Chronology of Edward de Vere
The following chronology of events in the life of Edward de Vere is by no a means a comprehensive list of all the archival evidence that exists, but offers a broad overview of his extraordinary career as a notable courtier who dedicated himself to a life of learning, poetry, play-writing and artistic patronage, recognised by his contemporaries as one of the leading literary lights of the Elizabethan age. The largest archive of documentary records pertaining to Edward de Vere can be found online at ‘The Oxford Authorship Site’ http://www.oxford-shakespeare.com
1550 (April 12) – Edward de Vere born at Castle Hedingham, as recorded in Burghley’s Diary.
1558 – Edward de Vere matriculates at Queens’ College, Cambridge. In November Elizabeth is crowned Queen with Edward de Vere’s father, the 16th Earl of Oxford, coming out of retirement to escort her from Hatfield to London.
1562 (31 August) – Edward de Vere’s father is buried and four days later, on 3 September, Edward de Vere, as 17th Earl of Oxford, rides into London escorted by one hundred men in livery to take up residence as a Royal Ward of Court at the London home of Sir William Cecil who, as Secretary of State, is the head of Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council. Even though a minor, his full title from now on would be: Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxenford, Lorde Greate Chamberleyne of Englande, Viscount Bulbecke, and Lorde of Badlesmere and Scales. He generally signed his letters ‘Edward Oxenford’, with the additional flourish of a pictogram of an Earl’s coronet.
1563 – Edward de Vere’s title as Earl of Oxford is challenged by the husband of his half-sister Katherine de Vere. The challenge fails. On 19 August the 13-year-old Edward de Vere addresses a letter to William Cecil in fluent French.
1564 – While on a Royal progress to Cambridge University, Edward de Vere is awarded, by virtue of his ‘rare learning and excellent virtue’ an honorary degree of MA.
1564 – Arthur Golding praises the ‘pregnancy of wit and ripeness of understanding’ of his prodigious young nephew Edward de Vere in his dedication to Trogus Pompeius.
1566 (September) – While on a Royal progress to Oxford University, Edward de Vere is awarded an honorary degree of MA and praised in a public oration as a ‘lover of poety’ and an ‘exceptional person’ by George Coryate.
1567 – His uncle, tutor and servant, Arthur Golding, publishes his famous translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a major source for Shakespeare, and Edward de Vere is admitted to Gray’s Inn to study Law. He kills William Cecil’s undercook while practising his fencing but is acquitted and goes unpunished. With the tacit approval of the Privy Council, Edward de Vere sends his retainer, the poet and soldier-of-fortune Thomas Churchyard, on a mission to the Netherlands.
1569 – Scholar Thomas Underdowne dedicates his translation of An Aethiopian Historie by Heliodorus (an important source for Shakespeare) to Edward de Vere, praising his ‘courage joined with great skill’, ‘learning’, ‘good nature’ and ‘common sense’. His mother Margery (née Golding) dies.
1570 – Having sought leave of the Queen for some military service, Edward de Vere enlists with the Earl of Sussex for the Scottish campaign. In the same year Edmund Elviden’s Peisistratus and Catanea is dedicated to him.
1571 – Edward de Vere, who is victorious in a Royal tournament at Westminster, is widely seen as one of the up-and-coming stars of Elizabeth’s court. In December he marries Anne, daughter of his guardian Sir William Cecil, who, shortly before the marriage, is ennobled as Lord Burghley. Dedication to Edward de Vere of Arthur Golding’s translation of Calvin’s version of The Psalms of David.
1572 – Edward de Vere writes the preface in Latin to Bartholomew Clerke’s translation into English of Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (The Courtier). He takes part in a Royal entertainment at Warwick Castle. In September he writes to Lord Burghley wishing to be considered for some military service: ‘If there were any service to be done abroad, I had rather serve there than at home, where yet some honour were to be got; if there be any setting forth to sea, to which service I bear most affection, I shall desire your Lordship to give me and get me that favour and credit that I might make one.’
