Tag Archives: Henry Stuart

The Earl of Essex

essex3.jpgRobert Devereux was the son of the Queen Elizabeth’s favourite – the dashing one that managed to get himself executed for treason in 1601.  Grandpapa on his mother’s side was Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster.  Obviously having been attainted for treason the entire Devereux family, including young Robert who was ten at the time of his father’s misdeeds, were tainted as being of bad blood and all property returned to the Crown.

Things changed in 1604 when James I restored titles and lands to Robert and arranged his marriage to a wealthy Howard heiress. Perhaps this was because young Robert was close to the ill-fated Prince of Wales, Henry Stuart.  Unfortunately young Robert wasn’t old enough to actually marry his bride, Frances, so was sent abroad on his own version of Frances-Howard.jpgthe grand tour.  Whilst he was securing a gentleman’s education Frances Howard took up with the king’s favourite  Robert Carr and married him instead having divorced Robert for impotency in 1613 (and I should imagine that no 20 year-old wants that particular label)- France’s marriage would end in murder, a visit to the Tower and a Jacobean scandal that historians are still writing about but that’s beside the point.  The marriage ended amidst much hilarity and popular balladry.  Robert insisted that even if he was impotent so far as Frances was concerned he was more than capable with other ladies of his acquaintance.  To add insult to injury, Frances who had been carrying on with Robert Carr, was declared to be a maiden – the mirth this enjoindered can only be imagined.

Robert, the third earl, undertook a military career in continental Europe perhaps to escape the ribaldry.  The thirty years war was well under way by this time. He served in the Low Countries and or the Palatinate of which James’ daughter Elizabeth was the queen. In 1625 he was part of the Duke of Buckingham’s disastrous Cadiz Campaign.

It would have to be said that his relationship with Charles was not good.  He absolutely refused to pay Charles’ forced loans.  And things can’t have been much worse when in 1639 having been appointed as second in command of the the king’s armies in Scotland in the run up to the First Bishop’s War he was demoted so that the role could be given to one of the queen’s favourites.  Charles then became a bit sniffy about the fact that the Scots approached the earl to try and prevent the english army from marching north.  There was nothing machiavellian in the earl of Essex’s actions that warranted the king’s distrust as evidenced by the fact that Essex handed the letters he’d received from the Scots to Charles unopened.  In 1640 he wasn’t offered any role at all in the Second Bishop’s War which must have galled.

In 1640 when the king finally ran out of money and the Long Parliament sat Essex emerged as the principal speaker for the opposition to the king in the House of Lords.  He and John Pym worked together to prosecute the Earl of Strafford.  Charles, perhaps realising that insulting the earl of Essex in terms of military leadership hadn’t been one of his better ideas offered him a place on the Privy Council in 1641 and by July he was in control of the king’s army south of the River Trent and Lord Chamberlain.

It was Essex who received the news from his cousin Lady Carlisle in January 1641 that Charles intended to arrest five members of the House of Commons and one peer. After that Charles left London for Hampton Court, then Windsor.  From there he went north to York.  Once in York he ordered the earl to join him but Essex refused and was promptly removed from the post of Lord Chamberlain.  Parliament had come to regard him as a potential leader for some time and Charles as evidenced above had never really trusted him.  Essex was a bit prickly about his honour having had his father executed for treason so its perhaps not surprising that he chose to side with Parliament rather than the king.

In 1642 Essex was appointed to the Parliamentary Committee of Safety.  He also became one of Parliament’s key military figures during the early years of the English Civil War.  He wanted to negotiate a peace but from a position of military superiority – his was the middle way if you wish when Parliament was increasingly split between the War Party and the Peace Party.

He commanded the parliamentary forces at Edgehill and as with his continental campaigns he shared the experiences of his ordinary soldiers to the extent that he was actually seen at push of pike.  Edgehill was technically a draw but since Essex failed in his objective to prevent the king from marching on London it is usually deemed that he lost the battle.  But it was Essex who petitioned Londoners to send as many men as they could to Chiswick on 13 November at Turnham Green and thus ensured that the king withdrew from London rather than be responsible for untold bloodshed.

In 1643 Essex captured Reading but was unable to advance and capture Oxford where the king’s court was based.  He became embittered by his armies lack of pay whilst Parliament grew testy about his lack of success.  Despite this he raised the siege on Gloucester and won a victory at Newbury.

