John De VERE

(16th E. Oxford)

Born: ABT 1516

Acceded: 1540

Died: 3 Aug 1562

Buried: 31 Aug 1562, Castle Hedingham

Father: John De VERE (15° E. Oxford)

Mother: Elizabeth TRUSSELL (C. Oxford)

Married 1: Dorothy NEVILLE (C. Oxford) 3 Jul 1536, Holywell, Shoreditch, London, England


1. Catherine De VERE (B. Windsor)

Married 2: Margery GOLDING (C. Oxford) (See her Biography) 1 Aug 1548, Belchamp St.Paul, Essex


2. Mary De VERE (B. Willoughby of Eresby)

3. Edward De VERE (17° E. Oxford)

First son and heir of John De Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford, by his second wife, Elizabeth Trussell, born circa 1516; styled "Lord Bobelec" 1526 to 1540; was in attendance on the King in 1536, presumably at the time of the Pilgrimage of Grace and, as stated above, attended Henry VIII on the arrival of Anne of Cleves, 3 Jan 1539/40. He served in the Boulogne campaign in 1544 with a large following. One of the 12 chief mourners at the funerals of Henry VIII and Edward VI, and one of the 40 knights dubbed, in lieu of being made K.B., 20 Feb 1546/7, at the Coronation of Edward VI, when he did not claim to perform the office of Lord Great Chamberlain (see note).

He married firstly, 3 Jul 1536, at Holywell in Shoreditch, Dorothy, daughter of Ralph Neville 4th Earl of Westmoreland, by Catherine, second daughter of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, in the same ceremony that her sister Margaret married Henry Manners, heir of the Earl of Rutland and her brother Henry married Anne Manners, also daughter of Rutland. Dorothy died apparently between 17 Dec 1545 and 27 Jun 1547. Her death left Oxford with only a daughter, Catherine, and the powerfull Duke of Somerset seized an opportunity. By various legal wranglings many of the lands of the Oxford Earldom, previously passed via “ancient entails”, were redirected in 1548 from Oxford’s daughter and her prospective husband, Somerset’s son Henry Seymour, to Somerset himself under the pretext of the prospective marriage of their offspring. Oxford responded, by secretly marrying Margery Golding on 1 Aug 1548. In the event, Somerset’s execution in 1552 for felony and the subsequent attainder, caused forfeit of the assets to the crown. Oxford was left with lands in Chester, Langdon Hills and Wennington and those comprised in Henry VIII’s grant of Colne Priory to John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford. Somerset’s execution also enabled the rise to power of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and set the scene for animosity between the de Vere and Dudley families.

John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford, was a notorious womanizer. Approximately some years before her death, Dorothy Neville had separated herself from the 16th Earl on the grounds of "the vnkynde dealing of the Earl". Richard Enowes testifies that the Duke of Norfolk had attempted a reconciliation, but that Countess Dorothy "said she wold never goe home agayne amongst such a bad companye as were about the Earle of Oxforde at that tyme". This "bad companye" may have included evil male companions, but it also evidently included Joan Jockey, whom Earl John had bigamously married "about Corpus Christi tyde at Whit Colne Churche", that is, about 31 May 1546; when the countess received confirmation of the bigamous marriage, she took it "verey grevouslie". Indeed, after her departure from the Earl, "the lady Dorothy wrott to Mr Tyrrell then the same Earles Comptroller to knowe yf it were true, that the said Iohan were marryed to the same Earle".

During some part of these same two years the Earl also kept a woman named Anne at Tilbury Hall near Tilbury-juxta-Clare. Rooke Green deposes (in 1585) that "about fortie yeares past he sawe a woman nere Tylbery Hall of whom it was then reported to this Examinant that the said Iohn Earle of Oxforde kept her". If we take the dating literally, this would have been Jan 1545, about the time of Dorothy's voluntary separation from Earl John. None of the examinants knew Anne's surname, but Knollys and Walforth agreed that she had been a servant to Mr Cratherode, evidently the tenant of Tilbury Hall, while several examinants agree that she subsequently married one Phillips.

The examinants agreed that the Earl's relationships with both Joan and Anne were fully terminated prior to Dorothy's death and at the Earl's instigation: "all theise women were shaken of[f] by the same Earle of Oxforde by the aduise & workinge of his Counsell before the said lady Dorothie dyed". Presumably the Earl was in a position simply to abandon Anne, who eventually found refuge in her marriage to Phillips. By contrast, his separation from Joan Jockey, a more dangerous alliance because sanctified by a ceremony of marriage, however irregular, was forced by an act of horrific violence.

One day, when the Earl had left Joan Jockey by herself, a gang consisting of at least five men approached her residence in Earl's Colne. This gang consisted of Sir Thomas Darcy, Lord Sheffield, John Smith, Richard Enowes, and another servant unnamed. The gang broke down Joan Jockey's door; then several of the gang pinned her down while John Smith "spoyled" or "disfigured" her: in the words of Enowes, "this examinantes fellowe Iohn Smyth cutt her nose". Presumably Smith either cut her nose clean off, or cut the skin at the base of the nostrils to give her a permanently grotesque appearance. Cutting off a woman’s nose was apparently a traditional punishment for a whore. Though Joan Jockey apparently survived the attack and outlived Dorothy, the Earl's ardor for Joan Jockey cooled and he "put her away". Walforthe thought that Joan Jockey was still alive in 1585, but none of the examinants could depose as to her current whereabouts.

The mutilation of Joan Jockey was very much a family matter. The leaders of the gang, Sir Thomas Darcy and Lord Sheffield, were both brothers-in-law to the 16th Earl.

After countess Dorothy's death, Sir Thomas Darcy urged a marriage between the 16th Earl and one of the daughters of the current lord Wentworth, that is, with one of his first cousins on his mother's side, and also a kinsman of the Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector for Edward VI. "When she [Dorothy Neville] had presumably been dead for some time; banns for a 2nd marriage had then already been proclaimed twice; neither this, nor another projected marriage with a daughter of Lord Wentworth, appears to have taken place" (Cal. S.P. Dom., 1547-80, p. 3; J.H. Round in the Ancestor, vol. iv, p. 24 et seq.).

John Smith was a loyal servant of the 16th Earl, remaining with him until his death in 1562, and was remembered in his will.

Richard Enowes testifies on his own behalf that he had been a servant to the 16th Earl, though he had apparently left his service by 1562.

It seems almost certain that Joan Jockey was disfigured with the complicity of the 16th Earl. It is barely conceivable that the disfigurement was procured by Darcy and Sheffield to force their brother-in-law against his will to abandon his irregular marriage with a woman of no rank or position. As the attack was carried out by the Earl's own men and by two of his own brothers-in-law, however, it is hard to believe that it was not done on his orders. Perhaps he had tired of Joan Jockey, and conspired in her disfigurement as a way of forcing her out of his life and into seclusion. Earl John seems to have continued on a good footing with his relations, and retained both Enowes and Smith in his service. He remained on exceedingly good terms with Darcy, naming him as "my right entirebeloved Brother in Lawe" in his 1552 will and leaving him one of his best horses and £100.

Dorothy Fosser or Foster (d. ABT 1556/7) came from Haverhill, Suffolk. She was the goddaughter of Dorothy Neville, countess of Oxford, and had served as both the Countess’s maid and as a lady in waiting to Catherine de Vere, the countess’s daughter. Dorothy became romantically involved with the Earl of Oxford and after his wife’s death in about Jan 1548, their relationship came to the attention of the Duke of Somerset. At 27 Jun 1548 a letter from Sir Thomas Darcy to (probably) William Cecil, the Duke of Somerset’s secretary, indicates that Oxford had already been questioned about his courtship of this “gentlewoman with whom he is in love” and that the banns for their marriage had been called two out of the required three times, but not before witnesses. Somerset apparently favored a marriage between Oxford and one of Lord Wentworth’s daughters. Darcy further reported that “Mrs. Dorothy” had left Castle Hedingham and was living in Sir Edward Green’s house, Stampford Hall. Less than a week later, however, Dorothy was at Haverhill, expecting to marry the Earl of Oxford in her parish church. Instead, on Thursday, 1 Aug, Oxford married another gentlewoman, Margery Golding, in the Goldings’ house in Belchamp St. Paul. She was daughter of John Golding, of Belchamp St. Paul (b. 1498 - d. 28 Nov 1547), by his 1st wife, Elizabeth (d. 27 Nov 1527), daughter of Thomas Tonge (or Tough), and widow of Reynold Hammond, by whom she had one daughter, Catherine. Had Somerset remained Lord Protector, Oxford might have faced serious penalties for this irregular marriage. He did pay Dorothy £10 per annum for breach of contract. She later married one of Oxford’s clerks, John Anson (b. 1525 - d. AFT 1585). In 1556/7, they were living in Felsted, Essex.

Oxford mas Joint Lord Lieutenant of Essex 1550-53, and sole Lieutenant 1558 until 29 Oct, and 1559. He was one of the 26 peers who signed the letters patent, 16 Jun 1553, settling the Crown on Lady Jane Grey, but before 19 Jul he declared for Queen Mary, by whom he was made P.C. He accompanied her in her Progress through London, 30 Sep 1553, as Great Chamberlain, and officiated as such, on what ground is unknown, at her Coronation, 30 Nov.

The execution of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and the imprisonment of his sons which resulted in part from the 16th Earl’s support of Mary sowed seeds of animosity toward the house of Oxford on the part of Northumberland’s son, Sir Robert Dudley, later Earl of Leicester and Queen Elizabeth’s favorite.

Though a member of Mary’s council in 1556 he was seen as a protestant under suspicion of being involved in Dudley’s conspiracy.

He petitioned for and performed the office of Great Chamberlain at the Coronation, 15 Jan 1558/9, of Queen Elizabeth, whom he entertained at Hedingham Castle from 14 till 19 Aug 1561.

On 5 Oct 1559, Oxford conducts the prince of Sweden into London. The Diary of Henry Machyn says:

'...[The] v day of October cam to [London by Ald]gatt the prynse of Sweythen, and [so to Leadenhall], and done Gracyous-strett corner in a howse stod [the lord] marques of Northamtun and my lord Ambros Dudley [and other gentlemen and] ladies; and my lord of Oxford browth (him) from Col[chester] and my lord Robert Dudley, the master of the quen('s) horse; and trumpettes bloyng in dyvers places; and thay had [a great] nombur of gentyllmen ryd with cheynes a-for them, and after them a ij C. oof yomen rydyng, and so rydyng over the bryge unto the bysshope of Wynchastur('s) plasse, for [it] was rychely hangyd with ruche cloth of arres, wrought with gold and sylver and sylke, and ther he remanyth...'

On 2 Jun 1562 Oxford signed an indenture which advanced or confirmed the interests in the 16th Earl’s lands of his wife, Margery; his heir Edward; his son’s future wife, “Lady Bulbeck”; his brothers, Aubrey, Robert and Geoffrey De Vere; and the future male heirs of the Oxford earldom. It was necessary to appoint trustees who would hold the lands to various uses, and Oxford chose for that his nephew, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, his brother-in-law, Sir Thomas Golding (d.1571), and Sir Robert Dudley. The appointment of Dudley as a trustee was to protect the interests of the future “Lady Bulbeck”.

On 1 Jul 1562 the 16th Earl entered into an indenture with Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, Dudley’s brother-in-law, for a marriage between his son Edward and one of the sisters of Huntingdon, either Elizabeth or Mary. The agreement provided for a dowry of 1000 marks and a jointure of £1000. Perhaps Dudley would be instrumental in gaining the Queen’s consent. The future “Lady Bulbeck” had claims to the throne through her mother, Catherine Pole, and it is highly unlikely that a marriage which involved a possible claimant to the throne would have been contracted without the Queen’s prior knowledge and consent.

Finally, on 28 Jul 1562, just five days before his death, Oxford made a will appointing Sir Robert Dudley as supervisor. The administration was granted on 29 May 1563 to only one of the six executors named in the will, the former servant of the 16th Earl, Robert Christmas (d. 1584), who at that time entered the service of Dudley. Five of the six executors did not take part in the administration of the will and therefore Dudley's role became a very important one. It was not until 19 Apr 1570, that Edward de Vere finally joined Robert Christmas in administering the will.

Subsequent events have made it clear that the 16th Earl’s death was disastrous for everyone directly affected by it with the notable exception of Dudley.

He died 3, and was buried 31 Aug 1562, at Castle Hedingham. He was never held accountable on any charges of bigamy during his lifetime.

Note: "The statements in support of his claim were false; but it is clear that the Crown recognised (wrongly) that the office was vested in him by hereditary right. It was as John, Earl of Oxford, High Chamberlain of England, that he was summoned for the trial of Lord Wentworth for the surrender of Calais, 22 Apr 1559".

Ch. Inq. p.m., Ser. II, 136/12; Par. Reg. in Essex Review, vol. ii, p. 260; Machyn's Diary (Camden Soc.), p. 290. His will (P.C.C., 22 Chayre), dated 28 Jul 1562, pr. 29 May 1563, directs burial in Colne church. His widow, in a letter to Sir William Cecil, 30 Apr 1563, signed M. Oxinford, excuses her delay in proving the will (Lansdowne MS. 6, f. 69). By his 1st wife he had a daughter Catherine, in connection with whose proposed marriage to Henry Seymour, son of the Protector Somerset, the later forced the Earl to convey to him a large part of his estates (Cal. Patent Rolls, Edw. VI, vol. i, p. 376; vol. iv, p. 376; Acts of P.C., 1547-50, p. 221). Remedy was afterwards provided by Act of 5-6 Edw. VI, cap. 35, marked as missing in the list in Statutes of the Realm. Morant (op. cit., vol. ii, p. 293) gives its substance. The said Catherine married Edward, Lord Windsor. By his second wife the Earl had a daughter Mary, who married Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby de Eresby, and a son, Edward, his heir.



Green, Nina: The Fall of the House of Oxford - Originally published in Brief Chronicles Vol. 1 (2009), pages 41–95

Nelson, Alan H. (2003). Monstrous Adversary: The Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Liverpool University Press

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