The Truth and Myths of Thomas Cromwell (Guest Post)


The Truth and Myths of Thomas Cromwell

Guest Post by Caroline Angus Baker

Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, Lord Privy Seal of England, has enjoyed a revival as a popular Tudor character in recent years after being reshaped into a hero. But was Thomas Cromwell ever a villain? After his execution in 1540, all mention of Cromwell falls away, only to be plucked from the archives in the 1950s and made in the villain who brought about all the Protestant changes made by Henry VIII. Did Cromwell really do all this work on his own? Was he a religious fanatic? How does a common-born man come out of nowhere to rise to the top of English society in one decade? Simply, Cromwell didn’t; he had a remarkable tale before he was noticed by Henry VIII.



A child born in Putney, to common parents, suffering poverty and violence?

Much of Cromwell’s childhood has been imagined or created from basic details, as there hasn’t been a lot of information available until now. It’s nice to think of a boy shrugging off his low-born life and escaping to Europe. But the story is more complex.

Born in around 1485, Cromwell’s father was an Irishman named Walter Cromwell alias Smith, a yeoman of many trades, particularly running an alehouse, and before the court 47 times in fifteen years for breaking the assize of ale (other words, selling ale overpriced, poor quality, etc). Cromwell’s mother was Katherine Meverell, and the Meverells of Throwley were a gentry family, making Cromwell little higher in life than assumed. Throughout this life Cromwell did favours for the Meverells and their relatives, giving them plum positions wherever they lived. Cromwell’s parents were kindly people, not cruel as sometimes portrayed.

Cromwell never forgot where he came from, or who he knew. A local boy named Thomas Megges grew up to be one of Cromwell’s many proteges, as did Thomas Mundy, all Putney boys who were of school age together. When Cromwell got elevated to the peerage in 1536, he was made Baron of Wimbledon, and his wealth and lands grew right through the very area where he was born. His wife was a Putney girl, his sisters and their families paramount throughout Cromwell’s life.



The ruffian’s “lost years’ in Italy?

The word ruffian gets used far too often when describing Cromwell, but it’s the only word Cromwell himself used to describe his childhood behaviour, and Eustace Chapuys wrote that Cromwell admitted to time in prison before leaving Putney. In approximately 1500, young Cromwell did leave Putney in search of adventure, but his time in Italy is documented through records, business transactions and by an Italian novelist named Matteo Bandello. Rather than fleeing his father, Cromwell took a place as a mercenary in the French army, who were sent to fight the Battle of Gagliano, Naples, on 29 December 1503. The French lost, as were France’s hopes forever in Naples, but Cromwell survived the killing and made his way to Florence. Cromwell was found on the streets of Florence, starving and homeless by Francesco Frescobaldi, head of a wealthy mercantile family, who was amazed to find a fluent English speaker on the streets. The novelist tells a great tale of how Cromwell is taken into the Frescobaldi family.

Cromwell had found a home with Frescobaldi, who smuggled goods from Egypt and the Ottomans into northern Europe, making huge sums in the process, even in league with King Henry VII, making England wealthy. Cromwell learned the art of trading wool and wine and had the chance to travel to the Low Countries to attend trade fairs. Francesco’s brother Leonardo traded out of Southampton, giving Cromwell valuable contacts for a new life back in England. Cromwell made many friends and business allies for the next 30 years. Cromwell also met John Hacket in Calais in 1505, and George Elyot in 1512, both in the Low Countries, giving him access to a wide range of people. By this time, the men were all corresponding as close friends in fluent French. After ten years in the Frescobaldi’s employ, Cromwell lived in Florence and Antwerp, learned Italian, Spanish and “self-consciously elegant” Latin, learned how to defraud the Pope by smuggling goods, learned to chase down debtors in the Low Countries, became at ease with the snobbery of the cloth trade, and created a huge web of friends and colleagues, none of whom he ever forgot. Cromwell started vast libraries of books, with many of the greatest Italian and humanist works of the era in his collections. He was the Italianate-Englishman and determined to be the best Italian in England in 1514. But records also show Cromwell back in Rome in 1514, working as a London-based lawyer in a dispute, and for the next five years, made himself a tidy sum working as a lawyer between London and Rome, despite having undertaken no legal training.

In his time in England between Roman visits, Cromwell married Elizabeth Wykes in around 1519, with their son Gregory born in about 1520. Cromwell also had a ward, Ralph Sadler, living in his house as his own son, and nurtured his sister’s son Richard, who took on Cromwell’s surname. By 1523, Cromwell had leased Austin Friars, a manor in the heart of the Italian community of London, had two more children, Anne and Grace. He could live a wealthy life as a lawyer and merchant. But more lay ahead – Cromwell got himself elected into parliament in 1523, at a time when parliament rarely opened, his first speech advising against Henry VIII’s possible war with France.



