Tucked away in a seldom-visited corner of a Warwickshire chapel sits a monument of incongruous grandeur for its surroundings. Not many visitors happen upon it; perhaps a thousand in a good year. Of them only a handful will have heard of the man who built it. Yet that man, Fulke Greville, is currently at the heart of a truly compelling mystery. A prominent 17th-century nobleman, Greville was a renowned scholar, soldier, statesman and spy. Like his dearest friend Sir Philip Sidney, he was also an accomplished author. So talented, indeed, that some believe he was the true author of several of Shakespeare’s works.
Richard Price, sul DailyMail dell’11 febbraio 2010
For years this has been little more than conjecture; fuel for the lively and often hostile debate between Anti-Stratfordians – those who deny that an ill- educated grain merchant and actor such as William Shakespeare could possibly have produced such a stunning oeuvre – and outraged traditionalists.
Now, however, the tantalising prospect of a definitive answer has been raised. More intriguingly still, the explanation, hidden in a series of clues scattered throughout his work and on the Warwick monument, is said to come from Fulke Greville himself.
In an echo of the themes in Dan Brown’s blockbuster book and film, The Da Vinci Code, a historian has discovered what he claims to be powerful evidence that Greville had several manuscripts buried in his ornate memorial, including a copy of Antony And Cleopatra.
This is no idle speculation. Already a radar scan of the monument, which stands in the Chapter House of the Collegiate Church of St Mary (FOTO SOTTO), has shown three ‘box-like’ objects to be sealed within.
The discovery has caused great excitement, with academics positing that the boxes may contain the holy grail of English dramatic history: the original manuscript of a Shakespeare play.
No such document exists anywhere else, prompting Professor Kate McLuskie, the director of the Shakespeare Institute to declare excitedly that ‘it could keep the Shakespeare industry going for years’.
Researchers have also uncovered evidence suggesting that the remaining two boxes contain a previously unseen biography of James I and the priceless remains of Sir Philip Sidney, a giant of the Elizabethan age.
‘There can be no other explanation for the sheer grandeur of the monument other than that there is something very special there,’ Professor James Stevens Curl of Cambridge University told me this week. ‘Until we look inside we cannot know for sure what it is.
‘What is absolutely certain is that the size, cost and magnificence of the monument are intended to speak to us. There are plenty of clues about what it might be, and they suggest this is an incredibly exciting find.’
Professor Curl is our nation’s leading expert on this period of British architecture, so he is a man to be taken seriously.
And yet despite his support, and that of Professor Warwick Rodwell, consultant archaeologist to Westminster Abbey, there has been strong opposition to opening the monument.
The initial search, using ground penetrating radar, was approved by the local diocese.
In a major development last week, Chancellor Stephen Eyre of the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Coventry granted permission for an endoscope to be used to examine the monument.
In a carefully worded ruling, a stringent set of conditions were laid down stipulating that the work must be carried out within the next few months by a specific expert contractor.
However, those involved expect work to begin far sooner – almost certainly within the next six weeks.
So who is Fulke Greville (FOTO A SINISTRA), and why is such an esteemed group of experts so convinced that he may be about to reveal extraordinary secrets from beyond the grave?
Greville, who was born in Stratford in 1554, ten years before Shakespeare’s official birth date, was without a doubt one of the most extraordinary men of his age.
Among a mind-boggling list of achievements he was a judge, a rear admiral in the Navy, an Army captain, an ‘intelligencer’ who travelled all over Europe recruiting spies for the Crown, a champion horseman, Queen Elizabeth’s favourite courtier and, in his latter years, Chancellor of the Exchequer under James I.
As far as Greville himself was concerned, however, his true calling was in the arts.
Indeed, his personal plea before his death in 1628 was that he wished ‘to be known to posterity under no other notions than of Shakespeare’s master’, according to a mid-17th century biography.
It is this claim, at once straightforward and obscure, which has led the historian A.W.L. Saunders to spend the past decade investigating Greville’s ties with Shakespeare.
In an exhaustive book, The Master Of Shakespeare, Saunders has identified 177 profile matches between the life and works of Fulke Greville and William Shakespeare.
These include that they lived in the same street, had the same friends, among them Christopher Marlowe (FOTO A SINISTRA) and Francis Bacon, the same enemies and moved in the same literary circles.
Pointing out that Stratford-upon-Avon at the time had an adult male population of just 600, Mr Saunders argues that the chances of two men matching the same precise profile to such a degree are infinitesimal.
‘I asked two accomplished mathematicians if it were possible to calculate the likelihood of there being two such men,’ he says. ‘They said the odds against it would be astronomical.’
His claim is backed up by the so-called Anti-Stratfordian movement, which asserts that a provincial upstart such as the ill- educated William Shakespeare could not possibly have had the wide-ranging worldly and scholarly knowledge, linguistic skills, and fine sensibilities demonstrated in his works.
