The Bed Trick: Number 36 of 100 Reasons Why Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford was “Shakespeare”

“[Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford] forsook his lady’s bed, but the father of the lady Anne [Cecil], by stratagem, contrived that her husband should, unknowingly, sleep with her, believing her to be another woman, and she bore a son to him in consequence of this meeting.”The History and Topography of Essex by Thomas Wright, 1836 – discussing Oxford in relation to his wife Anne and her father William Cecil, Lord Burghley.

Measure“…the last great Earle of Oxford, whose lady [Anne Cecil] was brought to his Bed under the notion of his Mistris, and from such a virtuous deceit she [Susan Vere, Countess of Montgomery] is said to proceed.” Traditional Memoirs of the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth & King James by Francis Osborne, Esq., 1658.Although these two reports differ in the particulars, they both assert that Edward de Vere had been the victim of a “bed-trick” perpetrated by his wife Anne Cecil [at the bidding of her father, Lord Burghley] – the same situation that “William Shakespeare” immortalized in no less than four of his plays – All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Cymbeline and The Two Noble Kinsmen.

Hampton Court Palace

The so-called “bed-trick” became a popular convention by the end of the sixteenth century, but the evidence shows that “Shakespeare” employed it earlier than any other playwright of the English renaissance; and when Oxford is viewed as the great poet-dramatist, the dates of composition go back even earlier.  Whether the incident actually happened or Oxford merely thought so, the story from Thomas Wright [and probably also from Francis Osborne] stems from the royal visit to Hampton Court Palace in October 1574, when Anne Cecil requested additional lodgings so that she might entice her husband to join her, as she wrote to the Earl of Sussex, Lord Chamberlain of the Household:

Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex (1526-1583)

“My good Lord, because I think it long since I saw Her Majesty, and would be glad to do my duty after Her Majesty’s coming to Hampton Court, I heartily beseech your good Lordship to show me your favour in your order to the ushers for my lodging; that in consideration that there is but two chambers, it would please you to increase it with a third chamber next to it … for the more commodious my lodging is, the willinger I hope my Lord my husband will be to come hither.”

Oxford was in Italy the following September when he received a letter from Burghley telling him that Anne had given birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, in July; and later, upon learning of Court gossip that he had been cuckolded, he came to doubt that he was the father and separated from his wife for five years.  Had he really been deceived in a bed-trick according to the “stratagem” devised by his father-in-law, the most powerful man in England?  In that case, the girl Elizabeth Vere was in fact his natural child; but the other possibility is that Burghley concocted and spread the bed-trick story to cover up the fact that, at his bidding, Anne had become pregnant by some other man – a rather shocking explanation held by Charlton Ogburn Jr. in The Mysterious William Shakespeare of 1984:

“I strongly incline [to the explanation] that her father was determined as far as humanly possible to ensure the continuation of the marriage and the status of his descendants as Earls of Oxford.  Three years had passed since Anne’s and Edward’s wedding and still there was no sign of issue, while it had now become impossible any longer to deny his son-in-law a Continental trip from which, given the hazards of travel, he might not return.  Thus, exploiting his daughter’s uncommon filial submissiveness and the argument that a child would be the surest means of binding her husband to her, he overcame her compunctions and resistance and brought her to accept service by another male and one of proved fertility …”

Cover of Wright’s History of Essex – 1836

While working on his 1920 breakthrough book “Shakespeare” Identified [as Oxford], the British schoolmaster J. Thomas Looney realized that Bertram in All’s Well is virtually a self-portrait of Edward de Vere – but only after completing his manuscript did he discover Wright’s claim that Oxford himself had been deceived by a bed-trick.  The excitement he feels is palpable when introducing “what has been the most remarkable piece of evidence met with in the whole course of our investigations: a discovery made a considerable time after this work had been virtually completed …

“This evidence is concerned with the play, All’s Well; the striking parallelism between the principal personage in the drama and the Earl of Oxford having led us to adopt it as the chief support of our argument at the particular stage [Chapter XVI: “Dramatic Self-Revelation”] with which we are now occupied … What we have now to state was not discovered until some months later. 

“In tracing the parallelism between Bertram and Oxford we confined our attention to the incidentals of the play, in the belief that the central idea of the plot — the entrapping of Bertram into marital relationships with his own wife, in order that she might bear him a child unknown to himself — was wholly derived from Boccaccio’s story of Bertram.  The discovery, therefore, of the following passage in Wright’s History of Essex furnishes a piece of evidence so totally unexpected, and forms so sensational a climax to an already surprising resemblance that, on first noticing it, we had some difficulty in trusting our own eyes.

“We would willingly be spared the penning of such matter: its importance as evidence does not, however, permit of this,” Looney added, with what Ogburn describes as “quaint Victorian delicacy” in the face of such scandalous matters.  After citing the passage from Wright’s History of Essex quoted above, he continued:

“Thus even in the most extraordinary feature of this play; a feature which hardly one person in a million would for a moment have suspected of being anything else but an extravagant invention, the records of Oxford are at one with the representation of Bertram. It is not necessary that we should believe the story to be true, for no authority for it is vouchsafed … In any case, the connection between the two is now as complete as accumulated evidence can make it.”

