O what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
In the April NEWS-LETTER I pointed out some
glaring instances of historical misinformation in Alden Brooks' recent
book, Will Shakspere and the Dyer's Hand, wherein an attempt
is made to present Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607) as author or "Great
Reviser" of the Shakespearean plays and poems.
My comments were meant chiefly to correct the absurdly false picture
of the poet-dramatist Earl of Oxford that Mr. Brooks includes in his
album of Elizabethan distortions.
Let us now consider some of the attested documentation relating to
the actual career of Sir Edward Dyernot in the fictionized form
that Mr. Brooks offers itbut as such material appears in Ralph
M. Sargent's authoritative life of Dyer, supplemented by the comments
and correspondence of Sir Edward's contemporaries and associates. There
are many such revealing references in the Elizabethan State Papers,
the Hatton letters, the Cecil manuscripts, and the letters and documents
of the Sidney family.
From these sources it can be shown that Alden Brooks misrepresents
many of the vital circumstances of Dyer's own career quite as freely
as he re-writes contemporary accounts of Lord Oxford's activities.
Such treatment of historical material may be tolerated in novels and
in the never-never zone of cinema invention, but it certainly has no
place at all in an alleged serious study of the Shakespeare authorship
To put it bluntly, this kind of writing is an imposition on unwary
readers. It is indeed unfortunate that Mr. Brooks' publishers have not
seen fit to label the fictionized handling of essential material in
Will Shakspere and the Dyer's Hand in plain type on the dust-cover
of the volume.
According to the authoritative testimony, Edward Dyer was the eldest
son of Sir Thomas Dyer, High Sheriff of Somerset and Dorset during the
early years of Elizabeth's reign. Sir Thomas died in 1565, and from
the inquisition post mortem on his estate, it appears that his
son Edward was born in 1543. Lady Dyer, née Anne Poynings,
a personal friend of the Queen, with some gifts as a versifier, had
succumbed to a mental disorder in 1564.
Edward Dyer attended Broadgates College, Oxford, but left without taking
a degree. He supplemented his formal education with some years of travel
on the Continent, evidently familiarizing himself with the rudiments
of the Latin languages. He had inherited his mother's poetical aptitude,
and also made himself proficient in music.
Returning to England at about the time of his father's death, Dyer
appeared at Court, where the Queen gave him good countenance. He was
then about twenty-one years of age. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester,
being at the height of his power, Dyer attached himself to the favorite's
retinue and was soon known as Leicester's personal secretary and confidential
agent. In 1560, Secretary of State Cecil (later Lord Burghley) had told
the Spanish Ambassador Quadra:
"The Lord Robert has made himself master of the business of the
state and of the person of the Queen."
Leicester was, indeed, generally recognized as having the authority
of an uncrowned king of Englandan authority, by the way, that
he used with heartless and unscrupulous rapacity. In the eyes of most
historians his career is forever stained by acts of selfish cruelty,
oppression and the most unblushing disregard for the rights and lives
of otherswhen they obscured his own.
A number of Leicester's contemporaries who were in position to know
considerable about his doings have accused the Earl of personal implication
in the sudden deaths of several prominent personages. These unfortunates
included, among others his first wife, Amy Robsart; the Lord Sheffield,
and Walter Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. It cannot be denied that in
the demise of each of these the Queen's favorite found immediate personal
No less an authority than Sir Robert Naunton, author of the Fragmenta
Regalia, a commentary on Elizabeth's chief courtiers, particularizes
Leicester's known proficiency as "a rare Artist in poison,"
and passes him down to posterity as "well seen in the reaches of
In his conversations with Drummond of Hawthornden, Ben Jonson is quoted
as saying that Leicester's own death finally came about through a well-merited
stroke of retribution. Having married Lettice Knollys, Countess of Essex,
immediately after her warrior husband's untimely taking off, Leicester
soon found the union to be the reverse of a happy one. So he thoughtfully
presented his third spouse with a bottle of "rare cordial,"
recommending it as a restorative in any faintness, "in the hope
that she might be cut off by using it." But Letticewhether
wittingly or notturned the tables on his Lordship by giving him
a dose of his own medicine one day when he was feeling out of sorts.
