by Nina Green
First published in the 1998 edition of The Oxfordian
Scholars have never satisfactorily identified the mysterious individual known only as E.K. who collaborated with Spenser on The Shepheardes Calender of 1579 and was the author of a lost commentary on Spenser’s Dreames. The suggestion that E.K. was Edward Kirke (1553-1613), a Cambridge contemporary of Spenser’s, seems to go nowhere through lack of information (Oram 6). An alternative suggestion, that E.K. was Spenser’s friend, Gabriel Harvey, is incompatible with Harvey’s style, which is more ponderous and a good deal less effective than any of E.K.’s arguments or notes. A third theory, that E.K. is a Spenser persona, is ingeniously supported by the suggestion that the initials E.K. stand for “Edmundus Kedemon,” a translation of Spenser’s name into Greek (Oram 6). However, E.K.’s emphases suggest a textual presence distinct from Spenser’s (Hamilton 2805).
The question of E.K. ‘s identity is often discussed as though no evidence exists apart from the initials themselves and the information about E.K.’s academic and poetic pursuits revealed in the pages of The Shepheardes Calender. However, this assumption ignores Spenser’s own references to E.K. in two letters to Gabriel Harvey. The first of these letters was written on October 15th and 16th, 1579. Portions of four successive paragraphs are quoted below, illustrating the context in which Spenser’s reference to E.K. appears:
Your desire to heare of my late beeing with hir Majestie, muste dye in itselfe. As for the twoo worthy Gentlemen, Master Sidney and Master Dyer, they have me, I thanke them, in some use of familiarity: of whom, and to whome, what speache passeth for youre credite and estimation, I leave yourselfe to conceive. . . . Maister E.K. hartily desireth to be commended unto your Worshippe: of whome what accompte he maketh, your selfe shall hereafter perceive, by hys paynefull and dutifull verses of your selfe. Thus much was written at Westminster yesternight: but comming this morning, beeying the sixteenth of October, to Mystresse Kerkes, to have it delivered to the Carrier, I receyved youre letter, sente me the laste weeke: whereby I perceive you otherwhiles continue your old exercise of Versifying in English: whych glorie I had now thought shoulde have bene onely ours heere at London and the Court .. . I will impart yours [Harvey’s verses} to Maister Sidney and Maister Dyer at my nexte going to the Courte.[italics indicate 16th-century quote] (Grosart 79)
The clues afforded by this letter are admittedly slender; however, they give rise to important inferences. The first two paragraphs, written at Westminster yesternight (ie., on October 15th), group together items of news from Court. Spenser mentions his audience with the Queen, his growing intimacy with Sidney and Dyer (who are residing at Court) and E.K.’s greetings to Gabriel Harvey. The third and fourth paragraphs, written on October 16th, after Spenser’s visit to Mystresse Kerke’s, show that Spenser expects to be at Court again in the near future, at which time he promises to show Harvey’s verses to Sidney and Dyer.
Two important inferences arise from these comments. In the first place, the fact that Spenser conveys commendations from E.K. to Harvey disposes unequivocally of the theories that E. K. was either Spenser himself or Gabriel Harvey. Secondly, it can be inferred from Spenser’s remarks that it was at Court that he met with E.K. Six months later, in a postscript to a letter written to Harvey from Westminster in April, 1580, Spenser again mentions E.K.:
I take best my Dreames shoulde come forth alone, being growen by meanes of the Glosse (running continually in maner of a Paraphrase) full as great as my Calendar. Therin be some things excellently, and many things wittily discoursed of E.K., and the pictures so singularly set forth, and purtrayed, as if Michael Angelo were there, he could (I think) nor amende the beste, nor reprehende the worst. (Grosart 38, Hamilton 737)
Again, the clues to E.K.’s identity are slender. However, it can safely be inferred from the context of the letter that E.K. exercises considerable influence over the publication of Spenser’s works. Spenser tells us that E.K. has prepared a lengthy gloss for the printed edition of the Dreames; in addition, it is seemingly E.K. who has arranged for the pictures, the beauty of which seems to have come as a complete surprise to Spenser. These two letters of Spenser’s leave the reader with the impression that E.K. is a very singular individual. He is someone connected with the Court. He is also someone with the knowledge, the leisure, and the financial means to provide glosses and appropriate illustrations for Spenser’s published works. He is someone to whose critical judgment Spenser is prepared to yield in certain respects. Finally, and most curiously, he is someone who can only be mentioned—even in personal letters from Spenser to Gabriel Harvey—under the mask of the cryptic initials E.K. This singular individual, we believe, was Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.
Before examining further evidence that supports the identification of Oxford as E.K., however, it is necessary to glance at the role played by E.K. in The Shepheardes Calender. In this regard, Johnson makes the interesting analogy that E.K.’s role is like that of the sly pilgrim Geoffrey in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Johnson also suggests that E.K.’s role included the important task of shielding Spenser from the consequences of his use of topical satire:
Spenser’s possible reasons for prefacing a serious poem with a comic prologue must remain as mysterious as E. K.’s actual identity, but we can guess at several reasons for the decision. First, E.K.’s jocular tone, pedantry, and carefree handling of Immerito’s own metaphors are disarming. It may well be that Spenser felt certain that the eclogues glanced too sharply at the persons and issues of the late 1570’s; if so, E.K.—half clown, half capable exegete—served to screen the author from political reprisals. (Johnson 26, 30; Hamilton 231)
Johnson’s comment seems particularly apposite with respect to the February and May eclogues. In the argument to the February eclogue, E.K. cautions that this eclogue is “rather morall and generall, then bent to any secrete or particular purpose,” thus forestalling the temptation to interpret the fable of the Oak and Briar in terms of current religious or political events (Oram 39). Similarly, in the argument to the May eclogue, E.K. states cavalierly that “under the persons of two shepheards, Piers and Palinode, be represented two formes of pastoures or Ministers, or the protestant and the Catholique,” whereas, in fact, the eclogue deals, not with the opposition of Protestant and Catholic views, but with the much more dangerous debate between reforming and conservative factions of the Anglican church (Oram 87; Cullen 41-49, 131). Thus, E.K.’s disingenuous interpretation throws dust in the eyes of those of his contemporaries who might be inclined to accuse Spenser of criticizing the church of which his sovereign was the head.
