Tag Archives: Countess of Derby

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

 

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English Civil War 1644

Oliver_Cromwell_by_Samuel_Cooper.jpg1644 was a year where no one gained the upper hand and the casualties of war grew.  The arrival of the Scots in the Civil War ultimately tipped the balance of power in Parliament’s favour but as a result of amateur approaches to warfare the Second Battle of Newbury failed to end matters once and for all.  This had the knock on effect of ensuring the rise of the New Model Army and Cromwell’s Ironsides.

January 1644 started with the usual petitions and recruitment.  Pay remained an issue.  For example Hopton who led the rather successful Western Army for the king in 1643 found himself dealing with mutineering.  Five hundred of his men simply marched off with their weapons to join the Parliamentarians in Poole.  In the midlands as armies ebbed and flowed Nottingham fell once more into Parliamentarian hands and Newstead Abbey, the home of Lord Byron, was looted whilst he was besieging Nantwich on behalf of the king.  This resulted in the necessity of Fairfax crossing the Pennines to Manchester with a view to relieving the siege.  The result is the Battle of Nantwich on 26th January 1644 which Parliament won despite the bad weather and prevailing soggy conditions.  He went on to besiege Latham House near Ormskirk on 28th February where the Countess of Derby held out for the king.  Her husband was on the Isle of Man.  Rather than a direction confrontation she played for time which worked to a degree although Fairfax ordered his men to build earthworks around the house.

At the beginning of February, Newcastle was back in Newcastle to stop the Scots from occupying it on Parliament’s behalf and the royalist garrison at Newark started to feel a bit uncomfortable as well they should because by the end of February, which was a leap year, Sir John Meldrum had besieged the town.  He had 5,000 men and rather a lot of ordinance but the royalists held out. Prince Rupert marched his men from Wolverhampton to Newark to relieve the siege on the 21st of March.

earl of manchester.pngMeanwhile two of the Parliamentarian generals were at loggerheads with one another.  Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex felt that Edward Montagu, Earl of Manchester  (pictured above) was getting the better part of the deal from Parliament.  Montagu, married to a cousin of George Villiers in the first instance married for a second time to Ann Rich, the daughter of the Earl of Warwick – the Parliamentarian Lord Admiral.  He turned from Court towards a more Puritan way of thinking and did not support the king in the Bishop’s War.  He was also the peer who supported John Pym at the opening of the Long Parliament  and was the one member of the House of Lords who Charles I wanted to arrest at the same time as the five members of the House of Commons.  In 1642 he was on his third wife (another member of the Rich family) and had become the Earl of Manchester upon his father’s death.  Manchester had been at the Battle of Edgehill but his was one of the regiments that had fled the battlefield.  After that he was eventually appointed to the command of the Eastern Association Army – regiments covering Hertfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridge.  By the end of 1643 East Anglia was very firmly in Parliamentarian hands and Manchester’s men had broken out into Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.  This should be contrasted with Essex and the Western Association Army performance.  It is perhaps not surprising that Parliament effectively allowed Manchester to by pass Essex and to liaise with the Scots and with the Fairfaxs.

 

By April Selby was back in Parliamentarian hands as Lord Fairfax retrieved the ground that had been lost the previous year.  Newcastle also returned to Yorkshire and occupied York. The Earl of Manchester was ordered to York at the same time as Parliament realised that Prince Rupert and his men were also heading in that direction.  Inevitably York now found itself besieged with the royalists inside and Lord Fairfax outside.  It would have to be said that before that point had been reached Newcastle had got most of his cavalry out of the city.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Pennines Sir Thomas Fairfax was throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, at Latham House.  On the 23rd April he asked the Countess of Derby to surrender.  She declined. At the other end of the country parliamentarian Lyme Regis also declined to surrender.  The townsfolk were hoping that the Earl of Warwick and his navy were going to come to their rescue.  Oxford prepares to be besieged by the Earl of Essex who took nearby Abingdon which the Royalists had abandoned.  Charles I had to leave the city for fear of capture.

Meanwhile the Royalists in York could look over the city walls and watch as the Earl of Manchester and his men arrived. Its best to think at this point of Prince Rupert haring around the countryside relieving Parliamentarian sieges and helping Royalist besiegers to storm their targets.  He did not cover himself in glory at Bolton where the defenders were slaughtered.  The war was beginning to take a decidedly less gallant turn.  Essentially large houses across the country swapped hands – some with the modicum of upset, others after much ammunition had been used.  Meanwhile the king arrived in Worcester and the Parliamentarian armies of Waller and Essex chased after him although somehow Waller managed to lose the king and end up in Gloucester.

