The Origins of the de Vere

The de Vere family were originally from Flanders and settled near the town of Her in the Cotentin, in Normandy. Their founder was an 'Albericus de Ver' or Aubrey de Vere who came to England in 1066 with the Norman invasion. As a brother-in-law of William I, Aubrey did rather well in the subsequent division of the spoils and was granted substantial estates scattered across the counties of Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire along with the Lordship of Cheniston in Middlesex.

His eldest son, another Aubrey de Vere, took part in the First Crusade in 1098 and later married Alice Fitz Richard, a daughter of the Earl of Hereford, and was responsible for much of the construction of Hedingham Castle which became the family's main seat. He was granted the hereditary office of Great Chamberlain by Henry I in 1133 but was later killed during a riot in London on the 15th May 1141. He was succeeded by his eldest son, also named Aubrey but known as Aubrey the Grim.

The de Vere Earls

This Aubrey the Grim, became a supporter of the Empress Matilda against the rival claims of Stephen for the crown and was rewarded by being offered an earldom, with apparently the choice of title from either Cambridge, Oxford, Berkshire, Wiltshire or Dorset. He opted for the title of Earl of Oxford, an award that was later confirmed by Henry II, in a charter of January 1156.

He was succeeded by another Aubrey, the 2nd Earl in 1194, who died childless in 1213 and was followed by his brother Robert. Robert de Vere the 3rd Earl was one of the 25 barons who took up arms against the king John and forced him to sign the Magna Carta and was later to be found as a key member of the baronial party that supported the claims of Louis of France to the English throne. But after the defeat and expulsion of the French in 1217 he soon made his peace with Henry III and retained his title and lands.

Robert was succeeded by his son Hugh de Vere the 4th Earl of Oxford, who married an Hawise Quincy in 1223, the daughter of Sayer de Quincy the Earl of Winchester. Hugh went on crusade during the years 1248 to 1254 and was afterwards succeeded by his eldest son, Robert. Robert de Vere, 5th Earl of Oxford continued the recent de Vere tradition of revolt and was a supporter of Simon de Montfort. He was however captured before the battle of Evesham, which was probably fortunate given the fate of Simon de Montfort at that battle. Thereafter Robert de Vere wisely made his peace with the king and was later to be employed by Edward I in his Welsh wars.

The 5th Earl died in 1296, and was succeeded by his son, another Robert. The 6th Earl married Margaret Mortimer, a daughter of Roger Mortimer, the Earl of March. They had one son named Thomas who unfortunately pre-deceased Robert and therefore the 6th Earl was succeeded in his death in 1331 by his nephew, John, the son of his younger brother Alfonso de Vere.

John de Vere, the 7th Earl was one of the commanders of the English army that invaded Burgundy in 1359 and was killed at the siege of Rheims on the 24th January 1360. The 7th Earl was succeeded by his son Thomas, but Thomas died young, and was succeeded by his son Robert, who was only nine years old when he became the 9th Earl in 1371.

This Robert became one of king Richard II keenest supporters and rewarded by the king with the grant of the title of Marquess of Dublin in 1385 and that of the Duke of Ireland in 1386. (Although both these titles were only granted for life.) But the Merciless Parliament of 1388 condemned him as a traitor and declared his titles forfeit. Fortunately Robert had by that time rather wisely decided to escape into exile in France. He never returned to England and was killed in 1392 by a boar whilst out hunting.

The restored de Veres

His uncle Aubrey de Vere was able to regain the earldom in 1393 but not the office of Great Chamberlain of England which had, in the meantime, been granted elsewhere. Aubrey died in 1400 and was succeeded by his son Richard, the 11th Earl who fought with Henry V at the siege of Harfleur in 1415 and also at the battle of Agincourt but died in 1417.

Richard was succeeded by his son John de Vere, the 12th Earl, who became a prominent Lancastrian and supporter of Henry VI and therefore fell foul of the Yorkist Edward IV when he took the throne in 1461; both John and his eldest son found themselves imprisoned in the Tower of London, tried convicted and summarily executed by John Tiptoft, the Earl of Worcester.

