Sir Henry Neville

I’ve been reading The Truth Will Out: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare, by Brenda James and William Rubinstein.  The book’s major claim is that Sir Henry Neville wrote the works of William Shakespeare.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been one for conspiracy theories.  I even believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin.  And I’ve never bought into the attribution of Shakespeare’s works to de Vere; the guy died too soon for the chronology to make sense.

But I found this book — no, "convincing" is too strong a word — but difficult to dismiss.  It has the first good arguments I’ve read that Shakespeare, were he the real guy, would have a very different paper trail than what we find.  Some of the plays appear to show detailed knowledge of the Continent that Shakespeare did not seem to have.  The topics of the plays match Neville’s life and experience closely, right down to the timing.  Some scenes from the plays match incidents from Neville’s life, down to some very particular numbers.

To be sure, there is no smoking gun.  It is all circumstancial evidence.  And we should remain skeptical toward speculative theses which captivate the giddy minds of scholars.  But — if this book were a blog post I would link to it.

Here is one brief summary of the argument.  Here is a short piece by Rubinstein.  Here is a CrookedTimber post.  Here is a Times story.  Here are links to critiques.


I like Shakespeare's being the author of the plays precisely because so little is known about him. The temptation to dig into his life and mind for explanations about, for example, whether "The Merchant of Venice" really is anti-Semitic or is portraying the anti-Semitism of the time, necessarily must cut off a little sooner than it would if we had lots of evidence about whether the author had Jewish friends, etc.

I haven't read The Truth Will Out, but Scott McCrea's The Case for Shakespeare has left me fairly confident that William Shakespeare—the Stratford man—wrote his own plays.

Hello Dr. Cowen, former student of yours here. Isn't part of the problem with these Shakespeare nonauthorship conspiracists that they can choose from among all known peoples from that era in order to find the facts that match their assumptions? Surely that is why there are so many "plausible authors" whose life events can be to fit a variety of authorship molds. Once one assumes a conspiracy finding circumstantial evidence becomes easier, even if there is little actual evidence of conspiracy.

I just can't see such an exceedingly public deception succeeding. I think that if the nonauthorship proponents were as credulous about the evidence for Shakespeare as author as they were about their own theories, they'd agree on Stratford.

Reading/hearing Shakespeare is a hobby of mine, next on my list is the book "1599".

I'm probably just repeating Doug Byrne, but

I'm probably just repeating Doug Byrne, but the failure of the conspiracists to agree on an author is pretty strong evidence of data mining.

I hope they never find the smoking gun. My bet is on Shakespeare himself.

It is pretty simple. He had a great memory, met interesting and well-traveled people, and didn't suffer the handicap of knowing that he was a great writer.

He probably didn't regard writing as very important - sort of a poorly paid rewarded skill like juggling or tumbling.

Kafka never visited Amerika.

'there was no authorship controversy for nearly 200 years after William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon's death.'

Right, there was almost nothing suggesting he was THAT Shakespeare either.

No one ever mentions--in the numerous letters existing--bumping into him at the equivalent of an Elizabethan cocktail party. No eulogies of his death. Even the monument put up to him in Stratford doesn't say he was the poet/playwright.

Samuel Pepys, in his famous diary of 1660-69 records his attendance at dozens of Shakespeare plays, but barely mentions the name "Shakespeare".

It wasn't until the actor David Garrick had a celebration of Shakespeare's work in 1769 that the Stratfordian was firmly identified with the Shakespeare canon.

On the other hand: can that be the William D Rubinstein who wrote "The Myth of Rescue" - about the fate of the European Jews in WWII? For that was one of the most interesting histories I've read in years.

Barkeley, the aristocracy loved the theater, so it's always been possible that they filled him in on the goings on that appear in the plays. But, that just moves the problem down the road a bit.

Shakespeare from Stratford never makes an appearance in any of the letters the aristocrats wrote to each other. Not once.

