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Vere, Thomas de, eighth earl of Oxfordlocked

  • James Ross

Vere, Thomas de, eighth earl of Oxford (1336x8–1371), magnate and soldier, was the second but eldest surviving son of John de Vere, seventh earl of Oxford (1312–1360), and his wife, Maud Badlesmere (d. 1366). Estimates of Thomas's age varied in his father's inquisition post mortem, though most put him at twenty-two or twenty-three in January 1360. His elder brother, John, married to Elizabeth, daughter of Hugh Courtenay, earl of Devon, died in June 1350, aged just fifteen. That same month John de Vere arranged Thomas's marriage to Maud, the daughter of Sir Ralph Ufford (d. 1346), chief justice of Ireland, and Matilda of Lancaster (d. 1377), and niece of Robert Ufford, earl of Suffolk, though she may have been only five at the time. Thomas was also introduced at court and to royal service, and in August 1357 he was granted an annuity of £40 by the king during his father's lifetime. He accompanied his father on the Rheims campaign of 1359–60, during which John de Vere died, and Thomas succeeded to the earldom as well as to the office of lord great chamberlain of England, which was hereditary in his family.

Thomas de Vere's tenure of the earldom largely coincided with the peace ushered in by the treaty of Brétigny (he was present when the treaty was confirmed at Calais on 24 October 1360). Thomas therefore divided his time between court and his estates in East Anglia. He was appointed to the commission of the peace in Essex throughout the decade, as well as to ad hoc commissions, including one in 1363 relating to an assault on a royal mariner who had attempted to interfere with a ship illegally evading customs at Manningtree, Essex—the earl personally sat in judgment on the case. However, Oxford spent considerable time at court; between 1362 and 1368 he witnessed fifty of the ninety-seven royal charters issued, and his position as lord great chamberlain may have given him everyday prominence at court, rather than just on great state occasions.

Until the death of his mother, Maud, in 1366 Thomas de Vere was not particularly affluent. Maud not only held the traditional third of her husband's estates in dower, but also a number of manors in jointure, while a number of the seventh earl's manors had been assigned to Thomas's younger brother Aubrey. Moreover Thomas's wife, Maud Ufford [see below], brought only one manor as her dowry. But his inquisition post mortem underestimated his landed wealth, not least by omitting several manors in his hands, and other sources show that after 1366 the earl was financially comfortable. In 1386–7 his widow had an annual income of £586 from eighteen of the thirty-nine manors that Earl Thomas held at his death, and by the end of his life he seems to have had considerable cash reserves. Despite having spent £1121 over the preceding two years buying back the manors of Laughton in Sussex and Market Overton in Rutland after a deathbed enfeoffment for charitable purposes made by his mother in 1366, the earl had £2456 in the hands of his feoffees at his death, while the king owed him 800 marks (£533 6s. 8d.).

The resumption of the French war in 1369 allowed Oxford to begin to emulate his father's distinguished military record, though the first sterile campaign in 1369 led by John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, based on raids from Calais, did not deliver a set-piece battle like Crécy or Poitiers. The earl was in France by September of that year with a personal retinue of forty men-at-arms and eighty archers, he and the third earl of March having been sent to reinforce operations 'with a great many ships and a large force of men' (V. H. Galbraith, ed., The Anonimalle Chronicle, 1333 to 1381, 1927, 61). Oxford's military career was cut short, however. He was clearly in poor health from at least July 1370, when writs ordering an inquisition post mortem were erroneously issued, a year before his actual death (the cause of his sickness is not known). In his will, made at his favoured residence of Great Bentley, Essex, on 1 August 1371, the earl requested burial in the chapel of St Peter at his family priory at Earls Colne in Essex, to which he had made a grant of the advowson of West Wickham, Cambridgeshire, ten years earlier. He allowed £133 for his funeral expenses, and the bulk of his goods were to go to his wife and son, Robert de Vere (1362–1392). He also made bequests to his brother Aubrey, to whom he left armour, and to his most prominent associate, Sir William Wingfield, to whom in April 1370 he had granted his manor of Market Overton in Rutland in return for his service in peace and war during life. Thomas died at Great Bentley between 12 and 18 September 1371. His tomb survives, though now at St Stephen's Chapel, Bures, Suffolk.

