Without John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, there may have never been a Tudor reign.
John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, was born on 8 September 1442 to John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford and Lady Oxford, Elizabeth Howard. The Oxfords were devout Lancastrian loyalists, determined to fight to the death for the rightful sovereign, King Henry IV.
Sadly, both John’s father and John’s older brother, Aubrey de Vere, did die in the struggle to retain King Henry VI on his throne. In early 1462 the 12th Earl and his eldest son were convicted of high treason by John Tiptoft, 1st Earl of Worcester, Constable of England, for rebellion against King Edward IV. Aubrey was beheaded upon Tower Hill on 20 February 1462, and the Earl was executed on the same scaffold six days later.
Killing Aubrey first, making the Earl sit for days in the Tower knowing his eldest son was dead, seems spiteful; an act of malice by either King Edward or his adherents.
John was now the 13th Earl under the worst circumstances imaginable. He neither forgot nor forgave the Yorks for the deaths of his father and brother.
King Edward, perhaps because Oxford was married to the youngest sister of the king’s greatest ally, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, or perhaps hoping that Oxford would be like several other courtier who ignored the executions of family members in exchange for royal favor, didn’t attaint the 12th Earl of Oxford’s lands. John was allowed to legally keep the title of earl, and was allowed to return to the Oxford estates on 18 January 1464. Edward also tried to win the new earl over in May of 1465, by making Oxford a Knight of the Bath at the coronation of the new queen, Elizabeth Woodville. Edward even asked Oxford to fill in for his brother-in-law, the Earl of Warwick, as Lord Great Chamberlain.
These favors and boons did not move Oxford’s heart, however. He continued to support the usurped King Henry VI and Henry’s son, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales.
In November of 1468 Oxford was discovered scheming on behalf of King Henry VI and was thrown into the Tower, where he confessed to (possibly even bragged about) his treason. King Edward, again trying to woo the peers who still backed the old regime and trying not to upset the Earl of Warwick any further, released Oxford from the Tower before 7 January 1469 and granted Oxford a general pardon a few months later.
Notwithstanding Edward’s efforts, Oxford remained committed to the Lancastrian cause. In July of 1469 he gleefully joined the Earl of Warwick and the king’s brother, the Duke of Clarence, in rebellion. After the Edgecote campaign failed, Oxford sailed for France, where he joined King Henry VI’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, and Edward of Westminster. In September 1470 Oxford, Warwick, and Clarence were to stage another rebellion, and this time their invasion was successful — King Henry VI was restored to the throne.
Oxford was well rewarded for his loyalty. On 13 October he carried the Sword of State in front of the king as the processed through London to St Paul’s, and he was appointed the new Lord High Constable of England. Just two days later, Oxford “tried and condemned for high treason the same Earl of Worcester who had in 1462 condemned Oxford’s own father and brother.”
The revenge must have been sweet.
King Henry’s resumption of the crown didn’t last long though. Edward IV invaded the kingdom in March of 1471, intent on ruling once more. Oxford was able to prevent Edward IV and his troops from coming ashore in Norfolk, but Edward sweet-talked the city of York into allowing him to land after he swore that he was just trying to reclaim his dukedom. Edward was, of course, lying through his teeth. He marched south, gathering support as he went, and cake-walked into London where he promptly took Henry VI hostage.
Oxford and Warwick attempted to defeat Edward and get the king back at at the Battle of Barnet on 14 April 1471.
Oxford did well as commander of the right wing, defeating the forces of Lord Hastings and only losing his position when his men started prematurely looting. Oxford marsheled them and brought them back into the fray, but:
they lost their way in the fog and suddenly emerged on their own army, who mistook the Vere star for Edward’s sun in splendour, and met them with a flight of arrows. Whereupon Oxford and his men cried “Treasoune! treasoune” and fled.
Warwick was killed at Barnet, and three weeks later Edward of Westminster was killed at Battle of Tewkesbury. With the king imprisoned, the heir dead, and the last Lancastrian hope a young Welshman named Harri Tudur who was barely in his teens and who had only a very tenuous claim to the crown, there seemed to be nothing else for Oxford to fight for. All his loyalty had been for naught.
Oxford and two of his younger brothers, George and Thomas de Vere, who had also fought at the Battle of Barnet, fled to Scotland with less than 50 men. (A third younger brother, Richard, had become a priest and was considered safe from Yorkist retaliation.) From Scotland the earl and his brothers returned to France, where they became pirates and continued to be pains in King Edward IV’s royal backside.
The privateering earl and his brothers were captured on 15 February 1474 and imprisoned in Hammes Castle, near Calais. This time, Oxford was attainted and his lands confiscated. He tried to escape (or commit suicide) in 1478, but it seemed as though Oxford and his brothers would languish in their prison for the rest of their lives.
Then, in the spring of 1484, King Edward IV died and his brother stole the crown from his nephews to become King Richard III. I would be seriously surprised if Oxford didn’t experience profound schadenfreude to hear that Richard had turned on his brother’s heirs, as the Yorks had (in Oxford’s undoubted opinion) betrayed King Henry VI in their lust for power.
King Richard knew that Oxford was dangerous and a bone-deep enemy of the Yorks. He also knew that Harri Tudur was gathering Lancastrians and anti-Ricardian Yorkists around him at court in France. Richard thus ordered Oxford’s transfer to an English prison on 28 October 1484, where he’d be farther away from Tudur. However, before Richard’s forces came to get him, Oxford talked Sir James Blount, the man in charge of Hammes Castle, into not only letting him free – but also into going with him to join Harri Tudur’s men.