But E.K.’s role in The Shepheardes Calender is not limited to the task of protecting Spenser from the consequences of comment on dangerous political or religious issues. As Oram points out, only about half of The Shepheardes Calender is poems. In other words, fully half of the materials that make up the Calender-the dedicatory epistle and general argument, the brief argument that prefaces each eclogue, and the extensive gloss that follows it are the work of E. K., who skillfully directs this disparate material toward a much more comprehensive objective, that of launching a new poet. In the dedicatory epistle, for example, E.K. tries to deflect the adverse criticism that he foresees will result from Spenser’s experimental style. He devotes three pages to a defense of Spenser’s use of archaic language, granting these ancient words to be “something hard,” but justifying their use as an attempt to garnish and beautify the English language. He concludes by likening those who would criticize this linguistic experiment to dogs in the manger whose “currish kind, though [they] cannot be kept from barking, yet I conne them thanke that they refrain from biting” (14,7). E.K.’s fear that Spenser’s use of archaic language would be objected to was well,founded: even Philip Sidney, to whom Spenser dedicated the work, criticized this feature in his Defence of Poesy: “That same framing of his style to an old rustic language I dare not allow, since neither Theocritus in Greek, Virgil in Latin, nor Sannazaro in Italian did affect it” (Shepherd 133).
To further assist in rendering Spenser intelligible to the reader, E.K. also thought well to take the pains upon himself of preparing a gloss to each of the eclogues. According to E.K., these glosses serve both for the exposition of old words and harder phrases and as a means of drawing attention to Spenser’s stylistic techniques (“forsomuch as I knew many excellent and proper devises both in words and matter would passe in the speedy course of reading, either as unknowen, or as not marked”) (Oram 19). In a further effort to smooth a path for the new poet, E.K. emphasizes that The Shepheardes Calender is Spenser’s first work, “the maydenhead of his Poetrie.” In an attractive simile, he points out that poets have traditionally written eclogues “at the first to trye their habilities: and as young birdes, that be newly crept out of the nest, by little first to prove theyr tender wyngs, before they make a greater flyght” (18). Thus, suggests E.K., allowances for Spenser’s poetic inexperience are to be made.
| To the right Honourable the Earle of
Oxenford, Lord high Chamberlayne
of England, &c
Receive most Noble Lord in gentle gree,
The unripe fruit of an unready wit:
Which by thy countenaunce doth crave to bee
Defended from foule Envies poisnous bit.
Which so to doe may thee right well befit,
Sith th’ antique glory of thine auncestry
Under a shady vele is therein writ,
And eke thine owne long living memory
Succeeding them in true nobility:
And also for the love, which thou doest beare
To th’ Heliconian ymps and they to thee,
They unto thee, and thou to them most deare:
Deare as thou art unto thy selfe, so love
That loves and honours thee, as doth behove.
E.K. also undertakes to explain to the reader the underlying structure of The Shepheardes Calender, stating that the twelve eclogues, “everywhere answering to the seasons of the twelve months, can be divided into three formes or ranckes, plaintive, recreative and moral” (223). As Cullen, Johnson and others have shown, E.K.’s deceptively simple statement affords a key to the unity and design of the entire work (120147j 37-44). Finally, in a disarming display of erudition, E.K. clears away one remaining obstacle to the Elizabethan readers’ appreciation of The Shepheardes Calender: Spenser has made January the starting-point of the calendar year (which, for most, began on March 25th), and E.K. provides arguments justifying Spenser’s unorthodox choice (Oram 235). From the foregoing, it is clear that E.K. was some’ one who understood exactly what Spenser was attempting to do, and who facilitated the introduction of Spenser’s fledgling work by serving as an interpreter between the poet and his readers. This is a task that very few of Spenser’s contemporaries were equipped to undertake, and a task that Spenser himself would have entrusted only to someone whose judgment he trusted implicitly. The question then becomes whether that person—the individual known as E.K.—was Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford.
Internal evidence in The Shepheardes Calender makes it clear that Spenser and his collaborator, E.K., enjoyed a friendship based on shared literary Interestingly, evidence of a friendship of precisely this sort is found in Spenser’s dedicatory sonnet to Oxford in the 1590 edition of The Faerie Queen (see below left: Greenlaw V3 191): If E.K. is Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, any surviving evidence of a friendship between Spenser and Oxford should contain the suggestion that it, too, was based on shared literary interests.
Spenser’s sonnet to Oxford is one of the original series of ten sonnets—dedicated to Hatton, Essex, Oxford, Northumberland, Ormond, Howard, Grey, Raleigh, Lady Carew, and the Ladies of the Court—that appeared in the first edition of The Faerie Queen. (Subsequently, the sonnets to Lady Carew and the Ladies of the Court were dropped, and seven new sonnets added, to make a total of fifteen. (Hamilton 259–292, 3)
Several of these dedicatory sonnets, including those dedicated to Essex, to Lady Carew, and to “the gratious and beautifull Ladies in the Court,” are merely exercises in graceful compliment. In others, however, Spenser singles out for praise specific achievements or qualities of the dedicatees. Thus, he draws attention to Lord Howard’s victory over the Spanish Armada, and to Sir Christopher Hatton’s counsel and policy. Similarly, the sonnets dedicated to the Earl of Ormond and to Arthur, Lord Grey of Wilton, acknowledge their patronage of literature (Greenlaw 190, 193–4). In only two of the original ten sonnets, however, does Spenser refer to the recipients as persons of literary accomplishment in their own right: Sir Walter Raleigh is “the sommers nightingale,” and the Earl of Oxford “bears love to the Heliconian ymps and is most de are to them” (Greenlaw 196).
According to Spenser, Raleigh is better qualified to write in praise of Queen Elizabeth than he; nonetheless, he begs his indulgence for his “rusticke Madrigale in faire Cinthias praise.” In his sonnet to Oxford, however, Spenser eschews comparisons and makes three points that establish a direct connection between Oxford and The Faerie Queen:
1. Spenser begins with the statement that he is relying on the Earl’s protection for his new work: “Which by thy countenaunce doth crave to bee/Defended from foule Envies poisnous bit.”
