Raised in the home of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Edward de Vere became a ward of Queen Elizabeth I. Edward was born 12 April 1550, at Hedingham Castle, England to John de Vere, 16th earl of Oxford, and Margery Golding.
At the age of twelve, Edward’s father died and he inherited the titles of Lord Great Chamberlain and 17th Earl of Oxford.
Having grown up in the household of Lord Burghley, Edward de Vere eventually married his daughter Anne Cecil in 1571. Anne, who had originally been promised to Sir Philip Sidney, is said to have fallen in love with de Vere and that is why she married him instead of Sidney. It was around this time that he came to court and became a favorite of Queen Elizabeth.
The Beginning of His Trouble
In 1572, de Vere fled the English court after a failed attempt to rescue Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, his cousin. Norfolk was instead executed on the 2nd of June 1572. Not long after he was returned to favor at the English court – most likely because he was a favorite of the queen.
In 1575, he was granted travel to Europe and spent much of his time in Italy, later becoming known at court as the “Italian Earl” for his dress and affectations. Upon his return, he separated from Anne, believing she had been unfaithful.¹
After those years spent in Italy, de Vere became an advocate of Catholicism, which estranged him from his wife Anne and his father-in-law, Lord Burghley. Even so, de Vere did not lose favor with the queen.
Eventually, in 1581, Queen Elizabeth sent him to the Tower of London after it was discovered that he had impregnated Anne Vavasour – one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting. He was released from the Tower after he promised he would return to his wife, Anne Cecil.
Never one to live a dull life, de Vere fought a duel with a cousin of Anne Vavasour – this duel resulted in the death of several servants.
Soon (after the marriage with Anne Cecil), however, Oxford neglected his wife, spending all his time at court flirting with the queen and with other ladies. He blamed his father-in-law for failing to obtain the freedom of his kinsman, the duke of Norfolk, who was executed in 1572, and by May 1573 there was open hostility between Oxford and Lady Burghley. Oxford swore “to ruin the Lord Treasurer’s daughter,” casting doubt on her honor. This careless talk came back to haunt him when Ann gave birth to their first child, Elizabeth (July 2, 1575-1627) while Oxford was abroad. Lord Henry Howard, Norfolk’s brother, stirred up more trouble, and Ann was unable to convince her husband that the child was his. Apparently, part of the trouble was that Oxford was convinced that the gestation period was twelve months rather than nine. Surviving letters testify to her efforts and reveal her continuing love for him.²
Anne Cecil, Edward de Vere’s first wife, died of a fever on the 5th of June 1588 – she was only 31 years old.
Three years later, in 1591, Edward married one of Queen Elizabeth’s ladies, Elizabeth Trentham – a court beauty. One could assume since he was a favorite of the queen’s that he would have been in contact with many of her ladies. Anne Vavasour was one of the queen’s ladies as well. In 1593, his second wife gave birth to his only surviving son and heir, Henry.
Education, Death and Rumor
Edward was educated at Cambridge University, Queens’ College, St. John’s College, Cambridge University and became a noted Elizabethan courtier and poet.
De Vere died on the 24th of June 1604 of unknown causes.
In the 20th century, de Vere became a leading candidate for authoring the play that have traditionally been attributed to William Shakespeare.
¹Biography of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
²Emerson, Kate; A Who’s Who of Tudor Women
Encyclopedia of Tudor England
Biography of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
Encyclopedia Britannica – Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford
Wikipedia – Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
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