Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blount, Charles (1563-1606)
BLOUNT, CHARLES, Earl of Devonshire and eighth Lord Mountjoy (1563–1606), second son of James, sixth lord Mountjoy, by his wife Catherine, daughter of Sir Thomas Leigh, of St. Oswald's, Yorkshire, and thus grandson of Blount [q. v.], fifth lord Mountjoy, was born in 1563. He studied at Oxford for a short time, and was created M.A. in later years (16 June 1589). From Oxford he proceeded to the Inner Temple to study law. But, although always interested in learning, his ambition lay in other directions. His family had been steadily losing its reputation and its wealth for many years past. To recover both was Blount's aim from youth. When as a boy his parents had his portrait painted, he insisted on its being subscribed with the motto ‘ad reædificandam antiquam domum.’ Arrived in London, he soon made his way to court (circ. 1583), and his good looks at once attracted the attention of the queen. ‘Fail you not to come to court, and I will bethink myself how to doe you good,’ was one of her earliest remarks to him (Naunton, Fragmenta Regalia, ed. Arber, 57), and the favour she bestowed on him excited the jealousy of the Earl of Essex. On one occasion Elizabeth is said to have rewarded Blount for his skill in a tilting match with ‘a queen at chesse of gold richly enamelled, which his servant had the next day fastened on his arme with a crimson ribband.’ Essex noticed the token and angrily remarked at court to Sir Fulk Greville, ‘Now I perceive every fool must have a favour.’ The speech was reported to Blount, and a duel followed, ‘near Marybone Park,’ in which Essex was wounded. The two men lived subsequently on friendly terms.
Blount was elected M.P. for the family borough of Beeralston, Devonshire, in 1584, although the return was never delivered; he was re-elected and took his seat for the same borough in 1586 and 1593 (Return of Members of Parlt. i. 413, 417, 428). He was knighted in 1586 and ‘had a company in the Low Countries [in the same year], from whence he came over with a noble acceptance of the queen’ (Naunton; Cal. Dom. State Papers, Addenda, 1580–1625, p. 19). He was present at the skirmish near Zutphen, when Sir Philip Sidney received his fatal wound. In 1588 he was one of those who built ships at their own expense to join in the pursuit of the Armada (Lediard, Naval History, p. 353). His anxiety to distinguish himself in warfare led him to absent himself from court more frequently than the queen approved. Up to 1591 he was constantly visiting the English contingent in the Low Countries engaged in war with Spain, and in 1593 he ‘stole over with Sir John Norris into the action of Brittany, which was then a hot and active warre’ waged in behalf of the king of Navarre. On 30 June 1593 the queen wrote to Sir Thomas Sherley, ‘treasurer at war,’ that Blount was commanded by her to ‘absent himself from his charge in Brittany’ and to attend upon her, but that he was to receive his ordinary pay meanwhile. In December 1593 a company of 900 men in Brittany was still officially stated to be under his command. On 26 Jan. 1593–4 Blount was nominated captain of the town and island of Portsmouth, vacant by the death of Henry Ratcliffe, earl of Sussex, and he energetically superintended the renewal of the fortifications. The death of his elder brother, William, seventh Lord Mountjoy, later in 1594, put him in possession of the family peerage. In June 1597 Mountjoy accompanied Essex on his voyage to the Azores as lieutenant of the land forces (15 June), and on his return in the same year he was created a knight of the Garter.
