Sir Henry UNTON
(Ambassador in France)
Born: ABT 1557
Died: 23 Mar 1596, Paris, France
Father: Edward UNTON of Wadley Burks (Sir Knight)
Mother: Anne SEYMOUR (C. Warwick)
Married: Dorothy WROUGHTON
Anne, Countess of Warwick, married Edward Unton of Wadley in Berkshire on 29 Apr 1555 in the small church of Hatford near Wadley. The entry in the parish register says
"Mr Edward Umpton Esquire and the Ladie Anne Countesse of Warwick were married in the parish church of Hatford the third calends of May in the first and second yeares of the raignes of Phillip and Marie"
We know that Henry's mother, Anne, had at least one child, Edward, before Henry was born. She had three other sons, Alexander, Edmund and Francis; Francis lived until early adulthood, and was probably older than Henry. Her two daughters, Anne and Cecily, outlived their brothers.
Apart from Latin, Greek and Religion it is probable that Henry also studied more modern subjects, geography, mathematics, history and foreign languages. Henry was a skilled linguist, he was fluent in Italian, and almost certainly spoke French as well. He was also a skilled musician, and became a great patron of the arts.
When he was 16 we went to study at Oriel College, part of Oxford University. In those days when young men went to university they took a tutor with them to take care of them and supervise their studies. In order to graduate a student would have to sit with his tutors and demonstrate his knowledge and understanding of his subject in Latin. Wadley was leased from Oriel College, so it was appropriate that Henry studied there. Henry's two brothers, Edward and Francis, were also listed as students at Oriel College in 1572, although Francis was no longer alive in 1582 when their father died, and there appears to be no record of him supplicating for his BA* Henry did not in fact take his Master's Degree at Oxford, it was not thought important then, but finished his studies at the Middle Temple, one of the Inns of Court in London. At that time it was very important that anyone who had to manage estates should have a good knowledge of law.
After he left the Middle Temple he entered the service of the Vice Chamberlain, Sir Christopher Hatton. Henry was created MA on 14th Jul 1590.
Although Henry's formal education was finished by 1576 or 1577 his father thought it would be a good idea if Henry travelled through Europe because this might help him to get a position at court. Henry travelled to Italy. This was not a very safe thing to do at that time. England was a Protestant country, and Protestants were sometimes captured and imprisoned by the Inquisition, this happened to Henry's older brother, Edward, in 1582. Most Italian universities were closed to Protestants, but Henry was able to study at Padua. Venice, a great centre for musical study, was also a safe place to visit. It was while Henry was in Italy that he learnt to speak Italian fluently. The picture shows him carrying an umbrella to protect him from the strong rays of the sun. The umbrella was invented in Italy, and it is thought that Henry may have brought it back to England with him, probably in 1578. Henry may also have visited Budapest and Paris.
At the time Henry Unton travelled to Venice (in the 1570s) Italy was not one country but a series of small states. The city state of Venice also included Padua, 37km west of Venice. The University of Padua, which was open to non-Catholics when Henry visited Italy, was founded in 1222.
After he returned from Europe Henry took on several public duties in England. He was elected Member of Parliament for New Woodstock in 1584, and showed great interest in the business affairs of his constituency.
By the end of the 16th Century countries in Europe were either Protestant or Roman Catholic. This caused many of the wars in the second half of that Century.
During the 16th Century Spain ruled the Netherlands. Spain was a Catholic country, some of the people in the Netherlands were Protestant but most of them were Catholic. Almost everybody, whatever their religion, hated being ruled by Spaniards, and by 1572 there were uprisings against the Spanish, particularly in the North. Because England and the Netherlands were trading partners and allies Queen Elizabeth was asked to help defeat the Spanish. She was not willing to send an army because she didn't want to anger the Spanish, so instead she sent money to help pay for soldiers.
By the early 1580s the Spanish soldiers had regained control of the Southern part of the Netherlands, and were threatening the northern part which was mostly Protestant. When a Dutch prince was assassinated Queen Elizabeth thought that England might be invaded next, and so she reluctantly agreed to send an army to the Netherlands to help drive the Spanish army out. All the soldiers who went to fight were volunteers and the gentlemen were officers. Henry was probably a captain
Queen Elizabeth put Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in command of the army. He was one of Elizabeth's favourites, and was related to Sir Phillip Sidney, and to Henry's mother.
Henry fought bravely and he, and his good friend William Hatton, were knighted at the Battle of Zutphen, where Sir Phillip Sidney was killed.
