Percy, Thomas (1528-1572) (DNB00)

PERCY, THOMAS, seventh Earl of Northumberland (1528–1572), born in 1528, was elder son of Sir Thomas Percy, by his wife Eleanor, daughter of Guiscard Harbottal of Beamish, Durham. The father, a younger son of Henry Algernon Percy, fifth earl of Northumberland [q. v.], took a prominent part with his brother Ingelram in the Yorkshire rebellion of 1536 (the ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’), was attainted, and was executed at Tyburn on 2 June 1537, being buried in the Crutched Friars' Church, London. Thereupon his elder brother, Henry Algernon Percy, sixth earl [q. v.], fearing the effect of the attainder on the fortunes of the family, voluntarily surrendered his estates to the crown, and on his death, on 29 June 1537, the title fell into abeyance. Sir Thomas's widow married Sir Richard Holland of Denton, Lancashire, and died in 1567.

Young Thomas and his brother Henry were entrusted, as boys, to the care of a Yorkshire squire, Sir Thomas Tempest of Tong Hall. They were restored in blood on 14 March 1549. Soon afterwards Thomas was permitted to inherit a little property destined for him by his uncle, the sixth earl. A catholic by conviction, he was favourably noticed by Queen Mary, who made him governor of Prudhoe Castle. In 1557 he displayed much courage in recapturing Scarborough, which had been seized by Sir Thomas Stafford, who was acting in collusion with the French. On 30 April 1557 he was knighted and created Baron Percy, and on the day following was promoted to the earldom of Northumberland, in consideration of ‘his noble descent, constancy, virtue, and value in arms, and other strong qualifications.’ Failing heirs male of his own, the title was to devolve on his brother Henry. A further portion of the estates attaching to the earldom was made over to him. A few weeks later he was nominated a member of the council of the north and high marshal of the army in the north.

Other honours quickly followed. He was elected a member of Gray's Inn in June, and became bailiff of the liberty of Richmond (June 26), and chief keeper of Richmond forest, and constable of Richmond and Middleham castles (26 July). On 2 Aug. 1557 he was appointed joint lord-warden-general of the east and middle marches towards Scotland, and captain of Berwick, and a week later lord-warden-general of the middle marches (Tynedale and Riddesdale). The general protection of the borders from the raids of the Scots was thus entrusted to his care. He performed his duties with much vigilance, and in August 1558 he anticipated a project of the Scots for surprising Norham and Wark castles. In January 1558–9 he raised a thousand men to garrison Berwick against the threatened invasion of the French.

His avowed catholic sympathies did not, however, commend him to Queen Elizabeth and her advisers. It is true that on her accession he was again nominated lord-warden-general of the east and middle marches, and was made lord-lieutenant of Northumberland, and, as chief commissioner to treat with Scotland respecting the boundaries of the two kingdoms, signed a treaty at Upsettington on 31 May 1559 (Rymer, Fœdera, xv. 472–4). But the borderers sent to London complaints of his rule: Ralph Sadler was ordered to inquire into the alleged grievances, and in his despatches expressed doubt of the wisdom or loyalty both of Northumberland and of his brother Henry. In 1560 the earl, smarting under Sadler's comments, resigned his office. Lord Grey, his wife's uncle, was appointed in his place. But Northumberland peremptorily refused to receive his successor at Alnwick Castle, and he raised objections when it was proposed in 1562 that he should invite the Queen of Scots there, so that she might have an interview in the castle with Queen Elizabeth. None the less he was elected K.G. on 22 April 1563. In 1565 Lord Burghley's agents reported that he was ‘dangerously obstinate in religion.’

In 1567 he was exasperated by a claim preferred by the crown to a newly discovered copper-mine on his estate of Newland in Cumberland; the authorities ignored his demand for compensation.

On 16 May 1568 Mary Queen of Scots landed at Workington in Cumberland, and was conducted by the deputy-warden of the marches, Sir Richard Lowther [q. v.], to Carlisle two days later. Northumberland asserted that the custody of the fugitive queen should by right be entrusted to him, as the chief magnate of the district. The council of the north seems to have given some recognition to his claim. Leaving his house at Topcliffe, he arrived at Carlisle, and was admitted to an interview with Mary Stuart. He expressed the fullest sympathy with her in her misfortunes. His friendly bearing was hotly resented by the government. Orders were at once sent from London that he should leave Carlisle forthwith. He obeyed with reluctance, and, meeting Sir Francis Knollys [q. v.], Queen Mary's new keeper, at Boroughbridge, bitterly complained that he had been treated with gross disrespect (Wright, Queen Elizabeth, i. 272–275).

