How Henry VIII Got Rid Of His Wives

We left the Ambassador Extraordinary of France, François de Scépeaux, Sieur de Vieilleville, and his companions at the court of Edward VI in early 1547 amazed at how English noblemen behaved towards their sovereign; they even knelt when serving the king meals. Vieilleville’s secretary, Vincent Carloix, who supposedly wrote down these memories later, then reported how the French guests were accosted by a mysterious English courtier who explained to them why these strange habits went unchallenged: Out of fear of the Duke of Somerset, the young king’s uncle, who has established a veritable tyranny over England. However, resistance is a-brewing …

I’ll now give you the rest of the English gentleman’s speech, first in the original French and then in translation. Secretary Carloix’ understanding of English history may appear somewhat garbled, yet it certainly shows how Henry VIII’s marital problems were perceived from a foreign (and Catholic) perspective not so long after the events:

car estants parens et creatures de feues roynes meres des infantes Marie et Elizabeth, ils crevent de deplaisir de voir l’usurpation que ce duc, par son authorité, a fait sur elles de la couronne, qui appartient premierement à Marie, et puis par son decès à Elizabeth ; se targuant du testament du feu Roy Henry, qu’il a basty à sa poste, auquel il ne s’est pas oublyé, car il s’y est trouvé le premier, après l’Empereur, de saeze tuteurs de ce jeune Roy ordonnez par son pere; mais les quinze luy ont bientost quitté toute la charge, les connoissant incompatible, ou bien par remords de conscience de la falsité de ce testament, et du tort que l’on faisoit à ses deux très-excellentes princesses.

After getting in trouble having married the emperor’s aunt, Henry VIII afterwards “only ever married the daughters of dukes and simple gentlewomen”

Car ledit feu roy Henry, qui estoit un prince voluptueux, et auquel un serail de femmes n’eust pas suffi, repudia la reine Catherine, mere de l’infante Marie, pour épouser Anne de Boulan, de l’aquelle il eust Elizabeth, les accusant fort iniquement toutes deux d’impudicité et d’adultere, sans pouvoir dire ny prouver, encore moins les convaincre du fait ; qu’il fit neantmois mourir la premiere entre quatre murailles, et l’autre sur un échafaut (car un roy n’a jamais faute de juges ny de temoins), pour épouser Janne Semer, sœur de ce duc, et mère du Roy que yous voyez, de laquelle il fust un an amoureux : en quoy elle se maintint si vertueusement, que la force d’amour contraignit ce Roy, n’en pouvant rien tirer que par [durch] mariage, de faire insignes meschancetez :

la premiere, de repudier ainsi à la vollée des princesses de bien et d’honneur, foulant leur reputation, et, contre sa conscience, leur ravir la vie pour épouser cellecy ; la seconde, de priver, contre tout droit divin et humain, ces deux rare princesses en toute vertu de leur vraye, legitime et naturelle succession, pour y préferer ce petit Roy que le gens de bien et d’esprit de ce royaume tiennet pour bastard ; et la troisieme, que, non voulant le Pape approuver ce fornicatoire mariage, il laissa sa religion ancienne et catholique pour adherer et suivre celle de Luther, par depit d’avoir esté debouté de sa demande, comme injuste, en plein consistoire des cardinaux; et s’oublia tant qu’il écrivit et fit publier un petit meschant livre contre ce très-sacré senat, perdant par cette folie un fort saint et honorable titre que ses predecesseurs et luy avoient entre les roys chrestiens; car vostre roy s’appelle Très-Chrestien, celuy d’Espagne Catholique, et le nostre se nommoit Protecteur de la foy. Et croyez que cestuy-cy ne rendra pas ce titre à sa posterité: car son pere le fit instruire et nourrir en ce nouvelle secte, en laquelle il persiste, et y est, par commandement du duc son oncle, entretenu.

