Tag Archives: Elizabeth I

On this day in 1586 – Sir Philip Sidney died

Sir Philip Sidney was born on 30th November 1554 at Penshurst Place, Kent to Sir Henry Sidney and his wife Lady Mary Dudley. His uncle was Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. Sidney was educated at Shrewsbury School and later Christ Church, Oxford.

In 1572 Sidney was elected as Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury and he also travelled to France in the same year as part of the team tasked with negotiating the marriage of Queen Elizabeth I and the Duc D’Alençon. Whilst in France Sidney witnessed the St. Bartholomew’s day massacre in Paris on 24th August 1572. Sidney would spend the next few years travelling around Europe visiting countries like; Germany, Italy, Poland, Hungary and Austria during this time Sidney met many prominent politicians and even visited an exiled Jesuit priest, Edmund Campion. Sidney returned to England in 1575 and he soon met Penelope Devereux, Devereux would go on to inspire Sidney’s sonnet entitled ‘Astophel and Stella.’ Devereux’s father had planned to marry his daughter to Sidney but died before the marriage could take place.

Aged 22 Sidney was sent on a diplomatic mission by the Queen and was sent to Rudolf II, the German Emperor, and Louis VI, Prince of Orange, in order to present the Queen’s condolences on the death of their fathers. Sidney was also tasked with learning whether the Spanish and their control over Europe was a threat to England. Sidney returned and gave the Queen a positive report of his mission, but his age and lack of experience went against him and Elizabeth sent other diplomats to gather information, they returned with a less optimistic view than the one Sidney returned with.

Sidney opposed the Queen’s prospective French marriage which caused some tensions within the political world. He wrote a detailed letter to her in 1579 outlining why she should not marry the Duke of Anjou, although moved by the letter the Queen reprimanded Sidney for speaking out of line as he was still a commoner. Sidney would go on to clash with Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, regarding the Queen’s marriage. In August 1579 Oxford and Sidney would clash during a performance of play with Oxford insulting Sidney during an exchange between the two Sidney would leave but the following day sent Oxford a reminder of honour’s obligation ad Oxford responded. The Queen and the council heard of the argument and quickly put a stop to it. As a result Sidney retired from the court for the next year and stayed with his younger sister, Mary, in Wilton.

During his time in retirement Sidney wrote ‘Arcadia’ originally entitled ‘The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia’ with the title being a reference to his sister.

ArcadiaSir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia

In January 1581 Sidney was a Member of Parliament for Kent, a post he also held in 1584. During this time at court he met Penelope Devereux and quickly fell in love with the future Lady Rich. The love could not grow and he wrote ‘Astrophil and Stella’ about his experiences of impossible love, with Penelope being the inspiration.

In 1583 Sidney was restored to the Queen’s favour and was knighted and stood in for Prince Casimir who was being inducted as a Garter Knight. Later in this year Sidney married Frances Walsingham, daughter of Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. The marriage was opposed by the Queen who felt that she could use Walsingham’s daughter for a political marriage. As part of the couple’s marriage Sir Francis paid off £1500 of Sidney’s debt and to allow the couple the chance to save money they moved into the Walsingham family home.

Sidney was sent abroad in the service of the Queen and on 22nd September 1586 he was wounded at Zutphen in the Netherlands. Sidney was serving under his uncle, Robert Dudley, in his first military campaign. He was hit in the thigh with a musket ball after giving his leg armour away to a soldier who had none. Although his wound was serious he was able to ride the mile back to camp where he arrived with a large loss of blood. He was offered water upon arrival but shunned it so another wounded soldier could drink some. It was believed that Sidney would recover from the injury and so was taken to Arnhem to recover. Sidney died 26 days after being shot on 17th October 1586, his body was returned to England in a boat that sailed with black sails and the court went into mourning. A state funeral was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral .

Sir Philip SidneySir Philip Sidney

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On this day in 1537 – Prince Edward was christened

Three days after Jane Seymour gave birth, the future King Edward VI was christened on 15th October 1537 in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court.

