Sir Christopher Hatton

Sir Christopher Hatton

Christopher Hatton, the second son of William Hatton and Alice Saunders Hatton, was born in Holdenby in about 1540. The family had a small estate in Northamptonshire and were "lesser gentry with modest resources". (1)

He was educated at St Mary Hall. After leaving Oxford University he was enrolled in the Inner Temple. In 1564 he came to the attention of Queen Elizabeth in a play that was performed for members of the Royal Court. He was seven years younger than the Queen, "tall, large-framed, solid but graceful". (2) It was claimed that the queen's eye had been drawn to this "mere vegetable of the court that sprang up at night" solely by his talent for dancing. (3)

In 1571, Hatton became Member of Parliament for Higham Ferrers. By this time he was seen as a rival to Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Elizabeth Jenkins, the author of Elizabeth the Great (1958) has pointed out: "Hatton was thirty-one and Elizabeth thirty-eight. He had not displaced Leicester as confidential favourite, but he had overhauled him, and while every year showed gifts of leases, wardships, lands, buildings, offices to Leicester and Hatton, during the years 1568 to 1571 the Queen gave Leicester four benefactions only and Hatton eight. No-one would ever entirely supplant Leicester in her affection, but Hatton's newness as an adorer and the vehemence of his passion made a strong appeal to her feelings, and for some years the relationship between them was one of the kind that was Elizabeth's nearest approach to sexual passion." (4)

Christopher Hatton and Queen Elizabeth

Peter Ackroyd has argued that when Hatton told Queen Elizabeth that he desired some land owned by Richard Fox, the Bishop of Ely, she approached him about it. When he initially refused Elizabeth wrote him a letter stating: "You know what you were before I made you what you are now. If you do not immediately comply with my request, I will unfrock you, by God. Elizabeth." (5)

In 1572 Hatton was made one of the Gentlemen Pensioners, the fifty picked men who were chosen, among other attributes, for height and appearance, and formed the Queen's ceremonial bodyguard. (6) Hatton sent love notes and poems to Elizabeth. In one letter he wrote, "Your heart is full of rare and royal faith, the writings of your hand do raise me to a joy unspeakable." (7) Elizabeth was now romantically linked with two men. Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, was nicknamed her "eyes" and Hatton her "lids". (8)

Dudley also had relationships with other women such as Baroness Sheffield who gave birth to a son, Robert Dudley, in 1574. Simon Adams points out: "From this affair there survives perhaps the most personal item of all Leicester's correspondence, a long undated letter that he wrote to Sheffield before 1574 in the course of a series of rows between them over his refusal to marry. He advised her to break off the affair and marry someone else, for he could offer her nothing more than what they had." (9)

Dudley had grown tired of trying to persuade Elizabeth to marry him. However, although he did have other, secret relationships, on the surface he remained totally committed to Elizabeth. As Hatton's biographer points out: "Beyond his personal charms Hatton was a consummate player of a game which Elizabeth adored, that of courtly love. His role was that of the perpetual suitor, who forever worships an earthly goddess with unwavering devotion - a devotion that cannot be fulfilled but never wanes." (10)

Rumours continued to circulate about Hatton and Elizabeth. A man named Mather was arrested for saying that "Mr. Hatton had more recourse to Her Majesty in her Privy Chamber than reason would suffer if she were so virtuous and well-inclined as some noiseth her". Archbishop Matthew Parker wrote to William Cecil about a man who had been examined before the Mayor of Dover for speaking against the Queen, "uttering most shameful words against her, as that the Earl of Leicester and Mr. Hatton should be such to her, as the matter is so horrible", the Mayor would not write down the words, "but would have uttered them in speech to your Lordship if ye had been at leisure". (11) Alone among the queen's male circle, Hatton refused to marry. "As he saw it, that would have been a betrayal of his love for her, which he never tired of expressing in letters whose fervent language sometimes takes the modern reader aback." (12)

On 21st September 1578, the Duke of Leicester secretly married the widow, Lettice Devereux, the former wife of Walter Devereux, first earl of Essex, who had died on 22nd September, 1576. Rumours began to circulate that the relationship had started in 1575 and that Dudley had poisoned Lettice's husband. Dudley offered Baroness Sheffield "£700 a year to let him no more of her, and when she refused the suggestion with angry dismay, Leicester attained his object and saved his money by explaining to her that their marriage had been invalid and she was not his wife." (13)

