The Dark Side of Shakespeare (A Trilogy by W. Ron Hess)
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Interestingly, the following article which is based on collection and analysis of important primary evidence has been rejected by three of the four major Oxfordian periodicals (the Shakespeare Matters, the SOS Newsletter, and The Oxfordian).  After you've read it, please contact me at and let me know what it is those entities Don't Want You to Know.  Enjoy.


"Who Was The Honored Lady of Oxford's

'Knight of the Tree of the Sunne?'"

W. Ron Hess

Posted Nov 2003


This article is extracted from Vol. III, Appen. I of my trilogy The Dark Side of Shakespeare, which will be available after August 2004.  The trilogy examines all six surviving knights' texts of the  tournament celebrated on Jan. 22, 1580/1 (we date it as "1581" today; but since it preceded the first day of the liturgical- and lay-calendar years, Lent on March 25, it was called "1580" back then).  Participating in the tournament were the 17th Earl of Oxford (who took the heroic role of "The Knight of the Tree of the Sunne" or "Sonne"), Oxford's 2nd cousin Philip Howard (as challenger "Callophisus," the tournament was being held in honor of his elevation to his late grandfather's title of Earl of Arundel), Sir Philip Sidney (as probably the "White Knight"), and 16 other jousting nobleman knights (each of which may have had a speech too). 


Royal entertainments and progresses were supervised by Oxford's mentor and close political ally, the Lord Chamberlain of Her Majesty's Household, Thomas Radcliffe, 2nd Earl of Sussex.  So, any "agenda" Oxford may have had most likely fitted Sussex's purposes in his Privy Council rivalry with other alliances headed by Oxford's enemy the Earl of Leicester and Oxford's father-in-law Lord Burghley.  Oxford had quarreled with Arundel and Sidney in 1579 but superficially had become friends with both by this time.  Also, Philip Sidney and his sister Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke (known in her time as "England's Pallas" [or "Spear-shaker"]), were nephew and niece of both Sussex and Leicester.  Sidney and Leicester had opposed the "French marriage" of Queen Elizabeth to the Duc de Anjou et Alencon, but Sidney had mellowed on that point at the Queen's orders (in May 1581, Sidney was to write all the texts for the next great joust).  Arundel was the eldest son of Oxford's attainted and executed 1st cousin, Thomas Howard 4th Duke of Norfolk (who had once been Sussex's son-in-law, and was executed in part for "Marianism," i.e. support of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, as rightful Queen of England).  Only a few weeks before, on Christmas Eve 1580, Oxford had gone before Queen Elizabeth and betrayed as "Marianist" conspirators Henry Howard (Arundel's uncle, Oxford's own 1st cousin) and two of Howard's confederates, Francis Earl of Southwell and Charles Arundell (not to be confused with Arundel; both were technically also "cousins" of Oxford).  And at this time, charges and counter-charges known as "the 1581 Libels" were being made, with two of the accused trio then in the Tower, having no better defense than to counter-accuse Oxford of gross faults and crimes (see Prof. Nelson's book for the gory details, most likely embellishments on grains of truth).  Sussex's late half-brother, Egremont Radcliffe, had been arrested during the Northern Rebellion for "Marianism" and had in 1575-78 been clapped in the Tower on suspicion of treason.  Finally, even while Oxford and others of his 1581 allies were serving under Sussex in 1569-70, Sussex's enemies almost had him arrested for "Marianism."  So, everything about this tournament involved politics, relationships, and survival.


Three of the jousting speeches, one by Arundel, one by Oxford, and one by Oxford’s Page given before the Queen, were not quite as specific as the other three knights' speeches about who their honored lady was.  These vague speeches praised unknown ladies like the others, but omitted strongly identifying Queen Elizabeth.  Here I argue that, as Oxford had done just a few weeks earlier, he may have been "betraying traitors" in this tournament.  To do so, he adopted one of the most elaborate and dangerous roles of his career (though not quite so elaborate as the role my trilogy argues he adopted in Italy as the epic knight "Astolfo" or "Palladine" [= of the Spear-shaker]).   It may be that Oxford’s role-playing was also relevant to Oxford's disgrace and brief imprisonment in the Tower just a few months later in connection with the Anne Vavasour affair (when his mistress, one of the Queen's Maids of Honor, was brought into the palace by Oxford's enemies to give birth to Oxford's bastard son, the future Sir Edward Vere, in a way designed to inflict the most "embarrassment" onto Oxford, and thus onto Sussex's alliance). 


