5.0. INTRODUCTION, including A Poetic Cryptogram


1. THE ADVENTURES OF MASTER F.I. – The first English novella – and Divers excellent Devises of sundry gentlemen (1573)

2. A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres: Anonymous versus Gascoigne

3. Recommendation as self commendation

4. A POETIC CRYPTOGRAM  (by Martin Peake)

5. Nothing is truer than the truth

6. Master F.I.s Secrets

7. Queen Elizabeth and Alexander the Great

8. The invisible Man


1. THE ADVENTURES OF MASTER F.I. – The first English novella – andDivers excellent Devises of sundry gentlemen (1573).

The dark side of love has been a matter of discussion since antiquity: Rejection and separation, the jealousy and ill-feeling that fly alongside the angels of foolishness, the bursts of anger and the transformation of desire into hatred. In the songs that the renaissance poets sang, Cupid was the beloved enemy, who bought the pain of love along with the pleasure. Suddenly in the 16th century we discover a hitherto (and disturbingly modern) voice that speaks of the “experiment” of love, and of love as a form of war between the sexes; a war with its own rules and etiquette, in which the players pit their skills, both for and against each other. Moreover the combatants are not only prepared to deceive their opponents but they actually want to be deceived themselves.

The author of the Adventures lets “Master F.I.” and his Mistress jump, in full possession of this cruel knowledge, into the fray of this love tournament. Being true aristocrats, they are both fully diversified in the art of courtly conversation. However the polite poetic phrases, that seem to serve no other purpose than to give pleasure to the beloved adversary, are in fact protective armour. A delicate fragile armour that doesn't manage to protect its wearer from serious wounds. The art of loving, as described in the “Adventures”, seems to signal a defiant willingness to make sacrifices and a desire to be both boldly adventurous and foolhardy at the same time. Fortunately, at the end of the story, in spite of the wounds and the pain, playfulness wins the upper hand. Humour and irony both enter the field of battle either as quick rapier-like stabs or as sarcastic, morose remarks aimed at rebuilding the self esteem of the combatants. The cruelty of love is made more comprehensible by the cruelty of a smile. In “Master F.I.”'s case he is still amused by his own behaviour.

The Adventures of Master F.I. is a poetic bomb that fell into one of philology's crevasses. Now is perhaps the time for this small gem to reach its full explosive potential.

For want of a more appropriate term, one calls The Adventures of Master F.I. the first English novella. However, in truth, it defies any form of categorisation. It is a narration, a commentary and a fable, a black comedy, a veiled grotesque.

The plot is very simple: Master F.I., a well educated and gallant sixteenth century Knight, falls in love with the Lord’s daughter in law whilst visiting a castle in the north of England. The cavalier decided to conquer the lady’s heart by means of poetry – and is aroused by the ambiguity of Lady Ellinor’s refusals, when another woman (Frances) asks the Knight to dance with her. Similar to a stage production, the dramatic action of the novel takes place in an enclosed area, the dialogue is in prose and the characters converse in small groups. – The dialogue is, however, far more quick witted, poignant and audacious than anything hitherto seen in England. The verbal warfare stands in contrast to the erotic intentions, the love affair is compared to a military conflict, with battle as its metaphor.

The Adventures of Master F.I. is a story that is told between the lines, behind the lines, under the lines. Some of the most disturbing points are delivered in secret compartments of harmless looking packages. In spite of all that is brought to articulation, a lot is said by that which is omitted. We are drawn into a series of insinuations with meanings on different levels. A story of frivolous understatement that lead us to believe that the author is not only playing with his figures but also with his readers.

 The author claims that this narration, which he initials with “G.T.”, has come into being unintentionally and that he merely wished to comment on the poems written by his friend “F.I.”, which are, in fact, the true point at hand, the comments not even being intended for publication. Apparently, “G.T.” would have us believe that the interaction between the poems were unintentional and that they would somehow just go away. All the same, he gave the narrations to his good friend, the procurer, “H.W.”, who sent it straight away to the printer, “A.B.” – Fourteen poems from Master F.I. were included in the “Adventures” and a further twenty one poems, also from the Master, (signed with Si fortunatus infoelix) were included in the poetical appendage to the novella.

The story show the effects of several different influences, but no one specific inspiration. Forerunners include Dante’s La Vita Nuova (1293), Boccaccio’s Il Decamerone (1353), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (ca. 1380), Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (1385), Enea Silvio Piccolomini’s La Storia di due amanti (1444) und Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso (1521).

What makes The Adventures of Master F.I. unique is the combination of sensitive caring for psychological details, the author's deliberately distancing himself – and an understanding for the absurd. This form of literature isn't seen again until the eighteenth century. Curiously enough, the narrator doesn't specify the scene of his story. All that we know is that there is a castle with a garden where the characters make their entrances and exits as if they were on a stage. For the first time in 16th century narrative literature the entire action of a plot takes place in such a small, enclosed space. The figures in the novella immerse themselves totally (almost without distraction) in their dangerous game of love, suspicion, doubt, happiness, collapse and disillusion. The narrator involves himself in their plight and their pain, only to slip back (unharmed) to his own. He plays the part of a commentator who observes the elegant confusion of his friend and hero – Master F.I. – with friendly complacency.

However, the “friend” whose life is in danger of being dashed against the cliffs of a fickle woman's vanity, is none other than the narrator himself. The printer, “A.B.”, the procurer, “H.W.”, the commentator, “G.T.”, and the fortunate unhappy “Master F.I.” they are all, as is revealed by his prose style, one and the same person – the man who lives foolishly, but who writes wisely, who pensively puts himself in relationship with himself, who reveals yet conceals.

The anonymous author deliberately cast himself into all four roles, thus making it possible to tell the same story from four different points of view with four different colourations of style.

Dramatic refinement along with deep psychological insight give the author the hall mark of a true, dramatic prose master.

Things which seem to contradict each other often combine to form a strange mixture. For example: Helen and Ellinor are so different (yet still so similar) that “never a barrel of good herring between them both” would fit. A further example: A long time ago, the author had briefly made Helen's acquaintance. Thus his poem Beauty, shut up thy shop (Nr. 10) is neither dedicated to Helen nor Ellinor – and at the same time to both of them. Such self-contradicting statements give the book an multidimensional reality. Master F.I., Ellinor, Frances, Dame Pergo (an old family friend), and the host are characterized by their own particular traits and quirks. They are obviously not cast from the same mould but their story still unfolds in a protected, controlled situation, in the world of the novella, and each of them behaves as he sees fit.

Although the narrator is perfectly capable of coming to the point, he is not always in a hurry to do so. For him, telling a story is more than simply relating the salient facts; it lies in the slow, deep inhalation preceding a sensual, poetic outburst, in the snort of a horse before it sets off on a gallop. His style is sophisticated, engulfing, vibrant, pulsating, erotic and smooth. A mirror image of life's elemental drama is nested in the musical structure of his sentences.

The world described here is a world of speech. During a seemingly harmless stroll through the gardens or an evening's gathering, words are bought into play like knives. Fireside parlour games become miniature dramas. Each of the protagonists (with the possible exception of the cuckolded husband) is presented as an expert in erotic warfare, the wily Frances being no exception. The “experiment” of which she speaks is, when all said and done, a production of her own making. Secretly pulling the strings she helps the figure Suspicion to an uninhibited performance in F.I.s feverish dreams. Most importantly, because of her, the unfaithful Mistress Ellinor knocks the black queen out of Master F.I.s hand while he's making his move at chess.

The narrator is playing the game from near and far. Although he pretends not to be relating his own experiences, he is in fact walking in the footprints of his own alter ego. He punctuates the plot with his deliberations and then, in the end, with an ironic stroke of the pen, he clears the stage. That not sufficing: in the appendage from 47 poems – the Divers excellent Devises of sundry gentlemen – the poetic scenery is moved around.

The author of these poems, writing under four different pseudonyms (“Si fortunatus infoelix”, “Spraeta tamen vivunt”, “Ferenda natura” and “ Meritum petere grave”), is non other than the hero “F.I.” and “G.T.” the narrator ofThe Adventures of Master F.I., the all round Anonymous ­– on one hand sick from the joys of love, on the other, hardly enduring the pain of rejection, begging for the the rewards of love. What characterizes his writing is: intelligence, wit, musicality and solidity of form, the interplay between distance and emphasis.– Along with his obsession with the pain diagram of love. His use of the first person singular, bold and complex yet still casual and chatty, is a continuation of the two time four authors that we know from The Adventures of Master F.I. And Divers excellent Devises of sundry Gentlemen.

The poems of Anonymous do not pontificate, moralize, wallow in pathos or indulge in histrionics, they address the problems of life itself, challenge the reader to think for himself, distil the principles of life down to ironic, flippant maxims, with amorous, provocative and dramatic intention. In The Adventures of Master F.I. the poems act as glittering prisms that break up the epic plot or as catalysts that ignite new fires before the old fires are burned out. On the other hand in the Divers excellent Devises the poems take on the more important role, punctuated by sort intermezzos of prose. A loose chain of epic dramas, in miniature, takes its form, enhanced by isolated pieces. Next to the serious or roguish allusions to the history of Troilus and Cressida, next to the images of abandonment, of the pain of unrequited love, shattered hopes and betrayal, next to sketches of intellectual gymnastics and erotic philandering, we find delicate poems of tender love.

In the roles of “Spraeta tamen vivunt”, “Ferenda natura” and “Meritum petere grave” Anonymous continues the love-wars – he hates the dependence and the vulnerability that is coupled with love. The fear of having his hopes shattered moves him to rage. He employs artistic word plays, relishes in the countless separations to the echo of his own pained laughter.


2. A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres: Anonymous versus Gascoigne

The Adventures of Master F.I. was first published in 1573 as part of a literary anthology. It was exquisite, carefully arranged and free of printing errors, a credit to its publisher, Richard Smith. The full title was actually: “A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, Bounde up in one small Poesie. Gathered partely (by translation) in the fyne outlandish Gardins of Euripides, Ovid, Petrarke, Ariosto, and others: and partly by invention, out of our owne fruitefull Orchardes in Englande: Yelding sundrie sweete savours of Tragical, Comical, and Morall Discourses, bothe pleasant and profitable to the well smellyng noses of learned Readers. Meritum petere, grave. At London, Imprinted for Richarde Smith.” That is to say, Master “Meritum petere grave” was the editor of this precious book.

Ever since its first appearance, the anthology has been the cause of irritation and perplexity. Henry R. Plomer declared A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres to be: “one of those bibliographical eccentricities which it seems hopeless to explain" (Henry R. Plomer, Henry Bynneman, Printer, 1566-83, The Library 9 (1908), p. 236).

In other words, we are dealing with a book that knows how to keep its secrets and with a bunch of poetic flowers of different forms and colours.