Yet Leicester, despite his well-documented reputation for lawless ambition
and polite homicide, had the hypocritical effrontery to represent himself
as the head of the Puritan political interests in Parliament.
The Queen's great infatuation for her "Robin" may be attributed
to his strikingly handsome exterior and his genius for flattery and
dissimulation combined with a flamboyant show of patriotism of a highly
personalized and self-aggrandizing type.
This was the man to whose interests Edward Dyer devoted himself with
zealous skill for many years and under whose patronage the lyricist
made headway at Court.
Alden Brooks emphasizes this connection in an effort to prove that
Dyer introduced pronounced Leicesterian propaganda elements into the
Shakespeare plays and poems. In making up his "Pattern of the Poet,"
an arbitrary outline of requirements that he claims any candidate for
the authorship of the works must meet, Brooks declares:
The Poet was a friend of Leicester.
The first version of A Midsummer Night's Dream told of a quarrel
between Titania (Elizabeth) and Oberon (Leicester) and the detailed
account of the Kenilworth Water Spectacle, essential to that quarrel,
is written in the Poet's style. 1
The Poet was present at the Kenilworth Entertainment of 1575.
The first version of A Midsummer Night's Dream was a topical
play written on Leicester's behalf to win the Queen's pardon for his
marriage to Lettice Knollys.
Claims for such evidences of Leicesterian propaganda in the Shakespearean
works cannot be substantiated. If Mr. Brooks has any real evidence of
the existence of a so-called "first version of A Midsummer Night's
Dream" especially designed to soften the Queen's rage over
Leicester's bigamous marriage to Lettice Knollys, he should produce
it forthwith, for it would establish his immortal fame as a discoverer.
Having already gone through a secret marriage ceremony with Lady Sheffield
in 1573, Leicester also became the husband of the widow of the Earl
of Essex in 1576. He took every possible precaution to hide these dual
alliances, and the marriage to the Countess of Essex was only revealed
some three years later by Simier, the French Ambassador. It was with
great difficulty that Elizabeth was restrained from imprisoning Leicester
in the Tower when this came out. And Lettice Knollys Devereux Dudley
was prohibited from appearing at Court during Leicester's lifetime.
It is preposterous, under these circumstances, to state that Leicester
would countenance the production of any play specifically designed to
refocus the high-tempered Queen's attention upon his derelictions.
Contrary to these unwarranted conclusions of Mr. Brooks, no unprejudiced
investigator has ever been able to point out any clear-cut pro-Leicester
sentiment in the Shakespeare plays. Indeed, the opposite is the case.
Kenilworth Castle is mentioned in Part 2 Henry VI under its original
name of "Killin-gworth" as one of the 15th century strongholds
of the Lancastrian King, but the reference has no further significance.
On the other hand, the names of Dudley and Leicester as personal designations
are conspicuously absent in Shakespeare's voluminous cast of characters,
although the dialogue spoken during the enactment of The Princely
Pleasures at Kenelworth in 1575 is loaded with direct and flattering
references to the mighty Dudley. It would, therefore, seem to be obvious
that Shakespeare purposely avoids saying one good word for the Queen's
longtime favorite. Neither does the Bard honor the Earl's Dudley progenitors
in the chronicle plays. There was, it is true, very little that could
be stated to their advantage: both the grandfather and the father of
the Earl of Leicester having been executed for high crimes and misdemeanors.
But not a line, not a syllable does the dramatist emit to extenuate
or exculpate their faults. It seems to me that if Edward Dyer had been
this dramatist he would certainly have used his great talents to some
effect to whitewash the background of the nobleman in whose service
he can otherwise be shown to have labored so assiduously.
