The earls of Northumberland and the Percy Family – part 3 of 4. The magnificent and unlucky Tudors.

The 5th Earl of Northumberland:

5th north coat of armsThe 5th earl  carried the Coronation sword at Richard III’s coronation but grew up in Henry VII’s court as part of the group of young men who were schooled alongside Princes Arthur and Henry. In the first instance it helped remind the 4th earl where his loyalties lay and in the second place it kept the Percy power base under control. He was at Arthur’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon and  was part of the train that took Princess Margaret to Scotland to be married to James IV.  He had a reputation for being magnificently dressed and travelling in the manner befitting an earl.   As such it would be easy to assume that he had royal favour but it is clear that becoming warden of the border marches was something of an issue once he attained his majority.  Nor for that matter did he acquire any important national roles.  The stumbling block would appear to be the  “ravishment” of Elizabeth Hastings – which sounds unpleasant.  In reality Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir John Hastings of Yorkshire. She was a ward of the Crown and Percy had arranged her marriage.   The language of ravishment and abduction is the language of property being removed from Henry VII’s grasping fingers rather than an account depicting the earl’s predatory nature.  Initially he was fined £10,000 but this was later reduced by half.  Part of the problem for Percy was that the Tudors had learned important lessons about over mighty subjects. Consequentially Henry VII took a dim view of anyone standing on his prerogatives and he didn’t trust the Percy clan in any event because of their landholding and wealth – not to mention prior form. It was Henry VIII who cancelled the debt once he became king. The question is was Percy unsuited for power or did Henry VII use the case of Elizabeth Hastings to financially kneecap a man known for his lavish lifestyle?

 

Meanwhile Percy and his wife, Katherine Spencer – a three times great grand-daughter of Edward III had four children born in the first decade of the sixteenth century; Henry (1502), Thomas (1504), Ingram (1506) and Margaret (1508).   The year after Margaret was born it was rumoured that the earl had come to an agreement with the Duke of Buckingham to overthrow the Tudors.  It was supposed that he would rule north of the Trent. It says something that when Buckingham found himself in the Tower in 1521 on charges of treason that the earl was spared though he had been in the Fleet a few years previously on another ward related charge.  It is also evident that Henry VIII ordered Cardinal Wolsey to keep an eye on the earl despite the fact that nothing can really, at this point in history, be levelled against him.

 

He did all the usual things that Tudor nobles did. He went to war in France in 1512 so was not on hand when James IV of Scotland took the opportunity to invade England.  By 1522 he was back on the borders and indulging in some light feuding with the Dacre family.  The problem was that Percy saw the warden role in the east and middle marches as one that he was entitled to whilst Dacre had other ideas.  The only reason that the Dacre family had become used to serving in the capacity of Warden was that the fifth earl had been a minor when his father was killed by a mob near Thirsk in 1489.  Whilst the earl was a ward of the Crown, the Percy estates were administered by the Earl of Surrey and many of the offices associated with the Percy family were offered out to other families.  The truth is that Percy had never played the role his forefather’s played either through his youth or because of Tudor distrust.  Despite that he attempted to regain the position in northern society he felt was his. By the time he was offered a wardenship he knew that he did not have the necessary military skills to fulfil the role and resigned his commission. The magnificent earl might perhaps have been better described at that stage as the very grumpy earl.

 

Dacre complained from the borders to the king he wasn’t getting the help from Percy that he thought should have been forthcoming.  In 1517 when Margaret Tudor returned to England as a heavily pregnant fugitive, the earl was not overjoyed to see her.  He wrote to the king suggesting that Dacre or the Earl of Cumberland might like to look after her.  He was probably aware the cost of providing for her would come out of his purse.  He attempted to suggest that the countess was indisposed but that didn’t wash with Henry who ordered Northumberland to bring Margaret south.  One of the reasons was that the earl was not as wealthy as he had once been.  He gambled heavily, spent excessively and seems to have been fined rather a lot by Cardinal Wolsey who seems to have been determined to break the northern powerbase that was the earldom of Northumberland.

 

Henry’s brother William was much more the border baron than his brother.  He fought at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and was created a knight on the battlefield. Even Lord Dacre wrote highly of William as did Bishop Ogle of Carlisle. It was William who trained the earl’s younger sons in the art of border warfare whilst their eldest brother was sent to London to the household of Cardinal Wolsey for his education and, let’s be honest, as a surety for the fifth earl’s good behaviour.

 

The Fifth earl turns up in national history in 1526 when he was summoned from the north to sort out the affairs of his eldest son.  Henry junior was betrothed to Mary Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, but had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn.  The earl was supposed to back up the cardinal who had been ordered to prevent the match.

 

He died on May 19 1527.

The 6th Earl of Northumberland:

The new earl was of age but Wolsey made the earl of Cumberland, Margaret Percy’s husband, executor of the 5th earl’s estate.  The 6th earl was forbidden from attending the funeral of his father and then there was the issue of Mary Talbot – the powerless daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury.  The engagement had been a means of breaking off the relationship between Percy and Anne Boleyn but the match was not finalised.  It had in fact been halted because the young people did not like one another.   Now Percy was required to marry her and to live in the north.  The fifth earl had not been impressed with his heir and it would have to be said that either of his younger brothers was more suited to riding around the countryside killing reivers – poor old Henry simply hadn’t been trained for it and was rather on the sickly side.  It can’t have helped that his father was so far in debt- more than £17,000- that the plate had to be pawned to pay for his funeral.

 

Cardinal Wolsey drew up a budget.  It was not generous. Wolsey also arranged for the estate rents to be collected and began to have a close look at various Percy deeds and entitlements.  Matters came to a head when it was discovered that one of the earl’s retainers, appropriately named Wormme,  was sending Wolsey details of the earl’s accounts. The earl was not amused and the gentleman in question is supposed to have spent considerable time in a less comfortable dungeon in Alnwick Castle upon payment of a £300 bribe by the earl specifically to get his hands on the man.

 

The earl now set about demonstrating that he was more than capable of maintaining order in the north though unfortunately he was less able to maintain order in his own marriage. Mary liked Henry almost as much as he liked her.  The pair separated but were required by Wolsey to resume their married life. It was not a happy marriage in any sense of the word.  Mary became convinced that Henry was trying to kill her – there is no evidence that he was.

 

But time was running out for the Cardinal who had been unable to untie Henry VIII from his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. The king had rather an unpleasant sense of humour. He sent the man whose life had been made a misery to arrest the Cardinal and convey him to London.  Northumberland arrived at Cawood near York on the 4thNovember 1529 where he behaved, it is said with great dignity and compassion for Henry VIII’s former minister.

 

In 1531 the earl was made a knight of the garter. He was not involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace.  He died in 1537 leaving his money to Henry VIII.  He is best remembered as the first love of Anne Boleyn.  He collapsed at her trial and never really recovered.

Having no children his title passed to his younger brother unfortunately Thomas had become caught up in Bigod’s Rebellion (the follow on to the Pilgrimage of grace).  He was hanged drawn and quartered in London in June 1537 before he could become earl.

 

The 7th Earl of Northumberland:

200px-Thomas_Percy_Earl_of_Northumberland_1566The 7th earl was Thomas’s oldest son, also called Tomas – a pleasant change from all those Henrys.  To all intents and purposes his father’s death as a traitor should have debarred him from the earldom but when he came of age in 1549 he was restored to some of his lands and his loyalty to Mary Tudor in 1557 saw him restored to the earldom.  The Percys had never stopped being Catholic. Unfortunately it all went to his head – quite literally- as he took part in the Northern Rising of 1569. I have posted about the 7th earl before.  If you would like to read more click here to open a new page.  He was executed in 1572 in York on Elizabeth’s orders.  His execution warrant can still be seen in Alnwick Castle.

