Was Elizabeth 1st the mother of Henry Wriothesley? Part 2

Was Elizabeth 1st the mother of Henry Wriothesley? Part 2

To view or download this article as a PDF click here.

Welcome to the second presentation looking at the issue of whether or not Elizabeth 1st. was the mother of Henry Wriothesley 3rd Earl of Southampton

Analysis of the poem and the cartouche in the Pregnancy Portrait points strongly in that direction, and in this video I am going to look into the arguments for and against such a possibility.

One thing is certain, there is no definite answer. If there were it would be established fact.

Trying to decide on the parentage of an individual 400 years ago poses a whole set of challenges, not least of which being the strict State censorship at the time. Superimposed upon this are modern issues. Entire university livelihoods rest on the status quo being maintained. Claiming that Edward de Vere wrote the works of Shakespeare is one thing; claiming that the Royal Succession was flawed is quite another.

This is St Peter’s Church Titchfield near Southampton.

Within this church is the family monument to the Earls of Southampton. How then to assess the issue of the parentage of Henry Wriothesley?

Well unless at some point someone has permission to take DNA samples from Henry and his father from their remains encased in lead coffins in their family vault, somewhere below the floor of this chapel, then any evidence we have can only be circumstantial. Such a request was made in 2000, but it was declined.

Before embarking on the main part of this presentation. I would like to discuss some legal concepts. Bear with me it is relevant.

In the legal world there are two levels of proof, one used in civil law and the second in criminal law. In the former, proof rests on the balance of probability. If for example it is more likely than not that something is true, ie more than a 50% chance, then this is taken as proof. In the latter proof rests on an individual being beyond reasonable doubt of having committed a crime. The decision being usually taken by a jury of 12 unbiased citizens who reach their decision based solely on the evidence presented to them.

The next terms to grasp are Direct evidence and Circumstantial evidence. In simple terms if someone sees it raining, this is direct evidence of what is happening. If someone inside sees other

coming in wet from the street, this is circumstantial evidence. The observer has to make an inference from the information obtained. Direct evidence for events 400 years ago is hard to come by particularly if steps have been taken to conceal it. Circumstantial evidence is no less valid if the amount or weight of it is great, allowing a reasonable conclusion to be drawn

In the case of the identity of William Shakespeare skeptics of the Stratford man express reasonable doubt that he wrote the plays, and many have signed a declaration to this affect. This is in the face of overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford was the man behind the pen name. Why then is the case not proved?

Well what we have is a situation not unlike trench warfare. Opposing sides of this type of argument, dig in by rehearsing their own viewpoints and lob criticism of the other side across the no man’s land of a bemused public, lost in the fog of cynical intellectual warfare. There is no final arbiter as so much is at stake, both personally and financially. There are not 12 twelve good people who can decide the case is proven by assessing the evidence given to them.

Based on this I can only apologise if I add to the fog surrounding the parentage of Henry Wriothesley. How far you might be prepared to move along the path of proof is up to you. I seem to have painted myself into a corner by embarking on an analysis of the Pregnancy Portrait. I wasn’t expecting to critically examine the case for Henry Wriothesley, but having got his far their seems no escape, so here goes.

I have divided the presentation into several sections, each of which is subdivided:

  1. Birth and early life of Henry Wriothesley 3rd Earl of Southampton.
  2. The Tudor Prince theory.
  3. The Court of Queen Elizabeth in 1573.
  4. Something Special about Henry Wriothesley (Circumstantial evidence for his birthright)
  5. Summary

Biographies of Henry Wriothesley

There are two respected biographies of Henry Wriothesley

The first is The life of Henry ,Third Earl of Southampton,
Shakespeare’s Patron

by Charlotte Carmichael Stopes written in 1922.

The second is Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton, by GPV Akrigg 1968.

1. Birth and Early life

Here we are looking at one side of the family monument. On the left is Thomas Wriothesley 1st Earl of Southampton. On the right is his wife Jane Cheyne. They had three sons of which only one survived to adulthood. There were 5 daughters one of which married Thomas Radcliffe 3rd Earl of Sussex who I will return to later.

Here is the other side of the monument with Jane at the top. Below her is Henry the second Earl of Southampton. Curiously there are no paintings of him. Below is the young Henry the third Earl and his sister Mary.

The second Earl’s father also died young in 1550 and he remained with his mother for further 10 years. She was a strict Catholic and the young Earl was brought up in this religion and remained a devout Catholic for the rest of his life. In 1560 he became a Ward of Court to Sir William More of

Loseley and reached his majority in 1566 aged 20.

Mary Browne

The same year he married the 13 year old Mary Browne who was the daughter of Anthony Browne 1st Viscount Montagu and Jane Radcliffe who in turn was the daughter of Robert Radcliffe 1st Earl of Sussex. (That family name again). Mary grew up at Cowdray House in Sussex.

In 1568 the second Earl regained his estate consisting of 6 properties bringing in between £2000 and £3000 a year. He is said to have lived a lavish lifestyle. He maintained a London Residence in Holborn near what is now Bloomsbury Square and a country estate at Titchfield Abbey in Hampshire. This had been converted from an Abbey into a fine Tudor Mansion.

Titchfield Abbey

His Catholic faith put him at odds with Queen Elizabeth and in October 1571 he was arrested for being involved in the Ridolfi plot to depose her and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. He was confined in the Tower of London for 18 months

Sir William More

He was released on May 1 1573, into the hands of his former guardian Sir William More at Loseley, 22 miles north of Cowdray House. On the 14th July he was allowed to reside with his father in law at Cowdray although his movements were restricted.

On the 6th October 1573 He wrote to Sir William More to announce the arrival of his son, born at Cowdray that very day in the following words:

…It has so happened by the sudden seizing of my wife today, we could not by possibility have your wife present , as we desired. Yet I have thought good to impart unto you such good comfort as God hath sent me after all my long troubles, which is that this present morning at three of the clock, my wife delivered a goodly boy (God bless him). Yf your wife will take the paynes to visit her, we shall be mighty glad of her company. From Cowdray this present Tuesday 1573. Your assured frend H. Southampton.










The letter reveals that they had planned to have the wife of Sir William present at the birth, but because of the suddenness of the event she was able to attend.

CS Stopes tells us that she found no evidence of a baptism for Henry the 3rd Earl of Southampton, and no evidence for the birth or death of a second child.

There are only two references to Henry the Third Earl during his childhood. The first was in 1574 when he (named as Harrye) was left money from his grandmother and secondly in 1577 when the Earl estranged himself from his wife believing that she had been unfaithful.

The second Earl was extending his Estate by building a house in Dogmersfield a nearby village and Mary was reported as being in the company of another man there and she was warned not to see him again.

She was subsequently accused of infidelity with a “common man” called Donsame, and was banished from the Earl and lived under close surveillance on a Hampshire estate. She did not see Henry again until after the death of his father. The cause of rumours concerning the Countess of Southampton was attributed, by Charlotte Stopes, to one Thomas Dymock a trusted gentleman servant of the second Earl.

