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Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (April 12, 1550 - June 24, 1604) was born at Castle Hedingham to the 16th Earl of Oxford. He was trained in aristocratic pursuits such as horse riding, military training, hunting, music, and dance. He also had tutors in French and Latin. He is most famous today as possibly the actual author of the works of William Shakespeare.
His father died in 1562, when de Vere was twelve years old, making him Earl of Oxford. As a minor, Oxford was made a royal ward, and was placed in the household of Lord Burghley, the Lord High Treasurer, a member of Queen Elizabeth I's Privy Council, her closest and most trusted advisor, and overall one of the country's most powerful figures. Burghley managed to cover up Oxford's murder of one of Burghley's servants. Oxford obtained a bachelor's degree from Queens College, Cambridge, a master's degree from the University of Oxford, and trained in law at Gray's Inn. He entered the Royal Court in the late 1560s, where his charisma, intelligence and appearance won him favour from Queen Elizabeth.
He married Lord Burghley's daughter, Anne Cecil, on 19 December 1571 — a controversial choice, since they had grown up together. At the age of twenty-one, he regained control of his lands. His marriage produced four children, including three daughters who survived infancy. He toured France, Germany and Italy in 1575, and was briefly Catholic. (It is of this period that John Aubrey wrote, in his Brief Lives, that Edward "broke wind" "while making low obeisance" to Queen Elizabeth and went into voluntary exile. On his return years later, it is alleged that the Queen's first words to him were "My Lord, I had quite forgotten the fart.")
On his return across the English Channel, Oxford's ship was hijacked by pirates, who planned to hold him for ransom until he informed them of his royal connections. Furthermore, he found that his wife had given birth to a daughter during his journey, and divorced her on grounds of adultery.
In 1580, he accused several of his Catholic friends of treason, and denounced them to the Queen, asking mercy for his own Catholicism, which he repudiated.
He fathered an illegitimate child by Anne Vavasour, namely Sir Edward Vere, in 1581, and was briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London. The illicit congress with Vavasour led to a prolonged quarrel with Sir Thomas Knyvett, her uncle, which resulted in three deaths and several other injuries. Oxford himself was lamed in the encounter. The feud was put to an end when the Queen threatened to jail all those involved. Eventually Oxford decided to forgive Anne Cecil and remarried her.
In 1585 Lord Oxford was given a military command in Holland, and served during the Battle of the Spanish Armada in 1588. His first wife Anne Cecil died in 1588 at the age of 32. In 1591, Oxford married Elizabeth Trentham, one of the Queen's Maids of Honour. This marriage produced his heir, Henry, the 18th Earl of Oxford. The Earl's three daughters all married into the peerage: Elizabeth married Lord Derby; Bridget married Lord Berkshire ; Susan married Lord Montgomery (later Lord Pembroke), to whom William Shakespeare's First Folio was dedicated.
Oxford was a poet of minor note, with works appearing in The Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576), The Arte of English Poetrie (1589), The Phoenix Nest (1593), England's Helicon (1600) and England's Parnassus (1600). He wrote plays, none of which have survived, and maintained two theater companies and a band of tumblers. He declined to publish his works due to an unofficial rule prohibiting the publication of plays or poetry by noblemen.
He was a patron of several writers: those who dedicated works to him include Edmund Spenser, Arthur Golding, Robert Greene, John Hester, John Brooke, John Lyly, Anthony Munday, and Thomas Churchyard. His patronage (and mismanaged estates) reduced him to penury, and he was granted an annual pension of £1,000 by the Queen, which continued to be paid by her successor, King James I.
In 1920, J. Thomas Looney advanced the theory that Oxford was the actual author of William Shakespeare's plays, due to his advanced education, knowledge of aristocratic life, the grant bestowed him, his interest in the theatre, praise accorded his works, and various similarities between his life and the plays. According to the theory, the aforementioned taboo drove Oxford to secrecy. This belief is known as the Oxfordian theory of Shakespearean authorship, and the debate over it remains contentious.
John de Vere
|Earl of Oxford||Succeeded by:|
Henry de Vere
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