Biography: Lettice Knollys

Lettice_Knollys1(Born November 8, 1543- Died December 25, 1634)
Daughter of Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey.
Married to Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, and Christopher Blount.
Mother of Penelope Rich, Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, Walter Devereux, Francis Devereux, and Robert Dudley, Lord Denbigh.
Lettice Knollys was one of Elizabeth I’s favorites at court, but when she married Elizabeth’s favorite Robert Dudley, she was banished from court.

Lettice Knollys was born on November 8, 1543 at Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire to Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey. Sir Francis Knollys was a member of Parliament and Master of the Horse under King Edward VI. Her mother, Catherine Carey, was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, which made Lettice Knollys and Elizabeth I first cousins once removed. The Knollys were Protestants and in 1556, during the reign of Mary I, they fled with five of their children to Frankfurt, Germany. We do not know if Lettice was in Germany with her family or if she spent the years her family was in exile with her cousin Elizabeth. Lettice’s family returned to England in January 1559, after the death of Mary I and the accession of Elizabeth I. Sir Francis Knollys was appointed Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household, Catherine was made a senior Lady of the Bedchamber, and Lettice was made a Maid of the Privy Chamber.

In the early 1560’s Lettice married her first husband Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford. They lived at Chartley in Staffordshire, where the two eldest of their five children, Penelope and Dorothy, were born in 1563 and 1564. It is said that when Lettice was pregnant with her first son that she flirted with Robert Dudley at court, but there is no proof to support this rumor. In November 1565, Lettice gave birth to her first son Robert Devereux. In 1569, she gave birth to her son Walter Devereux and her son Francis shortly after, but Francis would die shortly after his birth.

Walter held no position at court, but following the outbreak of the Northern Rebellion in 1569, he became known for his loyal military service to Elizabeth I. Elizabeth rewarded this loyalty by making Walter Devereux the Earl of Essex in 1572. In 1573, Walter Devereux successfully convinced Elizabeth to send him to Ulster so that he could colonize it for England. He was gone for two years, leaving Lettice alone to take care of her five children. Lettice during this time visited friends at court and at Kenilworth Castle, where Robert Dudley lived. Rumors began to spread that Robert Dudley and Lettice were having an affair while her husband was away. In December 1575, Walter Devereux returned to England, but he would leave again for Ireland in July 1576. Walter died of dysentery on September 22, 1576 in Dublin, but rumors began to swirl that Robert Dudley had him poisoned so that he could marry Lettice. Walter’s death left Lettice deep in debt and she had to move in with her friends and into her family home. She tried to convince the crown to lower the debt for her son, the new earl of Essex, but Elizabeth did not agree to this agreement.

Lettice did marry again in secret, to Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, on September 21, 1578. There were only a few witnesses to this ceremony. When Elizabeth found out about the marriage the following year, in July 1579, she was absolutely furious. Elizabeth focused all her anger on Lettice and banished her forever from court and Robert fled from court in disgrace. Lettice continued to style herself Countess of Essex for several years into her new marriage. She lived very discreetly, often with her relatives at the Knollys family home in Oxfordshire. Lettice’s son with Leicester, Robert, Lord Denbigh, was born in June 6, 1581, at Leicester House. Three years later, on July 18, 1584, Lord Denbigh tragically died. Lettice and Robert would not have any more children.

In 1585 Leicester led an English expedition to assist the rebellious Netherlands against Spain. He incurred Elizabeth’s wrath when he accepted the title of Governor-General in January 1586. At this same time the Earl was giving his wife authority to handle certain land issues during his absence, implying they had no plans to meet in Holland.

The Earl returned to England in December 1586, but was sent again to the Netherlands in the following June. Leicester eventually resigned his post in December 1587. Lettice was with him when he died unexpectedly, possibly of malaria, on 4 September 1588 at Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire. Leicester’s death left Lettice deeper in debt and she had to marry again in order to repay her two deceased husbands’ debts.

In March or April of 1589, Lettice married her third husband Sir Christopher Blount. Blount was a man who came from a lowly gentry family and he served in the Leicester household. Lettice’s son the Earl of Essex was not thrilled about her choice of husband, however Blount would prove extremely loyal to Essex. Blount was so loyal to his stepson, that he became one of the key conspirators in Essex’s rebellion in February 1601. The rebellion, which aimed to depose the Queen’s government, was a disaster ,and both Essex and Blount were imprisoned. Though Blount begged for mercy he was condemned for treason. Essex was executed in February 1601 and Blount was executed on March 18, 1601.