By all accounts the second earl was quite a weak man and became dangerously dependent on Thomas Dymock. The cause of the Earl’s death at the age of 39 is uncertain. He is reported to have died at home, and that 2 months previously he was perfectly well. Both his son and daughter Mary were said to have been present at his death. He is said to have lovingly blessed them and that they “wept and wailed at his death”.

Thomas Dymock was made an executor of the Will, and without knowledge of the other executors he set out proving the document, to ensure that he could be paid his share. His request was denied and a settlement was finally reached between the Countess and the executors under which Dymock retained the Earl’s generous bequests to him, but agreed to relinquish administration of the Earl’s estate. He lived in some comfort on a lodge on the estate.

Henry’s father died two days before his eighth birthday. Thus on 4 Oct. 1581 he became 3rd Earl of Southampton. His mother remained a widow during nearly the whole of his minority.

The Court of Wards
charles howard
Charles Howard


The young Earl became a royal ward on the death of his father, and Lord Burghley, the Treasurer, acted as his guardian in his capacity of master of the Court of Wards. As I discussed in an earlier presentation this was a ruse drawn up initially by Henry V111 to extract money from the landed gentry. The Southampton estates would have been managed by another courtier, in this case Charles

Howard 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham who was allowed to keep the proceeds. The estates would be returned to the ward when aged 21 on payment of a large fee, but a high proportion of the income would then be taken by the State.

Like Edward de Vere a generation before, Henry would have lived with Lord Burghley in his house on the Strand and would have regularly attended the court of Elizabeth. In practice he became one of her “children”. He would have received the finest education possible, being tutored by great experts in their fields. He would have shared his childhood with Lord Burghley’s granddaughter Elizabeth de Vere (daughter of Edward) and a young man by the name of Robert Devereux the future Earl of Essex.

At the age of twelve, in the autumn of 1586, he was admitted to St. John’s College, Cambridge. He remained at the university for four years, graduating at sixteen in 1589. Before leaving college he entered his name as a student at Gray’s Inn, and soon afterwards took into his ‘pay and patronage’ John Florio, the well-known author and Italian tutor. According to Florio the Earl quickly acquired a thorough knowledge of Italian.

Henry Wriothesley around 1590

About 1590, when he was hardly more than seventeen, he was presented to Queen Elizabeth, who showed him kindly notice, and her favourite, the Earl of Essex, afterwards displayed a brotherly interest in his welfare which proved in course of time a doubtful blessing. In the autumn of 1592 he was in the throng of noblemen that accompanied Elizabeth to Oxford, and was recognised as the most handsome and accomplished of all the young lords who frequented the royal presence.

The Tudor Prince Theory

Just for clarity this is also known as the Tudor Rose theory, but I will use the name Tudor Prince throughout as it makes more sense.

John Thomas Looney 1870-1944


In 1920 a schoolmaster who taught English, by the name of John Thomas Looney published a book entitled Shakespeare Identified. In it, working from the principle of the necessary attributes of the author of the Shakespeare works, he identified Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford as the author William Shakespeare. His analysis was received with a very mixed reception.

edward de vere hillier
Edward de Vere by Hilliard 1588
henry wriothesley
Henry Wriothesley 1594

Most researchers agreed however that the Fair Youth of the sonnets was Henry Wriothesley 3rd Earl of Southampton. The intense relationship between the young Earl and Shakespeare posed one great issue and that was whether or not it was the type of homosexual relationship described in Greek

times as that between older men and young ones, going under the term pederasty. An alternative view was advanced that this was the relationship between father and son.

The theory was advanced further by Percy Allen in England in 1947 in his book Talks with Elizabethans, by Charlton and Dorothy Ogbourne in America in 1952, in their book entitled This Star of England and by Elizabeth Sears in her 1991 book Shakespeare and the TudorRose.

Charlton Ogburn 1882-1962

All asserted that Henry Wriothesley was the son of Elizabeth 1 and Edward de Vere. The theory was an attempt to explain the many inconsistencies in the life story of England’s greatest poet, culminating in his being ostracised from Tudor society and airbrushed from history. Unfortunately their views split the Oxfordian faction, the group which believed that de Vere was the true poet.

Those divisions remains to this day. There are those, mostly in America who believe that Elizabeth 1st bore a child fathered by Edward de Vere; most prominent being Hank Whittemore who has re- interpreted the Sonnets from this viewpoint in his book. The Monument . Some proponents have extended the theory to include de Vere himself as the son of Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour, as depicted in Roland Emmerich’s 2011 film Anonymous. sometimes referred to as Tudor Prince 2.

Few in England subscribe to this view, most believing that it clouds the issue of the authorship of the Shakespeare works.

The proposed Sequence of Events

Proponents of the Tudor Prince theory set out their views on how the birth of the son of Elizabeth and Edward de Vere had been concealed and how he had been inserted into the Wriothesley family. The views of earlier researchers were added to by Elizabeth Sears in her 1991 book Shakespeare and the Tudor Rose. In essence they proposed that the birth took place in May or June of 1574 for reasons which I will explain shortly. Factual information leading to this proposal came from several sources. Firstly contemporary letters written by Gilbert Talbot and his brother Francis to their father the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1594. George Talbot was the 4th husband of Bess of Hardwick and at the time was under the spell of their charge Mary Queen of Scots.

A second source was from the writings of John Strype in 1735-7. Annals of the Reformation and Establishment of Religion, etc. Strype was a man of the church who had access to the papers of William Cecil. He published his life’s work in 59 volumes. So he was always in a bit of a rush.

The third source was John Nichols in 1788 in His work The progresses and public processions of Queen Elizabeth. The last edition of which was 1823.

John Nichols 1745-1826

The main difficulty was to explain how a birth could have been concealed in someone whose life was so public.

Elizabeth Sears, relying largely on the Ogburn’s research, presented her case:

In May of the year 1574, however, Queen Elizabeth, just starting out on her summer procession, surprisingly interrupted her Royal Progress and dismissed her retinue. Ordering Lord Burghley to remain in London, she retired to Havering-attre-Bowre ( a royal palace near Romford)

She went on to say:

… The Queen and her favourite, the young Earl of Oxford, retired to Havering. There they remained in seclusion for several weeks before the Queen resumed her Royal Progress early in July. Although there is no other official record of this period from the end of May to July, there is circumstantial evidence that a child was born to the Queen and the Earl of Oxford at this time.

Havering Palace (modern reconstruction)

The Ogburns believed that the child was born in June, quoting a letter written on June 28,1574 by Lord Talbot to his father:

The Queen remaineth sad and pensive in the month of June. . . [it seemed]she was so troubled for some important matters then before her. It was thought she would go to Bristow (Bristol.)… Mr. Hatton (not well in health)took this opportunity to get leave to go to the Spaw (Spa in Belgium), and Dr. Julio (the Queen’s court physician) with him, whereat the Queen shewed herself very pensive, and very unwilling to granthim leave, for he was her favourite.

The Ogburns believed that the Queen wanted to get Christopher Hatton out of the way in time for the birth.

sir christopher hatton

Sir Christopher Hatton 1540-1591

This argument of course raises another problem. I’m sure you have realised that the main events occurred in two separate years. The birth of Henry Wriothesley in October 1573 and the supposed birth of Elizabeth’s son in mid 1574. So we have two births nine months apart, making it much more difficult to explain a switch.

