VERB, the family of which is extolled by Macaulay as " the longest and most illustrious line of nobles that England has seen," appears to have derived the surname which the verse of Tennyson has made synonymous with ancient blood, from the little village of Ver near Bayeux. Its founder, Aubrey (Albericus) de Vere, appears in Domesday Book (1086) as the holder of a great fief in Essex, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. His son (or grandson) and namesake was a trusted officer of Henry I., from whom he received the hereditary office of great chamberlain in 1133. It was probably he who erected the noble tower which gave name to Castle Hedingham, Essex, the head of his fief, and which stands as the finest example of a private Norman keep. Slain in 1141, he was succeeded by his son Aubrey, who had already become count of Guines, in right of his wife, on her grandfather's death. Through the powerful influence of his sister's husband, Geoffrey, earl of Essex, he obtained from the empress Matilda, in 1142, the earldom of Oxford, which was afterwards confirmed to his house by Henry II. His younger son, Robert (c. 1170-1221), became 3rd earl in 1214, and, siding with the barons, became one of the twenty-five executors of Magna Carta. His marriage with a Bolebec heiress brought in what was afterwards claimed as a barony, and led to the style of Viscount Bolebec (or Bulbeck) for the earl's heirs.
Robert, the 5th earl (1240-1296), who brought into his family the chamberlainship to the queen by his marriage with the Sandford heiress, sided with Simon de Montfort, and lost for a time his earldom and offices. John, the 7th earl (1313-1360), was a distinguished soldier, fighting at Crecy and Poitiers and in all Edward III.'s wars in his time; and his marriage with a Badlesmere heiress added to the lands and titles of his house. His son, Thomas(1337-1371),alsoasoldier, was father of Robert, 9th earl, the famous favourite of Richard II. In spite of his attainder (1388), his uncle Aubrey (c. 1340-1400), a follower of the Black Prince, was restored to the earldom, by consent of parliament in 1393, but not to the great chamberlainship. As the earldom (which had been held in fee) was granted to him in tail male, this is looked on by some as a new creation. His elder son, Richard (d. 1417), the next earl, held a command at Agincourt, and was father of Earl John, who was beheaded as a Lancastrian, with his eldest son, in 1462. Their death was avenged by his younger son John, the 13th earl (1443-1513), who shared to the full in the triumph of the Red Rose. On the death of his nephew John, the next earl (d. 1526), the baronies (it was afterwards held) passed away to his sisters, but the earldom descended to his cousin John (d. 1540), though the crown resumed the great chamberlainship. This John, who was in favour with Henry VIII., was grandfather, through his younger son Geoffrey, of the celebrated " fighting Veres," Sir Francis and his brother Sir Horace. His eldest son John, 16th earl (c. 1512-1562), was in favour with Edward VI., Mary and Elizabeth, and contrived to recover for his family the office of great chamberlain.
Hitherto the earls, in spite of their vicissitudes, had retained possession of their ancient seat arid great estates; but Edward, the son of Earl John, was a spendthrift. A brilliant, gifted courtier, in whom Elizabeth delighted, he quarrelled with his father-in-law, Burghley, " sent his patrimony flying," patronized players, poets and musicians, and wrote excellent verse himself. His son Henry, the 18th earl (1593-1625), was twice imprisoned in the Tower as an opponent of Buckingham's policy, fought in the Palatinate and the Low Countries and died on campaign at the Hague in 1625. Then ensued the great dispute for the inheritance of his title and office (Hedingham Castle having passed away) between Robert Vere, his second cousin and heirmale, and Robert, Lord Willoughby d'Eresby, son of his aunt, Lady Mary Vere. The earldom was secured by the former, a poor officer in Holland, but the office was adjudged to Lord Willoughby, in whose descendants it is now vested. Earl Robert was slain before Maestricht in 1632, leaving an only son, Aubrey (1626-1703), 20th and last earl. His marriage with a Bayning heiress restored the fortunes of his house, and his Royalist intrigues under the Commonwealth were rewarded at the Restoration by sundry favours, among them the command of a regiment of horse, known from him as " the Oxford Blues " and still familiar as "the Blues" (Royal Horse Guards). James II. deprived him of his regiment and his lieutenancy of Essex for opposing his policy, but the prince of Orange, whom he joined, restored them. His long tenure of the ancient earldom ended in 1703, when he died, the last known male descendant of the house of Vere. His daughter Diana having married the 1st duke of St Albans, their descendants are named De Vere Beauclerk, and received the barony of Vere (1705).
The halo surrounding the name of Vere is seen as early as 1626 in the stately panegyric of Chief Justice Crewe. " I suppose there is no man that hath any apprehension of gentry, or nobleness, but his affection stands to the continuance of so noble a name and house." In the great days of the house, Earl John, says Stowe, rode into London city " with eighty gentlemen in a livery of Reading tawney, and chains of gold about their necks, before him, and one hundred tall yeomen in the like livery to follow him," wearing the famous badge of the blue boar (verres), which is still to be seen in Essex churches and forming the sign of Essex inns. Another badge of the Veres was the mullet in the first quarter of their shield, which, at Barnet Field, by a fatal error, was taken for the sun of York. Among the offices they held were the forestership of Essex and the keepership of Colchester Castle, and they founded the Essex religious houses of Hatfield Broadoak, Hedingham and Earls Colne.
AUTHORITIES. Domesday Book; Abingdon Chron. and Red Book of the Exchequer (Rolls Series); Pipe Roll of 1130 (Record Commission); Dugdale's Baronage; G. E. C(okayne)'s Complete Peerage; Doyle's Official Baronage; Collins's Historical Precedents; Morant's History of Essex; Round's Geoffrey de Mandeville and Feudal England; Nichols's " Descent of the Earldom of Oxford " (Arch. Journ. vol. ix.); Vere papers among the Round MSS. in App. ix. to 14th Report on Historical MSS.; Lords' Reports on the Dignity of a Peer; Palmer's Peerage Law in England. The claimants' cases and the appendices of documents in the contest for the great chamberlainship (1902) are valuable for the history of the Veres. (J- H. R.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)