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Who was "Mr. W. H." and What was his Relationship to the Poet?

Before we answer this fundamental question, we must note that the Stratfordian strategy, over the authorship of the works later attributed to the London player, consists in a complex tactical array: 1) denying the obvious biographic content of the poems and plays, a content radically at odds with the known life of the London actor; 2) denying the relevance of their locales and allusions, topical and geographic, which are also significantly at conflict with the actor’s known residences and friends;3) denying that the First Folio revisions, generally made on the face of last printed quarto, were made by the author, as evidenced by the changes to Othello and Richard III; 4) denying intention on the part of the author in the publication of his plays, as evidenced both by their content and publication dates; 5) denying their intellectual content and merit, necessitated by the actor’s lack of a classical education and diplomatic contacts; 6) rejecting the Sonnets’ prose dedication to "Mr. W. H.", said there, their "only begetter;" as "unsolvable;" 7) scorning the prose introductions to Rape of Lucrece and Troilus and Cressida as inconsequential (the former sets out a political manifesto pledging "to wrong the wronger until he renders right[s]" and to do so until the state government changes from "kings to counsels’, while the latter tells us that "Shakespeare’s" plays were routinely censored for the stage and openly disparages public performances as "vulgar"); 8) ignoring other period works said Shakespeare’s, such as Yorkshire Tragedy, but not included in the First Folio, and the ensuing implications stemming from this; 9) claiming the poems as his, without mentioning that they were NOT included or acknowledged in the First Folio; 10) ignoring the lack of biographical linkage to the actor’s life and times, a deficiency uncommon for other writers of this same period; 11) selectively sifting evidence under similar names;12) avoiding a full consideration of the repressive political, social and religious nature of the times and their likely impact on an exposed author of such obviously controversial works, as Richard II and Rape of Lucrece , as evidenced by the former’s role in the Essex Rebellion and the actor’s immunity from prosecution despite the fact the Queen had arrested and imprisoned Sir John Hayward for furnishing the Author with the source materials and was ranting, "Know thee not that I am Richard II!," and by the latter’s overwhelming popularity, inexplicable if simply a poem, as opposed to political allegory; 13) eschewing all negative biographic evidence, such as the actor’s lack of formal education, travels and intellectual friendship circles---particularly the Mountjoy deposition which shows the actor to have been a roomer in the Mountjoy home, a rustic of failing memory and poor speech while only 47 years old. The deposition is so damaging to the myth it was not transcribed by Sam Schoenbaum in his Documentary Life ;14) avoiding the letterless nature of the actor’s family circle and the wide spread illiteracy in his immediate family, particularly the sad conditions of his daughters; 15) denying the author made fair copies of his manuscripts, despite the FF’s testimony to this habit and the survival of the fair copy manuscript of Henry I, as evidenced by the so called Dering ms.; 16) by employing what can be called a "hydra" configuration of the Stratfordian paradigm or a decentralization of the Stratfordian cartel, which allows autonomous spokespersons to be cut off when their researches damage any orthodox opinions, so the paradigm never comes under close scrutiny; and 17) lastly, denouncing any opposition to these problems via personal, rather than substantive, responses.


Who was W. H.?

In this essay we shall deal with the identity of "Mr. W.H."   Unfortunately, it will be necessary to maneuver through most of the Stratfordian hurdles cited above, seeking cover wherever we can. We begin by asking the question, is his identity, as Stratfordians have maintained," insolvable" or even an "open question."  Or has "W.H.’s" singularity already been solved, and is being ignored, or gainsaid, because the biographic implications are such as to disqualify the London actor as their author? (See tactic 14 above) 

Since Stratfordians constantly employ tactics 14 and 17, it will be necessary to reprove that Stratfordians have and continue to regard this question as unsolved. 

The proof involves Sir Edmund Chambers.  While Chambers would eventually reverse himself he spoke for many Stratfordians when he wrote, in his essay on this question for the Britannica, "the external history of the sonnets must still be regarded as an unsolved problem." 

