Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hatton, Christopher (1540-1591)

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1410791Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 25 — Hatton, Christopher (1540-1591)1891James McMullen Rigg

HATTON, Sir CHRISTOPHER (1540–1591), lord chancellor, second son of William Hatton of Holdenby, Northamptonshire, who died in 1546, by Alice, daughter of Lawrence Saunders of Harrington in the same county, was born at Holdenby in 1540. The family was old, and claimed, though on doubtful evidence, to be of Norman lineage. Hatton was entered at St. Mary Hall, Oxford, probably about 1555, as a gentleman-commoner. He took no degree, and in November 1559 was admitted to the society of the Inner Temple, where, according to Fuller (Worthies, ‘Northamptonshire’), he ‘rather took a bait than a meal’ of legal study. There is no record of his call to the bar, but the register was not then exactly kept (Baker, Northamptonshire, i. 196; Ormerod, Cheshire, ed. Helsby, iii. 230; Wood, Fasti Oxon. i. 582). At the Inner Temple revels at Christmas 1561, when a splendid masque was performed, in which Lord Robert Dudley, afterwards Earl of Leicester, figured as ‘Palaphilos, Prince of Sophie, High Constable Marshal of the Knights Templars,’ Hatton played the part of master of the game (Dugdale, Orig. pp. 150 et seq.). Tall, handsome, and throughout his life a very graceful dancer, he attracted the attention of the queen at a subsequent masque at court, and became one of her gentlemen pensioners in June 1564 (Camden, Ann. Eliz. ed. 1627, ii. 43; Naunton, Fragmenta Regalia, 27; Fuller, Worthies, ‘Northamptonshire;’ Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 242). On Sunday, 11 Nov. 1565, and the two following days he displayed his prowess in a tourney held before the queen at Westminster, in honour of the marriage of Ambrose Dudley, earl of Warwick, with Lady Anne Russell, and he jousted again before the queen at the same place in May 1571 (Strype, Cheke, p. 133; Nichols, Progr. Eliz. i. 276). Elizabeth gave him in 1565 the abbey and demesne lands of Sulby, nominally in exchange for his manor of Holdenby, which, however, was at the same time leased to him for forty years, and was two years later reconveyed to him in fee; she appointed him (29 July 1568) keeper of her parks at Eltham in Kent and Horne in Surrey; she granted him the reversion of the office of queen's remembrancer in the exchequer (1571), and estates in Yorkshire, Dorsetshire, Herefordshire, the reversion of the monastery De Pratis in Leicestershire, the stewardship of the manors of Wendlingborough in Northamptonshire, and the wardship of three minors (1571–2). She also made him one of the gentlemen of her privy chamber, though at what date is uncertain, and captain of her bodyguard (1572). It was the custom for the courtiers to make the queen new-year's presents, for which they received in return gifts of silver plate varying from fifty to two hundred ounces in weight. Hatton, however, always received four hundred ounces' weight of this plate.

Hatton's relations with the queen were very intimate. When he fell seriously ill in 1573, she visited him daily, was pensive when he left for Spa to recover his health, and sent her own physician, Julio, with him (Baker, Northamptonshire, i. 195; Strype, Ann. fol. ii. pt. i. 306, 337; Strype, Smith, p. 140; Lodge, Illustr. ii. 101; Nichols, Progr. Eliz. i. 295; Nicholas, pp. 5–8). His letters to her while on this journey are written in a very extravagant style; e.g. ‘My spirit, I feel, agreeth with my body and life that to serve you is a heaven, but to lack you is more than hell's torment unto them. … Would God I were with you but for one hour. My wits are overwrought with thoughts. I find myself amazed. Bear with me, my most dear sweet lady. Passion overcometh me. I can write no more. Love me, for I love you.’ He signs himself her ‘most happy bondman, Lyddes.’ She also called him her ‘mutton,’ her ‘bellwether,’ her ‘pecora campi.’ Malignant gossip said that he was her paramour, and the Queen of Scots, in a letter written to Elizabeth from Sheffield in November 1584, roundly taxes her with the fact. Mary's information was, however, derived only from Lady Shrewsbury, and there is no substantial ground for supposing that it was accurate (Strype, fol. Parker, ii. 356; Nicolas, pp. 13–30, 275; Labanoff, Lettres de Marie Stuart, vi. 51, 52; Froude, History of England, xi. 2–3). Hatton was probably in London in October 1573, when Hawkins, the celebrated seaman, was mistaken for him, and stabbed in the street by one Burchet, a puritan fanatic, who had vowed to take Hatton's life as an ‘enemy to the gospel.’ Elizabeth was hardly restrained from issuing a commission to try Burchet by martial law. In 1575 Elizabeth settled on Hatton an annuity of 400l., and gave him Corfe Castle in Dorsetshire. The Bishop of Ely had granted Hatton a lease of Ely Place for twenty-one years. Hatton coveted the fee-simple, and persuaded Elizabeth to write the bishop a letter requiring him to alienate it, and, according to the traditional but probably unauthentic version, threatening to ‘unfrock’ him if he did not. The bishop expostulated in his best latinity, but a letter from Lord North intimating that the queen meant exactly what she said brought him to reason (20 Nov. 1576). In 1577 the house was further secured to Hatton by royal grant. In July 1578 Hatton attended the queen on her progress to Audley End, celebrated by Gabriel Harvey in his ‘Χαῖρη, vel Gratulatio Valdinensis,’ the fourth book of which is dedicated to the Earl of Oxford, Hatton, and Sir Philip Sidney. About the same time Hatton obtained several fresh grants of land, and on 11 Nov. he was appointed vice-chamberlain of the queen's household, with a seat in the privy council. On 1 Dec. he was knighted at Windsor (Strype, Parker, fol. ii. 449; Strype, Ann. fol. ii. pt. i. 288, 338, 360, 365, pt. ii. 558; Nichols, Progr. Eliz. ii. 110, iii. 41; Dr. Dee, Diary, Camd. Soc., p. 4; Nicolas, pp. 36, 38).

