An il venture…come unluckily home

By David Ewald

An il venture…come unluckily home is as concise and apt a description of Ambassador Neville’s embassy to France at the court of king Henri IV as can be stated in so few words. These words, however, are to be found in the very personal epilogue written by the author for 2 Henry IV in regards to the audience reaction to the performance of that play.
On 23 August 1600 two plays were entered into the Register of the Stationer’s Company as written by Mr. Shakespere. The titles of both bear an interesting coincidence to the then recently returned ambassador to France, Sir Henry Neville. The titles of the two plays, King Henry IV and Much Ado About Nothing, very much define Neville’s futile and frustrating attempt to collect a large debt incurred by King Henri the fourth of France to Queen Elizabeth I of England. The debt was incurred by Henri for Elizabeth’s financial assistance to him from 1587 to 1596, during the French religious wars, both internally and with Spain. Prior to accepting his role as Ambassador to France in 1598, Neville had been a long standing Member of Parliament since 1584. The second part of Henry IV ends mentioning Parliament, and addresses the likelihood of an upcoming engagement in France. The author then personalizes an Epilogue that mentions debt and debtors, fear of failure, and an issue with the Falstaff/Oldcastle character name difficulty. The aforementioned end of the play begins here with Prince John:
John The King hath cald his parlament my lord.
Just. He hath.
John I wil lay ods, that ere this yeere expire,
We beare our civil swords and native fier,
As farre as France, I heard a bird so sing,
Whose musique, to my thinking, pleasde the King:
Come, will you hence?
First my feare then my cursie, last my speech.
My feare, is your displeasure, my cursy, my duty, & my speech,
to beg your pardons: if you looke for a good speech now, you
undo me, for what I have to say is of mine own making, and
what indeed (I should say) wil (I doubt) prove mine own mar-
ring: but to the purpose, and so to the venture. Be it knowne to
you, as it is very well, I was lately here in the end of a displea-
sing play, to pray your patience for it, and to promise you a bet-
ter: I meant indeed to pay you with this, which if like an il ven-
ture it come unluckily home, I breake and you my gentle cre-
ditors loose, here I promisde you I would be, and here I com-
mit my body to your mercies, bate me some, and I will pay you
some, and (as most debtors do) promise you infinitely: and so I
kneele downe before you; but indeed, to pray for the Queene.
If my tongue cannot intreate you to acquit mee, will you
commaund me to use my legges? And yet that were but light
payment, to daunce out of my debt, but a good consci-
ence will make any possible satisfaction, and so woulde I: all
the Gentlewomen heere have forgiven me, if the Gentlemen
will not, then the Gentlemen doe not agree with the Gentle-
women, which was never seene in such an assemblie.
One word more I beseech you, if you bee not too much
cloyd with fatte meate, our humble Author will continue the
storie, with sir John in it, and make you merry with faire Ka-
therine of Fraunce, where (for any thing I knowe) Falstaffe
shall die of a sweat, unless already a be killd with your harde
opinions; for Olde-castle died Martyre, and this is not the
man: my tongue is weary, when my legges are too, I wil bid
you, good night.
                                    F I N I S.
Sir Henry Neville’s Ambassadorship to France provided many correspondences that bear significant relevance to the end of 2 Henry IV. His epilogue’s “My cursy” (courtesy), “my duty”, is likely a reference to his diplomatic duty as Ambassador to France, as courtesy is one of the basic tenets of diplomacy. “An il venture…come unluckily home” may be as concise and apt a description of his embassy as is possible to state in so few words, however, his most important statement concerning that “il venture” may have been: “And yet that were but light payment, to daunce out of my debt, but a good conscience will make any possible satisfaction, and so woulde I”. This would of course be a likely opinion for him to hold against king Henri’s bad conscience decision to default on his debt to Neville’s Queen. Elizabeth was the loser, as creditor to Henri, due to Neville’s failure to collect the debt. Neville was broken financially by his resident embassy, and thus he came home in August 1600 to commit himself to his Queen’s mercy.
WINWOOD’S MEMORIALS: Sir Henry Nevill’s Negotiation in France
Excerpts from Neville’s correspondences with Cecil during his French embassy:
Ambassador Neville’s letter to Robert Cecil dated 27 April 1599, at Dover, states: “I fear if this journey of the King’s hold, it will give him occasion to put off all Resolution (if not all Cogitation) of payment of his Debt to her Majestie, till his Return.”
Letter by Neville to Cecil dated 15 May 1599, at Paris, states: “At my next Audience I mean to deal with the King about her Majestie’s Mony, because I am like to have no more before his Journey, although I have little hope of any great effect for more than 20000 Crownes, which he hath already assigned to be paid at the Instance of Mr. Edmonds, and that with great Difficultie.”
An inventory of the loans made by England to France from 1587 to 1596 is listed with the following note: “One Principal part of Sir Henry Neville’s Negotiation being to obtain Satisfaction for this Debt”.
Letter by Neville to Cecil dated 26 May 1599, at Paris, states: “It may please you to let her Majestie understand, that upon Monday last, being the 21st of this Month, I repaired to Fountainebleau, and had Access unto the King, where I delivered at large unto him that which I comprised more briefly in the Proposition I presented in writing, whereof I send a copy here enclosed. His answer was short, (as his manner is) ‘That it was great reason her Majestie should be satisfied of such Sums, as she had lent or disbursed for him in his great Necessities; and that he would be careful in it to the uttermost of his Ability; and would lay open unto me the bottom of his means and make me judge of his dealing with her Majestie therein’. But for that and the rest I had proposed, he prayed me to deliver a Memorial in writing, and his Counsail should consider of it, and give me an answer. I had the Memorial ready, and delivered it, together with a Note of the Sums of Money due to her Majestie, by bond or account, which he presently gave to Monsieur de Villeroy, and then prayed me to sit down by him that we might talke:”.
