Friday, November 10, 2017

Peter Wentworth, RIP in the Tower

Peter Wentworth, MP for Northampton, argued often on matters of Church and State in Elizabethan Parliaments. He also ended up in prison for those arguments because they displeased Queen Elizabeth I. According to the History of Parliament website, he displeased her one more time, by reminding her that she should make it clear who would succeed her when she died:

In 1587, after the death of Mary Queen of Scots, he had drafted A Pithie Exhortation of her Majestie for establishing her successor to the crowne, a tract published by a friend after his death. Its language was forthright, his admonitions to the Queen at times needlessly and shockingly frank. In a letter to Burghley he later defended the sharpness of his language by quoting 'the spirit of God in Solomon': 'The wounds of a lover are faithful, and kisses of an enemy are deceitful'.

Wentworth intended to present his tract in the Parliament of 1589 and launch a campaign for settling the succession; but he evidently found the time unpropitious. He tried to persuade Burghley to approach the Queen on the subject, and again in 1590 came to London to renew this quixotic plan. Next year he turned to the Earl of Essex, hoping that he would present his tract to the Queen. But copies of the tract were leaked to the Privy Council, and in August 1591 they committed him prisoner, this time to the Gatehouse. He was incorrigible. Instead of seeking pardon, he tried once more to get Burghley to approach the Queen, convinced that this statesman believed as he did: which may, indeed, have been true. Wentworth was released from the Gatehouse in November, confined for a time in a private house, and finally set at liberty in February 1592. . . .

Wentworth was imprisoned in the Tower, where he remained till his death four-and-a-half years later. It is clear from several surviving petitions and letters that he could have secured his freedom within a reasonable time if he had been prepared to acknowledge his fault and give pledge of future silence, without which he remained a potential focus of unrest and disturber if the Queen's delicately poised policy for the peaceful transition of the crown at her death. Instead of repentance, in every petition he reiterated the argument of his "Pithie Exhortation": to do otherwise, he declared, would be to 'give her Highness a most detestable Judas-kiss'. In 1594, when Doleman's "Conference about the Next Succession to the Crown of England" was published—a disturbing Catholic tract—he was reckless enough, at the instance of some friends, to write an answer, entitled "A Discourse containing the Author's opinion of the true and lawful successor to her Majesty". It was published after his death along with his "Pithie Exhortation" and, fortunately for Wentworth, seems to have been kept secret from the authorities. Wentworth pronounced in favour of James VI's title to the succession—a judgement he would have strongly opposed earlier, thus, incidentally, vindicating the Queen in her policy of letting time simplify the problem. Doleman had been led to exalt the rights of Parliament. Thus, ironically enough, Wentworth found himself expounding the limitations of those rights.

To keep Wentworth where he could do no harm to the state was the main concern of Queen and Council. As he put it himself: 'The causes if my long imprisonment ... a truth plainly delivered. His second wife was permitted to live with him in the Tower, and there she died, July 1596, 'my chiefest comfort in this life, even the best wife that ever poor gentleman enjoyed' There was a proposal to release him on the pledges of sureties in July 1597, when he asked not to be sent home to Lillingstone Lovell, where memories of his wife would be too much for him. On 10 Nov. that year he died. An inquisition post mortem taken at Oxford in 1599 was concerned with his manor of Lillingstone Lovell and house, woods, etc. in the parish and in Lillingstone Dayrell. Wentworth's children married into puritan families, and one of his sons, Thomas, emulated his father in Parliament in James I's reign.

Elizabeth I did not want to name a successor! Since she had not married she had no children, but there was a line of succession either in England (the Grey sisters), or in Scotland (James VI). Leanda de Lisle has written two books about the choices Elizabeth I faced. It's ironic, isn't it, that her father's greatest concern was a stable and orderly succession--that her half-brother changed their father's will about the succession--that Mary I acknowledged that Elizabeth would succeed her, but Elizabeth would not name her successor until she was on her deathbed, and then only with a nod.

Father Robert Parsons, SJ, was likely the author of "Doleman's Conference". More about it here from the British Library.

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