2. Spenser then points out two reasons why it right well befits Oxford to countenance and protect The Faerie Queen: first, the poem memorializes the de Veres and, more particularly, Oxford himself:
Which so to doe may thee right well befit,
Sith th’ antique glory of thine auncestry
Under a shady vele is therein writ,
And eke thine owne long living memory
Succeeding them in true nobility.
Second, it is fitting that Oxford should champion The Faerie Queen because of his love for the Muses, and theirs for him: “And also for the love, which thou doest beare/To th’ Heliconian ymps and they to thee.”
3. In the closing couplet, Spenser states that, as it behoves him to do, he loves and honours Oxford as dearly as Oxford loves himself. (The wording is admittedly elliptic and ambiguous, and ‘love’ perhaps refers to the Muses, rather than to Spenser; if so, then Spenser states that it “doth behove” the Muses to love Oxford as dearly as he loves himself.)” Deare as thou art unto thy selfe, so [he] love[s] That loves and honours thee, as doth behove.” Thus, the theme of this extraordinary sonnet is Spenser’s reliance on Oxford’s protection for The Faerie Queen because of its memorialization of the de Veres and because of Oxford’s love of literature.
Given the manner in which Spenser has personalized the relationship between Oxford and The Faerie Queen in this sonnet, it is not unreasonable to expect that Oxford would have reciprocated by writing a poem in praise of Spenser’s brilliant new work. If a poem of this sort has survived, it would seem logical to search for it among the commendatory verses printed in the first edition of The Faerie Queen.
Unfortunately, all seven commendatory poems in the first edition are signed with initials or pseudonyms, making identification of the authors problematic. However, one poem among the seven is signed with a pseudonym (Ignoto) first claimed for Oxford over 70 years ago. (see below left: Johnson 26, 30; Hamilton 231)
Ignoto’s verses in praise of Spenser and The Faerie Queen are remarkable for their graceful elegance and simplicity, and also for the rather marked absence of the extravagant praise of Queen Elizabeth that we see in a number of the other commendatory verses.
If the Ignoto poem was indeed written by Oxford, then Spenser’s dedicatory sonnet and Ignoto’s commendatory verses represent an exchange of sincere compliment of a very high order. Spenser claims that he has written of the antique glory of the de Veres and of Oxford himself in The Faerie Queen, and he praises Oxford as one beloved of the Muses. Oxford, in turn reciprocates with verses that pay Spenser and The Faerie Queen the ultimate compliment:
“I here pronounce this workmanship is such,
As that no pen can set it forth too much.”
Ignoto. (Oram 39)
Spenser’s dedicatory sonnet to Oxford in the 1590 edition of The Faerie Queen provides evidence of a literary connection between the two men, and support for the hypothesis that Oxford, as “E.K.,” was the author of the critical apparatus for Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender. However, the Calender was published a decade earlier than The Faerie Queen, and it is therefore necessary to show that Oxford and Spenser could have been acquainted as early as 1579. Although the actual circumstances under which the two men first met will probably never be known, a likely point of contact between them in the 1570’s was their mutual relationship with the Spencers of Althorpe.
According to a pedigree given in the Visitation of Warwickshire, Sir John Spencer of Althorpe (d. 1586) came from an ancient family that could trace its lineage to the time of William the Conqueror. Sir John’s branch of the family was said to be descended from a younger brother of Hugh le Despenser, Chief Justice of England, grandfather of another Hugh le Despenser (d. 1326), the ill-fated favorite of King Edward II (Harleian 282–5). The authenticity of this pedigree has been disputed in modern times, however, by claims that, in the earliest years of the sixteenth century, the Spencers were simple sheep farmers (Fogle 5).
Whatever may be said of the authenticity of the pedigree, there is no dispute about the fact that Sir John Spencer of Althorpe was a very wealthy man. He left great estates to his sons, and the prestige of the family was considerably enhanced by the marriages of his daughters. This was particularly true of Elizabeth, Anne, and Alice, who married into families that numbered themselves among the kindred of Queen Elizabeth: the Careys, the Stanleys and the Sackvilles. Elizabeth Spencer (1557–1618) married, in 1574, George Carey (1556?–1603), eldest son of Queen Elizabeth’s cousin Henry Carey, 1st Lord Hunsdon (1526–1596) (GEC V6 630). Anne Spencer’s first and third marriages connected her with the Stanleys and the Sackvilles: in 1575, Anne married William Stanley, 3rd Lord Monteagle (1529?–1581), and in 1592 she took, as her third husband, Robert Sackville, later 1st Earl of Dorset (1561–1609) (GEC V9 116, V4 423). Perhaps the best match of all was made by Sir John Spencer’s youngest daughter, Alice (1556?–1637), who in 1579 married Ferdinando Stanley, later 5th Earl of Derby (1559?–1594) (GEC V4 212).
These alliances with families related to the Queen introduced the Spencer sisters into an intimate court circle that included among its members Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, himself a cousin of the Queen and a courtier from his earliest youth. Years later, Oxford and the Spencers of Althorpe were brought into an even closer connection when Oxford’s eldest daughter Elizabeth became the sister-in-law of Alice Spencer through her marriage in 1595 to William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby (1561–1642). But for the purposes of establishing the identity of Oxford as E.K., it may be sufficient to show that by 1579, when The Shepheards Calender was published, the three Spencer sisters had gained entree into the uppermost ranks of the Elizabethan nobility and would perforce have been well-known to Oxford, and he to them.