Vous voyez donc, messieurs, par ce discours, que la paillardise de feu son pere le fit forvoyer en sa religion, de laquelle il n’eust jamais changé si le Pape luy eust accordé la dispense d’épouser Anne de Boulan : et s’il eust ausé faire mourir Catherine, il n’eust pas esté en la peine de faire la poursuite ; mais elle estoit tante de l’empereur Charles cinquieme. Aussi depuis ce refus il n’épousa jamais que des filles de ducs ou simple damoiselles, pour plus librement exercer sur leur honneur et sur leur vie sa detestable volonté ; et en épousa jusques à cinq depuis ladite Catherine, qu’il fit tout passer ou par la mort ou par la honte de repudiation, excepté Janne Semer, mere de ce Roy, qui mourat incontinant après en estre delivrée ; dont bien luy en print, car elle eust esté mise au rang des autres : encore dit-on qu’il la fit empoisonner pour épouser la quatrieme, qu’il repudia un an après ; et fit trancher la teste à la cinquieme, forcené de l’amour d’une vefve nommé Catherine Parre, à laquelle, s’il ne fust mort, il fasoit déjà faire le procès, la accusant faussement d’avoir conspiré à sa mort avec la princesse Marie sa fille : ne nous estant demeuré autre fruit de cette bruslante luxure; que l’usurpation de la couronne que vous voyez, je vous laissez à juger, messieurs, si ce royaume doit prosperer. »

Etat de la cour d’Angleterre

Lors l’un de nostres, nommé Vausurhosne, dit à ce gentilhomme anglais, qui s’appelloit Vartich, qu’il estoit fort esbahy qu’ayant tant de droit de leur costé, et la pluspart des millorts favorables qu’ils ne hazardoient une battaille, y et attirer le peuple par quelque menée secrette, s’assurant que s’il se presentoit quelque magnanime seigneur qui s’en voulust entremettre, il seroit suivy de tous les estats, « veu, millort Vartich, ce que vous nous venez de discourir, car Dieu ayde au bon droit. … «

Cela est très-certain, rèpondit Vartich : mais le duc de Sommerset, qui est un prince fort provide, y a prevenu merveilleusement, car il a osté à tous les grands de ce royaume tous les moyens de rien innover. Premierement il a donné l’estat d’amiral à son frere, qui est la principale force d’Angleterre ; le gouvernement d’Irlande à un autre parent qui luy est du tout voué …; et faut necessairement attendre ce coup de la main de Dieu, qui ne laissera pas regner long-temps cette tirannie sans faire rendre, par sa grande justice, ce que l’on à usurpé sur ces dignes princesses. … »

Cela dit, il print congé de nous et se retira, sans que jamais l’ayons pu trouver ny revoir depuis ; et les cherchasmes tant que nous fumes là, parce que nous le tenions pour fort habile homme, et qui avoit grande envie de remuer estaindre cette usurpation, et remettre sus la religion catholique.

Il sembla, à ce qui est advenu depuis, que ce Vartich estoit touché de l’esprit de prophetie ; car au commencement de l’année 1547 il nous tint ce langage, et sur la fin de l’année 1550 ce petit Roy mourut ; par la mort duquel la couronne revint à l’Infante Marie, qui fit mourir assez bon nombre de millorts qui avoient assisté et favorisé le couronnement de son feu frere.

(Mémoires de la vie de François de Scépeaux, Sieur de Vieilleville. Vol I. Edited by C. B. Petitot, 1822, pp. 155–160)

For they [the gentlemen who would like to cut the Duke of Somerset’s and the king’s throat] are creatures of the deceased queens, the mothers of the princesses Mary and Elizabeth, and they are bursting with displeasure to see the usurpation of this duke, his authority, and how he achieved it against the crown, which belongs first to Mary, and after her death to Elizabeth. He bases his claim on the last will of the deceased King Henry, who built him up in his office, which he never forgot as he found himself the first, after the emperor, of the tutors of this young king as his father ordained; thus, the fifteen [other executors of Henry VIII’s will] discharged him for good as incompatible or out of a bad conscience about this false testament and the wrong done to these two excellent princesses.