The very title is ambiguous: is the hero Master F.I. or is his name Master F. J.? The printing set used for the Flowres did not include the letter J (as was, in fact, normal for the period). The letter I would be used and then read, according to the context, as an I or as a J. We can't really write the hero's name if we don't know whether we're dealing with an I or a J.

The 400 page publication include George Gascoigne's translations of Ariost's comedy I Suppositi (Supposes) and of a drama from Euripides (Jocasta – based on an Italian version of “The Phoenician Women”), then came The Adventures of Master F.I., followed by Divers excellent Devises of sundry Gentlemen and certayne devises of master Gascoyne culminating with the verse narrative: Dan Bartholmew of Bathe.

Even though the procurer (H.W.) claims, in the preface, that the anthology is the work of “sundry gentlemen”, the discerning reader can make out two authors at the most; but the generally accepted version speaks of oneauthor (and translator): George Gascoigne (c.1535-1577).

The old school doctrine refers to the second (and altered) edition of the book that appeared in 1575. A detailed analysis of the styles of writing found in the anthology has never been done. Never the less, there are many reasons which lead us to assume that Gascoigne was not the only author.

We find formal evidence in the table of contents of the 1573 publication of the Flowres. It lists:

First, an excellent and pleasant comedy entitled Supposes.
The second, the woeful tragedy of Iocasta ..
Thirdly, a pleasant discourse of the adventures of master F.I. containing ... 
Fourthly, divers excellent devises of sundry Gentlemen. 
Fiftly, certain devises of master Gascoigne ... 
Lastly the dolorous discourse of Dan Bartholmew of Bath ...
Last of all the reporter.

George Gascoigne is identified as being the translator of Ariosto and of Euripides right at the beginning: “Englished by George Gascoyne” (Supposes) – and “translated and digested into Acte by George Gascoigne and Francis Kinwelmershe” (Jocasta).

The authorship of the fifth section is stated in a forceful manner. Not only is the section entitled “certayne devises of master Gascoyne” but with each individual poem, the authorship is restated within the text.

Gascoigne his passion.
Gascoigne’s libel of divorce.
Gascoigne’s praise of his mistress.
Gascoigne’s Lullaby.
Gascoigne’s Recantation.
Gascoigne’s five notable devises upon five sundry themes
given to him by five sundry Gentlemen in five sundry
Gascoigne’s gloze upon Dominus iis opus habet.
Gascoigne’s good morrow. 
Gascoigne’s good night.
Gascoigne’s counsel to Douglas Dive.
Gascoigne’s counsel to Bartholmew Withipoll.
Gascoigne’s Epitaph upon Captain Bourcher, lately slain in
Zeeland, called the tale of the stone.
Gascoigne’s devise of a mask.
Gascoigne’s woodmanship.
Gascoigne’s gardening.
Gascoigne’s last voyage into Holland in Marche [1572]

The editor wrote the following introduction to the fourth chapter:

Now I will .. recite unto you sundry verses by sundry gentlemen, adding nothing of myne owne, but onely a tytle to every Poeme, wherby the cause of writinge the same maye the more evidently appeare: Neyther can I declare unto you who wrote the greatest part of them, for they are unto me but a posie presented out of sundry gardens, neither have I any other names of the flowers, but such short notes as the authors themselves have delivered therby if you can gesse them, it shall no waye offende mee. (A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, ed. G. W. Pigman, Oxford 2000, p.216)

We then come to the introduction to the fifth chapter, which contradicts the introduction to the fourth chapter:

I will now deliver unto you so many more of Master Gascoine’s poems as have come to my hands, who hath never been dainty [chary] of his doings, and therefore I conceal not his name: but his word or posy he hath often changed and therefore I will deliver his verses with such sundry posies as I received them. And I will first begin with Gascoigne’s Anatomy. (A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, ed. Pigman, p.263)

It cannot be overlooked that, in the fifth chapter, Gascoigne used posies (nom de plumes that also serve as epithets, or mottos, to tell the reader something about the author) that had not been used in chapters three and four: “Ever or never”, “Haud ictus sapio” (=Not involved, but non-the-less informed), Attamen ad solitum (=nevertheless unchanged), and “Sic tuli” (Thus, I bore it).

In the third section (“The Adventures of Master F.I.”) and the fourth (“Divers excellent devises of sundry Gentlemen”), we find the posies just known to us: “A.B.” ( the printer), “H.W.” (the procurer), “G.T.” (the narrator), “F.I.” (the poetic lover) – and “Si fortunatus infoelix” (If fortunate unhappy), “Spraeta tamen vivunt” (Shunned but still alive), “Ferenda natura” (The nature that must be endured), and “Meritum petere grave” (It is painful to have to beg for that which one has earned).

From this we see that the third and the fourth sections of A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres were clearly separated from the fifth section (Gascoigne).

Furthermore, we find a clear difference in style between Divers excellent Devises of sundry Gentlemen and certayne devises of master Gascoyne.

This brings us to a sensitive spot in the field of philology. Is it possible, (aye,and here's the rub) to tell two 16th century poets apart? Furthermore, is it possible to say from which personal and social perspective they were writing? Can we distinguish between Marlow and Spencer, Shakespeare and Bacon? Who do we turn to when the name of the author isn't printed clearly on the front of the book? Can we distinguish between Anonymous, the author of The Adventures of Master F.I. and George Gascoigne or would it be wiser for the interpreter to withhold his judgement?

It is perfectly possible to find the differences once we truly understand what we are reading.

Let us begin with an examination of the unique features that we find in the style of Anonymous. They are: Complexity, musicality, conciseness of speech along with an understanding of the logic of contradiction and a pleasure in care free dialectic. The complexity of the sentence construction can be seen in the poems and the prose alike. He seems to be almost intoxicated by the opportunities, that words give him to play and that the sound of the words can command. The very music of the poetry makes the words both graceful and nimble. The imagery lacks nothing in credibility, laborious constructions or forced artistry are nowhere to be found.

One of the most trickiest forms of poetry is the “poulter's measure” as handed down by Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey. Although it is easy to write a poem in this form, the results often sound clumsy and gauche. The poulter's meter, alternating between two line of six beats (alexandrines) and two lines of seven beats (heptameters), is reminiscent of a sullen child climbing stairs, or a cart horse walking across a ploughed field.  However, in the hands of Anonymous, the words cascade like crystal clear water.

All of the poetic creations from Anonymous, from F.I.s first letter to his beloved Mistress up to the final poem (The Shield of Love) live from the logic of contradictions. The lovers experience the frost in fire (See Leonard Forster, The Icy Fire – Five Studies in European Petrarchism, Cambridge 1969), the joy of pain, the pride of humility; he burns with desire and freezes in hope. This author combines the Petrarchan concetto (a complex entwined use of metaphor) with the direct, uninhibited style of Chaucer.

We often find metaphors from the realm of nature; lovers are compared to moths, mice and birds, trees and flowers, with falcons, partridges, greyhounds and sparrows, with deer and snakes, the sea and with the sun and the moon. He sets his somewhat warlike eros in hunting scenes whereby the boarder between hunter and hunted are blurred. The chase is all important and thereby, he describes the woman , his prey, as being brilliant and eloquent, lithe and melancholy, divine and false-hearted. He walks a tightrope between pathos and parody, but in the end irony wins the day.

How does George Gascoigne compare to the sharp witted poetry of the multi faceted Anonymous? To pose the same question in a different way – Why isn't George Gascoigne Anonymous?

Let us allow the soldier poet to introduce himself in his own words. With the following lines made an application for employment to no lesser a personage than queen Elizabeth in 1575.

Behold (good Queen) a poet with a spear
(strange sights well marked are understood the better),
A soldier armed, with pencil in his ear,
With pen to fight and sword to write a letter,
His gown half off, his blade not fully bound,
In doubtfull dooms, which way were best to take,
With humble heart and knees that kiss the ground,
Presents himself to you for duties sake.
And thus he says, no danger (I protest)
Shall ever let this loyal heart I bear
To serve you so as may become me best
In field, in town, in court, or anywhere.
Then peerless prince, employ this willing man
In your affairs to do the best he can.

These are the words of an honest, straightforward, upright man. He says what he has to say in an open manner, he deals with the contradictions presented by his dealings with the pen and the sword in a skilful manner, for as has been previously mentioned, Gascoigne was also a soldier. However he doesn't get entwined in metaphors or peculiar comparisons – neither his words nor his ideas could be said to have wings. If “Anonymous” makes us feel that he is singing, Gascoigne makes us feel that he is riding a cart horse. There is a lid on every pot, everything is ship shape and there are no surprises.

One could say that Gascoigne's poetry was “built for comfort – not for speed” that its main Raison d'être was to convince the Queen of his diligence and loyalty. We find a slightly less pragmatic example of his art in the following poem:

When thou hast spent the lingering day in pleasure and delight, 
Or after toil and weary way, dost seek to rest at night, 
Unto thy pains or pleasures past, add this one labour yet: 
Ere sleep close up thine eye too fast, do not thy God forget, 
But search within thy secret thoughts, what deeds did thee befall; 
And if thou find amiss in aught, to God for mercy call. 
Yea, though thou find nothing amiss which thou canst call to mind, 
Yet evermore remmeber this: there is the more behind; 
And think how well so ever it be that thou hast spent the day, 
It came of God, and not of thee, so to direct thy way. 
Thus if thou try thy daily deeds and pleasure in this pain, 
Thy life shall cleanse thy corn from weeds, and thine shall be the gain; 
But if thy sinful, sluggish eye will venture for to wink, 
Before thy wading will may try how far thy soul may sink, 
Beware and wake; for else, thy bed, which soft and smooth is made, 
May heap more harm upon thy head than blows of en'my's blade. 
Thus if this pain procure thine ease, in bed as thou dost lie, 
Perhaps it shall not God displease to sing thus, soberly: 

I see that sleep is lent me here to ease my weary bones, 
As death at last shall eke appear, to ease my grievous groans. 
My daily sports, my paunch full fed, have caused my drowsy eye, 
As careless life, in quiet led, might cause my soul to die. 
The stretching arms, the yawning breath, which I to bedward use, 
Are patterns of the pangs of death, when life will me refuse. 
And of my bed each sundry part in shadows doth resemble 
The sundry shapes of death, whose dart shall make my flesh to tremble. 
My bed itself is like the grave, my sheets the winding sheet, 
My clothes the mold which I must have to cover me most meet; 
The hungry fleas, which frisk so fresh, to worms I can compare, 
Which greedily shall gnaw my flesh and leave the bones full bare. 
The waking cock, that early crows to wear the night away 
Puts in my mind the trump that blows before the Latter Day. 
And as I rise up lustily when sluggish sleep is past, 
So hope I to rise joyfully to Judgment at the last. 
Thus will I wake, thus will I sleep, thus will I hope to rise, 
Thus will I neither wail nor weep, but sing in godly wise; 
My bones shall in this bed remain, my soul in God shall trust, 
By whom I hope to rise again from death and earthly dust.

