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Authors: Peter Brimacombe

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All the Queen's Men

All the
The World of

Peter Brimacombe

First published in 2000 by Sutton Publishing

This edition first published in 2003

The History Press

The Mill, Brimscombe Port

Stroud, Gloucestershire,
5 2

This ebook edition first published in 2012

All rights reserved

© Peter Brimacombe, 2000, 2003, 2012

The right of Peter Brimacombe, to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights, and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

978 0 7524 7404 5

978 0 7524 7403 8

Original typesetting by The History Press




The Tudor Kingdom

At the Royal Court

Portrait of a Queen

The Statesmen

The Seafarers

The Explorers

The Suitors

Men of God

The Scholars

Cambridge Connections

The Creators

Men at War




hile I was living in Plymouth several years ago, A.L. Rowse came to lunch, thereby introducing me to the world of Queen Elizabeth I. It is with considerable trepidation that I stumble in the footsteps of this acknowledged and much-regarded authority on the Elizabethan age – fortunately I have received considerable help.

I would like to thank the archivists of Burghley House, Hatfield House, Longleat, Sudeley Castle and Woburn Abbey together with Bonnie Vernon at Penshurst Place. My gratitude to the staff of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, Maritime Studies Library and West Devon Records Office, Plymouth, the Public Record Office, Kew, and Trinity College Library, Cambridge. Also to Crispin Gill, Alan Cotton and Phil Edwards, the assistant librarian in Devizes, Wiltshire.

I am particularly grateful to Dr John Adamson at Peterhouse, Cambridge, Professor Wallace MacCaffrey at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Dr Pieter van der Merwe at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, Dr Robin Robbins at Wadham College, Oxford, Canon David Durston at Salisbury Cathedral, and Sir Roy Strong for kindly giving me so much of their time and knowledge.

Finally and most of all to my wife Jennie, without whose unflagging assistance there would be no book.


lizabeth I was the last English monarch truly to rule the nation – subsequently only Queen Victoria possessed the same majestic stature, yet by then royal power was no longer absolute but subject to the wishes of Parliament. Elizabeth had inherited a weak and divided kingdom yet relentlessly fashioned it into a major world power, having decisively defeated the mightiest invasion fleet ever to approach our shores. Her relationships with the key men in the kingdom, both in war and peace, were vital to the success of her reign.

The Queen coupled a shrewd judgement of human nature with the unerring ability to choose and motivate men: during her long and glorious reign, she surrounded herself with the ablest, most energetic and fearless minds in the kingdom. As with the majority of women who achieve power, her retinue remained entirely male – the Court of Queen Elizabeth I held no place for women except for their wit and beauty. The only man she did not choose was a husband, although there was certainly no shortage of suitors.

Elizabeth's England abounded with eminent statesmen, while wave after wave of sea captains became her swordbearers. Her charismatic reign produced brilliant scholars and creative talent, among them the world's foremost playwright. Elizabeth was devoutly religious and embraced the New Learning with fanatical zeal. She inspired magnificent architecture, while her sea captains sailed great oceans to discover new shores and found a mighty overseas empire. Centre stage in these heady days of new ideas and new horizons was the Royal Court, a colourful kaleidoscope of glittering courtiers and important foreign dignitaries, all trying to impress, all jostling for her favours – All the Queen's Men.


he Battle of Bosworth ended with Richard III a bloodstained corpse, his army completely destroyed. The long-running Wars of the Roses finally over, Henry Tudor was acclaimed King Henry VII of all England, marking the beginning of the Tudor age. Yet while 1485 is generally considered to signal the end of the Middle Ages, the Tudor monarchs who followed that decisive military encounter, continued to reign with the blissful assurance of the divine right of kings, in precisely the same manner as their medieval forebears. Elizabeth, the last and arguably greatest of the Tudor rulers, was no exception: divine right was a fundamental concept in which she wholeheartedly believed. She was chosen by God.

Henry Tudor, born at Pembroke Castle on the Welsh coast, was twenty-eight years old when he became king. His claim to the throne was questionable but in those days kingdoms could be won in combat and Henry had eliminated the opposition in time-honoured style when his heavily outnumbered Lancastrian army triumphed amid the rolling Leicestershire countryside outside the small town of Market Bosworth. Now that he was King, Henry was greatly determined to see a conclusion to the long-running civil wars between the Yorkists and Lancastrians which had grievously disrupted the kingdom for so many years. ‘We will unite the white rose and the red,' declaims Henry triumphantly in the last act of William Shakespeare's great historical drama
Richard III
, written just over a century later. So it was to be, for no Yorkist head of any significance rose above the parapet ever again and peace was finally sealed when Henry married Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV, Richard's elder brother and the last head of the House of York.