The celebrations spared no expense as Henry could finally celebrate the birth of a legitimate son. A procession left the Queen’s apartments to take the new born Prince to the Chapel Royal where in front of a large crowd Archbishop Cranmer performed the baptism. Edward’s sister, Elizabeth, carried the chrisom cloth with the aid of his uncle, Edward Seymour. Princess Mary acted as godmother whilst Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and Archbishop Cranmer acted as godfathers.

In the Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII documented in details the events of the day.

The preparations ordained for the said christening at Hampton Court.” Describing minutely the course of the Edward VI infantprocession and the decorations of the chapel, with the positions occupied by the officers of the household (Sir John Russell, Sir Fras. Bryan, Sir Nic. Carew and Sir Ant. Browne in aprons and towels were to take charge of the font until discharged by the lord Steward, or, in his absence, the Treasurer of the Household). The order of going to the christening was: First, certain gentlemen two and two bearing torches not lighted until the prince be Christened. Then the children and ministers of the King’s chapel, with the dean, “not singing going outward.” Gentlemen esquires and knights two and two. Chaplains of dignity two and two. Abbots and bishops. The King’s councillors. Lords two and two. The comptroller and treasurer of the Household. The ambassador. The three lords chamberlains and the lord Chamberlain of England in the midst. The lord Cromwell, being lord Privy Seal, and the lord Chancellor. The duke of Norfolk and abp. Of Canterbury. A pair of covered basins borne by the earl of Sussex, supported by the lord Montague. A “taper of virgin wax borne by the earl of Wiltshire in a towel about his neck.” A salt of gold similarly borne by the earl of Essex. “Then the crysome richly garnished borne by the lady Elizabeth, the King’s daughter: the same lady for her tender age was borne by the viscount Beauchamp with the assistance of the lord.” Then the Prince borne under the canopy by the lady marquis of Exeter, assisted by the duke of Suffolk and the marquis her husband. The lady mistress went between the prince and the supporter. The train of the Prince’s robe borne by the earl of Arundel and sustained by the lord William Howard.” “The nurse to go equally with the supporter of the train, and with her the midwife.” The canopy over the Prince borne by Sir Edw. Nevyll, Sir John Wallop, Ric. Long, Thomas Semere, Henry Knyvet, and Mr. Ratclif, of the Privy Chamber. The “tortayes” of virgin wax borne about the canopy my lady Mary, being lady godmother, her train borne by lady Kingston. All the other ladies of honour in their degrees.

When the Prince was christened all the torches were lighted and Garter King at Arms proclaimed his name (proclamation verbatim, titles duke of Cornwall and earl of Chester). “This done, this service following was in time the Prince was making ready in his traverse, and Te Deum sung”:- First, to the lady Mary the lord William to give the towel and the lord Fytzwater to bear covered basins, and the lord Montagew to uncover. Item, to the bishop that doth administer, the lord Butler to bear the towel, the lord Bray to bear the basins and the lord Delaware to uncover. To the duke of Norfolk and abp. Of Canterbury, godfathers, the lord Sturton to bear the towel and the lord Went worth to give the water. To serve the ladies Mary and Elizabeth with spices, wafers, and wine: the lord Hastings to bear the cup to lady Mary, and the lord Delaware that to lady Elizabeth; lord Dacres of the South to bear the spice plates to both, lord Cobham the wafers, and lord Montagew to uncover the spice plate. The bishop that doth administer, the duke of Norfolk and abp. Of Canterbury, godfathers at the font, and the duke of Suffolk, godfather at the confirmation, to be likewise served by knights appointed by the lord Chamberlain. All other estates and gentles within the church were served with spice and ypocras, and all other had bread and sweet wine.

