Lady Arbella Stuart

On January 21st 1582 Walshingham receives a letter from George, Earl of ShrewsburyStuart,Arabella00 where he asks Walshingham to inform the Queen of the death of his daughter – Elizabeth Cavendish, Countess of Lenox – and that she “commend to her royal favor her infant and orphan daughter” and that the little girl now was destitute and her grandmother “taketh her daughter’s death so grievously, and so mourneth and lamenteth, that she cannot think of aught but tears”

The grandmother in question was the Countess of Shrewsbury, known to history primarily as Bess of Hardwick, and the young girl who now lacked both her parents was Arbella Stuart, second cousin to the Queen and cousin of James IV of Scotland, later also to become James I of England.

Bess_of_Hardwick_as_Mistress_St_LoHer grandmother would be prepared to fight for what she believed was Arbella´s rights, and on the 28th that same month she turned to Walshingham asking him to solicit for the same portion (pension) that had been previously been granted her daughter, to secure the young girl´s education and training in good virtues. It seems her request goes unheard this first time around, because she returns in May that same year, again making that same request, stating that the young girl´s mother on her sickbed….

Arbella was 7 years at the time, and instead of becoming a ward of the crown which was the usual for heiresses, she would stay with her grandmother at Hardwick Hall, from where she seems to have gone for occasional visits to court during the years to follow. She would eventually fall out with her grandmother whose ambition to see Arbella on the throne was greater than those of Arbella herself.

Arbella did get her education through tutors, and 10 years after the death of her Portrait_of_Christopher_Marlowemother, her grandmother Bess writes to Lord Burghley, William Cecil, of one of her grand-daughters attendants, a Morley who “hath attended on Arbell & red to hyr for the space of thre yere & a half”. The fact that he had read to her, and a later reference to him studying at the university, has led some – among others the author Charles Nicholl – to believe that Morley was the playwright Christopher Marlowe who at times has his name spelt in that way.

The Countess of Shrewsbury goes on to explain that the man in question apparently has been waiting to receive some kind of annuity from Arbella as his work there had been damaging to his university studies, and that he due to this, and due to the fact that the formidable Bess finds him suspicious, not least because of his “forwardness in religion (though I can not charge him with papistry)” she took the opportunity to fire him.

While this post really isn´t about Christopher Marlowe, it is highly interesting that Bess of Hardwick still seems to have found *something* catholic about this man, as Christopher Marlowe would at one point be suspected for being catholic.

But back to Arbella; as a great-grandchild of Henry VII through his daughter Margaret Tudor in her second marriage to Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, she had a claim to the throne – which she herself didn´t seem much interested in pursuing – and for a while she was considered as a successor to the childless Elizabeth I who was drawing towards the end of her reign and life, but it seems that from the beginning of the 1590´s, the Cecil´s preferred her cousin, James IV of Scotland (Arbella´s father had been the brother of Lord Darnley, murdered husband of Mary Queen of Scots).

George_Brooke,_9th_Baron_Cobham,_after_Hans_Holbein_the_YoungerArbella´s own seeming disinterest in the throne, and the fact that another successor was in the end chosen, did not prevent others from wanting to see her on the throne. In 1603, after the death of Elizabeth I, she allegedly was the focus point in The Main Plot in 1603. The plot is thought to have been funded by Spain, and led by Henry Brook, Lord Cobham and was only discovered during investigation into the Bye Plot – a plot striving to force the implementation of religious tolerance and headed by Lord Cobham´s brother George Brooke.

The members of both conspiracies where tried together, and one of the accused wasSir_Walter_Raleigh_oval_portrait_by_Nicholas_Hilliard Sir Walter Raleigh, at the time governor of Jersey. It was alleged that the money provided by Spain would be brought here and divided between Lord Cobham and Raleigh to be used in the plot as they saw necessary. It has on one side been suggested that it´s utterly ridiculous that Raleigh, who had fought Spain during the reign of Elizabeth, not least during the defeat of the Spanish Armada, would all of a sudden turn on England in this fashion and during many years Raleigh´s involvement in the plot was considered marginal* at most, but it did send him to the Tower for the next 13 years.

Arbella herself had early on reported the invitation to join the plot to her cousin the King.