When Elizabeth I died in 1603, King James I decided to cancel all of the debts that Lettice owned through her husbands and restore her grandson, the third Earl of Essex, to his father’s title and estate. Also in 1603, Ambrose Dudley, the son of Robert Dudley and Douglas Sheffield, claimed that he was the legitimate son of his parents and thus the heir to the earldoms of Warwick and Leicester. If successful, this claim would not only have implied that Lettice Knollys’ union with Leicester had been bigamous, but would also have nullified her jointure rights. In February 1604, Lettice filed a complaint against Dudley in the Star Chamber, accusing him of defamation. The other side was unable to cite clear evidence and the King’s chief minister, Robert Cecil, thought it unwise to rake up the existing property settlement, so the outcome was in favour of Lettice. Lettice would die at the age of 91 on December 25, 1634. She was buried next to Robert Dudley at St Mary’s Church, Warwick.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lettice_Knollys
http://tudortimes.co.uk/guest-articles/lettices-men
http://www.berkshirehistory.com/bios/lknollys.html

Biography: Queen Elizabeth I

220px-Elizabeth_I_in_coronation_robes(Born September 7, 1533- Died March 24, 1603)
Daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
Sister to King Edward VI and Queen Mary I
Elizabeth was known as the “Virgin Queen” because she never married and she never had a child. Elizabeth was one of the greatest rulers in English history.

Elizabeth I was born on September 7, 1533 to Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn at Greenwich Palace. At birth, Elizabeth was declared heir presumptive to the throne of England. Her older half-sister, Mary, had lost her position as a legitimate heir when Henry annulled his marriage to Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon, to marry Anne, with the intent to sire a male heir and ensure the Tudor succession. However, things didn’t go as planned. Anne never was able to give birth to the desired son that Henry wanted. Anne would later be accused of adultery and treason. On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed; Elizabeth was two years old at the time and she was declared illegitimate, just like her step-sister Mary.

Henry VIII married Jane Seymour shortly after Anne Boleyn’s execution. Jane gave birth to Elizabeth’s step-brother Edward, but died shortly afterward. Elizabeth’s father would marry three more times; Anne of Cleves who was divorced; Katherine Howard who was beheaded; and finally Katherine Parr. During this time, Elizabeth met Catherine “Kat” Ashley who was appointed Elizabeth’s governess in 1537 and remained with Elizabeth until her death in 1565. William Grindal became her tutor in 1544 and after his death in 1548, Roger Ascham became Elizabeth’s tutor. Elizabeth received a very good education and she loved to learn. Elizabeth’s life was somewhat normal at this point, but life was about to change drastically.

Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547, when Elizabeth was 13, leaving the throne to his nine year old son Edward VI. Before Henry VIII died, he reinstated his daughters to the line of succession so after Edward VI, Mary would become queen and then Elizabeth. Shortly after Henry VIII’s death, his last wife Katherine Parr married Thomas Seymour, the brother of Jane Seymour and Edward Seymour, Edward VI’s Lord Protector. Elizabeth moved in with Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour at their home in Chelsea where, it is alleged, Thomas Seymour would act inappropriately towards Elizabeth, including bursting into her bedroom while she was barely dress, slap her on the bottom, and one time, shred Elizabeth’s dress. In May 1548, Elizabeth was dismissed from Katherine’s household; Katherine Parr died from childbirth on September 5, 1548 which allowed Thomas to pursue Elizabeth as his wife, but it failed. Thomas was accused of trying to kidnap Edward VI, charged with treason and executed on March 20, 1549. Elizabeth was interrogated during the investigation into Thomas, but she never admitted anything about the nature of their relationship.

Edward VI would die on July 6, 1553, at the age of 15. Under Henry VIII’s Act of Succession, the crown should have passed onto Mary, however Edward did not like that she was Catholic, so before he died, he issued an act that named his heir as Lady Jane Grey. Lady Jane Grey would only be queen for nine days since Mary brought an army to place her on the throne. On August 3, 1553, Mary rode into London with Elizabeth by her side. On the outside, it looked like Mary and Elizabeth had reconciled, however they were pulling farther apart.

Mary and Elizabeth kept butting heads over religion, Mary being Catholic and Elizabeth being Protestant. Mary’s popularity began to wan with her people when she announced in 1554 that she wanted to marry Philip II of Spain, a devout Catholic. That same year in January and February, a man by the name of Thomas Wyatt staged a rebellion to put Elizabeth on the throne instead of Mary, which failed. Wyatt was beheaded and Elizabeth was interrogated. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London on March 18th; she would later be transferred to Woodstock on May 22nd where she spent a year under house arrest in the custody of Sir Henry Bedingfield.

Elizabeth returned to court on April 17, 1555 to help Mary with the final stages of her pregnancy. However, months passed and it turned out that it was a false pregnancy. As Mary fell ill, Philip II started to consult with Elizabeth on how to run the country, and in October 1558, Elizabeth began to formulate her own court. On November 6, Mary recognized Elizabeth as her heir and on November 17, 1558, Mary I died and Elizabeth I succeeded to the throne.

