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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Anne Somerset Percy, Countess of Northumberland

In Scottish romances whether they are set in the Lowlands or especially in the Highlands there is a running theme of conflict between Scotland and England. However, there is one area of Scotland that has a different take on this thematic conflict and that is the Anglo/Scottish Borders. The Borders began at least on the English side as a buffer zone created by King Wm Rufus and later Scotland's King Alexander I followed suit by encouraging more Scots to move into the area so in time it became overpopulated. As resources became scarce a culture of Reiving goods and cattle became the way of survival. Reiving rarely was used as a political means it was a way to survive a harsh environment and the constant Anglo/Scottish warfare that included scorched earth policies. The area became so lawless that in 1252 CE each monarch sent 12 knights to the borders to hammer out a set of unique laws that Borderers would abide by and over next 300 years those laws matured until the mid 1500’s when things had really gotten out of hand.


For the Borderer be he English or Scot, his mistrust of his monarch had proven that his allegiance to his family was first followed by respect for Border laws then maybe God and lastly his monarch depending on what side of the Border he was on at that moment. Reasons for this mistrust abound: Johnnie Armstrong’s murder at the hands of King James V after a passage of safe conduct, or Kinnmont Willie’s capture by the English troops on his way home on the Scottish side of the Border from a Truce Day and later imprisoned in Carlisle castle where he was freed by Borderers from both sides angered by this total disrespect for Border Law. But there is no better example of the unique Border hospitality and respect than the story of Lady Anne Somerset Percy, the Countess of Northumberland.


Alnwick Castle, home to Earls of Northumberland

Lady Anne Somerset thought to be one the most beautiful and charming women of the Elizabethan period married Thomas Percy of Northumberland in 1558. Many were saddened and feared she would waste away in the north of England with a family who had a jaded past. Thomas’s father, Henry Percy had sided with the Catholics during the reign of Henry 8th and the family suffered their ancient heritage in Northumberland been attained. Henry’s sons, Thomas and Henry even lost their right to use the surname Percy. However, both men proved themselves loyal to the crown by serving in the Borders defense until the reign of Queen Mary Tudor when Thomas was made the 1st Earl of Northumberland and their ancient heritage was returned. However, the family’s taint as papists would haunt this generation too.

Thomas Percy and family were Catholics but loyally served the English crown by improving English Border defenses earning him respect throughout the Borders on both sides. For a while Elizabeth Tudor, whose mother Anne Boleyn had a relationship with a Percy, held the Earl in high esteem. However, the same could be said for Queen Elizabeth’s secretary, William Cecil who disliked the power and especially the respect Thomas Percy had earned in the north and set about influencing Elizabeth against Percy by playing on her fears of Catholics who supported her cousin, Queen Mary of Scotland’s legitimate claim of Elizabeth’s throne. Percy had sympathized with the Catholic supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots and her right to rule Scotland but served his queen well. Cecil letting his jealousy have free reign sent a spy north to serve on the Border Commission who made life Lord Percy’s life so untenable he resigned his commission as the Border Warden for the Middle and East marches.

Thomas Percy, earl of Northumberland (pictured)