Moreover, Leicester is known to have patronized several writers who
furthered his curious Puritan policies. Why, then, we must ask Mr. Brooks,
would the Earl's confidential secretary and avowed partisanif
he really were responsible for the Shakespearean worksadopt a
course so contrary to his patron's interests by presenting the bitter
satire of a hypocritical "Puritan politician" such as Malvolio
is designated in Twelfth Night; and make it a habit to insert
other unkind references to Puritanism throughout so many of his writings?
Like other of Mr. Brooks' key arguments, this onethat "the
Poet was a friend of Leicester"simply does not stand
up under analysis.
In fact, it can be emphatically stated without the slightest fear of
refutation that the creative spirit of the plays and poems is distinctly
hostile to all those peculiar practices by which Leicester achieved
and retained his power in the state.
Prof. Sargent tells us that in May 1573, Edward Dyer acted as one of
the witnesses to Robert Dudley's secret or "mock" marriage
to Douglas Howard (Lady Sheffield)who gave birth to Leicester's
son three days later. This affair, immediately following the sudden
death of the Lord Sheffield under circumstances that would undoubtedly
have brought about Leicester's indictment in modern times, became one
of the most unsavory scandals of the age. Yet on page 445 of his book,
Mr. Brooks speaks of Dyer's part in the affair only as testifying to
"the strength of his friendship for Leicester."
The new "Shakespeare," it would appear, must be one in whom
servility supplants all conscientious scruple.
Again, Brooks reproduces a letter written by Dyer to Leicester on May
28, 1586, after his Lordship had gone to the Netherlands as General
in command of all English troops sent out to assist the United Provinces
in their heroic struggle against Spanish tyranny. Historians of the
Lowlands wars tell us that at this time Leicester headed a fair-sized
army of picked fighters, many of them proven veterans, well equipped
and eager for action. But back in England, it seems, the Earl's confidential
agent at Court is worried over the prospect of Leicester's being forced
to give an account of himself in the field. So he writes this letterunfortunately
too long to quote herethe burden of which is "that there
be causes why a general should not fight . . . And the greater honour
is to overcome without danger than with it." In other words, play
safe; take no chances . . . lest "your Lordship be overthrown."
Believe it or not, the author of Will Shakspere and the Dyer's Hand
seriously offers this remarkable epistle as a sample of genuine Shakespearean
correspondence, straight from the Great Reviser's quill!
Disregarding the distinctively active martial connotations of the name
Shakespeare itself, who can picture the daring and dynamic soul who
brought to life a galaxy such as Hotspur, Henry the Fifth, the fire-eating
Fluellen and "the brave Talbot," ever putting ink to paper
to advise the leader of a well-equipped English army on foreign soil
how not to fight?
Of course such an effort would be futile. The temperament of Dyer,
as exposed in his letters, and the creative temperament that gives the
plays their abounding vitality are poles apart. Shakespeare was no cagey
and careful "sure thing gambler" such as Dyer writes himself
down. The Bard was a reckless and prodigal genius, expending his most
loving brush-strokes upon those characters who neither fear their fate
nor doubt their own deserts too much to risk an all-out grapple with
Finally, when Mr. Brooks attempts to use Dyer's letter to Leicester
to demonstrate verbal parallel, between his candidate and the writer
of the plays, the effort becomes painful. For he cannot point out a
single distinctively Shakespearean figure of speech in the whole documentwhich
runs to more than four hundred words. The nearest he can come to it
is in the dual use of the word ornament, as follows:
. . . the many virtues and ornaments as the world acknowledgeth
besides to be in you. DYER.
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament. . . Sonnet
Of course, the word ornament as applied to a courtier in Elizabethan
days was no more distinctively Shakespearean than the word courtier
itself. But in The Merchant of Venice, the Bard uses it in a
way that would apply very aptly to Leicester:
The world is still deceiv'd with ornament.
