Stucley, Thomas (DNB00)

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STUCLEY or STUKELY, THOMAS (1525?–1578), adventurer, born probably about 1525, was third of the five sons of Sir Hugh Stucley or Stukely (d. 1560) of Affeton, near Ilfracombe, Devonshire, and his wife Jane, second daughter of Sir Lewis Pollard [q. v.] (Vivian, Visitations of Devonshire, 1895, p. 721). It was reported during Stucley's lifetime that he was an illegitimate son of Henry VIII, an hypothesis that receives some slight support from the familiarity with which Stucley treated, and was treated by, the various sovereigns with whom he came into contact (Simpson, pp. 5–6). His early life is obscure; the author of the ‘Life and Death of Captain Thomas Stukeley’ makes him ‘a member of the Temple;’ the ballad-writer says he was servant to a bishop in the west, and Maurice Gibbon, the archbishop of Cashel, describes him as having been a retainer to the Duke of Suffolk (i.e. Charles Brandon [q. v.]), until the duke's death in 1545. He probably served in 1544–5 at the siege of Boulogne, where he was a standard-bearer with wages of 6s. 8d. a day from 1547 until its surrender to the French in March 1549–50. He was acting in a similar capacity on the Scottish borders in 1550, and in May he escorted the Marquis du Maine through England to Scotland (Acts of the Privy Council, ed. Dasent, ii. 412, iii. 26, 48). Before 1551 he had entered the service of the Duke of Somerset, and on 21 Nov. a month after the duke's arrest, the council ordered Stucley's apprehension (ib. iii. 421), but he escaped to France. There his conduct, possibly at the siege of Metz, brought him under the notice of Henry II, who in August 1552 strongly recommended him to Edward VI (Cal. State Papers, Foreign, 1547–53, pp. 92, 218, 221). The French king's design in sending Stucley to England was to obtain through him information that might be useful in his projected attempt on Calais, but Stucley defeated the scheme by confessing his errand. On 16 Sept. he laid before the English government details of Henry's plans, and on the 19th Cecil drew up an account of his examination (Lit. Remains of Edward VI, ii. 455, et sqq.; Cal. State Papers, 1547–80, pp. 44, 46). Cecil suggested that Stucley should be sent back to France to acquire further information, but Northumberland preferred a more Machiavellian scheme. The designs of Henry II, being known, were no longer dangerous, and the duke thought to secure the French king's friendship by revealing to him Stucley's communications and affecting to disbelieve them. Henry naturally denied Stucley's story, and Stucley was sent to the Tower (Lit. Remains, p. 462). The payment of his debts, which had been promised him as a reward, was refused, and he remained in prison until the end of Edward's reign.

He was released, with Gardiner and Tunstal, on 6 Aug. 1553 (Acts P. C. iv. 312), but his debts compelled him again to leave England. Naturally precluded from re-entering Henry II's service, he betook himself to the emperor. He was at Brussels in December, and in February 1553–4 he was serving in the imperial army at St. Omer. Thence he wrote to the English government offering information about the French king's designs, and the services of himself and his whole band, to Queen Mary, probably for the purpose of suppressing Wyatt's rebellion (Cal. State Papers, For. 1553–8, p. 55). His offer was not accepted, and throughout that year he served in Flanders under Philibert, duke of Savoy. In October Philibert wished Stucley to accompany him to England, and Stucley accordingly wrote to Mary on the 7th, begging for security against arrest for debts which, he pleaded, had been incurred in the service of Henry VIII and Edward VI. On the 23rd a patent was made out giving the requisite security for six months, and towards the end of December Stucley arrived in England with the Duke of Savoy. It was no doubt during his visit that he attempted to retrieve his fortunes by marrying Anne, granddaughter and sole heiress of Sir Thomas Curtis, a wealthy alderman of London. On 13 May 1555, however, the sheriffs of Devon and Cheshire were ordered to arrest him on a charge of coining false money (Acts P. C. v. 125, 131). Stucley escaped over sea, and on 14 June the council ordered his goods to be ‘praysed openly and delyuered’ to his wife, who was to give security to appear when called upon (ib. p. 152). Stucley again took service under the Duke of Savoy, and shared in the victory of the imperialists over the French at St. Quentin on 10 Aug. 1557. Then he appears to have resorted to piracy, and on 30 May 1558 he was summoned before the council in London on a charge of robbing some Spanish ships. On 7 July he was ordered to present himself on penalty of 500l. in the court of the lord high admiral, who, however, reported on the 14th that ‘he did not find matter sufficient to charge Stucley withal’ (State Papers, Dom. 27 Aug. 1558). On 7 Nov. following Stucley induced a Spanish admiral—possibly Juan de Fernandez—in whose service he was, to intercede with Queen Mary with the object of securing part of his father's property so that he might ‘be the better able to serve her majesty.’ This scheme, which aimed at defrauding his four brothers, seems to have failed. In the same year Serjeant Prideaux, who had married Stucley's sister Mary, died, and the Marquis of Saria persuaded Queen Mary to grant Stucley the wardship of Prideaux's son. In his haste to profit by the transaction Stucley seized Prideaux's house, which again brought him into trouble with the privy council (Acts P. C. vii. 8). On 25 Nov. 1559 Chaloner reported that his wife's grandfather, Sir Thomas Curtis, was dead, and Stucley was busy in the midst of his coffers.