A younger son, also John, therefore became the 13th Earl. He supported Henry VI in his brief recapture of the throne in 1470-1471, but fled to Scotland when Edward IV returned. In 1473 he returned to England via France with a small force presumably with the intention of organising a revolt against Edward IV. His success was limited as he only succeeded in capturing St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall and was promptly surrounded by forces loyal to Edward IV. John was eventually forced to surrender after a long siege, and was taken to Hammes Castle, near Calais, where he was incarcerated for the next twelve years.

In 1485 he managed to bribe the castle governor to allow him to escape and he rushed to join Henry Tudor's invasion force. Naturally enough, when Henry won the battle of Bosworth and duly became king, John was able to regain the earldom and with the death of Thomas Stanley, the Earl of Derby in 1504, he was also able to recover the office of Great Chamberlain as well.

His only son, naturally named John died young, and he was therefore followed by his nephew, yet another John de Vere, who became the 14th Earl but died without issue in 1526. The title passed to a cousin, John de Vere, a grandson of a younger brother of the 12th Earl. And John de Vere the 15th Earl obviously named his eldest son John as well and he duly became the 16th Earl in 1539.

John de Vere 16th Earl was a reasonably notorious sexual adventurer who married Dorothy Neville, a daughter of the Earl of Warwick, (she left him soon after) and then bigamously married a certain Joan Jockey whilst simultaneously maintaining a mistress. He died in 1562 and was succeeded by his twelve year old son Edward, who at the age of seventeen happened to kill a servant named Thomas Brincknell whilst he was practicing fencing with one of his friends. Charged with murder, he was acquitted when the jury decided that the unfortunate Thomas Brincknell had in fact committed suicide by throwing himself on de Vere's sword.

This incident set the tone for Edward's life, who despite being an accomplished poet (and therefore one of the candidates touted as the 'real author' of William Shakespeare's plays), also managed to contract syphilis whilst in Italy, returned to set up home with a Venetian choirboy and was a notorious drunk and spendthrift who nevertheless managed to remain sufficiently popular with the people that mattered to avoid any punishment for his many misdemeanors.

On his death in 1604 the colourful Edward was followed by his son Henry de Vere. This Henry married Diana Cecil a daughter of William Cecil, the Earl of Exeter, but the marriage failed to produce any sons or any surviving children whatsoever, which left the question of succession to the earldom very much in doubt when Henry died in 1625.

The dispute of 1626

When the 10th Earl Aubrey de Vere was restored to the earldom in 1393 he was actually re-granted the title by letters patent, a fact which has led many to consider that this should be treated as a new creation (and therefore that this Aubrey de Vere should properly be the 1st Earl of the second de Vere creation). Although since Aubrey was later to succeed in winning a complete reversal of the attainder passed on his uncle Robert, it could be argued that this enabled the continuation of the original creation and therefore over-ruled the 1393 creation and allowed Aubrey to be quite properly the 10th Earl.

All of this might have seemed academic at the time but came to matter after the death of the 18th Earl in 1625. Since the original de Vere creation of 1142 was by writ, the title could pass through the female line, whereas the 're-creation' of 1393 was specifically entailed on the male line.

The nearest male heir was a second cousin of the 18th Earl by the name of Robert de Vere, a comparatively impoverished captain serving in the Dutch Army, who was obviously the heir under the rules of the 1393 creation. But he had a rival in one Robert Bertie, the 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby, claimed that he should inherit the title through his mother, Mary de Vere a sister of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl.

The dispute went to court and was decided upon by the House of Lords. Sentiment may have played a great part in the decision as the judge waxed lyrical over the dignity of the noble de Vere name, and in a decision worthy of Solomon he ruled that it was Robert de Vere who should become the 19th Earl of Oxford, but that the hereditary office of Great Chamberlain should go to Robert Bertie as a sort of consolation prize.