While his short career was unspectacular, Thomas de Vere was quietly effective in local matters and at court. But whereas his father's notable military record, and his brother's increasing influence in the circle of Edward, the Black Prince, had made their family influential and increasingly wealthy, Thomas's early death, about the age of thirty-five, was a check to its progress. It also removed what might have been a steadying influence on his son and heir, Robert, whose spectacular rise and catastrophic fall under Richard II cast a long shadow over his comital successors.

Thomas's widow, Maud de Vere [née Maud Ufford]countess of Oxford (1345?–1413) was assigned a number of estates in jointure, which, when added to her dower, made her long widowhood financially comfortable. Maud took in her son Robert's first wife, Philippa de Coucy [[see de Vere, Philippa] under [Robert de Vere, ninth earl of Oxford]], when he repudiated her in 1387 as 'she had such love for the noble lady … and did not hesitate to curse her own son for bringing about this divorce' (Westminster Chronicle, 190–91). However, after Robert had been exiled in 1388, she received a royal pardon for crossing to Brabant without royal licence to confer with her son 'and for relieving him with certain gifts' (CPR, 1388–92, 407). This difficult situation for Maud was ended by Robert's early death in 1392. Along with the king, she was reportedly present at his reinterment at Earls Colne in 1395. She was high in favour with Richard II, probably as a result of his lingering regard for her son, and this favour was rewarded with loyalty beyond the grave. By the autumn of 1403 Maud had begun to believe that Richard II was not dead, but had escaped from prison in 1400; like others she was probably taken in by the impostor Thomas Ward, well established in Scotland by this date. Along with the abbots of St John's, Colchester, and St Osyth, Essex, she was accused of making preparations for a French landing on the Essex coast in December 1403, of distributing white hart badges of King Richard's livery, and of 'stating, publishing and announcing that Richard the late king of England was still alive and would come back … into England with a very great host of French, Scots and Welsh people to regain his royal estate' (Sayles, 153). Word of these seditious activities reached the king, and the conspirators were arrested, while Sir Peter Buckton was briefly appointed surveyor and governor of the countess's lands. Maud received a pardon at the request of Queen Joan on 16 November 1404, however, and her remaining years were uneventful. She died on 25 January 1413 at Great Bentley, having in her will requested burial at the nunnery of Bruisyard, Suffolk, rather than with her husband and son at Earls Colne.


  • will (Thomas de Vere), Registrum Simonis de Sudbiria, ed. R. C. Fowler, 2 vols., CYS, 34, 38 (1927–38), 1.4–6
  • chancery, charter rolls, C 53/144–52; assize rolls, JUST 1/260; office of the auditors of land revenue, ancient deeds, series E, LR 14/562, TNA: PRO
  • Vere family cartulary, Bodl. Oxf., MS Rawl B. 248
  • family archive, Essex RO, D/DPr
  • receiver general's account, 1385–9, BL, Harleian Roll N3
  • household account, 1389, Longleat House, Wiltshire, MS 442
  • will (Maud de Vere), LPL, Arundel Register, pt. 2, fol. 161
  • U. Nott. L., Me 3D9/1–2
  • CIPM, 13.92–103; 19.376–80
  • CPR, 1388–92, 407
  • CClR, 1369–74, 105–6
  • exchequer, king's remembrancer, miscellanea of the exchequer, TNA: PRO, E163/6/28
  • J. Ross, ‘Seditious activities: the conspiracy of Maud de Vere, countess of Oxford, 1403–4’, The fifteenth century, ed. L. Clark, 3: Authority and subversion (2003), 25–42
  • L. C. Hector and B. F. Harvey, eds. and trans., The Westminster chronicle, 1381–1394, OMT (1982), 190–91


  • tomb effigy, St Stephen's Chapel, Bures, Suffolk; repro. in G. Probert, ‘The riddle of Bures unravelled’, Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society, 3rd series, 16 (1984–5), 59-62

Wealth at Death

at least £2456 in cash, £533 in debts owing to him; value of goods in his possession not estimated: CIPM, 13.92–103

National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
Lambeth Palace London
, 47 vols. (1892–1963)
University of Nottingham Library
Essex Record Office
Oxford Medieval Texts
Bodleian Library, Oxford
, [20 vols.], PRO (1904–); also , 3 vols. (1898–1955)
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)
British Library, London
Canterbury and York Society
Selden Society