History of the Case
Identification of Edward de Vere as “Shakespeare” launched an era of new research and activity, with Looney founding the original Shakespeare Fellowship in 1922. Sir George Greenwood became Vice President with Col. B.R. Ward as Honorary Secretary. In the coming years proponents of the Oxford case would include Sigmund Freud, Leslie Howard, Sir John Gielgud, David McCullough and other giants in their fields.
B. M. Ward’s documentary biography The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford in 1928 left it to readers to decide whether Oxford wrote the Shakespeare works. Ward argued that Oxford financed and guided a “college” of writers in the 1580’s (Lyly, Munday, Greene, Watson and other “university wits”) whose works would come to be viewed by orthodox scholars as contemporary sources of Shakespeare. Ward reported his discovery that in 1586 the Queen granted Oxford £1,000 paid annually until his death in 1604. He argued that the pension was primarily for previous and ongoing expenses related to play companies and writers promoting national unity during the eighteen-year Anglo-Spanish war.
Percy Allen issued The Case for Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, as “Shakespeare” in 1930, with Eva Turner Clark in the next year publishing Shakespeare’s Plays in the Order of Their Writing (UK) or Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays (U.S.), arguing that Oxford had written initial versions of all the plays by 1589, when he retired from Court and began revising them into dramatic literature.
Allen returned in 1932 with The Life Story of Edward de Vere as “William Shakespeare,” concluding that the key to the story is Oxford’s relations with Queen Elizabeth. Allen and B.M. Ward argued that Oxford and Elizabeth were the natural parents of Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, the dedicatee of Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. Gerald H. Rendall presented his groundbreaking Personal Clues in Shakespeare’s Poems & Sonnets in 1934.
In a Scientific American article of 1940, Charles Wisner Barrell argued on the basis of X-ray evidence that the so-called Ashbourne portrait, said to be of Shakespeare, had originally depicted Edward de Vere. In a series of newsletter articles in 1941-42, Barrell revealed that Anne Vavasour, a maid of honour to the Queen, gave birth to Oxford’s illegitimate son in 1580; and he suggested that while some of the “fair youth” sonnets are addressed to Southampton, others are from Oxford to his son by Vavasour, whom he saw as the “dark lady” of the sonnets.
Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn in This Star of England (1952) set down the entire Oxford-Shakespeare story as they saw it, reporting many new connections between the Shakespeare works and the life of Oxford; and they announced their own conclusion that Southampton was the son of Oxford and Elizabeth, providing “enough evidence to satisfy any reasonable mind.” This so-called Prince Tudor theory, based largely on readings of the Sonnets linked to circumstantial evidence, quickly drew arguments for and against it.
In 1975 Ruth Loyd Miller issued new editions of the major works by Looney, Clarke and Ward. Miller also published a new edition of A Hundredth Sundrie Flowers (1573) with B.M. Ward’s 1926 argument that Oxford was involved as an editor and writer; and Oxfordian Vistas with articles by Loyd and others, plus extensive notes and commentary.
The Shakespeare Oxford Society (SOS), founded in the U.S. in 1957, held its first national conference in September 1976 in Baltimore, Maryland; and another significant Oxfordian book, Hamlet Himself by Bronson Feldman, appeared the following year.
Charlton Ogburn Jr. energized the Oxfordian movement in 1984 with The Mysterious William Shakespeare, first refuting the Stratfordian view and then presenting Oxford’s life in relation to the Shakespearean works. Ogburn included a chronology following three separate paths for (1)Edward de Vere; (2) William Shakspere of Stratford; and (3)“William Shakespeare,” the author’s printed name – illustrating how each history is distinct from the others.
William Plumer Fowler’s Shakespeare Revealed in Oxford’s Letters (1986) used more than three dozen of Edward de Vere’s letters to reveal “consistent correspondences” to the thought and phraseology of Shakespeare’s plays and poems.
In the same year Charles Beauclerk founded the De Vere Society in the UK to promote interest in the authorship question and the Oxford case. A moot court on September 25, 1987 in Washington, D.C., was presided over by Justices Brennan, Blackmun and Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court, with two voting to uphold the Stratfordian tradition; but later they expressed opinions that Oxford may have been the author and Justice Stevens became an advocate for the earl. Another moot court was held in the UK in 1988 at Middle Temple Hall.
The Shakespeare Mystery was broadcast in April 1989 on the PBS show “Frontline,” sparking further interest in the authorship debate while drawing new proponents of the Oxford case.
Beauclerk began a five-year lecture tour of North America in 1990, speaking or debating at some 250 venues and appearing in numerous TV and radio interviews, while generating hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. One result was coverage of the authorship question in 1991 by the Atlantic Monthly, sparking a 1992 satellite conference hosted by William F. Buckley, Jr. and broadcast to U.S. colleges.
Elisabeth Sears in Shakespeare and the Tudor Rose (1990) offered a new historical context for the Southampton Prince Tudor theory, emphasizing the end-game power struggles between Secretary Robert Cecil and the earls of Essex and Southampton over control of the succession.
Paul Nelson discovered in 1991 that the Folger Library in Washington, D.C. held the Geneva Bible purchased by Edward de Vere in 1569; and Roger Stritmatter, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, began to study the earl’s 1,043 marked passages in relation to Biblical allusions in the Shakespeare works.
Richard F. Whalen in Shakespeare – Who Was He? (1991) gave an overview of the authorship issue and the Oxford case, making the subject accessible to many for the first time. Another contribution to the Oxford case was Alias Shakespeare (1997), in which Joseph Sobran argued that Oxford and Southampton were homosexual lovers who suffered from the “shame” and “disgrace” expressed in the Sonnets.
