3rd Earl of Southampton (1581-1624)
Born 1573 Died 1624
Henry Wriothesley, one of Shakespeare's patrons, was the second son of Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton, and his wife Mary Browne, daughter of the 1st Viscount Montague. He was born at Cowdray House, near Midhurst, on the 6th of October 1573, 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 favour.
He became a munificent patron of poets; Nashe dedicated his romance of Jack Willon to him, and Gervas 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. But 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, 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 Lucrece (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 £1,000 to complete a purchase.
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 the 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 favour 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 favour 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 1549 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 (see Shakespeare).
Meanwhile in 1596 and 1597 Southampton had been actively employed, having accompanied Essex on his two expeditions to Cadiz and to the Azores, in the latter of which he distinguished himself by his daring tactics. In 1598 he bad a brawl at court with Ambrose Willoughby, and later in the same year he attended Sir Robert Cecil on an embassy to Paris. In 1599 he went to Ireland with Essex, who made him general of his horse, but the queen insisted that the appointment should be cancelled, and Southampton returned to London. He was deeply involved in Essex's conspiracy against the queen, and in February 1601 was sentenced to death. Sir Robert Cecil obtained the commutation of the penalty to imprisonment for life.
On the accession of James I
Southampton resumed his place at court and received numerous honours 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
and his company, to which Shakespeare belonged, at Southampton House
Southampton took a considerable share in promoting the colonial enterprises of the time, and was an active member of the Virginia company's council. 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. He 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. 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 the 10th of November 1624.
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 (1583-1627) wrote a well-known elegy in his praise, and Gervase Markham wrote of him in a tract entitled Honour in his Perfection, or a Treatise in Commendation of ... Henry, Earl of Oxenford, Henry, Earle of Southampton, Robert, Earl of Essex (1624).
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 Dictionary of National Biography, arguing in favour 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.
(* Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland, a close ally and friend of Southampton.)
Being the entry for SOUTHAMPTON, HENRY WRIOTHESLEY, 3RD EARL OF in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.