The significance of Oxford’s acquaintance with the Spencer sisters lies in the fact that the Spencers of Althorpe were related to the poet Edmund Spenser. The specific relationship between the two branches of the family has not been traced; however, Spenser himself seized a number of opportunities to make it abundantly clear in print that the relationship existed (Fogle 16–18; Collier VI xii–xiv). In his Complaints, published in 1591, he dedicated a separate long poem to each of the Spencer sisters: Muiopotmos, or the Fate of the Butterfly to Elizabeth Spencer; Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubberd’s Tale to Anne; and The Tears of the Muses to Alice (Oram 412, 334, 268). Spenser also dedicated one of the ten original dedicatory sonnets in The Faerie Queen to Elizabeth Spencer, Lady Carey (Hamilton 293). In addition, he sang the praises of all three sisters (as Phyllis, Charillis and sweet Amaryllis) in Colin Clout’s Come Home Again, published in 1595. In this poem, Spenser makes explicit reference to his relationship to the “sisters three” who are the “honor” of the “noble familie” of Spencer of Althorpe. He speaks of himself as the “meanest” of that family, and considers it an honor that “unto them I am so nie”:
No lesse praisworthie are the sisters three,
The honor of the noble familie:
Of which I meanest boast my selfe to be,
And most that unto them I am so nie.
Spencer then continues with a description of each of the three sisters (see below left) in which he refers to Anne Spencer’s marriage to Robert Sackville, and to the recent death of Alice’s husband, Ferdinando Stanley, Earl of Derby.
Thus, the Spencer sisters, as intimate members of the Court circle, formed a link between Oxford and Edmund Spenser. And, although it may not have been this link which original ly drew Oxford and Spenser together, the fact of its existence lends plausibility to the hypoth esis that it was Oxford, writing under the pseudonym “E.K. ” who gave Spenser a helping hand in launching The Shepheardes Calender in 1579.
E.K.’s friendship with Gabriel Harvey is a prominent feature of The Shepheardes Calender. If Oxford was E.K., he, too, must have been on friendly terms with Gabriel Harvey. It is thus necessary to examine in some detail the historical evidence of the relationship between the two men. The Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey (1550?–1631) and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, were both born in Essex in 1550. Although their situations in life were vastly different, they had in common a fascination with books and learning and a mutual friendship with Sir Thomas Smith (1513–1577). Sir Thomas Smith and Gabriel Harvey’s father, John, were neighbors in Saffron Walden: “The town centre is marked by a broad Common . . .. At the western side of the Common on what is known as ‘Common Hill’ stood the nearly adjacent mansions of Sir Thomas Smyth (later to become Principal Secretary to Queen Elizabeth) and of Mr. John Harvey, father of Gabriel” (Stern 3).
Besides being neighbours, the Harvey and Smith families were also kin. The exact nature of the familial relationship has not been established; however, in Foure Letters, published in 1592, Harvey states that he is a cousin of Sir Thomas Smith’s illegitimate (and only) son. Gabriel Harvey and Master Thomas Smith were friends as youths, and there is a record of their mutual reading of Harvey’s copy of Livy shortly after Harvey’s sixteenth birthday. Harvey was also a close friend of Sir Thomas Smith’s favorite nephew, John Wood (14). But Gabriel Harvey’s friendship with the Smiths was not confined to the younger members of the family. A close friendship also existed between Harvey and Sir Thomas Smith himself. Since Sir Thomas was largely absent from England after 1571, Stern deduces that this relationship ripened during the years 1566–1571, when Smith was living in Essex:
Harvey would have had the opportunity to become intimate with Smith between April 1566 and March 1571, when he was living almost continuously in Essex. Before and after this and during a very brief trip to France in 1567, Smith was out of England on government service; but for most of the five years after Sir Philip Hoby succeeded him as ambassador, Smith was living either at his country estate at Theydon Mount or at his town residence in the central square of Walden close to the Harveys’ home. (13, 26)
Gabriel Harvey’s father, John, was a stern and demanding parent, and it was perhaps because of a lack of sympathy between father and son that an almost paternal relationship developed during these years between Sir Thomas and his brilliant protege:
By 1573, the elder statesman had certainly become intellectual father to the gifted young scholar. Harvey’s letters to Sir Thomas refer to the advice he has given him, his guidance in studies, and his orienting Harvey toward a life of service to the state. He visited him at his country home at Theydon Mount, studied with him, sought his counsel, and corresponded regularly. In a 1573 letter Harvey writes of the special “frendship that I alwais hetherto sins mi first cumming to Cambridg have found at your hands as suerly I do, and must neds remember it often, having continually had so ful trial thereof.” He refers to Smith’s having aided him in attaining his fellowship at Pembroke “not past thre yers ago,” and he discusses whether or not he should take up the study of civil law: “I know wel both your wisdum to be sutch, that you can easly discern what is best for me, and I assure mi self your gud affection to be sutch, that you wil gladly counsel me for the best.” (13, 26)
After Smith’s death in August, 1577 following “a long and painful illness,” Harvey was chief mourner at the funeral, as Thomas Nashe noted with satirical malice two decades later in Have With You To Saffron Walden:
Onely hee [Harvey] tells a foolish twittle twattle boasting tale (amidst his impudent brazen fac’d defamation of Doctor Perne,) of the Funerall of his kinsman, Sir Thomas Smith, (which word kinsman I wonderd he causd not to be set in great capitall letters,) and how in those Obsequies he was a chiefe Mourner. (McKerrow 58)
As Nashe parenthetically remarks, the funeral was the occasion of an unpleasant incident between Harvey and Doctor Andrew Perne. To Doctor Perne’s chagrin, Lady Smith bestowed on Harvey some “rare manuscript books” belonging to Sir Thomas. Perne desired these manuscripts for himself and, according to Harvey’s account in Pierces Supererogation, expressed his annoyance by calling Harvey a “Foxe”:
[Perne] once in a scoldes pollicie called me Foxe between jest, and earnest: (it was at the funerall of the honorable Sir Thomas Smith, where he preached, and where it pleased my Lady Smith, and the coexecutours to bestow certaine rare manuscript bookes upon me, which he desired). (Stern 38)
Lady Smith’s bestowal of her husband’s rare manuscripts on Gabriel Harvey is proof of the regard in which Harvey was held by Sir Thomas Smith and his family. And Harvey’s respect and affection for Sir Thomas are evidenced by the fact that he began, immediately after the funeral, to write the Latin elegies in memory of his former friend, counsellor, and benefactor that were published in January, 15 78, as Smithus: Vel Musarum Lachrymae (39).
