British Library website satisfaction survey
Take part in our web survey!
Why not take a few moments to tell us what you think of our website?
Your views could help shape our site for the future.
Yes please No thanks
Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573–1624), was a literary patron and courtier, well known for his flamboyant looks and showy, expensive clothes. He appears in more portraits surviving from his day than anyone except Queen Elizabeth I. In this painting, Southampton wears a silk doublet, coloured garters and embroidered gloves, with his famous long auburn hair swept over one shoulder. In the background are parts of an elaborate suit of armour.
Henry was the son of Mary Browne and the 2nd Earl of Southampton. But on his father’s death he was placed in the care of the Queen’s Lord Treasurer, Burghley. In 1590, Burghley tried to arrange for the 17-year-old Henry to marry Lady Elizabeth Vere, his 12-year-old granddaughter. Henry refused to do so, risking a huge fine for disobeying his guardian.
Southampton became a notorious bachelor at court, and a favourite of Queen Elizabeth. But in 1598 he married Elizabeth Vernon, one of the Queen’s maids of honour, after she became pregnant. Angry at the secret marriage, the Queen imprisoned Southampton for a short while. In 1601 he joined Essex’s rebellion against Elizabeth I, but escaped execution and was committed to the Tower. It was only when James I became king in 1603 that Southampton was released and resumed his status as a favourite at court.
Southampton was a keen theatre-goer and generous patron of writers including William Shakespeare, John Florio and Thomas Nash. Two of Shakespeare’s longer poems, 'Venus and Adonis' (1593) and 'The Rape of Lucrece' (1594) were dedicated to him. This has led some critics to suggest that he could be the ‘Fair Youth’ addressed in Shakespeare’s Sonnets 1–126. Southampton was initially reluctant to wed, and the first sonnets urge the young man to marry. Some also argue that Henry Wriothesley could be the ‘Mr. W. H.’ addressed in the preface to the Sonnets (1609).
Other critics suggest different contenders for both these roles, or question whether it’s possible – or valuable – to find a real ‘fair youth’ beyond the poems.
Hannah Crawforth explores how Shakespeare used and radically changed the conventions of love poetry, and how modern poets have reinvented his Sonnets for themselves.
Love poetry in the Renaissance often expressed sexual or romantic passion, but it could also serve a variety of political, social and religious ends. Emily Mayne explores the origins and development of Renaissance love poetry and the many forms it took.
Liza Picard describes the laws, trends and standards of hygiene that determined who wore what in Elizabethan England.
Edward II: plot and character overview Outraged by Edward’s elevation of his male favourite Gaveston, ...