A sulking, unknown fixer and monastery-destroyer for Cardinal Wolsey?

In 1524, Cromwell was admitted to the bar, recognised as a lawyer by Gary’s Inn in London. He had worked for noblemen, clergymen and merchants in his time, so to be recommended to Cardinal Wolsey was no surprise. But Wolsey needed someone special; he needed money and he needed a man who could fight his way through prolonged legal issues. Failing monasteries needed to be inspected and closed, to finance Wolsey’s vanity projects – large colleges built in his name, the completion of Hampton Court Palace, and the finishing of a giant tomb made by revered Italian tradesmen. Cromwell could well deal with Italians, but closing monasteries brought him into physical and legal battles with the gentry and the locals alike. Yet Cromwell emerged with even more people to add to his ever-widening group of friends who wrote to him throughout the rest of his life.

During this time, Cromwell met many men interested in evangelical reform. While he worked for a cardinal and kept his religious affiliations quiet, Cromwell aided Reformation leaders and had them installed the new Cambridge College, helping reformers such as Thomas Cranmer, Robert Barnes and Miles Coverdale, all men who would feature in Cromwell’s rise and downfall.

Cromwell’s relationship with Thomas Wolsey grew in the short five years they worked side by side, this brought Cromwell into contact with many noblemen such as the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and met his friend-turned-nemesis Stephen Gardiner, a friendship that would spiral out of control in later years.



Abandoning his closest friend for personal gain?

Did Cromwell step over Wolsey’s body to take his place beside the king? Absolutely not. Wolsey was Henry VIII’s closest friend and Lord Chancellor of England. When Henry decided he needed a marriage annulment, it was Wolsey’s job to procure the desired legal and ecclesiastical paperwork. Anne Boleyn would take Katherine of Aragon’s place, but Anne was only single because Wolsey forbade her marriage to Henry Percy of Northumberland years before. Anne Boleyn hated Wolsey and vice versa.

A legatine court needed to be set up, the judges Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio from Italy. Here Cromwell could again be helpful. But 1529 would not be a kind year, as Cromwell had lost his wife and daughters to sweating sickness and Gregory was sent away for his education. Anne Boleyn was ready to be queen, Henry wanted Katherine ousted, and Wolsey and Campeggio simply couldn’t make the charges against Katherine stick. Cromwell stood by and watch Wolsey fail in the most public arena the 16th century had witnessed. When Henry denounced Wolsey and banished him 200 miles north to York, Cromwell had to stay in London. But he did not advance himself, rather Cromwell dared to face the king and beg for Wolsey’s return to power and favour. Crowmell did a good job too, softening Henry’s angry heart, but Wolsey’s greed got the better of him, and even Cromwell’s brilliant mind could not save him, nor could he be with Wolsey when he died of illness in Leicester in November 1529. But King Henry had seen Cromwell now, saw what he could do. Cromwell also put his contacts to work, and got himself into parliament in late 1529, the first sitting in almost seven years, and tried to build a new life out of grief. All he had worked for had gone; his family was dead, Wolsey was disgraced and dead, and his own legal practice had dried up due to busy times with the cardinal. In this time, Cromwell had a brief affair with an unknown woman, resulting in the birth of his daughter Jane, While illegitimate, Cromwell paid for Jane’s quality care and upbringing for the rest of his life.



Cromwell made being gay illegal?

In 1533, Cromwell did write the Buggery Act, a law designed to hurt men accused of the crime of sodomy. The law was created as an easy way to arrest men, primarily priests, as there was never any evidence to submit, and those arrested could not defend themselves. It was used to destroy men who would not submit to Henry’s new church, rather than what happened in bedrooms around England. Buggery was an immoral sin, but now also a legal crime, punishable by death.



A meteoric rise to power as Anne Boleyn’s “man?”

Suddenly the king needed a new man at his side, and he called on Thomas Cromwell. But he was not an unknown to many; the Attorney-General sang his praises, his friend Stephen Gardiner was to be the king’s secretary, and ambassadors across Europe had already worked with him in the past. Cromwell was 45 years old when he caught the king’s eye and was no stranger, but a well-travelled and well-skilled man of many trades.

