Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Castle Hedingham and Countess Oxford in 1609

Castle Hedingham in county Essex was the ancestral home of the de Vere family. It is the best-preserved Norman-era moated castle in Europe. The keep was built in the 12th century by Aubrey De Vere II.

Edward de Vere (1550-1604) was born there and spent a portion of his childhood in and around the imposing castle and estate.

In the 1580s-1590s a series of transactions saw the ownership of the castle and grounds leave the hands of the Earl of Oxford: first, in trust to the Queen, then to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, on behalf of Oxford’s three daughters by Anne Cecil: Elizabeth, Susan, and Bridget de Vere.

On July 8, 1609, Countess Elizabeth Trentham Oxford, the 17th Earl’s widow, signed papers that brought Castle Hedingham back into the family.

But first, some background:

1587, July 3: Oxford grants Castle Hedingham to the Queen with the stipulation that Elizabeth re-grant it to him and his three daughters; Oxford entered into a bond of £4000.

1587, October 6: a follow-up document records Oxford’s transfer of clear title to Castle Hedingham to the Queen.

1588, March 8: letter from Lord Burghley authorizing Castle
Hedingham to be brought “by extant” into the Queen’s possession to save it from ‘utter spoil’.

1591, November 25: Oxford transfers clear title to Hedingham and the manors of Hedingham, Shetleford, and Parkes to Lord Burghley and his heirs by fine.

1591, December 2: authorization for Oxford to alienate the manors
of Castle Hedingham and Gosfield to Lord Burghley and to Oxford's three daughters Elizabeth, Bridget, and Susan Vere.

1592, April 12: Oxford and his second wife, Elizabeth Trentham, transfer clear title to the manors of Castle Hedingham and Gosfield to Lord Burghley and his heirs and to Oxford's three daughters Elizabeth, Bridget, and Susan.

More detail about these transactions can be found on Nina Green’s website.

After 1592 the paper trail goes cold for some 17 years. At the time of this writing it is not clear to me who, if anyone, resided at Hedingham in the 1590s and the first decade of the 1600s. In 1609 we have records that indicate that Countess Elizabeth Trentham Oxford was endeavoring to purchase back the castle and manors of Hedingham on behalf of her son, Henry, the 18th Earl of Oxford.

A document from 1609 (no precise date) describes a private act of Parliament (HL/PO/PB/1/1609/7J1n33) allowing the sale of the manor of Bretts to help finance Elizabeth Trentham’s apparent 1609 repurchase of Castle Hedingham. (Essex Record Office
D/DRg 2/39):

Anno 7 Regni Jacobi
An Act for the sale of the manor of Bretts and farm of Playstowe in the county of Essex, parcel of the possessions of Henry, Earl of Oxenford, towards the repurchasing of the castle, manor, & parks of Hedingham in the same county, being the ancient inheritance and chief mansion-house of the Earls of Oxenford.
Document transcription (pdf file) by Nina Green.

However, there seems to have been an objection to this deal. From the Calendar of State Papers Domestic: James I, 1603-1610:

1609 - June 24. Eston Lodge. Sir Hen. Maynard to Salisbury. Trusts he will not disapprove of his not yielding to the Countess of Oxford's desire in the business of Herringham, though the young Earl, Mr. Trentham, his uncle, and the Countess herself, earnestly pressed his giving up the bargain. Web source here.

By “Herringham” is meant Hedingham. The “young Earl” refers to Henry, the 18th earl of Oxford (age 16). "Mr. Trentham" is Francis Trentham, Countess Elizabeth’s brother. On the face of it, this note appears to indicate that Henry Maynard was trying to squash the proposed deal.

Who was Sir Henry Maynard?
Sir Henry Maynard (1547-1610), an English politician and bureaucrat, was secretary to Lord Treasurer Burghley. By virtue of his position he was able to take advantage of troubled assets and gradually became a major landowner, especially in Essexshire. He also developed a reputation as a moneylender (see An Elizabethan: Sir Horatio Palavicino - by Lawrence Stone.) Maynard also served terms as MP for St. Albans in the parliaments of 1586, 1588, 1592 and 1597. In 1603 Maynard was High Sheriff of Essex and was knighted by Elizabeth’s. In July 1603, James I appointed Maynard as Deputy Lieutenant for Essex.

What and where is Eston Lodge?
Eston Lodge is now called Easton Lodge, near Great Dunmow, Essex, only a few miles from Castle Hedingham. Sometime around 1590, Elizabeth I granted the 10,000 acre Manor of Estaines to Henry Maynard as a reward for his duties as Private Secretary to the Lord Treasurer. Maynard demolished an existing hunting lodge and constructed a vast, “H”-shaped mansion. In 1847, almost the entire Elizabethan part of the mansion was destroyed by fire. The property was rebuilt and is now a tourist destination.

