Marie’s Musings

No. 6: «This is dedicated to the one I love.»— The Shirelles

by Marie Delgado Travis

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

PART ONE: Shakespeare’s Dedication to Venus and Adonis

The 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere’s daughter, Elizabeth—later wife of William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, « the other W.S. » — was still engaged to Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton at the time « the first heirs of Shakespeare’s invention, » his narrative poems Venus and Adonis andThe Rape of Lucrece— were published (1593 and 1594, respectively).

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton and Elizabeth Vere, later Stanley, Countess of Derby. Source:, Wikimedia. All Images for Educational Purposes Only.

Both narrative poems were dedicated by « Shakespeare » to Wriothesley, an extended love knot between the two men and their houses.

I placed the author’s name in quotation marks in the above paragraph, because it makes perfect sense that Edward de Vere would write to and for the young man he thought was about to become his son-in-law. On the other hand, what dogberry would the man from Stratford-upon-Avon have in the fight?

Wriothesley, in any case, eventually wrioggled his way out of the engagement— if not for a pound of flesh, for the almost ruinous sum to him of five thousand pounds (over £1.1 million in 2021 currency, according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator).

We know the original amount Wriothesley paid from a November 1594 letter by the Jesuit, Henry Garnet. Reverend Garnet would provide his religious superiors abroad with news from the mission, which he and other priests—like the Jesuit poet Robert Southwell, with whom he ran a clandestine printing press— were undertaking to keep Catholicism alive in England, at great peril to their mortal lives.

Indeed, both Southwell and Garnet would in time be captured, tortured, « tried, » and savagely executed by Elizabethan authorities— Southwell in 1595, and Garnet in 1606. Among the charges against Garnet was not reporting his prior knowledge of the Gunpowder Plot against James I, a plot he neither participated in nor endorsed.

The priests’ use of Equivocation to protect Catholics who sheltered them is parodied by the drunken Porter in Macbeth:

Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven: O, come
in, equivocator.
— Act II, Scene 3 (Opensourceshakespeare,org)

But the porter first says, « IF a
man were porter of hell-gate. » In other words, God, not man, is the final arbitrator.

Material perhaps for another post, particularly since James would write a book on the occult [Daemonologie (1597)], said to have influenced Shakespeare’s Macbeth (first performed in 1606, the year of Father Garnet’s execution). For now, however, here is his November 1594 letter, in its relevant part:

The marriage of the Lady Vere to the new Earl of Derby is deferred by reason that he standeth in hazard to be unearled again, his brother’s wife being with child, until it is seen whether it be a boy or no. The young Earl of Southampton, refusing the Lady Vere, payeth 5ooo’l of present payment. Henry Foley, Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus, Vol. IV at 49 (1878).

Now why would a priest be interested in such temporal matters?

To begin with, as a descendant of Mary (née Tudor) Brandon, daughter of King Henry VII of England, William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, held a prominent place in the line of succession to the throne— a dangerous position to be in, as his elder brother, Ferdinando, 5th Earl of Derby’s « wondrous strange » death [J. Stow’s Annales, 1631), possibly by poisoning, and their mother, Margaret (née Clifford) Stanley’s many years under house arrest would suggest.

In terms of the Reverend Garnet’s interest, some might say that much of « the world’s hopeful expectation, » was that Catholicism be restored to England, by the successor to its childless Protestant Queen— or at a minimum, that freedom of conscience in religious matters be respected.

William Stanley may or may not have shared those objectives. But his brother, Ferdinando’s posthumous child was indeed a girl, so under the principle of male primogeniture, William got to keep his coronet. After all, we wouldn’t want Lady Vere to marry just anyone.

William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby. Source: William Stanley as Shakespeare by John M. Rollett (2015)

As we can see, aristocratic marriages weren’t exactly love matches. They were treated almost like profit centers, and were the object of intense political maneuvering and intrigue.

One of Shakespeare’s so-called « Procreation Sonnets, » Number 3, summarized another creed of the upper class: be fruitful and multiply … and we’ll add, preferably with someone with pedigree, title, land, and a sizable wallet.

But if thou live remembered not to be, / Die single, and thine image dies with thee.

