The story told in the pages presented here has taken a very long time to unfold. It began in 1986 (two years short of my 50th birthday) with Ogburn’s The Mysterious William, published two years earlier. Having read everything I could find on the life of Lord Byron and knowing something of the lives of other great writers and of geniuses in other fields, I was immediately convinced by Ogburn’s argument. His evidence that the Earl of Oxford was the authentic author of the Shakespeare canon explained the utter lack of any connection between Shakespeare’s magical works and what was known of the life of William of Stratford, so barren of any connection with the history of the period, the Court, or the London Stage. What he didn’t explain to my satisfaction was the reason why the truth had remained hidden for so long.
It also failed to address what seemed to me were crucial questions, the first having to do with Shakespeare’s sources: where had Oxford acquired the education that provided him with his plots and characters? The second had to do with the name Shakespeare: during that outburst of literary brilliance that we know as the English Literary Renaissance, was Oxford the only Court writer who published under the name of an otherwise unknown standin? After 30 years I’ve finally finished a book that deals with his education, his childhood and his final years. I hope to deal with the second, the University Wits, once the first is published. The gap between the two is just too wide, the evidence for each too complex, for both to be dealt with properly under a single cover.
Despite the problems faced by everyone who has attempted to resolve these questions, a few strokes of luck along the way have enabled the search to continue when it seemed the path had disappeared. The arrival of the internet in the mid-90s, with its vastly improved opportunities for study: google editions of arcane books that earlier I could only have read in a college library reference room and Amazon’s bounty of out-of-print editions put information in my hands within minutes that previously would have taken days, weeks, and months of time spent in libraries or on the phone. The ability to question academics, archivists, and librarians located thousands of miles away, to communicate quickly and easily with other authorship scholars, provided what would otherwise have simply been impossibly expensive and time-consuming.
The creation of The Oxfordian in 1997 through the Shakespeare Oxford Society gave me the opportunity to benefit by the work of top authorship scholars like Richard Whalen, Ramon Jiménez, Nina Green, Robert Detobel, Robert Brazil, Gary Goldstein, Roger Stritmatter, Andy Werth, Chris Paul, Frank Davis, Eddi Jolly, and Richard Kennedy. Financial contributions by hundreds of Oxfordians has been providential in making it possible to continue whenever I began to question whether or not it was worth the effort.
Of the many books that have helped to resolve these questions, two stand above all the others: Mary Dewar’s 1964 biography of Sir Thomas Smith opened the door to a fuller understanding of Shakespeare’s education; and Boston University Psychology Professor Ellen Winner’s Gifted Childen: the Myth and the Reality (1996) provided the structure that perfectly fit what Dewar suggested about his childhood. Both of these books came to me at moments when I most needed what they had to tell. While the bizarre suppression of Smith by 20th-century Tudor historians remains a perplexing issue, Dewar’s book not only described the particular bent of his beliefs––so in keeping with what Shakespeare reveals in his works––it also led me to John Strype’s 1698 biography of Smith, which provided a list of the books available to Oxford during his formative years, and their obvious identification with Shakespeare’s sources as described by Geoffrey Bullough in his eight volumes on the subject.
Studies in England
Three trips to England provided the time and opportunity to study the issues involved in ways that were impossible in America, even in Boston, where for eight years I had the advantage of the libraries at Boston and Northeastern Universities, Harvard, MIT, and the great Boston Public Library. Three months in 1999 on a work study program through Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, and again in 2004, six weeks on a fellowship raised through the efforts of Dr. Daniel Wright and the Shakespeare Authorship Conference at Concordia, opened my way to the collections at the British Library, the libraries at Lambeth Palace and Westminster Abbey, the National Portrait Gallery and the Stationers’ Registry in London. Further studies were possible in 2006 when Mark Rylance, the Director of the New Globe Theater, invited me to speak at his first SAT forum, where I had the pleasure to address an appreciative audience on Oxford’s own reasons for hiding his identity.
In 2004, at the Essex County record office in Chelmsford I saw maps of the places where Oxford had lived in Essex: the area surrounding his birthplace, Castle Hedingham, and east along the river Colne where once had stood his estate of Wivenhoe. Maps connected the area surrounding Hill Hall towards the north end of the Forest of Waltham where de Vere lived with Smith from 1558 to 1562 with the area around Havering Palace that may yet prove to be where he lived for the final four or five years of his life.
