Tag Archives: Amy Robsart

Amy Robsart’s death

Amy Robsart exhibited 1877 by William Frederick Yeames 1835-1918

Amy Robsart exhibited 1877 William Frederick Yeames 1835-1918 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1877 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01609

On the afternoon of Sunday 8th December 1560 Amy Robsart, the wife of Robert Dudley was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs at Cumnor Place – the home of Sir Anthony Forster. It could, have course, been a tragic accident.  At the time there was some suggestion that Amy committed suicide; it has also been suggested that she was suffering from advanced breast cancer and the final and most appealing for lovers of the conspiracy theory is that she was murdered by one of the following – Robert Dudley Elizabeth I or William Cecil.

Mrs Picto, Amy’s maid, when questioned by Sir Thomas Blount said that she believed that Amy’s death was “chance.”  She went on to explain that Amy was a virtuous soul who prayed every day on her knees to be delivered from desperation but was adamant that her mistress would not have taken her own life.  Blount questioned the locals to find out what they thought and half of them thought it was an accident whilst the other half thought that something suspicious had happened. Blount himself noted that he thought that Amy “had a strange mind in her.”  His letter states that he will tell more when he next sees Dudley – rather frustratingly we don’t know what other information he had to tell his master. We know that Amy was unhappy, after all her husband was the subject of gossip in relation to the queen whilst she didn’t even have a home to call her own.  Yet, would a woman contemplating suicide order a new dress? She had ordered a new velvet dress and a collar for a rose coloured gown?

The problem is that people can act irrationally  when distressed or in pain and she had ordered her entire household to go to the fair in Abingdon that day.  She had become cross when Mrs Odingsells, one of her household, had sought to disagree with her.  Did she want to be alone simply because she was fed up of being surrounded by her household, was she feeling unwell, was she contemplating ending it all or – was she going to meet with someone who isn’t part of the historical record?  The answer is that we can’t know for sure. The inquest found that her death was accidental but Robert Dudley’s reputation was tarnished.  It was now impossible for him to marry Elizabeth, even if he did withdraw to Kew and hope that the rumours would go away.

If it wasn’t suicide – could it have been an accident.  This was what the coroner’s jury decided:

Inquisition as indenture held at Cumnor in the aforesaid county [Oxfordshire] on 9 September in the second year of the reign of the most dread Lady Elizabeth, by the grace of God queen of England, France, and Ireland, defend of the faith, etc., before John Pudsey, gent, a coroner of the said lady queen in the aforesaid county, on inspection of the body of Lady Amy Dudley, late wife of Robert Dudley, knight of the most noble order of the garter, there lying dead: by oath of Richard Smith, gent., Humphrey Lewis, gent., Thomas Moulder, gent., Richard Knight, Thomas Spyre, Edward Stevenson, John Stevenson, Richard Hughes, William Cantrell, William Noble, John Buck, John Keene, Henry Lanlgey, Stephen Ruffyn, and John Sire: which certain jurors, sworn to tell the truth at our request, were adjourned from the aforesaid ninth day onwards day by day very often; and finally various several days were given to them by the selfsame coroner to appear both before the justices of the aforesaid lady queen at the assizes assigned to be held in the aforesaid county and before the same coroner in order there to return their verdict truthfully and speedily, until 1 August in the third year of the reign of the said lady queen; on which day the same jurors say under oath that the aforesaid Lady Amy on 8 September in the aforesaid second year of the reign of the said lady queen, being alone in a certain chamber within the home of a certain Anthony Forster, esq., in the aforesaid Cumnor, and intending to descend the aforesaid chamber by way of certain steps (in English called ‘steyres’) of the aforesaid chamber there and then accidentally fell precipitously down the aforesaid steps to the very bottom of the same steps, through which the same Lady Amy there and then sustained not only two injuries to her head (in English called ‘dyntes’) – one of which was a quarter of an inch deep and the other two inches deep – but truly also, by reason of the accidental injury or of that fall and of Lady Amy’s own body weight falling down the aforesaid stairs, the same Lady Amy there and then broke her own neck, on account of which certain fracture of the neck the same Lady Amy there and then died instantly; and the aforesaid Lady Amy was found there and then without any other mark or wound on her body; and thus the jurors say on their oath that the aforesaid Lady Amy in the manner and form aforesaid by misfortune came to her death and not otherwise, as they are able to agree at present; in testimony of which fact for this inquest both the aforesaid coroner and also the aforesaid jurors have in turn affixed their seals on the day.


