John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford

Born: September 8, 1442

Died: March 10, 1513

Braintree, Essex, England (Age 70)

Oxford in History

The de Vere family were loyal Lancastrian supporters in the lengthy Wars of the Roses with the house of York and, therefore, did not fare well after Edward IV, a Yorkist, usurped the throne from the Lancastrian Henry VI in 1461. In 1462, the year following the usurpation, both the elder John de Vere (the twelfth Earl of Oxford) and his eldest son were executed under orders from the king. Surprisingly, the younger John was allowed full access to his father's inheritance and was taken into favor by King Edward. The king's good deed would not go unpunished, however, and, by 1468, Oxford was again plotting with the Lancastrians. In 1469, he joined forces with the Earl of Warwick (a powerful northern lord who had once been Edward IV's staunchest supporter) and the king's own brother George, Duke of Clarence, in rebellion against Edward. Oxford then left England to join Queen Margaret (wife of Henry VI) at the French court to gain further support, and was part of the invasion of England, with Warwick and Clarence, that saw the temporary deposition and forced exile of Edward IV and the brief readeption of Henry VI.

Unfortunately for any Lancastrian supporters, the readeption would be just that: brief. Edward IV returned to England to reclaim his crown by 1471 and handed the Lancastrians two decisive defeats at Barnet (where Oxford acted as a commander) and Tewksbury. In the end, Warwick, Henry VI, and his son Prince Edward were all dead, and the Lancastrian cause was in shambles. Oxford was forced to flee to Scotland and, ultimately, France, from whence he continued to rebel against Edward IV. The earl was finally captured and forced to surrender in 1474 and would remain in prison at Calais for the next ten years of his life. In 1484, after Edward IV had died and the throne had been usurped by his younger brother Richard III, Oxford was able to escape from prison and join the forces of Henry Tudor (Earl of Richmond and the sole remaining Lancastrian claimant to the throne) in Brittany. Their forces subsequently invaded England where they defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth (with the king himself being killed in the action). Richmond then had himself crowned as King Henry VII.

It was under the new king's regime that Oxford flourished. He was rewarded with a countless number of important positions, titles and lands for his loyal services to the Lancastrians and continued to serve as a military commander, taking part in the Battle of Stoke (1487) and the invasion of France (1492). Oxford, who was by this point an elder statesman, was loyal to Henry VII until the king's death in 1509. He then remained active in politics in the early reign of Henry VIII, the late king's son, until his own death in 1513, at the age of seventy. In the end, Oxford was able to survive the bloody Wars of the Roses by ultimately choosing the right side and staying unswervingly loyal to that side. The wars were certainly not as successful for many other men, including Oxford's own father and brother.

Oxford in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VI, Part 3; Richard III

The Earl of Oxford first appears in 3 Henry VI alongside Queen Margaret and Prince Edward at the court of Louis XI of France when they are appealing to the French king for aid against the Yorkists. When the Lancastrians return to England, Oxford is present with them and participates at the Battle of Tewksbury after the Yorkists mount their subsequent attack. After the battle he is brought before King Edward, who then orders he be throne in prison. In reality, Oxford was not captured and imprisoned until 1474, three years after the events at Tewksbury. Oxford appears once again in Richard III as a supporter of the Earl of Richmond. He fights for Richmond at Bosworth and is present when the new King Henry VII is crowned.


Gunn, S. J. ‘Vere, John de, thirteenth earl of Oxford (1442–1513)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 1 March 2010]

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