The movements of the armies and key figures seem to be very much like a game of strategy where nobody is quite sure of the rules.  The king, for instance, next surfaces in Buckingham, whilst Prince Rupert rocks up  in Knaresborough.  His job is to relieve the siege of York.

With so many men and armies in the vicinity it is perhaps no surprise that July 2nd saw the Battle of Marston Moor.  The Parliamentarians on hearing the news that Rupert was int he area had withdrawn from around York and taken up a position to bar Rupert’s approach to the city. Rupert did not take the bait, he crossed around behind the Parliamentarians at Poppleton and wrote a note to Newcastle telling him to get himself and his lambs into position.  Newcastle wasn’t terribly happy with these orders.  All he wanted was for the Parliamentarians to march off and leave York in peace.

Fairfax and Manchester,along with the Scots under the command of Leven were at Tadcaster when Rupert assumed the correct position for battle on the morning of the 2nd.  A messenger carried the news to the Parliamentarians to the effect that Rupert was “up for it.” Consequently the parliaments had to turn around and go back.  The Royalists had the moor and the Parliamentarians had farmland.  There was a ditch between the two sides. By four in the afternoon there had been no move to battle and by seven the royalists had settled down by their campfires.  At which point the Parliamentarians made their move – which though not particularly gallant was militarily rather sensible.

Lord John Byron.jpgFairfax opposed Goring on the right wing: Goring 1 – Fairfax O.  Goring and his men got side tracked by the baggage wagons.  Crowell was on the left wing facing Lord John Byron (pictured right): Ironsides 1 – Royalists 0.  Prince Rupert turned the fleeing royalists round and sent them back into battle.  Rupert and his men were evenly matched with the Ironsides.  Essentially they hacked one another to a standstill at which point the Scottish cavalry charged in on the Royalist flank and scattered them.

Fairfax needing to communicate with Cromwell took off his sash and his field sign and rode across the battlefield, paling through Royalist lines as he did so, to provide Cromwell with accurate information about what was happening.  Cromwell, and his men circled the field and came up behind Goring and his men who were busily looting Fairfax’s baggage train.

Meanwhile Newcastle’s lambs at the centre had fought doggedly through the whole encounter.  Now they were forced back and rather than leave the field they died to a man. William Cavendish, Earl of Newcastle was the last royalist commander left on the battlefield. As his men were slaughtered he ultimately made his way back to York and from there to Scarborough.  At Scarborough he sailed for Hamburg.  The North was lost to the Royalists.  More than 4,000 of their number died at Marston Moor.

In the Midlands, Welbeck Abbey, one of William Cavendish’s homes, fell to the Parliamentarians – who helped themselves to tapestries and silver plate.  Royalist Newark began to feel the pinch once more and Rupert made his way back to the SouthWest where Essex wasn’t having such a victorious feeling as his counterparts in the North.  Ultimately he had to make an undignified escape from Lostwithiel.  Basing House in Hampshire was still being pummelled.

The king seems to have spent much of the second half of the year popping up all over the country being pursued by various parliamentarians. He had planned to relieve Basing House but that went awry so he decided, instead, to relieve Donnington Castle – bearing in mind there was no such thing as a motorway network the various armies marched huge distances a the drop of a hat.  This meant that they were required to live off the land – which was not good news for anyone who happened to be in the path of any army and its destination.  On the 22nd October Charles was in Berkshire, near Newbury.  Cromwell, Manchester and Waller took to the field but the king escaped under cover of darkness and scarpered in the direction of Bath. From there he returned to Oxford – as clearly the Parliamentarians had cleared off by that time.

As the year drew to the close Parliamentarian generals were still writing to London politely suggesting that their men should be paid, Rupert was still popping up like a jack in the box and Basing House was still under siege.  Lord Fairfax was quietly sitting outside the castles of Pontefract and Knaresborough but had been given orders to sort out the royalists in Newark as well.  Knaresborough did surrender by the end of the year, not that it was much consolation to Lord Fairfax who felt that he was being over-stretched with insufficient men or money to do Parliament’s bidding.

In London, Parliament was pointing fingers about who was responsible for the failure to administer a crushing defeat on the king at the Second Battle of Newbury  and the Self-Denying Ordinance is proposed which would prevent members of Parliament (Lords or Commons) from holding military command.  Whilst the Commons agreed to the idea the Lords were less keen but would pass a revised version of the ordinance in 1645.

All in all – a very depressing year and that’s without considering Scotland, the Covenanters and the Earl of Montrose.

Emberton, Wilfred. The Civil War Day by Day.

