Elizabeth I’s favourites – Sir Thomas Heneage

thomas-heneage-300x280.jpg1565 was a trying year for Elizabeth I.  She was all to aware of the dangers of having an heir to the throne waiting in the background – after all she had been in that position seven years previously.  Now as queen she was determined not to name her successor despite the fact that there had already been a succession crisis during the seven days when her privy councillors had feared for her life in 1561 when she had small pox.  At that time Cecil had favoured Henry VIII’s will which would have seen the crown handed to Lady Katherine Grey the sister of Lady Jane Grey.  There had been a couple of voices in favour of Margaret, Lady Lennox who was the grand-daughter of Henry VII by Margaret Tudor’s second marriage to Archibald Douglas, the earl of Angus. Other men mentioned Henry Hastings the Earl of Huntingdon.  He was descended from the Duke of Clarence – so Plantagenet but most important of all he was male! Elizabeth herself had unexpectedly regained consciousness and given the regency into the hands of Robert Dudley.

Now in 1565 Elizabeth was still fending prospective suitors off or dangling her kingdom and her royal personage like a carrot on the political stage but there was also the matter of her cousin Mary Queen of Scots who remained a potential threat to Elizabeth’s security if she married Don Carlos the mentally unstable son of Philip II.  There was also the underlying factor that whilst Elizabeth had no children her dynasty was insecure and that Mary was a potential claimant to the throne – albeit a Catholic one.

From 1563 onwards Elizabeth had sought to control Anglo-Scottish relations by offering Robert Dudley as a potential husband to Mary with the carefully worded caveat that if Mary took Dudley as her husband that she would be named as Elizabeth’s heir.  There was still the difficulty of the fact that Elizabeth was expected to marry and produce children at this time in her reign but it appears to have been a gamble that Mary was prepared to take so long as Elizabeth was prepared to put in writing without any equivocation that Mary was her heir.  On March 16th 1565 it finally became clear that Elizabeth would not do this.  Mary immediately abandoned Dudley’s proposal even though he’d been given a title, Kenilworth Castle and many lands.

Elizabeth, perhaps eager to remind Dudley that he wasn’t as important as all that started to pay a great deal of attention to  married courtier -Thomas Heneage – so no possible thoughts of matrimony there. In fact unlike Dudley or her next favourite Sir Christopher Hatton there were never any rumours of romance between the two of them.  At the same time as Thomas became a gentleman of the Privy Chamber Elizabeth began to flirt with him. Perhaps it helped that Thomas’s first wife had been a friend of Elizabeth’s. It had the effect of making Robert Dudley jealous.

Dudley challenged the queen and she was apparently “much annoyed.” Dudley took himself off in high dudgeon, locked himself in his room for four days and then quarrelled with the queen further who was “cold with him.”

Dudley retaliated by flirting with Elizabeth’s cousin Lettice Knollys who was pregnant with her son Robert at the time.  Cecil noted in his diary that the queen was “offended.”  Pregnant or not, Lettice was one of the most beautiful women in Elizabeth’s court and it was clear at this stage of the game of courtly love that whilst Elizabeth could have many favourites, they in their turn should look only to Elizabeth.

Philip II took it as evidence that the queen loved Robert Dudley. She had revealed as much when she thought she was dying of small pox.

By Christmas 1565 Dudley was back at court but he couldn’t resist sniping at Heneage or threatening to beat him with a stick.  Elizabeth was not amused and told Dudley that just as she had raised him, she could equally as well lower him.

But by 1571 the two men had set their differences aside.  They forwarded one another’s suits and somewhat bizarrely under the circumstances it was Thomas who acted as a go between with Elizabeth when Christopher Hatton and then later Sir Walter Raleigh fell out of favour with their demanding monarch.

As with her other favourites Heneage’s personal relationship with the queen led to his appointment to office.  In his case he was the queen’s treasurer for many years ands extended family benefited from his patronage.

Gender politics was well and truly on the map and would stay there through the rest of Elizabeth’s reign both at home and abroad.


Whitelock, Anna (2013) Elizabeth’s Bedfellows. London: Bloomsbury

3 thoughts on “Elizabeth I’s favourites – Sir Thomas Heneage

  1. yES Thank you. On the subject of last article Amy the wife of Dudley. I saw a History channel prog on TV last evening. It dealt with that broken neck thing and had a Barrister and a Medic and head shrink all working on the case. Rather good it was but I think that no love was lost in that marriage. Robert had not bothered to see his wife in over a year.he really wanted to marry the Queen. Big motive. He sent someone to smash her over the head. If she sent all her retinue away then she was expecting Robert that day who told her it must be in private as he had something of good news for her.Then sent his man with letter. While she read it he bopped her over the head and lay her body out taking that letter from her hands and left. I think that covers all possible ways. It is not Cecils way of handling a problem. That fact that all went wrong is how Dudley went on in life. The Queen he so much wanted now could not look at him. Poor Robin was left to ride over the horizon into the sunset for now. Cecil wanted Dudley out of his hair yes but would he have entered a murder with such uncertain outcomes? if Dudley had all the proof to say it was not him. Cecil was no mans fool. However it is interesting that Robert had no proof he had not sent a killer to end his 10 year marriage. The two dents in Amys head reached down 2 inches really! that is a hole into the brain. A cudgel would leave such marks and have the force to do it easy and fast. Robert Dudley had his wife murdered that is my view now. Sad but so was her short life.

  2. as to Queen Elizabeth indeed all power as on her head not between her legs. Toothless bald and ugly yet men fought over her is a bit sickening. Showing that a powerful woman can be such as she without tear. Bess was never an oil painting and when younger only plain. As she aged every blessed thing fell off her and only make up as thick as paint many wigs and eating nothing but softer meals as no teeth but very hard gums must have been unhappy. To even think of sex with such makes a man like me sick. Then I never wanted power so no one could have corrupted me. The men around her merely animals so of little interest. Let us look at real men who cared not for such but built England whilst all this went on.

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