Elizabeth TRENTHAM

(C. Oxford)

Born: ABT 1562, Rocester, Staffordshire, England

Died: ABT Dec 1612

Buried: 3 Jan 1613, Hackney

Father: Thomas TRENTHAM

Mother: Jane SNEYD

Married 1: Edward De VERE (17° E. Oxford) 27 Dec 1591


1. Henry De VERE (18° E. Oxford)

Elizabeth Trentham was born at Rocester, Staffordshire, the daughter of Thomas Trentham and Jane Sneyd. The Trenthams came from Shrewsbury, which borough Trentham’s great-grandfather Thomas represented in 1512 and 1515. Thomas’ son Richard, elected for Shropshire in 1536, relocated to north Staffordshire when he acquired the dissolved monastery of Rocester, close to the Derbyshire border. Trentham’s father was a client of Sir Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and represented Staffordshire in Parliament in 1571. Her father's will, made 19 Oct 1586, mentions his son and heir, Francis, another son, Thomas, and three daughters, Elizabeth, Dorothy and Catherine. Elizabeth's brother Francis married Catherine, the daughter of Ralph Sheldon of Beoley, by his wife Anne Throckmorton, and carried on the family line. Her younger brother, Thomas, died unmarried in 1605. Two of Elizabeth's sisters were already married when Thomas Trentham made his will in 1586, Dorothy to William Cooper of Thurgarton, and Catherine to Sir John Stanhope.

Thomas Trentham's reputation in the county is indicated by his appointment by the Privy Council as one of the "principal gentlemen in Staffordshire" to accompany Mary, Queen of Scots, from her Staffordshire exile to her trial at Fotheringay Castle in 1586 (a trial at which the 17th Earl of Oxford sat on the jury).

Elizabeth Trentham was Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth for at least ten years. Records indicate that she exchanged New Year's gifts with the Queen in 1584, 1588 and 1589, and she is listed as a Maid of Honour on a subsidy roll dated 10 Nov 1590. She was known at court as a beauty.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, had been in need of an heir and, hence, a wife since 5 Jun 1588, when his 31-year-old wife Anne Cecil died suddenly, leaving him no legitimate male heir. His son Edward had been born to mistress Anne Vavasour, a maid of honor. She gave birth in the palace after concealing both the long affair and her entire pregnancy. The betrayal of the Queen's trust landed them both in the Tower of London. Oxford had an immediate need: money. In the summer of 1590, he owed £11,445 to just one of his many impatient creditors: the Crown. Elizabeth Trentham was wealthy. Her father's will bequeathed her a dowry of £1000, payable at the rate of 500 marks a year for three years. It was a generous amount, but it was only a tenth of what Oxford owed the Queen. However in 1591 Edward de Vere entered into a number of legal agreements with Elizabeth's brother, Francis Trentham, and others for the purpose of providing a jointure for Elizabeth.

The wedding of Trentham and Vere may be dated to 27 Dec 1591 (at the latest) from a record of the Queen's gift to the new Countess: 'geuen the Countess of Oxforde at her marridge the xxxvij of December Anno 34th". The newly married couple resided at Stoke Newington, where their son, Henry de Vere, was born on 24 Feb 1593. Elizabeth was not only much older than Anne Cecil had been at the time of her marriage, but far more independent.

On 2 Sep 1597 the Queen granted licence to the executors of Sir Rowland Hayward to sell King's Place in the Hackney in north London to Elizabeth Trentham, her brother Francis Trentham, her uncle Ralph Sneyd, and her cousin, Giles Yonge. The acquisition of King's Place by Elizabeth Trentham and her relatives placed it 'beyond the reach of Oxford's creditors'. King's Place was a substantial country manor house with a celebrated great hall, a classic Tudor long gallery, a chapel and "a proper lybrayre to laye bokes in"; the land comprised orchards and fine gardens and some 270 acres (1.1 km2) of farmland. It would remain their principal London home until Oxford's death on 24 Jun 1604. The Countess sold King's Place on 1 Apr 1609 to Fulke Greville, removing to Canon Row in the parish of St Clement Danes.

Prior to the move, in 1597, to King’s Place at Hackney, little has been discovered of the domestic arrangements of Edward and Elizabeth after their marriage. Nominally they first lived at Stoke Newington a couple of miles north of the city of London but, as Queen Elizabeth’s court tended to move with the seasons, the Countess of Oxford would have followed it wherever it happened to be.

In 1601 she accused Arthur Mills, one of Oxford’s servants, of stealing a casket from her. He was tried and acquitted of the charge.

Of her nieces by his brother Francis and Catherine Sheldon, Countess Elizabeth became god-mother to Vere Trentham, born in 1599, and in her will she has this to say of Mary, born in 1607, “I give and bequeath unto Marie Trentham (whom I intend, if God give me life, to educate and train up) five hundred pounds towards her preferment in marriage”. Elizabeth had not only become very attached to the young girl, she had also spotted that she had what it took to become a Maid of Honour – which is the meaning of her intention to train the girl up.

In 1591 Oxford had sold Hedingham Castle, the de Vere family seat from the time of William the Conqueror, to his father-in-law, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, in trust for Oxford's three daughters by his first wife, Anne Cecil, Elizabeth, Bridget and Susan. In 1609, Elizabeth Trentham repurchased Castle Hedingham from Oxford's daughters for her son, Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford.

Edward’s son and heir Henry De Vere was just eleven years old at his father´s death, and, happily for him, history did not repeat itself and Elizabeth, now Countess Dowager of Oxford, had no difficulty in retaining his wardship as is made clear by a clause in a Private Act of Parliament of 1610 sought by Countess Elizabeth to sell the Manor of Bretts which states, “the said Henry, Earl of Oxenford, was and yet is in ward to your Majesty and his wardship and marriage is granted over to your suppliant [Countess Elizabeth]”. No doubt the Court of Wards had sufficient confidence in Elizabeth and her brother Francis to let them manage the young Earl’s estate.

Managing young Henry’s estate was one thing, but managing “...a young nobleman neither of years nor judgement to advise himself, wanting the guidance of a father and past the government of a mother...”, in the words of Countess Elizabeth, was evidently quite another once the sixteen year old Henry had fallen into the wayward company of his second cousin John Hunt. In an letter addressed to both Sir Robert Cecil and Lord Henry Howard on 22 Jul 1611, Elizabeth seeks their urgent help over the “apparent danger of my son’s ruin”, calling on them to discipline Hunt whom she not only accuses of leading her son “by continual use of cursing, swearing, filthy and ribaldry talk, and all other lewd and licentious courses to corrupt and poison my son’s tender years with the like infection” but also of running up huge debts in her son’s name. Furthermore, it appears that Hunt had such a hold over Henry De Vere that he had begun to neglect his duties as an esquire serving both the King and his son Prince Henry.

Elizabeth Trentham's letters to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, reveal a sharp-minded, independent woman at ease with legal and business matters.

She entertained King James and his retiniue at Havering-atte-Bower in mid 1612.

The Dowager Countess was buried 3 Jan 1613 at Hackney. Her will, dated 25 Nov 1612, includes generous bequests to her son, close family members, friends, servants, the poor of Hackney and Castle Hedingham, and various London prisons and hospitals. She appoints as executors her brother, Francis Trentham, and her friends Sir Edward More (d..1623) and John Wright of Gray's Inn.

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