I have written about him before, and he is famous for being arguably Shakespeare's greatest patron, and he is commonly believed to be the prime candidate as the Fair Youth in the Sonnets.
There are two birthdays of his that I want to mention.
|Southampton, age 21|
I think the happiest birthday he must have celebrated his 25th birthday, in 1598, shortly after he secretly wed Elizabeth Vernon -- the great love of his life.
They both knew that their marriage would displease the Queen, and when the Queen did find out, she had them both sent to prison. Vernon was already pregnant.
But their love survived this terrible punishment.
Their love would be tested again in 1601 when Southampton was arrested with his great friend Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex as they led a rebellion against the Queen.
Essex was executed. Southampton was sentenced to death.
But his sentence was commuted to life in prison. Of all people, Robert Cecil, the Queen's right hand man, and the most powerful man in England, argued for the lesser sentence.
Southampton and Essex led the rebellion to remove Cecil from the Queen's court.
Why Cecil saved Southampton's life is a mystery.
I think the un-happiest birthday Southampton ever had was in 1601, stuck in the Tower, facing a life sentence and parted from his wife and daughter Penelope.
|In the Tower, 1603|
I can only imagine the sadness and anger and loneliness he must have felt.
His hopes and dreams for the future of his family and his country were destroyed.
There must have been very little to comfort him.
He may have been comforted with the thought that the Queen was very old and likely to die sooner than later, and perhaps his fate in prison would change. But would it change for the better, and see him delivered from the Tower? Or would it change for the worse, and see him lose his head?
I think that Shakespeare was busy at work on Hamlet in September and October of 1601.
Did Southampton know this? I hope he did. I hope it brought him some comfort that despite his being locked away, his old friend Shakespeare was writing in spite of the calamity of the Rebellion, and he was going to give voice to men like Southampton and Essex.
Southampton would celebrate yet another birthday in the Tower in 1602.
But soon after Queen Elizabeth died in March of 1603, Southampton was finally released.
Everything was changing. James was now king.
I think Southampton would have been very pleased to re-unite with his friend Shakespeare, who had survived the political upheavals since the Rebellion, and was still writing plays.
But Shakespeare not only survived. He thrived. He was now at court. He was now a King's Man.
And the plays that Shakespeare was about to write, for this new monarch, would show that he and Southampton were still in the fight.