Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Vere, Robert de (1362-1392)
VERE, ROBERT de, ninth Earl of Oxford and Duke of Ireland (1362–1392), hereditary great chamberlain of England, was the only son of Thomas de Vere, eighth earl (1337–1371), by Maud, daughter and heir of Sir Ralph de Ufford (d. 1346), viceroy of Ireland in 1344, brother of Robert de Ufford, first earl of Suffolk [q. v.] Her mother, Maud, dowager countess of Ulster, was daughter of Henry, third earl of Lancaster, grandson of Henry III (Topographer and Genealogist, ii. 274; Gilbert, p. 253). John de Vere, seventh earl of Oxford [q. v.], was his grandfather.
Born in 1362, Vere succeeded to his father's dignities when only nine years old. Edward III, who knighted him with other youths on St. George's day (23 April) 1377, gave his wardship in 1371 to his son-in-law Enguerrand (or Ingelram) de Couci, earl of Bedford, who wished to marry him to his second daughter, Philippa, and though De Couci, on the accession of Richard II, renounced all his English honours and returned to France, the marriage duly took place on or before 30 June 1378 (Cal. of Pat. Rolls, i. 260). The income hitherto assigned out of his estates for his maintenance was now doubled (ib. i. 190, 260). It was raised to 300l. a year in February 1380 (ib. i. 434). Oxford is said by Froissart (ix. 243; cf. ix. 68) to have accompanied his wife's uncle, Thomas of Woodstock [q. v.], in his invasion of France in this year, but does not appear in the list of those who received letters of protection (Fœdera, iv. 88–91, Record ed.). He was with the king in London during the crisis of the peasants' revolt in June 1381.
Evidence soon begins to present itself of that close friendship with Richard which was to prove so fatal to both. Oxford's near relationship to the royal family would naturally bring them together without the intervention of Sir Simon Burley [q. v.], to whose intrigues their intimacy was afterwards traced (Rot. Parl. iii. 242). Burley, upon whom Oxford bestowed one of his Herefordshire manors before 1384, may have encouraged the connection. On the plea that they had not enough to support their estate, the earl and his wife received a grant in October 1382 of certain lands forfeited by her father (Cal. Pat. Rolls, ii. 177, 314). He came of age in the following year, and some twelve months later (17 July 1384) the king, on the same plea, gave him the custody of the town and castle of Colchester and the hundred of Tendring, together with the wardship of the heir of Sir Thomas de Roos of Hamelake (ib. ii. 440–2). A wardship was given to one of his esquires (ib. ii. 516). His confessor, a friar, was the king's orator (ib. ii. 483). A London citizen, Walter Sibille, who brought a charge of maintenance against him, was overawed into withdrawing it in the parliament of November 1384, and, unable to pay the fine imposed, remained in the Tower until April 1387 (Rot. Parl. iii. 186, 399). Oxford became a member of the privy council and a knight of the Garter. The jealousy of the other nobles had already found open expression; for in bestowing upon his favourite the castle and lordship of Queenborough in March 1385, Richard invoked ‘the curse of God and St. Edward and the king’ upon all who should do or attempt anything against his grant (Cal. Pat. Rolls, ii. 542). In the summer, according to Froissart (x. 382, 397), Oxford accompanied the king into Scotland, and being ‘tout le cuer du roy,’ induced him to disregard the Duke of Lancaster's advice to pursue the Scots beyond the Forth. On the road Richard had given him a further proof of his favour by the grant of the castle and lordship of Oakham and the hereditary sheriffdom of Rutland, which would not make his rise more agreeable to Thomas of Woodstock, to whose wife's ancestors they had belonged (Doyle).
