by Robert Brazil copyright © 1998- 2003
New Evidence Confirms Oxford's Birth Date
This year, 2003, brings us the 453rd birthday of Edward de Vere. For some time, Oxford's nativity has been a debated issue, and the exact fixing of Oxford's birth date has been a challenge. Now there is new information - that a christening cup was delivered out of the Royal Treasury in April, 1550, on behalf of King Edward VI, as a gift to the 16th Earl of Oxford on the christening of his son and new male heir, Edward de Vere. Perhaps this 27.25 oz. gold and silver fact will help settle the matter once and for all.
U. C. Berkeley Professor Alan Nelson found the relevant document, and posted the information on his website. 1 Here is the entry, updated into modern English.
To our loving friend Sir Anthony Aucher, Knight, Master of the King's jewels and plate. The King's Majesty's pleasure, by our advice, is that you deliver unto Phillip Manwaring (Gentleman Usher to the King's Majesty): One standing cup, gilt with a cover, weighing twenty seven (and a quarter) ounces - By him to be delivered, as the King's Majesty's gift at the Christening of our very good Lord, the Earl of Oxford's Son. And these, our letters shall be your sufficient warrant and discharge therein. Given at the King's Majesty's Manor at Greenwich the 17th of April, the 4th year of his Highness' most prosperous Reign - King Edward the Sixth 1550.
The document in question is a warrant, a standard authorization for the delivery out of the royal treasury of any sum of money or particular piece of treasure. Sir Anthony Aucher was, in fact, the Master of the Jewel House of the Tower of London at that time.
The monarch of England was the boy King, Edward VI, only 17 years old in 1550. He died in 1553 and was followed on the throne by Jane Grey, who ruled all of nine days, and then by his elder sister "Bloody" Mary I of England, who reigned from 1553-58.
Edward VI was a devoted Protestant, and his Privy Council were as well. So while we have no record of the ceremony, it is extremely likely that Oxford was christened in an Anglican, Protestant ceremony. This is relevant as the Veres had historically been Catholics, like all the old nobility, and thus there has been speculation, in the absence of evidence, that Edward de Vere might have had a secret Catholic baptism. The record of the christening gift by the Protestant King and Council strongly suggests that it was a Protestant baptism.
Baptism and christening generally refer to the same event, in both Catholic and Anglican practice. Though baptism was an initiation rite for adults in the early Church, infant baptism gradually became standard practice within Roman Catholicism. The Tudor-founded Church of England carried over the practice of infant baptism. As life was often brutal and quite short, it was thought to be a very good and wise thing to baptize infants quickly, guaranteeing entry into heaven, should they die in childhood. The central feature of baptism is purification by water, which represents the sacrament of Spirit, and removal of sin. The central feature of christening is the official naming of the infant or initiate.
Thus it is a technical triviality whether we refer to Oxford's baptism or his christening. The document uses the word "christening." 2
In establishing Oxford's date of birth as an historic fact, the first problem was to sort out the disagreements among modern published sources. There has been a strange discrepancy in the various reference volumes which have printed birthdays of Edward de Vere.
In the first Oxfordian treatise, Shakespeare Identified, 1920, J.T. Looney gave April 2, 1550 for Oxford's birth date. Looney's knowledge of Oxford was based almost entirely on the Dictionary of National Biography entry, which includes the fact that Oxford first took up his seat in Parliament on April 2, 1571. Perhaps the DNB editors subtracted 21 years from that date, missing the true mark by only ten days. B. M. Ward gave the ultimately correct date of April 12, 1550 as did the Ogburns, Senior and Junior, Ruth Loyd Miller, and other scholars on Oxford.
There are now several documentary sources that confirm the April 12, 1550 birth date: a Burghley diary entry of 1576, a manuscript by Percival Golding circa 1618, documents relating to Oxford's freedom from wardship and suing his livery in 1571, and now the Treasury warrant for the christening cup.
One source for Oxford's birth date is the Table of Progeny of the Veres. This manuscript was written circa 1618-1625 by Percival Golding, but clearly incorporated earlier notes. Portions of this manuscript were printed, inaccurately, by W. Kittle in his posthumous 1942 book: Edward de Vere 17th Earl of Oxford and Shakespeare.
In 1999, I obtained a copy of the actual Golding manuscript (Harleian MS 4189), and posted the relevant section on the web. 3
Here follows the entry, in modern English.