The going homeward was like the coming outward, saving that the taper, salt and basin were left and the gifts of the gossips carried, i.e. Lady Mary, a cup of gold borne by the earl of Essex; the archbishop, 3 great bowls and 2 great pots, silver and gilt, borne by the earl of Wiltshirel Norfolk, ditto, borne by the earl of Sussex; Suffolk, 2 great flagons and 2 great pots, silver and gilt, borne by Viscount Beauchamp. Lady Elizabeth went with her sister Lady Mary and Lady Herbert of Troy to bear the train. Sounding of the trumpets. Taking of “assayes.” The Prince was then borne to the King and Queen and had the blessing of God, Our Lady, and St. George, and his father and mother. And the same day the King gave great largess.”

In 2014 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Hampton Court Palace they recreated Edward’s christening.

On this day in 1586 – The trial of Mary Queen of Scots began

The trial of Mary Queen of Scots began at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire on 14th October 1586. Despite being kept essentially under house arrest for the duration of her time in England she was finally officially arrested on 11th August 1586 after being implicated in the Babington Plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and place Mary on the throne of England in her place. Mary had letters smuggled out of Chartley thinking that they were safe however; they were delivered straight to Sir Francis Walsingham who deciphered and copied them before allowing them to continue to the intended recipients. It was clear in these letters that Mary endorsed the killing of her cousin. Following her arrest she was transferred to Fotheringhay Castle and placed on trial charged with treason under the Act for the Queen’s Safety.

Mary stood trial in front of 36 noblemen that included Cecil, Shrewsbury and Walsingham himself. Mary denied the charges that were put before her and initially refused to even attend the trial but was told by Cecil that it would go ahead with or without her presence. Mary eventually appeared in front of the jury at 9am dressed in a black velvet gown and a white cambric cap and veil. She began to argue that the court was not legitimate and that she had not been allowed to seek legal representation or arrange for any witnesses to appear on her behalf.

Trial of Mary QoSThe counsel seated for the trial

The trial began with the intricate details of the Babington Plot being retold to the jurors and accused Mary of giving her blessing to the plot. A brief exchange occurred between Mary and the jurors;

Mary: I knew not Babington. I never received any letters from him, nor wrote any to him. I never plotted the destruction of the Queen. If you want to prove it, then produce my letters signed with my own hand.
Counsel: But we have evidence of letters between you and Babington.
Mary: If so, why do you not produce them? I have the right to demand to see the originals and copies side by side. It is quite possible that my ciphers have been tampered with by my enemies. I cannot reply to this accusation without full knowledge. Until then, I must content myself with affirming solemnly that I am not guilty of the crimes imputed to me…”

Unknown to Mary, Sir Francis Walsingham had amassed a large collection of evidence against the former Scottish queen that included:-

  • Sir Anthony Babington’s confession
  • A deciphered transcript in English of Mary’s response to Babington
  • A reciphered copy of the original letter sent by Mary to Babington that is an exact replica
  • Confessions from Mary’s personal secretaries.

The court produced this evidence to Mary who broke down in tears but continued to deny any involvement claiming that the evidence presented was fraudulent and that Walsingham was attempting to frame her.

Following a break in the proceedings for lunch the counsel read out the secretaries confessions and although surprised at what was being read out Mary was claiming that the letters must have been intercepted and changed. The proceedings then broke for the day with them to resume the next morning.

trial-of-mary-queen-of-scots-in-fotheringay-castleMary Queen of Scots on trial at Fotheringhay Castle

The next morning saw the counsel go straight into reiterating the accusation that Mary had consented to the plot, the trial would go back and forth between the accusers and Mary with the trial eventually closing with Mary demanding that the case should be heard in front of Parliament and the Queen. Elizabeth delayed the verdict for as long as she could, wrestling with her conscience over whether she could condemn an anointed monarch but eventually on 4th December Elizabeth declared that Mary was indeed guilty but she was unwilling to sign the warrant for her death until 1st February 1587 when Elizabeth asked for William Davison, her secretary, to bring the warrant to her and she signed it but also requested that instead of a public execution she wished that Walsingham wrote to Sir Amyas Paulet, Mary’s jailer, to ask him to perform the task in secret therefore meaning Elizabeth could deny any involvement in it.