The Pope would never allow Henry to marry Anne Boleyn. Cromwell’s plans were simple; bypass the Church completely and start a Royal Supremacy over religion. He had his friend Thomas Cranmer elevated to be the archbishop, declared Henry the Leader of the Church in England, and ruled that the clergymen of England had to swear allegiance to Henry instead of the Pope or risk losing their heads. It was a pragmatic solution to a problem Henry could not solve in usual channels. Cromwell promised to make Henry the richest man in England and Henry was sold on Cromwell’s unorthodox plan. This allowed the Reformation to take hold in England, and by having Catholic men like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher killed, the Pope’s voice began to lose its power. To everyone who already knew Thomas Cromwell, none of this came as a surprise. But the nobles, in places of power due to birth and ancient customs were stunned by this new man.

Cromwell and Cranmer worked together, creating Henry as the Head of the Church, able to end his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Cromwell wanted the Reformation in England; he could even recite much of the New Testament by heart. Anne Boleyn wanted the Reformation so she could be queen, and yet Cromwell was not “Queen Anne’s man,” not in truth. For Cromwell loathed Anne and her family but had her married to Henry in 1533 anyway, Queen Katherine banished to the country. When Anne produced a daughter and then miscarriages, Henry wanted out and Cromwell had no qualms about destroying another queen. Over the course of 1530 – 1536, Cromwell did not hesitate in doing the king’s bidding. It was business, it was a pragmatic approach to issues that arose. Now the King’s Chief Minister, the Principal Secretary, Vicegerent of Religious Matters and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Cromwell had England in his grip. But not all his new laws were terrible; many helped cities with water, sewage, and food for the poor. Cromwell fed 200 people twice daily from his own kitchens. He passed laws making sure churches helped the homeless and jobless, he changed tax laws meaning the noblemen and merchants paid to fund alms-houses. Cromwell walked a tightrope like no one else.



Cromwell made up lies about Anne Boleyn to kill her?

In 1536, Henry wanted a new wife and Cromwell had the task of destroying Queen Anne. Queen Katherine had just died of cancer, and Queen Anne had lost another child; Henry could wait no more. No man called to sit in judgement of Anne for crimes could go against the king, and Cromwell’s best friend Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury. Cromwell had allies all over court and country, and Anne did not. It is unknown who suggested Anne was unfaithful, Henry or Cromwell. But Henry did show genuine shock when he heard Anne was found guilty of seducing four men, plus the extra charge of incest with her brother. The plan could have been a possible slander of adulterous rumours which blew out of control when people got nervous. A legal mind like Cromwell could easily spin any testimony to sound like Anne Boleyn was a witch. Did Cromwell orchestrate Anne’s death? He did. Did he show remorse? Not in any outward sense, though to go through the whole process could not have been easy for any man to bear. Once Anne was buried, Cromwell assumed her father’s role in as Lord Privy Seal of England, giving him wide-ranging powers in every respect.



The Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion was all Cromwell’s fault?

In late 1536, as Henry basked in the glow of his new wife Queen Jane, upwards of 40,000 men marched toward London, demanding to be a Catholic nation again. Their enemy? Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell’s had been back to his old tricks – closing monasteries in order to reap the financial gain, albeit the money went in Henry’s pocket, not his own. Henry loved destroying the Catholic Church’s power and taking their lands and wealth. Cromwell’s inspectors raided monasteries, abbeys and convents across England and Wales, calling them houses of sin, fraud and debauchery. Relics and shrine were pulled down, unnecessary under Reformation prayer. Cromwell’s new laws were the cause of the rebellion, and he wore the blood of the over 200 clergymen, nobles and commoners executed when the rebellion got quashed during sporadic fighting between October 1536 and March 1537.

But 1537 wasn’t a total loss for Cromwell. His investment in Jane Seymour’s womb paid dividends when she gave birth to Prince Edward. Sadly, Jane’s death was as hard on Cromwell as anyone. Just three months before Queen Jane’s death, Cromwell married his son Gregory to Jane’s sister, Lady Elizabeth. Gregory’s sons were first cousins to the prince, but after Queen Jane died, all the glory the Cromwell’s could have won also died away.



Gregory Cromwell – rapist?

