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Henry Peacham on Oxford and Shakespeare

Is the scholar’s 1622 decision unimpeachable evidence for Oxford as Shakespeare?

by Peter W. Dickson (© 1998)

This article was first published in the Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter (Fall 1998).
A note from the author to readers of this article.

In the Shakespeare authorship debate, there is a general perception among both Stratfordians and Oxfordians that after Francis Meres’ famous list of great poets and dramatists in Palladis Tamia (1598), the awareness of Oxford as a literary figure largely disappeared until Alexander B. Grosart collected and published some of his poems in 1872.

This perception is inaccurate, because one can reconstruct a trail of interconnected historical references to him as a literary figure throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In a separate article on this site (“Oxford’s Literary Reputation”) is a brief survey of references to Oxford as a literary figure spanning the two centuries after his death. This reconstruction also permits some useful comparisons with the emergence in the early 1700s of the Bardolatry associated with William Shakespeare of Stratford, a topic which goes beyond the scope of this essay, but which is a subject worthy in its own right of close analysis by students of the authorship question.

Of utmost importance among all these references, however, is the one from Henry Peacham in his list in The Compleat Gentleman published in 1622 when the First Folio project was well underway. For it is Peacham who lists Oxford first among the greatest Elizabethan poets, and yet fails to mention Shakespeare at all.

This essay’s primary objective, therefore, is to contextualize Henry Peacham and his list of great poets in The Compleat Gentleman (1622) in order to show that Peacham knew Shakespeare and Oxford, and must have known that there was no difference between the two.

Peacham made this deliberate decision to exclude Shakespeare’s name from his list of the greatest poets of the Elizabethan era based on a number of different factors, including the politics of the era in which he lived. This decision to exclude Shakespeare was Peacham’s way of signaling — in the delicate political situation of the early 1620s — that the imprisoned 18th Earl of Oxford’s father was, in fact, Shakespeare.

This calculation was not an easy decision for Peacham because, ironically, he was dedicating his work to a member of the Howard family–in fact, to a direct descendent of the Catholic cousins whom Oxford had exposed in the 1580s for political reasons. Therefore a decision even to include Oxford in any list, especially a list in which Shakespeare’s name is conspicuously absent, was no trivial matter for Peacham given this past history.

Furthermore, Peacham had to be well aware of the inception of the First Folio project and also of the ongoing vendetta which the King and his homosexual lover (the Duke of Buckingham) were engaged in against the 3rd Earl of Southampton and the 18th Earl of Oxford (Henry de Vere) in 1621-1622.

Despite the firm nature of the evidence and conclusions presented in this essay, it should be emphasized that this is a difficult subject requiring close attention and careful evaluation. Nonetheless, the contextualization of Peacham’s The Compleat Gentleman and its relationship to the near simultaneous First Folio project does provide, in this writer’s estimation, a key by which the Shakespeare authorship dispute should be seen as having been conclusively resolved in Oxford’s favor.

Possible Sources of Peacham’s List

Henry Peacham’s list of the greatest Elizabethan poets published in The Compleat Gentleman (1622) begins with Oxford, Buckhurst, and then continues with Paget, Philip Sidney, Dyer, Spenser, and Daniel.

On the surface, it might appear that the focus we find in Peacham’s list derives directly from the famous lists found in Francis Meres’ Palladis Tamia (1598) which cites Oxford as best for comedy and Buckhurst as best for tragedy, and which also prominently mention Shakespeare for both his plays and his sonnets.

However this is not correct–at least not for Peacham–who was actually utilizing and revising to his own satisfaction an earlier list from George Puttenham’s The Arte of English Poesie (1589).1 This fact is crucial to an analysis of Peacham’s thought process as he ranked the great Elizabethan poets, and yet failed to list Shakespeare.

There is no sign that Meres’ lists had any impact on Peacham. Meres, who graduated from Cambridge in 1587, eight years before Peacham, provides many different lists of poets, including those versed in Latin and other foreign languages, and offers sub-lists for eight categories or styles of poetry. However, his main list for the greatest poets in the English tongue includes: Sidney, Spenser, Daniel, Drayton, Warner, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Chapman.

Writing three decades later, Peacham explicitly excludes from his list those Elizabethan-era poets who were still alive in 1622, which would explain the omission of Chapman and Drayton (whom Meres gave top billing). Nonetheless, it is puzzling why Peacham omits Marlowe and it is especially puzzling why he omits Shakespeare, whose famous poems such as Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece and The Sonnets–plus numerous popular quarto versions of his plays–had all been published during the three decades preceding publication of The Compleat Gentlemen in the Summer of 1622.