Spot the difference. He’s just big for his age.

An attempted explanation is that Mary Browne’s child, the real Earl of Southampton may have died or been replaced. Work by Charlotte Stopes, who had full access to the Wriothesley family archives for her 1922 book The Life of the 3rd Earl of Southampton, could find no evidence of a second child or indeed any reference to the christening of the Earl himself. It is hard to imagine the 2nd Earl and his wife accepting their natural son being banished, at the age of 9 months. One argument was that all babies of the gentry were cared for by wet nurses in their own homes for up to two years and so babies could easily be exchanged as their mothers would not be able to recognise them. Hardly likely I think.

Thomas Dymock

I should say something more about Thomas Dymock, the second Earl’s servant, at this point.

The Dymoke family of Scrivelsby in Lincoln were an illustrious family traced back to early 14th century. They held the ceremonial role of the King’s/Queen’s champion. A role which challenges anyone who opposes the right of an heir to the throne. Supporters of the Tudor Prince theory have declared that Thomas Dymock was a member of this family and that he was a plant in order to ensure that the young prince was kept safe. He was a lawyer and an associate of the Queen.

In fact this is all untrue. Below is information extracted from the Dymoke family tree published in 1894.

There was only one Thomas Dymoke born to this family in the latter half of the 16th century. He was the great Grandson of Sir Edward Dymoke born after 1579 and he was admitted to Gray’s Inn in 1609.

The Thomas Dymock in Hampshire does not belong to this family and was what he appeared to be, a servant on the make, with an over reliant master.

So that is a brief summary of the foundations on which Tudor Prince Theory was built. It is true that there are many examples from the life of Henry Wriothesley, and contemporary literature which can be interpreted as supporting his status, but without a believable explanation of the circumstances surrounding his birth then they carry little weight.

So is the explanation I have outlined adequate to do this? No it isn’t as I am about to explain.

The Counter Argument

In an article entitled Rough Winds do Shake: A Fresh look at the Tudor Rose Theory published in 1996, Diana Price made a strong argument against a birth in 1574.

She pointed out that the chronicler Strype incorrectly interpreted the letters of Lord Talbot by combining extracts from letters in both 1573 and 1574, then Nichols copied him. In truth Sir

Christopher Hatton went to Spa in 1573 and not 1574. The planned stay at Havering Castle (with Edward de Vere) did not take place in 1574 or at any other time. The reason was this. The death of Charles 1X of France from tuberculosis in 1574. It was this that led to the Queen’s melancholy.

Charles IX of France 1560- 1474
catherine de medici
Catherine de Medici 1519- 1589

Now the king’s mother Catherine de Medici, the hugely powerful member of the Italian Medici family, was the husband of one French King and the mother of three. She had floated the idea of a marriage between Elizabeth and her youngest son Francis Duke of Anjou and Alençon.

Francis Duke of Anjou and Alençon 1555- 1584

Elizabeth initially refused but then entered protracted negotiations which help strengthen her alliance against Spain. The death of Charles 1X, Francis’ brother threw these plans into confusion.

I should say this did not appear to be a match of love. Francis was 19 and the Queen 40. He was disfigured from small pox and was under 5 ft tall. The Queen referred to him as her Frog. Even so at the time of his brother’s death the Queen was engaged in complicated arrangements to meet him.

La Mothe. French Ambassador to England 1568-1575

Now all of the negotiations were reported back to France by Bertrand de Salignac Seigneur De la Mothe Fenelon. Referred to in the court records as La Mothe.

During May and June 1574 la Mothe Fenelon reported frequently to Paris following personal meetings with the Queen. By this stage she would have been in the later stages of pregnancy and then giving birth. The Queen remained at Hampton Court and then Greenwich until the end of June when her summer progress began.

The arguments of the Ogburns and Elizabeth Sears for a birth in 1574 really do not stand up to this scrutiny. They arose because of misinterpretation of the facts. It became trapped in a timeframe where the opportunity for concealing a birth was absent.

There was series of letters back and forth between opposing sides of the argument following Diana Price’s publication, over other circumstantial evidence, but without foundations the case was lost.

Henry Wriothesley in the Tower

Another piece of evidence against Elizabeth 1st being the mother of Henry Wriothesley at any time is this painting of him while imprisoned in the Tower of London between 1601 and 1603. In fact it was done after his release from prison. There are many interesting features of the painting, but the one of interest here is his face.

Comparison with a painting of his mother Mary reveals a remarkable likeness. In Sonnet 3, Edward de Vere says of Henry Wriothesley:

Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee

Calls back the lovely April of her prime;

So it’s all over then? Well not exactly. The portrait of Mary Browne was when she was just 13 and that of Henry when he was 30. Is it not odd that they should be so similar? Henry’s appearance seems to have the features of an El Greco portrait. But was really this way? It is interesting to compare other portraits of him.

Here in the centre is an image of Henry’s face and I have drawn on it a grid and marked the eye centres. The grid defines features in both horizontal and vertical planes.

By scaling different images the grid allows comparison. I an aware that this type of technique is subject to many pitfalls, but look not usually in the vertical plane. On the left is Henry aged 27 and on the right he is 46. In both the outer images the mouth line is very similar but the chins are shorter. Albeit covered by some stubble. Note also that the hair line recedes markedly between 27 and 30, but comes back again by aged 46.

The same image is on the left and here I have plotted a map of the shape of the face. In the centre the image of Mary Browne is scaled up to the same size and made partially transparent.

And on the right the map is overlain on her face. A perfect fit! Is it too perfect? Why have yourself painted when you were in prison, after the event? Could this be a clever way of demonstrating the parentage of Henry on the succession of James 1st? A final nail in the coffin of his possible claim to the throne.

We have seen these two images before. I have to say that the one of the queen is one of my favourites. She looks both human and rather vulnerable.

If we apply the same technique of overlaying the grid from Henry’s portrait. There are striking similarities in the position of the facial features in particular the shape of the mouths.

So I would suggest that it far from game over.

Then of course, there is the issue of the Queen’s age. It has been argued that she was too old to bear a child in the early 1570’s.

This is Sir Arthur Keith’s health chart of Elizabeth compiled from original documents.

In the early part of 1572 she had a leg ulcer which healed some 5 years later. She had amenorrhoea in 1577 and was having climacteric swoons in 1585. So although unlikely she could have had a child in the early 1570’s.

An Alternative view

If we remove the constraint on the timing of a pregnancy and birth from 1574, we can look more closely at the year 1573. Fortunately various archives for this period are now available on line.

Calendar of State papers Domestic. British History on line.

Calendar of State papers Foreign. British History on line.

The Elizabethan Court Day by Day. Marion Colthorpe Folger Library.

We should remember that the information gleaned from these sources may not be entirely accurate as it has been extracted from the original documents which themselves may have been altered.

So let’s look in detail at what the Queen was doing in 1573. In summary the Queen spent a month at Hampton Court in January, followed by 3 weeks at Greenwich Palace. She then went on a 10 day short progress close to London. From the 9th of March until the 15th of July, she was at Greenwich Palace.

