John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford

VERE, JOHN de, thirteenth Earl of Oxford (1443–1513), was the second but eldest surviving son of John de Vere (1408?–1462), twelfth earl, and his wife Elizabeth Howard, suo jure baroness Plaiz, and cousin of Sir John Howard [q. v.], created Duke of Norfolk by Richard III (Complete Peerage, vi. 167, 254). His father (b. 1408?), grandson of Aubrey de Vere, tenth earl [q. v.], served in France in 1436 and 1441, acted as one of the English plenipotentiaries at the peace conference of Oye in 1439, and was one of the nobles who undertook in 1454 to keep the seas for three years (Dugdale, i. 196; Stevenson, ii. 493). He sat in the privy council from that year (Ordinances P. C. vi. 167). He was a strong Lancastrian. In 1455 he was bringing a force to the battle of St. Albans, but did not arrive in time (Paston Letters, i. 333). Shortly after Edward IV’s accession he was arrested with his eldest son Aubrey (who, according to one version, betrayed him) on a charge of arranging for a Lancastrian landing on the east coast (Ramsay, ii. 289; Chronicles of the White Rose, p. 11). They were condemned to death by the constable’s court, and executed on Tower Hill on 20 Feb. 1462 (ib. p. 12; but cf. Fabyan, p. 652). His widow (whom he married before 26 June 1429) was living in 1474 (Paston Letters, iii. 106). Like his successor, Oxford figures largely in the Paston correspondence. His son Aubrey leaving no issue by his wife Anne Stafford (d. 1472), daughter of the first Duke of Buckingham, his second son, John, became thirteenth earl.

John de Vere petitioned the king in the parliament of 1463–4 for the reversal of the attainder and forfeiture of the Duke of Ireland, which had been procured in 1388 ‘by the straunge meanes and gret power’ of Henry, earl of Derby, acting with others, and confirmed by him when he became king after having been reversed in 1397. His prayer was granted with a salvo for the king and some other holders of lands affected (Rot. Parl. v. 549). Oxford figured among the ‘knights of the Bath’ created on 23 May 1464 for the queen’s coronation (Will. Worc. p. 783). Nevertheless, he fell under suspicion of conspiring with the Lancastrians, and was thrown into the Tower in November 1468. He obtained his release, however, before 7 Jan. 1469 (Ramsay, ii. 335). On the king’s return to London in the autumn from Middleham Castle, where he had been virtually the prisoner of the Earl of Warwick, Oxford was noticed to be out of favour (Paston Letters, ii. 389). He followed Warwick into France the next year, and, returning with him in September, took a leading part in the restoration of Henry VI (Fabyan, p. 658; Warkworth, p. 61; Paston Letters, ii. 411; Ramsay, ii. 361). He had the satisfaction of passing sentence of death (15 Oct.) as constable upon John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester [q. v.], who in that capacity had condemned his father and brother in 1462. After being very active in precautions against Edward’s landing in the eastern counties, Oxford fought against him at Barnet, where, as high constable, he led the van. He routed Hastings on the king’s left and drove him off the field, but his men ‘fell to ryfling,’ which prevented him from bringing assistance to the hard-pressed Warwick until it was too late, and, though some of his followers were brought back into action, their silver ‘mullet’ badges were mistaken in the mist for Edward’s sun ‘with stremys,’ and their own party fired upon them. The earl and his men cried ‘Treason! treason!’ and fled from the field (Warkworth, p. 16; Arrivall of Edward IV, pp. 19–20).

Oxford succeeded in escaping to France, according to one account by way of Scotland, in another version through Wales (ib.; Grafton, p. 456). Early in 1473 he fitted out a small squadron at Dieppe, carrying a force variously estimated at 397 and 80 men, and, accompanied by his brothers George and Thomas and by Lord Beaumont, landed near St. Osyth in Essex on 28 May, but re-embarked on the approach of a royal force under the Earl of Essex (Paston Letters, ii. 88, 90). A few days later he was reported off Thanet, and on 30 Sept. he seized St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall (ib.; Warkworth, p. 26; Will. Worc. Itin. p. 122). Orders were sent to Henry Bodrugan of Bodrugan, ‘the chief ruler’ in those parts, to drive him out. But Bodrugan, who seems to have been a very lawless personage, allowed him to revictual the castle (ib.; Rot. Parl. vi. 139). The king in December transferred the command to John Fortescue, the sheriff of the county, with four ships and nine hundred men (exaggerated by William Worcester into eleven thousand). Despite which the siege dragged on for nearly two months longer, until Oxford, finding his men were being successfully tampered with, agreed to surrender on promise of their lives (ib. vi. 149). He was sent to the castle of Hammes, near Calais, and attainted early in 1475 (ib. vi. 145). His wife had to depend on charity and her needle until the king in 1481 granted her 100l. a year (Dugdale, i. 198; Gairdner, p. 250; Fabyan, p. 663). After three years’ confinement, Oxford ‘lyepe the wallys and wente to the dyke, and into the dyke to the chynne; to whatt entent I can nott telle; some sey, to stele away and some thynke he wolde have drownyd hymselffe’ (Paston Letters, iii. 235). Richard III was on the throne before he succeeded in escaping (by August 1484), with the help of Sir James Blount, the governor of Guines and Hammes, with whom he joined the Earl of Richmond in Paris, leaving a garrison in Hammes to hold it for Richmond (Polydore Vergil, p. 566). When Hammes was threatened from Calais, Oxford came to its relief and obtained leave for the garrison to depart with bag and baggage (Gairdner, p. 200).

Landing with Henry in Wales in the summer of 1485, Oxford acted as captain-general of his army, and would naturally command its right wing at Bosworth (Bernard André, p. 29). It was a successful movement of his which decided Lord Stanley to abandon his attitude of neutrality, and the continuator of the Croyland history (p. 574) eulogises him as a ‘most valiant soldier.’

Oxford had no reason to complain that Henry showed himself ungrateful. His attainder was reversed, and the hereditary chamberlainship of England restored to the family after being in other hands for close upon a century (Rot. Parl. vi. 281; Rutland Papers, p. 5). Before the end of 1485 he became a privy councillor, and was made constable of Rising Castle and of the Tower of London, high steward of the duchy of Lancaster (south of Trent), steward of the forests of Essex, and admiral of England, Ireland, and Aquitaine (Doyle, ii. 734). He helped to execute the office of high steward at Henry’s coronation. Framlingham and other forfeited estates were bestowed upon him, he was made K.G. before April 1486, and the stream of lucrative offices did not cease to run in his direction (Dugdale, i. 198; Beltz, p. lxxvi).

Oxford led the van of the royal army at the battle of Stoke, but Polydore Vergil must be mistaken in stating that he commanded the troops sent to Flanders in 1489 (Leland, Collectanea, iv. 210, 214, 247). He had probably in his mind the expedition to Picardy in 1492, when Oxford commanded the van (Stow, p. 447). Henry in his will, made a few months before, appointed Oxford one of his executors (Rot. Parl. vi. 444). In the following years he received additional posts of profit in his own county of Essex (Doyle). When the Cornish rebels came up to London in June 1497 he cut off their retreat at Blackheath (Busch, i. 111).

In the summer of 1498 Oxford entertained the king for about a week, and to this occasion is generally referred the well-known story of his incurring a heavy fine of fifteen thousand marks by collecting a large body of retainers with his badge and livery in his anxiety to receive Henry at Castle Hedingham with proper honour (Bacon, p. 211; Excerpta Historica, p. 119). But Bacon only speaks of it as a report that had come down to his day, and the amount of the fine sounds incredible.

Oxford was high steward for the trial of the Earl of Warwick in November 1499. Towards the end of the reign infirmities and private business kept him from court, but he spent some days with the king at Stratford and Greenwich in July 1508 (Bernard André, p. 125). His last appearance in a public capacity was as a commissioner of array in Essex in January 1513. He died on 10 March following, and was buried in the priory at Earls Colne. He had made his will on 10 April 1509 (Testamenta Vetusta, ed. Nicolas, p. 526). Oxford was twice married. His first wife (about 1465) was Margaret, sixth daughter of Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury [q. v.] She was living after 1488 (Paston Letters, iii. 398), and was buried at Colne. His second wife was Elizabeth, widow of William, second viscount Beaumont (d. 19 Dec. 1507), Oxford’s old companion on St. Michael’s Mount, who, losing his reason in 1487, spent his last years under his friend’s care at Wivenhoe. She made her will on 30 May 1537, and, dying on 26 June in the same year, was buried with her first husband at Wivenhoe (Testamenta Vetusta, p. 674). By her he had no issue, and his only child by his first wife, John de Vere, died young, a prisoner in the Tower during his father’s exile. Oxford’s dignities passed to his nephew John, fourteenth earl (1499?–1526), son of his brother, Sir George Vere [see next article].

[Rotuli Parliamentorum; Rymer’s Fœdera, original edit.; Ordinances of the Privy Council, ed. Nicolas; Stevenson’s Wars of the English in France, with William Worcester’s Chronicle, and Wavrin, in the Rolls Series; Fabyan’s and Grafton’s Chronicles, ed. Ellis, 1811–12; Chronicles of the White Rose, 1845; Warkworth’s Chronicle, the Arrivall of Edward IV, and the Rutland Papers, published by the Camden Society; Itinerary of William Worcester, ed. Nasmyth; Polydore Vergil, ed. 1546; Bacon’s Henry VII, ed. 1622; Leland’s Collectanea, ed. 1770; Excerpta Historica, ed. Nicolas, 1831; Paston Letters, ed. Gairdner; Dugdale’s Baronage; G. E. C[okayne]’s Complete Peerage; Doyle’s Official Baronage; Beltz’s Memorials of the Order of the Garter; Ramsay’s Hist. of Lancaster and York; Gairdner’s History of Richard III, 3rd edit.; Busch’s History of Henry VII (English transl.). The De Vere, earl of Oxford, and his son Arthur, who are prominent characters in Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Anne of Geierstein,’ are not historical personages.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 58
Vere, John de (1443-1513) by James Tait

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