William continued to harvest information from the books in Vautrollier’s shop. After a great deal of research, he could diagram the de Vere ancestral history from memory. He began with the marriage of William the Conqueror to the sister of Alberic de Vere, whose grandson became the first Earl of Oxford. The Second Earl built Hedingham Castle in Essex, and the Third Earl was one of the rebellious barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. Family fortunes ebbed and flowed throughout British history, as various Earls of Oxford fought in the battles of Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt and Bosworth. At the height of their power, de Vere family landholdings sprawled across ten counties. King Richard II had named the Ninth Earl of Oxford Duke of Ireland.
It was sadly ironic that this same earl had survived a daring dive on horseback into the Thames to escape an enemy, only to be gored to death by a wild boar on the grounds of his own estate.
The Thirteenth Earl had helped Henry Tudor become King Henry VII. The ungrateful king later fined his benefactor for having too many followers, and the family fortunes sharply declined once again. Orphaned at an early age, the Fourteenth Earl served King Henry VIII; but when he died young and childless, the title passed to his uncle’s family. His cousin John de Vere became the Fifteenth Earl of Oxford and was given the honor of carrying the crown at Anne Boleyn’s coronation. He married Elizabeth Trussel, Shaxper’s shadowy kinswoman from the Arden family. Their son, also named John, became the Sixteenth Earl. His only son was Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford: courtier, poet, scholar and theatrical impresario, as well as William Shaxper’s newly discovered kinsman.
Of all the books Vautrollier recommended, William found Cardanus’ Comforte the most compelling. Its translator, Thomas Bedingfield, had written a self-effacing letter to the Earl in the book, thanking him for his support. William nearly fell off his chair when he read Lord Oxford’s response, declaring that he had sponsored publication as an “eternal monument” to Bedingfield. This was unheard of, endowing a literary monument to a man of modest means simply because he had translated an antique book into English.
By now, William concluded that Lord Oxford liked rewarding his friends. Literary immortality was only one of the generous gifts he could bestow upon his followers. William’s heart pounded as he read the concluding lines of Lord Oxford’s dedication:
For when all things else forsake us, Virtue will ever abide with us; and when our bodies fall into the bowels of the earth, it shall mount with our minds into the highest Heavens. – E Oxenforde
William shivered at the prospect of his own immortality. Surely Lord Oxford, so eager to give everlasting fame to Bedingfield, might also give some to him. When he became Lord Oxford’s most obedient and trusted servant, William knew that there would be no limit to the rewards of fame and fortune that would come his way.
Turning to other books, he skimmed over the dedications to Lord Oxford in Calvin’s Version of the Psalms of David by Arthur Golding, and John Brooke’s The Staff of Christian Faith. Both praised the Earl of Oxford’s scholarly achievements, but Golding’s words reflected the concern of an uncle hoping to discourage his nephew’s mischievous leanings. William wondered if Golding had been privy to his nephew’s theatrical inclinations. These would have seemed blasphemous to a rigid Puritan like Golding, if he’d ever suspected that his nephew had not only written The Famous Victories, but also had the unmitigated gall to disguise himself and act in it.
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