Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

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Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford : biography

12 April 1550 – 24 June 1604

Coming of age

On 12 April 1571, Oxford attained his majority and took his seat in the House of Lords. Great expectations attended his coming of age; Sir George Buc recalled predictions that ‘he was much more like…to acquire a new erldome then to wast & lose an old erldom’, a prophecy that was never fulfilled..

Although formal certification of his freedom from Burghley’s control was deferred until May 1572,. Oxford was finally granted the income of £666 which his father had intended him to have earlier, but properties set aside to pay his father’s debts would not come his way for another decade. During his minority as her ward, one third of his estate had already reverted to the Crown, much of which Elizabeth had long since settled on Robert Dudley. Elizabeth demanded a further payment of £3,000 for overseeing the wardship and a further £4,000 for suing his livery. Oxford pledged double the amount if he failed to pay when it fell due, effectively risking a total obligation of £21,000.

By 1571, Oxford was a court favorite of Elizabeth’s. In May, he participated in the three-day tilt, tourney and barrier, where although he did not win he was given chief honours in celebration of the attainment of his majority, his prowess winning admiring comments from spectators.:George Delves, one of the defenders in the tournament, wrote to the Earl of Rutland that ‘There is no man of life and agility in every respect in the Court but the Earl of Oxford’ In August, Oxford attended Paul de Foix, who had come to England to negotiate a marriage between Elizabeth and the Duke of Anjou, the future King Henry III of France. His published poetry dates from this period and, along with Edward Dyer he was one of the first courtiers to introduce vernacular verse to the court.

Last years

In the early morning of 24 March 1603 Queen Elizabeth died without naming a successor. A few days beforehand Oxford at his house at Hackney had entertained the Earl of Lincoln, a nobleman known for erratic and violent behaviour similar to his host’s. Lincoln reported that after dinner Oxford spoke of the Queen’s impending death, claiming that the peers of England should decide the succession, and suggested that since Lincoln had ‘a nephew of the blood royal…Lord Hastings’, he should be sent to France to find allies to support this aim. Lincoln relayed this conversation to Sir John Peyton, Lieutenant of the Tower, who, knowing how physically and financially infirm Oxford was, refused to take Lincoln’s report as a serious threat to King James’ accession.

Oxford expressed his grief at the late Queen’s death, and his apprehension for the future. These fears were unfounded; in letters to Cecil in May and June 1603 he again pressed his decades-long claim to have Waltham Forest and the house and park of Havering restored to him, and on 18 July the new King granted his suit. On 25 July Oxford was among those who officiated at the King’s coronation, a month later James confirmed Oxford’s annuity of £1,000.

On 18 June 1604 Oxford granted the custody of the Forest of Essex to his son-in-law, Lord Norris, and his cousin, Sir Francis Vere. He died six days later, of unknown causes, at King’s Place, Hackney, and was buried on 6 July in the parish church of St. Augustine. In spite of his bouts of ill health, he left no will. Elizabeth’s will requested that she be buried with her husband at Hackney. Although this document and the parish registers confirm Oxford’s burial there, his cousin Percival Golding later claimed that his body was interred at Westminster..

Literary reputation

Oxford’s manuscript verses circulated widely in courtly circles. Three of his poems, "When wert thou born desire", "My mind to me a kingdom is", and "Sitting alone upon my thought", are among the texts that repeatedly appear in the surviving 16th-century manuscript miscellanies and poetical anthologies., quoting L. Glenn Black’s unpublished Studies in Some Related Manuscipt Poetic Miscellanies of the 1580s 2 vols. D. Phil. thesis, Oxford, 1970, v. 1, p. 30. His earliest published poem was "The labouring man that tills the fertile soil" in Thomas Bedingfield’s translation of Cardano’s Comforte (1573). Bedingfield’s dedication to Oxford is dated 1 January 1572. In addition to his poem, Oxford also contributed a commendatory letter setting forth the reasons why Bedingfield should publish. In 1576 eight of his poems were published in the poetry miscellany The Paradise of Dainty Devises. According to the introduction, all the poems in the collection were meant to be sung, but Oxford’s were almost the only genuine love songs in the collection. Oxford’s "What cunning can express" was published in The Phoenix Nest (1593) and republished in England’s Helicon (1600). "Who taught thee first to sigh alas my heart" appeared in The Teares of Fancie (1593). Brittons Bowre of Delight (1597) published "If women could be fair and yet not fond" under Oxford’s name, but the attribution today is not considered certain.