Spain in 1543, and was created Baron Wriothesley of Titchfield in 1544. Having been lord keeper of the privy seal for a few months, he became lord high chancellor in 1544, in which capacity he became notorious by his proceedings against Anne Askew. He was one of the executors of Henry’s will, and in accordance with the dead king’s wishes he was created earl of Southampton in February 1547. However, he had committed an offence in appointing four persons to relieve him of his duties as lord chancellor and advantage was taken of this to deprive him of his office in March, when he also ceased to be a member of the privy council. Again in the council Southampton took a leading part in bringing about the fall of Somerset, but he had not regained his former position when he died on the 30th of July 1550. His successor was his son, Henry (1545–1581), the 2nd earl, one of the Roman Catholic nobles who conspired for the release of Mary Queen of Scots. He died on the 4th of October 1581 and was succeeded by his son, Henry, the 3rd earl (see below).
For the career of the 1st earl see Lord Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors; E. Foss, Judges of England; and the various state papers and letters of the reign of Henry VIII.
The 3rd earl was succeeded by his son Thomas (1607–1667) as 4th earl. When the dispute began between the king and the parliament he took the side of the latter, but soon the violence of its leaders drove him into the arms of Charles, one of whose most loyal advisers he remained thenceforward. He was however very anxious for peace, and treated on behalf of the king with the representatives of the parliament in 1643, and again at Uxbridge in 1645. Having paid over £6000 to the state, Southampton was allowed to live unmolested in England during the Commonwealth period, and on the restoration of Charles II. he was made lord high treasurer. As treasurer he was remarkable for his freedom from any taint of corruption and for his efforts in the interests of economy and financial order. He died without sons on 'the 16th of May 1667, when his titles became extinct. Much of his property passed to his eldest daughter Elizabeth (d. 1693), wife of Edward Noel, 1st earl of Gainsborough (1641– 1689). The name of the earl is perpetuated in London in Southampton Row and Southampton Street, Holborn, where his London residence stood. After the death of Lady Gainsborough the London property of the earl passed to her sister Rachel, wife of William, Lord Russell, the patriot, and later to the dukes of Bedford.
In 1670 the mistress of Charles II., Barbara, countess of Castlemaine, was created duchess of Cleveland and countess of Southampton. Her son, Charles Fitzroy (1662–1730), was created duke of Southampton in 1675, this title becoming extinct when his son William died in May 1774.
The barony of Southampton was created in 1780 in favour of Charles Fitzroy (1737–1797), a grandson of Charles Fitzroy, 2nd duke of Grafton, he being thus, like the holders of the dukedom of Southampton, descended from Charles II. and the duchess of Cleveland. The title is still held by his descendants.
SOUTHAMPTON, HENRY WRIOTHESLEY, 3rd Earl of (1573–1624), one of Shakespeare’s patrons, was the second son of Henry Wriothesley, 2nd earl of Southampton, and his wife Mary Browne, daughter of the 1st Viscount Montague. He was born at Cowdray House, near Midhurst, on the 6th of October 1573, and succeeded to the title in 1581, when he became a royal ward, under the immediate care of Lord Burghley. He entered St John’s College, Cambridge, in 1585, graduating M.A. in 1589; and his name was entered at Gray’s Inn before he left the university. At the age of seventeen he was presented at court, where he was soon counted among the friends of the earl of Essex, and was distinguished by extraordinary marks of the queen’s favour. He became a munificent patron of poets. Nashe dedicated his romance of Jack Wilton to him, and Gervase Markham his poem on Sir Richard Grenville’s last fight. His name is also associated with Barnabe Barnes’s Parthenophil and Parthenope, and with the Worlde of Wordes of John Florio, who was for some years in his personal service as teacher of Italian. But it is as a patron of the drama and especially of Shakespeare that he is best known. “My Lord Southampton and Lord Rutland,” writes Rowland White to Sir Robert Sydney in 1599, “come not to the court . . . They pass away the time in London merely in going to plays every day” (Sydney Papers, ed. Collins, ii. 132). Venus and Adonis (1593) is dedicated to Southampton in terms expressing respect, but no special intimacy; but in the dedication of Lucrece (1594) the tone is very different. “The love I dedicate to your lordship is without end . . . What I have done is yours; what I have to do is yours; being part in all I have, devoted yours.” Nicholas Rowe, on the authority of Sir William Davenant, stated in his Life of Shakespeare that Southampton on one occasion gave Shakespeare a present of £1000 to complete a purchase.
Nathan Drake in his Shakespeare and his Times (1819; vol. ii. pp. 62 seq.) first suggested that Lord Southampton was the person to whom the sonnets of Shakespeare were addressed. He set aside Thomas Thorpe’s dedication to the “onlie begetter” of the sonnets, “Mr W. H.,” by adopting the very unusual significance given by George Chalmers to the word “begetter,” which he takes as equivalent to “procurer.” “Mr W. H.” was thus to be considered only as the bookseller who obtained the MS. Other adherents of the Southampton theory suggest that the initials H. W. (Henry Wriothesley) were simply reversed for the sake of concealment by the publisher. It is possible in any case that too much stress has been laid on Thomas Thorpe’s mystification. The chief arguments in favour of the Southampton theory are the agreement of the sonnets with the tone of the dedication of Lucrece, the friendly relations known to have existed between Southampton and the poet, and the correspondence, at best slight, between the energetic character of the earl and that of the young man of the sonnets. Mr Arthur Acheson (Shakespeare and the Rival Poet, 1903) brings much evidence in favour of the theory, first propounded by William Minto, that George Chapman, whose style is parodied by Shakespeare in the 21st sonnet and in Love’s Labour’s Lost, was the rival poet of the 78th and following sonnets. Mr Acheson goes on to suppose that Chapman’s erotic poems were written with a view to gaining Southampton’s patronage, and that that nobleman had refused the dedication as the result of Shakespeare’s expostulations. The obscurity surrounding the subject is hardly lightened by the dialogue between H. W. and W. S. in Willobie his Avisa, a poem printed in 1549 as the work of Henry Willobie (q.v.) If the sonnets were indeed addressed to Southampton, the earlier ones urging marriage upon him must have been written before the beginning (1595) of his intrigue with Elizabeth Vernon, cousin of the Earl of Essex, which ended in 1598 with a hasty marriage that brought down Queen Elizabeth’s anger on both the contracting parties, who spent some time in the Fleet prison in consequence. The “Southampton” theory of the sonnets cannot be regarded as proved, and must in any case be considered in relation to other interpretations (see Shakespeare) .
Meanwhile in 1596 and 1597 Southampton had been actively employed, having accompanied Essex on his two expeditions to Cadiz and to the Azores, in the latter of which he distinguished himself by his daring tactics. In 1598 he had a brawl at court with Ambrose Willoughby, and later in the same year he attended Sir Robert Cecil on an embassy to Paris. In 1599 he went to Ireland with Essex, who made him general of his horse, but the queen insisted that the appointment should be cancelled, and Southampton returned to London. He was deeply involved in Essex’s conspiracy against the queen, and in February 1601 was sentenced to death. Sir Robert Cecil obtained the commutation of the penalty to imprisonment for life.
On the accession of James I. Southampton resumed his place at court and received numerous honours from the new king. On the eve of the abortive rebellion of Essex he had induced the players at the Globe theatre to revive Richard II., and on his release from prison in 1603 he resumed his connexion with the stage. In 1603 he entertained Queen Anne with a performance
- Roger Manners, 5th earl of Rutland, a close ally and friend of Southampton.