Edward de Vere

17th Earl of Oxford

(You can be sure that someone will put forward Edward de Vere's name as a likely candidate whenever the question of the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays is raised. Edward is mentioned in this context in Tony Thistlewood’s contemporary mystery novel, Stealing Tomorrow’s Thunder.)

Edward de Vere was first proposed as the Bard by a man called Looney - a name his critics thought was rather appropriate.

In 1920, John Thomas Looney (1870 – 1944), a schoolteacher from Gateshead, wrote a book entitled Shakespeare Identified in which he claimed that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, a highly educated poet and greatly travelled nobleman, was much more likely to have written the works usually attributed to William Shakespeare. By comparison, Shakespeare was a Warwickshire yokel who left school at age twelve, married at eighteen and then disappeared for seven or more years.

And many still think that Looney had a point.

Before you make up your mind, if you haven’t already done so, you should understand a few things about J. Thomas Looney. To start with, he was a Comtean – August Comte being the positivist philosopher who founded the Church of Humanity. The Positivists had their own calendar of thirteen months each one of which was named after a great figure in history. Among the thirteen Positivist’s months were Homer, Aristotle, Archimedes, Dante, Gutenberg and yes, you’ve got it, Shakespeare.

You can see their thinking, can’t you? It would be much better to name a month after someone with a bit of class, such as Edward de Vere, rather than a Warwickshire yokel, however brilliant; you do see that, don’t you? Fortunately, the Church of Humanity didn’t catch on and neither did the Positivist calendar.

So why did Looney pick Edward de Vere? Well, Edward was a poet who, like Shakespeare, wrote in blank verse, or iambic pentameter to give it its proper name. But so did everyone else at that time. That being the case, Looney’s argument on that point has never held much sway with academics.

The ill-fated Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, (executed 1547) first introduced blank verse into English literature over forty years before Shakespeare appeared on the scene. However, in fairness to Looney, it should be pointed out that Henry Howard was Edward de Vere’s uncle.

It is worth noting that only the blue-blooded characters in Shakespeare’s plays actually speak in blank verse; yokels, like the guards and gravediggers in Macbeth, speak in prose. With this in mind, it becomes debatable whether that particular dichotomy of language is more indicative of the writing of an earl or of someone less well-bred but more obsequious.

Looney and his supporters make many more claims that, they believe, strongly suggest that Edward de Vere was the true “Shakespeare”:

  • The Earl of Oxford’s so called Geneva Bible, now owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library, contains over 1,000 marked passages many of which have some connection to the works of Shakespeare.
  • Edward de Vere travelled extensively in Italy, particularly Venice. Some of Shakespeare’s plays, notably The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet, were set in that country.
  • Being a courtier himself, Edward was familiar with the ways of the Court.
  • He was a lawyer.
  • He was fluent in Latin, Greek and Italian.
  • The First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays was dedicated jointly to Philip Herbert, the 1st Earl of Montgomery, and his brother, William Herbert, the 3rd Earl of Pembroke. The former married Susan de Vere, Edward de Vere’s daughter, while the latter was at one time engaged to another daughter, Bridget de Vere.
  • When he was twelve-years-old, Edward’s father died, and the young de Vere became a ward of the Court under the guardianship of William Cecil, Lord Burghley. And Lord Burghley, Edward de Vere's guardian, is widely acknowledged as the role model for the character, Peter P. Polonius, in Hamlet.
  • Edward de Vere married Lord Burghley’s daughter, Anne.
  • Edward Earl of Oxford once owned a house in the Forest of Arden on the banks of the River Avon in Warwickshire. The Bard was known as the Swan of Avon and William Shakespeare’s mother’s maiden name was Arden. Named after the Forest of Arden, the Ardens are, according to Burke’s Peerage (18th Edition Vol I), one of only three families in England that can trace its lineage back to the Anglo Saxons. (All of which is very interesting but proves absolutely nothing!)
  • Edward was buried in Hackney and once owned the magnificent King’s Place in that suburb, which just happens to be next to another town called Stratford!