Source: Wikimedia

With this background in mind, does it make any sense that William Shakspeare from Stratford-upon-Avon was behind the vere personal Dedications to a young man as distinguished as the Earl of Southampton? No need to answer … simply a rhetorical question.

Let’s see what rich harvest Shake-Speare’s two Dedications to his then prospective son-in-law, Henry Wriothesley, yield. I’ll refer to the texts as originally published, but (neuer feare), a modern transcription follows at the vere end.

Recall word games like Boggle or Scrabble? The play’s the thing, here as well. While there are any number of possible word combinations in the passages below, knowing the players narrows the scope, and hopefully will provide thought-provoking perspectives.

TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE Henrie VVriothefley, Earle of Southampton, and Baron of Titchfield.

The obvious protagonist in the above passage is just whom it says it is:

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield

But rearrange the letters, and we find the following characters, and perhaps an occasional « hidden message. »

  • ihtrablevvysd = Lady Elizabeth Vere
  • trigablevvyd = Lady Bridget Vere
  • ernalvvsyud = Lady Susan Vere
  • oerihalvvsfpdc = Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocsford (Oxford)
  • rheialvvsmpc = William Shacspeare (Shakespeare).

I originally thought Bridget had been the jilted bride. She was rejected, but by William Herbert, the future 3rd Earl of Pembroke, over the terms of the marriage settlement. Ah, Romeo, Romeo

The Dedication to Wriothesley continues:

Right Honourable, I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolisht lines to your Lordship,

Present again in this passage— and with slight variations, throughout the entire Dedication— are the following references:

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron Titchfield
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget, Lady Susan Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocksford (Oxford)
  • William Shakespeare

Now, if this were random, would it happen again and again?

nor how the uorlde vvill cenfure mee for choofing fo ftrong a proppe to fupport fo vveake a burthen

  • Henrie Wriotheslie, Earl of Southampton and Lord of Titchfield
  • Ladies Elisabeth, Bridget and Susan Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocsford (Oxford)
  • William Shakespeare

Note how the De Vere daughters are associated here with the word burden. I’ll explain. More than a poem, de Vere was giving away his eldest daughter— whom he took years to accept as his own, adding insult to injury.

And worse, if possible, the poem Venus and Adonis is all about rejection. So if the poem is, as I suggest, a proxy for Elizabeth—and by extension her sisters— the Freudian slips are everywhere.

Was it revenge for being «ungrateful » daughters, « sharper than a serpent’s tooth » (Lear Act I, Scene 4)?Or was the author warning Wriothesley? Or holding out for a better deal?

But I digress

onelye if your Honour feeme but pleafed, I account my selfe highly praifed, and uowe to take aduantage of all idle houres till I haue honoured you vvith fome graver labour.

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget and Lady Susan Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocksford (Oxford)
  • VVilliam Shacspeare (William Shakespeare)

Elizabeth and her marriageable sisters, continue to be diminished, in my view. Suggesting that there could be anything graver — even a radical political poem like Lucrece, is a bit like Shylock’s « O my ducats! O my daughter! »

But if thif first heire of my inuention proue deformed, I fhall be forie it had fo noble a god-father and neuer after care fo barren a land for feare it yeeld me ftill fo bad a harueft

  • Henry, Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget and Susan Vere
  • Edouard de Vere, Earl of Ocsford (Oxford)
  • VVilliam Shacspeare (William Shakespeare)

If we think on it, Elizabeth IS the « first heir of his invention »— in the fullest sense of human creation— de Vere’s firstborn. Yet now she and her sisters are associated with the word deformed. King Lear is Father of the Year compared to this author.

I would say it’s all unintentional, but it seems to happen vere frequently in this relatively short piece, reinforcing, among others, how even women of high station were treated as child-bearing commodities.

The thousand cuts are made all the more humiliating by the extended barren metaphor. It would be fruitless to say more, given all the hype in Shakespeare’s Sonnets about having children.

I leave it to your Honourable furuey, and your Honor to your hearts content, vvhich I vvifh may alvvaies anfvvere your owne wifh, and the vvorlds hopefull expectation. Your Honors in all dutie, William Shakefpeare.

