George Clifford, Queen’s Champion

george clifford.jpgGeorge Clifford was born on August 8, 1558 in Brougham Castle. In 1570 he became the third Earl of Cumberland and also the last of the direct line of Robert de Clifford’s descendants. He willed his title and estates to his younger brother (breaking an entail dating from the reign of Edward II and ensuring a legal battle which lasted most of his daughter’s life).

George was eleven-years-old when he became the earl, so orphaned as he was , the monarch held his wardship. Elizabeth could have kept young George at horse, at Court or sold the wardship either to George’s family or to the highest bidder. She chose to do the latter. Francis Russell, the puritan Earl of Bedford purchased young George’s wardship and in due course, 1577, married him off to his own youngest daughter Margaret. George spent the remainder of his childhood and adolescence in the south of England and in Cambridge where he studied mathematics and geography.


When he grew up George was bitten by the seafaring bug. He used the revenue from his estates to fund voyages of exploration. He also had a bit of a gambling habit. In short he was a stereotypical Elizabethan roistering seafarer/courtier with an interest in mathematics and a link to Mary Queen of Scots (he was on the jury during her trial). His first voyage was in 1586 and he sailed alongside two other vessels sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh. Clifford found himself a very long way from Skipton. He sailed to Brazil where he took a share of a Portuguese prize vessel. It was a slaver – so George’s loot on this occasion came from slavery.


George’s son was born in 1584. He was called Francis but died five years later just before his youngest sibling was born. Francis’s brother Robert also died young. This left only one child born in 1590 – a girl called Anne. It is from her diaries that we learn much about George’s spending habits, his lady friend and the hostility that came to exist between himself and his wife. He may have made money from his voyages but he lost it betting on horses and the outcome of jousts. When he died it took the next sixty years to return the estate to some sort of financial order.


DSCN0099.jpgIn 1588 George commanded the Elizabeth Bonaventure against the Spanish Armada and two years later became the Queen’s champion jouster wearing her glove pinned to his hat. Clifford’s tournament armour can be seen today in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (apologies for the photograph I’ve become much better at indoor shots since I took this one but it might be a while until I get the opportunity to take another.) In 1592 he was made a Knight of the Garter. By 1600 George was a founder member of the East India Company and in 1603 he became the Lord Warden of the West Marches – so based in Carlisle.   As this paragraph reveals George was a busy man and was often away from home either at court or seeing to his various nautical adventures. It was expedient for the family to live in London where George’s interests lay but as time passed he and Margaret went their separate ways.

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth, which Lady Anne Clifford described in her diaries, George went north to greet the man whose mother he’d helped to condemn.  It was said that George’s retinue looked rather more splendid than the new king’s did.


Countess Margaret was not amused by her husband’s debts or affair with a ‘lady of quality’. Nor was she amused that their daughter Anne had effectively been bypassed as Clifford’s heir when he made his will. He bequeathed her £15,000 making her a respectable heiress but ignoring what was hers by right of birth. He may have done this because he was aware of the burden of debt that lay on the estate.

George died on October 30 1605 in London but he is buried in Holy Trinity Church, Skipton.  These three pictures show detail from his tomb.IMG_3901

george clifford 3.jpg


Double click on the portrait of Clifford to open a new window and see what The Peerage has to say about George.

Mitchell WR (2002) The Fabulous Cliffords. Settle: Castleberg

Spence. Richard T. (1997) Lady Anne Clifford. Frome: Sutton Publishing

3 thoughts on “George Clifford, Queen’s Champion

  1. Poor Brougham castle now. The treasure of lady Anne Clifford who stood up to Cromwell. Buried entombed next to her Parr mother in Appleby church. My dear younger sister lives in one house she owned. I am the last heir and titled family member as my wife died long ago I never remarried so when I am gone so is all that is history and a line from the Conquest perished. Big thought on my mind now. Not sad just repentant.

      • Good question and sadly a bit of a complicated answer. So here goes – it depends on how the title and the estate are entailed. Basically, titles and estates are/were granted by charter by various monarchs – originally a feudal concept. You got your land in return for being loyal to the bloke that gave it to you. Part of this loyalty involved showing up on the battle field with an army when occasion demanded. Women were not military leaders (yes I know there were some pretty bolshie women but that’s not how the men in charge at the time saw it) so logically women could not inherit titles because they couldn’t show up to do military service. It was pretty pointless having a title if you didn’t have the estates to support the lifestyle demanded by the title so generally speaking title and estate went together but not always. Depending on how the charter was granted then the title and estates usually pass to the eldest son – this is called primogeniture. Land is not divided. The way that younger sons were provided for was by extra land being acquired through purchase, through lands coming from the mother and through good marriage. Girls could be provided for in the same way or have a cash equivalent as their dowry when they married. If there is/was no direct hero – i.e. no son- the title and estates pass to the nearest male heir – which can involve chasing back up the family tree quite some way. Put simply the females are bypassed in most cases (though there are some exceptions where women inherited titles in their own right-). In Lady Anne Clifford’s case whilst the title to the estates followed this rule the original charters granted the estates to the nearest direct heir without specifying gender so although the title could never have been hers, the entail actually directed the estate to Lady Anne Clifford rather than her uncle and cousin because she was the direct heir despite being female.
        So why you might ask do we have a queen rather than a king? Essentially and somewhat bizarrely the rules about inheriting the crown have always been more fair than the rules about inheriting other titles. England has never had a law preventing women from inheriting the crown and Common Law in the form Queen Mary and then Queen Elizabeth as dictated by Henry VIII’s will confirmed that women could and should inherit the throne. Parliament handed the crown to William and Mary when they booted James II off the throne and then to Anne when Mary died childless because she was a good Protestant and they wanted to keep possible Catholic monarchs at bay. This has been confirmed by various Acts of Parliament. The most recent of these acts has changed the rule about boys inheriting the crown first – in future, children of a monarch will inherit in age order rather than based on their gender.

        Meanwhile other titles still rely on primogeniture and the way in which estates were entailed in the first place which means that there are always exceptions to the general rule.

        Jane Austen explains the situation in Pride and Prejudice and more recently the drama Downton Abbey was based on primogeniture and the problems of only having daughters.

        Oh yes and all of the above are required to be legitimate.

        Hope that makes sense!

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