Lady Douglas Howard – a footnote in the Earl of Leicester’s love life

robert dudley minature.pngIn popular history Douglas get barely a mention.  She might as well be invisible. Douglas’ son Robert, the illegitimate son of Robert Dudley, would claim that his mother was secretly married to his father in May 1603 – Elizabeth I being safely dead.  The case was heard in 1605 in the Court of the Star Chamber.  Unfortunately all the witnesses were dead and she couldn’t remember the name of the cleric who married them. Douglas made a deposition to the effect that they had been married until Leicester tired of her and turned his attentions to Lettice Knollys. But who was Douglas?

 

Her father was William Howard, 1st Baron Howard of Effingham, making her a cousin of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.  He brother  She attended court during the first year of Elizabeth’s reign and then married John Sheffield.  He died in December 1568.  Inevitably accusations of poison were made.  In any event Douglas returned to court as a gentlewoman of the privy chamber – Elizabeth liked to have her mother’s family around her.

By May 1573 she was in deep competition with her own sister Frances for the attention of Robert Dudley.  Gilbert Talbot wrote about the pursuit and the falling out between the two sisters:

There are two sisters now in the court that are very far in love with him, as they have long been; my Lady Sheffield and Frances Howard. They (of like striving who shall love him better) are at great wars together and the queen thinketh not well of them, and not the better of him”

 

By then Leicester knew that he was unlikely to succeed in his attempt to win Elizabeth’s hand.  During their relationship Leicester wrote a long letter explaining how much he cared for Douglas but that if he married her that he would be ruined.  He actually urges her to marry one of her other suitors to ensure her respectability.  In August 1574 Douglas gave birth to her son Robert.  Leicester referred to him as his “base son” but cared for the boy taking him into his own care.

Leicester married Lettice in 1578.  The following year on 29th November 1579 Douglas married Sir Edward Stafford  of Grafton in Staffordshire- an unusual act for a woman who later claimed to be already married.  According to one source she became a bigamist in order to put a stop to Leicester’s threats to have her poisoned!  Stafford became ambassador to the French court and the pair lived in Paris from 1583  where Douglas became a friend of Catherine de Medici.  Douglas was sent home in 1588 due to the deteriorating political situation.  Stafford was not a fan of the Earl of Leicester.

 

Sir Edward Stafford died in 1605 having told the Star Court that he married Douglas having ascertained beforehand that she was not married to Leicester on the explicit orders of Elizabeth I. Douglas died in 1608.  She bore Stafford two sons but they died young.

The Cavendish Connection

john of gauntPrior to the sixteenth century Derbyshire did not have an extremely powerful local magnate to dominate affairs.  The position was occupied in latter half of  the fourteenth century by John of Gaunt who acquired manors, castles and rights through his marriage to Blanche of Lancaster.  On his death the land and power base, along with the loyalty of the local affinity when largely to his son Henry of Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby who returned from exile to reclaim his father’s title and estate when Richard II confiscated them.  As a consequence of this Bolingbroke turned into Henry IV and duchy land turned into Crown estates.

It was only in the sixteenth century that Derbyshire acquired its own homegrown power base rather than the Crown or the Earls of Shrewsbury who owned land to the north including Sheffield Castle. I’m taking the opportunity provided by snow drifts and gales to cement my understanding of that power base’s affinity of kinship.

bessofhardwickIn 1547, at Bradgate in Leicestershire, Bess of Hardwick as she would become known married Sir William Cavendish.  Cavendish was the younger son of a Suffolk family but had gained a foothold in the household of Cardinal Wolsey thanks to the support of his older brother George who remained a loyal servant of the cardinal’s throughout Wolsey’s life. In 1529 when Wolsey had fallen from favour Thomas had gone into Thomas Cromwell’s service putting him nicely in place as an auditor for the Court of Augmentations to profit from the dissolution of the monasteries.

250px-william_cavendish_c1547Like Bess, who was his third wife, Thomas had an eye for a bargain.  The pair soon started to build up a property portfolio.  Bess’s mother wrote to her telling her of bargains to be had in Derbyshire. Bess would marry twice more after her husband’s death in 1557 first to Sir William St Loe and then to George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury but she would have no more children.  She ensured all her children made good marriages – a dynasty had been founded.