Marliss C. Desens, in her book The Bed-Trick in English Renaissance Drama (1994), states that this plot device appears in at least forty-four plays of the period; but she also reports that “an examination of English Renaissance dramas shows that bed-tricks were not being used on stage prior to the late 1590’s” and, more specifically, that the bed-trick “begins appearing in plays starting around 1598.”  This means that if Oxford was “Shakespeare” we can say with certainty that during the Elizabethan reign he was the first to incorporate it; and, too, that he did so after being a victim of it in real life or believing it was so.  Oxfordians date the original versions of the plays far earlier than the orthodox dates dictated by the life of William of Stratford.  In the case of the four plays with bed tricks, here are the differences:

All’s Well That Ends Well – tradition is circa 1604, but Oxfordians say 1579 or 1580

Measure for Measure – tradition has 1603-1605, but Oxfordians say 1581-1585

Cymbeline – Orthodox date is 1610, while the Oxfordian date is 1578-1582

The Two Noble Kinsmen – Orthodox date is 1612-13, but Oxfordians say 1566, revised 1594

Reason No. 36 demonstrates yet again how replacing “Shakespeare” with Oxford stands previous scholarship on its head (or turns it inside-out).  The whole picture of “Shakespeare’s” creative process and its journey is transformed!  No wonder the academic world has such built-in resistance to seeing the change of paradigm!

Reason No. 16: Bertram, the young Count of Rousillion in “All’s Well That Ends Well,” is a reflection of the young Edward, Earl of Oxford at the Elizabethan Court

In the Shakespeare play All’s Well That Ends Well, the leading male character is Bertram, Count of Rousillion, a young French nobleman whose callous self-absorption leads to bad behavior toward his wife; and in many respects Bertram is a representation of Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) when he was a young English nobleman whose callous self-absorption led to bad behavior toward his wife.

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), author of the "Decameron, On Famous Women"

The play is based on a tale by the great Florentine author -poet Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) in The Decameron, a collection of one hundred novellas that became the model of Italian prose for writers in the sixteenth century.

Illustration of the "Decameron"

A now-lost stage work entitled The Historie of the Rape of the Second Helene, recorded as performed at Richmond Palace on January 6, 1579 might have been an early version of All’s Well That Ends Well, which made its initial appearance as printed in the First Folio of Shakespeare plays in1623.

"All's Well That Ends Well" in the First Folio of 1623

If the play performed at Richmond was in fact an early draft of All’s Well, observes William Farina in De Vere as Shakespeare [see below], “then perhaps the play reflects de Vere coming to grips with his own bad behavior toward his wife, in which case Bertram would represent Shakespeare’s own unvarnished and unflattering self-portrait of the artist as a young man.”

The early version of 1579 would have been written solely for Queen Elizabeth and the privileged members of her royal court, who would have quickly understood its contemporary allusions and jests that only “insiders” could appreciate.

A revised version for the public playhouse in the 1590’s may have been the “unknown” Shakespeare comedy that Francis Meres referred to in Palladis Tamia (1598) as Love labours wonne.

[There is no recorded performance of a play entitled All’s Well That Ends Well until 1741.]

All’s Well is Reason Number 16 why it’s easy to believe that the Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) was the author of the works attributed to Shakespeare.  Following are just some of the ways in which Bertram appears to reflect Oxford’s own character and experience:

THE ROYAL WARD

When Oxford was twelve in 1562 his father died and he was summoned to London as a royal ward of Queen Elizabeth, in subjection to her Majesty while in the custody William Cecil, her chief minister; and when All’s Well begins we find that upon his father’s death young Bertram has been summoned to Paris as a royal ward of the King of France.

Countess: In delivering my son from me I bury a second husband.

Bertram: And I in going, madam, weep o’er my father’s death anew; but I must attend his Majesty’s command, to whom I am evermore in subjection.

A Scene from "All's Well That Ends Well"

THE MARRIAGE

When Edward de Vere came of age in 1571 at twenty-one, a marriage was arranged for him and Cecil’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Anne Cecil, a commoner.  When Bertram is leaving behind the young Helena, a commoner’s daughter who had fallen in love with him, she wails:

“I am undone.  There is no living, none, if Bertram be away.  ‘Twere all one that I should love a bright particular star and think to wed it, he is so above me.  In his bright radiance and collateral light must I be comforted, not in his sphere.”