Questions  are often asked about the nature of the steps – which appear to have been shallow and few in number causing conspiracy theorists to raise their eyebrows. Another source mentions a pair of steps suggesting a turn – which might account for the head wounds.  Cumnor Place was demolished during the Victorian period so we cannot know for sure.  It has even been hypothesised that Amy had become disorientated about her location and taken a tumble not realising that there were steps.

It doesn’t help that Dudley anxious to quell rumour asked for “discreet men,” that one of his own men was on the jury and that in later years he paid the foreman of the jury in lengths of taffeta and velvet which smacks of nobbling the jury – which doesn’t look good, if we’re honest.   Weighed against that was the fact that Dudley insisted that the jury was composed of local men and that it didn’t matter if they were hostile to him or not.  He also wrote asking that Amy’s half brother go to Cumnor to oversee things – at most he could be accused of being guilty of trying to look after his reputation. Amy’s brother, Appleyard, came forward in 1567 saying that he knew who killed Amy and he didn’t blame Dudley – he also ended up retracting his statement when he found himself locked up in the Fleet Prison by William Cecil.

In 1956 Dr Ian Aird published a medical paper explaining how untreated breast cancer can cause skeletal collapse which would explain how an accidental tumble could have caused a broken neck.  As the previous post in this series noted assorted ambassadors commented on Amy’s poor health – in particular the malady of her breast.  The Venetian ambassador stated that she had been ailing for some time. Poor health or not, falling the wrong way can cause a broken neck.  Of course poor health or an accident is not nearly as marketable or dramatic as being murdered.

Amy did believe she was being poisoned – it was why she left Throcking in the spring of 1559.  It could have cause have been her illness which she mistook for poisoning or maybe she was being slowly poisoned by her husband’s retainers who thought they were doing Dudley a favour.  Chris Skidmore leans towards this explanation – think Thomas Becket and apply to an inconvenient wife. Skidmore isn’t convinced either that the two head wounds mentioned in the coroner’s report could have been caused by a tumble.

Elizabeth didn’t marry Robert, perhaps she never had any intention of marrying her favourite, having Henry VIII for a parent would put any sensible woman off matrimony and then there was the unfortunate episode with Admiral Seymour not to mention the experience of her half-sister’s unhappy marriage.  The scandal was a sufficient reason for her not to marry Robert. Her reputation as a virtuous monarch was damaged but it wouldn’t be long before in Scotland Mary Queen of Scots ended up with an all too obviously murdered spouse and then went on to marry the man implicated in Darnley’s untimely demise. Mary would lose her kingdom – Elizabeth raised in more dangerous circumstances was much too canny to make that sort of mistake despite what William Cecil and most of the Privy Council seemed to have feared as Elizabeth spent the first year of her reign hunting and hawking with her childhood friend. Yes, she was a Tudor and the Tudors like most medieval and early modern monarchs may have done the odd deeply unpleasant thing or two but let’s not go down the avenue of the Game of Thrones style killer queen – that’s not history that’s speculation.

The person who gained from Amy’s untimely demise was William Cecil who certainly spread rumours about his political opponent – but rumours are not the same as giving an order to topple a young woman down the stairs!  There is absolutely no evidence that he was involved. But there again he was good at what he did so would hardly have left a lengthy paper trail for hapless historians. He was also a man of strong religious leanings. Accusation and counter-claim turn into a metaphorical game of ping pong which all come back to the same thing – these is no evidence.

