The Scandalous Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

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.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

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.ą

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.

Another Woman

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.

Anne Vavasour

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.˛



Second Marriage

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.



Notes:

ąBiography of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
˛Emerson, Kate; A Who’s Who of Tudor Women

Sources:

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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7 thoughts on “The Scandalous Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

  1. Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford is your 13th cousin 9 times removed. I just discovered this and then found your site. very interesting and enlightening thanks.

  2. Edward de Vere was a complex human being, and I agree with all who say that he is the real talent behind the collected works attributed to Shakespeare. You are a fortunate person.

    1. And he carried on writing plays AFTER his death in 1604, complete with contemporary references. Now that’s what I CALL talent.

    2. Here are some contemporary references that seem to indicate that Shakespeare was Shakespeare. I would put them all, but there are too many to fit in a comment column.
      1593 (Q1 Venus and Adonis; registered April 18)
      “William Shakespeare” (signature to dedication)
      (printed by Richard Field) (Poems, 3, 5, 369)

      1593 (Entry in account book of Richard Stonley, for his purchase of
      Venus and Adonis and Survey of France; June 12)
      “Shakspere”
      (handwritten; Richard Stonley) (SS, 131, with facs.)

      1594 (Q1 Lucrece; registered May 9)
      “William Shakespeare” (signature to dedication)
      (printed by Richard Field for John Harrison) (Poems, 111-3, 406)

      1594 (Q2 Venus and Adonis)
      “William Shakespeare” (signature to dedication)
      (printed by Richard Field for John Harrison) (Poems, 3, 5, 374)

      1594 (Prefatory poem to Willobie His Avisa)
      “Shake-speare”
      (printed) (EKC II, 192)

      1595 (Marginal note in an epistle by William Covell appended to
      Polimanteia, or the Meanes Lawfull and Unlawfull to Judge
      of the Fall of a Commonwealth)
      “Shakspeare”
      (printed) (EKC II, 193; HP II, 148)

      1596 (Q4 Venus and Adonis)
      “William Shakespeare” (signature to dedication)
      (printed by Richard Field for John Harrison) (Poems, 3, 5, 375)

      1598 (From Richard Barnfield’s “A Remembrance of some English
      Poets” in Poems in Divers Humours)
      “Shakespeare”
      (printed) (EKC II, 195)

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