Robert Dudley’s last letter

Penelope Devereux will be following shortly – I’ve got rather engrossed in the reading!  In the meantime here’s Robert Dudley’s last letter to Elizabeth I.  On 28th August 1588, an ill Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, wrote his final letter to his queen and childhood friend, Elizabeth I. He wrote it from the home of Lady Norreys at Rycote, where he was staying on his way to Buxton, to take the waters there.   He died on the 4th September 1588.  He is thought to have died either from malaria or stomach cancer.

 

It read:

“I most humbly beseech your Majesty to pardon your poor old servant to be thus bold in sending to know how my gracious lady doth, and what ease of her late pains she finds, being the chiefest thing in this world I do pray for, for her to have good health and long life. For my own poor case, I continue still your medicine and find that (it) amends much better than with any other thing that hath been given me. Thus hoping to find perfect cure at the bath, with the continuance of my wonted prayer for your Majesty’s most happy preservation, I humbly kiss your foot. From your old lodging at Rycote, this Thursday morning, ready to take on my Journey, by your Majesty’s most faithful and obedient servant,

Leicester

 

Elizabeth kept the letter in a box beside her bed for the rest of her life.  She marked it in her own hand “His last letter.”  Their relationship had changed over the years but she never fully recovered from his death.  Although Robert’s step-son the Earl of Essex stepped into Dudley’s place the world in which Elizabeth I found herself was changing.  Not only that but it has been argued that she relied on having familiar faces around her to overcome the anxiety of temperament that had haunted her since the days of Thomas Seymour.

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/elizabeth-monarchy/earl-of-leicester-to-elizabeth/

Robert Dudley’s Last Letter

Dorothy Devereux – scandal, intrigue and a woman who knew her own mind.

Dorothy_penelope_devereauxLettice Knollys was the daughter of Catherine Carey – meaning that she was probably the granddaughter of Henry VIII as her grandmother was Mary Boleyn.  She was born on the 8th November 1543.  She married three times; first to Sir Walter Devereux who became the First Earl of Essex; second to Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester and thirdly to Sir Christopher Blount.

During the reign of Mary Tudor Lettice’s mother and father travelled to continental Europe because they were sincere protestants.  Elizabeth sent her cousin Catherine a letter signed “broken hearted” when she learned of her departure.  We do not know if Lettice travelled with her parents.  Two years after Elizabeth became queen Lettice married Walter Devereux, then Viscount Hereford.  They had five children:

Penelope was born in 1563 and Dorothy in 1564.  Lettice went on to have three sons: Robert, Walter and Francis.  Today’s post is about  Dorothy  and tomorrow I shall be posting about Penelope because of the portrait pictured at the start of the post which I love and is believed to be of Penelope and Dorothy.  It can be found at Longleat House.

Dorothy was married first, in 1583, to Sir Thomas Perrot – which makes it all a bit family orientated as Sir Thomas’s father John claimed to be one of Henry VIII’s illegitimate children (click on the link to open a pervious post about Sir John Perrot in a new window.)  Sir John was not one of Elizabeth I’s most favourite people even though he did claim close kinship with her.  He found himself in the Tower on charges of treason during her reign.  It is perhaps because of Sir John that Dorothy failed to ask Elizabeth I for permission to marry, which as one of her ladies-in-waiting she should have done and preferred, instead to elope with Penelope’s help.  Alternatively it might perhaps of been that Dorothy’s hand was being settled by  Robert Dudley who in 1582 had tried to arrange her marriage to his nephew Sir Philip Sidney.  Either way, Elizabeth was not amused and probably even less so when she learned of the circumstances of the wedding.

The marriage took place at Sir Henry Coke’s house in Broxbourne. Coke was one of Dorothy’s guardians.  He did not connive at the wedding.  For most of the service  Sir Henry’s servants were trying to break down the chapel door whilst the vicar was assaulted for arguing that the correct procedures had not been followed.  He was eventually told that John Alymer the Bishop of London had granted a licence.  This information would get him into trouble with Elizabeth.  The historian Robert Lacey places the blame for this highly irregular marriage on the inadequacies of Lettice’s and Walter’s marriage rather than Dorothy accepting her allotted role of chattel being sold to the most powerful bidder.

