Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford


Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford : biography

12 April 1550 – 24 June 1604

In July Elizabeth granted the Earl property which been seized from Edward Jones, who had been executed for his role in the Babington Plot. In order to protect the land from his creditors, the grant was made in the name of two trustees.. At the end of November it was agreed that the purchasers of Oxford’s lands would pay his entire debt of some £3,306 due to Court of Wards over a five-year period, finishing in 1592.

In July and August 1588 England was threatened by the Spanish Armada. On 28 July Leicester, who was in overall command of the English land troops, asked for instructions regarding Oxford, stating that "he seems most willing to hazard his life in this quarrel".. The Earl was offered government of the port of Harwich, but he thought it was unworthy and declined the post; Leicester was glad to be rid of him..

In December 1588 Oxford had secretly sold his London mansion of Fisher’s Folly to Sir William Cornwallis;. by January 1591 the author Thomas Churchyard was dealing with rent owing for rooms he had taken in a house on behalf of his patron.. Widowed, weary of the unsettled life of a courtier, and anxious to provide for his children and himself, Oxford wrote to Burghley outlining a plan to purchase the manoral lands of Denbigh, in Wales, if the Queen would consent, offering to pay for them by commuting his £1,000 annuity and agreeing to abandon his suit to regain the Forest of Essex..

In the spring of 1591 the plan for the purchasers of his land to discharge his debt to the Court of Wards was disrupted by the Queen’s taking extents, or writs allowing a creditor to temporarily seize a debtor’s property.. Oxford complained that his servant Thomas Hampton had taken advantage of these writs by taking money from the tenants to his own use, and had also conspired with another of Oxford’s servants to pass a fraudulent document under the Great Seal of England.. The Lord Mayor, Thomas Skinner, was also involved. In June Oxford wrote to Burghley reminding him that he made an agreement with Elizabeth to relinquish his claim to the Forest of Essex for three reasons, one of which was the Queen’s reluctance to punish Skinner’s felony, which had caused Oxford to forfeit £20,000 in bonds and statutes..

In 1586 Angel Day dedicated The English Secretary, the first epistolary manual for writing model letters in English, to Oxford,. and William Webbe praised him as "most excellent among the rest" of our poets in his Discourse of English Poetry.. In 1588 Anthony Munday dedicated to Oxford the two parts of his Palmerin d’Oliva.. The following year The Arte of English Poesie, attributed to George Puttenham, placed Oxford among a "crew" of courtier poets;. he also considered Oxford among the best comic playwrights of the day.. In 1590 Edmund Spenser appended a sonnet to Oxford in The Faerie Queene.. Composer John Farmer, who was in Oxford’s service at the time, dedicated The First Set of Divers & Sundry Ways of Two Parts in One to him in 1591, noting in the dedication his patron’s love of music..

Quarrels, plots and scandals

Oxford had sold his inherited lands in Cornwall, Staffordshire and Wiltshire prior to his continental tour. On his return to England in 1576 he sold his manors in Devonshire; by the end of 1578 he had sold at least seven more.

In 1577 Oxford invested £25 in the second of Martin Frobisher’s expeditions in search of the Northwest Passage. In July 1577 he asked the Crown for the grant of Castle Rising, which had been forfeited to the Crown due to his cousin Norfolk’s attainder in 1572. As soon as it was granted to him, he sold it, along with two other manors, and sank some £3,000 into Frobisher’s third expedition. The ‘gold’ ore brought back turned out to be worthless, and Oxford lost the entire investment.

In the summer of 1578 Oxford attended the Queen’s progress through East Anglia. The royal party stayed at Lord Henry Howard’s residence at Audley End. A contretemps occurred during the progress in mid-August when the Queen twice requested Oxford to dance before the French ambassadors, who were in England to negotiate a marriage between the 46-year-old Elizabeth and the younger brother of Henri III of France, the 24-year-old Duke of Anjou. Oxford refused on the grounds that he "would not give pleasure to Frenchmen".