Throughout her childhood, possible marriage candidates had been discussed, and among those suggested or interested in securing her hand was Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford (a potential match infuriated the Earl´s father), Ludovic Stuart, 2nd Duke of Lennox as well as the king of Poland, Sigismund III Vasa, son of the Swedish King John III.

2ndDukeOfSomersetWhen she did eventually marry, it was after a betrothal entered in secret. In 1610, news reached the king that Arbella was planning to marry the 13 years younger William Seymour, Lord Beauchamp. This worried the King, as Arbella was fourth in line for the throne and William – being the grandson of Lady Katherine Grey and therefore descendant of Henry VII through Mary Tudor (with Charles Brandon) – sixth in line and it´s no wonder if he thought this was a prelude to an attempt at taking the throne.

Both of them however denied that any agreement existed between them, which was clearly a lie as they got married in secret on June 22nd 1610 at Greenwich Palace. This led to their arrest once the king had found out, and Arbella was kept at Sir Thomas Perry´s house at Lambeth while Seymour was brought to the Tower.

Like her grandmother, Arbella wrote letters that has survived, some of them from this period, and sometime after her arrest, Lady_Arbella_Stuartmost likely from Lambeth, she petitioned the King, asking for his forgiveness;

“May it please your most excellent Majesty

To regard with the eyes of your royal and gracious heart, the unfortunate estate, your Majesty´s handmaid, who, knowing your Majesty´s gracious favour to her to be the greatest honour, comfort and felicity that this world can afford, doth now feel any part of the contrary to be the most grievous affliction to her that can be imagined. Whereinsoever your Majesty will say I have offended I will not contest but in all humility prostrate myself at your Majesty´s feet; only I do most humbly on my knees beseech your Majesty to believe that that thought never yet entered to my heart to do anything that might justly deserve any part of your indignation……”

 However, Arbella did not only write numerous letters and petitions to the King, she did also write to her husband, and when this came to the King´s attention, he arranged for her to be moved from Lambeth into the care of the Bishop of Durham. The move was delayed due to Arbella claiming to be sick, and during this delay she and her husband attempted to escape.

The plan was to meet up at Lee in Kent, there to get on a ship heading for France. Arbella was during her escape dressed as a man to avoid detection, and it has been suggested that Shakespeare based the character of Imogen in Cymberline on Arbella. Lady_Arabella_Stuart (1)When she arrived her husband was nowhere to be found, while he had managed to get out of the Tower, he arrived too late and the two boarded different ships.

Arbella´s ship was intercepted by the King´s men just as it was about to reach Calais, and she was brought to the Tower.

Arbella would never see her husband – who would go on to be a commander during the Civil War – again or even leave the Tower.

On September 25th 1615 Arabella Stuart died from illness and malnutrition due to refusing to eat, at the age of 40.

 

Sources:

Calendar of State Papers Domestic of Elizabeth I, 1581 – 1590

Bessofhardwick.org – collected letters of the Countess of Shrewsbury

Life of Lady Arabella Stuart, Volume 1 + 2 – Mrs A. Murray Smith

Lexscripta.com

The Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart – Sarah Jayne Steen

 

*History changes as new evidence is put forward and the view on Raleigh´s part has somewhat changed, but that is clearly for another post.

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Sir Francis Walshingham – Spymaster

“There is less danger in fearing too much than too little.”

Just as her father had had men he depended on, Elizabeth had people around her that800px-Sir_Francis_Walsingham_by_John_De_Critz_the_Elder played a significant rule during her reign, but while men like Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell had worked their way up from quite humble origins, Francis Walshingham was born in a well-connected gentry family, presumably living in Chislehurst, Kent.

His father, William Walshingham, had in his capacity as a successful lawyer served as a member of a commission to investigate the estates of Thomas Wolsey in 1530 and his uncle Edmund Walshingham, knighted after the Battle of Flodden, was in attendance of Henry VIII at the Field of Cloth of Gold as well as Lieutenant of the Tower from early 1520´s until Henry´s death in 1547.

William Walshingham died in 1534 when Francis was only two years old – here it may be appropriate to mention, in the event someone has watched the Cate Blanchett film about Elizabeth I where Walsingham is portrayed as a man significantly older than Elizabeth, that he was in reality just one year older than his Queen – and four years after William´s passing his mother Joyce remarried to the courtier Sir John Carey, brother of William Carey in his turn married to Mary Boleyn, sister of the, by then, executed Queen Anne Boleyn.