On 14 Aug. 1598 O'Neil, the earl of Tyrone, signally defeated the English troops at Blackwater, and the government resolved to despatch a vigorous lord deputy to crush Tyrone's insurrection. Mountjoy was generally believed to be best fitted for the office, but it seems almost certain that Essex brought all his influence to bear against Mountjoy's appointment. Ultimately the post was accepted by Essex himself, who wrote to Harrington at the time, ‘I have beaten Knollys and Mountjoy in the council’ (Harrington, Nugæ Antiquæ, i. 245). It was expected that Mountjoy would have accompanied Essex to Ireland, but he remained at home, and in August of the following year was appointed lieutenant of the force to be raised to resist another anticipated Spanish Armada. But there was no breach in his friendly relations with Essex. In the summer of 1599 Mountjoy sent a secret messenger to Scotland to assure King James that Essex would support his succession to the English throne, and according to Essex's friend, Sir Charles Davers, Mountjoy ‘entered into’ the business to ‘strengthen’ Essex's position. This expression implies that Mountjoy was encouraging Essex in his treasonable plan of relying upon an armed force from Scotland to overcome his enemies at the English court. When Essex was in confinement in October 1599, he committed the care of his fortunes to Mountjoy and Southampton. In the same month Mountjoy was offered the office in Ireland vacated by Essex. At first he declined it, but by the close of November he had accepted orders to depart within twenty days with thirteen or fourteen thousand men. But delays arose. On 11 Jan. 1600–1 a warrant was issued to pay him a large sum of money for preliminary expenses. He did not leave England till the following month. In the interval Essex was in frequent communication with Mountjoy, and begged him to bring his army from Ireland into England, and in concert with King James of Scotland to rescue him from prison and to overthrow the queen's councillors. But King James was unwilling to join in the plan, and Mountjoy refused to meddle with it after he had once reached Ireland. When Essex and his fellow-conspirators were charged with high treason in 1600–1, the queen and her government, who needed Mountjoy's services in Ireland, boldly overlooked his complicity in Essex's earlier plans, and suppressed passages in the confessions of the prisoners which implicated him. But Mountjoy was terribly alarmed on first hearing of the arrest of his friends (Fynes Morison, Itinerary, pt. ii. bk. i. c. 2, p. 89). In 1604 Sir Francis Bacon addressed his ‘Apologie … concerning the late Earl of Essex’ to Mountjoy, ‘because you loved the earl.’
Mountjoy's success in Ireland well warranted the government's confidence in him. On his arrival he found the rebels holding all Ireland up to the very walls of Dublin, and at first his progress was slow. On 21 Oct. 1600 it was reported in London that Blount had asked for his recall, and that Sir George Carew was to take his place. But Mountjoy's services were not to be lightly dispensed with, and his persistent harrying of the enemy began to tell upon them. By July 1601 Lough Foyle, Tyrone's chief stronghold, had fallen. In December 1601 Tyrone summoned the largest rebel army ever known in Ireland, marched upon Kinsale, where 4,000 Spaniards, lately landed in his behalf, were besieged by Mountjoy. On 24 Dec. 1601 a battle was fought and a decisive victory gained by the English (cf. Winwood, Memorials, i. 369–70). The Spaniards capitulated, surrendered all the places they held, and left the country. Mountjoy assiduously marched through the enemy's country in the neighbourhood, laid it waste, and planted military garrisons in all the rebel fortresses. Reinforcements in 1602 enabled Mountjoy in the north and Sir George Carew in the south to obtain military possession of almost the whole of Ireland, and the deputy's commission was renewed for three years. Tyrone was thus rendered helpless, and, finding all offers of conditional submission rejected, agreed on 22 Dec. 1602 to ‘both simply and absolutely submit himself to her majesty's mercy.’ No very decided advice was sent Mountjoy from home. He was ordered to offer Tyrone his life—a course which he seems to have advised—and other ‘honourable and reasonable’ conditions. On 30 March 1602–3 Mountjoy received Tyrone in state at Dublin, and promised him pardon and the restoration of his title and some of his lands. But the queen died six days before, and on 6 April Mountjoy compelled Tyrone to make a new submission to King James. He was reinstated, although he wished to be recalled immediately, in the office of lord deputy on 17 April, and shortly afterwards given the honorary title of lord-lieutenant with increased salary. The latter patent was signed by James (21 April) at Worksop on his way to London, and is the earliest extant document signed by him as king of England (Egerton Papers, Camd. Soc. p. 367). But Mountjoy's work was not quite completed. The chief towns of Ireland had several grievances against his system of government. He had, like all his predecessors, debased the coinage, and had compelled the towns to maintain his garrisons, while he had shown little favour to the catholics. In April 1603 the magistrates of Cork quarrelled with the garrison there, and the disaffection spread to Limerick, Wexford, Waterford, and Kilkenny. Mountjoy with a small force at once set out for the disaffected districts. He punished the offenders, and rapidly brought the towns to submission. On 26 May Mountjoy was summoned to England and never returned to Ireland, although he assisted the privy council, to which he was admitted as soon as he reached home, with his wide knowledge of Irish affairs until his death. He brought with him to his house at Wanstead, which he had purchased of Essex early in 1599, O'Neil, earl of Tyrone, in order to enable him to make a personal submission to James. On 17 Nov. 1603 he was one of the commissioners who sat in judgment at Winchester on Sir Walter Raleigh.
