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.

1641 – religious ferment and Lady Carlisle

Lady Carlisle
August 1641- a step back from the Grand Remonstrance.

At this point where London was up in arms and Parliament demanding to see changes, Charles I took himself off to his other kingdom – I’m not quite sure how he marketed his visit to Scotland given that he had made war on his own Scottish subjects not once but twice and that they had ended up being paid a large amount of money each day whilst occupying Northumberland and Durham – but there you go, such was the way of the world in 1641.  On the 25th August 1641 Charles I was in Edinburgh signing over the the Covenanters virtually everything that they had demanded.  Perhaps as Leander de Lisle suggests Charles had awoken to the fact that the puritans in England’s parliament  were stirring up ferment and wanted to settle things down.

The religious situation across the country was deteriorating with different factions demanding that their voices be heard.   In Kidderminster it was the mob who saw the puritan faction off when they threatened the church’s ornaments.   But changes were afoot none the less.

Parliament ordered Catholic priests out of the country recognising that without a priesthood the mass could not be said.  William Ward, a Catholic priest was the first to suffer a traitor’s death that year – I’m not sure how much of a danger he was – he was eighty-one at the time.  By the time Charles returned to London seven more men awaited execution.

Henrietta Maria, Charles’ french Catholic queen, still in London whilst her husband visited his Scottish capital found herself the target of Puritan hostility.  Aside from her frenchness and Catholicism she was now accused of conducting an affair with  Henry Jermyn.  She was also ill in 1641 – in part it must have been the stress of the English political situation.  She asked to go to Holland to visit a spa for her health.  Parliament refused.  Maybe they realised she would use the opportunity to raise funds and soldiery for her husband.  Nor did it help, in all probability, that she was receiving letters from Charles three times a week.  He relied upon her utterly and she in her turn was telling him to be more forceful – in modern parlance to “man-up” and give the Puritans what for.

On the 23rd October the Irish revolted.  They wanted the same kind of rights as the Scottish Presbyterians had just acquired – but given the current situation with the Puritans headed up by John Pym  in the English Parliament that wasn’t going to happen any time soon – and we know the consequences of the Irish Rebellion- countless deaths and a faction in Parliament attempting to break Charles’ power by cataloguing all his abuses since he took the throne detailed in the Grand Remonstrance.  It was passed by a slim margin but Pym’s act of genius was to circulate the information and the arguments for change more widely through printed material.

Prior to the Grand Remonstrance whilst Charles was still in Scotland, Henrietta Maria was blamed for encouraging the Irish to revolt, her own priest was arrested and questioned with regard to his alleged involvement in the rebellion and attempting to convert young Prince Charles to catholicism.  The Irish uprising, in short, was an opportunity, to “have a go” at England’s most influential catholics.  Every other Catholic in the country  was required to lay their identity before Parliament.  It was 24th of November before the king arrived back in his English capital.  Parliament had passed the Grand Remonstrance two days previously.

It’s probably time to introduce another of the key players into this increasingly hostile morass – Lucy Hay, Lady Carlisle.  She was a daughter of the 9th Earl of Northumberland (a Percy) and  her mother was the daughter of the first Earl of Essex (Dorothy Devereux – meaning that her grand-mother was Lettice Knollys, her great-grandmother was Catherine Carey and her two times great-grandmother was Mary Boleyn).  In other words she was part of the establishment, knew all the key political players of the time and was related to most of them.  She married James Hay and became the Countess of Carlisle, although her father had offered her £20,000 not to marry him.  She became George Villiers’ mistress which meant that initially Henrietta Maria wanted nothing to do with her but by the time that George, the Duke of Buckingham, was assassinated, somehow or other all that had changed and she had become one of the Queen’s favourites.

Lord Carlisle clearly had nothing against his wife furthering his own ends by whatever means necessary because he sent her off to win  Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford over in 1635 when he became responsible for the running of Ireland.  Lucy became Wentworth’s mistress which probably wasn’t a bad thing in 1636 when Lord Carlisle died and left Lucy his Irish property.  Of course, at the start of 1641 Wentworth found himself in the position of official scapegoat for the Bishop’s War and was executed in May.