In a private letter by Neville to Cecil dated 15 May 1599, at Paris, he relates some conversation he had with King Henry concerning Lord Essex and some difficulties apparent between him and Cecil. Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham, is a strong candidate for the person that determined the first part of Henry IV to be a “displeasing play” because of the Falstaff/Oldcastle name issue that became problematic in the Henry IV history plays. Brooke and Essex had a combative relationship that was likely to have caused extra friction between Cecil and Essex due to the fact that Cecil had married Brooke’s sister, Elizabeth, in 1589 (d. 1597). Brooke had been chosen as a Knight of the Garter in 1599, and King Henri IV had been chosen KG in 1590, but, as mentioned in a letter from Cecil to Neville dated 26 April 1599 there appears this suggestion of installation for King Henri: “We have received news that the Earl of Essex is well arrived; and here all things are as they were, saving this, that the Earl of Sussex, the Lord Cobham, and Lord Scroope, are chosen Knights of the Garter. I find the Queen will like it well, if you do procure the King accidentally, to send hither to be installed.”
2 Henry IV ends with an embarkment to France and mention of the Oldcastle name problem. Neville, as he is preparing to embark for France from Dover, learns that Brooke was to become a Knight of the Garter. This elevation of stature for Brooke may have caused Neville to emphatically disassociate the Falstaff character from the Brooke ancestor at the end of the Epilogue. The request by Cecil to procure the king’s involvement in the installation ceremony, with Brooke, adds to Neville’s sense of propriety to openly and decisively address the Falstaff/Oldcastle identity in the plays. Neville then proceeded to kill off the popular Falstaff character in Henry V.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 40
Sir Henry Neville (1561/2-1615) pp. 498-9
The Dictionary of National Biography entry for Neville states: “In February 1599, manoeuvred by Robert Cecil, and despite his own protestations that he had neither title nor means to sustain such an appointment, Neville was nominated resident ambassador to France. He secured a knighthood before he left and Cecil agreed to the appointment of the capable Ralph Winwood as his secretary. Jonathan Trelawny accompanied them. His letters of instruction concentrated on the vexed question of the debts owed by Henri IV to Elizabeth I as a result of her assistance during the wars of the Catholic league. With the peace of Vervins (May 1598) Henri IV was less beholden to Elizabeth and correspondingly less concerned to resolve the issue. Before he left Neville collected as much detail as he could about the numerous bonds on which the debt was based, constructing an inventory of it, totaling £401,734 16s. 51/2d. ‘If I come not thoroughly furnished of my proofs in every point, I shall but minister them some colourable pretext of delay, which they will lie in wait for’ (Salisbury MSS, 9.72).
   Neville’s embassy was a frustrating and inconclusive interlude. He arrived in France on 3 May1599 and met English merchants in Rouen to hear their complaints against French customs duties. He had his first audience with the king on 13 and 22 May, raising both the issues that would dominate the subsequent year of embassy: French depredations of English merchant shipping and the debt. Both proved intractable and, as the year wore on, Neville became more concerned at the declining influence of protestants at the French court in the wake of the edict of Nantes. His greatest fears, however, were reserved for the activities of the Scottish ambassador at the French court whom he saw as seeking to draw James VI into a Catholic orbit. By December 1599 Neville wanted nothing more than to be ‘a hermit in Ashridge or the forest, and do penance for the faults committed here’ (CSP dom. 1598-1600, 379). In March he was chosen as a commissioner for the peace negotiations with the plenipotentiaries from Spanish Netherlands at Boulogne. He openly distrusted the intentions of the delegates from the archdukes and was frustrated in his attempts to renew the Anglo-French alliance concluded at the treaty of Blois in 1572. When the conference broke down in July 1600 he was given leave to return to England for a month and he arrived back in London on 6 August.”
The trials and tribulations suffered by Neville in France at the hands of Henri IV and his court are not only reflected in the epilogue in 2 Henry IV, but also in the treatment of Falstaff by Henry V and his court at the end of the play. The death of Falstaff in Henry V, in this light, can be seen as Neville washing his hands of playing the role of sacrificial Knight in diplomatic chess matches. Neville’s canon of plays up to this point consisted of almost half of them being English history plays replete with kings, queens and earls lacking the capacity to exert the full power of their authority. According to his ODNB bio, Neville trepidatiously sailed to France after expressing his own lack of proper title to complete the endeavor. In Henry V, the penultimate play of his English histories, the king was forced to spill much blood to exert the authority of his title in France. It would be well over a decade before Neville wrote another English history play, at the end of his career, co-written with John Fletcher.
The first quarto of 2 Henry IV is available for viewing on the British Library’s “Treasures in Full, Shakespeare in Quarto” website.
Memorials of Affairs of State in the Reigns of Q. Elizabeth and K. James I., Collected (chiefly) from the Original Papers of the Right Honourable Sir Ralph Winwood, Kt. By Edmund Sawyer of Lincoln’s Inn, Esq. Vol. I, London: Printed by W. B. for T. Ward, in the Inner-Temple Lane, 1725.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in Association with The British Academy from the earliest times to the year 2000. Edited by H. C. G. Mathew and Brian Harrison Volume 40, Oxford University Press.

