Unton, Henry (DNB00)

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UNTON or UMPTON, Sir HENRY (1557?–1596), diplomatist and soldier, was second son of Sir Edward Unton or Umpton of Wadley, near Faringdon, Berkshire, by his wife Anne, eldest daughter of Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, Edward VI's protector, and widow of John Dudley, commonly called Earl of Warwick, eldest son of the Duke of Northumberland. The marriage of his parents was solemnised on 29 April 1555 at Hatford in Berkshire, near the bridegroom's house at Wadley. The father, Sir Edward, belonged to a Berkshire family, which traced its pedigree to the time of Edward IV; he was knighted at Queen Elizabeth's coronation in January 1558–9, was sheriff of the county in 1567, and M.P. in 1572, and entertained Queen Elizabeth at his residence at Wadley in July 1574 (Nichols, Progresses, i. 391). He died on 16 Sept. 1583, and was buried in Faringdon church. An unpublished fragment of an itinerary of a journey made by Sir Edward in Italy in 1563–4 is in the British Museum (Sloane MS. 1813). His wife, who was always known as the Countess of Warwick, was in October 1582 declared of unsound mind. She survived till February 1587–8. The sermon preached at her burial at Faringdon church was printed (cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1581–90, p. 74). The elder son, Edward, was M.P. for Berkshire in 1555 and 1586, and ‘was slain in the Portugall voyage’ in 1589.

Henry, born about 1557 at Wadley, was educated, like his elder brother Edward, at Oriel College, Oxford, where he supplicated for the degree of B.A. in October 1573. He was created M.A. on 14 July 1590. He became a student of the Middle Temple in 1575, and subsequently travelled in France and Italy. In 1584 he was elected M.P. for New Woodstock. On his return he was employed by Sir Christopher Hatton, lord chancellor, who commended him to the queen.

Unton, with his friend Sir William Hatton, nephew and heir of Sir Christopher Hatton, accompanied the Earl of Leicester's army to the Low Countries in 1585. On 22 Sept. 1586, he and Hatton were engaged in the affair at Zutphen, in which Sir Philip Sidney received his fatal wound. Leicester wrote six days later to Walsingham, that Unton and Hatton ‘a horseback or foote’ had shown a courage and eagerness for fight which none other in the army excelled (Leycester Correspondence, Camden Soc., pp. 416–417). Unton was knighted by Leicester on 29 Sept.

Unton made the acquaintance of the Earl of Essex in the Low Countries, and, apparently owing to the earl's influence with the queen, he was nominated in July 1591 to the office of ambassador to Henry IV of France. Henry was then engaged in his fierce struggle with the forces of the League, and Elizabeth had sent small armies to his aid. Essex was in command of one English detachment in Normandy, and Sir John Norris headed another in Brittany. Unton was directed to encourage Henry to hold out against his foes, but he was warned against committing the queen to a long continuance of her active support. On 11 Nov. 1591 Henry laid siege to Rouen, which was in the hands of the forces of the League. Unton accompanied him, and remained with Henry until he was forced to raise the siege in April. Personally Unton recommended himself to the French king, and they were soon on terms of intimacy. In January 1592 Unton was at Henry's side at the skirmish of Aumale, when the king was severely wounded. In the spring there reached Unton's ears the report that the young Duke of Guise had spoken of Queen Elizabeth ‘impudently, lightly, and overboldly.’ He thereupon sent a challenge to the duke, proposing to meet him with whatever arms he should choose, on horseback or on foot. ‘Nor would I have you to think,’ he wrote, ‘any inequality of person between us, I being issued of as great a race and noble house every way as yourself. … If you consent not to meet me, I will hold you, and cause you to be generally held, for the errantest coward and most slanderous slave that lives in all France.’ Nothing came of the challenge, although Unton is said to have thrice repeated it (cf. Milles, Catalogue of Honour, 1610; Fuller, Worthies). In May 1592, after Henry had abandoned the siege of Rouen on the approach of the Duke of Parma and the French king's future looked desperate, Unton urged him to take the field in person in Brittany. There Henry IV's followers, despite the co-operation of an English army, had lately been worsted, but the situation appeared to Unton to be retrievable. Next month Unton was recalled at his own request, owing to failing health. He parted with Henry on the best of terms.

Unton continued to cultivate the favour of Essex, but his efforts to obtain official employment proved for many years vain. He re-entered the House of Commons in 1592–3 as M.P. for Berkshire, and there showed an independence which offended the queen. On 5 March 1592–3 he, with Francis Bacon, opposed the grant of a subsidy in the form in which the proposal was presented to the house (D'Ewes, Journal, pp. 487–90). Consequently when Unton next appeared at court the queen received him with ‘bitter speeches,’ and charged him with seeking a vain popularity (Cal. Hatfield MSS. iv. 68, where the date seems in error). Nevertheless in December 1595, through Essex's influence, Unton was sent a second time to France as ambassador. Essex gave him a paper of circuitous instructions whereby Unton might maintain the earl's private influence with Henry IV. The main object of Unton's mission was to keep alive the enmity between France and Spain and to dissuade Henry from making peace.

Unton was received by the king with enthusiasm, and had a long interview with him on 13 Feb. 1595–6 at Coucy-le-Château on the Flemish border, where the war with Spain was in progress. The king was in a frivolous mood, and mainly confined himself to expressing extravagant admiration for Queen Elizabeth's person (Motley, United Netherlands, iii. 342). Finally he invited Unton to accompany him to the French camp outside the city of La Fère, on the upper Oise. The city was in the hands of the Spaniards, and Henry's forces were besieging it. Unton no sooner reached the camp before La Fère than he fell dangerously ill of what was suspected to be ‘a purple fever.’ Despite the risk of contagion, Henry paid him a visit, and for some weeks it was anticipated that he would recover, but, to the French king's grief, he died on 23 March. On 1 April following Henry IV sent the queen a letter of condolence on her ambassador's death, and expressed admiration of his virtues, of which, the king wrote, he had had frequent experience (Birch, Memoirs of Elizabeth, i. 459). Unton's body was brought home to Wadley, and he was buried in Faringdon church on 8 July. A sumptuous monument was erected to his memory by his widow.

