What is the de Vere Geneva Bible?
A copy of the 1568-70 2nd edition of the Geneva Bible, purchased in 1925 by Henry Clay Folger for his Folger Shakespeare Library Collection, from Leicestershire bookseller Bernard Halliday. The receipt states – correctly — that the book bears the “arms of the Earl of Oxford.” The book will hereafter be referred to by its Folger shelfmark, 1427.
Can we be sure that the book was actually owned by the 17th Earl of Oxford?
Yes. Four independent lines of evidence converge to prove this point:
1) Shelfmark 1427 is bound in scarlet velvet with silver engraved armorial devices belonging the Earldom of Oxford. Given the publication date, the only Earl of Oxford for whom this binding can plausibly have been created is Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl (1550-1604).
2) Surprising as it may seem, the original bill of sale for shelfmark 1427 is still preserved in records for the Court of Wards from 1570, as reprinted in B.M. Ward’s 1928 biography of Oxford: “To William Seres, stationer, for a Geneva Bible gilt, a Chaucer, Plutarch’s works in French, and other books and papers…£2 7d 10p.” The Folger 1427 volume, like the Geneva Bible described in the 1570 purchase order, has a gilded foredge.
3) The handwriting in shelfmark 1427 – which contains approximately 32 short handwritten notes (often of no more than one word) – has been verified through independent forensic paleography, to be that of the 17th Earl. Board certified examiner Ms. Emily Will concluded that “After thorough examination of the documents presented in this case, it is my expert opinion that it is highly probable that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, is the author of the Q1 questioned annotations. It is the limitations of the questioned materials, rather than any significant difference between the known and questioned writings, which prevents an unqualified opinion” (Will 2000).
4) As Dr. Stritmatter’s dissertation has shown (55-59), many themes reflected in the marked passages of shelfmark 1427 can be traced directly to known biographical facts of Oxford’s life. This confirms the evidence of handwriting: not only was Oxford the original owner of the book, but it was he who made the annotations.
What is the Geneva Bible?
The Geneva Bible is the translation of the Bible prepared by William Whittingham and his Protestant associates in Geneva, Switzerland, during the period 1553 through 1560. The first edition was published in 1560 in Geneva; due to its incendiary implied criticisms of Catholicism, it remained a popular but unauthorized translation throughout the reign of Elizabeth I. In 1568 the Church of England published an alternative Protestant translation, the Bishop’s Bible, which remained the official English Bible until the King James edition appeared in 1611.
Over a hundred years of scholarship has made it clear that the Geneva Bible was the translation most familiar to Shakespeare; although he knew the Bishop’s and other translations, and sometimes prefers their variant wording, the version of the Bible which he recalled most spontaneously and frequently was the Genevan. This fact alone is enough to demonstrate the extreme unlikelihood of the recent revisionist view that Shakespeare was a recusant Catholic. To any Catholic the Geneva translation of the Bible would have been heretical and is the last version he would be likely to read or recall in his work.
Where was shelfmark 1427 between 1604 (when Oxford died) and 1925 (when Henry Clay Folger purchased it)?
We do not know. Presumably it was somewhere in Leicestershire during the early 20th century, since Folger’s bookseller was from that county. It has been suggested that it may have been deacquisitioned around 1925 from Kenilworth castle. Although this is a plausible scenario, at this time it cannot be supported with any known tangible evidence.
Have the inks been tested to prove their authenticity as 16th century inks?
No. In 1995 Dr. Stritmatter and colleagues (specifically, Mark K. Anderson and George Anderson, a chemist) requested that the Folger library undertake such tests, and offered to help design protocols and arrange funding. These requests were refused.
What is the evidence connecting the annotations of shelfmark 1427 to the works of Shakespeare?
The following claims are documented in Dr. Stritmatter’s dissertation or in follow up analysis by Dr. Richard Waugaman:
1) Of the approximately 1043 underlined or marked verses in shelfmark 1427, 147 are cited in previous authorities (Carter, 1905; Milward, 1984; Shaheen, 1987, 1989, 1993, 1999) as Shakespearean influences (Stritmatter 311-315).
2) 20 more marked verses contain language that is at least as close as that found in the verse identified by one or more of these authorities as a Shakespearean influence (Stritmatter 315).
3) 81 marked verses contain language that, although not cited by previous authorities as influencing Shakespeare, exhibit more or less definite traces of influence, documented in the dissertation (Stritmatter 316-318).
4) Of sixteen psalms marked in the Sternhold and Hopkins 1569 metrical psalms which is bound with the de Vere Bible, nine have been cited in previous authorities as influencing Shakespeare. Subsequent work by R. Waugaman, published in Notes and Queries, shows that the actual number of marked psalms significantly influencing Shakespeare is much greater than was known in 2001.
5) The more times a Shakespearean verse is cited by Shakespeare, the more likely it is to be marked in the de Vere Bible.
6) At least two marked verses as well as a number of underlined notes contain language reflected in Shakespeare that is found only in the Geneva Bible.
7) Of 81 Bible verses or groups of verses that Shakespeare alludes to four or more times (accounting for as many as 22.5% of all Shakespeare’s Bible references), no less than thirty are directly marked in the de Vere Bible (Stritmatter 78; 267-304).
Many of the annotations fall into one of several definite thematic emphases, all of them with implications for better understanding their relationship to the field of Shakespeare’s references to the Bible. These include:
1. The responsibilities of the rich and powerful.
2. The virtue of charity.
3. The evils of usury.
4. The nature of sin.
6. The value of secret works.
7. The nature of providence in eschatological end times.
8. The nature of proper speech.
9. The discrepancy between truth and appearance.
Isn’t it true that the annotations of shelfmark 1427 were made before Oxford purchased it?
No. This is a rumor started by the Folger Shakespeare Library, in a 1993 pamphlet, Roasting the Swan of Avon, and later perpetuated by the Smithsonian Magazine. Despite being promulgated by such supposed authorities as the Folger library and Smithsonian, the argument, as Mark K. Anderson and Roger Stritmatter demonstrated in 1996, was based on erroneous facts and indefensible reasoning.
Doesn’t Berkeley Emeritus Professor Alan Nelson claim that the shelfmark 1427 annotations are not by Oxford?
That depends when you talk to him. Here is a partial chronology of Dr. Nelson’s opinions on the matter:
- 6/3/95, personal communication to R. Stritmatter and Phaeton online discussion forum: “I am 99 and 44/100 percent certain that the annotating hand is Oxford’s; I am 100 percent sure (if its possible to be that) that the Bible is Oxford’s.”
- 6/4/99, to the Chronicle of Higher Education: “The hand is simply not the same hand that wrote [the] letters. The people who claim this is clearly Oxford’s hand just don’t know their paleography.”
Why did Nelson change his mind?
In a 2000 conversation with William Boyle and Roger Stritmatter, Dr. Nelson explained his transformation this way: “Um…I wanted it to be Oxford’s handwriting….yes, that’s what I’m going to say.”
At the present time, this is the most complete explanation that Dr. Nelson has given for his remarkable “about face” on the fundamental question of the handwriting of the annotations. If you don’t find it to be thorough or convincing, perhaps you can ask Nelson yourselff….
How can I order a copy of the dissertation?
The de Vere Bible dissertation is available through the Shakespeare Fellowship shopping cart. While you are there, please make use of the Shakespeare Fellowship’s excellent online resources, and consider joining the Fellowship.