William continued to harvest information from the books in Vautrollier’s shop. After a great deal of research, he could diagram the de Vere ancestral history from memory. He began with the marriage of William the Conqueror to the sister of Alberic de Vere, whose grandson became the first Earl of Oxford. The Second Earl built Hedingham Castle in Essex, and the Third Earl was one of the rebellious barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. Family fortunes ebbed and flowed throughout British history, as various Earls of Oxford fought in the battles of Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt and Bosworth. At the height of their power, de Vere family landholdings sprawled across ten counties. King Richard II had named the Ninth Earl of Oxford Duke of Ireland.
It was sadly ironic that this same earl had survived a daring dive on horseback into the Thames to escape an enemy, only to be gored to death by a wild boar on the grounds of his own estate.
The Thirteenth Earl had helped Henry Tudor become King Henry VII. The ungrateful king later fined his benefactor for having too many followers, and the family fortunes sharply declined once again. Orphaned at an early age, the Fourteenth Earl served King Henry VIII; but when he died young and childless, the title passed to his uncle’s family. His cousin John de Vere became the Fifteenth Earl of Oxford and was given the honor of carrying the crown at Anne Boleyn’s coronation. He married Elizabeth Trussel, Shaxper’s shadowy kinswoman from the Arden family. Their son, also named John, became the Sixteenth Earl. His only son was Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford: courtier, poet, scholar and theatrical impresario, as well as William Shaxper’s newly discovered kinsman.
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