Frances Cavendish (1548- 1632) – Frances married Sir Henry Pierrepoint from Nottinghamshire.  He was did what gentry did in those days.  He was a justice of the peace and a member of parliament.  He and his wife had three children.  Their eldest son would marry into the Talbot family and Frances’ grandson would become Marquis of  Dorchester.  The family would go on to spawn the Dukes of Kingston-Upon-Hull.  Frances’ youngest daughter, Grace, would marry Sir George Manners – making her the mother of the 8th Earl of Rutland.

henrycavendish1549.jpgHenry Cavendish (1550 – 1616) was married off to Grace Talbot as part of Bess and the Earl of Shrewsbury’s marriage agreement.  As the eldest son he should have inherited Chatsworth but he managed to get into Bess’s bad-books and got himself disinherited.  He didn’t have any legitimate off spring.  It should be noted that he actually did inherit Chatsworth but sold it to his brother.  One of his illegitimate sons, also called Henry, founded the Cavendish of Doveridge line.

William_Cavendish,_1st_Earl_of_Devonshire.jpgWilliam Cavendish (1552 – 1626) started off having the kind of career that readers of this blog might expect of a scion of the gentry.  He was an MP and a justice.  He was also the Sheriff of Derbyshire.  He became a baron in 1605 thanks to his niece Arbella Stuart who presents this case to her cousin King James I. After his mother’s death he became very wealthy and together with his court connections was able to gain the title Earl of Devonshire.  It is reported that he paid James I £10,000 for the privilege.  I shall be coming back to William tomorrow. I find that I need an understanding of who is who in the Devonshire fold – as someone said to me recently – it’s impossible to escape the Devonshires in Derbyshire and whilst on one hand the fact that quite a lot of them are called William means that I can get away with a lot its an aristocratic skein that I need to untangle.

Charles Cavendish (1553-1617) was the godson of Queen Mary and the father of William Cavendish who became the Duke of Newcastle – he went through the titles earl and marquis before gaining the dukedom in 1665 when he pointed out to Charles II that the Crown owed him rather a lot of back pay and that he was seriously out of pocket for having supported Charles I during the English Civil War.  If that succession of titles wasn’t confusing enough for the casual reader he was also created Viscount Mansfield in 1620.   From this branch of the family come the dukes of Newcastle and also Portland.

William had a younger brother also called Charles who worked loyally on his brother’s behalf.  Aubrey described him as a “little, weak, crooked man.” Aside from becoming an MP and going into exile with his brother the Marquis of Newcastle in July 1644 after the Battle of Marston Moor, Charles deserves more mention because of his advancement of the science of mathematics and correspondence with continental mathematicians .  There can’t be many men defined in the National Archives as a Knight Mathematician and it would have to be said that Aubrey notes that having been left estates and money he purchased books and “learned men.”  The books, which were all mathematical were sold upon his death, by his wife, for waste paper.

Elizabeth Cavendish (1555-1582) married Charles Stuart the younger brother of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley the unfortunate second husband of Mary Queen of Scots.  Margaret, Countess of Lennox and Bess, then Countess of Shrewsbury, met at Rufford Abbey along with their respective off-spring and the rest, as they say, is history.  The result of the marriage was Arbella Stuart and a possible contender for the Crown being descended from the eldest daughter of Henry VII.

Mary Cavendish (1556-1632) married Gilbert Talbot who became the 7th Earl of Shrewsbury upon his father’s death.  Mary’s home life was complicated by the 6th earls increasing hostility to Bess and to her family not to mention his family.  The pair had five children but their two sons died in infancy.  Their three daughters married as follows; the earls of Norfolk, Pembroke and Kent.

Essentially the descendants of a poor Derbyshire squire’s daughter had married into some of the most prestigious families in the land. The Dukeries area in Nottinghamshire is so-called because it was once home to the Dukes of Norfolk descended from Mary Cavendish;  Dukes of Portland  and Dukes of Newcastle descended from Charles Cavendish and the Dukes of Kingston descended from Frances. Bess’s descendants have impacted on  British politics since the seventeenth century and whilst she was unable to ensure that her grand-daughter Arbella Stuart wore the crown it should be noted that Elizabeth II is descended from her through the Bowes-Lyons and that Princes William and Henry are related to her not only through their paternal line but also through Princess Diana’s ancestry.