Edward de Vere, only son of John, born the twelfth day of April, Anno 1550, Earle of Oxenford, High Chamberlain, Lord Bolebec, Sandford and Badlesmere, Steward of the Forest in Essex, and of the Privy Council to the King Majesty that now is. Of whom I will only speak what all men's voices confirm: He was a man in mind and body absolutely accomplished with honorable endowments. He died at his house at Hackney in the month of June, Anno 1604, and lieth buried at Westminster.
This evidence for Oxford's birthday is also notable as the only documentary source for the controversial notion that our Poet actually lies buried in Westminster. It also seems to be the main source that proclaims or confirms that Oxford served on James' Privy Council. A careful reading of the line: "... Steward of the Forest in Essex, and of the Privy Council to the King Majesty that now is" allows that Golding is saying that the King "that now is," i.e. circa 1618, is the same King that Oxford briefly served in 1603-4. So that line is not necessarily an anachronism by Golding.
The time is out of joint
A curious aspect of all late 16th Century dates is tied to the Gregorian calendar reform of 1582. Because of a technical error in the Julian calendar, the seasons were gradually slipping away from calendric expectations. This was putting Easter out of synch with the actual occurrence of spring, and forced the church to issue a correction. Ten days were added in the Catholic countries, in October 1582, to re-synchronize the church calendar and restore Easter to its rightful time. The Julian problem and its solution involved the question of how many leap years should be counted in a century. From the adoption of the Julian calendar in 46 B.C. to the 16th Century, the slippage and error had added up to ten days.
By official decree of Pope Gregory XIII, October 4, 1582 was followed immediately by Oct. 15, 1582. Was that adding 10 days or stealing 10 days? England noted the change with skepticism and laughter.
All of the Protestant countries, including England and Germany, and Russia (which kept the old Orthodox calendar), ignored, mistrusted, and refused to enact the 1582 correction and only came to their senses one by one, centuries later.
When "correcting" dates from the past there is a sliding scale, not a static formula. English dates from 1582-1700 require a ten day correction. Dates from 1700-1752 require an eleven day correction; 1752 is the year Great Britain and her colonies fixed their system. 4 Russia however, didn't correct its calendar until the Bolshevik revolution. So for Russian dates between 1700-1800 there's an 11 day correction, for 1800-1900 a 12 day correction, and from 1900-1920 a 13 day correction.
Now here's the rub. If Edward de Vere was born April 12, 1550 (by local reckoning) then the "corrected" or modern equivalent is often stated to be April 22. Such a correction, however, is only useful to astrologers, as today's April 22 Sun location is in an analogous position to April 12 of the old calendar.
As a general rule: Historians have no reason to correct any dates prior to October 4, 1582. Thus, the given birthdays of Queen Elizabeth, Leicester, and dozens of other Elizabethans born prior to 1582 are always printed in history books without correction. Shaksper of Stratford, who was baptized on April 26, 1564, and is given an "assigned" birthday of April 23 (to link with St. George's day) never gets a ten day correction to May 2nd.
So there is no precedent, nor reason to use April 22 as "Oxford's birthday." April 12 is the accurate day to celebrate this historic nativity.
Retroactive date correction is used in modern historical chronology when correlating accounts of a single event which has been described in neighboring countries as occurring on two conflicting dates. The Elizabethans were the first generation in England to experience this strange problem first hand.
When Oxford was writing, or anytime after October 1582, one could receive a letter sent from Paris and read it on a date before it had been written, as France was ten days ahead on the Catholic calendar.
Shakespeare may have been thinking about this dilemma when he wrote:
"The time is out of joint, O cursed spite
that ever I was born to set it right."
(Hamlet Act I, scene 5)
1. The manuscript reference number is: British Library MS Add. 5751A, f. 283. The original spelling of the document is on Dr. Nelson's website along with his comments: http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~ahnelson/birth.html
2. There are several mentions of christening in Shakespeare. Note the following line, "two Noblemen bearing great standing-bowls for the christening gifts" in Henry Eighth Act V scene 5.
The palace - Enter TRUMPETS, sounding; then two ALDERMEN, LORD MAYOR, GARTER, CRANMER, DUKE OF NORFOLK, with his marshal's staff, DUKE OF SUFFOLK, two Noblemen bearing great standing-bowls for the christening gifts; then four Noblemen bearing a canopy
3. You can see the original document at:
4. Chesterfield's Act of March 1751 decreed that throughout all of the dominions of the British crown, Wednesday, September 2, 1752 would be followed by Thursday, September 14, 1752.
The Elizabethan Authors website is a collaborative effort by Robert Brazil & Barboura Flues
All Rights Reserved. All site contents Copyright © 2003 RB, BF and elizabethanauthors.com.
Webmaster contact: firstname.lastname@example.org