Tag Archives: William Cecil

Tudor inheritance and a nasty case of poisoned mushrooms.

tudor family treepic.jpg

Yesterday I blogged about the scandal of Lady Margaret Stanley nee Clifford plotting against Elizabeth I by using astrology to predict the queen’s death.  Dr Randall, the physician who drew up the star chart was hanged for his pains whilst Margaret spent nearly twenty years under house arrest.

Fernando_StanleyMargaret’s son Ferdinando Stanley the 5th earl of Derby was much less lucky.  Ferdinando became earl in 1593 after his father’s death.   The following year the fifth earl died rather unexpectedly following a sudden and violent illness.  At the time witchcraft was mentioned but poisoning was the more generally accepted reason – as this extract from Camden’s history reflects:

Ferdinand Stanley Earle of Darby… expired in the flowre of his youth, not without suspition of poyson, being tormented with cruell paynes by frequent vomitings of a darke colour like rusty yron. There was found in his chamber an Image of waxe, the belly pierced thorow with haires of the same colour that his were, put there, (as the wiser sort have judged, to remove the suspition of poyson). The matter vomited up stayned the silver Basons in such sort, that by no art they could possibly be brought againe to their former brightnesse… No small suspicion lighted upon the Gentleman of his horse, who; as soone as the Earle tooke his bed, tooke his best horse, and fled”.

Different sources suggest poisonous mushrooms whilst a writer in The Lancet speculates on an early English use of arsenic.

The story began when a man called Richard Hesketh had approached Ferdinando on behalf of the Jesuits on 27 September 1593.  He had travelled from Prague via Hamburg to England for his meeting. Hesketh wasn’t a random Catholic he was an ex-retainer of the Stanley family. Daugherty goes so far as to identify him as a step-brother.

The earl was a direct descendent of Henry VII, there was no question about his legitimacy and more importantly he was of Catholic stock.  It seems that Stanley had two meetings with the man as well as going off to London to talk things over with Lady Margaret Stanley before turning Hesketh over to the authorities for interrogation.  This, despite the fact that Hesketh had warned him that if the plot was divulged then Ferdinado wouldn’t have long to live.  The plot involved placing Ferdinando on the throne and the usual possibility of a Spanish invasion just to ensure that Catholicism gained the upper hand.

Hesketh was executed in November 1593 in St Albans  having implicated Ferdinando’s brother William in the plot.  To add to the chaos several of Ferdinado’s servants had sought shelter in the household of the Earl of Essex during Ferdinando’s life time and there was a suggestion that Essex also had a hand in Ferdinando’s demise.  There was also some doubt expressed about Ferdinando in that he had first received intimations of treachery at the end of September but did not inform the Crown of the plot until October.

Unsurprisingly the fact that Ferdinando had betrayed Hesketh to the Crown did not go unremarked. A text published in Antwerp entitled A Conference on the Next Succession to the Crowne of England,  by Robert Parsons, under the pseudonym Robert Doleman, backed away from supporting Ferdinando as the heir apparent. Parsons suggested that some english Catholics thought that William Stanley  might make a better successor to Queen Elizabeth.

If being rejected by conspirators wasn’t bad enough Ferdinando now found himself being marginalised at court.  He had hoped for more recognition given his loyalty.  Instead an important role in Chester was given to someone else rather than to him.  It led him to comment rather bitterly that he had lost out both at court and in the country.  Ferdinando’s wife, Alice Spencer, wrote to Cecil asking for help.  The scandal of the plot was making life difficult for a man who had demonstrated his loyalty.

It has been suggested that Robert Cecil and his father lay at the heart of the conspiracy in that their agents can be found lurking at the edges of the plot.  If this was the case it was a sham-plot perhaps designed to entrap Ferdinando or perhaps to entrap bigger political fish. There are those who believe that the first letter that Hesketh gave to Ferdinando in September 1593 did not come from Prague at all but from a certain Mr Hickman.  The murky world of Elizabethan spying provides associates of Christopher Marlowe (and remember that Ferdinando was a patron of Marlowe) who were prepared to suggest that Cecil had been involved in the poisoning.  Henry Young explained that the governing elite had decided that it was time to get rid of possible contenders for the throne.

The idea of manufacturing plots was nothing new – the Babbington Plot had required a bit of light forgery before Mary Queen of Scots incriminated herself and the so-called Lopez Plot which saw Elizabeth’s doctor rather unpleasantly executed was manufactured by the Earl of Essex so that he could demonstrate his effectiveness in the murky world of espionage.

For those who like a bit of spice it should be noted that the new Earl of Derby – who was Ferdinando’s brother Willliam now acquired a wife Elizabeth de Vere – she was the grand daughter of William Cecil.  If nothing else this suggests that Cecil knew that William hadn’t had a hand in poisoning his brother to gain the title. It should also be noted that the Cecil already had ties of kinship with the Stanleys and it may have been that, as well as loyalty to the throne, that  prompted Ferdinando to reveal information about the plot as swiftly as he did.  It could also be hypothesised that in 1595 whilst James VI of Scotland was in receipt of a pension it wasn’t necessarily true that he was the only candidate for the English throne – perhaps, rather on the other end of the spectrum to the previous paragraph, Cecil rather liked the idea of a grand daughter sitting on the throne he’d served so loyally for his entire life!

