The De Veres – Lords of the Manor of Kensington

‘Here come de Veres of the times of old…’ Edward Walford ‘Old London’

The first recorded mention of Kensington in ‘The Doomesday Book’ is: ‘Albericus de Ver holds of the Bishop of Coutances Chenesitun.’

After the Norman Conquest, the manor of Chenesitun passed from Edwin the Thegn of Edward the Confessor to Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, and was held for him by the Norman lord Aubrey de Vere.

In 1086 the settlement at the junction of Kensington High Street and Church Street consisted of around 200 people. The first description of the Notting Hill area in ‘The Doomesday Book’ is ‘woods for 200 pigs.’

As part of the Middlesex forest, according to William Fitzstephen the area in the 12th century consisted of ‘densely wooded thickets, the coverts of game, red and fallow dear, boars and wild bulls.’

The de Veres were described by Thomas Macaulay as ‘the longest and most illustrious line of nobles that England has seen.’ The Victorian local historian WJ Loftie added ‘the popular idea that Vere is almost a synonym for nobility’ and called their genealogy ‘a mystery, a tangled web of so far unsolved problems.’

There were de Vere knights in shining armour on the crusades and at all the major battles and historical events of the middle ages; the War of the Barons, the first parliament, Magna Charta, the Wars of France, Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt, the Wars of the Roses, etc. There are theories that two of them were Robin Hood and another was Shakespeare.

In Laurence Gardner’s ‘Realm of the Ring Lords’ they become the mystical elf kings of Kensington, or ‘the shining ones’, descended from the 8th century Rainfroi/Raymond de Verrieres en Forez, Languedoc, the first Comte d’Anjou; and through his wife Princess Melusine, their mystical line goes back through the second century priest-king Ver of Caledonia to Irish kings, Scythians, pharaohs and the Lords of the Ring.

Peter Ackroyd seems to back this up noting in his ‘London Biography’ how the ‘self-locking’ inscription on a sewer manhole cover had worn away to reveal ‘elf king’.

In reality the name is probably derived from a small town on the river Ver near Coutances in Normandy; but could also come from Veer in Holland. It was almost always spelt Veer, in Latin de Veer, sometimes de Ver, very rarely de Vere and never in English (but I’m going to stick with de Vere as that’s how the name is known today).

Aubrey de Vere

Aubrey de Vere

The first Aubrey de Vere probably came over from Normandy in 1066 and is said to have married the half-sister of William the Conqueror. He held other land in Essex (which became the de Vere seat), Middlesex, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdon and Suffolk.

In the reign of William Rufus, the first or second Aubrey obtained the freehold property rights to the manor of Kensington. The second Aubrey was made Lord Great Chamberlain of England by Henry I, possibly with the barony of Kensington (then spelt Chensnetuna) attached to the hereditary post.

The manor is defined by 2 streams, the Westbourne to the east and Counter’s Creek to the west (which now run underground), Harrow Road to the north and Fulham Road to the south. Over the next few centuries, the feudal manor was sub-divided into 4 mini-manors; the Abbot’s, Earl’s Court, West Town, and Notting Barns.

The de Veres were the lords of the manor of Kensington for nearly half a millennium, so they probably held manorial court at Earl’s Court, where there was a house in the middle ages, and traces of a medieval building have been found in Holland Park, but by all accounts neither was occupied by de Veres.

The street and building names; De Vere Gardens, Mews, Cottages, House, Hotel; Aubrey House, Villas, Road, Walk, Square; are allusions to their noble mythology rather than local activity. De Vere Gardens in Ilford, Essex, has a better historical claim to the name. There’s also Vere Street off Oxford Street.

The second Aubrey was killed in a London riot during the Anarchy of King Stephen’s reign. Whereupon his son, the third Aubrey, the Grim, Aper or the Boar, the crusader Count of Guisnes, champion of the Empress-Queen Matilda, became the next lord of the manor of Kensington and Great Chamberlain of England.

According to tradition, the third Aubrey, ‘who for the greatness of his stature and sterne look was named Albry the Grymme’, saw the star of Bethlehem that led the crusaders to victory at Antioch in 1098 and appeared on the de Vere shield henceforth (but it must have been the second Aubrey).

Earl’s Court possibly acquired its name from the de Veres after Henry II made Aubrey the Grim Earl of Oxford (an honorary title, he didn’t get any land in Oxfordshire). But the area could also be named after the later Earls of Holland and Warwick.