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Susan, and Lady Bridyet [sic] de Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocsford (Oxford) 
  • and last but not least … William Shakesfpeare (Shakespeare)

Strangely, the poet seems more preoccupied with Wriothesley’s happiness than with anything else, except his own poetry.

Wriothesley is invited to survey the goods, albeit it honorably. But the next poem dedicated to him will be about a rape, what is poor Southampton to think?

The writer means « check out my poem, » of course, but if the poem is a proxy for his daughter it’s, well … awkward.

In the long run, Wriothesley was Adonis to Elizabeth Vere’s Venus, and chose to go a-hunting instead … for another Elizabeth— Elizabeth Vernon, one of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting.

Elizabeth (née Vernon) Wriothesley,
Countess of Southampton
Source: Wikipedia

Even when Lady Vernon became pregnant out-of-wedlock by Wriothesley, and the couple sentenced to Fleet Prison for marrying without the Queen’s approval, the two remained loyal to one another. Ung par tout, tout par ung, like Southampton’s family motto, « One for all, all for one. » That may ring a bell!

Southampton Coat of Arms

By contrast, when Edward de Vere impegnated his mistress, Anne Vavasour, SHE went to prison, while HE tried to escape. If memory serves, de Vere was captured at the docks, trying to board a ship. He was sent to the Tower of London to mull things over.Not a good look for someone whose motto is « Nothing is Truer than Truth. »

Having seen de Vere’s treatment of his wife, children and mistress, you can imagine my angst visualizing de Vere as the author of the Shakespeare canon— that is, until I began this blog.

De Vere was neither a model husband, father nor lover— at least with respect to his early relationships. But was the man from Stratford-upon-Avon, who spent most of his acting career away from his family, much better?

De Vere is guilty, perhaps, with an explanation. Like Wriothesley, de Vere had been the victim of an unconscionable Ward system, which placed wealthy minors who had lost their fathers under the total control of the State.

This gave the State authority to charge for the wards’ upkeep and education, while at the same time administering their lands and finances, or worse, selling their wardship to the highest bidder.

It was an odious system designed to enrich those in the inner circle of power, often leaving the ward debt-ridden by the time he reached the age of majority. For more information on the Ward system, see Bonner Miller Cutting’s vere worthy article, Evermore in Subjection .

De Vere endured the slings and arrows of the outrageous ward system as minor. But his woes were only compounded by his arranged marriage to Anne Cecil, daughter of William Cecil, Baron Burghley.

Lord Burghley, the Lord Treasurer, who in addition to being Elizabeth I’s closest advisor and spymaster, just happened to administer the ward system, which the young Earl must have felt dimmed his great expectations.

William Cecil, Lord Burghley Source: Wikipedia
Burghley House England
Quite the pile on a civil servant’s salary. IWilliam Cecil died in 1598, before his modest dream home was completed.
Source: Wikipedia

The Vere – Cecil marriage proved pretty much disastrous for all concerned. But look on the bright side … it provided endless material for a poet-playwright!

I remember reading that negotiations for Elizabeth Vere’s marriage to Henry Wriothesley began shortly after her mother, Anne’s death in 1588. Like Shakespeare’s Juliet, Elizabeth would have been a mere teenager at the time.

Marriage talks were almost certainly conducted by de Vere’s social-climbing father-in-law, Lord Burghley, whom Edward appears to have detested (except when he needed money)— and the bad feelings were mutual.

So much so, that Cecil literally took his grievances against his son-in-law to the grave … not his own, but his wife Mildred (née Cooke) Cecil’s and daughter, Anne’s joint tomb in Westminster Abbey.

The garrulous inscriptions by Burghley (to some reminiscent of Polonious’ « brief wit » in Hamlet) are quite remarkable. There are numerous plaques in Latin, but two are translated as follows:,

Lady Elizabeth Vere, daughter of the illustrious Edward, Earl of Oxford and of his wife Anne, daughter of Lord Burghley, born 2nd July 1575, now 14 years old; she grieves greatly, and not without cause, for the loss of her grandmother and mother, but is comforted because Her Most Serene Majesty Queen Elizabeth cherishes her as a lady of the bedchamber. Lady Bridget, second daughter of the aforesaid Earl of Oxford and of Anne, was born 6th April 1584 and though scarcely five years old when she laid her mother’s body in the sepulchre, yet not without tears did she acknowledge her mother, and also her grandmother, snatched away soon afterwards. But she is not left an orphan, having a father living, and a deeply affectionate grandfather as her most solicitous guardian. Lady Susannah, the third daughter, born 26th May 1587 is too young to know either her grandmother or mother, but now only knows her most affectionate grandfather, whose care it is that all these maids lack neither a kindly upbringing nor a fitting way of life. Source: Westminster Abbey.