Even at the trial of Essex, when the play Richard II is presented as evidence against the plotters--including the Earl of Southampton, to whom Venus and Adonis and Lucrece are dedicated by 'Shakespeare'--does the name Shakespeare come up.

You're getting warmer... I was actually the first President of the United States! Do you really believe that toothless oaf could have defeated the redcoats at Yorktown!!!??? He didnt even go to OXFORD!!!

I'll just reference "How do we know Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare".

Barkley, again, there is precious little to connect the man from Stratford upon Avon with the plays and poems associated with the name 'Shake-speare'. Other than similarity in sound 'Shaxper' or 'Shagsper', as it was commonly spelled.

It is absolutely circular reasoning to say that the name of the author must be a reference to the Stratfordian. How do you know which came first?

Could it not be that a warrior prince with a literary bent could have adopted the martial nom de plume 'Shake-speare' (as it was often spelled) for poetry and plays, and one fine day in the 1580s or 90s the Stratford rolled into town and heard the name associated with the theatre?

We have almost no hard evidence one way or the other. Even DeVere's death in 1604 doesn't rule him out, as the accepted chronology is simply fit to the dates of the Stratfordian's birth and death, with numerous problems that even orthodox scholars admit.

For instance, most scholars accept Sonnet #107 as referencing Elizabeth's death and the peaceful transition to James I:

'The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad auguries mock their own presage,'

That was preceded by a what appears to be a clear reference to the Earl Southhampton who'd been confined to the Tower for his part in the Essex revolt. And returns to him near end:

'Now with the drops of this most balmy time
My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes,'

Shaxper lived another 13 years, but DeVere died in 1604. The Sonnets were first published in 1609 and the introduction indicates the author was dead:

'All happiness that eternity promised by our ever-living poet'

I am the co-author of The Truth Will Out. I hadn't seen this blog, or known about it, until a friend sent it to me. Might I add some comments to the thread? The main reason I believe that Sir HN was the true Shakespeare is because the life of Will of Stratford cannot be meshed in with the evolutionary trajectory of his works. This is far more convincing to me than any of the other evidence that Will didn't write the works attributed to him, e.g., that he had no education past the age of thirteen, which has been said by hundreds of skeptics. Why did Shaky kill off Falstaff, his most popular character, in 1598-99 for no apparent reason? Why not milk him in six more plays? What accounts for the great break in his writing career around 1601 which has been remarked upon by virtually every biographer? There is nothing whatever in the known facts of his life to account for this. Why would the Sonnets (apparently) be dedicated to Southampton, and why
were the Sonnets "wisheth the well-wishing adventurer" published within a few days of the Royal Charter to the Adventurers of the second London Virginia Company in 1609? Posit Sir Henry Neville and you get real answers- consistently and convincingly. Let me also say that the case for the Earl of Oxford is obviously and plainly deficient; ditto Bacon (although to a lesser extent). William Shakespeare is probably the most intensely-studies human being in hsitory, yet nothing- zilch, rien- has ever been found, by any of countless researchers, to uequivocally link him to his
supposed writings in the manner of virtually all of his contemporary writers.

'I've always thought that the question of "how could he possibly have known about this" was the weakest aspect of anti-Stratfordism, the answer obviously being "he had mates who knew about it and they told him, most likely in a pub".'

Well that is the story of Prince Hal and his low life buddies. And the guy who fits the role was DeVere.

I wonder if dsquared knows how Robert Rich came to win an Oscar for best screenplay for The Brave One?

Apropos of Shakespeare, if not this particular controversy, I recommend Ron Rosenbaum's recent book, The Shakespeare Wars.