Breight. C. Surveillance, Militarism and Drama in the Elizabethan Era

Daugherty, Leo. (2011) The Assassination of Shakespeare’s Patron: Investigating the Death of the Fifth Earl of Derby  Cambria Press

Edwards, Francis. (2002)  Plots and Plotters in the Reign of Elizabeth I. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Nicholas, Charles. The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe

 

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The Northern Rebellion

200px-Thomas_Percy_Earl_of_Northumberland_15661558.   Queen Mary I lost Calais as a result of becoming involved in Philip II’s policy against the French. She  died on the 17 November the same year. Her half-sister, Elizabeth, sitting beneath an oak tree at Hatfield became queen.  On the borders between England and Scotland, life continued as usual – that is to say raiding and cross-border forays.  I might dress it up as Scottish loyalty to their French allies and English obedience to Phillip II’s foreign policy but in reality it had nothing to do with continental Europe.

In 1558 on the East March the 7th Earl of Northumberland set out on a cattle raid with the Berwick garrison and was heading for home when the Scots turned up in what can only be described as high dudgeon. There was an English victory of sorts at Swinton.  John Knox having done a stint on the French galleys (which perhaps accounts for his hostility to the nation) had sought refuge in Edward VI’s protestant realm before fleeing to Geneva.  During the summer of 1558he published The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.  He did not mean that they were deeply unpleasant merely that a reigning queen was an unnatural phenomenon.  He was referencing Mary Tudor in England and the regent of Scotland Mary of Guise who ruled on behalf of her daughter Mary Queen of Scots.  It was perhaps unfortunate for him that in November the monstrous regiment of Catholic queens was joined by Protestant Elizabeth.

I am not going to recount the next decade’s history.  Suffice it to say there was the novel sight in 1560 of an English fleet joining with the Protestant Scots against the Catholics and the French besieged in Leith.  The following year the recently widowed dowager queen of France, Mary Queen of Scots, arrived back in her homeland at the very same location.  Initially guided by her half-brother, James Stewart (Earl of Moray), all went smoothly but then in 1567 having made an ill advised marriage to Lord Darnley swiftly followed by murder at Kirk O Field she lost her throne and on 16 May 1568 found herself seeking sanctuary in Workington.  She was to remain in England for the next nineteen years before being executed.

mary queen of scots aged 18Mary’s arrival was not good news so far as her cousin Elizabeth was concerned.  Mary spelled trouble.  For a start she was Catholic and Mary’s father-in-law, Henri II, had quartered the French arms with those of England on hearing the news that Mary Tudor had died.  His logic was very simple. Elizabeth was illegitimate and therefore the next claimant to the English throne was the grand daughter of Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII of England.  Mary did not help matters by refusing to recognise the Treaty of Edinburgh which identified Elizabeth as the rightful queen of England.  The treaty, negotiated by Cecil, should have been ratified in July 1560 and it accounted for Mary’s long sea voyage  to Scotland rather than a land journey through England. The arrival of Mary in England undoubtedly signposted rebellion and plotting to come – not to mention some light cousinly jealousy.

Elizabeth did not know what to do with her cousin and although she moved her south into the custody of the Earl of Shrewsbury it swiftly became clear that she was not as keen to meet Mary as Mary was to meet her. Mary’s trial at York was a device to ensure that Elizabeth should never meet her cousin and that Moray could produce the so-called “Casket Letters” that would keep his half-sister in England. Meanwhile various Catholic nobles (and non-Catholic nobles for that matter) bent their minds to the problem of what to do with Mary.  The Percy family were Papists and it is perhaps not surprising that Thomas Percy the 7th Earl of Northumberland was sympathetic to the young Scottish queen’s cause.  He even tried to have her turned over into his custody.  Unsurprisingly “Simple Tom”  pictured at the start of this post was not given her guardianship.  He was, however, encouraged in his increasingly illegal actions by his wife Ann.  His conspiracy was joined by Charles Neville the Earl of Westmorland.  The two earls shared their plans with their wider families and the northern affinity of gentry including Leonard Dacre.  The plotters met at Topcliffe and agreed that they wanted Catholicism restored and Elizabeth’s bad advisors to be disposed of – so the usual rubric.  They did intend to free Mary Queen of Scots from Tutbury but they claimed that they wished to return her to Scotland rather than unseat Elizabeth.

Meanwhile Robert Dudley supported the idea of Mary being returned to Scotland with a new and reliable husband to keep an eye on her.  William Maitland of Lethington,  Mary’s ambassador had suggested that the Duke of Norfolk was just the chap in 1560 despite the fact that the first Duchess of Norfolk was very much alive at the time.  Thomas Howard had been appointed Lieutenant General of the North in 1569 by Elizabeth.  She was, if you like, extending the hand of friendship to her Howard cousins who had connived at the downfall of her mother Anne Boleyn and ultimately been associated with Catholicism rather than reform. She was also getting him as far away from court as possible not least because his grandmother was Anne of York one of Edward IV’s daughters making him Plantagenet and a possible claimant to the throne.  By now Howard had been widowed twice over and as such was a suitable spouse for the captive queen.  He was rather taken with the idea but quite horrified to find himself carted off to the Tower when Dudley confessed to the queen what was planned in terms of an English-Scottish marriage.

 

Inevitably things are not so straight forward and ultimately Norfolk and the Northern Lords would be betrayed by Leonard Dacre who was narked by the fact that Howard who had been married to Elizabeth Leyburne (the widow of the 4th Lord Dacre) had become guardian to the 5th lord and the 5th lord’s three sisters.  In 1569 little George Dacre had an accident on a vaulting horse and died.  Howard now took the opportunity to marry the Dacre girls off to sons from his previous two marriages and  claim that his three daughters-in-law were co-heiresses and that the whole estate was now Howard property.

Leonard Dacre was not a happy man.  A judgement of Edward IV had entailed the title and estates to male heirs so by rights he should have had the title and the loot.  Even worse the case was heard by the Earl Marshal’s court – and yes, the Dukes of Norfolk are hereditary earl marshals of England.  Let’s just say Leonard was a man with a grudge and the borderers were rather good at holding grudges for a very long time. He betrayed the northern earls and of course the Duke of Norfolk in the hope that he would see the estates that were rightfully his returned.

