6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Michael K. Smith
- Published on Amazon.com
In the late 1970s, there was a popular BBC comedy series, To the Manor Born, in which one of the principal characters, a self-made millionaire of Eastern European origins, has changed his surname to "DeVere" for business and social reasons. The writers of the series chose that name because it's instantly recognizable by most British subjects as one of the most ancient non-royal families in the nation's history. Aubrey de Vere was one of the very few provable companions of the Conqueror at Hastings, and accompanied him on his progression to London to take the crown. While the average aristocratic dynasty lasted only about three generations, the DeVeres supplied twenty earls of Oxford for more than 560 years, with representatives at Crécy, Poitiers, and Bosworth, at Runnymede, and on the Crusades. The 17th earl was a shining light at the court of the first Elizabeth, one of the acknowledged masters of English poetry. Aubrey, a tenant-in-chief under King William, set up his caput baroniae, his chief castle, in northeast Essex at a previously fortified location called Hedingham, where a hasty motte-and-bailey construction was succeeded by a more elaborate stone keep, which is still there. He held extensive estates from the bishop of Coutances in Normandy, which suggests a place of origin, and where there is a concentration family and place-names incorporating "ver." (There also was a legend regarding a connection to the counts of Vermandois, which would give them a descent from Charlemagne, but this has been disproved.) They also soon married into the De Coucy family, another locus of Norman magnates. Another center of the family's influence was Colne Priory in Essex, founded by Aubrey DeVere shortly before his death c.1112, where ten earls of Oxford were buried, and where nothing now remains, all the tombs having been removed to a chapel a few miles away. The first earl was this Aubrey's grandson, also named Aubrey, who received the title from the Empress Matilda in 1141. The last was yet another Aubrey, who died without surviving sons. Because of the length of time involved, however, and the paucity of records, it could not be proved that there were no male heirs at all to the title, which is there officially "dormant" and not extinct -- and, of course, there are still living descendants through female lines (including Princes William and Harry, via the Spencers). The author writes in a sparkling but occasionally disorganized style, incorporating numerous quotes and anecdotes from reliable sources (though they are not specifically footnoted), as well as making forays into the "Shakespeare question."