There has recently been some discussion on authorship forums about the significance of the number 17 in Elizabethan and Jacobean documents as a hint or clue to Edward de Vere’s authorship. Anti-Oxfordians have claimed that the designations that we now use for referring to the Earls of Oxford were not used during the life of de Vere, and therefore the number 17 would not be a reference to him.
Gervase Markham’s Honour in His Perfection, printed in 1624, references the 15th-18th Earls of Oxford by number in the marginal notes, while using the title “Earle of Oxford” within the text:
John the 15 Earle, John the 16 Earle, Edward the 17 Eale (sic) and Henry the 18 Earle are all numbered in this way:
Since Gervase Markham was using the same numerical system for designating the Earls of Oxford that we use now, the number 17 could have significance in this case. The 1624 publishing date was not contemporary to Edward de Vere’s life (d 1604) but his son Henry was the current holder of the title, and Markham assigned him the number 18 in the work’s side notes, while using the phrase “now Earle of Oxford” within the text.
Interestingly, the title of Edward de Vere is misspelled as “Eale*” and Markham never refers to Edward de Vere as an earl within the text. He uses the phrases “noble father of this princely Oxford now living,”and “this nobleman,” unlike the other earls of Oxford who are referred to by first name and/or as “Earle” somewhere within the text. This could just be a stylistic choice, but on the page following his description of Edward de Vere (page number 17) Markham begins relating the famous exploits of the Fighting Veres and then goes off on a tangent about “mistaking of names” in the recording of true events. Could Markham have been indicating his “mistake” in the marginal notes and pointing out that a certain name associated with Edward de Vere was not being recorded?
(page 17) …looke in all that hath beene written in the Neatherlands, within the compasse of the longest memory now liuing, and belieue it in eue∣ry page, in euery action, Vere cannot be omitted: on∣ly in that Storie there is one pretty secret or mysterie which I cannot let passe vntouched, because it brings many difficulties or doubts into the minde of an ig∣norant Reader; and that is, the mistaking of names, for the Authour of that Worke bindes himselfe too strictly to the Scripture phrase, which is to make
(page 18) make one name to containe another; as the name A∣dam to containe the name Eua also, and the word man to containe the word woman also; and so the Authour speaking of many notable and famous exploits fortu∣nately performed, deliuers you peraduenture but the name of Nassau, or the Dutch, and such like; whereas in truth and true meaning, the name of Vere should euer be included within them, & the sence so read, the Story is perfect. I speak not this to derogate any thing from the excellencies of that most excellent Prince to whose Vertues I could willingly fall down & become a bond-flaue; for the whole World must allow him a Souldier vnparaleld, and a Prince of infinite merit: but only to shew that the least spark of Vertue which is, cannot chuse but repine when it finds a great Ver∣tue iniur’d by a pen whose blaunching might make the whole World forgetfull. (my italics and bold)
Was the Shakespeare authorship the “pretty secret or mystery?” Is Markham expressing his frustration that the 17th Earl of Oxford’s literary contributions would be known to posterity as someone else’s? This work was published a year after the First Folio; when the “blaunching” of de Vere as the Author was in full swing. Did he include this excerpt within the description of the Vere cousins as a veiled homage to the soon-to-be-forgotten Author, or was he actually commenting on the historical records of the Fighting Veres in the Netherlands?
Additional research is needed to find the answers to these questions, but as far as the numbering system of the Oxford earls, it is clear that Gervase Markham, writing in the 1620s, was familiar with, and using, this numbering system, and so the information provided within this text on page 17, may be significant.
Notes and References
Markham, Gervase: Honour in His Perfection: Or, A Treatise in Commendations of the Vertues and Renowned Vertuous Vndertakings of the Illustrious and Heroycall Princes Henry Earle of Oxenford. Henry Earle of Southampton, Robert Earle of Essex, and the Euer Praise-worthy and Much Honoured Lord, Robert Bartue, Lord Willoughby, of Eresby: with a Briefe Cronology of Theirs, and Their Auncestours Actions. And to the Eternall Memory of All that Follow Them Now, Or Will Imitate Them Hereafter, Especially Those Three Noble Instances, the Lord Wriouthesley, the Lord Delaware, and the Lord Montioy: B. Alsop, 1624 (Images from British Library, Transcript from http://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A06935.0001.001/1:1?rgn=div1;view=fulltext)
Anderson, Mark: Shakespeare by Another Name: p260-261
*Was the usage of “Eale” in the marginal noted also meant to indicate the mythological bull-like beast? Thomas Nashe referred to an ox when he spoke of Will Monox (French for “my Ox”) and Apis Lapis. The Eale was an ox-like animal with boar’s tusks, possibly alluding to both Oxford’s name the boar on the de Vere crest.