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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