However, Paulet was appalled at what was being asked of him and said ‘God forbid that I should make so foul a shipwreck of my conscience or leave so great a blot on my poor posterity’. At the same time Cecil had arranged a secret meeting of the Privy Council where it was agreed that the warrant would be sent to Fotheringhay Castle and appointed the Earls of Kent and Shrewsbury to oversee the execution, they would keep this from Elizabeth until the task was done.

On 8th February 1587 Mary Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringhay Castle.

execution warantMary Queen of Scots execution warant signed by Queen Elizabeth

On this day in 1591 – Sir Edward Waterhouse died

Sir Edward Waterhouse was born in 1535 in Helmstedbury, Hertfordshire, to John Waterhouse and his wife Margaret, his father was once an auditor to King Henry VIII. Edward was educated at Oxford before joining the King’s Court.

Waterhouse began his career at court by being a private secretary to Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy of Ireland and on 1st February 1566 was made clerk of the castle chamber at the same time he received a grant of a lease of the manor of Evan in Co. Kildare and the corn tithes of Dunboyne in Co,. Meath. During a tour of Ireland with Henry Sidney he was left to look after Carrickfergus whilst in care of the town he was a crucial part of obtaining a charter for the town in 1570 and as a result he was created a freeman, he later went on to represent the town in the Irish Parliament of 1585.

Waterhouse married three times firstly to Elizabeth Villiers, daughter of George Villiers whom he divorced in 1578, secondly to Margaret Spilman of Kent and finally to Deborah, widow of Mr. Harlackenden of Woodchurch. Deborah would survive Edward.

He then went on to serve Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex until the Earl’s death, during this time Devereux would sent Waterhouse to England on missions that were connected to the sale of property. Waterhouse gained the trust and gratitude of Devereux and then Earl died in his arms saying ‘Oh, my Ned! Oh, my Ned! Thou art the faithfullest and friendliest gentleman that ever I knew’.

Following Devereux’s death Waterhouse was able to obtain a pension of 10s a day which in 1579 was confirmed as a pension for life. He was then appointed secretary of state by Sir Henry Sidney and between 1576 and 79 was sent back to England to escort over treasure and in connection with the question of cess.

On 5th February 1579 he obtained a grant of the collectorship of customs of wine in Ireland and on 27th June he was appointed commissioner for check of the army, 7th July receiver-general in the exchequer and 25th July receiver of all casualties and casual profits falling to the crown.

Between August and November 1579 Waterhouse attended the movements of the army under Sir William Drury before being sworn in at the Privy Council in the October, but a rebellion of the Earl of Desmond in November saw him return to the army in Munster. The army took up all his time for two years and therefore he dismissed his other duties.

On 17th June 1580 Waterhouse obtained a grant for the office of overseer and water bailiff of the Shannon and on 10th April 1581 he was appointed a commissioner for ecclesiastical causes and on 22nd July of the same year he was granted a lease for 21 years of the lands of Hilltown, Meath.

As his positions grew he caught the eye of Queen Elizabeth who was allegedly jealous over his value in particularly the position of water bailiff of the Shannon and custodian of the boats at Athlone and in the autumn of 1582 he was ordered back to England. His gentle manner won the favour of Lord Burghley and his offer to surrender his posts pleased the queen although she demanded that he wrote a list of all the patents, fee etc that had been granted to him in the past seven years.

Upon his return to Ireland he was given the task alongside Sir Geoffrey Fenton of torturing Dermot O’Hurley, Archbishop of Cashel at the request of Lord Burghley, they were instructed to torture him by toasting his feet in front of a fire.

Waterhouse was knighted on 20th June 1584 by Sir John Perrot in Christ Church, Dublin. Perrot said that the reason was that Waterhouse had dispensed yearly more than a thousand marks.

Waterhouse began surrendering some of his roles in order to keep the peace in Ireland between nobles and at one point sought leave to return to England to plead for the reinstatement of his patent, Elizabeth again demanded a detailed account of his offices and rewards but Waterhouse explained that he had been obliged to sell his land in England to survive.

