(9th E. Northumberland)


Born: 27 Apr 1564, Tynemouth Castle

Died: 5 Nov 1632

Buried: Petworth, Sussex, England

Notes: Knight of the Garter.

Father: Henry PERCY (8 E. Northumberland)

Mother: Catherine NEVILLE (C. Northumberland)

Married: Dorothy DEVEREUX (C. Northumberland) 1594


1. Dorothy PERCY (C. Leicester)

2. Lucy PERCY

3. Algernon PERCY (10 E. Northumberland)

4. Henry PERCY (B. Alnwick)

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He was born at Tynemouth Castle in Northumberland, England, the son of Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland, whom he succeeded in 1585. He was brought up a Protestant, as his father had been, taking instruction from one Thompson, vicar of Egremont. This did not prevent suspicions in later life, particularly when he associated with Charles Paget, that he was a crypto-Catholic. In 1582 he set out on a foreign tour, and at Paris he formed an intimacy with Paget, agent of Mary Stuart, Queen of Sctotland. Both Paget and himself wrote home denying that religion entered into their discussions. He developed literary tastes, read Guicciardini and Holinshed, and purchased works of art. Astrology and alchemy interested him, and among his possessions in early life was a crystal globe. His indulgence in scientific experiments gained for him the sobriquet of 'the Wizard Earl', but he was better known for the circles he moved in than for his own achievements. He was soon passionately addicted to tobacco smoking, and lost large sums of money by gaming.

Although his title was from the north of England, Percy's estates were in the south at Petworth House and at Syon House, a few miles north of Richmond-upon-Thames. Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, acquired Syon in 1594 through his marriage to Dorothy Devereux.

Henry employed Thomas Percy as a rent-collector at Syon House. Thomas, the great-grandson of the 4th Earl of Northumberland, was very unscrupulous. He had 34 charges of dishonesty brought against him. Henry was a Catholic sympathiser and suffered under the punitive laws passed by Elizabeth I in the 1580s.

Somewhat fanciful in his tastes, Northumberland was unpopular in domestic life. With his mother he was perpetually quarrelling, and his numerous tenants found him an unsympathetic and harsh landlord. He was a justice of the peace for Sussex, Cumberland, Westmorland, Northumberland, and the North, East, and West Ridings of Yorkshire, but neglected his duties and declined to take part in repressing border warfare. Meanwhile he took some part in other departments of public affairs. He served as a volunteer under the Earl of Leicester in the Low Countries in 1585-6, and in 1588 in the fleet sent against the Spanish armada. In 1591 he was made governor of Tynemouth. On 23 Apr 1593 he was installed a Knight of the Garter, and George Peele dedicated to him in the same year, in flattering terms, his elaborate poem entitled 'Honour of the Garter', in which he celebrated the installation ceremony. In 1596 he carried the insignia of the order of the Garter to Henri IV of France, and in 1599 was nominated a general of the army.

In the 1590's, there were many plots attempted to reinstate the Catholic Church on the Throne via Arabella Stuart. A rumour sprang up purporting that Henry Percy, ninth Earl of Northumberland, sought Arabella for his wife. Queen Elizabeth knew the Percys as potential trouble makers with a family history of plotting and double-dealing not calculated to inspire confidence. The girl grand-mother, Bess of Hardwick assured the Queen of England that this would not happen.

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In 1595 he disappointed the design of the Roman catholics by wedding Dorothy, sister of Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex, and widow of Sir John Perrot. He was on good terms with his brother-in-law Essex, although he formed a low opinion of his character; but he found his wife uncongenial, and they frequently lived apart. No permanent breach, however, took place, and she stood by him in his later difficulties. In 1600 he went to the Low Countries, and took part in military operations about Ostend. The English commander-in-chief, Sir Francis Vere, treated him with less respect than he deemed fitting, and, after brooding over his injuries, he sent Vere, in 1602, a challenge, which that general declined to treat as serious. A very angry correspondence followed. A similar quarrel with Lord Southampton was composed by the council

A member of the Durham House trio with Raleigh and Cobham, he entered in secret correspondence with James VI in 1601. Served at the siege of Ostend under Sir Francis De Vere.

When it became clear that the Protestant James VI of Scotland was likely to succeed Elizabeth, Henry sent Thomas on a secret mission to James' court three times in 1602. He said that English Catholics would accept James as king if he reduced the persecution of Catholics. 

Consequently, on Elizabeth's death and James's accession, Northumberland welcomed the new monarch with apparent enthusiasm. He was at once made a privy councillor and captain of the band of gentleman pensioners, and next year (1604) was nominated joint lord lieutenant for Sussex and, with some inconsistency, a commissioner to expel Jesuits and seminary priests. On 30 Aug 1605 he was created M.A. at Oxford. But the King's methods of government did not satisfy him. He and his wife had vigorously protested against the punishment of their friend Sir Walter Raleigh, and the persecution of the catholics had not been relaxed. The court was overrun by Scotsmen, for whom Northumberland acquired an antipathy. He is said, moreover, to have perceived that Prince Henry was likely to prove a more sagacious ruler than his father, and courted the prince's society more than James approved. In the autumn of 1605 he retired from court to Syon House, with the apparent intention of forsaking politics for the more congenial study of science and literature.