Cecil needing to discredit Percy informed Elizabeth of Percy’s copper mine where he was making great amounts of money that might be used in a rebellion against her. Elizabeth, fearing Papists behind every door and under every bed, with Cecil’s help seized not the mineral rights of the copper mine but also demanded all previous money earned on ore already sold be confiscated and given to the royal treasury and a fine was imposed on Percy. This was the last straw for many Borderers who saw this as a grave intrusion into the ancient rights of land ownership on the Borders. Soon groups of dissatisfied English Borderers organized a rebellion seeking to have the Duke of Norfolk replace Cecil. Thomas Percy rode to the Earl of Westmorland and Lord Dacre to meet with the group and try to discourage them. The Earl of Westmorland would only listen to his wife and Lord Dacre and the rebellion seemed eminent. Cecil heard of this meeting and claimed Percy led the rebellion against the queen. Meanwhile Lady Anne, ever the quiet but supportive wife tried to discourage her husband from being involved urging him to make peace with Queen Elizabeth when the dissenters were called to court. Percy as well as other northern nobles mistrusted the Queen but upon hearing an English force was heading to Topcliffe where his daughters were, he finally joined forces with the conspirators and never looked back. Soon pressure put on the outspoken leaders of the conspiracy, Lord Darce and Lady Westmorland, forced them to switch sides and join the Queens forces. Though Percy had the support from Catholics and Protestants borderers on both sides of the Anglo/Scottish Border, a letter of support from the Pope forced the Scottish Protestant supporters to withdraw. Things looked bleak for Lord and Lady Percy until the Spanish ambassador guaranteed safe passage to Holland for any of the rebels so so wished it. Percy declined claiming he had done nothing wrong and Anne stood by his side.

Throughout it all Lady Anne Somerset stood by her husband as an English army of 1000 men pursued them through the Borders. Knowing the Borders as they did Percy and the Earl of Westmorland headed for the debatable land where by Border Law no one could pursue them or remove them from the land. Along the way they stopped at fellow rebel Lord Leonard Darce’s castle so the Lady Percy could rest but were refused hospitality, even though Percy reminded him of his knightly duty to aid and comfort the Lady Anne. Yet along the way the simple Borderers in villages and farms on both sides gave them food and respect without betraying them to their pursuers. They finally found a safe place with the Armstrong family in the Scotland debatable land who Percy had previously shown clemency toward.

.Darce Castle in Cumberland

Meanwhile Cecil demanded the Scottish Regent capture and return Percy to England. The Regent Moray knew if he did this it would bring an uprising by Scottish Borderers in protest, as Border law forbid the taking of anyone from the Debatable land by force. Moray had a plan to safe face with the English and Scos a like and used a disgruntled Armstrong to betray Percy by telling him a party of the English was near and they needed to move to safer ground. However, by then Anne was in grave health from her ill treatment and couldn't be moved. Though Percy insisted he would remain by Anne’s side, she pleaded with him to go without her, to remain be safe for their daughters.. Outside of the debatable lands a Scottish army of the Regent captured Percy and Westmorland and took them to Edinburgh, as prisoners until a plan could be worked out that didn’t incite the Scottish people against the crown. Common Scottish folks loyalty lay with Lord Percy because he had respect for their Queen Mary, who was captive of the English queen.

When the Kerr ladies of Fernieheist heard of Lady Percy’s plight, despite the Kerrs being ancient enemies of the Percys, they rescued her from the outlaw Armstrongs, who had taken everything she owned sans her clothes. They brought her to their keep at Fernieheist providing her all the comforts befitting her station so she could recover. Ancient Border chivalry demanded all feuds be put aside for the Lady Percy. Soon she was visited by the Scottish Lord Hume (a Protestant) as well as Lord Scott of Buccleugh, both wanting to help her and her Lord Husband escape from Queen Elizabeth’s wrath. Upon hearing of her husband’s capture and imprisonment in Edinburgh, Lady Percy went to stay with Lord Hume in the eastern Scottish Marches where all the rebels of Percy’s forces were allowed sanctuary. Cecil warned Hume not to give sanctuary but Hume replied he would rather die than not aide a fellow Borderer namely Lord and Lady Percy.

When Cecil’s diplomatic means of getting Percy back failed, he sent an English army to the Scottish borders with the ultimatum Percy or Border warfare. Lord Moray, the regent responded by saying that if the English released the Queen Mary of Scotland they would release Percy to the English. The English forces entered Scotland but were trounced by the Scots and soldiers led by Lord Westmorland, while Percy remained in the Scottish prison. The embarrassed English then sent a much larger army where they attacked and burned 500 small villages and 50 keeps but no one on the Scottish side gave up any of the fugitives to the English forces and the quickly left.