But greater honours awaited the fortunate youth. Envoys arrived in the autumn from the English colony in Ireland, riven by dissensions and in danger of extinction at the hands of Irish, Spanish, and Scottish enemies, to urge Richard to come over in person, or, if that were impossible, to send one of the highest and most powerful of his nobles to protect his Irish dominions from the impending catastrophe (Gilbert, p. 252). They can hardly have expected that his choice would fall upon the untried Oxford, who in full parliament on 1 Dec. was created ‘in consideration of his noble blood, strenuous probity, eminent wisdom, and great achievements,’ Marquis (marchio) of Dublin with almost regal powers, and immediately invested therewith by the king (Rot. Parl. iii. 209). The title, for which there was no precedent, was conferred, like the powers that went with it, for Oxford's life only, and can hardly be reckoned as a new peerage dignity, though it gave him precedence of the earls in parliament (ib. iii. 210; Complete Peerage). The name marchio was familiar enough in England as applied to the holder of an exposed border district (lord marcher), but it had never before been used as a distinct title like the German Markgraf, which may have suggested it to Richard. The whole of the royal rights in Ireland, coinage not excepted, were handed over to Oxford, reserving only to the crown liege homage and appeals, together with the suzerainty and allegiance of the land. The expenses of his government were to be charged upon the English treasury for the first two years, by the end of which he was expected to have completed the conquest of the island, and to be able to pay over an annual sum of five thousand marks to the royal treasurer. The ransom of John of Blois, fixed at thirty thousand marks, was set aside (23 March 1386) to provide him with five hundred men-at-arms and a thousand archers for the first two years (Fœdera, vii. 503; Walsingham, ii. 150). Over and above which, all lands he could conquer from the Irish which had never belonged to the crown or English lords were to be held by himself and his heirs free of rent or service. The right to use his own great and privy seal seems to have been implied in the grant of 1 Dec., and he was subsequently (3 Jan. 1386) allowed to quarter with his own arms the three golden crowns on a field azure, usually attributed to St. Edmund the king (one of Richard's patron saints), but in this case intended to serve as the arms of Ireland (Chartulary of St. Mary's Abbey, ii. p. xx; Doyle; Gent. Mag. 1845, i. 603; Trans. Royal Irish Academy, vol. xix.). His banners displayed these arms in place of those of England. All writs ran in his name. The ‘time of the Marquis of Dublin’ was afterwards carefully distinguished from ‘the time of the king’ (Chartulary of St. Mary's Abbey, i. 13).
The prospect of a separation between Richard and his favourite no doubt did something to mitigate the jealousy excited by Oxford's exaltation. But though ships were ordered on 28 March for his passage to Ireland, he eventually contented himself with sending Sir John Stanley as his deputy (Fœdera, vii. 506; Gilbert, p. 254). This must have helped to precipitate the crisis of October, when Richard was called upon by parliament to dismiss his chancellor, Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk [q. v.] He was at first determined not to yield, and emphasised his obduracy by cancelling Oxford's patent as Marquis of Dublin and creating him (13 Oct.) Duke of Ireland, with even fuller powers in that country and the adjacent islands, reserving only his liege homage (Beltz, p. 300). The estates of James, lord Audley (d. 1 April 1386), in Somerset, Devonshire, and Cornwall, the reversion of which had been purchased by Edward III as part of the endowment of his new Cistercian abbey of St. Mary de Graces near the Tower, were granted to him to hold until he had completely subdued Ireland (Dugdale, i. 194; Rot. Parl. iii. 180; Gilbert, p. 255). Murmurs were heard that the next step would be to make him its king, and it was darkly whispered that Richard's infatuation had a disgraceful origin (Walsingham, ii. 148). But his enemies still rested their hopes on his going to Ireland, and are said to have obtained a promise that he should start before Easter (ib. ii. 150). But Easter passed, and he still lingered. In the summer Richard accompanied him into Wales, ostensibly to see him off, but really to concert measures for undoing the work of the last parliament, which had virtually taken the government out of his hands. Oxford is said to have been made justice of Chester and got a grant of Flint Castle (Malverne, p. 94). The duke returned with the king to Nottingham, where, in August, their plan of action was finally settled (cf. Rot. Parl. iii. 232–6). Richard now assigned him the royal castle at Berkhampstead as a residence (Dugdale, i. 194). Such was his influence with the king that ‘if he had said black was white, Richard would not have contradicted him’ (Froissart, xii. 239). Meanwhile Oxford had given new offence to Gloucester by repudiating his niece for one of the queen's women, whose name is variously given as La Lancegrove ((Froissart, xii. 261) and Launcecrona (Walsingham, ii. 160). Froissart speaks of her as ‘une damoiselle assez belle et plaisante,’ while most of the English writers say she was ugly and low-born, the daughter of a Bohemian saddler. M. Kervyn (note to (Froissart, xxii. 40) connects her with the noble family of Landskron and a certain Peter de Landskron, who is said to have come into England with Michael de la Pole in 1377; but this conflicts with the general consensus of the chroniclers that she was a Bohemian (Höfler, p. 101). The identification (Chronique de la Traison, p. 165 n.) with the ‘Landgravine of Lucembergh,’ who is known to have come in the queen's train, must be rejected. The ‘Landgravine of Lucembergh’ was the wife of Landgraf Johann of Leuchtenberg, and left England in 1382 (Fœdera, vii. 342). Oxford obtained a divorce from Philippa at Rome, by means, it was alleged, of false witnesses, and married the Bohemian (Malverne, p. 95). The queen is said to have vainly protested, and his own mother took up the cause of the injured wife (ib.; but cf. (Froissart, xii. 239, 262).