1573 – Thomas Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comfort (sometimes referred to as ‘Hamlet’s Book’) is ‘published by the commaundement of the right honourable the Earle of Oxenford’ after two years of planning. Thomas Twyne dedicates his translation of The Breviary of Britain to him. In a letter to Lord Burghley, Edward de Vere’s servants are accused of waylaying travellers on the Gravesend-Rochester road. It is an event remarkable similar to Act II, Scene 2 in Henry IV Part 1 in which Falstaff and three of Price Hal’s companions rob travellers carrying the King’s taxes on the same road.
1574 – The distinguished doctor, George Baker, dedicates his translation of Oleum Magistrale to Edward de Vere. Eager for foreign adventure, the young earl heads for the continent without permission – Burghley and Walsingham send a friend of his to bring him back and they conclude that his trip was not suspicious in any way. Indeed, his obvious desire for foreign adventure is noted with approval.
1575 – A Schedule of Debts is drawn up prior to Edward de Vere leaving for his Grand Tour of the Continent for which he departs armed with letters of introduction to the crowned heads of European states signed by Queen Elizabeth extolling ‘from her heart’ his ‘outstanding mind and virtue’.
On 17 January he writes from Paris thanking his father-in-law for sending him news of his wife’s pregancy:
‘I thank god therfore, withe yowre Lordship that it hathe pleased him to make me a father wher yowre Lordship is a grandfather. and if it be a boy I shall lekwise be the partaker withe yow in a greater contentation.’
Further on, he notes his travel plans as he departs Paris:
‘For feare of the inquisition I dare not pas by Milan, the Bishop wherof exersisethe such tyranie. wherfore I take the way of Germanie, where I mean to aquaint my self withe Sturmius, [a German scholar] withe home after I have passed my jornie which now I have in hand I meane to pas sum time. I have found here this curtesie, the Kinge hathe given me his letters of recommendation to his embassadour in the Turks court, lekwise the Venetian embassadour that is here knowinge my desire to see those parties hathe given me his letters to the Duke, and divers of his kinsmen in Venice, to procur me ther furtherances to my jornie which I am not yet assured too howld for if the Turkes cum as they be loked for upon the coste of Italy or els where, if I may I will see the service, if he commethe not then perhapes I will bestowe twoo or thre monthes to se Constantinople, and sum part of Grece.’
In April he travels to Strasburg where he meets the celebrated educationalist Johan Sturm and on 2 July his wife Anne is delivered of a daughter, Elizabeth. The date is noted by her father, Lord Burghley in chronology written 3rd Jan 1576. In September he writes from Venice:
‘I have sent one of my servants into England, withe sume new disposition of my things there, wherfore I will not troble yowre Lordship in thes letters with the same. if this siknes had not happend unto me whiche hathe taken away this chifest time of travell, at this present I wowld not have written for further leave, but to supply the whiche, I dought not her Magestie will not denie me so small a favour.’ And then as an afterthought, ‘… thus thankinge yowre Lordship for yowre good newes of my wives deliverie, I recommend my self unto yowre favoure …’
On 24 September 1575 Lord Burghley, preoccupied in proving the legitimacy of his daughter Anne’s child, notes: ‘The letter of the Earl by which he gives thanks for his wife’s delivery. Mark well this letter.’
On 27 November Edward de Vere’s letter to Burghley from Padua is endorsed: ‘The Erle of Oxenford to my lord from Padoua the sale of his landes not to be stayed.’
1576 (3 January) – A letter from Edward de Vere to Burghley from Siena, opens:
‘My lord I am sorie too here how hard my fortune is in England as I perceive by yowre Lordshipes letters, but knowinge how vaine a thinge it is to linger a necessarie mischief, (to know the worst of my self & to let yowre Lordship understand wherin I wowld use yowre honorable friendship) in short I have thus determined, that whearas I understand the greatnes of my dett and gredines of my crediters growes soo dishonorable to me and troblesume unto yowre Lordshipe, that that land of mine which in Cornwale I have appointed too bee sould accordinge too that first order for myn expences in this travell be goone throught withall.’