In 1194 Aubrey the Grim was succeeded by his son, another Aubrey, who was with Richard the Lionheart in Normandy and was made Sheriff of Essex and Hertford. After the demise of the 4th Aubrey in the reign of King John, his brother Robert became the next Earl of Oxford and one of the baron guardians of Magna Carta in 1215. The following year the de Vere castle Hedingham in Essex was besieged and duly taken by John.

Robert de Vere, the third Earl of Oxford, has become a Robin Hood suspect as an opponent of King John and a wood lord claimant to the earldom of Huntingdon. In a variation of this theory Robin Hood was Robert Fitzooth, the grandson of Lady Roisia de Vere, who is said to have founded the weird Templars’ cave in Royston, Hertfordshire.

Robert/Robin’s son Hugh, the 4th Earl, was licensed to crusade in 1237. The 5th Earl, Hugh’s son Robert, was with Simon de Montfort’s first parliament in the War of the Barons against Henry III. Following de Montfort’s defeat at the battle of Evesham in 1265, the second Robert de Vere was taken prisoner and forfeited the Chamberlain office.

His son Robert, ‘the good Earl’ who fought against William Wallace with Edward I, got it back again. This Robert was succeeded in 1331 by his nephew John, the even more illustrious 7th Earl of Oxford who was at the battles of Crecy and Poitiers with the Black Prince.

In 1371, upon the demise of his son Thomas the 8th Earl, the manor of Kensington passed to his 9 year old son Robert. This 4th Robert de Vere, the 9th Earl of Oxford, grew up to be the most hated of Richard II’s favourites and the nearest a de Vere got to being a king.

After helping to suppress the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, he was made the first English Marquis (of Dublin) and then Duke of Ireland, but duly fell foul of the King’s uncle, the Duke of Gloucester. He ended up forfeiting all his lands and titles, exiled in France and was killed by a boar whilst hunting. According to Laurence Gardner’s Realm of the Ring Lords theory, his royal favourite-turned-outlaw status makes him another Robin Hood suspect.

A new grant of the earldom of Oxford was given to his uncle, another Aubrey, in 1393. Kensington went to Robert’s wife Phillipa, the Duchess of Ireland, and on her demise passed to Henry IV. At the beginning of the 15th century, Aubrey the 10th Earl was succeeded by his son Richard, who was at the battle of Agincourt in 1415 with Henry V.

In 1420 Kensington was restored to his son John, a leading Lancastrian supporter of Henry VI in the Wars of the Roses. However, John the 12th Earl lost the manor again when the Yorkist Edward IV prevailed in 1461, along with his head and that of his son Aubrey the following year.

By then the northern sub-manor was called Notting Barns, spelt ‘Knottynges-bernes’. In the area’s first notorious landlord scandal, another Duke of Gloucester (the future Richard III), in Tudor propaganda at least, evicted the de Vere women ‘by compulsion, cohercion, and emprisonment’ due to ‘his inordinate covetyze and ungodly dispocion.’

John the 13th Earl of Oxford (another son of the 12th Earl) appeared at the 1471 battle of Barnet with Richard Neville, the king-maker Earl of Warwick, but some confusion over his banner’s livery or devices caused the Lancastrian army right wing to attack his forces, largely contributing to their defeat.

At the end of the Wars of the Roses in 1485, the de Veres were back on the winning side and Kensington was returned to John the 13th Earl, along with the rest of their lands and titles, by Henry VII for service rendered on Bosworth Field. Yet he was the one who lost complete control of the feudal de Vere manor of Kensington; in the process making Notting Barns a manor in its own right.

Having survived the Plantagenets, in 1488 the unlucky 13th Earl managed to offend Henry VII by ‘putting his retainers in livery to receive the king at Castle Hedingham.’ This amounted, in the king’s eyes, to having his own private army. Loftie notes: ‘the debts and charges which had to be paid out of the estates were enormous. Kensington, that is the manor of Earl’s Court, was settled as dowry for the two countesses, and we now find Notting Barns, or Knotting Barnes, a wholly separate entity.’

With John de Vere’s Bosworth comrade-in-arms Sir Reginald Bray acting as the first Notting Hill estate agent, ‘the manor of Notingbarons’ passed to the King’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, the Countess of Richmond. By then there was a manor farmhouse by the site of the St Mark’s Road roundabout. Through the middle ages spellings of Notting Barns went from Knottynges-bernes, through Notingbarons, Notingbarns, Nottingbarons, Nuttingbarnes and Nuttyng-barnes to Nutting bars.