The first vague text was a printed "broadside" by "Callophisus" (23 year-old Philip Howard) challenging the world to joust with him, and describing his lady as: a) "greatest perfection in an other," b) "Beautie of her face, and the Grace of her person, the moste perfect creature," c) "beames of his Mistresse looke, as for the Clowdes to endure the shining and appearing of the Sunne" (= sunburst), d) "perfections of his Mistresse, are in number so infynite...," e) "woorthynesse... will steale away the Servaunts of other Ladyes," and f) "honouring of his Mistresse, which hath no equall."  As if to contrast Callophisus' vague lady with Queen Elizabeth, it ended with reference to Elizabeth as "her Majestie."  We'll see that references to the sunburst and the "steale away the Servaunts of other Ladyes" might have been quite seditious treason if Queen Elizabeth was among the "other Ladyes" to be stolen from. 


Four other knight's texts were hand-written manuscripts in "Secretarial script," possibly by a Court scribe.  But, I argue in my Appen. R that these were more likely by Oxford (Appen. R introduces an article by Alan Tarica with evidence Oxford may have had a "Secretarial script" in addition to his well-known "Italic script," possibly including these tournament texts). 


Perhaps detecting Arundel's ambiguity and so responding in kind, Oxford's character as "Knight of the Tree of the Sun" nearly equaled Callophisus in being unclear about his Lady of Honor, referring to her as: a) "the most perfectest... against whom none will lift his lance," (= "Shake his spear?"), b) "accomplished with virtue perfection and every good quality...," c) "so noble a presence," d) "worthy to be mistress of the world," e) "complete with wisdom grace beauty and eloquence," and  f) "my mistress virtue" (a play on his own name, "Vere-tue?").  Why didn't he more explicitly identify his lady as Elizabeth?  Yet, he did support the White Knight (probably Sidney), not contradicting his teammate's explicit defending praise for Elizabeth. 


            The vaguest text of the six was the long speech given before the Queen by Oxford's Page just before the tilts began.  This speech had been thought lost, but now the only copy resides in the Pforzheimer Library at the University of Texas Austin (Item # 966 in the published catalog, pgs. 995+; it has been quoted in Prof. Nelson's new book, but without a reconstruction I've done of a lost part).  The speech was included as an appendix to the 1592 translation from the Greek of the pseudo-Platonic dialogue Axiochus, published by Cuthbert Burby (later to publish Shakespeare texts and Willobie His Avisa), and was attributed to "Edward Spenser" [sic].  Since Spenser was not known for skills in Greek, orthodox scholars debate whether John Lyly or Anthony Munday (two of Oxford's secretaries), or the Earl of Oxford himself was the original author of the Page's speech.  Even though I favor Munday (or another Oxford servant, Nathaniel Baxter) as translator of the Greek text in Axiochus, my trilogy argues for Oxford himself as author of his Page's speech (which had notably obsessive dwellings on "Vere" words and even a few "shaking – stave" types of references).  I dispute the orthodox claim that the speech-appendix had no relation to the Axiochus text to which it was appended, which was a Greco-Roman disputation on the "Shortness and Uncertainty of the Life," and of overcoming fear of death.  If Oxford was genuinely in fear of his life as his Page delivered that speech (due to the impending Vavasour imbroglio, or to his recent betrayal of his Marianist cousins), then in the publication a dozen years later it would have been very appropriate to pair the Page's speech with the Axiochus' ancient emphasis on courage in the face of death. 