This poem is not without its charms, but the poet doesn't seem to have any inhibitions where repetition is concerned. Once he has found his theme he stays with it. Verse for verse. No unexpected change of direction mid sentence, no irritating chains of thought no surprising twists. After a while this very straightforwardness and predictability starts to become tedious.

Gascoigne is unpretentious and he is honest. However his poetry does not compare to the colourful, exciting, vivacious yet graceful works of Anonymous. George Gascoigne told the Queen that he writes with his sword and fences with this pen; and here he does just that. When he discovers a contradiction he doesn't exploit it; he tries to smooth it out. When he discovers a mental template, he doesn't shatter it, as would Anonymous have done; he adheres to it rigidly. His jokes are either weak or vulgar and he doesn't, at any time, take on different roles.

By no stretch of the imagination is Gascoigne's stuffy parsimonious prose a match for the diamond sharp dialectic of Anonymous. (See, The Droome of Doomes day, 1576; A delicate Diet for daintiemouthed Droonkardes, 1576;The Spoyle of Antwerpe, 1576. In: The Complete Works of George Gascoigne, ed. John W. Cunliffe, Bd. II. Cambridge 1910). Nowhere is the difference between the two authors as striking as it is here. On the one hand we have a brilliant, extensively educated and talented person who masters the art of rhetoric with aplomb, almost with irony. On the other hand a brave and an honest man with a good portion of down-to-earth common sense. Anonymous gives us tragicomedy and erotic paradox while the only thing that makes Gascoigne's moralising and vulgarity palatable, is the fact that he's a nice guy who diligently apologizes for any indiscretions and who wouldn't really care if he never wrote another poem in his life.

On the one hand we have a young man, thirsty for life, bringing his experiences with pain and love to paper with astonishing skill and talent; on the other hand we have an old man who is using his poetry to take stock of his life. While Anonymous leaps from one torrid affair to the next, thereby, with the possible exception of being too friendly, never regretting a single thing, Gascoigne genuflects and does penance after almost every single event in his life.

Another big difference in the way that the two men write comes from the fact that they were writing from two entirely different social perspectives.

Anonymous or “Master F.I.”, regardless of what he says or does, does not consider himself to be accountable to anyone apart from himself and his women. He tends to treat his rivals with contempt. Gascoigne, being of more humble origins regarded his fellow courtiers with a mixture of awe and resentment. He had suffered humiliations at court but he still wanted to be accepted, if only for the sake of his career.

Anonymous resides in an aristocrat's castle, standing on equal terms with his host. He passes the time of day with hunting excursions with his mistresses husband, sailing on the Thames in his own ship, or with erotic falconry.

Gascoigne, on the other hand has to work for a living, be it as a farmer, a entertainer, a soldier of fortune, a government agent or a poet. He has little way of knowing the social rules that determine the behaviour of the high aristocracy, of their tastes or their habits, a world where Anonymous is completely at home.

Anonymous doesn't dedicate his poems to anyone. Gascoigne dedicates five of his twenty-nine poems (in the Flowres) to the one or the other of his aristocratic sponsors. In contrast to Gascoigne, Anonymous discusses sexual matters in a very open way; unheard of in England since Chaucer. Anonymous slips quite comfortably into different roles, Gascoigne is Gascoigne and only Gascoigne, at all times. At the end of an extensive description of his journey to Holland, he shows us what a rough-and-ready, fighting man he really is, when he describes the people of Holland and their customs.

Me thinks they be a race of bullbeef born,
Whose hearts their butter mollifieth by kind,
And so the force of beef is clean outworn:
And eke their brains with double beer are lined:
So that they march bombast with buttered beer,
Like sops of brewis puffed up with froth,
Where inwardly they be but hollow geer,
As weak as wind, which with one puff up goeth:
And yet they brag and think they have no peer,
Because Haarlem hath hitherto held out,
Although in deed (as they have suffered Spain)
The end thereof even now doth rest in doubt.

By no stretch of the imagination can we find a connection between this rumbustious verse and the bold sovereignty of the anonymous poet.  (If we compare Gascoigne's poems in the fifth with the “Painful discourse” from Dan Bartholmew of Bath in the sixth chapter, we conclude that Dan Bartholmew's surly lachrymosity actually comes from Gascoigne.)

From this we can safely conclude that George Gascoigne and Anonymous are the only authors involved in “those bibliographical eccentricity” of 1573. An analysis of subject choice and the styles of the poems of “Si fortunatus infoelix”, “Spraeta tamen vivunt”, “Ferenda natura” and “Meritum petere grave”, in chapter four, reveal that they are all from the same author – Anonymous. Their are no indications of a third or a fourth author.


3. Recommendation as self commendation

When A Hundreth Sundrie flowres was published in 1573 George Gascoigne was on a reconnaissance mission in Holland. The anthology included a poem from Gascoigne about his “Voyage into Holland in March” and about the siege of Haarlem (December 1572 - July 1573). The date on Gascoigne’s voyage into Holland in March reads “An. 1572” even though we would have expected to see the date “An 1573” –  this is because the beginning of the new year was not yet firmly set at 1st January, but at annunciation day, 25 March, the day when the angel Gabriel announced the coming of Jesus to Mary.

Gascoigne must have send the poem to England per messenger while the printing of the anthology was in progress. This, of course, means that, in England, another person (= “Meritum petere grave”) must have supervised the printing written the table of contents and allocated the different made-up names to the poems. It is quite clear that Anonymous used the form of the anthology in order to insert his poems in an unobtrusive manner.

He doesn't even stop at assuming Gascoigne's identity, when it suits his purpose. In the introduction to the ten-eyes-puzzle (Nr. 32) he calls the lover in the story: “G.G.”, in spite of the fact that the work is actually a poetical self portrait of Anonymous (= “Si infortunatus infoelix” ). On another occasion he plays with the letters “A.O.G.N.C.S.” (Nr. 54). On three occasions he “borrows” the name “Ferenda Natura” from Gascoigne and uses it to sign his own poems. (Gascoigne called the woman who gave him the runaround: Ferenda natura – the nature that must be endured.)

It would appear that Anonymous took every available opportunity to slip into different identities. Gascoigne's lot seems rather unhappy when compared to the unlimited freedom that Anonymous enjoys.

Born in the mid thirties of the 16th century, the son of a landed aristocrat and justice of the peace. He received a good education, culminating in a degree in law from Trinity college. Later he became a member of the law school and association for members of the legal profession; Grey's Inn. (See: Charles T. Prouty, George Gascoigne, Elizabethan Courtier, Soldier and Poet, New York 1942; Gillian Austen, George Gascoigne, Cambridge 2008.) Rather than enter a life of boring routine in the legal profession, he tried his hand at the court of Queen Elizabeth. During this period he invested so much money in advisers and and in the cultivation of political friendships that he quickly fell into financial ruin. Marriage to a rich widow in 1561 seemed to offer a convenient solution to this problem, however, their was a flaw in the plan; Elizabeth Bretton, his chosen wife had “mistakenly” married another man two years previous to her union with Gascoigne. Although she didn't consider herself to be united with Gascoigne's forerunner in any way, the two of them were living in a bigamous marriage. The previous husband got wind of their marriage and instigated legal proceeding which only ended when Gascoigne was broke again. He returned to Gray's Inn where he directed the students theater and where his Supposes and Jocasta were produced in 1566/67.

At this point his father wrote him off as a philanderer, all but disinheriting him; on the death of his father in 1568 he had to litigate against his brother in order to inherit at least part of his father's estate. By 1570 Gascoigne’s lavish lifestyle and cost of numerous law suits sent him to Bedford Gaol for a debt owed to the Earl of Bedford. An anonymous pamphlet denounced him for atheism, spying, and worst still – as “a common rhymer”.

Fleeing from his creditors, in June 1572, Gascoigne enlisted as a mercenary (and government agent) in Holland, returning in November of the same year. During the winter of 1572/73 he discussed plans to publish The Flowres with “Meritum petere grave”, the anonymous poet. Given his financial and personal situation, the initiative seems to have come from Anonymous.

His second journey Holland ended, after a generous helping of danger and imprisonment, back in England in October 1574, where he is confronted with the “literary scandal” caused by his book. Speculation was rampant in the highest circles as to who was writing about whom, and along with the speculation there was also considerable anger. It is most likely that theFlowres was banned shortly after the publication of the first edition. A remark in Gascoigne's letter to the censors (“your gravity hath thought requisite that all idle books or wanton pamphlets should be forbidden”) supports this theory – as does the wording in a poem of recommendation for the Posies, published in Latin: “England has stamped on the flowers that Gascoigne grew.”

One might expect that a penniless reconnaissance officer, freshly arrived back from Holland would keep a low profile in this situation. Not so Gascoigne; he prepares a second edition of the book under his own name, this time with the title: The Posies of George Gascoigne, Esquire which appears in April or May 1575. He writes a letter to the “Reverende Divines” (The censorship authorities) – apologising and accepting full responsibility for the publication:

It is very near two years past, since (I being in Holland in service with the vertuous Prince of Orange) the most part of these Posies were imprinted, and now at my return, I find that some of them have not only been offensive for sundry wanton speeches and lascivious phrases, but further I hear that the same have been doubtfully construed, and (therefore) scandalous ...

And yet some people there are who have not spared to report that I received great sums of money for the first printing of these posies, whereby (if it were true) I might seem not only a crafty broker for the utterance of garish toys, but a corrupt merchant for the sale of deceitful wares ...

I understand that sundry well disposed minds have taken offence at certain wanton words and sentences passed in the fable of Ferdinando Ieronimi, and the Ladie Elinora de Valasco, the which in the first edition was termed The adventures of master F. J. And that also therewith some busy conjectures have presumed to think that the same was indeed written to the scandalizing of some worthy personages, whom they would seem thereby to know. Surely (right reverend) I smile to see the simplicity of such, who being indeed stark staring blind, would yet seem to see far into a millstone ...

But for the better satisfying of all men universally, I do here protest unto you (reverend) even by the hope of my salvation, that there is no living creature touched or to be noted thereby.

The naïve and hasty judgements of some readers, regarding the question “who is who” leave him cold: “for that in talking with twenty of them one after another, there have not two agreed in one conjecture.”

The Posies of 1575 (posy meaning poesy, or a motto, or a bunch of flowers) has a few alterations to which Gascoigne draws the attention of the censors in the foreword to the new edition:

And for the rest you shall find it now in this second imprinting so turkened and turned [referring to the action of the Turks in transforming Christian churches into mosques], so cleansed from all uncleanly words, and so purged from the humour of inhumanity, as percase you would not judge that it was the same tale. For although I have een heretofore contented to suffer the publication thereof, only to the end men might see my method and manner of writing: yet am I now thus desirous to set it forth eftsoons [at once], to the end all men might see the reformation of my mind.