On 19th October 1586 he was appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer or of the green wax if Ireland, a position that lasted three years when he surrendered it to George Clive after receiving a grant in consideration of his sufficiency and painful good service.

Waterhouse retired to his estate of Woodchurch, Kent in January 1591 where he died on 13th October 1591.

Letter from WaterhouseA letter from Sir Edward Waterhouse

On this day in 1562 – Queen Elizabeth I was taken ill with smallpox

On 10th October 1562 Queen Elizabeth I was taken ill at Hampton Court Palace with smallpox, Elizabeth became so ill with a dangerously high fever that her council began to prepare in case she did not survive the illness. As she lay recovering Elizabeth named Robert Dudley as protector of the kingdom and swore to her councillors that ‘as God was her witness nothing improper had ever passed between them.’

Fortunately the Queen survived, however, her nursemaid Lady Mary Sidney caught the illness from the Queen and was badly disfigured as a result. Mary’s husband wrote in his ‘Memoirs of Services’ the effects the disease had on his wife;

When I went to Newhaven I lefte her a full faire Ladye in myne eye at least the fayerest, and when I returned I found her as fowle a ladie as the smale pox could make her, which she did take by contynuall attendance of her majesties most precious person (sicke of the same disease)the skarres of which (to her resolute discomforte) ever syns hath don and doth remayne in her face, so as she lyveth solitairlie sicut Nicticorax in domicilio suo more to my charge then if we had boorded toether as we did before that evill accident happened.”

Although Elizabeth survived the disease relatively unscathed she did have some minor scarring and hair loss that she began to cover with the use of makeup and wigs. Elizabeth would go on to reign for another 41 years following her illness.

queen-elizabeth-iQueen Elizabeth I

On this day in 1515 – Lady Margaret Douglas was born

Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox was born on 8th October 1515 and was the daughter of Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus and Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland and sister to King Henry VIII. Margaret was born at Harbottle Castle in Northumberland after her mother, Margaret Tudor, fled Scotland after her second husband was threatened by her son King James V.

After Lady Douglas stayed briefly at Berwick Castle with her nurse, Isobel Hoppar, Margaret joined the household of her godfather, Cardinal Wolsey. Following the death of Cardinal Wolsey Margaret was sent to the royal palace of Beaulieu where she lived with King Henry VIII’s daughter, Princess Mary. Margaret and her cousin Mary would be brought up together. Margaret was present at Christmastime at Greenwich Palace in 1530, 1531 and 1532 and King Henry presented his niece each year with a gift of £6 13s 4d.

Following the King’s divorce to Katherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn, Margaret was appointed as a lady-in-waiting to the new queen. It was during this time that Margaret met Lord Thomas Howard and they began a relationship, however by 1535 the couple were secretly engaged. By July 1536 Henry had learnt about his niece’s secret engagement and was furious, he had recently declared that Princess Elizabeth like her elder sister, Mary, was now illegitimate and this left Margaret as next in line to the throne therefore she was expected to seek the King’s permission for any potential marriage. As a result both Margaret and Thomas Howard were imprisoned in the Tower of London and on 18th July 1536 an Act of Attainder was passed in Parliament that sentenced Howard to death for his attempt to ‘interrupt ympedyte and let the seid Succession of the Crowne’. Parliament also included in the Act that it was forbidden that any member of the King’s family could not marry without his permission. Margaret remained in the Tower until she fell ill and the King granted permission for her to be moved to Syon Abbey under the supervision of the abbess. Margaret stayed here until she was released on 29th October 1537, Lord Howard was spared from being executed but remained in the Tower of London until his death two days after Margaret’s release on 31st October 1537.

Margaret wrote to Thomas Cromwell in 1537 shortly before her release to make it known that she had abandoned Howard, she wrote;

My Lord, what cause have I to give you thanks, and how much bound am I unto you, that by your means hath gotten me, as I trust, the King’s grace his favour again, and besides that that it pleaseth you to write and to give me knowledge wherein I might have his Grace’s displeasure again, which I pray our Lord sooner to send me death than that; I assure you, my Lord, I will never do that thing willingly that should offend his Grace.