As the said King Henry deceased was a voluptuous prince to whom a seraglio of women did not suffice, he repudiated Queen Catherine, mother of the princess Mary, to marry Anne Boleyn, by whom he had Elizabeth: And he accused them both most iniquitously of impudicity and adultery, without being able to prove anything or convince anybody. He made the first die in prison and the other upon the scaffold (for a king is never in need of judges or witnesses) in order to marry Jane Seymour, sister of this duke and mother of the king you see. With her he had been in love for a year in which she maintained herself so virtuously that the power of love constrained this king to marry her, not having achieved anything, yet having committed several iniquities:

Princess Mary, repudiated, took revenge on those who “assisted and favoured the crowning of her deceased brother”

First, he repudiated the princesses and trampled upon their reputation and, against his conscience, took a life in order to marry Jane; second, to deprive against every human and divine right these two rare princesses of their true, legitimate, and natural succession, he preferred this little king whom the good people of this realm hold for a bastard; third, as the pope did not approve this fornicatory marriage, he abandoned his ancient and catholic religion in order to adhere and follow the religion of Luther, for he was angry that his demand was rejected as injust by the full consistory of the cardinals; and he forgot himself so much that he wrote and published a malignant little book against this very holy senate – thereby losing through this folly a very holy and honourable title, which his predecessors and he himself had between the Christian kings; for your king is named the Most Christian King, the King of Spain His Catholic Majesty, and our king was named Defender of the Faith. And believe me, this title will not be bequeathed to posterity, for his father raised him in this new sect, in which he persists and is entertained by order of the duke his uncle.

You see, gentlemen, by this discourse how his father lit this fire in his religion, which he never would have changed had the pope accorded him the marriage of Anne Boleyn. And if he had not dared to put to death Katherine, he would not have bothered to do the rest; alas, she was the aunt of the Emperor Charles V. He therefore after this rebuff only ever married the daughters of dukes and simple gentlewomen in order to exercise more freely his detestable will over their honours and their lives. And he married up to five ladies after Katherine, whom he either killed or repudiated, with the exception of Jane Seymour, the mother of this king, who died in childbirth – which turned out for her well, for she would have been treated like the others. It is even said that he had her poisoned in order to marry the fourth, whom he repudiated after a year. And he beheaded the fifth, crazy of love for a widow named Katherine Parr; if she had not died, he would have accused her of conspiring against his life together with Mary his daughter. Thus in view of the only fruit of this burning wantonness – the usurpation which you see – I let you judge, gentlemen, if this realm should prosper.”

The State of the English Court

Now, one of us, named Vausurhosne, said to this English gentleman named Vartich that he was speechless that with so much right and so many millorts on their side they did not dare risk a battle instead of attracting people by secrets plots, thinking that a great man would present himself who would like to take part, all the estates following him: “Look, my Lord Vartich, all you told us about the Lord may grant.” […] “That’s all very well,” answered Vartich, “but the Duke of Somerset is a cautious prince, for he has taken away all the means from all the great of this realm. First he gave the office of Admiral to his brother, which post is the principal mainstay of England. The government of Ireland he gave to another relative who is very devoted to him […]; we must needs wait for the Lord’s coup de main, who will not suffer this tyranny for long without, in his great justice, giving back what has been taken away from these worthy princesses.” […]

With this he took leave from us and retired, and we never could find or see him again; and we were looking for him all the time we were there, because we thought him a very clever man who very much wished to undo this usurpation and to re-institute the catholic religion.

It seemed by what happened afterwards that Vartich was touched by the spirit of prophecy; for at the beginning of the year 1547 he spoke to us and by the end of 1550 this little king died. By his death the crown reverted to the Princess Mary, who put to death a good number of millorts who had assisted and favoured the crowning of her deceased brother.

(Translation copyright © 2018 Christine Hartweg)

It is believed that Lord Vartich was none other than John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick and father of Robert Dudley …

(to be continued)

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Why the English Serve Their King on Bended Knee

A few weeks into the reign of Edward VI, in early 1547, a French embassy arrived at the English court. They stayed for six days. François de Scépeaux, Sieur de Vieilleville (1509–1571), the special ambassador, was received by the Duke of Somerset, recently appointed Lord Protector, and the whole court. Allegedly, Vieilleville’s secretary, Carloix, later wrote memoires. To what extent these memoirs have been embellished in the early 17th century we shall discuss in a later post, however it is probably safest not to take them too seriously as a historical source.