The purpose of these lofty words is to lead the illustrious gentlemen up the garden path. In truth Gascoigne only gave a couple of characters Italian names. If the same vehemence and zeal had been applied to a Christian church, during the course of its being “turkened and turned”, which Gascoigne applied to the Posies; with the possible exception of a new door knob, we would be surprised to find any change whatsoever.

The fact that the old type sets didn't have a “J” and that “I” had to be substituted comes in useful again. (The conservative scholars Charles Prouty (1942) and George Pigman III (2000) both read F.I. as Ferdinando Ieronimi). Gascoigne invents an Italian author for the novella and claims that he (Gascoigne) is merely the innocent translator. He gives the fictitious author the name “Bartello” a play on the name of an actual novelist, Matteo Bandello – who was featured in William Painter's anthology “Palace of Pleasure” (1567) and in Geoffrey Fenton’s collection “Certain tragical discourses” (1567).

The bedroom scenes between Master F.I. and Mistress Elinor are slightly less descriptive and the pretence that many different authors and publishers are involved disappear along with the forewords from A.B., H.W. and G.T.

By way of an explanation for the different styles and approaches Gascoigne claims to have written some of the poems “for others”. A further difference between the Posies and the Flowres is that the poems are reorganized into different capitals: and that the poems from Gascoigne and from Anonymous are completely mixed up.

All the same, many reasons point to the fact that “Master Fortunatus Infoelix” is behind “Master F.I.”. Here are three of them.

Firstly: Master F.I. plays the role of the unfortunate, blessed lover in “The Adventures” (and does credit to his name); initially, the love of Mistress Ellinor makes him happy but then he is plunged into unhappiness when he confesses his jealousy to her and she rejects him for it. – Secondly in the poems of “Si fortunatus infoelix” (in the fourth section) we clearly see the literary style and the mentality of “Master F.I.” – rich in extended metaphors (concetti), daring in the presentation, continuing the lamentations of the rejected lover. – Thirdly: The common subject matter that we find both inThe Adventures and in Divers excellent devises also lends a certain clarity to the situation; for instance, Master “Meritum petere grave” (he is one of the “sundry gentlemen” of the fourth section and the editor of the “Flowres”) and Master Fortunatus Infoelix, both speak of the object of their love as “Bathseba”.

Another astonishing fact is most worthy of our attention: The Posies of 1575 had no less than twenty commendatory verses.(The Faerie Queene, from Edmund Spenser – one of the most celebrated works of the period could only boast seven). These commendatory verses, like the preliminary blurbs that we sometimes see on book dust jackets in modern times are, of course, an intended hype; as could well be awaited when the contents are described as being a bunch of flowers, a bouquet of herbs and even a handful of weeds.

Five of the people who were invited to sing the book's praises can be identified: George Whetstone (G.W.), Gascoigne's best friend in England, Thomas Churchyard (T.Ch.), a starving poet with a noble character, Richard Smith (R.S.), the publisher of the book, Henry Bynneman (“The Printer in commendation of Gascoigne and his workes”) – and Gabriel Harvey (G.H.), then in his early twenties, a scholar, a rhetoric, a pedant and a poet; who contributed a dark little ten-liner in Latin. Eight of the commendatory verses may well have been written by Gascoigne himself – under the coded names: A.W., M.C., P.B., I.B., I.D., I.de B. and K.D. (Gabriel Harvey identifies “K.D.” as being Gascoigne – “Gascoignus loquitur” – in a hand written note in his copy of the book.)

Two of the commendatory poems stand out from the others because of their crispness of style, intellectual content and skilled use of language. The first one begins with the praises of the plough, the farm labourer and the weeds, the second compares the poet to a land owner who magnanimously donates the fruit of his labours to his guests. Here we recognize the style and the preferences of Anonymous.

The “Adventures of Master F.I.”, now under the category: “Weedes” are hardly edited or abridged whatsoever, probably the reason why this false labelling trick didn't work. The 50 remaining copies of the Posies were confiscated on 13 August 1576 by “The Q.M. Commissioners”.

Who is “Meritum petere grave” – our Anonymous?

Which young poet of noble birth, well educated in the fields of literature and history, suddenly appears on the scene somewhere in the years between 1573 and 1576? The Earl of Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Lord Vaux and Richard Edwards were all dead. Edmund Spencer, the son of a textile merchant, was still an undergraduate at Cambridge University. This leaves us with two candidates: Edward Dyer (1543-1607, knighted in 1596), at that time a minor personage in the court of Queen Elizabeth, who didn't write very much at all and who certainly wasn't capable of the combination of pain and pleasure that we find in the works of Anonymous – and a certain “E.O.” who has contributed eight poems to the illustrious Paradyse of daynty Devises of 1576.

“E.O.” is non other than Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), the “Lord Great Chamberlain” of England – one of the highest ranking aristocrats in the country and regarded by his contemporaries as being the finest poet in Elizabeth's court.

I may not omit the deserved commendations of many honourable and noble Lords and Gentlemen in Her Majesty's Court, which, in the rare devices of poetry, have been and yet are most skilful; among whom the right honourable Earl of Oxford may challenge to himself the title of most excellent among the rest. (William Webbe, in A Discourse on English Poetry, 1586.)

And in her Maiesties time, that now is, are sprong up an other crew of courtly makers Noblemen and Gentlemen of her Majesties own servants, who have written excellently well as it would appear if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest, of which number is first that noble Gentleman Edward Earle of Oxford. (George Puttenham,Arte of English Poesie, 1589.)

Of all the poems in The Paradyse of daynty Devises Edward de Vere's contributions (Nos 69,74-80) are the best. When it comes to stylistic character, temperament and perfection of expressiveness, the poems of “E.O.” can only be compared with those of the Anonymous (“Meritum petere grave”, “Spraeta tamen vivunt” etcetera). In both cases, the woman is presented as being the beloved enemy, intimate relationships are described with the vernacular of warfare, wounds are licked, the wings of the falcons are clipped. Problems of the heart take on an aggressive, dominating nature. It is also striking that so much importance is given to will power and (exactly as in the poems of Anonymous), the lamentation of the fact that hope and pain, laughter and tears, often come hand in hand.

The Earl of Oxford writes – as does Anonymous – long personalised poems from the point of view of the woman. He is a master of comedy, of tragedy, of intoxicating word plays, he is a dialectician, he is the champion of ordered passion.


4. A POETIC CRYPTOGRAM  (by Martin Peake)

The last poem in The Divers excellent Devises of sundry gentlemen, the poetical appendage to The Adventures of Master F.I., is “The Shield of love”. Its auxiliary title: “The absent lover (in ciphers) deciphering his name, doth crave some spedy relief as followeth.

Before we look at it, dear reader, I would like you to do this crash course in deciphering. The idea is that you will be able to decipher the cryptogram contained in , L'ecui d'Amour for yourself. If your findings differ from mine, fine and good. We will be able to discuss the matter on a factual level which will be a refreshing change from people saying things like: “You're wrong, ya boo sucks.” when they disagree with the Oxfordonian theories with “Ya boo sucks with brass nobs on.” as support for their arguments. If you don't wish to have anything to do with this Shakespeare business, that's fine too. The following will hopefully be useful to you should you decide on a career with MI6.

The first thing to decide when deciphering a cryptogram is “Is this a cryptogram?” You will have to judge each case on its own merit. For instance, if the suspected cryptogram is written on a piece of paper that you have just removed from the oesophagus of an evil enemy agent who was trying to eat it just before you killed him, by all means give it your undivided attention. It could well be a matter of national security. If, on the other hand, the suspected cryptogram is printed on a sheet of newspaper which is wrapped around a piece of haddock that you purchased from a random fishmonger, you would be well advised to throw it away before it starts to get a bit niffy.

The identity of the author of the Winnie the Pooh stories is hidden in the following text:

Actually, I didn't think up the stories by myself. A little boy helped me. My son, Christopher is good at letting his imagination run free; though not every day.


The first thing to do is to “gather up the most likely suspects.” We know that we're looking for a British children's author. So let's say: Enid Blyton, A.A. Milne, Michael Bond, Lewis Carroll and Marcia Brown.

Let's try Enid Blyton (The famous Five):

First of all, look for a capital “E” as in “Enid” – we don't have one.

Let's try Michael Bond (Paddington Bear): First of all, we look for the “M” from “Michael”, It's at the beginning of the second sentence. Then we look for the “i” in “Michael” .It's at the beginning of the fourth word in the second sentence.(Only the first letters of each word count) Then we look for the “c” in “Michael” The “C” from “Christopher is unacceptable on two counts, firstly, it's a capital “C” and we want a small “c” secondly, the letters have to be in the right order.

Actually, I didn't think up the stories by myself. A little boy helped me. My son, Christopher is good at letting his imagination run free; though not every day.

We got “Mi”; hardly convincing.

I'll leave you check on Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland) and Marcia Brown (Puss in Boots) for yourselves. Look what happens when we look for A.A. Milne;

Actually, I didn't think up the stories by myself. A little boy helped me. My son, Christopher is good at letting his imagination run free; though notevery day.

Bingo, A.A. Milne is the winner.

As one can see. One can't see who is meant at the first glance, one can only see if certain theories fit or not. However when the text (or cryptogram) is of a limited size and when you know that the contains a message, then we have a perfectly valid method for coding and decoding.

Second Cryptogram

The following text is a cryptogram which will reveal the identity of the author of War and Peace.

Looking at the excellent literature available, an obvious choice for a holiday would be Italy. The old villages are quaint and the lagoons are serene and tranquil. I only hope that you agree.

Before I make a list of possible authors. I'm going to go out on a limb and say: “Let's try Leo Tolstoy.”


First we look for a word that starts with “L”, then we look for a word that starts with “e”, then we look for a word that starts with “o” and so on.

Looking at the excellent literature available, an obvious choice for a holiday would be Italy. The old villages are quaint and the lagoons are serene andtranquil. I only hope that you agree.

There we have it, Leo Tolstoy.

 You're getting rather good at this. The enemies of her majesty's government are already beginning to feel your hot breath on the backs of their nasty, dirty, evil necks.

Third cryptogram. Here's one of those pit falls that I was talking about. Be warned.

The following cryptogram contains the name of the author of “War and Peace.”

Looking at the excellent literature available, an obvious choice for a holiday would be Italy. The old villages are quaint and the lagoons are serene and tranquil. I only hope that you are in agreement with me and that you do not want to go in to the north of Spain.


Let's try Leo Tolstoy again.

Looking at the excellent literature available, an obvious choice for a holiday would be Italy. The old villages are quaint and the lagoons are serene andtranquil. I only hope that you are in agreement with me and that you do not want to go in to the north of Spain.

There is a temptation to feel a little smug at this point. Well wait a minute, sleuth business isn't all Vodka Martinis and skittles you know. You should have smelled a rat. The text is suspiciously long. If the authorship of War And Peace where hitherto unknown and if you published your findings, you would get a nasty shock. Some bright spark would be bound to say “Leo Tolstoi didn't write War And Peace, Lenin did-he bashed it out while he was in exile in England, Rudyard Kipling helped him.