Given the extraordinarily close relationship between Sir Thomas Smith and Gabriel Harvey, it is significant that it was none other than Sir Thomas Smith who served as the catalyst for a friendship between Harvey and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Smith had been one of Oxford’s childhood tutors (probably during the years 1556–1558) (Ward 10–11). Thus, it was likely in deference to Sir Thomas that Oxford went out of his way to offer financial help to Harvey during the latter’s undergraduate years at Cambridge. In Foure Letters, Harvey specifically identifies his kinship with the Smith family as the motive for Oxford’s generosity toward him:
In the prime of his [Oxford’s] gallantest youth, hee bestowed Angels upon mee in Christes Colledge in Cambridge, and otherwise voutsafed me many gratious favours at the affectionate commendation of my Cosen, M. Thomas Smith, the sonne of Sir Thomas. (65–6)
The reference to Christ’s College dates Oxford’s benefactions to the years 1566–1570, when Harvey was an undergraduate, and these Cambridge years provide evidence of yet another link between Oxford and Gabriel Harvey. Harvey’s tutor at the university was William Lewin (d. 1598), who had formerly served as tutor to Anne Cecil, Oxford’s wife, and the daughter of Lord Burghley, his guardian. Harvey’s friendship with Lewin continued for many years (he dedicated Ciceronianus to him in 1577), and a friendship must also have developed between Lewin and Oxford, since the former tutor, now a student of the civil law, accompanied Oxford on the first stage of his continental tour in 1575; as a companion, Lewin was said to be “a Raphael … both discreet and of good years, and one that my Lord [Oxford] doth respect” (10–11; DNB VII 1048–9). Thus, the few historical records that have survived from this period bear witness to a developing friendship between Oxford and Harvey during the latter’s student years, based on mutual friendships with Sir Thomas Smith and William Lewin, and on Oxford’s generosity toward Harvey.
The records for the next eight years are a blank, so far as the relationship between Oxford Tand Harvey is concerned. In July of 1578, however, the two men are momentarily highlighted against the colorful backdrop of Queen Elizabeth’s summer progress. On July 26th and 27th, the royal party was at Audley End, three miles from Saffron Walden, where Cambridge dignitaries and scholars presented gifts and entertained Elizabeth and her courtiers with speeches and disputations. Harvey himself participated in a three-hour disputation and offered as a gift of his own, four manuscripts of Latin verse written on large folio-sized sheets in his ornamental Italian hand. The four manuscripts were later printed, with additions, as Gabrielis Harveii Gratulationum Valdinensium Libri Quatuor and presented by Harvey to the Queen on September 15th at Hadham Hall, the Hertfordshire estate of Harvey’s friend, Arthur Capel (Stern 65). The printed volume was “comprised of four books of Latin verse: Book I addressed to Elizabeth, Book II to Leicester, Book III to Burghley, and Book IV to Oxford, Hatton, and Sidney” (39–41; Nichols V2 109–14, 222). Harvey’s Latin verses to Oxford in Book IV praise the Earl as a poet and—in extravagant terms—as a potential military leader. Translated into English prose, Harvey’s encomium to Oxford reads, in part, as follows:
O great-hearted one, strong in thy mind and thy fiery will, thou wilt conquer thyself, thou wilt conquer others; thy glory will spread out in all directions beyond the Arctic Ocean; and England will put thee to the test and prove thee to be a native .. bom Achilles. Do thou but go forward boldly and without hesitation. Mars will obey thee, Hermes will be thy messenger, Pallas striking her shield with her spear shaft will attend thee. For a long time past Phoebus Apollo has cultivated thy mind in the arts. English poetical measures have been sung by thee long enough. Let that Courtly Epistle – more polished than the writings of Castiglione himself – witness how greatly thou dost excel in letters. I have seen many Latin verses of thine, yea, even more English verses are extant; thou hast drunk deep draughts not only of the muses of France and Italy, but hast learned the manners of many men, and the arts of foreign countries. It was not for nothing that Sturmius himself was visited by thee; neither in France, Italy, nor Germany are any such cultivated and polished men. 0 thou hero worthy of renown, throw away the insignificant pen, throw away bloodless books, and writings that serve no useful purpose; now must the sword be brought into play, now is the time for thee to sharpen the spear and to handle great engines of war …. In thy breast is noble blood, Courage animates thy brow, Mars lives in thy tongue, Minerva strengthens thy right hand, Bellona reigns in thy body, within thee bums the fire of Mars. Thine eyes flash fire, thy countenance shakes spears; who would not swear that Achilles had come to life again? (Ogburn 596–7)
The entertainment at Audley End, and the favour shown to him by the Earl of Leicester for a brief time thereafter, marked the high point of Harvey’s career. At some time during this period, he seems to have served as Leicester’s secretary and was “bending every effort toward securing a niche for himself at Court” (Stern 46, 50, 68). However, after a brief trial, according to Nashe’s admittedly biased account, Leicester told Harvey he was “fitter for the Universitie than for the Court”:
He that most patronizd him, prying more searchingly into him, and finding that he was more meete to make sport with than anie way deeply to be employd, with faire words shooke him of, & told him he was fitter for the Universitie than for the Court or his tume, and so bad God prosper his studies, & sent for another Secretarie to Oxford. (Stern 46; McKerrow 79)
Any further hope of preferment that Harvey might have entertained was dashed in the summer of 1580 with the anonymous and unauthorized publication of a part of his correspondence with his friend Edmund Spenser in Three Proper and Wittie Familiar Letters. This volume, entered in the Stationers’ Register on June 30th, 1580, included a letter from Harvey to Spenser containing Latin hexameter verses that Harvey himself characterized as a “bolde Satyriall libell.” In the letter, Harvey indicated that these verses, entitled Speculum Tuscanismi, had been “lately devised” at the instigation of a gentleman in Hertfordshire (perhaps Harvey’s friend, Arthur Capel) (Stem 40, 65, 251, 254):
But seeing I must needes bewray my store, and set open my shoppe wyndowes, nowe I pray thee, and coniure thee by all thy amorous Regardes, and exorcismes of Love, call a Parliament of thy Sensible, & Intelligible powers together, & tell me, in Tom Trothes earnest, what II secondo, & famoso Poeta, Master Immerito, sayth to this bolde Satyriall Libell lately devised at the instaunce of a certayne worshipfull Hartefordshyre Gentleman, of myne olde acquayntaunce: in Gratiam quorundam Illustrium Angofrancitalorum, hic & ubique apud nos voli, tantium. Agedum vero, nosti homines, tanquam tuam ipsius cutem.