Elizabeth I became Queen of England at the age of 25. She was crowned in an elaborate ceremony on January 15, 1559, which was cold winter day; Elizabeth would get sick shortly after her coronation, but once she recovered, she made William Cecil, later Baron Burghley, her Chief Minister. Elizabeth had two pressing matters to solve when she first became queen, resolving the matters of religious division in England and who she would marry. With the religious division, she sought to strike a balance, so that even though Protestantism became the national religion, those who wanted to hear the Roman Catholic mass were able to do so in private. Elizabeth became the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

The other issue that plagued Elizabeth during her reign was who she was going to marry. There were many candidates, foreign and English suitors, but Elizabeth would not commit herself to one man, instead she decided to remain single and considered herself the mother of the English people. The man who probably had the best chance of marrying Elizabeth was Robert Dudley. Dudley was the brother of Guilford Dudley, the husband of Lady Jane Grey. He was married to Amy Robsart, but she died of a fall in 1560 and Dudley was accused of her murder. He was created the Earl of Leicester in 1564. Dudley remarried in 1578 to one of Elizabeth’s Maid of the Privy Chamber, Lettice Knollys. This made Elizabeth angry and she banished Lettice from court. Dudley would die in 1588, shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Robert Dudley tried for over 20 years to convince Elizabeth to marry him and it resulted in a close friendship, but nothing more.

The other serious contender for the Queen’s hand was Francis, Duke of Anjou, who Elizabeth called her “frog”, heir to the French throne. But again, political considerations made the match ultimately impossible. Other suitors included King Philip II of Spain, King Eric XIV of Sweden, Archduke Charles of Austria, and Henry Duke of Anjou (the duke before Francis). Elizabeth had numerous favorites at her court including Sir Christopher Hatton, Robert Devereux earl of Essex, and Walter Raleigh, just to name a few. The problem was that Elizabeth decided not to marry nor would she declare a successor, even when she contracted smallpox in October 1562 and she thought she might die.

Elizabeth’s refusal to marry or name a successor led to one of the most defining conflicts of Elizabeth’s reign. Catholics viewed Elizabeth as illegitimate and had no right to the throne. To them, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s cousin, had a better claim to the throne. Mary was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret. Elizabeth was persuaded to send a force into Scotland to aid the Protestant rebels, and though the campaign was inept, the resulting Treaty of Edinburgh of July 1560 removed the French threat in the north.When Mary returned to Scotland in 1561 a to take up the reins of power, the country had an established Protestant church and was run by a council of Protestant nobles supported by Elizabeth. Mary refused to ratify the treaty which denied Mary the right to succeed to the English throne.

In 1563 Elizabeth proposed her own suitor, Robert Dudley, as a husband for Mary, without asking either of the two people concerned. Both proved unenthusiastic, and in 1565 Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who carried his own claim to the English throne. The marriage was the first of a series of errors of judgement by Mary that handed the victory to the Scottish Protestants and to Elizabeth. Darnley quickly became unpopular and was murdered in February 1567 by conspirators almost certainly led by James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. On May 15, 1567, Mary married Bothwell, arousing suspicions that she had been in on the murder of Lord Darnley. This lead to Mary’s fall from grace and she was held captive starting in July 1567.

Forced to flee her own country, having abdicated her throne in favour of her infant son, James, Mary landed in England in May 1568, seeking Elizabeth’s help in restoring her to her kingdom. Because the matter of Darnley’s death was unresolved, Elizabeth placed Mary in prison for around 20 years. Of course, this angered the Catholics who saw Mary as the figurehead of their cause, so there were plots and plans to get Mary out of prison and place her on the throne instead of Mary. The largest plot was the Babington Plot of the summer of 1586, which laid out plans for Elizabeth’s execution and Spain’s invasion of England. Since Mary knew of the plans, she was tried and found guilty of treason. Elizabeth was very reluctant to sign the death warrant, but eventually she did. Mary Queen of Scots was executed on February 8, 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle; her son James VI was declared Elizabeth’s heir to the throne.

Another huge challenge for Elizabeth was her relationship with Spain and her former brother-in-law, Philip II. With the discovery of the new world and the age of exploration in full force, piracy was becoming more popular. In 1572, Sir Francis Drake decided to plunder Spanish ships in Central and South America. In 1577, Drake was introduced to Elizabeth and she unofficially encouraged his activities against the Spanish. In December 1577, Drake travelled around the world plundering Spanish ships; he returned to England in September 1580 as a national hero and in April 1581, he was knighted.