 

 

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Lady Margaret Stanley, Countess of Derby

LadyMargaretCliffordHenry VIII’s will specified the order in which his relations were to inherit the throne. He began with his own children and then progressed to his nieces – the English ones descended from Princess Mary Tudor, once married to Louis XII of France, then to Charles Brandon, were identified as having a superior claim to the descendants of Margaret Tudor. Mary was actually the third daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York whilst Margaret was the first daughter born to the new dynasty – so technically speaking Henry VIII played fast and loose with the order of inheritance in any event…possibly the least of his worries. However, the 1544 Act of Parliament enshrined the whole thing in law and presumably no one liked to mention the discrepancy to Henry.

To recap – Frances and Eleanor Brandon were the only surviving children of Mary and Charles. There had been two little boys both called, somewhat confusingly, Henry Brandon. The older boy lived long enough to become Earl of Lincoln.  The younger boy was born in 1516 and died in 1522. The second Henry Brandon was born in 1523. He had been destined to marry Katherine Willoughby but after he and his mother died, the bereft duke of married his young ward in 1534.

Frances survived to adulthood, married Henry Grey and had three daughters – Lady Jane Grey, Lady Katherine Grey and Lady Mary Grey.  Grey managed to get himself executed in 1554. Frances swiftly married her master of horse, Adrian Stokes, and in marrying a commoner took herself out of the equation.

When Elizabeth I came to the throne her heir presumptive were in turn Katherine and Mary Grey. After they died, and Elizabeth without children of her own not to mention a coyness when it came to naming successors, it was inevitable that Henry’s will should be looked at once again.

Eleanor Brandon, Frances’ younger sister, died in 1547. She was predeceased by her two sons, Henry and Charles, who had died in infancy. Lady Margaret Clifford was the only surviving daughter of Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland  and Lady Eleanor Brandon.

She was the great granddaughter of Henry VII and according to Henry VIII’s will if anything happened to Elizabeth she would become queen of England. She therefore became Elizabeth’s heir presumptive. It was not a good place to be.

Before then she’d managed to avoid becoming a pawn in the game of crowns through her father’s forethought and then through her own lack of popularity. In 1553 the Duke of Northumberland had proposed to marry her to either his son, Guildford, or his brother, Sir Andrew Dudley, but Cumberland refused the match on his daughter’s behalf and took no part in the attempt to make Lady Jane Grey queen (sensible man).

Instead, Margaret was married with Queen Mary’s blessing in Westminster Abbey in February 1555 to Henry Stanley, Lord Strange. He was descended from the Woodvilles, Howards, Nevilles and a certain Thomas Stanley who happened to be married to Margaret Beaufort and who sat around on hillsides during key battles of the Wars of the Roses waiting to see how it would all pan out – landing the title Earl of Derby for his pains.

By 1557 Margaret was recorded as saying that Lady Jane Grey’s treason had excluded her sisters, Catherine and Mary Grey, from the succession, thus making Margaret, Queen Mary’s heiress presumptive…yes I know there was Elizabeth to take into consideration but Mary’s relationship with her sister was fraught by 1557.  Mary was fond of stating that Elizabeth had the look of lute player Mark Smeaton.  There was also the fact that Elizabeth was notably not Catholic whereas Margaret was.

Let’s just say that Lord and Lady Strange weren’t terribly popular so there wasn’t a rush of aristocratic types to support her claim for the throne.

Margaret had to settle for being a lady at court.  Poets dedicated their works to her and she spent huge sums of money. She spent so much money that she had to borrow from her own lady-in-waiting. Lord Strange had to sell land to settle her debts which probably didn’t help their relationship. By 1578 her creditors were hounding her in the streets of London – by that time she was the Countess of Derby and Henry had gone off to live with his mistress.

Unfortunately it was at about that time she became Elizabeth I’s heir presumptive.  It turned out that whilst Elizabeth could tolerate her cousin getting the odd dedication from artistic types she didn’t much like her sizing up the throne and crown.

Margaret had an interest in the sciences that she’d inherited from her father. She enjoyed dabbling in alchemy and astrology. In 1578 she was accused of employing a “magician,” named Dr. Randall, to cast spells to discover how long Queen Elizabeth would live. No one was interested in Margaret’s protests that Randall was a doctor dealing with her rheumatism. According to one source, Randall was hanged and Margaret was banished from court and spent the rest of her life, eighteen years in all, under house arrest in her home at Isleworth.

 

Interestingly she had two sons who survived to adulthood.  Both of them would become Earls of Derby in their turn: Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby (c. 1559 – 16 April, 1594) and William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby (c. 1561 – 29 September 1642).

Yes – I know that’s two adult English males with Tudor blood…albeit Stanleys. More on Ferdinado anon.

 

 

 

 

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