Twelfth Night and Sir Henry Neville

By James Leyland

Many believe Twelfth Night was the play performed on the 6th of January 1601 to honour the arrival in England of Duke Virginio Orsino. Supporting this notion is that: this date is the Twelfth Night of the Epiphany; there is no reference to any Twelfth Night in the text, i.e. no reason other than this occasion to justify the title of the play; and, this genteel comedy presents a charming Duke Orsino as the romantic lead.

A few events prior to this date strongly support this theory and demonstrate the close involvement of England’s ambassador to France, Sir Henry Neville who was in London at the time.


Duke Virginio Orsino of Bracciano

The lost Sebastian

Twenty two years earlier, in 1578, the young King Sebastian of Portugal had charged into battle and disappeared without trace. Ever since, all of Europe had prayed that one day the heroic lost Sebastian would be found safe and reclaim his throne.

In November 1600, Sebastian was of enormous interest in Elizabeth’s court because new, credible reports had confirmed that finally, miraculously, he may have been found alive (1).


The lost Sebastian, King of Portugal

15 November 1600 – 7 weeks before the performance

Sir Henry Neville was so intrigued by these reports that he urged his secretary in France to investigate and to report back (2).


In Twelfth Night, one of the main characters is another lost Sebastian, a young nobleman castaway.

As in Neville’s letter, at the end of the play Viola identifies her lost brother Sebastian by a token upon her father’s body:

Viola: My father had a mole upon his brow.

Sebastian: And so had mine.

20 November 1600, 6 weeks before the performance – Orsino is travelling in disguise to England

Winwood sent Neville intelligence from France that Duke Virginio Orsino was travelling to England in disguise (3).

Neville was the only person in England who knew this secret.


4 December 1600, 4 weeks before the performance – Duke Orsino will contact Neville

Even more remarkable, Winwood referred Duke Orsino to Sir Henry Neville to introduce him to the English Court.


Note. Encoded words are in brackets followed by their decryptions.

6 January 1601, Twefth Night – the performance

In London, the Queen put on a lively play for Duke Orsino. As noted, many have argued that this play was Twelfth Night.

The principle argument against the play being Twelfth Night is the extreme unlikelihood that Shakespeare could have known in advance of Orsino’s visit.

Certainly, in late November 1600, only Sir Henry Neville knew.

29 January 1601 – Orsino’s entertainment

Neville replied to Winwood concerning Orsino’s entertainment.


13 January 1601 – one week after the performance

Winwood sent the disappointing news that the King of France is informed that the prisoner is not Sebastian but an impostor.



The documentary evidence above demonstrates that only Sir Henry Neville knew of Duke Orsino’s secret visit to London in late 1600. Indeed, Orsino had been directed to Neville personally. Similarly, recovery of the lost King Sebastian of Portugal was of particular interest to Neville, and as Ambassador to France he had exclusive access to intelligence from the French court.

From these two circumstances we conclude that there is no-one better placed than Sir Henry Neville to have amended, at the very least, Twelfth Night for this celebratory performance. There is no evidence, nor likelihood, that Shakespeare could possibly have had access to this intelligence concerning Duke Orsino. Indeed, given the danger to Duke Orsino, it would seem unlikely in the extreme that Sir Henry Neville would have passed this intelligence concerning the secret visit onto anyone outside of the Privy Council.