 

The seventh earl’s son died before him and he left a family of daughters so the family had to look back up the family tree for the next earl.  Not only that but Elizabeth I didn’t trust the family so far as she could throw them so refused to allow them to travel to their residences in the north of the country.  During this time Petworth in Sussex became the main Percy residence.

The 8th Earl of Northumberland:

Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland (c.1532-1585) (posthumous) by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (Antwerp 1599 - London 1641)

Oil painting on canvas, Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland (c.1532-1585) by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (Antwerp 1599 – London 1641). A posthumous three-quarter-length portrait, standing, turned slightly to the right, gazing at the spectator, short cropped hair, beard and moustache, wearing full armour, his right hand wearing his gauntlet and holding a baton his left elbow leaning on a ledge and his left bare hand hanging over it. On the ledge is his helmet.

The eighth earl was another Henry Percy and he was the seventh earl’s younger brother.  He had the common sense to remain loyal to Elizabeth I during the Rising of the North. Unfortunately he was implicated in assorted plots to release Mary Queen of Scots.  He was sent to the Tower as a result of being implicated in the Throckmorton Plot and again in 1584 when he was accused of plotting to allow the Duc de Guise to land troops for the purpose of releasing Mary Queen of Scots and returning England to Catholicism.  Off he went to the Tower – for a third time as it happens – he died unexpectedly on 21stJune 1585.

Someone had shot him through the heart.  It was decided that he had committed suicide. Let’s just say that warders and officers in charge of the earl’s well being were changed just beforehand to men who were careless about guns. It rather looks as though Sir Christopher Hatton, the queen’s favourite, may have assisted the “suicide.”

Thomas and Katherine Howard – avarice personified.

Frances-HowardToday’s post is about the family of one of the most notorious women in English History.  Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset pleaded guilty in 1616 to murdering Sir Thomas Overbury in 1613 whilst he was a prisoner in The Tower.

Overbury was there because he had turned down the post of Ambassador to Russia.  He thought that he would be protected by Robert Carr, the Earl of Somerset.  Carr was the king’s favourite but he had more looks than brains so Overbury had been dealing with the administration that came Carr’s way.  Apparently Overbury even wrote the love letters that Carr sent to Frances Howard before they were married.  In any event the pair were no longer as close as they once had been because Overbury didn’t much like Frances Howard.  He described her, amongst other things,  as a base woman. I am teaching a day school in Halifax on Thursday 21st June about the ins and outs of the murder so shan’t be delivering a spoiler here apart from to say that poisoned jam tarts were involved and a deadly enema. Also to note that Robert Carr, Frances Howard’s second husband did not perform terribly well at his trial for murder because he insisted on representing himself and most observers were of the opinion he would have done better to keep his mouth shut.

ThomasHoward4HerzogvonNorfolk.jpgSo who was Frances Howard?   She was born on the 31 May 1590.  She was the grand daughter of the 4th Duke of Norfolk by his second wife, Margaret Audley – it was how that grand mansion Audley End came into the hands of the Howard family.  The fourth duke, Thomas Howard, was the man who aspired to marry Mary Queen of Scots in 1569 then managed to get himself caught up in the Ridolfi Plot of 1571.  He was executed in 1572.  As a traitor his lands and title were forfeit to the State but by that time the Tudors had become rather adept at removing wealth with one hand and returning it with the other in order to ensure that there weren’t too many grievances to be aired by rebellious subjects.  The fact that the Howards were Elizabeth’s cousins should also be added to the scales.

 

200px-Thomas_howard_suffolkAs it happens Audley End was not part of Elizabeth’s haul of booty when the 4th duke got the chop.  The estates there and around Saffron Waldon were part of Margaret Audley’s dowry so when she died they had passed straight into the hands of her eldest son Thomas Howard (born 1561), who was Frances Howard’s father.

Thomas Howard married his step-sister  Mary Dacre, the daughter of the duke’s third wife at his father’s behest whilst the duke was int he Tower  awaiting execution. Thomas was eleven or twelve when his father made his final arrangements but Mary Dacre died without having children.

Thomas then married Katherine rich neé  Knyvet  in 1583 – a distant cousin of Anne Vavasour’s  –  who was the widow of Richard Rich.  The couple went on to have ten children who survived to adulthood of whom Frances was one. Sources identify that Thomas Howard was a kind father but that he continued the old idea of marrying his children off early – there were plenty of them after all.  By the seventeenth century child marriages were becoming a thing of the past. Frances would marry her first husband, the third earl of Essex when she was just thirteen.

Thomas Howard being a second son, in between be-getting children and arranging advantageous marriages for them, had to earn his keep.  He was a Tudor sea farer with the likes of Sir Richard Grenville commanding assorted vessels in a variety of campaigns including ventures against the Spanish to Cadiz. As a result of this he was created Lord Howard of Walden in 1597.  From there he seems to have relaxed somewhat – Anne Somerset describes him as “fat and genial.”

When James I became king our Howard become the earl of Suffolk – now this a the bit where history can be a bit confusing.  Followers of this blog know very well that there had been plenty of earls of Suffolk already, the two that spring to mind being Charles Brandon and then Henry Grey but Thomas Howard’s correct designation is Thomas Howard 1st Earl of Suffolk – just think of it as the clock being reset because an entirely new family has taken the title.

The new countess was one of Anne of Denmark’s ladies-in-waiting.  She had served Elizabeth I in a similar capacity.

The earl of Suffolk became an influential member of the royal household between 1603-1614.  He then spent the next four years as Lord High Treasurer before being sent to the Tower for misappropriating funds – which simply means that someone found a way of toppling him from power and that the king allowed those people to do so.  It’s amazing that he managed to hang on to his job in the two years from 1616 to 1618 given that his daughter and son-in-law had both been found guilty of murder.

To make matters worse it wasn’t  just  the earl of Suffolk who’d been taking back handers.  Katherine had also been in receipt of a Spanish Pension during the peace negotiations between England and Spain.  It should be added that taking bribes, which is what “pensions” from Spain were wasn’t going to win friends and influence people even if James I did want peace with the Spanish. She also had strong Catholic sympathies. Popular opinion tended to exonerate the earl and place the blame for the bribery firmly on the shoulders of Katherine. The pair were fined £30,000 and imprisoned – which successfully toppled the Howard faction from power and, put simply, allowed the likes of the earl of Pembroke and the king’s new favourite George Villiers to take charge.

katherine kynvet

Katherine Knyvet or Knyvett depending upon the source (pictured above) had a reputation for avariciousness.  Edward Coke described her during her trial as running the treasury like a shop which is definitely taking the traditional backhander a bit far.  There were also some fairly colourful stories in circulation about her including that she was the one time mistress of Robert Cecil – I should add that I can’t find any primary source evidence of this. There were others and it would appear that she was also prone to using prior relationships with extortion in mind.  Katherine was purported to be a great beauty until small pox ruined her looks in 1619 when she was 55 years old.

The countess was ambitious for her daughters in terms of wealth and political power for the Howards. She encouraged Frances to seek an annulment from her first husband, the 3rd earl of Essex having encouraged the match in the first instance and having been absolutely furious when Frances refused to consummate the match when the young couple were deemed old enough to live as man and wife.  Katherine believed that a match with Robert Carr, the king’s favourite would build the Howard power base better than a familial link with the earls of Essex. She was one of the “respectable” women who attested that Frances was still a virgin so that her first marriage could be annulled.  The ballads of the time were firmly of the opinion that the countess had perjured herself with the statement.  It did not matter that the earl of Suffolk did not much like Robert Carr or that Carr had previously been at loggerheads with the Howard faction.  I can’t help wondering what James I’s queen Anne of Denmark felt about the matter. She did not much like Robert Carr and neither had James’ eldest son Prince Henry who had died suddenly in 1612 just before the whole Frances Howard scandal sprang to life.  I don’t suppose it mattered much to the countess either that Frances was besotted by Robert Carr for her it was a question power and its accompanying cash.

