SNAPSHOT: DE VERE – The Northern Rebellion and a Taste of War (1570)

“The Queen’s Majesty sendeth at this present the Earl of Oxenford into the north parts to remain with my Lord of Sussex & to be employed there in her Majesty’s service …” – Sir William Cecil, Master of the Court of Wards (and future Lord Burghley), March 30, 1570, authorizing payment of forty pounds to Edward de Vere for “his charges whilst he shall remain in those parts.” 

Thomas Radcliffe,
third Earl of Sussex (c.1526-d.1583)

“Those parts” of northern England and the border counties of Scotland would have seemed a “strange and foreign place” to young Oxford, writes Mark Anderson, adding that so far most of the earl’s life (as he approached his twentieth birthday) probably had been spent “within a one or two days’ ride from the queen and her court.” Now, accompanied by servants and soldiers, de Vere embarked upon a ten-day, 270-mile journey on horseback to the front lines – venturing into a feudal world where the calendar seemed to have stood still.

Queen Elizabeth’s forces had been mobilized to prevent the Catholic nobles of the north from advancing upon London with their armies. The rebel leaders had hoped to replace the Protestant daughter of Henry VIII with Catholic Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, who had fled to England for safety and remained Elizabeth’s captive. By now the English columns had soundly crushed the rebellion; but Thomas Radcliffe, third Earl of Sussex, was obeying his sovereign’s command by waging a campaign of barbarous reprisal that would “leave a memory in Scotland whereof they and their children shall be afraid” to attack England ever again.

“Nothing in Elizabeth’s life is more dreadful than the callous savagery which she permitted, and more than permitted, in the slaughter and pillage that followed the northern rebellion,” the old Dictionary of National Biography states, adding that she “did as her father would have done in the fury of his wrath.”

Here, then, is one snapshot: Edward de Vere, coming upon his first taste of war and entering the terrible scenes of its final chapters – a seemingly endless, scarred landscape of ongoing death and destruction … hanging corpses … charred ruins, still smoking … eight hundred rebels hanged … three hundred villages burned … fifty castles razed …. forty other buildings leveled … an orgy of government retribution.

Now another picture comes into focus: a snapshot of Oxford with Thomas Radcliffe, third Earl of Sussex, 44, apparently serving on his staff. Sussex was a man of courage, bluntness, intellect and empathy. Twenty-four years Oxford’s senior, he would become a father figure, mentor, colleague, friend and close ally in mutual antipathy toward Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the queen’s intimate favorite, who was rumored to be a serial poisoner. Upon his deathbed in June 1583, Sussex would harshly warn Sir Christopher Hatton about Leicester’s malignity: “Beware of the gypsy. He will betray you. You do not know the beast as well as I do.”

“The earl of Sussex was one of the great nobles of the Elizabethan period,” the Encyclopedia Britannica records. “Though his loyalty was questioned by his enemies, it was as unwavering as his patriotism. He shone as a courtier; he excelled in diplomacy; he was a man of cultivation and even of scholarship, a patron of literature and of the drama on the eve of its blossoming into the glory it became soon after his death” – that is, during the rest of the 1580s, when his protégé the earl of Oxford would act as the foremost patron of writers working to create that very blossoming that would reach its climax with “Shakespeare” in 1593.

Hume Castle

Oxford served in Scotland when Sussex was still in anguish over the orders he was carrying out. As commander of the English forces, gifted with strategic brilliance and military prowess, he nonetheless abhorred what his sovereign ruler had told him to do. Back in January he had written to the Privy Council recommending a policy of restraint; he would execute “some” of the rebels to make an “example” of them; otherwise the “principal offenders” would be imprisoned, and, crucially, England would “extend her Majesty’s mercy” to their lowly, poor followers.

The queen, however, was “wound up to a pitch of anger that spurned this suggestion,” Elizabeth Jenkins writes. On her command to Sussex, only those same poor followers of the Catholic earls were being hanged. What made this policy so odious was her motive: Elizabeth Tudor was furious about the cost of putting down the rebellion; therefore, those with greater wealth and power were spared and allowed to buy their pardons with cash or land.

