1574 "THE LITTLE LOVE-GOD" = THE BATH PROLOGUE (two sonnets)
The Earl of Oxford writes Sonnets 153 & 154 about his visit with Elizabeth and her Court to the CITY OF BATH in August, a few months after the birth of their unacknowledged royal son, to be raised as HENRY WRIOTHESLEY, THIRD EARL OF SOUTHAMPTON. Oxford regards the infant son as a "god" on earth or king, who has been "disarmed" by his mother the Virgin Queen:
The little Love-God lying fast asleep...
Was sleeping by a Virgin hand disarmed. (Sonnet 154, line 1, 8
1575: BIRTH OF ELIZABETH VERE
Anne Cecil gives birth to her first child, Elizabeth Vere, while Oxford is traveling in France, Germany and Italy. Upon his return next year he will refuse to acknowledge paternity and separate from the marriage for the next five years.
1581: HENRY WRIOTHESLEY A ROYAL WARD
Upon the death of the Second Earl of Southampton, seven-year-old Henry Wriothesley becomes the eighth and final royal ward of the Queen in the custody of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, while Oxford reunites with Anne Cecil.
1586: OXFORD RECEIVES 1,000-POUND GRANT
Edward de Vere receives an annual grant from the Government of 1,000 pounds. To this point he has been the center of the English renaissance of literature and drama, patronizing writers and play companies and writing the early versions of plays which will be revised and begin appearing under the name of "Shakespeare" in 1598.
The year is also notable for the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots (with Oxford serving on the jury), and her subsequent execution on 1587.
1588: DEATH OF ANNE CECIL
Anne Cecil dies in June at age thirty-one, leaving behind three daughters: Elizabeth, Bridget and Susan. Her death possibly is a suicide, as will be depicted by Ophelia's fate in Hamlet.
1588: DEFEAT OF THE SPANISH ARMADA
England defeats the Spanish Armada. Celebrating the victory as well as the thirtieth anniversary of Elizabeth's reign, Lord Burghley and his hunchbacked son, ROBERT CECIL, age twenty-two, look ahead to controlling the succession to her throne.
1589: MARRIAGE PROPOSAL
Burghley initiates a proposal for his fourteen-year-old granddaughter, Elizabeth Vere, to marry sixteen-year-old HENRY WRIOTHESLEY, who will inherit the title Third Earl of Southampton when he reaches his majority. If the Lord Treasurer's royal ward agrees to enter this Cecil alliance, Burghley will lend support for him to succeed Elizabeth. When Henry Wriothesley becomes King Henry IX, his wife will become Queen and, through her, the Cecils will have achieved royal status.
PART TWO - KEY SONNETS LISTED IN ORDER, WITH NOTES ON
THE HISTORICAL EVENTS TO WHICH THEY ARE LINKED
THE FAIR YOUTH SERIES
1590 - 1600 "LORD OF MY LOVE" (26 sonnets)
SONNETS 1 - 17, 1590-1591 -- THE MARRIAGE ALLIANCE (PART ONE OF THE FAIR YOUTH SERIES)
Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford completes the first seventeen verses to Henry Wriothesley, coinciding with his son's seventeenth birthday and indirectly urging him to accept the Cecil proposal that he marry fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Vere -- his daughter of record (but perhaps not his biological offspring) and Burghley's granddaughter. The opening two lines of the Sonnets, urging Southampton to propagate so that Elizabeth's dynasty of the Tudor Rose won't die with her, announce a dynastic diary:
From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beautys Rose might never die (Sonnet 1, lines 1-2)
Henry Wriothesley rejects any alliance with the Cecils, however. In the coming years he will become closely allied with another royal ward, Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex (1566-1601), and together they will challenge the influence over Queen Elizabeth wielded by William and Robert Cecil along with their control over the inevitable royal succession.
These opening sonnets by "Shakespeare" correspond with each of Henry Wriothesley's birthdays up to age 17 in 1591, so that the "numbers" of the diary comprise "the living record" of him up to now:
If I could write the beauty of your eyes,
And in fresh numbers number all your graces (Sonnet 17, lines 5-6)
The next nine "numbers" will correspond with each of his birthdays from Sonnet 18 (age 18 in 1592) up to Sonnet 26 (age 26 in 1600).