And there you have it – did Amy fall, was she pushed or was it an accident – the Historical truth is that no one knows and to say otherwise without further evidence is opinion not fact.




Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

On the trail of Amy Robsart

amy-robsart-by-t-f-dicksee.jpg!Large.jpegThis is episode two of my three part look at Amy Robsart’s life and death – as with any other historical death involving persons of political significance where there isn’t a clear cause there are always conspiracy theories – not that Amy was of political significance but her husband was.  So, this episode looks at what history does know without making any attempt to identify the probable cause of Lady Dudley’s demise – aside of course from her being found at the bottom of a staircase…and even the size and shape stairs are a matter of conjecture as we shall discover next time.

In the Summer of 1558 Amy and Robert settled into Norfolk. Amy had inherited money from her father and the pair began searching for a suitable home of their own. Remember at this stage of the story Robert was part of the Norfolk gentry thanks to his father-in-law’s links in the area. Elizabeth was still effectively a prisoner of her increasingly unwell sister Queen Mary.  Amy was not able to move into her childhood home because her half-brother inherited Stanfield Hall.

Everything changed for Robert, and thus for Amy, on the 17th November 1558 when Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth at Hatfield.  Dudley was by Elizabeth’s side the following day when the Great Seal was handed over to her.  One of her first acts was to make him her Master of Horse, in addition to a salary and four horses the post also gave him rooms at court and the right to touch the queen, helping her on and off her horse – no other man in England had that honour.  Cecil tried to dissuade Elizabeth by suggesting that Dudley could perhaps be a special ambassador to Spain but the queen overruled Cecil.   Dudley was now in constant attendance on the queen, helping with the preparations for the coronation and going hunting with her.  The following year he would accompany the queen on what would become an annual progress around part of her realm.

For Amy a time of homelessness followed.  She seems to have lived in the homes of men who owed their allegiance to her husband.  At first she stayed at Throcking in Hertfordshire.  This was the home of William Hyde.

By spring of the following year it was being reported by the Spanish ambassador as well as the Holy Roman ambassador that Amy Robsart was unwell and that Robert was waiting for her to die so that he could marry Elizabeth.  The queen did not disguise the fact that she disliked the idea of Amy’s existence or Robert being close to her in any way but in April 1590 Robert went to Throcking in Hertfordshire whilst parliament was in recess to spend Easter with his wife. His accounts reveal that he played cards with his host William Hyde and lost.

It may have been an uncomfortable visit.  Amy was unwell. She believed that she was being poisoned. William Hyde described Leicester as “My singular good Lord.” He even had one of his daughters baptised “Dudley.”  None the less, no one wants to be accused of poisoning their lord’s wife. It probably didn’t help that at a later date Amy was described as “sore troubled” at this time – and given the rumours about her spouse carrying on with the queen it is perhaps not surprising.  For some historians this is evidence of illness, an unsound mind or that Amy was being poisoned either with or without the knowledge of her husband.  So far as I am concerned from the point of view of this post it explains why Amy moved on from Throcking.


Robert Dudley’s account books reveal that he visited Amy in 1558 and 1559 when she stayed in Denchworth near Wantage.  It is also clear form his accounts and her correspondence that income from the land that she’d inherited was being paid directly to her and that she was writing to the steward of Syderstone – Mr John Flowerdew- about the sale of wool.


It seems that in May 1559 Amy made a brief visit to London by then Elizabeth had made Dudley a Knight of the Garter and the Venetian ambassador was noting the fact that Dudley was in “great favour.”  Amy saw a doctor, was described as eating well and feeling better.  It was the last time that she and Robert would meet one another before her death. From London she travelled to Suffolk whilst in London the gossips started to report that the queen was pregnant and that the father was Sir Robert Dudley.

During the early part of the Autumn Amy spent a few weeks at Compton Verney in Warwickshire.  Compton Verney was the home of another of Dudley’s followers.  Sir Richard Verney would be painted by Sir Walter Scott as Amy Robsart’s murderer in his novel entitled Kennilworth. He doesn’t come out of the story very well, for that matter, in Philippa Gregory’s novel entitled The Virgin’s Lover.