(1) Neville’s interest in Sebastian of Portugal coinciding with the presentation of Twelfth Night was first noted in Casson, J. and Rubinstein, W. Sir Henry Neville was Shakespeare: The evidence, Amberley, 2016. pp104-5.

(2) The extracts from letters above are from: Memorials of affairs of state in the reigns of Q. Elizabeth and K. James I. by Winwood, Ralph, Sir, 1563?-1617; Sawyer, Edmund, d. 1759, ed. Sourced from

(3) The evidence of Neville’s involvement with Duke Orsino was first observed in James, B, and Rubinstein, W, The Truth Will Out, Pearson, 2005. pp132-6.


By David Ewald and John Casson
Shakespeare’s Henry V is not just patriotic praise of the heroic young king: it is not a one dimensional history play but a multidimensional exploration of history, politics, the realities of power and personal relationships. It also had contemporary resonance for its first audiences. The history play was a vehicle for reflecting on current politics. This paper examines Shakespeare’s references to the Salic Law of succession and the contemporary relevance of this to Henry Neville’s ambassador role in France 1599-1600 (when the play was written according to orthodox dating) and his authorship of this Shakespeare play.
On 2 August 1600, Sir Henry Neville returned to England from his duties in France as the English Ambassador to France. Neville had been sent to France in 1599 to request repayment of the war loans made by Elizabeth to Henry IV of France for his defense against Spain’s threat to undermine the legitimacy of his ascension to the throne. The king had no intention of honoring his obligation and delayed repayment, making vague promises. Ultimately he never repaid Elizabeth’s loan. This hopeless diplomatic effort cost Neville a small fortune supporting his ambassadorship, and coupled with the bad faith employed against him by the Spanish in Boulogne, he was, after a trying year, ready to wash his hands of international politics. 
This then was the personal political context of the composition of the play. On 14 August 1600,The Chronicle Historie of Henry the fift was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company through the bookseller Thomas Pavier. The First Quarto of the play, printed  later in 1600, begins with the question, “Shall I call in the ambassadors my Liege?” This question signals Shakespeare’s interest in what ambassadors have to say: as we might expect when we know Neville the ambassador to France was the author. The ambassadors are kept waiting while the king and his archbishop discuss the Salic Law of succession. This long and detailed historical exposition, which is extended to be even longer in the First Folio, explores the origin and machinations of the law that prevented succession to the throne of France via female descent. This Salic law is used by the French king in the play to bar Henry V’s claim to the throne. Neville had shown his interest in this law fifteen years before when, in 1584-5, he copied out Leicester’s Commonwealth and made a special note of “The Law Salique in ffraunce” (Casson, 2010, 37). 
The same year as Leicester’s Commonwealth appeared,1584, Henry of Navarre became heir presumptive to the French throne upon the death of Francis, Duke of Anjou, brother and heir to the Catholic Henry III, who had succeeded Charles IX in 1574. Because Henry of Navarre was the next senior agnatic descendant of King Louis IX, King Henry III had no choice but to recognise him as the legitimate successor. Salic Law barred the king’s sisters and all others who could claim descent through only the female line from inheriting. Since Henry of Navarre was a Huguenot, the issue was not considered settled in many quarters of the country, and France was plunged into the civil Wars of Religion. In 1589, as head of the House of Bourbon, Henry was a direct male-line descendant of Louis IX of France, and “first prince of the blood”. Upon the death of his brother-in-law and distant cousin Henry III of France in 1589, Henry was called to the French succession by the Salic law. Elizabeth I sent English troops and financial help to Henry to support this protestant monarch against the Spanish. It was to reclaim this loan that Neville was sent as ambassador in 1599. From 1591 Neville’s father-in-law, Henry Killigrew served in this English army under Robert Devereux, the earl of Essex. However in 1593, in order to become King of France Navarre converted to Roman Catholicism. Henry hoped he had won civil peace by reassuring his protestant subjects through the Edict of Nantes, signed in April 1598, which granted the Huguenots substantial rights in the nation. International peace was achieved by the Treaty of Vervins, signed between the representatives of Henry IV of France and Philip II of Spain, on 2 May 1598, at the small town of Vervins in Picardy, northern France. This same year Henry Neville was knighted and chosen as the Ambassador to France. The next year, 1599, Neville travelled to France to to negotiate the repayment of the war loans Elizabeth I had made to Henry IV a decade earlier.
In 1600 Neville returned home frustrated by his duties as Ambassador to France. Elizabeth had shed English blood and treasure in support of the Protestant Henry of Navarre, only to have him become the Catholic King Henry and subsequently dismiss her requests for repayment at great cost, mostly to Neville who had to fund his ambassador role from his own pocket. When we posit Neville as the author of the Shakespeare play we can understand the satirical, even comic exposition of the Salic law as expression of the English ambassador’s exasperation with French machinations.
Casson, J., Much Ado About Noting, Henry Neville and Shakespeare’s Secret Source (Tatcham, Berkshire: Dolman Scott, 2010)

Neville was Shakespeare: Works on this topic

These are all the works so far published about Sir Henry Neville as the true author of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare. They are listed in chronological order of publication. This list will be updated from time to time.