Mildred and Anne’s tomb at Westminster Abbey, London. Among the effigies are Burghley’s granddaughters.

In other words, Edward de Vere didn’t provide his daughters with « deep affection … a kindly upbringing … or a fitting way of life. » Burghley did, and he wanted the world to know itforever.

By contrast, de Vere treats Henry Wriothesley almost too intimately in his Dedications— another indication that he was the William Shakespeare of the canon. It is inconceivable that the man from Stratford should address the Earl of Southampton— publicly— in such familiar terms.

While other inferences have been drawn, the tone of the Dedications may be thought of as fatherly. The writer pledges to support Wriothesley « in all duty, » and seems to urge the young man to choose happiness, perhaps because he, more than anyone, understands the Cecil family’s dysfunction. Recall the above metaphors— burden, bad harvest, barren, deformed.

And wherever we read «Titchfield» or « Ocsford,» within 10 words of « William » in the above exercises, William Cecil can’t be far behind. Psst … look behind the arras … the Queen’s spies are everywhere!

Perhaps the author was giving Henry, a warning, a save-face way out of his predicament, and Wriothesley was smart enough to read between the lines. For the man who wrote Venus and Adonis seemed to espouse freedom of the heart, no matter the consequences.

Well, in theory, anyway

Venus and Cupid lamenting the dead Adonis by Cornelius Holsteyn

Hopefully, that same grace of an  « out » was extended to his daughter,Elizabeth, so that when she and Henry finally went their separate ways, it was by mutual consent.

In any case, it didn’t take long for her to find another Earl. And one high in the line of succession, too! — A detail, I’m sure, not lost on her father and grandfather.

In fact—and I know it’s awfully cynical—but it occurred to me after first posting this, that one of the aims may have been to make Wriosthesley think HE was calling the marriage off, not she. That way, he’d have to pay the damages for breach of contract, not her family. The hefty amount Wriothesley paid would certainly go a long way towards her next dowry. Godfather, indeed! A-musing, ¿no? Well, it depends if you’re the party of the first part or the second part.

You can reread de Vere’s gracious last paragraphs to Wriothesley in the following modern transcription. Heck, I’d be gracious, too, if my family stood to gain over a million pounds! — In retrospect, every shilling Wriothesley paid was probably worth it.

Right Honorable, I know not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your Lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden, only if your honor seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idol hours till I have honored you with some graver labor. But if this first heir of my invention proved deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, and never after care so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest. I leave it to your Honorable survey, and your Honor to your heart’s content, which I wish may always answer your own wish, and the world’s hopeful expectation. Your Honor’s in all duty, William Shakespeare.

PART TWO: The Dedication to The Rape of Lucrece

And now the question becomes: Does the same pattern exist in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece (1594)? Presumably, it is the « graver labor » promised a year earlier in Venus and Adonis. The work is overtly more political than its predecessor, and must have been in the pipeline when promised to Wriothesley in the first Dedication.

While Wriothesley’s engagement to Lady Elizabeth Vere has cooled — she will be engaged to William Stanley by the end of 1594 and they’ll marry in January 1595– the man who signs the Dedication is, strangely, even more ardent towards Wriothesley than before. Whereas in the first Dedication, he pledged duty and wished Wriothesley happiness, he now professes duty and unending love.

My take is that he was vowing allegiance to Southampton, no longer as a father figure, but as a devoted « follower, » a political ally.

He may have been aware that Wriothesley and his « BFF », Robert Devereaux, 2nd Earl of Essex were also questioning what would happen when the childless Queen Elizabeth I passed away. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves….

Let’s quickly go through this Dedication. A modern transcription may be found at the end.

