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Five Elizabethan courtiers, their Catholic connections, and their careers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 September 2016

William J. Tighe*
History Department, Muhlenberg College, 2400, Chew Street, Allentown, PA 18104-5586, USA. Email:


This article considers some of the men and women who served in the Privy Chamber of Elizabeth I and those men who held significant positions in her outer Chamber for evidence of Catholic beliefs, sympathies or family connections. It then discusses the careers of five men who at various times in Elizabeth’s reign were members of the Band of Gentlemen Pensioners. It will show that their court careers were decisively affected by their Catholic beliefs and connections and, in one case, by a temporary repudiation of Catholicism. Their careers witness both to a fluidity of religious identity that facilitated their advancement at Court and to a narrowing of this identity over the course of the reign.

Research Article
© Trustees of the Catholic Record Society 2016. Published by Cambridge University Press 

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1 Tighe, William Joseph, ‘The Gentlemen Pensioners in Elizabethan Politics and Government’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Cambridge University, 1984) (hereafter Tighe, ‘Gentlemen Pensioners’)Google Scholar; see also Tighe, , ‘ Familia reginae: the Privy Court’, in The Elizabethan World, ed. Susan Doran and Norman Jones (London: Routledge, 2011), 7691 Google Scholar.

2 The National Archives (hereafter TNA) SP 12/228/1, is the complaint of one ‘Mr Middlemore’ of his poverty after twenty years of unremunerated service in his office and of the failure to remedy it of various monopoly (and other) grants he had obtained, but of which he had been forestalled of any profit. What that ‘office’ was is nowhere specified in the document, but it suits Henry Middlemore’s circumstances exactly.

3 Both William Middlemore and his father, John, were strongly attached to Catholicism. See Phillimore, P. W. and Carter, W. F., Some Account of the Families of Middlemore of Warwickshire and Worcestershire (London: privately published, 1901), 176178 Google Scholar.

4 TNA, SP 12/1/4.

5 He is often confused with the older brother of the Henry Norris who was Groom of the Stool to Henry VIII and whose career and life came to a tragic end in 1536 as one of the supposed adulterous paramours of Anne Boleyn. Henry Norris’s older brother was, rather, the childless Sir John Norris of Yattendon, Berks., who died in 1564.

6 Rylands, W. H., ed., The Four Visitations of Berkshire, 1532, 1566, 1623, 1665–6, Vol. II, Additional Pedigrees and Notes, Harleian Society, 57 (London, 1908), 184186 Google Scholar; Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 21 vols., ed. J. S. Brewer, J. Gairdner, and R. H. Brodie (London, 1862–1932: HMSO), 10:392 (11), 1256 (30); ‘The Autobiography of Edward Underhill’, Narratives of the Reformation, ed. J. G. Nichols, Camden Society, old series, 77 (1859), 161, 169; Dasent, Acts of the Privy Council, 7:4; Miscellanea XII, Catholic Record Society (London, 1921), 22:86. Norris was the author of a voluminous and important manuscript concerning ceremonies and ceremonial occasions at the courts of Henry VII, Henry VIII, and Mary (and at which, under Mary, he was both a participant and a supervisor) all in relation to the duties of a gentleman usher, excerpts from which have been published as ‘Religious Ceremonial at the Tudor Court: Extracts from Royal Household Regulations’, ed. Kisby, Fiona, in Religion, Politics, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England, ed. Ian W. Archer, Camden Fifth Series 22 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for the Royal Historical Society, 2003), 133 Google Scholar. Internal evidence demonstrates that the manuscript, British Library (hereafter BL), Additional MS 71009, was written, or at least completed, in very early weeks or months of the reign of Elizabeth I.

