Tag Archives: Sir William Paget

Edward Courtney, Earl of Devon

edward courtney.jpgEdward Courtney was the only surviving son of the Marquess of Exeter born in 1526.
More significant  was the fact that he was the great-grandson of Edward IV.   Katherine, the sixth of Edward and Elizabeth Woodville’s children to survive babyhood, was married off to Sir William Courtney a loyal Lancastrian in the aftermath of Bosworth which must have been a bit of a comedown from an earlier proposal for her to marry either a Scottish or a Spanish prince but better by far than scuttling around in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey.  Unfortunately for poor old William he somehow became inveigled into a conspiracy to put Edmund de La Pole on the throne in 1502 and spent the rest of Henry VII’s reign in custody – it’s fairly safe to say that the Courtneys were framed.
Katherine Courtney of York.jpgWhen Henry VIII came to the throne he had his uncle by marriage released from prison but persuaded his Aunt Katherine to renounce her claim to the earldom of March- and the Mortimer inheritance which caused so much mayhem during the Wars of the Roses- and following the death of William in 1511, Katherine took a vow of chastity.  This seemed to go down well with Bluff King Hal who gave her the rights to the income from the Courtney lands during her life time, drew her son Henry into the inner court circle and made her godmother to the Princess Mary in 1516. The problem so far as her grandson Edward would be concerned would be that little drop of Plantagenet blood.  It had been alright for Katherine to sign herself ‘the excellent Princess Katherine, Countess of Devon, daughter, sister and aunt of kings’ (Westcott) but royalty wasn’t such a good thing to have in one’s bloodstream during the mid-Tudor crisis and especially not if one fancied wearing a crown rather than a coronet.
Edward Courtney looked all set for a charmed life – he was a cousin of the Tudors and his grandmother had been a respected member of the inner family circle.  He’d spent time in the household of Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk – presumably to learn the art of being a gentleman.
Unfortunately for Edward his father Henry Courtney  came up with the wonderful wheeze of marrying young Edward off to the Princess Mary – you’d have thought he’d have learned from his own father’s experiences.   In addition, Henry’s second wife (and mother of Edward) Gertrude Blount was a daughter of Baron Mountjoy who had served Katherine of Aragon since her arrival in England – Blount, a Derbyshire man  and Katherine’s chamberlain- had a bit of a torrid time of it during the 1530s but Gertrude remained unswervingly loyal to Katherine – and yes, Gertrude was related to Bessie Blount (Henry VIII’s mistress and mother of Henry Fitzroy) but this isn’t the post for that particular amble around Tudor family trees. The Mountjoy clan and the Courtneys were identified as members of the Aragonese faction as supporters of Katherine were called. Henry  Courtney was not only related to the Poles and the Nevilles but on good terms with them – they, being Catholic, were decidedly grumpy about the break with Rome. Put in a nutshell Courtney managed to get himself caught up in one of Thomas Cromwell’s snares in 1538 to keep anyone with a claim to the throne under lock and key- the planned match between Edward and Mary being the icing on the cake so far as Cromwell’s evidence was concerned, so as to speak.
In November 1538 Gertrude, Henry and twelve-year-old Edward found themselves in the Tower.  Henry was executed at the beginning of December and Edward remained a prisoner for the next fifteen years. Henry paid for his distant cousin’s food and education. Upon Henry VIII’s death the regency council and the duke of Somerset decided that an adult male with Plantagenet blood was better in the Tower than out of it – so there he remained, although he now had the company of Bishop Gardiner.  The pair took something of a shine to one another.  Edward referred to the bishop as “father” and Edward became Gardiner’s protégée.
In August 1553 Princess Mary fresh from Framlingham arrived in London to claim her throne from Lady Jane Grey.  A month later Edward was created earl of Devon and Reginald Pole described him as the “Flower of English Nobility” on account of his learning –  let’s face it there wasn’t much else for him to do in the Tower to while away the hours other than read, translate various ancient works and play the lute.
On 1 October 1553 Courtney took his place in Mary’s court by bearing the sword of state at her coronation.
Edward now spent considerable amounts of time running around London with the wrong kind of women – but I don’t suppose he’d had much opportunity for drunkenness and debauchery whilst in custody. Queen Mary was not impressed.
Meanwhile Mary was determined to marry into the family of Charles V.  It had been her mother’s wish and she refused to consider any other options – no matter what anyone else might say on the matter. The thought of Philip II of Spain made quite a lot of English gentlemen feel a little nauseous. Gardiner did try and suggest Courtney as a match but it was no go.  Instead, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Peter Carew came up with the idea of Courtney marrying the Princess Elizabeth – voila Protestant, English – Tudor/Plantagenet- what more could one wish for? Sir William Paget the Tudor administrator was keen on the match as well.  Obviously Gardiner wasn’t so keen on the idea – him being very catholic and everything but Courtney whose freedom seems to have done strange things to his personality and common sense thought it was a terrific plan, as did the recently freed duke of Suffolk Henry Grey, father of Lady Jane Grey.
The plan for the regions to rise up did not go well.  The council found out that there was rebellion in the air and various parties ran around in ever decreasing circles until they were rounded up and placed under arrest – the only exception was in Kent where Wyatt’s rebels advanced upon London and caused quite a lot of panic. Henry Grey scarpered to the Midlands where he met with indifference or hostility whilst Gardiner slapped Courtney metaphorically around in order to find out exactly what he knew.  Gardiner had no intention of languishing in the Tower or loosing his head although it looks as though Gardiner did try and keep Courtney out of trouble no matter what the rest of the Privy Council and the now very influential Spanish Ambassador had to say on the subject.
Ultimately Wyatt’s Rebellion foundered and Edward Courtney found himself back in the Tower once more scratching his head and looking vaguely bewildered. Unfortunately for Courtney, Wyatt had been tortured and had incriminated the earl in the hope, it is believed,  of securing a pardon.  The two men would meet on the 11 April 1554 when Wyatt went to the block and is said to have begged Courtney’s pardon. Wyatt made it quite clear before his execution that neither Courtney nor Elizabeth had been involved in his rebellion. Henry Grey went to the block and so too did Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guildford Dudley who had no part in the plot and were not intended to benefit from the plot – it was an opportunity to tidy up loose ends. But not as it turned out to get rid of Courtney and Elizabeth.
At the end of May 1554 Courtney was sent to Fotheringhay where he stayed for a year. Then he took a journey, presumably for the benefit of his health to Brussels and from there to Venice.  Unfortunately the Spanish took a dim view of the earl and were planning to have him assassinated – the assassin changed sides in Venice thus saving Courtney from an untimely end.
It does appear that Courtney couldn’t help but dabble in treason as the moment he arrived in Italy he hooked up with Sir Henry Dudley, one of Northumberland’s sons, and between them they came up with a harebrained plan to murder Mary  and replace her with Elizabeth – with Courtney as royal spouse. There was even talk of a possible match to Mary Queen of Scots  thanks to Henri II of France.
On the 18 September 1556 Edward Courtney died in Padua where he had enrolled as a student. There were rumours of poison but in reality he’d caught a chill whilst out hawking. A letter sent to Queen Mary by Peter Vannes provides an account of events, “for his Honest recreation… to see his hawks fly upon a wasted ground, without any houses” was caught “in a great tempest of wind and rain” Rather than leave his sport he’d refused to get changed out of his wet clothes and by the end of the week “entered into a continue hot ague, sometimes more vehement than at another… so that his tongue had so stopped his mouth, and his teeth so clove together” that he couldn’t take the Sacrament at the end.
Inevitably with an unexpected death in a time of intrigue and treason there are always conspiracy theories. Poisoning is a favourite so far as Courtney is concerned but I have also read that he may have died of syphilis – that other perennial Tudor exit strategy. The earldom of Devon was extinct  as there were no more male sprigs. Four girls inherited his estates but not the title. There was also one less contender for the throne.
Ian W. Archer, ‘Courtenay, Edward, first earl of Devon (1526–1556)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/6449, accessed 17 March 2017]
Margaret R. Westcott, ‘Katherine, countess of Devon (1479–1527)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/70277, accessed 17 March 2017]