Since Galateo came in, and Tuscanisme gan usurpe,
Vanitie above all: Villanie next her, Statelynes Empress.
No man, but Minion, Stowte, Lowte, Plaine, Swayne, quoth a Lording:
No wordes but valorous, no workes but woomanish onely.
For life Magnificoes, not a beck but glorious in shew,
In deede most frivolous, not a looke but Tuscanish alwayes.
His cringing side necke, Eyes glauncing, Fisnamie smirking,
With forefinger kisse, and brave embrace to the footewarde.
Largebellied Kodpeasd Dublet, unkodpeased halfe hose,
Strait to the dock, like a shirte, and close to the britch, like a diveling.
A little Apish Flatte, cowched fast to the pate, like an Oyster,
French Camarick Ruffes, deepe with a witnesse, starched to the purpose.
Every one A per se A, his termes, and braveries in Print,
Delicate in speach, queynte in araye: conceited in all poyntes:
In Courtly guyles, a passing singular odde man
For Gallantes a brave Myrrour, a Primerose of Honour,
A Diamond for nonce, a fellowe perelesse in England.
Not the like Discourser for Tongue, and head to be found out:
Not the like resolute Man, for great and serious affayres,
Not the like Lynx, to spie out secretes, and privities of States.
Eyed, like to Argus, Earde, like to Midas, Nosd, like to Naso,
Wingd, like to Mercury, fittst of a Thousand for to be employde,
This, nay more than this doth practise of Italy in one yeare.
None doe I name, but some doe I know, that a peece of a twelvemontth
Hath so perfitted outly, and inly, both body, both soule,
That none for sense, and senses, halfe matchable with them.
A Vulturs smelling, Apes tasting, sight of an Eagle,
A Spiders touching, Hartes hearing, might of a Lyon.
Compoundes of wisedome, witte, prowes, bountie, behaviour,
All gallant Vertues, all qualities of body and soule:
o thrice tenne hundreth thousand times blessed and happy,
Blessed and happy Travaile, travailer most blessed and happy.
Penatibus Hetruscis laribusque nostris Inquilinis.
Tell me in good sooth, doth it not too evidently appeare, that this English Poet wanted but a good patteme before his eyes, as it might be some delicate, and choyce elegant Poesie of good M. Sidneys, or M. Dyers (ouer very Castor & Pollux for such and many greater matters) when this trimme geere was in hatching. (Grosart VI 83–6)
Harvey’s reference to Sidney and Dyer hints discreetly that they might be a receptive audience for Speculum Tuscanismi, and in the closing paragraph of the letter, Harvey authorizes Spenser to “communicate” his letter to them:
You knowe my ordinarie Postscripte: you may communicate as much, or as little, as you list, of these Patcheries, and fragments, with the two Gentlemen [i.e., Sidney and Dyer]: but there a straw, and you love me: not with any else, friend or foe, one, or other: unlesse haply you have a special desire to imparte some parte hereof, to my good friend M. Daniel Rogers: whose curtesies are also registred in my Marble booke. You knowe my meaning. (Grosart 107)
Although Harvey’s letter containing the Speculum Tuscanismi verses is undated, its approximate date of composition can be fixed by the circumstances of its publication in Three Proper and Wittie Familiar Letters. The first of Harvey’s letters in this volume deals with the earthquake of April 6th, 1580 (Stem 54–5). His second letter, which contains Speculum Tuscanismi, dates from about the same time and cannot have been written later than the introductory epistle to Three Letters, that is dated June 19th, 1580 (Stem 54). Thus, Harvey must have written the poem Speculum Tuscanismi sometime between early April and mid-June, 1580.
Unfortunately for Harvey (and, probably, for Spenser), the publication of Three Letters caused a furor, and the matter came before the Privy Council (principally, it would seem, because of a remark of Harvey’s which was misinterpreted as an attack on Sir James Croft, Controller of the Household). Harvey himself admitted that “the sharpest part of those unlucky Letters was over-read at the Council Table” (Ogburn 631). And John Lyly, in Pap With A Hatchet, gleefully recalled in 1589 the punishment for libel which might have befallen Harvey:
And one will we conjure up, that writing a familiar Epistle about the naturall causes of an Earthquake, fell into the bowells of libelling, which made his eares quake for feare of clipping. (McKerrow V3 74)
The whole matter came back to haunt Harvey a decade and a half later in his famous quarrel with Nashe, whose ruthless exposition of the incident in Have With You To Saffron Walden clarifies much that would otherwise be obscure about the composition of Speculum Tuscanismi. In the first place, Nashe unambiguously imputes the composition of the poem to Harvey’s ambition (“his ambicious stratagem to aspire”) and his desire to ingratiate himself with the Earl of Leicester (“that Nobleman … for whome with his pen hee thus bladed”):
I had forgot to observe unto you, out of his first foure familiar Epistles, his ambicious stratagem to aspire, that whereas two great Pieres beeing at jarre, and their quarrell continued to bloudshed, he would needs, uncald and when it lay not in his way, steppe in on the one side, which indeede was the safer side (as the foole is crafty inough to sleepe in a whole skin) and hewe and slash with his Hexameters; but hewd and slasht he had beene as small as chippings, if he had not playd ducke Fryer and hid himselfe eight weeks in that N oblemans house for whome with his pen hee thus bladed. Yet neverthelesse Syr James a Croft, the olde Controwler, ferrited him out, and had him under hold in the Fleete a great while, taking that to be aimde & leveld against him, because he cald him his olde Controwler, which he had most venomously belched against Doctor Perne. Uppon his humble submission, and ample exposition of the ambiguous Text, and that his forementioned Mecenas mediation, matters were dispenst with and quallified, & some light countenance, like sunshine after a storme, it pleased him after this to let fall uppon him, and so dispatcht him to spurre Cut backe againe to Cambridge. (McKerrow V3 78)
Nashe’s account makes it clear that the composition of Speculum Tuscanismi was part of a larger quarrel (“two great Pieres beeing at jarre”), into which Harvey stepped, unasked, on the safer side (“uncald and when it lay not in his way, steppe in on the one side, which indeede was the safer side”). The “quarrel” to which Nashe alludes can be equated with the long-drawn-out conflict in 1579–80 over Queen Elizabeth’s proposed marriage to Francois, Duke of Alencon. The two peers who were “at jarre” were Leicester and Sussex; with Leicester, along with the Earl of Pembroke, Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir Francis Walsingham, opposing the marriage, while Oxford and Burghley sided with Sussex, who favored it. In late August, 1579, animosity between the two sides flared up in the celebrated tennis court quarrel in which Oxford called Philip Sidney, Leicester’s nephew and heir apparent, a “puppy.” Sidney fiercely resented the insult (Duncan-Jones 164) . His friends—Harvey among them—doubtless did likewise, and it may have been partly to avenge this insult to the Leicester party that Harvey, in the early months of 1580, “bladed his pen” against Oxford (Stern 65).