I have extracted from the records the occasions when Queen was recorded to have given audience or been visited by senior courtiers.

You can see quite clearly the frequent visits up until mid March and then again just before the summer progress in mid July. There are two periods with sparse records. On the 30th March The French envoy to Scotland Verac had an audience with the Queen. Three weeks later on 24th April the Queen was seen attending St Georges Garter Day ceremonies, and two weeks after this on May 5th, the French Ambassador la Mothe Fenelon had an audience.

The second period is during June and July. On the 9th June the Queen summoned her Council to complain about the treatment of Verac by the Scottish. On the 18th June a christening is recorded, the Queen being a Godmother to the child. It does not say whether or not she attended as children may have had several godparents. Nearly 4 weeks later on July 12th the French Ambassador had an audience.

These two periods free from formal visits from outsiders would provide adequate time for the Queen to have given birth discretely. Obviously the Queen was not alone at Court, so we need to know the nature of the Queen’s life at the palace of Greenwich.

This is a sketch of the Tudor Palace of Greenwich viewed from the north across the river. It was T shaped. The main facade looked north across the river.

  1. At the eastern end of the palace was the chapel.
  2. Running perpendicular to the facade were two great towers
  3. They overlooked the tiltyard, seen on the left of the image.
  4. In the centre was the main gatehouse three stories high which projected forwards into the river,
  5. Behind this five stories high the towers of the Royal apartments.
  6. At the western end of the palace, and adjoining it was the church of the observant Friars, noted by its fine steeple. Behind the western end of the palace were the formal gardens and in the distance.
  7. On the hill was the tower built by Humphrey of Gloucester.

Here is the view from the south. The great towers of the tiltyard and gatehouse are now more easily defined. As is the gardens and the church of the Observant Friars. In the foreground is a separate gatehouse from which the Queen used to watch military displays.

The layout of the interior of the palace is unclear. The Royal apartments were in the upper story of the building. The Queen used the King’s apartments overlooking the river. The diagram above comes from the Royal Palace website,

A remarkable insight into how this worked is given in Anna Whitlock’s book Elizabeth’s Bedfellows. The Court consisted of three distinct areas, the Presence chamber, the Privy / Withdrawing chamber and the Queen’s Bedchamber. The Presence chamber was usually large and was accessible to anyone entitled to appear at court. It was filled with courtiers, foreign ambassadors and other who hope to catch a glimpse of the Queen and if possible press their case.

The Privy chamber was where the Queen spent most of her time surrounded by favoured ladies, dealing with business, dancing, playing cards and gossiping. It was heavily guarded. In addition there were grooms and gentlemen of the bedchamber who took charge of the space both day and night.

These formal spaces seem very small at Greenwich being only about 30ft square, hardly on the scale of Hampton Court. During the time of Henry V111 the tower behind the gatehouse was part of his private apartment. It appears to me that this palace was much more intimate with a substantial private quarters.

Queen Elizabeth’s bedroom at Burghley House

The Queen’s Bedchamber was in essence the centre of the Court. Here the Queen’s natural body was on show in contrast to the formal body of the monarch. She was waited on by ladies of the Bedchamber who had the most intimate access to her, during eating, bathing and toileting. One usually slept with her or on a truckle bed beside her. They were also responsible for dressing the Queen in her elaborate gowns, and applying her extensive make up.

The maids of honour were young unmarried women of good birth usually dressed in white, who provided companionship and entertainment for the queen in the Privy chamber and accompanied her in public.

Elizabeth’s position as an unmarried female ruler was vulnerable. Whereas in a male ruler, sexual prowess might be considered as a mark of power, in a female monarch it could signal corruption or weakness. Similarly without an heir, physical illness could cause great instability in the nation. She needed protection, which brings us to the ladies of the Bedchamber.

Ladies of the Bedchamber

The ladies of the Bedchamber were the guardians of the truth as to the health of the Queen and in turn the stability of the monarchy. Not surprisingly they were very carefully chosen.

Elizabeth’s vulnerability was exploited by the Catholic nations ranged against her, leading to rumours of sexual activity with various members of the Court resulting in illegitimate children. This became a long standing campaign to challenge the Protestant state. There were reports of bribery of some of the ladies of the bedchamber revealing intimate details of the Queen’s life, but it is impossible to disentangle fact from fiction.

Margaret Tudor sister to Henry V111 Grandmother

Mary Queen of Scots Prisoner from 1667 to 1687

To complicate matters not only was the Queen toying with marriage to the Catholic Duke of Alencon, but behind this of course was the issue of Mary Queen of Scots, who was the grand daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret, and as Mary Guise had married the French Dauphin François of Valois in 1558, and was widowed 2 years later. She was in pursuit of her own claim to the throne of England and the return of catholicism.

Commentators have always said that only a virgin queen would be a suitable wife for a foreign suitor, however I am not so sure. This was all about international political and religious power. Any foreigner marrying the Queen would be king, and rule over England would revert to his nation on the succession. Any previous offspring of the Queen would be sidelined. Let’s return to the Bedchamber and look more closely at the Queen’s confidantes, which I think gives an insight into the dedication of these ladies.

Katherine Knollys (nee Carey) 1524- 1569

Katherine was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, Anne’s sister. Ostensibly her father was William Carey, although it is widely believed that she was the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII. She was at least first cousin to Elizabeth, probably her half sister. On Elizabeth’s accession Katherine returned to England from exile, with her husband Sir Frances Knollys and her 5 children. Joining her at Court were her two daughters Lettice (aged 15) and Elizabeth (9). and this may of relevance as I will explain later. For the next 10 years Katherine served the Queen as well as looking after her 13 children.

Lady Catherine Howard (nee Carey) 1547- 1603

Lady Catherine Howard (nee Carey not to be confused with the above)

Catherine was the daughter of Henry Carey brother of Katherine Knollys. She became a Maid of Honour under the auspices of her aunt and in 1572 was appointed First Lady of the Bedchamber. She served the Queen for 45 years. Her husband was Charles Howard whom we met as manager of Henry Wriothesley’s estates during his wardship.

Lady Katherine Cornwallis (nee Wriothesley)

Katherine was the sister of the 2nd Earl of Southampton. She served the Queen for 30 years as did her husband Thomas Cornwallis. Both were associated with the Royal Court. Thomas as “groom porter” to the Queen responsible for organising the activities in the outer chambers of the palace. Katherine although a committed Catholic served the Queen for 30 years and as a result was granted “freedom of thought” towards the end of her reign.

Katherine Ashley1502- 1565

Kat was the most trusted of Elizabeth’s ladies and served as the First Lady of the Bedchamber. She was fiercely loyal having been imprisoned in the Tower on two occasions while defending Elizabeth against allegations of impropriety with her stepfather Thomas Seymour. Kat had died in 1564, but her influence at Court remained in terms of the devotion of the Ladies to the Queen.

Blanche Parry 1507- 1590

Blanche had known Elizabeth throughout her life, looking after her when she was young. She was a very straightforward Welshwoman who never married and remained devoted and loyal to Elizabeth for the rest of her life.