And my Lord, whereas it is informed you that I do charge the house with a greater number that is convenient, I assure you I have but two more than I had in the Court, which indeed were my Lord Thomas’ servants; and the cause that I took them for was for the poverty that I saw them in, and for no cause else. Be seeing, my Lord, that it is your pleasure that I shall keep none that did belong unto my Lord Thomas, I will put them from me.

And I beseech you not think that any fancy doth remain in me touching him; but that all my study and care is how to please the King’s grace and to continue in his favour. And my Lord, where it is our pleasure that I shall keep but a few here with me, I trust ye will think that I can have no fewer than I have; for I have but a gentleman and a groom that keeps my apparel, and another that keeps my chamber, and a chaplain that was with me always in the Court. Now, my Lord, I beseech you that I may know your pleasure if you would that I should keep any fewer. Howbeit, my Lord, my servants hath put the house to small charge, for they have nothing but the reversion of my board; nor I do call for nothing but that that is given me; howbeit I am very well intreated. And my Lord, as for resort, I promise you I have none, except it be gentlewomen that comes to see me, nor never had since I came hither; for if any resort of men had come it should neither have become me to have seen them, nor yet to have kept them company, being a maid as I am. Now my Lord, I beseech you to be so good as to get my poor servants their wages; and thus I pray to our Lord to preserve you both soul and body.

By her that has her trust in you,
Margaret Douglas”

Margaret returned to court and in 1539 along with the Duchess of Richmond was appointed to greet Anne of Cleves at Greenwich Palace before joining her household staff, however, Henry decided to ride out to meet Anne at Rochester and Anne was put aside just months later. Margaret fell out of favour with the King once more in 1540 after she embarked on a secret affair with Sir Charles Howard, the half nephew of her previous fiancé, Lord Howard, and brother to the King’s new wife, Catherine Howard. Margaret was back at court to be one of the few witnesses to Henry’s final marriage to Catherine Parr. Margaret was appointed as one of Catherine’s chief ladies as they had known each other since they came to court around the same time in the 1520’s.

Margaret DouglasMargaret Douglas

In 1544 Margaret married Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, a Scottish exile who had been involved in the fight for control of Scotland with the Earl of Arran and also the prospect of marriage with Mary of Guise, but it was an offer of marriage to Margaret that Lennox could not refuse. They would go on to have two children Charles Stewart and Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley and second husband to Mary Queen of Scots.

Whilst her childhood friend and cousin, Queen Mary I, was on the throne of England Margaret was assigned rooms in Westminster Palace and in November 1553 Mary told Spanish ambassador, Simon Renard, that she thought Margaret, now Lady Lennox, was best suited to be her successor. Margaret took every opportunity to report gossip to Mary regarding Elizabeth, when Elizabeth was ordered to court after the Wyatt rebellion she was placed in a room in Whitehall that was directly below Margaret’s who turned her room into a kitchen so the noise would disturb the young Princess.

Margaret was integral to Mary and upon her wedding to Philip of Spain she granted Margaret the honour of carrying her train into the ceremony. When Mary died in 1558, Margaret was the chief mourner at her funeral. Following Mary’s death Margaret moved to Yorkshire where she lived at Temple Newsam and was the centre of Roman Catholic activity, which caused issues with her cousin and the new queen, Elizabeth. Whilst in Yorkshire Margaret successfully married her son, Lord Darnley, to Mary Queen of Scots causing a rival claim to the throne of England.

Margaret was sent to the Tower of London in 1566 by Elizabeth but following the murder of her son the following year she was released. Elizabeth wanted to send a clear message that Margaret’s family had no claims to the throne despite the fact she was grandmother to the son of Mary Queen of Scots and Darnley, the future King James. Following her release Margaret cut all association with her daughter in law, especially as she was implicated in the murder of her husband, however, Margaret did reconcile with Mary. With Mary overthrown from the Scottish throne and her infant son chosen over her, Margaret’s husband, Earl of Lennox, acted as regency until his assassination in 1571.

