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