This glaring omission of Shakespeare’s name from Peacham’s list is astounding and in all likelihood was not an oversight but, on the contrary, was a deliberate exclusion because Peacham knew that Oxford and Shakespeare were the same person. There are a number of factors to be considered in support of this conclusion that Peacham’s decision in 1622 was clearly testimony that there was no Shakespeare–but, instead, only Oxford. We shall now proceed to examine more closely each of these factors.

Who Was Henry Peacham?

First, we should look briefly at just who Henry Peacham was and what role he played in 17th-century England. Unlike Frances Meres, Henry Peacham (1578-1643?) was extremely well-connected in the world of art and literature in London as well as the royal court, both as an artist and as a writer, for more than three decades.2

Like a good courtier, he cultivated relationships across a broad terrain, both with Ben Jonson and also with Jonson’s great rival Inigo Jones, a man who valued Peacham’s artistic talent. Further, Peacham was associated with Prince Henry prior to his death in 1612, and then, finally, he became associated with the antipode to this fanatically Protestant prince–namely, with the Howard family which was notorious for its pro-Catholic and pro-Spanish sentiments.

Peacham was also on good terms with Daniel and Drayton who, as members of the Herbert-Pembroke-Sidney literary circle, were drawn into the cult and worship of Prince Henry as the perfect Protestant Prince whom this circle hoped would someday slay the Catholic dragon at home and abroad.

For example, Peacham (unlike Shakespeare) joined John Selden, a famous, erudite lawyer, to write many poems upon the death of Prince Henry in 1612, and then more poems a year later celebrating the marriage of his sister (the Princess Elizabeth) whom many Protestants hoped would succeed her father as the monarch rather than Prince Charles.3

In any case, the most important point to emphasize about Peacham is that he was extremely well-connected to the literary world for decades and that he had to know the true identity of Shakespeare, as did his close friends, Jonson, Drayton, and Daniel.

We can be certain of this conclusion for one other important reason. If Peacham is famous for anything among Shakespeare scholars, it is because he is the artist who drew and added his name (Henricus Peacham) and the year (1595) to a sketch (reproduced at the end of this paper) of costumes designed for a performance or a rehearsal of Titus Andronicus.4

At the time, Peacham was seventeen and had just graduated with his degree from Cambridge University. This sketch is one of the most cherished documents relating to Shakespeare because it is the only drawing relating to a contemporary staging of one of his plays known to have survived. It remains in the library of the Marquis of Bath (Longleat House,Wiltshire). E. K. Chambers brought it to the public’s attention only in 1925.

A few scholars have questioned the authenticity of this sketch, but Samuel Schoenbaum, who reproduced the sketch in William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life (1975), has stated that, at best, skepticism was only justified concerning an inscription in the upper right margin, not Peacham’s signature in the lower-left portion of the manuscript. In his words, this signature is “authentic enough.”

This curious phraseology may convey Schoenbaum’s sour grapes about a treasured document that plays right into the hands of those who wish to advance the Oxfordian theory on the authorship question. Ironically, Oxfordians have for decades overlooked the significance of this document for their claim.

Peacham’s List: Other Factors

Given what we know about Peacham’s close friendship with insiders on the literary scene for three decades and his sketch relating to Titus Andronicus, his omission of Shakespeare’s name on the list of great poets in The Compleat Gentleman (1622) looks more and more suspicious. One possible argument to explain Peacham’s exclusion of Shakespeare–that he wished to list only those poets who wrote only non-dramatic poetry–makes no sense because Buckhurst, Daniel, and–evidently–Oxford wrote plays as well as poetry.

Also, Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609)– arguably the most celebrated of his poetry–had been published more than a decade earlier, to say nothing about Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). Both these epic poems of the 1590s went through multiple printings, were quite popular, and were even referred to in other poems of the period. So there was certainly more than ample reason to include Shake-speare’s name in a list of leading poets under Elizabeth. Furthermore, there are other factors why the omission of the name “Shakespeare” could not have been an oversight, but must have been a deliberate exclusion.