SONNETS 18 - 26, 1592-1600 -- THE "SHAKESPEARE" COMMITMENT (PART TWO OF THE FAIR YOUTH SERIES)
SONNET 18: PLEDGE OF SUPPORT: 1592
Now remarried and withdrawn from public life, Oxford continues the dynastic diary for Henry Wriothesley in this golden time, represented as a "Summers Day" of royal hope. The younger earl is bent on casting his lot with Essex against the Cecils in the endgame of political struggle to control the succession, a project that seems precarious at best:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee. (Sonnet 18, lines 13-14)
SONNET 19: "VENUS AND ADONIS": 1593
Oxford's newborn son by his second wife is christened "Henry" de Vere, the first appearance of that name in the 500-year earldom. A few weeks later he puts forth "William Shakespeare" in print for the first time, with his public dedication of Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley, who may have acted as godfather to Henry de Vere in addition to having inspired the published poem, which describes his birth as a "purple [royal] flower" to Elizabeth (Venus) and Oxford (Adonis).
Henry Wriothesley is not only the rightful heir to the throne but also the heir of the poem itself, as set out in this dedication:
"But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, and never after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest"
SONNET 20: "LUCRECE": 1594
Oxford puts forth "William Shakespeare" for the second time, now with his public dedication of Lucrece (later entitled The Rape of Lucrece) to Henry Wriothesley, pledging his support:
"The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end. What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours"
Henry Wriothesely becomes Third Earl of Southampton, according to his "official" birthday in October. At Court he gains the highest favor of Queen Elizabeth.
SONNET 24: DEATH OF WILLIAM CECIL: 1598
William Cecil Lord Burghley dies at seventy-eight. His little hunchbacked son, Secretary Robert Cecil, assumes power over Elizabeth's government.
Southampton marries maid-of-honor Elizabeth Vernon, a cousin of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, signifying his determination to win the power struggle against Cecil.
The poet "Shakespeare" is announced by Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia as the author of popular plays performed at the Court of Elizabeth and on the public stage. Oxford has already linked Southampton to the pen name and the narrative poems, but now, through Meres, he links him to the stage works as well, increasing his public support of him while remaining behind the scenes.
SONNET 25: QUEEN ELIZABETH'S DISFAVOR: 1599
The earls of Southampton and Essex return in defeat and disgrace from the Irish military campaign and find themselves in extreme disfavor with Queen Elizabeth, a result that had been the aim of Secretary Robert Cecil in the first place.
Two verses as by "William Shakespeare," printed in The Passionate Pilgrim this year, will reappear in 1609 (in slightly different form) as Sonnets 138 and 144 of the Dark Lady series to Queen Elizabeth I of England.
Robert Cecil continues to solidify his control over the Queen while Essex remains under house arrest and Southampton publicly associates himself with the "Shakespeare" works performed on public stages such as the Globe.
SONNET 26: THE EVE OF THE ESSEX REBELLION: 1600
Southampton and Essex, still in disfavor, begin plans to remove Robert Cecil from his position of power over the throne and the royal succession.
Oxford concludes his first sequence of private verses to Southampton with Sonnet 26 having numbered the verses to represent the younger earls twenty-six birthdays from 1575 to 1600. He reaffirms his devotion to his royal son as a vassal pledging loyalty and duty to his king:
Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written ambassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit.
Duty so great... (Sonnet 26, lines 1-5)
THE PRISON YEARS
SONNETS 27 - 106
1601 - 1603 "MY LOVELY BOY" (100 Sonnets)
SHAKESPEARE'S "RICHARD II" AT THE GLOBE: FEBRUARY 7, 1601
With Oxford's consent, Southampton arranges for the Lord Chamberlain's Men to perform Richard II at the Globe Playhouse, showing the deposition of an English monarch to conspirators of the Essex Rebellion. The play depicts King Richard the Second as a weak monarch who gives up his crown to Bolinbroke (Henry IV), as they hope Elizabeth will do. Later, after the Essex Rebellion is crushed, she herself will remark,
"I am Richard II, know ye not that?" -- but the author "William Shakespeare" was never called to account for his part in the uprising.
SONNET 27: THE ESSEX REBELLION: FEBRUARY 8, 1601
The Essex Rebellion against Robert Cecil fails. Essex and Southampton are imprisoned that evening in the Tower of London. Oxford begins a new series of sonnets to his disgraced royal son, whose image appears to him as "a jewel hung in ghastly night." He will write eighty verses during Southampton's imprisonment and then twenty more until immediately after Elizabeth's funeral, comprising exactly one hundred verses ending with Sonnet 126.
