Shakespeare Shows Up The Earl of Oxford


All's Well That Ends Well

The principle characters of the Comedy Identified


Henry Seymour

from Baconiana, February 1933

The title, "All's well that ends well," is entered in Francis Bacon's private notebook (the Promus, fol. 103--circa 1594, Harleian Collection, No. 7017). The argument of the play is as follows. The heroine, Helena, daughter of a famous physician, Gerard de Narbon (deceased), is adopted and brought up by the Countesse Dowager of Rossillion as her own. She is passionately in love with the son of the Countesse, named Bertram, the young Count of Rossillion; and on being sent to court, where her passion is discovered, she clearly perceives that her love is unreciprocated. She afterwards discovers that the King of France is troubled with a fistula, which, by a knowledge of her late father's prescription for that malady, she is certain to be able to cure notwithstanding that his case had been given up as entirely hopeless by his Court physicians. Her contriving manages to induce the King to try the remedy, which, in a short time, she practices, on the condition agreed that if the cure be effected, her reward shall be to choose one of the King's chief courtiers for a husband. The young Count of Rossillion is her aim, who has looked coldly upon her as beneath his station and dignity, but she conceals this from the King, trusting wholly to her ability to cure him and thereby to win the reward of securing, by the Royal Command, the husband of her desire. In a comparatively brief space, she effects the desired cure, much to the joy and satisfaction of the King; whereupon, true to his compact, he commands the young Count take Helena for his wife. The Count, however, is sorely displeased and shows repugnance to wed by another's choice, but the King is imperative and obedience is commanded. The nuptials are thereafter celebrated, but, instead of going home with his wife, he deserts her and flies off to the wars in Tuscany; sending a letter to his wife by a friend to this effect,--- that she should never call him her husband, till she could get the ring from his finger and show him a child begotten by him of her body. Hearing this, Helena is distressed, but soon goes away privily in a pilgrim's habit and reaches Florence, there meeting with a widow whose daughter the young Count is endeavouring to debauch under a promise of faithful love. Helena discovers herself to the widow and daughter, who sympathetically enter into a plot to circumvent the Count. Helena induces the widow to encourage the widow to encourage his advances, so that the daughter may procure the treasured ring from the Count's finger as an earnest of his professed fealty, and to arrange, at a suitable opportunity, to surrender herself to him in a disguise, whose place, in the bed, is to be supplied by no other than Helena herself. This artifice being effected, the Count, hearing the false news that Helena is dead, returns back to France; Helena, the widow and daughter secretly follow him thither, and they having proved his escapade before the King, the Count is confounded, after his lying attempts to deceive everyone, but can do nothing more than take his wife into favour, when the King forvives all that is past.

The story is taken almost entirely from Bocaccio, with slight but significant alteratons. In the Decameron the heroine (daughter of the physician, Gerard de Narbonne) is called Giletta and the young Count is named Beltram. The disease of which the King suffers is not described as a fistual, but " a dangerous complaint which succeeded a swelling in his breast, from its not being well cured."
The circumstance and condition of her cure of the King is the same, viz: that if success attends her attempt to effect a complete restoration of health, she shall choose from the King's coutier's as husband. She cures the King and claims the Count of Roussillon as her reward. In much the same terms the displeasure of Beltram is manifested, but he is commanded to marry Giletta, which he accordingly does, but only to go off at once to the Tuscan wars. Displeased with his desertion and neglect, Giletta sends two knights after him to learn if it is on her account that he forsakes his home, and promises that she will go elsewhere to pleasure him. His answer is precisely the same as that recited already. Being greatly afflicted at this, she considers what measures she may take to effect the two points regarding the ring and the child. She eventually resolves to go to Florence in the habit of a pilgrim, and having arrived at that place, she meets a widow, and her daughter to whom, it turns out, the Count was paying court; whereupon everything being discovered to them, they agreed, for a sum of money, to procure the ring from the Count's finger, in evidence of his good faith, before he could lie with her. This was accomplished, and soon after, Giletta herself was put to bed disguised as the widow's daughter, and two sons were the outcome of this exploit. The Count afterwards hearing tht Giletta had departed out of his territories, goes thither at the request of his subjects. On learning that the Count is preparing a great feast at Rousillion on All Saints Day, Giletta, being now recovered, journeys thither in the same pilgrim's habit as when she at first set out, and appears at the feast with her two sons. Before the assembly she throws herself at ther husband's feet, and pleads that he shall now abide by his two conditions, to wit, the ring in her possession, and not only one, but two sons of his own parentage. On the proofs being produced, the Count is dumb-founded, being convinced of his wife's constancy and good management, puts aside his hatred, raises, and salutes her, making all honorouble amends, when they live together happily ever after.

