Lettice 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.