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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.

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Elizabeth I’s favourites – Sir Thomas Heneage

thomas-heneage-300x280.jpg1565 was a trying year for Elizabeth I.  She was all to aware of the dangers of having an heir to the throne waiting in the background – after all she had been in that position seven years previously.  Now as queen she was determined not to name her successor despite the fact that there had already been a succession crisis during the seven days when her privy councillors had feared for her life in 1561 when she had small pox.  At that time Cecil had favoured Henry VIII’s will which would have seen the crown handed to Lady Katherine Grey the sister of Lady Jane Grey.  There had been a couple of voices in favour of Margaret, Lady Lennox who was the grand-daughter of Henry VII by Margaret Tudor’s second marriage to Archibald Douglas, the earl of Angus. Other men mentioned Henry Hastings the Earl of Huntingdon.  He was descended from the Duke of Clarence – so Plantagenet but most important of all he was male! Elizabeth herself had unexpectedly regained consciousness and given the regency into the hands of Robert Dudley.

Now in 1565 Elizabeth was still fending prospective suitors off or dangling her kingdom and her royal personage like a carrot on the political stage but there was also the matter of her cousin Mary Queen of Scots who remained a potential threat to Elizabeth’s security if she married Don Carlos the mentally unstable son of Philip II.  There was also the underlying factor that whilst Elizabeth had no children her dynasty was insecure and that Mary was a potential claimant to the throne – albeit a Catholic one.

From 1563 onwards Elizabeth had sought to control Anglo-Scottish relations by offering Robert Dudley as a potential husband to Mary with the carefully worded caveat that if Mary took Dudley as her husband that she would be named as Elizabeth’s heir.  There was still the difficulty of the fact that Elizabeth was expected to marry and produce children at this time in her reign but it appears to have been a gamble that Mary was prepared to take so long as Elizabeth was prepared to put in writing without any equivocation that Mary was her heir.  On March 16th 1565 it finally became clear that Elizabeth would not do this.  Mary immediately abandoned Dudley’s proposal even though he’d been given a title, Kenilworth Castle and many lands.

Elizabeth, perhaps eager to remind Dudley that he wasn’t as important as all that started to pay a great deal of attention to  married courtier -Thomas Heneage – so no possible thoughts of matrimony there. In fact unlike Dudley or her next favourite Sir Christopher Hatton there were never any rumours of romance between the two of them.  At the same time as Thomas became a gentleman of the Privy Chamber Elizabeth began to flirt with him. Perhaps it helped that Thomas’s first wife had been a friend of Elizabeth’s. It had the effect of making Robert Dudley jealous.

Dudley challenged the queen and she was apparently “much annoyed.” Dudley took himself off in high dudgeon, locked himself in his room for four days and then quarrelled with the queen further who was “cold with him.”

Dudley retaliated by flirting with Elizabeth’s cousin Lettice Knollys who was pregnant with her son Robert at the time.  Cecil noted in his diary that the queen was “offended.”  Pregnant or not, Lettice was one of the most beautiful women in Elizabeth’s court and it was clear at this stage of the game of courtly love that whilst Elizabeth could have many favourites, they in their turn should look only to Elizabeth.

Philip II took it as evidence that the queen loved Robert Dudley. She had revealed as much when she thought she was dying of small pox.

By Christmas 1565 Dudley was back at court but he couldn’t resist sniping at Heneage or threatening to beat him with a stick.  Elizabeth was not amused and told Dudley that just as she had raised him, she could equally as well lower him.

But by 1571 the two men had set their differences aside.  They forwarded one another’s suits and somewhat bizarrely under the circumstances it was Thomas who acted as a go between with Elizabeth when Christopher Hatton and then later Sir Walter Raleigh fell out of favour with their demanding monarch.

As with her other favourites Heneage’s personal relationship with the queen led to his appointment to office.  In his case he was the queen’s treasurer for many years ands extended family benefited from his patronage.

Gender politics was well and truly on the map and would stay there through the rest of Elizabeth’s reign both at home and abroad.

 

Whitelock, Anna (2013) Elizabeth’s Bedfellows. London: Bloomsbury

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Sir John Perrot – illegitimate son of Henry VIII?

johnperrot.jpgI’ve been reading Margaret Irwin’s book about Sir Walter Raleigh entitled The Great Lucifer. It was first published in 1960. One of the first things that made me sit up and take notice was the reference to Sir John Perrot as Elizabeth I’s illegitimate half-brother (p17) which of course has nothing to do with Raleigh but is too good a diversion to miss.

 

The Perrot family, it turns out, are Welsh and based in Pembrokeshire. Perrot’s mother Mary Berkeley married into the family. She had been a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon although the evidence is sketchy. There are two slightly different versions of events. In one Mary married Thomas Perrot and it was only when the king came visiting that he noticed Mary. This version is mentioned by Phillipa Jones. In another version, mentioned by the Royal Library of Wales, Perrot was knighted when he married Mary – make of it what you will. In any event John, when he grew up, ultimately got into a squabble with a couple of the Yeomen of the Guard and Henry gave him a promise of preferment but died before he could honour it.