Now that I am on this site again, there is another bit of new evidence, which has come to light after The Truth Will Out was published, which I would like to bring to the attention of those follwing this debate. In the March 2006 issue of Notes & Queries (Vol. 53, No. 1, pp. 72-75) there is an article by Fred Schurink of the University of Newcastle, England, "An Unnoticed Early Reference to Shakespeare." In the third (1628) edition of a manual of rhetoric published in Greek by Rev. Thomas Vicars (1589- 1638), to a paragraph on the notable English poets Vicars has added a passage which Schurink has translated as: "To these I believe should be added the famous poet who takes his name from "shaking" and "spear"..." Schurink did not draw attention to the fact that Vicars, a well-educated near -contemporary of Shakeaspeare's, mainfestly thought that "Shakespeare" was a pseudonym- if he had, the article would probably not have been published, since any questioning of Shakespeare as the author is strictly taboo in orthodox Stratfordian circles- but it was picked up by Mark Anderson, a well-known Oxfordian, on his website, and made widely known. On checking further, I found that Vicars was Sir Henry Neville's son-in-law! In 1622 he married Anne, Neville's youngest daughter, and was also connected to the family in other ways. Vicars had no obvious connections with either William Shakespeare or with the theatre world, and his obvious belief that "Shakespeare" was a pseudonym is almost incomprehensible unless he had learned the Family Secret.

famous poet who takes his name from "shaking" and "spear"..."

The context might reveal more. But from the phrase as quoted I see no implicaton that it was a psuedonym. It just says Shakespeare was a name known to Vicars.

Maybe Vicars was mistaken and only thought Shakespeare was a pen name.

Too bad Vicars didn't write 'uses' or 'chose' instead of 'takes'. That would have at least told us exactly what he thought. It still wouldn't have told us if he was right.

As an aside. The fact that we know so little is not evidence, it is just odd.

1. Before his imprisonment in 1601 for failing to disclose the Essex conspiracy, Henry Neville indulged in Kos-like paranoia involving supposed Papist plotting by the Scottish ambassador to France and Queen Elizabeth's secret plan to make the Spanish Infanta her heir. Professor Rubinstein can read about both in The Truth Will Out. Such conspiracy theorizing is good evidence of higher than average anti-Catholic animus.

2. Vicars' words simply don't mean what Professor Rubinstein thinks, as any reader with a modicum of knowledge of Latin will see. The rest is commentary.

Tom Veal and I will obviously be going around in circles if we continue this exchange, so let me refer anyone who is interested to reading The Truth Will Out, which will be published in America this month by HarperCollins (it appeared in England last year), to other books on the authorship question, and to the Notes & Queries article, which is available on-line, and invite them to draw their own conclusions. To conclude, however, at the heart of the authorship question is the conclusion, virtually forced upon anyone who thinks about the issues objectively and without prejudice, that you must necessarily be dealing with two entirely different men, the actor and the author, who had entirely different life trajectories and whose lives and careers simply cannot be meshed together. The actor plainly had as his goal in life using the money he made from the theatre in London to retire to Stratford, become the town's richest man and a "gentleman," and establish a dynasty. The actor totally eschewed all political involvement, presumably because it was too dangerous, in Elizabethan England, for a nobody. To a remarkable extent, the actor had no discernable interest in cultural matters- his two daughters were illiterate and could not read any of Shakespeare's plays! The author, on the other hand, was manifestly very well-educated, deeply learned, and multi-lingual; he had apparently travelled widely on the Continent; his works show a close understanding of political affairs. Something traumatic happened to him about 1601, perhaps in connection with the Essex Rebellion of that year, the major political event of the time, and it was perhaps about this that he wrote that he was "in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes." In 1610-11 the author had immediate access to the confidential documents of the London Virginia Company, and used its confidential report, later published as the Strachey Letter, as one of the bases of the Tempest. William Shakespeare, the actor, had no access to the confidential papers of the London Virginia Company. He had no connection with the Company and was not among the nearly 600 men who bought a share in the Company for 12 pounds; it appears that he was living in Stratford at the time and had no reason to take an interest in its activities. Instances like this could be multiplied many times. Biographers of Shakespeare, in order to account for how he came to see the Strachey Letter, which was only circulated to directors of the Company, have propounded plainly preposterous theories, as of course they must. If you posit Sir Henry Neville as the author, there is no mystery: he was a director of the Company, was pinning his financial hopes on its success, and in 1609 his son had married the niece of the man we would now describe as the Company's Managing Director. It is not particularly difficult to disentangle the careers of the actor and the author: the problem of course has been to identify the author. Until Brenda James discovered Sir Henry Neville a few years ago, no one ever had found the real author. The leading candidate, the Earl of Oxford, has the distinct diadvantage of having died in 1604 while Shakespeare's works continued to be written until 1613. He also has the drawback that he was born in 1550, while Shakespeare was writing juvenalia in c.1590, when he was forty. To get around this, Oxfordians have invented their own chronology of Shakespeare's works based on Oxford's life, for which there is obviously no evidence. Plainly, if one devises a chronology of Shakespeare's works to fit the life of an alternative candidate, one can prove that anyone wrote Shakespeare's works- it isn't hard. We never do this. One major source of confusion is indeed that the dates of both the actor and the author are virtually identical- 1564-1616 and c.1562-1615. The orthodox dating of Shakespeare's works fits in with the evolution of Neville's career perfectly, with no loose ends and no invented chronologies. This has been a long posting, and I will stop here. The only other point is to reply to a poster above that I am indeed ther author of The Myth of Rescue, and am grateful for his comments.

