A SHORT LIFE OF EDWARD DE VERE,
17th Earl of Oxford
He was born in 1550 at Castle Hedingham, Essex, his family's ancestral home. His father, John de Vere, who held the hereditary title of Lord Great Chamberlain, attended the coronations of both Mary and Elizabeth Tudor. Edward was ten years old when Queen Elizabeth visited Hedingham for four days of masques, feasting and entertainments. His mother Margaret came from the old Saxon family of Golding.
When his father died in 1562, young Edward left his home to become, like Bertram in All's Well, a ward of the Crown, under the tutelage of William Cecil, the Queen's Private Secretary (later Lord Burghley). His mother re-married shortly afterwards and seems to have passed out of the boy's life. His sister Mary, who was possibly his twin, went to live with her stepfather and they were not reunited for some years.
In the Cecil household the curriculum included dancing, French, Latin, Greek, cosmography, penmanship, shooting, exercise and prayer. Edward's education continued at Cambridge, Oxford and Gray's Inn (a college of law). He was tutored by his uncle, Arthur Golding, who is credited with the translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, published in 1567 and widely recognised as a profound influence on 'Shakespeare'.
In 1570 he joined the military campaign in Scotland under the Earl of Sussex. By 1571, despite having been involved in various youthful pranks, such as highway robbery, he was reported as a leading luminary at Court and, for a time, a favourite of Queen Elizabeth. In December of that year he married the 15-year-old Anne Cecil, daughter of his guardian. This was a dynastic marriage where all the advantage accrued to Burghley, who was ennobled to reduce the social gap between himself and the young Earl.
While he was away on a Grand Tour of Europe, Edward heard that a daughter, Elizabeth, had been born in July 1575. On his return in early 1576 he appears to have been convinced that she was not his child; he became estranged from Anne for five years, and exiled himself from court, taking up residence in the Savoy and concerning himself with literary and musical patronage. Already in 1573 Cardanus Comfort (the 'Consolations of Boethius') had been translated from the Latin and dedicated to him. In 1576 A Paradise of Daintie Devices, including several poems by Oxford was published. These juvenile works already show affinities, both in style and thought, with those of the mature Shakespeare.
Oxford's Grand Tour had taken in Paris, Strasbourg, Venice, Genoa, Florence, Palermo and, on his way back through France, Roussillon (the setting of All's Well the Ends Well ). He spent the best part of 1576 travelling in Italy and came back fluent in Italian and well acquainted with the North Italian cities, to be satirised by Gabriel Harvey as 'the Italian Earl' on his return to England. His ship was attacked by pirates in the Channel (c.f. Hamlet). Fourteen of 'Shakespeare's' plays have Italian settings, in which he put his detailed acquaintance with the country, beyond pure book knowledge, to good use.
The year 1576 also saw the birth of Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Despite the difference in their ages, the two men knew each other well. 'Shakespeare' dedicated the poems Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594) to Southampton. They were the first works to be published under the by-line 'Shake-speare', and for the next five years the name was associated principally with these two poems. Printed plays under the name 'Shake-speare' did not appear until 1598, the year that Burghley died.
Oxford owned a ship, the Edward Bonaventure. Despite its name, the vessel's voyage in search of gold in Frobisher's 1577 North West Passage expedition made him a loss. In the 1578 expedition he also lost a considerable sum, forcing further sales of his estates (this may explain Hamlet's words in Act II Scene 2: 'I am but mad north-north-west'). It is possible that Oxford commanded the same vessel when fighting the Spanish Armada.
He was mentioned by Gabriel Harvey in an address to Queen Elizabeth in 1578 as a prolific private paet and one 'whose countenance shakes spears'. In the same year his secretary John Lyly published Euphues: the Anatomy of Wit, followed in 1579 by Euphues his England, dedicated to Oxford. These two books launched the fashion for 'Euphuism', a style characterised by high-flown language, satirised in Love's Labour's Lost.
In Match 1581 his mistress, Anne Vavasour, gave birth to a son. The lovers were both sent to the Tower by an infuriated Queen. After his release, Oxford was wounded in a fight instigated by Thomas Knyvet, a kinsman of Anne Vavasour; affrays continued in the streets of London between rival gangs for over a year (c.f Romeo and Juliet).
