Transcription © Copyright E.C. ("Paddy") Apling July 2011 (from digital copy provided by the authors).
© T. E. & M. Miller 2011
De Vere the son of John De Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford and his second wife Margery Golding was born at Castle Hedingham, Essex, but as his father died while he was a minor he was made a royal ward. Royal wardship meant that a ward's lands, although ostensibly used for the ward's benefit, were used by the crown for its own profit. He was educated at Queen's College, Cambridge and received legal training at Gray's Inn. Despite inheriting England's oldest earldom and a considerable fortune, he had a dissolute character and disregard for social behaviour.
In 1567, while practising fencing in the backyard of William Cecil's house in the Strand, London, the seventeen-year-old Oxford killed Thomas Bricknell, an unarmed undercook. At his trial the jury, instructed by Cecil, found that Bricknell had caused his own death by hurling himself onto Oxford's rapier. This result did nothing to improve Oxford's character, and led him to believe that he could not commit any crime that Cecil, who became the powerful Lord Burghley, would not forgive or persuade others to forgive.
On reaching the age of twenty-one in 1571 he regained control of his estates and married Lord Burgley's daughter Anne Cecil. It is thought that Anne took the initiative in persuading her doting father to agree to her marrying the young, handsome and rich Earl of Oxford. In these early years, being a favourite at court, he and Anne mostly lived there. However, Oxford was soon sleeping around, and it was only by Anne's personal intervention in the household arrangements at Hampton Court that Oxford was forced to share his wife's bed.
In 1574, Oxford bolted to the Low Countries but was forced to return. However, a year later, aged twenty-five, he persuaded Queen Elizabeth to let him undertake a tour of France, Germany and Italy. He spent ten months in Italy, mostly in Venice, where he spent £4,000 on a life of sexual infamy and became involved with Virginia Padona, a Venetian prostitute, and Orazio Cogno a Venetian choirboy. Oxford spent sixteen months abroad during which time he became a Catholic. When he returned to England, he brought with him a pair of gloves for the Queen, the choirboy and Syphilis. On his return to London, he rejected his wife and for more than five years refused to live with her. Instead he set up a household in Broadstreet with his choirboy. Although, his marriage was not a happy one, and his wife, Anne, died in 1588, it did result in five daughters. Oxford also had an illegitimate son by Anne Vavasour in 1581 and another son and heir in 1592 from his second marriage to Elizabeth Trentham one of the Queen's maids of honour.
Oxford never obtained any post at court or within the government and although he made many requests for military duty, he never gained a major command. Over a ten-year period from 1575 to 1585 he lost most of his lands and by 1583 was virtually bankrupt. On the positive side Oxford is remembered for his patronage of literature; he has dedicated to him numerous works on religion, philosophy, music and medicine. He was also a poet in his own right; his works include "The Phoenix Nest" (1593), "England's Helicon" (1600) and" England's Parnassus" (1600). He was also an accomplished dramatist, but none of his masques and plays have survived.
Although Oxford was Lord Burghley's son-in-law, this did not protect him from suspicion of being a member of the secret Catholic group of courtiers. This group included his friends Henry Howard, Charles Arundel and Francis Southwell. This Catholic group were allied to Lord Burghley's and Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex' s support for the Duke of Anjou's marriage to Queen Elizabeth. When the French marriage negotiations failed, the Catholic group at court lost its focus and became involved in other intrigues, such as support for Mary, Queen of Scots. Oxford fell out with the Catholic group and transferred his allegiance to the opposing faction led by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Leicester seized this opportunity to discredit Sussex's group by exposing several of them as practising Catholics. On the 16th December, 1580, on the insistence of Leicester, Oxford presented allegations to the Queen charging his friends with various treasons. Consequently, Henry Howard (Oxford's cousin), Charles Arundel and Francis Southwell were promptly arrested. Oxford was also detained and there followed a period of accusation and counter-accusation.
Oxford's actions that were presumably designed to prevent him from being charged with treason as a practising Catholic seriously backfired. Charles Arundel counter-charged him with: seven counts of atheism; sixteen counts oflying; thirteen counts of setting one person to kill another or setting two men against each other; approximately eight counts of attempted murder; several counts of sodomy and bestiality; continual drunkenness; six counts of bearing grudges against Arundel, Howard and Southwell; and sixteen counts of undutifulness to the Queen. Henry Howard made very similar charges, and it is most likely that he and Arundel had conspired in drawing up these accusations. Howard's accusations included four counts of atheism, thirteen of dangerous practices and four of buggery . Howard also claimed that the friendship between Oxford and Southwell had turned to enmity. He cited Oxford's railing at Southwell for commending the Queen's singing at Hampton Court and protesting by the Blood of God that she had the worst voice and did every thing with the worst grace that a woman ever did.