After Kat Ashley’s death in 1565, Blanche Parry was appointed the Chief Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber, and was one of those who controlled access to the Queen. She was in charge of the Queen’s personal papers, clothes, furs and books. She received presentations of Parliamentary bills for the Queen, and wrote letters on the Queen’s behalf. Blanche Parry’s position was at the centre of the Court and conduit to royal power. She was friends with her cousin Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the Queen’s chief adviser, and worked closely with him

Dorothy Stafford 1526- 1604

Dorothy Stafford married her cousin Sir William Stafford widower of Mary Boleyn. In 1563 she was appointed mistress of the robes to the Queen. She exercised much influence at court. She remained in service for 40 years. Her daughter Elizabeth was a lady of the bedchamber.

I have brought all these ladies to your attention to illustrate the rings of devoted protection surrounding the Queen at all times. It is hard to believe that any of these ladies would betray privacy of the Queen, or indeed let others to do so under pain of death.

Letters from Court

Letters written between members of the Court shed some light on events during 1573. Elizabeth Weir in her biography Elizabeth the Queen tells us that after 13 years the relationship between the Queen and Robert Dudley was no longer passionate, but was replaced by a deep bond of affection. On the surface he played the part of the adoring suitor along with Sir Christopher Hatton and Edward de Vere. Hatton deeply resented the favour shown to Oxford as he believed that he stood higher in her affections than anyone else. Hatton’s enemies claimed that he had “More recourse to the Queen in her Privy Chamber than reason would suffer, if she were so virtuous and well inclined as she made out”.

sir christopher hatton

To Hatton from Dyer. October 1572

In October 1572 the poet Sir Edward Dyer a friend of Hatton had written to him offering advice on dealing with the Queen. (I have paraphrased it slightly)

The best and soundest way in mine opinion is, to put on another mind; to use your suits towards her Majesty in words, behaviour, and deeds; to acknowledge your duty, declaring the reverence which in heart you bear, and never seem deeply to condemn her frailties, but rather joyfully to commend such things as should be in her…do not show hate for my Lord Chm [Chamberlain =Oxford] … or blame him openly for seeking the Queen’s favour.

Next comes the interesting section

For though in the beginning when her Majesty sought you, she did bear with rugged dealing of yours, until she had what she fancied, yet now, after satiety and fulness, it (any rugged dealing) will rather hurt than help you; whereas, behaving yourself as I said before, your place shall keep you in worship, your presence in favour…

…and you shall dwell in the ways to take all advantage wisely, and honestly to serve your turn at times. Marry thus much I would advise you to remember, that you use no words of disgrace or reproach towards him so that he may sleep, thinking all safe, while you do awake and attend your advantages.

From Gilbert Talbot to father George May 1573

On 11 May of 1573 Gilbert Talbot wrote to his father George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and husband of Beth of Hardwyke. The letter gives us information concerning both Robert Dudley and Edward de Vere.

“My Lord Leicester is very much with her Majesty, and she shows the same great good affection to him that she was wont; of late he has endeavoured to please her more than heretofore. There are two sisters now in the court that are very far in love with him, as they have been long, my Lady Sheffield and Frances Howard. They (of like striving who shall love him better) are at great wars together, and the Queen thinketh not well of them, and not the better of him; by this means there are spies over him.”

In fact Lady Sheffield had been Dudley’s mistress for some time and they married in May 1573 although it was kept secret from the Queen.

Gilbert Talbot went on:

…My Lord of Oxford is lately grown into great credit, for the Queen’s Majesty delighteth more in his personage and his dancing and valiantness than any other. I think Sussex

( Thomas Radcliffe 3rd Earl of Sussex see later) doth back him all that he can; if it were not

for his fickle head, he would pass any of them shortly.

My Lady Burghley unwisely has declared herself, as it were, jealous, which is come to the Queen’s ear, whereat she has been not a little offended with her, but now she is reconciled again.

Lord Burghley (William Cecil) “I’m curious”
Lady Burghley “I’m Jealous”

At all these love matters my Lord Treasurer (William Cecil) winketh, and will not meddle any way. Hatton is sick still; it is thought he will very hardly recover his disease, for it is doubted it is in his kidneys. The Queen goeth almost every day to see how he doth..

Mary Queen of Scots to Elizabeth 1584

In addition there was a letter from Mary Queen of Scots to the Queen, although written in 1584 it has relevance to current events. In the letter she tells that Bess the Countess of Hardwick told her that:

“Firstly that one [Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester] to whom she said you had made a promise of marriage before a lady of your chamber had lain numberless times with you … and that you would never wish to lose the liberty of making love and gratifying yourself with new lovers, regretting this, said she, that you would not content yourself with Master Hatton and another of this kingdom… That even the Earl of Oxford dared not reconcile himself with his wife for fear of losing the favour which he hoped to receive by courting you.”

sir christopher hatton

From Hatton to Elizabeth. June 1573

The third letter is from Hatton himself. It was written to Queen Elizabeth from Spa in Belgium in June of 1573, where Hatton had gone to recover from his illness. He writes,

“God bless you for ever, the branch of the sweetest bush (Presumably a present) I will wear and bear to my life’s end. God witness that I feign not. It is a gracious favour most dear and welcome unto me: reserve it to the Sheep, he hath no tooth to bite, where the Boar’s tusk may both raze and tear.”

“The Sheep” was one of Elizabeth’s pet names for Hatton; Edward de Vere’s heraldic animal was the boar. From these three letters, then, we may conclude that the Earl of Oxford was Hatton’s rival for Elizabeth’s favours and at that time De Vere was favourite. It is hard not to get the impression that both Hatton and De Vere had a sexual relationship with the Queen.

The State papers contain the report of a letter from Hatton. Although dated ?July they probably refer to the same letter. Interestingly he asks if the reports of her illness were true.

This is Spa in Belgium. In the original form of the Tudor Prince theory, it was supposed that Hatton was sent away to Spa to get him out of the way. Remember this was wrongly dated as 1574 negating the argument. If however a birth took place in 1573 then it may be redeployed. Interestingly the Queen was well aware of Spas at both Bath and Buxton, as she sent Mary Queen of Scots to the latter on several occasions. Why then did Hatton go to Belgium?

You can see from the map that even excluding the channel crossing the journey was considerable for a sick man. Hatton left Court on 5th June 1573 and during the summer sent a number of passionate letters to the Queen. The date of his return to Court is not known, but he was certainly in London in October.

Hiding a Royal Pregnancy

Critics of the Tudor Prince theory have quite reasonably made the point that the Queen would not have been able to hide the visible signs of late pregnancy. So far we have established that there were two period of time where she did not venture outside Greenwich palace and there were no recorded audiences. It is obvious that the ladies of the bedchamber would have been aware of such a pregnancy and it is likely that they would have kept a secret. Less so the maids of honour who might have been more susceptible to bribery. Failure of the Queen to appear in the Presence chamber would have caused comments and there is no record of any been made. Judging by the size of the state rooms it is possible that Greenwich was not as busy as the bigger palaces.

