Anne Cecil, Countess of Oxford

Anne Cecil

Effigies of Anne Cecil and her mother. Anne's is on the raised shelf
Born 5 December 1556
Died 5 June 1588 (aged 31)
Burial place Westminster Abbey, London
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, Countess of Montgomery
Parent(s) William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley
Mildred Cooke

Anne Cecil, Countess of Oxford (5 December 1556 – 5 June 1588) was the daughter of the statesman William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, chief adviser to Queen Elizabeth I of England, and the translator Mildred Cooke. In 1571 she became the first wife of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. She served as a Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth before her marriage.

Family and childhood

Anne was born 5 December 1556, the elder daughter of William Cecil, later created 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 translations from the Greek. Anne was an intelligent, well-educated child. She is thought to have been tutored by William Lewin.[1] She knew French, Latin, and possibly Italian.[2] A letter from the German scholar Johannes Sturm referred to her knowledge of Latin.[3] Her father affectionately called her Tannakin.[4]

In 1569, Anne was engaged to marry Sir Philip Sidney. When these 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. According to some accounts, Anne genuinely loved Oxford, who as her father's ward had partly grown up in the Cecil household. However, his reasons for marrying Anne were largely mercenary, as he had hoped her father would pay his many outstanding debts.[5]

Following her marriage Anne continued to live with her parents at Theobalds House. When she gave birth to her first child, Elizabeth, on 2 July 1575, Oxford was abroad touring the Continent. Upon his return, he accused Anne of adultery and declared the baby to have been fathered by another man, reputedly because Burghley failed to save his cousin, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, from execution.[5]

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] 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. Oxford was soon released, and in December 1581 Anne began a correspondence with him; and by January 1582, he was reconciled with her, acknowledging the paternity of her daughter Elizabeth.

In his Pandora (1584), a work dedicated to her husband, the harpist and poetaster John Southern credited Anne with writing six elegiac poems memorialising her infant son, Lord Bulbecke, after his premature death as an infant in May 1583. However, this has been contested by Stephen May as the poems are written in Southern's style and draw heavily on his favourite poet, Philippe Desportes.[5] However, Louise Schleiner supports Anne's authorship.[6]


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


Anne died 5 June 1588 at the age of 31 at the Queen's court at Greenwich, of unknown causes. She was buried in Westminster Abbey[7] in a tomb which she shares with her mother, who died in 1589, and upon which is Anne's effigy. Her daughters were also later buried in the tomb. 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.

In fiction and film

Lady Anne was portrayed in the movie Anonymous (2011) by actresses Amy Kwolek (young Anne de Vere) and Helen Baxendale. The role is based on Lady Anne Cecil, but is heavily fictionalized.

Anne Cecil is the narrator in Peter Hildebrandt's historical novel, "The Rest is Silence," the story of her husband, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.



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