Katherine was similarly cavalier about her other two daughters, Frances’ sisters.  Elizabeth ended up married to William Knollys , a man old enough to be her father.  He was born in 1544 whilst she was born in 1583.  Her third surviving daughter, Catherine, was married to Robert Cecil’s son.

Frances Howard’s parents saw Fortune’s Wheel turn as their new son-in-law  Robert Carr fell from favour prior to his arrest for his part in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, ironically enough, partially as a result of the death of Overbury.  There was no longer anyone to look after the administration or deal with the paperwork for him.  Carr did not have the ability to deal with it himself.  It turned out that James required more than a pretty face.  He needed someone to help run the country.

Edward Coke another Jacobean administrator and canny political operator did not much like the Howards or the power that they wielded.  The fact that Frances had played an active part in Sir Thomas Overbury’s murder was a means to bring down both Robert Carr.  The Spanish pension business toppled the earl of Suffolk once and for all.  Coke even sent Sir John Digby to Madrid in an attempt to incriminate the earl still further prior to the earl and countess’s trial.

Even better from Coke’s point of view was the fact that recognising the growing power of George Villiers over the king the Suffolks had encouraged a young man called Monson to supplant Villiers in the king’s affections.  It was Villiers who first told the king that the Countess was taking bribes through exchequer debts.  There was no sign of George falling from favour not least because Monson had been so irritatingly obvious that he had been told to get out of the king’s sight. Their involvement in the plan to put Monson in Villiers place was enough to ensure that the Howards had made a very powerful  enemy.

Suffolk’s fall from power and subsequent trial should have meant that he stayed in prison until a £30,000 fine was paid but a mere ten days after sentence was passed he found himself at home.  The fine was later reduced to £7,000.  What he had lost was his political power. Interestingly when he had been bought low Villiers was prepared to let bygones be bygones as it was he who arranged the interview between James I and the earl of Suffolk reducing the fine.  Historians believe that the slate would have been wiped clean had Howard not sought to avoid the king’s wrath by putting his property into trust in an attempt to save them for his family in the event of the worst happening.  In 1623 the earl’s youngest son, Edward, married George Villiers’ niece – meaning that the Howards were now part of the Villiers’ affinity.  Times had well and truly changed.

The earl died in 1626.  His widow lived until 1638.

And finally, France’s maternal great grandfather was Sir Henry Knyvet of Charlton in Wiltshire. Sir Henry had six children. Frances Howard’s great uncle Thomas played a part in the foiling of the Gun Powder Plot and became a baron.  Margaret Knyvet married into the Vavasour family.  Her daughter Anne would cause a scandal when she became pregnant by the earl of Oxford and then moved in with Sir Henry Lee despite being married to someone else as seen in previous posts.  Alice Knyvet married into the Dacre family.  Catherine married firstly into the Paget family and then into the Carey family – demonstrating where Frances’ mother got her hard-headed attitude to marrying her children from. Henry Knyvet who was Sir Henry’s eldest son married  three times and was an MP.

Somerset, Anne. (1997) Unnatural Murder: Poison at the Court of James I. London:Weidenfeld and Nicholson.

Sir Henry Lee

henry lee.jpgSir Henry Lee (1533–1611) was  Queen Elizabeth I’s self-appointed champion.  The family originated from Buckinghamshire although his mother was a Wyatt from Kent.  As is usual with the Tudors, Lee was related somehow or other to some very important people including the queen herself as well as to William Cecil and to Robert Dudley. He was also man who served all the Tudors from the age of fourteen beginning with Henry VIII without being slung in the Tower for his pains.

In 1554 he married Anne Paget to avoid the Tower or worse. She was the daughter of William Paget.  Paget’s early patron was Stephen Gardener – the family were Catholic.  Paget went on to support the Earl of Somerset during the minority of Edward VI so found himself in the Tower when Somerset fell from power and when he managed to extricate himself from that bind he promptly got himself into another one when he signed the document that set Henry VIII’s will aside and put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.  It seems odd then that Lee would marry the man’s daughter but Paget was a survivor and he was swift to seek a pardon from Queen Mary.  By 1556 he would be Lord Privy Seal.  From Lee’s point of view Paget was a man of influence and he was also a Catholic which was quite important because Lee was a Protestant.  Anne Paget and Henry Lee were not happily married. It can’t have helped that their two sons died young.  There was also a daughter from the marriage.

Paget retired from court life when Elizabeth I became queen in 1558 but Sir Henry Lee found himself in the ascendant. The year after Elizabeth became queen he was sent to France on official business thanks to William Cecil (could that have been a case of who you know rather than what you know?) He did what all Tudor gentlemen were required to do: i.e. went to war against the Scots and became an MP.   The picture at the start of the post is in the ownership of the National Portrait Gallery.  It was painted in about 1568, probably when Lee was on a trip to Antwerp.  The blackwork lover’s knots and armillary spheres could be a reference to his loyalty to Elizabeth though art historians are more perplexed about the pose of the ring through the red cord.  In 1569 he was part of the force that put down the Northern Rebellion.  As well as being the royal champion – a position he held from 1559 until 1590 he also became the master of the armoury (he was master of the armoury during the Spanish Armada), master of the leash and Constable of Harlech Castle. Despite this and his relationships with men such as Dudley and Cecil, not to mention his friendship with Sir Philip Sydney, Lee does not really seem to have played a very important political role in the shifting tide of Tudor court life. Lee’s role was more about providing the entertainment – up to 8,000 people attended the Ascension Day jousts (40 days after Easter Sunday) that he organised.  He was also regarded as something of a peacemaker – it was he who tried to persuade the Earl of Essex to seek Elizabeth’s pardon in later years.  In 1580 he even managed to get a loan out of the queen – perhaps he shouldn’t have been trying to build four stately mansions at the time.

AnneVavasourPerhaps Elizabeth wouldn’t have been so keen on lending money if she had realised that her new lady-in-waiting, Anne Vavasour, would one day lead her royal champion astray – she being at least thirty years his junior. In 1584 , three years after Anne disgraced herself by becoming pregnant by the earl of Oxford, Lee jousted against Anne’s brother Thomas.  Anne would be described as Lee’s “dearest dear.” Lee clearly wasn’t too bothered by the feud that the Vavasour and Knyvet families were running agains the Earl of Oxford on account of Anne’s meteoric fall from grace.  And, in all fairness, we don’t know when Anne and Lee began their relationship.  It is only in 1590 that Anne Vavasour turns up in the Ditchley records but as Simpson explains the purchase of Ditchley in 1583 could be explained not only as a home  located in reasonable proximity to an important official role (Steward of Woodstock) but also as a home for his lady-love.  By 1585 Lee was living separately from his wife as identified through the will of Anne Paget’s mother.  The 1592 Ditchley Portrait is usually regarded as Sir Henry Lee’s apology to Elizabeth for living with a married woman – not that she seems to have held it against him.

 

When Lee died he left a will that made provision for Anne.  One of the witnesses was Edward Were, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Oxford.  The will and an explanation of it can be read here: http://www.oxford-shakespeare.com/Probate/PROB_11-117_ff_326-8.pdf 

 

Simpson, Sue. Sir Henry Lee (1533–1611): Elizabethan Courtier

By Sue Simpson

Anne Vavasour – scandal, bigamy and a portrait

Queen-Elizabeth-I-The-Ditchley-portrait.jpgAnne was born in about 1560 to 1653 – she was a girl remember- to a Yorkshire family.  When she was somewhere between eighteen and twenty, she became one of Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting.  Her links with   the Kynvet family through her mother were probably what landed her a plum job at court. Her sister would also serve the queen and cause almost as much scandal as Anne.