It's as well to try out all the likely (and unlikely) candidates yourself before someone does it for you and declares you to be a charlatan. Better still, know a rat when you smell one.

Did Lenin write “War and Peace”?

Looking at the excellent literature available, an obvious choice for a holiday would be Italy. The old villages are quaint and the lagoons are serene and tranquil. I only hope that you are in agreement with me and that you do not want to go in to the north of Spain.

What are we to do? We could go through life saying that War And Peacewas written by Leo Tolstoy, or perhaps Lenin. (Which goes to show that being open minded is only good up to a certain point, after which you're in danger of your brains dropping out).

You will either have to argue that Lenin's prose style does not match that which we see in War And Peace

Or: “The creator of the cryptogram included Lenin intentionally and with malice aforethought; we should therefore screw up this cryptogram and throw it in the bin along with the smelly fish paper.”

Let's do a difficult one. I promise not to be sneaky and mean, it's just hard. The following text contains the last name of the author of The Grapes of Wrath:

The knees are always at the centre of every ball players thoughts for they are not, only immensely essential, for footballers but also for tennis players. This was discovered in the somewhat backward city of Salinas in Oklahoma.


We know that we are looking for an American author. The farmers in Oklahoma had their big problems in the 1930s. So lets go with Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck. Search all you like, non of them fit. So let's look at the text again. There are two deliberate mistakes, Salinas is not in Oklahoma, it's in California. Furthermore, it's a beautiful city and has never, by any stretch of the imagination considered to have been “backward”. So let's check out all the possible authors again, going backwards this time. One more thing : John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, it might be a good idea to try him first.

 The knees are always at the centre of every ball players thoughts for they are not, only immensely essential, for footballers but also for tennis players. This was discovered in the somewhat backward city of Salinas in Oklahoma. 

Now that you've gone to all this effort, may I ask you how you would feel if someone were to say that the order of the letters was a coincidence, that John Steinbeck never wrote a thing and that you're talking nonsense?

Now let's do a fully fledged mysterious cryptogram. This is so hard that it's almost vindictive. I am again on my best behaviour, no trickery. It's just hard. I'd like you to imagine that Leo Tolstoi had to keep his authorship a secret. Perhaps he was worried in case the political nature of the book would displease the Tzar or his ministers. All the same he wanted to put his name to the masterpiece of which he must have been so proud. He might have done so with a cryptogram posed by a fictitious scholar, George Canny M.A. (Oxon).

Dear reader, please decipher the name of the author of War and Peace from the following text. Thanking you for your efforts, George Canny M.A. (Oxon)

Late last evening I went
out with my wife. The only
locality suitable was the
restaurant near to your old flat.

We are expecting to find the name “Leo Tolstoy, so we'll try that:

Late last evening I went
out with my wife. The only
locality suitable was the
restaurant near to your old flat.

Leo Tolsto !! Close , but no cigar.

There is no indication that the name is embedded in the cryptogram backwards as in John Steinbeck but we'll try it.

Late last evening I went
out with my wife. The only
locality suitable was the
restaurant near to your old flat.

Well that was fun. We had to go to the last letter of our search, to find the first letter that we were looking for. However we haven't run out of options. As well as from start to finish, or backward from the end to the beginning, there is also a style of writing that was used in Greece at about 500 B.C. The scribe writes the first line from left to right in the normal way. At the end of the line he does not go back to the left hand side of the page, he moves down the page and writes from right to left. It is speculated that the reader is saved the trouble of finding his place again at the left hand side of the page.

Whatever their reasons, they did it!( The “Gortyn Code” [500 B.C.], one of the earliest penal codes ever found was written in this manner on the wall of a temple in Crete.) They also had a name for it; Boustrophedon. It's no disgrace if you don't speak pre-Hellenic Greece. Boustrophedon means “To turn like an ox while ploughing”,or “turning of the ox.”

I hope that you will all be saying “Oh that's why M.A. (Oxon) is a clue or “That's why Oxford Road is a clue.” Wary of the danger of over explaining the matter, more by way of a confession, I shall tell you about my old head master. He had earned a master of arts degree at Oxford university. This achievement entitled him to write “M.A. (Oxon)” after his name. Though a fine figure of a man, his head was rather large and instead treating him with the respect that was due to him we gave him the name “Bull Head”. We weren't the first facetious children to note the bovine implications of the Latin word for Oxford. (Strictly speaking it should be “Oxen” and not “Oxon”, before you start calling people “Bull Head”, but it was close enough, as a matter of fact it has been since the Saxons named it so because they could ford the river with an ox cart at that point.)

If you're reading this Mister Canny please be assured that we meant ”Bull Head” in the nicest possible way.

We will now take the boustrophedon path to see if our cryptogram contains the name Leo Tolstoy.

--------------------------> Go from left to right looking for “L” and “e”

Late last evening I went

 <----------------------------- Go from right to left looking for “o” , “T”and “o”

out with my wife. The only

 -----------------------------> Go from left to right looking for “s” and “t”

locality suitable was the

 <----------------------------------- Go from right to left looking for “o” and “y”

restaurant near to your old flat.

Leo Tolstoy.

The boustrophedon wins the day. There are matters that we need to consider. If the cryptogram is too large then other names might come up that we weren't expecting. As you can imagine, you could write down any message you like, take a huge book, look for the letters, one by one, and sooner or later you'll have found them in the required order, just as long as the book is big enough. There have been people who have done just that, they have been declared as being crack pots. The reason for that is that they are indeed crack pots.

Unfortunately, as soon as the word cryptogram is mentioned there are those who shout “Crack Pot” straight away, in spite of the the fact that the cryptogram is a perfectly valid tool when properly used. The crack pots also used pens and paper. That doesn't mean that all future users of pens and paper are crack pots as well.

Now, dear sleuths we come to the big one.

“The Shield of love” (No. 63) an appeal from the lover to the object of his love to treat him justly. “The absent lover (in ciphers) deciphering his name, doth crave some spedy relief as followeth.”

L'Escü d'amour, the shield of perfect loue,
The shield of loue, the force of steadfast faith,
The force of faith which neuer will remoue,
But standeth fast to bide the brunts of death:
That trusty targe hath long borne off the blows,
And broke the thrusts which absence at me throws.

In doleful days I lead an absent life
And wound my will with many a weary thought:
I plead for peace, yet starue in storms of strife,
I find debate where quiet rest was sought.
These pangs with mo unto my pain I proue,
Yet bear I all upon my shield of loue.

 In colder cares are my conceits consumed
Than Dido felt when false Eneas fled:
In far more heat than trusty Troilus fumed
When crafty Cresside dwelt with Diomed:
My hope such frost, my hot desire such flame,
That I both freeze and smoulder in the same.

So that I liue and die in one degree,
Healed by hope and hurt again with dread:
Fast bound by faith when fancy would be free,
Untied by trust, though thoughts enthrall my head:
Reuiu'd by joys when hope doth most abound,
And yet with grief in depth of dolours drownd.

In these assaults I feel my feebled force
Begins to faint, thus wearied still in woes:
And scarcely can my thus consumed course
Hold up this buckler to bear of these blows:
So that I craue, or presence for relief,
Or some supply to ease mine absent grief.

 To you (dear Dame) this doleful plaint I make,
Whose only sight may soon redress my smart:
Then show yourself, and for your seruants sake,
Make haste post haste to help a faithful heart:
Mine own poor shield hath me defended long,
Now lend me yours, for else you do me wrong.

 First things first. Do we have an indication that the poem is a cryptogram? Yes we do the words “The absent lover (in ciphers) deciphering his name, doth crave some spedy relief as followeth.” Clearly mean that the name of the author is contained in the following text in coded form. Next make a list of the possible answers and try them out as we we did with A.A. Milne and Steinbeck. I shall leave it up to those who are wiser than myself to compile a complete list of possible candidates. For the sake of our current discourse I suggest the following people: Thomas Wyatt, Henry Howard, Richard Edwards, George Gascoigne, Walter Raleigh, Philip Sidney. You can try them all out if ever you have absolutely nothing else to do. None of them give satisfactory results.

Just as we turned to the phrase “the backward city Salinas” to find that we had to look for Steinbeck by doing things backwards we've got to find something to get us out of our dilemma.

So now I want you to work with me dear reader. We are going to see if the name Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxenford (the facetious mind is quick to see the bovine implication), passes in to the cryptogram L'Escü d'amour. Using your new knowledge of the boustrophedon script I would like you to embark on the “oxen path” Please note, throughout the poem, the same printing legend is used for “U” as for “V”.

  -------------------------------------------> (Go from left to right looking for “E” and “d”

L'Escü d'amour, the shield of perfect loue,

 <-------------------------------------------------- (Go from right to left, looking for “w”)

The shield of loue, the force of steadfast faith,

 -----------------------------------------------> Go from left to right, still looking for “w”

The force of faith which neuer will remoue,

 <-------------------------------------------------- (Go from right to left, looking for “a”, 
But standeth fast to bide the brunts of death:

 ----------------------------------------------> (Go from left to right, still looking for “a” 
That trusty targe hath long borne off the blows,

 <----------------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “a”
And broke the thrusts which absence at me throws.

-----------------------------------------> (Go from left to right, looking for “r” and “d” 
In doleful days I lead an absent life

 <--------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “r” and “d”
And wound my will with many a weary thought:

 ---------------------------------------> (Go from left to right, still looking for “r” and “d”
I plead for peace, yet starue in storms of strife,

 <---------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “r” and “d”
I find debate where quiet rest was sought.

 -----------------------------------------------> (Go from left to right, still looking for “D”
These pangs with mo unto my pain I proue,

 <----------------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “D”
Yet bear I all upon my shield of loue.

 -----------------------------------------------> (Go from left to right, still looking for “D”

In colder cares are my conceits consumed

 <-------------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “D”
Than Dido felt when false Eneas fled:

 -----------------------------------------> (Go from left to right, looking for “e” and “V”
In far more heat than trusty Troilus fumed

 <------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “e” and “V”
When crafty Cresside dwelt with Diomed:

 -------------------------------------> (Go from left to right, still looking for “e” and “V”
My hope such frost, my hot desire such flame,

 <-------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “e” and “V”
That I both freeze and smoulder in the same.

 --------------------------------------> (Go from left to right, still looking for “e” and “V”
So that I liue and die in one degree,

 <--------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “e” and “V”
Healed by hope and hurt again with dread:

 ---------------------------------------> (Go from left to right, still looking for “e” and “V”
Fast bound by faith when fancy would be free,

 <---------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “e” and “V” 
Untied by trust, though thoughts enthrall my head:

 --------------------------------------------->     Go from left to right, looking for “e”
Reuiu'd by joys when hope doth most abound,

 <------------------------------------------------ Go from right to left, looking for “e”
And yet with grief in depth of dolours drownd.