On this tapestry King Ahasverus is served on bended knee; two members of some order of chivalry also attend, on their knees and bare-headed. The great master of the household (or someone like him) receives the food on a plate from a kneeling page (c.1500)

I’ve been working to copy (not copy & paste) parts of Carloix’s text and give you a full translation, however I also put it here in the French original. It’s fun to read! Please enjoy!

Carloix reports:

Ce duc de Sommerset n’estoit gueres bien voulu des milorts et autres seigneurs d’Angleterre, ny même du Roy, car il entreprenoit sur l’Etat, et s’en fasoit si bien accroire, que son opinion, bonne ou mauvaise, effaçoit toutes les autres; et ce qui le rendoit plus odieux à tous les etats du royaume, estoit que, de sa seule et privée authorité, il s’estoit qualifié Protecteur d’Angleterre, pour lequel estat il tiroit plus de vingt milles nobles a la roze par an; et outre ce, il avoit de la même puissance et authorité, créé et estably Thomas Semer, son frere puisné, amiral de toute la mer.

Coutume de servir les rois d’Angleterre à genoux

Monsieur de Vieilleville sejourna six jours à Londres, durant lesquel il fut fort magnifiquement festoyé des princes et milorts, et principalment en un festin royal où il disna entre le Roy et le dit duc de Sommerset, aprés lequel estoit assis M. de Thevalle, beaufrere de M. de Vieilleville, fort vaillant et sage chevalier, qui avoit epousé madame Françoise de Scepeaulx, tres-vertueuse et tres-belle dame; et au dessous de luy Thomas, amiral, sans qu’il y en eust d’autres à table.

Et servirent les millorts chevaliers de l’ordre de la Jartiere, portans les plates après le grand-maître, les testes nuës; mais, approchant de la table, ils se mettoient à genoux, et venoit le grand-maître prendre le service de leurs mains, estant ainsi agenoilez: ce que nous trouvasmes fort ètrange, de voir ainsi anciens chevaliers, gens de valeur et grands capitaines de plus illustres maisons d’Angleterre, faire l’estat que font les enfans d’honneur et pages de la chambre devant nostre Roy, qui ont seulement les testes nuës portant les service, mais ils ne s’agenoillent nullement, et en sont quites pour une reverance d’entrée et d’issuë de la salle où se fait le festin. Et estans en difficulté de juger de qui approchoit le plus cette façon, ou de la tirannie, ou de l’idolatrie, un gentilhomme anglais qui nous écoutoit nous y satisfit fort promptement, disant en bonne langage française qu’elle participoit de tous les deux, avec cette raison:

«Si vous faites aux vieilles gens, si experimentez en toutes choses qu’ils n’ont plus besoing de rien apprendre, faire des choses puerilles, vous pouvez bien penser qu’ils sont contrains d’y obeyr, car le vieillart n’a rien si odieux que de contrefaire l’enfant; par ainsi il faut conclure que s’ils refusoient ce commandement quand nostre Roy veut monstrer ses magnificences et grandeurs, qu’il seroient d’estre chassez de la Cour, privez de leur estat, et peut estre de la vie: doncques est tirannie.

Et quant aux testes nuës et agenoillements quis sont ordinaires devant la face de nostre Roy, puisque cela appartient à un seul Dieu; vous ne pouvez ignorer que ce ne soit idolâtrie. Mais vostre Roy en use plus chrestiennement, et ne tient pas une si turquesque rigueur à ses sujets et serviteurs; aussi il n’y a pas un de vous autres Français qui ne voulust librement sacrifier sa vie pour son prince. Icy tout au contraire: car des douze que sont à genoulx, les sept que voyez derniers voudroient avoir coupé la gorge au Roy et au duc de Sommerset son oncle maternel:»

(Mémoires de la vie de François de Scépeaux, Sieur de Vieilleville. Vol I. Edited by C. B. Petitot, 1822, pp. 153–155)

That Duke of Somerset was hardly well-liked by the milorts and other gentlemen of England, because it was he who ran the state and because he only let his own opinion – whether good or bad – prevail over all others. And thus it happened that the Duke of Somerset became hated by all the estates of England, because he, by his own private authority, made himself Protector of England, which also made him throw over 20 million nobles out of the window per annum. And of the same authority, he also created and established Thomas Seymour, his little brother, Lord Admiral of all the Seas.