For a time this new source of wealth kept Stucley to comparatively respectable pursuits. In May 1560 he was employed in raising levies in Berkshire, and in April 1561 he was given a captaincy at Berwick. In the following winter he entertained and formed a close friendship with Shane O'Neill [q. v.] during his visit to England; and on 14 June 1563 he amused Queen Elizabeth with a sort of sham fight on the Thames off Limehouse (Machyn, Diary, p. 309).

By this time Stucley had squandered the greater part of his wife's fortune, and he determined to seek a new source of wealth by privateering. The pretended object of his expedition was to colonise Florida, and he was to be accompanied by Jean Ribault, a Dieppe sailor, who had previously been in English service (see Cor. Pol. de Odet de Selve, passim). Ribault had in 1562 made a voyage to Florida. Queen Elizabeth engaged in the venture, and supplied one of the six ships that formed Stucley's force. He had three hundred men, and was well furnished with artillery (De Quadra to Philip II, in Simancas Papers, i. 322). He took leave of the queen on 25 June 1563, sailing with three vessels from London, and picking up the other three at Plymouth. Abroad it was generally known that Florida was a mere pretext for piracy (cf. Lettres de Catherine de Médicis, 1885, ii. 209). For two years, though Stucley is stated to have actually landed in Florida (Simancas Papers, iii. 349), his robberies on the high seas were a scandal to Europe. Spanish, French, and Portuguese ships suffered alike, and Chaloner, the English ambassador at Madrid, confessed that ‘he hung his head for shame’ (Cal. State Papers, For. 1564–5, p. 272). On one occasion Stucley cut out two French ships worth thirty thousand ducats from a port in Galicia. At length the remonstrances of foreign ambassadors compelled Elizabeth to disown Stucley and take measures for his apprehension. Some ships with this object were sent early in 1565 to the west coast of Ireland, and Stucley's galley was seized in Cork harbour in March. He seems to have landed and surrendered beforehand. On 19 May the privy council ordered his removal to London, reprimanding the lords justices of Ireland for not having sent him before, and the queen informed Philip that ‘there was no English pirate left upon the sea.’ Stucley arrived in London at the end of June; but Shane O'Neill, Lord-justice Arnold, and Hugh Brady, bishop of Meath, interceded in his favour, and on 27 Sept. he was released on recognisances. No charge, it was said, was brought against him except by some Portuguese, who, with the Spanish ambassador, acquiesced in his liberation (Acts P. C. vii. 261).

Stucley now found employment in Ireland. Shane O'Neill asked for his services against the Scots, who had landed in Ulster, and Sir Henry Sidney [q. v.], the lord-deputy, thought Stucley's help would be invaluable in keeping O'Neill to his engagements with the government. On 4 Nov. he was sent to Ireland with a letter of recommendation from Cecil, and he was immediately employed by Sidney to negotiate with O'Neill. Shane refused the terms offered him, and in March 1565–6 Stucley purchased from Sir Nicholas Bagenal, for 3,000l. Irish—probably the ill-gotten gains of piracy—his office of marshal of Ireland and all Bagenal's estates in the country. These included lands of considerable extent bordering on O'Neill's territory. Sidney and Cecil were both favourable to the recognition of this transaction, but Elizabeth wisely and resolutely refused her sanction.

