Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Vere, Edward de
VERE, EDWARD de, seventeenth Earl of Oxford (1550–1604), born on 2 April 1550, was only son of John de Vere, sixteenth earl of Oxford [q. v.], by his second wife, Margaret, daughter of John Golding, and sister of Arthur Golding [q. v.], the translator of Ovid. Until his father's death he was known as Lord Bulbeck. He matriculated as an ‘impubes’ fellow-commoner of Queens' College, Cambridge, in November 1558. Subsequently he migrated to St. John's College. Bartholomew Clerke [q. v.] is reported to have acted as one of his tutors at Cambridge, and Thomas Smith, an illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Smith (1513–1577) [q. v.] seems to have studied with him. When his father died in 1562, he succeeded to the earldom of Oxford and other hereditary dignities, which included the office of lord great chamberlain of England. His father, who left a large estate, nominated his son one of his executors; but Edward was only twelve years old, and consequently became a royal ward. Sir William Cecil, the master of the court of wards, drew up special orders for his exercises and studies, and he became an inmate of Cecil's house in the Strand. There his uncle, Arthur Golding, joined him in the capacity of tutor and receiver of his property. He was thoroughly grounded in French and Latin, but at the same time learnt to dance, ride, and shoot. While manifesting a natural taste for music and literature, the youth developed a waywardness of temper which led him into every form of extravagance, and into violent quarrels with other members of his guardian's household.
Oxford became a prominent figure at Elizabeth's court during his boyhood. He accompanied the queen to Cambridge in August 1564, when he stayed at St. John's College. He also attended the queen on her state visit to Oxford in September 1566. He was created M.A. of both universities (cf. Elizabethan Oxford, Oxford Hist. Soc. pp. 115, 173, 177). Meanwhile his guardian Cecil found his perverse humour a source of grave embarrassment. In July 1567 Cecil narrated in his diary how the earl inflicted a wound which proved fatal on Thomas Bryncknell, an under-cook at Cecil House. Luckily a jury was induced to deliver a verdict of felo de se, the man's death being attributed to his ‘running upon a poynt of a fence sword of the said erle.’ On 24 Oct. 1569 Oxford begged his guardian to obtain for him some military duty. He took his seat in the House of Lords on coming of age on 2 April 1571, and on the first three days of the following May he greatly distinguished himself in a solemn joust at the tilt, tourney, and barrier, which took place in the queen's presence at Westminster. In August he was appointed to attend the French envoy, Paul de Foix, who came to England to discuss the queen's projected marriage to the Duc d'Anjou. Burghley wrote hopefully at the time that ‘he found in the earl more understanding than any stranger to him would think’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 4th Rep. p. 95). In December he married, with the queen's consent, Burghley's eldest daughter, Anne. The queen attended the ceremony, which was celebrated with much pomp.
Oxford did not prove a complaisant son-in-law. A few months after his marriage he hotly remonstrated with Burghley on the government's prosecution of Thomas Howard, fourth duke of Norfolk, who was distantly related to him through his kinswoman, Lady Anne Howard, wife of John de Vere, fourteenth earl of Oxford. He projected a hare-brained plot which came to nothing to rescue the duke from the Tower (cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 478), and he was currently reported to have threatened to ruin his wife by way of avenging himself on his father-in-law for helping to ruin the Duke of Norfolk (Dugdale, Baronage, i. 200). Next year (on 22 Sept. 1572) he entreated Burghley to procure him naval employment. But Burghley kept him at home in the belief that the queen, who admired his gallant bearing, was likely to make more adequate provision for him. ‘My Lord of Oxford,’ wrote Gilbert Talbot to his father, the Earl of Shrewsbury, on 11 May 1573, ‘is lately grown into great credit; for the queen's Majesty delighteth more in his personage, and his dancing and valiantness, than any other. I think Sussex doth back him all that he can; if it were not for his fickle head, he would pass any of them shortly’ (Lodge, Illustrations, ii. 16).