Burghley is increasingly worried that his son-in-law Edward de Vere will not accept paternity of his daughter Anne’s child. So today he draws up a memorandum identifying key dates in the Earl and Countess’ chronology. In March Edward de Vere arrives in Paris on the way home where he is advised by one of his men, Rowland Yorke, of all the latest court gossip including news about his wife Anne and her child and on 4 April he expresses his ‘misliking’ of the situation in a letter to Lord Burghley. Crossing from France to England, later in that month, Edward de Vere’s boat is attacked by Dutch pirates who loot most of his possessions. This so outrages Queen Elizabeth that she sends a special envoy to the Prince of Orange to demand satisfaction at this ‘disgrace upon her realm’. On his arrival in England he writes to Burghley saying he has no intention of meeting his wife. ‘I must let you understand this much: that is, until I can better satisfy or advertise myself of some mislikes, I am not determined, as touching my wife, to accompany her.’ The start of a five-year estrangement.
On July 13 he sends a letter to his father-in-law from London, which in full reads:
‘My verie good lord, yesterday, at yowre Lordships ernest request I had sume conference with yow abought yowre doughter, wherin for that her Magestie had so often moved me, and for that yow delt so ernestly withe me, to content as muche as I could, I dyd agre that yow myght bringe her to the court withe condition that she showld not come when I was present nor at any time to have speche withe mee, and further that yowre Lordship showld not urge farther in her cause. But now I understand that yowr Lordship means this day to bringe her to the court and that yow mean afterward to prosecute the cause withe further hope. Now if yowre Lordship shall doo so, then shall yow take more in hand then I have or can promes yow. for alwayes I have and will still prefer myne owne content before others. and observinge that wherin I may temper or moderate, for yowre sake I will doo most willingely. Wherfore I shall desire yowre Lordship not to take advantage of my promes till yow have given me sum honorable assurance by letter or word of yowre performance of the condition which, beinge observed, I caud yeld as it is my dutie to her Magesties request, and beare withe yowre fatherly desire towards her. Otherwise, all that is done can stand to non effect. From my loginge at Charinge crosse this morninge. Yowre Lordships to emploi. (signed) Edward Oxenford.’
1577 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in John Brooke’s The Staff of Christian Faith.
He invests a fortune in Frobisher’s voyage to seek out a Northwest passage.
1578 – Edward de Vere invests in Frobisher’s disastrous second voyage to seek out a Northwest passage and is eulogised before the Royal Court during the Queen’s summer progress by aspiring Cambridge scholar Gabriel Harvey who praises him as a prolific poet and as one whose ‘countenance shakes speares’. Harvey’s eulogy, in Latin, is published. He is recognised as the leading light of the Euphuist literary movement. In August a letter from the Spanish Ambassador, Bernardino de Mendoza, reports on the reception at court for the Duke of Alençon’s envoys in pursuit of marriage proposals for the Queen’s hand. ‘The next day the Queen sent twice to tell the earl of Oxford, who is a very gallant lad, to dance before the ambassadors, whereupon he replied that he hoped her Majesty would not order him to do so as he did not want to entertain Frenchmen. When the Lord Steward took him the message the second time, he replied that he would not give pleasure to Frenchmen, nor listen to such a message, and with that he left the room. He is a lad who has a great following in the country, and has requested permission to go and serve his Highness, which the Queen refused, and asked him why he did not go and serve the Archduke Mathias; to which he replied that he would not serve another sovereign than his own, unless it were a very great one, such as the king of Spain.’
1579 – Geoffrey Gates’ The Defence of Militarie Profession and John Lyly’s Euphues and his England are dedicated to Edward de Vere. Lyly becomes Edward de Vere’s secretary and stage manager.
1580 (June 21) – A letter from Dr John Hatcher, of Cambridge University, to Lord Burghley is endorsed: ‘Reasons why the Heads of the University object to the Earl of Oxford’s players shewing their cunninge in certayne playes already practiced by them before the Queen’s Majesty the like having been denyed to the Earl of Leicester’s servants.’ Edward de Vere had recently taken control of the Earl of Warwick’s players. John Hester’s A Short Discourse upon Surgery is dedicated to him and in the same year he is praised by Gabriel Harvey for in Speculum Tuscanismi, as ‘peerless in England’ and as an unrivaled ‘discourser for tongue’. Having flirted with Catholicism, he denounces his cousin Henry Howard, brother of the executed 4th Duke of Norfolk, and his associate the Earl of Arundel as enemies of the state in a series of depositions. He is, in turn, denounced by Arundel and Howard. He would later sit on the tribunal at this treason trial of his cousin.