Lady Percy now with the help of the Kerrs, Scotts and Humes came out of hiding hoping to help her husband and family escape to Holland. By then Lord Percy had been moved to a Loch Leven castle where he was under the care of Wm Douglas. Percy now too wealthy a prize for the Scottish monarchy to let go without compensation told Lady Percy if she could raise 10, 000 crowns they would release her husband to her care. Unable to get help from her English family and friends for fear of them receiving Elizabeth’s wrath, she had to go to the Continent to raise the funds. Meanwhile Douglas made a similar deal with the English. Lady Percy and party were delayed from leaving from Aberdeen as planned because Anne was in the painful process of giving birth to her youngest daughter, Mary who would never meet her father. When Anne finally arrived in Antwerp many supporters (Catholic and Protestant) of her husband’s cause had already donated 4.000 crowns and the remaining 6,000 crowns were donated by the Phillip, King of Spain. Douglas, Percy’s jailer not wanting to lose his valuable prisoner demanded Anne bring the money to him directly before Percy would be released. Unable or not trusting Douglas, Anne appealed to the Earl of Morton, head of the Douglas family for a more fair method but Morton was probably in league with the English and accepted their counter offer of the same amount which allowed him and not Wm Douglas to control the money.


Home (Hume) Castle

In 1572 Lord Percy was handed over to the English who went willingly because they told him he was going fishing not to alarm him. When the ship sailed out of the Firth of Forth and landed at Dunbar he knew something was a foot. The Scots had kept his wife's effort to free him a secret and told the Scots, fearing a Border uprising, that Percy had made is reconciliation with Elizabeth and was returning to London. He was quickly taken to York where Elizabeth had ordered his execution but the last laugh was on her. Because she didn’t get council approval she forgot that his earldom papers from her sister Queen Mary stated that if there was no male heir of Thomas, his brother would inherit the title and the lands Elizabeth and Cecil coveted in Northumberland. This was a minor bump in the road when Cecil was able to get trumped up charges against Henry Percy and sent to him to the tower and Elizabeth was free to take the Percy land. However by 1573 Henry paid a fine to Elizabeth declared his loyality to the crown and was released to inherit his brother’s land and title.

On the Continent the Lady Percy hearing of her Lord’s death slipped into a silent world of grief, but soon awoke and attacked Queen Elizabeth and Cecil with a vengeance. She wrote a pamphlet (Discours des troubles du Comte du Northumberland) that was distributed all over the Continent in both Protestant and Catholic countries, telling of the wrongs Elizabeth and her minion Cecil perpetrated against their loyal subject Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland. This fueled the fires of Catholic hatred toward a most unwomanly queen, Elizabeth. Accusations of greed and power were evident in the Lady Percy’s writings but her opponents made much of Elizabeth’s fear of Catholics. Meanwhile Cecil alarmed at what this would do to the Elizabeth’s subjects wrote his own pamphlet refuting the charges, but the cunning Lady Percy reproduced her pamphlet side by side with Cecil’s making her accusations all the more stronger, angering Elizabeth to epic proportions similar to her father’s wrath.

Lady Anne Somerset Percy, Countess of Northumberland spent the rest
of her days supporting Catholic causes while living on a pension provided by King Phillip of Spain with her daughter, Mary at her side in Namur (Flanders) until her death in 1591. Her other three daughters remained in England and were raised by their uncle Henry Percy, the 8th Earl of Northumberland.

23 comments:

J K Maze said...

A most interesting and informative post. Thank you for giving us this story. It sparks my interest in the borders.

Joan K. Maze

Margaret Mallory said...

I researched the Percy family history for my first book,Knight of Desire, and found them fascinating! I didn't know about Anne, though, so thank you for her story.

Margaret

Angelique Armae said...

Thanks for the great post. I've always been interested in the history of the border wars.

Janie Mason said...

I'm learning so much. Thanks for an interesting look at the Percy family story.

Beth Trissel said...