Hatton represented Higham Ferrers in parliament in 1571, and Northamptonshire in the following year. At first he was a silent member, but gradually took an important part in politics. He was forward in the prosecution of Stubbes, the author of a book against the projected marriage of the queen with the Duke of Anjou. In 1580 he was appointed keeper of the manor of Pleasaunce in Kent, and one of the commissioners for the increase and breed of horses, and he was one of the commissioners appointed in April 1581 to treat with the envoys from the king of France concerning the French match. Up to this time he had seemed to favour the project, but on the appearance of the duke both he and Walsingham ‘fretted,’ says Camden, ‘as if the queen, the realm, and religion were now undone;’ and when Elizabeth at Greenwich gave the duke (22 Nov.) a ring in the presence of Mauvissière, Hatton came to her and with tears in his eyes besought her to reflect (Nicolas, pp. 43 et seq., 139–42, 167, 212; Camden, Ann. Eliz., ed. 1615, i. 320–3; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 685; Froude, Hist. of England, xi. 446–54). Sir Walter Raleigh was at this time rising into favour with the queen, and Hatton saw fit to exhibit jealousy of him, sending her (1582) some foolish tokens and a reproachful letter. A full account of this curious episode is given in Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas's ‘Life of Hatton.’ Hatton was returned to parliament for Northamptonshire in 1584, and retained the seat at the election of 1586. Having lost the queen's favour he withdrew from court early in 1584, and sulked at Holdenby until Elizabeth condescended to write him two letters desiring his return. He had early become the recognised mouthpiece of the queen in the House of Commons. In this capacity he communicated to the house on 12 March 1575 Elizabeth's desire for the release of Peter Wentworth, who had been committed to the Tower for a speech in defence of free speech, and on 24 Jan. 1581 her disapproval of an ‘apparent contempt’ committed by the house in appointing a public fast to be held at the Temple Church without taking her pleasure (Parl. Hist. i. 802, 812). On the passing of the bill against jesuits and seminary priests (21 Dec. 1584), Hatton read a prayer for the preservation of her majesty's person from their machinations. He also took a leading part in the prosecution of Parry, the only member who ventured to oppose this bill, who confessed having been long engaged in plots against the queen, and was executed in Palace Yard on 2 March 1584–1585 (Nicolas, p. 408; Cobbett, State Trials, i. 1095–1111). He was a member of both the commissions which in September 1586 tried Anthony Babington [q. v.] and others for their conspiracy in favour of Mary Queen of Scots, and showed much animation during the proceedings. ‘Is this,’ he said to Ballard, ‘thy religio Catholica? nay, rather it is diabolica’ (ib. 1127–40). He was also one of the Fotheringay commission which tried the Queen of Scots in the following October, and it was he who persuaded her in her own interest to submit to the jurisdiction of the court (Camden, Ann. Eliz., ed. 1615, i. 420).