Dacre would encourage the northern lords in their plan to free Mary and overturn Protestant England but at the same time, when he judged the time was ripe, spill the beans to Elizabeth.  Elizabeth would later describe him as a “cankred suttl traitor.” However, I am jumping the gun.  Elizabeth ordered Northumberland and Westmorland to London to explain themselves.  The two hapless peers panicked and rebelled. On the 10th November 1569 the Earl of Sussex wrote to say that Northumberland had fled from Topcliffe. Three thousand or so men gathered in Durham on the 14th November where a Mass was heard and Protestant texts destroyed.  Men set off for Hartlepool where the Duke of Alva was supposed to land troops and to Barnard Castle to besiege troops loyal to Elizabeth.  The castle held out for a week before it surrendered. The Earl of Sussex would come under suspicion for not gaining the upper hand quickly enough. From Barnard Castle the plan was to march on York.  The earls were declared traitors on the 26th of November and the hunt began.

Steven_van_Herwijck_Henry_Carey_1st_Baron_HunsdonOn the West March a plan was now unfurling which would have seen the Bishop of Carlisle murdered and the castle in rebel hands.  Lord Scrope, Warden of the West March, who had set out from Carlisle to confront the rebels heard news of the plot and scurried back to the castle correctly judging that Elizabeth’s famous temper would not have been placated by excuses regarding the loss of a key border fortress. Meanwhile the queen’s cousin, some would say brother, Henry Carey Lord Hunsdon, was sent north to deal with the crisis. He had been made the Captain of Berwick the previous year.

The Warden of the Middle March Sir John Forster, a notable rogue in his own right, now rode agains the rebels accompanied by the Earl of Northumberland’s younger brother Henry. Together they occupied Newcastle and Alnwick and began to move south.  The earls fled in the direction of Hexham together with Lady Anne Percy and about forty or fifty retainers when it became clear that they were out manoeuvred by Forster from the North and Carey from the South. For reasons best known to themselves, despite the fact that Leonard Dacre had not joined the rebellion the fleeing party made for North Castle.  Leonard was not pleased to see them as he as no doubt thinking of the Dacre estates and Elizabeth’s goodwill. His brother Edward on the other hand provided assistance to the stricken earls. The party had to escape into Scotland or face Elizabeth’s wrath. With that in mind the Armstrongs of Liddesdale seemed like a good idea at the time.  The Debateable Lands of Liddesdale belonged neither to Scotland or England and whilst the Armstrongs were notionally Scottish they were Armstrong more than anything else. The hapless earls fell in to the hands of Black Ormiston and Jock of the Side.  Jock was a notorious reiver.

At this point the Earl of Moray entered the equation and politely suggested that the Armstrongs hand over their “guests.”  He sent a party of Elliots, another family of border hard-men to have a little chat.  Elliot explained that he was under pledge to Moray and that he would be sorry to enter a state of feud with Ormiston if the two English earls weren’t booted out of Scotland and back into England within the next twenty-four hours.  Somehow the earls’ horses had gone “missing” – which is what you get for stabling them with notorious horse thieves- and Lady Anne, heavily pregnant, was exhausted beyond the point where she could travel with her husband. She was robbed and perhaps worse by Ormiston before she was rescued by a party of Ferniehurst Kerrs (the ancestor of Robert Carr, King James I’s favourite).  It says something that Kerr was at feud with the Percys but felt that it was beneath his honour to see Lady Anne suffer at the hands of Ormiston – though having said that he was also a loyal subject of Mary Queen of Scots demonstrating that border history is nothing if not complex in its workings.

On Christmas Eve 1569 the Armstrongs managed to separate the two earls and Northumberland found himself in the clutches of Moray’s men.  The Earl of Westmorland did attempt a rescue with the few men he had but it was unsuccessful. Percy would be returned to England  for a cash payment in  June 1572 and executed for treason in York that August.  Sussex, having got his act together, along with Sir John Forster and Henry Hunsden set the border alight in the greatest raid that Liddesdale had ever seen.  MacDonald Fraser states that Forster took £4000 in loot.  Let’s just say that rather a lot of homes were burned and livestock pilfered.

Ultimately Dacre who thought he had played a clever game found himself at the end of one of Hunsdon’s cavalry lances but only after the border which had only just settled down after the Earls’ rising was set loose again by the assassination of James Stewart Earl of Moray on January 23 1570.   A mighty raid gathered pace as Scots began to cross the border in the name of their queen. Dacre who had not benefitted from tattle taling on the earls now came out in supports of the Scots. He  managed to put together a band of 3000 men.  Henry Carey was not so foolish as to take this band on without support, especially as Naworth was defended by artillery and there was a large party of Scots en route to Naworth.  And had Dacre stayed put then my story might have had another chapter but he was spoiling for a fight and he took on Hunsdon at Gelt Wood.  If Dacre had won the skirmish then Carlisle might have been in difficulties but as it was Hunsdon who was a tough man led a cavalry charge against the revolting baron and  Dacre fled into Scotland with approximately 2000 more rebels according to Lord Scrope.  The majority of them remained in the borders joining with the Scottish Marian party against the lords who held the infant James VI. Dacre left the British Isles and travelled to Flanders where he exhorted anyone who would listen to invade England.

The rebellion was over.  It just left the  mopping up operation.  Norfolk was released from the Tower but became involved in the Ridolfi Plot so was executed in 1572. The Earl of Westmorland escaped to Flanders dying in 1601 having eked out his existence living on a pension from Philip II. Dacre died in 1573.  For Elizabeth it was the start of a series of plots and rebellions revolving around Mary Queen of Scots.