Unfortunately rather than being a chaste ornament in the court of the Virgin Queen, Anne was chased and caught by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford – one of Elizabeth I’s favourites.  He was approximately ten years older than Anne and already had something of a reputation for naughtiness not to mention an unfortunately scandalous marriage of his own.

Anne and Edward de Vere had an illegitimate son which came as a shock to the other ladies she shared her chambers with as she had successfully managed to keep her pregnancy secret.  Edward couldn’t marry Anne as he was already married to Anne Cecil the daughter of William Cecil.  The fact that the pair didn’t get on is neither here nor there. Nor is the fact that he was widely regarded as a cuckold

The day after Anne became a mother she was packed off to the Tower. Presumably Anne was relieved that Elizabeth hadn’t shouted and thrown things at her in the way that she had at Anne Shelton when she’d married John Scudamore on the quiet.  A flying candle stick broke the poor woman’s fingers.

Edward de Vere, who does not come out of this shining with the glow of a hero, was caught trying to leave the country.  He was also invited to spend some time considering the error of his ways in the Tower.  This happened in 1581.  De Vere wasn’t allowed back to court for the next two years.

The consequences of the affair were that Anne’s reputation was ruined. De Vere had no part in the raising of his son – named Edward Vere – although he did leave him some land.  The child was actually cared for by the earl’s cousin Sir Francis.  There were assorted duels as a consequence of besmirched honour that resulted in the death of a number of servants mainly because Anne’s uncle Sir Thomas Knyvet wasn’t terribly happy about the way things had turned out. And finally, posterity was given a poem entitled Echo which is credited not only to the accomplished, if somewhat troubled, Earl of Oxford but also to Anne herself.

 

Anne was now in need of a respectable spouse so she was married off to a sea captain called Finch or Field depending on the source.  It appears to have been a marriage of convenience as the couple did not have a child.  At about the same time she married Anne also became the mistress of Sir Henry Lee who was the queen’s champion.  Lee did not hide his affection for Anne.  He even had a suit of armour that was decorated with Anne’s initials and love knots – clearly Lee was taking a lesson from his old master Henry VIII.  Sir Henry had his own wife at home in Ditchley in Oxfordshire.  Eventually Anne had a second son called Thomas in 1589, the year before Sir Henry’s wife died.  The boy belonged to Sir Henry although he took the name of Anne’s husband.

After Sir Henry was widowed the pair lived together at his home in Ditchley along with Anne’s two sons.  Henry gave Finch/Field a pension – presumably to stay at sea and not make trouble. Lee was on the best of terms with the likes of Robert Dudley and with William Cecil.  Despite the fact that he was co-habitting with a married woman who had done a stint in the Tower he was also on such terms with Elizabeth that she visited him at Ditchley.

Sir Henry presented Queen Elizabeth I with the life sized portrait of herself pictured at the start of this post in 1592.  It co-incided with Elizabeth’s visit to Ditchley and is about the monarch’s forgiveness of his behaviour.  The entertainment included jousting and a series of noble portraits – the best of which was Elizabeth standing on top of the world like the sun after a storm bringing calm weather. Just in case she needed a hint Lee wrote a sonnet to the “prince of light” and reminded Elizabeth that she could take revenge but that she does not take revenge.

 

Elizabeth duly forgave Lee for falling into a “stranger lady’s thrall” and posterity acquired one of the best known portraits of Elizabeth.  The image of Anne  shown below is dated to 1605.

AnneVavasour.jpg

Sir Henry died in 1611.  He left Anne £700 but his heir- and cousin- challenged Anne in the courts over the inheritance.  In 1618, despite her husband being very much alive and well, Anne  married for a second time to a man called Richardson.  Lee’s cousin promptly took her to court on charges of bigamy.  Anne was required, in 1622, to pay a fine of £2000 and to do public penance. The former was excused when Queen Anne , the wife of James I, interceded on her behalf.

The picture of Anne Vavasour shown here is by Robert Peake the elder. She would live until 1560 and although the Church drew the line at allowing the unmarried couple to snuggle up for eternity in a shared tomb, Anne can be found on Sir Henry Lee’s monument in Spelsbury Church

anne vavasour.jpg

 

 

The king of Spain’s beard

francis-drake.jpgNow, I know this isn’t necessarily going to be popular but Sir Francis Drake is one of my heroes.  He has been since I was a child and I’m not about to change tack now.  The problem with the global circumnavigator (the Golden Hind is smaller than some modern bath tubs) is that he was also a privateer – or put another way a pirate licensed by the queen for a spot of pirating which is apparently quite different from being a lawless thug who deserves to be strung up.

Our story begins in September 1568 when Francis was approximately twenty-eight.  Francis, he had elven younger brothers not that it has anything to do with the story, was on a moneymaking expedition with his cousin Sir John Hawkins.  They’d been doing a spot of trading with Spanish settlers which was illegal because the Spanish wanted their settlers to buy all their goods from approved sources. Inevitably there had also been a spot of light piracy on the side.  Their little fleet of vessels put in to San Juan to carry out some repairs.  A Spanish fleet also arrived.  Drake and Hawkins thought they’d arrived at a “live and let live gentleman’s agreement” but the Spanish had other ideas.  Drake was lucky to escape.  It was the start of a lifelong animosity.

He was very good at being a pirate.  Hutchinson identifies the fact that for every £1.00 invested with Drake there was a £47.00 profit. No wonder Elizabeth I gave him a knighthood.

large-drake-knighted2.jpg

As the relationship between England and Spain deteriorated Drake occupied ports, burned towns and pinched lots of loot.  Philip in Spain was not amused.  One of the reasons, apart from adding to her treasury, that Elizabeth was pleased to encourage Drake was because Spain had its own financial difficulties and for every carrack and galleon that Drake captured there was another ratchet of financial pressure to be twisted on Spain.  The bigger Philip’s financial problems the more likely that any projected invasion would have to be deferred.

Unfortunately Pope Sixtus V was quite keen on re-establishing Catholicism in England and, even though he was as almost famously tightfisted as Elizabeth I, he stumped up the cash – well he promised 1,000,000 ducats for the venture provided the invasion was successful.  Until that time the money was held by a middle man.  In any event the Enterprise of England was underway.

Walsingham received news of Philip’s planning and preparations in February 1587. In assorted coastal locations across the south various officials suffered from palpations at the thought of the Spanish landing on their doorstep- let’s just say there were one or two false sightings. John Hawkins and Francis Drake argued that it was time to take the war to Spain rather than sitting around waiting for them to turn up – their arguments were entirely militarily sound but undoubtedly the lure of profit held its own siren call.

Walsingham and the earl of Leicester supported the idea. On 25 March 1587 Elizabeth I agreed that Drake could go and do nasty things to Spanish vessels on the pretext of supporting Dom Antonio, a claimant for the Portuguese Crown which Philip II had collected for himself.  She sent off the Elizabeth Bonaventure, the Golden Lion, the Dreadnaught and the Rainbow.  The rest of the vessels under Drake’s command were financed by private investors hoping to turn a profit (think of London Merchants as being a bit like modern hedge fund investors.)  The Merchant Adventurers even had an appropriate contract for the occasion which is somewhat eyebrow raising to a modern reader.

It was all very hush hush because, after all, England was not at war with Spain.

Vessels sailed from London to Plymouth.  The entire fleet sailed on the 12 April, Drake having penned a cheery note to Walsingham, prior to his departure. Once his vessels were out of sight over the horizon Elizabeth changed her mind and ordered him home because piracy is as we all know a very wrong thing, as is setting fire to other people’s boats.  She sent a fast pinnace with the new orders to Drake…it never reached him, perhaps because its crew was too busy engaged in piracy on their own behalf.

Drake, meanwhile, was bound for Cadiz. The original plan was that he should aim for Lisbon but Cadiz was the Armada’s supply base. There was also only one entrance channel to the harbour and it passed directly beneath the gun strewn city walls. It would take a daring commander to assault the ships at anchor there.