In 1548 Walshingham enrolled in King´s College at the university of Cambridge, the college known for being ardently protestant and reformist, and only four years later he was admitted to Gray´s Inn in London where he embarked on his studies in law.

Maria_Tudor1During Walshingham´s second year at Grey´s Inn, the young king Edward VI died, which eventually – after the interlude if the Nine Days Queen, Jane Grey – led to the zealous catholic Mary taking the throne. Just as many other protestants, Walshingham – not without reason as would be obvious – saw fit to leave the country. During his five years in exile, he studied civil law in Padua and would during that time become fluent in both Italian and French.

He returned to England when Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1558, and with the support of Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford, one of his companions in exile, he was elected as a member of Elizabeth´s first parliament, representing Bossiney in Cornwall. In a re-election in 1563, he was returned for two different constituencies, Lyme Regis in Dorset, which was also under the influence of Bedford, and Banbury in Oxfordshire. Walshingham however chose to sit for Lyme Regis. To be a member of parliament was not something which appealed to Walshingham though, and it seems, even though he remained a member of parliament for the rest of his life, it was something he dealt with rather half-heartedly.

Already in the late 1560´s Walshingham was involved in gathering support for the Huguenots who were severely persecuted in France, and at this time the so called Wars of Religion were raging in France, primarily fought between Catholics and Huguenots. Walshingham himself would also be the eyewitness of something that no doubt further influenced his views on Catholics.

In 1568-69, he joined the service of William Cecil, chief advisor, secretary of state andWilliam_Cecil,_1st_Baron_Burghley_from_NPG_(2) finally Lord High Treasurer of Elizabeth I. Walshingham´s assignment was to counter plots against the Queen, and no doubt it was now he started to build up the intricate networks of spies for which he has come to be known. The first plot he managed to defuse was the Ridolfi plot, named after the instigator Roberto di Ridolfi, in 1571 which aimed to have Elizabeth I murdered and replaced with Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary had been placed in house arrest in 1568, and a part of the plot was to have her married to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and cousin of Elizabeth. Norfolk was subsequently executed, as would Mary be eventually, but Ridolfi would live on until 1612. Walshingham is also credited with being the one who anonymously wrote a pamphlet decrying the marriage plans between Mary and Norfolk.

But before this, Walshingham had in 1570 been appointed ambassador to France, where one of his missions was to negotiate a marriage between Elizabeth and the Duke of Anjou, an “adventure” where he fully got to suffer the classical ambiguousness of Elizabeth, where she – in relation to proposed marriages – gave the impression of being very eager only to stall and stall until it came to nothing. Walshingham himself was very much against an alliance with France, much due to the persecutions of Protestants, and beginning the night between the 23rd and 24th of August 1572 and continuing for weeks, he himself got to see it in all its horror.

Francois_Dubois_001In the week leading up to the event, religious tension had been running high in Paris due to the marriage between the Catholic king Charles IX sister Margaret to the Protestant king Henry III of Navarre, and on the 22nd an assassination attempt was carried out against the Huguenot leader Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. The attempt failed, just severing a finger on the admiral, and his would-be murderer got away. This agitated the Catholics of the city who feared retaliation, and on the night of St Bartholomew´s Day, a massacre of French Protestants started which made the Seine run red with blood. Apart from Admiral Coligny finally being murdered, it is believed that between 5 000 and 30 000 people lost their lives in the following weeks as the violence spread to towns and villages outside Paris.

In Paris, Walshingham´s home became a sanctuary for terrified Protestants. His wife Ursula managed to escape back to England with their four-year-old daughter, and shortly thereafter gave birth to a second daughter but Walshingham stayed on in France until April 1573. In December that same year he was appointed to the Privy Council as well as made principal secretary alongside Thomas Smith who retired in 1576, with Francis Walshingham becoming the keeper of the privy seal, although he was never formally invested. He was knighted in 1577.

