Friday, July 22, 2016

Biography - Pregnant Elizabeth Vernon 1572-1655 (Shakespeare's lover?) marries Earl of Southampton (Shakespeare's lover or Elizabeth's son?)

Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton (1572-1655) attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561-1636)

In 1999, a German professor of English, Hildegard Hammerschmidt - Hummel, proposed an intriguing, but highly tenuous, theory about Elizabeth Vernon (one of the Queen's chief ladies-in-waiting) mainly based on a sonnet whose authorship remains debated. She claims that the sonnet was written by William Shakespeare, & that additional evidence from portraits show that Elizabeth Vernon Wriothesley was Shakespeare's lover. Her eldest daughter Penelope was, according to this theory, a child of Shakespeare. If this were true, the late Lady Diana Spencer would be a descendant of William Shakespeare. (See: Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel: Das Geheimnis um Shakespeares 'Dark Lady'. Dokumentation einer Enthüllung Darmstadt: Primus-Verlag 1999)

1590 Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton (1572-1655)

And so the story goes -- Elizabeth Wriothesley (née Vernon), Countess of Southampton (1572–1655) was one of the ladies-in-waiting to Elizabeth I of England in the later years of her reign. She was born in Hodnet, Shropshire, England to Sir John Vernon of Hodnet & Elizabeth Devereux.

Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton (1572-1655), probably dressed for the coronation of James I of England in 1603 in white with her countess's coronet & mantle

In August of 1598, Elizabeth married Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, the patron of William Shakespeare. The hasty marriage occurred, after Elizabeth learned that her young lady-in-waiting was pregnant. Upon discovering this, the Queen had both Elizabeth & her new groom locked in Fleet Prison. After their release, they were never again to be allowed in the company of extremely displeased Queen Elizabeth.

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), Detail

Another favorite of Elizabeth I, Henry Wriothesley, (1573–1624), was the only known patron of Shakespeare, who dedicated Venus and Adonis to him (1593). Southampton's openly tempestuous relationship with the Queen culminated in his involvement in the Earl of Essex's rebellion in 1601. Condemned to death by Elizabeth when the rebellion failed, his punishment was commuted to life imprisonment; and he was released by the new King James I, after Elizabeth's death. Southampton was known at court for his flamboyant appearance, particularly his striking long auburn hair.

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), by Nicholas Hilliard

Here the tenuous theory of Elizabeth Vernon actually being Shakespeare's lover finds some competition. Some note that Shakespeare’s sonnets often seem to be directly addressed to the passionate Wriothesley, who was the patron not just of Shakespeare but also of a whole group of writers & scholar–poets, including Thomas Nashe, John Florio, & George Wither. He was a close friend of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. In an unusual coincidence, Elizabeth Vernon was Essex’s cousin.

The Tower Portrait of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), 1603 by John Decritz the Elder 

Shakespeare's first 17 sonnets are said by some Shakespeare scholars to refer to Southampton. There a youth of rank & wealth is admonished to marry & beget a son so that "his fair house" may not fall into decay. Southampton was then unmarried, had vast possessions, & was the sole male representative of his family, his father having died when he was only 8. In Sonnet 20, Shakespeare describes Southampton as the "master-mistress of passion" writing that Dame Nature originally intended Southampton to be a woman–but falling in love with her–turned her into a man instead. In Sonnet 53, Shakespeare wonders how beautiful Southampton would look dressed as Helen of Troy.

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624)

Documents seem to show that Elizabeth Vernon actually was emotionally involved with Wriothesley. Courtier Rowland Whyte wrote in 1595, "My Lord of Southampton do with too much familiarity court the fair Mistress Vernon." In 1598, Whyte commented, "I hear my Lord Southampton France and so onward in his travels; which course of his doth extremely grieve his mistress that passes her time in weeping and lamenting." And he reports again a few weeks later, "My Lord of Southampton is gone and left behind him a very desolate Gentlewoman that almost wept out her fairest eyes." Upon Southampton's return to England, he & Elizabeth Vernon were married. (See Letters and Memorials of State. Edited by Arthur Collins. 1746)

1618 Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton (1572-1655)

To complicate matters even further, some scholars believe the Prince Tudor theory that Southampton was the natural son of Edward de Vere Earl of Oxford & Queen Elizabeth. Besides the clues in Shakespeare's sonnets, they also note that in the 1603 portrait of Southampton in the Tower, the impresa in the upper right corner depicts a connection to royalty. It depicts a castle with swans swimming in the unusually "troubled waters" of the moat surrounding it. The swan is traditionally a royal symbol, & it is mute.

The young Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624)

When he finished his 4 years at St John's College, Cambridge in 1589 at age 16, he was presented formally to Queen Elizabeth at court. The queen had her then favorite, the Earl of Essex, take the young man under his wing. In 1592, Southampton was among the noblemen who accompanied Elizabeth to Oxford. A year later, Southampton was mentioned for nomination as a knight of the garter; at his age, an unprecedented compliment outside the circle of the sovereign's kinsmen. In 1595, he distinguished himself in the queen's presence in honor of the 37th anniversary of her reign. George Peel, in his account of the scene in his "Anglorum Feriæ," referred to him as the most chivalrous Bevis of Southampton.

1620 Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton (1572-1655) perhaps by Dutch artist Paul van Somer (c.1576–1621).

And so, Elizabeth Vernon did get pregnant. She did marry the Earl of Southampton. She did have a baby girl.  Some postulate that she may have been Shakespeare's secret love, & that her baby may have been Shakespeare's. Others speculate that Southampton may have been Shakespeare's love, & that Southampton may have been the secret son of Queen Elizabeth, the Prince Tudor. In this scenario, if the baby was Southampton's, it may have been the Queen's grandchild.

1622 Elizabeth Vernon, Countess of Southampton by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561-1636)