Lucy’s reaction after Wentworth’s death is somewhat unexpected.  She remained friends with Henrietta Maria but she now drew close to John Pym – yes, the Puritan.  She seems to have undergone a bit of a sea change when she became Pym’s mistress, even taking notes during church sermons.  It was Lucy who alerted Parliament via her cousin, the earl of Essex, to the king’s plans to arrest John Pym and four others in January 1642.    Her shifting allegiances are a microcosm of what was happening at court as men and women decided which side to support based on personal preference, political consideration and economic practicality.

The fact remains though that if Lady Carlisle loved Wentworth and wanted to punish the king for allowing him to be executed why was she sleeping with the man who forced Charles to have Wentworth executed in the first place?  What did she hope to gain?  Some men felt that they weren’t getting the kind of rewards that they deserved from the king – so switched to Parliament, others were anti-Catholic – so drew towards the anti-Catholic parliamentary faction. Some of Lucy’s actions are a matter for speculation.  Most historians regard her as an intriguer but most also admit that there is no clarity as to who exactly she was spying for.  Lucy became associated with a moderate Presbyterian faction but during the second civil war she raised money for the royalists as well as offering a conduit of information between royalists and the queen.  She even ended up in the Tower for her pains – demonstrating another about face.  May be she just liked being a conspirator or having an impact on the political situation.

Meanwhile to conclude with 1641 and lead into 1642  Pym was able to convince enough people through their own needs, through printed pamphlets and through the king’s own rather high-handed actions during the years of personal rule that England was facing its own Catholic threat and that the source of that threat lay close to the king.  This in its turn was regarded by Charles as a personal attack on the wife to whom he was devoted.

In the house of Lords where Charles could have relied on the Bishops for support there were also problems – not least the difficulty of getting through the London mob to actually take their seats on account of all the printed pamphlets and rioting – that looked remarkably like the start of sectarian violence when seen from a distance.  Elsewhere Pym and his associates were regarded as dangerous radicals – remember that the grand Remonstrance passed by very few votes.  London was a ferment of rumour and gossip.

Charles must have thought long and hard over the Christmas season.  He recognised John Pym as a threat to his power and the safety of Henrietta Maria.  He sought, in the New Year of 1642 to have Pym and leading members of his faction arrested but thanks to Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle-  who may or may not have been acting out of anger at the way in which Sir Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford had been treated by his monarch- his plans were known and Charles found himself in even more hot water than before because even though not everyone agreed with Pym for Charles to enter Parliament with an armed body of men ran contrary to parliamentary rights and privileges….who needs fiction when reality has so many twists and turns?

 

de Lisle, Leander (2018).  White King: Chalres I.  Traintor, Murderer, Martyr. London: Chatto and Windus

Purkiss. Diane. (2007). The English Civil War. London:Harper Essentials

Witchcraft, scandal and the Duke of Buckingham

george villiers.jpgGeorge Villiers, pictured left, was not the scion of a powerful family but he had received the kind of education, at his mother’s insistence, that a courtier required. His good looks had attracted James I’s attention. This was enough to ensure that the enemies of Robert Carr, the king’s then favourite, paid to raise George to the post of the King’s cup bearer. The rest as they say, is history.

 

By 1619 George was the Marquis of Buckingham and in search of a wife. Families looked at their unmarried daughters and wondered if the investment of a bride would improve their own fortunes. However, Buckingham and his mother Mary Beaumont already had a bride in mind.

Lady Katherine Manners was the daughter of the 6th Earl of Rutland. She was the earl’s sole heir. Her older brothers, Henry and Francis, had died in mysterious circumstances. The whole family fell ill in 1613 after dismissing a woman and her two daughters from their service.   Henry died. Three years later nine women were hanged in Leicestershire having been found guilty of bewitching a child. Then in 1618 Francis also died and the Manners family sought the arrest of the three women and the monument to the two boys makes it clear that the earl held witchcraft responsible for the death of the boys, “Two sons – both died in infancy by wicked practice and sorcery”.