Oxfordian friends took me to see some of these places with my own eyes. Nothing aids understanding like seeing where someone once lived, particularly the landscapes surrounding Hill Hall, Wivenhoe, and most particularly Ankerwyke, where he lived during his most impressionable years, all of which are still much as they were in Smith and Oxford’s time, and one of them, Hill Hall, boasts the house itself, as it was not long after they were parted. I saw the tombs of his ancestors in a little church near Earl’s Colne. London, of course, has changed too much to see anything from when he lived there, though I was able to locate the spot where Fishers Folly once stood, now overwhelmed by the financial district and the streets surrounding Liverpool Station. That he might well be buried at Westminster Abbey beneath the spot now covered by the great statue of Shakespeare, placed there by Freemasons in 1740, was immensely moving.
At Oxford I spent two days at the Bodleian in search of the horoscope of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, Amelia Lanier, as recorded by Simon Forman in 1597 and published by A.L. Rowse in 1974. The realization that the horoscope mentioned by Rowse was only a horary chart for the date and time when Amilia posed her question was not the only disappointment suffered on this trip. In the Old Library at Queens’ College Cambridge I was trusted for several hours with two of Smith’s personal notebooks, both containing material relating to the period that de Vere was with him, but apart from the room in his home at Ankerwycke labelled “My Lord’s chambre,” there was nothing that obviously related to Oxford (these notebooks could certainly bear a close examination by someone better qualified to interpret the scribbles of the Secretary Hand than myself).
This doesn’t mean that the boy was not with Smith (a negative cannot be proved with another negative); it simply extends the blanket of silence that covered de Vere almost from his birth, a silence directly related to the political turmoil that has labelled the Queen then in power “Bloody Mary.” As for the Latin diary in which Smith lists the birth data of his family members, the only two who were not members of his family were Martin Luther, and Smith’s colleague John Cheke (both dead by then). At a time when people believed that having a man’s horoscope could give his enemies the kind of intimate information that could cause him grief, to record such sensitive information about someone so close to the Crown as the heir to the Oxford earldom would have been seen as, not just bad manners, but tantamount to treason.
Until we know more, it must be taken as a dependable conjecture, that in 1554 the infant Edward was transferred by the protestant leadership to a safe place far from the hotbed of dissention that was Essex, to the more peaceful neighborhood of Windsor Castle, the nation’s great military fortress. It would be entirely in keeping with that scenario that at that moment of greatest anxiety, the individual who was most responsible for bringing the child to live with his own trusted tutor was the leader of the protestant faction at Court, William Cecil, later Oxford’s guardian, still later his father-in-law.
By 2005, with so much still left to be explored, it was time to follow the evidence where others had not ventured. There was simply too much to show that the full story involves far too many individuals from that period to be just about Oxford and Shakespeare: too many other courtiers with nothing published to substantiate their reputations as writers; too many powerful but unacknowledged patrons; too many published works by writers lacking appropriate biographies; too many coincidences; too many anomalies; too many empty spots in the record that always seemed to appear just where there should have been a record in the minutes of the Privy Council about actions taken with regard to the London Stage.
If candidates like Bacon, Marlowe, Derby, Raleigh and Mary Sidney couldn’t possibly be Shakespeare, then what part did they play in the story in which Oxford was the primary but surely not the only figure? What was the Queen’s role? And how about the patrons that are almost universally ignored by both academics and authorship scholars? Surely the full truth about Shakespeare requires that these stories that presently float unconnected either to Shakespeare or to each other, be brought into a comprehensive picture in which history explains literature and literature brings history to life.
And there was a second factor. My fellow Oxfordians have not been so interested in moving beyond the limits defined by the Academy. It began to seem that efforts to disprove the orthodox version of Shakespeare’s biography by attacking one or another of its points was futile. Without the big picture, efforts to prove important points too long ignored, or to disprove academic fantasies and falsehoods, simply continue to fall by the wayside. Stuck on a playing field defined by the Academy, authorship scholars are relegated to the level of boys throwing rocks at a monolithic fortress. Limited to what the Academy considers evidence, afraid to make use of the function known in Science as hypothesis, they’ve continued to go in circles now for over a century, providing proofs that, important as many are, never get us any closer to forcing the Academy to turn towards the truth.
