Dorothy Devereux – scandal, intrigue and a woman who knew her own mind.

Dorothy_penelope_devereauxLettice Knollys was the daughter of Catherine Carey – meaning that she was probably the granddaughter of Henry VIII as her grandmother was Mary Boleyn.  She was born on the 8th November 1543.  She married three times; first to Sir Walter Devereux who became the First Earl of Essex; second to Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester and thirdly to Sir Christopher Blount.

During the reign of Mary Tudor Lettice’s mother and father travelled to continental Europe because they were sincere protestants.  Elizabeth sent her cousin Catherine a letter signed “broken hearted” when she learned of her departure.  We do not know if Lettice travelled with her parents.  Two years after Elizabeth became queen Lettice married Walter Devereux, then Viscount Hereford.  They had five children:

Penelope was born in 1563 and Dorothy in 1564.  Lettice went on to have three sons: Robert, Walter and Francis.  Today’s post is about  Dorothy  and tomorrow I shall be posting about Penelope because of the portrait pictured at the start of the post which I love and is believed to be of Penelope and Dorothy.  It can be found at Longleat House.

Dorothy was married first, in 1583, to Sir Thomas Perrot – which makes it all a bit family orientated as Sir Thomas’s father John claimed to be one of Henry VIII’s illegitimate children (click on the link to open a pervious post about Sir John Perrot in a new window.)  Sir John was not one of Elizabeth I’s most favourite people even though he did claim close kinship with her.  He found himself in the Tower on charges of treason during her reign.  It is perhaps because of Sir John that Dorothy failed to ask Elizabeth I for permission to marry, which as one of her ladies-in-waiting she should have done and preferred, instead to elope with Penelope’s help.  Alternatively it might perhaps of been that Dorothy’s hand was being settled by  Robert Dudley who in 1582 had tried to arrange her marriage to his nephew Sir Philip Sidney.  Either way, Elizabeth was not amused and probably even less so when she learned of the circumstances of the wedding.

The marriage took place at Sir Henry Coke’s house in Broxbourne. Coke was one of Dorothy’s guardians.  He did not connive at the wedding.  For most of the service  Sir Henry’s servants were trying to break down the chapel door whilst the vicar was assaulted for arguing that the correct procedures had not been followed.  He was eventually told that John Alymer the Bishop of London had granted a licence.  This information would get him into trouble with Elizabeth.  The historian Robert Lacey places the blame for this highly irregular marriage on the inadequacies of Lettice’s and Walter’s marriage rather than Dorothy accepting her allotted role of chattel being sold to the most powerful bidder.

Dorothy was banished from court and Thomas found himself in the Fleet Prison.  There was also the small matter of William Cecil trying to have the marriage annulled.  However, despite the chapel door being battered there were six witnesses and a proper priest on hand.  In 1587 Dorothy’s brother Robert used his growing influence with the queen to try and return Dorothy to court during a visit by Elizabeth to one of Robert’s homes.  This was not particularly successful as the queen was unamused to find Dorothy in residence.  Dorothy had to stay in her room.  Unfortunately Sir Walter Raleigh, who was also a guest, became involved and there was rather a loud argument resulting in Dorothy leaving in the middle of the night.  It was only after Sir Thomas’s death that Dorothy was allowed back to court. By then she was the mother of four daughters: Penelope, Dorothy, Elizabeth and Ann

Dorothy then married the 9th Earl of Northumberland – Henry Percy- the so-called Wizard Earl.  This particular earl would find himself involved in the Gun Powder Plot in 1605.  He and his wife were not happily married despite the fact that Elizabeth I had approved of Dorothy’s second marriage.  The pair  separated in 1599. It is perhaps not totally surprising given that the earl had selected his wife based on her potential to have sons.  Dorothy did have sons with the earl but they both died young.   The couple had only one surviving child, a daughter called…Dorothy.

The separation was not permanent.  Realistically the earl needed an heir and Dorothy could not really afford more scandal.   Lucy Percy was born circa 1600 and the all important heir to the earldom of Northumberland followed in 1602.  A second son arrived in 1604.

In 1605 when Northumberland was implicated in the Gunpowder Plot and sentenced to life in the Tower, Dorothy showed herself to be a loyal wife.  She visited her spouse most days.  For Dorothy the years of the earl’s imprisonment meant that she was responsible for running the earldom whilst Percy was in charge in name only. Like her first cousin twice removed (I think I’m right given that Catherine Carey and Elizabeth I were officially cousins; Elizabeth and Lettice were first cousins once removed thus Dorothy must have been twice removed) Dorothy was a woman with a brain.  Unlike Elizabeth, Dorothy was not always able to act independently and much of her marital difficulty appears to have stemmed from this.

