Brenda James’ Discovery of Sir Henry Neville

It is now more than ten years since Brenda James discovered Sir Henry Neville as the author of ‘Shakespeare’s’ works. She found his name hidden in the dedication to the sonnets. Since then Bill Rubinstein and John Casson have done much to align Neville’s life and career with the plays. Bruce Leyland and James Goding also found Neville’s name in the dedication and that it is a map to the sonnets. There are now several books on Neville (Footnote 1).

With the passage of time, and for the benefit of newcomers to the debate, it is worth recalling how Brenda James discovered Sir Henry Neville. Unlike those who sought to prove that a particular Elizabethan grandee or author was the true ‘Shakespeare’, she found Sir Henry Neville as a result of her research. Her research did not produce any other likely candidate.

This leaflet is only a brief summary of her path to discovery and scarcely does justice to her work. Her 2008 book set out her work in detail. She began by studying the dedication to the original 1609 edition of the sonnets, which is show below. On the face of it the dedication is largely meaningless but she saw it as a cryptogram.


Using cryptogram methods of the time, and noticing that there were 144 letters in the dedication, she put it on a 12×12 grid, as below. She omitted the dots between letters, treated ‘Mr’ as one ‘letter’, kept the space after ‘Mr W H’ and omitted the publisher Thomas Thorpe’s initials TT at the end. (This grid and the five following are copied from her 2008 book.) In lines 9 to 11 she could see TWELVE, which indicated that the 12×12 grid was significant. The last line, SETTINGFORTH, led her to speculate that it was the keyword for decrypting the dedication in a way used at the time; that is; by re-setting the columns of the grid according to the position of the alphabet of the letters of the keyword, and to do this four times – to the fourth setting.


Her fourth setting is shown below. In it she discerned the cryptic message THE WISE THORP HID THY POET (Thorpe was the publisher.)


In the grid above, in the last line, she could see GET IN FOR, which she took to indicate she was on the right track. But she could see no way forward and so tried a different matrix of the dedication. This time she put the dedication onto a grid of 15 columns, as below. This showed HENRY and YOUR POET and, less clearly, NEWELL. Knowing that V and W could be interchangeable at the time, she deduced the name was Henry Neville, who was coeval with William Shakespeare and was the ambassador to France in 1599. As an ambassador he was familiar with coded messages. In the first two lines of the grid she could see HE ONLIE BE OF THE SEIN, a pointer to Neville the ambassador.


Returning to the 12×12 grid she could discern HAREE and NEVELL and WRITER. See grid below.


Brenda James noticed that line 2 of her 12×12 grid was an anagram for TEST THE FORGE, relevant because Sir Henry Neville owned a major iron foundry. By re-arranging the columns of the grid, so that line 2 spelt out TEST THE FORGE, she could see the name HENRY NEVIL. See grid below.


By returning to the dedication she could now see that Neville sought to spell out various versions of his name, as indicated below.


Seperately from Brenda James, but working at the same time, Rosemary Warner put the original text of the sonnets onto grids to see whether there were hidden messages. She found that Sonnet 134 disclosed NEVILLE and RIMER and could be read as SO NOW I HAVE CONFEST THAT I MYSELFE AM NEVILLE. She set out the sonnet in 30 columns because there are 30 letters in the first line. That showed NEVILLE in a diagnoal line. The version below sets it out in 29 columns to show NEVILLE in the vertical column.


Footnote 1

Brenda James and William Rubinstein Truth Will Out: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare (Taylor and Francis, 2005)

Brenda James Henry Neville and the Shakespeare Code (Music for Strings, 2008)

Brenda James Understanding the Invisible Shakespeare (Cranesmere Press, 2011)

John Casson Enter Pursued by a Bear: The Unknown Plays of Shakspeare-Neville (Music for Strings, 2009)

John Casson Much Ado About Noting: Henry Neville and Shakepeare’s Secret Source (Dolman Scott Ltd, 2010)

Mark Bradbeer and John Casson Sir Henry Neville, Alias William Shakespeare’s Secrete Source (Dolman Scott Ltd, 2010)

John Casson and William Rubinstein Sir Henry Neville Was Shakespeare: The Evidence (Amberley, 2016)

Bruce Leyland and James Coding Shakespeare, Sir Henry Neville and the Sonnets (Leanpub, 2015)


Wikipedia References