 -------------------------------------------------> Go from left to right, looking for “e”
In these assaults I feel my feebled force

 <---------------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “e”
Begins to faint, thus wearied still in woes:

 ----------------------------------------------> Go from left to right, still looking for “e”
And scarcely can my thus consumed course

 <---------------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “e”
Hold up this buckler to bear of these blows:

 ----------------------------------------------> Go from left to right, stll looking for “e”
So that I craue, or presence for relief,

 <---------------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “e” 
Or some supply to ease mine absent grief.

 ---------------------------------------------------> Go from left to right, looking for “r”

To you (dear Dame) this doleful plaint I make,

 <----------------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “r” 
Whose only sight may soon redress my smart:

 ---------------------------------------------------> Go from left to right, looking for “e” 
Then show yourself, and for your seruants sake,

 <----------------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “e” 
Make haste post haste to help a faithful heart:

 -----------------------------------------------> Go from left to right, still looking for “e” 
Mine own poor shield hath me defended long,

 <----------------------------------------------- Go from right to left, still looking for “e” 
Now lend me yours, for else you do me wrong.

 Putting the letters in their order: Edward de Vere.

We could say that the courtier and poet Edward Dyer (sometimes written “Dier”) might be implied, as the name: Edward DieR can be decoded, but why should Dyer possibly want to write a cryptogram with Edward de Vere's name written perfectly and his own name so off plumb. Besides, from a philological point of view, Dyer's poetry was of a far more melancholy nature, and quite frankly, a bit boring.

At this point in time, I am sure that we share a certain awe for this literary wizardry. I am sure that you are all convinced, but let's see if our literary genius would like to perform an encore from beyond the grave. Let us once again go along the oxen path, but this time we take our first step from the point where we finished after the first examination and we work up to the top of the poem. I will have to ask you for one small indulgence, dear reader. Allow me to re-write the poem in block capitals. (When doing a reverse boustrophedon, the poet couldn't be bothered with the question of capital letters or small letters.) Start at the last line!

(The end)  <------------------------------------------ GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “E”


 ----------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “E”


 <---------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “E”


-----------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “E”


 <---------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “E”


-----------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “E”


 <---------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “E”


-----------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “E”


 <---------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “E”


-----------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “R”


 <---------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “R”


----------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “R”


 <---------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “R”


----------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “R”


 <---------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “R”


-----------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “R”


 <----------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “R”


------------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “R”


 <------------------------------------------------------ GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “R”


------------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “R”


 <--------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “R”


-------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “V” & “E”


 <------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “V” & “E”


--------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “V” & “E”


 <------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “V” & “E”


--------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “V” & “E”


 <------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “V” & “E”


--------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “V” & “E”


 <------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “V” & “E”


------------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “E”


 <------------------------------------------------ GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR  “D” & “D”


-----------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “R”


<----------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “R”


-----------------------------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR “A”


 <----------------------------------------------------- GO FROM RIGHT TO LEFT LOOKING FOR “A”


(start here) -----------------------------------> GO FROM LEFT TO RIGHT LOOKING FOR ”E, D & W”



 Putting the letters in the order as we found them: EDWARD DE VERE.

 With that we can be proud and satisfied that we have solved the code, as, most certainly was Captain Bernard M. Ward (1893-1945), the first person to have done so. Three hundred and fifty years after it had been written!

The question that we need to ask here is not “Have we decoded the message?” but Why was the code so difficult? Why would Edward de Vere have put his name to his work in such a complicated way? To answer this we have to ask ourselves how a young man would feel, knowing that he was one of the best literary minds of all time, yet because of his noble birth, was not allowed to take credit for it. He must have been absolutely bursting to tell someone about it. This most complicated and bovine exercise was a safety valve for the young genius.

 Superfluous note from KK:

 As Lord High Chamberlain of England, we can expect Edward de Vere to have been familiar with the works of Trithemius (1462-1526) und Giovanni Battista della Porta (De furtivis literarum notis, vulgo de ziferis, 1563) a set of instructions on the art of cryptology. Furthermore he had dealings with Sir Francis Walsingham, the head of the English secret service.


5. Nothing is truer than the truth.

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was a patron of the arts to whom more than thirty literary and scientific works were dedicated. At the age of fifteen he was awarded an M.A. (Master of the Arts). The young Earl was introduced to a group of writers by his friend and teacher Richard Edwards (1524-1566); Members included: Arthur Brooke, Barnabe Googe, George Turberville, George Whetstone, Thomas Twyne and George Gascoigne.

De Vere enrolled in Grey's Inn in 1567 to study law. At this point in time Ariosto's comedy Supposes was being staged under the direction of its translator, George Gascoigne. Supposes had a strong influence on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.

In the early years of his manhood Edward de Vere wrote an accompaniment to the Latin translation of Baldesar Castiglione's famous work Il Libro del Cortegiano (Balthasaris Castilionis comitis de curiali sive aulico libri quatuor ex Italico sermone in Latinum conversi./Bartholomaeo Clerke Anglo Cantabrigiensi interprete. Londini: 1571 [=1572]) and an English foreword to the English translation of Girolamo Cardano’s De Consolatione (Cardanus Comforte translated into Englishe. And published by commaundement of the right honourable the Earle of Oxenford , [London]: Anno Domini 1573).

The effortless wit and style of this foreword confirms the equation Oxford=Anonymous. The young Earl reassures his friend Thomas Bedingfield,the translator, by dismissing his reservations concerning the quality of the work.

Whereby as you have been profited in the translating, so many may reap knowledge by the reading of the same that shall comfort the afflicted, confirm the doubtful, encourage the coward, and lift up the base-minded man to achieve to any true sum or grade of virtue, whereto ought only the noble thoughts of men to be inclined.

And because next to the sacred letters of divinity, nothing doth persuade the same divinity, nothing more than philosophy, of which your book is plentifully stored, I thought myself to commit an unpardonable error to have murthered the same in the waste bottom of my chests; and better I thought it were to displease one than to displease many; further considering so little a trifle cannot procure so great a breach of our amity, as may not with a little persuasion of reason be repaired again. And herein I am forced, like a good and politic captain, oftentimes to spoil and burn the corn of his own country, lest his enemies thereof do take advantage.

This shows a strong similarity to a passage in “H.W.”s foreword to The Adventures of Master F.I. addressing his remarks to “G.T.”, feigning alienation in order to preen himself: “to have gained a bushel of good will in exchange for one pint of peevish choler.” (See: Prose and Letters, 4. To my loving friend Thomas Bedingfield Esquire.)

The Earl did more than publish Bedingford's translation and write a foreword. He also wrote a poem of commendation: “The labouring man that tills the fertile soil” (Nr. 1). While comparing the poet (himself) to a menial farm labourer, he sets the reader on a throne declaring him to be the winner. There we have the crux of the matter, this is an elegant contradiction, an intellectual pirouette that brings him back to himself. The poet is simultaneously a reader!

A second edition of Cardanus Comforte or “The Book of Comfort” is published in 1576 – and along with poems of commendation from the Earl of Oxford and from Thomas Churchyard, lo and behold, there is also one from George Gascoigne.

Anonymous shows obvious preferences for all things Italian, as does the Earl of Oxford. Included in the Flowres wie find (along with the translations of Ariosto) numerous examples of influences of Petrarch and of the Neapolitan style. From E. O. we have an elegant translation of a “Sonetto in dialogo”:When wert thou born, Desire? (Nr. 93).

During the course of this literary game of hide and seek, the Earl left further clues behind him. When we gather them up and develop a theory based on the resulting harvest then we have:

The procurer “H.W.” signs off his foreword with the words: “From my lodgings near the Strand, the xx. of January, 1572 [=1573]”. In the period between 1571 and 1576 Oxford and his young wife rented apartments in the “Savoy” on “The Strand” directly opposite Lord Burghley's residence. The Savoy (originally a hospital) was situated on the Strand, one of the banks of the Thames that connected Whitehall Palace with the centre of London. During the 1570s it was used for apartments for courtiers.

In “This tenth of March when Aries receiv’d” (Nr. 40) spring arrives in the form of Ver(Ver being Latin for spring). The girl telling her story in this poem declares that in the past, this very Ver has taken away her fears and bought her joy, but he “springs now elsewhere”. The young man who has been eves-dropping on the young lady blushes profusely and runs away. We can safely assume that The lustie Ver is non other than he, the lively heart breaker.

The lusty Ver which whilom might exchange
My grief to joy, and then my joy’s increase,
Springs now elsewhere and shows to me but strange,
My winters woe therefore can never cease:
In other coasts his sun full clear doth shine,
And comforts lends to ev'ry mould but mine.

What plant can spring that feels no force of Ver?
What flower can florish where no sun doth shine?
These bales (quod she) within my breast I bear, 
To break my bark and make my pith to pine:
Needs must I fall, I fade both root and rind,
My branches bow at blast of ev'ry wind ...

Compare this poem with the Echo-poem from the Earl of Oxford. Again we have a young girl who laments her lot. She cries of her unhappiness and incomprehension of the ways of the world into the forest. By way of an answer the forest sends back an echo.

Oh heavens ! who was the first that bred in me this fever ? Vere 
Who was the first that gave the wound whose fear I wear for ever ? Vere.
What tyrant, Cupid, to my harm usurps thy golden quiver ? Vere.
What sight first caught this heart and can from bondage it deliver? Vere.

Here we see that the frivolous young literary genius dropped his mask, albeit ever so briefly. The fact that we know the young man so well makes it all that more amusing. When all said and done, the motto on his heraldic family crest is: Vero nihil verius – “Nothing truer than truth”.

In the poetical anthology The Paradyse of daynty Devises (1576), in which he was involved, the Earl continues with this game of hide and seek. Some of the best poems in the Paradyse are from “My lucke is losse”, a name that clearly seems to be a variation on “Fortunatus Infoelix”, the Happy Unhappy. (See: Nr. 16: “And with such luck and loss, / I will content myself”.) That means that not eight, but at least fourteen poems in The Paradyse of daynty Devises are from Edward de Vere – including the brilliant translation of “Cur mundus militat, sub vana gloria”: “Why doth each state apply itself to worldly praise?” (Nr. 67); a famous Latin Vanitas–poem from the middle ages. (See: The Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576-1606), ed. Hyder E. Rollins. Cambridge, 1927.)

“Young Oxenforde” is mentioned in a poem by George Gascoigne (Dulce Bellum Inexpertis): “War is only sweet for those who have never experienced it” – in which Gascoigne relates his experiences in Holland, mentioning Oxford, who seems to be on on the path to success (“as toward as the best”). At the end of the Posies Gascoigne dedicates a poem to an unknown “Edouardo Donati” to whom he tries to explain that “ballare” means to dance, which is why we can expect the addressee to be his friend and countryman.