Dorothy died in 1619, two year’s before her husband’s eventual release from the Tower.  She is buried in the Percy family vault at Petworth.

Robert Dudley – and his love life!

Robert_Dudley_LeicesterBy  the 10 Nov 1558 it was clear that Elizabeth would be queen and when a week later her sister Mary died, Elizabeth became the first English monarch to bear that name.  The following day the Great Seal was surrendered into her hands and she made Robert Dudley her master of horse which meant that he was the only man in the kingdom legally allowed to lay hands on her for the purposes of helping her on and off her horse.  Now, an unmarried queen was an asset in diplomatic terms but fears for the nation and the queen’s health were compounded by the fact that Elizabeth had known “Sweet Robin” Dudley since she was a child and rather like a child allowed out of school for the summer Elizabeth rather enjoyed the freedom that being queen now gave her.  It wasn’t long before there was speculation about Elizabeth and her Master of Horse.  It wasn’t much longer until there were rumours that Elizabeth was pregnant or had even had a child by Dudley.  Nicholas Throckmorton the English Ambassador in Paris wrote home expressing the view that these rumours needed to be scotched.
Eighteen months later things became even worse when on the 9th September 1560 Amy Robsart was found laying dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs at Cumnor.  Once again it wasn’t long before the rumour mill suggested that Dudley had disposed of his wife so that he could marry the queen.  Amy’s marriage had been a love match  but even at the wedding one of the guests – William Cecil no less- had expressed the view that it would not end well.  He perhaps guessed that the groom would tire of his country mouse.
Dudley now found himself in a situation where he might have hoped to have married Elizabeth but Elizabeth was more politically savvy than he guessed.  She kept him dangling on a thread- rather like the lap dog she once accused him of being.  meanwhile rumours about the death of Amy Robert would haunt him his entire life. You have to admire the man’s optimism because he didn’t marry again for the next eighteen years.  In all fairness his hopes had reason to be high – for example in 1562 when Elizabeth had smallpox she named Dudley regent in the event of her death.
The following year however, Elizabeth suggested that her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots should marry Dudley.  It was on the strength of this suggestion that Elizabeth made him the Earl of Leicester.  Let’s not get into the discussion about whether she actually intended it or not, that she was trying to insult Mary or that it was a canny stratagem to make Dudley an earl.  By March 1565 the idea was dead in the water with both the proposed bride and groom being in opposition to the suggestion.
It is usually suggested that Dudley was a serious contender for Elizabeth’s hand throughout the 1560s but realistically the death of Amy and Elizabeth’s suggestion that he marry Mary make it an unlikely suggestion beyond 1564.  In 1565 Dudley showed some serious courtly attention to the queen’s cousin Lettice Knollys.  It didn’t go down very well. Nor did it probably help that Lettice looked very like her cousin. By the end of the decade Dudley gained a mistress in the person of Douglas Sheffield:

I have, as you well know, long both loved and liked you, and found alway that faithful and earnest affection at your hand again that bound me greatly to you. This good will of mine, whatsoever you have thought, hath not changed from that it was at ye beginning toward you. And I trust, after your widowhood began upon the first occasion of my coming to you, I did plainly and truly open unto you in what sort my good will should and might alway remain to you, and showing you such reasons as then I had for ye performance of mine intent, as well as ever since. It seemed [that] you had fully resolved with yourself to dispose yourself accordingly, without any further expectation or hope of other dealing. From which time you have framed yourself in such sort toward me as was very much to my contentation. And I did with my former mind also continue my good will & determination toward you.

 

You can’t say that Dudley didn’t lay his cards on the table.  In 1574 Douglas had a son called Robert but by then Dudley’s attentions had turned back to Lettice Knollys who was married to the 1st Earl of Essex.  Walter Devereux was sent to Ireland in 1573.  Let’s just say that when the earl returned home in 1575 that Dudley wasn’t his most favourite person.  The earl went back to Ireland in 1576 and promptly expired of dysentery.  Dudley who was in England was very soon accused of having poisoned the earl.

In July 1575 Elizabeth arrived to visit Dudley in Kenilworth.  Dudley made yet another marriage proposal – it was very elaborate and very expensive.  He’d also commissioned two full length portraits one of himself and one of Elizabeth.  The queen enjoyed the party and the flattery but did not take the bait.

On 21 September 1578 Dudley married Lettice at Wanstead – in secret.  Nine months later the queen found out and there was rathe ra lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Elizabeth did not forgive and forget.  Lettice was never welcome back at court and in 1583 she was still sniping at Dudley’s treachery.

In the great scheme of things Dudley actually seems fairly subdued on the woman front  – but when in pursuit of a queen its perhaps best not to have too many floozies on the go.   In later years Robert’s son by Douglas would claim that the pair were married but it was never proven – and had more to do with inheritance than truth.