James, Brenda & Rubinstein, William D., The Truth Will Out: Unmasking The Real Shakespeare (Harlow, Essex: Pearson Longman, 2005)

James, Brenda, Henry Neville and the Shakespeare Code (Bognor Regis: Music for Strings, 2008)

Casson, John, Much Ado About Noting [sic]: Henry Neville and Shakespeare’s Secret Source (Thatcham, Berkshire: Dolman Scott, 2010)

James, Brenda, Understanding the Invisible Shakespeare (Bognor Regis: Cranesmere Press, 2011)

Leyland, James & Goding, James, Who will believe my verse? The Code in Shakespeare’s Sonnets (North Melbourne, Victoria: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2018)

Rubinstein, William D., Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays? (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing, 2012)

Bradbeer, M. & Casson J., Sir Henry Neville, Alias William Shakespeare: Authorship Evidence in the History Plays (Jefferson, North Carolina: MacFarland, 2015)

Casson, John & Rubinstein, William D., Sir Henry Neville was Shakespeare: The Evidence (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Amberley Publishing, 2016).

Casson, J. Enter Pursued by a Bear: The Unknown Plays by Shakespeare-Neville, 2nd Edition, (Tatcham, Berkshire: Dolman Scott, 2018)

Casson, John, Rubinstein, William D. & Ewald, David, ‘Our Shakespeare, Henry Neville 1562-1615’, in Leahy, William, ed., My Shakespeare: The Authorship Controversy (Brighton, Edward Everett Root Publishers Co. Ltd., 2018), pp. 113-138.

Ben Jonson, Neville, and Shakespeare

Ben Jonson (1572-1637) plainly has a central role in the Shakespeare/Neville saga. I would like here to set out what is known about his nexus with Neville and Shakespeare. Jonson wrote the introductory material to the First Folio (1623), and is recorded in several posthumously published statements, as commenting on William Shakespeare, in passages which have become famous. A number of wholly apocryphal facets of his alleged friendship with Shakespeare have also become well-known.


Ben Jonson by Abraham Blyenberch

From the Nevillian perspective, the following is the most likely sequence of events concerning Jonson’s role vis-à-vis Neville/Shakespeare. It would appear from Francis Beaumont’s famous poem of 1615 addressed to Jonson (see below) that in Neville’s lifetime and with his agreement (and probably at his urging) there was a far-reaching agreement to put forward the uneducated William Shakespeare, who wrote “by the dimme light of nature,” as the author of Neville’s work. What happened next was described by Ian Donaldson, Jonson’s most recent biographer, and the author of the entry on Jonson in the ODNB: “On 20 October 1623 Ben Jonson was examined as a witness in a lawsuit in the Court of Chancery…[where] Jonson was described as “Benjamin Jonson of Gresham College in London, gent.” (Ian Donaldson, Ben Jonson: A Life (Oxford 2011), p. 376.) What Jonson was doing at Gresham College has never been explained, although he apparently valued his post there. Two points are central here: the First Folio was published at that precise time, October-November 1623, and Gresham College ̶ the only tertiary institution in London (apart from the Inns of Court and medical schools) until the 1820s ̶ was established (in 1597) under the will of Sir Thomas Gresham (c. 1519-79), the famous founder of the Royal Exchange, whose brother Sir John Gresham (1518-60) was the father of Elizabeth, later Neville (1542-73), our man’s mother. Neville’s father, also named Sir Henry Neville (c. 1520-93) was the Chief Mourner at Sir Thomas Gresham’s funeral. When Gresham College was established in 1597, the Neville family was given certain powers of appointment there from provisions in Gresham’s will; Sir Thomas Gresham regarded Elizabeth Neville as his de facto chief heir. The evident inference is that Jonson ̶ who had no previous or subsequent connection with Gresham College ̶ was appointed to a post at Gresham College as a reward or payment for editing the First Folio as “by William Shakespeare,” together with its other introductory material, in accordance with his previous agreement.

As noted, all of Jonson’s comments or alleged comments on Shakespeare were published after the death of the Stratford man (1616) and of Neville (1615). Probably the most famous (apart from the First Folio material) was published in 1640, three years after Jonson’s death, in Timber: or, Discoveries , a collection of miscellaneous comments by Jonson apparently collected and edited by Jonson’s literary executor Sir Kenelm Digby (1603-65). Jonson’ s paragraph on Shakespeare famously begins, “I remember the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing (whatsoever he penn’d) he never blotted out a line.”