I was engrossed in this. Very interesting stuff! Love the all the intrigue. Amazing time period, rather horrifying too. Lady Anne was quite a woman.

Sandy L. Rowland said...

Thank you for the education of the Percy family. I learn so much reading this blog and this covered an immense history.We don't know what tough is.

Julie Robinson said...

So much for the 'peaceful' reign of Elizabeth that we are taught in history. Thanks, Jody, for all this info. You have a way of putting history in readable form.

Fraoch said...

Joan as much as I love Scottish stories, the ones I loved the best are the Borders, they are so much a forgotten part of the whole history of Scotland. I hope more authors who write Scottish stories will look into the history here.

Fraoch said...

Margaret I so love your books, what I like about the Borders is that you can tell the story from both sides of the border and the English don't have to be the bad guys.

Fraoch said...

Angelique, the Border wars are rich in detail and intrique. I wanted to tell Anne's story because it shows that for many of those on the Border ater family being a Borderer was more important than being a Scot or English. The respect shown to your Border enemies wife at time of stress tells a lot about their integrity.

Fraoch said...

Janie, I hope you my future tales of the Borders interesting.

Fraoch said...

Beth, Anne was incredible. There is a tale that when the cupboards were bare on the Borders and they needed more food, the wife would serve her husband a covered dish. An when he uncovered it he would find his spurs, which meant it was time to go shopping, er reiving. The women had to be tough to survive.

Fraoch said...

Sandy I don't know as a 21st century woman with all my equal rights that I would have been tough enough to survive what borderer wife had to do, especially when she spent a good 4 to 6 months by herself in the hills with the cattle and her children.

Fraoch said...

Julie thank you for the comment on putting history in a readable form. I thank the historical authors everyday for making history more palatable for students. When I had kids in class who hated history I gave them a romance or historical fiction to read. Makes the history more alive and personal.

Renee said...

I love the Border stories. There are so many tales of deception and honor. Their way is fascinating.

Thank you for sharing Anne's story.

Fraoch said...

BTW I didn't put it in the post but Anne Somerset is the 6x great granddaughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford, two of my favorite people in history, thru a direct line of her father.

Fraoch said...

Renee there are many Border stories beyond what Sir Walter Scott wrote. There is a wonderful old book if you can find it called THE HIGHWAYS AND BYWAYS OF THE BORDERS by Andrew Lang. You can download the book at Google books as it is out of copyright.. ttp://books.google.com/books?id=3rAxAQAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Highways+and+byways+of+the+Borders&hl=en&ei=aAYnTuH-JIfl0QH6g4XXCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

Angelyn said...

Great post! Lot of interesting information. Lady Anne and her husband's destiny were bound up in the fatal one of Mary, Queen of Scots. Throughout Mary's imprisonment in England, plots swirled around her (with and without her knowledge), striking down a number of her Catholic supporters in England who folks like Cecil and Walsingham were desperate to destroy.

Fraoch said...

Angelyn, you are right Elizabeth had great fears of Mary of Scotland who actually had a more ligetimate claim to Elizabeth's throne. Though I am not a fan of Mary of Scotland in large part because she was raised in a pampered French court and had little to no real knowledge of what it meant to be a Scot. Mary and Elizabeth were two extremes on the same scale. Had they both met more in the middle they would have been happier but history would have been vastly different.

Gerri Bowen said...

This was a very interesting post to me, on just about every point. I love the intrigue of the time, the Border, England and Scotland,all together, as well as all the scheming and manipulation and posturing. Great!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

No wonder Scotland and England hold such mystery for us. They lived the most incredible lives imaginable. Great Accounting, Jody. It is always a pleasure to read your posts with so much information in them.

Fraoch said...

Gerri I think the kind of intrique and shifting loyalties are very interesting on the Borders because survival was so important.

Fraoch said...

Paisley, thanks for the comment. With the Celts (Britons), the Gaels, the Saxons and Normans with the occasional Norse raid, the Borders are such a contridicion. MY favorite location in Scotland.