 

Just a fortnight to go until the History Jar day school – there are still places available – was Amy murdered? Did Dudley marry Douglas Howard in a secret ceremony? What was Elizabeth’s relationship with Lettice?  Who needs a soap opera when there’s the reality of Tudor court life?

Thursday 27th September 2018   10.00 am – 3.30pm

Inconvenient Wives

The story of Robert Dudley, Amy Robsart,

Lettice Knollys and Elizabeth I

The Orange Box, Halifax.

Sir Henry Lee

henry lee.jpgSir Henry Lee (1533–1611) was  Queen Elizabeth I’s self-appointed champion.  The family originated from Buckinghamshire although his mother was a Wyatt from Kent.  As is usual with the Tudors, Lee was related somehow or other to some very important people including the queen herself as well as to William Cecil and to Robert Dudley. He was also man who served all the Tudors from the age of fourteen beginning with Henry VIII without being slung in the Tower for his pains.

In 1554 he married Anne Paget to avoid the Tower or worse. She was the daughter of William Paget.  Paget’s early patron was Stephen Gardener – the family were Catholic.  Paget went on to support the Earl of Somerset during the minority of Edward VI so found himself in the Tower when Somerset fell from power and when he managed to extricate himself from that bind he promptly got himself into another one when he signed the document that set Henry VIII’s will aside and put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.  It seems odd then that Lee would marry the man’s daughter but Paget was a survivor and he was swift to seek a pardon from Queen Mary.  By 1556 he would be Lord Privy Seal.  From Lee’s point of view Paget was a man of influence and he was also a Catholic which was quite important because Lee was a Protestant.  Anne Paget and Henry Lee were not happily married. It can’t have helped that their two sons died young.  There was also a daughter from the marriage.

Paget retired from court life when Elizabeth I became queen in 1558 but Sir Henry Lee found himself in the ascendant. The year after Elizabeth became queen he was sent to France on official business thanks to William Cecil (could that have been a case of who you know rather than what you know?) He did what all Tudor gentlemen were required to do: i.e. went to war against the Scots and became an MP.   The picture at the start of the post is in the ownership of the National Portrait Gallery.  It was painted in about 1568, probably when Lee was on a trip to Antwerp.  The blackwork lover’s knots and armillary spheres could be a reference to his loyalty to Elizabeth though art historians are more perplexed about the pose of the ring through the red cord.  In 1569 he was part of the force that put down the Northern Rebellion.  As well as being the royal champion – a position he held from 1559 until 1590 he also became the master of the armoury (he was master of the armoury during the Spanish Armada), master of the leash and Constable of Harlech Castle. Despite this and his relationships with men such as Dudley and Cecil, not to mention his friendship with Sir Philip Sydney, Lee does not really seem to have played a very important political role in the shifting tide of Tudor court life. Lee’s role was more about providing the entertainment – up to 8,000 people attended the Ascension Day jousts (40 days after Easter Sunday) that he organised.  He was also regarded as something of a peacemaker – it was he who tried to persuade the Earl of Essex to seek Elizabeth’s pardon in later years.  In 1580 he even managed to get a loan out of the queen – perhaps he shouldn’t have been trying to build four stately mansions at the time.

AnneVavasourPerhaps Elizabeth wouldn’t have been so keen on lending money if she had realised that her new lady-in-waiting, Anne Vavasour, would one day lead her royal champion astray – she being at least thirty years his junior. In 1584 , three years after Anne disgraced herself by becoming pregnant by the earl of Oxford, Lee jousted against Anne’s brother Thomas.  Anne would be described as Lee’s “dearest dear.” Lee clearly wasn’t too bothered by the feud that the Vavasour and Knyvet families were running agains the Earl of Oxford on account of Anne’s meteoric fall from grace.  And, in all fairness, we don’t know when Anne and Lee began their relationship.  It is only in 1590 that Anne Vavasour turns up in the Ditchley records but as Simpson explains the purchase of Ditchley in 1583 could be explained not only as a home  located in reasonable proximity to an important official role (Steward of Woodstock) but also as a home for his lady-love.  By 1585 Lee was living separately from his wife as identified through the will of Anne Paget’s mother.  The 1592 Ditchley Portrait is usually regarded as Sir Henry Lee’s apology to Elizabeth for living with a married woman – not that she seems to have held it against him.