In his exculpatory account in Foure Letters, written many years after the event, Harvey ascribed the writing of Speculum Tuscanismi to a combination of youthful indiscretion and the urging of friends who did not scruple to use him for their own purposes. At the time, he says, he was “yong in yeares, fresh in courage, greene in experience, and as the manner is, somewhat overweeninge in conceit.” He had been reading invectives and satires and had been exasperated by some “sharpe undeserved discourtesies” (Oxford’s insult to Sidney is perhaps referred to in line 3 of Speculum Tuscanismi). Moreover,
… some familiar friendes pricked me forward: and I neither fearing daunger, nor suspecting ill measure, (poore credulitie sone beguiled) was not unwilling to content them, to delight a few other, and to avenge, or satisfie my selfe, after the manner of shrewes, that cannot otherwise ease their curst hearts, but by their owne tongues, & their neighbours eares. (59)
He had not intended to publish the “infortunate Letters, which had fallen into the left handes of malicious enemies, or undiscreete friends: who adventured to imprint in earnest, that was scribbled in jest, for the moody fit was soone over.”
Understandably, Harvey also stoutly disputed the accusation that Speculum Tuscanismi was directed at Oxford:
[Lyly] would needs forsooth verye courtly perswade the Earle of Oxforde, that some thing in those Letters, and namely the Mirrour of Tuscanismo, was palpalby intended against him: whose noble Lordeship I protest, I never meante to dishonour with the least prejudicial word of my Tongue, or pen: but ever kept a mindefull reckoning of many bounden duties toward The-same: since in the prime of his gallantest youth, hee bestowed Angels upon mee in Christes Colledge in Cambridge, and otherwise voutsafed me many gratious favours at the affectionate commendation of my Cosen, M. Thomas Smith, the sonne of Sir Thomas, shortly after Colonel of the Ardes in Ireland. But the noble Earle, not disposed to trouble his Joviall mind with such Saturnine paltery, stil continued, like his magnificent selfe. (65–6)
Harvey’s assertion that he “never meante to dishonour” the Earl of Oxford with the “least prejudicial word of his tongue or pen” cannot be totally discounted; Speculum Tuscanismi takes some liberties with the Earl’s Italianate dress and mannerisms, but otherwise attributes many “remarkable gifts” to Oxford (Ogburn 630). However, Harvey’s own characterization of the verses as a “bolde Satyriall Libell,” taken in conjunction with some notes in his Letter-book, suggests that his intentions were “not altogether innocent”:
On folios 51 v and 52 v of Sloane MS.93 there is the draft of a discourse entitled a “dialogue in Cambridge between Master GH and his cumpanye at a midsumer Comencement, togither with certayne delicate sonnets and epigrammes in Inglish verse of his makinge.” One of the gentlemen in the company quotes the first twenty-three lines of the satirical poem which in 1580 was published as Speculum Tuscanismi. The discourse continues: “Nowe tell me … if this be not a noble verse and politique lesson … in effecte conteyning the argumente of his [Master GH’s] curragious and warly[k]e apostrophe to my lorde of Oxenforde in his fourth booke of Gratulationum Valdinensium.(Stern 66)
Harvey’s account in Foure Letters conveys the impression that he regretted writing Speculum Tuscanismi. However, his evidence does not point to a permanent breach between himself and Oxford. In the first place, he states confidently that the Earl shrugged the matter off as beneath his notice (“the noble Earle, not disposed to trouble his Joviall mind with such Saturnine paltery, stil continued, like his magnificent selfe”). Secondly, he recalls, for the benefit of his readers, Oxford’s openhanded generosity towards him in his youth. Both these statements are incompatible with any long-lasting animosity between the two men. Moreover, when considering Oxford’s relationship with Harvey during the years 157980, it is necessary to keep the chronology of events clearly in focus. On April 10th, 1579, when E.K. signed and dated the dedicatory epistle to Harvey in The Shepheardes Calender, Speculum Tuscanismi was still a year in the future. There is, thus, every reason to believe that relations between Oxford and Harvey on April 10, 1579, were on the friendly basis that had obtained during the lifetime of their mutual friend, Sir Thomas Smith, and that E.K’s attitude toward Harvey in The Shepheardes Calender is entirely consistent with Oxford’s relationship with Harvey at that time.
At this point, it is necessary to consider the nature of E.K.’s friendship with Gabriel Harvey, as revealed in the dedicatory epistle and glosses in the Calender. In the first place, E.K. ‘s dedicatory epistle to Harvey is notably warm and courteous, and generous in its praise of Harvey’s abilities:
To the most excellent and learned both Orator and Poete, Mayster Gabriell Harvey, his Verie special and singular good frend E.K. commendeth the good lyking of this his labour, and the patronage of the new Poete. (Oram 13 )
The opening paragraph of the epistle is also remarkable for the informal manner in which E.K. draws Harvey, as it were, into a friendly discussion with the Reader:
Uncouthe unkiste, Sayde the olde famous Poete Chaucer. . . . Which proverbe, myne owne good friend Ma. Harvey, as in that good old Poete it served well Pandares purpose, for the bolstering of his baudy brocage, so very well taketh place in this our new Poete, who for that he is uncouthe as said Chaucer, is unkist, and unknown to most men, is regarded but of few. (13)
E.K. concludes the epistle by gracefully submitting his efforts to Harvey’s judgment and soliciting his protection for the work of the “new Poete.”