            Photostats of Oxford's Page's speech are provided in my Appen. I (by permission of the  U. of Texas, Austin), the first time ever in an Oxfordian publication.  It was listed on the Title page of the book, right above Burby's illustration of a phoenix, a bird rising from a nest of flames, below a provocative banner whose Latin inscription translates into "Always that way Dem-" (where the cut-off "Dem-" could be any of 23 different words from my Latin dictionary, most logically: "Demandare" = to entrust, "Demergo" = to set, plunge, "Demonstratio" = to point out, "Demorior" = to be dying for, or "Demutatio" = transformation).  Note that in my Appen. H, we find the same deliberate truncation conceit used in Italian for a "Masque" I argue was written by Oxford in either Palermo or Naples.  Inside the Page's speech are references to the mythical phoenix, or "Phenix."  Also there was the blazing-golden "tree of the sun" in which "Vestas bird sitteth in the midst."  Orthodox scholars take that to be a clear allusion to Elizabeth as the "Virgin Queen."  Yet, noting the function of a Vestal Virgin was to maintain the sacred flame in the Capitol of Rome, then we realize that the ambiguous "bird" reference doubled also for the phoenix.  And there was a provocative line, "…crave slyppes of the Sunne, or a Moulde to cast a newe Moone," which could have hinted at something of a waning nature to be applied to the Virgin Queen, often equated with Diana the goddess of the Moon.  Considering the dire defense of the "tree of the sunne" that the knight was said in the speech to have performed prior to his appearance at the tournament, one gains the impression that the "tree" herself was in deep peril, Oxford's knight was willing to give his life for her, but there was no guarantee of success.  Was this message really appropriate to be conveyed to Queen Elizabeth on Jan. 22, 1580/1?


Never once did Howard's or Oxford's characters get as specific as the White Knight did with "royall virgin," the Red Knight with "her royal and matchless excellency," and the Blewe Knight with "the gates of her Court... good graces."  So, in reality, who was Howard's and Oxford's lady of honor, and was she really Queen Elizabeth?  Why were they vague?


Could either or both knights have been praising a quite different Queen?  A captive Queen who might rise from her ashes like the mythical Phoenix and soar to blazing heights:

  a) who shared paternal descent from Henry VII, a King whose "sunburst" badge had been used almost exclusively by royalty back to Richard II (Boutell, 165, 210-12; Franklyn, 4 &5, # 4);

  b) who since age three had been Queen of Scotland and for two years from 1558 to 60 had been Queen of France (see Sedgwick, 62, 107), where her Valois husband, King Henri II, had sat on the throne later occupied by the Bourbon "Sun King";

  c) whose motto via her Guise-Lorraine mother's family (descendants of Duke Rene II of Lorraine; 15-17) was "Lauro scuto que resurgo" or "I rise again by the shield and the laurel" (Fairbairn, 561), and whose crest bore a laurel/bay tree couped/cut short with two branches sprouting and lower limbs bearing an escutcheon/shield hanging by a belt (298, Plate 23 # 6); where the laurel was sacred to Apollo the god of medicine, music, poetry, and the Sun, who watched in horror as his beloved nymph Daphne was turned into a laurel tree;

  d) whose Guise-Lorraine family descended from Emperor Charlemagne (Sedgwick, 19, 21);

  e) whose Stuart father's family's several mottoes included "Candide" and "Condide" or "With Candour" and "Be Secret" (Fairbairn, 537-38), appropriate for her Machiavellian supporters; and

  f) who with her Stuart second husband had donned gilded armor (= shining like a sunburst) to ride against a rebellion led by her half-brother ("a foolish piece of foppery as he [and she] could so easily have been singled out had it come to battle," Morrison, 103). 


Could it have been that Philip Howard's and Oxford's lady "Tree of the Sun" was Mary Stuart, the "Laurel of Lorraine," daughter of James V and Marie de Lorraine (Marie de Guise)?  Could it be that Oxford's knightly character, outfitted in golden sunburst armor, rising out of a golden sunburst pavilion, was reserving the identity of his lady of devotion for a different "noble presence," more "worthy to be mistress of the world" than Queen Elizabeth?  Elizabeth had England, Wales, "the Pale" in Ireland, later Newfoundland and Virginia, some moth-eaten claims to parts of France which had been lost by England a generation earlier, and a dangerous and vague de facto leadership of the "heretical" Protestants throughout Western Europe. 


By contrast, Mary Stuart, ever since 1567 imprisoned in a series of fortresses in central England, was from a "Marianist" perspective a "worthy" Queen not just of England, but also of Scotland and all of France (as the younger of two Dowager Queens of that great realm).  Importantly for "Marianists," she was of the "old religion" which still claimed universal dominion, and as such she was the nexus of Catholic plots throughout Europe.  Most of all to these plotters, in 1573 Pope Gregory XIII had declared in a Papal Bull that Elizabeth's throne was vacated and Mary was rightful Queen of England.  If we overlooked Mary's murderous past, unwise marriages, and her Guise relatives, Mary could be said to have been "worthy" indeed. 