MacDonald Fraser  The Steel Bonnets

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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.

 

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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

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Amy Robsart’s death

Amy Robsart exhibited 1877 by William Frederick Yeames 1835-1918

Amy Robsart exhibited 1877 William Frederick Yeames 1835-1918 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1877 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01609

On the afternoon of Sunday 8th December 1560 Amy Robsart, the wife of Robert Dudley was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs at Cumnor Place – the home of Sir Anthony Forster. It could, have course, been a tragic accident.  At the time there was some suggestion that Amy committed suicide; it has also been suggested that she was suffering from advanced breast cancer and the final and most appealing for lovers of the conspiracy theory is that she was murdered by one of the following – Robert Dudley Elizabeth I or William Cecil.

Mrs Picto, Amy’s maid, when questioned by Sir Thomas Blount said that she believed that Amy’s death was “chance.”  She went on to explain that Amy was a virtuous soul who prayed every day on her knees to be delivered from desperation but was adamant that her mistress would not have taken her own life.  Blount questioned the locals to find out what they thought and half of them thought it was an accident whilst the other half thought that something suspicious had happened. Blount himself noted that he thought that Amy “had a strange mind in her.”  His letter states that he will tell more when he next sees Dudley – rather frustratingly we don’t know what other information he had to tell his master. We know that Amy was unhappy, after all her husband was the subject of gossip in relation to the queen whilst she didn’t even have a home to call her own.  Yet, would a woman contemplating suicide order a new dress? She had ordered a new velvet dress and a collar for a rose coloured gown?

The problem is that people can act irrationally  when distressed or in pain and she had ordered her entire household to go to the fair in Abingdon that day.  She had become cross when Mrs Odingsells, one of her household, had sought to disagree with her.  Did she want to be alone simply because she was fed up of being surrounded by her household, was she feeling unwell, was she contemplating ending it all or – was she going to meet with someone who isn’t part of the historical record?  The answer is that we can’t know for sure. The inquest found that her death was accidental but Robert Dudley’s reputation was tarnished.  It was now impossible for him to marry Elizabeth, even if he did withdraw to Kew and hope that the rumours would go away.

If it wasn’t suicide – could it have been an accident.  This was what the coroner’s jury decided:

Inquisition as indenture held at Cumnor in the aforesaid county [Oxfordshire] on 9 September in the second year of the reign of the most dread Lady Elizabeth, by the grace of God queen of England, France, and Ireland, defend of the faith, etc., before John Pudsey, gent, a coroner of the said lady queen in the aforesaid county, on inspection of the body of Lady Amy Dudley, late wife of Robert Dudley, knight of the most noble order of the garter, there lying dead: by oath of Richard Smith, gent., Humphrey Lewis, gent., Thomas Moulder, gent., Richard Knight, Thomas Spyre, Edward Stevenson, John Stevenson, Richard Hughes, William Cantrell, William Noble, John Buck, John Keene, Henry Lanlgey, Stephen Ruffyn, and John Sire: which certain jurors, sworn to tell the truth at our request, were adjourned from the aforesaid ninth day onwards day by day very often; and finally various several days were given to them by the selfsame coroner to appear both before the justices of the aforesaid lady queen at the assizes assigned to be held in the aforesaid county and before the same coroner in order there to return their verdict truthfully and speedily, until 1 August in the third year of the reign of the said lady queen; on which day the same jurors say under oath that the aforesaid Lady Amy on 8 September in the aforesaid second year of the reign of the said lady queen, being alone in a certain chamber within the home of a certain Anthony Forster, esq., in the aforesaid Cumnor, and intending to descend the aforesaid chamber by way of certain steps (in English called ‘steyres’) of the aforesaid chamber there and then accidentally fell precipitously down the aforesaid steps to the very bottom of the same steps, through which the same Lady Amy there and then sustained not only two injuries to her head (in English called ‘dyntes’) – one of which was a quarter of an inch deep and the other two inches deep – but truly also, by reason of the accidental injury or of that fall and of Lady Amy’s own body weight falling down the aforesaid stairs, the same Lady Amy there and then broke her own neck, on account of which certain fracture of the neck the same Lady Amy there and then died instantly; and the aforesaid Lady Amy was found there and then without any other mark or wound on her body; and thus the jurors say on their oath that the aforesaid Lady Amy in the manner and form aforesaid by misfortune came to her death and not otherwise, as they are able to agree at present; in testimony of which fact for this inquest both the aforesaid coroner and also the aforesaid jurors have in turn affixed their seals on the day.

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/elizabeth-monarchy/coroners-report/

Questions  are often asked about the nature of the steps – which appear to have been shallow and few in number causing conspiracy theorists to raise their eyebrows. Another source mentions a pair of steps suggesting a turn – which might account for the head wounds.  Cumnor Place was demolished during the Victorian period so we cannot know for sure.  It has even been hypothesised that Amy had become disorientated about her location and taken a tumble not realising that there were steps.

It doesn’t help that Dudley anxious to quell rumour asked for “discreet men,” that one of his own men was on the jury and that in later years he paid the foreman of the jury in lengths of taffeta and velvet which smacks of nobbling the jury – which doesn’t look good, if we’re honest.   Weighed against that was the fact that Dudley insisted that the jury was composed of local men and that it didn’t matter if they were hostile to him or not.  He also wrote asking that Amy’s half brother go to Cumnor to oversee things – at most he could be accused of being guilty of trying to look after his reputation. Amy’s brother, Appleyard, came forward in 1567 saying that he knew who killed Amy and he didn’t blame Dudley – he also ended up retracting his statement when he found himself locked up in the Fleet Prison by William Cecil.

