Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton

Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (Wriothesley is pronounced "Risly") (October 6, 1573 – November 10, 1624), one of William Shakespeare's patrons, was the second son of Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton, and his wife Mary Browne, Countess of Southampton, daughter of the 1st Viscount Montagu.

Early life

He was born on October 6,1573, in Cowdray, Sussex, England.

When his father died, he moved to Midhurst, England, and succeeded to the title in 1581, when he became a royal ward, under the immediate care of Lord Burghley. He entered St John's College, Cambridge, in 1585, graduating M.A. in 1589: and his name was entered at Gray's Inn before he left the university. At the age of seventeen he was presented at court, where he was soon counted among the friends of the earl of Essex, and was distinguished by extraordinary marks of the queen's favor. He became a munificent patron of poets: Nashe dedicated his romance of "Jack Willon" to him, and Gervase Markham his poem on Sir Richard Grenville's last fight. His name is also associated with Barnabe Barnes's "Parthenophil and Parthenope", and with the "Worlde of Wordes" of John Florio, who was for some years in his personal service as teacher of Italian.

Drama and association with Shakespeare

It is as a patron of the drama and especially of Shakespeare that he is best known. "My Lord Southampton and Lord Rutland," writes Rowland White to Sir Robert Sydney in 1599, "come not to the court ... They pass away the time in London merely in going to plays every day" (Sydney Papers, [ The circumstances and some text of this letter can be read at [http://books.google.com/books?id=FcamC-jHjOsC&pg=PR173&dq=rowland+white+vol.+ii.,+p.+132.&as_brr=1&ei=2392R5_LIoeQjgGMwcx3 "William Shakespeare: The Text Formed from an Entirely new Collation of the Old Editions..."] , by J Payne Collier, Esq. F.S.A. in eight volumes. London: Whittaker & Co] ed. Collins, ii. 132). "Venus and Adonis" (1593) was dedicated to Southampton in terms expressing respect, but no special intimacy; but in the dedication of "The Rape of Lucrece" [ [http://shakespeare-1.com/poetry-sonnets/lucrece.html/ "The Rape of Lucrece"] , Shakespeare-1.com] (1594) the tone is very different. "The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end ... What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours." Nicholas Rowe, on the authority of Sir William Davenant, stated in his "Life of Shakespeare" that Southampton on one occasion gave Shakespeare a present of £1000 to complete a purchase. There is no documentary evidence of this, however.

Nathan Drake in his "Shakespeare and his Times" (1819; vol. ii. pp. 62 seq.) first suggested that Lord Southampton was the person to whom the sonnets of Shakespeare were addressed. He set aside Thomas Thorpe's dedication to the "onlie begetter of these ensuing sonnets, Mr W.H.," by adopting the very unusual significance given by George Chalmers to the word begetter, which he takes as equivalent to procurer. Mr W. H. was thus to be considered only as the bookseller who obtained the manuscript. Other adherents of the Southampton theory suggest that the initials H. W. (Henry Wriothesley) were simply reversed for the sake of concealment by the publisher. It is possible in any case that too much stress has been laid on Thomas Thorpe's mystification.

The chief arguments in favor of the Southampton theory are the agreement of the sonnets with the tone of the dedication of "Lucrece", the friendly relations known to have existed between Southampton and the poet, and the correspondence, at best slight, between the energetic character of the earl and that of the young man of the sonnets. Mr Arthur Acheson ("Shakespeare and the Rival Poet", 1903) brings much evidence in favor of the theory, first propounded by William Minto, that George Chapman, whose style is parodied by Shakespeare in the 21st sonnet and in "Love's Labour's Lost", was the rival poet of the 78th and following sonnets. Mr Acheson goes on to suppose that Chapman's erotic poems were written with a view to gaining Southampton's patronage, and that that nobleman had refused the dedication as the result of Shakespeare's expostulations. The obscurity surrounding the subject is hardly lightened by the dialogue between H. W. and W. S. in "Willobie his Avisa", a poem printed in 1594 as the work of Henry Willobie. If the sonnets were indeed addressed to Southampton, the earlier ones urging marriage upon him must have been written before the beginning (1595) of his intrigue with Elizabeth Vernon, cousin of the Earl of Essex, which ended in 1598 with a hasty marriage that brought down Queen Elizabeth's anger on both the contracting parties, who spent some time in the Fleet prison in consequence. The Southampton theory of the sonnets cannot be regarded as proved, and must in any case be considered in relation to other interpretations.