House of Commons

Hatton remained totally loyal to Elizabeth in parliamentary debates. He opposed Peter Wentworth who in 1576 argued that members of Parliament had the right to discuss any subject they wanted. Elizabeth responded by ordering him to be sent to the Tower of London. Hatton lead the counter-attack against Wentworth's desire to discuss religious issues. He put forward Elizabeth's view that the Church was a matter for the royal prerogative alone. (14)

Robert Dudley
Christopher Hatton by unknown artist (c. 1575)

When parliament reassembled in 1581 Peter Wentworth proposed a motion for a public fast. Elizabeth was furious when Parliament gave its approval. Hatton delivered a message from Queen Elizabeth, condescendingly forgiving the house but warning them that on religious matters they should await direction from the crown. Hatton was charged by the house to carry to Elizabeth their humble submission and the next day reported Elizabeth's gracious acceptance. He was settling into a permanent role as spokesman for Elizabeth, the regular channel of communication between sovereign and parliament. (15)

Later that year the House of Commons discussed a bill imposing harsh penalties on recusants. Hatton put forward the view that Elizabeth favoured leniency towards recusants. This was reflected in the bill being taken through the House of Lords. A second measure, sponsored by the government, was entitled "an act against seditious words and rumours uttered against the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty" which provided extreme penalties and added a new crime, prophesying how long Elizabeth would live or who would succeed her. The religious left wing, scenting dangers to their spokesmen, sought to amend the bill, softening the extreme penalties and adding a specifically anti-Catholic clause, punishing anyone who asserted the Church of England to be heretical or schismatic. Hatton managed to persuaded the house to adopt a new bill in which the crucial amendment was omitted. (16)

Privy Council

Christopher Hatton joined the Privy Council and was involved in negotiations about the possible marriage of Queen Elizabeth to the Duke of Alençon. Hatton was against the match "but joined with the rest of the council in a sullen acquiescence, offering to support the match if it pleased her." (17) However, there was a great deal of opposition to the proposed marriage. In 1579 John Stubbs, a Norfolk squire with Puritan sympathies, wrote a pamphlet criticizing the proposed marriage. Stubbs objected to the fact that Alençon was a Catholic. He also argued that, at forty-six, Elizabeth was too old to have children and so had no need to get married. Hatton, under instructions from Elizabeth, led the prosecution of Stubbs. (18)

Circulation of this pamphlet was prohibited, and Stubbs, his publisher, William Page, were tried at Westminster, and found guilty of "seditious writing" and sentenced to have their right hands cut off. The punishment was carried out on 3rd November 1579. William Camden points out in The History of Queen Elizabeth (1617): "Stubbs and Page had their right hands cut off with a cleaver, driven through the wrist by the force of a mallet, upon a scaffold in the market-place at Westminster... I remember that Stubbs, after his right hand was cut off, took off his hat with his left, and said with a loud voice, 'God Save the Queen'; the crowd standing about was deeply silent: either out of horror at this new punishment; or else out of sadness." (19) However, by January, 1580, Queen Elizabeth admitted to Alençon that public opinion made their marriage impossible.

Hatton was a member of the court which tried Anthony Babington. In March 1586, Babington and six friends discussed the possibility of freeing Mary Stuart, assassinating Elizabeth, and inciting a rebellion supported by an invasion from abroad. With his spy network, it was not long before Francis Walsingham discovered the existence of the Babington Plot. Babington home was searched for documents that would provide evidence against him. When interviewed, Babington, who was not tortured, made a confession in which he admitted that Mary had written a letter supporting the plot. At his trial, Babington and his twelve confederates were found guilty and sentenced to hanging and quartering. "The horrors of semi-strangulation and of being split open alive for the heart and intestines to be wrenched out were regarded, like those of being burned to death, as awful but in the accepted order of things." (20)

Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth by by Nicholas Hilliard (c. 1585)

In May 1587 Hatton was made Lord Chancellor. The legal profession was much affronted by this appointment. Apart from his youthful days at the Inner Temple, Hatton had no formal legal experience, although as a councillor he had sat in Star Chamber. William Camden reported that "Hatton's appointment was the work of his rivals, who hoped his necessary absence from court would diminish his attendance with the queen". This was confirmed by a letter written by Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester and sent to Francis Walsingham. In a speech Hatton made in 1589 he claimed that puritans were as much enemies of the crown as the papists. (21)

Sir Christopher Hatton died on 20th November, 1591. He was buried on 14th December 1591 in St Paul's Cathedral, where his funeral was held two days later.