The annual Edward de Vere Studies Conference (now the Shakespeare Authorship Studies Conference) was launched in 1997 by Professor Daniel L. Wright of Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. In the following year was launched The Oxfordian: The Annual Journal of the Shakespeare Oxford Society, edited by Stephanie Hopkins Hughes; and Edward de Vere and the Shakespeare Printers was published in 1999 by Robert Sean Brazil.
A new Shakespeare Fellowship was organised in 2001 with Dr. Charles Berney as president and Roger Stritmatter and Lynne Kositsky as vice presidents. Dr. Stritmatter had recently completed his dissertation on Oxford’s Geneva Bible, arguing that the earl’s marginalia is significantly reflected within the Shakespearean works; and now he was awarded a PhD in comparative literature, becoming “the first professional Oxfordian scholar”.
The Oxford case continued to build with Discovering Shakespeare (2001) by Edward Holmes; Oxford: Son of Queen Elizabeth I (2001) by Paul Streitz, arguing that Edward de Vere was born in 1548 to Elizabeth Tudor and Thomas Seymour. In 2002 the New York Times ran a major article entitled “A Historic Whodunit: If Shakespeare Didn’t, Who Did?” by staff writer William Niederkorn, who emphasized Oxford as the leading candidate.
Other works included The Dark Side of Shakespeare (2002) by Ron Hess; Monstrous Adversary (2003) by orthodox scholar Alan Nelson, presenting the most complete record of Edward de Vere, while arguing against the earl’s authorship; and Great Oxford (2004) with essays from the De Vere Society on the earl’s life and work, under general editor Richard Malim and an editorial team of Kevin Gilvary, Elizabeth Imlay and Eddi Jolly. Among some forty essays were five significant articles by Noemi Magri on topics related to Italy.
Shakespeare by Another Name (2005) by Mark Anderson offered the first modern biography of Edward de Vere as “Shakespeare” by an Oxfordian researcher. Anderson’s linkage of Oxford’s life to the works of Shakespeare resulted in a new surge of interest in the authorship question and the case for Edward de Vere.
The Monument: “Shake-Speares Sonnets” by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (2005) by Hank Whittemore set forth a new historical context for the “story” within the Sonnets, pointing to a “century” of sonnets (100 chronological verses) in the center – from Sonnet 27 on February 8, 1601, when Southampton was imprisoned for the Essex Rebellion, until Sonnet 126 following the funeral of Elizabeth on April 28, 1603. Whittemore also performed a one-man show (Shakespeare’s Treason) based on The Monument and co-written with Ted Story, at some forty venues in the U.S. and England.
Building the Case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare (2009), a set of five volumes edited by Paul Hemenway Altrocchi and Hank Whittemore, presented relevant anti-Stratfordian commentary, including works of Sir George Greenwood, leading to Looney’s identification of Oxford in 1920, plus the results of Oxfordian research up to 1975. Meanwhile Brief Chronicles, a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal of Shakespearean authorship studies, was launched in 2009 by the Shakespeare Fellowship under the editorial leadership of Dr. Stritmatter and Gary Goldstein.
De Vere as Shakespeare by William Farina was published in 2006, with Felicia Hardison Londre writing in the forward that it “wonderfully pulls together hundreds, perhaps thousands” of insights about the relationship of the plays, poems and sonnets to the life of Edward de Vere. In 2009 came the second edition of The Shakespeare Controversey by Warren Hope and Kim Holston, providing a cogent history of the authorship question and the Oxford case in particular. Then in Malice Aforethought: The Killing of a Unique Genius, Dr. Altrocchi brought together many of his scholarly papers on Shakespeare and the Earl of Oxford.
Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom (2010) by Charles Beauclerk made an eloquent case for understanding the Shakespeare works based on Oxford as the son of Elizabeth and, too, Southampton as her son. In the same year Dating Shakespeare’s Plays, edited by Kevin Gilvary, presented the results of research sponsored by De Vere Society to set forth the earliest and latest dates when the plays must have been written.
Director Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous (2011) became the first feature film to focus on Edward de Vere as Shakespeare. Appearing in the movie were noted actors such as Sir Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance and Vanessa Redgrave, with a story line leading to the Essex Rebellion of 1601, the death of Elizabeth in 1603 and the succession of James.
In 2011 was published a landmark work entitled The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard’s Unknown Travels (2011) by Richard Paul Roe, who had spent more than two decades searching for Italian locations indicated in the plays; and because Oxford had spent much time in Italy, this work added strong evidence to his case for authorship.
Other highlights of 2011 included Shakespeare Suppressed by Katherine Chiljan and the launch of a series of Oxfordian editions of the plays, leading off with Macbeth (edited by Richard F. Whalen) and Othello (edited by Whalen and Ren Draya).
The Earl of Oxford and the Making of Shakespeare (2012) by Richard Malim presented evidence that Oxford’s return to England from the Continent in 1576 marked the beginning of the new English literary revolution that led to Shakespeare.
Last Will. & Testament (2012), an 85-minute documentary film directed by Lisa Wilson and Laura Matthias Wilson, covers the authorship question in general and the Oxford case in particular, with interviews supported by original filming on many locations and also by Anonymous footage. Selected as one of the first ten films shown at the Austin Film Festival in October 2012, LW&T became a winner at the Sedona International Film Festival in addition to being made available via OnDemand and iTunes. The film continued in 2013 to be presented to audiences at colleges and other venues throughout the U.S. and England.