1581 – Edward de Vere wins prize in a tournament at Whitehall – his tournament speech is later published in Edmund Spenser’s Axiochus.
On 23 March Anne Vavasour, one of the Gentlewomen of the Queen’s Bedchamber, is delivered of a son named Edward. Edward de Vere, who was known to be the child’s father, fled London but was soon captured and sent to the Tower. This is the date of a Walsingham letter summarising the details of the birth:
‘On twesdaye at nyght Anne Vavysor was browght to bed of a sonne in the maydens chambre. The Earl of Oxeforde is avowed to be the father whoo hathe withdrawen him selfe with intent as yt is thought to passe the seas. The ports are layd for him and therfor yf he have any sooche determynation yt is not lykely yat he wyll escape. The gentlewoman the selfe same nyght she was delyvered was conveyed owt of the howse & the next daye commytted to the towar. Others that have ben fownde any wayes partyes to the cause have ben also commytted. Her majestye is greatly greeved with the accydent, and therfor I hope there wyll be some sooche order taken as the lyke inconvenyence wyll be avoyded.’
On 9 June he was released from the Tower but placed under house arrest in Greenwich. In a letter to Burghley (12 July) Walsingham reveals that ‘Her majesty is resolved (uppon some perwacyon used) not to restore the Earl of Oxeford to his full liberty before he hath been dealt withall for his wife.’
On 13 July Oxford writes to Burghley:
‘how honorably yow had delt withe her magestie as touchinge my Lybertye, and that as this day she had made promes to yowre lordship that it showld bee.’ On the same day Burghley had written to Walsingham: ‘Yet, yesterdaie, beeing advertised of your good & honorable dealing with her majestie, in the case of my dawghter of Oxford, I could not suffer my thanckes to growe above one daye olde, and therefore in these fewe lynes, I doo presentlie thanck you, and doo pray you in anye proceeding therin, not to have the Earle dealt withall straynably, but only by waye of advise, as good for him self: for otherwise, hee maye suspecte, that I regard my self, more for my dawghter, then hee is regarded for his libertie.’
In December After the long estrangement Anne (Cecil) Countess of Oxford writes to her Edward de Vere hoping that it will lead to a reconciliation. All Anne’s letters are preserved, though none of Edward’s replies were preserved in the Cecil archive.
1582 (Jan) – Reconciliation between Edward de Vere and his wife.
In March – There is a ‘fray’ between him and Sir Thomas Knyvett, uncle of Anne Vavasour, defending his niece’s honour. This is the beginning a long-running feud. Shades of the Montague-Capulet feud spring to mind.
On 18 June – There is a violent skirmish at Blackfriars Thames landing stage between Edward de Vere’s men and Sir Thomas Knyvett’s men. Edward de Vere’s injuries trouble him for the rest of his life and on 22 June there is an enquiry into the Blackfriars skirmish in which witnesses give their depositions. In year this Edward de Vere’s brother in law, Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby, returns from the first of many visits as Ambassador to the Danish court at Elsinore.
1583 Lord Bulbeck, the new-born son of Edward de Vere and his wife Anne dies within hours of his birth. Edward de Vere acquires the sub-lease on the Blackfriars Theatre and appoints his secretary Lyly as manager.
1584 – Edward de Vere’s second daughter, Bridget, is born. In this year the celebrated author, Robert Greene, dedicates his Gwydonius: the Card of Fancy to the earl, who buys an extravagant mansion known as Fisher’s Folly which becomes the centre of his literary salon. In a Royal tournament, held to celebrate the anniversary of the coronation, Edward de Vere once again carries off the first prize.
