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Monstrous AdversaryThe Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford$

Alan H. Nelson

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780853236788

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.5949/UPO9781846313592

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Doubtful Marriage

Doubtful Marriage

3 Doubtful Marriage
Monstrous Adversary
Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on the second marriage of John de Vere, the 16th Earl of Oxford to Margery Golding. The marriage was recorded in the parish register of St Andrew in the village of Belchamp St Paul's, Essex, under the year 1548. Despite the routine character of the entry, the legitimacy of the second marriage was questioned. The implied impediments were two: first, as the Earl had married Joan Jockey, his marriage to Margery Golding was bigamous; second, as the Earl was pre–contracted to Dorothy Fosser, his marriage to Margery Golding, which in any case lacked banns, was clandestine.

Keywords:   John de Vere, Margery Golding, marriage, Dorothy Fosser, Joan Jockey, bigamy

The 16th Earl's second marriage is recorded in the parish register of St Andrew in the village of Belchamp St Paul's, Essex, under the year 1548:1

The weddinge of my Lorde Ihon Devere Earle of Oxenforde and Margery the daughter of Ihon Gouldinge Esquier the firste of Auguste.

Despite the routine character of the entry, the marriage was so desperately irregular that it would prompt doubts and suspicions as to the legitimacy of the 17th Earl.

The circumstances of the marriage were the subject of depositions taken on 19 and 20 January 1585 before Sir John Popham, Queen Elizabeth's attorney general, and Thomas Egerton, her solicitor general.2 Twenty questions (interrogatories) were put to each of five examinants on behalf of Richard Masterson, gentleman, complaining against Hugh Key concerning property in Ashton, county of Chester, leased by the 16th Earl to Hugh and to Hugh's mother Margaret Key for the duration of either of their lives, or for eighty years (if either should live so long). After the 16th Earl's death in 1562, the 17th Earl sold the reversion of this property to Christopher Hatton, who provided a lease to Masterson, who entered the property while Key was still in occupancy. Key held that any contract issued by the 17th Earl was flawed as he was not a legitimate heir.

The five examinants were Rooke Green Esq., of Little Sampford, Essex, then about 62 years of age, son of Sir Edward Green of Sampford Hall;3 John Anson, clerk, 60 years of age and above, parson of Weston Turvill, Buckinghamshire;4 Richard Enowes of Earls Colne, Essex, about 92 years of age (hence born about 1493), sometime servant of the 16th Earl;5 Thomas Knollis of Cottingham, Northamptonshire, aged 58 years and above;6 and William Walforth of Finchingfield, Essex, yeoman, 60 years of age and above, the 16th Earl's servant for twenty years, and his gamekeeper at Hedingham Park.7 All five confessed ignorance concerning the Ashton property, but more or less extensive knowledge concerning the 16th Earl's marriages. All defended the legitimacy of the 17th Earl, and must thus be considered sympathetic witnesses.

The deponents agreed that the 16th Earl had married Dorothy Neville in or (p.15) about 1536.8 Rooke Green ‘knoweth well that they lyved long after the same marriage in good lyking together, and came often together to this Examinantes fathers house [in Little Sampford]’ (A.6). About January 1546, however, Dorothy left her husband by reason of ‘the vnkynde dealing of the earl’ (C.6, D.5–6). Richard Enowes reported that the Duke of Norfolk (Thomas Howard) had ordered the Earl to attempt a reconciliation, but that Dorothy ‘said she wold never goe home agayne amongst such a bad companye as were about the Earle of Oxforde at that tyme’ (C.6).

With Dorothy out of the way, John entered into a bigamous marriage with Joan Jockey of Earls Colne (D.9–10). Enowes dates this marriage ‘about Corpus Christi tyde at Whit Colne Churche’ (C.9) – about 31 May 1546. Dorothy ‘wrott to Mr Tyrrell then the same Earles Comptroller’ – evidently George Tyrrell, whom we shall meet again – ‘to knowe yf it were true, that the said Iohan [=Joan] were marryed to the same Earle’; when Tyrrell confirmed her worst fears, Dorothy took it ‘verey grevouslie’ (C.10).

John Anson reported that John kept yet another woman, named Anne, at Tilbury Hall near Tilbury-juxta-Clare, less than four miles north-west of Castle Hedingham (B.9–10).9 Rooke Green similarly deposed that ‘about fortie yeares past he sawe a woman nere Tylbery Hall of whom it was then reported to this Examinant that the said Iohn Earle of Oxforde kept her’ (A.11). None of the examinants reports Anne's surname, but Knollis and Walforth agreed that she had been a servant to Mr Cracherode (D-E.11), Oxford's tenant at Tilbury Hall;10 following the conclusion of her affair with Oxford, this Anne married one Phillips (B.11, 17).

