Tag Archives: William Cecil

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


Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Mary Queen of Scots, Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

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.


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.




Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

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.


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



Filed under Historical Artists, Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

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


Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

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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Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

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.


Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

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…



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

By Johanna Rickman

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Filed under Seventeenth Century, The Stuarts

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton – ambassador

thoclkmortonInevitably whilst looking at Raleigh my attention has drifted to Bess Throckmorton; Raleigh’s wife and the love of his life. From there my mind has wondered to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, Bess’s father. A man who seems to have been as outspoken as Raleigh himself and regarded by the Spanish as ‘dangerously clever’ – though that doesn’t seem to have stopped him from getting into some unpleasant scrapes which ultimately ended with his disgrace.


Sir Nicholas served four Tudor monarchs as well as the Duke of Richmond, Henry Fizroy. Nicholas was related to Sir William Parr and at the time he was Fitzroy’s chamberlain which explains Throckmorton’s entry into such a prestigious household. Throckmorton’s mother was Catherine Vaux of Harrowden and it was through her that the relationship to the Parr family came – meaning that Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife was Throckmorton’s cousin. Throckmorton was a younger son so he needed every family connection he could find if he was to make his way in the world.


Sir Nicholas’s fortunes remained linked to those of the Parr family. He turned up on the Scottish Borders in the service of the Parr family just in time for the so-called Rough Wooing. He turned up in Scotland again in 1547. It was Nicholas Throckmorton who was sent south with the news that Protector Somerset had won the Battle of Pinkie.


Despite having gained his foothold in the rungs of the Tudor social and political ladder through his links to the Parrs and to Somerset he seems to have been unaffected by Admiral Seymour’s goings on or indeed the fall of Somerset. In short Throckmorton was one of Edward VI’s men and a good protestant to boot.


His name appears on the device naming Lady Jane Grey queen but equally it is supposed to have been Throckmorton who sent word of Edward VI’s death to Mary – perhaps a case of having his cake and eating it. It was only when Throckmorton began agitating about the restoration of Catholicism that he got himself into trouble with Mary suggesting that she didn’t hold his affirmation of Lady Jane Grey against him. The trouble was he wasn’t that keen on Mary’s chosen husband, Philip of Spain and became involved with the Wyatt Plot.


In April 1555 he was charged with treason for his part in the plot. However, when he came to trial the jury acquitted him despite the judges hostility: a fact which didn’t go down well with Mary who promptly had the jury incarcerated for nine months and heavily fined when they were eventually released.


Throckmorton took himself off to France rather than face the possibility of any more of Mary’s hospitality. He left his wife at home (she refused to live in France) but ultimately was allowed to return and take up government post. But by this point he was in correspondence with William Cecil and Princess Elizabeth, no doubt lining himself up to serve his fourth Tudor.  When Elizabeth came to the throne Throckmorton wrote suggesting who would be her best advisors and in 1560 when Cecil and Elizabeth were out of sorts with one another Cecil said he would depart from his role as Elizabeth’s minister if Throckmorton replaced him.


Nicholas returned to France as ambassador from 1559-1562. It was his job to try and dissuade Mary, Queen of Scots, from displaying the arms of England. Throckmorton was also in France when the scandal of Elizabeth I’s love for her Master of Horse Robert Dudley became laden with overtones of murder. Amy Robsart’s death at Cumnor near Abingdon caused tongues to wag (Throckmorton wrote of “her neck” being broken “with other appurtenances” and Throckmorton didn’t hesitate to describe what people were saying. He also announced that “Every hair of my head stareth!” His letters to Cecil at this time are so distinctly undiplomatic that his friends warned him to write no further on the subject. Ironically it was the same Robert Dudley now Earl of Leicester who offered a final home to Throckmorton when he was disgraced for his part in trying to marry Mary Queen of Scots to the Duke of Norfolk but more of that shortly.


Throckmorton was ultimately undone by his regard for Mary Queen of Scots who he’d known since she was a child in France. He was sent to Scotland to prevent Mary from marrying Lord Darnley – not one of his greatest successes, though at least Elizabeth didn’t have to send anyone to rescue him as had been the case when he was sent on a diplomatic mission to Catherine de Medici. He was also sent to negotiate for Mary’s release when she was deposed but the Scottish nobles knew he was sympathetic to Mary so weren’t terribly pleased to see him. Once Mary was imprisoned in England he plotted for her to marry the Duke of Norfolk. It appears that Throckmorton thought that if she was married and ‘respectable’ then she could be released from captivity. He regarded a marriage to Norfolk as a safe marriage. He also thought that the Duke of Norfolk’s proposal was in line with what the queen wished.


Unsurprisingly Throckmorton soon found himself incarcerated; this time in Windsor Castle. His actions were deemed foolish but not treasonous. He was released possibly because in the years since he’d objected to Elizabeth’s marriage to Robert Dudley he’d become one of Dudley’s political advisors. However, he’d also managed to remain on reasonably good terms with William Cecil because he wrote to Cecil begging for him to intercede with the queen.  It should be added that it is quite possible that Cecil who was fiercely anti-Mary may well have shown Elizabeth the inflammatory letters which Throckmorton wrote when he was the English Ambassador in France.


Throckmorton’s end was recorded by Robert Dudley;

We have lost on Monday our good friend Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, who died in my house, being there taken suddenly in great extremity on Tuesday before; his lungs were perished, but a sudden cold he had taken was the cause of his sudden death. God hath his soul, and we his friends great loss of his body.

He died in London on 12 Feb 1571 and was buried in the church of St. Catherine Cree, Aldgate. His daughter Elizabeth known as Bess was one of Elizabeth’s maids of honour and ultimately Bess would be banished from court having done her own stint in the Tower for daring to fall in love, something which her father had castigated the queen about many years earlier.

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Filed under Anglo-Scottish history, Mary Queen of Scots, Sixteenth Century, The Tudors, Uncategorized