Unton showed some literary taste. In 1581 Charles Merbury acknowledged his aid in preparing his ‘Briefe Discourse of Royall Monarchie.’ To him was dedicated Robert Ashley's Latin translation (from the French) of Du Bartas's ‘L'Vranie Ov Mvse Celeste par G. de Saluste Seigneur du Bartas. Vrania sive Mvsa …’ (London, by John Wolfe, 1589, 4to; Brit. Mus.). Ashley noticed Unton's close friendship with Sir William Hatton. Matthew Gwinne [q. v.] went with him to France in the capacity of physician. In Unton's memory there was published at Oxford a voluminous collection of Latin verse (with two elegies by Professor Thomas Holland in Greek and Hebrew respectively) under the title: ‘Funebria nobilissimi ac præstantissimi Equitis, D. Henrici Vntoni, ad Gallos bis Legati Regii, ibiq: nuper Fato functi, charissimæ Memoriæ, ac Desiderio, à Musis Oxoniensibus apparata,’ Oxford, by Joseph Barnes, 1596. The volume was edited by Robert Wright, Unton's chaplain, afterwards bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, who inaccurately points out in the preface that a like honour had been paid previously to Sir Philip Sidney, and to none besides (Brit. Mus.).

Unton had no issue, and left an embarrassed estate. His debts are said to have amounted to 23,000l. His personal property was valued at about 5,000l. His nieces—the three daughters of his sister Anne, wife of Valentine Knightley, and his sister Cicely, wife of John Wentworth—claimed his lands, which were extensive and valuable, and in December 1596 called upon Lord Burghley, as master of the court of wards, to stay the sale of his estates in the interest of his creditors (Cal. State Papers, Dom., Addenda, 1580–1625). His widow seems to have enjoyed his Berkshire property for her life.

Unton married Dorothy, eldest daughter and heiress of Sir Thomas Wroughton of Broad Hinton, Wiltshire. She married in December 1598 a second husband, George Shirley of Staunton Harold, Leicestershire, who was created a baronet in 1611, died on 27 April 1622, and was ancestor by a former wife of the earls Ferrers (Chamberlain, Letters, pp. 4, 33; cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1595–7, p. 265). She entertained the king and queen at Wadley on 7 and 8 Sept. 1603 (Nichols, Progresses of James I, i. 257), and died in 1634.

Much of Unton's voluminous official correspondence during his first embassy to France (1591–2) is extant among the Cottonian manuscripts in the volume Caligula E. viii., some portions of which have been injured by fire. Others of Unton's papers of the same period are in the public record office, and there is an early transcript of a letter-book of his in the Bodleian Library (No. 3498). From these sources a collection of Unton's correspondence was edited by Joseph Stevenson in 1847 for the Roxburghe Club; 255 letters were included, dating between 24 July 1591 and 17 June 1592. Many of Unton's despatches during his second embassy to France (1595–6) are printed in Murdin's ‘Burghley Papers’ (pp. 701–34). Copies of others appear in Birch's manuscripts at the British Museum (Addit. MSS. 4114–7). A further collection of Unton's letters belonged to Sir Thomas Phillipps (cf. Gent. Mag. 1844, ii. 151). A few letters are at Hatfield.

A portrait of Unton was painted by Marcus Gheeraerts the younger [q. v.] (cf. Cat. National Portraits at South Kensington, First Exhibition, 1866, p. 41). Another portrait by an unknown artist belongs to the Duke of Norfolk. There is in the National Portrait Gallery a curious picture painted on a long panel by an unknown artist (5 feet 2½ inches by 2 feet 4 inches), which contains a portrait of Unton surrounded by representations of various scenes in his career. He is seated in the centre writing at a table, on which a cameo jewel shows the profile of the queen. In the top right-hand and left-hand corners appear respectively the sun and moon. On each side and above and below Unton's portrait are depicted the chamber of his birth, with a portrait of his mother; other rooms in the family residence at Wadley, in some of which a masque celebrating his marriage is portrayed as in progress; foreign cities which he visited, and the main incidents of his death and burial, including his monument in Faringdon church. Numerous shields display armorial bearings with minute accuracy. The picture, which was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1884, was apparently painted for Unton's widow. At her death in 1634 she bequeathed it to her niece, Lady Unton Dering. It was sold by auction in London in 1743, and afterwards came into the possession of John Thane [q. v.], the printseller. Strutt engraved the scene of the masque at Unton's marriage in his ‘Manners and Customs of the English,’ 1776 (vol. iii. plate xi.), and the head of Sir Henry was engraved for the ‘Antiquarian Repertory’ in December 1779.

[Unton Inventories, edited for the Berkshire Ashmolean Society by John Gough Nichols (1841); Unton Correspondence (Roxburghe Club), 1847; Birch's Memoirs of Queen Elizabeth, vol. i.; Coningsby's Journal of the Siege of Rouen, in Camden Society's Miscellany (vol. i. 1847); Nichols's Progresses of Queen Elizabeth, ii. 86; Wood's Athenæ Oxon., ed. Bliss, i. 647; Shadwell's Registrum Orielense, i. 41; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Cat. of National Portrait Gallery, 1897.]

S. L.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.269
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
32 i 5f.e. Unton, Sir Henry: for 1563 read 1563-4
4f.e. for (Addit. MS. read (Sloane MS.