Dorothy died on about 6 January 1548, at a parsonage located half a mile from distant Salisbury (B-E.8). The examinants agreed that before Dorothy's death, John had made a clean break from his other entanglements: ‘all theise women were shaken of[f] by the same Earle of Oxforde by the aduise & workinge of his Counsell before the said lady Dorothie dyed’ (B-C.11). Presumably the Earl simply abandoned Anne, who had no claim on him. His separation from Joan Jockey, a more dangerous alliance because sanctified by marriage (however irregular), was expedited by an act of gut-wrenching violence. One day, when the Earl had left Joan Jockey alone, a gang of five approached her residence in Earls Colne: these were Sir Thomas Darcy, Lord Sheffield, John Smith, Richard Enowes, and another servant (name unknown). The servants broke in Joan's door, then pinned her down while Smith ‘spoyled’ or ‘disfigured’ her: in point of fact, ‘Iohn Smyth cutt her nose’ (C-E.13). Presumably Smith either cut her nose clean off, or cut the skin at the base of the nostrils into flaps to give her a permanently grotesque appearance – traditional punishment for ‘unsocial’ behaviour.11 Though Joan Jockey survived the attack, the Earl definitively ‘put her away’. Walforthe believed that Joan Jockey was still alive in 1585 (E.17), but none of the examinants could depose as to her current whereabouts.

(p.16) The mutilation of Joan Jockey was very much a family matter. The chief thugs – Sir Thomas Darcy and Lord Sheffield – were brothers-in-law to the 16th Earl. Darcy, subsequently Baron Darcy of Chiche (Essex), was born in 1506,12 and was thus about forty-two at the time of the attack. His mother was Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Henry Wentworth of Nettlestead, Suffolk; he took to wife Elizabeth, third daughter of the 15th Earl of Oxford. At the time of the attack Darcy held the office of Lord Chamberlain of the Household. Edmund Sheffield, born in 1521 and thus about five years younger than the 16th Earl, was the son of Sir Robert Sheffield and of Jane, daughter of Sir George Stanley, Lord Strange of Knockyn. After Sir Robert's death in 1531, Edmund became a ward first of Lord Rochford, and later, on 2 January 1538, of the 15th Earl of Oxford. While attached to Cromwell, Edmund became notorious for his unruliness, dispatching an ‘undutiful’ letter to the Earl of Oxford, dated July 1538 from prison. Despite his insolence, at some time unknown he married Anne, the 15th Earl's second daughter. By the will of Henry VIII, Sheffield was created Baron Sheffield of Butterwick at the start of the reign of Edward VI. Under his recently bestowed title, he accompanied the Earl of Northampton on an expedition to quell Ket's Rebellion in Norfolk, where he was killed – at Norwich – in August 1549. A poet of the same generation as Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, Sheffield was praised by Thomas Fuller: ‘Great his skill in music, who wrote a book of sonnetts according to the Italian fashion’ (DNB, under Sir Robert Sheffield). Sheffield's poems have not survived.

The 16th Earl's exact role in the attack on Joan Jockey is uncertain. Either his two brothers-in-law acted to destroy an alliance that they regarded as a threat to their own interests; or the Earl cooperated in an effort to drive away a woman who had become a liability. That the Earl was somehow complicit is suggested by the fact that Enowes and Smith stayed in his service, as revealed by the Earl's will of 1562, while he remained on exceedingly good terms with Darcy, as revealed in his will of 1552:13

to my right entierbeloved Brother in Lawe Sir Thomas Darcy knight Lorde Darcy of Chyche and Lorde Chamberleyn of the Kinges mooste Honorable Howsehold con Hundred powndes of lawfull money and oone of my best horses.

Earl John also appointed Darcy as one of the three executors of this will.