On 21 July 1603 Mountjoy was created Earl of Devonshire, and on 13 Aug. was made master of the ordnance. On 8 May 1604 he had been reappointed keeper of Portsmouth castle. Through the whole of that year he was in regular attendance on the king and high in his favour. Grants of land in Lancashire were made him on 21 June 1603 and on 27 Feb. 1603–4. He was nominated one of the commissioners for discharging the office of earl marshal (5 Feb. 1604–5), and on 13 Feb. 1604–5 received the manor of Loddington, Leicestershire, and part of the lands of Lord Cobham in Somerset and Kent (1 July). On 20 May 1604 he with other commissioners met commissioners from Spain to determine the English relations with the States-General and the Indies. Later in the year the new Spanish ambassador, Villa-Mediana, induced the Earl of Devonshire to accept a Spanish pension of 1,000l. a year. On 9 Nov. 1605 he was nominated the general of a force called out to repress a rising which, it was feared, might follow the discovery of the gunpowder treason (Winwood, Memorials, ii. 173).
A grave scandal disfigured Blount's private life, and caused him much anxiety in his last years. He had contracted in early life a liaison with Penelope, the wife of Lord Rich and a sister of the Earl of Essex. This lady (born in 1560) had come to know Sir Philip Sidney in 1575, and she is the Stella of Sidney's sonnets entitled ‘Astrophel and Stella.’ In 1580 she was married against her will to Lord Rich, a man of violent and coarse temper; but between the year of her marriage and the spring of 1583, when Sidney himself married, she was guilty of a criminal intimacy with her former lover. A few years after Sidney's death in 1586 Mountjoy appears to have succeeded to his place in Lady Rich's affections. By her husband she had seven children, but after 1590 she became Mountjoy's mistress, and bore him three sons, Mountjoy [q. v.], Charles, and St. John, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Isabel. During the lifetime of his brother-in-law, the Earl of Essex, Lord Rich showed no open resentment against his wife; but after Essex's death (25 Feb. 1600–1) he separated from her, paying her a yearly allowance. A year or two later he obtained a divorce from her a mensa et thoro in the ecclesiastical courts. Soon after his return from Ireland Mountjoy resolved to marry the lady, although the canon law did not allow the re-marriage of any person divorced by the ecclesiastical process. The earl after much persuasion induced William Laud, who became his chaplain on 3 Sept. 1603, to perform the ceremony at Wanstead on 26 Dec. 1605. Doubts as to the legality of Laud's action were at once raised, and in his ‘Diary’ Laud repeatedly refers to ‘My cross about the Earl of Devon's marriage,’ which he asserts was for many years a bar to his preferment in the church. The earl defended his conduct in a tract, dedicated to James I, which has been often printed, and of which a manuscript copy is in Lambeth Library (943, p. 47). After describing the indignities to which Lord Rich had subjected his wife, the earl argued that there was nothing unscriptural in Lady Rich's conduct, nor aught contrary to the canon law; but Laud attempted to confute his arguments, and forwarded elaborate notes to the earl, which have been printed in vol. vii. of Laud's collected works. While Lady Rich and the earl were openly living in adultery they were well received at court, and after her divorce Lady Rich received (17 Aug. 1603) a grant of ‘the place and rank of the ancientest Earl of Essex, whose heir her father was,’ to replace the inferior dignity of baroness which she derived from her marriage with Lord Rich. But her second marriage offended both the king and queen. It had been little expected. In 1602 it was generally understood that Mountjoy was to marry the only daughter of Thomas, tenth earl of Ormonde (Manningham, Diary, Camd. Soc. p. 59).