There was good cause to distrust Stucley. The queen's religious policy had excited his active hostility, and for three years he had maintained treasonable relations with the Spanish ambassador. Before his piratical expedition he had informed De Quadra that they ‘were sending him on a bad and knavish business, but … he would show him a trick that would make a noise in the world’ (Simancas Papers, i. 322). On his release, in October 1565, he had renewed his relations with the ambassador, professing a desire to serve the king of Spain, and excusing his acts of piracy against Spanish merchants. Before setting out for Ireland he said he could do Philip great service there. He accepted a pension from Philip, and it is probable that his relations with O'Neill and anxiety to secure a strong position in Ireland were prompted by treasonable motives. Instead, therefore, of sanctioning Stucley's bargain with Bagenal, Elizabeth ordered Stucley home to answer charges brought against him in the admiralty courts; and Sidney lamented Stucley's ‘evil plight,’ especially as he was just settling down and meditating a marriage with a daughter of William Somerset, third earl of Worcester [q. v.]

For the present, however, Stucley's projects were only suspected, and in 1567 he was allowed to return to Ireland. Undeterred by his previous failure, he now purchased of Sir Nicholas Heron the offices of seneschal of Wexford, constable of Wexford and Laghlin castles, and captain of the Kavanaghs, together with various estates (Cal. Fiants, Elizabeth, Nos. 1127–9, 1136, 1265–1266, 1442, 1444). On 24 Aug. he was empowered to exercise martial law in co. Wexford (ib. No. 1119). Elizabeth, however, was opposed to Stucley holding any office in Ireland; on 20 June 1568 Heron was ordered to resume his functions, and Stucley lost all his preferments (Cal. State Papers, Ireland, 1509–73, pp. 380, 392, 402). Heron died before he could take up his appointments, and Nicholas White was sent instead. Not content with assuming Stucley's offices, White on 6 June 1569 accused Stucley before the Irish privy council of felony and high treason, and on the 10th he was imprisoned in Dublin Castle. He had in that same month proposed the invasion of Ireland to the Spanish ambassador, and demanded twenty fully armed ships for the purpose. But sufficient evidence was not forthcoming to convict him, and, after seventeen weeks' imprisonment, Stucley was on 11 Oct. released by the privy council on sureties for 500l. (‘Acts of the Privy Council in Ireland’ in Hist. MSS. Comm. 15th Rep. iii. 232–3).

These misfortunes strengthened Stucley's determination to turn traitor. While in Dublin Castle he had found means to communicate with Richard Creagh [q. v.], Roman catholic archbishop of Armagh, then a prisoner in the castle, and also with Don Guerau de Spes, the Spanish ambassador in London. Soon after his release he visited London, and apparently offered his services to Fénelon, the French ambassador, in February 1569–70. In March he returned to Ireland, and on the 13th he began to make arrangements at Waterford for escaping to Spain. He sailed on 17 April, and on the 24th landed at Vinero in Galicia. On 4 Aug. he was summoned to Madrid; he was received with a consideration that astonished the English ambassador. On 21 Jan. 1570–1 he was knighted by Philip; he was generally styled Marquis or Duke of Ireland, and the king was reported to have allowed him five hundred reals a day and a residence at Las Rozas, a village nine miles from Madrid.