The two dozen years of Henry VII's reign that followed were understandably almost entirely taken up with regaining royal authority, re-establishing much-needed law and order throughout the kingdom and ensuring that the hard-earned peace was maintained in the face of potential internal or external threat of renewed conflict. It was during this time that the great families which Henry's granddaughter, Elizabeth, was later to rely on so heavily came to prominence, such as the Cecils who found themselves on the winning side after Bosworth and benefited accordingly. Henry was necessarily preoccupied with internal domestic issues within the country while momentous events were occurring overseas that were to be of monumental consequence for England in the future. France had become unified after the French King Louis XI annexed the hitherto independent Dukedom of Burgundy following the death of Charles the Bold. The expulsion of the Moors from Granada in 1492 by King Ferdinand, followed by the Duke of Alba's conquest of Navarre, finally brought political unity to Spain. These unconnected, yet highly significant occurrences created two new larger and potentially hostile nations to menace England, posing an almost continual military threat during the ensuing centuries. The map of Europe was in a state of flux – even the Holy Roman Empire, a loose-knit group of states dating back to the Middle Ages and ruled by Emperor Maximilian I, was in relentless decline.

Meanwhile, the Renaissance and the Reformation were sweeping across the whole of continental Europe and a new age of discovery was pushing back the frontiers of the unknown world, pioneered by the epic voyages of that trio of Portuguese explorers, Diaz, Vasco da Gama and Magellan, and the Genoese Christopher Columbus's courageous journey across an uncharted Atlantic Ocean to the fringes of a hitherto unknown continent that later came to be known as the ‘New World'. Throughout this time England took virtually no part in these historic activities, but remained isolated on the margins of Europe.

When Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII, inherited the English throne in 1509, he was eighteen years old, a magnificent figure of a man with a magnetic personality. His reign, like many, began amid high expectations, but as Henry began increasingly to treat the kingdom as a personal playground in which to indulge himself, the nation became progressively more isolationist, a minor kingdom on the fringe of Europe. Severing religious ties with the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church was done for personal reasons rather than national or religious motives, resulting in England being out of step and favour with a predominantly Catholic western Europe. His alternating tactics of being either friend or foe to France left that nation bemused and belligerent. Divorcing his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, youngest daughter of King Ferdinand of Spain, did not endear him to a country which had hitherto been a friendly nation. Defeating the Scots at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 achieved little of lasting benefit – Scotland remained a hostile nation in the wild countryside beyond the northern border, continuing to regard England as ‘the auld enemy'.

Henry's dissolution of the monasteries, so expertly carried out in 1536 by his chief minister of the time, Thomas Cromwell, was a spectacularly ingenious exercise in asset stripping, popular with the fortunate nobility and gentry who acquired monastic land and property, but doing little in the long term to address the grave underlying financial and economic problems that beset the kingdom. All of these difficulties were to be inherited by Elizabeth on becoming queen. Henry is understandably best remembered for his gargantuan size and his six wives.

Elizabeth was not yet three years old when her father ordered the execution of her mother and barely into her teens when Henry died. At fourteen, she was sexually molested by her new stepfather and by twenty-one, the princess had been imprisoned within the grim fortress of the Tower of London. Not exactly an idyllic, carefree childhood, but an upbringing that was to mould the character of one of the greatest rulers Europe has ever known.

Henry VIII had been bitterly disappointed when he learned that the child born in September 1533 to his second wife, Anne Boleyn, was a girl, particularly having gone through the difficult exercise of divorcing his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and later being excommunicated by the Pope. It was not long after Elizabeth's birth that Henry's roving eye alighted on the demure, young Jane Seymour, one of the ladies of his Court. The increasingly strident Anne was dispatched to the Tower, accused of adultery with several of Henry's courtiers, and soon lost her head to a swift blow from an executioner's sword which had been brought from France at her own request.

The young Princess Elizabeth then began a nomadic existence, shuttling between a number of houses in the Home Counties including Ashridge, Havering, Eltham and Rickmansworth, interspersed with spasmodic appearances at the Royal Court which she attended along with her half-sister Mary, Catherine of Aragon's only surviving child. Both princesses were present at ceremonies such as the christening of Edward, their new half-brother, son of the short-lived Jane Seymour, Henry's third and much-loved wife who died in childbirth.

Princess Elizabeth had limited direct experience of the Royal Court after the death of Jane Seymour in 1537. Anne of Cleves, Protestant but very plain, became Henry's fourth wife but was quickly replaced by the prettier yet promiscuous Catherine Howard. Both the lively young Catherine and the more stolid Anne behaved kindly to the young Elizabeth. Though Anne could not speak a word of English, she used to take Elizabeth riding in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. Elizabeth was eight at the time and loved riding horses; like many children of her age, she was observant and possessed an enquiring mind. She would have noted the happenings around her, particularly her father's procession of wives, events which could have shaped her view on the subject of marriage, which was to become such a vexed question for Elizabeth in the years to come.

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