It is of course impossible to write about Walshingham without getting into more detail about his work as the “spymaster” in service of Elizabeth I. It has been suggested that Francis Walshingham practically invented espionage, but that isn´t quite true, there had been spies before him, but he managed the task masterfully. Among his achievements was the downfall of Mary, Queen of Scots, who thought she in secret communicated with her supporters, but due to Walshingham, together with people working for him, having developed a technique which allowed them to open letters without breaking the seal, as well as employing people capable of deciphering them, every letter she sent and received was read by the spymaster and his co-workers, thus exposing the Babington plot in 1586 which aimed not only to, again, murder the Queen and replace her with Mary, but also to facilitate a Spanish invasion of England.

The whole process started after Walshingham and Cecil realising that the isolation Mary-cipher-codeMary had been subjected to after a previous plot also meant that they had no means of discovering future plots to bring Mary to the throne, and she was once again allowed to communicate with her friends. The scheme to expose Mary involved Gilbert Gifford, originally part of the plot himself, but after having been arrested by Walshingham, he had agreed to act as double agent.

The letters were deciphered by Thomas Phelippes, a forger and intelligence gatherer in the employ of Walshingham who at the time was housed under the same roof, Chartley Hall, as Mary herself. When he had intercepted and deciphered the letter that finally, beyond any doubt, proved Mary´s involvement in the plot, he allegedly drew a gallows on the envelope before passing it on to Walshingham. It did indeed end in the execution of Mary within a week after the final evidence had been revealed.

Francis Walshingham was also instrumental in the preparations that greatly helped to secure the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

From the time of the discovery of the Babington Plot in 1586, Walshingham received a large number of dispatches from his agents on the continent regarding a planned Spanish attack on England and worked tirelessly to prepare England for war with Spain, and was among other things behind the rebuilding of the harbour at Dover as well as supporting Francis Drakes attack on Cadiz which left the Spanish fleet in bits and pieces in 1587. An invaluable asset in gathering intelligence was Anthony Standen who was a friend of the Tuscan ambassador in Madrid, and of course on Walshingham´s pay role.

loutherbourg-spanish_armadaThe Spanish Armada left Spain for England in July 1588, and on August 8th it was not much left of it then a memory. After the naval battle, the naval commander Lord Henry Seymour praised Walshingham for having “fought more with your pen than many in our English navy fought with their enemies”

One of the people believed by some to have been one of the spies in service of Francis Walshingham is the playwright Christopher Marlowe, for whom the court stood up when he was accused of travelling to France to study at a priest seminar, but there is no conclusive evidence of this, which maybe is only to be expected in the world of spies. The theory is however that Marlowe during his time in France acted as an agent for Walshingham, which would explain the royal intervention when he was accused. What can however most likely be dismissed as nothing but fantasies is the idea that Walshingham should have been behind the murder of Marlowe, not least since Walshingham himself had been dead for three years at the time of the murder.

As mentioned earlier, Walshingham was not the first to employ spies, but what has 500px-Queen_Elizabeth_I;_Sir_Francis_Walsingham;_William_Cecil,_1st_Baron_Burghley_by_William_Faithorne_(2)made him stand out was how wide his network was, with men in his service in England, Scotland, France, Spain, Italy, the Low Countries, North Africa and Turkey. He planted agents in groups of Catholic exiles in Europe and managed to employ skilful co-workers.

Francis Walshingham died on April 6th 1590 at the age of 58. He was married twice, to Anne Barne and Ursula St Barbe and fathered two daughters in his last marriage of whom the youngest died at 7 years of age. His surviving daughter, Frances, married three times, to Sir Philip Sidney (dead as a result of a wound sustained in the battle of Zutphen in 1586) , Robert Devereux , 2nd Earl of Essex (executed for treason in 1601) and Richard Burke, 4th Earl of Clanricarde.

At the time of his death, Sir Francis Walshingham was heavily in debt, partly because he funded much of his intelligence work out of his own pocket, but also because he took over the debts of his son in-law Philip Sidney after his death.

He was buried at St Paul´s Cathedral but his grave was destroyed in the great fire of 1666. He is mention on a plaque at the cathedral as one of those once buried there.

 

 

Sources:

Encyclopaedia Britannica/Stephen Budiansky

Her Majesty´s Spymaster – Stephen Budiansky

Walshingham and Burghley in Queen Elizabeth´s Privy Council – Conyers Read/The English Historical Review.

