Elizabeth de Vere, Countess of Derby, Lord of Mann (2 July 1575 – 10 March 1627), was an English noblewoman and the eldest daughter of the Elizabethan courtier, poet, and playwright Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.
She was the Lord of Mann from 1612 to 1627, and prior to holding the title, she had taken over many administrative duties appertaining to the Isle of Man's affairs. Elizabeth was the first female to rule as the island's head of state.
She served as a Maid of Honor to Queen Elizabeth I of England before her marriage to William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby. Their wedding is one of eleven that have been suggested as the inspiration for William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the occasion of the play's first performance.
Elizabeth Vere was born on 2 July 1575 at Theobalds House, Hertfordshire, the eldest surviving daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, and Anne Cecil, the daughter of statesman William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, Queen Elizabeth I's chief advisor and leading member of her Privy Council. Anne's mother was Mildred Cooke, Burghley's second wife, and Elizabeth was baptized on 10 July.
As Elizabeth's birth had occurred while her father was abroad touring the Continent, upon his return to England he suspected her mother of adultery, and separated from her. They were later reconciled in January 1582, when Elizabeth was acknowledged as her father's child.
Elizabeth had two younger sisters, Bridget and Susan. Her brother, Lord Bulbecke, died in 1583 as an infant, and she had another sister, Frances, who died in 1587. She also had an illegitimate half-brother, Edward Vere, by her father's notorious affair with Anne Vavasour, the Queen's Lady of the Bedchamber. The birth of this child in March 1581 caused the arrest of both her father and his mistress.
Following the death of Anne Cecil on 5 June 1588, Elizabeth and her sisters remained in the household of their maternal grandfather, Lord Burghley, where they received an excellent education. In 1591 Elizabeth's father married secondly, Elizabeth Trentham, who on 24 February 1593 gave birth to a son, Henry, who would later succeed as 18th Earl of Oxford.
Lady Elizabeth went to court where she served as one of Queen Elizabeth's Maids of Honor. She held this position until her marriage.
By 1590 Burghley was negotiating with Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montague, and Mary Wriothesley, Countess of Southampton, for a marriage between Elizabeth and Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. However the match was not to Southampton's liking, and in a letter written in November 1594, about six weeks after Southampton had turned 21, the Jesuit Henry Garnet reported the rumour that 'The young Erle of Southampton refusing the Lady Veere payeth £5000 of present payment'.
Lord Burghley soon found Elizabeth another husband. On 26 January 1595, she married William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, at Greenwich Palace in the presence of Queen Elizabeth. It has been claimed that William Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream for the occasion of their wedding, and that the play was first performed at the wedding banquet, though the wedding of Sir Thomas Berkeley to Elizabeth Carey is the most popular candidate. In the early years of their marriage, the couple's relationship was tempestuous and there were persistent rumours that Elizabeth had had affairs with Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and Walter Ralegh. The allegations concerning her relationship with Essex were particularly strong in 1596 and 1597. Whether there was any truth in the rumors remains unknown.
They made their principal home at Knowsley Hall, and had five children:
Lady Anne Stanley (c.1600 – February 1657), married firstly, Sir Henry Portman; secondly Robert Kerr, 1st Earl of Ancram, by whom she had issue.
James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby (31 January 1607 – 15 October 1651), married Charlotte de la Tremoille, by whom he had issue.
Sir Robert Stanley (died 1632), married Elizabeth Gorges, by whom he had issue. His line eventually became extinct.
Elizabeth Stanley (died young)
Elizabeth Stanley (died young)
As the Earls of Derby were the hereditary heads of state of the Isle of Man, and Elizabeth's husband took up the title of Lord of Mann in 1609 (following an Act of Parliament), she, in lieu of her husband, began taking over many administrative duties appertaining to the Isle's political affairs. That same year she attempted to influence business on behalf of the Isle, and there is a letter extant, written on 15 September 1609 by Elizabeth to her uncle Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, regarding the shipment of money from the Isle of Man. In 1612, Elizabeth was appointed the first female Lord of Mann, a title she held until her death in 1627. She was succeeded by her eldest son, James.
Elizabeth died on 10 March 1627 at Richmond, Surrey, and was buried the next day in Westminster Abbey, London. On her tomb, which she shares with her mother, grandmother, and sisters, is her effigy.