The first of these factors pertains to the circumstances and timing of the publication of The Compleat Gentleman. The publisher, Francis Constable, owned the White Lion, a book store in the courtyard on the north side of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the center of the book trade in London at that time. Sixty or seventy feet from the front door to The White Lion in the same block were The Black Bear and The Parrot, two other book stores owned, respectively, by Edward Blount and William Aspley.5

Along with another man named John Smethwick, Blount and Aspley were the principal members of the Syndicate behind the First Folio project which was printed by the Jaggard firm. Smethwick’s book store was only a few blocks away on Fleet Street to the west of the Cathedral. Given the proximity of the White Lion to these other book stores, the small circle of those in the book trade, and Peacham’s extensive network of literary friends, it is highly improbable that he and Constable did not know that the First Folio project was underway in 1622.

This date–1622–is an additional factor in understanding that Shakespeare’s name could not have escaped Peacham’s attention as he prepared his list, for we now know that this was the year that the actual production of the Shakespeare folio got underway.

In his landmark work, The Printing and Proof-Reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare (1963) Charlton Hinman conclusively demonstrated that the folio syndicate and Jaggard began the printing of the folio project later than previously understood, not in 1620-21, but rather in 1622, sometime between February and August of that year.6

Obviously, the planning for the folio preceded the actual printing, though Hinman argues in his book that the decision to assemble a comprehensive folio had to have come after the October 1621 registration with the Stationers’ Register for the first-time publication of Othello as a quarto.7

In any case, a folio project of this magnitude could not be hidden from others in the book trade for long and we know that Peacham dated the dedication to his own work on May 28th, 1622 and was still making last minute alterations in the text to include material pleasing to his then patron Richard Sackville (grandson of the same Lord Buckhurst whose name follows Oxford’s in Peacham’s list of poets).8 Peacham’s publisher (Constable) finally registered The Compleat Gentleman with the Stationer’s Register on July 3rd, 1622, and we can assume that the work appeared in book stores not long after that date.

Yet another factor that must have been an important consideration as Peacham compiled his list of the greatest Elizabethan poets was the political situation at the time. Like most persons, he was aware of the crisis over religion and foreign policy associated with the Spanish Marriage crisis in 1621-22, and the increasing repression against the freedom of thought and expression under King James and his homosexual lover, the Duke of Buckingham. He also knew that the Earls of Southampton and Oxford (Henry de Vere), along with his own good friend John Selden (the famous lawyer), had been imprisoned for a time in the spring of 1621 for challenging the King and the Duke over these issues.

Since The Compleat Gentleman appeared well after these imprisonments, and after King James had dissolved Parliament on January 9th, 1622, Peacham and Constable were fully aware of how rapidly the situation was deteriorating. There can be no doubt about this because Peacham wrote his dedication on May 28th, a full month after the second imprisonment of Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford (an imprisonment which lasted twenty months in all).

Thus, the decision to include in his list Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford– father of Henry de Vere, the 18th Earl of Oxford–among the greatest poets of the Elizabethan era was no light matter, regardless of whether he was Shakespeare or not. At a minimum, Oxford had to have been a substantial literary figure in Peacham’s mind to justify his inclusion at all.

dickson_chartA final reason why Peacham’s decision on whom to include in his list must have been a step taken with great deliberation relates to The Compleat Gentleman‘s dedication. The work was dedicated to William Howard, the youngest son of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel. Peacham had been a tutor some years earlier for the three older sons and became William’s tutor sometime after August 1620, which strongly suggests that the bulk of this book dedicated to the young man was drafted in 1621.9

The most important point concerning this dedication is that politically astute persons knew that Edward de Vere was held in low regard by this particular branch of the Howard family given that he had betrayed his Catholic cousins in the 1580s as traitors to Queen Elizabeth to save his own neck. (The accompanying genealogical chart “The Howard-Sackville-de Vere Connection” shows the interconnection among several generations of these families). The two individuals who suffered most from this betrayal directly or indirectly were William’s grandfather (Philip), who died in prison in 1595, and especially his grandfather’s uncle, Henry Howard, the First Earl of Northampton (second iteration). Northampton’s bitter feud with Edward de Vere included counter-accusations that Oxford was a homosexual as well as a traitor in his own right.

Furthermore, the notorious Lady Somerset (Francis Howard) was first cousin to young William’s father, Thomas. She and her own granduncle (Northampton again), who was the leader of the court faction partial to Catholicism and Spain in foreign policy, were suspected of being responsible for the murder in the Tower of Thomas Overbury, a member of the Protestant faction at Court associated with the Herbert family and Southampton. Francis Howard and her husband (Somerset) spent nearly six years in the Tower for the crime and were released just three months prior to the second imprisonment of Henry de Vere (the 17th Earl’s son) for his opposition to King James’ dissolution of parliament in January 1622 and the monarch’s zeal to marry Prince Charles to a sister of the Spanish King.

