Chronology of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
The following chronology of events in the life of Edward de Vere is by no means a comprehensive list of all the archive evidence that exists. The purpose of presenting this selected chronology is to offer a broad overview of his extraordinary career as a notable courtier at Queen Elizabeth’s court, as a man who dedicated himself to a life of learning, writing and artistic patronage, and as a man who was recognised by his contemporaries as one of the leading literary lights of the Elizabethan age.
Had all the poems and plays of “Shakespeare” been published anonymously (as were the early quarto editions of many of the plays), there is little doubt that the biography of Edward de Vere would make him today the only contender for their authorship and that William Shakspere of Stratford’s obscurity would never have been troubled. Indeed, there would hardly be an authorship question at all – so well do the known facts of Edward de Vere’s life match all of the qualities and circumstances that the author must necessarily have possessed.
Missing from the list below is both a huge archive of property-related documents and also a large archive of letters written by Edward de Vere regarding his estate and other court matters. For anyone interested in these, the website of Nina Green (seeAuthorship Links) is the most comprehensive online resource available.
Our decision not to burden the general reader with a detailed account of Edward de Vere’s estate and, instead, concentrate on his life’s experiences and his artistic career, stands in sharp contrast to the chronology of evidence we have prepared for Shakspere of Stratford, in which there is very little available other than his rather modest property dealings and his serial tax delinquency.
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
1559 – Elizabeth crowned Queen with 16th Earl of Oxford coming out of retirement to escort the Queen from Hatfield to London
1562 August – The 16th Earl of Oxford is buried.
1562 September 3 – Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, rides into London in procession on his way to take up residence as a Royal Ward of Court at the London home of Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley 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 meets with no success.
1563 August 19 – Edward de Vere addresses a letter to William Cecil in French.
1564 – While on a Royal progress to Cambridge University, Edward de Vere is awarded an honorary degree of MA.
1566 – While on a Royal progress to Oxford University, Edward de Vere is awarded an honorary degree of MA.
1567 – His uncle, Arthur Golding publishes his translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
1567 – Edward de Vere admitted to Gray’s Inn to study Law.
1567 – Edward de Vere kills William Cecil’s undercook while practicing his fencing – he is acquitted and goes unpunished.
1567 – 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 – Thomas Underdowne dedicates his translation of An Aethiopian Historie by Heliodorus to Edward de Vere.
1569 – Edward de Vere’s mother Margery née Golding dies.
1570 – Edward de Vere, having sought leave of the Queen for some military service, enlists with the Earl of Sussex for the Scottish campaign.
1570 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in Edmund Elviden’s Peisistratus and Catanea.
1571 – Edward de Vere is victorious in a Royal tournement at Westminster and is widely seen as one of the up-and-coming stars of Elizabeth’s court.
1571 December – Edward de Vere marries Anne, daughter of Sir William Cecil, who, shortly before the marriage, is ennobled as Lord Burghley and takes up the position of Lord Treasurer.
1571 – Dedication to Edward de Vere, with a preface by him, published in Thomas Bedingfield’s translation of Cardanus Comfort.
1571 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in Arthur Golding’s translation of Calvin’s version of The Psalms of David.
1572 – Edward de Vere writes the preface in Latin to Batholomew Clerke’s translation into English of Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (The Courtier).
1572 – Edward de Vere takes part in a Royal entertainment at Warwick Castle.
1572 September – Edward de Vere writes to 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.” BL Lansdowne 14[/84], ff. 185-6
1573 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in the translation of The Breviary of Britain by Thomas Twyne
1573 – In a letter to 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 IVth Part 1 in which Falstaff and three of Price Hal’s companions rob travellers, carrying the King’s taxes, on the same road.
1574 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in George Baker’s translation of Oleum Magistrale.
1574 – Edward de Vere, desirous of some foreign adventure, 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. ERO D/DRg2/25
1575 March 17-18 – In a letter to Burghley from Paris, Edward de Vere begins by thanking him for the information about his wife Anne being pregnant. ” 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.” (Cecil Papers, 8/24, W102-3;F163-4).
1575 April – Edward de Vere travels to Strasburg where he meets Sturmius.
1575 July 2 – Anne (Cecil) Countess of Oxford delivered of a daughter, Elizabeth. Date noted by her father Burghley in chronology written 3rd Jan 1576.