Dorothy's death left the Oxford earldom in peril, for John had neither a male heir nor a wife who might produce one. On 1 February 1548, some three weeks after Dorothy's death, Lord Protector Somerset extorted an agreement from John promising Lady Katherine Vere, aged nine, to Somerset's seven-year-old son Henry, Lord Seymour, who thus stood to acquire the Oxford estates. Since Katherine and Henry were minors, control of the lands was vested in a syndicate comprised of Somerset, Sir Michael Stanhope, Sir Thomas Darcy, and John Lucas. The promise of marriage was enforced by a bond dated 26 February, with a penalty of (p.17) £6000; it was further enforced (but eventually reversed) by subsequent acts of Parliament. The agreement was enshrined in a will drawn up as an indenture tripartite, signed by John, and witnessed by Darcy; by Thomas Golding (Margery's eldest brother), Anthony Stapleton, and Robert Kelweye, all esquires; and by Thomas Almot, Thomas Larke, Roger Golding, and Robert Scoroth, all gentlemen.14

For John the indenture was an obnoxious burden which he doubtless accepted only because he had put himself in Somerset's power. Perhaps psychological pressures took their toll, for on 3 February John received ‘[d]ispensation to eat meat during Lent and at other prohibited times, also for four other persons invited to his table’, paying 16s 8d for the privilege.15 Such dispensations were usually claimed and granted only for illness.

Despite his apparent malaise, word soon spread that the Earl was conducting an amour with Dorothy Fosser of Haverhill, Suffolk, then residing in the Green household in Little Sampford. On 27 June Sir Thomas Darcy composed a letter from Castle Hedingham, apparently addressed to William Cecil:16

Aftre right harte commendacions these shall bee to aduertyse yow that accordynge to my late conuercacion had with yow in my lordes graces galerye at Westmynstre / I haue by all means that I can inquiryd of the mater beytwen my lorde of Oxenford and the gentilwoman with whom hee is in love namyd mrs Dorothe late woman to my ladie Katheryn hir doughter / And vpon comunicayon had with them bothe / I haue founde and do perceyve them to bee in the same case that they wer in when my said lorde of Oxenforde was before my lordes grace And non other savynge that the bannes of matrimonye betwen them wer twise proclamyd in on[e] daye / other treatys or solempne conuercacyon hathe not ben befor wytnesse But onlye be in secrett betwen them twayn

Syr if ye shall stande with my lordes graces pleassure to haue this mater further steyd (as my lorde of Oxenfordes honour welthe and preseruacyon consideryd) I thynke yt verey expedyent and maye righte well bee Then I beseche yow I maye bee therof aduertysyd, and that yee will move his grace to dyrecte his lettres to Mr Edward Grene of Stampford in whose house the said Dorothe dothe now contynew / commandynge him by the same neyther to suffre my said lorde of Oxenford to haue accesse to hyr ne [=nor] shee vnto hym / And that noo privey messengers maye goo betwen them whyche as I supose wilbee the sureste wey to stey them / And vppon further communicatyon with my lorde Wentworthe for a maryage to bee had betwen my said lord of Oxenford and on[e] of his daughters / And as they vppon sighte with other treatyce maye agree soo to procede in that same Syr vppon your motyon to bee made vnto my lordes grace concernynge the premysses I praye yow I maie bee aduertysyd of by this berer of his pleasure in the same Whyche knowen I shal righte gladly indevour my syellff to accompplyshe by thayd [=the aid] of the blessed Trynyte whoo haue yow in his contynewall preservacyon …

Dorothy Fosser was not only Countess Dorothy's maid and young Katherine's servant, but also Dorothy's god-daughter (and namesake) (A.16; C.16). Darcy's (p.18) letter betrays a private interest: he wished the Earl to marry one of the several daughters of Lord Wentworth, Darcy's first cousin on his mother's side. Meanwhile, members of the Golding family conspired with the Earl in a plot of their own.

Despite Darcy's urging cessation of communication between John and Mistress Dorothy, John managed to spirit her out of Green's house. We may suppose that the liaison was consummated before Dorothy returned to her home in Haverhill, awaiting John's arrival at the parish church where their banns had been announced and where they were to be married on Thursday, 2 August.

On Wednesday, 1 August, while her friends expected John to make his way to Haverhill to marry Dorothy Fosser the next day, he rode instead to Belchamp St Paul, where he wed Margery Golding without royal consent, pre-contract, or banns – not at the parish church, but in the Golding residence. The priest who conducted the ceremony was not the local vicar, Stephen Lufkin,17 but the vicar of SS. Peter and Paul of Clare, Suffolk, three miles to the north. The compliant vicar, either John Reiston or John Metton,18 received for his present effort and prospective bother a gift of £10 per annum for life (B.14, D-E.15).

