The Woes of Wardship

My very good Lord,

I have sent you the note the Queen’s Majesty talked with you of at Hatfield, which I could not come by before I came hither to Tudington, for that my coffers were gone thither with some of my stuff. Your Lordship will better conceive of the matter than I can, and may have conference with such as are able to inform you the ways to further such a plot.

We do not know what the plot (or plan) was to which Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was alluding to William Cecil, Lord Burghley when he sent him the required note on 16 June 1575 from Toddington, Gloucestershire. The earl must have been busy preparing Queen Elizabeth’s visit to his magnificently refurbished castle of Kenilworth, where the party of the century was to be staged only a fortnight later. On his mind there was an entirely different matter, the problems of his ward Richard Verney, the orphaned grandson of Sir Richard Verney, a devoted retainer of the Dudleys, who – some enemies claimed – had killed Amy, Lord Robert’s wife, in 1560. Had this been the case, the elder Richard Verney would hardly have died in his bed, in the late 1560s, and it is inconceivable that Robert Dudley should have kept friendship with him and cared so much for his family’s well-being.

Two letters concerning the case from Leicester to Burghley, all-powerful Master of the Wards, survive. The earl had applied for the wardship of young Verney which, in the words of a Victorian authority, “would give him the profits of the lands till the heir should reach the age of twenty-one. It was an arrangement which, at the same time, would be accounted a favor shown to the heir, as taking him out of the hands of the officers of the Crown and leaving him in the care of a friend of his late father.”1

Cecil and Dudley were also old friends, and very regular correspondents, yet still the earl’s letters in this affair have a supplicative air about them, partly because the matter required some urgency due to the time of year; but they also highlight the workings of the system:

My very good Lord,

I have thought good to let you understand, that where of late I sent unto your Lordship, my solicitor, Nutthall, touching the lands of young Varney, by reason there is hitherto no order taken, nor any man appointed for the looking thereunto, both the lands and the house go to much rack, and if speedy remedy be not provided, it cannot but greatly turn to the loss and harm of the child. The meadows stand yet undealt withal, whereby the hay of the ground is like to be utterly spoiled, for want of some that should look to the inning of it. And I, for my part, albeit divers have called upon me (for that your Lordship granted unto me the wardship of the child), to take some order in it, yet have forborne still to do anything, expecting some direction from your Lordship. And now very lately I understand by Sir Thomas Lucy, there be divers that offer to make entries upon the land by virtue of statutes and other foolish bonds made by his father in his lifetime; wherein your Lordship is to take some speedy order, otherwise it cannot but turn to the child’s undoing, or extreme prejudice, at the least.

But not perceiving any man appointed, neither yet any of his friends very willing to meddle with the land, considering how foolishly the late father hath left the whole encumbered, I have thought good for the young child’s sake to put your Lordship in remembrance, that the matter, in time for his more benefit hereafter, may be looked into presently, which if your Lordship cannot find any that will carefully deal for him, I will myself take what charge thereof you will require or appoint, upon the survey of such as your Lordship shall assign for it, which for the poor child’s sake, I pray your Lordship may be in as convenient time as the cause requireth, for all goeth almost to spoil. And so I wish your Lordship right heartily to fare well.

From Woodstock this 30th of July, 1574.

Your Lordship’s most assured,
R. Leicester

Notwithstanding the efforts of Sir Thomas Lucy, Richard Verney’s uncle on his mother’s side and a man knighted by Robert Dudley and chiefly known to us for allegedly imprisoning a youth called William Shakespeare for poaching, there was still no progress made about the Verney estate almost a year later, a fact that tells us something about Elizabethan administration. So, on 16 June 1575, Leicester continued his letter from Toddington:

I have one other matter to request your Lordship’s order for, before the term ends; it is for young Varney, whom your Lordship, I thank you, did grant unto me, and I assure your Lordship I desired him only for the good of that house, knowing that he was likely to receive else much harm, and as I was desirous and willing to make offer of his marriage to your Lordship for one of Mr. Cave’s daughters, your nieces, before any other, so am I still desirous that match should take place, as well for the good worship of the house as chiefly the alliance with your Lordship, by whose means he may receive his greatest benefit, and because your Lordship shall perceive my meaning was wholly for the young child’s benefit to have him, even as I offered his match in marriage with your Lordship, hereafter if God give liking between the parties, so did I as freely offer all other things that were to be looked unto of his to Sir Thomas Lucy, his uncle, who I know hath loved the father and grandfather, and would willingly further this, yet upon perusing the state of things as they stand, would by no means deal with them, neither take the charge of them.

I offered likewise to any other of his nearest kin the same with all commodities that they would make or that I could procure, at your Lordship’s hands, for them, also that his house and other things might be well-governed and preserved for the young man. There was none would meddle with them, and I protest to God (my Lord) they should have had all, and even as I had it from your Lordship, which indeed I thought could not be but some commodity to such as should have it at such reasonable rates as you use to let such things. Yet in the end all his own friends refusing, as I tell your Lordship, to deal with it, I was driven to desire and entreat Sir John Hibbotts to take it in hand, always foreseeing he should not hinder himself, or be a loser; whereupon, at my request, he hath so done, and we have had such a business with the mother of the young boy as I assure your Lordship she wearied us all, and without your lordship sets your favourable help hereafter, as occasion shall serve justly, the boy shall scant, while he lives, be able to keep the countenance of a mere gentleman, and yet is his living worth together well a thousand marks a year.

But his father, the unthrift, that your Lordship and I had so much to do withal, hath made such bargains and leases, and in debt 2000 when he died, whereby except the young boy find good friends, when he comes to man’s estate, he shall have all his lands subject to bonds and forfeitures, wherefore Sir John, being very careful to preserve all, as much as may be possible, I think will, at your coming to Kenilworth, confer with your Lordship how some order may be taken, whereby some of his debts may in this time be paid, and so the child less burdened hereafter, and also Sir John hath great care in bringing him up, and so have I chiefly, till he be a little bigger to go to some other place to get more knowledge; and as hitherto he hath had no allowance for him, so my request to your Lordship is that you will appoint him some reasonable portion, which I dare undertake at the least shall be employed toward him every way.

And, according to my promise to your Lordship, as soon as he cometh to years that you shall think good to have him dealt with for the matter of Mr. Cave’s daughter, he shall be, God willing, only kept for it, and as you shall think of him then meet for such a one so shall find all his friends, at least the chief, to deal in it as I know already they are most willing and desirous should take place. And I wish he may prove one that your Lordship may like so to bestow him, and then your Lordship shall have him even as I had him of you. Thus desiring your Lordship that this bearer, Clark, Sir John Hibbott’s solicitor, may attend you to receive your pleasure herein, I will for this time commit you to God, and bid your Lordship most heartily farewell.

Your Lordship’s assured friend,
R. Leicester

Uncharacteristically for the system, this wardship brought with it only costs for the guardian, but at least Leicester’s commitment maintained the estate in good order. And young Richard Verney made a good match: Though he did not marry any of Lord Burghley’s nieces, he married Margaret, sister and heiress of Fulke Greville, 1st Lord Brooke, the friend and biographer of Sir Philip Sidney.2

See also:
Sir Richard Verney – Amy Dudley’s Killer?

1 Adlard 1870 p. 93
2 Adlard 1870 p. 89

Adlard, George (1870): Amye Robsart and the Earl of Leycester. John Russell Smith.

Schoenbaum, Samuel (1987): William Shakespeare: A Compact Documentary Life. Oxford University Press.

About Christine Hartweg

Hi, I'm the author of "Amy Robsart: A Life and Its End" and "John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey's Father-in-Law". I blog at
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