After he returned from the Netherlands he made provision for the poor of the parish of Shipton. At the time of the Spanish Armada Henry was ordered to assemble a small force of armed volunteers and bring them to Richmond to fight off any invaders.
In 1591 Sir Henry was appointed Ambassador to Henri IV of France. He arrived on 21st Jul. Henry suffered several illnesses while in France, however he recovered from these illnesses and continued his duties as Ambassador.
Being an Ambassador was expensive and Henry was keen to come home, however he stayed in France until Jun 1592 when, accompanied by 120 horsemen, because travelling was so dangerous in France, he returned to England via Dieppe and Dover, arriving home on 17 Jun 1592.
In Dec 1595 the Queen decided that Henry should again be sent to France as Ambassador. He left about 21 Dec.
In Feb 1596, while on his second mission to France as Ambassador, Henry fell from his horse. He soon caught the fever that was common in the camp. Henri IV, who much admired Henry sent his own doctor to treat him. He wrote
"The misery of this seidge is very great, by reason of syckness and incommodityes, and my servants fall dayly very sicke, whereof one is dead and others in danger."
No sooner had he arrived in France than he developed a fever. The Queen wrote to him on 22 Aug that year expressing her sadness at his fit of the ague.
By the middle of Aug Sir Henry was so ill that his doctors thought he would die. By early Sep Henry had developed jaundice, a disease of the liver that makes your skin turn yellow.
By Mar 17th Henry wrote that he had for some days been suffering from a malignant fever and doctors had given up hope of curing him. On Mar 20th he wrote
"My feavour doth still continue with me, whereby my weakness is greatly increased. I have beene again lett blood and purged, but it doth yett nothinge ease me, and so I most humbly take my leave."
In spite of this Henry died on Mar 23rd 1596 at the age of about 39.
Two days before his death Henry had asked that his body should be brought home for burial.
Sir Henry was given a baron's funeral, two ranks higher than that of a knight, because he was an Ambassador when he died. His funeral was organised by Heralds from the College of Arms. Three of them lead the funeral procession wearing tabards with the Royal Coat of Arms embroidered on them; the third herald is carrying a Griffin crest.
Records in the College of Arms describe what happened
"The sayd Sir Henry Unton, Knight, dyed Lord Ambassador resident in France, in the French Kynges camp lying before Lafere from whence he was brought over to London, and from thence he was worshipfully accompanied and caryed in a coache to Wadley, and from thence he was caryed to Farringdon, in the county of Berks aforesaid, and in the parish churche there buried on Thursday 8th day of Jul 1596, with a Baron's hearse, and in the degree of a Baron, because he dyed Ambassador Leidger for France"
All the mourners are wearing black, and Sir Henry's coffin is covered with a black cloth painted with his coat of arms.
The preacher may have been his chaplain Robert Wright, of Trinity College, who organised an official publication of memorial verses from 56 contributors. This was called the Funebria, and was published by Oxford University that same year. This was a very great honour.
Robert Wright later became Bishop of Bristol, Lichfield and Coventry.
Usually the funeral of such an important person was followed by a large meal. As Sir Henry died in debt perhaps there was no great feast.
Lady Dorothy Unton commissioned a picture in memory of her husband. It depicts some of the most important events in his public and private life.
The picture suggests that Henry was born at Ascott under Wychwood, but there is no evidence of this, and some people think he was born at Wadley. Edward and Anne may have lived at Langley near Shipton under Wychwood, as Anne and Cecily were baptised there.
In the scene of Henry's birth his mother is portrayed as being much larger than anyone else in the portrait, this is to show that she is more important than anyone else in the scene. Above her head you can see her coat of arms, and also a coronet. The lettering, which is now illegible, once read:
The tomb shows four sculpted figures, apart from Sir Henry. To the left and right of the tomb are Faith and Hope, and above Lady Unton's head are Victory, to the left, and Fame, to the right. The tomb is decorated with the following coats of arms:
Argent a Chevron Gules between three Boars Heads couped Sable armed Or
These are the maiden arms of Dorothy Wroughton, Henry's wife
Azure on a Fess Or between three Sprearheads Argent a Greyhound courant Sable
These are the arms of the Untons, except that the Fess should be engrailed
Over the tomb is the following crest
On a Chapeau Azure turned up Ermine a Griffin passant Argent
The crest recorded for Sir Henry was
On a Chapeau Azure turned up Or a Griffin statant Argent
Sir Henry's tomb was not completed until 1606. Lady Unton asked that she should be buried there following her death in 1634. The tomb was badly damaged during the Civil War.
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