Inevitably whilst looking at Raleigh my attention has drifted to Bess Throckmorton; Raleigh’s wife and the love of his life. From there my mind has wondered to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, Bess’s father. A man who seems to have been as outspoken as Raleigh himself and regarded by the Spanish as ‘dangerously clever’ – though that doesn’t seem to have stopped him from getting into some unpleasant scrapes which ultimately ended with his disgrace.
Sir Nicholas served four Tudor monarchs as well as the Duke of Richmond, Henry Fizroy. Nicholas was related to Sir William Parr and at the time he was Fitzroy’s chamberlain which explains Throckmorton’s entry into such a prestigious household. Throckmorton’s mother was Catherine Vaux of Harrowden and it was through her that the relationship to the Parr family came – meaning that Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife was Throckmorton’s cousin. Throckmorton was a younger son so he needed every family connection he could find if he was to make his way in the world.
Sir Nicholas’s fortunes remained linked to those of the Parr family. He turned up on the Scottish Borders in the service of the Parr family just in time for the so-called Rough Wooing. He turned up in Scotland again in 1547. It was Nicholas Throckmorton who was sent south with the news that Protector Somerset had won the Battle of Pinkie.
Despite having gained his foothold in the rungs of the Tudor social and political ladder through his links to the Parrs and to Somerset he seems to have been unaffected by Admiral Seymour’s goings on or indeed the fall of Somerset. In short Throckmorton was one of Edward VI’s men and a good protestant to boot.
His name appears on the device naming Lady Jane Grey queen but equally it is supposed to have been Throckmorton who sent word of Edward VI’s death to Mary – perhaps a case of having his cake and eating it. It was only when Throckmorton began agitating about the restoration of Catholicism that he got himself into trouble with Mary suggesting that she didn’t hold his affirmation of Lady Jane Grey against him. The trouble was he wasn’t that keen on Mary’s chosen husband, Philip of Spain and became involved with the Wyatt Plot.
In April 1555 he was charged with treason for his part in the plot. However, when he came to trial the jury acquitted him despite the judges hostility: a fact which didn’t go down well with Mary who promptly had the jury incarcerated for nine months and heavily fined when they were eventually released.
Throckmorton took himself off to France rather than face the possibility of any more of Mary’s hospitality. He left his wife at home (she refused to live in France) but ultimately was allowed to return and take up government post. But by this point he was in correspondence with William Cecil and Princess Elizabeth, no doubt lining himself up to serve his fourth Tudor. When Elizabeth came to the throne Throckmorton wrote suggesting who would be her best advisors and in 1560 when Cecil and Elizabeth were out of sorts with one another Cecil said he would depart from his role as Elizabeth’s minister if Throckmorton replaced him.
Nicholas returned to France as ambassador from 1559-1562. It was his job to try and dissuade Mary, Queen of Scots, from displaying the arms of England. Throckmorton was also in France when the scandal of Elizabeth I’s love for her Master of Horse Robert Dudley became laden with overtones of murder. Amy Robsart’s death at Cumnor near Abingdon caused tongues to wag (Throckmorton wrote of “her neck” being broken “with other appurtenances” and Throckmorton didn’t hesitate to describe what people were saying. He also announced that “Every hair of my head stareth!” His letters to Cecil at this time are so distinctly undiplomatic that his friends warned him to write no further on the subject. Ironically it was the same Robert Dudley now Earl of Leicester who offered a final home to Throckmorton when he was disgraced for his part in trying to marry Mary Queen of Scots to the Duke of Norfolk but more of that shortly.
Throckmorton was ultimately undone by his regard for Mary Queen of Scots who he’d known since she was a child in France. He was sent to Scotland to prevent Mary from marrying Lord Darnley – not one of his greatest successes, though at least Elizabeth didn’t have to send anyone to rescue him as had been the case when he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Catherine de Medici. He was also sent to negotiate for Mary’s release when she was deposed but the Scottish nobles knew he was sympathetic to Mary so weren’t terribly pleased to see him. Once Mary was imprisoned in England he plotted for her to marry the Duke of Norfolk. It appears that Throckmorton thought that if she was married and ‘respectable’ then she could be released from captivity. He regarded a marriage to Norfolk as a safe marriage. He also thought that the Duke of Norfolk’s proposal was in line with what the queen wished.
Unsurprisingly Throckmorton soon found himself incarcerated; this time in Windsor Castle. His actions were deemed foolish but not treasonous. He was released possibly because in the years since he’d objected to Elizabeth’s marriage to Robert Dudley he’d become one of Dudley’s political advisors. However, he’d also managed to remain on reasonably good terms with William Cecil because he wrote to Cecil begging for him to intercede with the queen. It should be added that it is quite possible that Cecil who was fiercely anti-Mary may well have shown Elizabeth the inflammatory letters which Throckmorton wrote when he was the English Ambassador in France.
Throckmorton’s end was recorded by Robert Dudley;
We have lost on Monday our good friend Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, who died in my house, being there taken suddenly in great extremity on Tuesday before; his lungs were perished, but a sudden cold he had taken was the cause of his sudden death. God hath his soul, and we his friends great loss of his body.
He died in London on 12 Feb 1571 and was buried in the church of St. Catherine Cree, Aldgate. His daughter Elizabeth known as Bess was one of Elizabeth’s maids of honour and ultimately Bess would be banished from court having done her own stint in the Tower for daring to fall in love, something which her father had castigated the queen about many years earlier.