Such qualities, they insist, could only have been possessed by a university- educated gentleman, multilingual, well-travelled, and quite possibly titled. A man, in short, like Fulke Greville.
Critics further contend that play-writing was a lowly profession at the time and that the true author protected his reputation by using Shakespeare’s name as a pseudonym.
According to John Mitchell, the widely respected author of Who Wrote Shakespeare?, there is no contemporary proof of Shakespeare’s connection with the plays.
‘A review of the known, documented facts about his career gives a picture of a fairly successful local businessman who dealt in land, property and rural commodities,’ says Mr Mitchell.
‘His will mentioned no books, manuscripts or any sign of literacy. No one in Stratford ever acknowledged him as a writer, and he never pretended to be one.’
‘Fulke spent the equivalent of £300,000 today on it, but he is buried elsewhere,’ Saunders said this week.
‘No man would build something like that and leave it empty, but his body was placed in the crypt below the church, not in the monument itself.
‘What you have to recognise about Fulke is that he was not only a great statesman, he was also a trained and highly effective spy, and as such was been familiar with codes and secret symbols.
‘Ben Jonson referred to his friend William Shakespeare as “a monument without a tombe”, and that is exactly what we have in the Chapter House at St Mary’s.
‘In his writings, Fulke left clear hints that he wrote the play Antony And Cleopatra, and that he had given it “a far more honourable sepulture than it could ever have deserved”.’
Again we are drawn to this astonishing monument.
‘There is also a strong body of evidence to suggest that Fulke was a leading Rosicrucian – a member of an esoteric society of mystics whose symbol is a cross of roses.
Many tens of thousands of Masons hold the sincere belief that Fulke was the first Grand Master of the Rosicrucian order – and a sword placed on the monument appears to bear its Rose Cross symbol,’ explains Saunders.
It is this strong link to the Rosicrucians which brings this extraordinary mystery fully into Dan Brown territory.
The author’s bestselling books, The Da Vinci Code and Angels And Demons, are peppered with references to the society, which took delight in concealing messages in esoteric ways.
And in a fresh twist to the tale, a leading code breaking specialist from the United States, William J. Briere, has now carried out a full ‘cryptoanalysis’ of the Greville monument.
The inscription is laid out in an unusual manner which is possibly a deliberate clue from the notoriously fastidious Greville.
It reads: ‘FULKE GREVILL, SERVANT TO QUEENE ELIZABETH, CONCELLOR TO KING JAMES AND FRIEND TO SIR PHILLIP SIDNEY. TROPHAEUM PECCATI.’
In a study far too detailed to explain fully here, Mr Briere concludes that by using code-breaking techniques widely used in Greville’s time, the inscription can be deconstructed to reveal the phrase: ‘CONCEALED (IN THIS) MONUMENT (IS THE) SIN (OF THE) KING.’
This, says Mr Briere, is a clue that hidden in the monument is an unauthorised biography of James I (who ruled from 1603-1625), whom Greville is known to have disliked.
It is an extraordinary claim. Yet Mr Briere has also uncovered – by using a code-breaking method which assigns numerical values to letters – references to Shakespeare’s sonnets.
All this has led him to conclude that there is ‘compelling evidence’ of hidden messages, while ‘it is possible (leaning toward likely) that some of Greville’s missing manuscripts are to be found inside the sarcophagus’.
It is a dizzying set of allegations, and yet, unlike most Dan Brown-esque conspiracy theories, in this case we are presented with the enticing prospect of a straightforward answer.
Could Fulke Greville be the man behind some of Shakespeare’s famous works?
It is a clear and undeniable possibility, particularly when one considers the widely held view that plays such as The Tempest demonstrate a deep understanding of Rosicrucian philosophy.
Not all academics are as excited as the Anti-Stratfordians, but even the sceptics grudgingly accept further investigation would be wise.
Dr William Leahy, who runs the MA programme in Shakespeare authorship studies at Brunel University, says: ‘We have had tombs dug up in the past and nothing was found, but we can’t make a judgment until the tests have been carried out.’
All this aside, we are left with one final thorny question: why would Greville, if he wanted his secret to be widely known, hide it in such a phenomenally intricate and obscure manner?
The answer is potentially very simple: that he had other plans, but his death came about so unexpectedly that there was no time to set the record straight, save for the back up plan which he had so painstakingly prepared.
On September 1, 1628, Greville – by then the 74-year- old Lord Brooke – was being helped to dress by a ‘gentleman retainer’ called Ralph Haywood.
Haywood, who had spent years in Fulke’s service, suddenly drew a knife and stabbed him twice in the left side, before turning the knife on himself.
The motive for the murder remains a mystery, though some have suggested Haywood was infuriated on discovering he had been ‘cheated in his master’s will’.
Fulke’s body was taken to St Mary’s, Warwick, and placed in the crypt. He left no heirs, and as the years passed his extraordinary life’s achievements gradually slipped from the public consciousness.
Could it be that now, nearly four centuries on, we are about to discover his greatest achievement of all?
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