Given the revolving door to the Tower involving the release of the Somersets and the second incarceration of Henry de Vere in April 1622, Peacham’s dedication has a special political edge to it. He had revered Prince Henry and his politics were much closer to the politics of the Herberts, Southampton and Henry de Vere in their long-standing struggle to counter the influence of the pro-Catholic, pro-Spanish Howard family.

Nevertheless, here in 1622 when Henry de Vere has been sent to the Tower for a second time–with a good chance of never coming out alive–Peacham is dedicating to a Howard family member a work that places Edward de Vere’s name among the greatest English poets. The genealogical chart on page twelve helps illustrate the tricky political waters that Peacham was navigating during the explosive situation of the 1621-22 period.

Return to text


Henry Peacham was a man who had lived through the end of Elizabeths reign and the first two decades of James. He knew of Shakespeare dating back to the mid-1590s, as is attested to by his famous 1595 sketch (left) of a performance of Titus Andronicus (accompanied by hand-written excerpts of some of the plays text).

Seventeen years later Peacham produced the well-known Minerva Britanna (below right), with its title page message of someone who is concealed behind a stage curtain, and that someone almost certainly being identified as Edward de Vere through the anagram Eva Turner Clark found in the message the hidden hand is writing.

With such a long-standing and unique background, how could Peacham have accidently left Shakespeares name out of his best-selling The Compleat Gentleman?

Peacham, Puttenham, and Minerva Britanna

minerva-britWhile the above evidence clearly indicates that Peacham knew quite well the significance of, and was self-conscious about, the exclusion from his list of “Shakespeare” and the inclusion of “Oxford,” there are several more pieces of important evidence to be considered. This crucial information, coupled with the historical context surrounding the publishing of The Compleat Gentleman, further strengthens the case that, in Peacham’s mind, these two persons–Oxford and Shakespeare–were one and the same individual.

The first piece of additional evidence is Peacham’s prior identification of Oxford as an important literary figure who required concealment for some reason. In 1612, Peacham published Minerva Britanna, a compilation of literary emblems dedicated to Prince Henry. Minerva is the Roman equivalent for Athena, the hasti-vibrans (spear-shaking) patron Goddess of Greek theater. The title page consists of a large emblem with a pen in a hand jutting out from beneath a curtain attached to the proscenium of a theater arch. That the image depicts the concealment of a person involved with the theater and/or with literature should be obvious to any reader. The question then is: “Who is this concealed individual?”

The hand in question has nearly completed writing on a scroll the words MENTE.VIDEBORI, with the Latin “mente videbor” translating as, “In the mind I shall be seen.”10 In other words, only through this person’s literary works will others come to know this writer (but never his true identity?). The other Latin inscriptions attached to the wreath surrounding the theater proscenium and curtain are:


There are several possible renditions of the entire three-part inscription, but that offered by John Astley-Cock in 1975 is as follows:

In the Mind [I] Shall be Seen
Resurrected by the Talent,
All Else by Death Concealed.11

The most important facet of this emblem in Peacham’s work (analyzed for the first time by Eva Clark Turner in her 1937 work, The Man Who Would be Shakespeare) is an anagram contained in the key phrase “MENTE.VIDEBORI” with its all-important period flanked by the intriguing letters E and V. Her suggestion–later supported by Astley-Cock–for a logical and virtually unavoidable decipherment of the concealed identity in this anagram is:

[or] Thy Name is De Vere.12

Therefore, barely a decade before publishing The Compleat Gentleman–at the zenith of the cult of a young Prince Henry who revered Shakespeare’s works– Peacham had already hinted on the title page of his work Minerva Britanna that an important English writer’s identity was hidden or concealed for some mysterious reason, and that this writer’s name was Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

The second additional piece of evidence that further illuminates Peacham’s thought process as he sat down in 1622 to compose his list of the greatest Elizabethan poets pertains to the close parallel between his list and the list which Puttenham gave thirty-three years earlier in The Arte of English Poesie (1589).

The crucial point to understand at this juncture is that Peacham did not use any of Meres’ lists from 1598, but instead revised Puttenham’s 1589 list, and in so doing he clearly reveals his deliberate, self-conscious exclusion of “Shakespeare.”