In 1574 Margaret was sent once again to the Tower of London after she arranged the marriage of her youngest son, Charles, to Elizabeth Cavendish – the stepdaughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Margaret was eventually pardoned after her son’s death in 1576. Following her youngest son’s death Margaret cared for his daughter, Lady Arbella Stewart. However, Margaret died shortly after her son on 7th March 1578. Margaret died in deep debt however, Queen Elizabeth I paid for a grand funeral alongside her young son in the south aisle of Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Margaret_Douglas_tombMargaret Douglas’ tomb

On this day in 1577 – George Gascoigne died

George Gascoigne was born in 1535 to Sir John Gascoigne of Cardington, Bedforshire. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge and later enrolled at Middle Temple before becoming a member of Gray’s Inn in 1555.

Gascoigne translated two plays that were performed in 1566 at Gray’s Inn, which was considered the most aristocratic of London’s Inns of Court. The plays were ‘Supposes’ based on Ariosto’s Suppositi and ‘Jocasta which is believed to have been derived from either Euripides’s Phoenissae or Lodovico Dolce’s Giocasta. Gascoigne’s translation of Ariosto is believed to be the first comedy written in English prose and used by William Shakespeare as a source for ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.

At some point it is believed that he was imprisoned for debt and that his father disowned him, however, Gascoigne himself claims that he was obliged to sell his patrimony to pay the debts that he had contracted whilst at court. Between 1557 and 1559 he was M.P for Bedford but when he presented himself for election at Midhurst in 1572 he was refused on the charges of being ‘a defamed person and noted for manslaughter’, ‘a common Rymer and a deviser of slaunderous Pasquelles’, ‘a notorious rufilanne’, and an atheist.

Gascoigne’s own writings were first published in 1573 under the title ‘A Hundredth Sundry Flowres bound up in one small Posie. Gathered partly in the fine outlandish Gardens of Euripides, Ovid, Petrarch, Ariosto and others; and partly by Invention our of our owne fruitfull Orchardes in Englande, Yelding Sundrie Savours of tragical, comical and moral discourse, bothe leas aunt and profitable, to the well-smelling noses of learned readers.’ It was printed by Richarde Smith and the book appeared to be an anthology of courtly poets edited by Gascoigne and two others that went by the initials H.W and G.T. The book is thought to contain courtly scandal and is hinted at throughout with the use of initials and posies with Latin or English tags denoting authors in place of actual names. It was republished two years later with the shorter title ‘The Posies of George Gascoigne, Esquire’ with additions and edits made.

George GascoigneGeorge Gascoigne

In 1572 Gascoigne sailed as a soldier of fortune to the Low Countries where his ship was driven by bad weather to Brielle, which had just fallen into the hands of the Dutch. There Gascoigne obtained a captain’s commission and was active in campaigns over the next two years including the Middelburg siege. Gascoigne was taken prisoner following the evacuation of Valkenburg by English troops during the Siege of Leiden and was sent back to England in late 1574. He wrote his adventures in ‘The Fruites of Warres’ and ‘Gascoigne’s Voyage into Hollande’ and dedicated them to Lord Grey de Wilton.

In 1575 Gascoigne had a share in devising the masques as ‘The Princely Pleasures at the Courte at Kenelworth’ which was in regards to the Queen’s visit to Kenilworth and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. In the same year at Woodstock he delivered a prose speech in front of the Queen and was present at a reading of the ‘Pleasant Tale of Hemetes the Hermit’ which Gascoigne then translated into Latin, Italian and French and gifted it to the Queen the following New Year during the annual gift exchange with members of the court.

Gascoigne died on 7th October 1577 at Walcot Hall, Barnack near Stamford where he was the guest of George Whetstone. He was buried in the Whetstone family vault at St John the Baptist’s Church, Barnack.

George Gascoigne tombThe tomb of George Gascoigne