A tricky truth/myth to dispel. In autumn 1538, Cromwell was busy with the White Rose trials, having the final men of Plantagenet blood arrested and executed. But in Lewes, where Gregory Cromwell lived with his wife Elizabeth, their new-born son, and another son on the way, a scandal emerged, and Gregory’s father stepped in when the situation became grave. Bishop Sampson of Chichester wrote a letter stating that Gregory could go to church for punishment for a serious offence. Bishops could only demand punishment for heresy and sexual crimes. Gregory was no religious man and heresy was not in his nature. That only led to one other cause. Having sex with maids was considered a routine sin in Tudor times, but a sexual charge requiring clerical punishment was considered serious, such as rape or buggery. Gregory angrily refused a light punishment and refused to accept what happened. What did happen? The crime is not recorded, but in doing this very simple acknowledgement in church, it meant Gregory could avoid “the possibility of further business.” Gregory’s “honesty” was affected, and so ruined his wife’s “reputation.” At the same time, Lady Elizabeth wrote to Cromwell in London and said she would no longer live under the same roof as Gregory, and she moved away. Gregory and Elizabeth did not reunite for more than six months. After spending a fortune to set up Gregory in Lewes Priory, Cromwell had to forfeit the lot and move Gregory and Elizabeth to Leeds Castle, where they patched up their marriage.



Cromwell brought about his own downfall when picking Anna of Cleves?

When Cromwell’s downfall came, it did not come from a gradual decline in power or a bolt from the blue, rather a strange mix. In April 1539, Cromwell fell ill and wrote to Henry of suffering an ague (malaria) and tertian fever (malaria fever that comes in waves every two/three days). This illness really struck a knife in the heart of Cromwell’s hard work. He had not long released the latest version of the bible, nicknamed the Cranmer Bible, though it was Cromwell’s bible; he and Cranmer were even on the cover. But when Cromwell fell ill, the Duke of Norfolk and many traditionalist clergymen in power got together and wrote the Six Articles, six points of clarification needed in religion, mostly around transubstantiation and clerical celibacy. While Cromwell was unable to move for a month, Cranmer watched hopelessly as the king took on board this Catholic doctrine and tried to mix them with the Reformation ideals. Religion was still a mess, and the Reformation took a big step backwards in a short time. Cromwell spent the rest of his life trying to undo the Six Articles. Archbishop Cranmer was forced to send away his German wife and daughter and never saw them again, lest they all be punished, possibly executed.

The King wanted a new wife, and Europe was low on princesses and duchesses available and/or willing. The best was Anna von mark, Duchess of Cleves. Anna’s brother, Duke Wilhelm of Julich-Cleves-Berg was like Henry; he was not strictly Catholic or a Lutheran, he was a middle way. But Anna’s sister Sybylla was married to the Elector of Saxony, a Lutheran German state with the powerful Schmalkalden (Protestant) League and an army. England needed allies and the Schmalkaldic League looked were perfect. But negotiations frequently stalled, and when Henry liked the look of Anna’s painting and agreed to marry her, the countries still had no alliance.

It took Anna two months to travel to England, and in that time, all hell broke loose. Duke Wilhelm laid claim to the duchy of Guelders, held by Emperor Charles V. Charles travelled to his lands in the Low Countries, and threatened war with Julich-Cleves-Berg if Wilhelm did not step back from Guelders. France, bordering these two, urged peace and wanted an alliance with the Emperor. Suddenly Europe’s largest Catholic nations were aligning, and Henry was aligned to Cleves by his marriage. Poor Anna had nothing to do with this, but by marrying her, and bedding her, Henry would be aligned to Anna’s brother and must be dragged into war. England would be decimated. To top it off, the Elector of Saxony still hadn’t aligned with Henry, so even the Schmalkaldic League would not necessarily be England’s ally.

By selecting Anna, Cromwell had accidentally brought England to the brink of war while Christendom hung in the balance. Cromwell was a brilliant legal mind, so Henry and Anna’s marriage contract was so tight nothing could be done. Henry was forced to marry Anna, or Cleves would turn against England, possibly alongside the Schmalkaldic army and all of Germany. But marrying Anna meant England became the enemy of the Holy Roman Empire and possibly France.

Henry’s dislike to Anna was obvious, but it was not all about her looks, rather she was the anchor to a war England couldn’t win. The men of Europe postured and moved troops around for months, by which time, Henry was totally infuriated, disgusted by Anna, and trapped in a scenario where no one would even write to England about the impending war. Henry needed to be free, he needed an annulment, and he needed someone to take the fall. But Henry had just given Cromwell the honour he always dressed of; Cromwell was now Earl of Essex and owner of lands that encompassed his beloved home town. Cromwell was a high-ranking nobleman, the Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord Privy Seal, Vicegerent of England and Ireland, Chancellor of the Exchequer, head statesman in the House of Lords and much more. But to show the Emperor that England was not a threat, someone needed to suffer.



Thomas Cromwell, traitor?