SONNET 30: OXFORD SUMMONED TO TRIAL: FEBRUARY 10, 1601
The Privy Council summons Oxford among the sixteen earls and nine barons who will sit on the tribunal of peers at the "sessions" or of Essex and Southampton at Westminster Hall:
When to the Sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past (Sonnet 30, lines 1-2)
SONNET 33: "MY SUNNE": FEBRUARY 14, 1601
Filled with grief over Southampton's act of treason, which has dashed any hope he might gain the throne, Oxford glances back at the birth of his royal son and the refusal of Elizabeth ("Regina" or "region cloud") to acknowledge him:
Even so my Sunne one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant splendor on my brow,
But out alack, he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath masked him from me now. (Sonnet 33, lines 9-12)
SONNET 34: "RANSOM": FEBRUARY 15, 1601
As a member of the jury at the trial, Oxford will have no choice but to condemn his royal son to death; but he pleads with Elizabeth and Cecil, his brother-in-law, to be able to pay a form of "ransom" to save Southampton, to whom he writes:
Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief:
Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss,
The offenders sorrow lends but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offences loss.
Ah but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds,
And they are rich, and ransom all ill deeds. (Sonnet 34, lines 9-14)
SONNET 35: OXFORD VOWS TO HELP HIS SON: FEBRUARY 16, 1601
Oxford blames himself for having encouraged Southampton's "trespass" or treason by "compare," i.e., by writing the deposition scene of Richard II in addition to lending other public support with plays of "Shakespeare" for the public stage. Southampton has committed a "sensual fault" (a riotous, willful crime) against the state; Oxford must be his "adversary" at the trial, by voting to find him guilty of high treason, but will also be his "advocate" by sacrificing himself, to save his son's life and gain his ultimate release along with a royal pardon:
All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authorizing thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting salving thy amiss,
Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are:
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense,
Thy adverse party is thy Advocate,
And gainst myself a lawful plea commence (Sonnet 35, lines 5-11)
SONNET 38: THE TRIAL: FEBRUARY 19, 1601
Oxford appears at the head of the tribunal sitting in judgment at the Trial of Essex and Southamptonl. The two earls are found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. In voting to condemn his own son, Oxford performed his political duty as a servant of the state; now he must perform his personal duty as a father and as the subject of a royal prince.
SONNET 44: EXECUTION OF ESSEX: FEBRUARY 25, 1601
Essex is beheaded at the Tower, while Southampton remains in the prison. Robert Cecil is now without any rival in terms of his power behind the throne and his ability to engineer the succession of King James of Scotland. Oxford is forced to work with Cecil to help Southampton.
SONNET 55: "THE LIVING RECORD": MARCH 8, 1601
Anticipating Southampton's execution, Oxford is creating the most intensely sustained poetical sequence the world has known. It will become "the living record" of his son's royal claim for posterity:
Not marble nor the gilded monument
Of Princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme...
Nor Mars his sword nor wars quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth! Your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity (Sonnet 55, lines 1-2, 7-12)
Four other conspirators of the Essex Rebellion are executed on March 18th, leaving only Southampton to follow.
SONNET 66: REPRIEVE: MARCH 19, 1601
Oxford records his profound emotional reaction to the private news that Queen Elizabeth has spared Southampton from execution.
Because of the maneuvering by Oxford and Robert Cecil behind the scene, Elizabeth has commuted Southampton's death sentence to a term of life in prison as a base commoner. Knowing he will be forced to forfeit his son's royal claim, Oxford would prefer to die -- but for the fact he would be leaving him alone in the Tower:
Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that to die, I leave my love alone. (Sonnet 66, lines 13-14)
No public explanation for the reprieve is given, nor is any official record made, enabling Cecil to keep the death threat hanging over Southampton until Elizabeth dies and James succeeds. Now Oxford must gain a further reduction of the judgment against his son in order to secure his eventual liberation and a royal pardon.
To this point, forty days since Southamptons imprisonment, Oxford has kept pace by writing and compiling forty matching sonnets. This anxious period has been akin to the forty days and forty nights of fasting in the wilderness by Jesus (Matthew, 4.2), who tells the Devil: "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matthew, 4.4.) a statement to be echoed by "every word doth almost tell my name,/ Showing their birth, and where they did proceed" in Sonnet 76. Now, having completed the forty verses from Sonnet 27 to Sonnet 66, Oxford is committed to building a "monument" for his son.