In 1513 John the 13th Earl was succeeded by his nephew, another John, who was the last nominal de Vere lord of the manor of Kensington. On his demise in 1526, his cousin, another John became the 15th Earl of Oxford and Loftie has: ‘the manor of Kensington was settled by Act of Parliament, first on the two countesses who still survived, and then on the three sisters and co-heiresses of John, the 14th Earl’; Dorothy, Elizabeth and Ursula.

In the mid-16th century the manor passed to John Neville, the son of Dorothy and John Neville, Lord Latimer, and Sir Robert Wingfield, the son of Elizabeth and Sir Anthony Wingfield. In 1577 the second John Neville was succeeded by his daughter Lucy Neville and her husband Sir William Cornwallis, who had the other moiety of the manor conveyed to them by Robert Wingfield.

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford

Meanwhile, John the 15th Earl of Oxford was succeeded by his son, another John as the 16th Earl in the reign of Henry VIII (who briefly owned Notting Barns). His son, Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl, has become the most renowned Earl of Oxford of them all due to the popular theory that he was Shakespeare – expounded in the film ‘Anonymous’ (starring Rhys Ifans as the 17th Earl).

A student of John Dee, writer/poet ‘friend of the muses’, he was one of the peers who tried Mary Queen of Scots and a commander in the fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. However, he dissipated the other de Vere estates. The Shakespeare Earl was buried in Hackney Church in 1605 and succeeded as the 18th Earl by his son Henry.

In 1609 the Kensington Parish Registers recorded the burial of Thomas, son of Thomas Vere. The following year Anne Cornwallis, the heiress daughter of Sir William Cornwallis and Lucy Neville, who married Archibald Campbell, the 7th Earl of Argyll, sold the Kensington manor to Sir Walter Cope (who built Holland House).

Henry, the 18th Earl of Oxford, the last de Vere Great Chamberlain, died childless at the siege of Breda in Holland in 1625 and was succeeded by his cousin Robert, a descendant of the 11th Earl. The son of the 17th Earl’s sister and Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby of Eresby, another Robert, became the Great Chamberlain and Earl of Lindsey.

After Robert de Vere the 19th Earl of Oxford fell at the siege of Maastricht in 1632, his son Aubrey became the 20th de Vere Earl of Oxford. The 6th and last Aubrey was a ward of Charles I and commanded a regiment of infantry in 1648.

The Parliamentarian general Lord Fairfax (who made Holland House the New Model Army HQ) was married to a daughter of Horace Baron Vere of Tilbury (another general, descended from the 15th Earl).

On the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II made the last Aubrey de Vere a Knight of the Garter and Lord Lieutenant of Essex. The portrait of his wife Diana Kirke is described as the most brazen of the restoration painter Peter Lely’s works.

The direct de Vere line made it into the 18th century but terminated with the death in 1703 of the last Aubrey, the 20th and last de Vere Earl of Oxford, aged 76. The last Aubrey’s only son Charles died young. However, an echo of the original Aubrey the Grim descended from the last Aubrey. His only surviving daughter Diana de Vere married Charles Beauclerk, the illegitimate son of Charles II and Nell Gwynn, who became the first Duke of St Albans.

At the end of the 20th century the heir of the 15th Duke of St Albans, the Earl of Burford, Charles Francis Topham de Vere Beauclerk, was the bearded lord who jumped on the woolsack as hereditary peers lost their right to sit in the House of Lords. Samantha Cameron is also of the de Vere Beauclerk line.

In the reign of George III, a Tower Hill china dealer is said to have proved his direct de Vere descent, but on the death of his only son he gave up his claim. In the late 18th century ‘Environs of London’, Daniel Lysons mentions ‘the seat of James Vere Esquire between the Gore and Knightsbridge.’

At the battle of Waterloo in 1815 the de Veres were represented by Sir Charles Vere Broke. In the late 19th century Henry James lived at 34 De Vere Gardens.

Loftie writes of Sir Vere Hunt, who changed his name to de Vere in 1832 and must be an ancestor of the Notting Hill designer Eddie de Vere Hunt: ‘On account of a very remote descent from the daughter of the original stock, and his very oddly sounding name may have misled the Poet Laureate into taking what is in reality the least aristocratic form for that of the incarnation of family pride, Lady Clara Vere de Vere.

‘If the historical critic objects that such a name is impossible, the poetical critic will reply that the Vere before the de Vere is like an adjective before a substantive, and is calculated to intensify the meaning as it reduplicates the sound. To which the historian might rejoin that the ‘de’ itself is an anomaly which grew up in the 18th century from a mistaken interpretation of the Latin ‘de’ as used in the old charters, added to a French idea that the ‘de’ before a name implied nobility.