Cromwell was arrested on June 10, 1540, for being a traitor. He had said to Stephen Gardiner, one night at home at Austin Friars, that he would not turn from the Reformation, even if Henry did, Cromwell would fight the king if necessary. Angry words from a man who never seemed to recover from malaria. Was it treason? Technically yes, by Cromwell’s own laws of never speaking against the king. Cromwell’s long-time servant Thomas Wriothesley betrayed him and told the king that Cromwell was talking about Henry’s impotence, sending the king into a rage. More rumours were thrown on the pile – that Cromwell wanted to marry Princess Mary and become king, that Cromwell was colluding with extreme Lutherans in Zurich, and was a heretic by failing to enforce the Six Articles of religion. By laws Cromwell wrote in the early 1530s, a subject could be attainted without trial and sentenced to death. Cromwell was stripped of all titles, but Henry still allowed him to be beheaded, rather than more horrific penalties. In his prison cell, Cromwell wrote out all the paperwork needed to prove that Henry was not truly married to Anna due to her pre-contract in childhood, plus lack of consummation and lack of inward consent. Once the paperwork was done, Cromwell lost his head on July 28; all he worked for scattered to the wind as Henry married Katherine Howard. Gregory and Elizabeth, plus Richard Cromwell, Ralph Sadler, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Wyatt, and countless more mourned the loss of Cromwell, but many rejoiced.

It was said Henry regretted the loss of Cromwell within a month of the arrest; Cromwell was still in the Tower when the king realised how much Cromwell did every day (while putting up with Henry’s atrocious leg smell), but it was too late to back down. By Christmas, Henry was angry at his councillors for lying about Cromwell’s crimes. Henry nor England really saw any kind of success after that, and no man could hold Cromwell’s position, instead, dozens were brought in to fill the void. Henry died a fat old man and Cromwell was forgotten, all except for one portrait of him, hidden away and saved for us today.

To commemorate the anniversary of Cromwell’s unjust execution, I am having a free kindle promo on Amazon worldwide from July 27 – July 31. Both novels in the Queenmaker Series, Frailty of Human Affairs, and Shaking the Throne, all about Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi, will be free to download. Book three, the final chapter of Cromwell’s life, No Armour Against Fate, will be available from November 1.

Go to Amazon (or local Amazon of choice) to get your free books, or check out carolineangusbaker.com

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Lettice Knollys: Cousin vs Queen (Part 4 – The Conclusion)

Guest article by Karlie aka History Gal

Lettice Knollys portrait housed at Longleat House photo attained from: http://www.thepeerage.com/p257.htm
Lettice Knollys portrait housed at Longleat House photo attained from: http://www.thepeerage.com/p257.htm

Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, was known throughout the court for his military prowess, good looks and charisma. These qualities made him popular with the Queen and with the English people.

The titles and adulation that was heaped on Essex undoubtedly inflated the young Earls massive ego and made him hungry for more power and glory.

More than anything else, Essex wanted to be the head of a great and victorious army. So much so that in 1589, he defied Elizabeths orders to join Francis Drakes navy in a counter attack against the Spanish Armada. Unfortunately for Essex, the quest was a complete disaster that resulted in a massive defeat for the English.

The year of 1589 was also an eventful year for Lettice Knollys. In a low-key ceremony, Lettice married Christopher Blount (she was 46 and he was 12 years her junior.)

Although Blount was a distinguished soldier he was much lower on the aristocratic scale than Lettice, having served as Dudleys Gentleman of the Horse.

Lettices marriage caused a sensation at court. Not only was Lettice on her third marriage, she married Blount only a year after her second husbands death.

According to William Haynes (Dudleys gentleman of the bedchamber) Dudley discovered that Blount and Lettice were in love shortly before his departure to the Netherlands. He was so infuriated that he tried but failed to have Blount killed. When Blount found out about the attempt made on his life, he conspired with Lettice to do away with Dudley.



Haynes then relays that The Earl (Dudley) not patient of his great wrong of his wifes, purposed to carry her off to Kenilworth and leave her there until her death, by natural or violent means, but rather by the last. Lady Leicester (Lettice) had secret intelligence of his scheme, and before setting out on the journey provided herself with a poison which she had no opportunity to administer until they came to Cornbury. Here the Earl after his gluttonous manner, surfeiting with excess of eating and drinking fell so ill that he was forced to stay there. Haynes added that he saw her (Lettice) give that fatal cup to the Earl which was his last draught and an end of the plot against the Countess and of his journey and of himself. [1]

The story is cementedbut with an added twist in Notes of Ben Jonsons Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden (circa 1842). Jonson writes that Dudley gave Lettice “a bottle of liquor which he willed her to use in any faintness, which she, not knowing it was poison, gave him, and so he died”.