These my present paynes, if to any they be pleasurable or profitable, be you judge, mine own good Maister Harvey, to whom I have both in respect of your worthinesse generally, and otherwyse upon some particular and special considerations vowed this my labour, and the maydenhead of this our commen frends Poetrie, himselfe having already in the beginning dedicated it to the Noble and worthy Gentleman, the right worshipfull Ma. Phi. Sidney, a special favourer and maintainer of all kind of learning, Whose cause I pray you Sir, yf Envie shall stur up any wrongful accusasion, defend with your mighty Rhetorick and other your rare gifts of learning, as you can, and shield with your good wil, as you ought, against the malice and outrage of so many enemies, as I know wilbe set on fire with the sparks of his kindled glory. And thus recommending the Author unto you, as unto his most special good frend, and my selfe unto you both, as one making singuler account of two so very good and so choise frends, I bid you both most hartely farwel, and commit you and your most comendable studies to the tuicion of the greatest.
Your owne assuredly to be commaunded E.K . (20)
This closing salutation is followed by a lengthy postscript urging Harvey to publish his own unpublished manuscripts (whether this postscript was written tongue,in,cheek by someone who had listened to Harvey’s extravagant praise of him at Audley End must be left to the judgment of the individual reader):
Now I trust M. Harvey, that upon sight of your speciall frends and fellow Poets doings, or els for envie of so many unworthy Quidams, which catch at the garlond, which to you alone is dewe, you will be perswaded to pluck out of the hateful darknesse, those so many excellent English poemes of yours, which lye hid, and bring them forth to eternall light. Trust me you doe both them great wrong, in depriving them of the desired sonne, and also your selfe, in smoothering your deserved prayses, and all men generally, in withholding from them so divine pleasures, which they might conceive of your gallant English verses, as they have already doen of your Latine Poemes, which in my opinion both for invention and Elocution are very deli .. cate, and superexcellent. And thus againe, I take my leave of my good Mayster Harvey from my lodging at London thys 10 of Aprill. 1579. (20–1)
The introductory epistle to The Shepheardes Calender thus suggests a friendship between E.K. and Gabriel Harvey that is generally consistent with what is known of the friendship between Harvey and Oxford in 1579. And E.K.’s glosses to the Calender take the identification between E.K. and Oxford a step further by linking E. K. with people and events which had mutual significance for both Oxford and Harvey.
In his gloss to the word “couthe” in the January eclogue, for example, E.K. mentions the very circumstance that gave rise to the friendship between Harvey and Oxford, namely Harvey’s kinship with Oxford’s old tutor, Sir Thomas Smith:
… couthe commeth of the verb Conne, that is, to know or to have skill. As well interpreteth the same the worthy Sir Tho. Smith in his booke of goverment: wherof I have a perfect copie in wryting, lent me by his kinseman, and my verye singular good freend, M. Gabriel Harvey: as also of some other his most grave and excellent wrytings. (33)
His gloss makes it clear that Sir Thomas Smith is a focal point of E.K.’s relationship with Gabriel Harvey. Moreover, E.K. has read not only Smith’s manuscript treatise on government, but also “other his most grave and excellent wrytings,” and his study of them has been so thorough as to enable him to recall Smith’s usage of a particular word: “couthe.” There may have been a number of reasons for E.K.’s interest in Smith’s works. If E.K. was Oxford, however, there is no mystery about the matter, and his interest in Smith’s published and unpublished works is readily accounted for by the fact that they came from the pen of his former tutor. Similarly, in a gloss to the September eclogue, E.K. mentions with approval Harvey’s elegiac verses on Sir Thomas Smith, Vel Musarum Lachrymae.
Even more significantly, E.K. refers in this gloss to the 1578 entertainment at Audley End in which Harvey and Oxford had played prominent parts. And E.K.’s reference to the entertainment is noteworthy for its completeness: not only does he mention the dedication of Gratulationum Valdinensium to the Queen at Audley End, but also Harvey’s subsequent presentation of a printed copy at “the worshipfull Maister Capells in Hertfordshire”:
Colin cloute: Nowe I thinke no man doubteth but by Colin is ever meante the Authour selfe, whose especiall good freend Hobbinoll sayth he is, or more rightly Mayster Gabriel Harvey: of whose speciall commendation, as well in Poetrye as Rhetorike and other choyce learning, we have lately had a sufficient tryall in diverse his workes, but specially in his Musarum Lachrymae, and his late Gratulationum Valdinensium which boke in the progresse at Audley in Essex, he dedicated in writing to her Majestie, afterward presenting the same in print unto her Highnesse at the worshipfull Maister Capells in Hertfordshire. Beside other his sundrye most rare and very notable writings, partly under unknown Tytles, and partly under counterfayt names, as his Tyrannomastix, his Ode Natalitia, his Rameidos, and esspecially that parte of Philomusus, his divine Anticosmopolita, and divers other of lyke importance. (163–4)
E.K.’s mention of Harvey’s presentation to Elizabeth of a printed copy of Gratulationum Valdinensium at Hadham Hall appears to be the sole historical reference to this event (Churchyard’s account of the 1578 progress merely records the royal party’s stop at “Mayster Kapel’s, where was excellent good cheere and entertaynement”) (Nichols V2 222). Moreover, Harvey’s presentation of his book to the Queen is likely to have been remarked upon only by an eyewitness to his minor triumph; in other words, someone within a small circle of courtiers, Cambridge officials, and personal friends of Gabriel Harvey. By his references to Gratulationum Valdinensium, E.K. necessarily includes himself in this limited group, suggesting once again that he and Oxford were one and the same individual. In summary, then, Oxford meets one of the most important tests for identification with E.K.: he was a friend of Gabriel Harvey in April, 1579. The friendship may have been weakened a year later by the publication of Three Letters, but at the time it was entirely consistent with the warm and generous attitude displayed toward Harvey by E.K. in The Shepheardes Calender.
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