TO THE RIGHT HONOVRABLE, HENRY VVriothefley, Earle of Southhampton, and Baron of Titchfield

We find the following names and titles displayed or « embedded » within the passage:

  • Henry Wrothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget, and Lady Susan Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocsford (Oxford)
  • William Shacspeare (Shakespeare)

THE loue I dedicate to your Lordfhip is without end:wher-of this Pamphlet without beginning is but a fuperfluous Moity. 

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield
  • Lady, Elizabeth, Lady Bridget and Lady Susan Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocsford (Oxford)
  • William Shacspeare (Shakespeare)

The engagement has ended, or just about to end, yet the writer’s love for the son-in-law-who-got-away is « without end, » a vere gracious touch.

That the Pamphlet has no beginning is punny, as the narrative poem begins in medias res, i.e., in the middle of the story.

The warrant I haue of your Honourable difpofition, not the worth of my vntutord Lines makes it affured of acceptance.

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield
  • Ladies Elisabeth, Lady Bridyet [sic], and Lady Susan Vere.
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Ocksford (Oxford)
  • William Shacpeare (Shakespeare)

VVhat I haue done is yours, what Ι haue to doe is yours, being part in all I haue, deuoted yours.

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget and Lady Susan Vere
  • Earl Edvvard de Vere
  • Note deuoted yours = Edvv. de Vere

VVere my worth greater, my duety would shew greater, meane time, as it is, it is bound to your Lordfhip; 

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, Baron, Lord
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget, Lady Susan de Vere
  • Earl Edward de Vere
  • Note the vere large VERE at the beginning of the passage

Again, while the engagement has been, or will soon be broken, the writer is still « bound » to him. He does have other daughters and there’s always a chance they can do business again. Sorry, couldn’t resist….

The poet speaks of his « worth » as a writer, and wishes it were greater to honor the dedicatee more. But let’s face it, the writer wishes his worth in every sense were greater, and with vere good cause.

In order to obtain the  « b » for Elizabeth and Bridget, btw, this last beautiful phrase must be repeated, further « binding » them together:

… it is bound to your Lordfhip; To whom I wifh long life ftill lengthned with all happineffe. Your Lordfhips in all duety, William Shakefpeare

  • Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton
  • Lady Elisabeth, Lady Bridget, Lady Susan Vere
  • Edward de Vere, Earl of Oksford (Oxford)
  • William Shakespeare

There is a « finality » in the author’s wishes that Southampton enjoy a long life. It strikes me also that the emphasis on happiness is rather modern. Arranged marriages, it would seem, were more about « duty, » than happiness (think Juliet’s parents insistence that she marry Paris, when she had secretly married Romeo). That the man who wrote Shakespeare has been on all sides of these equations could only make him a better writer. Indeed, perhaps the world’s greatest writer.

And while the marriage between Wriothesly and Elizabeth Vere was not to be, it is true that « all Shakespeare has done »— in terms of his narrative poems—has been Wriothesley’s.

Shakespeare’s focus now turns now to playwriting, and reaching larger, more diverse audiences. The poet has proven his worth, that he is capable of writing literary works. Despite producing plays— or what Thomas Bodley, founder of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, considered « riff raff » — Shakespeare’s reputation as a serious writer is secure in the eyes of the elite.

I have no doubt they know the identity of the writer. After all, the plays are frequently performed at court. And Queen Elizabeth’s favorite saying is, « I see everything, but say nothing. »

Neverthelesd, much is to be said about how the rest of de Vere’s (oops, Shakespeare’s) œuvre reflects Southampton’s interests. But we’ll muse on that, too … and Shakespeare’s « Dedication » to the elusive Mr. W. H. soon!

Tarquin and Lucretia by Titian
Source: Wikipedia

Modern Transcription

To the Right Honorable Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton and Baron of Titchfield.

The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end: whereof this pamphlet is but a superfluous moiety. The warrant I have of your Honorable disposition, not the worth of my untutored lines makes it assured of acceptance. What I have done is yours, what I have to do is yours, being part in all I have, devoted yours. Were my worth greater, my duty would show greater. Meantime, as it is, it is bound to your Lordship, to whom I wish long life still lengthened with all happiness. 

Your Lordship’s in all duty, 

William Shakespeare

For an excellent biography of Edward de Vere, read:

Available at
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

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