Robert de Vere was however killed in battle near Maastricht in 1632 and was followed by his only son Aubrey de Vere the 20th Earl. The 20th Earl married a Baring heiress and therefore considerably improved his family's financial position but neglected to produce any male heirs. Therefore with death of Aubrey de Vere in 1703, after 550 years the de Vere line finally came to an end and the title Earl of Oxford reverted to the crown.

Harley and Asquith

Robert Harley began his political life as a Whig but later gravitated to the Tory party and served as Prime Minister between the years 1710 to 1714, during which time he was responsible for the negotiations that led to the Peace of Utrecht and was also one of the founders of the infamous South Sea Company. The Oxford earldom was re-established for Robert Harley in 1711 when he was created the Baron Harley, and Earl of Oxford and Mortimer.

On his death in 1724 Robert Harley was succeeded by his son Edward Harley, 2nd Earl who became notable for the fact that he gave his name to the now famous Harley Street. The 2nd Earl died on the 16th June 1741 and the title passed to a nephew also named Edward. He was succeeded by his son Edward the 4th Earl, followed by a nephew named Edward the 5th Earl. Finally the title passed to the 5th Earl's son Alfred Harley, the 6th Earl who died in 1853 having produced only daughters. At which point the Harleys ran out of heirs and the title became extinct.

The dignity of Oxford remained unallocated for the next 50 years until Herbert Henry Asquith, who was the Liberal Prime Minister between the years 1908 and 1916, was raised to the peerage on the 9th February 1925 as the Earl of Oxford. Since his only son Raymond Asquith was killed at the battle of the Somme on 15 Sep 1916 during World War I, on his death in February 1928 Herbert was succeeded by his twelve year old grandson Julian. Julian Asquith is the current and 2nd Earl of Oxford and Asquith and Viscount Asquith of Morley.

Although both the Harley and Asquith creations are commonly referred to as being 'Earls of Oxford', technically speaking the Harleys were granted the title Earl of Oxford and Mortimer and the Asquiths that of Earl of Oxford and Asquith. The reason for this is simply that although the original de Vere line was regarded as extinct, given that there were over six centuries worth of de Veres it was by no means impossible that there was a genuine heir skulking in the shadows somewhere. (This was of course particularly a consideration in 1711 when Robert Harley became earl a mere eight years after the death of the 20th and final de Vere Earl.)

By 'recreating' the earldom with a different title everyone avoided the possibility that a de Vere claimant might emerge and begin an unseemly wrangle over who was the genuine 'Earl of Oxford'. To date, however there have been no sign of any de Vere claimants.


THE EARLS OF OXFORD

DE VERE

Title forfeit 1388, restored 1393

HARLEY

Creation as Earl of Oxford and Mortimer

ASQUITH

Creation as Earl of Oxford and Asquith


SOURCES

  • The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica entry for OXFORD, EARLS OF see http://1911encyclopedia.org/index.htm
  • Royal Genealogy information held at University of Hull see http://www.dcs.hull.ac.uk/public/genealogy/royal
  • Vere of Oxford genealogy at www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/british/uv/vere1.htm and www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/british/uv/vere2.htm
  • RoyaList Online at http://www.royalist.info/royalist/index.html
  • Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
  • National politics web guide at http://lego70.tripod.com/england/asquith.htm
  • Harley genealogy at http://www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/british/hh4aa/harley02.htm
  • Earl of Oxford and Asquith at http://www.burkes-peerage.net/sites/Contents/book/UK/FHP/Peerage/fhp-OXFORDANDASQUITH.asp
  • Position Statement on Oxford at http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~ahnelson/oxposit.html
  • Earls of Oxford at www.earlofoxford.com
  • THE ENGLISH PEERAGE or, a view of the ANCIENT and PRESENT STATE of the ENGLISH NOBILITY London: (1790) see
    http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/History/Barons/

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.