Legends, Myths and Stories

The following are various stories or events connected with the house. Some are true; some clearly false and most are difficult to prove one way or the other. It is no surprise that the house, given its history, its associations, and its other unique qualities, has and continues to attract a legend all of its own.

The Paston letters were written at de Vere House

One of the most colourful accounts of the history of Lavenham and Suffolk can be found in the form of a series of letters between the Paston family and the de Vere family, dating back to the late 15th century. These include several letters written at the “lodge” in Lavenham.

AD 1487 to 1502, The Earl of Oxford to Sir John Paston:

To our hertly welbilovyd John Paston, Knyght.

Right hertly welbilovyd, I grete you wele. And where Sir John Howard, Knyght, Sir Gilberde Debenham, Knyght, gederith grete feloship of men, purposyng on Monday next comyng to take stresses of the Lady Roos: and I deme that they undre the colour of the same entende to set on Coton, and to gete it if they may: I therfor councelle you to sende downe a certeine of your men or elles come your silfe for the save garde of the said Coton. Also that yo yeve credence un to the brynger herof. And our Lord kepe you.

Writyn at the lodge in Lavenham the last day of Juylle.

Writyn at the lodge in Lavenham the last day of Juylle

The lodge referred to is Lavenham Hall, rather than the guest or hunting lodge in Water Street.

King Henry VII visited the house when visiting Lavenham in 1498

Henry VII visited Lavenham during 1498 for a day’s hunting, and it is quite possible that de Vere House was used to house the many guests and retainers of the King and the 13th earl of Oxford. The visit to Lavenham is recorded in Margaret Beaufort’s diary at the time.

The sister and youngest brother of Charles II and James II were held under house arrest in de Vere House during 1651.

For a short period of time during the Commonwealth (1649-1660), the young princes and princesses were placed under the custody of Mary de Vere, the wife of Lord Fairfax, and who owned de Vere House (and many other properties). The records show that Lady Fairfax soon tired of the children and handed them back, but do not state where they were held in custody.

De Vere House remains one of the possible locations, and the only property on which Mary de Vere later paid hearth tax!

The connection between de Vere house and the death of Henry, Prince of Wales

The death of Robert Cecil in 1612, followed soon after by the sudden death of Henry, Prince of Wales, saw the Howard family briefly achieve control at James 1’s court. The 18th earl of Oxford (Henry de Vere) was suspected of having poisoned the prince, and earned the title during his life of the “evil earl”.

The suspicion was prompted in part by the assassination of one of the “King’s men” on Water Street. As he lay dying, he confessed to involvement in the prince’s death and pointed to the doorway of de Vere House, when asked on whose orders. As mentioned earlier, above the door are carved the well-known emblems of the de Vere family, and also the Plaiz and Scales of the Howard family. The Howards had much to gain, but it was Henry de Vere, whose reputation suffered from the event. Henry was later imprisoned by the Duke of Buckingham.

Is The House Haunted?

If you believe in ghosts, then de Vere House has a rich history of them, including: the ghost of the 13th earl’s son who died in the Tower of London at the time of the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower; the ghost of Sir Francis Vere, the great soldier, who died in the Thirty Years War, and many others. Needless to say, all of their many manifestations have perfectly logical and scientific explanations.

Are the carved figures beside the front door original or are they later additions?

These figures have been both dendro-chronologically tested and carbon dated. They are 15th century, and most probably formed part of a porch entrance to the 14th century hall or pedestrian bridge over the water culvert. They were subsequently moved as part of the 15th century extension.

The carvings above the door relate to historically recorded events in 1486, which would date them to the same period as the 15th century extension to the house.

Photographs of the house prior to its restoration in the 1920s, show the carved figures in their current location.

Accounts that the figures were found inside the house during its partial demolition, and relocated to the front of the house during its restoration, are inaccurate.

The partial demolition of the house in 1929

Although the demolition of de Vere House in the 1920s was halted, part of the house was removed, auctioned in London and taken to Southampton. Most of the house was returned and restored. At the time the demolition was halted, over half of the house you see today had not been removed and remains in its original state.

A number of timbers and most of the internal paneling made it to Southampton on the back of a cart, where it was shipped abroad to from part of the Randolph Hearst estate – indeed some of the examples of medieval paneling in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and Hearst castle in San Simeon look remarkably familiar!

The east wing of the house was rebuilt and the floor levels changed in the process (reducing that part of the house from three to two storeys). The 14th century hall has almost completely gone.

The timber frame for the central section and west wing, looking onto Water Street, together with the attic rooms, front bedrooms, dining room and spiral staircase are all original and avoided demolition. The ancient bricks on the front wall are also from the original house, which was part timber and brick, as now. There is a rare medieval wall painting that is still attached to the rear of the bricks on the north wall, and herring-bone brickwork has also been uncovered in parts of the house, which avoided demolition.

De Vere House was extended and extensively renovated in the years immediately following the Battle of Bosworth. One possibility is that the house was enlarged to handle the many retainers and guests that John de Vere, received during the royal visit in 1498.

It is most likely that the extension work was completed to coincide with the culvert in Water Street being covered. During the late 15th century, the weavers in Lavenham had complained about the water system being used as a sewer, and interfering with the washing of wool. This resulted in the culvert being covered in brick.

Many of the houses along Water Street were then extended over the culvert, and this can best be seen by looking west along Water Street towards the Priory and where it joins No. 66, Water Street. No. 66 follows the original line of houses, whilst the Priory has been extended 15 feet forward to be above the culvert. 

Did the De Vere family ever own the house?

The earls of Oxford never lived at the house and are not recorded as having visited it. However, the land on which the house was built, was owned by the earls of Oxford (Over Hall manor).

The deeds of the house identify it as one of three properties in common ownership, throughout the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Mary de Vere, the last de Vere to own property in Lavenham, was still paying hearth tax for three properties, during the late 17th century, and the description in the tax roll and the deeds are identical. Moreover, the house was known as both De Vere House and Oxford House, whilst Mary de Vere was still alive.

Relatives of the de Vere family have lived in the house, most notably Alfred Munnings, who was a descendant of the 5th earl of Oxford, and whose family were tenants in the house until 1841. The marriage of Anne Munnings to Sir Clement Heigham was one of the first to be held in the church in Lavenham, following its refurbishment by the 13th earl of Oxford and Thomas Spring.

The evidence for ownership by the De Vere family is tenuous, as the records of the De Vere family were destroyed in the eighteenth century. What evidence still exists, however, points strongly to the house being linked to the family, and only Lavenham Hall and the Church in the village have stronger ties. 

Other properties to visit associated with the De Vere family.

Castle Hedingham
the ancestral home

Montacute House
which houses most of the family portraits

Hatfield Broadoak
the tomb of the 3rd earl

the remains of the tombs of the 5th, 8th and 11th earls

10 Downing Street
another (slightly less famous) door associated with the family