In any event, it appears to be the consensus of opinion that the Earl
of Leicester's military reputation was not helped by his proneness to
follow advice such as Dyer gave him. At the end of his biographical
commentary on the Earl, Sir Robert Naunton remarks that as a general
"we read not of his wonders; for they say that he had more of Mercury
than of Mars; and that his device might have been, without prejudice
to the Great Caesar, Veni, vidi, redii." (I came,
I saw, I came away.)
Also, in his chapter on The Defeat of the Spanish Armada in Fifteen
Decisive Battles of the World, Sir Edward Creasy curtly refers to
"the imbecility of the Earl of Leicester" as a military leader.
Yet Alden Brooks writes with apparent seriousness of Edward Dyer's relationship
to this unproved hero as one of the determining factors in the development
of the real Bard's patriotic and martial fervor!
Evidently through Leicester's backing, the Queen in 1570 bestowed upon
Edward Dyer "the stewardship of the manor and woods of Woodstock,
Oxford, and its members, for life, and the rangership and portership
of the park." This was considered a choice plum of patronage and
Dyer was much envied for his good fortune. But almost immediately afterwards
he fell under the Queen's displeasure and was forbidden her presence.
Commentators on Dyer's life at this period have scented a mystery in
Elizabeth's annoyance with her protégé. But the later
disclosure of those circumstances which show Dyer as Leicester's witness
at the time of the Earl's secret marriage to Lady Sheffield, indicate
that the Queen had as early as 1571 learned of Dyer's activities as
a liaison man in the promotion of Leicester's relationships with other
women; so that personal jealousy and pique may have been the real explanation
of Elizabeth's withdrawal of her favor from the Earl's secretary. We
know that she had sought a new companion for herself just about this
time in the person of Christopher Hatton. And, to balance matters, Dyer
proceeds to cultivate Hatton and to give him detailed advice on how
to retain the fickle affections of the Monarch, who has also expressed
herself as exceedingly fond of the young Earl of Oxford.
In the famous letter from Dyer to Hatton, first reproduced by Nicolas
in his Life and Times of Sir Christopher Hatton, Dyer warns Hatton
against presuming too far on Elizabeth's frailties as a woman, but to
make headway obliquely by
. . . hating my Lord of (Oxon.) in the Queen's understanding for
affection's sake and blaming him openly for seeking the Queen's favor.
This epistle, which bears date of October 9, 1572, is seldom quoted
in its entirety, as it contains realistic comments reflecting on the
"Virgin Queen's" chastity. But even more illuminating to our
present purpose is the insight it offers into Dyer's own psychology.
Here we see how well the pupil has learned his lessons at the feet of
his Machiavellian master, Leicester. The supple convolutions of his
thought glide and coil with truly ophidian grace. Listen, as Master
Dyer advises Hatton how to further himself by making life miserable
for Oxford, the Queen's admired wit and entertainer:
. . . behaving yourself as I have said, your place shall keep you
in worship, your presence in favour, your followers will stand to
you. At the least you shall have no bold enemies, and you shall dwell
in the way to take all advantages wisely and honestly to serve your
turn at times. Marry, this much I would advise you, that you use no
words of disgrace or reproach towards him to any, that he, being the
less provoked, may sleep thinking all safe, while you do awake and
attend your advantage.
Otherwise you shall, as it were, warder him and keep him in order.
And he will make the Queen think that he beareth all for her sake,
which will be a merit in her sight; and the pursuing of his revenge
shall be just in all men's opinions, by what means soever he and his
friends shall ever be able.
Mr. Brooks again seeks diligently for Shakespearean connotations in
this cynical document. He brings forth a parallel phrase or two, such
as "common reason," "best and soundest," "avouched,"
"marry" and "friends" compared to "glue"all
of which may be found in everyday Elizabethan usage. But in the overall
effect, the psychological import of this brief essay on How to Stab
an Unsuspecting Rival in the Back, Mr. Brooks misses out completely.
