his father and the sons, brothers and cousins who lived in the neighborhood of Hedingham Castle were descended from an ancestor who had acquired their manor, Sampford Hall, in the time of Richard II (Burke’s Peerage 224).

At a court hearing held in July 1585 to determine ownership of a manor formerly owned by Earl John, Oxford’s legitimacy as Earl of Oxford once again came into question, reopening old wounds with regard to his father’s mental condition and treatment of women (Nelson 14-19).  Among the five older witnesses called to testify was one Rooke Greene, then about 60 years of age, in whose house had occured some of the scandalous events surrounding the marriage of the 16th Earl to Oxford’s mother.  As Greene testified in 1585, his father, Sir Edward, “dwelling near unto the same Earl’s fathers house,” had played host to Earl John and his first wife, Dorothy Neville, as they “came often together to this Examinant’s father’s house.”  In fact, the relationship may have had kinship overtones as it looks as though the Greenes were related to the de Veres through a mutual connection to the Wentworths, another name prominent in Essex.

In Earl John’s will of 1562, a John Grene is listed with 28 other “grooms” who are to receive bequests (40 shillings, about £1200 in today’s currency).  All we know from this is that this John Greene was of a working age in 1562 when Earl John’s final will was drawn up.  One or more John Greenes (or Grene, as it’s often spelled) appear in Emmison’s collection as minor beneficiaries in wills from the late 1590s, too late to be the same John Greene, but probably related to Earl John’s benficiary in some way, since these were all wills for people from villages surrounding Hedingham.  There is also a 1554 will for a Robert Greene from Earl’s Colne.

We know a few things about Rooke Greene.  He and all his family were Catholic recusants, suffering frequent fines and even imprisonment throughout the 1580s for refusing to attend Protestant service.  In 1564, Rooke sent his two older sons, William and Richard, to Caius (pron. Keys) College, Cambridge, along with four other youths who apparently had been studying at Rooke Greene’s home, Sandford House (Caius archivist).  Caius College was known as a predominantly Catholic college.  Catholics often chose to have their children educated in their own homes or the homes of leading Catholics in their community, to avoid having them indoctrinated into the Protestant religion.  The boys were enrolled in October, so they probably missed the June commencement where Oxford and Rutland got their degrees and the play Damon and Pythias was performed.

Although there is no known connection as yet between the family of Rooke Greene and a Robert Greene who might have acted as a cover for Oxford during the years he was publishing the love pamphlets that inaugurated serial publication in England, there is a connection that could use further research.

Oxford’s copyholder

On February 2, 1586, an agreement was drawn up between Oxford and 16 copyholders (tenants), of a manor in Sible Hedingham known as Grays, in which Oxford, as their landlord, agreed that they had certain traditional rights so long as they paid their rents on time.   Whether this had any connection with the previously discussed lawsuit of July 1585 doesn’t appear, although there must have been some situation that created the need for a signed agreement.  One of these 16 tenants was a Robert Greene, holder of copy on “one customary messuage or tenement, and nine acres of land, meadow, and pasture more or less, six shillings and eight pence.”  Sible Hedingham being located a short distance from Sampford, Thaxted, Navestock, Toppesfield, and the other villages in which members of the Greene family lived during that period, so it’s fair to assume that this Robert Greene was a member of the same family.

The point, however, is that we now know that there was a Robert Greene who was (potentially) known to Oxford, who lived on land owned by Oxford during the period that pamphlets were being published as by a Robert Greene.

Although this doesn’t give us the right to claim a personal connection between Robert Greene, Oxford’s copyholder and the earl himself, when discussing who might have been the Robert Greene of the pamphlets, this Robert Greene living in Oxford’s home territory, holding a lease on several acres of Oxford land from his father before him, most likely a member of the family of which Catholic recusant Rooke Greene, the son of one of Oxford’s father’s close associates, was a leading member, certainly carries more weight than that of the various Robert Greenes put forth by Crupi, Collins, et al, names whose connections are based on the least dependable evidence of all, anything published as by the pamphleteer and playwright Robert Greene.

Five Robert Greenes into one

Ignoring the the cordwainer from Yorkshire or the saddler from Norwich (Crupi 3), both located as far as possible from London, we have five Robert Greenes who may or may not have acted as Oxford’s cover for the ten years that pamphlets under that name got published.  Chronologically, these are 1) the Robert Greene who got his BA from St. Johns, Cambridge in 1580; 2) the one who got his MA from Clare Hall, Cambridge in 1583; 3) the one who got the donation from Leicester’s chamberlain for his dedication to Ciceronis Amor in 1585; 4) the copyholder whose lease at Sible Hedingham was guaranteed by the Earl of Oxford in 1585-6; and/or 5) the “saddler” living at the Savoy who married Isabelle Moyle in 1594 (Collins 1.fn 1).

Which or all of these were one and the same, or were involved in Oxford’s attempts to hide his involvement  in publishing the Greene canon we can’t say at this point.  What we can say is that the copyholder has a biography a good deal like that of Oxford’s final and longest lasting cover,William of Stratford.  The copyholder lives far from London, he’s (probably) a member of a recusant family, he has no known ties to the world of the theater or publishing, and we have no evidence that he could write.  Unfortunately, as of now, that’s all we know.

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