After sentence had been pronounced (5 Nov.) he hurried to London, and in the House of Commons dilated on ‘the horrible and wicked practices’ of ‘the Queen of Scots so called,’ concluding with the ominous words ‘Ne pereat Israel, pereat Absalom.’ The house adjourned, and next day voted for a petition to the queen for the execution of the sentence. After the presentation of the petition Hatton acquainted the house (14 Nov.) with the desire of Elizabeth that Mary might be spared if it could be done with safety, upon which the house voted in the negative. Together with William Davison (1541?–1608) [q. v.] he conducted (January 1586–7) the examination of Moody, a supposed agent of the French ambassador in a plot to assassinate the queen (Parl. Hist. i. 836, 843; Murdin, State Papers, pp. 578–83). In a long speech in the House of Commons on 22 Feb. 1586–7 Hatton explained the imminent peril of Spanish invasion, and extolled the courage of the queen. It was to Hatton, as most likely to know the queen's real mind, that Davison confided his doubts as to the propriety of despatching the warrant for the execution of the Queen of Scots. Hatton had no doubt on the matter, and took Davison to the council that his scruples might be removed, and the warrant was despatched accordingly. He afterwards interrogated Davison in the Tower (Parl. Hist. i. 847–50; Nicolas, pp. 96–7; Ellis, Letters, 2nd ser. iii. 111). The queen granted to Hatton in August 1582 the manor of Parva Weldon in Northamptonshire, and estates in other counties, in 1585 the keepership of the forest of Rockingham and the Isle of Purbeck, and in 1587 the demesne of Naseby in Northamptonshire. He also obtained, apparently about the same time, a grant of part of some estates which had belonged to Irish rebels in the county of Waterford (Nicolas, p. 459; Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. App. 49). Other grants to Hatton from the crown included the sites of four dissolved monasteries.

On 25 April 1587 the queen appointed Hatton lord chancellor, delivering the seal to him personally at the archiepiscopal palace at Croydon, and on 3 May he took the oaths of office, riding from Ely House to Westminster for that purpose in great state. He was preceded by forty of his retainers in blue livery wearing gold chains, part of the corps of gentlemen pensioners and other gentlemen of the court, and attended by the officers and clerks of the chancery. Burghley rode on his right hand, and Leicester on his left (Nicolas, p. 463; Goldsborough, Reports, ed. 1682, p. 46; Stow, Annals, ed. 1615, p. 741). His appointment occasioned much surprise and some indignation in the legal profession, as his knowledge of law was supposed to be slight, and some ‘sullen serjeants’ even refused to plead before him. His decrees have not been preserved. Camden, however, says that ‘quod ex juris scientia defuit æquitate supplere studuit.’ He was much assisted by his friend Sir Richard Swale, and had four masters in chancery to sit with him as assessors (Camden, Ann. ed. 1615, i. 475; Fuller, Worthies, ‘Northamptonshire;’ Egerton Papers, Camd. Soc., p. 125). A speech delivered by Hatton on occasion of the call of a certain barrister named Clerke to the degree of serjeant-at-law (1587) shows that if he had not had much experience as a practitioner, he could give good advice to those who had (Campbell, Chancellors, ii. 159). A specimen of his humour is given in Bacon's ‘Apophthegms,’ 74 (51). ‘In chancery one time, when the counsel of the parties set forth the boundaries of the land in question by the plot, and the counsel of one part said, “We lie on this side, my lord;” and the counsel of the other part said, “We lie on this side;” the Lord-chancellor Hatton stood up and said: “If you lie on both sides, whom will you have me to believe?”’ The only one of Hatton's judgments which is preserved is that in the Star-chamber case of Sir Richard Knightley, deputy-lieutenant for Northamptonshire, who was fined 2,000l. for permitting the printing of Brownist books (Cobbett, State Trials, i. 1263–71). On 24 April 1588 Hatton was invested with the order of the Garter; his installation followed on 23 May. It was largely through Hatton's influence that Elizabeth had abandoned her rash scheme of making Leicester lord-lieutenant of the realm in 1587. This, however, did not disturb his relations with Leicester, with whom he had long been on terms of close friendship, and who had made him one of the overseers of his will. On the death of Leicester (20 Sept. 1588) Hatton succeeded him as chancellor of the university of Oxford (Camden, Ann. ed. 1615, i. 496; Nicolas, Hist. of Knighthood, ii. Chron. List; Sydney Papers vol. i. pt. i. p. 74; Wood, Fasti Oxon. ed. Bliss, i. 241).

