Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bertie, Peregrine

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

BERTIE, PEREGRINE, Lord Willoughby de Eresby (1555–1601), military commander, the son of Richard Bertie [q.v.], and of Catherine Bertie [q.v.], baroness of Willoughby de Eresby in her own right, was born at Lower Wesel, Cleves, 12 Oct. 1555, while his parents were fleeing from the Marian persecution in England. He was baptised two days later, in the church of S. Willibrord, by Henry Bomelius, the father of Eliseus Bomelius [q.v.]. He was named Peregrine because he was born in terra peregrina. An inscription on a tablet in the church of S. Willibrord (set up in 1680 by Charles Bertie, son of Montague Bertie [q.v.], and still legible) states that Peregrine was born in the church-porch; but the municipal records at Wesel prove the story to be baseless (cf. Notes and Queries, 5th ser. i. 366, 474). On the return of the family to England after Elizabeth's accession, a patent of naturalisation was obtained for Peregrine (2 Aug. 1559). His mother sought the aid of Sir William Cecil in directing his education, and in 1574 made an abortive attempt to marry him to a daughter of Sir William Cavendish, who afterwards became the wife of the Earl of Lennox and mother of Arabella Stuart. A few years later he married Mary, the daughter of John de Vere, sixteenth earl of Oxford. On the death of his mother in 1580 Bertie claimed to succeed to her title as Lord Willoughby de Eresby. His claim was admitted, and he took his seat in the House of Lords 16 Jan. 1580-1.

In 1582 Lord Willoughby (as he was generally called) escorted the Duke of Anjou, one of Elizabeth's suitors, from Canterbury to Antwerp. Later in the same year he was sent to Denmark on a special mission to invest Frederick II with the order of the Garter, and to discuss with the king the commercial relations between England and Denmark. He arrived at Elsinore on 22 July, and returned on 27 Sept. Willoughby overcame with much tact the king's objections to the ceremonious oath necessary to his investiture with the order of Garter, and obtained from him an assurance that English merchant ships should not be molested in Danish seas. A detailed account of the mission in Willoughby's own hand is preserved at the British Museum among the Cottonian MSS. (Titus', c. 7, art. 226). In 1585 Willoughby was sent a second time to Denmark to petition the king for succour, either in men or money, in behalf of Henry of Navarre, and to induce him to aid England in the Netherlands against Spain. On the journey Willoughby attended the marriage of a son of the Duke of Brunswick at Wolfenbüttel, and arrived at Copenhagen 10 Oct. 1585. Frederick II treated Willoughby with much respect, but declined to give a favourable reply to his request. The negotiations proceeded slowly. In his letters to Sir Francis Walsingham, Willoughby often complained bitterly that all his expenses were paid out of his private resources; he begged to be relieved of his office, and to be despatched to serve under Leicester in the war in Flanders. Late in December the King of Denmark yielded in part to Willoughby's arguments. He promised to use his influence to induce the King of Spain to retire from the Low Countries, and to send two thousand horse to the aid of the English force sent there by Elizabeth. Willoughby deemed this practical assurance of Denmark's goodwill towards England and her allies a satisfactory termination of his mission, and set off for Hamburg on his way to Flanders. He arrived at Embden 29 Jan. 1585-6, and on 12 March he was at Amsterdam. He was engaged a few days later under Sir John Norris in the relief of Grave, in Brabant, which was invested by a Spanish army under Count Mansfeld, and before 24 March 1586 was appointed to succeed Sir Philip Sidney in the governorship of Bergen-op-Zoom. On 27 May 1586 Leicester informed the queen of a notable piece of service achieved by Willoughby in capturing with a small force a large Spanish convoy bound for Antwerp. A few days later he helped in the surprise of the city of Axel. In June an attack was made on another convoy loaded with supplies for Zutphen. Willoughby took prisoner George Cressiac, the commander, and with the aid of other English officers completely routed the enemy. In the skirmish Willoughby's friend, Sir Philip Sidney, received his death-wound. During the following winter, while hostilities were in suspense, serious disagreements arose among the English commanders, and between the English government and the States-General of Holland. Before the campaign opened in 1587 Sir John Norris had been recalled, and Willoughby had succeeded him in the command of the cavalry. In July 1587 Leicester and Willoughby failed, after strenuous efforts, to relieve Sluys, then besieged by the Duke of Parma. Willoughby took part with the garrison of Bergen-op-Zoom in many engagements in the two succeeding months, but with no decisive results. On 10 Nov. 1587 Leicester was recalled, and Willoughby was installed in his place as commander of the English forces in the Low Countries. He thereupon resigned his post at Bergen-op-Zoom, and formally assumed the supreme command on 4 Dec. Willoughby's new post was one of extraordinary difficulty: the home government failed to remit to him either money, food, or clothing for the troops, and after a fruitless appeal for supplies made to the States-General, Willoughby wrote directly to the queen (7 Jan. 1587–8). He bitterly complained to Lord Burghley at the same time that his authority was so restricted that it was out of the question for him to carry on the war, and that the Netherlanders were resenting the apparently purposeless intrusion of the English. On 14 March 1587–8 10,000l. was forwarded to Willoughby from England, and he was ordered to negotiate a peace between the States-General and Spain. The terms which he was directed to propose the States refused to entertain. While matters were thus in doubt, the Spaniards threatened Bergen and Ostend, the two chief strongholds of the Netherlanders. The queen, angered by the unsatisfactory course of events, and not unwilling that the States should suffer for their obstinate refusal to follow her advice, addressed a series of indignant letters to Willoughby, complaining of the plans he was making to withstand the new Spanish attack. In June 1588 Willoughby was ordered to send two thousand men to England in anticipation of the arrival of the Spanish armada, and he then begged in vain to be recalled. In July his wife joined him at Gertruydenberg. On 31 July he captured the San Matteo, a Spanish man-of-war that had run aground between Ostend and Sluys while escaping from the rout of the armada. Throughout that and the previous days Willoughby, then at Flushing, had directed the ships under his command to keep a close watch on the Duke of Parma's fleet, and he thus prevented the latter from going to the aid of the Spanish armada. The enemy became active in the Netherlands later in the year, and on 14 Sept. 1588 Willoughby, with his small forces, arrived at Bergen, resolved to defend it at all hazard against the Spaniards. The city was soon under siege, but Willoughby's energy kept the enemy at bay, and on 8 Nov. they finally retired. In liecember WTilloughby was ordered by the home government to despatch a portion of his forces to Portugal, an order which he was very unwilling to carry out. The States still loudly expressed their dissatisfaction with Elizabeth's treatment of them, and Willoughby's position was one of increasing embarrassment. At length, early in March 1588–9, his request to leave the Low Countries was granted, and on 14 March 1688-9 he arrived in England. His health was broken by his many anxieties, and his estate ruined by the remissness of the home government in forwarding supplies, the expenses of which he had had to defray out of his own pocket.

