The De Vere Family

The de Vere family were earls of Oxford from the 12th century (when Aubrey de Vere
became the first earl in reward for his support of the Empress Matilda during the first
English Civil War) to the beginning of the 18th century (when the 20th earl of Oxford
died without a male heir). Members of the de Vere family are still alive today, most
notably the Majendie, Beauclerk and Lindsay families, the latter who live in Castle
Hedingham (the ancestral seat of the earls of Oxford).
The de Vere family is descended from Charlemagne the Great and at one time was theCounts of Coutances and Lewes in Normandy. Aubrey de Vere was William the
Conqueror’s brother in law and led the right flank of the Norman army at the Battle of
Hastings in 1066. From that point onwards, de Veres were at almost all of the major
battles fought by English troops, over a period of 600 years: leading the vanguard at
Lewis, Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt, Barnet, Bosworth and Neuport, and founding the
Blues Regiment (the Queen’s Household Cavalry) and the Buff’s Regiment.
One of the earliest representations of the battle of Bosworth, from the Castle at Hedingham and showing John, 13th earl of Oxford riding at Henry VII’s left shoulder

During the 15th century, the de Veres became the second wealthiest family in the country (after the Royal family), predominantly through the family’s connections with the wool trade, but also from ransom receipts following the battle of Agincourt.

Apart from their connections with Lavenham and Hedingham, the earls of Oxford lived in West Winch (near King’s Lynn), Castle Camps and Wivenhoe. They also owned houses in Chelmsford, Colchester and London (they were the last private owners of 10 Downing Street) and lands in Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdon, Cornwall and Northamptonshire.

The de Vere family were patrons of Hedingham, Medmenham, Colne and Hatfield Priories, Stewards of Coggeshall and Woburn Abbey, Sheriffs of Essex and Hertfordshire, Stewards of the Royal Forests, Hereditary Great Chamberlains of England, and Lord High Admirals. The use of the chair and the whistle as de Vere devices, refer to their positions as Chamberlain and as Admiral of the fleet – indeed one of the possible origins for the name of pubs called the “pig and whistle” is a reference to the boar and whistle of the de Veres.

Stories associated with the de Vere family include the invention of the handkerchief (by the 9th earl of Oxford, who was also the first lord to hold the title of marquess). Also, the legend of Robin Hood may be a reference to Robert de Vere, a notorious outlaw who held Rockingham Castle, and who was a constant trial to his relative Robert the Good or Robert the Saint, the 6th earl of Oxford.

The 9th earl of Oxford dining with Richard II. 
One of the earliest representations of the battle of Bosworth, from the Castle at Hedingham and showing John, 13th earl of Oxford riding at Henry VII’s left shoulder.

Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford, is considered by some to have been the real author of William Shakespeare’s plays. Certainly it is the case that many of Shakespeare’s plots refer to events in the history of the de Veres, including the character of Falstaff (Lord Fastolf of Caister was a friend of the family and in the company of the 11th earl of Oxford at the battle of Agincourt). The first performance of a Midsummer Night’s Dream was at the wedding of a de Vere in 1596

Diana Cecil, wife of Henry 18th earl of Oxford. The first performance of a Mid-summer Night’s Dream was at her family home

From 1595 to 1632, the de Vere family became involved in the Wars of Dutch Independence in Europe: the 18th earl died at the siege of Breda (1625), his uncle at Wesel (1595), two of his cousins died with the 18th earl at Breda (1625), his cousin Edward died at the siege of Bois le Duc (1629), his cousin John died in battle in 1631 and the 19th earl died at the siege of Maastricht (1632).

Impression of the 19th earl of Oxford by Wild, 1931

Aubrey de Vere, the 20th earl of Oxford, played an important part in the Restoration of Charles II, and then chaired the meeting of William of Orange and James II in 1688 (the “Bloodless Revolution” which saw William appointed heir to the throne). He died in 1703 in 10 Downing Street with no sons and only one surviving daughter, Diana de Vere, who married the 1st Duke of St Albans.

Diana de Vere, 1st duchess of St Albans, by Kneller
To be found at Hampton Court Palace
Sir Francis Vere and Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford
Originals hanging in the National Portrait Gallery at Montacute House