Edward De Vere Essay, Research Paper
Edward de Vere, the seventeenth Earl of Oxford, is perhaps the most influential and imaginative author of the renaissance. Though he received a bad name for his poor money management and harsh behavior, his work on poetry and development of verse has been key to the history of literature.
De Vere was born at Castle Hedingham in Essex, April 2, 1550 (May 1). The de Vere family was hereditarily the Lord Chamberlains of England (May 1). They had been among the country’s finest Earls since they had arrived from Normandy with William the conqueror (Ogburn 4).
Edward’s father, the sixteenth Earl, was a kind and popular man who owned a company of theatrical players at Hedingham (May 2). He died when Edward was 12, and Edward then moved to London with William Cecil, the most powerful man in the country (Green letter). De Vere’s relationship with Cecil was never very good, even after he married Cecil’s 14-year-old daughter Anne (Ogburn 12).
Edward earned a Bachelor’s degree at the age of 14, a Masters at 16, then studied law (Ogburn 6). He lost vast sums of money by backing failed trips to the New World and selling off most of his inheritance (Green letter). De Vere was a fan of the arts. He was associated with the growth of the public theatre, he was the leader of a group of writers dedicated to developing the English language, and is regarded as one of the finest Elizabethan poets (Frisbee 27).
By the year of 1571, Edward de Vere was probably regarded with higher expectations than any other young nobleman (May 3). He was the premier earl of England, son in law and student of William Cecil, and an accomplished, wealthy, educated man. He was praised and thought of very highly. However, by January of 1575 he was well on his way to being broke (May 3). He had set out upon an elegant continental tour (May 3). During his 15 months abroad, Edward spent some 4,561 pounds (May 4). A sum derived mostly from selling his large money making estates. By 1583 de Vere had debts totaling thousands of pounds, and his own teacher described him as, “practically bankrupt” (qtd. in May 4).
Edward de Vere’s temperament was described as being, “self indulgent, erratic, and openly belligerent” (Frisbee 4). This of course contrasted with his youthful prospects as well as his later ambitions. He also had a tendency toward violence that caught up with him around the age of seventeen when he killed one of his guardian’s servants Frisbee 7). All charges were dropped because of de Vere’s intervention with the jury (Frisbee 7). De Vere married young, and perhaps foolishly. He refused to live with Anne for a period larger then five years because of charges laid on her which were later proved to be untrue (Green letter). Around 1580 de Vere had an affair with Anne Vavasour, Lady of the Queen, who gave birth to his illegitimate son. Not only did he abandon Vavasour, but publicly humiliated and insulted her as well (May 5).
The reckless actions of de Vere did not go unnoticed by the Queen. Though Elizabeth favored de Vere, even after the Vavasour affair, he was never appointed to a position of sole responsibility (May 5). Throughout the 70’s and 80’s de Vere often requested military duty, yet he was never given command of any sizable body of troops (May 5). In fact he was never actively involved, aside from a couple of months at the time of the 1570 Northern Rebellion (May 5). He was never trusted with diplomatic affairs, nor office in the court or government (May 5). In fact his sole responsibility was his hereditary post as Lord Chamberlain, an office with primarily ceremonial duties. The only substantial mark of royal favor, was a thousand-pound annuity granted to him in 1586 (May 5). Some believe that his pension was more of an act of charity than a sign of personal affection. It came just as de Vere’s financial problems were at their worst.
Though de Vere was rash and unpredictable, his success in the world of practical affairs was unrelated to his work as a poet and to his commitments intellectually. Many people knew of the Earls financial trouble, however that did not stop Sir George Buc from characterizing Edward as, “a magnificent and very learned and religious man” (qtd. in Frisbee 28). De Vere did receive plenty of praise, though it was not his patronage but his poetry that led him to be considered one of the finest writers of the Renaissance. Yet, no one has agreed on what poems de Vere actually wrote. Over the last 300 years many authors have assigned de Vere poems that were not legitimately his work (May 6). The newest information tells us that only 16 poems were definitely written and signed by de Vere, while 4 more hang in the balance (May 6).
Edward’s 16 poems are the product of an intelligent and experimental author writing in the pre-established mid century lyric verse. Most of the poems are related to or dealing with love (Looney 6). Four, analyze the lover’s predicament; five are complaints of love in general; and three seem to praise a loved one (Looney 8). No one can seem to pinpoint whom de Vere is talking about in these poems. This is probably a result of the lack of personal emotion in the writing, which was a characteristic of many Elizabethan poets (Looney 8). De Vere probably did this on purpose and was a mode of style. The only poem to stray from the theme of love was an odd philosophical piece with no clear meaning (Looney 9). Referred to as #16, because none of his poems were titled, this poem is probably his most famous.
One might say that all literature of the renaissance is very similar, but that’s where the Earl’s poetry is different. It is full of alliteration and allusions to classical mythology. In his brief list of poems you will find 11 different metrical and stanza forms, including one English sonnet (Looney 12). Structurally, the poems are organized and brought to well formed conclusions. However that’s not all, de Vere did things with the mid century lyric that no one had ever seen before. He incorporated the idea of a recap in the last stanza of his longer poems. He used a very powerful epigrammatic last line to grab his readers. And more complex was his weaving of a double refrain into a conventional structure. The flow, along with the sensory effect, ingenuity and imagination is what makes Edward de Vere’s work so appealing for the time period.
Edward de Vere’s literature will be studied and remembered for years to come; his manipulation of the customary verse, his work with the effect of poetry. Perhaps his achievements in writing will eventually outweigh his mistakes as the Earl of Oxford. In short, Edward de Vere’s life as a Nobleman fell far short of his expectations, but his love for learning and his passion for the arts was true, and he will be remembered for his poems not his mistakes.
1.) Frisbee, George. Edward de Vere, A Great Elizabethan. Great Britain:
Kemp Hall, 1931.
2.) Green, Nina. Letter to the Author. 13 December 1998
3.) Looney, Thomas J. The Poems of Edward de Vere. London: Cecil
4.) May, Steven. “Edward de Ver, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford”.
Professional essay (1997) 1-6
5.) Ogburn, Dorothy and Charlton. The Renaissance Man of England.
New York: Van Rees, 1947.