Maynard wrote his will on August 20, 1609. He died in 1610 and was buried at Little Easton, Essex. His epitaph in Little Easton Church reads: “Here resteth, in assured hope to rise in Christ, Henry Maynard, Knight, descended of the ancient family of Maynard, in the county of Devon; and Dame Susan, his wife, daughter and one of the coheirs of Thomas Pierson, Esq. to whom she bear eight sonnes and two daughters. He ended this life the 11th of May, 1610; his lady, six sonnes, and two daughters then living.”

Thanks to research (conducted independently) by Jeremy Crick and Christopher Paul, I learned that an additional detail of the Hedingham saga is found in Philip Morant's The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex (1763-68). I looked at Morant’s History and have transcribed the full passage, presented here on the web for the first time:

“For Edward, the 17th Earl of Oxford, having taken to his second wife Elizabeth daughter of Thomas Trentham of that place, Esq; her brother Francis Trentham Esq; advanced ten thousand pounds to clear incumbrances on the Oxford Estates. In consideration whereof, 8 July 1609, by deed inrolled, and recovery suffered pursuant thereto, the three daughters of the said Earl Edward, by his first wife, with their husbands, William Earl of Derby, Francis Lord Norris, and Philip Earl of Montgomery, by the appointment of the forementioned Elizabeth Vere Countess dowager of Oxford, conveyed the Honour of Castle Hedingham to her for life, remainder to her son Henry Earl of Oxford for his life, and to his sons in taile male; remainder to Trustees to perform contingent estates, remainder to Francis Trentham Esq. brother of the said Countess, and his heirs for ever.”
[From Philip Morant's ‘The History and Antiquities of the County of Essex (1763-68)]

It is not entirely clear what document Morant consulted for these details. Other documents do not support the notion that Francis Trentham paid out ten thousand pounds to clear Oxford’s incumbrances. However, the amounts that Francis Trentham did forward on behalf of his sister and brother in law do add up to significant sums, and perhaps the ten thousand is a fair aggregate amount.

Did the Countess move to Hedingham in 1609? Well, she did sell King’s Place (Hackney) in spring 1609 to Fulke Greville. But the little evidence we have suggests that the Countess continued living in London, at Cannon Row.
The Countess’ letter to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, Lord High Treasurer of England, and the Earl of Northampton, Lord Privy Seal, dated July 22, 1611, is signed by her:

"In the meantime myself for this and sundry other your honourable favours shall now and ever rest exceedingly bound unto your Lordships, and thus craving pardon for this my boldness I humbly take my leave from my house in Cannon Row this 22nd of July 1611. Your Lordships’ assured friend, Elizabeth Oxenford"

Canon Row, in the White Hall / Downing Street area of London, abuts Derby Gate. This, I think, was the location of the Derby House, home of the 6th Earl of Derby, William Stanley, and his wife, Elizabeth de Vere, daughter of Edward Earl of Oxford. Apparently the older Oxfords were comfortable staying with the next generation. Earl Edward penned a letter in 1596 from Canon Row, which ends:

"...Thus taking my leave from Cannon Row, this 6 of September, 1596...."

Confusing the issue is the larger "Cannon Street" (two "n's"), located further east, that is, indeed, the general location of London Stone and St Swithin where the Vere House in town was located on Candlewick Street. Yet, Oxford is said to have sold this house around 1588.

So while it is not completely clear where the Countess was living, she does say "Cannon Row," not Street, just as her husband did in 1596. It is simply a strong conjecture that she was living with the Stanley-Derbys.

If any readers can help with the following questions, please post a comment here or send me an e-mail.

Robert Sean Brazil – July 8, 2009

*Why did Henry Maynard try to squelch the Hedingham deal?

*What document served as Morant’s source?

*Who lived in Hedingham in the 1590s?

*Is there any evidence that Countess Oxford moved there in 1609 or at any time before her death?
Some of the documents in this matter suggest that Hedingham in the 1590s was run down and unlivable. Other documents, however, suggest that the residence(s) were in shape for habitation. Is it possible that no one was living there because the estate was too far in disrepair to provide country comfort?


  1. Robert: Very interesting stuff. Unfortunately, I have no answers to your excellent questions. Here are two more questions: Is there any evidence later on that Henry, 18th Earl of Oxford, after he came of age, had any connection with Hedingham? Does Elizabeth Countess of Oxford make any mention of Hedingham in her will? Matthew C.

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