Elizabeth I, Queen of England – Neville Williams

The Queen’s Agent: Francis Walsingham at the Court of Elizabeth I – John Cooper

Sir Francis Walshingham, painting – John de Critz the Elder

Mary I, painting – Antonis Mor

William Cecil, painting – unknown, attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

St Bartholomew´s Night Massacre, painting – Francois Dubois

Actual deciphering code of Francis Walshingham, used to decipher the letters of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Defeat of the Spanish Armada,  painting – Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg

 

 

 

Amy Robsart

Amy Dudley, more known to history as Amy Robsart, was married to Robert Dudley,3210e40c1ca465f6dba916c89c2f6369 Earl of Leicester and favourite of Elizabeth I.

While she without a doubt had qualities of her own, her name has primarily been remembered due to the fact that she on this day was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in her temporary home at Cumnor Place in Oxfordshire.

On this day she had sent her staff away to the market and was alone in the house. There was an inquest into her death, and her husband, who was highly ambitious and assumed to have harboured wishes to marry the Queen was widely suspected of having orchestrated her wives death.

While he was to remain in the favour of Elizabeth I, any ideas of one day being Queen consort or even king, was effectively thwarted.

The theories around Amy´s death has been many over the centuries, and due to her apparently being of bad health and “suffering from a malady in her breast”, it has been assumed that she may have suffered from breast cancer and due to this chose to end her own life. If she indeed had cancer, she could also have suffered from a weak skeleton and her broken neck may in that case have been the tragic result from her slipping on the stairs. Her autopsy was found in 2008, and the result of that does not rule out suicide or murder.

Sources:

Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart – Chris Skidmore.

 The life of Elizabeth I – Alison Weir

 

The formidable Bess of Hardwick

Bess_of_Hardwick_as_Mistress_St_LoIt is often noted, and not without reason, that history mainly belong to the men in it. But there are a number of strong and impressive women who to a large extent shaped their own destiny, and one of those was without a doubt Elizabeth Talbot, known to history as Bess of Hardwick, which is what she will be called in this post.

Her exact birthdate is not known, and suggestions are made with in the wide range of 1521 to the last part of 1527, the latter more commonly accepted. She was the daughter of John Hardwick of Derbyshire and his wife Elizabeth Leeke who belonged to the minor gentry. Not much is known in detail about Bess’ early years, but she had four sisters of which one would later die at quite a young age, and a brother who would be heir to the family’s holdings when her father passed away around the age of 40.

It has been suggested that Bess at the age of 12 got to know both London and the Tudor court through the influence of Anne Gainsford, Lady Zouche, who was lady-in-waiting of Anne Boleyn (and the one who introduced Anne B to the writings of William Tyndale), but there is no contemporary evidence to back this up.

What is clear though is that Bess, like so many other girls of her time, married very early, at “a tender age” which suggests she was younger than 16 and her first husband was the 13 year old Robert Barley. This marriage didn´t last long, due to Robert dying just a year or two later, and there is no evidence that they ever lived together as husband and wife. After his death Bess was denied her dower, which resulted in a court battle which lasted for years, but eventually was won by Bess.

By the time it was won she was already remarried, this time to the twice-widowed 593px-William_Cavendish_c1547William Cavendish, who had two daughters and was appointed Treasurer of the King´s Chamber. This marriage took place on August 20th 1547, the very last year of Henry VIII´s life. It would only last 10 years, as William Cavendish died in 1557, but the marriage resulted in eight children of which six survived. The death of Cavendish however left Bess heavily indebted to the Crown.

As the prospects for an unmarried woman was next to none in 16th century society, Bess remarried a second time in 1559 to her third husband, this time to William St Loe, making her Lady St Loe. By this time Elizabeth was on the throne, and William St Loe was captain of the Queen´s guards as well as Chief Butler of England, an appointment which basically included what the title suggests, but primarily at coronation banquets.  He held large estates in Somerset and Gloucestershire, and when he after only around six years of marriage died, something that seems to have been due to poisoning, the lack of male heirs (he had two daughters) made his worldly goods pass on to his widow Bess.

While the previous husband had left Bess in financial difficulties, William St Loe did the exact opposite, and made Lady St Loe one of the absolutely wealthiest women in the country with an annual income of £60 000, a sum which today would equal £ 16,8 million. To that should be added that she was also a Lady of the Bedchamber which gave her close and daily contact with Elizabeth I, something which undoubtedly gave her a certain amount of influence, and there is no wild guess to think that that in combination with her fortune and good looks was what made prospective husbands flock around her.