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Sir William Paget

WilliamPagetWilliam Paget is typical of Tudor administrators.  He rose not because of his bloodline but because of his ability.  He was educated at Cambridge.  His tutor was Stephen Gardiner (I told you they were all related and now I’ll add that they all know each other!)  After Paget completed his studies Gardiner, who would become Bishop of Winchester and by the end of Henry VIII’s reign  conservative scion of Catholicism, found Paget a role in his own household.

Somewhat ironically then Paget first makes his appearance on the political stage in 1529 in Henry VIII’s so-called Reformation Parliament- for his parliamentary biography double click on the image which accompanies this post. He continued working for Gardiner until it became apparent that Cromwell was the horse to back.  Inevitably his letters to Cromwell at this time can be found in Henry VIII’s letters and papers.  He appears again as Jane Seymour’s secretary which naturally enough brought him into close contact with Jane’s brothers Sir Edward Seymour and Sir Thomas Seymour.

Increasingly Paget became associated with the so-called Protestant faction of Henry VIII’s privy council even though he was also secretary to Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard. He also served for a time as Ambassador in France – diplomacy, spying etc.

The removal of Thomas Cromwell in 1540 left Henry VIII without a single capable man of all business.  The privy council resumed some of its former importance and men such as Paget who had proved themselves solidly reliable were able to garner more power to themselves now that it wasn’t all focused on one individual.

 

 

Paget tends to be identified as one of the key figures in the transition of power from Henry VIII to Sir Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford when Edward VI ascended the throne. Seymour shortly afterwards became Duke of Somerset followed by becoming Lord Protector.  Henry VIII’s will envisaged the sixteen strong privy council sharing responsibility for guiding the young king and governing during his minority rather than investing power in the hands of one man.  It says something for Paget’s powers of persuasiveness. Inevitably when Somerset fell from power Paget, who’d gained a title by then as well as a substantial estate including land belonging to Burton Abbey in Staffordshire, also found himself under a cloud…in the Tower.  He’d regained his position by 1552 (so a man with essential survival skills).

Those survival skills are demonstrated but the fact that he continued in office during the reign of Queen Mary rising to the role of Lord Privy Seal.  Although he was keen on Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain he was less enthusiastic about the idea of executing Princess Elizabeth – which was probably just as well.  In 1558 when Mary died he chose to retire from public life but he acted as an advisor, on occasion, during Elizabeth’s reign – making him the most unusual of Tudor administrators – a man who kept his head and served not one but four of the Tudors. And what makes it even more amazing is that he had agreed to bypass Mary and place Lady Jane Grey on the throne. He died in 1563 at the age of fifty-eight.

In addition to manoeuvring his way through the snakes and ladders of Tudor politics Sir William found time to marry and father ten children. Three of his four sons survived to adulthood.  I have posted about them elsewhere on the History Jar  https://thehistoryjar.com/tag/sir-william-paget/  as the youngest son, Charles, turned out to be anything but loyal to the Tudor crown.  He was a catholic conspirator against Elizabeth.  There is an irony in this because one of Paget’s roles during the reign of Henry VIII was counter-intelligence.

 

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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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