But Willoughby was for the present allowed little leisure. After his arrival in this country he was one of the commissioners appointed to try Philip Howard, earl of Arundel, for treason. On 20 Sept. 1589 he was nominated to the command of a poorly-equipped army of four thousand men sent to the aid of Henry of Navarre at Dieppe. Henry warmly welcomed Willoughby, although he expressed a desire for more men, and Willoughby, writing to Walsingham, called attention to the disgracefully inadequate equipment of the English soldiers (30 Sept.) Buoyed up by the presence of the English auxiliaries, Henry determined, at Willoughby's suggestion, to march boldly on the forces of the league in Paris; but when he had arrived in the faubourgs near the capital, he judged the step to be over-bold and retreated, although Willoughby strongly urged him to persist in the attempt. On the return of Navarre's army to the north, Willoughby took a prominent part in the capture of Vendôme early in November, of Mons (19 Nov.), of Alençon (14 Dec.), and of Falaise (27 Dec.); but his troops suffered terribly from want of food and of proper clothing. Willoughby received no money from home, and Henry of Navarre, though he treated Willoughby with much deference, declined to pay his men. Willoughby wrote to the privy council that his soldiers marched barefooted throughout the fatiguing campaign, and that more died from hunger and cold than in battle. After Henry had taken Honfleur (14 Jan. 1589-90) Willoughby obtained permission to return home with the remnants of his suffering army.