He never even mentions Iago.
That Shakespeare had known an Iago in real life, who can doubt? But
that Iago was Shakespeare himself is not only doubtfulit is unbelievable.
The anti-Oxford intrigue that Dyer plotted in Hatton's behalf was apparently
set afoot with the full knowledge and approval of Leicester, who had
no use at all for the youthful Lord Chamberlain of England. "Gypsy
Robin" disliked Oxford, not only because the Queen "took great
delight" in the young courtier's unconventional wit, dancing, flair
for theatricals and remarkable prowess as a "spearshaker"
in the lists, but for the reason that Edward de Vere was the avowed
protégé and admirer of that representative of the old
nobility, Thomas Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex.
Honest, able and skilled in the fine arts, a good soldier and a true
gentleman, Sussex looms today as one of the patriots of the Elizabethan
Age. A cousin of the Queen, he is said to have won Leicester's hatred
by advising Elizabeth, after the unexplained death of Amy Robsart, that
she would do well to disavow any serious intentions of marrying Leicester
as the people of England would not tolerate their Monarch's alliance
with a favorite, freed of previous matrimonial obligations under such
circumstances. From that time forward, Sussex and the man he contemptuously
dubbed "The Gypsy" were at swords' points. Posterity has long
since decided who was the better representative of English honor. But
in the days when Edward Dyer was doing Leicester's bidding the fact
that Lord Oxford was the close friend of Sussex, his student in military
tactics and statesmanship, was enough to mark the youthful peer out
for persecution by the Leicester factionof which Dyer was "the
Many of the unexpected thwarts and discomfitures experienced by the
playwriting Earl ("the best for comedy among us") during the
two decades that followed can be traced to the hatching of this Leicester-Dyer-Hatton
conspiracy to destroy Oxford's personal credit. Dyer's art in the businessfar
from indicating him as the Great Reviser of the Shakespeare playstestifies
to nothing more than his genius for deceitful intrigue.
In addition to serving the undercover interests of Leicester and Hatton,
Dyer helped Sir Francis Walsingham work out his vast and intricate secret
service system. It can be gathered that he was excellently suited for
such a task.
Later he attached himself to the rising star of Robert Devereux, Earl
of EssexLeicester's stepson and successor in Elizabeth's affections.
Characteristically enough, while ostensibly the confidential adviser
of the overtrustful Essex, Master Dyer can now be proven by Prof. Sargent
to have really been the intimate friend and political agent of Sir Robert
CecilEssex's most wily and implacable enemy. 2
It is, moreover, plain that Dyer insinuated himself into Essex's inner
circle with the full knowledge and consent of Cecil for the express
purpose of keeping the Cecil party informed of the rash young nobleman's
affairs. In fact, when we examine the documentary evidence of Dyer's
dual relationship to these bitter opponents in the struggle for political
control during the climacteric last decade of Elizabeth, Dyer's rare
achievement of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds is
only explainable on the grounds that Cecil himself was master of the
"I have been this morning at Winchester House to seek you, and
I would have given a thousand pounds to have had one hour's speech
with you, so much I would hearken to your counsel and so greatly do
I esteem your friendship," writes Essex to Dyer in July, 1587,
after the Queen has reproved him for insulting speeches he has directed
at Sir Walter Raleigh in her presence.
It would appear from this situation very much as though Essex had been
following the same advice that Dyer had given Hatton years, before as
to "hating my Lord of (Oxon.) in the Queen's understanding, etc."but
with youthful impetuosity had overdone the matter.
It is highly significant to note that the Dyer-Essex correspondence
has been preserved among the private papers of Sir Robert Cecil. Another
of Dyer's missives, addressed to the unsuspecting Essex, bears date
of May 1598:
I beseech you to open all letters of mine that come that way and
not to stay the time of sending to me. For so it is most meet. Of
the rest I can say nothing but ever more and more bound, I am liking
more and more, enkindled with desire, to do your Lordship grateful
In Sargent's book (p. 146) we are further informed:
On the night of Essex's return (from Ireland in the autumn of 1599)
Sir Edward Dyer was in the Court faction that dined with Essex.
