Yaxley, Francis (DNB00)

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YAXLEY, FRANCIS (d. 1565), conspirator, was the eldest son of Richard Yaxley of Mellis, Suffolk, by his wife Anne, daughter of Roger Austin of Earlsham, Suffolk. The family, whose name was originally Herbert, had long been settled at Yaxley Hall, near Eye, Suffolk, where the descendants of Richard's uncle, John Yaxley, a noted serjeant-at-law in the reign of Henry VII (Plumpton Corresp. pp. 152–3), continued until the eighteenth century. Richard Yaxley is confused by Davy with his half-brother, Robert Yaxley, M.D., one of the six physicians mentioned in Henry VIII's original charter (1513) to the College of Physicians, ‘consiliarius’ of the college in 1523 and 1526, and physician to Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury, and other persons of eminence at Henry VIII's court (Davy, Suffolk Collections in Addit. MS. 19156, f. 320; Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, II. ii. 4450, XIV. i. 181; Munk, Coll. of Phys. i. 22–3; a later Robert Yaxley has verses prefixed to Coryat's ‘Odcombian Banquet;’ Hunter's ‘Chorus Vatum’ in Addit. MS. 24488, f. 341).

Francis appears to have owed his introduction at court to Cecil, whom he was said ‘to reverence as though he were his father;’ he was described as ‘Cecil's Yaxley,’ and acknowledged his indebtedness to Cecil's ‘godly counsels and fatherly admonitions’ (cf. Hatfield MSS. i. 74; Cal. State Papers, For. 1547–53, p. 228; Letters of Eminent Lit. Men, Camden Soc. p. 13). About 1547 he obtained employment by the privy council, possibly in the signet office, and in September 1548 he was engaged in hiring Italian mercenaries for service in England (Acts P.C. 1547–50, p. 221). In 1550 he was sent to Italy to complete his diplomatic education, and was attached to the embassy of Peter Vannes [q. v.] He returned to England in November 1552, passing through Spires, where ‘at a great banquet the Palsgrave made Yaxley his cup-bearer’ (Cal. State Papers, For. 1547–53, p. 230). He was returned to parliament for Dunwich on 22 Feb. 1552–3, and admitted a student of Gray's Inn; but in the following April he was sent to join Nicholas Wotton [q. v.], the English ambassador in France. Before he set out Northumberland ‘used him very gently,’ giving him ten crowns, and asking Yaxley to write to him from France (Hatfield MSS. i. 118, 121).

Yaxley returned to England early in Mary's reign (cf. Ellis, Original Letters, 3rd ser. iii. 312–15), and on 3 Oct. 1555 was elected member of parliament for Stamford. Before March 1556–7 he had become clerk of the signet, and in January 1557–8 he was returned to parliament for Saltash. He retained his clerkship under Elizabeth, and letters to him from Sir Thomas Chaloner, Viscount Montague, Sir Thomas Wharton, the Earl of Huntingdon, requesting his co-operation in furtherance of their suits, indicate that he was possessed of some influence (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, passim, Addenda, 1547–65, p. 509). He was, however, according to the Spanish ambassador, ‘a good catholic,’ and combined a love of intrigue with an inability to keep secrets. The same authority states that in January 1560–1 he was in prison for ‘babbling’ about Elizabeth's proposed marriage with Lord Robert Dudley (Cal. Simancas MSS. i. 180, 213), but in the same year he was said to be pushing a scheme for the queen's marriage with the king of Sweden. It is more certain that during this time he was in league with the Countess of Lennox [see Douglas, Lady Margaret], who employed him to obtain information from the Spanish ambassador, and to further the project of marriage between the countess's son Darnley and Mary Queen of Scots. On 14 Feb. 1561–2 Yaxley wrote to Dudley from Ipswich, imploring his assistance, as he had been summoned to appear before the council, and before the 22nd he was in the Tower. The articles against the Countess of Lennox were partly based on Yaxley's confession (Cal. State Papers, For. 1562, No. 26). Yaxley himself was examined by the privy council on 14 Jan. 1562–3 (Acts P. C. 1558–70, p. 136, s.v. ‘Yoxley;’ Cotton. MS. Calig. B. viii. f. 298).

The date of Yaxley's release is uncertain; but in July 1565 the Spanish ambassador reported to Philip II that he was going to Flanders, and thence to Scotland; ‘he is a person well acquainted with affairs here, and will be able to give the Queen of Scots a great deal of information … they tell me he is a devoted servant to your Majesty’ (Cal. Simancas MSS. i. 450). While in Flanders he is said (Froude) to have been employed by the Countess of Lennox ‘as the special agent of her correspondence with the continental courts;’ but his stay there was short, and about 20 Aug. he embarked for Scotland. On the way his vessel was chased and fired on by an English man-of-war, to whose foul bottom alone Yaxley owed his escape. He landed at Edinburgh on the 25th, and at once became Darnley's confidant and secretary. Mary also told him all her secrets, and selected him to go to Philip II and place her cause at Philip's disposal and under his protection. Yaxley was, however, quite unable to control his tongue, and within a few days Randolph was able to describe the objects of his mission to the English government. Yaxley meanwhile sailed from Dumbarton on 16 Sept., and, travelling through Flanders, reached Segovia on 20 Oct. He was well received by Philip, and lodged at the house of Gonsalo Perez (Cal. Simancas MSS. i. 497–9). Five days later he set out on his return, with Philip's assurances of support and a considerable sum of money. His vessel was wrecked in the North Sea, and Yaxley's body was cast up on the coast of Northumberland, the money on it being made the subject of a diplomatic dispute between Mary and Elizabeth. The body was removed for burial to Yaxley, to the poor and church of which he left bequests by his will, dated 3 July 1561 (Lansd. MS. 5, art. 32). He married Margaret, third daughter of Sir Henry Hastings of Bramston, Leicestershire (Nichols, Leicestershire, iv. 627), but apparently had no issue, and bequeathed his property and interest in Yaxley Hall to his father, who survived him.

[Cal. State Papers, Dom. For. and Spanish, passim; Thorpe's Cal. Scottish State Papers, i. 219; Bain's Cal. 1547–63, p. 186; Acts of the Privy Council, ed. Dasent; Hatfield MSS. vol. i.; Official Return of Members of Parl. i. 380, 393, 396; Foster's Reg. of Gray's Inn; Teulet's Relations Pol. de la France et de l'Espagne avec l'Écosse, 1862, ii. 242; Papiers d'état relatifs à l'Hist. de l'Écosse (Bannatyne Club), ii. 53–5, 92–3; Visitation of Suffolk in Harl. MS. 155, f. 57; Harl. MS. 1169, f. 192; Davy's Suffolk Collections (Addit. MS. 19156, ff. 313–22); Addit. MS. 5524, ff. 38, 39, 40; Rawlinson MS. B. 422, f. 44; Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. App. iv. 466; Froude's Hist. of England.]

A. F. P.