By 1588, Elizabeth and Philip were considered enemies. Philip had spoken of invading England and dethroning Elizabeth for years, but the execution of the Queen of Scots gave him an added incentive. In July 1587, Philip received a treaty from the pope that gave his approval on the conquest of England. Now he could claim the English throne for himself and dethrone Elizabeth to restore England to Catholicism. In 1587, Drake was able to lead a successful raid against Cadiz, which delayed the Spanish Armada from invading by a year. In the summer of 1588 he sent his mighty Armada fleet against England. But by superior tactics, ship design, and sheer good fortune, the English defeated them. This was one of Elizabeth’s biggest achievements and made Elizabeth extremely popular in England.

In Ireland, there was a revolt against the English, led by Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. In spring 1599, Elizabeth sent Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, to put the revolt down. To her frustration,he made little progress, even though he begged to go there, and returned to England in defiance of her orders. He was replaced by Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, who took three years to defeat the rebels. Essex thought that when he returned to England, he would be treated like a hero, but he was treated with contempt. This made Essex upset and in February 1601, the earl tried to raise a rebellion in London. He intended to seize the queen but few rallied to his support, and he was beheaded on February 25, 1601.

After Essex’s death, Elizabeth’s health began to deteriorate. She would die at the age on 69 on March 24, 1603 at Richmond Palace. Elizabeth was interred in Westminster Abbey, in a tomb shared with her half-sister, Mary I.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_I_of_England#Mary,_Queen_of_Scots
http://www.elizabethi.org/contents/biography/
https://www.biography.com/people/queen-elizabeth-i-9286133
Ashley, Michael. A Brief History of British Kings & Queens. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 2008.

Book Review: “Elizabeth’s Rival” by Nicola Tallis

61RyJJYKwfL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_When we think of Lettice Knollys, we often think about the kinswoman who made Elizabeth I really mad when she married Robert Dudley, Elizabeth’s favorite. These two women were once best of friends, but that one event torn then apart forever.  However, there is more to Lettice Knollys than this one event. She was married three times, survived seven different monarchs, and lived well into her nineties. Her story has always been hidden, until now. Lettice Knollys story is finally being told in “Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Life of the Countess of Leicester: The Romance and the Conspiracy that Threatened Queen Elizabeth’s Court” by Nicola Tallis.

Lettice Knollys was born on November 6, 1543 to Sir Francis Knollys and Katherine Carey; her mother was the Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn and mistress to Henry VIII. Lettice was one of sixteen children. Her family was solely devoted to their Protestant faith and to their service to the crown. Two of Lettice’s brothers, Robert and William, would later become favorites in Elizabeth’s court. Katherine Carey would be one of the ladies in Elizabeth’s court alongside Katherine Knollys and Lettice; Lettice and Elizabeth became very good companions very quickly. Lettice caught the eye of one Walter Devereux, Viscount Hereford, and sometime between 1560 and 1562, they were married, much to the chagrin of the queen who wanted her ladies to remain single. They would have four children: Dorothy, Penelope, Robert and Walter (named after his father).

Both Sir Francis Knollys and Walter Devereux would travel towards Scotland to deal with rebellion for Elizabeth, but Walter would also travel to Ireland for Elizabeth as well. While Walter was away, it is rumored that Robert Dudley had an affair with Lettice after his wife Amy died in 1560, but in 1574, Robert was having an affair with Douglas Sheffield. When Walter died on September 22, 1576, Lettice was  left to deal with the copious amount of debt her husband left her. It wasn’t until September 21, 1578 when Robert Dudley and Lettice Knollys would marry in secret.

Elizabeth would banish Lettice from court forever, but Lettice’s story does not end there. In fact, this is where her story picks up the pace. After Robert Dudley died on September 4, 1588, he left Lettice with yet again a copious amount of debt to pay off so in July 1589, she married Sir Christopher Blount, thinking that he would help alleviate some of the debt; he did not. On top of all of this, her children were having their own martial difficulties and her son Robert Devereux, the 3rd Earl of Essex, would launch an unsuccessful rebellion against Elizabeth and would be executed February 25, 1601; Sir Christopher Blount would also be executed on March 18, 1601. After Elizabeth I died on March 24, 1603, Lettice thought her problems would be solved after James I cleared all of her debt, but Dudley’s illegitimate son by Douglas Sheffield, Robin Sheffield, would file a suit against her, which Lettice would win. On December 25, 1634, Lettice Knollys would die after living well into her 90’s.

Nicola Tallis does an excellent job in navigating Lettice’s life and times. With the amount of research and care Tallis took in portraying this woman who was once hidden in history behind her husband Robert Dudley and Elizabeth I. Her story is one of survival and strength. With this fabulous book, “Elizabeth’s Rival” by Nicola Tallis, Lettice Knollys will not be hidden in the past anymore.