In December 1581 Oxford resumed living with his long-suffering but devoted wife, and accepted Elizabeth as his child. Tragically, their only son died the day after his birth. Three more daughters followed, of whom Susan and Bridget survived
In 1584 Robert Green's Card of Fancy was dedicated to him, identifying him as a 'pre-eminent wrier'. That year he served on the tribunal which condemned Many, Queen of Scots, to execution.
Two years later, when he was 36, the Queen awarded Oxford an unconditional pension of £1000 a year for life. This uncharacteristic generosity remains a mystery, no reason having been given, and no accounting required of Oxford. Her successor, James I, continued to pay the pension. In reply to a request from the then Lord Burghley that Lord Sheffield's pension be increased, the King refused, saying 'Great Oxford got no more,' leaving us to wonder why great Oxford? His greatness does not seem to have resided in war or affairs of state, so what was it?
In 1587 the playwright Thomas Kyd joined his household. The following year he lost his wife; he remarried in 1591 or 1592 and was finally blessed with a legitimate son, Henry, in 1593. In 1598 George Puttenham referred to him as 'first among noblemen-poets if their doings could be made public'. In 1590 marriage negotiations between his daughter Elizabeth de Vere and Southampton, which had been promoted by Burghley, broke down at a late stage.
When Oxford married Elizabeth Trentham in about 1591-2, he retired from court. He and his new wife moved to King's Place in the fashionable suburb of Hackney in 1596. From then on his public, documented life becomes obscure. In 1594 his ship the Edward Bonaventure was wrecked in Bermuda (c.f. The Tempest).
In January 1595 Elizabeth de Vere married the 6th Earl of Derby, another literary earl. In September 1598, two months after Burghley's death, Meres' Palladis Tamia was registered for publication, naming Oxford as the 'best for comedy' and including the first mention of 'Shakespeare' as a playwright, attributing twelve plays to him. Until then Shakespeare's reputation had rested on the two narrative poems only.
Oxford suffered all his life from financial difficulties, and at the Queen's death in 1603 he wrote eloquently to his brother-in-law, Robert Cecil, 2nd Baron Burghley, of his grief, and his ' shipwreck above all the rest', which he feared would result from losing his pension. He died the following year, possibly of the plague. Parish records state that he was buried in Hackney church on July 6th 1604, but a family history by his first cousin, Percival Golding, states: 'Edward de Veer [sic] ... a man in mind and body absolutely accomplished ... lieth buried at Westminster.'.
During the winter season of 1604-5 six of Shakespeare's plays were presented at court, by command of James I. This has an air of commemoration. In 1609 the Sonnets were published in a pirated edition. The famous dedication describes the author as 'our ever-living', a phrase which was invariably used of the dead, and with the change of only one letter is an anagram of Oxford's motto Vem Nil Verms ('nothing truer than truth', or 'than a Vere'). In 1622 Henry Peacham published, in The Compleat Gentleman, a list of poets who made Elizabeth's reign a 'golden age'. Unaccountably, he omitted Shakespeare but included Oxford; perhaps he knew them to be the same person.
We do not know who instigated the publication of the First Folio edition of the Shakespeare plays in 1623, but there is no mention of any executor or relative of the man from Stratford. However, of the two men who financed it and to whom it was dedicated, the brothers Philip and William Herbert, the former, Philip, Earl of Montgomery, was the husband of Oxford's daughter, Susan, while the other, William, Earl of Pembroke, had once been a suitor to Bridget. Pembroke became Lord Chamberlain, the supreme authority in the world of theatre, and thus was in a position to decide which plays were published and which suppressed. We also know that Ben Jonson, who wrote much of the introductory material, was an intimate associate of the De Vere family after Edward's death. The First Folio was very much a family affair, but the family was not the one in Stratford-on-Avon.
c. The De Vere Society 2000 (reproduced here with permission)
The True Tragical Comical Romantic History of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, courtier, duellist, adventurer and poet, aka 'William Shakespeare'.
“I am dead: Thou livest;
Report me and my cause aright
To the unsatisfied.”
In his 7th one man show, internationally acclaimed award-winning solo specialist George Dillon explores the extraordinary life of the leading light of the Elizabethan age, revealing how and why Hamlet is his auto-biography and suggesting how and why the Stratford hoax was perpetrated and perpetuated.
With special ghost appearances by Burbage, Garrick, & Olivier!