So successful have been Oxford’s protectors––the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Jonson and the Pembrokes––in spinning the authorship in a direction that would continue to protect their lordly playwright (whose daughter by then was married to a Pembroke) and all the other great Court figures that he’d satirized in his plays, so dedicated to protecting this ancient secret have been the university philologists, who in the early 20th century began spinning it further and further from any recognizable human truth, that the only way to get back to a more natural reality was to begin again at the beginning, and deal with what facts there were as would an anthropologist, psychologist, or sociologist––like an archaeologist, to dig through the sands of spin to locate here and there shards of the true story, fitting them together into something that holds water.
With the final chapters came the awareness of the immense power that Robert Cecil held over the record during the final decade of his life. Painstakingly assembled by his father through his 30 years as Secretary of State, added to by Cecil during his own 30 years as Secretary of State, the awareness of the opportunity this great collection gave the Cecils to control what future historians would see explained how the State records were robbed of anything that connected them, and the Privy Council, with the London Stage (beyond orders to close the theaters due to plague). The access this gave them to Oxford’s letters, Leicester’s papers, all of Essex’s papers, Walsingham’s papers also gave them the power, unprecedented in history either before or since, to control how the history of the Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods would be told by future historians, all of whom have had to depend on the archives at Hatfield House ever since.
With this also came a fuller understanding of how Cecil would have viewed the plays in which himself, his father and his sister had been portrayed by Oxford for all the world to see. That characters, not only in Hamlet but also in Coriolanus, Much Ado, All’s Well, The Tempest, Measure for Measure, and King Lear, had they been known to be the work of Oxford, would have disgraced the Cecils, known by all to be his in-laws, suggests Robert Cecil’s motives in his attempts as Secretary of State to destroy the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. That the disasters that struck the London Stage as soon as Cecil began wielding the powers of Secretary of State were meant to destroy its power to defame his family may be purely circumstantial, but what these circumstances suggest is far too likely to ignore or dismiss as mere conjecture.
That the name Shake-speare (with the hyphen that requires that it be pronounced as a pun) first appeared on a published play immediately following the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s production of Richard III for an audience that included hundreds of parliamentarians from all over England in town for the Queen’s Ninth Parliament, or that this permanently blackened Cecil’s reputation to the extent that his biographers have been forced to admit that it did, is relevant to the history of the Stuart kings. That these are not just amusing anecdotes from literature but facets of history that need to be integrated into the history of the war between the parliamentarians and the Crown makes this an important piece of English history.
30 years is a long time to spend on a single book, but it kept being prolonged as the investigation continued to turn up new leads. Those who know me may recall how many times I announced that the book was finished! Again and again, while focusing for the last time on some detail, a new vista would open up that demanded further investigation. In fact it’s only been within the last year or two that several lines of inquiry have come together that provide the final chapter of Oxford’s life, and the first chapter in the story of how he lost credit for his amazing accomplishments, which go far beyond the writing of 38 plays to the creation of the London Stage, the launching of a genuine English literature, and the creation of the language now spoken by the entire world.
So important is the story of Shakespeare to the history of England, and to the history of its English-speaking descendants all over the world, not only through its literature but to our self-understanding over a wide range of cultural factors including psychology, religion, art and politics, that this wrong-headed version of how the Shakespeare canon came to be cannot be rectified until the truth about his identity has been revealed. This can only be done by publishing books by outsiders like myself, for so bitterly does the Academy punish one of its own, not just for addressing Oxford’s authorship, but––as the dropping of Sir Thomas Smith from the accounts of 20th-century Tudor historians would suggest––even for providing the slightest bit of information that might point in Oxford’s direction.
Shakespeare Studies as pursued by the universities today can only be seen as a rather peculiar cult, necessary perhaps 400 years ago, but utterly without value today. It’s time that the Shakespeare Authorship Question, disdained for over a century by bean- counting university philologists and bibliographers, be taken up by historians, psychologists, sociologists, cultural anthropologists and poets, working together. Let’s see what they come up with.