Guilty of Treason (Part 2: Southampton in the Tower)

Southampton's Letter to His Wife After the Failure of the Essex Rebellion

Southampton’s Letter to His Wife After the Failure of the Essex Rebellion

(In Modern English)

To my Bess:

Sweetheart I doubt not but you shall hear ere my letter come to you of the misfortune of your friends, be not too apprehensive of it, for God’s will must be done, & what is allotted to us by destiny cannot bee avoided; believe that in this time there is nothing can so much comfort me as to think you are well & take patiently what hath happened, & contrarywise I shall live in torment if I find you vexed for my cause, doubt not but I shall do well & please yourself with assurance that I shall ever remain

Your affectionate husband
H. Southampton

Henry Wriothesley and Trixie, in the Tower c.1601-1603. Painted by John de Critz the Elder.

Henry Wriothesley in the Tower c.1601-1603.
Painted by John de Critz the Elder.

This passionate letter most likely never made it to its addressee.  It was written by Southampton to his wife either while he was temporarily detained at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace at Lambeth, or after he had been transferred to his prison chambers within the Tower.

Mercifully, Southampton’s execution day never came.  There are several possible reasons why Robert Cecil had Southampton’s sentence commuted from execution to life imprisonment.  Public sentiment leaned toward the side of Essex and his followers, especially after the botched-up beheading; therefore, another execution could potentially create a hostile environment for Elizabeth’s government.

One factor that may have weighed heavily on Cecil’s conscience is mentioned in an excerpt from the desperate letter written to Cecil by Southampton’s mother, Mary:

It appeared to me many times his earnest  desire to recover her Majesty’s favour, his doleful discontented behaviour when he could not obtain it, how apt despair made him at length to receive evil counsel and follow such company…

Akrigg points out:  “If Queen Elizabeth had not so relentlessly maintained her dislike of Southampton, denying him access to her Court, and refusing him from the generalship of the horse in Ireland and then the governorship of Connaught, Southampton might never have turned to treason” (129).

King James I of England and VI of Scotland, by John De Critz the Elder

King James I of England and VI of Scotland, by John De Critz the Elder

The sickly earl remained imprisoned in the Tower for over two years.  When Elizabeth I died on March 24, 1603, James VI of Scotland peacefully ascended the throne of England. 

As mentioned in a previous post, Essex and Southampton had championed James’ right to succession.  So, one of his first acts as England’s king was to send forth orders from his castle at Edinburgh for Southampton’s release.

On April 10, 1603, Henry Wriothesley was given a chance to start anew with his title and estate restored to him.

Months later, Southampton was installed into the order of the Knights of the Garter, appointed to the Privy Council, and the sweet wine profits that had once been granted to Essex, were transferred to him.  Things were looking hopeful for Southampton with a new sovereign on the throne.

Sadly though, as time passed, the headstrong earl would fall out of James’ favor, too.  But I will take a breather from the history lessons for now.

As promised, in an upcoming post, we will briefly examine some controversial theories that suggest a very intimate connection between Southampton and Shakespeare.

Hint:  If you’ve seen the 2011 Roland Emmerich film Anonymous, you’ll know where I’m heading!

Southampton and Oxford as portrayed by Xavier Samuels and Rhys Ifans in Anonymous

Southampton and Oxford, as portrayed by Xavier Samuels and Rhys Ifans in Anonymous

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