Edward de Vere
17th Earl of Oxford
1550 - 1604
Edward de Vere remains one of the most popular candidates and has granted the authorship question legitimacy via the large number of respected books and high-profile figures stating his case. Starting with J. Thomas Looney in the early 1900's and his book "Shakespeare Identified", a number of learned individuals including Supreme Court Justice Stevens, have given support to this complicated and intriguing man. People who believe that he wrote the entire canon are known as 'Oxfordians'. They have their own 'fellowship' dedication to the 17th Earl HERE.
The 17th Earl was married to William Cecil’s daughter Anne, an arranged marriage to elevate Cecil (the Queen's favored advisor) and his family into the nobility. Each of De Vere's daughters married into the peerage. One married the Earl of Derby (also a candidate), and another married Philip Herbert. Known as the Earl of Montgomery, he is one of the brothers to whom the First Folio is dedicated. Two of de Vere’s uncles, the Earls of Sheffield and Surrey, were both influential poets; a third, Arthur Golding, translated Ovid’s Metamorphosis, a piece known to be one of Shakespeare’s favorite sources.
Edward de Vere was trained as a lawyer. He toured France, Germany, and Italy, where he spent extended time in Venice and Mantua. Throughout the 1580's, he was a leading patron of the theater, maintaining two theater companies; Oxford’s Boys and Oxford’s Men. With his finances reduced to penury by 1586, Queen Elizabeth granted him an annual pension of 1000 pounds, an enormous sum for the times. His pension was continued by her successor, King James.Many have wondered if those funds were spent for theatrical productions on behalf of the state.
Oxford was also known as a playwright and poet who possessed classical learning and knowledge of the law, music, Italian culture, jousting and hawking all of which are prominent in several Shakespeare plays. Most impressive are the parallels between the plot and characters in Hamlet, possibly a political satire of William Cecil, his father-in-law. Many scholars clearly identify Cecil as 'Polonius'.
Scholars also agree that Shakespeare favored the Geneva Bible and that many references from it have been cited in the plays. De Vere’s personal copy of the Geneva Bible, owned by the Folger Library, was found to have many marked places that correspond closely to usage in the Shakespearean plays.
Edward de Vere signed his name with a crown signature and seven slashes in the crown (for Edward the VII) which some use as proof of the rumor that he was the illegitimate child of Elizabeth. He died in 1604, at the age of 54, of unknown causes although some consider it to have been a suicide because of the date and the fact that he wasn't given a funeral equal to his social standing. More reading required!