Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford


Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford : biography

12 April 1550 – 24 June 1604

Contemporary critics praised Oxford as a poet and a playwright. William Webbe names Oxford as "the most excellent" of Elizabeth’s courtier poets. Puttenham’s The Arte of English Poesie (1589), places Oxford first on a list of courtier poets and included an excerpt of "When wert thou born desire" as an example of "his excellance and wit". Puttenham also praises him as one of the playwrights who "deserve the highest praise" in the genres of "Comedy and Enterlude". Francis Meres’ Palladis Tamia (1598) names Oxford first of 17 playwrights listed by rank who are "the best for comedy amongst us", and Oxford appears first on a list of seven Elizabethan courtly poets "who honoured Poesie with their pens and practice" in Henry Peacham’s 1622 The Compleat Gentleman.

Steven May writes that Oxford was Elizabeth’s "first truly prestigious courtier poet … [whose] precedent did at least confer genuine respectability upon the later efforts of such poets as Sidney, Greville and Raleigh." He describes Oxford as a "competent, fairly experimental poet working in the established modes of mid-century lyric verse" and his poetry as "examples of the standard varieties of mid-Elizabethan amorous lyric". May says that Oxford’s youthful love lyrics, which have been described as experimental and innovative, "create a dramatic break with everything known to have been written at the Elizabethan court up to that time" by virtue of being lighter in tone and metre and more imaginative and free from the moralizing tone of the courtier poetry of the "drab" age, which tended to be occasional and instructive. and describes one poem, in which the author cries out against "this loss of my good name", as a "defiant lyric without precedent in English Renaissance verse".

Loss of Good Name Excerpt from The Paradise of Dainty Devises (1576) Framed in the front of forlorn hope, past all recovery, I stayless stand to abide the shock of shame and infamy. My life through lingering long is lodged, in lair of loathsome ways, My death delayed to keep from life, the harm of hapless days; My spirits, my heart, my wit and force, in deep distress are drowned, The only loss of my good name, is of these griefs the ground. Earl of Oxford, before 1576

Oxford was noted for his literary and theatrical patronage, and between 1564 and 1599 28 works were dedicated to him by such authors as Arthur Golding, John Lyly, Robert Greene and Anthony Munday.. Of his 33 dedications, thirteen appeared in original or translated works of literature, a higher percentage of literary works than other patrons of similar means. His lifelong patronage of writers, musicians and actors prompted May to term Oxford "a nobleman with extraordinary intellectual interests and commitments", whose biography exhibits a "lifelong devotion to learning". He goes on to say that "Oxford’s genuine commitment to learning throughout his career lends a necessary qualification to Stone’s conclusion that De Vere simply squandered the more than 70,000 pounds he derived from selling off his patrimony…for which some part of this amount Oxford acquired a splendid reputation for nurture of the arts and sciences".

Foreign travel

The Revenge of Bussy D’Ambois (excerpt) I overtook, coming from Italy, In Germany, a great and famous Earl Of England; the most goodly fashioned man I ever saw: from head to foot in form Rare and most absolute; he had a face Like one of the most ancient honoured Romans From whence his noblest family was derived; He was besides of spirit passing great Valiant and learned, and liberal as the sun, Spoke and writ sweetly, or of learned subjects, Or of the discipline of public weals: And ’twas the Earl of Oxford.(2.4.84-95) George Chapman, c.1613.Nelson, p. 126

Elizabeth issued Oxford a licence to travel in January 1575, and provided him with letters of introduction to foreign monarchs. Prior to his departure, Oxford entered into two indentures. In first contract he sold his manors in Cornwall, Staffordshire and Wiltshire to three trustees for £6,000. In the second, since he had no heirs and if he should die abroad the estates would pass to his sister, Mary, he entailed the lands of the earldom on his first cousin, Hugh Vere. The indenture also provided for payment of debts amounting to £9,096, £3,457 of which was still owed to the Queen as expenses for his wardship.;