William Cecil

William_Cecil_Riding_a_MuleDavid Cecil, William’s grandfather had turned up at Bosworth on the victorious side. he went on to become one of Henry VII’s newly formed yeomen of the guard.  His son meanwhile settled down to the business of being a Lincolnshire gentleman with court connections.

William, born in 1520, went to Grantham Grammar school and then onto stamford Grammar School and from there to Cambridge where he blotted his copy books by falling in love with, and marrying, an inn keeper’s daughter.  Mary  Cheke- William’s youthful fling died in 1544, two years after their marriage.  They had one son with whom William appears not to have got on very well all things considered.

The son, Thomas, did not have the same administrative brain as his half-brother Robert. Cecil is supposed to have said that Thomas wasn’t fit to govern a tennis court, not that it stopped him from becoming the 1st Earl of Exeter.

In 1545 William married Mildred Cooke. Two years later William became part of the administrative department for Edward VI’s protectorate.  He had been at university with Ascham. Rather unexpectedly William turns up at the Battle of Pinkie and seems to have got on well with the Duke of Somerset as he became one of his private secretaries.  Unfortunately Somerset would fall from power in 1549 – the resulting associating meant that Cecil got to spend some time in the Tower on the wrong side of the bars but on his release he became the secretary of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. It was during this time that he became Elizabeth Tudor’s man of business or more specifically her estate agent.

Then Edward VI died and Cecil found himself on a sticky wicket once more.  He was part of the regime attempting to usurp Henry VIII’s will and place Lady Jane Grey on the throne rather than Mary Tudor.  He managed to extricate himself by signing the device which made Jane queen as a witness and Mary Tudor issued him with a general pardon suggesting some shady doings which helped to thwart Dudley.

During Mary’s reign Cecil was sent on a couple of diplomatic missions and continued in his role as a member of Parliament.  His wife’s convinced Protestantism doesn’t appear to have held him back.

In November 1558 Elizabeth ascended to the throne and made Cecil her principal Secretary of State.  He held the post for the next forty years and whilst he complained bitterly about his royal mistress on occasion he served her loyally throughout. Elizabeth recognised him as her “alpha and omega.”

In 1563 he purchased Theobalds House in Hertfordshire.

Much has been written about Cecil or Lord Burghley as he became in 1571.  It was he who sought to send Robert Dudley as an Ambassador to Spain shortly after Elizabeth ascended the throne, it was he who was sent from court in disgrace after the execution of Mary Queen of Scots and it was he who helped to re mint the coinage to make Elizabeth’s economy much more secure.  He did become Lord Treasurer in 1572 after all.

Whilst much is made of Elizabeth’s foreign policy which often seems to include marriage negotiations involving either herself or in later years Arbella Stuart or on occasion the grand-daughters of Lady Margaret Clifford it was Cecil who initially recognised the importance of the New World in terms of economy and it was he who identified the importance of playing Spain and France off against each other in order to maintain a balance of power.  Cecil like Elizabeth was keen to avoid a war.  In short he was there to protect Elizabeth and the realm by always being in the background organising that things went as smoothly as possible.

Alford suggests that Cecil was much more than an administrator.  It was Cecil who put Sir Francis Walsingham in post in 1568 and he seems to have had a knack for plots and double agents of his own.

Aside from plotting, administration and a Renaissance line in poetry writing, Cecil also enjoyed, of all things, gardening.  He employed John Gerard who wrote Gerard’s herbal and the enterprising Tradescants were employed by William’s son Robert.  It was tradescantia who popularised tulips in England. Which leads me to my happy discovery of the day pertaining to Cecil, Elizabeth I and gardens.

In 1599 Sir John Davies described Elizabeth I as the Empress of Flowers who prized a beautiful garden.  This in its own turn meant that Elizabeth’s chief courtiers were green fingered themselves – or at least employed some rather good garden landscapers. Robert Dudley and William Cecil competed with one another to produce gardens that would impress.  Cecil liked “fountains and walks” in his gardens and imported lemon trees as well.  He also had a maze garden.  The designs became ever more ornate as he tried to outdo Robert Dudley who pulled out all the stops in 1575 at Kennilworth.  I must admit to loving the idea of a garden rivalry!

Cecil died on August 4th 1598

Alford. Stephen. Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I 

Martin,  Trea. Elizabeth in the Garden: A Story of Love, Rivalry and Spectacular Design

Tudor inheritance and a nasty case of poisoned mushrooms.

tudor family treepic.jpg

Yesterday I blogged about the scandal of Lady Margaret Stanley nee Clifford plotting against Elizabeth I by using astrology to predict the queen’s death.  Dr Randall, the physician who drew up the star chart was hanged for his pains whilst Margaret spent nearly twenty years under house arrest.

Fernando_StanleyMargaret’s son Ferdinando Stanley the 5th earl of Derby was much less lucky.  Ferdinando became earl in 1593 after his father’s death.   The following year the fifth earl died rather unexpectedly following a sudden and violent illness.  At the time witchcraft was mentioned but poisoning was the more generally accepted reason – as this extract from Camden’s history reflects:

Ferdinand Stanley Earle of Darby… expired in the flowre of his youth, not without suspition of poyson, being tormented with cruell paynes by frequent vomitings of a darke colour like rusty yron. There was found in his chamber an Image of waxe, the belly pierced thorow with haires of the same colour that his were, put there, (as the wiser sort have judged, to remove the suspition of poyson). The matter vomited up stayned the silver Basons in such sort, that by no art they could possibly be brought againe to their former brightnesse… No small suspicion lighted upon the Gentleman of his horse, who; as soone as the Earle tooke his bed, tooke his best horse, and fled”.

Different sources suggest poisonous mushrooms whilst a writer in The Lancet speculates on an early English use of arsenic.

The story began when a man called Richard Hesketh had approached Ferdinando on behalf of the Jesuits on 27 September 1593.  He had travelled from Prague via Hamburg to England for his meeting. Hesketh wasn’t a random Catholic he was an ex-retainer of the Stanley family. Daugherty goes so far as to identify him as a step-brother.

The earl was a direct descendent of Henry VII, there was no question about his legitimacy and more importantly he was of Catholic stock.  It seems that Stanley had two meetings with the man as well as going off to London to talk things over with Lady Margaret Stanley before turning Hesketh over to the authorities for interrogation.  This, despite the fact that Hesketh had warned him that if the plot was divulged then Ferdinado wouldn’t have long to live.  The plot involved placing Ferdinando on the throne and the usual possibility of a Spanish invasion just to ensure that Catholicism gained the upper hand.

Hesketh was executed in November 1593 in St Albans  having implicated Ferdinando’s brother William in the plot.  To add to the chaos several of Ferdinado’s servants had sought shelter in the household of the Earl of Essex during Ferdinando’s life time and there was a suggestion that Essex also had a hand in Ferdinando’s demise.  There was also some doubt expressed about Ferdinando in that he had first received intimations of treachery at the end of September but did not inform the Crown of the plot until October.

Unsurprisingly the fact that Ferdinando had betrayed Hesketh to the Crown did not go unremarked. A text published in Antwerp entitled A Conference on the Next Succession to the Crowne of England,  by Robert Parsons, under the pseudonym Robert Doleman, backed away from supporting Ferdinando as the heir apparent. Parsons suggested that some english Catholics thought that William Stanley  might make a better successor to Queen Elizabeth.

If being rejected by conspirators wasn’t bad enough Ferdinando now found himself being marginalised at court.  He had hoped for more recognition given his loyalty.  Instead an important role in Chester was given to someone else rather than to him.  It led him to comment rather bitterly that he had lost out both at court and in the country.  Ferdinando’s wife, Alice Spencer, wrote to Cecil asking for help.  The scandal of the plot was making life difficult for a man who had demonstrated his loyalty.

It has been suggested that Robert Cecil and his father lay at the heart of the conspiracy in that their agents can be found lurking at the edges of the plot.  If this was the case it was a sham-plot perhaps designed to entrap Ferdinando or perhaps to entrap bigger political fish. There are those who believe that the first letter that Hesketh gave to Ferdinando in September 1593 did not come from Prague at all but from a certain Mr Hickman.  The murky world of Elizabethan spying provides associates of Christopher Marlowe (and remember that Ferdinando was a patron of Marlowe) who were prepared to suggest that Cecil had been involved in the poisoning.  Henry Young explained that the governing elite had decided that it was time to get rid of possible contenders for the throne.

The idea of manufacturing plots was nothing new – the Babbington Plot had required a bit of light forgery before Mary Queen of Scots incriminated herself and the so-called Lopez Plot which saw Elizabeth’s doctor rather unpleasantly executed was manufactured by the Earl of Essex so that he could demonstrate his effectiveness in the murky world of espionage.

For those who like a bit of spice it should be noted that the new Earl of Derby – who was Ferdinando’s brother Willliam now acquired a wife Elizabeth de Vere – she was the grand daughter of William Cecil.  If nothing else this suggests that Cecil knew that William hadn’t had a hand in poisoning his brother to gain the title. It should also be noted that the Cecil already had ties of kinship with the Stanleys and it may have been that, as well as loyalty to the throne, that  prompted Ferdinando to reveal information about the plot as swiftly as he did.  It could also be hypothesised that in 1595 whilst James VI of Scotland was in receipt of a pension it wasn’t necessarily true that he was the only candidate for the English throne – perhaps, rather on the other end of the spectrum to the previous paragraph, Cecil rather liked the idea of a grand daughter sitting on the throne he’d served so loyally for his entire life!

Breight. C. Surveillance, Militarism and Drama in the Elizabethan Era

Daugherty, Leo. (2011) The Assassination of Shakespeare’s Patron: Investigating the Death of the Fifth Earl of Derby  Cambria Press

Edwards, Francis. (2002)  Plots and Plotters in the Reign of Elizabeth I. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Nicholas, Charles. The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe

 

Robert Carr, the king’s favourite…murderer.

carr-miniatureRobert Carr was a Scotsman born in Somerset. He was the son of Sir Thomas Kerr of Ferniehurst Castle in Scotland. The Kerrs – a border family – were known for their left-handedness; they even built their castle staircases to favour their choice of weapon hand. In parts of Scotland, to this day if you’re ‘kerr-handed’ then you’re a left hander. Carr’s mother, Sir Thomas’s second wife, was a sister of the Bold Buccleugh, otherwise known as Walter Scott.

 

Carr began his rise to prominence in James I’s favour in 1606 when his broke his leg, in some accounts it is his arm and there’s also the possibility that it was a deliberate act to attract the king’s attention, during a tilting match at which the king was present. Apparently the king witnessed the accident, recognised Carr and helped nurse the young man back to health whilst at the same time distracting him from the tedium of a broken leg by teaching him Latin. It turned out he needed the help. Carr a handsome and athletic young man was not naturally academically gifted.  He had to rely on the advice of his friend Sir Thomas Overbury for ‘brainwork.’

James conferred the Manor of Sherbourne upon the handsome young man. Lady Raleigh nee Throckmorton was given some compensation for the loss of her home but it was something else toehold against the king’s Scottish favourites- and Carr was undoubtedly the king’s favourite. The young man, who needed help with his Latin because he wasn’t the sharpest cookie in the jar, began advising the king. In 1610 Parliament was dissolved on Carr’s advice and after Robert Cecil’s death in 1612 it appeared that there was no stopping the man. He became a privy councillor, the Earl of Somerset and the Lord Chancellor. Carr garnered wealth from his position, presents from the king and from the bribes that he collected.  He was at the heart of the court.

 

Carr’s first mistake was to marry Francis Howard, who was still married to her first husband the Earl of Essex at the time when their courtship began. His second was to be implicated in a plot to poison his one time friend and advisor Sir Thomas Overbury. Overbury, Carr’s principle advisor, henchman and ‘go-getter’ distrusted the Howard faction and had initially advised against the marriage.  Francis’s family saw to it that Overbury ended up in the Tower where he died of natural causes…or so it seemed.

Thanks to Carr, James’s relationship with his Parliament deteriorated and after the fiasco of Frances Howard’s first marriage being annulled James’s reputation as a law-maker was sullied.

His third and biggest error was to fall out with King James in 1615. He was quickly replaced by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Shortly afterwards Carr found himself in trouble, along with his conniving wife, for the murder of Overbury. Francis was guilty but Carr always maintained that he was innocent. Neither he nor his wife were executed. They remained in the Tower until 1622. Carr died in 1645.

 

 

Sir Francis Knollys – (pronounced Knowles)

knollysSir Francis was born in Oxfordshire in 1511.  His father died when he was seven but he gained a position at court thanks to Henry VIII who showed him the same favour with which he’d regarded his father.  He is perhaps best known as Mary Queen of Scots gaoler but he appears at keys moments throughout much of the Tudor period.  For instance,  he was one of the gentlemen who met Anne of Cleves on her arrival in England; he was an MP; a soldier during the Rough Wooing; a friend to Princess Elizabeth and Robert Cecil; husband of  Catherine Carey (Elizabeth’s cousin via Mary Boleyn).

There is, of course, the possibility that Catherine Carey was not simply Elizabeth’s cousin but also her half-sister but there is insufficient evidence to draw any satisfactory conclusions.  It is however safe to say that Sir Francis was close to Elizabeth.  His wife was a good friend of the queen’s as well as being a relation.  So close was his relationship that Sir Francis was able to express his belief that keeping the Scottish queen in England was a disaster.

As a determined Protestant his career suffered a severe reverse upon the accession of Mary Tudor.  He was such a determined Protestant that he went to Germany rather than live under Catholic rule.

Unsurprisingly his career resumed once Elizabeth ascended the throne.  In addition to becoming a privy councillor he also resumed his parliamentary career.  He worked for the queen in Ireland and received jobs within the queen’s household such as Treasurer.  The image shows Sir Francis holding a white staff showing his role as officer in the queen’s household.

 

In May 1568 Mary Queen of Scots arrived in England.  Knollys was sent north to act as her gaoler.  His reputation as puritan made him naturally suspicious of the Scots queen.  However, her charisma soon won him over, though he never let down his guard while he had care of her in Carlisle Castle and later in Bolton Castle.  In fact he was so worried about security that he sent the plans of Bolton Castle and his security provision to Cecil for approval.  He taught the queen English and read the English Prayer Book with her as well as discussing his faith – a matter which caused Elizabeth to write a letter chastising his behaviour.

On January 20th 1569 Knollys received orders to take Mary to Tutbury Castle and hand the royal prisoner over the Earl of Shrewsbury who would take over Knollys’ role of gaoler.  Sir Francis remained with Mary until February when his wife died.

Sir Francis died in 1596 after a long and illustrious career as a politician and adviser to the Tudors.