Then we come across this statement by Sargent, based on his study of
the extant evidence that Dyer was really Sir Robert Cecil's own active
henchman from 1592 onward:
. . . it was Cecil who procured him his chancellorship and knighthood;
more, it was Cecil and Cecil alone who saved Dyer from financial disaster
at every crisis of his later years . . . there was more than political
association. When Sir Robert's wife died in 1597, he chose Sir Edward
Dyer, as one of his closest friends, to be a pallbearer at her funeral.
We may be sure that a master-strategist of the caliber of Sir Robert
Cecil would never have admitted Dyer into his confidence if he had not
had positive assurance that Dyer was actually representing him, no matter
how openly Sir Edward wore the Essex colors. Still true to his early
training under Leicester, Dyer's proficiency in the art of double-dealing
is unquestionably the key to his private character.
Alden Brooks draws no moral from this important circumstance beyond
arguing from premise to conclusion that:
The Poet was abnormally secretive. . . Dyer was abnormally secretive.
The Poet possessed a deceptive public manner. . . Dyer possessed
a deceptive public manner, etc.
But the ultimate conclusion to be drawn from the recorded facts
of Dyer's career certainly cannot be that the man's pronounced predilection
for deception, secretiveness and double-dealing in personal relationships
automatically fits him into the heroic mould of the Bard.
Shakespeare, above other writers of his age, celebrates the sacred
ties of friendship and faithfulness to an accepted trust. He gives us
Antonio and Bassanio, Romeo and Mercutio, Hamlet and Horatio, Lear and
Kent, and the litany to a loyalty that survives crime, neglect, the
very "edge of doom" in the Sonnets. In fact, the Bard
himself is the trustworthy companion and adviser of faltering humanity.
Even in his blackest moods he never quite lets his friends down. It
is inconceivable that in real life he would play the part of a Sir Edward
Dyer, or, for that matter, of a Sir Francis Bacon in relationship to
the unhappy Essex.
On the other handas J. Thomas Looney has pointed outthe
extreme loyalty that the literary Earl of Oxford displayed to his friend,
the Duke of Norfolk, in 1571 when the latter was sentenced to execution
as a partisan of Mary Queen of Scots, is hardly to be matched in Elizabethan
annals, except in the pages of Shakespeare.
One of the minor fallacies that is given currency by many editors of
the plays and poemsand which is built up to exaggerated proportions
by Alden Brooksis the assumption that "Shakespeare was a
follower of the Earl of Essex" and introduced laudatory allusions
to him into the choruses of Henry the Fifth and elsewhere. The
fact is that all of the early editions of this play published between
1600 and 1608 lacked the choruses and every one of the passages that
have been construed as praiseful of Essex. And although promoters of
the Essex rebellion are known to have bribed members of the Lord Chamberlain's
Company to put on performances of Richard II featuring the banned
scenes in which the Monarch is deposed, as propaganda for the Earl's
scheme to depose Elizabeth, Shakespeare himself certainly had no hand
in the matter, for the author of Richard II was not mentioned
under this name or any other when the affair was later investigated
by the Queen's authorities. The Bard cannot be shown to have favored
the grandiose schemes of Leicester's step-son with any more enthusiasm
than he displays on behalf of Leicester himself. Indeed, the distinctively
negative reactions that the plays and poems yield in this respect, indicate
that their author had no desire whatever to be accounted one of the
Essex party. The fact that the young Earl of Southampton, to whom Venus
and Adonis and Lucrece were dedicated, became Essex's sworn
adherent does not alter the evidence in the least as it relates to the
creator of those works and his attitude toward the nobleman who was
beheaded for treason in February 1601.