On 29th April Drake arrived, held a council of war, lowered his flags and sauntered in battle formation toward the harbour entrance. The citizens of Cadiz only realised that they had sighted a hostile force when Drake opened fire and then raised his flags once more.  Panic erupted. Cadiz’s mayor tried to send the town’s women and children to safety in the castle but it’s captain had the gates shut causing further pandemonium.

Meanwhile Spanish galleys tried to lure the English warships onto the sandbanks that surrounded Cadiz with no success. During the next two days Drake and his men sank or fired a variety of Spanish vessels as well as Geonese merchantmen.

The Spanish militia was sent for in a bid to prevent the English gaining access to the inner harbour and they also attempted to send fireships out amongst the English fleet. These were promptly towed off whilst the English burned something like 13,000 tons of shipping and as usual looted where possible. The Spanish claimed they had lost twenty four vessels but one of Drake’s men put the total closer to sixty.

One of the key successes to the venture  was the loss to the Spanish of the wooden staves that had been destined for the manufacture of barrels which would have held the Armada’s fresh water and salted meat.  Poor provisioning was one of the key reasons for the number of Spanish deaths associated with the Armada.

During the action there was even time for an exchange of prisoners with the English offering their recently captured Spanish prisoners in return for English galley slaves.  Drake took the opportunity to ask about the size of the Armada and when told that it was more than two hundred warships in size is alleged to have shrugged his shoulders and said that it wasn’t such a lot. You might not like the man or his methods but you have to admire the swash in his buckle.

Drake and his fleet eventually sailed off and spent the rest of the month looking for Spanish vessels to capture. On the 14 May he was off  Lagos but the town was too strongly defended to be attacked so he went on to Cape Sagres where he ransacked various churches and a fortified monastery. He continued to be a nuisance in the shipping lanes. On 27 May he celebrated  his success in his usual understated style;

“We have taken forts, barques, caravels and divers other vessels.”

Drake was clearly a man with one eye on his own press cuttings.

On the 18th June the San Felipe was sighted.  It had cargo worth £108,049 13s and 11d in precious jewels, silks and spices.  Elizabeth’s share in the profit  from the capture was £40,000.  Drake was not arrested for piracy as soon as he arrived back on English shores (I can’t imagine why!) Elizabeth was heard, somewhat gleefully, telling the French Ambassador that Cadiz had been destroyed. The inference being that if it had happened once it could very well happen again.

Drake would go on to be hailed as an English hero for his part in the Armada Campaign – his alleged game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe is part of national folklore.  Inevitably after the first part of the battle in which the English fleet chased after the Spanish Drake couldn’t help but revert to form. Drake shadowed the Spanish fleet with a light burning at his stern as a guide to the following English fleet. Unfortunately the light went out. Once a pirate always a pirate.  The Spanish ship Rosario was in dire straits and Drake couldn’t resist taking it as a prize which was unfortunate as without the light to give some indication of what was happening the rest of the English vessels ran the risk of running straight into the back of the Spanish  fleet which is what Lord Howard of Effingham aboard the Ark Royal almost did. Drake would later claim that he had gone off to investigate a strange vessel which turned out to be a German merchant but Lord Howard wasn’t totally convinced.  Hutchinson makes the point that court marshalling the queen’s favourite pirate probably wasn’t on the cards either. Martin Frobisher was less circumspect in his account noting that Drake wanted the spoils of war for himself but that he, Frobisher, was going to get his share.

And just for the record, despite what most folk might think, it was not Sir Francis Drake who commanded the English fleet during the Armada it was Lord Howard of Effingham. So why you might ask is Sir Francis on my list of heroes? I’ve even posted about him before now (click here to open new page) Well, I would have to say that the actual historical man isn’t.  Quite frankly he sounds like a bit of a chancer albeit a lucky and a courageous one with a strong sense of self.  The Sir Francis who I admire is the romantic and literary creation, or perhaps propoganda, of post-Armada England.  He is brave and chivalrous and probably rescues kittens stuck up trees before helping braces of little old ladies across the road.  The popular perception of Sir Francis Drake is that of the plucky Englander with a heart of oak and virtues to match – his heirs can be seen on any repeat of Dad’s Army – overcoming adversity through bravery and guile.  He is representative of a long line of almost mythical defenders of an Island Nation.

With Elizabeth the concept of a Medieval European empire of the kind ruled over by Henry II, dreamed about by Edward III and written about by Shakespeare in his history plays was finally consigned to the History books.  Mary Tudor may have died with Calais written on her heart but her sister and her closest advisers set about creating something new  during Elizabeth’s forty year reign. Elizabeth and her government painted a picture of a Protestant sea-faring nation standing David-like against the Catholic Goliath in its Spanish guise. England’s new band of brothers would be sea farers.  This, undoubtedly, was playing fast and loose with the truth but I do like a good story, and besides, my Dad told it to me – which is, of course, how History turns into folklore.

 

 

Hutchinson, Robert. (2013) The Spanish Armada. New York: Thomas Dunne Books

 

 

William Cecil

William_Cecil_Riding_a_MuleDavid Cecil, William’s grandfather had turned up at Bosworth on the victorious side. he went on to become one of Henry VII’s newly formed yeomen of the guard.  His son meanwhile settled down to the business of being a Lincolnshire gentleman with court connections.

William, born in 1520, went to Grantham Grammar school and then onto stamford Grammar School and from there to Cambridge where he blotted his copy books by falling in love with, and marrying, an inn keeper’s daughter.  Mary  Cheke- William’s youthful fling died in 1544, two years after their marriage.  They had one son with whom William appears not to have got on very well all things considered.

The son, Thomas, did not have the same administrative brain as his half-brother Robert. Cecil is supposed to have said that Thomas wasn’t fit to govern a tennis court, not that it stopped him from becoming the 1st Earl of Exeter.

In 1545 William married Mildred Cooke. Two years later William became part of the administrative department for Edward VI’s protectorate.  He had been at university with Ascham. Rather unexpectedly William turns up at the Battle of Pinkie and seems to have got on well with the Duke of Somerset as he became one of his private secretaries.  Unfortunately Somerset would fall from power in 1549 – the resulting associating meant that Cecil got to spend some time in the Tower on the wrong side of the bars but on his release he became the secretary of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. It was during this time that he became Elizabeth Tudor’s man of business or more specifically her estate agent.

Then Edward VI died and Cecil found himself on a sticky wicket once more.  He was part of the regime attempting to usurp Henry VIII’s will and place Lady Jane Grey on the throne rather than Mary Tudor.  He managed to extricate himself by signing the device which made Jane queen as a witness and Mary Tudor issued him with a general pardon suggesting some shady doings which helped to thwart Dudley.

During Mary’s reign Cecil was sent on a couple of diplomatic missions and continued in his role as a member of Parliament.  His wife’s convinced Protestantism doesn’t appear to have held him back.

In November 1558 Elizabeth ascended to the throne and made Cecil her principal Secretary of State.  He held the post for the next forty years and whilst he complained bitterly about his royal mistress on occasion he served her loyally throughout. Elizabeth recognised him as her “alpha and omega.”

In 1563 he purchased Theobalds House in Hertfordshire.

Much has been written about Cecil or Lord Burghley as he became in 1571.  It was he who sought to send Robert Dudley as an Ambassador to Spain shortly after Elizabeth ascended the throne, it was he who was sent from court in disgrace after the execution of Mary Queen of Scots and it was he who helped to re mint the coinage to make Elizabeth’s economy much more secure.  He did become Lord Treasurer in 1572 after all.