After 1590 Willoughby's poverty and ill-health determined him to live a "Coridon's life" on the continent. He was at Spa in 1594, and later on travelled in Italy (cf. Nichols, Progresses, iii. 260-1). On 7 Oct. 1594 Elizabeth sent Willoughby an autograph letter, expressing the hope that he had recovered his health, and lamenting his inability to serve her. Dr. Hawkins, writing to Anthony Bacon in February 1595-6, mentions that Willoughby had been very seriously ill at Venice, but had with great difficulty managed to remove to Vienna. ‘Very certain advertisement,’ which proved false, of the death of Willoughby reached London in June 1596 (Birch, Memoirs of Eliz. i. 327, 377, 428, 453, ii. 34). On 28 Aug. and 12 Sept. 1596 Willoughby appealed to Essex to use his influence to obtain for him the governorship of Berwick-on-Tweed. In October 1596 Willoughby returned to England. On 12 Oct. he sent to Anthony Bacon from his house in Barbican, London, a memorandum on the best way of withstanding another Spanish invasion, which is printed in Birch's Memoirs of Queen Elizabeth, ii. 164-8. Towards the end of February 1597-8 Willoughby was appointed governor of Berwick and warden of the East March. He arrived at his post on 28 April. In a letter dated 2 May, addressed to the privy council, Willoughby called attention to the inefficient state of the army in the north, and of the fortifications on the borders. In June 1599 he came into conflict with James VI of Scotland. He had sent a small force into Scotland to arrest an Englishman named Ashfield, suspected of secret hostility to Queen Elizabeth. Autograph letters on the subject passed between James and Willoughby, and it required much negotiation to satisfy the king that no disrespect had been intended him. In February 1599-1600 Willoughby was in London on leave of absence, and in intimate relations with Sir Robert Cecil. On his return to Berwick he energetically put in order the fortifications, and governed the town and district with a severity that produced a long series of disputes between him and his neighbours. Many of the latter complained to the council of the north sitting at York of Willoughby's alleged injustice, but in almost every instance the government in London approved Willoughby's action. On 22 Nov. 1600 Willoughby sent a long justification of his rigorous treatment of the garrison of Berwick to the queen. Soon afterwards he was busily engaged in watching pirate ‘Dunkirkers’ off the coast, and a ship was sent him for the service. He regularly sent information to Cecil of all that happened in Scotland, and was frequently in direct correspondence with King James. But his health was rapidly failing, and he died on 25 June 1601, protesting with his last breath his loyalty to the queen and his affection for Sir Robert Cecil. On 20 July his remains were removed from Berwick, and buried at Spilsby, Lincolnshire, in accordance with his will (dated 7 Aug. 1599). Lady Willoughby survived her husband till 1624. His eldest son Robert [q.v.] became Earl of Lindsey. His second son Peregrine entered the service of Prince Henry, and was made knight of the Bath by James I in 1610. He afterwards fought a duel with Lord Norris, in which he was wounded, and died in 1640, aged 65 (Nichols, Progresses of James I, ii. 309, 344, 676). Bertie's other children were Henry, Vere, Roger, and Catharine, who married Sir Lewis Watson, first Lord Rockingham.

Willoughby's valour, chiefly exhibited in the war in the Netherlands, and especially at the siege of Bergen, excited more admiration on the part of his contemporaries than that of almost any other soldier of the time. Glowing descriptions of his prowess appear in A True Discourse Historical of the succeeding Governors in the Netherlands (London, 1602), translated by Thomas Churchyard from the Historica Belgica by Emanuel Meteren; in Honor in his Perfection, a eulogy on the earls of Essex, Oxford, and Southampton, and on Robert Bertie, Willoughby's son, published in 1624 (a copy is in the Grenville Library); in Naunton's Fragmenta Regalia, 1653; and in Lloyd's Worthies. The spirited ballad of "Brave Lord Willoughby" relates one of Willoughby's exploits in Flanders with no very strict adherence to historical fact. The earliest copy known is an illustrated broadside in the Roxburghe collection, and cannot be dated earlier than 1640. It was very frequently reprinted in the seventeenth century, and Dr. Percy included it in his Reliques, 1765. The absence of all reference to it in the ‘Stationers' Registers’ of the sixteenth century, and its historical inaccuracy, go far to support the conclusion that it is not of Elizabethan origin. There is evidence, however, to prove that there once existed two undoubtedly sixteenth-century ballads concerning Lord Willoughby¾the one entitled ‘Lord Willobie's Welcome Home,’ and the other ‘Lord Willoughby's March;’ but neither of these is now extant. ‘The good Lord Willoughbey’ mentioned more than once in the ballad of ‘Flodden Field’ (Percy Folio MS., ed. Hales and Furnivall, i. 329) is a description of Sir John Willoughby, a relative of Bertie's mother, and does not of course concern Bertie himself.

[The account of Bertie in Five Generations of a Loyal House, by Lady Georgina Bertie (1845), pt. i. 57-401, is very complete, and gives copious extracts from his numerous letters and journals preserved at the Record Office. A memoir of Peregrine Bertie, by a descendant of the fourth generation, edited by C. H. P[arry], 1838, is rich in genealogical tables, but is otherwise of little value. Henry of Navarre's letters to Willoughby are printed in Lettres Missives de Henri IV, t. iii. (in Collection de Documents Inédits). The interesting questions connected with the Willoughby Ballads are ably and fully discussed by the Rev. J. W. Ebsworth in the Ballad Society's reprint of the Roxburghe Ballads, iv. 4-11. See also Biog. Brit. (Kippis); Birch's Memoirs of Queen Elizabeth (1754); Fuller's Worthies; Cal. State Papers, 1585-1601; Strype's Annals; Leycester Correspondence, 1585-6 (Camd. Soc.); Froude's Hist. England.]

S. L. L.