Sam Schoenbaum does not bother to even index the initials in his Documentary Life. However under a discussion of the sonnets he notes, "Interest centers on the dedicatee." (218) He quickly assures his dotting readers that no candidate has been accepted and wanes, "the entire dedication...is festooned with arbitrary points [and] is so syntactically ambiguous to defeat any possibility of consensus among interpreters." (219) 

Notice how Schoenbaum has sifted the focus of the debate from the biographic content of the Sonnets, which is very clearly presented, to the dedication. Nevertheless, that dedication makes it perfectly clear, for those who can but read, that a "Mr. W. H." was the object of the poet’s affections and inspired the sonnets, as we shall quickly prove. 

So who was the mysterious "Mr. W. H." and how do we know this for a fact?  

One starts with his initials.  He cannot be someone name Jim Smith, John Manners or Henry Wriothesley (pronounced, Rosely)  William Hebert, the Third Earl of Pembroke,  is the only person connected to the Sonnets by tangible evidence.  Boas came to this conclusion sometime before 1902 when his 555 page study, Shakespere and his Predecessors first appeared. Boas writes, "there is one only name supported by tangible evidence—that of William Herbert." (118) Boas cites correspondence between Herbert’s mother, Mary Sidney Herbert, then Countess of Pembroke, and Lord Burghley, attempting a marriage match between young William Herbert and Burghley’s granddaughter, Bridget Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford. These letters date to 1598, a period too late, according to most authorities, for the sonnet cycle urging young Will to marry. It was this lack of evidence for an earlier wedding proposal that prevented Chambers from embracing the case for William Herbert initially, when he considered it for his essay in the Britannica . However Chambers eventually unearthed evidence for an even earlier marriage proposal involving young William Hebert, one that dated back to the mid 1590s or precisely the period suggested by the lyrical parallels between the sonnets and the plays of this period, such as Romeo and Juliet and Edward III, both of which date to c. 1595.

In his final work on this subject, A Short Life of Shakespeare, (1933) Chambers cites the correspondence between Rowland Whyte and Sir Robert Sydney concerning a broached marriage between William Herbert and "Sir George Careys Daughter." (8 October 1595) Chambers.  After reviewing the correspondence, and the overwhelming parallels between the life of William Herbert and the boy of the sonnets, Chambers concluded, "On the whole, therefore, if we are to look in the ranks of the higher nobility, it is Herbert, rather than Southampton, who affords the most plausible identification for Shakespeare’s friend." (Short Life, 130)

Schoenbaum makes no mention, whatsoever, of these letters and indeed gushes on that William Herbert, "born in 1580, [would] make a precocious friend and lover, unless one assigns a later date to the cycle than most readers think likely." (219) Schoenbaum is obviously confused about what he calls "the cycle." The first 17 sonnets, the ones which date to c. 1595 and urge the boy to marry, are obviously earlier than "the cycle" speaking of their friendship. The friendship and, later, their falling out over a dark woman, who forsook her marriage vows to take both the poet and the young man as her lovers, are clearly much later poems.

Indeed the Dark Lady sonnets may date, perhaps, as late as 1608, by which time a precocious 15 year old would have become a more more mature 28 year old man.

True to the deception practiced by Stratfordians Schoenbaum either feigns ignorance or is ignorant of these matters. Either condition seems unacceptable for a biographer of his standing. Harrison writes, "the first 17 sonnets form a series.... addressed to a beautiful youth and call on him to marry. From Sonnet 18 to 126 the poet addressed the youth on various topics and occasions...[years pass] the poet congratulates [W. H.] on his escape from his ‘confined doom,’... then follow 26 sonnets to a dark woman ,whom the poet has loved passionately..." While Harrison seems to know worlds more about the content of the Sonnets than Schoenbaum does, he neglects to mention that the Dark Lady has shared her favors with the "boy" or more likely "young man" of the later sonnets. He also neglects to mention that the Pretty Boy and the poet are forever separated by their stations in life: the poet is a common man, the boy a peer. He is also remiss in pointing out that the boy’s name is William. Harrison does point out the two were separated for at least a spring and summer, but seems to suppose these were sequential events, whereas the poet speaks of the winter between. (97)

For those not familiar with the Pretty Boy sonnets, one may ask why must we search "in the ranks of the higher nobility" rather than throughout all of England for the Pretty Boy? Its is simply because the poet places the Pretty Boy in that rarified circle, repeatedly. Boas writes, "the man was young...’the world’s fresh ornament’; he was high-born and beautiful with inherited beauty (S.3), "Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee Calls back the lovely April of her prime."