Association with the 2nd Earl of Essex

In 1596 and 1597 Southampton was employed in Essex's expeditions to Cádiz and to the Azores, in the latter of which he distinguished himself by his daring tactics. In 1598 he had a brawl at court with Ambrose Willoughby, and later in the same year he attended the queen's principal secretary, Sir Robert Cecil, on an embassy to Paris.

In 1599, during the Nine Years War (1595-1603), he went to Ireland with Essex, who made him general of his horse, but the queen insisted that the appointment be cancelled. Southampton remained on in personal attendance upon the earl, rather than as an officer. During his time in the Irish wars, it was reported to Cecil that he saw most of his active service in bed with a captain Piers Edmunds - he would "cole and hug" his captain in his arms, and "play wantonly" with him. However, Southampton was active during the campaign, and prevented a defeat at the hands of the Irish rebels, when his cavalry drove off an attack at Arklow in County Wicklow. He was deeply involved in Essex's conspiracy against the queen, and in February 1601 was sentenced to death. Cecil obtained the commutation of the penalty to imprisonment for life.

Life under King James I (and VI)

On the accession of James I Southampton resumed his place at court and received numerous honors from the new king. On the eve of the abortive rebellion of Essex he had induced the players at the Globe Theatre to revive "Richard II", and on his release from prison in 1603 he resumed his connection with the stage. In 1603 he entertained Queen Anne with a performance of "Love's Labour's Lost" by Burbage and his company, to which Shakespeare belonged, at Southampton House.

He seems to have been a born fighter, and engaged in more than one serious quarrel at court, being imprisoned for a short time in 1603 following a heated argument with Lord Grey of Wilton in front of Queen Anne. Grey, an implacable opponent of the Essex faction, was later implicated in the Main Plot and Bye Plot. Southampton was in more serious disgrace in 1621 for his determined opposition to Buckingham. He was a volunteer on the Protestant side in Germany in 1614, and in 1617 he proposed to fit out an expedition against the Barbary pirates.

Southampton was a leader among the Jacobean aristocrats who turned to modern investment practices — "in industry, in modernizing their estates and in overseas trade and colonization." [Margot Heinemann, "Rebel Lords, Popular Playwrights, and Political Culture: Notes on the Jacobean Patronage of the Earl of Southampton," in Browwn; p. 139.] He financed the first tinplate mill in the country, and founded an ironworks at Titchfield. He developed his properties in London, in Bloomsbury and Holborn; he revamped his country estates, participated in the efforts of the East India Company and the New England Company, and backed Henry Hudson's search for the Northwest Passage.

A significant artistic patron in the Jacobean as well as the Elizabethan era, Southampton promoted the work of George Chapman, Samuel Daniel, Thomas Heywood, and the composer Alfonso Ferrabosco the younger. Heywood's popular, expansionist dramas were compatible with Southampton's maritime and colonial interests. [Consider Heywood's "The Fair Maid of the West", "Fortune by Land and Sea", and "The Travels of the Three English Brothers"; Heinemann, pp. 142-7.]

Virginia Company, colonization

Henry Wriothesley, whose name is included in the 1605 panel of the New World Tapestry, took a considerable share in promoting the colonial enterprises of the time, and was an active member of the Virginia Company's governing council. Although profits proved elusive, his other visions for the Colony based at Jamestown were eventually accomplished. He was part of a faction within the company with Sir Edwin Sandys, who eventually became the Treasurer, and worked tirelessly to support the struggling venture. In addition to profits, Southampton's faction sought a permanent colony which would enlarge British territory, relieve the nation's overpopulation, and expand the market for English goods. Although profits largely eluded the Virginia Company, and it was dissolved in 1624, the other goals were accomplished.

His name is thought by many to be the origin of the naming of the harbor of Hampton Roads, and the Hampton River. Although named at later dates, similar attribution may involve the town (and later city) of Hampton, Virginia, as well as Southampton County, Virginia and Northampton County. However, the name Southampton was not uncommon in England, including an important port city and an entire region along the southern coast, which was originally part of Hampshire. There are also variations applied in other areas of the English colonies which were not part of the Virginia Company of London's efforts, making the origin of the word and derivations of it as applied in Virginia even more debatable.