I seldom reply to anonymous character assassination, and perhaps it would be wiser to say nothing about "Steve's" posting. Since it is likely to be misunderstood, however, it requires a response. I have a monthly on-line column on the London-based website the Social Affairs Unit, a well-regarded centre-right "think tank." I can write on any topic I want. I have written around 25 columns, all of which may be seen on their site. One was about the Shakespeare Authorship question. Another was about the theory of evolution. The others had precisely nothing to do with either topic. In my column on evolution, I made it clear ten times or so that I am not a "Creationist." It seems to me, as it does to very many others, that the classical Darwinian paradigm is inadequate to explain what we actually see. If Darwinian natural selection operates slowly, there should be innumerable fossils demonstrating Darwinian mutations and "missing links," as well as innumerable examples we can see in Nature with our own eyes. There are no such examples. Evolution apparently operates very rapidly, replacing stasis with very rapid change, probably akin to Gould's punctuated equilibrium, and in a manner which appears to demonstrate cunning and cleverness, from sources we simply do not understand. My viewpoint is very similar to
that made in many recent non-fundamentalist works attacking the Darwinian paradigm, such as Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box (1998), Richard Milton, Shattering the Myths of Darwinism (1997) and William A. Dembski, ed. Uncommon Dissent:Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing (2004), and many others, mainly by scientists. Concerning Joseph Sobran, I did not know until I read the above that he had any opinion on Darwinism, and am obviously in total disagreement with his book claiming that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's works. Concerning my abilities, the last book I wrote, the second edition of a book originally from 1981 on the very rich in modern Britain, Men of Property, was the cover story in the Spectator magazine in London in July, and has been discussed in the Economist. There is, however, a sense in which anti-Darwinism and anti-Stratfordianism are allied: they both meet with irrational hostility, often crossing the line to open defamation, in one case from "scientists" and in the other from English Lit. academics, making rational discussion impossible. I would, however, be delighted to repay ill will with good will and praise the mighty intellectual achievements of "Steve," but the fact that he hides his character assassination behind a pseudomym strongly implies there are none to praise.

"Some of the plays appear to show detailed knowledge of the Continent that Shakespeare did not seem to have". We know remarkably little about Shakespeare and therefore little about what he did know. I'd guess that we know even less about what he didn't know.