We have seen that Dyer, for ulterior purposes, sought openly to curry
favor with Essex, although no documentation can be produced to connect
Southampton with the supple Sir Edward.
On the other hand, Southampton can be definitely connected with the
literary Earl of Oxford on a very intimate basis. Over a period of some
two years, serious efforts were made to have Southampton contract himself
to marry Oxford's eldest daughtera circumstance that is generally
believed by most Shakespearean students (even including Alden Brooks
himself) to be commented upon at length in the first seventeen of
Moreover, it can now be shown that although Lord Oxford wanted the
handsome young Southampton for a son-in-law, he heartily disliked Essex.
In a letter addressed to Sir Robert Cecil under date of October 20,
1595, 3 Oxford encloses
a message to Lord Burghley regarding the latter's suggestion that Oxford,
to protect his chances of securing the Queen's approval of his long-sought
right to the keepership of the Forest of Waltham and the Park of Havering,
"make means to the Earl of Essex to forbear to deal for it."
This, says Oxford, he "cannot do in honour, having already received
divers injuries and wrongs from him." (My italics.) And he
adds, philosophically: "If her Majesty's affections be forfeits
of men's estates, we must endure it."
This would seem to offer the best of personal reasons why the author
of the Shakespearean works refrains from paying tribute to the otherwise
highly lauded Earl of Essex.
In 1601 Oxford sat as one of the senior Lords Tryors of Essex and voted
for his execution for high treason. But his action did not do violence
to former pledges of undying loyalty to the misguided Earl. And it is
to be noted that although Southampton also was sentenced to capital
punishment by the same court, a special recommendation of mercy was
entered in his behalf which resulted in a commutation of the extreme
penalty. In other words, the man to whom Venus and Adonis, Lucrece
and many of the Sonnets are addressed had a powerful friend at
that particular court who came to his rescue in his hour of doom. Sir
Robert Cecil filed the official plea for mercy. But behind Cecil was
his brother-in-law Oxford ("most excellent in the rare devices
of poetry") who had once sought Southampton as husband of his eldest
One of the points at which Alden Brooks abruptly departs from the documentary
facts of Sir Edward Dyer's career occurs when Brooks attempts to build
up his conjectural portrait of Dyer as a hack writer, employed by the
Stratford literary agent. On page 481 of the Brooks opus we read:
In the summer of 1591, Edward Dyer, forty-seven years old, withdrew
from active political life to reclusion in Winchester House.
In 1592 Dyer had been "again returned to Parliament from Somerset"
and took active part in the deliberations of that body, serving on important
We have already shown that Dyer was also engaged in the political concerns
of the Earl of Essex in 1598 and later, quite evidently filling the
role of an informer for the Cecil party.
The records of Dyer's part (writes Sargent, ingenuously) fell
into the hands of Cecil, who preserved them. 4
(My italics.) One, a letter from Essex on 4 March
1598 to his agent John Udall, reveals that Sir Edward Dyer is acting
as a liaison man between Essex and a Scottish nobleman who has offered
to perform some secret services in Ireland.
Thus we see that Brooks' statement regarding Dyer's withdrawal from
active affairs is entirely misleading. Dyer was actually a prominent
Parliamentary figure during these years of alleged withdrawal "from
active political life," besides being engaged in political intrigue
which involved high stakes and important personages.