The coup de main, planned by the king's entourage during the summer progress of 1387, was forestalled. Oxford and he returned to London on 10 Nov. to find Gloucester and the Earls of Arundel and Warwick on their guard and arming. Richard was forced to grant them an audience, in which they laid a formal charge of treason against Oxford and his other advisers. He promised that they should be tried in the forthcoming parliament, but immediately after smuggled Oxford away to Chester disguised as an archer (Knighton, ii. 241, 250). With the help of Thomas Molyneux, the constable of Chester, the duke raised some four or five thousand men in Cheshire, Lancashire, and North Wales, and marched southwards towards London. The lords appellant advancing to Northampton closed the direct road to the capital, and, by a western movement, compelled him to make a circuit through Stow-on-the-Wold, and cut off his line of retreat to Chester by occupying Banbury, Chipping Norton, and Chipping Camden (Malverne, p. 111). On 20 Dec. he encountered the vanguard of the enemy under Arundel, between Whitney in Oxfordshire and the bridge over the Thames at Radcot (ib.) Oxford was flying the royal standard and the banner of St. George. There are some discrepancies in the accounts of what followed. According to Walsingham (ii. 168), Oxford lost heart and prepared for flight as soon as the enemy came in sight; but the continuator of Knighton (ii. 252) declares that he could not get his men to fight, and this agrees well enough with Malverne's account of the parley, in which Arundel persuaded his opponent's forces to abandon ‘the traitor.’ It is clear that there was practically no fighting; the main force of the lords appellant coming up, Oxford rode off to Radcot Bridge. He found it guarded and partly broken down. Throwing off part of his armour, he leapt his charger into the stream and got away on the further side in the falling dusk (ib. p. 112; Knighton, ii. 253). In his baggage were found a large sum of money and letters from the king promising to meet him and put to the hazard ‘son corps royal’ (Rot. Parl. iii. 235).
Oxford reached London disguised as a groom, and, after a hasty interview with Richard, went down to Queenborough and sailed to the Low Countries (Malverne, p. 112; Eulogium, iii. 365; cf. St. Denys, i. 498), where he is reported to have previously placed a large sum of money in the care of the Lombards at Bruges (Froissart, xii. 286). Capgrave says (p. 249) that he landed at Middelburg. This seems more probable than Froissart's story (ib.) of his flight through Wales to Edinburgh, whence he sailed to Dordrecht.
Failing to appear when summoned at the opening of the ‘Merciless parliament’ (February 1388) to answer the charge of treason brought against him by the five lords appellant, Oxford was outlawed, and all his possessions, save the entailed estates, were seized into the king's hands. The detailed indictment, subsequently laid before parliament, accused him, along with Michael de la Pole and others, of deliberately attempting to secure entire control of the king and exclude all good counsellors; of impoverishing the crown by grants to themselves, their relatives, and friends; of interfering with the common and statute law and unlawfully maintaining quarrels; of exciting the king to get the pope's consent to Oxford's being made king of Ireland; of prompting the king to refuse to recognise the parliamentary commission of reform, and to arrest and put to death the Duke of Gloucester and others who had procured it; and of seeking the French king's assistance against the lords appellant, and promising in return to surrender to him Calais and its march (Rot. Parl. iii. 230–6). Certain articles were pronounced to be treason, and Oxford was sentenced by the lords (13 Feb.) to be drawn and hanged as a traitor to the king and realm. Orders were sent to Ireland on 4 April to cease using his seal, banner, and pennons (Fœdera, vii. 577).