SONNETS 76-77: THE "INVENTION": MARCH 29-30, 1601
Here, at what will become the exact midpoint of Sonnets 1-152 and of the 100 verses of Sonnets 27-126, Oxford pauses to describe his "invention" of writing and arranging the Sonnets, which revolves around "all one, ever the same" -- signifying Southampton, whose motto is One for All, All for One, and Queen Elizabeth, whose motto is Ever the Same, along with Ever, a glance at himself as Edward de Vere or E. Ver.
Sonnets 76-77 serve as the entranceway into the carefully arranged and elegant of the monument.
The "invention" for the Shakespearean sonnets employs "every word" from the "birth" of Southampton in 1574 to where his royal life has managed to "proceed" in the entries of this diary:
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed? (Sonnet 76, lines 5-8)
Southampton and his "love," or royal blood, remain the constant "argument" of the Shakespeare Sonnets; therefore, Oxford must keep "dressing old words new" to continue writing about the same thing while avoiding the appearance of relentless repetition:
O know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument.
So all my best is dressing old words new, (Sonnet 76, lines 9-12)
He then dedicates "this book" to Southampton:
And of this book this learning mayst thou taste
These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,
Shall profit thee, and much enrich thy book. (Sonnet 77, lines 4, 13-14)
SONNETS 78-86: THE SACRIFICE: MARCH 31 APRIL 8, 1601
As Oxford bargains with Robert Cecil behind the scenes, he begins the so-called Rival Poet series of Shakespeares Sonnets, recording his need to sacrifice and obliterate his identity -- as Southampton's true father and, thereby, as author of the Shakespeare works that were publicly dedicated to him. Edward de Vere's royal son will live in the Shakespeare Sonnets as King Henry IX of England:
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I (once gone) to all the world must die (Sonnet 81, lines 5-6)
Oxford pledges again to build this "monument" to him:
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall oer-read
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead.
You still shall live (such virtue hath my Pen)
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men. (Sonnet 81, lines 9-10)
SONNET 87: "MISPRISION" OF TREASON: APRIL 1601
Oxford records the bittersweet bargain made for Southamptons life, involving the reduction of his crime from high treason to the "better judgment" of "misprision" of treason. This lesser offense, allowing him to escape execution but requiring life imprisonment, paves the way for his potential release from the Tower and the restoration of his earldom.
The "great gift" of his life (and blood) will continue:
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgment making. (Sonnet 87, lines 11-12)
The price to be paid is that Southampton must henceforth give up any claim to the throne of England:
Thus have I had thee as a dream doth flatter:
In sleep a King, but waking no such matter: (Sonnet 87, lines 13-14)
SONNET 97: FIRST ANNIVERSARY OF REBELLION: FEBRUARY 8, 1602
Oxford records the passing of the first "fleeting year" following the Rebellion of February 8, 1601, when his royal son began his imprisonment.
SONNET 104: SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF REBELLION:FEBRUARY 8, 1603
The Earl of Oxford records the passing of the second full year since the Essex Rebellion, referring to the "three winters" since 1600, when the hopeful time of Southampton's life came to an end.
SONNET 105: DEATH OF ELIZABETH I: MARCH 24, 1603
Recording the death of Elizabeth Tudor, Oxford refers to the fact that they had "never kept seat" or sat on the throne as a royal family. Had their son become King Henry IX, he would have combined the blood of all three family members within his "one" royal person:
Which three, till now, never kept seat in one. (Sonnet 105, line 14)
King James VI of Scotland is proclaimed James I of England, with Robert Cecil remaining in full control of the government while Southampton is still in the Tower.
ORDER FOR SOUTHAMPTON'S RELEASE: APRIL 5, 1603
According to the bargain made with Oxford and Cecil, and before leaving Edinburgh to begin his triumphant journey south to London and the English throne, King James I sends an order for the liberation of Southampton from the Tower of London.
SONNET 106: LAST DAY & NIGHT IN PRISON: APRIL 9, 1603
Oxford brings the eighty "prison" verses to a close with Sonnet 106, referring to his poetical diary as "the Chronicle of wasted time."