1575 Sept 24 – A letter from Edward de Vere to Burghley from Venice, includes, “I have sent one of my servants into England, withe sume new disposition of my thinges 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…”
1575 Sept 24 – The same date also noted by Burghley (written when he was preoccupied in proving the legitimacy of his daughter Anne’s child): “The letter of the Earl by which he gives thanks for his wife’s delivery. Mark well this letter.” (Cecil Papers 160/74 W107-8;F181-2; Cal. Manuscripts of Marquis Salisbury, pp 144)
1575 Nov 27 – A letter from Edward de Vere to Burghley from Padua is endorsed: “The Erle of Oxenford to my lord from Padoua the sale of his landes not to be stayed.” (Cecil Papers 8/76 W109;F196).
1576 Jan 3 – 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.” (Cecil Papers 8/12 W110-11;F203-4).
1576 Jan 3 – 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. (Cal. Manuscripts of Marquis Salisbury, pp 144)
1576 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.
1576 April 4 – A letter from Edward de Vere to Burghley from Paris expressing his “misliking” of the situation with Anne Cecil. Burghley does not keep this letter but refers to it.
1576 April – Crossing from France to England, 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”.
1576 April 27 – Now back in England, Edward de Vere writes again 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 with Anne. (Cecil Papers W121;F248-9)
1576 July 13 – A letter from Edward de Vere to Burghley from London, in full: “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.” (Cecil Papers 9/15 W125;F266).
1577 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in John Brooke’s The Staff of Christian Faith.
1577 – Edward de Vere invests a fortune in Frobisher’s voyage to seek out a Northwest passage.
1578 – Edward de Vere invests in Frobisher’s disasterous second voyage to seek out a Northwest passage.
1578 – Edward de Vere 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”. His eulogy, in Latin, is published.
1578 – Edward de Vere is recognised as the leading light of the Euphuist literary movement.
>1578 Aug 14 – in a letter, 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.” (Calender of Letters and State Papers Vol. II. Elizabeth, 1568-1579, p. 606.)
1579 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in Geoffrey Gates’ The Defence of Militarie Profession.
1579 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in John Lyly’s Euphues and his England. 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. (Cal State Papers Dom. 1547-1580)
1580 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in John Hester’s A Short Discourse upon Surgery.
1580 – Edward de Vere caricatured as “Italianate Englishman” in Gabriel Harvey’sSpeculum Tuscanismi, he is also praised as “peerless in England” as a “discourser for tongue”.
1580 – Having flirted with Catholicism, Edward de Vere now 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. Edward de Vere is, in turn, denounced by Arundel and Howard. Edward de Vere would sit on the tribunal at this treason trial of his cousin. PRO SP 12/151/47, ff. 105-106; PRO SP 12/151/48, ff. 107-108; PRO SP 12/151/42, ff. 96-96v; PRO SP 12/151/43, ff. 95-95v, 97; RO SP 12/151/45, ff.100-102; PRO SP 12/151/46, ff.103-104.
1581 – Edward de Vere wins prize in a tournament at Whitehall – his tournament speech is later published in Edmund Spenser’s Axiochus.
1581 23 March – The unmarried Anne Vavasour, one of the Gentlewomen of the Queen’s Bedchamber, is delivered of a son – who would be named Edward Vere (and go on to be knighted for his military service). 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.” (Huntingdon Library HA13066)
1581 9 June – Edward de Vere’s release from the Tower is recorded in a memo – he was, however, not set free but placed under house arrest in Greenwich.
1581 2 July – Almanac of events for 1581, in Burghley’s hand: “About this tyme the Er. of Oxf sett to full liberty by Mr. Walysyngham.” (Salisbury Cal of Manuscripts Vol XIII, pp 201)
1581 July 12 – Letter from Walsingham to Burghley and touching, in part, on the Vavasour/Edward de Vere imbroglio. Mentions 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.” (PRO SP12/149 [/67] ff 156-7)
1581 July 13 – Letter from Edward de Vere to Burghley, includes “My lord, Robine Christmas dyd yesterday, tell me, 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.” (BL Lansdowne 33[/6], ff. 12-13)
1581 July 13 – Letter from Burghley 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.” (BL Add. 15891, f. 77)
1581 Dec 7 – Anne (Cecil) Countess of Oxford begins correspondence with Edward de Vere hoping that it will lead to a reconciliation. All Anne’s letter are preserved, though none of Edward’s replies were preserved in the Cecil archive.