Concerning the theory of evolution, one useful and interesting essay is to be found on Tom Veal's excellent website, Stromata (sic) ( Tom Veal- with whom, when he is not writing about the Shakespeare Authorship question, I probably agree 80 per cent of the time- has posted an essay of his, "Intelligent Design or Unintelligent Theology?" (May 1, 2002), which states, about Dr. Michael Behe, the author of the anti-Darwinian Darwin's Black Box, "Dr. Behe makes a strong case (at least to a layman), and the response of the biological establishment has been so shrill as to make it look even stronger. To a large extent, refutations have relied on blind faith: What can't be explained at present will become clear in future." a) I couldn't put it better myself, and Tom Veal is to be congratulated for having the nerve to say this; b) Contrast and compare his response to Behe on evolution with his repsonse to me on evolution. The difference, of course, is that I have also questioned whether Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him, and Behe (so far as I know) hasn't. c) The latter part of the quotation sounds very familiar. It is not only true as a description of orthodox Darwinians, who resemble nothing so much, when challenged, as a lynch mob, but also as a description of how most English Lit. academics approach the Authorship question.

I don't know what is meant by "intelligent design," but if this implies an outside, supernatural force guiding evolution, I have never voiced any support for such a view. I have only questioned the orthodox Darwinian paradigm, with its "missing links" and alleged transitional species. As to "thinking through" the arguments on the Authorship question, I believe we have thought them through all too well, although of course time will tell.

On the assumption that Marginal Revolution readers are uninterested in seeing the entire "authorship debate" fought out before their eyes, I'll limit my response to the most obvious point: Anything in Italy that can be seen can be recounted to others. If Shakespeare's plays were full of authentic local color (doubtful when one considers that "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" portrays the Adige as a tidal river and puts Mantua in the foothills of the Alps), that would not prove that he was an eyewitness, only that he was capable of gleaning information from the numerous Italians who lived in London and Englishmen who had been to Italy.

Curious, though, how little (substantiated) biographical information on Shakespeare is available; that, however, does not make for dismissing either him or his output -- Joseph Conrad did not speak or write English before his late teens; and, perhaps, more convincingly, how did an "under-educated" Stratford man learn so much of his times (history, geography et al.) -- one answer -- the obvious one -- London -- a seaport to the world; a repository of books, gossip, tap-room conversation, schools and surprisingly knowledgeable Londoners -- would that New York or the USA was half so savvy -- we would perhaps have voted in a semi-literate President in 2004.

As an Oxfordian, I find Prof. Rubinstein's persistent dismissals of the 17th Oxford as a reasonable candidate for Shake-speare authorship rather puzzling, especially since his own candidate, Sir H. Neville, seems to have gone out of his way to appear marginally literate. The glib argument that "DeVere died too soon" can be easily parried by reference to Appen. B in my Vol. II of "The Dark Side of Shakespeare," accessible for free via .pdf thru instructions on my webpage, or through There I lay out hundreds of "early-dating allusions" within each work, showing that each work had an "origination phase" in the 1570s to early-80s followed by periods of major rewrites up to 1604, and none go beyond. As to the Vicars citation of 1628, it clearly shows that Vicars regarded "Shake-speare" as an assumed name, but that he didn't necessarily know who the name applied to. For example, he used the present tense for 1628, which rules out Neville, DeVere, Bacon, and all but the 6th Derby (died 1642) as practical candidates, unless Vicars was simply unaware of who used or had used said pseudonym. I suggest that Vicars' close association with the late Neville via marriage to Neville's daughter is actually a strong reason for ruling out Neville as = Shake-speare, since he surely would have used a past tense to describe his late father-in-law. Hopefully this isn't getting too far into ground previously covered.

Feel free to contact me at

W. Ron Hess

"I hope they never find the smoking gun. My bet is on Shakespeare himself." ... this is really your point of view?! If by "smoking gun" you mean an entirely undeniable proof that someone other than the Stratford man wrote the plays (and I'm not saying that it's coming), you would nevertheless prefer to believe a falsehood than have such a fascinating truth revealed. How strange.

Those who may be interested in reading yet more on this issue might wish to read my latest on-line column written for the Social Affairs Unit, in which I discuss the verse letter written by Francis Beaumont to Ben Jonson, apparently in 1615. It states that Shakeapeare wrote "by the dimme light of Nature," and also contains what certainly seems like a description of Sir Henry Neville's funeral.

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