Monday, July 23, 2012

On This Day in Elizabethan History: The Death of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon

A portrait of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, by Steven van Herwijk. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

On this day in Elizabethan history, Queen Elizabeth I's maternal first cousin Henry Carey, 1st  Baron Hunsdon and Lord Chamberlain of England, died in 1596 at the royal residence of Somerset House. His death came a mere week after the passing of his sister's husband, Sir Francis Knollys, and the Queen was devastated (Weir, 266).

A closeup of the tomb effigy of Henry Carey's brother-in-law, Sir Francis Knollys. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Queen Elizabeth I was close to very few people in her life; her Carey cousins (the children of Mary Boleyn) were some of the few people to enjoy a personal rather than merely professional relationship with their Queen. Henry Carey, like his sister Katherine Carey, Lady Knollys, was unfailingly loyal to the Queen, serving her selflessly and asking for next to nothing in return. Elizabeth treated  her cousins more informally than the rest of her courtiers, and allowed them to speak to her frankly, and in Henry Carey's case, sometimes crassly, without much reprimand. It certainly helped that the Carey siblings were also no dynastic threat, unlike Mary Stuart, the Grey sisters, and Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox (Weir, 259).

A detail of a portrait of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox c.1560-65. Margaret Douglas was the daughter of Margaret Tudor by her second husband, Archibald Douglas, the 6th Earl of Angus. Margaret's marriage to Matthew Stewart, the 4th Earl of Lennox produced Henry, Lord Darnley, the tempestuous second husband of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. Thus, Margaret Douglas was the grandmother of James VI of Scotland, later James I of England. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Rumors continually circulated that Henry Carey and his sister Katherine were actually the illegitimate children of King Henry VIII. There is a much stronger case that it was Katherine, not Henry, who had royal blood flowing through her veins.

Portrait of a Pregnant Lady by Steven van der Muelen, most likely Katherine Carey-Knollys, c. 1562. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Born in 1524, Henry Carey grew up first under the care of his aunt, Queen Anne Boleyn, who secured his wardship from her husband. His tutor was Nicholas Bourbon, a Protestant reformer Anne Boleyn had rescued.

A sketch by Holbein of the humanist and reformer Nicholas Bourbon. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

After Queen Anne's execution, young Henry continued to enjoy royal favor in the household of King Henry VIII. We know that Henry Carey, like his sister, was in the young Elizabeth's circle very early on; Elizabeth Tudor's Hatfield accounts from 1551-1552 show that Elizabeth was giving gifts to her cousin (Weir, 257). Additional evidence supporting their already close relationship is that Henry Carey would spend much of his patrimony to aid Elizabeth during her imprisonment in the Tower during the reign of her sister, Mary I (Weir, 262).

A miniature of Queen Anne Boleyn by Hoskins. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

In 1545, Henry Carey married the 16-year-old Anne Morgan, the daughter of an obscure Welshman, Sir Thomas Morgan of Arkstone, Herefordshire (Weir, 257). One of the many bits of contemporary evidence Weir uses to build her case that Henry Carey was not King Henry VIII's illegitimate son is that his marriage, arranged by the King, was to a woman of no great importance. This is in marked contrast to Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond's important marriage to Mary Howard.

A portrait of Anne Morgan, Baroness Hunsdon by a follower of George Gower. This portrait is on display at Hatfield House. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Henry and his wife had a prolific marriage, spanning over 50 years and producing a dozen children. The marriage was marred by more than a few infidelities on Henry's part, one of which was with Aemilia Bassano Lanier (or Lanyer), the first female professional poet in England and a possible candidate for Shakespeare's "Dark Lady" (Weir, 266). Many of Henry Carey's extramarital relationships appear to have been long-term, involved affairs, rather that brief indiscretions, and a few produced illegitimate children. Still, Anne and her son's had included in Henry Carey's epitaph, on his impressive monument at Westminster Abbey, that they considered him to be, "the best of fathers and the dearest of husbands" (Weir, 257-58).

A miniature portrait of a woman c. 1593 by Nicholas Hilliard, possibly Aemilia Bassano Lanier. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Upon Elizabeth's accession in 1558, the new Queen immediately gathered her loyal supporters and maternal relatives around her, promoting them to offices in which they could best serve her and the realm. Henry Carey was knighted, and elevated to the peerage, being created the first Baron Hunsdon (Wagner, 52). A few years later, in 1561, Lord Hunsdon was made a Knight of the Garter and a member of the Privy Council, two of the highest honors in the land.