 

When Lee died he left a will that made provision for Anne.  One of the witnesses was Edward Were, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Oxford.  The will and an explanation of it can be read here: http://www.oxford-shakespeare.com/Probate/PROB_11-117_ff_326-8.pdf 

 

Simpson, Sue. Sir Henry Lee (1533–1611): Elizabethan Courtier

By Sue Simpson

Anne Vavasour – scandal, bigamy and a portrait

Queen-Elizabeth-I-The-Ditchley-portrait.jpgAnne was born in about 1560 to 1653 – she was a girl remember- to a Yorkshire family.  When she was somewhere between eighteen and twenty, she became one of Elizabeth I’s ladies-in-waiting.  Her links with   the Kynvet family through her mother were probably what landed her a plum job at court. Her sister would also serve the queen and cause almost as much scandal as Anne.

Unfortunately rather than being a chaste ornament in the court of the Virgin Queen, Anne was chased and caught by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford – one of Elizabeth I’s favourites.  He was approximately ten years older than Anne and already had something of a reputation for naughtiness not to mention an unfortunately scandalous marriage of his own.

Anne and Edward de Vere had an illegitimate son which came as a shock to the other ladies she shared her chambers with as she had successfully managed to keep her pregnancy secret.  Edward couldn’t marry Anne as he was already married to Anne Cecil the daughter of William Cecil.  The fact that the pair didn’t get on is neither here nor there. Nor is the fact that he was widely regarded as a cuckold

The day after Anne became a mother she was packed off to the Tower. Presumably Anne was relieved that Elizabeth hadn’t shouted and thrown things at her in the way that she had at Anne Shelton when she’d married John Scudamore on the quiet.  A flying candle stick broke the poor woman’s fingers.

Edward de Vere, who does not come out of this shining with the glow of a hero, was caught trying to leave the country.  He was also invited to spend some time considering the error of his ways in the Tower.  This happened in 1581.  De Vere wasn’t allowed back to court for the next two years.

The consequences of the affair were that Anne’s reputation was ruined. De Vere had no part in the raising of his son – named Edward Vere – although he did leave him some land.  The child was actually cared for by the earl’s cousin Sir Francis.  There were assorted duels as a consequence of besmirched honour that resulted in the death of a number of servants mainly because Anne’s uncle Sir Thomas Knyvet wasn’t terribly happy about the way things had turned out. And finally, posterity was given a poem entitled Echo which is credited not only to the accomplished, if somewhat troubled, Earl of Oxford but also to Anne herself.

 

Anne was now in need of a respectable spouse so she was married off to a sea captain called Finch or Field depending on the source.  It appears to have been a marriage of convenience as the couple did not have a child.  At about the same time she married Anne also became the mistress of Sir Henry Lee who was the queen’s champion.  Lee did not hide his affection for Anne.  He even had a suit of armour that was decorated with Anne’s initials and love knots – clearly Lee was taking a lesson from his old master Henry VIII.  Sir Henry had his own wife at home in Ditchley in Oxfordshire.  Eventually Anne had a second son called Thomas in 1589, the year before Sir Henry’s wife died.  The boy belonged to Sir Henry although he took the name of Anne’s husband.

After Sir Henry was widowed the pair lived together at his home in Ditchley along with Anne’s two sons.  Henry gave Finch/Field a pension – presumably to stay at sea and not make trouble. Lee was on the best of terms with the likes of Robert Dudley and with William Cecil.  Despite the fact that he was co-habitting with a married woman who had done a stint in the Tower he was also on such terms with Elizabeth that she visited him at Ditchley.

Sir Henry presented Queen Elizabeth I with the life sized portrait of herself pictured at the start of this post in 1592.  It co-incided with Elizabeth’s visit to Ditchley and is about the monarch’s forgiveness of his behaviour.  The entertainment included jousting and a series of noble portraits – the best of which was Elizabeth standing on top of the world like the sun after a storm bringing calm weather. Just in case she needed a hint Lee wrote a sonnet to the “prince of light” and reminded Elizabeth that she could take revenge but that she does not take revenge.

 

Elizabeth duly forgave Lee for falling into a “stranger lady’s thrall” and posterity acquired one of the best known portraits of Elizabeth.  The image of Anne  shown below is dated to 1605.

AnneVavasour.jpg

Sir Henry died in 1611.  He left Anne £700 but his heir- and cousin- challenged Anne in the courts over the inheritance.  In 1618, despite her husband being very much alive and well, Anne  married for a second time to a man called Richardson.  Lee’s cousin promptly took her to court on charges of bigamy.  Anne was required, in 1622, to pay a fine of £2000 and to do public penance. The former was excused when Queen Anne , the wife of James I, interceded on her behalf.

The picture of Anne Vavasour shown here is by Robert Peake the elder. She would live until 1560 and although the Church drew the line at allowing the unmarried couple to snuggle up for eternity in a shared tomb, Anne can be found on Sir Henry Lee’s monument in Spelsbury Church

anne vavasour.jpg

 

 

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

 

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

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.

 

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

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

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.

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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.

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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