In 1956 Dr Ian Aird published a medical paper explaining how untreated breast cancer can cause skeletal collapse which would explain how an accidental tumble could have caused a broken neck.  As the previous post in this series noted assorted ambassadors commented on Amy’s poor health – in particular the malady of her breast.  The Venetian ambassador stated that she had been ailing for some time. Poor health or not, falling the wrong way can cause a broken neck.  Of course poor health or an accident is not nearly as marketable or dramatic as being murdered.

Amy did believe she was being poisoned – it was why she left Throcking in the spring of 1559.  It could have cause have been her illness which she mistook for poisoning or maybe she was being slowly poisoned by her husband’s retainers who thought they were doing Dudley a favour.  Chris Skidmore leans towards this explanation – think Thomas Becket and apply to an inconvenient wife. Skidmore isn’t convinced either that the two head wounds mentioned in the coroner’s report could have been caused by a tumble.

Elizabeth didn’t marry Robert, perhaps she never had any intention of marrying her favourite, having Henry VIII for a parent would put any sensible woman off matrimony and then there was the unfortunate episode with Admiral Seymour not to mention the experience of her half-sister’s unhappy marriage.  The scandal was a sufficient reason for her not to marry Robert. Her reputation as a virtuous monarch was damaged but it wouldn’t be long before in Scotland Mary Queen of Scots ended up with an all too obviously murdered spouse and then went on to marry the man implicated in Darnley’s untimely demise. Mary would lose her kingdom – Elizabeth raised in more dangerous circumstances was much too canny to make that sort of mistake despite what William Cecil and most of the Privy Council seemed to have feared as Elizabeth spent the first year of her reign hunting and hawking with her childhood friend. Yes, she was a Tudor and the Tudors like most medieval and early modern monarchs may have done the odd deeply unpleasant thing or two but let’s not go down the avenue of the Game of Thrones style killer queen – that’s not history that’s speculation.

The person who gained from Amy’s untimely demise was William Cecil who certainly spread rumours about his political opponent – but rumours are not the same as giving an order to topple a young woman down the stairs!  There is absolutely no evidence that he was involved. But there again he was good at what he did so would hardly have left a lengthy paper trail for hapless historians. He was also a man of strong religious leanings. Accusation and counter-claim turn into a metaphorical game of ping pong which all come back to the same thing – these is no evidence.

And there you have it – did Amy fall, was she pushed or was it an accident – the Historical truth is that no one knows and to say otherwise without further evidence is opinion not fact.

 

http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/external/cumnor/articles/inman-robsart.htm

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On the trail of Amy Robsart

amy-robsart-by-t-f-dicksee.jpg!Large.jpegThis is episode two of my three part look at Amy Robsart’s life and death – as with any other historical death involving persons of political significance where there isn’t a clear cause there are always conspiracy theories – not that Amy was of political significance but her husband was.  So, this episode looks at what history does know without making any attempt to identify the probable cause of Lady Dudley’s demise – aside of course from her being found at the bottom of a staircase…and even the size and shape stairs are a matter of conjecture as we shall discover next time.

In the Summer of 1558 Amy and Robert settled into Norfolk. Amy had inherited money from her father and the pair began searching for a suitable home of their own. Remember at this stage of the story Robert was part of the Norfolk gentry thanks to his father-in-law’s links in the area. Elizabeth was still effectively a prisoner of her increasingly unwell sister Queen Mary.  Amy was not able to move into her childhood home because her half-brother inherited Stanfield Hall.

Everything changed for Robert, and thus for Amy, on the 17th November 1558 when Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth at Hatfield.  Dudley was by Elizabeth’s side the following day when the Great Seal was handed over to her.  One of her first acts was to make him her Master of Horse, in addition to a salary and four horses the post also gave him rooms at court and the right to touch the queen, helping her on and off her horse – no other man in England had that honour.  Cecil tried to dissuade Elizabeth by suggesting that Dudley could perhaps be a special ambassador to Spain but the queen overruled Cecil.   Dudley was now in constant attendance on the queen, helping with the preparations for the coronation and going hunting with her.  The following year he would accompany the queen on what would become an annual progress around part of her realm.

For Amy a time of homelessness followed.  She seems to have lived in the homes of men who owed their allegiance to her husband.  At first she stayed at Throcking in Hertfordshire.  This was the home of William Hyde.

By spring of the following year it was being reported by the Spanish ambassador as well as the Holy Roman ambassador that Amy Robsart was unwell and that Robert was waiting for her to die so that he could marry Elizabeth.  The queen did not disguise the fact that she disliked the idea of Amy’s existence or Robert being close to her in any way but in April 1590 Robert went to Throcking in Hertfordshire whilst parliament was in recess to spend Easter with his wife. His accounts reveal that he played cards with his host William Hyde and lost.

It may have been an uncomfortable visit.  Amy was unwell. She believed that she was being poisoned. William Hyde described Leicester as “My singular good Lord.” He even had one of his daughters baptised “Dudley.”  None the less, no one wants to be accused of poisoning their lord’s wife. It probably didn’t help that at a later date Amy was described as “sore troubled” at this time – and given the rumours about her spouse carrying on with the queen it is perhaps not surprising.  For some historians this is evidence of illness, an unsound mind or that Amy was being poisoned either with or without the knowledge of her husband.  So far as I am concerned from the point of view of this post it explains why Amy moved on from Throcking.

 

Robert Dudley’s account books reveal that he visited Amy in 1558 and 1559 when she stayed in Denchworth near Wantage.  It is also clear form his accounts and her correspondence that income from the land that she’d inherited was being paid directly to her and that she was writing to the steward of Syderstone – Mr John Flowerdew- about the sale of wool.