In the event persecution increased. In desperation, Thomas Percy went on to become one of the five conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. When the plot was discovered Thomas Percy fled and was besieged at Holbeache House in Warwickshire. On 8 Nov 1605, a marksman shot dead both Robert Catesby and Thomas Percy with a single bullet.

On the discovery of the 'gunpowder plot' of 5 Nov 1605 some suspicion of complicity fell upon Northumberland. His kinsman Thomas Percy had dined on 4 Nov with Northumberland at Syon House. Lord Salisbury, whose relations with Northumberland were never cordial, deemed it prudent to commit the Earl to the care of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Croydon, 'there to be honourably used until things be more quiet'. Lord Salisbury informed a correspondent, Sir Charles Cornwallis, that no thought was harboured in the council that the Earl was responsible for the plot. His arrest was only 'to satisfy the world that nothing be undone which belongs to policy of state when the whole monarchy was proscribed to dissolution' (Winwood, Memorials, ii. 172). On the 11th, in a letter to the council, Northumberland appealed to his habits of life as proof that his interests lay elsewhere than in political conspiracy. 'Examine,' he said, 'but my humours in buildings, gardenings, and private expenses these two years past'. He had few arms, horses, or followers at Syon, and had known none of the conspirators excepting Percy. On 27 Nov, however, he was sent to the Tower.

On 27 Jun 1606 he was tried in the court of Star Chamber for contempt and misprision of treason. It was stated that he had sought to become chief of the papists in England; that knowing Thomas Percy to be a recusant he had admitted him to be a gentleman pensioner without administering to him the Oath of supremacy; that after the discovery of the plot he had written to friends in the north about securing his own moneys, but gave no orders for Percy's apprehension. He pleaded guilty to some of the facts set forth in the indictment, but indignantly repudiated the inferences placed upon them by his prosecutors. He was sentenced to pay a fine of 30,000, to be removed from all offices and places, to be rendered incapable of holding any of them hereafter, and to be kept a prisoner in the Tower for life.

Northumberland emphatically protested to the King against the severity of this sentence, and his wife appealed to the Queen, who had shown much kindly interest in him. But the authorities were obdurate. The King insisted that 11,000 of the fine should be paid at once, and, when the earl declared himself unable to find the money, his estates were seized, and funds were raised by granting leases on them. The leases were ultimately recalled, and the Earl managed to pay 11,000 on 13 Nov 1613; but more than seven years of imprisonment still awaited him.

This fine so impoverished him, that this and his other Yorkshire castles were unoccupied, and went to ruin. Shortly afterwards, the buildings at Leconfield were totally demolished, and the valuable materials removed for the repair of Wressil Castle. Leland, who visited the castle about 1538 thus describes it: "Lekingfeld is a large house, and standith withyn a great mote yn one very spatious courte. Three parts of the house, saving the meane gate that is made of brike. The park thereby is very fair and large and meetely welle woddid. Ther is a fair tour of brike for a lodge yn the park". The castle stood a little west of the village, and was surrounded by a wide and deep moat, the remains of which are still to be seen.

Henry Percy met friends while in the Tower; these included Thomas Harriot and Sir Walter Raleigh. They discussed advanced scientific ideas and smoked tobacco. Harriot had been a navigational tutor to Sir Walter Raleigh and his captains. From 1598 (or possibly from 1607) Harriot lived in Syon House, Henry's estate near Richmond. There he used a telescope to make a map of the moon several months before Galileo did the same. He may have been the first person to observe sunspots. In Shakespeare's "Love's Labour's Lost" (1594), there is a mention of the "School of Night". It is now usually accepted that this refers of a circle of scientific investigators which met at Syon House. Thomas Harriot and Christopher Marlowe were members. The astrologer John Dee was also a friend of Henry. There is no evidence that William Shakespeare was involved, but it is possible he was.

For some years his second daughter, Lucy, was his companion in the Tower. She formed a strong affection for James Hay, afterwards Earl of Carlisle, and resolved to marry him. Northumberland disliked Hay as a Scotsman and a favourite of the King, and declined to sanction the union. The marriage, however, took place in 1617. Thereupon Hay, in order, apparently, to overcome Northumberland's prejudice against him, made every effort to obtain his release. In this he at length proved successful. In 1621 James was induced to celebrate his birthday by setting Northumberland and other political prisoners at liberty. The Earl showed some compunction in accepting a favour which he attributed to Hay's agency. However, on 18 Jul, he was induced to leave the Tower after an imprisonment of nearly sixteen years. He was advised to recruit his health at Bath. Thither he travelled in a coach drawn by eight horses. The story is told that he insisted on this equipage in order to mark his sense of superiority to the King's favourite, Buckingham, who had lately travelled about the country in a coach-and-six. But Hay was doubtless responsible for the demonstration. Bath worked a speedy cure, and Northumberland retired to his house at Petworth. He took no further part in public affairs, and died at Petworth on 5 Nov 1632, being buried in the church there.

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