 

The three women became known as the Belvoir Witches. Joan Flower, the mother protested her innocence from her arrest and during her imprisonment in Lincoln but her daughter Margaret confessed that Joan was a witch and her other daughter Philippa said that they were all witches. Joan died in prison and was buried at a crossroads, Margaret was hanged and in some versions of the story Philippa escaped from jail.

 

Tracey Borman offers a different theory. She records that the Flower women were employed as servants prior to a visit by King James I but that they were unpopular with Belvoir’s other servants and accused of pilfering. Borman goes on to note that the women had a reputation for herbal cures and late night entertaining – of males. They, she argues, were convenient scapegoats.  In fact the boys had been murdered on the orders of George Villiers.

There is some evidence to suggest that by 1618 George Villiers, a Lincolnshire landowner, had his eyes set on a wealthy prize – which if she became a sole heiress would become even wealthy. Most historians consider that on the death of her brothers Katherine Manners became the wealthiest heiress in the country with estates in Yorkshire and Northamptonshire as well as her mother’s dower estates that came from the Knyvet family.

 

Katherine was considered a plain woman but more alarming so far as King James I was concerned, she was a Catholic. Both those factors aside Katherine’s father was against the proposed match. He knew about George Villiers. He had seen the king’s favourite at court and seen the way that the king and George fondled one another in public. Nor was Rutland terribly amused by the fact that George wanted a hefty dowry along with the plain heiress. For the time being the wedding was off.
But then in March 1620 Mary Beaumont, George’s mother visited the Countess of Rutland when the earl was away from home. She invited Katherine to dine with her, promising to bring her back home that evening. The countess of Rutland, Katherine’s step-mother, agreed.

 

Mary entertained Katherine in her lodgings in Whitehall but did not send the girl home. She claimed that Katherine was ill and could not return home. To make matters worse, George who had also been invited to dine, failed to return to his own lodgings which were within walking distance. Poor Katherine was ruined. She had stayed over night in the home of an unmarried man who had slept under the same roof. The earl of Rutland was furious. He refused to allow Katherine to return home and now found himself insisting that Villiers marry his daughter because her reputation was so badly tarnished. The scandal was so great that the lavish wedding that you might expect never happened. It was a private occasion witnessed only by the earl and the King on the 16 May 1620.

 

It is difficult to know whether Katherine connived with Villiers and his mother in her own ruin. She certainly appeared to dote on her husband even if he did not love her in return.  Nor did she lead a very happy life with George. She hated the way he lived his life at court, his relationship with the king and the fact that George didn’t stop having mistresses just because he was married. Come to think of it much of Europe was scandalised by George’s behaviour, especially when he travelled to France in 1625 and became besotted with the French queen Anne of Austria – as in Dumas’s story of The Three Musketeers.

 

Katherine had converted to Protestantism before the marriage but returned to Catholicism during the course of her married life and if her letters are anything to go by she did not simply accept George’s infidelities, sometimes using her health and emotions as a way of trying to control her husband’s behaviour.

george_villiers_duke_of_buckingham_and_family_1628-1-1024x702.jpg

Life cannot have become any easier for Katherine when George, a Duke since 1623, became the target of national hostility because of Charles I’s foreign policy. George was widely assumed to be responsible for the assorted disasters that beset the English. Parliament attempted to arrest him in 1626. It was only his friendship with the king that saved him. Two years later George was killed by John Felton in Portsmouth.

 

During the next seven years Katherine could only watch as her four children with George were adopted into the royal family to be raised with Charles I’s children. In 1635, much to the king’s fury she married the 2nd earl of Antrim, Randall McDonnell, a man six years her junior. Eventually Katherine convinced Charles that she had married for love and that Randall had no intention of disinheriting her children.

Katherine_Manners_Duchess_of_Buckingham_in_Mourning.jpg

She died in 1649.