And so on… and so on…

The big stumbling block for Looney and his ilk, is that Edward de Vere died in 1604 whereas it is widely acknowledged that Shakespeare’s plays were still being written up to about 1613. Of course, Looney’s supporters dispute the dates on which the plays were allegedly first produced. Who knows, they may be right.

There is, however, one strange point* that cannot readily be explained away. It relates to the death of Queen Elizabeth I on 24th March 1603. Why didn’t the greatest poet in English literature ever put pen to paper to eulogise the Queen on that sad occasion? Surely, it would have been expected of him?

*(I don’t think Looney made this point, but the source eludes me so I apologise for not giving it the appropriate credit. TT)

Likewise, there was not a peep from the Bard on the coronation of King James I/VI in 1603, and yet William Shakespeare was at the height of his powers at that time. Perhaps he did write something and it was lost in the Great Fire of London in 1666, or when the Palace of Whitehall was destroyed by fire in 1698. Yet surely someone somewhere would have had a copy, or at least commented on it, if such a document ever existed. If William Shakespeare was the author, then this is inexplicable.

However, the very same point may be made about Edward de Vere because he didn’t die until June 1604. As there are many letters extant that he wrote to Robert Cecil about that time, he obviously wasn’t too ill to put pen – sorry – quill to paper.

The fact remains that none of Shakespeare’s plays was written after 1613, and yet William Shakespeare lived, apparently in rude health, until 1616. Maybe, if we do want an alternative to William as the author, we should be looking for someone who died in or around the year 1613.

One person immediately comes to mind: Edward’s widow, Elizabeth de Vere, Countess of Oxford. Perhaps they wrote the plays together, and she continued writing until she died in December 1612? Now there’s a thought!

Elizabeth’s will contains a fascinating clause where she leaves an unspecified amount “unto my dombe man yearelie duringe his life (blank) powndes”. What was that all about? Could it have been a payment to William Shakespeare to keep him quiet? And is it merely coincidence that William Shakespeare retired to Stratford-upon-Avon that very year?

However, there is one other highly plausible contender for author of the works usually attributed to William Shakespeare, and this one did die in 1613. Who? Ah, well, if you want to know that, and how Edward de Vere fits into the plot, you will have to read Tony Thistlewood’s contemporary mystery, Stealing Tomorrow's Thunder! And you can find where to buy this riveting novel by clicking here: Buying Books Online

Snapshot Bio of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Date of Birth:

    12th April 1550
Place of Birth:

    Hedingham Castle, Essex.


    Father: John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford, the Lord Great Chamberlain (d.1562).
    Mother: Margaret Golding.
Date of Death:
    Edward died from unknown causes at King’s Place, Hackney, on 24th June 1604.
    He was buried in Hackney Church on 6th July 1604. It has been suggested that his body was later removed to Westminster Abbey where there is a de Vere family tomb, however, according to the De Vere Society, no record of this move has ever been found.
Titles and Offices:
    17th Earl of Oxford (1562). (The title became extinct in 1703 following the death of the 20th Earl.)
    Viscount Bulbeck
    Lord Great Chamberlain (1562 – 1604). This was a hereditary office.
    m. (1) 1571 Anne Cecil, daughter of Lord Burghley (b. 1556 d. 6th June 1588).
      Elizabeth (b. 2nd July 1575 d.1627)
      m. 1595 William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby
      Bridget (b. 6th April 1584 d.1630)
      m. 1599 Francis Norris, 1st Earl of Berkshire (they later separated)
      Susan (b. 27th May 1587 d.1629)
      m. Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery

    m. (2) 1591 Elizabeth Trentham
      Henry (b. 24 February 1593 d.1625)


Hedingham Castle, Essex.

Aubrey de Vere built Hedingham Castle in the 12th century on land granted to the de Veres by William the Conqueror. Aubrey’s son, also called Aubrey, was created the 1st Earl of Oxford by Queen Matilda in 1141. To pay his debts, the 17th Earl sold the castle to Lord Burghley to be held in trust for Lord Oxford’s three children by Anne who was Burghley’s daughter. The castle was sold outside the family in 1713 although, through various marriages, ownership eventually returned to descendents of the de Veres. Castle Hedingham is open to the public.

Click here to read the plot outline of Stealing Tomorrow's Thunder

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