Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Vere, Family of

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VERE, Family of, is supposed to have derived its name from Ver, near Bayeux, and was founded in England by Aubrey (‘Albericus’) de Vere, who obtained from the Conqueror vast estates, chiefly the property of Wulfwine, a great English thegn, in the counties of Essex, Suffolk, and Cambridge, with two manors in Huntingdonshire and that of Kensington in Middlesex (Domesday). The continuance of his family in the male line and its possession of an earldom for more than five and a half centuries have made its name a household word. Macaulay's elaborate but inaccurate panegyric (lib. ii. cap. 8) on ‘the longest and most illustrious line of nobles that England has seen’ is rivalled by the stately eloquence of Lord-justice Crewe when pronouncing his judgment on the great case in 1626 for the family honours: ‘I suppose there is no man that hath any apprehension of gentry or nobleness but his affection stands to the continuance of so noble a name and house.’ Less familiar is the entail of his estates by the seventeenth earl (1575) for the preservation of the ancient ‘name of the Veers, whereof he is lyneally discended, in alliance and kindred with moste of the ancient nobilitie of this realme, and in the good will and good lykinge of the cominaltie of the same realme,’ &c. (Hist. MSS. Comm. 14th Rep., App. ix. 277).

The earliest information on the family history is found in the cartulary of Abingdon, which relates the grant of Kensington church to the abbey by Aubrey de Vere ‘senior.’ Aubrey de Vere (d. 1141) [q. v.], created great chamberlain in 1133, was son or grandson of the founder of the family. The early pedigree has been much confused by Dugdale and others (Geoffrey de Mandeville, pp. 388–98). A considerable addition to the family fief was made by the marriage of Robert de Vere, third earl [q. v.], to the heiress of the Bolebecs, whose ancestor, Hugh, had obtained large estates in Buckinghamshire at the Conquest. In virtue of this match the earls eventually assumed proprio motu the title of Viscount Bolebec. The fifth earl, Robert de Vere (d. 1296), was a follower of Simon de Montfort, who knighted him on the field in 1264, and summoned him to the parliament of 1265. His marriage with the heiress of Gilbert de Sanford brought the family the office of chamberlain to the queen (Liber Rubeus, p. 507), which Gilbert had exercised in 1236, when the earl's father had similarly acted as chamberlain to the king (ib. p. 759). The earls eventually added to their titles that of Lord Sanford in virtue of this marriage. The seventh earl, John de Vere [q. v.], married a coheiress of the Lords Badlesmere, whose title was similarly assumed by his descendants. His grandson Robert (1362–1392) [q. v.], the favourite of Richard II, was succeeded by his uncle Aubrey (1340?–1400) [q. v.], to whom the king, in 1392, ‘restitut, done, et grante … le nom, title, estat et honour de Count d'Oxenford,’ with limitation to his heirs male, ‘et luy fist Count d'Oxenford en plein parlement’ (Rot. Parl. iii. 603), the original earldom having been forfeited in 1388. It is remarkable that his grandson and all the successive earls signed themselves ‘Oxenford.’

The twelfth earl, John de Vere (d. 1462), a staunch Lancastrian, who was beheaded, with his eldest son, in 1462, married the heiress of the barony of Plaiz. His younger son and successor, John, thirteenth earl [q. v.], was attainted in 1474, but was restored to all his family honours on the triumph of Henry VII. With his nephew, John, the fourteenth earl, the direct male line came to an end (1526), and the earldom passed to a descendant of the eleventh earl, Richard (1400–1417), who obtained with it the great chamberlainship (as being entailed on heirs male under Richard II), and assumed the other titles of the family. Of his younger sons, Aubrey was grandfather of Robert de Vere, the nineteenth earl, and Geoffrey was father of Sir Francis Vere and Horatio, lord Vere of Tilbury [q. v.] His grandson, Edward, the seventeenth earl (1562–1604) [q. v.], ruined his inheritance, and with his son, Henry de Vere, eighteenth earl [q. v.], the direct male line again came to an end in 1625. Although, a century before, in the same circumstances, the heir male appears to have succeeded to the family honours without question, they were now stubbornly contested by Robert (Bertie), lord Willoughby de Eresby (Collins, pp. 269–75), whose mother was an aunt of the last (eighteenth earl), on the ground that the latter's three sisters were only ‘of the half-blood.’ The House of Lords referred the whole question to the judges, who adjudged the earldom to the heir male—a poor officer, Robert de Vere, nineteenth earl (d. 1632) [see under Vere, Aubrey de, twentieth earl]; the office of great chamberlain (by a bare majority) to Lord Willoughby de Eresby, in whose descendants it is still vested; and the baronies (which had merely been assumed by the family) to the heirs general of Earl John, who died in 1525. Robert's son Aubrey [q. v.], the twentieth and last earl, restored the fortunes of his family by his marriage with Anne Bayning, a great heiress, in 1647. His daughter Diana married the first Duke of St. Albans, whose descendants preserve his memory in the barony of Vere of Hanworth (1750) and the names of ‘Aubrey’ and ‘De Vere.’

Among the religious foundations of the family were the priories of Earl's Colne (their place of sepulture) and Hatfield Broadoak, Essex, and a nunnery at Ickleton, Cambridgeshire. Their ancestral seat was at Castle Hedingham, where the finest rectangular keep in England still testifies to their power. From its resemblance to that of Rochester, it was probably the work of the first great chamberlain. Stephen's queen died there. The cognisance of their house was the blue boar (a pun on verres), and their motto ‘Vero nil verius.’

[Domesday Book; Abingdon Chron. and Red Book of the Exchequer (Rolls Ser.); Rotuli Parliamentorum; Dugdale's Baronage; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage; Nichols's Descent of the Earldom of Oxford (Arch. Journ. ix. 17–29); Collins's Historical Precedents; Halsted's Succinct Genealogies; Macaulay's Hist.; Round's Geoffrey de Mandeville; Vere Papers among the Round MSS. in App. ix to 14th Report on Hist. MSS. pp. 276–81. There are fine engravings of Hedingham keep in Vetusta Monumenta.]

J. H. R.