On October 6th, 1573, Henry Wriothesley, the 2nd Earl of Southampton, announced in a letter to his friend, William More,
…God hath sent me after all my longe trubles, which is that this present morning, at iii of clok, my wife was dd. [delivered] of a goodly boy (God bless him!)
This “goodly boy” was christened Henry Wriothesley and would eventually inherit the earldom becoming the 3rd Earl of Southampton. The “longe trubles” Wriothesley referred to pertained to his two-year imprisonment in the Tower for his involvement in the Ridolfi Plot (a conspiracy plot to assist the Duke of Norfolk in raising an English Catholic army to depose Queen Elizabeth and place Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, on the English throne).
As you will learn in a future post, Wriothesley “Senior” passed the rebellious gene to his son, earning the 3rd Earl of Southampton his own 3-year stay in the Tower years later.
Shortly after young Henry’s birth, his parents’ marriage was on the rocks. Mary Browne Wriothesley, the Countess of Southampton, was suspected of adulterous behavior and kept under strict surveillance by her own husband in one of their Hampshire residences.
The 2nd Earl of Southampton was so convinced of her infidelity that he left her out of his will and even forbade her to have any contact with her children (Henry and his surviving sister, Mary).
On October 4th 1581, the 2nd Earl of Southampton died leaving his only son, Henry, the earldom. In his will, the earl left a ring for Queen Elizabeth with his following wish: “beseeching her to be good to my little infants, whom I hope to be good servants and subjects of her Majesty and of the State” (Stopes 4-5). As we will learn in a later post, though Wriothesley strove to place himself in the queen’s good favor, he was continuously denied this privilege.
Because of Harry’s young age, and his father’s decree that he was forbidden to live with his mother, the young earl became a Royal Ward; however, his wardship was first given to Lord Charles Howard, Lord High Admiral and later transferred to William Cecil, Lord Burghley.
Until he arrived at the age of 21, young Wriothesley, and his inherited portion of his late father’s estate, remained under the control and spent at the discretion of Cecil, Master of the Wards.
In G.P.V. Akrigg’s biography, Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton, we are given an idea of what Harry’s studies at Cecil House may have included.
He cites from B.M. Ward’s biography, The Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, the following schedule which had been determined by Cecil for one of his previous wards, Edward de Vere:
- 7:00 – 7:30 Dancing
- 7:30 – 8:00 Breakfast
- 8:00 – 9:00 French
- 9:00 – 10:00 Latin
- 10:00 -10:30 Writing and Drawing
- Then Common Prayers and so to dinner
- 1:00 – 2:00 Cosmography
- 2:00 – 3:00 Latin
- 3:00 – 4:00 French
- 4:00 – 4:30 Exercises with his pen
- Then Common Prayers and so to supper.
While living at Cecil House, Harry would have met Cecil’s sons: Thomas and Robert.
Robert Cecil, whom Elizabeth nicknamed her “elf” and “pigmy,” would eventually succeed his father as the preeminent advisor to both Queen Elizabeth and her successor, King James I.
Over the years, “Southampton and Robert Cecil would be both adversaries and friends…One day it would lie with Sir Robert Cecil whether or not Southampton should die with Essex on the scaffold” (Akrigg 27).
In a future post, we will take a look at Southampton’s brief, yet costly, association with
Lady Elizabeth Vere, the granddaughter of William Cecil and daughter of Edward de Vere. I find this relationship most curious when used as a supplemental lens through which to view the first seventeen of Shakespeare’s Sonnets: the “procreation sonnets.”
We will ponder these sonnets, and take a respite from the history lessons, in my upcoming blog posts.