Furthermore, Sargent shows that during the years 1593-95, at least,
Dyer was serving with Sir Thomas Heneage as under officer for the Duchy
of Lancaster, an important post, involving the handling of considerable
revenue. A report on the affairs of the Duchy, dated September 1595,
bears the joint signatures of Heneage as Chancellor and Dyer as his
associate. Yet Brooks does not mention Heneage or the Duchy of Lancaster
in his booka circumstance that argues studied suppression. Even
more reprehensible is the author's insistence that during the last sixteen
years of his life Dyer was a forgotten man, a hermit in his lodgings
at Winchester House, "one whose day has now passed, a frequenter
of the shadows . . ," driven by want and neglect to toil as an
editorial "play doctor" for the fictional Simon Legree
At last (writes Sargent) in 1596 Dyer was knighted and made Chancellor
of the Order of the Garter. The office carried a stipend of 100 pounds
per annum 5 . . . As Chancellor
of the Garter, however, he had been elevated to a place of uncommon
esteem . . . Elizabeth especially guarded the prestige of the Order
of the Garter as the most select honorary body in the kingdom. In
the whole of her reign, only fifty-one persons, English noblemen or
foreign potentates, were ever granted the Garter . . . Although Dyer's
office admitted him to meetings of the order, it made him, as it were,
an honorary servant of the members. His particular duty gave him custody
of the Seal of the Order: according to the rules of the body (my
italics) he must be daily at Court, ready to provide the Queen
with the Seal whenever she might desire it. Whenever he appeared in
public the Chancellor of the Garter wore about his neck a jewelled
chain bearing 'a golden Rose enclosed within a Garter.' On all state
occasions he took rank following the Privy Councillors and preceding
the Chancellor of the Exchequer . . . In the eyes of many of his countrymen,
Dyer, now Sir Edward, had become an enviable and venerable dignitary.
So it would seem to be abundantly apparent that Dyerfar from
being a poverty-stricken and forgotten recluse at Winchester House,
dependent upon the largess of the rough-and-ready go-getter from Stratfordwas
actually a prominent figure in the highest and most active social and
political circles of his day.
Elizabeth's Court was the dynamic core from which all governmental
and social influences radiated. And as Dyer's position as Chancellor
of the Garter obliged him to attend Court daily, and be at the
beck and call of the Queen, how foolish it is of Mr. Brooks to try to
make the facts appear otherwise!
Finally, Rowland Whyte, the secretary of Sir Robert Sidney, specifically
informs us that Dyer was one of the active figures at Court during the
period that Brooks finds it necessary to picture him as a recluse back
at Winchester House. 6 During
1597, Whyte writes to Sidney in reference to Sidney's efforts to become
an official of the Royal Household:
I have in deed too often troubled you with the Presence Chamber,
but to give you Satisfaction, it was my Lady of Warwick, and
Sir Edward Dier, that in their love to you, did wish your Enemies
had not had that only Way to hurt you in her Maiesty's Favor, who
speaks often of it . . . For Sir Edward Dier in plain Termes
told me that he heard the Queen had such an Impression of it grounded
in her, as she thought you too young for any Place about her.
Here is the real Dyer: in the thick of Court politics to his ears,
and plainly taking a hand in guiding the Queen's choice of her confidential
servants. What nonsense it would be to suppose that the Chancellor of
the Noble Order of the Garter, a daily attendant upon the Queen,
would sacrifice a position so ideally suited to his temperament to become
the hack-writing puppet of the synthetic Stratford bounder that Alden
Brooks has created!
Charles Wisner Barrell
1. The Princely Pleasures of the Courte at Kenelworth, the contemporary
account of the spectacles put on for the Queen's entertainment at Leicester's
seat in 1575, credits George Gascoigne with authorship of the most important
of these devices. In her Life of Elizabeth, Agnes Strickland
says that George Ferrers wrote the lines spoken in the water spectacle.
2. A notable lapse in Alden Brooks' general argument for Dyer as Shakespeare
appears on p. 223 of his book, where he has Richard III staged
as a lampoon on Dyer's benefactor, the physically misshapen Cecil. back
3. Calendar of MSS. of the Earl of Salisbury, Vol. 5, p. 426. back
4. All circumstances considered, it seems perfectly clear that Dyer
himself turned this correspondence over to Cecil. back
5. Together with other worth-white perquisites, for any person filling
this office was assured ample funds to maintain the dignity of the position.
6. Sidney Papers, Collins, Vol. 2, p. 31. back