Edward de Vere

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


After persistent petitioning and a brief, unauthorized trip to the continent in July 1574, the 25-year-old Oxford was permitted an extensive tour of the continent: France, Germany, and especially Italy over the course of sixteen months. In Italy, he visited almost all of the locations that later would provide the settings for Shakespeare’s Italian plays. Mantua seems especially key to a number of Shakespeare/Oxford connections (esp. Lucrece and The Winter’s Tale) and to Oxford’s musical life; and Richard Roe’s book identifies numerous other precise Italian locations alluded to in Shakespeare that required first-hand witnessing.

Early biographers, believing one of Burghley’s notes, dated Oxford’s departure from England at January 7, 1575 (Ward 101; Ogburn and Ogburn 81). But other documents indicate early February, destined for Paris in time for Henri III’s coronation on the 15th. “By February 7, de Vere had left the country” (Anderson 75). Oxford took eight men with him: “two gentlemen, two grooms, one payend, a harbinger, a housekeeper, and a trenchman” (Ogburn and Ogburn 81). One of these retainers was Nathaniel Baxter. Ralph Hopton and William Lewyn joined later (Anderson 75; Nelson 121). Oxford probably travelled from Dover to Calais, then would have undertaken a five- or six-day journey to Paris.

Henri III’s royal court was at the Louvre, where Oxford likely met Catherine de Medici, Henri of Navarre, sonneteer Pierre de Ronsard, and Jacques Amyot (translator of Plutarch and French ambassador to Venice). On March 7, 1575, an ambassador wrote to Burghley, indicating Oxford had been in Paris for some time (Ward 101), and ambassadorial letters praised Oxford. For example, on March 12, 1575, Giovanni Francesco Morosini, the Venetian Ambassador in Paris, wrote to the Signory: “An English gentleman, whose name is the Earl of Oxford, has arrived in this city; he is a young man of about twenty or twenty-two years of age. It is said that he fled England on account of his inclination to the Catholic religion; but having returned he received great favour from the Queen, who gave him full licence to travel and see the world, when she ascertained that he had resolved to depart under any circumstances” (Brown, Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts VII.527).

The announcement, translated in the 1800s, notes Oxford’s “reputation for Catholicism” (the final line may be hinting that he might be considered a valuably independent loose cannon), but includes also an “underestimation of his age” (Nelson 121). More troubling, though, is that this bolletino is incomplete and severed from its context: indeed, seven more lines concerning Oxford specifically appear in the original. The problems include Rawdon Brown’s having been a slightly unreliable translator; that he died before editing the materials from the 1570s, so a collaborator was working from his notes; and that the text was excerpted and abbreviated, with wordings in the crumbling corners of the document ignored. The letter resides among documents too fragile to be handled directly by visiting scholars; but in 2017 Coleen Moriarty and I were allowed to photograph the entire document that includes a passage in ambassadorial code before the news of Oxford’s arrival. Here is a more thorough and precise translation:

“An English gentleman, called Il Conte di Oxford [The Earl of Oxford] arrived in this city, a 20/22-year-old young man, very good looking. He escaped from England as he seemed to be in favor of Catholicism, but then he had returned because of the Queen’s insistence, who has allowed him to travel all over the world as she understood he wanted to leave [England] at all costs. I visited the Most Serene King, who highly honored him, as the ambassador himself thinks he is superior to him, and he is said to be of a very noble high rank. Then, he came to me with the above-mentioned ambassador, saying that he wanted to see Venice and wished to have reference letters to be addressed to Your Serenity; I do not think we should deny his request, if you agree on that.”

On March 17, 1575, Oxford wrote a letter from Paris to Burghley, one of four during his travels that Burghley did not destroy (Fowler 163-180). Oxford seems happy at the news that his wife is pregnant, and he is looking forward to Venice, with the Venetian ambassador having given letters of introduction for Oxford to the Venetian duke and his kinsmen (Ward 102; Anderson 78). Oxford reports that the French King has given him letters of introduction to his ambassador in the Turkish court (Anderson 78). Before leaving Paris, Oxford sent his wife a portrait of himself (a copy known now as the Welbeck) and a pair of coach-horses (Ogburn and Ogburn 82; Nelson 124).

