Tag Archives: Robert Cecil

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.

 

 

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Filed under Border Reivers, Kings of England, Sixteenth Century

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.

 

 

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Filed under Mary Queen of Scots, Queens of England, Sixteenth Century