The custom to serve the Kings of England on bended knee

Monsieur de Vieilleville stayed six days in London, during which he was very magnificently entertained by the princes and milorts, and principally with a royal feast where he dined between the king and the said Duke of Somerset, the latter of whom was assisted at table by M. de Thevalle, brother-in-law of M. de Vieilleville and a very valient and wise knight who had married Madame Françoise de Scepeaux, a very virtuous and beautiful lady; and below him [was seated] Thomas, the admiral, without any others at the table.

And the milorts were served by knights of the Garter, who brought the dishes behind the great master of the household, bare-headed; but, approaching the table, they went on their knees, and the grand master came and took the dishes out of their hands, while they remained on their knees: We found this very strange, thus to see these worthy knights and gentlemen, and great captains, of the greatest houses of England, to do that which the children of honour and pages do before our king; they, however, only carry the dishes bare-headed, but do never kneel, and are done with curtsying at entering and leaving the hall where the feast is taking place. While we were thus having difficulty judging whether this be tyranny or idolatry, an English gentleman who had overheard us approached us, saying in good French that he participated in the two, the tyranny and the idolatry, for this reason:

“If you find these worthy people, so experienced in everything that they need not learn anything more, to engage in such childish things, you may well think that they are constrained to obey, as they would be chased from court, lose their estates, and even their lives, if they would refuse to proclaim the greatness of our king with these fooleries: So much for tyranny.

As for the bared heads and bended knees before our king, they should be for God only; you cannot ignore this is idolatry! But your king is of most Christian habits, nor does he use such Turkish rigour towards his subjects and servants; so among you there will be no Frenchman who will not freely sacrifice his life for his prince. Here it is the other way round! For of the twelve who knelt, the last seven would gladly cut the king’s and the Duke of Somerset’s throat!”

(Translation copyright © 2018 Christine Hartweg)

The mysterious Englishman’s speech goes on quite a bit, and we shall see in the next post what else he had to say, about Henry VIII and his wives, among other things; we’ll also find out who he was …

(to be continued)

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Dudley News

On 2 and 3 September 2018 there will be another online Tudor Summit, and I’m happy to say that Heather Teysko of englandcast.com invited me to participate. I am delighted, of course, and I have contributed a talk on Robert Dudley and the Ladies. So, if you would like to watch me speak about Robert Dudley, as well as hear many other great speakers, please register now! It’s all free, and you may access these talks for another 14 days after the Summit!

I am also very happy to tell you that Claire Ridgway of the Tudor Society has asked me to contribute an article about the life of Amy Robsart for the September edition of the magazine Tudor Life. It’s a special edition about the Dudleys, and you can have a look at the magazine and the Society here.

UPDATE September 2018:
You can now watch my talk on Robert Dudley here (please scroll down the page). Thank you!

Amy Robsart and Leicester at Cumnor Hall by Edward Matthew Ward, 1866

Posted in Amy Robsart, my book, Robert Dudley

Did William Paget Talk About Elizabeth and Robert Dudley?

William Paget, a good friend of Robert Dudley

In 1978, a manuscript was found in the British Library which contained materials for a history of the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign. The Journal of Matters of State or BL Additional MS 48023, as the manuscript is usually titled, was written in about 1562-1563, but never completed. It was first published in 2003, in the Camden series of original texts. We don’t know the author, although several editors believe he was Sir John Hales, MP, a militant Protestant who had previously worked as an advisor for the Duke of Somerset.

As appears from his text, if indeed he wrote it, Hales held a deep grudge against Robert Dudley, and he believed him to have consented to the killing of Amy, Robert’s wife. (It is only fair to add that he didn’t know Robert Dudley personally). The writer of the Journal also held a grudge against William Paget, 1st Lord Paget of Beaudesert, one of Mary I’s two de facto chief ministers and previously the Duke of Somerset’s principal advisor and self-appointed Cassandra.

William Paget did not continue in office under Elizabeth I; but he continued his amicable relations with Robert Dudley. Although Robert’s father, the Duke of Northumberland, had imprisoned Willliam Paget for more than a year, the Pagets had continued friends with the Dudleys.