Maybe it was the knowledge that she was financially secure in her own right that kept her from rushing into a fourth marriage, as it took around three years, maybe slightly more, for her to remarry.

800px-George_Talbot_6th_Earl_of_Shrewsbury_1580Her last husband was George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, and before going into his life with Bess -or rather, her life with him – I just as a curiosity feel the need to mention that there a couple of generations back in his family tree is to be found a certain Eleanor Talbot, later Butler, who is no other than the female party in the alleged and oh so discussed pre-contract with Edward IV. But that´s all that will be said in regards to that matter in this post.

It´s maybe not easy to say who benefited most from what, but clear is that both Bess and George saw advantages in really tying their families together, because not only did the two get married, Bess 12 year old daughter Mary Cavendish was married to George´s 16 year old son Gilbert, while George´s 8 year old daughter Grace was married to Bess´s 18 year old son Henry Cavendish in a double ceremony.

Whether these two unions was to be happier than that of their parents I cannot say, but fact is that Bess and her husband George Talbot would eventually have a falling out, allegedly fuelled by no other than Mary Queen of Scots. When the Scottish queen had been driven into exile by her disgruntled lords and sought out the protection of her cousin Elizabeth I, we all know what happened, she ended up in an 18 yearlong house arrest, which for the greater part, 15 years, took place in the home of Bess of Hardwick and her husband.

It seems the Mary and Bess must have found some kind of friendship bond, andoxburgh together they spend hours at needlework, something they were both proficient at. The result is now known as the Oxburgh Hangings and can be found at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bess´s tapestries marked by the initials BS, and part of Mary´s other embroideries were to become part of Bess´s extensive collection which can now be seen at Hardwick Hall. But there were downsides to the arrangement as well, Mary seems to have played out the Talbots against each other, with the result that Bess started rumours of her husband having an affair with the deposed queen. The marriage was falling apart, and even Elizabeth herself tried to act as a kind of marriage counsellor, but to no avail.

Hardwick_Hall_in_Doe_Lea_-_DerbyshireGeorge Talbot died in 1590, making Bess of Hardwick the Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury. Bess, now in her 70´s, did not marry again, but she did continue another “hobby”, she after having built Chatsworth House in 1560, she now embarked on Hardwick Hall, in the vicinity of the old Hardwick Hall where she lived as a child. The new hall was given it´s very own rhyme due to it´s design with an unusual amount of windows; “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall”.

While she spent over a decade basically being a guarding an heir presumptive to the Lady_Arabella_Stuartthrone, Bes would in time herself raise one herself, her granddaughter Arabella, or Arbella, Stuart. Arabella was the daughter of Bess daughter Elizabeth Cavendish and Charles Stuart, younger brother of Henry, Lord Darnley, second husband of Mary Queen of Scots.

This made Arabella great great granddaughter of Henry VII, and yet another possible heir to the throne. While Bess indeed had such ambitions for her granddaughter, Arabella herself was less than inclined, something which would eventually lead to a complete break between the two. Seven year after her grandmother´s death, Arabella would herself die as a prisoner in the Tower due to her own actions, but more about that in a separate post.

Due to Arabella´s refusal to stake her claim to both the Scottish and the English throne, Bess never got to see a descendant as monarch, but she does in fact have one right now; Elizabeth II

While no date of birth exist for Bess, the information on her death is more specific, and this formidable woman passed away at 5 pm on February 13th, which was a Sunday, 1608 at the age of 81. She was put to her final rest in All Saint´s Parish Church, Derby, today´s Derby Cathedral.

Over the past years a large number on letters, to and from Bess of Hardwick has been found and compiled in an online database by the University of Glasgow. The letters has helped change the view of Bess and I will return to them in a later post.

 

Sources:

Mistress of Hardwick – Alison Plowden

The Life of Elizabeth I – Alison Weir

Bess of Hardwick; Portrait of an Elizabethan Dynasty – David Durant

Bessofhardwick.org

Images:

Oxburgh Hanging – Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum

Hardwick Hall in Doe Lea, Derbyshire/Wikimedia

Arabella Stuart – Robert Peake/National Galleries of Scotland

The Sea Dogs of Elizabeth I

 

Confiance_Kent_fightThere´s been a lot of death here lately, something hard to avoid when writing about the Great Mortality, so I thought I would liven it up a bit with something more entertaining; pirates. Or rather, privateers. Are pirates and privateers entertaining? Yes, I would say that what threatened to be an endless sequence of films about pirates roaming the Caribbean’s tell us they are, so here goes.
But this will be about a specific type of “pirates”, the privateers, and even a more specific group of privateers: those of Elizabeth I, her Sea Dogs.

