George Clifford was born on August 8, 1558 in Brougham Castle. In 1570 he became the third Earl of Cumberland and also the last of the direct line of Robert de Clifford’s descendants. He willed his title and estates to his younger brother (breaking an entail dating from the reign of Edward II and ensuring a legal battle which lasted most of his daughter’s life).
George was eleven-years-old when he became the earl, so orphaned as he was , the monarch held his wardship. Elizabeth could have kept young George at horse, at Court or sold the wardship either to George’s family or to the highest bidder. She chose to do the latter. Francis Russell, the puritan Earl of Bedford purchased young George’s wardship and in due course, 1577, married him off to his own youngest daughter Margaret. George spent the remainder of his childhood and adolescence in the south of England and in Cambridge where he studied mathematics and geography.
When he grew up George was bitten by the seafaring bug. He used the revenue from his estates to fund voyages of exploration. He also had a bit of a gambling habit. In short he was a stereotypical Elizabethan roistering seafarer/courtier with an interest in mathematics and a link to Mary Queen of Scots (he was on the jury during her trial). His first voyage was in 1586 and he sailed alongside two other vessels sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh. Clifford found himself a very long way from Skipton. He sailed to Brazil where he took a share of a Portuguese prize vessel. It was a slaver – so George’s loot on this occasion came from slavery.
George’s son was born in 1584. He was called Francis but died five years later just before his youngest sibling was born. Francis’s brother Robert also died young. This left only one child born in 1590 – a girl called Anne. It is from her diaries that we learn much about George’s spending habits, his lady friend and the hostility that came to exist between himself and his wife. He may have made money from his voyages but he lost it betting on horses and the outcome of jousts. When he died it took the next sixty years to return the estate to some sort of financial order.
In 1588 George commanded the Elizabeth Bonaventure against the Spanish Armada and two years later became the Queen’s champion jouster wearing her glove pinned to his hat. Clifford’s tournament armour can be seen today in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (apologies for the photograph I’ve become much better at indoor shots since I took this one but it might be a while until I get the opportunity to take another.) In 1592 he was made a Knight of the Garter. By 1600 George was a founder member of the East India Company and in 1603 he became the Lord Warden of the West Marches – so based in Carlisle. As this paragraph reveals George was a busy man and was often away from home either at court or seeing to his various nautical adventures. It was expedient for the family to live in London where George’s interests lay but as time passed he and Margaret went their separate ways.
Following the death of Queen Elizabeth, which Lady Anne Clifford described in her diaries, George went north to greet the man whose mother he’d helped to condemn. It was said that George’s retinue looked rather more splendid than the new king’s did.
Countess Margaret was not amused by her husband’s debts or affair with a ‘lady of quality’. Nor was she amused that their daughter Anne had effectively been bypassed as Clifford’s heir when he made his will. He bequeathed her £15,000 making her a respectable heiress but ignoring what was hers by right of birth. He may have done this because he was aware of the burden of debt that lay on the estate.
George died on October 30 1605 in London but he is buried in Holy Trinity Church, Skipton. These three pictures show detail from his tomb.
Double click on the portrait of Clifford to open a new window and see what The Peerage has to say about George.
Mitchell WR (2002) The Fabulous Cliffords. Settle: Castleberg
Spence. Richard T. (1997) Lady Anne Clifford. Frome: Sutton Publishing