Boas continues, "to this youth, who bore Shakspere’s own Christian name of ‘Will,’ the poet gave away his heart wholly and without reserve, and the first twenty-six sonnets tell of Shakespere’s boundless love for him, and his eager desire that he should perpetuate his fairness by marrying and begetting offspring." (115)

It may be argued the poet does not explicitly name the Pretty Boy "Will," in these sonnets, while he just as certainly calls himself "Will" in the famous line "for my name is ‘Will.’" (136.14) However if one notices sonnet 22.10, one sees that in the poet’s first use of "will," there appears either a misprint or a marvelous double entendre. The line reads, "As I not for myself, but for thee will." "Will" here seems most likely the name, so it should have born a capital letter. If the Author had intended "will," in the sense of "intention," then "thee" would have been "thy." (Indeed future editions of these poems, such as Kathman’s Variorum, should correct this mistake.) The poet uses "will" twenty-five times in these sonnets, six times in sonnet 135 and four in sonnet 136, where he is obviously playing with the word. The toying is such to assure Boas and Chambers that the boy’s name was, in fact, William. As for the poet’s name, it appears in the original only inside quotation marks, as I have cited it, i.e., 'Will'.

 It thus suggests a ploy, for a man with the Christian name of Will (or William) would have no need to place his own name inside quotation marks and would have written: For my name is Will. So taken in the expanded context, the poet does call the boy Will, while he curiously only alludes to himself as ‘Will.’

Equally as thought provoking, the name "William" does not appear on the 1609 title page, which merely reads "SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS." Two title pages are known of this single edition, they differ, according to the editors of the English Replica edition (Payson & Clarke Ltd., 1927), "only in the length of the imprint on the title page. There is no other authority for the text..." Because of the hyphen, the life so at odds with that of the lowly London actor, and the exclusion of these sonnets from the First Folio, more than a few authorities have doubted William Shakespeare’s authorship of these remarkable and clearly autobiographic poems. (Wraight, Greenwood, Wright, Boas, Price, etc.)

How rarified was the peerage, into which the Author places young William H.? Arthur F. Kinney has collected all the English nobility of the period together in a slender book entitled, Titled Elizabethans A Directory of Elizabethan State and Church Officers and Knights, with Peers of England, Scotland and Ireland, 1558-1603. Since it does not, unfortunately, include an index, one must scan each page, however there are only four W.H.s in the peerage from that general period. Three of them are excluded by precise dates, which leaves only young William Herbert, eventually the Third Earl of Pembroke, in the running, just as Boas and Chamber both maintained.

Let us pause here a moment and review. Based on internal evidence, and the limited possibilities for similar names among the peerage, only William Herbert can have been the object of the poet’s affections. So why haven’t Stratfordians embraced these findings? Why aren’t they printed along with each new edition of the Sonnets?  Why haven't editors corrected the lower case letter in the name "will" to upper case?  The reason is simple. If young William Herbert was the object of the poet’s affections, as the case confidently proves, then one must ask how, when and by what means did the poet come to know young William Herbert and why did he feel like a father towards him?

More why does the Poet recall, with such obvious fondness, "the lovely April of" his mother’s "spring?" If the poet was the London actor, there can be no ready answers. It seems nearly impossible to suppose that young William Shakespeare of Stratford, knew Mary Sidney Herbert when she was in her "spring," and living in far away Kent. It seems equally implausible that he could have known young William, not to mention, to have considered himself William’s father. (See tactic one above.)

On the other hand, Christopher Marlowe, who is frequently suspected of being the Author of these works, did know Mary Sidney Herbert. They both were born and raised in Kent. Moreover Marlowe, a child prodigy and gifted young poet, could easily have "known" her when she was in her "spring." Indeed because of Mary’s voracious sexual habits and predilections for young poets, it is certainly possible he could have regarded himself as young William’s father in the same sense Falstaff regarded himself the father of young Prince Hal, "that thou art my son, I have partly thy mother’s word, partly my own opinion, but chiefly a villainous trick of thine eye, and a foolish hanging of thy nether lip, that doth warrant me." (2,4,445) In the days before DNA testing no man knew these matters conclusively.

