Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford


Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford : biography

12 April 1550 – 24 June 1604

Oxford assigned Anne a jointure of some £669, but even though he was of age and a married man, he was still not in possession of his inheritance. After finally paying the Crown the £4,000 it demanded for his livery, he was finally licenced to enter on his lands in May. He was entitled to yearly revenues from his estates and the office of Lord Great Chamberlain of approximately £2,250, but he was not entitled to the income from his mother’s jointure until after her death, nor to the income from certain estates set aside to pay his father’s debts until 1583. In addition, the fines assessed against Oxford in the Court of Wards for his wardship, marriage and livery already totalled some £3,306. To guarantee payment, Oxford entered into bonds to the Court totalling £11,000, and two further private bonds for £6,000 apiece.

In 1572, de Vere’s first cousin and closest relative, the Duke of Norfolk, was found guilty of a Catholic conspiracy against Elizabeth and was executed for treason. Oxford had earlier petitioned both the Queen and Burghley on the condemned Norfolk’s behalf, to no avail, and it was claimed in a "murky petition from an unidentified woman" that he had plotted to provide a ship to assist his cousin’s escape attempt to Spain.

The following summer Oxford planned to travel to Ireland; at this point, his debts were estimated at a minimum of £6,000.

In the summer of 1574, Elizabeth admonished Oxford "for his unthriftyness", and on 1 July, Oxford bolted to the continent without permission, travelling to Calais with Lord Edward Seymour, and then to Flanders, "carrying a great sum of money with him". Coming as it did during a time of expected hostilities with Spain, Mary, Queen of Scots, interpreted his flight as an indication of his Catholic sympathies, as did the Catholic rebels then living on the continent. Burgley, however, assured the queen that Oxford was loyal, and she sent two Gentlemen Pensioners to summon him back under threat of heavy penalties. Oxford returned to England by the end of the month and was in London on the 28th. His request for a place on the Privy Council was rejected, but the queen’s anger was abated and she promised him a licence to travel to Paris, Germany, and Italy on his pledge of good behaviour.

Family and childhood

Edward de Vere was born heir to the second oldest earldom in England at the de Vere ancestral home, Hedingham Castle, in Essex, north-east of London. He was the only son of John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford and his second wife, Margery Golding. He was probably named to honour Edward VI, from whom he received a gilded christening cup. He had an older half-sister, Katherine, the child of his father’s first marriage to Dorothy Neville, and a younger sister, Mary de Vere. Both his parents had established court connections: the 16th Earl accompanying Princess Elizabeth from house arrest at Hatfield to the throne, and the Countess being appointed a Maid of Honor in 1559.

De Vere was styled Viscount Bulbeck and raised in the Protestant Reformed Faith. Like many children of nobility, he was raised by surrogate parents, in his case in the household of Sir Thomas Smith.; . At eight he entered Queens’ College, Cambridge, as an impubes, or immature fellow-commoner, later transferring to St John’s. Thomas Fowle, a former fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, was paid £10 annually as Oxford’s tutor..

His father died on 3 August 1562, shortly after making his will. Because he held lands from the Crown by knight service, his son became a royal ward of the Queen and was placed in the household of Sir William Cecil, her Secretary of State and chief advisor. At 12, de Vere had become the 17th Earl of Oxford, Lord Great Chamberlain of England, and heir to an estate whose annual income, though assessed at approximately £2,500, may have run as high as £3,500.


Theatrical Enterprises

Oxford’s father maintained a company of players known as Oxford’s Men, which was discontinued by the 17th Earl two years after his father’s death. Beginning in 1580, Oxford patronised both adult and boy companies, a company of musicians, and sponsored performances by tumblers, acrobats and performing animals., accessed 22 March 2013. Oxford’s Men toured the provinces during 1580-87. Sometime after November, 1583, Oxford bought a sublease of the premises used by the boy companies in the Blackfriars, and then gave it to his secretary, the writer John Lyly. Lyly installed Henry Evans, a Welsh scrivener and theatrical affectionado, as the manager of the new company of Oxford’s Boys, composed of the Children of the Chapel and the Children of Paul’s, and turned his talents to play writing until the end of June, 1584, when the original playhouse lease was voided by its owner.. In 1584–85, "the Earl of Oxford’s musicians" received payments for performances in the cities of Oxford and Barnstaple. Oxford’s Men (also known as Oxford’s Players) stayed active until 1602.