The Journal reported many rumours, many sentences starting like: “At this time yt was bruted that …”

The Journal also reports that

P. vsed to saie that when the Lorde Rob. went to his wief he wentt all in blacke, and howe he was commaunded to saye that he did nothing with her, when he came to her, as seldome he did.

The editors write that “the identity of P. is unknown”; however, a few pages later the Journal again speaks of “P.” and this time it seems clear that “P.” is William Paget, or “Pagett” as he is called in the next line.

Since the Journal is only a draft, there are many abbreviations, e.g. King Philip II of Spain is K.P. and Lord Robert sometimes is simply L.R. It appears therefore likely that P. is Paget throughout the text, and that it was he who said that Elizabeth had commanded Lord Robert to do nothing with his wife on his rare visits. It is also clear from other occurences that William Paget was rather close to Robert Dudley.

——————

Simon Adams; Ian Archer; G. W. Bernard (eds.): “A ‘Journall’ of Matters of State happened from time to time as well within and without the Realme from and before the Death of King Edw. the 6th untill the Yere 1562”, in Ian Archer (ed.): Religion, Politics, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England, Cambridge University Press 2003, pp. 66, 73.

Posted in Amy Robsart, Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, sources & historians | Tagged ,

Did Robert Dudley Have a Spy in Margaret Douglas’ Household?

Robert Dudley, c.1561

Did Robert Dudley employ a spy in Margaret Douglas’ household at Temple Newsam in Yorkshire in the early 1560s? According to a number of Margaret’s and her son Darnley’s biographers, yes. The claim seems to rest on a single document. It was written by Sir William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s Principal Secretary on 9 May 1562, recording the deposition of one William Forbes, the supposed spy and a servant in the household of Margaret Douglas. Margaret was the daughter of the Scottish queen, Margaret Tudor, and her second husband, Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. She was a Catholic and had a good claim to the English throne. Any suspect activities, like corresponding with foreign ambassadors, was thus likely to be scrutinized by Elizabeth’s government.

It is therefore likely that Margaret more or less unwittingly employed some spies in her household. The often-repeated claim that Robert Dudley employed William Forbes, though, does not hold water. The biographer of Lord Darnley, Caroline Bingham, believed that Dudley was both very ambitious and extremely unpopular, and that therefore he “attempted to protect himself against his enemies by employing spies in influential households.” She then goes on to list the items of Forbes’ deposition in chronological order as if reported directly to Robert Dudley when they occurred, although we only know about these events and supposed speeches of Margaret’s due to Cecil’s report after Forbes (and several other of Margaret’s servants) had been arrested in the spring of 1562. This does not preclude Robert Dudley employing other spies in other households at other times, but there is zero evidence that he ever employed William Forbes.

Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, a possible claimant to the English throne

Although the Forbes the spy story has gained wide acceptance, the real Forbes was just a man under arrest who talked about what Margaret had allegedly been doing and saying over the last few years:

That he has heard in all the house that the Countess [i.e. Margaret] is next the crown; that he has heard her say that Queen Elizabeth was a bastard, and that God would send her [Margaret] her right one day. …

That she suffered a fool to rail on the Queen and my Lord Robert, and that he [Forbes] has “heard her rail upon my Lord Robert and his blood, calling them traitor’s birds, and that he caused kill his wife, with mo[re] odious words nor I will rehearse; and said to Hew [Hugh] Allen she was informed from a man of good worship that he was lying sick in the pokkes.” …

That she gave thanks for the preservation of the Scottish Queen [Mary Stuart] from Queen Elizabeth. “And finally, I know she loveth neither God nor the Queen, nor yet your Honour.”1

Notes:
1 Calendar of State Papers Foreign: Elizabeth, Volume 5, no. 34

Books saying William Forbes was a spy:
Caroline Bingham: Darnley: A Life of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Consort of Mary Queen of Scots. Constable, 1995.
Mary McGrigor: The Other Tudor Princess: Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII’s Niece. The History Press, 2015.
Alison Weir: The Lost Tudor Princess: A Life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox. Jonathan Cape, 2015.