Primary Sources

(1) Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great (1958)

Christopher Hatton gave signs of an undoubted passion for her. Like Burleigh, he was of Northamptonshire origin, and had entered the legal profession. He was seven years younger than the Queen, tall, large-framed, solid but graceful; he had caught Elizabeth's eye while dancing in a masque at Gray's Inn in 1564. He was made one of the Gentlemen Pensioners, the fifty picked men who were chosen, among other attributes, for height and appearance, and formed the Queen's ceremonial bodyguard. The fact that his looks had first brought him into the Queen's liking gave him a reputation for incompetence that was undeserved. Sir John Neale has shown that Hatton, like every other man Elizabeth employed, was of sound capacity. He may have been no cleverer than Leicester, but his faculties were developed by a steady professional career, while Leicester was merely a man of good general intelligence who had picked up a considerable fund of experience and inside information. Hatton had the gentleness that sometimes goes with large physique; Camden described it as "a modest sweetness of manner", and it may have been partly the attraction of opposites which caused him to develop a passion for the Queen. When Hatton as a young man had written verses, his pseudonym had been "Felix Infortunatus"; this described his plight as a lover of Fhzabeth's.

In 1571, when Hatton was M.P, for Higham Ferrers, he was thirty-one and Elizabeth thirty-eight. He had not displaced Leicester as confidential favourite, but he had overhauled him, and while every year showed gifts of leases, wardships, lands, buildings, offices to Leicester and Hatton, during the years 1568 to 1571 the Queen gave Leicester four benefactions only and Hatton eight. No-one would ever entirely supplant Leicester in her affection, but Hatton's newness as an adorer and the vehemence of his passion made a strong appeal to her feelings, and for some years the relationship between them was one of the kind that was Elizabeth's nearest approach to sexual passion, in which Francis Osborne described her as "apter to raise flames than to quench them"?

In 1571 a man named Mather was had up for saying that "Mr. Hatton had more recourse to Her Majesty in her Privy Chamber than reason would suffer if she were so virtuous and well-inclined as some noiseth her", while next year Archbishop Parker wrote in extreme distress to Burleigh of a man who had been examined before the Mayor of Dover for speaking against the Queen, "uttering most shameful words against her, as that the Earl of Leicester and Mr. Hatton should be such to her, as the matter is so horrible", the Mayor would not write down the words, "but would have uttered them in speech to your Lordship if ye had been at leisure".

Hatton had encroached upon Leicester's preserves and in 1572 he himself became alarmed by the success of a rival, who, though not a sharer of the intimate relationship that Hatton enjoyed, dazzled the Queen and absorbed the attention of her leisure moments: Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was a young man of high birth, arresting presence and exceptionally disagreeable temper. A pathological selfishness did not deprive him of attraction, and though very poor, he attained for a short time the peak of fashionable celebrity; spoiled and ruthless as he was, the Maids of Honour were wild about him. His father had died nine years before, and since twelve years old, Oxford had been a royal ward, brought up in Burleigh's house. In 1571 the young man proposed for Burleigh's favourite daughter, Ann. The girl was fifteen years old, and as she was not a beauty, surprise as well as bitterness was felt by her contemporaries. The Cecils were not highly born but Burleigh's position made the match an eligible one; though Oxford was not the son-in-law he would have chosen, the connection brought distinction, and as Ann Cecil was of course in love with the young man, her father put a good face on it. He wrote almost pathetically to one of his friends about the prospective bridegroom: "There is much more in him of understanding than any stranger would think."

