Henry Wriothesley

(3rd E. Southampton)

Born: 6 Oct 1573, Cowdray, Sussex, England

Acceded: 1581

Died: 10 Nov 1624, Bergen-op-Zoom, Holland

Buried: 28 Dec 1624, Titchfield, Hampshire, England

Notes: Knight of the Garter. Baron Wriothesley. The Complete Peerage vol.XIIp1,p.128-131.

Father: Henry WRIOTHESLEY (2° E. Southampton)

Mother: Mary BROWNE (C. Southampton)

Married: Elizabeth VERNON (C. Southampton) BEF 30 Aug 1598


1. Thomas WRIOTHESLEY (4° E. Southampton)


Wriothesley,Henry(3ºE.Southampton)01.jpg (17389 bytes)

Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton c. 1601-1603
John de Critz the Elder
Boughton House, Northamptonshire

Son of Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton, by Mary, dau. of Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague, was born at Cowdray House, near Midhurst. The elder Henry Wriothesley was brought up as a Roman Catholic and spent four years imprisoned in the Tower of London following implications in plots to depose Elizabeth I.

Young Henry's father died two days before his eighth birthday, making him third Earl of Southampton at a very young age and a royal ward under the care of Lord Burghley in his capacity as master of the court of wards. At the age of twelve, in autumn 1585, Henry was admitted to St. John's College, Cambridge, where Nash and Greene held forth. The following summer he sent his guardian an essay in Ciceronian Latin on the somewhat cynical text that "All men are moved to the pursuit of virtue by the hope of reward." He remained at the university for four years, graduating M.A. at the age of sixteen in 1589. BEF leaving college he entered his name as a student at Gray's Inn, and soon afterwards took into his "pay and patronage" John Florio, the well-known author and Italian tutor. According to Florio, the Earl quickly acquired a thorough knowledge of Italian.

About 1590, when he was hardly more than seventeen, Henry was presented to Queen Elizabeth, who received him kindly. Her favorite, the Earl of Essex, also displayed a brotherly interest in young Henry's welfare. But in the autumn of 1592 the precocious Southampton was in the throng of noblemen that accompanied Elizabeth to Oxford. Henry was recognized as the most handsome and accomplished of all the young lords who frequented the royal presence. In 1593 the twenty-year-old Earl was mentioned for nomination as a knight of the garter, and although he was not chosen the compliment of nomination was unprecedented at his age, outside the circle of the sovereign's kinsmen.
Wriothesley,Henry(3ºE.Southampton).jpg (38330 bytes)

From the hour that he joined the court and made London his chief home as a handsome and accomplished lad, literature was a chief interest of Southampton's life, and he enjoyed a wide reputation as a patron of poets, who acknowledged his appreciation of literary effort of almost every quality and form, including drama.

His great wealth was freely dispensed among his literary eulogists. In 1593 Barnabe Barnes appended a sonnet in his honor to his collection of sonnets called "Parthenophil and Parthenophe"; Thomas Nash described him in his dedication to him his romance of "Jack Wilton", (1594) as "a dear lover and cherisher as well of the lovers of poets as of the poets themselves". About this time, Nash seems to have penned a lascivious poem entitled "The Choosing of Valentines" which opens and closes with a sonnet "to Lord S."

Wriothesley,Henry(3°E.Southampton)03.jpg (25980 bytes)

Christopher Marlowe also curried Southampton's favor. A recent (1992) critic of "Shakespeare" claims that the "aggressively homosexual Marlowe, targeted the young Earl in his poem Hero and Leander... The uncut, dangling tresses seen in the portraits, the fair-skinned aristocratic straightness, inflamed his imagination. To touch [Leander's/Henry's] neck, wrote Marlowe, was delicious meat; smooth breast, white belly--whose immortal fingers, he asked, did imprint the heavenly path, 'with many a curious dint that runs along his back?" (O'Connor, TLS, "Festering Lilies"). Marlowe dedicated his first published poem as "Shakespeare," Venus and Adonis in 1592 to Southampton, and one year later his dedication to "The Rape of Lucrece," the language suggests devoted friendship.

Most Shakespearean scholars believe Southampton to be the youth addressed in many of the sonnets. In the early 1590s, when many of the sonnets were probably written, Southampton was the center of attraction among poetic aspirants. No other patron's favor was at the moment more persistently sought by newcomers in the literary field. There is a possibility that Marlowe saw his chief rival as Barnabe Barnes, a youthful protégé of the Earl. Barnes, in one of his sonnets, had eulogized Southampton's virtues and inspiring eyes in language which phrases in "Shakespeare's" sonnets seem to reflect. In other sonnets in which Marlowe avows love for the handsome youth of wealth and rank, there are many hints of Southampton's known character and career. The opening sequence of seventeen sonnets, in which a youth of rank and wealth is admonished to marry and beget a son so that "his fair house" may not fall into decay, can only have been addressed to a young peer like Southampton, who was as yet unmarried, had vast possessions, and was the sole male representative of his family.

Vernon,Elizabeth(C.Southampton)01.jpg (2021382 bytes)

Elizabeth Vernon

(C. Southampton)

Vernon,Elizabeth(C.Southampton).jpg (17640 bytes)

Southampton doubtless inspired Marlowe with genuine personal affection, but it was in perfect accord with the forms of address that were customary in the communication of poets with patrons for Marlowe to describe his relations with his Maecenas in the language of an overmastering passion. Some exaggeration was expected of Elizabethan sonneteers in depicting the personal attractions of a patron. But he extant portraits of Southampton confirm the "fair" aspect with which the sonnet's hero is credited. Marlowe's frequent references in his sonnets to his youthful patron's "painted counterfeit" (Sonnets 16, 24, 47, 67) were doubtless suggested by the hero of the sonnets is at times credited presents no difficulty. Southampton was only twenty when Marlowe went into exile in 1593 at the age of twenty-nine. Sonnet 107, which seems to refer to the death of Queen Elizabeth and the accession of James I, may be regarded as a congratulatory greeting from Marlowe on Southampton's release from prison.

At the time that Marlowe was penning his eulogies in the 1590's, Southampton was an eligible bachelor. When he was seventeen, Burghley had suggested a marriage between him and his granddaughter Elizabeth Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford. Henry's mother approved the match, but her son refused to consider it.

His intrigue with Elizabeth Vernon, cousin of the Earl of Essex, which ended in 1598 with a hasty marriage, brought down Queen Elizabeth's anger on both the contracting parties, who spent some time in the Fleet prison in consequence. Meanwhile in 1596 and 1597 Southampton had been actively employed, having accompanied Essex on his two expeditions to Cádiz and to the Azores, in the latter of which he distinguished himself by his daring tactics.

Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton

Henry, 3rd Earl of Southampton, an enigmatic character but brought up as a Protestant. In 1598 he bad a brawl at court with Ambrose Willoughby, and later in the same year he attended Sir Robert Cecil on an embassy to Paris. In 1599 he went to Ireland with Earl of Essex, who made him general of his horse, but the queen insisted that the appointment should be cancelled, and Southampton returned to London. Imprisoned like his father in the Tower, Henry was lucky to escape execution for his part in the Essex's plot of 1601 and was only released with the accession of James I in 1603. He spent large sums of money on the patronage of writers. He also maintained an interest in the colonisation of Virginia, and was a director of the Virginia Company.

Died of pestilance (plague) 10 Nov 1624 on Bergen-op-Zoom, Holland, and was buried 28 Dec 1624 in Titchfield, Hampshire, England.

to Bios Page

 to Family Page

to Peerage Page to Home Page