The king was not alone in mistrusting Essex’s military capacities.  When John Pym died in 1643 he was replaced by Sir Henry Vane who was not one of Essex’s fans. A point which seems to have been proved when, in 1644, Essex lost the Parliamentary army in Cornwall and had to escape in a fishing boat. Lostwithiel was the end of Essex’s military career. In addition to the Cornish disaster he had been militarily overshadowed by men like Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell.  He resigned his commission in 1645. Whilst he wasn’t a hugely successful military figure on account of his lack of imagination and flair he was respected by his men because ehe shared their hardships.

The earl of Essex wasn’t hugely successful as a husband either.  Having been divorced by Frances Howard he went on to marry Elizabeth Paulet in 1630 having returned from his soldiering in Europe to take up his other career as a politician – and an earl needs a wife.  The marriage lasted a year, after that it was a marriage in name only.  Six years after they married Elizabeth gave birth to an illegitimate baby which Robert accepted as his own after some hesitation, mainly because he didn’t need the embarrassment of a second errant wife and he did need an heir.  The child, a boy named Robert, died when it was little over a moth old and the earl was left without an heir.

walterdevereux.jpgThere are three earls of Essex during the Tudor/Stuart period – the title was not used after the third earl’s death in 1646 until the Restoration. The First Earl of Essex was Walter Devereux – he is associated with Tudor rule in Ireland and is more famously Lettice Knollys’ husband.  Lettice was the daughter of Catherine Carey – making her the grand-daughter of Mary Boleyn.  Historians speculate whether Catherine was the daughter of Henry VIII  – Lettice certainly looked rather a lot like her cousin Queen Elizabeth I.  In fact Lettice managed to get into rather a lot of trouble with her cousin after the first earl of Essex’s death when she secretly married Elizabeth’s long time squeeze, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

2nd earl of essex.jpgThe second Earl of Essex was Robert Devereux.  He was Walter and Lettice’s fifth child and after Robert Dudley’s death became a favourite with the aging Elizabeth I.  Like his father he was associated with Ireland.  His campaign was not a rip-roaring success from Elizabeth’s point of view.  Handsome but petulant the earl rebelled in 1600 having already sailed pretty close to the wind when he returned from Ireland and burst in on Elizabeth having been expressly forbidden from crossing the Irish Sea and winning no friends when he saw the queen without all her finery.  He was executed for treason on 25th February 1601 – leaving a young son, also called Robert, who would eventually become the third earl.


Filed under Seventeenth Century, Sixteenth Century, The Stuarts, The Tudors

An inconvenient almost royal romance – Elizabeth Cavendish and Charles Stuart, Earl of Lennox.

Arbella StuartElizabeth I is a monarch of notoriously dodgy temperament.  She was also prone to locking people up who got married without asking her permission first – Sir Walter Raleigh and Bess Throckmorton being a notable example as indeed were Ladies Katherine and Mary Grey when they married without their cousin’s approval.  It is perhaps not surprising then that when another scion of the Tudor family tree married on the quiet that there was repercussions.  Aside from Liz’s dodgy temper there was the fact that under the 1536 Act of Attainder it was necessary for people in line to the throne to acquire Royal Assent before marrying.  The fact that permission wasn’t usually given was, under the law, neither here nor there.

In the Autumn of 1574 Bess of Hardwick, wife of the earl of Shrewsbury, who was at that time entertaining Mary Queen of Scots as a long term “house guest” left Chatsworth where the Scottish queen was imprisoned and travelled to Rufford Abbey in Nottinghamshire.  Rufford had been acquired by Bess’s second husband, William Cavendish who had been rather heavily involved with the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536.


Rufford Abbey was a very convenient place.  It was getting on for thirty miles away from Chatsworth and it was handily close to the Great North Road. Bess was on her way to meet an important guest.

The guest was Margaret Stuart, Countess of Lennox.  Her parents were Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII, and Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus.  She was Elizabeth’s cousin and in line to the English throne – apart from the fact that Henry VIII had excluded her because of her Catholicism.  There was also the small matter of Margaret Tudor’s complicated marital arrangements which had cast doubt upon Margaret Douglas’s legitimacy.  In any event Margaret having realised that her own claim to the throne was nothing but a dream had concentrated her ambition into her two sons by her husband Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox.  The older boy, Henry Stuart (don’t ask me about why Stewart/Stuart is spelled the way it is) had married Mary Queen of Scots and got himself murdered.  Given the link between Mary and Margaret as well as their shared Catholicism the English Privy Council had stipulated that Margaret should not come within thirty miles of either Chatsworth or Sheffield if Mary Queen of Scots was in residence.  They suspected plots. However, Margaret had been given permission to travel between her home in Hackney to her home in Yorkshire, Temple Newsam.  Permission had been granted for her to travel on 3 October 1574.