7 Merton, Charlotte Isabelle, ‘The Women Who Served Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth: Ladies, Gentlewomen and Maids of the Privy Chamber, 1553–1603’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Cambridge University, 1992), 207208 Google Scholar. The online database “Who Were the Nuns” ( gives Anne’s father as one Sir Edward Brumfield of Surrey. Morris, John, however, in his The Life of Father John Gerard, of the Society of Jesus (London, 1881)Google Scholar, quotes from the ‘Chronicle of St. Monica’s, Louvain’ where he appears as Edward Brumfield, esq (p. 222). The only Sir Edward Brumfield whom my searches have found, a Sheriff of London in the 1620s and Lord Mayor in the 1630s, would have been too young to have been Anne Bromfield’s father, as she would have been born in the early 1580s.

8 Dasent, J. R., ed. Acts of the Privy Council of England, 32 vols (London: HMSO, 1890–1907), 9 Google Scholar: 238.

9 The most prized was a place among the Esquires of the Body, four in number (excluding extraordinaries such as, at times, Walter Raleigh and Horatio Pallavicino), who served in pairs and kept watch over the Privy Lodgings at night, sleeping, or perhaps dozing, on pallet beds in the Presence Chamber. There appear to have been no more than ten of them in the course of the reign.

10 Tighe, ‘Gentlemen Pensioners’, 12–40 and passim.

11 TNA, PROB 11/68, ff. 329r–30v.

12 TNA, PROB 11/68, ff. 329r–30v; Trappes-Lomax, T. B., ‘The Family of Poyntz and its Catholic Associations’, Recusant History 6 (1961–62): 6879 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. I owe this last reference to one of the anonymous readers of this article. Poyntz’s letter to his sister can be found at Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on the Manuscripts of Allan George Finch, Esq., of Burley-on-the-Hill, Rutland, Volume 1 (London, HMSO: 1913), 21.

13 Tighe, ‘Gentlemen Pensioners’, 426–7; Bodleian Library, MS. Wills Oxon., 50/1/69

14 Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on Manuscripts in Various Collections, Volume III (London: HMSO, 1904), 23–4. This account of Tresham expands upon Tighe, ‘Gentlemen Pensioners’, 454–5.

15 Ibid, 2.

16 Dasent, Acts of the Privy Council, 12: 216.

17 TNA, SP 15/27A/57.

18 Historical Manuscripts Commission (hereafter HMC), Various, 23–4.

19 Ibid, 24–5.

20 BL, Cotton MSS, Caligula E. VII, f. 236.

21 TNA, SP 12/34/2.

22 TNA, SP 12/271/39I.

23 TNA, SP 12/272/85.

24 HMC, Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Most Hon. The Marquess of Salisbury, K. G., preserved at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, 22 vols (London: HMSO, 1883–1971), 12:330 Google Scholar.

25 TNA, SP 12/216/49R.

26 BL, Harleian MS 1875, ff. 661–8.

27 TNA, PROB 11/137, f. 468.

28 Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, MS. M. 1033, f. 129v.

29 BL, Harleian MS. 290, ff. 163, 165v–167r, 169, 171; Tighe, ‘Gentlemen Pensioners’, 457.

30 TNA, SP 12/283/31, 32; Tighe, ‘Gentlemen Pensioners’, 404–5.

31 BL, Harleian MS. 6798, No. 16 [ff. 80–4].

32 The two unauthorised, and anonymous, editions were published in 1595 under the title A discourse of the usage of the English fugitives, by the Spaniard (London, T. Scarlet for J. Drawater; A Short-Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English books printed abroad 1474–1640 first complied by A. W. Pollard & G. R. Redgrave, second edition, revised and enlarged, begun by W. A. Jackson & F. S. Ferguson, completed by Katharine K. Pantzer, Volume 1 A-H, Volume 2, I-Z [London, 1976, 1986 : The Bibliographical Society] (hereafter STC), 15562, 15563); an enlarged and authorised, but still anonymous, edition appeared from the same publisher under the title The Estate of the English Fugitives (STC 15564). Yet another edition under that latter title and from the same publisher, ‘newly corrected and amended’, but no longer anonymous, appeared in 1596 (STC 15565).