 

Perrot was educated in St David’s and from there entered the household of the marquis of Winchester. He was a companion to Edward VI who seems to have paid a fair few of Perrot’s debts. Perrot, himself a stout protestant, initially suffered little when Edward’s catholic sister Mary came to the throne but then he was accused of sheltering Protestants in his home in Wales. Mary Tudor sent him to the Fleet prison for harbouring heretics. When he was let out, in itself odd given his strong protestant sympathies, he decided to travel and spent the rest of Mary’s reign in foreign climates.

 

When Elizabeth ascended the throne he carried a corner of the canopy of state at her coronation. He very swiftly became very important in South Wales and from there he was shipped to Ireland to try to establish the kind of order that Elizabeth might approve of. He was the first president of Munster for two years from 1571 to 1573; he suppressed the rebellion of the nephew of the earl of Desmond – James Fitzmaurice. He did this by hanging approximately eight hundred rebels.  He also made himself very unpopular with Elizabeth’s other representatives and gained a reputation for being rash, combative and rude.

 

The whole experience, and the suppression of the rebellion was brutal, doesn’t seem to have suited him because he returned home to Wales and busied himself with trying to extend his estates. Elizabeth gave him Carew Castle as a reward for his work in Ireland. In 1574 he became a member of the Council of the Marches of Wales and the following year was charged with stopping piracy in Pembrokeshire. He must have done a good job, although there is a suggestion that far from stamping out piracy he was involved in the whole affair. When Glamorgan and Monmouthshire required similar services to rid themselves of their pirated, as he had done in Ireland, he claimed ill-health and turned the job down. Possibly he was too busy financing piracy in New Foundland’s waters. There were also the law suits and counter accusations of piracy that seem to have been flung back and forth by those in power in Wales. Perrot does not come across as a man who won friends and influenced people.  He certainly seems to have been rather litigious.

 

In 1579 he was handed five ships and told to stop any Spanish shipping from landing off the west coast of Ireland. Not a lot happened and he managed to ground his ship which caused mirth at Court. It can’t have put him too badly out of face with the queen because she made him lord deputy of Ireland in 1584. He held the post for four years. He didn’t get on particularly well with other members of court, the Irish or even his own neighbours. It was, in short, not a very happy tenure of office but when he came home he was made a member of the Privy Council.

 

Unfortunately he’d made enemies in Ireland. Principally Adam Loftus, Bishop of Dublin. He also had enemies at home including Sir Christopher Hatton. Perrot had seduced Sir Christopher’s daughter and claimed that the only skills Hatton had was the ability to dance.

The Perrot family had also been marrying the wrong people. In 1583, Thomas, John’s son, married Dorothy Devereux who was the daughter of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex. More importantly she was the step-daughter of Elizabeth’s favourite Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester and the sister of Robert Devereux also to be marked as the queen’s favourite. Politically then it should have been a good match but unfortunately Elizabeth was not terribly amused by the nuptials because a) no one had asked for her opinion on the matter; b) it looked to her as though Perrot was getting a bit above himself and c) it meant that Perrot had conspired with Leicester’s wife Lettice Knollys who also happened to be Elizabeth’s cousin and a woman that the queen absolutely hated.

 

In March 1591 he was charged with treason. He was accused of having consorted with the Spanish and offered to betray his country in return for being given Wales. Unsurprisingly, he was carted off to the Tower and tried for treason. The letters which purported to show his guilt were found to be forgeries and the forger was duly strung up. Perrot was, unexpectedly to me at any rate, found guilty of treason but died before he could be executed. Historians are of the opinion that he wasn’t guilty of treason but had said some unfortunate things about the queen in the hearing of people who wanted to discredit him. Certainly Perrot was just as surprised. He is said to have exclaimed, “God’s death! Will the Queen suffer her brother to be offered up a sacrifice to the envy of his frisking adversary.” The reference originally came from Naunton’s biography of his grandfather-in-law but the facts don’t necessarily match to what he wrote.  In any event, Sir John Perrot died in the Tower, perhaps at the point when Elizabeth was considering pardoning him. As a consequence there are dark rumours of poison, as mentioned in the Dictionary of National Biography. Whatever the truth Elizabeth returned the attainted estates to Sir John’s son.

 

So what was Perrot who seems a slightly larger than life character doing in a book about Raleigh? It turns out that Perrot’s son Thomas was once imprisoned to prevent him fighting a duel with Raleigh. As for Sir Walter, he was also sent to the Fleet to consider the error of his ways – something he apparently failed to do as Irwin goes on to list other brawls. And that appears to be the sum total of Perrot’s link with Raleigh.

 

Sir John Perrot was an interesting aside. He certainly seems to have had Henry VIII’s dodgy temper and apparently he resembled the king physically as well- in which case I’m not sure if the portrait is a very good likeness. Sir John seems to have believed the rumours especially if he really did say what he’s supposed to have said after his trial.

 

Jones, Philippa. (2011) The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards. London: New Holland Publishers

Irwin, Margaret. (1960) The Great Lucifer: a portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh. London:Penguin

 

 

 

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