Hatton opened the proceedings in parliament in 1588–9 with a long speech, in which, after celebrating the destruction of the Armada, he asked for a liberal supply for the navy (Parl. Hist. i. 853). In the following June Hatton's nephew, Sir William Newport, son of his sister Dorothy, by her husband, John Newport, was married at Holdenby to Elizabeth, daughter of Francis Gawdy [q. v.], justice of the king's bench. At the festivities which followed Hatton gaily divested himself of his gown, and, placing it in his chair with ‘Lie thou there, chancellor,’ joined the dancers. It was probably this incident, coupled with the fact that Sir William Hatton resided in the house at Stoke Poges, celebrated by Gray in his ‘Long Story,’ that gave rise to the tradition that the house had once belonged to the lord chancellor, a tradition quite unfounded (Hunter, Hallamshire, i. 91; Birch, Memoirs of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, i. 56; Nicolas, p. 479). As Hatton was suspected of secretly favouring the Roman catholics, it is curious to observe that he exerted himself on behalf of Udal [q. v.], the puritan minister, charged with plotting against the queen's life in 1591. In truth he appears to have favoured neither of the extreme parties, but to have held that, in Camden's words, ‘in religionis causa non urendum, non secandum.’ He died at Ely House on 20 Nov. 1591 of a diabetes, aggravated, it is said, by vexation at the exaction by the queen of payment of a large sum of money, representing arrears of tenths and first-fruits for which he was accountable (Strype, Whitgift, ii. 97; Camden, Ann. ed. 1615, ii. 43; Fuller, Worthies, ‘Northamptonshire’). He was buried on 16 Dec. in St. Paul's Cathedral, between the lady chapel and the south aisle, where an elaborate monument was placed by his nephew, Sir William Hatton. The corpse was preceded to the grave by one hundred poor people in gowns and caps provided for them by the executors, and followed by four hundred gentlemen and yeomen, the lords of the council, and eighty gentlemen pensioners (Stow, Ann. ed. 1615, p. 763; Dugdale, Hist. of St. Paul's, ed. Ellis, pp. 33, 56).

Hatton had been a friend and to some extent a patron of men of letters, in particular of Spenser, who gave him a copy of the ‘Faery Queen,’ with a dedicatory sonnet (see Spenser, Works, ed. Gilfillan, i. 7); of Thomas Churchyard, who dedicated to him his account of the reception of the queen by the mayor and corporation of Bristol (14 Aug. 1574), his ‘Chippes’ and his ‘Choise’ (Nichols, Progr. Eliz. i. 393); and of Christopher Ockland, who in his ‘Eἰρηναρχία’ (1582) describes him as ‘Splendidus Hatton,’ and in his ‘Elizabetheis’ (1589) lauds him for his part in the detection of Babington's conspiracy. After his death appeared ‘A Commemoration of the Life and Death of Sir Christopher Hatton, Knight, Lord Chancellor of England, with an Epistle dedicatory to Sir William Hatton,’ by J. Philips, London, 1591 (a poem more eulogistic than meritorious, reprinted for the Roxburghe Club in ‘A Lamport Garland,’ 1881); ‘The Maiden's Dream upon the Death of the Right Honourable Sir Christopher Hatton, Knight, late Lord Chancellor of England,’ by Robert Greene, London, 1591, 4to; ‘A Lamentable Discourse of the Death of the Right Honourable Sir Christopher Hatton,’ &c., London, 1591 (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. i. 142). Hatton's death was also bewailed in a volume of verse entitled ‘Musarum Plangores,’ mentioned by Wood, ‘Athenæ Oxon.,’ Bliss, i. 583. There is also a high-pitched eulogy of him in ‘Polimanteia; or the Meanes Lawful and Unlawful to judge of the Fate of a Commonwealth against the frivolous and foolish Conjectures of this Age,’ by W. C. (William Clerke), Cambridge, 1595. He died unmarried, and left no will. His estates he had settled by deed in tail male first on his nephew, Sir William Newport, and then on his cousin, Sir Christopher Hatton. Sir William Newport, who assumed the name of Hatton, succeeded to the estates, but died without male issue on 12 March 1596–7. Sir William's successor, Sir Christopher Hatton, was father of Christopher, baron Hatton of Kirby [q. v.]

Hatton wrote the fourth act of the tragedy of ‘Tancred and Gismund,’ performed before the queen at the Inner Temple in 1568 (Warton, Hist. of Poetry, iii. 305). His name appears on the title-page of a little book entitled ‘A Treatise concerning Statutes or Acts of Parliament, and the Exposition thereof,’ London, 1677, 12mo, but there is no evidence external or internal by which the authenticity of the work, which is a very slight production, can be determined. His correspondence, portions of which had previously been printed in Murdin's ‘State Papers’ and Wright's ‘Queen Elizabeth and her Times,’ London, 1838, was published in its entirety by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas in his ‘Memoirs of Hatton,’ London, 1847, to which is prefixed a fine engraving of his portrait by Ketel.

[Nicolas's Memoir; Foss's Lives of the Judges; authorities cited.]

J. M. R.