33 BL, Stowe MS. 159, ff. 276–302.

34 BL, Harleian MS. 7042, f. 166v.

35 Resolved gentleman, ff. A4-B1. In the dedication Lewknor thanked Lady Warwick, who served the Queen all throughout her reign, first as a Maid of Honour and then in her Privy Chamber, for her ‘continuall redinesse to do me good in Court, since my first commyng to her Maiesties service’ (f. A3).

36 Marche, Olivier de La, The resolved gentleman. Translated out of Spanishe by L. Lewkenor (London, 1594: R. Watkins; STC 15139)Google Scholar; Gasparo, Cardinal Contarini, The common-wealth and government of Venice. Translated out of Italian by L. Lewkenor. With sundry other collections, annexed by the translator (London, 1599: J. Windet for E. Mattes; STC 5642); Antonio de Torquemada, The Spanish Mandevile of miracles. Or the garden of curious flowers. Wherin are handled sundry points of humanity, philosophy etc. (London, 1600: J. Roberts for E. Matts; STC 24135; reprinted London, 1618: B. Alsop, by the assignee of R. Hawkins; STC 24136). This last work was put into print by Ferdinando Walker, who in his introduction credited the translation to Lewknor and acknowledged the latter’s permission for its publication after it had ‘so many long years been obscured among your wast papers’.

37 Dasent, Acts of the Privy Council, 24:251; Tighe, ‘Gentlemen Pensioners’, 372-3.

38 TNA, SP 12/160/29. An updated complaint among the Talbot/Shrewbury papers at Lambeth Palace accuses one Northall, a servant of the Earl of Shrewsbury who shared lodgings with Gifford at the White Ladies inn, of doubling as a thief, see Shrewsbury MS. 707, ff. 187–8.

39 Pollen, John Hungerford, S. J., Mary Queen of Scots and the Babington Plot (Edinburgh: Scottish History Society, 1922), 169175 Google Scholar.

40 B. L., Cotton MSS, Caligula C. IX, pt. 2, ff. 408–9.

41 TNA, SP 12/195/48[I].

42 TNA, SP 15/30/78; Dasent, Acts of the Privy Council, 22:281–4; 19:222.

43 BL, Lansdowne MS. 85, f. 45; HMC, Hatfield House, 7:374, 517.

44 Dasent, Acts of the Privy Council, 27:212, 29:453, 634.

45 TNA, SP 12/278/61.

46 TNA, SP 14/62/28.

47 McClure, Norman Egbert, ed. The Letters of John Chamberlain, 2 vols (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1939), 1:457, 459 Google Scholar

48 The near abolition and subsequent reorganization of the Gentlemen Pensioners in 1670--1 evoked over a decade of controversy over the perquisites of the Captain to nominate members, to receive a fee from new members, and to sell vacant places or to allow members of the corps to sell their places and himself to take a share of the proceeds (TNA, SP 29/366/pp 309–11; SP 44/34 f. 76r; PC 2/70 p. 89). In a petition against their corps’ abolition a number of them mentioned as reasons for its continuance the service of the corps’ officers and many members to the Crown during the civil wars, ‘and the rest having according to custom and permission bought their places’ have as much right to them as to lands purchased (TNA, SP 29/215/115).

49 TNA, SP 12/259/82; Tighe, cf., ‘Herbert Croft’s Repulse’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 58 (1985): 106109 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. A further example of the Captain’s effective control of admission to the corps comes early in the reign of James I. Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, a religious conformist who became Captain upon the retirement of George Carey, Lord Hunsdon, in May 1603, immediately upon his appointment procured the appointment of one of his younger brothers, Allen Percy, as Lieutenant of the Corps. In June 1604 he procured the appointment of his distant cousin, client, and estate steward, Thomas Percy, later one of the Gunpowder Plotters, as a gentleman pensioner. In the aftermath of the plot Northumberland lost his position and was to suffer seventeen years’ imprisonment in the Tower, not because of any suspicion of involvement in the plot, but because, knowing of his cousin’s recusancy, he had not administered the Oath of Supremacy to him, despite taking it being a requirement for membership.

50 Goldman, Lawrence, ed. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 61 vols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) 55:315316 Google Scholar.

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