The events that Haynes (and later Jonson) recounts is certainly fascinating, but very unlikely to be true. Furthermore, Dudleys autopsy concluded that no malicious substances were present in his system.

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(c) Trinity College, University of Cambridge; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Trinity College, University of Cambridge; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Another marriage was to follow Lettices: in 1590 Essex secretly married Frances Walsingham (the daughter of Elizabeths secretary and spy master, Francis Walsingham).

It was dj vu for the Queen who was used to seeing her courtiers marring without her knowledge or consent. She promptly upbraided Devereux for his marriage and demanded he leave court.

Sir John Stanhope reported to Gilbert, Lord Talbot that Queen Elizabeth considered Essexs marriage more temperately than was thought for, and God be thanked doth not strike all she threats. [2] In the end, Elizabeth forgave Essex and lifted his ban.

In 1591-1592 Essex was made commander of a military sent to aid the French King in his war against Spain. The mission turned out to be a disaster but it did not curtail Devereuxs influence over the Queen.

In 1593 Elizabeth appointed Essex as a member of her Privy Council. This position caused great animosity within the council. Robert Cecil particularly resented Essexs elevation, which was hardly surprising since the two rarely agreed on anything. One thing in which they disagreed on was the amount of money needed to fund an expedition to Cadiz. However, Essex won the argument and was subsequently made one of the commanders of the naval army sent to thwart and attack Spains counter strike against England.

With a fleet of 150 ships and over 6,000 soldiers, Essex and his men left Plymouth in early June 1596. While Essex attacked the town by sea, Howard [Lord of Effingham] landed his troops and completed the capture of the city.[3]

The capturing of Cadiz marked Essexs biggest military achievement, and he relished in the adulation of the English people.

However, Essexs popularity and increasingly haughty demeanor incurred the displeasure of the Queen.

The strain on their relationship grew when in 1597, acting as master of the ordnance in an expedition against Spain, known as the Islands or Azores Voyage. Essex returned having only gained some trifling successes… [4]

Philip II of Spain portrait housed in Madrid, photo attained from http://www.historytoday.com/geoffrey-parker/philip-ii-spain-reappraisal
Philip II of Spain portrait housed in Madrid, photo attained from http://www.historytoday.com/geoffrey-parker/philip-ii-spain-reappraisal

Essex was forced to reside at Wanstead Hall until Elizabeths disappointment and anger finally abated. His failure in the Islands not only put a damper on his political and military career but it also weakened his chances of reconciling his mother and the Queen.

But Essex never gave up and when his banishment came to an end, his friends eagerly informed Lettice that the Queen was willing to grant her anaudience.

On Shrove Monday [1588], Lettice sent a jewel worth 300 to Elizabeth, who had promised to visit with her that day at her brother, Sir William Knollyss house, but despite Essexs pleads, Elizabeth refused to keep the appointment. On March 2, the Queen finally received her at court. [5]

For the first time in 9 years the two cousins and rivals were to meet. But when it finally happened their exchange was brief and awkward, to say the least. The Queen could not bring herself to forgive Lettice no matter how much the latter flattered and cajoled her. And after having greeted her and permitted her to kiss her hand and her breast and embrace her. Elizabeth returned the kiss but denied a second visit. [And Lettice] subsequently withdrew to Drayton Basset (her country estate.) [6]

Lettice could be in doubt that her cousin was still her bitterest of enemies and would always remain so.

Queen Elizabeths affection for Lettices son was beginning to wane. His mother advised him on how to manipulate the Queen by reiterating the practices Dudley would use to get back into royal favor.



At his insistence (and against her better judgement) the Queen agreed to Essexs appointment as Lieutenant and Governor General of Ireland.

In 1599 Essex and abt. 17,000 soldiers set out for Ulster to suppress the Irish uprising (with aid from Spain) led by the Earl of Tyrone. Tyrone and his men wanted to see the English driven out of Ulster in order to establish their own independence and government. If successful, Tyrone would rule over Ulster; but what England feared most was that Ireland would fall into the hands of Spain.

Essexs instructions were explicit. He was to march directly to the North and bend all his strength against Tyrone, who was only to be admitted to mercy on making a simple submission without conditions. [7] But when word reached Essex that Tyrones clans had attacked English supply lines and the Pale [ancient English territory] itself. Essex ordered his troops south instead of north.