‘Some Norman and old English families may have used it throughout the middle ages, but the Veres were not among them, as is attested by the wording of the acts of parliament and some of the charters just referred to, and the fact that it was not prefixed to the names of such worthies as Sir Francis Vere, whose monument in Westminster Abbey is deservedly admired, or Lord Vere of Tilbury, to say nothing of the Christian name of the baronet above mentioned.’

Aubrey House on Campden Hill was built in 1698, originally as the Wells House and became known as Aubrey House in the late 18th century during the residency of the writer Lady Mary Coke. In 1873 the house was bought by William Cleverly Alexander, whose daughter Cecily was the model for Whistler’s ‘Harmony in Grey and Green’.

The house remained in the Alexander family until 1972 and was sold for £20 million in 1997. In the ‘Inside Notting Hill’ guide book Miranda Davies notes: ‘It is not known who lives there now and, hidden behind high walls, it retains an air of mystery.’

In 2003 Aubrey Square, the first new garden square to be built in Kensington in a hundred years, described as ‘London’s most exclusive estate’, appeared on Campden Hill on the site of the old reservoir.

In GK Chesterton’s ‘The Napoleon of Notting Hill’ novel from 1904, largely set on Campden Hill, the randomly selected joker king Auberon is presumed to be the godson of the King of the Fairies.

Oberon, the King of the Fairies in ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream’ by Shakespeare/Edward de Vere the 17th Earl of Oxford is synonymous with Alberich the dwarf lord in ‘The Nibelungenlie’, the overlord, high/light/shining/elf king, equivalent of Alberic, Albrey, Aubrey and Arthur.

As the campaign to liberate Europe from the Nazis was called Operation Overlord, the wartime Notting Hill book ‘Few Eggs and No Oranges’ was written by Vere Hodgson. In the 50s 1-6 Vere House on Westbourne Gardens was part of Peter Rachman’s slum empire.

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea coat of arms granted in 1965 features a blue boar supporting the shield taken from the de Vere coat of arms. In the 60s the hotel group Greenalls renamed themselves the De Vere Group.

devereIn the 1980s TV series ‘To the Manor Born’ Peter Bowles is Richard de Vere, ‘a nouveau riche millionaire supermarket owner originally from Czechoslovakia’, and Penelope Keith, as Audrey fforbes-Hamilton, duly marries him to become Audrey de Vere.

Then there’s the ‘Little Britain’ character Denise or Mavis ‘Bubbles’ de Vere played by Matt Lucas, the financial news radio presenter Dominic de Vere, one of the kidnappers in the 2007 TV series ‘Kidnapped’ was James de Vere, and Matthew Vaughn, the Notting Hill-based producer of ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, is the son of George de Vere Drummond.

In another genealogical theory, Princes William and Harry are said to have de Vere ancestry through Princess Diana via the Shakespeare Earl of Oxford. In ‘Realm of the Ring Lords’ Laurence Gardner traces the mystical line down to Prince Nicholas de Vere, the grand master of the holy grail/vampire Royal Dragon Court.

In 1995 the art dealer Cassian de Vere Cole staged an exhibition on Elgin Crescent of works by the artist William Orpen, who painted ‘The Vere Foster Family’ group portrait. In 2010 the Doyle De Vere gallery on Ledbury Road hosted an Andy Warhol photo exhibition.

Back at the de Vere castle Hedingham in 1996 the fashion eccentrics Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow (who both committed suicide) were photographed ‘burning down the house.’ After the demise of the 18th Earl of Oxford, Hedingham passed to the Trentham family but de Vere descendants have since got it back again. Today the castle stages a Robin Hood drama group production.

2000 Bernard de Vere claimed to have been attacked by Lee Weaver of Beauclerc Road at Sloane Square. 2001 Melanie de Vere died in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.

2003 The De Vere Group, owners of the Brighton Grand Hotel and the Belfry Ryder Cup golf venue, promoted themselves with the slogan ‘It’s here with De Vere.’ The independent financial advisers Chase de Vere were fined £165,000 by the Financial Services Authority for a ‘misleading precipice and high income bond promotion.’

2004 Julian de Vere Whiteway-Wilkinson was jailed for leading an ex public schoolboy gang supplying cocaine to the music business, and the Australian rugby player Michael de Vere signed to Huddersfield.

2005 Residents of De Vere Gardens were unsuccessful in their bid to stop the exclusive Baglioni Hotel Bar getting a late-license. 2007 Flats on De Vere Gardens were going for £10 million. 2009 The Aubrey restaurant opened at the Kensington Hotel on Queen’s Gate, near De Vere Gardens.

Tom Vague

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