It has been said that "Shakespeare" displayed a poverty of resource in borrowing so largely the plots of his plays from other sources. It is seldom suspected that his motive in this may be assigned to deeper causes than a lack of of the dramatic instinct. If, as I suggest, All's Well was written to hold up to immortal scorn that prolifigate coutier of Queen Elizabeth, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, without laying himself open to such a charge, then in adapting the earlier Italian story (which fitted, by a curious coincidence, the circumstances of Oxford's life), he exhibited much greater genius than if he had drawn out an entirely new plot. All that we have to do is substitute England for France and metamorphise the French characters into the real personel of the English Court of the period, and the rest falls into its correct perspective. To the outer world the comedy was a mere episode of French life, but to those able to pierce the veil it was something very different.
There are anachronisms, of course, and confusion of detail, as is usual in most of Shakespeare's plays, as well as composite characterization, which is now being understood as part of the author's design. Thus we may visualize that the French King, troubled with a fistula, points directly to Elizabeth.

Ros. : What is it (my good Lord) the King languishes of?
Laf. : A Fistula my Lord.
Ros. : I heard not of it before.
Laf. : I would it were not notorious.

The Duke of Anjou told his associates that " he would not mary the Queen of England, for she was not only an old creature, but had a sore leg." (Strickland). And Basil Brown, in Law Sports at Gray's Inn, says that "Queen Elizabeth had long suffered with a fistula in her leg."

The exigencies of dramatic construction may well excuse the anachronism of the widowed Countesse, who undoubtedly personified Burleigh's wife, Mildred, whilst Burleigh himself still played the role of chief Court Minister (Lord Lafew). That Helena stood for Anne Cecil, the youngest daughter of Burleigh, is perfectly obvious from her relations with Bertram, who represents Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, whose diabolical conduct with regard to her, after she became his wife, was notorious at the time. (Col. Hatfield MSS., Vol II., p. 144).
Young Talbot, writing to his parents, says :

"My Lo. of Oxforth is lately growne into great credite; for the Q. Matie delitithe more in his parsonage, and his daunsigne, and valientnes, then any other: I think Sussex dothe back him all he can; if it were not for his fyckle hed he would passe any of them shortly. My lady Burghley unwisely hathe declared herselfe, as it were, gelious, which is come to the Quene's eare; whereat she hathe bene not a litell offended with hir,but now she is reconsiled agayne. At all theise love matters my Lo. Treasurer winketh, and will not meddle anyway."

Mrs. Aubrey Richardson writes :

"The young Earl of Oxford---Burleigh's son-in-law--was a most distinguished libertine and coxcomb...... In 1581, the Earl, on whose counter attractions Lord Sussex had relied for the destruction of much of Leicester's authority, got into difficulties through his drunken and horribly dissolute habits, and was proceeded against by his wife, a daughter of Lord Burleigh. At the same time a quarrel flared up between Sussex and Leicester. The Queen ordered all three earls under arrest. A letter from Burleigh to Sir Christopher Hatton, thanking him for his good and honourable dealing with her Majesty in the case of my daughter of Oxford, commented upon the collision of the two elder peers.

'I am sorry to hear of the disaster fallen out yesterday betwixt two great Planets; but I hear they know their Jupiter, and will obey her Majesty, rather to content her than to follow their own humours.'

Whatever their motives for making up, the antagonistic peers became, as on a former occasion, outwardly reconciled and were set free. Oxford was detained to be 'dealt with for his wife (Oxford married Anne Cecil when she was 15, the Queen herself being present) and confronted with his accusers.' Sussex may have had some hope that the revelations of his protege's article's of defence might do for the Favourite what his own attacks had never succeeded in accomplishing. But Sussex had never been blessed with real perspicuity, and his judgments of Leicester and Oxford he mistook both men. Oxford was a thoroughly vicious person. Elizabeth and Hatton, even as Lord and Lady Burleigh and their unfortunate daughter, recognised this fact."

In the Italian story, the Countess has two children (both sons) and Lady Oxford also bore two children ( a boy and a girl). The son died two days after birth, but the later daughter, Susan, grew up and became the wife of Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery in 1605. This earl was one of the patrons of the First Folio .
In Osborne's Traditional Memoirs a reference is made to the fickle and worthless affections of King James I.

"But however remote his affections were, he durst not banish Ramsey the Court, a poor satisfaction for Philip ( Herbert), that was left nothing to testifie his manhood but a beard and children by that daughter of the last great Earl of Oxford, whose lady was brought to his bed under the notion of his Mistress, and from such a virtuous deceit she is said to proceed."

Oxford's inhuman treatment of his wife is also mentioned by Lodge.

"When the Duke of Norfolk, whom he (Oxford) entirely loved, was condemmed, he applied to Lord Burleigh, whose daughter he had married, passionately beseeching him to interfere in the Duke's behalf; but his request being refused, he told Burleigh, with the greatest fury, that he would revenge himself by ruining the Countess : and he made his threat good; for from that hour he treated her with the most shocking brutality, and, having broke her heart, sold and dissipated the most part of his great fortune. He died 24 June, 1604."

Another side to the character of this landed scoundrel was his fantastical foppery.