(Oxford signed the foreword to Castiglione with “Edouardus Verus” – “Donati” is derived from donatio or donor, the benefactor.)

In the Posies of 1576 George Gascoigne doesn't miss the opportunity to thank his benefactor. Without his help, the poet emphasises, Dan Bartholmew’s (=Gascoigne’s) pitiful wining would have landed in a damp ditch, never to get out. He calls his benefactor “Sir Salamanke” and promises him faithful service.

Sir Salamanke to thee this tale is told,
Peruse it well and call unto thy mind,
The pleasant place where thou didst first behold
The rueful rimes: remember how the wind
Did calmly blow: and made me leave behind
Some leaves thereof: whiles I sat reading still,
And thou then seemdst to hearken with good will.

 Believe me now, hadst thou not seemed to like
The woeful words of Bartholmews discourse,
They should have lyen still drowned in the dike,
Lyke Sybylls leaves which fly with little force,
But for thou seemdst to take therein remorce,
I sought again in corners of my brest,
To find them out and place them with the rest.

Such skill thou hast to make me (fool) believe,
My babies are as brave as any be,
Well since it is so, let it never grieve
Thy friendly mind this worthlesse verse to see
In print at last: for trust thou unto me,
Thine onely praise did make me venture forth,
To set in show a thing so litle worth.

 Thus unto thee these leaves I recommend,
To read, to raze, to view, and to correct,
Vouchsafe (my friend) therein for to amend
That is amiss, remember that our sect
Is sure to be with flouts always infect.
And since most mocks will light upon my muse,
Vouchsafe (my friend) her faults for to peruse.

 George Gascoigne set off to his second voyage for Holland on 19 March 1573, along with Rowland York, Ned Denny and a certain William Herle. At that point in time, neither were there English troops in Holland nor were there any official orders for an English military presence. In “A Journey into Holland” Gascoigne sings the praises of his friends York and Denny, calling them the lovers of the Dutch “nuns”.

At that time, Rowland York was in Edward de Vere's closer circle of friends. York was a kinsman of Oxford's cousin, Lord Henry Howard (1540-1614). When Oxford returned from Italy in 1576, he stayed at Rowland York's house to avoid his wife. Ned (Edward) Denny was a young soldier; and William Herle, the third member of the group worked for Lord Burghley – he actually wrote reports for Walsingham's secret service.

This marvellously fruitful collaboration between the poets George Gascoigne and Edward de Vere bought social status to Gascoigne whilst giving Edward de Vere the freedom of anonymity. There was no better protector for Oxfords literary carte blanche than the “Green Knight”, nor was there a better stable master for Gascoigne's wild and unpredictable Pegasus than the madcap Earl.

On the face of it Geoge Gascoigne had mutated into being a courtier with a puritan outlook and a strong leaning towards security and continuity. Unfortunately, fate did not smile on career as a courtier; he died on 7. October 1577 at the age of 42.

Surprisingly, his “Complete Works” were published ten years after his death, this time with the bone of contention – the Posies – included. (The whole woorkes of George Gascoigne Esquire, London 1587.)


6. Master F.I.s Secrets

One can't help asking oneself: “Why did Edward de Vere go to such endless trouble to keep his authorship of The Adventures of Master F.I. a secret? Why construct such a complicated fantasy, invent another author and deny his own contribution?

For a start: the publication of the literary works of aristocrats, during their lifetime, was a thing that simply wasn't done. The poems of the Earl of Surrey, Lord Vaux, Edward Dyer and Fulke Greville were all published posthumously as were the extensive works of Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586). The unwritten code of honour demanded that the aristocracy were, first and foremost, servants of the crown in military matters. Should an aristocrat chose to devote his time to literature, he was expected to choose a subject that would help the military, or the world of science. Any excursions into the world of fictional writing, or poetry were expected to take place during leisure time. It was unthinkable that an earl should even give the impression that he needed the royalties from the sale of a book.

Moreover, the young Earl of Oxford had another, far more pressing reason to conceal his authorship of “The Adventures”. In that day and age this work easily could have been interpreted as traiterous. The most obvious being that he made no bones about revealing the promiscuous behaviour (or variableness, as it would be called in polite circles) that was considered normal among aristocrats. Perhaps not so obvious, but far more precarious: The contemporary reader of “The Adventures” may well have felt himself induced to believing that the characters in the story – the audacious Mistress Ellinor, the subtle Dame Francis and the dwarfish secretary – were taken from real life (in spite of Gascoigne's vehement assertions to the contrary: “that there is no living creature touched or to be noted thereby”). Even the name of the central character – Master Fortunatus Infoelix – was connected with certain ominous implications.

There is a man who can shed some light on the matter, and that is an academic careerist who was inclined to put on enigmatic airs and graces, by the name of Gabriel Harvey (1550-1630). He was epitome of the inexperienced theorist, a Cambridge graduate and a friend of Edmund Spencer. Harvey was determined to become the English Cicero. Whilst he was a student at Cambridge, Edward de Vere had helped him: “In the prime of his gallantest youth he bestowed angels upon me in Christ's College in Cambridge”, says Harvey. About 1574/75 the benevolent Earl asked him write a poem of recommendation for Gascoigne's Posies. (“Quisquis es hac nostri qui gaudes parte laboris, /Iudicio nobis, cautus adesto precor ... Perge igitur quo sit pergendum, fine reperto, /In tenebris tum quae delituere proba.” – Whoever you are, who enjoys this part of our work, pray judge with caution ... continue when necessary, and when you reach the end, look back and search for the secrets that are lurking in the dark.)

Harvey made a note on “Fortunatus Infoelix” in his copy of the “Posies” (just after the introductory poem to “Jocasta” to be precise): “lately the posie of Sir Christopher Hatton”. This information was not correct – but important.

Harvey's note (written in 1577 or 1578) was a reaction to the sudden rise to nobility of Christopher Hatton Esquire, Gentleman of the Privy Chamber and Captain of the Guard. He was granted the position of Vice-Chamberlain in 1577, shortly thereafter he was knighted. The posy (or motto) of Sir Christopher Hatton was not however, “Fortunatus Infoelix”. Hatton’s posy was “Foelix Infortunatus” (unfortunately situated but happy).

It was Christopher Hatton who sought advice from his friend as to how he could best get closer to the Queen's ear and edge Edward de Vere into the back ground. (See: Sir Edward Dyer to Sir Christopher Hatton, 9 October 1572.)

His faithful and compliant character caused Elizabeth to call Hatton The Sheep or Lydds – the eyelid, in contrast to her nickname for Lord Leicester whom she called The Eye. Because of his volatile and unpredictable nature she names Oxford after the animal on his coat of arms – The Boar.

Hatton was sent to Spa (Low Countries) on the mainland to convalesce after an illness from whence he wrote touching love letters to the virgin Queen. In these letters he sometimes mentions his rival.

God bless you forever; the branch of the sweetest bush I will wear and bear to my life’s end: God witness I feign it not. It is a gracious favor most dear and welcome unto me: reserve it to the Sheep, he hath no tooth to bite, where the Boar's tusk may both raze and tear.

This letter was probably written in June 1573, the time when the Flowerswas first published in England. With such timing, Oxford's ironical reversal [Fortunatus Infoelix instead of Foelix Infortunatus (=Hatton)] of Hatton's posy “F.I.” must have been understood as a reference to and a provocation of his rival. (The nickname for the character of Malvolio, the castle steward in Twelfth Night, is also a carefree and frivolous reference to the mirror image of Hatton's posy: THE FORTUNATE UNHAPPY.)

It would be erroneous to conclude from this similarity that Master F.I. is a portrayal of Christopher Hatton. Master F.I. isn't “happy in spite of unhappiness” (as Hatton claims to be with his “Foelix Infortunatus”); he is “unhappy despite good fortune” – (Fortunatus Infoelix). Even though fortune gives him a helping hand, he doesn't attain happiness.

Any hasty attempt to decipher who is who in the literary work and in real life can very easily lead to a result that is both erroneous and unfair to the author, Edward de Vere.

The author bases his story loosely on actual people and events, but that doesn't mean for a minute that he's writing a factual report of the said events. His play on reality remains a game, he takes actual events and real people, mixes them up until he has a tale that it's fun to tell and then he starts writing.

That is why we can safely say that neither Master F.I. nor Mistress Ellinor's secretary was Christopher Hatton, even though the author would have had a good old smirk at the thought of people making that assumption about such an honest chap as Hatton.

The same path of logic leads us to the assumption that Mistress Ellinora and Queen Elizabeth are not one and the same person – there merely happens to be a certain resemblance.


7. Queen Elizabeth and Alexander the Great

Oxford's nearness to the Queen, the familiarity with which he spoke to her, the constant reminders of his admiration for her and the all present hope that he would “favour” him one day might have moved him to include her indecisiveness into his game of innuendos.

In the eyes of this woman, so sophisticated yet so passionate, so cautious yet so fair-minded, the young Earl of Oxford was like a spiritual son, though at the same an ardent suitor. Even so, their relationship was not without its problems. Edward de Vere was very demanding of Queen Elizabeth: he wanted both military and political positions, and admission to the Order of the Garter. Furthermore, he wanted her to admire his poetry. Elizabeth signalled her good will but she didn't meet all of Oxford's demands, and certainly not as quickly as he wished her to. Oxford was never hesitant to remind, through his poetry, the “unfaithful Cessida” of what he considered to be her duties him.

 The author of The Adventures of Master F.I. makes it his business to endow the figure of Mistress Ellinor with attributes which are conventionally reserved for a Queen. He compares Ellinor to the goddess Cynthia (the virgin moon goddess, Cynthia, played an important role in the symbolism surrounding the cult of the Virgin Queen Elizabeth) – and he lets Ellinor's beauty shine brighter than that of Cynthia (“Dame Cynthia holds in her horned head,/ For fear to lose by like comparison”). Love, deference, equality mixed with due respect, a mild form of being struck by lightning when in her presence – the author experiences all these things when he goes out strolling in the light of the moon with his lady, when he writes poems for her. Master F.I. calls Mistress Ellinor his “Queen” of whom all people must think that she is the sun.

Some of the poems (Nrs. 17-63) from the chapter Divers excellent Devises of sundrie gentlemen are even more specific. Though not mentioning her directly, approximately a third of them are about the Queen – be it the willing dependence of the lover (38, 44, 46, 49), the promise to be eternally faithful (47, 50, 63), with reference to the woman who is beautiful both in character and appearance for whom the lover would lay down his life (45, 63) or, on the other hand with ironic, sarcastic remarks, comparing himself to the irreproachable Troilus, whilst comparing his beloved to the unfaithful Cressida (44, 51, 60). Anger and jealousy creep into his declarations of love (45, 50) – or he writes disgruntled poems about disillusioned love without making any reference to the Queen whatsoever. He gives no reason for her to feel that the poems are intended for her specifically, thereby letting fate decide whether she reads them or not. (42, 56, 59). Mockery and veneration, choler and adoration lead a harmonious coexistence.

