The Tudor Society

5 December – Anne Cecil and her unhappy marriage

On this day in Tudor history, 5th December 1556, Anne de Vere (née Cecil) was born, She was the daughter of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, add his second wife, Mildred Cooke.

Anne only lived until she was 31 years old, but in her short life she managed to impress scholars, have five children, and have a rather eventful and unhappy marriage with Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, who didn't treat her at all well and even refused to recognise their first daughter as his own, at one point. If only she had married Philip Sidney instead!

Find out more about the life of William Cecil's daughter, Anne de Vere, Countess of Oxford, in today's talk.

Also on this day in history:

  • 1558 – Death of Gabriel Dunne (Donne), Abbot of Buckfast and 'keeper of the spiritualities', in the diocese of London. He was buried at St Paul's, before the high altar.
  • 1560 – Death of King Francis II of France and King Consort of Scotland as husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. Francis was aged just fifteen when he died from some type of ear infection. He was succeeded as King of France by his brother, Charles, who became Charles IX. Francis was buried at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint-Denis on 23rd December.
  • 1562 – Death of Sir Humphrey Browne, judge. He was buried at St Martin Orgar. London. Browne had served Henry VIII as a Sergeant-at-Law, but lost the office when he was imprisoned for hunting in Waltham Forest and for, allegedly, advising criminals on how to avoid having their possessions forfeited.
  • 1593 – Death of Sir Rowland Hayward (Heyward), merchant adventurer, President of St Bartholomew's Hospital and member of Parliament, in London. He was buried at St Alfege, London Wall.


On this day in Tudor history, 5 December 1556, Mildred Cooke, 2nd wife of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, gave birth to a daughter, Anne. Anne was the couple’s second daughter, but her older sister, did not survive infancy.

The Cecils were an enlightened family and educated their daughters to a high degree. On 6th August 1569, when Anne was 13, a marriage contract was drawn up for her to marry Philip Sidney, son of Sir Henry Sidney and Mary Dudley. However, the contract was broken off and in the summer of 1571 Anne became betrothed to the twenty-one-year-old Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford, a royal ward who had come under the guardianship of Anne’s father, William Cecil, who was master of the court of wards, following the death of his father, John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford in 1562. The queen gave consent to the marriage match and she attended Anne and Edward’s wedding at Westminster Abbey on 19th December 1571.

Sadly, the marriage was not a happy one. Oxford fell out with his father-in-law over Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk’s downfall, and may even have been involved in a plot to help Norfolk escape from the Tower. In July 1574, he left England without the queen’s permission, bound for Flanders, where Catholic exiles had set up home. He was fetched back to England and was forced to apologise to the queen in the presence of his father-in-law. He was then given royal permission to leave for the Continent. On 2nd July 1575, while he was away, Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. Oxford refused to recognise Elizabeth as his daughter and the couple separated. Burghley was furious, and declared that Oxford had been “enticed by certain lewd persons to be a stranger to his wife.” In 1576, he returned to England, bringing back with him a Venetian choirboy, who he installed in his London residence and lived with him there for nearly a year. He also had an affair with one of the queen’s maids of honour, Anne Vavasour, who gave birth to his son in 1581, which led to him being imprisoned in the Tower for a few months. A few months after his release, he returned to his wife, who had written to him of her devotion and desire for reconciliation.

Anne went on to have four more children by Oxford: a boy styled Lord Bulbeck who was born in 1583 but who only lived a few days; and then three girls: Bridget, born in 1584; Susan, born in 1587, and Frances, who died in infancy.

Anne de Vere, Countess of Oxford, died on 5th June 1588 at Greenwich Palace at the age of just 31. She was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. Her mother, Mildred, was buried with her after her death in 1589. Anne’s father, in his inscription on her tomb described her “excellent conduct of life”.

Her husband may not have loved her, but Anne received many dedications from scholars, being described in these dedications as “singuler good ladie” with “good inclination to vertue and godlinesse” and a woman who possessed “wit, learning, and authoritie”. She was also said to have “zealous love to religion”.

Only 1 comment so far Go To Comment

  1. R

    Of course we all know that Edward de Vere was the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth I and adopted by John de Vere and was the real William Shakespeare, which is an odd coincidence as he himself was a poet and writer.😂😂😂😂👍

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5 December – Anne Cecil and her unhappy marriage