That day or shortly later, Oxford traveled from Paris to Strasburg. He visited the 68-year-old Johan Sturmius, whose teaching at the university there “became the basis for that of the Jesuits, and through them of the public school instruction of England” (Ward 104; cf. Anderson 79). Nine years later in a letter to Queen Elizabeth, Sturmius praised Oxford (Ogburn and Ogburn 83). Oxford left Sturmius on April 26, but stayed in Germany a while longer (Ogburn and Ogburn 83).

When spring allowed for a crossing of the Alps, Oxford left Germany, entering Italy through the Brenner Pass. He either stopped near Milan or avoided it due to a hostile Catholic bishop, and then went by canal and rivers to Verona. Some time in May he reached Padua (Ward 105; Anderson 79-80). From there, Venice was a two-day journey.

By mid-May, according to a letter to Burghley by Richard Shelley, Oxford reached Venice, whose theatrical season lasted to July (Anderson 80-81). Oxford turned down an offer of free housing, thereby also declining “direct surveillance” by Burghley’s agent (Nelson 126). Later praise for Oxford would come from Virginia Padoana, courtesan living on the Campo San Geremia near the Grand Canal’s northern entrance (Anderson 83) and its intersection with the Canale di Cannaregio (Nelson 139). Oxford supposedly worshipped at the Greek Church at San Giorgio and certainly visited Santa Maria Formosa. Plague worsened into the summer months, and Oxford disappears. A letter-writer detached from Oxford’s group doesn’t now know if he went to Greece or is still in Italy. “No … records have been discovered detailing de Vere’s movements during the summer of 1575.” Some suspect he did go to Greece in the summer (Anderson 85ff; cf. Ward 106; Ogburn and Ogburn 84). However, Coleen Moriarty and I, exploring the Venice archives in June 2015, discovered de Vere’s signature in Italian and Latin, and a document showing that in late June 1575 he was still in Venice.

“1575 – day 27 – June
In the meeting with the heads of the Council of X
[It was decided] That signore Eduardo Count of Oxforde, Great Chamberlain of England be allowed to be shown the chambers of arms of our Council of X and the places of sanctuary.”

He was seeking access to the secret chambers in the Doge’s palace where the Consiglio dei Dieci (the austere Council of Ten) met. Surely he wanted to see the glorious Italian Renaissance artwork covering the walls and ceilings, works by such Renaissance masters as Tintoretto and Veronese. While in Venice, Oxford likely visited Titian, where he saw the version of the painting of Venus and Adonis with Adonis’ cap, as mentioned in the Shakespeare poem (Anderson 95-96).

Under the Gondola:
The plays offer evidence that de Vere travelled to Sicily — Palermo and Messina (Anderson 89ff), but we have no proof. He was certainly in Genoa at some point in 1575 (Anderson 92), although we have been able to discover no documents in the State Archive there. Naples was the headquarters for Don John of Austria, and some wonder if Oxford may have met him in Messina, or if Cervantes escorted him from Messina to Naples for such a meeting (Anderson 90-91).

By September 23rd, he was in Venice again, according to Clemente Paretti, who also reported that Oxford had earlier hurt his knee in a Venetian galley (Ward 106; Anderson 93).

Oxford received letters reporting that his wife had given birth on July 2nd. On September 24, 1575, he reports that he wants to see more of Italy and Germany, and that hopes for Spain seem currently unwise (Fowler 181-195). He had been sick with fever and was prevented from travel for some time. Fall 1575 was still a time of bubonic plague in Venice.

On October 6, 1575, Pasquino Spinola congratulated Burghley on Oxford’s safe return to Venice from Milan.

In November 1575, Oxford had reached Padua again, writing Burghley on the 27th (“make no stay of the sales of my land”) (Ward 109; Fowler 196-202; Anderson 97). Mantua is just a day’s journey from there.

