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Anne Cecil
Born 5 December 1556
Died 5 June 1588 (aged 31)
Occupation Maid of Honour
Known for poet
peer's wife
Title Countess of Oxford
Religion Anglican
Spouse(s) Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
Children Lady Elizabeth de Vere, Countess of Derby
Lord Bulbecke
Lady Bridget de Vere
Lady Frances de Vere
Lady Susan de Vere
Parents William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley
Mildred Cooke

Anne Cecil, Countess of Oxford (5 December 1556- 5 June 1588), was the daughter of statesman William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, the chief advisor of Queen Elizabeth I of England. In 1571, after her father had been raised to the peerage to effect the marriage, she became the first wife of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Anne wrote many poems and sonnets, and was allegedly the author of the four sonnets and two quatrains in John Southern's Pandora, published in 1584.[1][2] She served as a Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth before her marriage.


Family and childhood

Anne was born on 5 December 1556, the eldest and favourite daughter of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, the leading member of Queen Elizabeth's Privy Council, by his second wife, Mildred Cooke, a woman noted for her learning and Greek translations. Anne was an intelligent, well-educated child, tutored alongside her brothers by William Lewin. She knew French, Latin, and possibly Italian.[3]

Her father affectionately called her Tannakin.[4]

Marriage to the Earl of Oxford

In 1569, Anne was engaged to marry Sir Philip Sidney. When marriage negotiations failed, she married instead Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford on 19 December 1571 at London's Westminster Abbey in the presence of Queen Elizabeth. The wedding was celebrated with great pomp.[5] According to some accounts, Anne genuinely loved the Earl, who as her father's ward, had partly grown up in the Burghley household, his reasons for marrying Anne were entirely mercenary as he had hoped Baron Burghley would pay his many outstanding debts and spare his cousin, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk from execution.[6]

Following their marriage, Anne continued to live at Theobalds House with her parents. When she gave birth to her first child, Elizabeth on 2 July 1575, Oxford was abroad touring the Continent. Upon his return, goaded by his cousin Lord Henry Howard, he accused Anne of adultery and declared the baby to have been fathered by another man.[7] In April 1576 he separated from Anne, after rumours of her infidelity, and refused to sleep with her, recognise her or countenance her presence at court, despite Burghley's threats, and public admonitions from Anne's mother.[8]

Nine months prior to the baby Elizabeth's birth, in October 1574, Anne and her husband had both attended the Queen at Hampton Court Palace. As he was due to depart for the Continent the following February, Oxford, in front of the entire company assembled in the Presence Chamber, loudly announced to the Queen that "if Anne becomes pregnant, the child would not be his".[9]

During his separation from Anne, Oxford began an affair with the Queen's Lady of the Bedchamber, Anne Vavasour. When the latter gave birth to his illegitimate son Edward in March 1581, both he and his mistress were sent to the Tower of London by the Queen's command. He was soon released, and in December 1581 Anne began a correspondence with him; and by January 1582, he was reconciled with Anne, acknowledging paternity of his daughter, Elizabeth. He continued his affair with Anne Vavasour, which led to open skirmishes in the streets of London between Oxford and Anne Vavasour's uncle Sir Thomas Knyvet, 1st Baron Knyvet.

List of children

Together Oxford and Anne Cecil had a total of five children:


Like her husband Anne was a poet, and was possibly the author of six elegiac poems that consisted of four sonnets and two quartains, published in John Southern's book, Pandora in 1584. She allegedly wrote the sonnet, Four Epytaphs, which was dedicated to her infant son, Lord Bulbecke after his premature death as an infant in May 1583.

Anne may have been the first Englishwoman to have composed the first sonnet sequence in English,[10]although Lady Mary Wroth has been accredited with that distinction.

Both traditional Shakespearean scholars[11] and Oxfordians[12] have often identified Anne as the original of Ophelia in Hamlet.


Anne died 5 June 1588 at the age of 31 of unknown causes. She was buried in Westminster Abbey in a tomb which she shares with her mother, who died in 1589, and upon which is Anne's effigy. Her father was so stricken with grief at her death that he was unable to carry out his ministerial duties in the Privy Council. Her three young daughters, remained in her father's household where they received excellent educations and eventually married into the peerage.

Her husband remarried in 1591, Elizabeth Trentham, by whom he had his heir, Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford.


  1. ^ Ellen Moody,, Six Elegiac Poems, Possibly by Anne Cecil de Vere, Countess of Oxford, published in English Literary Renaissance, 19, 1989, pp.152-70
  2. ^ Louise Schleiner, Tudor and Stuart Women Writers, pp.85-93, retrieved 19-12-09
  3. ^ Moody
  4. ^ Moody
  5. ^ Moody
  6. ^ Schleiner, p.85
  7. ^ Moody
  8. ^ Moody
  9. ^ Hank Whittemore, Shakespeare's Sonnets Never Before Imprinted, p.41, Google Books, retrieved 20-12-09
  10. ^ Moody
  11. ^ George Russell French, Shakspeareana Genealogica (1869), 301; Lillian Winstanley, Hamlet and the Scottish Succession, 122-124
  12. ^ J. Thomas Looney, "Shakespeare" Identified in Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1920),404-405; John Paul Stevens, "The Shakespeare Canon of Statutory Construction," University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 140 (1992): 1373-1387.
  • Kathy Lynn Emerson, A Who's Who of Tudor Women, retrieved 19-12-09


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