With advance knowledge, referring to the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth as "Ladies dead," he predicts that the Earl of Southampton will be appointed Captain of the Isle of Wight and made a prestigious Knight of the Garter:
When in the Chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme
In praise of Ladies dead and lovely Knights (Sonnet 106, lines 1-4)
THE FINAL DAYS
SONNET 107: LIBERATION OF SOUTHAMPTON: APRIL 10, 1603
Henry Wriothesley emerges from the Tower of London. Oxford, referring to the fact that his son had been "supposed as forfeit to a confined doom," celebrates his liberation:
Not mine own fears nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom. (Sonnet 107, lines 14)
He also glances at the recent death of Queen Elizabeth the First as Diana or Cynthia, goddess of the Moon, who has "endured" her ultimate mortal decay by becoming immortal:
The mortal Moon hath her eclipse endured (Sonnet 107, line 5)
This begins the final twenty sonnets, numbered to correspond with the nineteen days up to and including the Queen Elizabeth's funeral, followed by his farewell to Southampton immediately afterward.
SONNET 116: THE MARRIAGE OF TRUE MINDS
SONNET 125: FUNERAL OF ELIZABETH I: APRIL 28, 1603
Oxford records Elizabeths funeral procession as her body is carried to its temporary tomb in Westminster Abbey, marking the "official" end of the Tudor Rose Dynasty begun by Henry VII in 1485.
Making his final "oblation" (sacrificial offering) to Southampton as prince or god on earth, Oxford also records that his son is a "suborned informer" who henceforth must testify against his claim to the English throne.
SONNET 126: FAREWELL TO SOUTHAMPTON: APRIL 29, 1603
Oxford bids farewell to his royal son, promising that Nature (once referring to Queen Elizabeth, their sovereign Mistress, but now "sovereign mistress over wrack") will "render" him King in posterity:
O Thou my lovely Boy, who in thy power
Dost hold times fickle glass, his sickle hour.
Who hast by waning grown, and therein showst
Thy lovers withering, as thy sweet self growst:
If Nature (sovereign mistress over wrack)
As thou goest onwards still will pluck thee back,
She keeps thee to this purpose, that her skill
May time disgrace, and wretched minute kill.
Yet fear her O thou minion of her pleasure,
Yet fear her O thou minion of her pleasure,
She may detain, but still not keep her treasure!
Her Audit (though delayed) answered must be,
And her Quietus is to render thee.
THE DARK LADY SERIES
SONNET 127: THE ESSEX REBELLION: FEBRUARY 8, 1601
FEB 8, 1601 - MARCH 24, 1603
"TWO LOVES I HAVE" (26 Sonnets)
Oxford begins this separate sequence, focusing on Queen Elizabeth as the Dark Lady, with twenty-six sonnets balancing the twenty-six-sonnet sequence that begins the Fair Youth series.
In terms of its time frame as a diary, the Dark Lady Series parallels Southampton's imprisonment until the Queen's death.
The opening verse focuses on Elizabeth's reaction to Southampton's disgrace for having committed high treason in the Rebellion. He was "fair" in the previous time of his life, but Elizabeths dark imperial frown has turned him to "black" as he faces execution. To Oxford their son remains the Queen's "successive heir" (immediate heir in succession to the throne), but, because of her viewpoint, she and her "beauty" (her royal blood) that he carries are still "slandered" by the shame of bastardy:
In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were it bore not beautys name:
But now is black beautys successive heir,
And Beauty slandered by a bastard shame. (SONNET 127, lines 1-4)
SONNET 128: EXECUTION OF ESSEX: FEBRUARY 25, 1601
Oxford records the quip he made in Queen Elizabeth's presence when news of the Essex execution arrived while she was playing on the virginals: "When Jacks go up, heads come down."
SONNET 145: ELIZABETH SPARES SOUTHAMPTON: MARCH 19, 1601
Henry Wriothesley is not only Oxford's son but also an extension of his very being, so when the Queen spares the younger earls life, it amounts to the sparing of Oxfords life as well:
Straight in her heart did mercy come
And saved my life, saying, "Not you." (Sonnet 145, lines 5, 14)
SONNET 152: DEATH OF ELIZABETH I: MARCH 24, 1603
This is Oxford's final verse of the Dark Lady series to Queen Elizabeth, who has died while leaving their royal son in the Tower, unable to claim his right by blood to the throne:
And all my honest faith in thee is lost.
For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,
Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,
And to enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness,
Or made them swear against the thing they see.
For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,
To swear against the truth so foul a lie! (Sonnet 152, lines 8-14)