Francis Southwell does not appear to have individually submitted any accusations but did add to the list which Howard had smuggled to him. He confirmed that he had heard Oxford uttering blasphemy and railing against the Queen, English Catholics and the late Duke of Norfolk, but he denied knowledge of buggery by Oxford. He added that, "I cannot particularly charge my Lord with pedication [pederasty], but with open lewdness of his speeches ...." He also replied to Howard, "By my intelligence I hear the Queen's Majesty hath clearly forgiven him, and therefore let us wisely and safely disable him." He also wrote, "I hear by you that Mr. Charles [Arundel] is my dear friend. In faith, my Lord, it is not best, for if the Earl could get one man to aver anything, we were utterly overthrown." He was obviously very concerned about his own circumstances, and appears somewhat reluctant to get too deeply involved in the accusations against Oxford. He was not prepared to accuse Oxford of homosexual acts but only of being foul mouthed. He also seems to be trying to distance himself from Charles Arundel.
The main source of evidence to Oxford's alleged homosexuality was the Venetian choirboy, Orazio Cogno, who spent eleven months in Oxford's house before returning home. Howard claimed that "touching buggery" Cogno "complained how horribly my Lord [Oxford] had abused him." Arundel claimed it was the reason for Congo's return to Italy. Back in Venice in an interview by the Venetian Inquisition Cogno did not say anything about homosexuality; however, this may have little significance as it was probably not something that he would have been keen to reveal.
In spite of all the accusations Oxford managed to survive and was mostly forgiven. How many of the charges were true is difficult to judge. It seems likely that within his loudmouthed promiscuous behaviour he had indulged to some degree in homosexuality. For some years after he lived on a meagre royal pension until his second marriage in 1591. The charges against Arundel, Howard and Southwell were not substantiated and they were released. Arundel and Howard were involved in a further plot in 1583. Howard was again imprisoned and Arundel fled to France.
Francis Southwell hereafter retires to a reclusive life at Gimingham in Norfolk. Francis at no time appears as a strong forthright character. He never married and may possibly have been of a homosexual nature. In his will, dated 1st April, 1585, he certainly shows remorse for his past behaviour. He leaves his sinful soul into the hands of Almighty God and appeals for the benefits of his great mercy and that he will "forgive and remitt me a most penitent synner the follyes of my youth and synnefulllife by past as for my most miserable carcas as one ashamed to speak of it." He appears to have latterly led a lonely life, shunned by society. He asks to be buried "without pompe and ceremony only this much to doe for me to laye a convenient stone over me with mine armes and some friendly inscription what I was. This I doe require upon no foolish and arrogant vanity so God judge me but only that the reader being honest and well given may have a good thought and remembrance of me in his passage."
He still retained links to his family, and appointed as his executors his "cheiffest and dearest friends", Thomas Bradbury, the husband of his sister Dorothy and his nephew Robert Southwell, the Vice Admiral. Most of his estate was left to his sister and her family. He left the Gimingham property and a hundred pounds a year to his brother Robert and Robert's eldest son who were both in Italy. He was also concerned about his private papers that included his sister Martha's marriage settlement and the papers regarding his discharge in the Oxford Affair. These papers were to be delivered to his executors by his servant Robert Grene as they were privately in his casket. It is interesting that Francis, presumably like most of the gentry of the period, had armour and an appropriate horse. His best armour and his best horse with its furniture and his best sword he left to his nephew Robert; his second set, second sword and second horse went to his brother-in-law, Thomas Bradbury. His sister Martha's husband Nicholas Langford received several parcels of land in north Norfolk. Martha had his silver jug with the arms on the lid, which weighed ten pounds and his "sett of golde buttons called Trophes being six dozen and eight buttons for which I paid twenty five pounds." Dorothy had his furniture and his three best hangings of arras; and his nephew Robert had his "rappe of velvet with the goldn buttons the cheyne wreathed abowte it and a brooche of an Antique of an Amatist [Amethyst?]."
Francis died early in the year after writing his will, which was proved on 16th March 1586. His date of birth and hence his age at his death are not known, but he was probably in his fifties. His father was born in 1506 and died in 1559. His elder brother had died in 1567. His sister Anne had been born in 1534 and had probably predeceased him as she does not feature in his will; her husband Edmund Bedingfield died in 1585. If Francis was buried at Gimingham, either his desire to have his passing marked with a tombstone was ignored or the memorial has since been lost.
© Transcription Copyright E.C. ("Paddy") Apling, July 2011.