(2) Peter Ackroyd, Tudors (2012)

Another favourite, Sir Christopher Hatton, emerged in this period. He was primarily a courtier of handsome address, with a genius for dancing. In that capacity he attracted the attention of the queen. He became a gentleman pensioner and then captain of her bodyguard before rising ever higher until he was appointed chancellor of Oxford and lord chancellor of England. It was said that he had danced his way into office. His nickname was "Lids" or "Sheep" that soon became "Mutton".

A measure of the queen's attentiveness can be found in a peremptory letter that she wrote to the bishop of Ely. Hatton was covetous of some garden-land owned by the bishop, on Holborn Hill and Ely Place, but the divine was not willing to give way to the courtier. The queen insisted, however, and sent the following message to him. "Proud Prelate. You know what you were before I made you what you are now. If you do not immediately comply with my request, I will unfrock you, by God. Elizabeth. The bishop then of course surrendered his lands, with the proviso that he and his successors could have free access to the gardens and leave to gather 20 bushels of roses every year.

(3) Anka Muhlstein, Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart (2007)

Christopher Hatton, a friend of twenty years' standing nicknamed "My Lids" or sometimes "Mutton", died in 1591. Malicious gossip claimed that the queen's eye had been drawn to this "mere vegetable of the court that sprang up at night" solely by his talent for dancing. Hatton was sustained by his looks, charm, wit and absolute devotion to her. In 1589, by which time his greater seriousness and genuine political acumen had gained him advancement at court, he
was appointed Lord Chancellor. Alone among the queen's male circle, he refused to marry. As he saw it, that would have been a betrayal of his love for her, which he never tired of expressing in letters whose fervent language sometimes takes the modern reader aback. At the height of a smallpox epidemic, for instance, he sent her a hollow ring containing a prophylactic potion and recommended her to wear it around her neck "betwixt the sweet dugs, the chaste nest of most pure constancy".

(4) Philippa Jones, Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010)

Christopher Hatton was appointed captain of Elizabeth's bodyguard in 1572, and was also a Member of Parliament. Well-educated, handsome and accomplished, this elegant dancer was said to be Robert's main rival at the time.

Stories circulated about Elizabeth and Hatton, including that he "had more recourse to Her Majesty in her Privy Chamber than reason could suffice, if she were virtuous and well inclined as some noiseth her."

Over the years, he would be a favourite of Elizabeth's, owing his place at Court to his never-ending adoration of the Queen, which he recorded in letters and poems. He would write, "Your heart is full of rare and royal faith, the writings of your hand do raise me to joy unspeakable." Like Robert, Hatton was always near her; she nicknamed Robert her 'Eyes', and Hatton her 'Lids'. Each man added a cipher to his letters to the Queen... In 1573, ill with a kidney problem, Hatton would write to Elizabeth from a Dutch spa, "to serve you is heaven, but to lack you is more than hell's torment... Your Lids that are so often bathed with tears for your sake. A more wise man may seek you, but a more faithful and worthy can never have you."

Hatton also sent Elizabeth a jewel shaped like a lover's knot, "the kind she most likes, and she thinks can not be undone." He would remain a devoted follower of the Queen, the only one of her professed lovers who never married, maintaining that he never found anyone else more worthy of his love. He did, however, keep discreet mistresses a long way from Court, at least one of whom provided him with a daughter named Elizabeth.


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References

(1) Wallace T. MacCaffrey, Christopher Hatton : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(2) Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great (1958) page 165

(3) Anka Muhlstein, Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart (2007) page 303

(4) Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great (1958) page 165

(5) Peter Ackroyd, Tudors (2012) page 369

(6) Wallace T. MacCaffrey, Christopher Hatton : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(7) Philippa Jones, Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010) page 211

(8) Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great (1958) page 215

(9) Simon Adams, Robert Dudley : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(10) Wallace T. MacCaffrey, Christopher Hatton : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(11) Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great (1958) page 215

(12) Anka Muhlstein, Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart (2007) page 303

(13) Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great (1958) page 215

(14) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) page 163

(15) Wallace T. MacCaffrey, Christopher Hatton : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(16) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) page 157

(17) Wallace T. MacCaffrey, Christopher Hatton : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(18) Anka Muhlstein, Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart (2007) page 303

(19) William Camden, The History of Queen Elizabeth (1617) page 270

(20) Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great (1958) page 271

(21) Wallace T. MacCaffrey, Christopher Hatton : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)