Thursday, 8 October 2015

The disastrous Willoughby-Littleton marriage

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Francis Willoughby
Francis Willoughby (1547-96) was the youngest child of Henry Willoughby (d.1549) and Anne Grey (d.1548). Francis' childhood was one of instability and confusion. Francis lost his mother when he was only a year old, and then his father a year later when he was killed during the suppression of Kett's Rebellion. Francis and his two elder siblings, Thomas (1541-59) and Margaret were then placed into the care of their mother Anne's family. Anne's brother was Henry Grey, the father of Jane Grey. Thomas as the heir became the ward of Henry Grey and his wife Frances Brandon, whilst Francis and Margaret were sent to George Medley, Henry Grey's elder half-brother. The attempt to place Jane Grey on the throne of England in 1553 cost Henry Grey his life and many of his relatives were arrested too. George Medley was sent to the Tower of London, and upon his release in May 1554 he could no longer take care of Francis and Margaret. Frances Brandon took the two younger Willoughby children into her care, she sent Francis to school and Margaret became her Lady-in-Waiting. Thomas Willoughby's wardship was bought by William Paget and was married to his daughter Dorothy. In August 1559 Thomas died from exhaustion whilst hunting, and so at the age of thirteen Francis became heir to his father's estates which he came into full possession of in 1564. Due to this change of circumstance Francis' wardship was up for sale and was bought by Sir Francis Knollys in 1560. In 1564 Francis Knollys proposed a marriage between his daughter Elizabeth and his ward Francis. However, Francis refused this match. It was his refusal that indicated to Francis Knollys that he was old enough to be in charge of his own affairs, and soon after his wardship was transferred back to the estate and Francis took possession of his estates.

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Elizabeth Littleton
In the winter of 1564 Francis Willoughby married Elizabeth Littleton (1546-94), daughter of his Warwickshire neighbour Sir John Littleton, and this marriage would consolidate Francis' connection to the powerful Midlands families. The marriage agreement dated the 20th November stated that Sir John would pay £1500, provide clothes for Elizabeth and residence with six servants at his house in Frankley for the couple for three years, and Francis gave Elizabeth a one third jointure in his estates excluding the coal mines.
Francis and Elizabeth had twelve children but only six survived to adulthood, all of whom were daughters;
+ Frances (1572-1665) m. John Drake m2. Montague Wood
+ Bridget (1566-1629) m. Percival Willoughby
+ Dorothy (1574-1632) m. Henry Hastings
+ Margaret (1570-97) m. Robert Spencer
+ Abigail (1576-1654) m. William Pargiter
+ Winifred (b.1578) m. Edward Willoughby
The couple had a number of sons, however none of them survived childhood; the last died aged six in 1580. Due to his lack of a son and heir, in 1583 Francis had his daughter Bridget married to a cousin named Percival Willoughby, and made him his heir.

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Bridget Willoughby
Francis shared a close relationship with his sister Margaret, who married Matthew Arundell (1533-98). Margaret did not approve of Francis' marriage to Elizabeth; her initial reasoning being that her father John Littleton was not trustworthy and Francis could make a better marriage. Margaret's concerns were not unfounded as Sir John failed to provide the dowry for Elizabeth that was agreed upon, which caused huge arguments between Sir John and Francis. Margaret also did not like Elizabeth, writing to her brother in 1564 that she hoped his marriage would not turn out to be a case of 'marry in haste, repent at leisure'. Even once Francis had married Elizabeth, Margaret refused to be in the same place as Elizabeth.

Francis and Elizabeth's marriage was a disastrous one and it appears that both sides were at fault. Arguments turned into abusive behaviour. Francis placed restrictions on his wife; Elizabeth was allowed access only to her rooms and Francis refused to provide for her attendants. She was allowed to only occupy herself with raising her daughters, needlework, reading, playing the virginals, card games and conversing with her attendants. Elizabeth was almost constantly ill and often visited her physician in London and took visits to Buxton, which was an expense that Sir Francis was not happy to maintain. By the 1570's the couple's relationship was crumbling and only worsened throughout that decade. In 1572 Elizabeth only had a handful of women attendants in her household; Elizabeth Mering and Marjory Gardner - two gentlewomen to attend her, two nurses for the children, a fool named Mary and two other women, whereas her husband had around 50 men in attendance. This situation worsened over the decade; eventually Elizabeth found herself under house arrest by her husband; he complained that she led a 'disorderly life', kept company with people he disapproved of and continually reviled him to his face. These reports may not be entirely inaccurate as when Elizabeth was asked by Sir Fulke Greville why she refused to be ruled by her husband she replied that she was 'the Queen's sworn servant and knew not but Sir Francis might command her something against Her Majesty's proceedings'. She was confined to her own rooms, was not allowed to 'discharge or receive any servant' or 'strike or evil entreat any servant' and she was not allowed to see her children who were then in the care of their nurse Joan. Elizabeth had to follow the orders of two household Captains, was banned from the household stores and from buying anything and had 'no authority to command anything in the house except necessary diet for herself'. It didn't help the situation that Margaret was making the couple's arguments public knowledge, and the household servants were also interfering and taking sides.

The couple separated in 1579, and Sir John asked Francis to provide an allowance for Elizabeth to live on. When the couple's only son died in 1580 Elizabeth offered to reconcile with Francis in the hope that they could have another son, but this did not happen. In 1582 Queen Elizabeth ordered Francis to pay his estranged wife £200 per year 'for Elizabeth's separate maintenance'. Elizabeth went to live with her father and had to rely upon him for 'comfort in my griefe, assistance in my troubles and succor in my necessities'. During the years of her separation from her husband, the malicious rumours against Elizabeth eventually convinced even her father of her bad character, and she was required to plead with him to 'take pitie of me as yor naturall childe, have compassion of me as a distressed woman'. Elizabeth became unhappy with this separated state of her marriage and often wrote to Francis asking him to take her back, despite all of their previous marital disharmony. Francis fathered an illegitimate son in 1585. Francis and Elizabeth reconciled in 1588, however Elizabeth's health deteriorated and her behaviour became the same as before. Her visits to Buxton recommenced but seem to have had little effect; Francis writing in April 1589 that 'my wife hath beene longe sicke, and for the recoverie of her health is at Buckstones, wheare havinge receaved noe healpe is growne to suche weakenesse, that nowe beinge desyrous to retorne home is not able to adventure the iorneye eyther on horsebacke or in a coache'*. Elizabeth died on the 4th of June 1594.

In August 1595 Francis married an 'astute widow', Dorothy Colby, daughter and heiress of Thomas Colby. Dorothy was the widow of John Tamworth (1562-94) whom she had married in 1583 and had two daughters, Dorothy and Katherine, with. Dorothy and Francis were married for only fifteen months before Francis' death on the 16th November 1596. There were suspicions that Dorothy had murdered her husband with poison, however she was never formally accused. At the time of his death Dorothy was pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter Frances on the 3rd May 1597, however the child died soon after. Dorothy married her third husband Philip Wharton (1555-1625) within two months of giving birth to Frances. After an unhappy third marriage, Dorothy Wharton died in 1621.

For a more complete view of the family, Francis and Elizabeth's descendant Cassandra, Duchess of Chandos, compiled and published the family papers which give an intimate look at the couple's marriage.

* = Letter from Francis Willoughby to Bess of Hardwick, 26 April 1589

1 comment:

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