Jonson’s claim appears to be patently false, as Hand D in the manuscript of Sir Thomas More, claimed by most orthodox scholars to be in Shakespeare’s handwriting, contains many corrections, emendations, and crossings-out. Nor would the “players” have received a playwright’s handwritten copy, his “foul papers,” unusable and probably illegible with his corrections and poor handwriting, but scribal copies, which could be read and used by the actors. As well, it is now believed that plays of that time were often revised or reworked, perhaps by the actors themselves. There is also the

fact that Shakespeare wrote for the Lord Chamberlain’ s Men/ King’s Men, an acting company with which Jonson had no official connection, and it is unclear which “players” would have “often” mentioned this to him. As a prolific playwright, Jonson would obviously have known all this, and a reasonable conclusion is that his statement was deliberately disingenuous. a component of the agreement to portray Shakespeare not only as a great author, but also as a natural genius. In addition, the passage in Timber about Shakespeare credits him with writing a line from Julius Caesar, which “could not escape laughter,” that does not appear in the actual play, which Jonson had presumably read as the editor of the First Folio.

Another often quoted reference to Jonson and Shakespeare is the alleged “merry meeting” of Shakespeare, Jonson, and Michael Drayton, at which Shakespeare “drank too hard…and died of a feavour there contracted.” The only source for this famous anecdote is as an item in the manuscript notebook of Rev. John Ward (1629-81), who was Vicar of Stratford from 1662 until his death. The entry (according to the dates in the notebook written by Ward) must have been written between February 1661 and April 1663; as Ward was only appointed to this living in 1662, it must date from 1662 or 1663 ̶ in other words, at least forty-six years after the meeting (and Shakespeare’s death) allegedly occurred, and long after the deaths of Drayton (1631) and Jonson (1637). Ward, who was born in Spratton, Northamptonshire, had had no previous connection with Stratford. In his diary, Ward also claimed that from his “allowance” for writing plays, Shakespeare “spent at t the rate of 1000 [pounds] a year, as I have heard,” a claim which is absurd and impossible. Readers can judge the likely veracity of Ward’s claims for themselves.

Jonson is also said to have been a “wit combatant” with Shakespeare, by implication (but not specifically stated) at pubs in London, at which Jonson was “solid but slow,” while Shakespeare was noted for his “quickness of wit and invention.” This famous description was first made by Thomas Fuller (608-61) in his Worthies of England , published posthumously in 1662. There is no evidence that Fuller ever met Shakespeare, who died when he was seven or eight, or Jonson, as Fuller lived in Cambridge from 1621 through 1633, and was then a clergyman in Dorset. Fuller’s claim then became grafted by William Gifford (1756-1826) onto accounts of the Mermaid Club, a group of political and cultural figures who met at the Mermaid Tavern in Cheapside. Gifford, who edited an edition of Jonson’s works, claimed that the Mermaid Club was founded in 1603 by Sir Walter Raleigh, oblivious to the fact that from 1600 to 1603 Raleigh was Governor of Jersey, while from 1603 until 1616 he was a prisoner in the Tower of London.

Our knowledge of the Mermaid Club derives mainly from Thomas Coryeate (c. 1577-1617) and his Coryeate’s Crudities (1611), which included a list of twenty or so members of the Mermaid Club, among them Ben Jonson, John Donne, Inigo Jones, and various MPs and poets. William Shakespeare is not on Coryeate’s list, and there is no evidence ̶ zero, zilch ̶ that he was ever associated with the Club in any way. There is thus no evidence ̶ zero, zilch ̶ that any verbal joustings between Jonson and Shakespeare took place at this Club. One member of this Club, however, according to Coryeate’s list, was … Sir Henry Neville. It is, nevertheless, arguable whether this was the great man, or his cousin, another Sir Henry Neville (c. 1570-1641), who later became the second Baron Bergavenny. It might be noted that, apart from Jonson and Inigo Jones (who designed theatre sets) the Mermaid Club, according to Coryeate’s list, included no one connected with the stage or any playwrights. Not only was William Shakespeare not a member, but Beaumont and Fletcher weren’t either (Beaumont, however, certainly met with Jonson there before 1605), nor were Thomas

Middeton, Michael Drayton, Thomas Dekker, John Webster, or any other dramatist or actor of the time. There was, however, another groups which also met at the Mermaid Tavern in the first decade of the seventeenth century, whose members included John Chamberlain and Ralph Winwood. (See Michelle O’Callaghan, “Patrons of the Mermaid Tavern,” on the ODNB website.) Chamberlain (1553-1628) regularly mentioned Neville in his many letters to Dudley Carleton (but never mentioned Shakespeare at all), while Winwood (c. 1562-1617) was Neville’s secretary when Sir Henry was Ambassador to France. It is thus possible that Sir Henry was a member of this circle, although it seems to have met when he was a prisoner in the Tower or just afterwards.

