Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Horsey, Edward
HORSEY, Sir EDWARD (d. 1583), naval and military commander, a member of a family of considerable note in Dorsetshire, connected with Clifton Maubank (now Maybank), Wyke in Sherborne, and Melcombe Horsey, was the son of Jasper Horsey of Exton, who was brother of Sir John Horsey (Hutchins, Hist. of Dorset, ii. 459). He first appears as a soldier of fortune, serving with his brother Francis in the emperor's wars. In 1556 he was implicated with Uvedale, captain of the Isle of Wight, in the Throgmorton and Dudley conspiracy, set on foot in concert with the French for the dethronement of Mary in favour of Elizabeth. To forward the plot the two Horseys, with other conspirators, crossed to France, and had a midnight audience with Henry II, who gave them private encouragement, and assisted them with money, promising, if circumstances proved favourable, to help them openly. Absence from England, on the discovery of the conspiracy, saved Horsey's life. After the death of Mary, Horsey returned to England, and ingratiated himself with Leicester, by whom he was admitted to the closest intimacy. At a later period he was the confidant of Leicester's secret contract with Lady Sheffield, and on their clandestine marriage at Esher, May 1573, two days before the birth of their son, Sir Robert Dudley [q. v.], he gave the bride away.
Horsey soon proved his value as a daring and unscrupulous adventurer, half pirate, half soldier of fortune. In 1562–3 he served under the Earl of Warwick at the disastrous siege of Havre, accompanied by William Whittingham [q. v.], the Calvinist, for whom he had obtained the chaplaincy of the English forces (Camden Society's Miscellanies, vi. 11, 25). In December 1565 he was nominated one of the three commissioners for the Isle of Wight, of which he speedily became captain. That office he held to his death. For seventeen years he thus did good service to the government by keeping a sharp eye on foreign ships which were cruising in the narrow seas, especially those of Spain, and by reporting any suspicious proceedings. According to a letter sent by him to Cecil, he in 1568 seized fifty coffers of treasure on board a Spanish ship in Southampton Water. In 1570 he apprised Cecil that men-of-war were cruising off the island, under the assumed authority of the queen of Navarre (Jeanne d'Albret), with strong suspicion of piracy. He and others in the Isle of Wight had been accused of complicity with their proceedings, which had elicited a stern remonstrance from Cecil. This charge Horsey denied, but acknowledged that he had received ‘presents of spices, sweetmeats, and Canary wine.’ He detained ships and men in view of an expedition in 1570, and despatched vessels to watch the piratical craft hovering about the southern shores, and to capture them when necessary. He was zealous in surveying the defences of the Isle of Wight and ordering necessary repairs, and afforded help and encouragement to Cornelius Stevensen, a Dutchman, in his manufacture of saltpetre for gunpowder.
On the outbreak of the northern rebellion in 1569, under the Earls of Westmorland and Northumberland, Horsey was despatched at the head of five hundred well-furnished horsemen; contributed to the defeat of the insurgents and followed hard on their retreat. In his despatches to Cecil he railed at the faint heart of those who having ‘frowardly and villainously begun a lewd enterprise, had beastly and cowardly performed the same,’ and preferred to yield their necks to the halter, which he prayed God they might get, rather than ‘by fight persist in their vile and detestable quarrel’ (Horsey to Cecil, 22 Dec.; State Papers, Dom. 1569; Froude, Hist. of England, ix. 538). The rebellion put down, Horsey returned to the Isle of Wight, where he reported to Cecil the preparations the Spaniards were making for the invasion of Ireland. On 29 Oct. 1570 he was admitted a burgess of the town of Southampton (Hist. MSS. Comm. App. 11th Rep. pt. iii. p. 20). In 1573 he was sent as ambassador to the court of France to plead the cause of Rochelle and the French protestants. The pacification between the king and the Huguenots was attributed to his skilful conduct of the negotiation (Strype, Annals, ii. i. 363). He was more than once sent as ambassador to the Netherlands to treat with Don John of Austria with regard to the protestant subjects of Spain, and to remonstrate against the injurious treatment of English merchants trafficking with the Low Countries (ib. ii. ii. 9, 10, iii. ii. 559; cf. Hist. MSS. Comm. App. 2nd Rep. p. 97). His services were rewarded by his being knighted at Westminster in 1577, and on 19 Sept. of the same year he was made a privy councillor, and had a license for selling wine granted him, which roused the opposition of the mayor of Guildford and others (ib. App. 7th Rep. p. 634). In November 1580 he entertained the Portuguese ambassador magnificently at his house in the Isle of Wight, though, as he tells Cecil, as many as forty of his household were ‘down with the disease’ at the time. He himself fell sick, but recovered. The plague increased, and in 1583 Horsey died of it at the manorhouse of Great Haseley in Arreton, Isle of Wight, where he lived and ‘kept a brave house’ with one Mrs. Dowsabell Mills, a rich widow, ‘not without some tax of incontinency, for nothing stopt their marriage but that he had a wife, a Frenchwoman, alive in France’ (Oglander, Memoirs, pp. 81, 193). He was buried in Newport Church, where a monument was erected to him, with an effigy in armour under a marble canopy, painted and gilded, and a laudatory Latin epitaph. His government of the Isle of Wight in critical times, when the Spaniards were seeking to seize it in order to make it the headquarters of their predatory attacks, was vigilant and energetic, despite the connivance at piracy with which it was tainted. According to Worsley ‘he kept the island in a proper state of defence, and lived in perfect harmony with the Isle of Wight gentry.’ Oglander gives him the character of ‘a brave soldier, but assuming too much.’ He was an ardent lover of field sports, and did much to increase the stock of game in the island, giving, it is said, a lamb for every live hare brought in.
[Worsley's Hist. of the Isle of Wight, p. 90; Camden Soc. Miscellanies, vi. 29; Oglander's Memoirs, pp. 81, 193; Froude's Hist. of England, vi. 435, vii. 154, 437, ix. 538, xi. 61; Cal. State Papers, Dom. (Lemon); Strype's Annals, ii. i. 28, 363, ii. 9–10, 314, iii. ii. 559.]