A literary group on Thursday marked the 400th anniversary of the death of an Elizabethan nobleman they contend was the "true" Shakespeare.

The De Vere Society alleges that Edward de Vere penned the 37 plays officially attributed to the master playwright.

"He had the education and did the traveling, which Shakespeare did not," said society secretary Richard Malim.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in William Shakespeare's home town of Stratford-Upon-Avon was dismissive of the claim.

"It's all nonsense. Edward de Vere did not write the works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote the works of Shakespeare," said Stanley Wells, the trust's chairman. "There is ample evidence from his own time that Shakespeare was a very well-regarded writer, especially playwright."

Shakespeare has long been targeted by pretenders to his throne, most notably playwright Francis Bacon and poet Christopher Marlowe.

The De Vere Society simply believes that Shakespeare got lucky.

Arriving penniless in London, their story goes, he was seized upon by de Vere, who, as an aristocrat, needed a cover for his writing and acting.

Wells said that it would have been impossible to pull off such a deception in the "busy, gossipy world of the theater" in Shakespeare's time.

He added that the idea that de Vere, a busy man, would have found time "in the midst of his multifarious activities to write 40 masterpieces or so is in itself ridiculous."

De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, was born in 1550 at Castle Hedingham, his family's ancestral home. He studied at Oxford and Cambridge, and traveled extensively in Europe.

By contrast, Shakespeare was born to commoner parents in 1564 and ended his formal education after a stint at Stratford Grammar School.

Malim said that it was important to give credit to the right playwright.

"If you persist in suggesting that William Shakespeare of Stratford-Upon-Avon is the author, you distort the whole of literary history," he said.

Wells, long used to rebutting such claims, said groups like the De Vere Society "are impervious to reason."

"The light of fanaticism comes into their eyes when they start talking about this instead of looking at the hard evidence," he said.

Edward de Vere died 400 years ago. His devotees say he is an unrecognized genius and Shakespeare partisans protest too much.