It was a disastrous start to Essexs campaign, and after delivering the town of Marlborough from siege, Essex left a large garrison in Carlow and an even larger one in Athy depleting his force by more than 1,000 men. [8]

After a series of battles and a minor victory for Essex in Tipperary, the English forces began to dwindle from disease and from the bloody attacks by Tyrones clans. Essex was then forced to make a peace treaty with Tyrone.

After abandoning his post to return to England, the Queen upbraided Essex for knighting men without her permission and failing to effectively put down Tyrone.

For his treachery and insolence, Elizabeth placed Essex under house arrest. This vexed him greatly, whereby he petitioned Queen Elizabeth with letters explaining how he was wonderfully grieved at her Majestys displeasure towards him; and drew up a detailed explanation of what happened in Ireland and the arrangements he had put in place when he left. [9] When that didnt work, Essex complained of illness until the Queen sent a doctor to attend to his ailments.

In 1599 Lettice traveled to London to plead for her sons release. The following month she sent a gown for Elizabeth that was presented by Mary Scuda

The Earl of Essex housed at the National Portrait Gallery, photo attained from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Devereux,_2nd_Earl_of_Essex#/media/File%3ARobert_Devereux%2C_2nd_Earl_of_Essex_by_Marcus_Gheeraerts_the_Younger.jpg.
The Earl of Essex housed at the National Portrait Gallery, photo attained from Wikipedia

more, one of the Queens favored women who was sympathetic to Lettices cause and had known her from the time of the Queens service. Elizabeth sent back a message that she did not recognize the gift but that Things standing as they did, it was not fit for her [Lettice] to desire what she did, which was to come to her Majestys presence. [10]

Eventually, Essex was released from confinement but was barred from court and Queen Elizabeths presence indefinitely. What made Essexs dilemma more challenging was that his main source of income was from his positions at court.

The final straw came in 1600 when Elizabeth wouldnt renew his monopoly on the import of fortified wine. Essexs wine venture was his main and last source of income, it was enough to make the most patient of mens blood boiland Essex was not a patient man.

With the help of a few of his closest friends and familywhich included his sister Penelope, his step-father Blount and Henry Wriothesley aka the Earl of Southampton Essex planned a rebellion to overthrow Robert Cecil, seize the Queen and force her to agree to his terms.

In February 1601, Essexs rebellion began but it was crushed soon after. Essex was forced to surrender he was later brought before a council of his peers, where he was summarily tried and found guilty of treason. [11]

One can only imagine that if Lettice had not been at her country estate during the time her son and husband were in the midst of the rebellion, that the Queen wouldnt have hesitated to have her imprisoned in the tower or condemned to death.

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Essexs only request was to be executed privately, not in front of a mob on Tower Hill. This was granted and on the Wednesday morning he was taken out to the courtyard of the Tower, acknowledging with unaccustomed humility that he was thus justly spewed out of this realm. [12]

On February 25th 1601, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex was beheaded. He was only 35 years old. When Elizabeth was informed of Essexs death she became silent, then resumed playing the virginals.

Despite her initial reaction, Queen Elizabeth was devastated at having to condemn Essex to death, so much so that she often retired to her bedchamber and wept.

If the Queen felt grief about the Earl of Essex, Lettice was completely heartbroken. Since 1569 Lettice had experienced one death after the other. First it was her mother Catherine, her husband Walter, then her son Lord Denbigh, followed by Dudley, her other son Walter, her father Francis, Essex and her husband Blount. (The latter was convicted of treason and beheaded on Tower Hill on March 18th 1601.)

Like Dudley before him, Blount amassed a great deal of debt at the time of his death. As his widow, the task of paying off those debts, once again, fell on Lettices shoulders. Unfortunately, Lettice no longer had a significant source of income because Blount sold off many of her precious jewels and estates

Though Lettice was deeply in debt, and her reputation was tarnished as the wife and mother of two traitors, she still had her health. An observer noted, in 1632, that Lettice could walk a mile a day. [13]

Good health was not something Queen Elizabeth could boast of. In the winter of 1602, the Queen who just a short time before was taking a leisurely stroll in the gardenssuddenly caught (what appeared to be) a cold. In early 1603, Elizabeths aches and pains were significant enough for her to retire to her rooms at Richmond palace.

With each passing day, the Queens health and melancholy worsened. She was deteriorating before everyones eyes and there was nothing anyone, (least of all her ladies in waiting) could do about it. Indeed, how could they force the Queen of England to eat or drink when she refused? Or see a physician when she expressed that she did not wish it? And how could they order her to rest when she preferred to stand (often for hours on end)? Not even her secretary, Robert Cecil could persuade her to retire to bed. Elizabeths response to him was: The word must is not to be used to PrincesLittle man! Little man! if your father had lived, ye durst not have said so much; but ye know I must die and that makes ye so presumptuous.