It is most likely that Blount had been loyal to Edward IV, and therefore Oxford would have pointed out that they had a common enemy now – Richard III. The only way that either of them could get revenge for their fallen lord was to destroy Richard, and the best way to destroy Richard was to aid a Tudor invasion. The fact that rumors claiming that Richard had murdered his nephews would have doubtlessly helped Oxford convince Blount to turn on the new king. So away Blount and Oxford went to find the last Lancastrian.
Reportedly, Harri Tudur was “ravished with joy incredible” when Oxford showed up at court. Tudur had good cause to be ravished with joy, because not only was Oxford a military commander of proven excellence, he also demonstrated his worth by also convincing the entire garrison of Hammes Castle to come over to Tudur’s side as well.
Harri Tudor, having been under house arrest most of his life, had no experience in battle. He knew his strength lay in administration and government. Therefore, when the Tudors invaded England to dethrone Richard III, Harri wisely turned over the command of the troops to his uncle, Jasper Tudor, and Oxford.
The Tudor forces invaded England in the summer of 1485, and on 22 August they met Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. While Harri stayed well-back from the fighting, Oxford commanded the vangaurd as well as the Welsh archers, who were armed with fearsome longbows.
Oxford used the men under his command to penetrate Richard:’s army in a triangular formation that was afterwards known as the “Oxford Wedge”, which he might have learned about while studying the history of Alexander the Great. The Welsh troops, who were determined to bring victory to the man the bards were calling Y Mab Darogan – “The Son of Prophecy” – the man who would fulfill Merlin’s prediction that one day a Welsh prince would sit on the throne of England, went through Richard’s vanguard like a hot knife through butter. The wedge of raging Welshmen disrupted Richard’s battle lines and put him on the defensive.
In spite of the brilliant tactics used by Oxford and Jasper Tudor, the invaders were badly outnumbered and would have probably lost if it hadn’t been for several of Richard’s men turning on him. Richard died in battle at the hands of a Welshman, and Harri Tudur became Henry Tudor, King Henry VII, monarch “by right of conquest” … thanks in large part to the 13th Earl of Oxford.
Neither King Henry VII or any Tudor ever forgot how much they owed to Oxford. As soon as possible, Oxford’s
attainder was repealed [and]he was restored to his estates and titles … [Oxford was made] Lord Admiral on 21 September, and chief steward of the Duchy of Lancaster south of Trent and Constable of the Tower of London on 22 September 1485. He was also appointed the first Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard. He was sworn of the Privy Council, and recognized as Hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain of England. As Lord Great Chamberlain he officiated at the coronations of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, bearing the king’s train at the coronation and setting the crown upon the king’s head at the coronation banquet. By 1486 he had been invested with the Order of the Garter. He was present at most great court occasions, and stood godfather to the king’s eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales, in 1486 … he commanded the vanguard at Stoke, the last battle of the Wars of the Roses … and in 1497 was one of the commanders against the Cornish rebels at Blackheath … By 1499, Oxford’s yearly landed income had risen to £1600. He entertained the king regularly on his progresses … On the accession of King Henry VIII Oxford continued in high favour, and officiated as Lord Great Chamberlain at the coronation.
Oxford was not ungrateful either. Not only did he serve the Tudors as zealously as he had served King Henry VI, he commissioned the building of the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Lavenham to express his thankfulness to God for the unlikely Tudor victory at Bosworth. The son of King Henry IV’s maternal half-brother was now on the throne instead of a York, and it must have seem as miraculous to Oxford as it did to everyone else.
The 13th Earl of Oxford died peacefully in his home, Castle Hedingham, on 10 March 1513. He was 72 years old, which was considered tremendously long-lived for the time. He was buried on 24 April at Colne Priory, a Benedictine priory founded by one of his ancestors, Aubrey de Vere I, less than 50 years after the Norman invasion of England. The late earl’s funeral was as lavish, with nine hundred edxpensive black gowns given as gifts to his mourners, and a “mounted knight, armed with an axe, was led into the choir by two knights and delivered the axe to the bishop, who gave it to the heir”.
Henry VIII maintained the Tudor alliance with the de Vere family long after the 13th Earl of Oxford’s death. John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford, was one of the king’s closest friends and most respected courtiers.
The 15th Earl was with Henry at the Field of the Cloth of Gold and at his meeting with Charles V at Dover. The 15th Earl of Oxford was given the post of Lord Great Chamberlain for life, made a Knight of the Garter, and appointed to the Privy Council. Oxford bore the crown at Queen Anne Boleyn’s coronation in April 1533, and during the Dissolution of the Monasteries he was given Colne Priory without having to pay for it. Oxford attended the christening of the future King Edward VI, and the funeral of Queen Jane Seymour.
Queen Elizabeth herself took Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, (who some people argue was the “real” Shakespeare) into her safekeeping when his father, John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford, died young.
The very last Earl of Oxford, Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford, was a Royalist during the English Civil War. His only surviving child, a daughter named Lady Diana de Vere, was married Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St Albans, one of illegitimate sons of King Charles II, a descendant of Henry VII’s daughter, Margaret Tudor.
One of the descendants of the 1st Duke of St Albans and Diana de Vere is Lady Diana Spencer, whose eldest son Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, will one day be king. Through his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, William is also a descendant of Henry VII via Margaret Tudor.
Ergo, when William becomes King William V, the the man sitting on the throne will be the conjoined bloodlines of the Tudors and the 13th Earl of Oxford who helped them gain the crown on Bosworth Field more than 500 years ago.