Meanwhile Stucley was busy scheming the invasion of Ireland. Five thousand men were promised him under the command of the notorious Julian Romero (see ‘Julian Romero—Swashbuckler’ in Hume, The Year after the Armada, pp. 96–7). Stucley's character, however, soon inspired distrust of his ability to perform his magnificent promises, and his credit was undermined by Maurice Gibbon, archbishop of Cashel, whose quarrels with Stucley divided the Spanish court into factions, one supporting the archbishop and the other Stucley. Eventually ‘an honest excuse was found to divert him, and he left for Bivero (in Sicily), having dismissed the people who came from Ireland with him and dismantled his ship’ (Simancas Papers, ii. 305). The archbishop went to Paris and informed Walsingham of Stucley's plots, drawing up at the same time an account of his career. Stucley's proposed intervention in the Ridolfi plot accordingly miscarried. The ‘honest excuse’ was some mission to the pope. It is not clear what it was, but on 7 Oct. 1571 Stucley was present in command of three galleys at Don John's victory over the Turks at Lepanto, where his gallant conduct rehabilitated him to some extent in Philip's eyes. Early in 1572 Stucley visited Paris apparently with the object of negotiating a combined French and Spanish invasion of England. The scheme came to nothing, as did another suggested for Stucley by Nicholas Sanders [q. v.] Throughout 1573 and 1574 Stucley seems to have lived in Spain immersed in plots against England and quarrels with his fellow renegades. In October 1575 he was at Rome, where, according to Anthony Munday [q. v.], he was ‘in great credit with the pope’ (English Romayne Life, 1582). In the spring of 1576 he was back at Madrid with Dr. (afterwards Cardinal) Allen, negotiating for the deliverance of Mary Queen of Scots and for the reduction of Ireland; but before May he returned to Rome, whence he made a pilgrimage to Loretto. Early in 1577 he went with Don John by way of Florence to the Netherlands, but his principal business was at Rome, where, having given up Philip as hopeless, he was negotiating with the pope for the means for an invasion of Ireland. He claimed for himself the title of Archduke of Ireland, which he was to hold of the holy see. At length he secured material aid. On 4 March 1577–8 it was reported that he had left Civita Vecchia with a galleon carrying six hundred men, and on 4 May the English consul at San Lucar informed his government that Stucley had arrived there with ships and men supplied by the pope. The news created great alarm, and Frobisher was sent to the west of Ireland to intercept him. The precaution was needless. Stucley's ships were so unseaworthy that he was compelled to put in at Lisbon and beg fresh ones from Sebastian, king of Portugal. Sebastian, however, induced Stucley to join his expedition against Morocco. There he fought in command of his Italian soldiers at the fatal battle of Alcazar on 4 Aug. 1578, being killed, like Sebastian, on the field.

Stucley's first wife died apparently before 1565. Colonel Vivian erroneously gives the maiden name of this wife as Poulet. Possibly this was the name of his second wife, who was living in Ireland in 1565. Stucley's youngest brother, Lewis Stucley, who served as standard-bearer to Queen Elizabeth, and died on 1 Dec. 1581, was grandfather of Sir Lewis Stucley [q. v.] (Vivian, Visitations of Devonshire, p. 721).

Stucley at once became the hero of dramas and ballads. There is no evidence as to when ‘The Famous History of the Life and Death of Captain Thomas Stukeley’ was first acted. It was printed ‘as it hath been acted’ at London, 1605, 4to, and was reprinted in Simpson's ‘School of Shakespeare,’ 1878. The printed version is, however, very incomplete. A ballad, probably based on the play, became popular, and four copies of it are in the Roxburghe collection in the British Museum, none of them with any date. Stucley also figures in Peele's ‘Battle of Alcazar,’ which was probably acted before the spring of 1589, and was printed in 1594 (for other poetical references to Stucley see Dyce's Introduction to the Battle of Alcazar). Reference is made to his story in Kingsley's ‘Westward Ho!’ (chap. v.).

[Cal. State Papers, Dom., Ireland, Foreign, and Venetian Ser.; Cal. Carew MSS.; Collins's Letters and Memorials of State; Murdin and Haynes's Burghley State Papers; Digges's Compleat Ambassador; Wright's Elizabeth; Lit. Remains of Edward VI (Roxburghe Club); Thuanus, Theiner, Mariana, and Sanders's Histories; O'Sullevan's Hist. Cathol. Iberniæ; Holinshed, Stow, and Camden's Annals; Strype's Works; Fuller's Worthies. These and other sources were used by Richard Simpson in his exhaustive and careful biography of Stucley prefixed to his School of Shakespeare, 1878. Some further particulars of value may be gleaned from the Cal. of Simancas Papers, 3 vols. 1895–7; Acts of the Privy Council, ed. Dasent; Cal. Hatfield MSS.; Cal. of Fiants, Ireland (22nd Report of the Deputy Keeper of Records in Ireland).]

A. F. P.