One or two other apparently authentic remarks by Ben Jonson about Shakespeare exist. They were made in conversation with William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585-1649), an author, book collector, and country squire with whom Jonson stayed on his walking tour of Scotland in 1618-19. His remarks were apparently not recorded in print until 1842, and only a transcription from the lost original exists. According to Drummond’s text, Jonson said “That Shakespeare wanted art,” a bizarre claim, by which Jonson apparently meant that his plays were not written in accordance with the Classical notions of how drama should be written. Drummond’s work is also the source for Jonson’s remark that Shakespeare mentioned a “shipwrack in Bohemia, wher there is no sea by 100 miles.” Shakespeare’s most famous alleged factual blunder, made in The Winter’s Tale, however, was taken directly from Robert Greene’s Pandosto (1592), one of the sources for Shakespeare’s play, normally seen as written in 1610-11.

Jonson’s longest remarks on Shakespeare, and the best authenticated, are the introductory poems and other material in the First Folio, which ought to be placed in the context of his association with Gresham College noted above. The other alleged Jonson remarks on Shakespeare should be taken with many grains of salt.

Pericles and 1604

The seventeenth Earl of Oxford died in July 1604; if he was the real author of Shakespeare’s works, obviously all must have been written by that date. Those who question the Oxfordian theory point to a number of plays which were certainly written after that date, most notably The Tempest. One play which is seldom (or never) considered is Pericles, a work dated by all scholars to about 1607, and co-authored by George Wilkins. The case for this date, and, hence, the impossibility of Oxford having written it, is very strong and ought to be better known than it is. According to all scholars, the playwriting career of George Wilkins was confined to the period from 1606 through 1609. (Wilkins’ date of birth is unknown; he died in 1618.) All scholars believe that Wilkins wrote Scenes 1- 9, Shakespeare- whoever he was- Scenes 10-22. (Pericles is divided into scenes, not acts.) In other words, Wilkins wrote the first half of the play, Shakespeare the second half. The first half must was certainly written before the last half; if Wilkins wrote nothing before 1606, his half of the play must have been written after that date, and Shakespeare’s half later still. Pericles could thus not have been written by the seventeenth Earl of Oxford. In 1607, Sir Henry Neville was unusually busy as an M.P. and probably could not spare the time to write an entire play, only complete what another playwright had begun. Wilkins is known as a lowlife criminal, but this aspect of his life is only documented from a later date.



Evidence Update- November 2014

By William D Rubinstein and John Casson

Within the past month or so, two pieces of extremely important and arguably decisive evidence have come to light in support of the claim that Sir Henry Neville wrote the works of William Shakespeare. Neither was known to us before. We are setting it out in order to strengthen the case for Neville as Shakespeare, which is already very strong.

The first piece of direct evidence is a Latin poem in honour of Sir Henry Neville by John Chamber (1546- 1604) at the beginning of Chamber’s translation of Barlaam Monachi Logistice, a work on mathematics, astronomy, and astrology by Barlaam of Calabria, a monk who wrote on these subjects. The translation and the poem were published in 1599, when Neville had just become the Ambassador to France. According to Chamber’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, where he is described as a “Church of England clergyman and author,” he was educated at Merton College, Oxford and was lecturer in Greek and Medicine when Neville was a student there. In was in the same circle as Neville and Neville’s mentor Sir Henry Savile, and had a living for much of his career at Windsor, near Neville’s country house. In 1583 Chamber served on a commission appointed by Lord Burghley along with Savile and Thomas Digges to introduce the Gregorian reforms of the calendar. (Digges, it might be noted, was married to the daughter of Neville’s father’s uncle; they were the parents of the Leonard Digges who wrote some of the commendatory verse in the introductory material to the Shakespeare First Folio of 1623.) Savile and Neville were Chamber’s executors when he died in 1604. Evidently, Neville and Chamber were very close friends for many years, and Chamber apparently knew all about Neville’ s secret authorial life as “William Shakespeare.”

The poem in Latin is as follows :


Sereniss. Reginae Elizabethae ad Galliarum REgum Legatum

Et genus & proauos numeros licet ordine longo

Principis & [ut?] pateant atrica celsa tibi.

Nil tamen in tanta fortuna tanta meretur.

Quam virtutis honos, ingenijque decus.

Quo tua cuncta regis, quo tanta negotia tractas,

Quo fugiens terras sydera loetus adis.

Sydera laetus adis, ubi te tua plurima virtus

Aeternans superis asserit ante diem.

Et superasse parum terras, vulgumque videris,

Te nisi musarum personet alma cohors,

Musa dedit varias artes, dedit ore rotundo

Fundere quae Velles, culta Thalia tibi.