In November the Spanish Ambassador, Bishop de la Quadra wrote that there was a rumour that Robert Dudley was trying to kill his wife so that he could marry the queen.  The Holy Roman ambassador was sending similar information to his master Ferdinand I. Yet the French, with whom Dudley was closely associated at this time make no mention of it at all.

In December 1559 Amy was at Cumnor Place, some three miles from Oxford. It was the home of another member of Dudley’s affinity – Sir Anthony Forster and his wife.  He’d leased Cumnor Place from Dr George Owen, one of the physicians responsible for the care of Henry VIII.  The household included some of his relations – Mrs Owen is a key witness to Amy’s death (or rather key non-witness).  Amy’s room was the best chamber accessed from a staircase to the south of the great hall.  In addition to Amy, Cumnor Place was also home to her retinue of ten servants.  One of them a man named Bowes would carry news of her death and another, her maid, Mrs Picto would testify that Amy was in low spirits on the day of her death.  In August a gift arrived at Cumnor from Robert Dudley – his account books reveal he sent her gifts that ranged from horses to spices- and Amy ordered a new dress.

On Sunday September 8 1560 Amy ordered that all her household should go to the Fair of Our Lady at Abingdon which was about five miles from Cumnor.  Mrs Oddingsells, who may have been Sir Anthony Forster’s sister-in-law or possibly an impoverished member of the Hyde family cared for by Dudley, was shocked by the suggestion and later said that Sunday was a day reserved for servants and common folk to go to the fair and that she would have rather gone on a different day.  She also said that she didn’t want to leave Amy on her own.  Amy responded that Mrs Owen would join her for dinner – which she did.

Mrs Oddingsells did not go to the fair.  She and Mrs Owens played cards that afternoon.  Both women recalled hearing a crash but continued to play their game.

Later that day Amy was found at the foot of a pair of  steps or a shallow stair depending upon the source you read.  Her neck was broken and her head dress – according to the later anti-Leicester text entitled Leicester’s Commonwealth stated that her headdress was barely out of place. She was only 28 years old.

Amy’s man Bowes set off to give the news to Dudley but en route he encountered Dudley’s man Sir Richard Verney who happened to be in the area (let’s leave the co-incidence to one side for the time being).

News of Amy’s death reached Dudley on the 9th September at Windsor where he was staying with the queen. Dudley charged another of his men, his steward, – Thomas Blount- referred to as “Cousin Blount” in Dudley’s letters to investigate and to keep Amy’s half brother John Appleyard (from Amy’s mother’s first marriage) informed of his findings. Blount needed to find to whether death was by “chance or villainy.”

Robert arranged for Amy’s body to be buried at St Mary’s in Oxford – the bill for the funeral came to an astonishing £2,000 but he did not attend – custom said that he should not.  Instead he retired to his home at Kew and wore black for six months. Elizabeth ordered her court into mourning for a month or more.  Gristwood makes the point that Elizabeth probably ordered his withdrawal from the court in the hope that the scandal of  Amy’s tragic death would die down, except of course it didn’t and Dudley lost his chance to marry a queen …assuming that Elizabeth really would have married him.


There is no certain contemporary portrait of Amy Robsart although there is a miniature of an anonymous lady- shown above- which might be Amy in happier times.  The picture at the start of this post is by the Victorian artist Thomas Francis Dicksee.  Yeames depicted her in 1877 at the bottom of the staircase at Cumnor – he has left room as to whether the shadowy figures on the stairs are hurrying to her aid or are quietly departing having assassinated Mrs Dudley, which is of course what part three of this little series is going to be about.

amy robsart.jpg


Adams, Simon.ed. (1996) Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester:

Gristwood. Sarah (2007) Elizabeth and Leicester. London:Bantom Books

Skidmore. Christopher. (2010) Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson



Filed under Historical Artists, Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

Amy Robsart

ward-edward-matthew-1816-1879-leicester-and-amy-robsart-at-cumnor-hall-1866.jpgI can only conclude that I’m having a phase of unfortunate young women on the History Jar at the moment – and have made a mental note to be more grateful that I was born when and where I was!