Books that don’t say Forbes was a spy:
Leanda de Lisle: Tudor: The Family Story. Chatto & Windus, 2013.
Morgan Ring: So High a Blood: The Life of Margaret, Countess of Lennox. Bloomsbury, 2017.

Posted in Elizabeth I, errors & myths, Robert Dudley, sources & historians, strange facts from popular books | Tagged , ,

Robert Dudley’s Noble Ancestors

According to the book Leicester’s Commonwealth (written in about 1584 by angry Catholic exiles), Robert Dudley had “but two ancestors”. Those being his father, John Dudley, and his grandfather, Edmund Dudley. John Dudley in turn became Viscount Lisle, Earl of Warwick, and Duke of Northumberland, while Edmund Dudley functioned among other things as Speaker of the House of Commons and tax collector of Henry VII. So far, so good, but Robert Dudley’s great-grandfather was supposed to have been a mere carpenter, according to the same book.

John Dudley of Atherington, father of Edmund, was not a carpenter but a country gentleman. He was a younger son of the major baron, John Dudley, or Sutton, of Dudley castle, the first Lord Dudley to be summoned to parliament as a peer of England in 1440. The Suttons of Dudley castle were a family of magnates going back at least four generations before they were summoned to parliament, and, fittingly, John Sutton the first baron was also the first to call himself Dudley instead of Sutton. Born on Christmas Day 1400 and living to the ripe age of 87, he served a handful of monarchs during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses, finding himself always on the winning side. He also served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland between 1428 and 1430.

The ruins of Dudley Castle, ancient seat of the Suttons or Dudleys. Photo by Trevmann99

One of the four sons of John Sutton alias Dudley was William Dudley, Bishop of Durham from 1476–1483. The first baron was succeeded by his grandson, Edmund, second Lord Dudley and son of Sir Edmund Dudley. John Dudley of Atherington (the supposed carpenter) was thus the uncle of the new baron, while his son Edmund was the latter’s first cousin. Edmund was to be Robert Dudley’s grandfather.

Robert’s most illustrious ancestors, however, derived from his paternal grandmother, Edmund’s second wife, Elizabeth Grey. She was the daughter of Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Lisle, who had been created a viscount because of his wife, Elizabeth Talbot. Elizabeth Talbot was the daughter and eventual heiress of John Talbot, 1st Viscount Lisle (1423–1453), the first son of the famous John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, by his second wife, Margaret Beauchamp. Margaret happened to be heiress to the Lisle barony via her great-great-grandfather Gerard de Lisle (d.1360). She was also directly descended from King Edward I. Thus, Robert Dudley was among the many courtiers of the Tudor court who could count this king among their ancestors.

Margaret Beauchamp was above all the eldest daughter of Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick, and his first wife, Elizabeth de Berkely (daughter of Thomas, 5th Lord Berkely). Robert Dudley, when Earl of Leicester, was to pick a seemingly endless quarrel with his relatives the barons of Berkely about disputed landholdings. In the end he prevailed, but only because Queen Elizabeth decided in his favour.

Margaret Beauchamp’s father, the 13th Earl of Warwick, is chiefly known as governor of the young person of King Henry VI and, of course, for his beautiful funeral monument in the Beauchamp Chapel of St. Mary’s Church, Warwick. This chapel was also to become the final resting place of Robert Dudley, his little son Lord Denbigh, his wife Lettice (née Knollys), and his brother Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick. According to his will, Robert wished to be buried “where sundry of my ancestors do lie”.

Robert Dudley’s reconstructed gardens at Kenilworth Castle: The bear and ragged staff, the heraldic symbols of the ancient earls of Warwick which Robert also adopted. Photo by Richard Croft CC BY-SA 2.0.

The ancient earldom of Warwick obviously mattered a lot. John Dudley received it in 1547 and took as his arms the bear and ragged staff. His sons, Ambrose and Robert, continued to use these heraldic symbols under Elizabeth I, having been created earls of Warwick and Leicester, respectively.