Amid the discussion raised by the marriage the earl died, after a short illness caused by inflammation of the lungs, on 3 April 1606, at Savoy House, in the Strand. ‘The Earl of Devonshire left this life,’ wrote Chamberlain to Winwood, ‘on Thursday night last; soon and early for his years, but late enough for himself: happy had he been if he had gone two or three years since, before the world was weary of him, or that he had left his scandal behind him’ (Winwood, Memorials, ii. 206). He was buried about 2 May in St. Paul's chapel of Westminster Abbey. The funeral was celebrated with great pomp, but the heralds declined to impale the countess's arms with the earl's. The earl left his wife 1,500l., and a daughter 6,000l., and provided very liberally for his son Mountjoy [q. v.] His second natural son, Charles, fought with the royalists in the civil wars, acted as scout-master-general at Abingdon in May 1643 (Clarendon, Hist. ii. 485), and died in 1645. His third son, St. John, was made a knight of the Bath at the coronation of Charles I. The earl did not provide for all his reputed children, and a third of his property passed away from his family.
His titles became extinct at his death. In 1606 Sir Michael Blount of Iver, Buckinghamshire, and Mapledurham, Oxfordshire—eldest son of Sir Richard Blount, grand-nephew of Walter, first Baron Mountjoy [q. v.]—who had been lieutenant of the Tower since 1590, and high sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1586 and 1596, laid a claim to the barony of Mountjoy before the House of Lords, but it was rejected (Stow, Survey, ed. Strype, bk. i. pp. 65, 75; Davenport, Lord Lieutenants and High Sheriffs of Oxfordshire, 40–1).
Mountjoy was popular with the poets of his day. John Davies of Hereford published a sonnet to him in his 'Microcosmus' (1603), and Joshua Sylvester prefixed three sonnets in his praise to 'The second weeke' of his translation of 'Du Bartas' (1641), probably written about 1598. In 1605 Nicholas Breton dedicated to him 'The Honour of Valour.' Soon after the earl's death John Ford, the dramatist, published a poem entitled 'Fames Memoriall, or the Earle of Deuonshire Deceased' (London, 1606), with a dedication to the Countess Penelope, and a sonnet in the earl's praise by Barnaby Barnes. At the same time Samuel Daniel, the poet, produced 'A Funerall Poeme vppon the Death of the late noble Earle of Deuenshyre.' It has been suggested with some probability that Ford's tragedy of the 'Broken Heart' (1633) was founded on the story of Mountjoy's relations with Lady Rich. The poets pitch their panegyrics in a very high key, and warmly denounce the earl's detractors. Fynes Morison, who was secretary to Mountjoy in Ireland, drew up a minute account of his character and habits in his 'Itinerary.' He was of 'stature tall and of very comely proportion,' very careful in his dress and in his food, a constant smoker, very discreet in the conduct of political business, and fond of study and of gentle recreations. Manningham quaintly notes in his 'Diary,' p. 104, on 18 Dec. 1602: 'The Lord Mountjoy will never discourse at table; eates in silence.' But against the laudatory verdicts of Davies, Sylvester, Breton, Ford, Daniel, and Morison must be set the fact that Mountjoy in his relations with Essex and with Spain was guilty of political dishonesty, and although much may be pleaded in extenuation of his private faults, there is little there to indicate a very high moral character.
[Sir A. Croke's Genealogy of the Croke Family surnamed Le Blount, ii. 228–45; Spedding's Life and Letters of Bacon, ii. and iii.; Devereux's Lives of the Earls of Essex, i. and ii.; Naunton's Fragmenta Regalia; Fynes Morison's Itinerary, pt. ii.; O'Clery's Annals of the Four Masters (ed. O'Donovan), 1600–3; Gardiner's Hist. vol. i.; Sir R. Cecil's Letters (Camd. Soc.), passim; Nichols's Progresses of Elizabeth and James I; Cal. Dom. State Papers, 1586–1606; Cal. Irish State Papers, 1603–6; Fox Bourn's Life of Sir Philip Sidney; Laud's Diary in vol. iii. of Laud's Works; Camden's Annals; Arber's English Garner, i. 480–4; information kindly supplied by W. Roberts of Penzance.]