Earl of Oxford

Woodcut of the Earls of Oxford coat of arms and motto "Nothing more true than truth," 1574

Earl of Oxford is a dormant title in the Peerage of England, first created for Edgar the Atheling and held by him from 1066 to 1068, then recreated and held for more than five and a half centuries by the De Vere family from 1141 until the death of the 20th Earl in 1703. The Earls of Oxford were also hereditary holders of the office of Lord Great Chamberlain from 1133 until the death of the 18th Earl in 1625. Their primary seat was Castle Hedingham in Essex, but they held lands across England, particularly in eastern England. The actual name was 'Oxenford' until at least the end of the 17th century. Medieval sources thus refer to 'my lord of Oxenford' when speaking of the earl.

Earls of Oxford (1141)

Hedingham Castle in Essex, primary seat of the Earls of Oxford

The 3rd Earl was one of the 25 barons of Magna Carta. The 9th Earl was a favorite of King Richard II and was created Duke of Ireland. The 13th Earl was a Lancastrian during the War of the Roses and Henry Tudor's commander at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.[1] The 17th Earl has become the most famous of the line because of his emergence as a popular alternative candidate as the actual author of the works of William Shakespeare (see Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship). The 17th Earl was a ward and later son-in-law of Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth I's Secretary of State. On the death of the 20th Earl, without identifiable heirs male, the title became dormant.

The Earls of Oxford held no subsidiary titles, and so their heirs apparent were styled by invented courtesy titles: initially Lord Vere, and later Viscount Bolebec (sometimes spelled Viscount Bulbeck).

The principal Oxford coat of arms or shield was quarterly gules and or (red and yellow) with an argent (white) five-pointed star called a mullet or molet in the first canton. By De Vere family tradition this molet is said to refer to a reappearance of the Star of Bethlehem which showed itself to an earlier De Vere while on a Crusade and thus led him to victory. In the 14th and 15th centuries the family livery worn by their retainers was orange/tawney decorated with a white molet. A later badge associated with the De Veres is a blue boar. A later shield variation of the De Vere white molet has a smaller blue molet located within the white one but this may be a simple cadency mark - in heraldry the molet is also used in any family to indicate the third son of a title holder. The third son bears his father's arms differenced with a molet.

A confusion between the De Vere white molet and Edward IV's sunburst and white rose is said to have led to the friendly fire incident between Neville men and De Vere's men at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. Fighting in fog, the Nevilles (former Yorkists) fired on their De Vere (staunch Lancastrian) allies and thus brought about the collapse of the Lancastrian centre and right. Both contingents began to rout crying 'treachery'.

List of title holders

First Creation (1066)

Second Creation (1141)

Earls of Oxford and Earl Mortimer (1711)

The title Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer was created in the Peerage of Great Britain for Robert Harley in 1711. It became extinct in 1853.

Earls of Oxford and Asquith (1925)

After the extinction of the Earls of Oxford and Earls Mortimer, Asquith was keen to choose "Earl of Oxford" for his own title. As an earldom was then traditional for former Prime Ministers, and Asquith had a number of connections with the city of Oxford, it seemed a logical choice and had the King's support. The proposal greatly offended the relatives of the dormant Earldom, however, and, in the face of their opposition, another title had to be chosen — "Earl of Oxford and Asquith". For information on this creation, see Earl of Oxford and Asquith.


  1. G. E. Cokayne, et al., eds., The Complete Peerage, 2nd ed., vol. 10.

Further reading

Media related to Earls of Oxford at Wikimedia Commons

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