Mid October 1574 – Margaret began her journey north.  She broke her journey with a stay at the home of Katherine Bertie, Baroness Willoughby de Eresby.  Readers of the History Jar might recognise Katherine Bertie as Katherine Willoughby, the daughter of Catherine of Aragon’s loyal lady-in-waiting, Maria de Salinas.  She became the duchess of Suffolk when she married the widowed Charles Brandon, was a friend of Katherine Parr and has been identified by some historians as a perspective wife number seven for Henry VIII.  Margaret and Katherine Bertie had known each other since they were young women.  They had a friend in common – Bess of Hardwick had entertained Katherine when Katherine went to Buxton to take the waters in 1575 and she stayed at Chatsworth.  There had been some talk of Bess’s daughter Elizabeth Cavendish marrying Katherine’s son Peregrine Bertie.

charles stuart earl of lennox.jpgBess invited the Countess to stay at Rufford during her journey north. Travelling with Margaret was her other son  Charles Stuart.  He was nineteen at that time and already earl of Lennox – though not necessarily terribly wealthy.  For once this does not seem to have bothered Bess.

Margaret became unwell whilst staying in Rufford.  Bess cared for her guest personally.  After all Margaret was a Tudor even if both host and guest were countesses.

Elizabeth who had accompanied her mother and young Charles were left to their own devices.  The pair fell in love and got themselves firmly engaged.  Neither mother raised any objections.  In fact it appears that Bess smoothed the way.  She leant Margaret a large some of money and the fact that Elizabeth Cavendish had a dowry of £3000 probably helped.

– The Earl of Shrewsbury, who must have been horrified when he discovered what had been going on, wrote to Lord Burghley to inform him of his step-daughter’s secret marriage to Charles Stuart, Earl of  Lennox  at Rufford Abbey in Nottinghamshire without royal permission.

– Lord Burghley replied that the marriage would be trouble. He was not wrong.

4 November – Shrewsbury replied to Burghley explaining how the young couple had fallen in love.  He stressed that the marriage was not a secret and that he was hiding nothing.  The reality was, of course, that royal permission had not been sought – Charles Stuart was a direct descendent of Henry VII and the son of an English subject so a possible claimant of the Crown.

Someone broke the news to Elizabeth I.  The queen was predictably and probably alarmingly annoyed.

2 December – Shrewsbury sent another letter to Burghley saying that he had heard that the news of the wedding hadn’t gone down particularly well and begged Burghley to intercede on his behalf.  He also wrote to the queen – making it clear that none of it had been his idea and that he and Bess were the queen’s very loyal servants  (You can almost hear the gulp).

17 November- Margaret Lennox was ordered to return to London.    Charles Stuart was to return to London with his bride (Elizabeth Cavendish).  The journey took the rest of the month and into the beginning of December.  Perhaps it was bad roads and lame beasts or perhaps Margaret wanted time for her cousin to calm down.

3 December – Countess of Lennox in Huntington.  She wrote to the earl of Leicester and Lord Burghley asking for help.  She sent a second letter to Burghley on the 10th December.

12 December Margaret Lennox arrived in King’s Place, Hackney.

13 December Margaret Lennox appeared before the Privy Council.  Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon in charge of investigation.  No plot to involve Mary Queen of Scots was uncovered and there was no evidence that the marriage was anything other than a young couple falling in inconvenient love.

27 December.  Margaret was placed under arrest and carted off to The Tower. The version of events that the earl of Shrewsbury had recorded in his letters did not quite tally with the story that Margaret had told on her return to London.  Charles and Elizabeth were placed under house arrest.  It was the third time that Margaret had been incarcerated (the first was when she fell in love with Sir Thomas Howard in the reign of Henry VIII; the second when her eldest son married Mary Queen of Scots and now because Charles had married without permission to the daughter of the woman who was effectively Mary Queen of Scots’ gaoler.)

On the same day the Earl of Shrewsbury wrote yet another letter saying that no ill will had been intended.  Bess of Hardwick was now ordered to London as well.


January – some historians say that Bess of Hardwick was given the opportunity to contemplate the error of her ways in the Tower at this time but others disagree.

Bess was allowed to return home where the presence of Mary Queen of Scots continued to cause difficulties and where the marriage of Gilbert Talbot and Mary Cavendish now resulted in the birth of an heir – George and increased family friction.  The worry of his high status prisoner and the fact that he wasn’t being paid for maintaining her were having unfortunate effects on the earl of Shrewsbury’s personality.

Ultimately Margaret was released back to Hackney as there was no evidence of a master plot to free Mary or to kidnap James from London.

10 Nov (ish) – Birth of Arbella Stuart probably at King’s Place, Hackney. There is a letter from Mary Queen of Scots to her new niece and a reply from both Margaret and Elizabeth.