Oxford does not seem to have made a long stay in the Low Countries. He was joined by Michael de la Pole, who had also escaped, and, obtaining a safe-conduct from Charles VI, they made their way to Paris (Malverne, p. 172; St. Denys, i. 498). This does not leave much time for Froissart's story (xii. 287, xiv. 32) of his being expelled from the dominions of the Duke of Holland and Zealand, and finding refuge at Utrecht. Froissart, however, places his arrival in Paris, where he stayed about a year (ib.), not earlier than 1389. But this cannot be reconciled with his subsequent statement that Oxford was forced to leave France, where he had been treated with distinction in spite of the enmity of the seigneur de Couci, after the conclusion of the three years' truce with England, for this was signed on 18 June 1389. He may not have yet left Paris when De la Pole died in the following September, bequeathing such property as he had with him to his fellow exile (Malverne, p. 217; Walsingham, ii. 187).
At Oxford's request King Charles wrote to his aunt, the Duchess of Brabant, requesting her to give him an asylum, and he fixed his residence at Louvain, paying occasional visits to a neighbouring castle, which he borrowed from a knight of Brabant. Archbishop Neville, another exile of 1388, lived with him (Froissart, xiv. 32–4). He did not live to benefit by Richard's eventual reversal of the proscription of the Merciless parliament. In the course of a boar hunt in 1392 the animal turned upon Oxford and inflicted a wound which caused his death (Leland, Collectanea, i. 186; Otterbourne, i. 181). Walsingham (ii. 212) asserts that he died in great distress and poverty. Sir John Lancaster, who had shared his exile till his death, received a pardon in the parliament of January 1393 (Rot. Parl. iii. 249, 303). It was not until September 1395 that Richard ventured to have Oxford's embalmed body brought over and solemnly interred with his ancestors in Earls Colne priory. He himself was present, and had the cypress coffin opened in order that he might look once more on the face and clasp the hand of his friend. The ceremony was attended by Oxford's mother, by Archbishop Courtenay, and many other bishops, abbots, and clerics. But most of the nobles absented themselves, ‘not yet having digested their hatred of the dead man’ (Annales Ricardi II, p. 185). The funeral cost nearly 300l. (Beltz, p. 302).
Our authorities supply but scanty materials for a portrait of Oxford. Those who resented his meteoric advancement over the heads of older and more experienced men professed themselves unable to discover any merit in him that could justify such a preference, and some of them fell back upon the magic spells of a friar in his household as the only possible explanation of the extraordinary influence he won over the king (Walsingham, ii. 140, 160). There is no reason to suppose that they did him much injustice. In his Irish commission he had a chance of showing his mettle, but, whether the fault was his own or Richard's, the opportunity was let slip. His treatment of his wife cannot be justified, and he seems to have made no attempt to restrain the king's naturally headstrong and violent temper. The case would have to be put much more strongly if it were safe to attribute the change in Richard's tactics from 1388 in any measure to Oxford's removal from the scene. He left no issue; the earldom of Oxford was revived in favour of his uncle, Aubrey de Vere, tenth earl [q. v.] His divorce was annulled by papal bull in 1389, and Philippa, once more his wife, survived him until 1411–12, being always called Duchess of Ireland (Malverne, p. 218; Beltz, p. 303; Wylie, iii. 115). It is thought that the tomb at Earls Colne, surmounted by an effigy with the piked horn headdress, may be her resting-place (Complete Peerage, vi. 166). It has been called Lancecrona's.
Oxford's mother, who was fined and imprisoned under Henry IV (1404) for proclaiming that Richard II was still alive, died on 25 Jan. 1413 (ib. vi. 164; Wylie, i. 417, 426–8; ii. 46; Test. Vet. i. 182).[Rotuli Parliamentorum; Rymer's Fœdera, original ed.; Cal. of Patent Rolls, 1377–84, vols. i–ii.; Walsingham's Historia Anglicana; Malverne's Chronicle (in Polychronicon, vol. ix.); Continuations of Knighton's Chronicle and of the Eulogium Historiarum, Annales Ricardi II (with Trokelowe) and Chartulary of St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin, all in Rolls Ser.; Monk of Evesham's Chronicle and Otterbourne's Chronicle, ed. Hearne; Froissart, ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove; Chronique du Religieux de St. Denys, ed. Bellaguet; Chronique de la Traison et Mort de Richard Deux (ed. Engl. Hist. Soc.); Leland's Collectanea, ed. 1770; Gilbert's Viceroys of Ireland; Nicolas's Testamenta Vetusta; Beltz's Memorials of the Order of the Garter; Dugdale's Baronage; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage; Doyle's Official Baronage; Wallon's Histoire de Richard II; Wylie's Hist. of Henry IV.]