In actual fact, the Queen is the addressee of Oxford's illustrious pseudonyms. SHE is the benefactress and the bringer of disdain, the bringer of consternation and of happiness. She holds his life line in one hand and a knife in the other. The Queen had to be flattered and then reproached, admired and then rebuffed, adored and then admonished. So as to disguise the poetry's overt flattery, the artful young aristocrat hides behind his friend Gascoigne who – in the role of Dan Bartholmew of Bathe – laments his unrequited love for “Ferenda Natura”. (In his book: The Catholic imaginary and the cults of Elizabeth, 2009, Stephen Hamrick took a clear position on the question of the identity of Gascoigne's Ferenda Natura.) At first Gascoigne praises her and declares her to be a beautiful woman both in mind and body; when she turns away from him the soldier-poet does an about face and turns his praise to admonishment, cancelling their relationship, only to rejoice in her renewed affection and cancel the cancellation. At the same time, the “happy unhappy” co-author has to go and throw a spanner in the works by signing an ambivalent love poem, “Amid my bale I bath in bliss ” with the very name that Gascoigne had given to the Queen: Ferenda Natura. Both authors are referring to a line that Chaucer wrote in The Wife of Bath's Tale: “His herte bathed in a bath of utter blisse“. (See note to Nr. 45.)

When all said and done, the Queen was still the Queen and it was inappropriate for one of her subjects to criticize her. This manner of communicating, whilst keeping both their identities secret and somewhat ambivalent meant that Elizabeth could decide for herself when she wished to see herself in the mirror of the poetry, and when not.

Four years later, in September 1578, the highly industrious rhetor and war-monger, Gabriel Harvey was called to Audley End to recite his hardly innocuous Gratulationes Valdinenses to the Queen and their Lordships Leicester, Burghley, Oxford, Hatton and Sidney (see: Gratulationes Valdinenses of Gabriel Harvey, ed. by Thomas Hugh Jameson, 1938), urging Oxford to throw away his “feeble pen” in order to take up military pursuits.

He does say, making a play on Edward de Vere's family motto (Vero nihil verius) that the Earl of Oxford... “embraces verity and hates what's false, verily loving his king and his God”....... “Blue says the herald, is the veriest colour of them all, how well does he now agree with his boar! Let others have their eagles and their bears. And their lions; what will best suit Vere is the figure of a blue boar!” Harvey continues with this declamatory hymn by saying that, as his name implies, Vere is destined to bring truth and prosperity to his land. He even makes an reference to the Arctic expedition of 1576: “your great glory will everywhere spread beyond the frozen ocean”. Harvey sharpens the tip of his barb until it falls off.

 Go, Mars will see you in safety and Hermes attend you; aegis-sounding Pallas will be by and will instruct your heart and spirit, while long since did Phoebus Apollo cultivate your mind with the arts. Your British numbers have been widely sung, while your Epistle [Oxford’s latin preface to Castiglione, 1573] testifies how much you excel in letters, being more courtly than Castiglione himself, more polished. I have seen your many Latin things, and more English are extant; of French and Italian muses, the manners of many peoples, their arts and laws you have drunk deeply. Not in vain was Sturmius himself known to you, nor so many Frenchmen and polished Italians, nor Germans. But, O celebrated one, put away your feeble pen, your bloodless books, your impractical writings! (Gratulationes Valdinenses of Gabriel Harvey, ed. by Thomas Hugh Jameson, 1938, p.127)

The gist of the speech seems to come down to: “Meritum capere generosum”: It is noble to capture that which one has earned. The time is ripe for the future Achilles to set aside his useless scribblings and show his true colours. May he save his land from the scourge that defeated the Turks: Don Juan d' Austria! (In his personal copy of the Posies, in the margin next to the name: “Meritum petere grave” Harvey wrote: “Meritum petere,vile: capere, generosum” etc.: to beg for the fruits of one's labour is contemptible, to take it by force is noble. It is far more manly and worthwhile to demonstrate an industrious nature than to sing its praises.”)

When addressing the Knight, Christopher Hatton, Harvey takes the very convenient opportunity to reveal what he believes to be the identities of “Foelix Infortunatus” (happy but without fortune =Christopher Hatton) and “Fortunatus Infoelix” (not happy in spite of good fortune =Alexander the Great). Harvey regards the first – Foelix Infortunatus – as being the epitome of the self determined character.

Happy without Fortune because he relies on his nobility alone and has all his possessions within himself, and, putting trust in only himself, nor fearing Chance, he looks down upon all apart from and outside himself – everywhere a prudent satellite of virtue and high comeliness: not a servant of this one or that one or of some other, nor knowing, finally, like some mere slave of Fortune, how to yield – ever of an upright and lofty mind, and always prepared! Is that nothing? What if his venture do fail of success and if his conclusions answer not to his efforts? and if there is many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip?

The other, Alexander the Great, a man to whom success merely bought unhappiness.

Alexander the Great was favoured by fortune yet he was still unhappy; he was not happy in himself though he rules personally as a victor over the whole earth. – How so, pray? I ask.

Wasn’t he drunken and furious among his friends? Wasn’t he an adulterer, a murderer, a fierce brigand, a wild Giant, a proud hater of gods and men? a private foe of heaven and earth? (Gratulationes Valdinenses of Gabriel Harvey, ed. by Thomas Hugh Jameson, 1938, p. 145)

Does Harvey not know who he's talking about?

Yes he does, he knows full well who he's talking about. He is talking about a man who compared his contemporaries to Alexander the Great. In his comedy Alexander und Campaspe John Lyly (1554-1606) makes a reference to his patron, Edward de Vere, as did Thomas Watson (1557-1592) in his Hekatompathia (1582) with the words:

Alexander the Great, passing on a time by the workshop of Apelles, curiously surveyed some of his doings, whose long stay in viewing them brought all the people into so great a good liking of the painter's workmanship, that immediately after they bought up all his pictures, what price soever he set them at. And the like good hap (Right Honorable) befell unto me lately concerning these my Love Passions, which then chanced to Apelles for his portraits. For since the world hath understood (I know not how) that your Honor had willingly vouchsafed the acceptance of this work.

Of this, Harvey was fully aware. (15 years latter, in a verbal attack on Thomas Nashe, refering to Edward de Vere, he exclaims: “What a brave and incomparable Alexander is that great A that is also the est Amen of supererogation.” – G.H., Pierce's Supererogation or A New Praise of the Old Ass, 1593, p. 35.)

He knows perfectly well who was responsible for The Adventures of Master F.I. – and just who, under the name of “ Fortunatus Infoelix” had appointed Gascoigne’s Jocasta with an introduction in sonnet form. The fact of the matter is that he simply doesn't like this spoiled, pampered, know-it-all aristocrat. He regards as being unjust of Oxford to have broken off his friendship to the Earl of Leicester. He attacks Oxford to get into his employer's good books after Elizabeth's proposed marriage to the Duke of Alençon. Even if the whole world lay to Oxford’s feet, Harvey reckoned that he'd “seen through him”.

Next to the headline The pleasant Fable of Fernando Jeronimi and Leonora de Valasco (the new title for The Adventures of Master F.I., as used in the 1575 edition), the confirmed cynic wrote the following in the margin: The wanton discourse of A.C. at idle howers. – We know of no prominent literary figure or courtier of this period with the initials “A.C.”. It seems safe to assume that Harvey was referring to the young wife of the Earl of Oxford: Anne Cecil, who must have been most disturbed by the contents of “The Adventures”.

8. The invisible Man

Even though “Meritum petere grave” had pulled all the stops to maintain his anonymity, he had no problems with members of a certain elite group of people knowing who he was.

The Earl of Oxford contributed eight poems to The Paradyse of daynty Devises (1576), signing them “E.O.” and a further six daring, experimental poems under the posy: “My lucke is losse”. About twenty more poems can be found in hand-written collections of poetry of that period under the names: “Therle of Ox.”, “Lo. ox.” – and “Ball”.

In 1591, five poems from an author, called “Content”, were published as an appendix to Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella. Two of these five poems from “Content” can be found in an subsequently published poetry anthology (Englands Parnassus, 1600) under the abbreviation “E.O.”.

In his aggressive piece: Pierce’s Supererogation (1593), Harvey calls Oxford's protégé, Nashe: “an Ass in an Ox's hide”, playing with the term “Ox” (“the Ox and the Ass are good-fellows”), “incomparable Alexander” and “the great A”. Such is the manner in which he calls his favourite enemy. However amid all these insults we find a few little crumbs of genuine admiration:

Marvel not that Erasmus hath penned the Encomium of Folly, or that so many singular learned men have laboured the commendation of the Ass; he it is that is the godfather of writers, the superintendent of the press, the muster-master of innumerable bands, the General of the great field; he and Nashe will confute the world.“ (Gabriel Harvey, Pierce's Supererogation or A New Praise of the Old Ass, 1593, p. 23.)

Nashe, the foremost satirist of Elizabethan literature, remembering the mud slinging session at Audley End (1578), speaks of an honourable knight, who, in view of the period and circumstances can be none other than his friend, the Earl:

[Harvey] would make no bones to take the wall of Sir Philip Sidney and another honourable knight (his companion) about court yet attending, to whom I wish no better fortune than the forelocks of Fortune he had hold of in his youth, & no higher fame than he hath purchased himself by his pen, being the first (in our language) I have encountered that repurified poetry from art's pedantism, & that instructed it to speak courtly. Our patron, our Phoebus, our first Orpheus or quintessence of invention he is. (Thomas Nashe, Have With You To Saffron Walden, 1596, p. 38.)



A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, Bounde up in one small Poesie. Gathered partely (by translation) in the fyne outlandish Gardins of Euripides, Ovid, Petrarke, Ariosto, and others: and partly by invention, out of our owne fruitefull Orchardes in Englande:Yelding sundrie sweete savours of Tragical, Comical, and Morall Discourses, bothe pleasant and profitable to the well smellyng noses of learned Readers. Meritum petere, grave. At London, Imprinted for Richarde Smith. [1573]

The Posies of George Gascoigne Esquire.Corrected, perfected and augmented by the Author. 1575. Tam Marti, quam Mercurio. Imprinted At London by H. Binneman for Richard Smith.

The Paradyse of daynty devises, Conteyning sundry pithy preceptes, London 1578

The Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576-1606), ed. Hyder E. Rollins. Cambridge, 1927

The Complete Works of George Gascoigne, ed. John W. Cunliffe, I-II. Cambridge 1907-1910. Band I: The Posies (1575). https://archive.org/details/completeworksge01cunlgoog

George Gascoigne’s ‚A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres’, ed. Charles T. Prouty, Columbia Missouri 1942. The Adventures of Master F. I. (1573) http://www.pseudopodium.org/repress/gascoigne/

George Gascoigne, A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres, ed. G. W. Pigman III, New York 2000