Issac Disraeli, his his "Curiosities," says that Edward de Vere was a person of elegant accomplishments, but that Lord Oxford, in his 'Noble Authors,' has given a higher character of him than perhaps he may deserve. He was of the highest rank, in great favour with the Queen, and, in the style of the day, when all our fashions and our poetry were moulding themselves on the Italian model, he was the 'Mirror of Tuscansimo,' and, in a word, this coxcombical peer, afte a seven years' residence in Florence, returned highly 'Italianated.' The ludicrous motive of this perigrination is given in the present manuscript account. Haughty of his descent and alliance, irritable with effeminate delicacy and personal vanity, a little circumstance, almost too minute to be recorded, inflicted such an injury on his pride, that in his mind required years of absence from the Court of England ere it could be forgotten. Once making a low obeisance to the queen, before the whole court, this stately and inflated peer suffered a mischance, which has happened, it is said, on a like occasion--it was 'light as air! But this accident so sensibly hurt his mawkish delicacy, and so humbled his aristocratic dignity, that he could not raise his eyes on his royal mistress. He resolved from that day to be 'a banished man,' and resided for seven years in Italy, living in more grandeur at Florence than than the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He spent in those years forty thousand pounds. On his return he presented the queen with embroidered gloves and perfumes, then for the first time introduced into England, as Stow has noticed. Part of the new presents seem to have some reference to the earl's former mischance. The queen received them graciously, and was even painted wearing these gloves; but my authority states, that the masculine sense of Elizabeth could not abstain from congratulating the noble coxcomb; perceiving, she said, that at length"my lord had forgot the mentioning the little mischance of seven years ago."
Anne Cecil, Countess of Oxford, died June 6, 1588. In the Fugger Newes Letters,

"Oxford is again in the Tower forgetting himself with one of the Queen's maids of honour, who is in the Tower likewise."

This was Mistress Anne Vavasour. In a letter dated Jan.19, 1585 from Thomas Vavasour, her brother, challenging Oxford to a duel, wrote --

"If thy body had been as deformed as thy mind is dishournable, my house had yet unspotted, and thyself remained with thy cowardice unknown." From other sources we read that "the world never brought forth such a villainous monster.....a beast in all respects, and in him no virtue to be found, and no vice wanting."

Arundel wrote of the "horrible enormities, great beastliness, detestable vices and impure life of this earl, and said that

" report at large all the vices of this monstrous earl were a labour without end," which could not be rebutted. "He has lost all credit and honour and has been abandoned by all his friends and by all the ladies of the Court. Finding himself alone and unsupported, he threw himself on his knees several times before the Queen."

In Wright's History of Essex it is said that the father of Lady Anne (Cecil) by strategem contrived that her husband (Oxford) should unknowingly sleep with her, believing her to be another woman, and she bore a son to him in consequence of this meeting. Realizing that Parolles in the play is identified with Lord Burleigh's son, Robert Cecil, I should incline to the opinion that Wright is wrong on that point. It was Parolles who was the "go-between" in this adulterous machination.
There is no doubt in my mind that the physician, Gerard de Narbon, stands for Dr. William Butts, who was physician-in-Chief to Henry VIII. He married Margeret Bacon, of Cambridgeshire, and left three sons, Sir William of Thornage, Norfolk; Thomas, of Great Riburgh, Norfolk; and Edmond, of Barrow, Suffolk. The latter alone had issue, one daughter, who married Sir Nichoals Bacon, the eldest son of Sir Nicholas, keeper of the great seal. One of their sons was Sir Nathaniel Bacon, the artist, who married Jane, Lady Cornwallis, of Brome Hall. Anne, daughter of Sir Nathaniel and Lady Jane, became the wife of Sir Thomas Meauty's, Francis Bacon's secretary and friend.

From the foregoing we clearly see that all the principal characters in the play, All's Well That Ends Well are relatives (near or distant) of Francis Bacon. This in itself amounts to strong presumptive evidence that Bacon was the author of the play.
To those are familiar with Bacon's method of indicating names by numbers, it will be plain that my identification is borne out by this method of simple cypher. Can there be suggested any tangible reason why the author should follow the Italian model so closely in it's setting, and yet go out of his way to change the unimportant names of the persons, unless for this express purpose of concealing names in numbers? Why should Giletta be changed to Helena? Why should Beltram be changed to Bertram? Possibly because the number in this name totals 67, which might be confounded with "Francis" (67). Why the change from Gerard de Narbonne to Gerard de Narbon? And why Rousillon to Rossillion?

The King of France (136) = Elizabeth, Regina.
"King" (39) = Fr.Bacon.
Bertram (73)= 17 De Vere
Rossillion (134) = Earl Oxforth
Helena (43)= A. Cecil or Anne Cec.
Lord Lafew (90)= L: Burleigh
Countesse (115) =Dame Burghley
Gerard de Narbon (120) =Dr. W. Butts
Parolles (92) =Sir R. Cecil

The spelling of the names in the first column is taken from the First Folio, not from the distorted modern editions of the play.


See Jerome Harner's hilarious essay ,

"Why I'm Not an Oxfordian"

















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