Maybe first a short explanation of the difference between pirates and privateers (to the victims of either, I think it´s safe to say that the difference was of little consequence): while pirates raided ships to enlarge their own purse, the privateers did so with the expressed permission of their sovereign – even though they of course kept a portion of the loot – and a favourite target of the English privateers were the Spanish merchant ships.
To be able to raid ships with the consent of the king or queen the privateer needed a Letter of MarqueCaptainKiddLetterofMarque and Reprisal, which granted them the right to attack enemy ships without fear of punishment, at least by their own sovereign. The first letter was issued in 1243 by Henry III.

The undoubtedly most reputable privateer of Elizabeth I was Sir Francis Drake, knighted on this day in 1581 on board his vessel the Golden Hind (a fact which highly inspired this post), and the reason for this was in no little part the wealth he had brought her through his activities. Francis Drake was born in Devon in 1540 and made his first journey to the Americas at the age of 23 in the company of his cousin John Hawkins who would also become one of Elizabeth´s Sea Dogs.
Francis_Drake_by_Henry_BoneEven if Francis Drake must be said to have been the most prominent of the Sea Dogs, and certainly the one who´s name is most known today, he wasn´t the only one. Apart from him there was also Thomas Cavendish – known as The Navigator for his attempt to emulate Francis Drake – and Martin Frobisher, who would be knighted after his participation in defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588. It is sometimes suggested that Sir Walter Raleigh and his half-brother too were privateers, but this is not true. Raleigh was however a staunch supporter of the Sea Dogs, but never participated in the enterprise himself. Maybe his support abated some when Elizabeth at one point decided to invest in the privateering business instead of his own colony in Virginia.

John Hawkins primarily attacked Spanish ships in the Caribbean, while Francis Drake raided Spanish ships as far away as what is now San Francisco on the Pacific coast. During one of his journeys to raid unguarded ships on the Pacific, he on his way home managed to complete the second circumnavigation of the globe.

While one, and I believe we´re not few, can feel a modern day fascination for pirates, licensed or not, Triangle_trade2(a fascination no doubt fuelled by a long row of Hollywood productions, from Errol Flynn and onwards) there was also a less than savoury side to their enterprise in that that at least the privateers more often than not also was engaged in the slave trade. Fact is that John Howard, earlier mentioned cousin of Francis Drake, was the first privateer/slaver to complete which was known, or at least came to be known, as the triangular trade where one brought textiles, rum and manufactured goods to Africa where one bought the slaves who were then brought to – in these days – primarily to the West Indies where tobacco, sugar and cotton were picked up to be sold in England (by English privateers) which all meant that there was a profit to be done in all ends of the trade.

The premise of the privateers during the reign of Elizabeth I was very much the constantly ongoing conflict with Spain. After the death of the queen in 1603, a truce was reached between the two countries in 1604, and raiding Spanish merchant ships was no longer commes il faut. Instead many Sea Dogs continued as pirates employed by the Barbary States, in what would become the Anglo-Turkish piracy. By then Sir Francis Drake was dead, having succumbed to dysentery during an unsuccessful attack on San Juan in Puerto Rico in 1598.

Drake-treasure

Ps. Crown protected piracy however continued for another couple of centuries, and the Letter of Marque further up in the post was issued by William III to Captain Kidd (another name immortalised through books and films) in the late 17th century.

Sources: http://www.cindyvallar.com/privateers.html
Elizabethan Sea Dogs 1560-1605 – Angus Konstam, Angus McBride
New Worlds, Lost Worlds- The rule of the Tudors 1485-1603 – Susan Brigden
The image of Drake viewing the treasure is courtesy of New York Public Library
 
Map of triangular trade made by John Monnpoly, modified by SimonP

John Dee

While my intention was to continue with the fate of the prince´s, I suddenly felt an inclination to take a look at John Dee. So I will.