A final snapshot: Oxford would have witnessed Sussex’s twelve-hour siege of Hume Castle. Bombardment of the fortress was followed by Lord Hume’s suit for a parley, to which Sussex agreed. The defenders were allowed to retire upon abandoning their weapons – the way “Shakespeare” would depict Henry V laying siege to Harfleur, followed by the Governor’s suit for a parley and the king’s mercy.


Mark Anderson, Shakespeare By Another Name, 2005; pp. 42-43

J.R. Black, The Reign of Elizabeth, 1939; p. 143

William Camden, Annales; Anno Domini 1570

Dictionary of National Biography – Elizabeth I; Thomas Radcliffe

Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition, Vol. XXVI

Nina Green, The Oxford Authorship Site, Documents; National Archives SP 15/19/37, f.88

Paul Hammer, Elizabeth’s Wars, 2003; p.83

Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great, 1959; pp. 153-155, 252

J.R. Neale, Queen Elizabeth, 1934; p. 189

Charlton Ogburn, Jr., The Mysterious William Shakespeare, 1984, 1992; pp. 467-469

B.M. Ward, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, 1928; p. 48

SNAPSHOT: DE VERE – The Royal Ward at Nineteen (1569)

When Edward de Vere was nineteen in 1569 and still a royal ward of Elizabeth I living under William Cecil’s roof in London, his purchases included items such as:

“Fine black cloth for a cape and a riding cloak … one doublet of cambric [thin cotton or linen fabric of fine close weave, probably white], one doublet of fine canvas, and one of black satin … the furniture of a riding cloak … one pair of velvet hose, black … Ten pairs of Spanish leather shoes … a rapier, dagger and girdle [belt or sash] … … six sheets of fine Holland [cotton cloth], six handkerchiefs and six others of cambric … four yards of velvet, and four others of satin to guard and border a Spanish capeone velvet hat, and one taffeta hat [of lightweight fabric]; two velvet caps, a scarf, two pairs of garters with silver at the ends, a plume of feathers for a hat, and another hat band …”

These notations come from an old account book containing “Payments made by John Hart, Chester Herald, on behalf of the Earl of Oxford” for the first nine months of 1569. In his biography of the earl, B.M. Ward observes that such details make it possible to “vividly picture” de Vere in his daily life at the time:

“Rather below medium height, he was sturdy with brown curly hair and hazel eyes. On his head a velvet cap with a plume of pheasants’ feathers fastened on one side. A black satin doublet, velvet breeches, and silk stockings supported by silver buckled garters. On his feet the broad-toed, flat-footed, soft leather shoes of the period. At his side a light rapier, passed through a silver-studded belt.”

This snapshot becomes a short video:

“Thus clad, he would go down to the river stairs at the bottom of Ivy Lane. The liveried watermen would be ready waiting at the steps with the canopied barge; and then they would go upstream, perhaps, to the Palace at Richmond …  On another morning, perhaps he would order one of his four geldings [castrated male horses]; and having discarded the Court silks and satins for the more serviceable cloths, he would ride out from Cecil House westward along the Strand past St. Martin’s Church, with a hawk on his wrist. Here he would canter along the soft turf at the side of the narrow country lane till he came to the little village of Kensington. An hour’s hawking, with its wild gallops over fields and through woods; and so back to London with the bag of partridges and herons tied to his saddle.”

The word-picture concludes that evening. This young noble, “tired with the day’s chase” and now in his library, is surrounded by the books he loves. [The same account book lists 1569 payments for his purchases of “a Geneva Bible gilt, a Chaucer, Plutarch’s works in French, with other books and papers … two Italian books … Tully’s and Plato’s works in folio, with other books, paper and nibs (pen points)”] “We may be sure,” Ward writes, “that his active mind was attracted by the wealth of Renaissance literature that was then beginning to flood England,” adding that the 17th Earl of Oxford’s enthusiasm for Italy “originated no doubt from the Italian books he had read, perhaps surreptitiously, while he was a royal ward.”


Ward, BM. The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford 1550-1604 From Contemporary Documents, 1928, pp. 31-35

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