Whilst much is made of Elizabeth’s foreign policy which often seems to include marriage negotiations involving either herself or in later years Arbella Stuart or on occasion the grand-daughters of Lady Margaret Clifford it was Cecil who initially recognised the importance of the New World in terms of economy and it was he who identified the importance of playing Spain and France off against each other in order to maintain a balance of power.  Cecil like Elizabeth was keen to avoid a war.  In short he was there to protect Elizabeth and the realm by always being in the background organising that things went as smoothly as possible.

Alford suggests that Cecil was much more than an administrator.  It was Cecil who put Sir Francis Walsingham in post in 1568 and he seems to have had a knack for plots and double agents of his own.

Aside from plotting, administration and a Renaissance line in poetry writing, Cecil also enjoyed, of all things, gardening.  He employed John Gerard who wrote Gerard’s herbal and the enterprising Tradescants were employed by William’s son Robert.  It was tradescantia who popularised tulips in England. Which leads me to my happy discovery of the day pertaining to Cecil, Elizabeth I and gardens.

In 1599 Sir John Davies described Elizabeth I as the Empress of Flowers who prized a beautiful garden.  This in its own turn meant that Elizabeth’s chief courtiers were green fingered themselves – or at least employed some rather good garden landscapers. Robert Dudley and William Cecil competed with one another to produce gardens that would impress.  Cecil liked “fountains and walks” in his gardens and imported lemon trees as well.  He also had a maze garden.  The designs became ever more ornate as he tried to outdo Robert Dudley who pulled out all the stops in 1575 at Kennilworth.  I must admit to loving the idea of a garden rivalry!

Cecil died on August 4th 1598

Alford. Stephen. Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I 

Martin,  Trea. Elizabeth in the Garden: A Story of Love, Rivalry and Spectacular Design

Windows into men’s souls – The problems of Catholicism in the 1570s and 80s.

queen_elizabeth_armada_portraitDuring the first ten years of Elizabeth I’s reign she took very little notice of the English Catholics who led their home shores to find sanctuary in Europe.  Very sensibly she had no desire to create martyrs.  There was also the lesson of her half-sister to consider.  She had begun her reign on a wave of popularity which swiftly dissipated when she started burning people.

In 1568 Dr William Allen founded an English College at Douai with the aid of donations from the Pope and from Philip II.  Men such as Edmund Campion, somewhat unexpectedly a deacon in the Church of England prior to his arrival in Douai, made their way there for training.  After the papal bull of 1570, however, Elizabeth began to take a different view of these well educated men.  In addition to which there were a growing number of English lords dependent upon Spain for their pensions – men like Dacre who had fled during the rising of 1569.

Inevitably as the political pressure on England increased along with the likelihood of war despite Elizabeth’s attempts to maintain some form of peace or at least to delay the inevitable through marriage negotiations attitudes hardened.  By 1585 it was a treasonable offence to give shelter to catholic priests in England.  The fact that  William Allen was corresponding with Philip II and the Pope hardly helped matters.  Nor did it help as the number of plots against Elizabeth increased.

In Rome, Anthony Monday noted that members of the English college there competed to make the worst insults about Elizabeth – “frying bacon” apparently took on a whole new meaning amongst the seminarians.  Essentially Once the Catholics gained power Sir Francis Bacon would be toast – to mix a rather old metaphor.

As the English Catholics entered the priesthood and finished their training in record time they returned to English shores.  Eighteen English Catholic priests returned home in 1576. Elizabeth might not want to meddle with men’s souls but she certainly didn’t want Catholic sponsored invaders arriving either and this was a problem.

Whilst London had a reputation for being Protestant the counties were a little behind with the times and many of the older aristocratic families were proud of their Catholic affiliations.  In 1566 the Lord Mayor of Oxford told the Privy Council that he couldn’t find three houses in the city that weren’t packed with papists.  Elizabeth dealt with this by going to visit Oxford and talking to all the students.  Amongst the men there that day was Edmund Campion who gained Robert Dudley’s patronage on the strength of his intellectual abilities.

1569 saw the Northern Earls Rebellion and the following year saw Elizabeth excommunicated.  Pope Pius V had done nothing for the safety or happiness of Catholics in England, Ireland and Wales.  In 1572 more than 2000 French Protestants were massacred.  Paranoia grew along with Walsingham’s spy network.  Men like John Gerard and Nicholas Owen grew up Catholics in suspicious times.

By 1573 letters were being intercepted on their way to both Oxford and Cambridge inviting students to join with the exiles in Douai and later in Rome (1575 onwards).  In 1574 Cuthbert Maine answered the call to go to college in Douai.  He journeyed with four companions.  Men like them and Gerard believed that their families had and were still suffering at the hands of a protestant government.  Others thought that the occasional famines that England experienced during the mid-Tudor period were manifestations of God’s displeasure. Still others thought that Protestants were wrong – their Jesuit training hardened their beliefs.

In 1578  the college at Douai was forced to shut when Elizabeth reached a compromise with the Spanish and booted the Sea Beggars out of England.  They went to Rheims under the protection of the Guise family who were fiercely Catholic and rather enjoyed creating havoc in England.

The students and their tutors had become much more hard core in their views.  Now they didn’t just want to convert their neighbours back to Catholicism or to care for the needs of the Catholic flock – now they were adamant that there should be a Spanish backed invasion.  As early as 1576 Allen’s men had preferred to die rather than take an oath of obedience to Elizabeth if they were captured.  Cuthbert Mayne went to his death declaring that  should any Catholic happen to invade the nation it was every English Catholic’s duty to support them in that goal.

Martyrdom beckoned along with a healthy dose of fundamentalism.  Inevitably Mary Queen of Scots was nominated as an alternative monarch.  William Allen corresponded with her as well as the Pope and Philip II.  No wonder Walsingham and Elizabeth’s Privy Council became increasingly keen that the undoubted royal catholic alternative to Elizabeth should be disposed of once and for all.  It was just a question of getting Elizabeth to agree.

 

Hogge, Alice. God’s Secret Agents

Hutchinson, Robert. Elizabeth’s Spymaster

Ronald, Susan. Heretic Queen

 

Tudor inheritance and a nasty case of poisoned mushrooms.

tudor family treepic.jpg

Yesterday I blogged about the scandal of Lady Margaret Stanley nee Clifford plotting against Elizabeth I by using astrology to predict the queen’s death.  Dr Randall, the physician who drew up the star chart was hanged for his pains whilst Margaret spent nearly twenty years under house arrest.

Fernando_StanleyMargaret’s son Ferdinando Stanley the 5th earl of Derby was much less lucky.  Ferdinando became earl in 1593 after his father’s death.   The following year the fifth earl died rather unexpectedly following a sudden and violent illness.  At the time witchcraft was mentioned but poisoning was the more generally accepted reason – as this extract from Camden’s history reflects:

Ferdinand Stanley Earle of Darby… expired in the flowre of his youth, not without suspition of poyson, being tormented with cruell paynes by frequent vomitings of a darke colour like rusty yron. There was found in his chamber an Image of waxe, the belly pierced thorow with haires of the same colour that his were, put there, (as the wiser sort have judged, to remove the suspition of poyson). The matter vomited up stayned the silver Basons in such sort, that by no art they could possibly be brought againe to their former brightnesse… No small suspicion lighted upon the Gentleman of his horse, who; as soone as the Earle tooke his bed, tooke his best horse, and fled”.

Different sources suggest poisonous mushrooms whilst a writer in The Lancet speculates on an early English use of arsenic.

The story began when a man called Richard Hesketh had approached Ferdinando on behalf of the Jesuits on 27 September 1593.  He had travelled from Prague via Hamburg to England for his meeting. Hesketh wasn’t a random Catholic he was an ex-retainer of the Stanley family. Daugherty goes so far as to identify him as a step-brother.