Court life continued to prove irksome, and in July 1574 he escaped to Flanders without the queen's knowledge or consent. Elizabeth was enraged at his contumacy, and gentlemen pensioners were despatched to bring him back. He returned by the 27th, and in August he and his father-in-law waited on the queen at Bristol to offer apology. The queen was conciliatory and showed the earl renewed attentions (cf. Wright, Elizabeth, i. 504, 507; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, pp. 484–5).
In 1575 Oxford realised his ambition of foreign travel, and, with the permission of the authorities, made his way to Italy. In October he reached Venice by way of Milan (ib. p. 504). He returned home in the following March laden with luxurious articles of dress and of the toilet. To him is assigned the credit of first introducing from Italy into this country embroidered gloves, sweet-bags, perfumed leather jerkins, and costly washes or perfumes (Stow). He ingratiated himself with the queen by presenting her with a pair of perfumed gloves trimmed with tufts or roses of coloured silk. A temporary alienation from his wife followed his Italian tour. He ‘was enticed,’ wrote Burghley in his ‘Diary’ (29 March 1576), ‘by certain lewd persons to be a stranger to his wife.’ Although the difference was arranged, his domestic relations were not thenceforth very cordial.
Oxford's eccentricities and irregularities of temper grew with his years. He attended the queen to Audley End on 26 July 1578, and was present next day when a deputation from the university of Cambridge offered verses and gloves to her and her attendants. Some of the verses were from the pen of Gabriel Harvey [q. v.], who in his official poem (‘Gratulationes Valdenses’) paid the earl conventional compliments, but there was a suspicion that Harvey at the same date held the earl up to ridicule in his satiric portrait of an italionated Englishman, with his affected apparel and gesture, which formed the main topic of Harvey's ‘Speculum Tuscanismi.’ According to Nash, Harvey moreover circulated privately some ‘very short but yet sharp [jibes] upon my Lord of Oxford, in a rattling bundle of English hexameters:’
A little apish hat, couched fast to the pate, like an oyster;
French cambric ruffs, deep with a witness, starched to the purpose:
Delicate in speech; quaint in array; conceited in all points;
In courtly guiles, a passing singular odd man.
Nash's story that the earl was so angered by Harvey's lampoons as to cause his libeller to be imprisoned in the Fleet is not confirmed, and was warmly denied by Harvey (Harvey, Works, ed. Grosart, i. 183; Nash, Works, ed. Grosart, passim). In September 1579 Oxford grossly insulted (Sir) Philip Sidney [q. v.] in the tennis-court at Whitehall by calling him a ‘puppy.’ Sidney had previously circulated a sensible reply to a melancholy ‘epigram’ by the earl. He now sent the earl a challenge, but the queen interposed in the earl's behalf, and, while forbidding a duel, ordered Sidney to offer an apology on the ground of Oxford's superior rank. Sidney declined to obey and retired from court (cf. Wright, Elizabeth, ii. 100–1). To avenge himself on Sidney, Oxford is said to have deliberately planned the murder of his antagonist, and he very reluctantly abandoned what he affected to regard as a ‘safe’ scheme of assassination (Fulke Grevillw, Life of Sidney, pp. 74–81; Fox-Bourne, Life of Sidney, pp. 242–50). At the ensuing new year the earl presented to the queen a splendid gift, consisting of ‘a fair juell of golde, being a shippe garnished fully with dyamonds and a meane perle pendant.’ Soon afterwards he received from the queen's hand a prize for the prowess that he displayed in a grand tilt at court.
