The survivors of a wrecked craft find themselves on an impossibly remote island. They salvage what they can from the craft and make camp on the beach. On this island, compasses don’t work, strange lights appear and disappear, boars crush through the forest. At least one man would find the new island the clean slate he so badly needed. Most would later regret leaving the island. Sound familiar?
Actually, this is not the crash of Oceanic 815 (from the popular ABC series Lost). It is of a shipwreck that occurred nearly four hundred years earlier at the eastern edge of the mysterious Bermuda Triangle. On this island whose first name was Isle of Devils, the strange phenomena of St. Elmo’s fire was recorded as were bizarre compass bearings.
The story of the wreck of the Sea Venture also became pivotal in the debate of just who wrote the works of Shakespeare.
On July 24, 1609 a storm brewed in the Atlantic. Before the seas would calm, the Bermuda Triangle claimed one of its many victims. The ship was part of a small fleet heading for the Jamestown colony in Virginia. Supplies and reinforcements were badly needed and the Virginia Company had sent 800 people aboard this flotilla to the desperate colony. Two of the fleet would not make the passage thanks to the Tainos God of Destruction, Huracan. One disappeared, most likely to the bottom of the sea, the other broke up on the deadly reef that surrounded the island of Bermuda.
The Sea Venture survived just long enough for the one hundred and fifty passengers to launch the small craft and get everyone as well as a great deal of supplies to safety. Among those aboard were Sir Thomas Gates, scheduled to be the governor of Virginia, Sir George Somers the admiral of the fleet who would had served with Sir Francis Drake and Robert Devereaux, the Earl Essex, and a failed civil servant William Strachey so deeply in debt that the New World was the only refuge from his creditors.
The survivors quickly found their island to be both a hell and a heaven. Most of them had never performed much labor before or had any experience living in the wild. The cries of large birds, crashing of wild boars in the brush and the noise of the sea crushing their ship into splinters all served to send fear into the hearts of the castaways.
Before the wreck of the Sea Venture there were few who had seen the islands of Bermuda. One was Columbus who wrote in his log of strange lights and bizarre compass bearings. Another was Juan Bermudez who called the tiny islands the Isle of Devils. After his visit in 1503 he advised the king that the island chain might serve as a supply station for Spain, but the pounding surf and the dangerous reef allowed few visitors. A Portuguese vessel had wrecked on the dangerous reefs in 1543 and a French vessel was grounded in 1594. Both were able to rebuild and sail on to safety.
The survivors quickly organized themselves and began working on a ship to complete the trip to Virginia. They built this ship from the wreckage of the Sea Venture. Hastily patched together it may not have been ready for the hundreds of miles of ocean between Bermuda and the coast of the Virginias. Before they received word if their first rescue attempt was successful (it wasn’t), they built two more ships, the Deliverance and the Patience, that would safely reach Virginia. There they found the colony in terrible shape. Their fort was run down, their attempts at agriculture had failed, and after a series of dishonest encounters, the native population refused to trade with them. While the river was rich with fish, native archers made attempts at fishing deadly. The Bermuda survivors were sorry that they had left the island behind.
The Source of Shakespeare’s Tempest
Many of the Bermuda survivors headed back to England, although William Strachney stayed in Virginia. He could barely share a drink with friends at the Mermaid Tavern without the fear of being arrested for his debts. His circle of friends once included Henry Wriothesely, the Earl Southampton, Sir Francis Drake, the writer Ben Jonson, the poet Michael Drayton, Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Francis Bacon. Many of these friends had shared schooling at Gray’s Inn and enjoyed London’s literary scene. Strachney had dropped out of Gray’s and begun a life of failed endeavors.
In the first days ashore in Virginia he composed a letter describing the adventure of being shipwrecked in Bermuda. Addressed to a Lady Sara, the wife of Sir Thomas Smythe, it was actually more than a letter and before he was done his text was 25,000 words long. While the letter would not be published until 1635, within two years of the shipwreck someone writing under the name of William Shakespeare produced a play called The Tempest. According to the First Folio, compiled in 1623 it was the last drama written by the bard.