Amy was the daughter of Sir John Robsart of  Stanfield Hall near Wymondham in Norfolk.  By a convoluted family link his wife was the sister-in-law of Robert Kett’s brother.  Normally I wouldn’t bother with the intricacies of such a tenuous link but the fact that Elizabeth Scott, Amy’s mother had once been married to Roger Appleyard, a family with close links across a couple of generations to the Kett family is perhaps a small part of the reason why after the Battle of Mousehold Heath near Norwich in 1549 that John Dudley, then earl of Warwick visited the Robsarts along with his teenage son Robert. I should note that a more important reason was the fact that Robsart was a part of the Norfolk gentry and had served as Sheriff of Norfolk.

The conventional story is that Robert and Amy fell in love – a case of marry in haste and repent at leisure for both halves of the couple. Certainly William Cecil who was a guest at the marriage which took place in 1550 was most disapproving of the alliance but in reality it was an opportunity for John Dudley to extend his circle of influence in Norfolk and to provide an inheritance for one of his younger sons – at that stage in proceedings Elizabeth Tudor was the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII rather than queen of England.

The pair married on the 5th or the 4th of June 1550 at Sheen in Richmond.  The bride was not yet eighteen but neither was the groom – which is perhaps the reason why Cecil described it as a “carnal match.” A more exalted guest was the king.  Edward VI had come to see one of his childhood friends married. Another guest was Elizabeth who was purported to have said to her friend Robert Dudley in 1540 after the execution of her step-mother Katherine Howard that she would never marry.

Edward VI noted the marriage in his diary – S. Robert dudely, third sonne to th erle of warwic married S. Jon Robsartes daughter after wich marriage ther were certain Gentlemen that did strive to who shuld first take away a goses heade wich was hanged alive on tow crose postes. Ther was tilting and tourney on foot on the 5th, and on the 6th he removed to Greenwich.

It should be noted that Robert was not the third son he was the fifth son.

Initially the pair lived at Ely Place, the former Bishop of Ely’s residence and now the Dudley’s London home or at Somerset House where Dudley had been appointed in 1553 as its custodian. The couple were also provided with a home, Hemsby, near Yarmouth by John Dudley. Robsart amended his will to accommodate Robert – he also agreed to give Robert £20.00 per year.   So if it was a love match, which it appears to have been, it was accompanied by the usual exchange of property and both fathers might have felt as though they had made a gain – Robert Dudley might have been a penniless younger son but at that time his father was the most important man in the land next to the king so it is easy to see where Robsart might have felt that he had made a good deal.

The newly married pair settled in Norfolk and Dudley began to play the role of Norfolk gentleman in terms of serving as JP and in 1551 as MP but as John Dudley’s grip on power tightened the couple returned to London – Robert was a courtier when all was said and done.

In May 1553 the young couple found that their lives had become part of a Royal Crisis.  From 10 May 1553 until 19 May 1553 Lady Jane Grey was queen of England.  Robert’s younger brother, Guildford, sulked because his wife, Lady Jane, would not make him king and John Dudley discovered that the Commons were not with him or Sir Henry Grey in their planned coup. On the 22 January 1554 Robert was sentenced as a traitor but Amy was allowed to visit him in the Tower. Royal accounts also reveal that the new queen provided clothing for Dudley’s wife.

The problem for Amy was that her husband – traitor or not- was an ambitious Dudley.   In the aftermath of Queen Mary’s accession to the throne it was judged expedient that the Dudley brothers be sent overseas to serve in Philip’s military campaigns.  In short, Amy gained a husband who was interested in much more than his wife and the life of a country gentleman.  Not only that but as an attainted traitor the property which both fathers had settled upon the pair reverted to the Crown.  Robert and Amy were penniless.  Amy’s father had died in 1554 so it fell to their respective mothers to provide for them.  Jane Guildford, Robert’s mother died in January 1555 and a property was cobbled together on the understanding that Robert would pay his mother’s debts and give his sisters an annuity. If Amy thought that married wife had turned out differently from what she might have expected things were only about to get worse when in 1558, Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne – and Amy became a decided inconvenience.