Elizabeth l of England
Elizabeth l of England

Eventually, Queen Elizabeth became so weak that she was forced to lay resignedly on her cushions in her private apartments, and could not be persuaded to leave them for the comfort of her bed. Then delirium set in and the Queen began to be plagued by ghostly visions of people she had previously known, including the late Scottish queen [14]

In the early morning hours of March 24th 1603 Elizabeth, Queen of England died, aged 69. She was buried at Westminster Abbey in the vault of her grandfather, Henry VII, until she was moved in 1606 to her present resting place, a tomb in the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey which she shares with her half-sister Mary I. [15]

The official cause of her death is unknown. But favored theories include a lung infection and/or blood poisoning (from the mixture of lead and vinegar that was used in her makeup).

IV

The feud between Lettice and her cousin was over. But a new feud for Lettice was just beginning, this time with: Douglas Sheffield.

Lettice had been vindicated by King James (the new King of England) when he pardoned the debts she owed to the royal treasury. But Douglass son Robert was raking up the past by insisting that Dudley and his mother had been married and that he was the legitimate son and heir to his father and uncles titles and their estates. If Douglas and Robert were successful in their claim, then Lettice would stand to lose the jointure left to her as the legal wife and widow of Dudley.

Lettice refused to go down without a fight, and in 1605 she petitioned the courts to hear her case against Roberts. The court decided in Lettices favor because neither Douglas nor Robert could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Robert was entitled to his father and uncles earldoms and any additional estates.

V

Tomb effigies of Dudley and Lettice at the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick.
Tomb effigies of Dudley and Lettice at the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick.

After the Queens death in 1603, Lettice lived for another 33 years at her at estate at Staffordshire. Until finally, on December 25th 1634, Lettice died. She was 91 years old.

At her request, she was interred in a magnificent tomb beside her husband at the Beauchamp Chapel of the Collegiate Church of St Mary. Warwick

Lettices great grandson, Gervase Clinton wrote a verse about his grandmother that hangs beside her tomb that reads .she was in her younger years matched with two great English peers, she that did supply the wars with thunder, and the court with stars.

Lettice experienced several great triumphs and defeats during her 91 years on earth, as did her cousin and nemesis Queen Elizabeth. But between the two, who won the war? Lettice or Elizabeth?

Some might say Elizabeth won because she vindicated Lettices marriage to Dudley by crippling the former financially, humiliating her in public, forcing her to reside (often in disgrace) in estates far away from court and executing two people who were very dear to her.

In my opinion Lettice won because she married Dudley and was with him until the very end, she outlived the Queen to enjoy a long and healthy life, she also regained many of rights and dignity.

References:

[1] Hamlet’s Secrets Revealed: The Real Shakespeare, Volume 2 by Marilyn Gray

[2] Illustrations of British History, 2: Biography and Manners in the Reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary Elizabeth & James I Exhibited in a Series of Original Papers Selected from the Mrs. of the Noble Families of Horvard, Tallot and Cecil with Numerous Notes Observations

[3], [13] Encyclopedia of Tudor England, Volume 1 by John A. Wagner, Susan Walters Schmid

[4] The Encyclopedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information, Volume 9 by Hugh Chisholm

[5], [6] Wicked Women of Tudor England: Queens, Aristocrats, Commoners by R. Warnicke

[7] A History of Ireland by Eleanor Hull

[8] http://www.yourirish. com

[9], [10] The Queen’s Bed: An Intimate History of Elizabeth’s Court by Anna Whitelock

[11] http://www.britainexpress.com/History/tudor/essex-rebellion.htm

[12] http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/execution-earl-essex

[14] http://www.elizabethi.org/contents/death/

[15] https://www.tudorsociety.com/28-april-1603-elizabeth-funeral/

About the Author:

kL16loFoIm Karlie (also known as History Gal on Twitter)! Im a pre-med student from the U.S. I have many interests including reading, writing, drawing and painting but my passion is History. I have read and love to read just about every period in history but I am most interested in the Tudor period. Im intrigued, not just by the Tudor dynasty, but also by the world in which they lived: the people, the religion, the politics, the conflicts, the events, the castles, the beautiful clothes, just overall their way of life.

It should go without saying that I love England and its rich history. My dream is to go there and see as many Tudor related places as I can!

Follow on Twitter: @HistoryGal_

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