Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On This Day in Elizabethan History: The Death of Sir Christopher Hatton

A detail of a portrait of Sir Christopher Hatton, circa 1575. Image public domain through Creative Commons licensing, NPG, London.
On this day in Elizabethan history in 1591, Lord Chancellor Christopher Hatton, whom Queen Elizabeth affectionately called her "lids" and her "sheep", died in London at Ely Palace. The Queen herself had visited her ailing favorite on November 11th. A month after his passing, on December 16th, there was a state funeral for Hatton at the Old St. Paul's Cathedral. His monument, which stood at the altar, was described as "...an outrage to the susceptibilities of the devout but an object of marvel to London sightseers until the Great Fire of 1666 dethroned and destroyed it" (Deacon, 213).

Since Henry VII, the Tudors had favored promoting men in government based on merit rather than hereditary right. Christopher Hatton was a prime example of one of these "new men". The second son of a member of the Northamptonshire gentry, William Hatton, and his second wife Alice Saunders, Christopher became a leading figure in Queen Elizabeth's court.

Unlike most to join Queen Elizabeth's inner circle, Hatton was no academic. Though he was able to attend Oxford in the 1550's, he received no degree, and after being admitted to the Inner Temple (one of the four residences for learning common law and appointing barristers) in 1559, he was never actually called to the bar (Wagner, 145). So, even though Hatton took the traditional path to earn a career at court, he did not succeed in his academic endeavors, and it was therefore assumed that he earned his place through his skills at dancing. 

The handsome Hatton had first caught the Queen's eye when he performed a dance for her at the court masque given at the Inner Temple during the Christmas celebrations of 1561 (Wagner, 145). In just three years, Hatton had benefited from Queen Elizabeth's patronism, receiving court appointments and grants of land and money. Over time, Hatton honed his abilities as a politician, and Queen Elizabeth entrusted him with more responsibilities. In 1572, Queen Elizabeth made him captain of her Royal Guard. 1577 was an excellent year for Hatton, since he was both knighted and appointed to the Privy Council. He sat for Northamptonshire in several parliaments, and became the Queen's spokesman in the Commons. 

A portrait of Sir Christopher Hatton by an artist after Cornelius Ketel, circa 1585. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Hatton was now in a position to become a patron himself; Edmund Spenser and Thomas Churchyard benefited from his support. Hatton was also one of the first courtiers to invest in Sir Francis Drake's attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1577. In tribute, Drake's famous ship, the Golden Hind, was named after one of the heraldic emblems on Hatton's coat-of-arms (Wagner, 145).

A reproduction of Drake's Golden Hind. Photo acquired through Wikimedia Commons, shared for public use by Steve FE Cameron.

Hatton's rapid rise at court was somewhat stalled by his opposition to Queen Elizabeth's proposed marriage to Francis, Duke of Alencon, and his rivalry with another favorite of the Queen, Sir Walter Raleigh. Also, Hatton, along with most of the Queen's advisers, supported the idea of executing Mary Stuart, the former Queen of Scots, which earned him Elizabeth's displeasure (Wagner, 145). Hatton encouraged secretary William Davison to defy the Queen's orders and send Mary Stuart's signed execution warrant to Fotheringay, rather that retain it indefinitely, as she had instructed. After the Queen's wrath dissipated, Hatton was welcomed back into the royal fold.

A portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, circa 1578. Attributed to Oultry. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Like the Queen, Hatton was a religious moderate, and opposed any drastic actions taken against Puritans and Catholics. The Puritan's suspected him of being a secret Catholic, and a Puritan fanatic actually tried to assassinate him in 1573.

In 1587, Hatton earned his most distinguished position, becoming Lord Chancellor, which was the most important legal position in the land; this was quite the triumph for a man that never made the bar! In 1588, after Queen Elizabeth's world was turned upside-down by the death of her long-time friend and favorite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, someone needed to succeed to his many positions; Hatton became the next Chancellor of Oxford University and the High Steward of Cambridge University (Wagner, 145). For Queen Elizabeth to select Hatton as her beloved Leicester's successor signifies her placement of trust in his abilities, and her affection for him.

A miniature portrait of Sir Christopher Hatton, circa 1588-91. By Nicholas Hilliard. Hatton is shown with the seal of his office of Lord Chancellor on the table by his side. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Sir Christopher Hatton succeeded in one way where Leicester had always failed Elizabeth; the consummate courtier, Hatton never married. However, it was rumored that he had married secretly, and perhaps fathered an illegitimate child. Hatton's nephew, Sir William Newport, inherited his estates upon his death. As a sign of respect, Newport adopted the surname Hatton. Also passing without issue, the Hatton estates passed to a second Christopher Hatton in 1597.


Wagner, John. A. "Hatton, Sir Christopher". The Historical Dictionary of the Elizabethan World. First ed. 2002. Print.

Deacon, Malcolm. The Courtier and the Queen. Northampton: Park Lane Publishing, 2008. Print.