What is known for certain is that William Herbert’s de jure father, the Second Earl of Pembroke, was a generation or so older than Mary Sidney, his third wife. Sir Henry Herbert had been childless through two marriages and many affairs, so the source of Mary’s fertility remains, or should remain, an open question and any young poet who knew her during this period regarded as a possible candidate for the authorship of "Shakes-Speares Sonnets," particularly young Marlowe. (Mary, born on 27 October 1561, was just three years Christopher’s senior, but easily wordily enough to have been Venus for young Marlowe, who turned 15 in 1579.)

William Herbert was conceived the summer of 1579, a time when Marlowe is known to have entered the King’s School, either shortly after or coinciding with a visit to the Kings School of Mary’s brother, Sir Philip Sidney. Like young Marlowe, Philip worked on covert matters, eventually marring the daughter of the English spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, for whom Marlowe worked. Sidney is known to have taken on a new page that same year, the lutist Daniel Bachelor. Sidney’s travels are dogged by the locales of both Marlowe’s and Shakespeare’s plays, with the early Two Gentlemen of Verona seeming to have had Sidney and his madcap page, Speed, clearly in mind. So a case can be made that Marlowe was, as Nashe has suggested, Sidney’s page, Jack Wilton, the madcap page at Wilton House, Mary’s principle residence, as first suggested, obliquely, by William Urry in his biography, Christopher Marlowe and Canterbury, who connects Marlowe to Nahse’s epitaph in Unfortunate Traveller. (93) Nashe dubs him "chieftain of pygmies."

Mary’s first biographer, John Aubrey, has suggested on the basis of what was then fairly widespread local gossip, that one of Mary’s sons (Philip) was the product of an incestuous relationship between Mary and her brother, Philip. We’d rather it have been a liaison with his page: young Christopher Marlowe and the son to have been young William. But we shall never know any more than Falstaff knew, in the absence of DNA testing. What we do know is that Marlowe and Mary overlapped in Kent, that Marlowe knew Mary, dedicated amorous love poems to her, and very likely young William Herbert as well. We also know that the Herbert family supported or patronized Marlowe’s play, Edward II, as we are reminded on its title page. In a like fashion, the First Folio informs us that the Pembrokes had patronized the Author in the past, a fact for Marlowe, but not for the London actor.


More Stratfordian Smoke Screens

I opened this essay by observing that, despite this well established linkage to William Herbert, Stratfordians continue to regard the question of "Mr. W.H.’s" identity as insolvable. In fact the Stratfordian rout is worse than this. In a last ditch effort to save their paradigm, modern Stratfordian have resurrected the 19th century proposition, first advanced by Neil and Philarete Chasles, that "begetter" means simply the person who "procured" or obtained the individual sonnets for press, for Thorpe, their publisher. They identified, quite imaginatively, this "W.H." from thousands of possibles, as William Hathaway, Shakespeare’s brother-in-law. (Boas, 118) To reach this position Stratfordians must fail, or feign to fail, to see an identity between the "W.H.," whom Thorpe addresses, and the man to whom the poet wished "all eternity." This identity, clear to careful readers, of the dedication, such as Chambers and Boas, means we can be certain the "Mr. W. H." (whom Thorpe addresses) and "Will" were one and the same person. I’m hardly the first to notice this identity, because of it Boas rejected this possibility out of hand and Sir Edmund Chambers remarks on it in his essay for the Encyclopedia Britannica when he writes, while "it is just possible that ‘begetter’ might mean, not ‘inspirer,’ but ‘procurer for the press,’ the interpretation is shipwrecked on the obvious identity of the person to whom Thrope ‘wishes’ eternity with the person to whom the poet ‘promised’ that eternity."