Christmas – Bess of Hardwick gave the queen a cloak of blue satin trimmed with velvet as a New Year’s gift.


April – Charles Stuart died.  Arbella was barely six months old.  Lovell suggests that Charles had always been delicate and perhaps this was another reason that Margaret had encouraged the match with Elizabeth Cavendish.  Arbella should now have become the Countess of Lennox in Scotland it was argued that it was King James VI of Scotland who should have title and rights to the estates because he was Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley’s son.  Mary Queen of Scots wrote in her will asking hr son James to grant her niece, his cousin, Arbella the earldom.  James never did.


Elizabeth Cavendish would die six years later in January 1582.  She was just twenty-six years old.  Arbella would be given into the wardship of Lord Cecil and her day to day care into the hands of her grandmother Bess of Hardwick.


Armitage, Jill. (2017) Arbella Stuart: The Uncrowned Queen.  Stroud: Amberley

Gristwood, Sarah. (2003) Arbella: England’s Lost Queen London: Bantam Press.

Lovell, Mary S. ( 2012)  Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth. London: Little Brown


Filed under Mary Queen of Scots, Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

The murder of Lord Darnley

kirk o fields.jpgI seem to be passing through a phase of whodunits and primary sources with lots of wriggle room.  The chap  this post revolves around  is Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley – he was born at Temple Newsam near Leeds. His mother was Lady Margaret Douglas daughter of Margaret Tudor and Mathew Stewart 4th earl of Lennox. Margaret was the half-sister of James V meaning that Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots were cousins. His father being a Stewart was also in line for the Scottish throne.

On the surface Darnley was tall, good-looking and urbane.  He’d changed the spelling of his name following his education in France. He danced well and he was charming. He must have been a breath of fresh air to Mary when he arrived in Scotland at the beginning of 1565 after her diet of plain speaking Scottish males telling her what to do and what to believe.

Mary_Stuart_James_DarnleyBy July the banns were being called and Elizabeth I was writing stern notes from England to both Darnley and Mary as not only did Elizabeth take a lively interest in what was happening in Scotland but both the bride and the groom were in line for the English throne by virtue of their descent from Margaret Tudor, the eldest surviving daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York . The pair married on the 29 July 1565 before the papal dispensation for their marriage arrived. Darnley didn’t accompany Mary to the marriage mass which followed the actual wedding.

Unfortunately for Mary she’d been deceived by her new husband’s good looks and soft words.  It turned out he was vain, arrogant, drank more than was good for him and irritated most of her nobility including her illegitimate half-brother James Stewart who wasn’t terribly keen on Mary marrying anyone on account of the fact he wanted to be her key adviser.  Darnley sulked heavily when Mary refused to give him the crown matrimonial  which would have meant that had she died before him that he would have ruled Scotland but less than a month later rumours abounded that Mary was pregnant.

Obviously the best way to win friends and influence people, if you are called Darnley, is to kill your pregnant wife’s Italian secretary.  Rizzio – and this does sound like a game of Cleudo- was stabbed in Mary’s private dining room at Holyrood Palace more than fifty times on 9th March 1566 by Darnley and a cluster of protestant nobles.  Whilst my words strongly suggest that he was there and wielding a knife  with deadly effect he was swift to issue a statement that he knew nothing about the matter – we’re back to the basis of proof again. For the sake of clarity I should probably also mention that there were rumours at the time that the baby that Mary carried actually belonged to Rizzio rather than Darnley – which isn’t credible but serves to demonstrate how unpopular the queen had become.

Not too surprisingly Mary did not trust her spouse one jot after that although they did appear to become closer once Mary’s son baptised Charles James was born on 19th June 1566. She’d been persuaded to forgive her husband and also some of the lords who’d conspired with him to commit the murder.

Darnley fell ill in Glasgow – it is said with small pox although that prevalent Tudor catch all of syphilis is often bandied around. At the beginning of February 1567 he moved to Edinburgh where he stayed  at a house in Kirk o’ Fields.  Mary sometimes spent the night there, in the chamber below the one that Darnley inhabited. She was due to stay the night on the evening of the 9th of February – but didn’t.

In the wee small hours of 10th February 1567 a huge explosion  tore through the house killing two of Darnley’s servants.  It would have been unfortunate had Darnley been found dead in his bed.  The house had been selected by his wife Mary, Queen of Scots. There small matter of a store of gunpowder allegedly stored in the queen’s bed chamber might have raised more than one eyebrow but it could probably have been neatly tidied away.  No, the problem was that Darnley was not discovered in his bed dead as a result of the explosion.  He was discovered dead in a nearby orchard, unmarked by the explosion, strangled with his own shirt.  Nearby lay his servant – William Taylor,wearing a cap, his night-shirt and one slipper- also dead. There was also a chair, a dagger and possibly a quilt. Hard to blame that on an explosion of any kind!