In March 1581–2 his violence involved him in new difficulties and jeopardised his hold on the queen's favour. He engaged in a duel with Thomas Knyvet (afterwards Lord Knyvet), a gentleman of the privy chamber. Both were wounded, the earl dangerously. During the period that the earl was disabled the warfare between him and Knyvet was pursued by their respective retainers. A man was killed on each side. The queen's attention was called by Knyvet to the series of hostilities which he and his dependents suffered at the earl's hands. Oxford was peremptorily ordered to confine himself, as a prisoner, to his own house. Burghley's equanimity was seriously disturbed by the queen's anger. He appealed to Hatton and Ralegh to intercede with her in his son-in-law's behalf. Ralegh had been treated with characteristic disdain by the earl since he appeared at court, and, while expressing his readiness to help Burghley in rehabilitating the earl at court, declared that he was helping to cure a serpent which, on recovery, would sting his benefactor. At length, in May 1583, Ralegh persuaded the queen to pardon the earl his past offences, and the queen received him in audience when she visited Lord Burghley at Theobalds at the end of the month (Edwards, Ralegh, i. 59, ii. 21; Birch, Memoirs of Elizabeth, i. 22, 37). Subsequently Oxford was given some dignified official employment. In October 1586 he was appointed special commissioner for the trial of Mary Queen of Scots, and he took part in the proceedings at Fotheringay and in the Star-chamber at Westminster. In 1588 he joined, as a volunteer, the fleet which repelled the Spanish armada, and he was in the procession when the queen went to return thanks at St. Paul's on Sunday, 24 Nov. (cf. Laughton, Defeat of the Spanish Armada, Naval Records Soc., vol. i. pp. lxxvi–vii). He was one of the peers who on 14 April 1589 sat in judgment on Philip Howard, earl of Arundel, and joined in convicting the earl of high treason.
During these years Oxford's continued extravagance involved him in pecuniary difficulties. He first ‘sent his patrimony flying’ (to use Camden's phrase) by alienating to Burghley soon after his marriage his property of Hedingham. In September 1583 he parted with the ancestral estate of Earl's Colne to his steward, Roger Harlackenden, for 2,000l., and thenceforth he seemed to take delight in selling every acre of his land at ruinously low prices. Burghley made ample provision for Oxford's wife and children. But when the countess died on 6 June 1588 he showed little inclination to relieve his son-in-law's necessities. Oxford had squandered some part of his fortune upon men of letters whose bohemian mode of life attracted him. He was patron of a company of players who gave performances at Ipswich, Cambridge (in 1581), and other places. When the earl was himself in distress he had no scruple in seeking assistance of his poor literary friends. About 1591 Thomas Churchyard [q. v.], the poet, hired lodgings in London for the earl at the house of one Mrs. Penn, giving his own bond for payment. Oxford left Mrs. Penn's lodgings without meeting his bill, and Churchyard, in fear of arrest, sought sanctuary. Thence he wrote to the landlady protesting his honesty and told her that he had informed the queen of the earl's faithlessness (Wright, Elizabeth, ii. 414).
A second marriage soon afterwards with Elizabeth Trentham, one of the queen's maids of honour, seems to have temporarily restored Oxford's tottering fortune. In 1592 he petitioned for a monopoly to import into the country certain oils, wool, and fruits, but appears to have met with no success. The rest of his life was mainly spent in retirement. But he sat on the trials for high treason of Robert, earl of Essex, and Henry, earl of Southampton, on 19 Feb. 1600–1601. He subscribed the proclamation of James I, and at James I's coronation (25 July) he officiated as lord great chamberlain. Towards the end of his life he lived in Cannon Row, Westminster, whence he removed before his death to a house at Newington, Middlesex. There he died on 24 June 1604; he was buried in Hackney church on 6 July.