On 12 March 1542, King Henry VIII created Robert’s father, John Dudley, Viscount Lisle – “in right of his mother”. The previous holder of the title, the king’s illegitimate half-uncle Arthur Plantagenet, had died nine days before. Arthur Plantagenet had become Viscount Lisle in recognition of his marriage to John Dudley’s mother (Elizabeth Grey), who herself had become Baroness Lisle in her own right after the deaths of her brother (John Grey, 2nd Viscount Lisle, 1481–1504) and her niece (another Elizabeth Grey, Baroness Lisle and temporary fiancée and ward of Charles Brandon, later Duke of Suffolk).

Robert Dudley also had noble ancestors through his mother, Jane Guildford. Her mother was Eleanor West, daughter of Thomas West, 8th Lord De La Warre and 5th Lord West. The barons West and De La Warre went back to the 13th century, being first summoned to parliament in the early 14th century. A descendant of the 8th Lord (Robert Dudley’s great-grandfather) was Thomas West, 12th Lord De La Warre, who married Anne Knollys, Lettice Knollys’ sister, and acted as governor of Virginia from 1610–1618. He gave his name to the U.S. State of Delaware.

Posted in Edmund Dudley, errors & myths, family & marriage, Jane Dudley, John Dudley, Robert Dudley | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Much Did Lettice Knollys Resemble Queen Elizabeth I?

It is often said that Lettice Knollys, Robert Dudley’s second wife, bore a remarkable resemblance to her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I. Because Robert Dudley risked his favoured position with Elizabeth when he married Lettice, biographers have sometimes assumed that he felt attracted to Lettice chiefly because she was a younger version of the queen.

The only contemporary description of Lettice, contained in a report by the Spanish ambassador, Diego Guzmán de Silva, says that she was “one of the best-looking ladies of the court and daughter of a first cousin to the Queen, with whom she is a favourite.”1 There is no word of her supposed resemblance to Elizabeth. The only way to ascertain how much Lettice looked like her royal cousin is to compare their portraits. We have only a few, perhaps only one, authentic portrait of Lettice, while Elizabeth’s portraits, ubiquitous in her time, are mostly copies made after a handful of original paintings. Still, a comparison leaves much doubt whether they looked like one another at all.

Queen Elizabeth, in the early years of her reign

Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1576-1578

Elizabeth I by Quentin Massys, c.1583

Elizabeth I c.1585-90

Elizabeth I holding an olive branch, c.1585-90

Elizabeth I in parliament robes, c.1595

As cousins (Elizabeth was Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Lettice Anne Boleyn’s grandniece) they might well have shared a family resemblance, but judging from the portraits this seems not to have been overwhelming. It is also often claimed that both Lettice and Elizabeth were red-heads. In the case of the queen this seems to be true, and she would naturally have set the fashion for many other ladies of the court (her black teeth certainly did). It is therefore likely that the not very natural-looking red hair of Lettice’s principal portrait was the result of dyeing or even a wig. Elizabeth apparently wore a wig after loosing all her hair through smallpox in 1562.

Lettice, Countess of Leicester, by George Gower, c.1585

Possible portrait of Lettice Knollys by Nicholas Hilliard, c.1578, the year she married Robert Dudley

Assumed portrait of Lettice Knollys, by Nicholas Hilliard, 1590s

 

Notes
1 Calendar of … State Papers Relating to English Affairs … in … Simancas, 1558–1603. I p. 472

Posted in Elizabeth I, errors & myths, Lettice Knollys, paintings | 4 Comments

Lady Jane Grey TV Series

England’s Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey, a new TV documentary in three parts, will air on 9, 10, and 11 January on BBC Four. The programme is presented by historian Helen Castor, and a handful or so of other experts will appear on the programme, too: I hear that John Guy, Leanda de Lisle, J. Stephan Edwards, James Sharpe, and Anna Whitelock will be there. I will be thrilled to watch this at some point as I was also consulted during the production process, concerning John Dudley. It will be great to see whether any of this went into the story. As I can’t watch BBC Four, I may have to wait for the DVD …

Official website “England’s Forgotten Queen”

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Interview (No. 3)

I am happy to say that I was invited by the wonderful Diana Milne to be her guest at The Review Blog.
Please go here …

Posted in Elizabeth I, my book

Amy Robsart at The Tudor Society

I am happy to say that I have been invited to write a little blogpost on Amy Robsart for The Tudor Society: Please go here!

Posted in Amy Robsart, my book