The clandestine marriage elicited the wrath of Protector Somerset. On 13 September Oxford was forced to sign a bond for £500:19

Uppon condicion that if the same Erle forbere at any time betwene this and the Feast of Christenmas next to make any annuitie of any his castles, manours, landes and tenementes to any person whatsoever, or to dispose during that tyme any plate, juelles, stuf, or other thing in his possessyon without speciall licence of the Lord Protectour, except in tyme of extreme sycknes it shalbe laufull for him to dispose of the movables for declaration of hys last will, onles his Grace shall within that tyme take furder order with him; and also during the sayd tyme use the advise for thordre of his landes and howsehold of Sir Thomas Darcy and others his officers which he hath at this present, not chaunging any of them of himself oneles the sayd Lord Protectour, informed of just falt in any of them, shall accord to the same …

Probably Somerset meant to keep Oxford from transferring property to the noaccount Margery, to the detriment of Katherine and Somerset's son Henry.

The irregular circumstances of the 16th Earl's marriage help to explain the words of a sympathetic eighteenth-century historian:20

Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, Protector of the Realm, out of his extreme avarice and greedy appetitie did under color of justice convent before himself for certain criminal causes John Earl of Oxford and so terrify him that to save his life he was obliged to alienate to the said Duke by deed all his estates, lordships, castles, manors, &c.

The ‘criminal causes’ may have included any or all of the Earl's ‘bad companye’, the bigamous marriage to and mutilation of Joan Jockey, Oxford's unauthorized marriage to Margery Golding, and his breach of promise to Dorothy Fosser, whom he eventually agreed to compensate with a payment of £10 per annum (A.16).

(p.19) In his will of 21 December 1552, Oxford ordered his executors to

recompens compound & satysfie or cause to be recompensed compownded or satysfied all & singuler wronges Iniuryes & trespasses by me at any tyme before my decesse commytted perpetrated or doon or by me procured to be commytted perpetrated or doon the same being proved by sufficyent wytnesse before or vnto my said Executours or the more part of them to be true & vnsatysfed at the tyme of my said decesse.

The words ‘or by me procured to be commytted perpetrated or doon’ were added by interlineation. To his credit – though probably not to her benefit – the 16th Earl may have suffered pangs of conscience over Joan Jockey.

The words ‘or by me procured to be commytted perpetrated or doon’ were added by interlineation. To his credit – though probably not to her benefit – the 16th Earl may have suffered pangs of conscience over Joan Jockey.

The legitimacy of the second marriage turned not on whether Oxford and Margery Golding had observed ceremony, for indeed they had,21 but on whether their marriage was valid. The implied impediments were two: first, as the Earl had married Joan Jockey, his marriage to Margery Golding was bigamous; second, as the Earl was pre-contracted to Dorothy Fosser, his marriage to Margery Golding, which in any case lacked banns, was clandestine.

Arguments supporting legitimacy were several: John's marriage to Joan Jockey was bigamous and thus not a true marriage either before or after Countess Dorothy's death; Anne was kept at Tilbury Hall without benefit of marriage; no divorce had severed John's marriage with Dorothy Neville either before or after his marriage to Joan Jockey; Anne subsequently married one Phillips, which proves that she was not married to John; his pre-contract with Dorothy Fosser did not constitute a marriage; she in any case subsequently married John Anson, the second of the five examinants.

Had he still been alive, Henry VIII would scarcely have looked kindly on such a squalid marriage by one of his earls; Queen Elizabeth would at a minimum have locked the couple in the Tower. Somerset could threaten but not command the 16th Earl. In any case, he held power only until 1 October 1549; any residual hold was weakened with his execution in 1552 and terminated on 22 January 1553.22

Richard Enowes testified that he himself was ‘one of theym that with the rest of the Earles men did fett [=fetch] the same Margery after the marriage to He[d]yngham Castle’ (C.14–15). It was probably there, about 20 July 1549 (give or take a week), that Margery conceived her first child.


(1) ERO D/P 48/1/1, Baptisms, Burials, Marriages 1538–1701, p. 8 (on microfiche); transcript T/R 168/2 (microfilm). Belchamp St Paul's is located in NE Essex, 5 m. NW of Sudbury: RCHM, Essex, i, pp. 16–18.

(2) Huntington Library MS EL5870. The texts of the 1585 depositions are here embedded in a document dated 39 Elizabeth (1597). Alphabetical codes refer to the successive interrogatories: A=Green; B=Anson; C=Enowes; D=Knollis; E=Walforth.