For those who debate the authorship of Shakespeare’s works, the Tempest, because of its date and other references became pivotal. (See Atlantis Rising #54)
The Tempest tells the story of a shipwreck in the Mediterranean that strands Prospero, the Duke of Milan with his daughter on an island, along with the passengers who survive. There are passages from the Golding translation of Ovid and Florio’s Montaigne that are found in several works attributed to Shakespeare. The most remarkable passage of The Tempest is in Act 1 when Ariel visits the “still vexed Bermoothes.”
In England there were several intellectual circles that strove to change the system of state and church. Two institutions ran the world, bringing twin evils of taxation and war while stifling the development of learning. Advances in the sciences including astronomy, chemistry, medicine and navigation all were conducted under the threat of excommunication and death. Two of the most influential players were Sir Walter Raleigh and his “School of Night” and Sir Francis Bacon’s London-based group. Both pushed for an agenda of creating a new world in the colonies that would incorporate democratic principles and a lessening of the state and church authority. Bacon is often credited with being the founder of Rosicrucianism. Raleigh called himself the Red Cross Knight. These both implied a commonality with the Knights Templar who wore the Red Cross and used it for the design of the masts on their ships.
The meeting houses of these societies would serve as the lodges did for craft masonry. The intellectual circle would be considered speculative masonry. In 1600, the masons were still a secret society. Finally, in 1717 they came out in public and met in publicly recognized lodges.
Members of both Raleigh’s and Bacon’s groups were active in writing plays including comedies and historical recreations. The plays often contained opinions that might be dangerous to express in the England of Queen Elizabeth and later King James. A “beard” in the terminology of the modern CIA would be hired to produce such works as his own. In the seventeenth century the terminology was a “Terence.” This was the reference for someone who fronted for the writings of others. One contemporary writer, John Davies, dedicated a poem to their shared English “Terence,” Will Shakespeare.
Players and Playwrights
Edward De Vere (the Earl of Oxford), is one who often gets the credit for writing the works of Shakespeare. He could not publish under his own name because of the tenuous political climate but that would not stop him completely. The problem with Oxford and The Tempest is that Oxford was already dead when the wreck occurred. Others claim Oxford wrote The Tempest, not based on the Sea Venture but on a ship of Sir Walter Raleigh’s in the Bermuda triangle before Oxford’s death, and another wreck that included a Bacon relative, Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602. All three voyages shared the same backer, Henry Wriothesely, the Earl Southampton.
It is more than coincidence that Southampton was Shakespeare’s principal patron, in fact providing him with the funds to buy his first home in Stratford. Southampton’s close circle included Sir Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, Roger Manners (Earl of Rutland) and others that are all suspects as the true authors. As the political situation had no opportunity for the upper class to threaten Queen Elizabeth with their literary pleasures, a scapegoat was needed. Then Shakespeare came along. The Earl Southampton immediately saw an opportunity. He and a family member would become Shakespeare’s most important patrons. Shakespeare, in dire need of funds, would gladly take the chance of playing the “bard.” Southampton then became the conduit that had published the writings of a handful of men under the byline of an illiterate butcher’s apprentice turned actor. Beginning in 1592 a singularly large amount of money passed from Southampton to Shakespeare allowing the newly minted “bard” to buy property.
Between 1598 and 1604 thirteen plays of “Shakespeare” appeared. When Oxford died, these plays were staged as a memorial to him. Then no plays would appear for four years. Did someone else take up the pen? Christopher Marlowe is another suspect, but he was also believed dead at this time. A study of his vocabulary and Shakespeare’s by Thomas Mendenhall convinced him that they matched each other like a fingerprint. Mendenhall, a physicist and statistician, had been hired to back the Francis Bacon as Shakespeare case. But many rationalize this as the true Shakespeare author simply improving Marlowe’s work. Marlowe’s Jew of Malta becomes new and improved as Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
If the Tempest with its “Bermoothes” reference was written at least in the final form after the death of both Oxford and Christopher Marlowe, are there other suspects? Sir Francis Bacon is the best choice. In Players, by Bertram Fields, there is a list of several lines that are close or exact between Promus, known to be a Baconian text, and Shakespeare. At least one Baconian proverb “Thought is Free” is exactly mirrored in the Tempest.