Mary and powerful border baron James Hepburn, earl of Bothwell, were suspected of the deed – it was suggested that Darnley was on the wrong end of a love triangle.  The problem was that whilst Bothwell remains the chief suspect not least because he married Mary very shortly afterwards there were an awful lot of people who weren’t terribly keen on Darnley – or put another way if Agatha Christie had written a historical novel on the subject – everyone would have done it! The case which is short on facts and long on speculation covers the following:

  • Bothwell, who was undoubtedly high in Mary’s favour, sought to rid the Scottish queen of her spouse so that he could assume the royal role – let’s just set aside the small matter of his own wife – Lady Jean Gordon.
  • Mary was unhappy with Darnley for a number of reasons including the murder of Rizzio, his arrogance and let’s not forget the syphilis.  However, she realised that divorce wasn’t an option as it was essential that there were no shadows over the legitimacy of baby James.
  • Mary was worried that Darnley would harm James or attempt to rule Scotland through him – it is thought that Rizzio was brutally murdered in front of her in part to bring about a miscarriage.  If Mary died without an heir Darnley could have attempted to rule the kingdom, raising the interesting possibility of Darnley accidentally blowing himself up and then getting murdered afterwards.
  • The Lords who’d plotted with Darnley to murder Rizzio had to flee to England in the aftermath of the deed.  Darnley had sold them down the river, so as to speak, consequentially they may have been motivated to get their own back.
  • James Stewart, Mary’s capable but illegitimate half-brother may have been motivated to kill both Darnley and Mary (remember she was supposed to have stayed the night) – an abdication wouldn’t have been displeasing either. In the event of either he could have taken charge of his little nephew and ruled Scotland.
  • Witnesses identify a group of eleven men in the vicinity at the time – all of them anonymous.
  • Cecil was told that a chap called James Balfour, who owned the house next door to the one where Darnley was murdered, had made a purchase of gunpowder just before the explosion. Just to muddy the waters he was employed in Edinburgh Castle.
  • James Hamilton had a house in the neighbourhood – in common with much of the rest of the nobility Hamilton didn’t like Darnley very much.
  • James Douglas, earl of Morton was ambitious for power.  It was his servants who found the so-called Casket Letters which incriminated Mary. He was Protestant.  He had been with the men who murdered Rizzio.

The image at the start of the post, which is in the National Archives, was drawn for Lord Cecil  so is deemed to be primary source material- think of it as the very first illustration of a murder scene (albeit in cartoon form) but not necessarily unbiased.  It tells a story, everything in the image means something – though whether its telling the truth is another ratter entirely.  It wasn’t long before the rumour mill was spreading the word that the gun powder which destroyed the house had been stored in the queen’s bed chamber – pointing the finger at her. Actually it probably wasn’t there but lower down in the building. Also she was supposed to be in the building that night.  She’d gone out to a wedding party and had not returned…evidence of her guilt if you think she was after an alibi or evidence that she was an intended victim who narrowly missed being killed.

Could Darnley and Taylor have been blown out of their bedroom along with the peculiar assemblage of items around them? The bodies are in remarkably good condition – the marks on Darnley’s partially clad body are taken to be indicators of unpleasant social diseases rather than blast damage.  Both bodies are in tact and apparently unmarked by burns. Equally, although there is a knife at the scene of the crime neither of the men had any stab woulds. It is usually accepted that they were suffocated. There is no evidence as to whether they were alive or dead when they arrived in the orchard – if dead one can’t help wondering what their murderers were trying to achieve.  If alive, it suggests that they must have been fleeing considerable danger as both were in a state of undress. It has been suggested that the chair was used to lower Darnley from the first floor window before the building collapsed/before his murderers burst in upon him.

In 1568, a casket of letters would be produced in York at the first trial of Mary Queen of Scots which implicated her in the murder of her second husband.  Many- most- historians believe these letters to be forgeries designed to keep Mary incarcerated in England.  The Casket Letters disappeared from history so their legitimacy cannot be proved or disproved.  What is significant is that they are the only evidence which points the finger of guilt at Mary. John Guy’s book about Mary  My Heart is My Own : The Life of Mary Queen at Scots looks in detail at transcriptions of the letters and at the flaws in them.

Clearly there is much more in terms of interpretation but the key is that Dudley’s murder remains unsolved.




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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Mary Queen of Scots, Sixteenth Century