Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton was born on 24th April 1545 and was the only surviving son of Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton and Jane Cheney. At his christening at St Andrew’s, Holborn, both King Henry VIII and Charles Brandon were appointed his godfathers and Princess Mary was his godmother. Wriothesley had five sisters and two brothers, who both died young.
From the age of two until his father’s death in July 1550 he was called Lord Wriothesley but after his father’s death he inherited his earldom and became a royal ward. The King granted Wriothesley’s custody to Sir William Herbert before it was acquired by his mother before being granted in 1560 to Sir William More of Loseley.
On 19th February 1566 Wriothesley married the 13 year old Mary Browne, daughter of Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu. Wriothesley was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn on 19th March of the same year. Wriothesley reached his majority as well in 1556 and was granted his inheritance by letters patent on 7th February 1568, according to J.G. Elzinga in their biography of Wriothesley; he had six residences and an income that was between £2000 and £3000.
Wriothesley was raised Catholic and there was a strain during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the strain first arose in February 1569 when Wriothesley’s brother in law wrote to Sir William Cecil saying that Wriothesley should be ‘rather charitably won than severely corrected’ when it came to religion. In the summer of 1569 Queen Elizabeth visited Wriothesley at his home at Titchfield Abbey, however, by November of the same year along with his father in law, Viscount Montagu, Wriothesley were implicated in the Northern Rebellion in particularly in a letter from Guerau de Spes, the Spanish ambassador, to the Duke of Alba dated 1st December 1569 in which he wrote that both Wriothesley and his father in law ‘have sent to me for advice as to whether they should take up arms or go over to your Excellency’. Wriothesley and Montagu set sail for Flanders but bad weather forced them back to England and they were summoned to appear in front of the council to explain their actions, although they both remained unpunished.
Following Pope Pius V excommunication of Elizabeth in May 1570 Wriothesley contacted the Bishop of Ross, John Lesley, and attempted to secretly meet him in the marshes of Lambeth where he was intercepted and on 18th June 1570 his arrest was ordered by the Privy Council and he was placed under house arrest at the home of Henry Becher, Sheriff of London. On 15th July he was transferred to Loseley and was now in the custody of Sir William More. More was instructed to ensure that Wriothesley took part in Protestant devotions and after complying Wriothesley was released in November of the same year.
In September 1571 whilst John Lesley was being questioned regarding the Ridolfi Plot he revealed the full story regarding his meeting with Wriothesley and as a result Wriothesley was arrested and placed in the Tower of London for 18 months. He was eventually released on 1st May 1573 and once again placed into the custody of Sir William More at Loseley until 14th July when he was permitted to live with his father in law at Cowdray although his movement was restricted.
On 6th October 1573 Wriothesley wrote to Sir William More to announce the birth of his son, Henry the future 3rd Earl of Southampton. For the next six years Wriothesley was granted small offices from the Queen and seemed to be in favour. Following his mother’s death in 1574 his income grew and he commissioned the building of a mansion at Dogmersfield.
Wriothesley’s marriage began to deteriorate at in 1577 he reportedly forbid his wife from seeing Donsame, although just two years later a report was given to Wriothesley stating that his wife had been seen with Donsame at Dogmersfield. As a result he banished her to one of his Hampshire estates under surveillance however, his wife, Mary, defended herself denied all accusations of adultery instead accusing Thomas Dymock, a servant of causing the rift between herself and her husband.
Wriothesley died on 4th October 1581 at his home of Itchell, Dogmersfield and was buried at Titchfield on 30th November. He left behind an estate valued at £1097 6s per annum, in his will he named Thomas Dymock and Charles Paget as executors. His estranged wife contested the will with the aid of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester and a settlement was agreed on 11th December 1581 in which Thomas Dymock would retain that what was bequested to him but the rest of the estate was passed into the care of Edward Gage, another executor of Wriothesley’s will.
alongside the tomb of his mother, Jane Cheney.