First, we provide the passage from Peacham, who is very emphatic about the importance of what he is about to say concerning the greatest Elizabethan poets:

In the time of our late Queen Elizabeth, which was truly a golden Age (for such a world of refined wits, excellent spirits it produced, whose like are hardly to be hoped for, in any succeeding age) above others, who honoured Poesie with their pennes and practice (to omit her Majestie who had a singular gift herein) were Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget, our Phoenix, the noble Sir Philip Sidney, M. Edward Dyer, M. Edmund Spenser, M. Samuel Daniel, with sundry others (together with those admirable wits, yet living, and so well known) not out of Ennuie, but to avoid tediousness, I overpass.13

Now let us compare Peacham’s 1622 passage on the great poets with that found in Puttenham’s 1589 work:

And in her Majesties time that now is are sprung up an other crew of Courtly makers Noble men and Gentlemen of her Majesties servauntes, who have written excellently well as it would appeare if their doings could be found out and made publicke with the rest, of which first is that noble Gentleman, Edward, Earl of Oxford. Thomas Lord of Buckhurst, when he was young, Henry Lord Paget, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Rawliegh, Master Edward Dyer, Master Fulke Grevell, Gascon, Britton, Turberville and a great many other learned Gentlemen, whose names I do not omit for enuie, but to avoyde tediousnesse, and who have deserved no little commendation.14

Now, it is quite obvious from the concluding parallel phraseology (ennuie/tediousnesse) in both citations, as well as the sequence of the list of poets, that Peacham did not start from scratch with a blank sheet of paper when he sat down to make up his list. He clearly is utilizing (plagiarizing?) Puttenham’s list.

His revisions provide an important insight into his thought process. Even with the benefit of considerable hindsight (thirty-three years!) concerning that “truly golden age,” Peacham repeats the first four poets from Puttenham’s list, then drops Raliegh, retains Dyer, and then drops the last four names. To round out his own list, Peacham then adds Spenser and Daniel, but for some reason he cannot bring himself to add “Shakespeare” despite the great fame attached to this name for non-dramatic as well as dramatic poetry.

Given that the facts about Peacham’s life clearly show that he had to have known Shakespeare for nearly thirty years, that he and his publisher also had to have known that the First Folio project was underway in 1622, and–last but not least–that Peacham had already–in Minerva Britanna–fingered Edward de Vere as a literary figure who could not be identified openly with his works, there is really only one obvious, logical, and inescapable conclusion that can be drawn: Peacham excluded “Shakespeare” from his list because it was Oxford’s pen-name.

The only alternative to this conclusion would be to argue that the unwanted redundancy Peacham alludes to (i.e. his concluding statement he “overpass[es] … sundry others … not out of Ennuie, but to avoid tediousnesse [i.e. repetition]”) pertained to one of the other poets on the list.

But the mountain of evidence accumulated since the 1920s favoring Oxford as the true Shakespeare–plus the Minerva Britanna emblem from Peacham’s own hand–makes such alternative arguments unconvincing.

Further evidence that Peacham had no second thoughts about the exclusion of Shakespeare’s name from his list is the fact that The Compleat Gentleman was a national best seller as the pre-eminent guide for those in the higher social strata or for those aspiring to such rank. It was as well known as the First Folio, with three other editions appearing in 1627, 1634, and 1661. Peacham, who lived until 1643, therefore had ample opportunity to correct the obvious absence of Shakespeare’s name from the list of the greatest Elizabethan poets, but he never did. This is another strong sign that the real Shakespeare’s name was already on the list–Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Summary and conclusion

Given that Peacham is quite emphatic in The Compleat Gentleman about characterizing the Elizabethan era and its most famous poets as a glorious period in the nation’s history, probably never to be equaled in the future, the deliberate exclusion of Shakespeare’s name makes no sense unless Oxford and Shakespeare were one and the same man. The evidence presented and analyzed in this essay supports this inescapable conclusion.

Peacham’s personal dilemma was that he could not really ignore the question of Shakespeare, because he knew the Bard going back to the 1590s, and both he and his own publisher had to be aware of the folio project, to say nothing of the long publication history of the numerous quarto editions of the Bard’s plays, Venus and Adonis, Rape of Lucrece, and the Sonnets.

