Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford


Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford : biography

12 April 1550 – 24 June 1604

Some time before October 1563 Edward’s mother married Charles Tyrrell, a Gentleman Pensioner. In May 1565 she wrote to Cecil, urging that the money from family properties set aside for Oxford’s use during his minority by his father’s will should be entrusted to herself and other family friends to protect it and ensure that he would be able to meet the expenses of furnishing his household and suing his livery when he reached his majority; this last would end his wardship though cancelling his debt with that Court, and convey the powers attached to his title. There is no evidence that Cecil ever replied to her request. She died three years later, and was buried beside her first husband at Earls Colne. Oxford’s stepfather, Charles Tyrrell, died in March 1570.

In August 1564 Oxford was among 17 nobles, knights and esquires in the Queen’s entourage who were awarded the honorary degree of Master of Arts by the University of Cambridge, and was awarded another by Oxford University on a Royal progress in 1566. His future father-in-law, William Cecil, also received honorary degrees of Master of Arts on the same progresses. There is no evidence Oxford ever received a Bachelor of Arts degree. In February 1567 he was admitted to Gray’s Inn to study law.

On 23 July 1567, while practising fencing in the backyard of Cecil House in the Strand, the seventeen-year-old Oxford killed Thomas Brincknell, an under-cook in the Cecil household. At the coroner’s inquest the next day, the jury, which included Oxford’s servant and Cecil’s protégé, the future historian Raphael Holinshed, found that Brincknell was drunk when he ran onto Oxford’s blade. Cecil later wrote that he attempted to have the jury find for Oxford’s acting in self-defence.:"I did my best to have the jury find the death of a poor man whom he killed in my house to be found se defendendo".

Records of books purchased for Oxford in 1569 attest to his continued interest in history, as well as literature and philosophy. Among them were editions of a Geneva Bible gilt, Chaucer, Plutarch, two books in Italian, and folio editions of Cicero and Plato. In the same year Thomas Underdowne dedicated his translation of the Æthiopian History of Heliodorus to Oxford, praising his ‘haughty courage’, ‘great skill’ and ‘sufficiency of learning’. Oxford made the acquaintance of the mathematician and astrologer John Dee in the winter of 1570 and became interested in occultism, studying magic and conjuring.

In November of 1569, Oxford petitioned Cecil for a foreign military posting. Although the Catholic Revolt of the Northern Earls had broken out that year, Elizabeth refused to grant the request.. Cecil eventually obtained a position for him under the Earl of Sussex in a Scottish campaign the following spring. Oxford and Sussex became staunch mutual supporters at court.. Oxford received his first vote for membership in the Order of the Garter in 1569, but never attained the honor in spite of his high rank and office.


In 1562, the 16th Earl of Oxford had contracted with Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon for his son Edward to marry one of Huntingdon’s sisters; when he reached the age of eighteen, he was to choose either Elizabeth or Mary Hastings. However, after the death of the 16th Earl, the indenture was allowed to lapse. Elizabeth Hastings later married Edward Somerset, while Mary Hastings died unmarried.

In the summer of 1571, Oxford declared an interest in Cecil’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Anne, and received the queen’s consent to the marriage. Anne had been pledged to Philip Sidney two years earlier, but after a year of negotiations Sidney’s father, Sir Henry, was declining in the Queen’s favour and Cecil suspected financial difficulties. In addition, Cecil had been elevated to the peerage as Lord Burghley in February 1571, thus elevating his daughter’s rank, so the negotiations were cancelled. Cecil was displeased with the arrangement, given his daughter’s age compared to Oxford’s, and had entertained the idea of marrying her to the Earl of Rutland instead. The wedding was deferred until Anne was fifteen and finally took place at the Palace of Whitehall on 16 December 1571, together with that of Lady Elizabeth Hastings and Lord Herbert, with the Queen in attendance. The tying of two young English noblemen of great fortune into Protestant families was not lost on Elizabeth’s Catholic enemies. Burghley gave Oxford a marriage settlement of land worth £800, and a cash settlement of £3,000. This amount was equal to Oxford’s livery fees and was probably intended to be used as such, but the money vanished without a trace.