Oxford, despite his violent and perverse temper, his eccentric taste in dress, and his reckless waste of his substance, evinced a genuine interest in music, and wrote verse of much lyric beauty. Puttenham and Meres reckon him among ‘the best for comedy’ in his day; but, although he was a patron of a company of players, no specimens of his dramatic productions survive. A sufficient number of his poems is extant, however, to corroborate Webbe's comment that he was the best of the courtier-poets in the early years of Elizabeth's reign, and ‘that in the rare devises of poetry, he may challenge to himself the title of the most excellent among the rest.’ Twenty-three lyrical pieces have been identified as his work. Most of them first appeared in poetical anthologies signed ‘E. O.,’ or ‘E. of O.’ Seven were published in the ‘Paradise of Dainty Devices.’ Three poetic fragments are in ‘England's Parnassus’ (1600); two of these, ‘Doth Sorrow fret thy Soul?’ and ‘What Plague is greater than the Grief of Mind?’ together with another beginning ‘Faction that ever dwells,’ figured in the appendix to the publisher Newman's surreptitious edition of Sidney's ‘Astrophel and Stella’ (1591). Others are found in ‘Phœnix Nest’ (1593) or in ‘England's Helicon,’ 1600 (‘The Shepherd's Commendation of his Nymph’). The earl is noticed as one of the poets from whose works unspecified extracts figured in Bodenham's ‘Belvedere, or the Garden of the Muses,’ 1600. The most attractive of his poems, a dialogue between the poet and Desire, was first printed imperfectly in Puttenham's ‘Art of Poesy’ (1589), and then perfectly in Breton's ‘Bower of Delights’ (1597). Verses by Oxford ‘To the Reader,’ together with a prefatory letter from the earl's pen to the translator, were prefixed to Bedingfield's translation of Cardanus's ‘Comfort,’ 1576, which was ‘published by commandment of the right honourable the Earl of Oxenford.’ A few others of the earl's poems have been recovered by modern editors from the unprinted collection in the Rawlinson manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (No. 85). Hannah printed five of the earl's poems in his ‘Courtly Poets’ (1885, pp. 142–7). Dr. Grosart printed all the extant verse that has been assigned to Oxford in his ‘Miscellanies of the Fuller Worthies Library,’ 1872.
Among men of letters who acknowledged Oxford's patronage the chief were John Lyly, who dedicated to him ‘Euphues and his England’ (1584), and Edmund Spenser, who addressed a sonnet to him in the opening pages of his ‘Faerie Queene’ (1590). Of books of smaller account that were dedicated to him mention may be made of the translation of Justinus's abridgment of Trogus Pompeius by his uncle, Arthur Golding (1564), Underdown's rendering of Heliodorus (1569), Thomas Twine's translation of Humphrey Lhuyd's ‘Breviary of Britayne’ (1573), Anthony Munday's ‘Galien of France’ (1579? lost), Zelauto (1580), and ‘Palmerin d'Oliva’ (1588), Southern's ‘Diana’ (1584), and John Farmer's song-books (1591, 1599).
A portrait of Oxford is at Welbeck, and has been reproduced in Mr. Fairfax Murray's catalogue of the pictures there (1894, p. 147). Another portrait—a small bust—was lent by Dr. John Harley to the Tudor Exhibition in 1890.
Oxford's first wife, Anne, elder daughter of William Cecil, lord Burghley, died at the queen's palace at Greenwich on 6 June 1588, and was buried in state at Westminster Abbey on 25 June. A Latin epitaph is preserved in Cottonian MS. Julius F. x. f. 132. She was a woman of notable cultivation, and was author of ‘Foure epytaphes, after the death of her young sonne the Lord Bulbecke,’ &c. which, together with ‘the fowre last lynes of [two] other that she made also,’ were printed in the volume of poems by John Soowthern [q. v.] called ‘Diana,’ 1584. By her the earl had issue: Elizabeth, born 2 July 1575, who married at Greenwich, on 26 Jan. 1594, William Stanley, earl of Derby, and died at Richmond on 10 March 1626–7; a son, born in May 1583, who died a few hours after birth (Birch, Memoirs, i. 32); Bridget, born 6 April 1584, who was married to Francis, lord Norris (afterwards Earl of Berkshire) [q. v.]; Frances, buried at Edmonton 12 Sept. 1587; and Susan, born 26 May 1587, who was first wife of Philip Herbert, earl of Montgomery, and died 1628–1629.
Oxford's second wife was Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Trentham of Rocester Priory, Staffordshire; she was buried at Hackney on 3 Jan. 1612–13. By her he was father of Henry de Vere, eighteenth earl [q. v.][Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. ii. 389–92, 554; Cal. State Papers, Dom.; Wright's Queen Elizabeth; Dugdale's Baronage, i. 199–200; Markham's Fighting Veres; Nicholas's Life of Sir Christopher Hatton; Martin A. S. Hume's Life of Lord Burghley; Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors; Cal. Hatfield Papers.]