The Misprint Theory:

Failing in this ploy, other Stratfordians have, from time to time, rather desperately suggested, that "Mr. W.H.’s" initials are a misprint, which resulted from a typesetting error and that they were intended to have been "W.H.", which would mean that Southampton, i.e., Henry Wriothesley, might have, just possibly, been "Mr. W.H." For the sake of argument, I am willing to fully consider the case for both William Herbert and Henry Wriothesley in the paragraphs which follow. I exclude any consideration that "W.H." might have been outside the peerage for two reasons: 1) the poet places him inside it; and 2) if he’s outside, the problem becomes insolvable, due to a nearly endless list of men with similar initials. I have set out below sixteen conditions (and would invite readers to add whatever additional requirements which might happen to occur to them.) It would seem reasonable that any candidate must fulfill all the requirements laid out in the Pretty Boy sonnets if we are to exclusively narrow our focus. It will be seen that of the two candidates, only William Herbert fulfills all of the conditions, as shown in the tabulation below:

A Tabulation for Known Factors Concerning the Pretty Boy:

Mr. W.H. must have been a "pretty boy."

Both Pembroke and Southampton qualify.

Pembroke / Southampton

Yes Yes

He must have been known, by the poet, as a boy.

If poet was Marlowe, then yes for both boys. If not no.

Yes Yes

Yes No

He was proposed in an early marriage.

Yes for both

Yes Yes

The shame is the poet's.

Most likely for Pembroke

Less likely for Southampton

The proposed marriage was c. 1595.

Yes for Pembroke, no

for Southampton

Yes NO

His love life was scandalous and he was imprisoned for it.

Yes for both. The poet calls it a "confined doom."

Yes Yes

Connected to the poet in some shameful fashion; the exposure would "take honor from thy name."

Certain for Pembroke,

uncertain for Southampton

Yes No

He was the poet’s "sun."

Possible for both.

Yes Yes

He was the poet’s son.

Only Pembroke

Yes No

His name was Will.

Only Pembroke

Yes No

He outranks the poet, i.e., he is a member of the peerage.

Yes for either Pembroke

or Southampton

Yes Yes

The poet knew the boy’s mother in her youth.

Only possible for Pembroke*

Yes No

His mother was lovely and blond.

Possible for both

Yes Yes  Yes Maybe

The poet and the boy are estranged.

Possible for either

Yes Yes

The poet was "exiled."

Only possible for Marlowe

The poet and the boy are reconciled.

Possible for either, but more likely for Pembroke

Yes ?

The underlying hidden shame leads to the exclusion of the Sonnets from the First Folio.

Pembroke only

Yes No

The poet’s trifles were supported by Will.

Only certain for Pembroke and Marlowe

Yes Maybe

             Addressed by his Initials

       William Herbert not  Henry     Wriothesley

  Yes  No

That’s ten possibles for Southampton and 19 for Herbert. Southampton is thus out of the running, while William Herbert, with a perfect score, is clearly the winner.

The Hidden Shame

And what was the hidden shame which bound the poet and the boy and would strip W.H. of his honor if acknowledged? Hint it would make the Pretty Boy his "son." The most obvious answer is that W.H. was the poet’s illicit and thus estranged son. This connection explains all the other remaining conditions. With this in mind we can see why the poet could not address W.H. with his title because this would identify him and this conclusive identification would strip W.H. of his honors, titles and lands, just as the poet wrote.

If this is the case, why wasn’t Shakespeare’s identification binding at the time? First, the dedication does not specifically state that "W.H." is a member of the peerage. This allowed the necessary wiggle room. If the dedication had addressed him even as a "Lord W. H." the purloined finger would have pointed directly at William Herbert, the Third Earl of Pembroke, because, as Kenney has enumerated, there were no other Lord W. H.s in all of England at that time, at least no others who fit the age profile of the Sonnet’s Pretty Boy. Indeed, if we don’t look too closely at what is being said, in the dedication, the term "begetter" did have a double meaning, so the publisher could say, if questioned on this point, "oh you mean Wily Huttingson who rounded up the individual verses for me..." And since "will" was not capitalized in sonnet 22 (10) the publisher could claim that "thee" was a misprint for "thy."