A portrait of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon by Marcus Gheeraerts. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Henry, Lord Hunsdon excelled at every post given to him by the Queen. His administrative ability earned him the post of Governor of Berwick in 1568; through this post Hunsdon could assist with the always tense Anglo-Scottish relations (Wagner, 52). Part of Hunsdon's duties as Governor of Berwick was to go on diplomatic missions to the Scottish court, and to be in charge of border defenses (Wagner, 52). Still, despite being a kinsman Elizabeth and one of her best men, Hunsdon was himself subject to the parsimonious nature of the Queen, constantly asking for his wages so that he could do his job properly.

One of Hunsdon's finest (and arguably, one of the most savage) episodes in his career was when he brought down one of the most dangerous threats of Queen Elizabeth's reign, the Rebellion of the Northern Earls. His defeat of the earls in battle in 1569 earned him high praise from the Queen. While an official form letter was composed and sent out from the crown in gratitude to those who had quelled the Northern Rebellion, Queen Elizabeth added a personalized, rather heart-felt, post-script to Lord Hunsdon's letter (Weir, 263).

In 1583 Baron Hunsdon was elevated to become Lord Chamberlain of England, a profound distinction. In the mid-1590's, Hunsdon became a patron of a company of actors that became known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men. The Lord Chamberlain's Men included the celebrated Elizabethan thespian Richard Burbage. Hunsdon was immortalized through theatrical characters in several notable works; one of the more recognizable examples is his incarnation as Philostrate in A Midsummer Night's Dream (Weir, 266).

A detail of a portrait of Richard Burbage by an unknown artist. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Hunsdon was generous patron not only in the theatre world, but in the art world as well; Hunsdon was a patron of the court painter Nicholas Hilliard, commissioning the famous miniature of Queen Elizabeth playing her lute.

A miniature portrait of Queen Elizabeth I playing her lute c. 1580, by Nicholas Hilliard. This work was commissioned by her cousin, Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Weir also puts forth a theory that Hunsdon possibly commissioned portraits of his parent's, Mary Boleyn and William Carey, to hang in the gallery at Brooke House or Hunsdon House (Weir, 280).

A portrait of Henry Carey's father, William Carey. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

In 1586 Hunsdon was made a commissioner at the trial of Mary Stuart, the deposed Queen of Scots (Wagner, 53). Other commissioners found this a heavy, unsettling appointment, but as Hunsdon had proven during the Northern Rebellion, he was not averse to stomaching situations others found unbearable. Hunsdon's position as a commissioner demonstrated yet again the great trust Queen Elizabeth had in her cousin. As someone who by now had an extensive background in dealing with the Scots diplomatically and on the battlefield, Hunsdon was also given the task of explaining to Mary Stuart's son, James VI of Scotland (later James I of England), why the court had found it necessary to behead his mother (Wagner, 53).

A rendering of the execution of Mary Stuart, the former Queen of Scots, at Fotheringay Castle on February 8th, 1587. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Shortly thereafter, Queen Elizabeth made "our cousin of Hunsdon" one of the main commanders at the English army's main camp at Tilbury, during the attempted Spanish invasion of England in 1588.

A portrait of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon in old age. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.
Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon served his cousin the Queen well, up until his death in 1596. Hunsdon's children, like his sister's children, would continue to serve Queen Elizabeth I. Hunsdon's youngest son Robert Carey, later the Earl of Monmouth, and his second-youngest daughter Philadelphia Carey, Lady Scrope, took care of Elizabeth in her last illness; by Robert Carey's own account in his memoirs, he was the one to take the ring from Queen Elizabeth's hand, (while she was still barely alive, mind you) bringing it to her successor, James VI, in Scotland (Weir, 268).

A portrait c. 1617 of Henry Carey's son Robert Carey, the Earl of Monmouth (center) with his family. From left to right: Henry Carey, 2nd Earl of Monmouth, Elizabeth, Countess of Monmouth, Robert Carey, 1st Earl of Monmouth, Philadelphia, Lady Wharton, and Thomas Carey. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.


Weir, Alison. Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings. New York: Balantine Books, 2011. Print.

"Carey, Henry, Lord Hunsdon." The Historical Dictionary of the Elizabethan World. Print. (By John A. Wagner)