Dorothy was banished from court and Thomas found himself in the Fleet Prison.  There was also the small matter of William Cecil trying to have the marriage annulled.  However, despite the chapel door being battered there were six witnesses and a proper priest on hand.  In 1587 Dorothy’s brother Robert used his growing influence with the queen to try and return Dorothy to court during a visit by Elizabeth to one of Robert’s homes.  This was not particularly successful as the queen was unamused to find Dorothy in residence.  Dorothy had to stay in her room.  Unfortunately Sir Walter Raleigh, who was also a guest, became involved and there was rather a loud argument resulting in Dorothy leaving in the middle of the night.  It was only after Sir Thomas’s death that Dorothy was allowed back to court. By then she was the mother of four daughters: Penelope, Dorothy, Elizabeth and Ann

Dorothy then married the 9th Earl of Northumberland – Henry Percy- the so-called Wizard Earl.  This particular earl would find himself involved in the Gun Powder Plot in 1605.  He and his wife were not happily married despite the fact that Elizabeth I had approved of Dorothy’s second marriage.  The pair  separated in 1599. It is perhaps not totally surprising given that the earl had selected his wife based on her potential to have sons.  Dorothy did have sons with the earl but they both died young.   The couple had only one surviving child, a daughter called…Dorothy.

The separation was not permanent.  Realistically the earl needed an heir and Dorothy could not really afford more scandal.   Lucy Percy was born circa 1600 and the all important heir to the earldom of Northumberland followed in 1602.  A second son arrived in 1604.

In 1605 when Northumberland was implicated in the Gunpowder Plot and sentenced to life in the Tower, Dorothy showed herself to be a loyal wife.  She visited her spouse most days.  For Dorothy the years of the earl’s imprisonment meant that she was responsible for running the earldom whilst Percy was in charge in name only. Like her first cousin twice removed (I think I’m right given that Catherine Carey and Elizabeth I were officially cousins; Elizabeth and Lettice were first cousins once removed thus Dorothy must have been twice removed) Dorothy was a woman with a brain.  Unlike Elizabeth, Dorothy was not always able to act independently and much of her marital difficulty appears to have stemmed from this.

Dorothy died in 1619, two year’s before her husband’s eventual release from the Tower.  She is buried in the Percy family vault at Petworth.

Robert Dudley – lap dog.

elizabethpeace.jpgElizabeth I was fairly clear about her intention never to marry.  she famously said that “I will have but one mistress here and no master.”  It is also said that Elizabeth, aged eight, told Robert Dudley, shortly after the execution of her step-mother Katherine Howard that she would never marry – a precocious child would have spotted the dangers of child birth and execution!.
The rumours about Elizabeth and her Master of Horse spread around Europe.  Elizabeth once complained that she was watched by a thousand eyes.  Certainly various continental ambassadors spent a great deal of paper speculating upon the relationship that existed between Elizabeth and Robert and the consequences if they were to marry.  Despite the fact that their relationship never officially progressed beyond courtly love it was true that Robert’c bedchamber lay next to Elizabeth’s and that she was absolutely furious when he eventually married her cousin Lettice Knollys.  In Brentwood, Mother Dowelled got herself into huge amounts of bother when she claimed that Elizabeth were lovers.
Whilst William Cecil and the gossips of England’s ale house may have been concerned about Elizabeth’s relationship Elizabeth herself was all set to bring Dudley down a peg or two.  She said to him in 1566,  ‘I cannot do without my Lord Robert’, she told the French ambassador, ‘for he is like my little dog’.  She is also reported to have told Dudley   “when you are seen people know to expect me soon after.”
Perhaps this is why she appears with a lap dog in the so called Peace Portrait commissioned by Robert Dudley.

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.

Robert Dudley – and his love life!

Robert_Dudley_LeicesterBy  the 10 Nov 1558 it was clear that Elizabeth would be queen and when a week later her sister Mary died, Elizabeth became the first English monarch to bear that name.  The following day the Great Seal was surrendered into her hands and she made Robert Dudley her master of horse which meant that he was the only man in the kingdom legally allowed to lay hands on her for the purposes of helping her on and off her horse.  Now, an unmarried queen was an asset in diplomatic terms but fears for the nation and the queen’s health were compounded by the fact that Elizabeth had known “Sweet Robin” Dudley since she was a child and rather like a child allowed out of school for the summer Elizabeth rather enjoyed the freedom that being queen now gave her.  It wasn’t long before there was speculation about Elizabeth and her Master of Horse.  It wasn’t much longer until there were rumours that Elizabeth was pregnant or had even had a child by Dudley.  Nicholas Throckmorton the English Ambassador in Paris wrote home expressing the view that these rumours needed to be scotched.
Eighteen months later things became even worse when on the 9th September 1560 Amy Robsart was found laying dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs at Cumnor.  Once again it wasn’t long before the rumour mill suggested that Dudley had disposed of his wife so that he could marry the queen.  Amy’s marriage had been a love match  but even at the wedding one of the guests – William Cecil no less- had expressed the view that it would not end well.  He perhaps guessed that the groom would tire of his country mouse.
Dudley now found himself in a situation where he might have hoped to have married Elizabeth but Elizabeth was more politically savvy than he guessed.  She kept him dangling on a thread- rather like the lap dog she once accused him of being.  meanwhile rumours about the death of Amy Robert would haunt him his entire life. You have to admire the man’s optimism because he didn’t marry again for the next eighteen years.  In all fairness his hopes had reason to be high – for example in 1562 when Elizabeth had smallpox she named Dudley regent in the event of her death.
The following year however, Elizabeth suggested that her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots should marry Dudley.  It was on the strength of this suggestion that Elizabeth made him the Earl of Leicester.  Let’s not get into the discussion about whether she actually intended it or not, that she was trying to insult Mary or that it was a canny stratagem to make Dudley an earl.  By March 1565 the idea was dead in the water with both the proposed bride and groom being in opposition to the suggestion.
It is usually suggested that Dudley was a serious contender for Elizabeth’s hand throughout the 1560s but realistically the death of Amy and Elizabeth’s suggestion that he marry Mary make it an unlikely suggestion beyond 1564.  In 1565 Dudley showed some serious courtly attention to the queen’s cousin Lettice Knollys.  It didn’t go down very well. Nor did it probably help that Lettice looked very like her cousin. By the end of the decade Dudley gained a mistress in the person of Douglas Sheffield:

I have, as you well know, long both loved and liked you, and found alway that faithful and earnest affection at your hand again that bound me greatly to you. This good will of mine, whatsoever you have thought, hath not changed from that it was at ye beginning toward you. And I trust, after your widowhood began upon the first occasion of my coming to you, I did plainly and truly open unto you in what sort my good will should and might alway remain to you, and showing you such reasons as then I had for ye performance of mine intent, as well as ever since. It seemed [that] you had fully resolved with yourself to dispose yourself accordingly, without any further expectation or hope of other dealing. From which time you have framed yourself in such sort toward me as was very much to my contentation. And I did with my former mind also continue my good will & determination toward you.

 

You can’t say that Dudley didn’t lay his cards on the table.  In 1574 Douglas had a son called Robert but by then Dudley’s attentions had turned back to Lettice Knollys who was married to the 1st Earl of Essex.  Walter Devereux was sent to Ireland in 1573.  Let’s just say that when the earl returned home in 1575 that Dudley wasn’t his most favourite person.  The earl went back to Ireland in 1576 and promptly expired of dysentery.  Dudley who was in England was very soon accused of having poisoned the earl.

In July 1575 Elizabeth arrived to visit Dudley in Kenilworth.  Dudley made yet another marriage proposal – it was very elaborate and very expensive.  He’d also commissioned two full length portraits one of himself and one of Elizabeth.  The queen enjoyed the party and the flattery but did not take the bait.

On 21 September 1578 Dudley married Lettice at Wanstead – in secret.  Nine months later the queen found out and there was rathe ra lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Elizabeth did not forgive and forget.  Lettice was never welcome back at court and in 1583 she was still sniping at Dudley’s treachery.

In the great scheme of things Dudley actually seems fairly subdued on the woman front  – but when in pursuit of a queen its perhaps best not to have too many floozies on the go.   In later years Robert’s son by Douglas would claim that the pair were married but it was never proven – and had more to do with inheritance than truth.

 

Just a fortnight to go until the History Jar day school – there are still places available – was Amy murdered? Did Dudley marry Douglas Howard in a secret ceremony? What was Elizabeth’s relationship with Lettice?  Who needs a soap opera when there’s the reality of Tudor court life?

Thursday 27th September 2018   10.00 am – 3.30pm

Inconvenient Wives

The story of Robert Dudley, Amy Robsart,

Lettice Knollys and Elizabeth I

The Orange Box, Halifax.

Sir Henry Lee

henry lee.jpgSir Henry Lee (1533–1611) was  Queen Elizabeth I’s self-appointed champion.  The family originated from Buckinghamshire although his mother was a Wyatt from Kent.  As is usual with the Tudors, Lee was related somehow or other to some very important people including the queen herself as well as to William Cecil and to Robert Dudley. He was also man who served all the Tudors from the age of fourteen beginning with Henry VIII without being slung in the Tower for his pains.

In 1554 he married Anne Paget to avoid the Tower or worse. She was the daughter of William Paget.  Paget’s early patron was Stephen Gardener – the family were Catholic.  Paget went on to support the Earl of Somerset during the minority of Edward VI so found himself in the Tower when Somerset fell from power and when he managed to extricate himself from that bind he promptly got himself into another one when he signed the document that set Henry VIII’s will aside and put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.  It seems odd then that Lee would marry the man’s daughter but Paget was a survivor and he was swift to seek a pardon from Queen Mary.  By 1556 he would be Lord Privy Seal.  From Lee’s point of view Paget was a man of influence and he was also a Catholic which was quite important because Lee was a Protestant.  Anne Paget and Henry Lee were not happily married. It can’t have helped that their two sons died young.  There was also a daughter from the marriage.

Paget retired from court life when Elizabeth I became queen in 1558 but Sir Henry Lee found himself in the ascendant. The year after Elizabeth became queen he was sent to France on official business thanks to William Cecil (could that have been a case of who you know rather than what you know?) He did what all Tudor gentlemen were required to do: i.e. went to war against the Scots and became an MP.   The picture at the start of the post is in the ownership of the National Portrait Gallery.  It was painted in about 1568, probably when Lee was on a trip to Antwerp.  The blackwork lover’s knots and armillary spheres could be a reference to his loyalty to Elizabeth though art historians are more perplexed about the pose of the ring through the red cord.  In 1569 he was part of the force that put down the Northern Rebellion.  As well as being the royal champion – a position he held from 1559 until 1590 he also became the master of the armoury (he was master of the armoury during the Spanish Armada), master of the leash and Constable of Harlech Castle. Despite this and his relationships with men such as Dudley and Cecil, not to mention his friendship with Sir Philip Sydney, Lee does not really seem to have played a very important political role in the shifting tide of Tudor court life. Lee’s role was more about providing the entertainment – up to 8,000 people attended the Ascension Day jousts (40 days after Easter Sunday) that he organised.  He was also regarded as something of a peacemaker – it was he who tried to persuade the Earl of Essex to seek Elizabeth’s pardon in later years.  In 1580 he even managed to get a loan out of the queen – perhaps he shouldn’t have been trying to build four stately mansions at the time.

AnneVavasourPerhaps Elizabeth wouldn’t have been so keen on lending money if she had realised that her new lady-in-waiting, Anne Vavasour, would one day lead her royal champion astray – she being at least thirty years his junior. In 1584 , three years after Anne disgraced herself by becoming pregnant by the earl of Oxford, Lee jousted against Anne’s brother Thomas.  Anne would be described as Lee’s “dearest dear.” Lee clearly wasn’t too bothered by the feud that the Vavasour and Knyvet families were running agains the Earl of Oxford on account of Anne’s meteoric fall from grace.  And, in all fairness, we don’t know when Anne and Lee began their relationship.  It is only in 1590 that Anne Vavasour turns up in the Ditchley records but as Simpson explains the purchase of Ditchley in 1583 could be explained not only as a home  located in reasonable proximity to an important official role (Steward of Woodstock) but also as a home for his lady-love.  By 1585 Lee was living separately from his wife as identified through the will of Anne Paget’s mother.  The 1592 Ditchley Portrait is usually regarded as Sir Henry Lee’s apology to Elizabeth for living with a married woman – not that she seems to have held it against him.

 

When Lee died he left a will that made provision for Anne.  One of the witnesses was Edward Were, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Oxford.  The will and an explanation of it can be read here: http://www.oxford-shakespeare.com/Probate/PROB_11-117_ff_326-8.pdf 

 

Simpson, Sue. Sir Henry Lee (1533–1611): Elizabethan Courtier

By Sue Simpson

The king of Spain’s beard

francis-drake.jpgNow, I know this isn’t necessarily going to be popular but Sir Francis Drake is one of my heroes.  He has been since I was a child and I’m not about to change tack now.  The problem with the global circumnavigator (the Golden Hind is smaller than some modern bath tubs) is that he was also a privateer – or put another way a pirate licensed by the queen for a spot of pirating which is apparently quite different from being a lawless thug who deserves to be strung up.

Our story begins in September 1568 when Francis was approximately twenty-eight.  Francis, he had elven younger brothers not that it has anything to do with the story, was on a moneymaking expedition with his cousin Sir John Hawkins.  They’d been doing a spot of trading with Spanish settlers which was illegal because the Spanish wanted their settlers to buy all their goods from approved sources. Inevitably there had also been a spot of light piracy on the side.  Their little fleet of vessels put in to San Juan to carry out some repairs.  A Spanish fleet also arrived.  Drake and Hawkins thought they’d arrived at a “live and let live gentleman’s agreement” but the Spanish had other ideas.  Drake was lucky to escape.  It was the start of a lifelong animosity.

He was very good at being a pirate.  Hutchinson identifies the fact that for every £1.00 invested with Drake there was a £47.00 profit. No wonder Elizabeth I gave him a knighthood.

large-drake-knighted2.jpg

As the relationship between England and Spain deteriorated Drake occupied ports, burned towns and pinched lots of loot.  Philip in Spain was not amused.  One of the reasons, apart from adding to her treasury, that Elizabeth was pleased to encourage Drake was because Spain had its own financial difficulties and for every carrack and galleon that Drake captured there was another ratchet of financial pressure to be twisted on Spain.  The bigger Philip’s financial problems the more likely that any projected invasion would have to be deferred.

Unfortunately Pope Sixtus V was quite keen on re-establishing Catholicism in England and, even though he was as almost famously tightfisted as Elizabeth I, he stumped up the cash – well he promised 1,000,000 ducats for the venture provided the invasion was successful.  Until that time the money was held by a middle man.  In any event the Enterprise of England was underway.

Walsingham received news of Philip’s planning and preparations in February 1587. In assorted coastal locations across the south various officials suffered from palpations at the thought of the Spanish landing on their doorstep- let’s just say there were one or two false sightings. John Hawkins and Francis Drake argued that it was time to take the war to Spain rather than sitting around waiting for them to turn up – their arguments were entirely militarily sound but undoubtedly the lure of profit held its own siren call.

Walsingham and the earl of Leicester supported the idea. On 25 March 1587 Elizabeth I agreed that Drake could go and do nasty things to Spanish vessels on the pretext of supporting Dom Antonio, a claimant for the Portuguese Crown which Philip II had collected for himself.  She sent off the Elizabeth Bonaventure, the Golden Lion, the Dreadnaught and the Rainbow.  The rest of the vessels under Drake’s command were financed by private investors hoping to turn a profit (think of London Merchants as being a bit like modern hedge fund investors.)  The Merchant Adventurers even had an appropriate contract for the occasion which is somewhat eyebrow raising to a modern reader.

It was all very hush hush because, after all, England was not at war with Spain.

Vessels sailed from London to Plymouth.  The entire fleet sailed on the 12 April, Drake having penned a cheery note to Walsingham, prior to his departure. Once his vessels were out of sight over the horizon Elizabeth changed her mind and ordered him home because piracy is as we all know a very wrong thing, as is setting fire to other people’s boats.  She sent a fast pinnace with the new orders to Drake…it never reached him, perhaps because its crew was too busy engaged in piracy on their own behalf.

Drake, meanwhile, was bound for Cadiz. The original plan was that he should aim for Lisbon but Cadiz was the Armada’s supply base. There was also only one entrance channel to the harbour and it passed directly beneath the gun strewn city walls. It would take a daring commander to assault the ships at anchor there.

On 29th April Drake arrived, held a council of war, lowered his flags and sauntered in battle formation toward the harbour entrance. The citizens of Cadiz only realised that they had sighted a hostile force when Drake opened fire and then raised his flags once more.  Panic erupted. Cadiz’s mayor tried to send the town’s women and children to safety in the castle but it’s captain had the gates shut causing further pandemonium.

Meanwhile Spanish galleys tried to lure the English warships onto the sandbanks that surrounded Cadiz with no success. During the next two days Drake and his men sank or fired a variety of Spanish vessels as well as Geonese merchantmen.

The Spanish militia was sent for in a bid to prevent the English gaining access to the inner harbour and they also attempted to send fireships out amongst the English fleet. These were promptly towed off whilst the English burned something like 13,000 tons of shipping and as usual looted where possible. The Spanish claimed they had lost twenty four vessels but one of Drake’s men put the total closer to sixty.

One of the key successes to the venture  was the loss to the Spanish of the wooden staves that had been destined for the manufacture of barrels which would have held the Armada’s fresh water and salted meat.  Poor provisioning was one of the key reasons for the number of Spanish deaths associated with the Armada.

During the action there was even time for an exchange of prisoners with the English offering their recently captured Spanish prisoners in return for English galley slaves.  Drake took the opportunity to ask about the size of the Armada and when told that it was more than two hundred warships in size is alleged to have shrugged his shoulders and said that it wasn’t such a lot. You might not like the man or his methods but you have to admire the swash in his buckle.

Drake and his fleet eventually sailed off and spent the rest of the month looking for Spanish vessels to capture. On the 14 May he was off  Lagos but the town was too strongly defended to be attacked so he went on to Cape Sagres where he ransacked various churches and a fortified monastery. He continued to be a nuisance in the shipping lanes. On 27 May he celebrated  his success in his usual understated style;

“We have taken forts, barques, caravels and divers other vessels.”

Drake was clearly a man with one eye on his own press cuttings.

On the 18th June the San Felipe was sighted.  It had cargo worth £108,049 13s and 11d in precious jewels, silks and spices.  Elizabeth’s share in the profit  from the capture was £40,000.  Drake was not arrested for piracy as soon as he arrived back on English shores (I can’t imagine why!) Elizabeth was heard, somewhat gleefully, telling the French Ambassador that Cadiz had been destroyed. The inference being that if it had happened once it could very well happen again.

Drake would go on to be hailed as an English hero for his part in the Armada Campaign – his alleged game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe is part of national folklore.  Inevitably after the first part of the battle in which the English fleet chased after the Spanish Drake couldn’t help but revert to form. Drake shadowed the Spanish fleet with a light burning at his stern as a guide to the following English fleet. Unfortunately the light went out. Once a pirate always a pirate.  The Spanish ship Rosario was in dire straits and Drake couldn’t resist taking it as a prize which was unfortunate as without the light to give some indication of what was happening the rest of the English vessels ran the risk of running straight into the back of the Spanish  fleet which is what Lord Howard of Effingham aboard the Ark Royal almost did. Drake would later claim that he had gone off to investigate a strange vessel which turned out to be a German merchant but Lord Howard wasn’t totally convinced.  Hutchinson makes the point that court marshalling the queen’s favourite pirate probably wasn’t on the cards either. Martin Frobisher was less circumspect in his account noting that Drake wanted the spoils of war for himself but that he, Frobisher, was going to get his share.

And just for the record, despite what most folk might think, it was not Sir Francis Drake who commanded the English fleet during the Armada it was Lord Howard of Effingham. So why you might ask is Sir Francis on my list of heroes? I’ve even posted about him before now (click here to open new page) Well, I would have to say that the actual historical man isn’t.  Quite frankly he sounds like a bit of a chancer albeit a lucky and a courageous one with a strong sense of self.  The Sir Francis who I admire is the romantic and literary creation, or perhaps propoganda, of post-Armada England.  He is brave and chivalrous and probably rescues kittens stuck up trees before helping braces of little old ladies across the road.  The popular perception of Sir Francis Drake is that of the plucky Englander with a heart of oak and virtues to match – his heirs can be seen on any repeat of Dad’s Army – overcoming adversity through bravery and guile.  He is representative of a long line of almost mythical defenders of an Island Nation.

With Elizabeth the concept of a Medieval European empire of the kind ruled over by Henry II, dreamed about by Edward III and written about by Shakespeare in his history plays was finally consigned to the History books.  Mary Tudor may have died with Calais written on her heart but her sister and her closest advisers set about creating something new  during Elizabeth’s forty year reign. Elizabeth and her government painted a picture of a Protestant sea-faring nation standing David-like against the Catholic Goliath in its Spanish guise. England’s new band of brothers would be sea farers.  This, undoubtedly, was playing fast and loose with the truth but I do like a good story, and besides, my Dad told it to me – which is, of course, how History turns into folklore.

 

 

Hutchinson, Robert. (2013) The Spanish Armada. New York: Thomas Dunne Books

 

 

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

Sir James Croft – soldier, courtier and inveterate plotter

British (English) School; Sir James Croft (c.1518-1590), Comptroller of the Queen's HouseholdBy 1559 factions had formed in Elizabeth’s court.  Robert Dudley, not unexpectedly, found himself at the head of one of them.  Today though my interest is with Sir James Croft pictured above who is identified by William Cecil in the 1560s as being an adherent of Robert Dudley.  The picture which is housed at Croft Castle shows him with his white staff of office.

This may have been mildly alarming for Cecil because Croft had a tendency to be linked with trouble.  He had initially supported the claim of Lady Jane Grey to the throne and had spent some time in The Tower as a consequence.  Immediately after he was released he became involved with Wyatt’s Rebellion – a plot to depose Mary and place Elizabeth on the throne as well as providing her with a husband in the form of Edward Courteney, Earl of Devon.  Courteney’s grandmother was Katherine Plantagenet the sister of Elizabeth of York – Elizabeth’s grandmother.  They shared a common great-grandfather in Edward IV.

Croft carried a letter from Wyatt to Elizabeth at Ashridge House in Hertfordshire at the onset of the rebellion but she had the good sense to take to her bed and not receive the missive which told her to seek shelter in Castle Donnington.  Croft then carried on to Herefordshire where he was supposed to ferment one of the four uprisings which were planned to catch Queen Mary and her supporters on the hop.

Croft’s position in Herefordshire was that of a member of the most powerful gentry family in the area who had built networks and links during the reign of Henry VIII – not withstanding the fact that his great grandfather had been Richard III’s treasurer.  Henry VII not one to bypass an able financial administrator had retained him and when Croft had shown his loyalty at the Battle of Stoke the Croft transfer to the Tudor Rose was complete.  There were Crofts at Ludlow when Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon were in residence.

James inherited Croft Castle from his father in 1562 but for the time being he was simply in the business of fermenting rebellion – which was rather unsuccessful because whilst the ordinary people weren’t keen on the idea of Mary marrying a foreign prince they were loyal to the memory of Katherine of Aragon, Mary’s mother, and also had a sense of what was right as was laid down in Henry VIII’s will.

Croft was arrested and charged with treason.  He was condemned on 28th April 1554 but was fortunate that Stephen Gardener in his capacity as Chancellor persuaded Queen Mary in the direction of clemency for most of the rebels.

Once again Croft was in hot water but on the accession of Elizabeth I he rose in importance having had his attainder reversed.  He had been part of the Rough Wooing of 1543 to 1548.  He served as the captain of Haddington Castle in 1549 despite the loss of a right arm whilst serving  in Henry VIII’s army at Boulogne. Now he was sent north as governor of Berwick-Upon-Tweed and also Lord Deputy of Ireland but he blotted his copy books in 1560 when he indulged in some more dodgy letter writing – this time with Mary of Guise when he should have been attacking the Scots.  The Siege of Leith did not go as well as expected primarily because Croft wasn’t where  he should have been.  The Duke of Norfolk was not amused and wrote : ‘I assure you I thought a man could not have gone nearer a traitor and have missed, than Sir James’. Even so, after a further stint of imprisonment, he was forgiven in 1570 when he was made a privy councillor and comptroller of Elizabeth’s household.

This re-instatement into royal favour may have been thanks to the offices of Robert Dudley.  Croft combined his role in the royal household with his role as a member of the Herefordshire gentry.  Inevitably his name features on the list of members of Parliament and serving as a justice.  Interestingly it was when he was sitting as a Junior Knight for Herefordshire that he encountered Sir John Dudley the future Earl of Warwick and then Duke of Northumberland.  It was John Dudley who was the first national rather than local patron and it goes some way to explaining how he became involved with the plot to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.  It also explains how in the early 1560s he regarded himself as part of Robert Dudley’s affinity – Croft simply moved his loyalty from father to son.  It may also account for why he was selected to take the letter from Wyatt to Elizabeth at Ashridge given that popular history makes it very clear that Robert Dudley and Elizabeth had been friends since childhood.

In 1587 he was part of Mary Queen of Scots trial and in 1588 he was sent on a diplomatic mission to the Duke of Parma.  When he returned he was clapped into the Tower for yet more dodgy dealings – this time with Parma.  He was released in 1589 and died in 1590 having penned his own autobiography in the 1580s – the main point of which was to demonstrate what a good Crown employee he had been, a sterling example of a soldier and how impoverished he was as a result.  Whether any one else thought so is a moot point but Elizabeth seems always to have forgiven him.

Rather unexpectedly given that he is seen on a list as part of Dudley’s crew of supporters it comes as a bit of a surprise to discover that James’ eldest son Edward was charged with witchcraft in 1589 for contriving the death of the Earl of Leicester. The reason for this about-face lies in the fact that Dudley and Croft differed in their views as to how the Spanish threat and the dangers of confrontation in the Low Countries should be dealt with.

Tighe, W. J. “Courtiers and Politics in Elizabethan Herefordshire: Sir James Croft, His Friends and His Foes.” The Historical Journal, vol. 32, no. 2, 1989, pp. 257–279. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2639601.

 

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