On the other hand anyone knowing of these connections, as scholars now do, have all they need to know to solve the puzzle. More over, William Herbert, and his mother, who knew the full story, would have, surely, felt exposed enough to have "prosecuted" these "trifles in the past." Not to mention to insist that they be excluded from the First Folio. (Keep in mind these verses enjoyed only a single known printing during William Herbert’s life, the initial printing. When they were re-issued, many years later, their order was shuffled around so as to mingle or "hide" the Pretty Boy sonnets among the others offerings.) I have long suspect a form of "family blackmail." Herbert, his mother and the poet were the only three principles who knew the full story. If the poet was too candid, Herbert’s brother, Phillip, could have taken over William’s titles and lands, so Herbert was in tight spot. Due to this "leverage" Herbert and the poet worked out some sort of deal along the lines of "ok, I’ll back the publication of the plays....under the name of Shakespeare...but the poems must be excluded." And they were. And, as a matter of fact, the First Folio itself was only issued after Mary Sidney Herbert’s death.

Additional Hebert Connections:

Venus and Adonis, said the first work of William Shakespeare, entered history on 18/28 April 1593. Since William Herbert turned 13 on 8/18 April 1593 a hidden connection seems likely. In the poem, Venus points to a boy born of "an earthly mother" and pledges him as the poet’s patron. Temporal allusions in V&A date the poem to 1580, the year of William Herbert’s birth. (The Kentish quakes which coincided with his birth are alluded to four times in the poem and again, humorously in Henry IV, where Herbert, who was President of the Welsh Marshes, is gulled as Owen Glendower.) Geographical allusions to the ocean, to mermaids, waves and "dive-dappers", as well as to downs, brakes and what appear to have been sea-side caves and experiences, link the poem to Kent, Marlowe’s and Mary’s home of record. For Stratfordians these allusions and parallels are, of course, of no significance. (See tactic number two, above.)

So we can see that only William Herbert fits the profile of "Mr. W. H." and does so in such a conclusive fashion that only "William Herbert" can have been the poet’s Pretty Boy. Anything else is equivocation on the part of Stratfordians if not outright chicanery. This analysis raises a serious doubt as to who the poet was, and strongly suggests that it was Marlowe, who knew the Herberts, particularly Mary, and who could have easily considered himself, at least in the Falstaffian fashion, William Herbert’s father.


It will take DNA evidence to prove it, but if Herbert’s bones can be typed, and Marlowe’s sister’s located and typed as well, then the identification could be carried out, even at this admittedly late date. Until then the case is, if nothing else, remarkable and worthy of serious consideration by future biographers of both Herbert, Marlowe and Shakespeare. Indeed it should possible to trace a living decedent of Marlowe’s sisters, in Kent, who could be matched to the DNA in Herbert’s bones. Herbert left no heirs, so living decedents cannot be found. Typing his brother, who under this theory, was only his half brother, would not serve any definitive purpose. Though a DNA test of his de jure father’s remains would establish whether or not he was William’s de facto father. This test should be possible given the continued preservation of both tombs. If it proves Sir Henry wasn’t William’s father...the door would certainly be wide open. On the other hand, since the poet, like Falstaff, never knew for certain, no actual relationship need be supposed, as paradoxical as that may seem.


*Southampton's mother, Mary Browne,  was , married to his father on Tuesday, 19 February 1566 and likely 16~20 years of age at that point.  Southampton, (H.W.) was born seven years later on 6 October 1573.  It is not, thus, likely that either Marlowe or Shakespeare knew Mary when she was in her April years.  On the other hand, Mary Sidney Herbert was just three years older than both poets.  And did overlap Marlowe in Kent.  Marlowe thus could easily have known Mary Sidney Herbert while she was in her Spring and would forever recall, in William Herbert's face, her face from that time....just as any father or supposed father recalls these things.


Southampton c. the time of the Sonnets His mother about the time of her wedding. In my opinion, young H.W. looks more like his father than his mother, who, as we see here had a long, lovely and quite angular face.
William Herbert, as a youth blond and blue eyed, but turning reddish brown here in his thirties. One finds it worth remarking that Herbert wears an earring with a string or shoelace in it.  The Chandos portrait of Marlowe/Shakespeare evidences a similar conceit. His mother, Mary the Countess of Pembroke, blond and blue eyed and of the same facial shape.


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