Born in Tower Ward 1527 he went on to become a distinguished mathematician,Portrait_of_John_Dee_Wellcome_M0010334 astrologer, astronomer, alchemist, mystic and advisor to Queen Elizabeth. Already in his early 20´s, he was called to lecture on the geometry of Euclid at University of Paris.

He managed in a fascinating way to balance the occult with more worldly subjects and apart from being respected as a mathematician and astronomer he was also a leading expert in navigation and was behind the training of many of those who would lead England´s expeditions to foreign shores.

But it´s not really those things which are interesting about John Dee, but that he, who also practiced many arts that in some contexts most likely could have been considered dark arts or witchcraft came to be an advisor to the Queen.

It´s not like John Dee was living in a cave in the woods with pentagrams carved into the rock. In 1553 he became rector in Upton-upon-Severn only to the following year be offered a readership in mathematics at the University of Oxford.

His more unconventional skills got him into trouble in 1555, when he was arrested for having cast horoscopes of Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth, thereby coming on the verge of the crime of predicting the death of the monarch, the charges in relation to Mary came to be expanded to treason. He appeared in the Star Chamber to exonerate himself, but by nature of his dealings John Dee was a secretive person, which most likely made matters even worse, and he would spend a lifetime fighting off rumours and slander and at this point he was subjected to a religious examination by Bishop Bonner, known to history as Bloody Bonner due to his eager assistance to Mary in the so called Marian Persecutions of suspected heretics.

Dee however managed to clear his name again, and presented Queen Mary with an elaborate plan for preservation of books, old documents and records, as well as suggested the founding of a National Library. Mary wasn´t interested, but Dee himself continued to acquire rare books throughout his life and his personal library was visited by many European scholars. At the time of his death he had one of the largest libraries in England.

 

john-deeThings changed for a while when Elizabeth ascended to the throne, and John Dee became her advisor. Her coronation date was chosen by him and he served for around 20 years as her advisor in relationship to the English voyages of discovery, providing technical assistance in navigation. He was a strong advocate for British expansion for which he provided ideological backing. John Dee is said to have been the first to use the term “British Empire” the creation of which he supported. He even “invented” a number of events which should prove that the claim of Elizabeth to the New World was greater than that of Spain. He also advised Elizabeth about the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, and suggested some amendments, but those were rejected.

In the 1580´s, Dee was becoming less than satisfied with his progress in learning of the hidden parts of nature as well as his own lack of influence and recognition and he started turning to the supernatural for communication with the spirits in hope that they would act as intermediates in his contact with angels. For this he used a “scryer”, or crystal gazer. Under a number of years in the 80´s he lived like a nomad in Europe in the company of the Polish nobleman Albert Laski, who had persuaded Dee and his family (John Dee was married 3 times) to accompany the Laski family. They held spiritual conferences and were granted audiences at a number of courts, such as King Stefan Batory of Poland and Emperor Rudolf II at Prague Castle. While no one questioned his extensive knowledge on the subjects on which he was working, he was also regarded with some suspicion as some thought he might be acting as a spy on behalf of Elizabeth I.

When he returned to England after six years, it was only to find his home vandalized and his library either stolen or destroyed. Seeking the help of Elizabeth, he was eventually appointed Warden of Christ´s College at Manchester, where he unfortunately Sloane3188-john_deewas met with little regard. He however kept the position for the rest of his life.

John Dee died in poverty in 1608 or 1609, and had had to sell off extensive parts of his library and possessions to be able to be able to sustain himself and his daughter Katherine who cared for him.

John Dee has in modern times been portrayed as a magician, a vampire and a fantasy figure. But he was a devout Christian with a wish to bridge the gap between Protestantism and Catholicism and a vision of a world united under one religion. For possible Scandinavian readers, it can be interesting to know that he was a friend of Tycho Brahe, Danish astronomer.

Ps. It can also be worth mentioning that while John Dee in the film “Elizabeth, The Golden Age” starring Cate Blanchet, is portrayed as an elderly man, he was only six years older than the Queen.

 

Sources: Discourse on history, geography and law: John Dee and the limits of the British Empire – Ken Macmillan.

John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, alchemy, and the end of nature – Frank Klaasen.

Diary – John Dee

Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of the Crowds – Charles MacKay.