Somerset, William (DNB00)

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SOMERSET, WILLIAM, third Earl of Worcester (1526–1589), born in 1526, was the eldest son of Henry, second earl of Worcester, by his first wife, Margaret, daughter of Sir William Courtenay, earl of Devonshire [see under Courtenay, Henry, Marquis of Exeter]. The father, eldest son of Charles Somerset, first earl of Worcester [q. v.], was born about 1499, succeeded as second earl in 1526, took part in most of the court ceremonies and state trials of the period, received, among other grants of dissolved monasteries, that of Tintern Abbey, and died on 26 Nov. 1548 (see Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, passim; Marsh, Annals of Chepstow, ed. Sir J. Maclean, pp. 205–9; Doyle, Official Baronage). An anonymous portrait of him belongs to the Duke of Beaufort.

William, who had been appointed gentleman of the privy chamber and principal esquire to Henry VIII on 25 July 1544, and had been made K.B. at the coronation of Edward VI, succeeded as third earl, and was summoned to parliament on 3 Jan. 1549–50. On 17 April following he was ordered to come to court with his best apparel and furniture to meet the French ambassadors. In May 1551 he accompanied Northampton on his embassy to Paris. On 1 Dec. following he took part in the trial of the Protector, and as the youngest peer present gave the first vote for his condemnation (Sir T. Smith, De Republ. Anglorum, 1583, p. 87). He reluctantly signed Edward VI's ‘devise’ for the succession, but refused the engagement to maintain its provisions, and was present at the proclamation of Queen Mary at St. Paul's on 19 July 1553. He officiated as carver at her coronation on 1 Oct., was appointed councillor of Wales in the same year, and justice of the peace for Worcestershire and Shropshire on 18 Feb. following.

In November 1558 Worcester was one of the peers selected to attend Elizabeth on her coming to London, and he was deputy chief butler for her coronation on 15 Jan. 1558–9. At heart he remained a Roman catholic, and in 1566 he at first refused his consent to the act declaring the consecration of archbishops and bishops, as practised since the queen's accession, ‘good, lawful, and perfect.’ His sister Anne was wife of Thomas Percy, seventh earl of Northumberland [q. v.], and in 1569 it was rumoured that Worcester was raising the men of Wales in connection with the rebellion of that year. Similarly he was suspected of favouring the project of a marriage between Mary Queen of Scots and the Duke of Norfolk. But these doubts as to his loyalty seem to have been groundless. On 23 April 1570 he was created K.G., on 2 April 1571 he was made deputy earl marshal, and in January 1571–2 he was present at Norfolk's trial. In the following December he was appointed ambassador extraordinary to France to represent Elizabeth at the baptism of Charles IX's only daughter. He set out on 18 Jan. 1572–3, and on his way was attacked by pirates in the Channel, robbed, and several of his men slain. During his stay at Paris he evinced his loyalty by refusing to see his exiled sister, the Countess of Northumberland. He returned on 27 Feb., and on 22 April 1579 he was appointed lieutenant of the order of the Garter. In that and the following years he was a commissioner of musters in Monmouth. On 26 Oct. 1586 he was one of the commissioners appointed to try Mary Queen of Scots, and in July 1588 he raised a force for the defence of the kingdom against the Spanish armada. He died on 22 Feb. 1588–9, and was buried in Raglan parish church. By his wife Christian, daughter of Edward, first baron North [q. v.], with whom his relations were not always harmonious (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 231), he had one son Edward Somerset, fourth earl of Worcester [q. v.], and two daughters—Elizabeth, who married William, younger son of William, lord Windsor, and Lucy, who married Henry, son of Sir Thomas Herbert of Wynastow. An anonymous portrait of Worcester belongs to the Duke of Beaufort; an engraved portrait, said to be after Zucchero, is given in Doyle.

Worcester was a noted patron of the drama. His company of actors was entertained by Shakespeare's father as bailiff at Stratford-on-Avon in 1568 [see art. Shakespeare, William], but did not play in London. On the earl's death the company passed under the patronage of Henry Herbert, second earl of Pembroke, and Alleyne bought their properties and playbooks (cf. Fleay, Chron. Hist. of the London Stage, pp. 86–7, where a list of the players in the company is given).

[Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–90 and Addenda, 1566–1625; Cal. Hatfield MSS. vols. i.–iii.; Acts of the Privy Council, 1550–87; Wriothesley's Chron., Machyn's Diary, and Chron. of Queen Jane (Camden Soc.); Lit. Remains of Edward VI (Roxburghe Club); Holinshed's Chron.; Stow's Annals, p. 673; Digges's Compleat Ambassador, pp. 307, 312, 318, 327, 328; Strype's Annals of the Reformation, vols. i. and ii.; Wright's Elizabeth, i. 351, 448–52, 455, 465; Marsh's Annals of Chepstow Castle, ed. Sir J. Maclean, pp. 209–12; Collins's, Doyle's, and G. E. C[okayne]'s Peerages.]

A. F. P.