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Examining the Prince Tudor Theory

esearch into the 17th Earl of Oxford's life has resulted in the development and promulgation of the Prince Tudor theory. Based almost entirely on an interpretation of Shakespeare's Sonnets, Venus and Adonis and several of the plays, the two branches of this theory claim in one case that Oxford was the son of Queen Elizabeth I and Lord Thomas Seymour, and in the other that Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton was the son of Oxford and Queen Elizabeth I. This theory holds that as the illegitimate sons of Queen Elizabeth, both Oxford and Southampton were potential heirs to the throne.

Integral to the latter Prince Tudor theory is the assumption that after the secret birth of a son in May-June 1574 by the Queen and Oxford, the baby was placed in the Southampton household as a substitute for the son known to have been born to the Southamptons in October 1573.

The Prince Tudor theory originated with Alfred Dodd, who claimed in Francis Bacon’s Personal Life Story, published in 1910, that both Sir Francis Bacon and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, were the sons of Queen Elizabeth.  In “Occultist Influence on the Authorship Controversy” in the Spring 1998 issue of The Elizabethan Review, Roger Nyle Parisious explains how the Baconian scenario was taken over by two British Oxfordians, Captain B. M. Ward and Percy Allen, at some time between 1930 and 1933.

Since then, the Prince Tudor theory has been the subject of a number of books and is the subject of Anonymous, a feature film directed by Roland Emmerich (November 2011).

A wide range of historical documents decisively refutes the  Prince Tudor theory.  A significant number of these documents were examined by Diana Price in “Rough Winds Do Shake: A Fresh Look at the Tudor Rose Theory,” in the Autumn 1996 issue of The Elizabethan Review.

Another refutation of the Prince Tudor theory based on historical documents is Christopher Paul’s article, “The Prince Tudor Dilemma: Hip Thesis, Hypothesis, or Old Wives' Tale?”, published in the October 2002 issue of The Oxfordian, available online at http://shakespeare-oxford.com/wp-content/oxfordian/Paul_PT_Dilemma.pdf. This year, Mr. Paul reviewed a book by Charles Beauclerk on the subject entitled, Shakespeare’s Lost Kingdom (Grove Press), which appeared in the 2010 issue of Brief Chronicles.

Moreover, we note the following shortcomings in the evidence made for the Prince Tudor theory:
1. Why are there no surviving documents, public or private, that allude to the Queen’s pregnancy at the time of Henry Wriothesley’s so-called secret birth in May-June 1574, given her daily appearance at Court?
2. Given the Vatican’s excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I in 1570, why would she hand over her (illegitimate) child in 1574 to be raised by the Second Earl of Southampton and his wife, who were considered Catholic sympathizers by the Queen’s government, and which repeatedly jailed the Earl for such sympathies?
3. Why is there little resemblance between Henry Wriothesley, Third Earl of Southampton and Queen Elizabeth I in extant portraits of both?

More to the point, the Prince Tudor theory is a hypothesis which lacks supporting evidence from contemporary documents. In such a case, the question of epistemology arises. Can works of fiction be used to establish the truth of real people and events? Or can plays and poems only provide a psychological context for legal and other factual documents, including private letters and diaries?  Historians and psychologists as well as literary scholars recently have employed a psychological interpretation of fictional texts to do just that. But can a historical theory rely solely on the “testimony” of literature when the lives being investigated are already well-documented?

In short, we question the reliability of psychological interpretation of literature when establishing the identities, motives, and behavior of real people unless supported by documentation. Moreover, we maintain there is no way that psychological interpretation can legitimately question the authenticity of documents—especially legal documents—in arriving at historical truth. Finally, we think the existence of a life recorded in documents should serve as a check on speculation or interpretations of texts, and thus make the process rational rather than frivolous. If the documents and the psychological interpretation cohere and reinforce rather than contradict each other, credibility increases but of course still remains a matter, in part, of conjecture.

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