 

It seems that in May 1559 Amy made a brief visit to London by then Elizabeth had made Dudley a Knight of the Garter and the Venetian ambassador was noting the fact that Dudley was in “great favour.”  Amy saw a doctor, was described as eating well and feeling better.  It was the last time that she and Robert would meet one another before her death. From London she travelled to Suffolk whilst in London the gossips started to report that the queen was pregnant and that the father was Sir Robert Dudley.

During the early part of the Autumn Amy spent a few weeks at Compton Verney in Warwickshire.  Compton Verney was the home of another of Dudley’s followers.  Sir Richard Verney would be painted by Sir Walter Scott as Amy Robsart’s murderer in his novel entitled Kennilworth. He doesn’t come out of the story very well, for that matter, in Philippa Gregory’s novel entitled The Virgin’s Lover.

In November the Spanish Ambassador, Bishop de la Quadra wrote that there was a rumour that Robert Dudley was trying to kill his wife so that he could marry the queen.  The Holy Roman ambassador was sending similar information to his master Ferdinand I. Yet the French, with whom Dudley was closely associated at this time make no mention of it at all.

In December 1559 Amy was at Cumnor Place, some three miles from Oxford. It was the home of another member of Dudley’s affinity – Sir Anthony Forster and his wife.  He’d leased Cumnor Place from Dr George Owen, one of the physicians responsible for the care of Henry VIII.  The household included some of his relations – Mrs Owen is a key witness to Amy’s death (or rather key non-witness).  Amy’s room was the best chamber accessed from a staircase to the south of the great hall.  In addition to Amy, Cumnor Place was also home to her retinue of ten servants.  One of them a man named Bowes would carry news of her death and another, her maid, Mrs Picto would testify that Amy was in low spirits on the day of her death.  In August a gift arrived at Cumnor from Robert Dudley – his account books reveal he sent her gifts that ranged from horses to spices- and Amy ordered a new dress.

On Sunday September 8 1560 Amy ordered that all her household should go to the Fair of Our Lady at Abingdon which was about five miles from Cumnor.  Mrs Oddingsells, who may have been Sir Anthony Forster’s sister-in-law or possibly an impoverished member of the Hyde family cared for by Dudley, was shocked by the suggestion and later said that Sunday was a day reserved for servants and common folk to go to the fair and that she would have rather gone on a different day.  She also said that she didn’t want to leave Amy on her own.  Amy responded that Mrs Owen would join her for dinner – which she did.

Mrs Oddingsells did not go to the fair.  She and Mrs Owens played cards that afternoon.  Both women recalled hearing a crash but continued to play their game.

Later that day Amy was found at the foot of a pair of  steps or a shallow stair depending upon the source you read.  Her neck was broken and her head dress – according to the later anti-Leicester text entitled Leicester’s Commonwealth stated that her headdress was barely out of place. She was only 28 years old.

Amy’s man Bowes set off to give the news to Dudley but en route he encountered Dudley’s man Sir Richard Verney who happened to be in the area (let’s leave the co-incidence to one side for the time being).

News of Amy’s death reached Dudley on the 9th September at Windsor where he was staying with the queen. Dudley charged another of his men, his steward, – Thomas Blount- referred to as “Cousin Blount” in Dudley’s letters to investigate and to keep Amy’s half brother John Appleyard (from Amy’s mother’s first marriage) informed of his findings. Blount needed to find to whether death was by “chance or villainy.”

Robert arranged for Amy’s body to be buried at St Mary’s in Oxford – the bill for the funeral came to an astonishing £2,000 but he did not attend – custom said that he should not.  Instead he retired to his home at Kew and wore black for six months. Elizabeth ordered her court into mourning for a month or more.  Gristwood makes the point that Elizabeth probably ordered his withdrawal from the court in the hope that the scandal of  Amy’s tragic death would die down, except of course it didn’t and Dudley lost his chance to marry a queen …assuming that Elizabeth really would have married him.

Amy-Robsart-Unknown_lady_by_Levina_Teerlinc_c1550_Yale_University.jpg

There is no certain contemporary portrait of Amy Robsart although there is a miniature of an anonymous lady- shown above- which might be Amy in happier times.  The picture at the start of this post is by the Victorian artist Thomas Francis Dicksee.  Yeames depicted her in 1877 at the bottom of the staircase at Cumnor – he has left room as to whether the shadowy figures on the stairs are hurrying to her aid or are quietly departing having assassinated Mrs Dudley, which is of course what part three of this little series is going to be about.

amy robsart.jpg

 

Adams, Simon.ed. (1996) Household Accounts and Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester:

Gristwood. Sarah (2007) Elizabeth and Leicester. London:Bantom Books

Skidmore. Christopher. (2010) Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson

 

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Amy Robsart

ward-edward-matthew-1816-1879-leicester-and-amy-robsart-at-cumnor-hall-1866.jpgI can only conclude that I’m having a phase of unfortunate young women on the History Jar at the moment – and have made a mental note to be more grateful that I was born when and where I was!

Amy was the daughter of Sir John Robsart of  Stanfield Hall near Wymondham in Norfolk.  By a convoluted family link his wife was the sister-in-law of Robert Kett’s brother.  Normally I wouldn’t bother with the intricacies of such a tenuous link but the fact that Elizabeth Scott, Amy’s mother had once been married to Roger Appleyard, a family with close links across a couple of generations to the Kett family is perhaps a small part of the reason why after the Battle of Mousehold Heath near Norwich in 1549 that John Dudley, then earl of Warwick visited the Robsarts along with his teenage son Robert. I should note that a more important reason was the fact that Robsart was a part of the Norfolk gentry and had served as Sheriff of Norfolk.