Later life and death

In 1624 he and his elder son enrolled themselves as volunteers for the United Provinces of the Netherlands against Spain. Immediately on landing they were attacked with fever, to which both succumbed, the father surviving until 10 November 1624.


In 1598 Henry Wriothesley married Elizabeth Vernon, the daughter of John Vernon of Hodnet by his wife Elizabeth Devereux. Elizabeth Devereux's grandfathers were the Viscount Hereford and the Earl of Huntingdon; on her father John's side, Elizabeth's family were more obscure.

Henry and Elizabeth married while "...she was already highly pregnant". Recent speculation advances the possibility that their eldest child was actually by William Shakespeare. ["Family History Monthly", Christmas 2007, page 12 the research of Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel. Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Mainz in Germany, see also [http://www.hammerschmidt-hummel.de/translation/5dseptember2000.htm the author's website] ]

Henry and Elizabeth had several children including:
#Penelope Wriothesley who married William Spencer, 2nd Lord Spencer of Wormleighton;
#an elder son who died shortly before his father in the Netherlands;
#Thomas Wriothesley b 1608 who became the 4th Earl Southampton;
#Anne Wriothesley who married Robert Wallop of Farley Wallop.


There exist numerous portraits of Southampton, in which he is depicted with dark auburn hair and blue eyes, compatible with Shakespeare's description of "a man right fair." Sir John Beaumont wrote a well-known elegy in his praise, and Gervase Markham wrote of him in a tract entitled "Honor in his Perfection, or a Treatise in Commendation of ... Henry, Earl of Oxenford, Henry, Earle of Southampton, Robert, Earl of Essex" (1624).

A rare portrait, believed to be of Southampton has been discovered using X-ray technology. Art historians from Bristol University have found what they believe is a picture of Henry Wriothesley which was painted over in the 16th Century. To the naked eye, it is a portrait of his wife Elizabeth Vernon, dressed in black and wearing ruby ear-rings. The hidden picture was uncovered when the work was X-rayed in preparation for an exhibition in Somerset.

Further reading

For further information see "Memoirs of Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton", in Boswell's "Shakespeare" (1821), xx. 427 sqq., where many of the elegies on Southampton are printed; also Nathan Drake, "Shakespeare and his Times" (1817), ii. 120; Sidney Lee, "Life of William Shakespeare" (1898); Gerald Massey, "The Secret Drama of Shakespeare's Sonnets" (1888); Samuel Butler, "Shakespeare's Sonnets Reconsidered" (1899), where there is some distinctive criticism of the Southampton theory (ch. v.vii); an article by William Archer, "Shakespeare's Sonnets. The Case against Southampton", in the "Fortnightly Review" (Dec. 1897); and Sidney Lee's article on Southampton in the "Dict. Nat. Biog.", arguing in favor of his identity with the hero of the sonnets.

P Alvor in "Das neue Shakespeare Evangelium" (Munich, 1906), brings forward a theory that Southampton and Rutland were the authors of the Shakespeare tragedies and comedies respectively, and borrowed William Shakespeare's name to secure themselves from Elizabeth's suspicion.



*Brown, Charles Cedric, ed. "Patronage, Politics, and Literary Traditions in England, 1558–1658." Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1993.
*Collins, Arthur. "Letters and Memorials of State in the Reigns of Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, King James, King Charles the I, Part of the Reign of King Charles II and Oliver's Usurpation Written and Collected by Hen. Sydney, Phil. Sydney and His Brother Rob. Sydney, Rob. IId. Earl of Leicerter, Phil. Viscount Lisle, and Alg. Sydney ; Together with Letters of the Other Ministers of State, with Whom They Held a Correspondence." London: Printed for T. Osborne, 1746.
* [http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/WRIOTHESLEY.htm#Henry%20WRIOTHESLEY%20(3º%20E.%20Southampton) Wriothesley family] Accessed December 29, 2007
*Shakespeare, William, and Alexander Chalmers. "The Works of William Shakspeare." Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1858. (p. clxxiii) [http://books.google.com/books?id=FcamC-jHjOsC&pg=PR173&dq=rowland+white+vol.+ii.,+p.+132.&as_brr=1&ei=2392R5_LIoeQjgGMwcx3 googlebooks] Accessed December 29, 2007
* [http://shakespeare-1.com/poetry-sonnets/lucrece.html/ The Rape of Lucrece online] Retrieved December 29, 2007
*X-rays uncover 'hidden portrait' Tuesday, 29 April 2008 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/7372629.stm


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