Proponents of the the theory have said that the Queen could have worn Farthingale dresses to hide the bump, and as pregnancy progressed the waist line could have been raised. This type of garment was constructed of a series of hoops of increasing size supported by a fabric. The Spanish Farthingale which was prevalent in the 1570’s was said to have been invented by Joan of Portugal, mistress of the king in order to hide guess what?… a pregnancy. While effective perhaps until the third trimester of pregnancy, after that the waist line would be virtually under the armpits.

The Spanish Farthingale
Elizabeth in a Farthingale Dress 1569

Interestingly in Hans Eworth’s portrait of Elizabeth 1 and the three Goddesses, She is wearing a Spanish farthingale dress. In order for late pregnancy to have gone unnoticed the Queen must have remained within the Privy Chamber or private quarters where she could have worn loose clothes.

So that’s it then, on this basis alone the pregnancy never happened.

I’m not so sure, firstly the Queen’s medical records reveal that she was often very thin. Although thin women put on more weight during pregnancy than fatter ones, the pregnancy is carried forward in the abdomen with less change in the rest of the body. Secondly we know that late pregnancy can go unnoticed as Anne Vavasour, Edward de Vere’s mistress concealed her pregnancy until she gave birth at court.

There is also something else which has not been considered. I would like to introduce you to Lettice Knollys and her sister Elizabeth. These two sisters came to Court when they returned from exile with their mother Catherine. Lettice was 10 years younger than the Queen. She had married Walter Devereux in 1560 and over the next 10 years bore him 5 children. Although the family seat was at Chartley in Staffordshire, she spent time at court when her husband was in Ireland as he was in 1573. There were rumours of a romance with Robert Dudley from as early as 1565.

Elizabeth Knollys was 16 years younger than the Queen. She was appointed Gentlewoman of the Privy chamber in 1566 and continued in this capacity until 1578 when she married Sir Thomas Leighton.

Lettice Knollys 1585 by George Gower
Elizabeth Knollys 1577 George Gower

Now both of these ladies, particularly Lettice bore a striking resemblance to the Queen, as well they might given their heritage. They were both in close contact with the queen and were well acquainted with how she spoke, and her mannerisms. Could it be possible therefore that wearing the clothing and make up of the Queen they could have stood in for her? Take for example the St Georges Garter Day celebration on April 23rd when the Queen was in a procession and attended a service. There is no doubt that if a pregnancy took place Robert Dudley would have known. Given his position with Lady Sheffield and Lettice it seems likely that he would have been complicit in hiding it. Could he have been responsible for shepherding a stand-in for the Queen on appearances at the Presence chamber?

Then there is the curious letter from Sir Christopher Hatton asking about her illness. Could this have been an excuse for not appearing at Court?

The last thing to consider is that the records that we have available have been subject to censorship, to convey what those in power ie the likes of William Cecil wanted us to know. Think for example of how the papers of Edward de Vere including his Will mysteriously vanished. It would have been imperative that all record of a royal child fathered by Edward de Vere should be erased.

A Royal Pregnancy. Planned or a mistake?

Elizabeth 1 by Zuccaro 1580

Those unwilling to contemplate such a pregnancy might say that the Queen would not have allowed herself to become pregnant. Which introduces the subject of Tudor birth control. Well, birth control during the Tudor period was illegal. The Church dictated that sexual relations were to be undertaken only in marriage and only for procreation and not pleasure. Therefore women and men would not need birth control. Such rules did not apply to Kings whose sexual urges needed to be met for the good of his health. Although it was illegal, contraception in the Tudor period did exist. It consisted of many varied and different methods including the man withdrawing from the woman before he ejaculated, and the taking of herbs and oils such as oil of mint, oil of rue, oil of savin and honeysuckle juice. The woman could also insert various things into her vagina, such as pepper, wool soaked in vinegar, or bundles of herbs which would hopefully kill the sperm. A woman might also insert beeswax to cover the entrance to the cervix. The man could also use a type of condom made of lambskin, which was known as a ‘Venus Glove’. Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, is quoted as saying that “a woman might meddle with a man and yet conceive no child unless she would herself”. Judging by the number of illegitimate children at the time the methods of contraception were hardly foolproof.

Now what if such a pregnancy were planned? Perhaps not as far fetched as it seems. Elizabeth, as a female ruler had a real problem in securing the succession of a Tudor Monarch. I have already outlined the risks of taking a foreign husband. The results had been felt following the marriage of Mary Tudor to Philip of Spain. Allowing the monarchy to slip into the hands of the family of Mary Queen of Scots risked a return to catholicism. Marriage to a member of the aristocracy was not without risk either. The monarchy falling into the hands of the Mafia like clutches of one of the powerful families was not an attractive proposition. Robert Dudley, by all accounts was getting too powerful until he was tainted by the death of his wife Amy Robsart in 1560.

If we return to the Pregnancy Portrait poem, Elizabeth speaks of the fruit of a love tree, brought up in care as her only hope. A hidden successor, sired by the highest ranking Earl in the kingdom who had no wish for power, and revealed at the appropriate time, would have been a very clever plan.

If the only thing what I have presented just raises a little doubt in your mind about the possibility of the Queen bearing a child in 1573, then I would count that as a success.

If you move away from the standpoint that the queen was a virgin and such things could never happen, then it does open the door to the whole range of circumstantial evidence of such an event taking place.

Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidence of Henry Wriothesley being the son of Elizabeth 1st is extensive, but I will just give you some examples to consider.

The Sonnets and Henry Wriothesley

The Sonnets become much easier to understand if Henry Wriothesley were the son of Edward de Vere. They are then free of the cloud of pederasty. De Vere tells us that he is consumed with self love and he transfers this to the Fair Youth, viewed as a younger version of himself. The theme of preservation of the Youth’s virtues for eternity fits with the concept of setting the record straight, as I believe does the Pregnancy Portrait. Look for example at Sonnet 81:

Your name from hence immortal life shall have, Though I, once gone, to all the world must die. The earth can yield me but a common grave When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie. Your monument shall be my gentle verse, Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read.

Surely this was not to be destined to remain in a secret diary. I suspect that the original sonnet booklet escaped the censorship of his works, and emerged when his house King’s Place was sold in 1609. Had it not survived it is likely that there would have been no authorship debate, or questions over the Succession.

The relationship between de Vere and Southampton did not of course run smoothly in the 1590’s, to the extent that Southampton probably fathered a child by de Vere’s erstwhile mistress Penelope Rich; a child which was brought up as Henry de Vere, later the 18th Earl of Oxford.

Some authors have opined that this scandal alone was sufficient to have led to de Vere being ostracised and censored, leading to his retreat into the world of William Shakespeare. I am not so sure about this. I think the bigger issue was the Succession and the roles of William and Robert Cecil, kingmakers to James 1st, who stood to have great political power and untold wealth.

There is another Sonnet of interest, number 33. This sonnet uses the metaphor of the sun moving across the sky enlightening the morning, but then being hidden by clouds so that its face could not be seen. A heavenly sun stained. In the second half of the sonnet de Vere tells us that his sun (son) did shine, but he had him only for an hour before a royal cloud masked him. An earthly son (son) stained.