The conventional story is that Robert and Amy fell in love – a case of marry in haste and repent at leisure for both halves of the couple. Certainly William Cecil who was a guest at the marriage which took place in 1550 was most disapproving of the alliance but in reality it was an opportunity for John Dudley to extend his circle of influence in Norfolk and to provide an inheritance for one of his younger sons – at that stage in proceedings Elizabeth Tudor was the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII rather than queen of England.

The pair married on the 5th or the 4th of June 1550 at Sheen in Richmond.  The bride was not yet eighteen but neither was the groom – which is perhaps the reason why Cecil described it as a “carnal match.” A more exalted guest was the king.  Edward VI had come to see one of his childhood friends married. Another guest was Elizabeth who was purported to have said to her friend Robert Dudley in 1540 after the execution of her step-mother Katherine Howard that she would never marry.

Edward VI noted the marriage in his diary – S. Robert dudely, third sonne to th erle of warwic married S. Jon Robsartes daughter after wich marriage ther were certain Gentlemen that did strive to who shuld first take away a goses heade wich was hanged alive on tow crose postes. Ther was tilting and tourney on foot on the 5th, and on the 6th he removed to Greenwich.

It should be noted that Robert was not the third son he was the fifth son.

Initially the pair lived at Ely Place, the former Bishop of Ely’s residence and now the Dudley’s London home or at Somerset House where Dudley had been appointed in 1553 as its custodian. The couple were also provided with a home, Hemsby, near Yarmouth by John Dudley. Robsart amended his will to accommodate Robert – he also agreed to give Robert £20.00 per year.   So if it was a love match, which it appears to have been, it was accompanied by the usual exchange of property and both fathers might have felt as though they had made a gain – Robert Dudley might have been a penniless younger son but at that time his father was the most important man in the land next to the king so it is easy to see where Robsart might have felt that he had made a good deal.

The newly married pair settled in Norfolk and Dudley began to play the role of Norfolk gentleman in terms of serving as JP and in 1551 as MP but as John Dudley’s grip on power tightened the couple returned to London – Robert was a courtier when all was said and done.

In May 1553 the young couple found that their lives had become part of a Royal Crisis.  From 10 May 1553 until 19 May 1553 Lady Jane Grey was queen of England.  Robert’s younger brother, Guildford, sulked because his wife, Lady Jane, would not make him king and John Dudley discovered that the Commons were not with him or Sir Henry Grey in their planned coup. On the 22 January 1554 Robert was sentenced as a traitor but Amy was allowed to visit him in the Tower. Royal accounts also reveal that the new queen provided clothing for Dudley’s wife.

The problem for Amy was that her husband – traitor or not- was an ambitious Dudley.   In the aftermath of Queen Mary’s accession to the throne it was judged expedient that the Dudley brothers be sent overseas to serve in Philip’s military campaigns.  In short, Amy gained a husband who was interested in much more than his wife and the life of a country gentleman.  Not only that but as an attainted traitor the property which both fathers had settled upon the pair reverted to the Crown.  Robert and Amy were penniless.  Amy’s father had died in 1554 so it fell to their respective mothers to provide for them.  Jane Guildford, Robert’s mother died in January 1555 and a property was cobbled together on the understanding that Robert would pay his mother’s debts and give his sisters an annuity. If Amy thought that married wife had turned out differently from what she might have expected things were only about to get worse when in 1558, Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne – and Amy became a decided inconvenience.

There will be more, after all the death of Amy Robsart caused a scandal across Europe and her death still sells papers and books.  Did she fall or was she pushed?  And if she was pushed who did it – Dudley, Elizabeth or Dudley’s wiley political adversary William Cecil. I have a week to gather primary sources!

Skidmore, Chris. (2010) Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the fate of Amy Robsart

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Ferdinando Stanley – murder victim?

FerdinandoStanley.jpgFerdinando Stanley (1559-1594), Lord Strange associated with the likes of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare as well as the poet Edmund Spenser. In the 1580s Lord Strange’s men performed in London and when Stanley’s father died and Ferdinando became the Earl of Derby the players became Derby’s Men. In short, Ferdinando splashed the cash like his mother Margaret Clifford before him except whereas she’d gambled he invested in becoming a patron of the arts.  It is as such is is most commonly remembered and written about.

 

History knows that he graduated from Oxford University at the age of twelve and was then summoned by his distant cousin Queen Elizabeth to court as a squire so that he could learn ‘good manners’ and presumably so that she could keep an eye on him.

 

He married Alice Spencer of Althorp in Northamptonshire in 1579 who after her husband’s death became involved in a legal tangle with her brother-in-law over what was rightfully hers.

 

So far so straight forward – except of course Ferdinando was the two times great grandson of Henry VII. Under the terms of Henry VIII’s will it should have been his family line who ascended to the throne after Elizabeth I died. As it was his mother was dead as were his cousins the three Grey sisters, Jane, Katherine and Mary.  Elizabeth had successfully illegitimised the two sons of Lady Katherine Grey although they were permitted to inherit their father’s estates and ultimately their father Edward Seymour found the priest who had performed the marriage ceremony for him and Katherine.

 

Back to Ferdinando.  It is thought that Catholic discontents and possibly the papacy approached Ferdinando with a view to him becoming a contender for the throne. They sent a man named Richard Hesketh who had links with the Stanley family. Ferdinando, clearly a sensible man, rejected the idea out of hand and very swiftly found someone in authority to tell recognizing that Cecil who’d learned of a plot in Rome would probably find out about Stanley having a chat to a conspirator. Hesketh was swiftly arrested and executed although he is said to have told Ferdinando that if he didn’t agree to the plan he would find himself very dead soon afterwards. The episode is referred to as the Hesketh Plot and the whole episode described in detail by John Stowe, the Tudor historian.