Northumberland's dissatisfaction with Elizabeth's government now reached a crisis. Simple-minded by nature, he had no political ambitions, but he was devoted to the religion of his fathers, and had inherited a strong sense of his own and his family's importance in the border country. Had no efforts been made to thwart the peaceful exercise of his family's traditional authority, he would doubtless have spent his life in the sports of hunting and hawking, which he loved, and in exchanging hospitalities with his neighbours. But the imprisonment of Queen Mary—a champion of his faith—in his neighbourhood, and the rejection of his pretensions to hold free communication with her, roused in him a spirit of rebellion which his catholic friends and neighbours, who avowedly hated protestant rule, fanned into flame. Emissaries from Spain were aware of the discontent with the government which was current among the northern catholics, and they entered into communication with Northumberland, and promised him the aid of Spanish troops if any widespread insurrection could be arranged. An army of Spaniards would be sent over by the Duke of Alva. During 1569 Vitelli, marques of Catena, arrived in London under pretence of conducting an embassy, in order to be in readiness to take the command of a Spanish force on its landing. Thus encouraged, Northumberland allied himself with Charles Neville, ninth earl of Westmorland [q. v.], and together they resolved to set Queen Mary free by force, and to restore the catholic religion. A benediction on the enterprise was pronounced by Pius V. The Earl of Sussex, president of the council of the north, was on friendly terms with both the earls, and in September 1569 sumptuously entertained them and their retainers. He soon saw grounds for suspecting their loyalty; but they had formulated no plan of campaign, and there were no open signs of coming trouble. At Sussex's suggestion, the two earls were suddenly summoned to London early in November 1569. Northumberland excused himself in a letter, in which he declared his fidelity to the crown (14 Nov.). But the ruse of the government created a panic among the conspirators, and hurried them prematurely into action. On 15 Nov. some soldiers arrived at Northumberland's house at Topcliffe, bearing orders for his arrest as a precautionary measure. He succeeded in eluding the troops, and joined Westmorland at his house at Brancepeth. There they set up their standard and issued a proclamation announcing their intention to restore the catholic religion, and inviting assistance. Another proclamation followed, promising the release of Queen Mary, who was in confinement at Tutbury. The earls and their retainers were immediately joined by many of the neighbouring gentry, and they soon found themselves at the head of a force of seventeen hundred horse and four thousand foot. The cavalry was a well-trained body; the infantry was an undisciplined rabble. The next day (16 Nov.) the rebels marched to Durham, where they destroyed the service-books and set up the mass in the minster. On the 17th they moved south to Darlington; between the 18th and the 20th Northumberland visited Richmond, Northallerton, and Boroughbridge, appealing to the inhabitants to join him. On the 20th the two earls, with the Countess of Northumberland, celebrated mass at Ripon.

On Tuesday, 22 Nov., the whole body of rebels mustered under the two earls on Clifford Moor. Sir George Bowes, who had thrown himself into Barnard Castle, assembled an army in their rear, while Sir John Forster and Sir Henry Percy, Northumberland's brother, were collecting troops for the queen on the borders. The government published answers to the two earls' proclamation, and Northumberland was, with much ceremony, expelled at Windsor from the order of the Garter. From Clifford Moor the earls at first resolved to march on York, where the Earl of Sussex lay. But they suddenly changed their plans, and determined to besiege Bowes in Barnard Castle. Bowes held the fortress gallantly against them for eleven days, and then marched out with the honours of war and joined Sussex. In the meantime Sir John Forster and Sir Henry Percy pursued Westmorland, who had retired to Durham and ‘did give to the said earle a great skirmish.’ Northumberland withdrew to Topcliffe, and on 11 Dec. Sussex marched thither from York. As Sussex advanced to the north the two earls reunited their forces and retreated towards the borders. At Hexham on 16 Dec. they disbanded their followers, who dispersed ‘every man to save himself as he could’ (Stowe). The rising thus came, after a month, to a very impotent conclusion, and the government treated with the utmost rigour all the actors in it who fell into their hands.