Te docet Euclides, fontes elementaue pandens,

Teque Pelusiachus ducit ad astra senrx.

Nec sic contentus, manes, cineremque sepultum

Barlaami Monachi sollicitare soles.

Non ego iam quantum memero, quotriesque rogasti

Illius ut praelo subdere scripta velim.

En igitur tandem Monachi tibi scripta, typorum

Verbere, iam doctum docta referre sonum.

Quod nisi Savillus prior hac in laude fuisset,

Deberet Barlaam iam sua [five Greek letters] tibi.

Namque tuis monitis partier, partiterque rogatu

Musa viri superset, quae peritura fuit.

We have had two independent translations of the poem by Latin scholars, who have translated the poem as follows:

To the Most Distinguished Man, the Lord Henry Neville, Ambassador of the

Most Serene Queen Elizabeth to the King of France

You may count your family and ancestors in long succession, so that King’s high courts grant you access. Yet nothing in such great good fortune is so deserving as the honorable quality of your character and the glory of your genius.

It is with these qualities that you manage all your royal duties and conduct such high negotiations, and in the same spirit, leaving the earth behind, you joyfully enter the realm of the stars.

Too little is your excellence seen by the common people of the Earth, were it not for the kindly company of the Muses who sing through you, granting your various arts: the refined Muse of Comedy [Thalia] giving you a full voice to pour forth what you will.

Euclid teaches you, revealing origins and first principles and the ancient Egyptian, Pelusiachan Ptolemy, leads you to the stars. Not content with this you make it your practice to raise the ghost and stir up the buries ashes of Barlaam the Monk!

I do not know how often you have asked me, please, submit your writings to the printing press. So look, see! For at last the Monk’s writings, now in print, giving voice against the teacher’s learned words.

For had not Savile been earlier in his praise, Barlaam would now be indebted to you for his ransom from oblivion.

And now through your promptings and equally your requests the man’s Muse survives was about to be lost.

The fundamental importance of this poem derives, of course, from the lines about Thalia and the “Muses who sing through you.” First of all, Neville kept his authorship of Shakespeare’s works a profound secret, and there is no other source known to us from his lifetime which claims that he was a writer of literary works of any kind. This poem clearly shows that his close friends were aware of his secret life as a playwright. Secondly, Thalia was the Greek Muse of Comedy (and also of Idyllic poetry). Shakespeare had written the plays classified as Comedies mainly in the 1590s. The great Tragedies, starting with Hamlet in 1601-2, were not written until after Chamber’s poem. Thirdly, there is an unusual capital “V” in the word “Velles” [will] in the poem. This arguably refers to William Shakespeare, or to the fact that “or What You Will” was the subtitle of Twelfth Night, dated by most scholars to that year, 1599. As well, and just as importantly, the line about Neville’s “excellence” being “seen by the common people [“vulgurumque videris”] is plainly a reference to Neville’s Comedies being stage plays, whose audience consisted in large part of ordinary Londoners. Finally, the poem shows that Chamber was familiar with many of Neville’s other interests, such as mathematics and astronomy. Neville had visited Tycho Brahe and other European astronomers during his trip with Savile and others to the Continent in 1577-82. Neville owned a book on Ptolemaic celestial geometry, written in 1538 and annotated by Neville in Greek and Latin, which is now in the Merton College Library.

The second piece of remarkable new evidence is the handwritten inscription in a copy of Shake-speares Sonnets (as the volume of Sonnets was titled), dated 23 M[ay] 1609, three days after the work was officially published. (The date cannot be 23 March, since the volume was published on 20 May 1609.) Only fourteen copies of the original 1609 edition of the Sonnets survive (out of an estimated 200 thought to have been printed); this is the only one with an inscription. Given its date and its wording, the inscription was almost certainly written by the author, although it is unsigned and the addressee isn’t named. The inscription states “Commendations to my very kind and approved friend.”

This inscription has received surprisingly little attention from scholars, many of whom, surely, are unaware of its existence. The inscribed copy is currently held by the John Rylands Library

in Manchester. Its provenance can be traced to the mid-eighteenth century, but not to an earlier date.

It seems abundantly clear to us that the inscription is in Neville’s handwriting. This can be shown both by clear similarities in the writing style and spelling, and in the use of similar, unusual phraseology, also found in Neville’s previous writings. Taken together, these linkages make it clear that the inscription was by Neville. As noted, given the dating of the inscription and its dedicatory nature, the inscription must have been by the author to a friend.

[Add visual evidence of the similarities here?]

This remarkable new evidence in the poem and the inscription add enormously to the previous case for Neville as the real author of Shakespeare’s works, which was already very strong. The new evidence will be outlined at length in our proposed book, and may well create a sensation.