On December 11, 1575, Oxford received money from Pasquino Spinola at Venice and left for Florence the next day. We have found ambassadorial documents in Florence mentioning Oxford, but not recording his visit if he did stay there officially. He may not have wanted anything to do with the Medicis, who were in charge, as matriarch Catherine di Medici in Paris masterminded the Huguenot massacre in 1572 and may be the inspiration for Lady Macbeth. Near Christmas, Oxford left Florence for the south (Anderson 100).

On January 3, 1576, Oxford wrote Burghley from Siena amid a time of revelry (Ward 110; Fowler 203-247; Anderson 101f). Siena was under Tuscan rule of the Medicis in Florence, so we can only guess with whom Oxford would have stayed: perhaps Piccolomini, who was responsible for the commedia titled Gl’Ingannati (The Deceived Ones), the source play for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and one regularly performed in Siena on 6 January: the Epiphany, or “Twelfth Night.”

The next three months, we don’t know (Ward 111). Was it at this time that Oxford visited Sicily, via Rome? And/or a January voyage back to Venice (Anderson 104)? By the end of February, Oxford had planned to leave his Venetian home for England (Anderson 105). Back in England, on March 2, his license to continue his travels was renewed for a year.

Oxford and his train left Venice on the Monday before Lent, March 5, 1576. He passed again near Milan. Some time later he is at Lyons (Ward 112; Anderson 105-107ff). By March 21, 1576, he had arrived in Paris from Venice according to Ambassador Valentine Dale’s report to Burghley.

On March 23, 1576, Benedetto Spinola reported to Burghley that he had received a letter from his brother Pasquino at Venice on February 26th: that Oxford would be traveling home through Lyons and would leave Venice after Carnival. On March 31, 1576, Francis Peyto wrote to Burghley saying that Oxford had passed through Milan.

On April 3, 1576, the Venetian ambassador in Paris wrote to the Signory: “The Earl of Oxford, an English gentleman has arrived here. He has come from Venice, and, according to what has been said to me by the English ambassador here resident [Dale], speaks in great praise of the numerous courtesies which he has received in that city; and he reported that on his departure from Venice your Serenity had already elected an Ambassador to be sent to the Queen, and the English Ambassador expressed the greatest satisfaction at the intelligence. I myself, not having received any information from your Serenity or from any of my correspondents, did not know what answer to give concerning this matter” (Brown, Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts). One problem here is that no such ambassadorial appointment to England had been made nor would be made for decades. Someone was shining someone on….

Here on April 3, 1576, Oxford appears to be in good spirits as he looks towards his journey home, although rumors about his wife may soon be emotionally erosive (Ward 118; Anderson 113). Oxford seems to have left Paris on April 10 (Nelson 135). Approximately on Good Friday, April 20, 1576, Oxford boarded ship for home. After encountering pirates who ransacked his luggage, he refused to land in Dover where various Cecils had gone to meet him. He refused to speak to them at all and went straight to the Queen, after which he would have nothing to do with any of the Cecils for several years.


Anderson, Mark. “Shakespeare” by Another Name. NY: Gotham/Penguin, 2005.

Bassi, Shaul and Alberto Toso Fei. Shakespeare in Venice. Treviso: Elzeviro, 2007.

Brown, Rawdon, ed. and trans. Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts. Venice. Vol. VII. 1558-1580. London, 1890.

Magri, Noemi. Such Fruits Out of Italy: The Italian Renaissance in Shakespeare’s Plays and Poems. Buchholz, Germany: Laugwitz Verlag, 2014.

Nelson, Alan H. Monstrous Adversary. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2003.

Ogburn, Charlton. The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality. 2nd ed. McLean, VA: EPM Pub., 1992. Probably the most influential Oxfordian book currently.

Ogburn, Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn. This Star of England. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, Pub., 1952. Nearly 1300 pages.

Roe, Richard Paul. The Shakespeare Guide to Italy. NY: Harper Perennial, 2011.

Ward, Bernard M. The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) from Contemporary Documents. London: John Murray, 1928.

Edward de Vere Biography