Northumberland and his wife, with Westmorland and his chief followers, arrived in Lidderdale and took refuge with Hector Graham of Harlaw, a robber-chieftain who infested the district. Thence Westmorland escaped to the Low Countries. But the Earl of Moray, the regent of Scotland, obtained from Graham of Harlaw, for a pecuniary consideration, the surrender of Northumberland, and in January 1570 he was carried to Edinburgh with seven of his adherents. At first he was not kept in custody, though a guard of the regent's men was set to watch his movements; but he was subsequently committed to the care of Sir William Douglas at Lochleven Castle. His wife remained on the borders, first at Ferniehurst, but subsequently at Hume Castle. She declined an offer of permission to join her husband at Edinburgh, on the ground that she might thus imperil her liberty and could be of greater assistance to her husband at a distance. She corresponded with sympathisers in the Low Countries, and made every effort to raise money in order to ransom her husband. In August 1570 she arrived at Antwerp. Philip II sent her six thousand marks and the pope four thousand crowns, and she and her friends devised a plan by which Northumberland might be sent into Flanders. But her energetic endeavours to purchase his liberty failed.

The English government negotiated with the Scottish government for his surrender with greater effect. Neither the regent Moray nor his successor, the Earl of Lennox, showed, it is true, any readiness to comply with the English government's demand, and Northumberland's brother recommended him to confess his offence and throw himself upon Queen Elizabeth's mercy. But in August 1572 the Earl of Mar, who had become regent in the previous year, finally decided to hand him over to Queen Elizabeth's officers on payment of 2,000l. Northumberland arrived at Berwick on 15 Aug. and was committed to the care of Lord Hunsdon. On 17 Aug. Hunsdon delivered him at Alnwick to Sir John Forster, who brought him to York. He was beheaded there on 22 Aug. on a scaffold erected in ‘the Pavement,’ or chief market-place. With his last breath he declared his faith in the catholic church, adding ‘I am a Percy in life and death.’ His head was placed on a pole above Micklegate Bar, but his body was buried in Crux church in the presence of two men and three maidservants and ‘a stranger in disguise, who, causing suspicion, immediately fled.’ There is an entry recording his execution in the parish register of St. Margaret's, Walmgate, York. A ballad on his delivery to the English is in Percy's ‘Reliques.’ In Cotton MS. Calig. B, iv. 243, are pathetic verses by a partisan, ‘one Singleton, a gentleman of Lancashire, now prisoner at York for religion.’ They are printed by Wright (i. 423) and in ‘Notes and Queries’ (7th ser. vii. 264). Queen Mary had given him a relic—a thorn of Christ's crown, which was set in a golden cross. This he wore on the day of his death, and bequeathed to his daughter Elizabeth. It is now in Stonyhurst College. A copy by Phillips of an old portrait, representing him in the robes of the Garter, is at Alnwick. Another, dated 1566, is at Petworth, and is engraved in Sharpe's ‘Memorials.’ A third portrait, painted on panel, belonged to Sir Charles Slingsby of Scriven.

His widow, Anne, third daughter of Henry Somerset, second earl of Worcester, resided for a time at Liège on a small pension from the king of Spain. She seems to have written and circulated there a ‘Discours des troubles du Comte de Northumberland.’ Of a very managing disposition, she endeavoured to arrange a match between Don John of Austria and Queen Mary Stuart. In 1573 English agents described her as ‘one of the principal practitioners at Mechlin;’ subsequently she removed to Brussels, and entertained many English catholic exiles. In 1576 the Spanish government agreed, at Queen Elizabeth's request, to expel her from Spanish territory. Her exile was not, however, permanent. She died of smallpox in a convent at Namur in 1591.

Four daughters survived her: Elizabeth, wife of Richard Woodruffe of Woolley, Yorkshire, whose descendant is Mr. Edward Peacock, F.S.A., of Bottesford Manor, Lincolnshire; Mary, prioress of a convent of English Benedictine dames at Brussels, afterwards removed to Winchester; Lucy, wife of Sir Edward Stanley, K.B., of Eynsham, Oxfordshire, whose second daughter, Venetia, married Sir Kenelm Digby [q. v.]; Jane, wife of Lord Henry Seymour, younger son of Edward, earl of Hertford. A son Thomas had died young in 1560. Northumberland's title passed by virtue of the reversionary clause in his patent of creation, and despite his attainder, to his brother Henry, eighth earl [q. v.]

[De Fonblanque's Annals of the House of Percy (1887), ii. 3–125; Collins's Peerage; Froude's Hist. of England; Camden's Annals; Sharpe's Memorials of the Rebellion of 1569; Sadler's State Papers; Correspondence of Sir George Bowes; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1569–70; Stow's Chronicle; Wright's Queen Elizabeth; Doyle's Official Baronage; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage.]

S. L.