(3) APC, x, pp. 323–24: Rook Greene of Walden – ‘An Essex recusant’. Emmison (1978), p. 48: Dame Anne Wentworth of Gosfield, widow of Sir John Wentworth, knight, 20 June 1575, leaves to her ‘nephew Arthur Breame of Gosfield £100 and the debt which my cousin Rooke Grene, esquire, doth owe me’; p. 49: Dame Anne leaves ‘To Rooke Grene a little tablet of gold which he gave me’; p. 82: William Fitche of Little Canfield, esquire, 13 October 1577, bequeathes land ‘with remainder after the expiration to the heirs of Eleanor my daughter, late the wife of Rooke Grene, esquire’.

(4) A person of this name matriculated pensioner from St John's at Michaelmas 1552: Venn.

(5) ‘Richard Enowes of Colne’ is named in the 20 December 1580 will of Thomas Peaycoke of Coggeshall, clothmaker: Emmison (1978), p. 301.

(6) A Thomas Knowles is named, along with his brother Samuel, in the will of Hercules Mewtas of West Ham, 9 June 1587: Emmison (1978), p. 109.

(7) A William Walforde is named in the will of James Harrington of Finchingfield, 10 September 1584: Emmison (1989), No. 905. Perhaps this was the son or grandson of the elderly deponent.

(8) Rooke Green suggests 1535 (A.5); Richard Enows, 1537 (C.5).

(9) Not Tilbury-on-Thames, but the village of Tilbury-juxta-Clare located just south of Ridgewell, a few miles NW of Castle Hedingham: see RCHM, Essex, i, pp. 319–20. Tilbury Hall is now a farmhouse.

(10) Various members of a Cracherode family, all Toppesfield gentry, are mentioned in wills dated 24 January 1586 and 15 February 1588: Emmison (1989), Nos. 910, 995.

(11) See, for example, STC 1324 (1570?): ‘A balade of a preist that loste his nose / For sayinge of masse as I suppose’; see also p. 241. For a general discussion, see Groebner (1995), pp. 1–15.

(12) Thomas Darcy, only s. and h. of Roger Darcy (Esquire of the Body to Henry VII), by Elizabeth, da. of Sir Henry Wentworth, of Nettlestead, Suffolk. He succeeded his father in September 1508; was knighted at Calais, 1 November 1532; Master of the Artillery in the Tower of London, and Gentleman of the Yeomen of the Guard to Edward VI, 1550–51; and Lord Chamberlain March 1551 to 1553. He was one of the 26 Peers who signed the letters patent, 16 June 1553, settling the Crown on Lady Jane Grey (Peerage, iv, pp. 209–10).

(13) BL MS Stowe Charter 633.

(14) Noted in CPR, Edward VI, i, pp. 376–77. Discussed by Golding (L.T.), p. 23.

(15) Chambers (1966), p. 305.

(16) PRO SP10/1/45 (CSPD 1547–53, No. 43). Rooke Green asserts that Dorothy died ‘about the second yeare of Kinge Edward the sixt’, i.e. 28 January 1548 to 27 January 1549; similarly, he assigns the Earl's wedding to Margery to 3 Edward VI. Since it occurred in (p.446) fact in in 2 Edward VI, Green seems to have been one year out in his reckoning. Round (1903), p. 25, argues (incorrectly, as it turns out) that Mistress Dorothy must have been a daughter, or at least a relative, of the Mr Green of Sampford, Essex, at whose house she was residing. The Darcy letter is also printed in Townsend (1934), p. 100.

(17) Golding (L. T.), p. 221.

(18) Hatton (1994). For previous chaplains of the 16th Earl, see Chambers (1966), pp. 173, 228, 282.

(19) APC, ii, pp. 221–22: ‘Iohannes, Comes Oxoniensis, recognovit se debere Domino Regi, vc marcas.’

(20) Golding (L. T.), p. 235, Appendix 10: ‘Somerset's Hold on John de Vere’ (citing Morant, p. 293). See also Golding (L. T.), pp. 40–41.

(21) Golding (L. T.), p. 38, blames Katherine: ‘The complete details of the vicious attack upon the validity of … Margery's marriage to John de Vere and the legitimacy of his nephew and niece … are not to be found after the lapse of nearly four hundred years, but enough has been brought to light to piece out the main facts of the story. It discloses a daughter ready to accuse her dead father of bigamy, and to stamp her half-brother and sister as bastards.’

(22) Will of 1552 (settled by Parliament of 5–6 Edward VI); CPR, Edward VI, iv, pp. 376–77.