Lady Anne Clifford recorded her thoughts about this particular scandal in her diaries. She wasn’t impressed. These days the story is little known, paling as it does beside the case of Frances Carr nee HowardLady Somerset and the murder of Thomas Overbury.
Anne Lake, daughter of Secretary of State Sir Thomas Lake married William Cecil, Lord Roos or de Ros in February 1616. William Cecil was the grandson of Thomas Cecil who was the son of William Cecil (Lord Burghley – Queen Elizabeth’s advisor). It wasn’t a happy marriage from the outset not least because of William’s belief that Anne had been turned against him by her mother Mary Lake.
It wasn’t long before William’s wife and mother-in-law were blackmailing William about his alleged impotence in an attempt to get him to sign his land over to the Lakes. By August 1616 Cecil had become sufficiently fed up with his new family to flee to foreign parts – Italy if you want to be precise. The couple were separated. Sir Thomas now demanded a settlement for his daughter suggesting lands at Walhamstow that were already mortgaged to him. It wasn’t happy and worse was to come.
Frances Cecil (born Brydges) pictured at the state of the post at a later time and from the National Portrait Gallery collection was William’s step-grandmother. She and William were virtually the same age. Mary Lake accused Frances of an incestuous and adulterous affair with William (even though they weren’t related by blood they were related by marriage). Then just for good measure said that she had tried to poison Anne because she knew about the relationship.
The matter ended up in front of James I who passed it on to the Star Chamber to deal with. The earl of Exeter, Thomas Cecil – husband of Frances, grandfather of William accused the Lakes of slander.
If that wasn’t enough Anne’s brother Arthur had become involved in the fracas. He apparently attacked Cecil due to Anne’s wounded honour and there was a plan for the two men to fight a duel but it never happened. Instead, Arthur nearly had to fight a duel with a couple of other nobles on account of hearing them joking about sister Anne. And no wonder they were the ballad mongers and poetry makers of the period had a field day with the scandal. Follow the link to find out more about five scurrilous poems of the period featuring the Lake ladies http://www.earlystuartlibels.net/htdocs/lake_roos_section/J0.html .
The case was ultimately judged in 1619 after Lord Roos had died in the aforementioned foreign parts. It turned out that the Lakes had done a spot of letter forging to ‘prove’ the incestuous relationship and a had been leaning on people to get them to support their claims. The Lakes were flung into the Tower, Anne Lake’s parents fined £5000 each and required to ask pardon of the king and Frances Cecil. Anne did what was required in 1619 but it was May 1621 before Mary Lake fulfilled the need to ask pardon.
Perhaps Sir Thomas wasn’t overjoyed when his wife was released. His biography on the History of Parliament website imparts the fact that there were rumours that he was the victim of husband battering.
And just when you think it can’t get any more scandalous Arthur found himself being accused on incest with Anne – presumably on ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ basis. Arthur’s wife Lettuce died just after this juicy little piece of gossip came to the forefront of public scandal. It should be noted that Lady Anne Clifford was very sympathetic to Lettuce’s plight. She’d died as countless other women did at that time of complications in giving birth however gossip declared that she’d died of syphilis.
Love, Lust, and License in Early Modern England: Illicit Sex and the Nobility
By Johanna Rickman