The earl was a direct descendent of Henry VII, there was no question about his legitimacy and more importantly he was of Catholic stock.  It seems that Stanley had two meetings with the man as well as going off to London to talk things over with Lady Margaret Stanley before turning Hesketh over to the authorities for interrogation.  This, despite the fact that Hesketh had warned him that if the plot was divulged then Ferdinado wouldn’t have long to live.  The plot involved placing Ferdinando on the throne and the usual possibility of a Spanish invasion just to ensure that Catholicism gained the upper hand.

Hesketh was executed in November 1593 in St Albans  having implicated Ferdinando’s brother William in the plot.  To add to the chaos several of Ferdinado’s servants had sought shelter in the household of the Earl of Essex during Ferdinando’s life time and there was a suggestion that Essex also had a hand in Ferdinando’s demise.  There was also some doubt expressed about Ferdinando in that he had first received intimations of treachery at the end of September but did not inform the Crown of the plot until October.

Unsurprisingly the fact that Ferdinando had betrayed Hesketh to the Crown did not go unremarked. A text published in Antwerp entitled A Conference on the Next Succession to the Crowne of England,  by Robert Parsons, under the pseudonym Robert Doleman, backed away from supporting Ferdinando as the heir apparent. Parsons suggested that some english Catholics thought that William Stanley  might make a better successor to Queen Elizabeth.

If being rejected by conspirators wasn’t bad enough Ferdinando now found himself being marginalised at court.  He had hoped for more recognition given his loyalty.  Instead an important role in Chester was given to someone else rather than to him.  It led him to comment rather bitterly that he had lost out both at court and in the country.  Ferdinando’s wife, Alice Spencer, wrote to Cecil asking for help.  The scandal of the plot was making life difficult for a man who had demonstrated his loyalty.

It has been suggested that Robert Cecil and his father lay at the heart of the conspiracy in that their agents can be found lurking at the edges of the plot.  If this was the case it was a sham-plot perhaps designed to entrap Ferdinando or perhaps to entrap bigger political fish. There are those who believe that the first letter that Hesketh gave to Ferdinando in September 1593 did not come from Prague at all but from a certain Mr Hickman.  The murky world of Elizabethan spying provides associates of Christopher Marlowe (and remember that Ferdinando was a patron of Marlowe) who were prepared to suggest that Cecil had been involved in the poisoning.  Henry Young explained that the governing elite had decided that it was time to get rid of possible contenders for the throne.

The idea of manufacturing plots was nothing new – the Babbington Plot had required a bit of light forgery before Mary Queen of Scots incriminated herself and the so-called Lopez Plot which saw Elizabeth’s doctor rather unpleasantly executed was manufactured by the Earl of Essex so that he could demonstrate his effectiveness in the murky world of espionage.

For those who like a bit of spice it should be noted that the new Earl of Derby – who was Ferdinando’s brother Willliam now acquired a wife Elizabeth de Vere – she was the grand daughter of William Cecil.  If nothing else this suggests that Cecil knew that William hadn’t had a hand in poisoning his brother to gain the title. It should also be noted that the Cecil already had ties of kinship with the Stanleys and it may have been that, as well as loyalty to the throne, that  prompted Ferdinando to reveal information about the plot as swiftly as he did.  It could also be hypothesised that in 1595 whilst James VI of Scotland was in receipt of a pension it wasn’t necessarily true that he was the only candidate for the English throne – perhaps, rather on the other end of the spectrum to the previous paragraph, Cecil rather liked the idea of a grand daughter sitting on the throne he’d served so loyally for his entire life!

Breight. C. Surveillance, Militarism and Drama in the Elizabethan Era

Daugherty, Leo. (2011) The Assassination of Shakespeare’s Patron: Investigating the Death of the Fifth Earl of Derby  Cambria Press

Edwards, Francis. (2002)  Plots and Plotters in the Reign of Elizabeth I. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Nicholas, Charles. The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe

 

The Tudor taint – an heir problem

LadyMargaretCliffordHistory tends to decree that the Tudors had problems with heirs.  In reality it must have felt to the heirs, on occasion, that they had problems with being Tudor.  Henry VIII decreed the order of inheritance beginning with his own children. Not only did he specify the order of inheritance in his will but he ensured that it was enshrined in law with the third Act of Succession of 1544.

In the event of Henry’s own children not having children or surviving to inherit, Henry being Henry  broke with the usual rules of inheritance by bypassing the children of his elder sister Margaret by nominating those of his younger sister Mary.  His will refers to her as the “French Queen,” a courtesy title that she kept after the death of King Louis XII of France and her subsequent second marriage to Charles Brandon who became Duke of Suffolk.  The crown was to go first to the heirs of Frances Brandon who became Lady Frances Grey the mother of Ladies Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey.  If that line failed the crown would pass, in theory, to the children of  Frances’ younger sister Eleanor  who had married Henry Clifford, the 2nd Earl of Cumberland.

There was undoubtedly a paucity of males at that point in proceedings.  Eleanor Clifford, born sometime between 1518 and 1521, had produced two sons: Charles and Henry as well as a daughter Margaret pictured at the start of this post.  Eleanor died in November 1547 having been married to Henry Clifford in 1535, so she never fully understood the poisoned chalice of her Tudor bloodline.  The pair lived in Brougham Castle although the 1st earl went on a bit of a building spree on the strength of having a royal daughter-in-law.  The year after her marriage Eleanor was the chief mourner at Katherine of Aragon’s funeral and found herself in the wrong part of the country during the Pilgrimage of Grace. A flight across the moors from Bolton Abbey to Skipton Castle saved her from  immediate capture but having arrived at Skipton she found herself besieged.  Her husband was in Carlisle dealing with the rebels in Cumberland.

Eleanor does not seem to have spent much time at court although Frances Grey is listed as being present at key occasions such as the baptism of Prince Edward and the arrival of Anne of Cleves.  It is perhaps not surprising both Charles and Henry died in their infancies and it would appear from surviving letters that Eleanor did not enjoy robust health.  In 1540 though she gave birth to Margaret.

After Eleanor’s death the 2nd Earl of Cumberland would eventually remarry and have sons but the Tudor inheritance would pass to Margaret Clifford.  This is evidenced by the fact that John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland initially suggested a marriage between his youngest son Guildford and Margaret.  Before contracts could be drawn up John Dudley arranged for his youngest son to marry Margaret’s cousin Lady Jane Grey and in order to ensure that the Tudor line and the Dudleys remained firmly intertwined Margaret was betrothed instead to Andrew Dudley, the duke’s younger brother, in June 1553.  Andrew would soon  find himself under arrest for his part in Dudley’s bid to bypass Henry VIII’s succession.

Fernando_StanleyMargaret was married instead to Lord Strange, the heir of the Earl of Derby – or in other words into the Stanley family.  She married Henry Stanley in 1555 under the watchful gaze of Queen Mary.  The pair had four sons but it wasn’t a particularly happy marriage and the pair eventually separated.  Of the four sons only two survived to adulthood. Ferdinando Stanley became the Earl of Derby followed by his brother  William in 1594.  Ferdinando (pictured left) had been earl for only a year and whilst William became the 6th earl as well as Baron Strange it was Ferdinando’s daughters who became co-heiresses to the estates.  Inevitably there was a messy court case.  I shall return to Ferdinando who may well have died because of his closeness to the throne and also the Stanley suspected adherence to Catholicism.

After the death of Mary Grey the last of her Grey cousins in 1578 Margaret  found herself as one of the potential heirs to the English throne.  In 1580 she wrote to Walsingham about the “heavy and long-continued displeasure” that she had found herself experiencing. When she died in 1596 she had spent several years under house arrest in Clerkenwell having been arrested on charges of using astrology to predict when Elizabeth I would die – a treasonous act (and one which got Eleanor Cobham into huge amounts of bother in the fifteenth century).  Even in death she was careful not to offend Elizabeth as her will testifies:

First, I bequeath my soul into the hands of Almighty God, my only Saviour and Redeemer, by whom I hope only to be saved and by no other ways nor means, and my body to be buried where it shall please the Queen’s Majesty to appoint, or otherwise at the discretion of mine executors.