Here it is in full for which I make no apology.
Full many a glorious morning have I seen (the sun)
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye, (sovereign = Royal)
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face
And from the forlorn world his visage hide. Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace.
Even so my sun one early morn did shine (sun=son) With all-triumphant splendour on my brow;
But out, alack! he was but one hour mine;
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now. (region, Italian regio = royal)
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.

It is hard not to interpret this sonnet as referring to a son of Edward de Vere taken away from him. The term “region cloud” seems a curious one as it consists of two nouns. Until of course you realise the Italian word “regio” means royal, derived from the Latin “regere” to rule. The term is then “royal cloud”.

Some authors took the move to the west to be reference to the Queen’s visit to Bristol, but this took place in 1574, which we have already established did not have an opportunity for a birth. However the family seat of the Wriothesley family was Titchfield Abbey which is situated midway between Portsmouth and Southampton ie to the west of London.

Thomas Nashe. A Choice of Valentines

In the early 1590’s Thomas Nashe dedicated his poem The Choice of Valentines to the Earl of Southampton with the following words:

Pardon, sweete flower of matchless Poetrie
And fairest bud that red rose ever bore . . .
Ne blame my verse of loose unchastity
For painting forth the things that hidden are.

The first line can be interpreted as Southampton the son (the flower) of the only writer of matchless poetry, Edward de Vere, and the Queen, labelled as the red rose who birthed him. You can see “e vere” hidden in the last two words of the second line. In fact the following partial anagram can be derived from the letters in the line:


Pardon, sweete flower of matchless Poetrie
And fairest bud that red rose ever bore . . .
Ne blame my verse of loose unchastity
For painting forth the things that hidden are.

In the third line “vere” appears again in the word “verse”. Simply remove the “s” from “verse” and the line reads:


Now look at the fourth line “For painting things that hidden are” Is this a reference to the Pregnancy Portrait, even though this poem was probably written several years before the portrait was painted? Had it been planned for some years?

Again in the fourth line there is “forth t”. Those of you who have been following the presentations will immediately think of Edward de Vere who considered himself the fourth T hidden in the triple Tau symbol of the trinity.

Triple Tau
Fourth T

Nashe is recording for posterity things that are hidden, i.e. the state secret that the Virgin Queen bore a son. Nashe portrayed Southampton’s origins clearly and straight-forwardly, without subtlety. No alternative interpretation of this poem has been offered by academic scholars in the past 400 years. Thomas Nashe was a colleague and close literary associate of Edward de Vere. He and de Vere’s other ten University Wits were bold writers, unafraid of Cecil’s censors who incorporated current historical truths into their writings, including Shakespeare authorship clues.

Something Special About Henry Wriothesley

John Rollett died 1915

Tucked away in a book proposing the Earl of Derby as Shakespeare, author John Rollett devotes two chapters to Henry Wriothesley, in which he makes three very interesting observations about the young Earl. These have been largely ignored in the UK, but in the light of my own findings I will describe them to you.

Knights of the Garter

The Order of the Garter was the highest order of chivalry in the Tudor Court. There were 24 members and all had distinguished themselves either politically or militarily. They were senior members of the aristocracy. On ceremonial occasions they wore a garter on the left leg on which were inscribed Honi soit qui mal y pense. Around the neck they wore a chain made of alternating tudor roses and knots, from which hung a figure of St George slaying the dragon.

Thomas Howard 1st Earl of Suffolk

Knighthood of the Garter was awarded by the Queen and votes were cast by members of the order. In May of 1593 Philip Gawdy wrote a letter to his elder brother, High Sheriff of Norfolk. In it he reports that the Earl of Southampton aged just 19 had been nominated. The compliment of nomination was unprecedented outside the circle of the sovereign’s kinsmen and shows that people were expecting the Queen to make Henry a Garter Knight, the precedent for which had been set by Henry V111. He made his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy a Garter Knight aged 6.

At the age of just 22 in 1596, having performed no service to the State, Henry received 10 out of 12 votes, presumably because the members thought there was a good chance of success, but he was not appointed. In subsequent years his votes were low. However one of the first tasks of James 1st was to appoint him. In addition when James arrived at Hinchingbrooke, Southampton was chosen to carry the Sword of State. He was held in an esteem which can only be explained by his birth.


In 1593 the poet George Peele, published a poem entitled The Honour of the Garter. It ran to 364 lines extolling the virtues of those who had held the honour over 300 years. Then quite out of context he writes:

Gentle Wriothesley, Southampton’s starre
I wish all fortune that in Cynthia’s eye
Cynthia the glory of the Western world,
With all the starres in her faire firmament
Bright may he rise and shine immortally.

Cynthia was widely used to refer to the Queen, and Henry was the only living person apart from her that is mentioned in the poem. After another 150 lines about historical figures the 5 persons who were awarded the knighthood on that day were mentioned. To be immortalised at the age of 19 was quite something.The poem ends in Latin, the translation of which is:

(Stay )far away from here, detested turmoil (civil war)
the nettle yields coarse weeds,
the offspring of the rose is noble.

Now the rose was the flower par excellence of Elizabeth. It is hard not to conclude that the poem is a plea to the Queen to recognise him as her heir, thereby using her power to dispel the prospect of a civil war over the succession.


Henry Wriothesley visited Oxford University with the Queen in 1592. John Sandford chaplain of Magdalen College wrote some celebratory verses in Latin, the title of which was The Idylls of Apollo and the Muses. One verse concerns the young Lord. John Rollett was intrigued by the use of the rare word “Dynasta”. In the 16th century a dynasty referred quite specifically to a line of kings and princes. It did not gain its wider meaning until 200 years later. The translation taking account of this can be read as follows:


After him there follows a hereditary Prince of
illustrious lineage, whom as a great hero the rich
House of Southampton lawfully lays claim to as one
of its own. There was present no one more comely, no
young man more outstanding in learning, although
his mouth scarcely blooms with tender down.

The use of the term “lawfully lays claim” is very revealing. Had he been the natural son of the Southamptons this would have been automatic. This implies that because they adopted him he was theirs lawfully irrespective of parentage. He was both a prince and Earl. John Rollett makes the point that such a poem would not have been sanctioned if the university had felt unsafe at referring to Southampton this way. The implication of George Peele’s poem and this one is that it was widely known in London and Oxford that he was the son of the queen.


So let’s try and summarise my findings.

There is insufficient information in the records to demonstrate that the Queen bore a child in 1573. There is however sufficient space in her recorded activities for this to have occurred. Many of the arguments raised by Diana Price over the year 1574 can be set aside. 1573 provides an opportunity.

The relationship between Elizabeth and Edward de Vere was at its height in late 1572 and early 1573. Sir Christopher Hatton was a rival for her attention, and moving him to Spa would have been helpful. If such a birth took place I would suggest between 9th June until 12th of July. Such a child could then have been put in the care of a wet nurse.

The Queen was surrounded by intensely loyal supporters who for her and their own interests could have helped her.