William Stanley, another suspect, was the Earl of Derby. In the Tempest there is a character, Ferdinand, the son of the king of Naples, who may have been named for Stanley’s brother. He had a habit of signing as W.S. An ancestor of his betrayed Richard III and crowned Henry VII, who was part of Stanley’s family tree. He went to the right schools, traveled and played the sports of the wealthy. A Jesuit priest once wrote that Stanley was writing comedies but nothing appeared under his own name.
The greatest candidate for being the author of many of Shakespeare’s works is Francis Bacon. Like patron Henry Wriothesely, Bacon was very much involved in the New World. When Bacon studied at Grey’s Inn he was the driving force behind an invisible knighthood, The Order of the Helmet. The helmet was the one worn by the goddess Pallas Athena who is depicted with both helmet and spear. The influence of Bacon and others who promoted the Virginia colony is evident in the way that their goddess remains on the Virginia State flag four hundred years later.
Virginia played a most important role in forming the democracy that became America; Bermuda played a parallel role. Friends of Bacon and members of his intellectual circle decided the Isle of Devils was not so bad after all. The crest of Sir Francis Bacon contains a wild boar, which is identical to the heraldic device of Bermuda. In the first years of this colony run by a handful of Bacon supporters and friend they coined “Hog Money.” His role in creating a democracy was of course not approved by King James I who would forbid the circulation of Hog Money.
Friends of Bacon and Bermuda
Bermuda, like New Orleans, is divided into parishes. Evidence of Bacon’s circle is reflected in nearly every parish. Henry Wriotheseley, Earl Southampton, the backer of Shakespeare, would have Southampton Parish named for him.
Pembroke Parish was named for the Third Earl Pembroke. This is the man to whom Shakespeare’s 1623 Folio is dedicated. He was a Knight of the Garter and actively involved in the Bermuda Company. Through marriage the Pembroke family was related to Philip Sydney, author of Arcadia. The Third Earl was also a close friend of Bacon’s. Another Knight of the Garter, James Hamilton, would lend his name to Hamilton Parish.
Devonshire Parish is named for the uncle of the Earl of Pembroke. Paget Parish was named for the fourth Lord, William Paget, who served in the military with Essex.
St. George’s Parish is named for George Somers who was a friend of Raleigh’s. He died in Bermuda in 1610. He had taken Spanish treasure ships and warships alike. His heart remains in St. George Parish while his body was returned home.
Warwick Parish was named for Robert Rich, the second Earl of Warwick. He had his own troupe of actors named the Earl of Warwick’s men, later managed by Edward de Vere (Earl of Oxford). The company put on plays that were later attributed to Shakespeare. Robert Green would call Shakespeare “Shakes Scenes” and accused him of both buying plays and stealing scenes. Like Bacon, the Earl of Warwick would not agree with the capricious royalty and was once imprisoned for condemning illegal taxation. Like others favored in the Elizabethan court including Drake and Raleigh, he would send privateers to the Caribbean to disrupt Spanish shipping.
Bermuda was given little attention by the Crown as it had no gold or resources. It survived on the edges of legitimate trade. In the research for my book Secret Societies of America’s Elite I found that at least one third of all trade in Bermuda was illegal smuggling. The tiny island chain served as a conduit for goods needed by the Virginia revolutionaries against the armies and navies of the English King George III. Virginia needed guns, Bermuda needed food. Freemasonry was the glue that allowed such trade to be kept secret and when exposed, to go unpunished. The center of trade was the St. George Custom House. The Lodge of St. George met at the Custom House. This building also serves as a government building, yet the design might be called Early-Freemasonry. All the trappings of Masonry are in plain sight.
While the New World failed to become Bacon’s utopia, an island ruled by an intellectual elite, Bermuda might serve as the closest to his concept of a New Atlantis.