In December his troupe of actors perform The History of Agamemnon and Ulysses before the Queen at court.
1586 (June 25) – A letter from Edward de Vere to Burghley, opens:
‘My very good lord as I have bene behowldinge unto yow divers tymes & of late, by my brother R. Cecill, wherby I have bene the better able to follow my sute, wherin I have sume comfort at this tyme from Mr Secretarie Wallsingham, so am I now bowld, to crave yowre lordships help at this present for beinge now almost at a point to tast that good whiche her Magestie shall determine yet I on that hathe longe besieged a fort and not able to compas the end or reap the frut of his travel, beinge forst to levie his sige for want of munition. Beinge therfore thus disfurnished and unprovided to follow her Magestie as I perceyve she will loke for, I most ernestly desyre yowre lordship yat yow will lend me 200 pounds tyll her Magestie performethe her promes.’
On 26 June a Privy Seal Warrant from the Queen grants Oxford £1,000 per annum. From this year payments from the Exchequer to the Revels’ Office, traditionally responsible for court plays, drops by £1000 per annum. In this year his secretary, Angel Day, dedicates his popular book, The English Secretary, to Edward de Vere and he is praised by William Webbe in his influential Discourse on English Poetry as the only poet in the Queen’s court who ‘may challenge to himself the title of most excellent among the rest.’
At the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringay in October Edward de Vere is appointed to sit in judgement upon her. His future father-in-law, Thomas Trentham, had been appointed, as one of the ‘principal gentlemen in Staffordshire’, to accompany the Scottish Queen from her Staffordshire exile to Fotheringay.
1587 (May) – His fourth daughter Susan is born but his daughter Frances dies in her infancy and is buried on 12 September at Edmonton. In this year deputy steward, Andrew Trollop, writes to Lord Burghley explaining how during ten years of service for Edward de Vere ‘and during all that time being privy, not only of his public dealings but also of his private doings and secret intents, found and knew him imbued with special piety, perfect integrity, great care to discharge all trust reposed in him, and no less desire to do good in the commonwealth’.
1588 (5 June) – Edward de Vere’s wife Anne dies of a fever at the Royal Palace at Greenwich and is buried in Westminster Abbey. Lord Burghley is so incapacitated by grief over the death of his daughter that he is incapable of conducting Privy Council business. Also in this year Edward de Vere fits out his ship (possibly the Edward Bonaventure) against the Spanish Armada and is later described in a poem as having stood ‘like warlike Mars upon the hatches’. In this year the playwright Anthony Munday dedicates the first two parts of his translation Palmerin d’Oliva to Edward de Vere praising his dedicatee’s ‘special knowledge’ of foreign languages.
1589 – The Arte of English Poesie, possibly by George Puttenham but published anonymously, rolls through the presses. In this influential work of literary criticism Edward de Vere is singled out for special praise:
‘And in her Majesties time that now is are sprong up an other crew of Courtly makers Noble men and Gentlemen of her Majesties owne servantes, who have written excellently well as it would appeare if their doings could be found out and made publicke with the rest, of which number is first that noble Gentleman Edward Earle of Oxford.’
This gives an insight into how unthinkable it would have been for any Elizabethan nobleman to have been identified by name as an author. From this year Edward de Vere becomes a recluse. As his biographer Ward (1928) remarks, ‘From 1589 onwards the life of Lord Oxford becomes one of mystery’.
1590 – In his first edition of Faerie Queene (1590) Edmund Spenser praises Edward de Vere as one who loves and is loved by the Muses, identifying him as one of his book’s defenders.
1591 – Edward de Vere’s financial troubles become more acute. He marries another of Queen Elizabeth’s Maids of Honour, Elizabeth Trentham, daughter of the wealthy Staffordshire landowner the late Thomas Trentham of Rocester Abbey. Elizabeth’s brother Francis Trentham takes over the management of Edward de Vere’s near-bankrupt estate and gradually improves it.
In December he sells the manor of Castle Hedingham – the de Vere family seat from the time of William the Conqueror – to Burghley in trust for his three daughters Elizabeth, Bridget and Susan. Madrigalist and composer, John Farmer, dedicates Plainsong Diverse & Sundry to Edward de Vere by the noted Elizabethan madrigalist John Farmer.