1582 Jan – Reconciliation between Anne (Cecil) Countess of Oxford and Edward de Vere.
1582 March – There is a “fray” between Edward de Vere and Sir Thomas Knyvett, uncle of Anne Vavasour, over the latter’s honour thus beginning a long running feud. Edward de Vere is injured – which grieves him on and off for the rest of his life. Shades of the Montague-Capulet feud spring to mind.
1582 June 18 – There is a violent skirmish at Blackfriars Thames landing stage between Edward de Vere’s men and Sir Thomas Knyvett’s men.
1582 June 22, 24 – There is an enquiry into the Blackfriars skirmish in which witnesses give their depositions. (PRO SP12/154[/11], ff. 20-1; PRO SP12/154[/12], ff. 22-2bis; PRO SP12/154[/13], ff. 23-4)
1582 – 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 – the newly born son of Edward de Vere and his wife Anne is buried.
1583 – Edward de Vere acquires the sub-lease on the Blackfriars Theatre and appoints his secretary Lyly as manager.
1584 – Daughter Bridget born to Edward de Vere and Anne.
1584 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in Robert Greene’s Card of Fancy.
1584 – Edward de Vere acquires the London mansion known as Fisher’s Folly which becomes the centre of his literary salon.
1584 – Edward de Vere again wins a prize at a Royal tournement, held to celebrate the anniversary of the coronation.
1584 Dec – The History of Agamemnon and Ulysses performed at court by Edward de Vere’s troupe of boy actors.
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.” (BL Lansdowne 50[/22], ff. 49-50 (W251;F342).
1586 June 26 – Privy Seal Warrant from Queen granting Oxford £1000 per annum. (PRO E403/2597, ff 104-105)
1586 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in Angel Daye’s The English Secretary.
1586 – Edward de Vere described by William Webbe as “most excellent” among court poets.
1586 Oct – Edward de Vere is third in precedence at the trial of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringay. 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 – Daughter Susan born to Edward de Vere and Anne.
1587 Sept – Daughter Frances dies in infancy.
1588 June – Edward de Vere’s wife Anne née Cecil dies and is buried in Westminster Abbey. According to letters by Thomas Cecil and others, Lord Burghley is so incapacitated by grief over the death of “my ladie of Oxenford” that he is incapable of conducting Privy Council business.
1588 – Edward de Vere fits out his ship the Edward Bonaventure against the Spanish Armada and in 1599 is described in a poem as having stood ‘like warlike Mars upon the hatches’.
1588 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in Anthony Munday’s Palmerin d’Oliva.
1589 – The Arte of English Poesie, by George Puttenham is published. Contains: “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 us the clearest insight into how unthinkable it would have been for any Elizabethan nobleman to have have been identified by name as an author.
1591 – Edward de Vere marries another one 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 returns it to profitability.
1591 Dec – Edward de Vere 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.
1591 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in Plainsong Diverse & Sundry by the noted Elizabethan madrigalist John Farmer.
1593 Feb 24 – Henry de Vere, son and heir of Edward de Vere and Elizabeth née Trentham born.
1594 July 7 – In a letter to Burghley, Edward de Vere seeks his favour in a matter involving what 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.” (BL Lansdowne 76[/74], ff. 168-9)
1595 Jan – Edward de Vere’s daughter Elizabeth marries William Stanley the 6th 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.’
1596 – Dedicatory Verse to Edward de Vere in Spenser’s Fairie Queene.
1597 September 2 – 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 in 1609 after selling it to the poet ffulke Greville. (PRO C66/1476)
1598 – Edward de Vere is named as “best for comedy” in Francis Meres’ Palladis Tamia.
1599 – Dedication to Edward de Vere in John Farmer’s Set of English Madrigals.
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.
1603 Mar 24 – 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.
1603 – Edward de Vere’s crown annuity is renewed by King James.
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.
1604 June 24 – Edward de Vere dies.
1604 July 6 – Edward de Vere buried at St John’s Church, Hackney.