  1. William Cecil the self serving first minister with much to lose
  2. Robert Dudley in a secret marriage to Lady Sheffield.
  3. The formidable ladies of the bed and Privy chambers.
  4. Other individuals with family relationships
Thomas Radcliffe 3rd Earl of Sussex

The were several people who were in close contact with the Queen, and the Wriothesley family who were in a position to ease the process of a child substitution. This is Thomas Radcliffe 3rd Earl of Sussex. He was a leading courtier of Elizabeth 1. He was also like a surrogate father to the young Edward de Vere, taking him with him during the suppression of the rebellion of the Northern Earls

(Northumberland and Westmoreland )in 1569. It was he who was supporting Edward de Vere when he was courting the Queen. In 1572 he became Lord Chamberlain, being responsible for managing the Royal Household and was in close contact with the Queen until his death in 1583. Oh, and also his first wife was Elizabeth Wriothesley, daughter of the First Earl of Southampton.

Charles Howard 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham

This is Charles Howard 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham. We have met his wife Catherine Carey, daughter of William, who was in the Queen’s household for 45 years. Charles Howard was a cousin to Elizabeth and very close to her. It was he who was granted the Wardship of the young Earl of Southampton. Indeed it was he who pressed the Queen about the succession when she was on her deathbed. The Howards lived very close to Lady Katherine Cornwallis (nee Wriothesley) sister to the second Earl and lady of the bedchamber.

With such powerful family and political loyalties I think it is possible to understand how the Queen could have been both supported and protected. These people were well aware of the inner workings of the household of the 2nd Earl of Southampton and the circumstances of his wife’s pregnancy.

Wriothesley Family Scenarios

  1. The first scenario is that Mary the Countess was never pregnant at all, but a royal child was introduced into the family after a respectable period of time to be able to argue that the second Earl was the father. I think that this is very unlikely. The 2nd Earl was definitely expecting delivery of a baby, as expressed in his letter to Sir William More. In turn Lady More would have expected to have seen a new born at here next invited visit. Which presumably took place soon afterwards. So there was definitely a newborn boy in the household on October 6th 1573.
  2. Secondly the father of Mary’s child was someone else. In later years she was known to be associated with other men leading to a schism in her marriage. In nearly 10 years of marriage there was only one live child, Mary born in 1567, and it does seem odd that the next pregnancy was in a period of forced separation, however I think it highly likely that the 2nd Earl would have banished both Mary and her child if he did not think it was his, irrespective of any outside influence.

This leaves us with scenario three, that the child was the natural son of the second Earl. We should remember that the Wriothesley family were recusant Catholics and that the second Earl had been involved in the Ridolfi plot to unseat the Queen, so they would not have been in a strong position to resist any role they were expected to play. Having said that they surely would have resisted a natural son being replaced by another, even if he were royal.

Everyone is persuadable of course, particularly if life and freedom, status and wealth are at stake, more so if an adopted child were later to be recognised as the next King of England.

We shall never know what transpired, but there is a mechanism for substitution switching the children at the wet nurse, the age difference being only 3 months. Perhaps this was without the knowledge of the 2nd Earl and his wife?

I am not saying that this happened, merely that it could have done.

So what could have gone wrong with a Tudor Prince ?

It is not so much what, but who could have gone wrong and I think it was Henry Wriothesley. He was not the sort of heir which the Queen expected and she would not recognise him. He was narcissistic, sexually promiscuous, kept treasonous company, and married well below his status. In this context, the first 17 sonnets imploring him to marry and have a family might be seen as a damage limiting exercise, by Edward de Vere spawned by Elizabeth’s reluctance to recognise him because of his behaviour. Similarly the grovelling dedications to Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. Attempts if you like to rehabilitate his reputation.

Unfortunately as the years rolled by things went from bad to worse with Henry Wriothesley sentenced to death for his part in the Essex rebellion of 1601, commuted to life in The Tower until the Queen died in 1603.

Some have argued that it was the probable scandalous pregnancy of Penelope Rich, de Vere’s erstwhile mistress in 1593, by Henry Wriothesley and the subsequent “adoption” of the child as the 18th Earl of Oxford, which led to the disappearance of Edward de Vere from public life, and irreparably damaged Henry Wriothesley’s reputation in the eyes of the Queen.

It was this scandal that was referred to in Sonnet 112.

Which vulgar scandal stamp’d upon my brow .

The scandal was viciously libelled in the booklet Willobie His Avisa, published in 1594 and many times afterwards.

Scandalous though this was I am not so sure it would have been enough on its own. I believe it was the Succession in which Edward de Vere and Henry Wriothesley were caught up. The aim of the Cecils being to keep Henry Wriothesley from being recognised as the next king. De Vere and Wriothesley needed to be silenced and James V1 of Scotland lined up to take over. This scenario would neatly explain why Edward de Vere vanished in 1593, except for a couple of official engagements later in life and the figure of William Shakespeare appeared, just like Philomela described in the previous presentation, finding new ways of expression.

We should remember that Robert Devereux was the Queen’s favourite in the 1590’s and as such must have been aware of the issue of the Succession. He was certainly in open conflict with the Cecils over their play for continued power under the next ruler.

Henry Wriothesley was Robert Devereux’s protege. The 1601 rebellion appears to have taken place out of frustration over Robert Cecil’s successful manoeuvring. There is no doubt that Devereux’s sister Penelope Rich was playing both sides by corresponding with James V1, but just perhaps the plan all along was to put Henry Wriothesley on the throne.

James 1st

James 1st

James 1 was very wary of Henry Wriothesley even after restoring his fortunes. Edward de Vere died on June 24th 1604 and later that evening Henry Wriothesley was arrested, his papers seized and scrutinised, and he was interrogated in the Tower. According to the French Ambassador, King James had gone into a complete panic and could not sleep that night even though he had a guard of his Scots posted around his quarters. Presumably to protect his heir, he sent orders to his son Prince

Henry that he must not stir out of his chamber. Henry Wriothesley was released on June 25th, the day after the arrest. No documents that relate to this episode survive. Were selective documents burned? Then there is the matter of Wills; neither that of Edward de Vere nor Henry Wriothesley have been found, something unheard of among Elizabethan nobility.

It would have been entirely reasonable that Edward de Vere would have wanted to leave behind clues to the real underlying sequence of events. His papers and records were destroyed, but I believe that two items escaped censorship by chance. The Sonnets which were left tucked away in his house after death and the Pregnancy Portrait because its meaning is so well hidden. The clues in the painting and the poem within it point strongly to a Tudor Prince.

Following on from all of the clues revealed in the pregnancy Portrait, I believe that my study of the daily life of the Queen during 1573 reveals an opportunity for a pregnancy to have occurred and been concealed. My consideration of the birth of a child to the Southamptons in October 1573, provides a mechanism by which an exchange could have been made.

The multitude of other contemporary references and hints as to the real pedigree of Henry Wriothesley of which I have given only a few examples can now be considered in a new light.

If we return to my original point about the levels of proof in legal terms. I can ask myself the following questions:

Was Henry Wriothesley the natural son of Elizabeth 1 and Edward de Vere? For certain? No.

Beyond Reasonable Doubt? No. More likely than not? Yes.

Circumstantial evidence? Strong What do you think?

Thank you so much for getting this far. I hope you found it an interesting journey.


To view or download this article as a PDF click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *