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The Earl of Oxford
Portrait by Godfrey Kneller
Born(1627-02-28)28 February 1627
Died12 March 1703(1703-03-12) (aged 76)
SpouseAnne Bayning
Children5, including Diana

Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford, KG, PC (28 February 1627 – 12 March 1703) was an English peer and military officer who fought on the Royalist side during the English Civil War.


He was the son of Robert de Vere, 19th Earl of Oxford and his wife Beatrix van Hemmend.[1] He was educated in Friesland in the Netherlands after his father was mortally wounded at the Capture of Maastricht in 1632 when de Vere was only six years old. Years later he joined the English Regiment of Foot, serving on the continent with the Dutch. He remained in Holland during the English Civil War, but returned to England in 1651 an ardent royalist. He was involved in a succession of plots, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London for allegedly plotting against Oliver Cromwell, and interned without trial. On release he joined Sir George Booth's rising in 1659 against Richard Cromwell's regime.

He went with five other peers to petition The Hague for the return of King Charles II in early May 1660. Hoping but failing to become Lord Chamberlain, he was offered the Colonelcy of the Royal Horse Guards. As a favourite of royal mistress Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, he courted the Earl of Bristol's daughter, whose family were in favour at court. The daughter married Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland, a Secretary of State, but he lobbied the king on Oxford's behalf. Oxford was made Lord Lieutenant of Essex and a Knight of the Garter.[2]

Censorious Whigs like Samuel Pepys deplored seeing Oxford wearing his Garter regalia in public, and there was a rumour that he had married an actress in secret. The actress was Hester Davenport (1642–1717) and the wedding supposedly took place on a Sunday morning in 1662 or 1663 in a chandler's shop in Harts Horn Lane, London. She had a son Aubrey (1664–1708) from this union. The earl successfully brought a lawsuit in 1686 to refute her claims.[3]

Despite being a Cavalier, he was a tolerant Protestant, and permitted Quakers and Puritans to join the regiment. He was a friend of Charles II's illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth. Oxford raised a regiment of horse from 1684 onwards, just as the Life Guards were being withdrawn from Dunkirk. They were properly the Royal Regiment of Horse, but were known by the colour of the uniforms as Oxford's Blues because he was the regiment's colonel. Royalist volunteers added strength to this Protestant regiment. It was Charles II's policy to expand the army beyond the core that he had inherited.[4] Oxford gained the disapproval at court of the Duke of Buckingham, who had declared undying enmity. Oxford replied that he "neither cared for his friendship nor feared for his hatred."

"...a troop of horse, excellently mounted, of the Royal Regiment of my Lord Aubrey de Vere, Earl of Oxford...inspecting every file of the company, the officers of which wore a red sash with gold tassels.", wrote Prince Cosmo of Tuscany on a visit to London in 1668.[5] Oxford was present at the first Army Board on 5 August 1670, chaired by the Duke of York, the king's brother who later succeeded him as King James II. On 5 July 1685 Sir Francis Compton was promoted to command the regiment. Oxford wanted the post for himself but was prevented from taking it by the King. Oxford was responsible for kitting out his regiment, and ordered a standard blue uniform from a woollen draper, Mr Munnocks of The Strand, Middlesex, whose son was killed in the service.[6]

Oxford as Lord Lieutenant of Essex was responsible for raising troops in the county, but refused James II's order to appoint Roman Catholics to public offices. In February 1688 he told King James "I will stand by Your Majesty against all enemies to the last drop of my blood. But this is a matter of conscience and I cannot comply." He was deprived of his offices. Months later he took the side of William of Orange against James II in the Glorious Revolution. He was restored to his titles and the colonelcy of The Blues, and exempted the Commission of Inspection by the Convention Parliament (1689) of April 1689. The Secretary at War, William Blathwayt, wrote asking for details of all officers removed by absolutism.[7] On 1 February 1689 Oxford and Compton lobbied Parliament to pass a vote of thanks to the army for the Whig constitution "...testified their sturdy adherence to the Protestant religion and being instrumental in delivering this country from popery and slavery."[8]

He died in 1703 without surviving male issue, making the title extinct. His daughter Lady Diana de Vere married Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St Albans, another illegitimate son of Charles II.[9]


Oxford's first wife was Ann Bayning, a daughter of Paul Bayning, 2nd Viscount Bayning. Westminster Abbey's commemoration of de Vere notes that Ann was 10 when she was married. (Commoners rarely married before age 21.) Ann was buried in the Abbey on 27 September 1659.[10] The couple had no children.

In the early 1660s, Oxford began pursuing one of London's most famous actresses, Hester Davenport (23 March 1642 – 16 November 1717). Davenport was a leading actress with the Duke's Company under the management of Sir William Davenant. After seeing her on stage on 9 January 1661/2, diarist John Evelyn described her as "faire & famous Comoedian."[11] Davenport refused to be Oxford's mistress and returned his gifts, but agreed to marry him in a small ceremony held in 1662 or 1663,[12] ending a "promising" career.[11] The couple's son, Aubrey de Vere, was born on 17 April 1664 and baptised at St Paul's church in Covent Garden on 15 May.[13] The Earl openly acknowledged that he was Aubrey's father, granted Davenport a pension, and took responsibility for her debts. Writing for "The History of Parliament," Dr Ruth Pauley notes that "Hester Davenport seems to have been acknowledged as countess of Oxford."[12]

Diana Kirke de Vere, 20th Countess of Oxford by Peter Lely

Sometime between 1665 and 1670, de Vere began an affair with Diana Kirke, daughter of Anne Killigrew and George Kirke, groom of the bedchamber to Charles II[12] and granddaughter of Aurelian Townshend.[14] "Following a public spat" with Davenport, Kirke became de Vere's "public mistress."[15] A sultry portrait of Diana Kirke painted by Sir Peter Lely during this period shows her standing in a swirling gold gown, her left breast exposed, her left arm hanging seductively by her side, a rose in her hand. Lely paints the centre of the rose's folded petals and the tip of Diana's bare breast from the same palette.

In January 1672, Oxford married Diana Kirke. The Anglican service was held at Whitehall with Oxford's chaplain officiating.[12] In a church court case brought by Hester Davenport and heard in 1686, de Vere defended himself against the charge of bigamy by admitting that he had staged their wedding. The court concluded that "Davenport and Oxford had indeed gone through some sort of ceremony but failed to establish that it had been performed by a genuine clergyman. Hester Davenport was thus unable to prove that she was anything other than a discarded mistress." The man who officiated, dressed as a minister, was likely one of Oxford's servants, a groom or a trumpeter, in disguise.[12] Davenport had assumed she was legally married. Though she lost the case, she continued to use her married name and fought to have her son declared legitimate. She remained single until de Vere died.[11]

De Vere had five children with Diana Kirke:[16]

  1. Charles (Karl), born 22 Nov 1675; baptized 9 Dec 1675, St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster; died as an infant.[17]
  2. Charlotta, born 24 Aug 1673; baptized 13 Sept 1673, St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster; no further record.[18]
  3. Diana, born c.1679; died 15 January 1742, Windsor Castle; became Diana Beauclerk, Duchess of St. Albans, when she married Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St Albans, son of Charles II and Nell Gwynn.[10]
  4. Mary, died unmarried; buried 1725, Westminster Abbey.[10]
  5. Henrietta, died unmarried 22 Sept 1730 at 48; buried 1730, Westminster Abbey.[10]

De Vere was buried in St. John the Evangelist's chapel, Westminster Abbey on 22 March 1703. His body lies near the monument to his kinsman Sir Francis Vere, "but has no monument or marker." Diana Kirke was buried in the Abbey on 19 April 1719.[10] Aubrey de Vere survived his father, but because his father declared him illegitimate, he was unable to inherit his father's title. No "suitable" claimant came forward, and one of the oldest titles in the peerage of England came to its end. Aubrey de Vere, 1st Earl of Oxford, received his title from the Empress Matilda in 1141.[19] With the death of Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford, the "title became extinct."[10]


  1. ^ White-Spunner, p. 44. In "Horse Guards" the author names his mother as Beatrice de Banck, a Dutch woman.
  2. ^ "Charles II - volume 1: May 29-31, 1660 Pages 1-16 Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles II, 1660-1. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1860". British History Online. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  3. ^ Chancellor, V. E. (2004). "Hester Davenport, styled countess of Oxford". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/70999. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ Holmes, p. 50
  5. ^ "The Travels of Cosmo III in England", cited by Arthur, I, p. 82; White-Spunner, p. 50
  6. ^ White-Spunner, pp. 104–5
  7. ^ Holmes, p. 158
  8. ^ Arthur, I, p. 231
  9. ^ Holmes, p. 27
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Commemoration of Henry and Aubrey de Vere, Earls of Oxford". Westminster Abbey. Archived from the original on 9 May 2020. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  11. ^ a b c Highfill, Philip H.; Burnim, Kalman A.; Langhans, Edward A. (1975). A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800. Southern Illinois UP. pp. 194–95. ISBN 9780809306930.
  12. ^ a b c d e Pauley, Ruth (23 November 2016). "The 'Marriage' of Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford". The History of Parliament. Archived from the original on 7 March 2017. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  13. ^ "Baptism of Aubrey de Vere, England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975". Family Search. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  14. ^ Cokayne 1945, pp. 260–1; Chambers 1912, p. xxxvi.
  15. ^ Childs, John (2014). "'The lustful tribe of Kirkes'". General Percy Kirke and the Later Stuart Army. Bloomsbury. pp. n.p. ISBN 9781441118035.
  16. ^ Burke's Dormant and Extinct Peerages, London, 1883
  17. ^ "Baptism of Karl (Charles) de Vere, England Births and Christenings, 1538-1675". Family Search. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  18. ^ "Baptism of Charlotta de Vere, England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975". Family Search. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  19. ^ Fisher, George (1832). A Companion and Key to the History of England. London: Simpkin and Marshall. p. 629.


External links

5 Annotations

First Reading

Pauline  •  Link

from L&M Companion
(1632-1703). Soldier; in the Dutch army 1644-50; imprisoned under the Commonwealth. Chief Justice in Eyre of the Forest south of Trent 1660-73; Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Horse from 1661. He lived in a large house (taxed on 17 hearths) in the Piazza, Covent Garden.

With his death this line of the Earls of Oxford became extinct.

Cumgranissalis  •  Link

Sorry, here be it, the juicy titbit; 8 lines down:
Earl of Oxford was one of the oldest titles in the English peerage, and was held for several centuries by the de Vere family. It finally became dormant[?] in 1703 with the death of the 20th Earl. Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, is perhaps the most famous of the line, due to the claims put forward by some that he was the actual author of the works of William Shakespeare…

Aubrey, 20th Earl of Oxford, had no sons and when he died in 1703 this famous title became extinct. His daughter Diana married Charles, the illegitimate son of Nell Gwynne and King Charles II who was created 1st Duke of St. Albans…

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

VERE, AUBREY De, twentieth Earl Of Oxford (1626-1703), son and heir of Robert de Vere, nineteenth earl; succeeded, 1632; brought up in Friesland; officer in the Dutch service till 1648; his estates sequestrated by parliament, 1651; imprisoned as a royalist, 1654 and 1659; an envoy to recall Charles II, 1660; lord-lieutenant of Essex and colonel of 'the Oxford blues' regiment, 1661; privy councillor, 1669; pensioned, 1670; opposed James II's arbitrary measures, 1688; joined the Prince of Orange, 1688; lieutenant-general, 1689; fought at the Boyne; a whig lord.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Chris Squire UK  •  Link

‘Vere, Aubrey de, twentieth earl of Oxford (1627–1703), nobleman, was born in London on 28 February 1627, . . On 7 August 1632 the nineteenth earl was killed in the trenches before Maastricht, leaving his title, and very little else, to his five-year-old son.

. . Charles II's favours bolstered Oxford's anaemic fortune; the king granted him several offices which provided the earl enough revenue to support—at times precariously—his title . . he was chief justice in eyre of the forest south of Trent from June 1660 to January 1673. The office was, according to Roger North, of small use and great expense to the crown, but Charles II granted the place 'purely to gratify the Earl of Oxford who was one that ever wanted Royal boons' . . Oxford surrendered the office to the duke of Monmouth in 1673, in return for a gift of £5000 and an annuity of £2000 . .

Evidently Oxford did not use the profits of office to cultivate civility. He lived riotously on the Piazza at Covent Garden in the 1660s . . some contemporaries were scandalized by Oxford's sham marriage to the well-known actress Hester Davenport, who bore him a son, Aubrey (1664–1708), who later claimed, falsely, to be earl of Oxford. On 1 January 1673 he contracted a genuine marriage with Diana Kirke (d. 1719), daughter of George Kirke, groom of the bedchamber.

. . After William III's death Oxford was reappointed to the privy council and, for the last time, bore the sword at a coronation—Queen Anne's in April 1702. He died . . on 12 March 1703, aged 76 . . His only surviving legitimate child was a daughter—Diana, duchess of St Albans—and so with him ended the de Vere earldom of Oxford, a title which stretched back to the reign of King Stephen.’

(DNB 2017)

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Cosmo, the future Grand Duke of Turin, briefly met members of Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford's regiment, which was acting in an official capacity, on the road to London in the spring of 1669.

I've standardized the spelling of names I know, corrected scanning errors I could figure out, and increased the number of paragraphs. I apologize if they are wrong:


Intending to sleep that night at Basingstoke, his highness departed for that place, and travelling through an open and desolate country, took refreshment at the small village of Sutton, then continuing his journey through a country chiefly devoted to pasture, and in some parts woody,

he discovered, two miles from Basingstoke, a troop of horse consisting of 54 men, excellently mounted of the royal regiment of my Lord Aubry de Vere, Earl of Oxford, commanded by his lieutenant.

They came by the king's orders, to attend upon and be at the disposal of his highness, as was intimated to him by the commander, who, dismounting, came up to the carriage.

His highness in reply, accepted only a small party, whom he sent to meet the baggage, and dismissed the rest. He then alighted to examine the military more closely, inspecting every file of the company, the officers of which wore a red sash with gold tassels.

This regiment of the Earl of Oxford is composed of 8 companies of 70 men each; they receive from the king half a ducat a day, this is paid them every 2 months, which being of 28 days each, they have 7 payments annually. In each of these companies the colonel has the privilege of keeping two places vacant, and of appropriating the emolument to himself, which amounts to more than 14/.s sterling every week.


Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford:…

I wonder if highwaymen were a problem on this particular stretch of road.

Paying non-existent people's salaries to their commanders was a problem Pepys confronted as well.


His highness, Cosmo, must be considered only as a traveler. Under his direction, the narrator of the records was Count Lorenzo Magalotti, afterwards Secretary to the Academy del Cimento, and one of the most learned and eminent characters of the court of Ferdinand II.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.





  • Jun