Aubrey de Vere
|20th Earl of Oxford|
|Born||28 February 1627|
|Died||12 March 1703(aged 76)|
|Father||Robert de Vere, 19th Earl of Oxford|
|Mother||Beatrix van Hemmend|
He was the son of Robert de Vere, 19th Earl of Oxford and his wife Beatrix van Hemmend. He was educated at 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 period of the English Civil War, but returned to England in 1651 an ardent royalist. He was involved in a succession of plots, for which he 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.
Censorious Whigs like Samuel Pepys deplored seeing Oxford wearing his Garter regalia in public and there was a rumour that he 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 on Harts Horn Lane, London. She had a son Audrey (1664–1708) from this union. The earl brought a lawsuit in 1686 to refute her claims, a lawsuit he won.
Despite being a Cavalier, he adhered to Protestant principles, permitting 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 Oxford raised a regiment of horse from 1684 onwards, just as the Life Guards were being withdrawn from Dunkirk.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 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 kernel that he inherited. 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. 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.
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. 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."
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. 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 9 January 1661/2, diarist John Evelyn described her as "faire & famous Comoedian." 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,  ending a "promising" career. The couple's son, Audrey de Vere, was born on 17 April 1664 and baptized at St Paul's church in Covent Garden on 15 May. 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."
Sometime between 1665 and 1670, de Vere began an affair with Diana Kirke, daughter of George Kirke, groom of the bedchamber to Charles II and granddaughter of Aurelian Townshend. "Following a public spat" with Davenport, Kirke became de Vere's "public mistress." A sultry portrait of Diana Kirke painted by Sir Peter Lely during this period shows her standing in a swirling gold gown, her right breast exposed, her right arm hanging seductively by her side, a rose in her hand. Lely paints the center of the rose's folded petals and the tip of Diana's bare breast from the same palette. The rose's heavy head droops oddly, drawing the viewer's eye--the Earl's eye--from breast to folded petals to folds beneath the heavy folds of Diana's slipping, slippery dress. The result is as close to soft porn as 17th-century portraiture can get, and it appears to have hit its mark.
In January 1672, Oxford married Diana Kirke. The Anglican service was held at Whitehall with Oxford's chaplain officiating. In a church court case brought by Hester Davenport and heard in 1686, de Vere defended himself against the charge of bigamy by admitting he'd 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. 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.
De Vere had five children with Diana Kirke:
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. 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. With the death of Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford, the "title became extinct."