1592 – Thomas Nashe, who has recently lost the patronage of Edward de Vere due to the dire state of the earl’s finances, dedicates his Strange Newes to him as an anonymous patron, calling him ‘Gentle Master William’ and ‘Will Monox’. The earl is praised as ‘the most copious Carminist of our time and famous persecutor of Priscian […] you have been such an infinite Mecenas to learned men that not any that belong to them but have tasted of the coole streames of your liberalitie […] thou art a good fellow I know […] I love and admire thy pleasant wittie humor, which no care or crosse can make unconversable.’
1593 (24 February) – Henry de Vere, son and heir of Edward de Vere and Elizabeth (née Trentham) born.
1594 – Edward de Vere, who has now withdrawn from the life of the court, seeks the favour of Lord Burghley in a matter involving he describes as ‘in mine office’ and that this office is beholden to the Queen:
‘My very good Lord, if it please you to remember that about half a year or thereabout past I was a suitor to your Lordship for your favour that, whereas I found sundry abuses whereby both her Majesty & myself were, in mine office, greatly hindered, that it would please your Lordship that I might find such favour from you that I might have the same redressed. At which time I found so good forwardness in your Lordship that I thought myself greatly beholding for the same.’
1595 (January) – Edward de Vere’s daughter Elizabeth marries William Stanley, sixth Earl of Derby, who maintains his own company of players. It is widely believed by scholars that, at the fabulous wedding feast in the presence of the whole court, the festivities are concluded with a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
1597 (2 September) – Elizabeth, Countess of Oxford, and her brother Francis Trentham purchase the large manor house of King’s Place in Hackney. On this day, the Queen grants the licence to purchase the manor of King’s Place and one can detect the Queen’s personal tone in the salutation, ‘… to our well beloved cousin Elizabeth, Countess of Oxenford, wife of Edward, Earl of Oxenford, and to our beloved ffrancis Trentham, esquire, Ralph Sneyd, esquire, & Giles Young, gentleman’. King’s Place was a substantial country manor house with a celebrated Great Hall, a classic Tudor Long Gallery, a chapel and ‘a proper lybrayre to laye bokes in’; the land comprised orchards and fine gardens and around 270 acres of farmland. It was here that Edward and Elizabeth brought their three-year-old son Henry, who had been born on 24 February 1593, and it would remain their principal London home until Edward’s death in 1604, the Countess finally moving out in 1609 after selling it to the courtier poet Fulke Greville.
1598 – Towards the end of this year Edward de Vere is placed first on a list of ‘best for comedy’ in a ‘Comparative Discourse of Our English Poets’ in Francis Meres’ Palladis Tamia.
1599 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in John Farmer’s Set of English Madrigals, in which the celebrated composer writes ‘without flattrie be it spoke (those that know your Lordship know this) that using this science as a recreation, your Lordship hath overgone most of them that make it a profession.’ Also in this year doctor George Baker dedicates his Practice of the New and Old Physic to Edward de Vere, acknowledging the ‘great force’ of his ‘wit, learning and authority’.
1601 – Edward de Vere serves on the tribunal trying those caught up in the rebellion by the Earl of Essex who is executed, while the Earl of Southampton is committed to the Tower for life, which is commuted upon King James’ accession.
1602 – Edward de Vere’s acting company and that of Worcester combine forces and take up residence at the Boar’s Head Tavern.
1603 (24 March) – Queen Elizabeth dies and is succeeded by James I (James VI of Scotland), son of Mary Stuart, thus uniting the English and Scottish thrones for the first time. In the same year his crown annuity of £1,000 is renewed by King James, who describes him as ‘Great Oxford’.
1604 – King James grants Edward de Vere custody of the forest of Essex and the Keepership of Havering, and he is reappointed to the Privy Council.
On 24 June 24 Edward de Vere dies at King’s Place Hackney and is buried at St Augustine’s church (renamed St John’s) Hackney on 6 July.