If Shakespeare was, in fact, a different person from any of the other names on Peacham’s list, it would have been logical and rational for Peacham to include it because he had to have known–as did other figures such as Jonson and Drayton–who Shakespeare was. Therefore, a decision to include Shakespeare’s name in his list would have avoided any possible confusion in the reader’s mind, and would not later raise any questions about Peacham’s competence as a literary expert–a reputation which he undoubtedly valued highly.

Certainly, if Shakespeare really was a separate person and the nation’s greatest poet, then the temptation for Peacham to exclude Oxford’s name instead would have been overwhelming. There can be no doubt that to include the name of a notorious Earl ran a risk of upsetting some within the particular branch of the Howard family, given the wounds from the past. So, it would have been quite easy and even convenient for Peacham to drop Oxford, especially if he was really more or less a minor court poet.

Logic and the evidence (i.e. Oxford’s inclusion on the list) clearly indicate that Peacham’s thought process came from the opposite perspective, namely, that Oxford’s name absolutely needed to be on the new list, as it had been on the one prepared in 1589 by Puttenham. The only real issue and tough question for Peacham was whether to add the name “Shakespeare.” Ultimately, he decided upon reflection to exclude the name “Shakespeare,” which indicates clearly that he knew–and assumed others would know–that Shakespeare was the pen-name for Oxford.

In conclusion, Peacham’s final choice represents the least probable among the four possibilities open to him, if Oxford and Shakespeare were really different persons. His choice to include Oxford and exclude Shakespeare confirms their shared identity and underscores Peacham’s ability to finesse the awkward political situation of the early 1620s.

Peacham could not risk stating “Oxford also known as Shakespeare” because this might have irked the Howards, and would have also risked the anger of the King and Buckingham following their imprisonment of Southampton and Henry de Vere in June-July 1621 (which included Peacham’s friend John Selden) and then the second imprisonment of Henry de Vere in mid-April 1622.

Peacham’s solution was to honor the true Bard by omitting the pen-name “Shakespeare,” trusting that most educated or sophisticated readers would read Oxford’s name and make the logical connection ontheir own, especially given that a large Folio of his plays would be available within the next year or so.15

In contrast to Peacham’s situation, those in the syndicate sponsoring the First Folio project faced a different dilemma. They were assembling the plays of the Bard already known by the Shakespeare pen-name, no doubt with the assistance of the Lord Chamberlain (the Earl of Pembroke) and his brother (the Earl of Montgomery–a brother-in-law to the 18th Earl of Oxford, Henry, and the son-in-law of the 17th Earl, Edward), both of whom were the First Folio dedication’s “Incomparable Paire.”

So placing the 17th Earl’s name on the title page was not a viable option for Pembroke and Montgomery, both because of the still compelling pre-existing rationale for concealment (whatever it was) dating back three decades, and also because of the current awkward political situation given the King’s imprisonments of the 17th Earl’s son Henry and the 3rd Earl of Southampton.

Thus, the conclusion that Oxford was Shakespeare rests on the inescapable correlation of crucial, solid pieces of evidence which include: Peacham’s personal knowledge of and association with the real Shakespeare dating back to the 1590s, the emblem/anagram in Minerva Britanna (1612) signaling Oxford’s need for concealment, Peacham’s determination in 1622 to list the greatest Elizabethan poets, his simultaneous awareness and that of his own publisher (Francis Constable) concerning the First Folio project prior to the completion of The Compleat Gentleman, Peacham’s curious decision to list Oxford’s name but not “Shakespeare,” and lastly Peacham’s acute awareness of the delicate situation involved in listing Oxford’s name given the Howard family’s sensitivities and the Court’s ongoing vendetta in 1621-22 with Southampton and Henry De Vere, Oxford’s son.

There is no longer any reason for anyone to have any doubt that Peacham knew that Edward de Vere and Shakespeare were one and the same man. What was true for Peacham in 1622 is also true for us today.



