Francis Vere

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Sir Francis Vere
File:Sir Francis Vere - Portret van Franciscus Veer, Generaal en Gouverneur van Oostende (Aert Meuris).jpg
Portrait of Sir Francis Vere
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Dent
Noble family De Vere
Father Geoffrey Vere
Mother Elizabeth Hardekyn
Born c.1560
Died 28 August 1609
Buried Westminster Abbey

Sir Francis Vere (c.1560 – 18 August 1609) was an English soldier, famed for his military career in the Low Countries.


Francis Vere, born about 1560, was the second son of Geoffrey Vere of Crepping Hall, Essex, a younger son of John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford, and Elizabeth Trussell. His mother was Elizabeth Hardekyn (d. December 1615), daughter of Richard Hardekyn (d.1558) of Wotton House near Castle Hedingham. He had three brothers, John Vere (c.1558 – 1624) of Kirby Hall near Castle Hedingham, Robert Vere (b. 1562), and Sir Horatio Vere (b. 1565), and a sister, Frances Vere (born 1567), who married, as his second wife, the colonial adventurer and author Sir Robert Harcourt (1574/5–1631), of Nuneham on 20 March 1598.[1]

Military career

The young Francis Vere first went on active service under Leicester in 1585, and was soon in the thick of the war raging in the Low Countries. At the siege of Sluys he greatly distinguished himself under Sir Roger Williams and Sir Thomas Baskerville.

In 1588 he was in the garrison of Bergen op Zoom, which delivered itself from the besiegers by its own good fighting, and was knighted by Lord Willoughby on the field of battle.

In the next year Sir Francis became sergeant major-general of the English troops in the Low Countries, and soon afterwards the chief command devolved upon him. This position he retained during fifteen campaigns, with almost unbroken success. Working in close cooperation with the Dutch forces under Maurice of Nassau, he helped to step by step secure the country for the cause of independence. The future prominent dramatist and poet Ben Jonson served as a volunteer under his command.

Vere won the reputation of being one of the best English soldiers of the day. His troops acquired a cohesion and a training based on the Dutch model fitting them to face the best Spanish troops, and his camp became the fashionable training-ground of all aspiring English soldiers, amongst others not only his younger brother Horace, but men of such note as Ferdinando (Lord) Fairfax, Gervase Markham and Captain Myles Standish. He was elected Member of Parliament for Leominster in 1593.[2]

Sir Francis served in the Cádiz expedition of 1596, made an important contribution to the victory of Turnhout in 1597 and in 1598 was entrusted with the negotiation of the treaty whereby the Anglo-Dutch alliance was revised; for himself he obtained the governorship of Brill and the rank of general.

The culminating point of his career came when, in 1600, on the advice of Oldenbarnevelt, the States General decided to carry the war into the enemy's country. In the Battle of Nieuwpoort (2 July 1600), one of the most desperately contested battles of the age, Maurice of Nassau, with support by Vere, completely defeated the veteran Spanish troops of the archduke Albert. This was followed by the celebrated defense of Ostend from July 1601 to Marchn 1602. Vere came back to England in 1602, but the remaining English troops kept fighting side by side with the Dutch until the surrender of the garrison in September 1604.[3] Vere returned to the Low Countries with more troops in 1602 and with Maurice laid siege to the Spanish garrison at Grave but before that place surrendered he was injured under the right eye. He recovered after six months in Ryswick, was again on active service with the Dutch throughout 1603-04 and continued with the governorship of Brill.


When James I made peace with Spain in 1604, Vere retired from active service and spent the remainder of his days in country life in England, occupying himself with the compilation of his Commentaries of the Divers Pieces of Service that he had taken part in (which remained in manuscript form until 1657; reprinted in Arbers English Garner, 1883).

Vere spent a great deal of time visiting his friend, Sir Julius Caesar in Mitcham in Surrey, on the road from London to Nonsuch. Caesar was on his second marriage to Alice Dent and she had a daughter from a previous marriage - Elizabeth Dent. During these visits he quickly became enamoured with Elizabeth. They fell in love - which was rare in those times - and Caesar consented to a marriage. Since Elizabeth’s sister was also engaged, Caesar arranged a grand wedding for his stepdaughters on 26 October 1607. Vere received a dowry of £2,000 and settled property on her for life. She was 16 and he was 52. They were married for 22 months before his death but there is no record of any children.

Westminster Abbey

File:Francis Vere Tomb 1860.jpg
Sir Francis Vere's tomb in Westminster Abbey, circa 1860

He died 28 August 1609 - soon after the signing of the Twelve Years' Truce which in practice recognized the independence of the United Provinces - and was buried in Westminster Abbey in the chapel of St John the Evangelist. Francis has a large monument of alabaster and black marble showing him lying on a carved rush mattress in civilian dress under a slab on which is laid out his suit of armour. The slab is supported on the shoulders of four life-sized knights in armour who kneel at each corner. The monument seems to have been inspired by that of Count Engelbert II of Nassau-Dillenburg in the church at Breda. The Latin inscription can be translated:

To Francis Vere, Knight, son of Geoffrey and nephew of John earl of Oxford, governor of Brill and Portsmouth, chief leader of the English forces in Belgium,[4] died 28 August 1609, in the 54th year of his age. Elizabeth, his wife, in great sadness and sobbing with tears, placed this supreme monument to conjugal faith and love.


  1. Markham 1888, pp. 21–5, 216, 381; Lorimer 2004; Burke 1831, p. 540; Trim 2004.
  2. "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 16 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Williams, Penry (1998). The Later Tudors: England, 1547-1603. Oxford University Press, p. 380. ISBN 0192880446
  4. The term "Belgium" was at the time used as the Latin name of the entire Low Countries. It was only centuries later that it became specifically identified with the southern part, which became the present Belgium.