 

The line of the French Queen’s youngest daughter was now carried on by Ferdinando’s three daughters; Anne, Frances and Elizabeth.  William had no children.  In 1596 Anne was created the legal heir presumptive to Elizabeth I bypassing William who was also suspected on account of his closeness to the throne and catholicism.

william stanley.jpgWilliam (pictured right) was specifically forbidden from joining the Earl of Essex on his campaign in Ireland as it was felt that he might take advantage of the opportunity to do a spot of networking.  William, it would’ve to be said, appears to have done nothing to deserve royal suspicion  – he was very much a member of the gentry concerning himself with his northern estates and keeping his head down – presumably he didn’t want to end up like his mother or brother.  He appears to have been a scholarly type and if you like your conspiracy theories he is one of the contenders for the real Shakespeare based on the fact that George Fenner, a Jesuit, reported that William rather than being interested in politics and matters of religion spent his time “penning common plays” in his house near Chester.

Elizabeth did eventually make him a knight of the garter and King James I made his relation a privy councillor.

The mystery of the disappearance of Henry Pole…in the Tower

princes_in_the_tower_2When we think of children disappearing into the Tower and never being seen again we tend to think of Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York – a.k.a. The Princes in the Tower.  Henry Pole the Younger, the teenage son of Lord Montagu and grandson of Margaret of Salisbury was sent to the Tower in November 1538 – he was not charged, he was not executed…he simply failed to re-appear in public – and he doesn’t have the same cachet as the Princes in the Tower so tends to remain largely forgotten

margaret salisburyMargaret of Salisbury was the daughter of George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville.  She had been orphaned at five years old when George had an unfortunate accident in the Tower with a large barrel of Malmsey wine.  She and her younger brother Edward grew up under the rule of their uncles Edward IV and Richard III.  In 1485 when the Plantagenets lost the Crown on the field of battle at Bosworth Margaret found herself being handed into the wardship of Lady Margaret Beaufort, who in all fairness seems to have had a protective instinct for young women (perhaps not surprising given her own history).  So, Margaret of Salisbury was about fourteen when she was married off to a loyal Tudor supporter – Sir Richard Pole and sent off to the Welsh marches where she could be safely ignored.

 

Unfortunately for the long term survival of the Pole family, despite the fact that Margaret had been deliberately married to a man whose loyalty was to the Tudors and who was far below Margaret in social status – though as the daughter of an attainted traitor this was not such an issue Margaret remained close to the court. When Henry VIII became king it was he who returned to Margaret the title of Countess of Salisbury whilst her eldest son, Henry, became Lord Montagu.  It was probably just as well that Henry VIII had taken a shine to the family when Sir Richard died in 1504 the family had been so impoverished that they had to borrow money to pay for the funeral. There were five little Poles bearing Plantagenet blood in their veins – Henry, Reginald, Geoffrey and Arthur (who died of sweating sickness) as well as a daughter named Ursula who had thirteen children of her own.

 

katherine of aragon sil meMargaret’s loyalty was to Katherine of Aragon and to her daughter Princess Mary to whom she was governess and godmother. (Along with Margaret her sister-in-law Eleanor Pole was also a lady-in-waiting to Katherine. Eleanor was related through marriage to Lady Margaret Beaufort’s extended family.) Despite this and their conservative adherence to Catholicism (something they had in common with much of the old aristocracy – the Courtenay family were caught up with Elizabeth Barton the so-called Nun of Kent) they managed to walk on the tightrope of faith that Henry VIII strung up when he divorced Katherine and married Anne Boleyn.

 

Matters were not helped between the Tudor and Plantagenet cousins when Margaret’s son Reginald Pole – Henry VIII’s “pet” learned academic who had been educated at Henry’s expense wrote a book snappily entitled Pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensionein 1536. It denounced both his marriage to Anne Boleyn and his religious policies – in short it did not have the content that Henry wanted. The Pole family in England wrote letters castigating Reginald, sure that they would be read before reaching their intended recipient. Pole wrote back to his mother telling her not to interfere with his conscience. Despite his high moral tone Pole started to have to look over his shoulder.  Men were sent to assassinate him on Thomas Cromwell’s orders. Requests were sent to have him bundled up and sent home to face the music.  It probably didn’t help that the Pope made him a cardinal at more or less the same time.

 

The Poles retreated from court and very sensibly kept their heads down – presumably quite liking the idea of keeping them.  It wouldn’t be enough to save them.  In 1538 the so-called Exeter Conspiracy was revealed when in August Margaret Pole’s youngest son Geoffrey was arrested and taken to the Tower.

 

Henry Pole, Lord Montagu was familiar with the process of being arrested for treason, after all he had been arrested for in connection to the 3rdDuke of Buckingham’s plot against the king in 1520. Stafford had been found guilty of treason based on evidence given by his servants – the evidence was hearsay rather than concrete proof of plotting but it was enough to get him executed in 1521. Henry Pole had been released and had demonstrated loyalty to Henry VIII in a variety of capacities.

 

In August 1538 however, he was not in the Tower he was wondering what his little brother Geoffrey was saying and what charges that he might face.  Margaret Pole wrote for permission to visit Geoffrey and to ask what he had done.  In October 1538 Geoffrey was finally questioned – a couple of months in the Tower kept in isolation was enough to make him say what Thomas Cromwell wanted to hear. In November the treason net stretched around the Pole family.  Henry VIII would have vengeance against Reginald and also surety that those pesky Plantagenets wouldn’t regain the throne. Geoffrey devastated that he had destroyed his own family rather than face further rather more active torture made two attempts on his own life.

 

Lord Montagu, his teenage son Henry, Montagu’s brother Sir Geoffrey, Montagu’s father-in-law Sir Edward Neville and his cousin Henry Courtenay, and Courtenay’s son were arrested on charges of conspiring to depose Henry VIII and replace him with Courtenay. Henry VIII’s proclamation about the plot identified that the plotters also conspired to validate their actions by marrying Princess Mary off either to either young Henry Pole or Edward Courtenay. It would have to be said that their Plantagenet blood made the need to justify their attempt on the throne with marriage to a Tudor somewhat unnecessary but it certainly gave Thomas Cromwell the opportunity to arrest as many scions of the Plantagenet bloodline as possible.

 

Margaret Pole was taken along to the Tower with her grandson having been rigorously questioned by William FitzWilliam, First Earl of Southampton without any notable success.  Margaret would be attainted in 1539 but the only evidence was a coat bearing the insignia of a pilgrim of the Pilgrimage of Grace – there was no suggestion that it belonged to her personally.  She would be messily executed in 1541 without trial.  The attainder meant there was no need for one.  Up until that time her existence in the Tower – complete with a furred gown can be traced in Henry VIII’s accounts along with that of her grandson.  A novel entitled The Courier’s Tale, by Peter Walker, about Michael Throckmorton of Coughton Court, Reginald Pole’s messenger and agent includes an after note about the historic traces that remain of Henry Pole in Cromwell’s documents – there is a suggestion that Henry Pole was simply forgotten and allowed to die.

Letters written by Reginald Pole in Italy and also the testimony of Sir Geoffrey Pole sent Montagu and Courtenay senior to their deaths. Edward Courtenay remained in the Tower until Mary Tudor became queen in 1553 and then became caught up in Wyatt’s Rebellion the following – Mary politely suggested that he might like to travel more widely.

Henry Pole the younger simply disappeared without trace. It is of course possible that he died of natural causes but given the circumstances it is all to believable that he was simply bumped off in time-honoured fashion.

Bernard, G.W. The King’s Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church

Pierce, Hazel. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury 1473-1541: Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership