Tag Archives: Sir Francis Walsingham

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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Robert Poley

marlowe

Christopher Marlowe

He appears to have studied at Cambridge but left without taking a degree.  This was not unusual especially for a Catholic and would have given him credence. By 1583 he was married with a child but was becoming drawn to  the Earl of Leicester’s and Sir Francis Walsingham’s murky world of conspiracy.  His credentials as an ex-Catholic would have made him ideal material but before beginning his career as a spy he was imprisoned in the Marshalsea for a year – perhaps an incentive to remain loyal to  his paymasters or a reminder of what might happen if he tried to double cross the State.  During this time he refused to see his wife but entertained other women.  His gaoler proclaimed that Poley could beguile you of your wife or your life.

 

Upon gaining his freedom he moved into the orbit of the Earl of Leicester and then was placed in household of Francis Walsingham’s daughter who was married to Sir Philip Sydney.  Anthony Babington asked him to obtain a passport from Walsingham to travel for between three to five years.  Babington trusted him implicitly but others were more suspicious.  Babington retained his faith in Poley even when he found him copying documents and later when he was  taken to the Tower.  Afterall, Poley was there as well as a conspirator rather than a loyal servant of the crown.

In fact Poley remained in the Tower until 1588.  An Irish Catholic Bishop called Richard Creagh died during this time. Robert Southwell, a Jesuit,  wrote that Poley had poisoned the unfortunate bishop with a piece of cheese.

Unable to resume his career undercover he became a more formal member of Walsingham’s staff and later Sir Robert Cecil’s going on official journeys overseas. He is recorded as having his own cyphers. It is somewhat surprising therefore that he was involved in the tavern brawl that saw Christopher Marlowe killed with a dagger.  Even more surprising that in the aftermath of Marlowe’s death Poley appears to disappear from the radar for a week or more before resurfacing with secret information of some description for the Privy Council.

There are many theories as to why and how Christopher Marlowe died or perhaps didn’t.  Poley’s involvement implies a cover up of some description.  One suggestion is that the men involved with the death of Marlowe were faking his demise in order to allow him to avoid charges relating to being an atheist.  It has also been suggested that Scotland was a safer place for Marlowe and who better to escort him there than a man who could get in and out of the country undetected.  Alternatively Marlowe who’d carried letters into Scotland himself may have become a dangerous inconvenience who needed to be removed from the scene before Poley’s network of agents working for Cecil to improve links with James VI of Scotland was exposed.  After all, Marlowe had been hauled up  in front of the Star Chamber and was in Deptford on bail pending further investigations.

Poley wasn’t finished with playwrights.  He returned to the Marshalsea to spy in Ben Johnson who later wrote a poem entitled “Inviting a Friend to Dinner” Poley gets a mention.  It isn’t complimentary.

 

Stephen Alford records that Cecil kept Poley on the payroll until 1601.  Alford also records that Poley wasn’t entirely as secretive as he should have been.  He seduced his landlady with tales of spying and probably infuriated Walsingham by suggesting that his urinary infection was contracted from a French prostitute – so a man who didn’t always know how to win friends and influence people.

History doesn’t record what happened to him.  I wonder if it involved a dark night and a dark alley somewhere?

 

 

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Thomas and Charles Paget

WilliamPagetSir William Paget (pictured here), Henry VIII’s advisor, had three sons – Henry, Thomas and Charles.  Both the older brothers succeeded Sir William as the second and third Baron Paget of Beaudesert respectively.  The Pagets were a Catholic family and did not initially become Protestants as so many of their contemporaries had done.

Once Elizabeth came to the throne in 1559 Henry found himself travelling around Europe.  History knows of his travels because he was a childhood friend of Lord Robert Dudley and wrote to him often.  It is from one of Paget’s letters that historians know that Mary was habitually called Queen of England following the quartering of her arms with those of England.  Henry eventually returned from his travels which included Venice and Turkey but died in December 1568.  He left a widow and a baby daughter called Elizabeth.

Thomas Paget now succeeded to the title.  He was married to Nazareth Newton and his life was troubled both by his wife and by his religious beliefs.  Thomas and his younger brother Charles had both studied at Cambridge.  They left without taking their degrees which was a normal element of noble education before being accepted into the Middle Temple where they practised law.  Both brothers were at Cambridge during Elizabeth I’s visit of 1559 and initially their catholicism did not seem to be  a bar to their careers; certainly they had supporters at court who pleaded their case.  However, Thomas became more devout.  He refused to take the Oath of Supremacy and found himself, on one occasion, under house arrest at Windsor where he was forced to undergo a course in the doctrine of the Church of England.  The archives contain letters from him to Walsingham pleading to be allowed not to attend church services in St Paul’s.  There are other letters directed to Cecil where he justifies his decision to separate from his wife who eventually turned state evidence against him.  It is perhaps telling that his son, the next Baron Paget, was a Protestant.  So far, so sad – religious belief seems to lie at the heart of Thomas Paget’s troubles.  After his wife died he fled to the continent where he eventually gained a pension from Philip II and it appears that he hoped to be restored to his title in the event of the Armada being a success.  Thomas’s story is complicated by his love-life and his beliefs but it is a fairly straightforward story.

 

By contrast his younger brother Charles Paget steered a far more difficult course which is fogged by conspiracy as well as the mists of time. Charles Paget scarpered to France in 1881 on account of his Catholicism.  One version of events sees him making contact with an agent of Mary Queen of Scots  called Thomas Morgan and entered the embassy of Archbishop Beaton in Paris – an out and out traitor to Elizabeth’s England in other words.  For the next seven years history records Charles as working for Mary and even receiving a pension from her.  This was not entirely surprising to his acquaintances at home in England.  After all, the Paget family seat was in Staffordshire not far from Tutbury Castle.  Charles had even spoken in Mary’s defence to Lord Howard.

Paget  is first known to have plotted on Mary’s behalf in 1582.  Cardinal William Allen of the English College at Douai was also associated. The plan was for the Duke of Guise to invade England with the financial backing of Philip II of Spain. Prior to the invasion English Catholics  were rise up, depose Elizabeth and release Mary.

In 1583, the plot which came to be known as The Throckmorton Plot, was well underway. Paget went  on a secret visit from France to England under the pseudonym Mope where he met the Earl of Northumberland and  brother Thomas Paget who hadn’t yet fled from England. He is also known to have met with Lord Howard.  Was it a meeting to transact family business; was  Charles Paget warning his friends and family against involvement with the plot – he was known not to have approved of the whole plot – certainly that was what he wrote in a letter to Mary Queen of Scots- he objected to Spanish and Jesuit involvement.  Or was he a double agent working for Walsingham all along?

Paget met with Walsingham in Paris in 1581 where he offered the spymaster his services. The Watchers by Stephen Alford suggests that Paget wasn’t a double agent using the evidence of Walsingham’s letter to Stafford at that time the English Ambassador in France saying that Paget was a ‘most dangerous instrument’ and fearing for the Earl of Northumberland if he continued to associate with the man. Another of Walsingham’s letter’s makes it clear that he regarded Charles as completely untrustworthy.

Whatever the case, honest man or double agent, Paget remained on Mary’s staff and was involved in the Babbington Plot which cost the Queen of Scots her life. Paget, unlike his older brother, had no great love for the Spanish and by 1599 he was in contact with another generation of English diplomats.  He returned home on the accession of James I of England from whom he had a pension – for the support of his mother or the spying agains the Spanish he’d undertaken in Europe – history can’t be sure.  He died in 1612 at home at his manor of Weston-on-Trent which had been given to him by James I.

 

 

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