In the play the King promises to elevate Helena to a title so she and Bertram can marry.  In real life Elizabeth raised up her chief minister from commoner status to become Lord Burghley, so that Anne, who had grown up with Oxford in the same household and undoubtedly loved him, would be of the nobility and able to marry him

THE MILITARY

Oxford hungered for military service but had been kept behind for being too young.  In the fall of 1572, after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre [of Protestants] in France, he begged Burghley to allow him to serve on a ship or abroad [“where yet some honor were to be got”], adding that he was also “most willing to be employed on the sea coasts, to be in readiness with my countrymen against any invasion.”  He was continually blocked, however, and his complaints are echoed by Bertram:

“I am commanded here and kept a coil with ‘Too young’ and ‘The next year’ and ‘’Tis too early’… I shall stay here the forehorse to a smock [a woman’s lead horse], creaking my shoes on the plain masonry [palace floors, instead of rough battlefield], till honor be bought up [exhausted], and no sword worn but one to dance with.  By heaven, I’ll steal away!”

Oxford did “steal away” from England without authorization, in the summer of 1574, but the Queen sent for him on the Continent and he returned three weeks later.

"The Decameron" by Boccaccio -- a hundred stores narrated by seven women and three men during the Plague of 1348

THE PROMISE

Oxford received authorization to travel in early 1575 and spent more than fifteen months in France, Germany and Italy, making his home base in Venice.  Back in England, when Oxford’s wife revealed she was pregnant, Queen Elizabeth “sprung up from the cushions” and said, “I protest to God that next to them that have interest in it, there is nobody can be more joyous of it than I am!”   But a bit later she repeated the promise Oxford had given her “openly in the presence chamber,” which was “that if she [Anne] were with child, it was not his!” *

* (In a letter from Dr. Richard Master, a court physician, to Lord Burghley on March 7, 1575, while Oxford was at the French Court in Paris.  See Monstrous Adversary by Alan Nelson, p. 122)

In other words, he had promised the Queen that he would not sleep with his wife; and we find Bertram saying in relation to his wife, Helena:

“Although before the solemn priest I have sworn, I will not bed her … O my Parolles, they have married me!  I’ll go to the Tuscan wars and never bed her … I have wedded, not bedded her, and sworn to make the ‘not’ eternal.”  And writing to Helena: “When thou canst … show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father to, then call me husband; but in such a ‘then’ I write a ‘never.’”

THE BED TRICK

In the play Bertram fathers a son by means of a “bed trick” or scheme hatched by Helena — whereby another woman goes to bed with him and then Helena trades places with her.  In a book called The Histories of Essex (1836) some gossip of remarkably similar details is recorded about not only Oxford and Anne but also involving her father, Lord Burghley:

“[Oxford] forsook his lady’s bed, [but] the father of Lady Anne by stratagem contrived that her husband should unknowingly sleep with her, believing her to be another woman, and she bore a son to him in consequence of this meeting.” [Anne actually gave birth to a girl, Elizabeth Vere, in 1575.]

And in a memoir by the Master of the Horse to Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery [who married Oxford’s youngest daughter, Susan], he refers to “the last great Earl of Oxford, whose lady was brought to his bed under the notion of his mistress, and from such a virtuous deceit she [Susan] is said to proceed.”  [Again, the child was Elizabeth Vere.]

The so-called bed trick also appears in Measure for Measure.

There’s a great deal more about All’s Well That Ends Well, including a backdrop of the wars in the Netherlands between Spain and the Dutch in the 1570’s, along with what Farina describes as “enormous amounts of esoteric knowledge regarding the history and geography of France and Italy, as well as Renaissance literature and courtly social customs.”

But I must end this blog post before even attempting to summarize the various other levels and sources and parallels.  What’s clear, I’d say, is that we have yet another link in the chain of evidence that Oxford wrote the works of Shakespeare.

Here are some links for further information (and delight):

Dr. Michael Delahoyde, Washington State University – you won’t find on the Internet a better synopsis of the entire play from an Oxfordian standpoint.

Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays by Eva Turner Clark – a pioneering work by one of the great Oxfordians, published in 1930 as Shakespeare’s Plays in the Order of Their Writing; third edition in 1974 by Ruth Loyd Miller, another great Oxfordian; Kennikat Press, Port Washington, NY (Go to Minos Publishing Company)

De Vere as Shakespeare: An Oxfordian Reading of the Canon by William Farina; McFarland & Company, 2006 – A good resource for anyone interested in the Oxford theory of authorship, with Chapter 12 devoted to All’s Well That Ends Well.

The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn Jr., published in 1984, with an updated second edition in 1992 – the book that singlehandedly revived the Oxfordian movement.

Dating Shakespeare’s Plays: A Critical Review of the Evidence, edited by Kevin Gilvary, for the De Vere Society, 2010, published in the UK by Parapress – a tremendous new work that may well be an essential guide to the chronology of the plays

(Note: Another source of All’s Well is William Painter’s English translation of Decameron published in 1566, when Oxford was sixteen and graduating from Oxford University; but some details in the play demonstrate that “Shakespeare” had also read the original Italian version.  The Oxfordian researcher Nina Green has recently discovered that William Painter was an investor in the Frobisher voyages of the late 1570′s, as Oxford was, and therefore it’s very likely that the two men knew each other.)

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