Sunday, 14 September 2014

The loves of Anne Vavasour

Anne Vavasour (1562-1650) became a gentlewoman of the bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth I in 1580, along with her sister Frances (1568-1606). After only a few months, Anne became one of the six maids of honour to the queen.

Anne Vavasour, c.1605

Soon after arriving at court, Anne became the mistress of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604). Edward de Vere had been married to Anne Cecil (d.1588), the daughter of William Cecil, on the 16th December 1571. However, the couple did not enjoy a happy marriage and the couple separated in 1576, although they did reconcile in January 1582 and remained together until her death in 1588.

"On Tuesday at night Anne Vavysor was brought to bed of a son in the maidens' chamber. The E. of Oxford is avowed to be the father, who hath withdrawn himself with the intent, as it is thought, to pass the seas. The ports are laid for him and therefore if he have any such determination it is not likely that he will escape. The gentlewoman the selfsame night she was delivered was conveyed out of the house and the next day committed to the Tower." Francis Walsingham to Henry Carey, 24th March 1581

On the 23rd March 1581, Anne gave birth to Edward de Vere's illegitimate son, named Edward Vere. It appears that Anne had hidden the pregnancy throughout the nine months and therefore it came as a shock when she gave birth in the 'maidens chambers' at Whitehall Palace. Anne and her baby were sent to the Tower the day after his birth. Edward was also imprisoned in the Tower of London by Queen Elizabeth after he was caught trying to leave the country to avoid punishment. Edward was released a few months later on the 8th of June, but was kept under house arrest for one year and banished from court for two years until June 1583. After the birth of their child it appears that the relationship ended and Edward took no responsibility for his son; he was raised solely by his mother Anne.

Edward de Vere, 1575

Edward and Anne's relatives, in particular her maternal uncle Thomas Knyvett (1545-1622), had a number of duels in the streets of London beginning in March 1582 due to the love affair, which led to the wounding of both men. The possible reasons behind this could include Edward's refusal to take any responsibility for his son. Also, three of Thomas and Edward's servants was killed when men loyal to both sides became involved in affrays. The feud continued until 1585 when Anne's brother Thomas Vavasour (1560-1620) challenged Edward to a duel, however this duel did not take place.

"If thy body had been as deformed as thy mind is dishonourable, my house had been yet
unspotted, and thyself remained with thy cowardice unknown. I speak this that I fear
thou art so much wedded to that shadow of thine that nothing can have force to awake thy
base and sleepy spirits. Is not the revenge already taken of thy vildness sufficient, but
wilt thou yet use unworthy instruments to provoke my unwitting mind? Or dost thou fear
thyself, and therefore has sent thy forlorn kindred, whom as thou hast left nothing to
inherit, so thou dost thrust them violently into thy shameful quarrels? If it be so (as I too
much doubt), then stay at home thyself, and send my abusers, but if there be yet left any
spark of honour in thee, or jot of regard of thy decayed reputation, use not thy birth for an
excuse, for I am a gentleman, but meet me thyself alone, and thy lackey to hold thy horse.
For the weapons, I leave them to thy choice, for that I challenge, and the place to be
appointed by us both at our meeting, which I think may conveniently be at Newington, or
else where thyself shalt send me word by this bearer, by whom I expect an answer." Thomas Vavasour to Edward de Vere, 19th January 1585

Before 1590 Anne was married to a sea captain named John Finch, alias Freeman. However, around the same time she became the mistress to another nobleman; Sir Henry Lee (1533-1611), his wife Anne Paget died in 1590. Anne Vavasour gave birth to Henry's illegitimate son Thomas Vavasour in 1589. Anne and Henry lived openly as a couple at his manor of Ditchley. It appears that Queen Elizabeth did not disapprove of this relationship of Anne's as she visited the couple at Ditchley in September 1592. Henry gave a pension to Anne's husband John Finch starting in 1605; he was to receive £20 a year. The couple received another royal visit in September 1608 when Queen Anne visited them at a lodge near Woodstock. Anne and Henry remained together until his death in 1611. In his Will, Henry left Anne £700 a year and properties, as well as instructions for their joint tomb burial in St Peter's Chapel in Quarrendon. The epitaph for Anne on the tomb read;

"Under this stone entombed lies a fair & worthy Dame
Daughter to Henry Vavasour, Anne Vavasour her name.
She living with Sir Henry Lee, for love long time did dwell
Death could not part them but here they rest within one cell"

However, the church disapproved of burying a couple together who were not married, and therefore the tomb was not shared by Anne. After his death, Anne became locked in legal battles with Henry's cousin and heir, another Henry Lee, over the properties that Henry had left her.

Sir Henry Lee

Despite still being married to her first husband, Anne married again before 1618 to John Richardson. Due to this second marriage, on the 8th August 1618 Henry Lee - the heir of her former partner - brought Anne before the High Commission and accused her of bigamy. The case continued until the 1st February 1622, when it was finally decided that Anne was to pay a fine of £2000. She was granted a dispensation from having to perform public penance.

Anne's eldest son Edward attended the University of Leyden at the age of fifteen, and then followed a military career under the command of his cousin Sir Francis de Vere. Edward was a captain in the army by 1600, and later on in 1623 he became an MP. During his childhood, Edward was raised in Henry Lee's household, as well as being accepted as a member of the de Vere family by his half-brother and cousins. It appears that Edward had an uneasy relationship with Henry Lee; Henry offered him money due to the fact that as an illegitimate son he inherited nothing from his father, but Edward refused and paid him back in goods worth the same value. Edward was a witness to Henry Lee's Will, but did not inherit anything. Edward Vere died in 1629.
Anne's younger son, Thomas Vavasour, became known as Thomas Freeman later in life. Thomas was an executor of his father Henry's Will.


  1. Is this Thomas Vavasour ( the dueler ) the one who was jailed for the Southwell baby .


  2. [HENRY LEE] was brought up in the household of his uncle
    Sir Thomas Wyatt, the first writer of sonnets in English.
    __ Shakespeares Sonnet 102 (Only Sonnet's "PUBLISH")
    . MY LOVE IS Strengthned though more weake in seeming
    . I love not lesse, thogh lesse the show appeare,
    . That love is marchandiz'd, whose ritch esteeming,
    . The own[E]rs tongu[E] (DOTH} PUB[L]ISH {E}VER[Y] {WH}E{R}E) .
    . Ou[R] lov{E} was [N]ew, and th[E]n but in t[H]e sp{RING},
    . {WH}en I was wont to greet it with my laies,
    . As Philomell in summers front doth singe,
    . And stops his pipe in g[R]owth of r[I]per daie[S]:

    . Not that the summer is lesse pleasant now
    . Then when her mournefull himns did hush the night,
    . But that wild musick burthens *EVERy bow* ,
    . And sweets growne common loose their deare delight.
    . Therefore like her, I some-time hold my tongue:
    . Because I would not dull you wiTH MY SONGE.
    . <= 8 =>
    . T h(E)o w n [E]
    . r s t(O)n g u [E]
    . (D O T{H}P U B [L]
    . I S H{E}V E R [Y]
    . {W H}E{R}E)O u [R]
    . l o v{E}w a s [N]
    . e w,a n d t h [E]
    . n b u t i n t [H]
    . e s p{R I N G}{W H}
    [HENRY LEE] skip -8 : Prob. in any Sonnet ~ 1 in 1765
    Art Neuendorffer