 

Unfortunately Stanley’s hopes of being rewarded for his loyalty were ill-founded. He should have realized from the fate of his mother and her cousins that Elizabeth would not look kindly on a possible candidate for her crown.

 

He died in unexplained circumstances on 16th April 1594 having been taken suddenly and severely ill with vomiting. He is buried in Ormskirk. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography he asked his doctors to stop treating him as he knew he was dying. Rumours spread that it was the work of Jesuits. His gentleman of the horse was apparently accused and unsurprisingly fled on one of the earl’s best horses. The man was never seen again.

 

Ferdinando’d been earl for less than a year and he had no male heirs other than his brother who now became the sixth Earl of Derby. However, he did have daughters and England does not have salic laws preventing a woman from inheriting the throne (I bet the Grey sisters and Lady Margaret Stanley all wished there was a salic law by the time Cousin Elizabeth had done with them.) Ferdinando’s eldest daughter, Anne Stanley, Countess of Castlehaven now became Elizabeth I’s heir presumptive under the terms of Henry VIII’s will.

 

However, by that time the Privy Council headed up by the Cecil family had identified Mary Queen of Scots’ son, James VI of Scotland, as Elizabeth’s heir and Elizabeth’s tacit agreement with this meant that other contenders for the throne ceased to have such political importance unless someone European started evolving plots to put them on the throne – poor Arbella Stuart is a case in point- and it should also be added that Lord Burghley (Cecil) arranged for the marriage of his granddaughter to the new earl of Derby demonstrating that intrigue, politics and marriage went hand in hand during the Tudor period.

 

David Kathman, ‘Stanley, Ferdinando, fifth earl of Derby (1559?–1594)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2013 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26269, accessed 10 March 2017]

Countess of Derby

Alice Spencer, Countess of Derby

by circle of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

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Elizabeth I’s rainbow dress

Elizabeth-1-Rainbow-Portrait.jpgTudor fashion for noble women such as Elizabeth I was complicated it involved the basic smock or shift that was changed every day. Over this were layered and laced a body and a kirtle; then came the farthing gale with its stiffened hoops which gave the silhouette; then petticoats.  The top petticoat would be embroidered. Over the underskirts came the gown which was composed of a skirt and bodice.  If that weren’t enough sometimes an overgrown might also be worn especially if it was very cold in which case it would probably be lined with fur.  As if that weren’t enough there was also a stomacher to conceal all the joins and just in case you wanted a different colour combo the sleeves of the bodice were interchangeable so they would need lacing into place as well. Then just for good measure there was the ruff.  Needless to say getting into the royal get up took substantial amounts of time.  It has been calculated that getting dressed each morning took Elizabeth I two hours.

Clothes, once they’d served their purpose, were handed down to servants or poorer members of your extended family.  If they were too far gone to be handed down any further they might be “ripped” – that is to say they were cut up and used to make other things – hangings, cushion covers and altar clothes for example – and that brings me to today’s post via Bacton Church in Herefordshire, the Radio 4 news this morning and a quick trawl of the Internet.

It turns out, according to The Telegraph that Eleri Lynn a curator of historic dress at Hampton Court spotted something significant in Bacton. The beautiful sixteenth century altar cloth made from cloth of silver with its embroidered flowers is part of Elizabeth I’s frock, possibly the one she wore for the Rainbow Portrait.  So how did it get to Bacton and how did Ms Lynn spot it.

The story of its discovery took someone with expert knowledge of England’s sumptuary laws.  Or put another way what we could and couldn’t wear without getting into trouble in the past.  Henry VIII passed rather a lot of sumptuary laws including the one that anyone below the rank of knight was forbidden to wear a pleated shirt! Another law was that only members of the royal family could wear cloth of silver.The altar cloth at Bacton was made from cloth of silver.

A bit of digging around reveals that Blanche Parry was born at Bacton and that there’s a memorial to her there.  She was one of Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting. Well, actually, she was the keeper of her jewels and chief of the ladies after  Ashley died.William Cecil was Blanche’s cousin (I keep telling you that they’re all related). It’s been tricky finding anything out about her even though there’s a website dedicated to her. She began her career as a royal nursery maid and progressed to the role of friend and trustee.  She accrued wealth without marrying and maintained an interest in her home at Bacton throughout her life.  It’s not unreasonable to suppose that the dress was given to Parry and that she in turn handed it or the completed cloth over to the church at Bacton. The Telegraph has an interesting article which may be accessed here.

Ironically the dress’s disappearance from the royal wardrobe is probably what saved it from complete destruction.  Jewels and pearls would have been removed once Elizabeth had finished with the dress and then the garment stored by the Wardrobe which was not a small wooden cupboard but a department hence the capitalisation. Oliver Cromwell came along and sold the lot off in the aftermath of the English Civil War.

On a personal note, and I may just be getting old and grumpy so feel free to ignore this bit, whilst the cloth has been preserved by professionals and whilst it is important historically speaking it has been in Bacton for the last five hundred years. Whoever cared for it managed to preserve it from moths, roundheads and all the other fates that could have befallen it. Consequentially,  I fail to see why it has to be kept at Hampton Court from now on- couldn’t it stay in Herefordshire? As I understand it History has very occasionally occurred beyond the confines of the M25. There are even some of us who rather enjoy looking at the aforementioned History in situ ( or as clause as possible)  as well as exploring the countryside rather than traipsing to London to be charged an arm and a leg for the privilege. Hey ho – rant over.

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Lord Roos, the Lakes and a Jacobean scandal

frances cecil.jpgLady 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.

Happy days…

 

http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/lake-sir-thomas-i-1561-1630

Love, Lust, and License in Early Modern England: Illicit Sex and the Nobility

By Johanna Rickman

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