  1. It was actually Puttenham (not Meres) who ranked Oxford and Buckhurst as first respectively for Comedy and Tragedy. See George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, Cambridge University Press, 1936, pages 62-63.
  2. Our background information concerning the life and work of Henry Peacham was obtained from The Dictionary of National Biography (1895-96), volume XV, pages 578-580; Robert Ralston Cawley, Henry Peacham – His Contribution to English Poetry (1971); and Alan R. Young, Henry Peacham (1975).
  3. The poems written by Peacham and John Selden were collected in The Period of Mourning, published in 1613.
  4. Samuel Schoenbaum reproduced this drawing on pages 123-124 of his work, William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life (1975).
  5. See the map of Pauls Cross Churchyard on page 27 of Peter Blayneys The First Folio of Shakespeare (1991).
  6. See Hinman, The Printing and Proof-Reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare, 1963, pages 342-346.
  7. Ibid., pages 28-29.
  8. Cawley, op. cit., page 10; Young, op cite., pages 27, 103, and footnote 56 on page 144.
  9. Young, op. cit., page 70. After settling in the Norwich area in 1615 as a schoolmaster, Peacham evidently was drawn toward the family of Thomas Howard, the Earl of Suffolk, because of this Lords interest in fine art as well as literature.
  10. It has been pointed out that the inscription, as written, is not correct Latin for either the first or second person conjugation. It should read either MENTE.VIDEBOR (…I shall be seen) or MENTE.VIDEBERIS (…thou shall be seen). Peacham knew his Latin, and it must be assumed that the hand is writing the letter I after VIDEBOR only to complete the anagram. E.T. Clarks interpretation that the letter S should be assumed after the I is negated by the fact that the correct Latin for the second-person should then be VIDEBERIS, not VIDEBORIS.
  11. See pages 311-314 for Astley-Cocks essay in Oxfordian Vistas, the subtitle of a supplemental volume of essays attached to the 1975 Minos Publishing reprint of Thomas Looneys Shakespeare Identified, originally published in 1920.
  12. When Looney published his work in 1920 he apparently did not have the benefit of knowing about this anagram or the emblem in Peachams Minerva Britanna, nor about the inclusion of Oxford in a list of great poets in The Compleat Gentleman. The first person who evidently uncovered this important evidence was Eva Turner Clark sometime after 1930. She included it in her 1937 work as cited in this essay.
  13. Peacham, The Compleat Gentleman, 1622, pages 95-96.
  14. Puttenham, op. cit., page 61.
  15. Peachams predicament in 1621-1622 brings to mind that of Ben Jonson who felt compelled to make deletions/insertions in his famous folio for political reasons after the Overbury Murder scandal broke upon the country in late 1615. Although never really close to the pro-Catholic Howard faction, Jonson removed some material in their honor from the folio because the scandal badly damaged the Howard clique at Court and included poems in favor of the newly triumphant and staunchly Protestant faction associated with the Herbert-Pembroke-Sidney family network.

A Note from the Author: ( Back)

The author believes the essay “Henry Peacham on Oxford and Shakespeare” concerning a list of the greatest Elizabethan poets which Henry Peacham compiled in 1622 as the First Folio project got underway, constiutes prima facie evidence and irrefutable proof that he knew “Shakespeare” was Oxford’s pen name. We urge readers to review on this same Web site prior articles from the Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter pertaining to this author’s contextualization of the First Folio project, especially “Shakespeare’s Son on Death Row?” prepared by editor William Boyle. Before Dickson’s research, no one had undertaken a meticulous study of the historical context within which Peacham decided to exclude “Shakespeare” from his list. Therefore, readers should pay close attention because every effort was taken to anticipate counter-arguments. For example, arguments that the omission of Shakespeare’s name was a typograhical error lack credibility —later editions of The Compleat Gentleman (a national best-seller) show no effort while Peacham was still alive to add “Shakespeare.” (and editions published after his death also remained unchanged.)

Readers unable to find a flaw in this proof for Oxford’s claim should not try to shift discussion to the inconclusive (thin and poor) documentary trail of non-literary evidence concerning the Stratford man. The ambiguous and sole literary evidence in his favor can neither counter the above proof nor survive detailed contextualiztion. The prefaces to the First Folio which contain the phrases “Sweet Swan of Avon” and “Thy Stratford Moniment” were type-set in late 1623, well after Peacham’s work, and after the folio publishers knew the retention of the pen name required a surrogate figure (deceased) to deflect curiosity. The abject humiliation of King James at the climax of the fiasco known as the Spanish Marriage Crisis –a policy which Henry de Vere (Oxford’s son) and Southampton had warned against and for which they were imprisoned– required a stratagem of sustained long-term concealment –a concealment whose need Peacham had first noted in Minerva Britanna (1612). Whatever your views, we encourage readers to dissect this essay on Peacham and the First Folio to identify significant flaws, and we will count the days until someone does just that.

Prepared by Peter W. Dickson to accompany publication of this article in The Ever Reader.

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