There will be more, after all the death of Amy Robsart caused a scandal across Europe and her death still sells papers and books.  Did she fall or was she pushed?  And if she was pushed who did it – Dudley, Elizabeth or Dudley’s wiley political adversary William Cecil. I have a week to gather primary sources!

Skidmore, Chris. (2010) Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the fate of Amy Robsart


Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

Mary Queen of Scots executes besotted suitor…

mary queen of scots aged 18Mary was widowed at just eighteen-years-old when her first husband, King Francois II of France died as the result of an abscess developing from an ear infection.  In order to continue the Stuart dynasty she needed to remarry.  Ultimately this led to arguments about the Crown Matrimonial – i.e. would her husband be allowed to rule if she died but in the short term there was the small matter of possible candidates for the job.

don carlosDon Carlos, son of Philip II of Spain had been mentioned whilst she was still in France. Aside from the fact that the young man was Philip’s heir there was also the issue of his mental health.  Ultimately he would be locked up by his father and die in 1568 after six months in a small room on his own. Mary Queen of Scots uncle, the Cardinal of Lorraine was less concerned about the sanity of Don Carlos than the power that the marriage would give to Philip II.

charles of austriaCharles, Archduke of Austria was identified as a suitable heir but Mary wasn’t keen. Charles would go on to negotiate for Elizabeth I’s hand.


Elizabeth I helpfully suggested a match that she felt might work – Sir Robert Dudley, her master of horse and alleged lover – not to mention participant in yet another conspiracy theory i.e. the deathRobert_Dudley_Leicester.jpg of his wife Amy Robsart in Abingdon in suspicious circumstances. Historians think that Amy had cancer but at the time her fall down some stairs looked rather a lot like the removal of one wife to make way for one with a crown. Elizabeth possibly thought that if Mary accepted Dudley that she could trust him to work in England’s interests or else she was being deliberately provocative. At any rate Dudley became the Earl of Leicester in a bid to be made to look more appealing.

And then there was Pierre de Chatelard or Chastelard.  He was a young french poet.  Essentially Pierre fell in love with the queen and she failed to spot that it wasn’t love of the courtly kind and consequentially encouraged him. This sounds slightly cruel but the concept of courtly love was that a man should express devotion to a woman beyond his reach – the whole thing reached new heights in the court of Elizabeth – think of Spencer’s Fairie Queen for example. In Scotland the misunderstanding between affectation of passion and passion itself went badly awry.  Pierre hid in Mary’s bedroom at Holyrood.  Fortunately he was discovered by Mary’s servants and booted out.  He was told to leave Scotland.

Pierre agreed that it was probably best if he returned to France – except he didn’t.  He followed Mary on a progress and at Rossend Castle, Pierre managed to get into her bedroom once more. On this occasion the queen was in situ and in a state of undress. Pierre accosted the queen and there was rather a lot of shouting and screaming, followed by the arrival of Lord Moray (James Stewart Mary’s illegitimate half-brother) who removed the offending frenchman, arresting him and locking him up in one of the castle’s dungeons.

Mary was so outraged by proceedings that she felt that de Chatelard should have been killed on the spot but Moray insisted that the poet be given a trial and executed in the market place at St Andrews which was where the court travelled from Rossend.

pierre de chastelard.jpg

The National Portrait Gallery collection contains the above image which dates from 1830 depicting the lovelorn de Chatelard playing the lute for Mary.


Filed under Mary Queen of Scots, Sixteenth Century

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton – ambassador

thoclkmortonInevitably 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.

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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Mary Queen of Scots, Sixteenth Century, The Tudors, Uncategorized