Was Oxford's knight praising "so noble a presence" as Mary Stuart, "worthy" of sitting on her grandfather Henry VII's throne?  Or was he praising instead Henry VIII's bastard daughter (as declared by Henry and Parliament in 1536)?  Was Oxford a "Marianist," secretly backing Mary Stuart?  Or was Oxford just playing out a role designed to allow others to believe he was a "Marianist," so he could trap those others into his web, as he had trapped his three cousins a few weeks before?  I argue that it was most likely this very dangerous latter role he was playing. 


Perhaps a significant clue has been available all along.  If all of the texts were authored by Oxford, as I maintain, then he or at least Sussex would have commissioned the illustration of the figure appended to the end of the Blewe Knight's text (Greg, 182; or see the figure at bottom of my "home" page  at  In that illustration which I’ve sketched in my trilogy's Fig. I.1, note the basic figure is a lower-case "r" for "Regina," a reigning Queen.  Then there's the obvious laurel crown on the right branch of the "r," and the "r" itself forms a "laurel/bay tree couped/cut short with two branches sprouting," just like the Guise-Lorraine crest.  And if that doodling on the left limb of the laurel tree represents Penelope's loom, then we must recall that Penelope was the patient wife of Odysseus, imprisoned by her enemies in her rightful kingdom, whose hero freed her and destroyed all her enemies in a bloodbath, aided by only one strong assistant and the goddess Pallas, "Spear-shaker." That illustration may have a Marianist call to arms!  The Blewe Knight likely didn't recognize the figure that way, but it seems others were meant to.  If anyone had been looking for the Guise-Lorraine crest, would they have seen that illustration as Marianist?  Or would they have just seen the spinning wheel of "Lucina" (the virgin goddess of marriage, often an epithet for Diana)? 


If Oxford was Shakespeare, as my trilogy argues, and if Shakespeare's works alluded to definable "Marianist" sentiments, then from over four centuries' distance we may be able to nail our man to an iron cross more surely than his enemies could have done in his time!  As one example, consider "Romeo's" famous lines in Romeo & Juliet, II ii:

"But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?/ It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!/ Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,/ Who is already sick and pale with grief/ That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she;/ Be not her maid, since she is envious;/ Her vestal livery is but pale and green,/ And none but fools do wear it; cast it off." [partly from the 1597 1st Q.]

The light was of a part sun, which "breaks" from a "sunburst."  The "envious moon" in "vestal livery" was likely the "Virgin Queen," who was to be "killed" for envy of her phoenix-like nine-years younger "maid."  As Adm. Holland (73) noted, the "pale and green" alluded to the white and green of the Tudor livery, supported by "fools" like Leicester, Walsingham, Hatton, and Burghley, who were to be "cast off."  Holland noted that for the livery this version differed from the 1623 1st Folio's "sicke and greene" instead of "pale and greene."  So, I note from Allen & Muir's 1981 Shakespeare's Plays in Quarto that the 1597 1st Q. version had "pale," and it wasn't changed to "sicke" until the 1599 2nd Q.  So, for allusions prior to the 1587 execution of Mary Stuart, we must prefer the "pale" word of the 1597 1st Q.


Even the name "Juliet" (= young Julia) could have applied to Mary.  It derived from the wife of Pompey the Great, daughter of Julius Caesar; her death in 54 B.C. plunged the world into generations of wars and despotism.  Was this an "internationalist" outlook that acquaintances of Oxford's feared for the world of 1581, where the fate of Mary Stuart was foreseen to bring dire long-term international and domestic consequences, conceivably worse than from overthrowing Elizabeth?  They didn't need to have been Catholics to fear as much.  Mary's 1587 execution is now widely seen as having: a) led to the "Invincible" Spanish Armada; b) left an instability under which her granddaughter's husband started the horrendous Thirty Years War in 1618; and c) likely presaged the execution of her grandson Charles I in the English Civil Wars (with one of Oxford's grandsons dying in his King's defense and another leading forces against him!).


Several months after the 1580/1 tournament, when Oxford was briefly put in the Tower and banished from Court for three years, why wasn't he executed instead?  We must conclude that he had really been up to his neck in "official" covert activities to betray traitors (with the Earl of Sussex's and Burghley's support on the Privy Council to attest that Oxford had been doing the Privy Council's bidding).  The best evidence for Oxford having only pretended "Marianism" was that he was so lightly punished in 1581, living to write the rest of Shakespeare's works! 


Oxford's chief target for entrapment was probably Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel ("Callophisus"), whose father was executed for "Marianism," whose grandfather the Earl of Arundel, had been a leading "Marianist," and whose uncle Henry Howard was among the three Oxford had entrapped a few weeks before.  As the Ency. Brit. I, 610, said of Arundel:

"In 1582 his wife Anne became a Roman Catholic and was committed to the charge of Sir Thomas Shirley by Queen Elizabeth.  [Howard] was himself suspected of disloyalty and was regarded by the discontented Roman Catholics as the center of the plots against the Queen’s government and even as a possible successor.  In 1583 he was with some reason suspected of complicity in Francis Throckmorton's plot and prepared to escape to Flanders, but his plans were interrupted by a visit from Elizabeth I at his house in London and by her subsequent order to confine himself there.  In September 1584 he became a Roman Catholic and made another attempt to leave England.  He was then brought before the Star Chamber and sentenced to a fine and imprisonment for life.  He was released for a time but was again arrested on a charge of high treason and, in 1589, condemned to death.  The sentence was not executed, and he died in the Tower of London." 

Ward, 148 fn. 2, said that in 1589 Howard was "tried and convicted by his peers, Lord Oxford being one, for having, among other things, heard a Mass at which the success of the Spanish Armada was prayed for."  Had Oxford and Sussex foreseen Howard’s traitorous career?


            Notably, in years leading up to 1581, one of Oxford’s secretaries, Anthony Munday, was spying on and betraying "Marianists," leading to the arrest, trial, and hanging of the Jesuit Father Campion, among others.  And that spying mission was actually commissioned by Oxford as early as 1577 (Haynes, 39).  Munday was later to be found trapping Puritan extremists. 


In conclusion, though I don’t pretend to be able to divine precisely what game was afoot with Oxford in that 1580/1 tournament, some things were clear: the man who was Shakespeare had surrounded himself with dangerous men, among whom were probable conspiratorial traitors; the welfare of the realm was at stake; and in the end Oxford was a supporter of the status quo.  Still, the double-meaning of nearly every salient expression and device in three of the six knights' texts of this tournament indicates that something sinister was roiling beneath the glittering courtly surface and heraldic panoply of those turbid waters and unsettled times. 


Works Cited:

Boutell, Charles, rev. by Brooke-Little, J.P., Boutell's Heraldry, London,

        1973, Frederick Warne & Co.

Fairbairn, James, rev. ised by Butters, Laurence, Fairbairn's Crests of

        the Families of Great Britain and Ireland, Rutland, VT, 1968,

        Charles E. Tuttle Co.

Franklyn, Julian & Tanner, John, An Encyclopaedic Dict. of Heraldry,

        Oxford, 1969, Pergamon. 

Greg, W.W., ed., Malone Soc. Collection, Part II, Oxford, 1908, Oxford U.

        Press, set # XIII, 181-87.

Haynes, Alan, Invisible Power: The Elizn. Secret Services 1570-1603,

        N.Y., 1962, St. Martin's Press. 

Holland, H. H., Shakespeare Through Oxford Glasses, Covent Garden,

        UK, 1923, Cecil Palmer.  

Morrison, N. Brysson, Mary Queen of Scots, New York, 1960,

        Vanguard Press. 

Nelson, Alan, Monstrous Adversary: The Life of Edward de

        Vere,17th Earl of OxfordLiverpool, 2003, Liverpool U.

         Press. (0-85323-688-7

Padelford, ed., Catalogue of the Carl H. Pforzheimer Library,

        Vol. III, # 966, pgs. 995-1002.

Sedgwick, Henry D., The House of Guise, Indianapolis, IN, 1938,

        Bobbs-Merrill Co.

Ward, B.M., The 17th Earl of Oxford 1550-1604, from Contemp.

        Docs., London, 1928, Murray.


The Dark Side of Shakespeare (a Trilogy by W. Ron Hess)