Percy, Henry (1532?-1585) (DNB00)

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PERCY, HENRY, eighth Earl of Northumberland (1532?–1585), born at Newburn Manor about 1532, was second of the two sons of Sir Thomas Percy who was executed in 1527 as a chief actor in the northern rebellion known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. Brought up with his elder brother Thomas, seventh earl [q. v.], he took part as a youth in border warfare, and on Queen Mary's accession was appointed governor of Tynemouth Castle. He was returned to the House of Commons in 1554 as M.P. for Morpeth, was knighted in 1557, and became deputy warden of the east and middle marches. Many reports of his zeal reached the government, and Queen Elizabeth continued him in his chief offices. He was temporarily transferred from the governorship of Tynemouth to the captaincy of Norham Castle, but was reappointed in February 1561 to Tynemouth. When war broke out with the Scots in 1559, he was given the command of a body of light horse, to be equipped like the ' 'Schwartze Ritter' with corselets and two pistols each, and at the head of these troops he greatly distinguished himself before Leith (April 1560). The French commander D'Oyzelle, when defeated, asked permission, in compliment to Percy's valour, to surrender his sword to Percy rather than to the commander-in-chief, Lord Grey. Unlike other members of his family, he avowed protestant sympathies, and was directed in 1561 to report on the doctrines adopted by the Scottish congregations. Both John Knox and Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, with whom he corresponded, seem to have been convinced of his sympathy with presbyterianism. He had already (24 June 1559) been commissioned, together with Thomas Young, archbishop of York, to administer the oath of supremacy to the clergy of the northern province (Rymer, Foedera, xv. 611-612). His position in the north was improved at the end of 1561 by his marriage with Catharine Neville, daughter and coheiress of John, last lord Latimer.

During the northern rebellion, in which his elder brother was a chief actor (November-December 1569), Henry Percy remained loyal to the government, joined the royal forces, and vigorously attacked the rebels. Queen Elizabeth promised him favour and employment in return for his valuable services. When his brother was a prisoner in Scotland, Percy wrote urging him to confess his offences and appeal to the queen's mercy. In 1571 he was elected M.P. for Northumberland, and on his brother's execution at York in 1572 he assumed, by Queen Elizabeth's permission, the title of eighth earl of Northumberland, in accordance with the patents of creation. 'Simple Thomas,' it was said among his tenantry, had died to make way for 'cruel Henry.'

But the traditions attaching to his family had meanwhile overcome his loyalty. As soon as he had helped to crush his brother, he was seized by an impulse to follow his brother's example, and strike a blow in behalf of Queen Mary Stuart, who was in confinement at Tutbury. He opened communication with the Scottish queen's agent, the bishop of Ross, at Easter 1571, and offered to become Queen Mary's 'servant.' He would aid her to escape, or at any rate connive at her escape. The wary Sir Ralph Sadler suspected his intentions, and on 15 Nov. 1571 Percy was arrested while in London and sent to the Tower. On 23 Feb. 1571-2 he wrote, begging the queen to release him. After eighteen months' detention he was brought to trial on a charge of treason. Thereupon he flung himself on the queen's mercy, was fined five thousand marks, and was directed to confine himself to his house at Petworth. On 12 July 1573 he was permitted to come to London, and was soon afterwards set at liberty.

On 8 Feb. 1575-6 he first took his seat in the House of Lords, and was one of the royal commissioners appointed to prorogue parliament in November. Just a year later he was nominated a commissioner to promote the breeding of war-horses in Sussex. But he had not abandoned his treacherous courses. In September 1582 he entertained the French agent, M. de Bex, and looked with a friendly eye on Throckmorton's plot to release Queen Mary. With Lord Henry Howard and Throckmorton he was arrested on suspicion of complicity late in the same year, and for a second time was sent to the Tower. He was, however, only detained a few weeks, and no legal proceedings were taken against him. But he was deprived of the governorship of Tynemouth Castle — a step against which he protested hotly. He was still sanguine of compassing the release of Queen Mary. In September 1583 he invited her agent, Charles Paget [q. v.], and Paget's brother, Lord Paget, to Petworth, and there he discussed the matter fully. The Duc de Guise was to aid the enterprise with French troops, and Northumberland offered advice respecting their landing. William Shelley, who was present at the interview, was arrested and racked next year, and related what took place. Northumberland's aim, he said, was not only to secure Queen Mary's liberty, but to extort from Elizabeth full toleration for the Roman catholics. In December 1584 Northumberland was sent to the Tower for a third time. He protested his innocence, and courted inquiry. Six months later, on 21 June 1585, he was found dead in his bed in his cell, having been shot through the heart. A jury was at once summoned, and returned a verdict of suicide. He was buried in the church of St. Peter ad Vincula, within the Tower. Camden expresses the popular regret 'that so great a person, who was of a lively and active spirit, died so miserable and lamentable a death.' It was stated that the day before the earl died the lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Owen Hopton, was ordered by Sir Christopher Hatton, the vice-chamberlain, to place the prisoner under the care of a new warder named Bailiffe. A report consequently spread abroad that Hatton had contrived Northumberland's death, and some years later Sir Walter Raleigh, in writing to Sir Robert Cecil, referred to Hatton's guilt as proved. But there is no authentic ground for disputing the theory that Northumberland died by his own hand. The catholics naturally asserted that he had been murdered. Immediately after his death there was published at Cologne a tract entitled; Crudelitatis Calvinianæ Exempla duo recentissima ex Anglia,' in which the English government was charged both with Northumberland's murder and with the enforcement of the penal statutes passed in the previous year. The tract was reprinted in French, German, English, Italian, and Spanish. To allay the public excitement, a Star-chamber inquiry was ordered, and it was held on 23 June. Thereupon 'A True and Summarie Reporte' of the proceedings was published, and the verdict of suicide powerfully upheld.

His widow, Catharine Neville, subsequently married Francis Fitton of Binfield, Berkshire, and died on 28 Oct. 1596, being buried in Westminster Abbey. By her Northumberland left eight sons and two daughters. Of the latter, Lucy married, first, Sir John Wotton; secondly, Sir Hugh Owen of Anglesey; and Eleanor married Sir William Herbert, baron Powis. The eldest son, Henry, ninth earl; the second, William (1575–1648); and the youngest son, George (1580–1632), are noticed separately. The other sons were Sir Charles (d. 1628), who fought in the Low Countries and Ireland, was implicated in Essex's rebellion, and was pardoned; Sir Richard (d. 1647), who also fought in Ireland; Sir Alan (d. 1611), who was made K.B. in 1604; and Sir Josceline (d. 1631), who, like his brother Charles, was concerned in Essex's rebellion.

[De Fonblanque's Annals of the House of Percy, ii. 125 seq.; Froude's Hist. of England; Cal. State Papers, Dom.; Camden's Annals; Doyle's Official Baronage; Sharpe's Memorials of the Rebellion of 1569; Collins's Peerage; G. E. C.'s Complete Peerage.]

S. L.