Sunday, March 10, 2013

Edward Underhill (1512-1579) "The Hot Gospeller"

King Henry VIII undertook a movement to unseat the supremacy of the Catholic Church and to create an independent Church of England. Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents, and friaries throughout England, Ireland, and Wales between 1537 and 1541. This required a reinvention of the roles that these former ecclesiastical seats once had served. A rise in nationalism followed and along with it a middle gentry involved in defense, support of the court, and for providing entertainment. This would have a transformative impact on the life and livelihood of people living in places like Ettington and Kenilworth that so had such strong Catholic connections at one time through the Priory of Kenilworth.

The Underhill family would be ideally positioned to benefit from the changes taking place at this time.
At least one indication of the religious shifts and changes occurring was shown through Edward Underhill (1512-1579), son of Thomas Underhill and Ann Wynter who were the last in their family lines to remain Catholic. Edward Underhill traded life as a country man for that of a courtier and soldier. He served as a man-at-arms under Sir Richard Cromwell in the Siege of Landrecy in Hainault. Sir Richard would later procure a nomination for Edward Underhill to serve as one of 200 men-at-arms to attend King Henry VIII during his campaign in France. Edward Underhill was also among the first members of the band of Gentleman Pensioners that King Henry VIII revived in 1539. Much like members of the House of Shirley from whom members of the Underhill family leased Ettington, members of the Underhill family too played an important role militarily and in defense of England. Somewhat unlike the Shirley’s who leased property to the Underhill’s, Edward Underhill had to sell his estate at Honingham in 1545 to pay his expenses as pensioner. This shows how the Underhill’s while certainly prominent, were less well established than other families. Belying his origins and his Catholic parents, Edward Underhill would develop a reputation during the reign of King Edward VI for seeking out Catholics and placing them in jail. [iii] One particular instance was recounted how he arrested the Vicar of Stepney and carried him to Croydon before the archbishop.

An exchange between Edward Underhill and the Archbishop was recounted as follows:
Underhill: My Lord, methings you are too gentle unto so stout a papist.
Archbishop: We have no law to punish them.
Underhill: No law? My Lord. If I had your authority, I would be so bold to unvicar him, or minister some sharp punishment unit him. If ever it comes to their turn, they will show you no such favor.
Archbishop: Well, if God so provide, we must abide it.
Underhill: Surely, God will never thank you for this, but rather take the sword from such as will not use it upon his enemies.[iv]

Members of the Underhill family like many others throughout England, found themselves emerged in the great turmoil following the death of Edward VI. There was concern that if Mary I were allowed to ascend, that she would bring Roman Catholicism back to England and reverse reforms taken under her father King Henry VIII. This was the first time that the Dudley family enters our narrative. John Dudley, the 1st Duke of Northumberland amassed significant political influence and was regarded by some as the de facto ruler of England during the waning years of the reign of Edward VI. Anticipating the threat that Mary I posed, Dudley worked to position his heirs to someday be king. In April 1553, John Dudley’s son Guilford married the fifteen year old Lady Jane Grey. Having been a minor at the time, Edward VI had no legal standing to change the order of succession decided by his father and sanctioned by Parliament. As Edward VI neared death a “Devise for the Succession” [v] was formed. Mary and Elizabeth were both declared illegitimate heirs and Lady Jane Grey and her sisters named heirs to the throne. This devise had the opposite effect intended. Lacking popular support from the English people who saw this as a Protestant grab for Power,[vi] the preference to have a Catholic queen over a Protestant usurper was made clear in events to follow.

Edward VI died on July 6, 1553, and four days later Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen of England. She took residence in the Tower of London according to custom. Mary, on hearing of Edward’s demise, left her residence at Hunsdon and made her way to London where she was declared the rightful Queen by Parliament. Lady Jane and her husband Guilford were subsequently imprisoned. John Dudley was executed August 22, 1553. A trial for Jane and Guilford took place on November 13, 1553, and they too were found guilty and sentenced to death.

Meanwhile, Thomas Wyatt and his compatriots, feeling threatened by the eminent marriage of Queen Mary to the Roman Catholic Prince Phillip of Spain, sought to overthrow Queen Mary I and place Elizabeth on the throne. He was joined by Henry Great, 1st Duke of Suffolk who raised a force of 140 men. Over 3,000 men in total were gathered and poised to take London. After several abortive attempts attempting to enter the city and take the Tower himself, Wyatt surrendered, was tried, and executed with around 90 rebels.

Wyatt’s Rebellion imperiled Jane and Guilford Dudley. Philip and his councilors persuaded Mary to execute Jane and remove future threat of unrest. Guilford was publicly executed the morning of February 12, 1554, and the same day Jane was privately executed on the Tower Green. A week later Jane’s father Henry, Duke of Suffolk, was also executed for his part in the Wyatt Rebellion.

Figure #1: Imprisonments and Executions in the Lady Jane Gray Affair
-          John Dudley 19 Jul 1553 - 22 Aug 1553, executed
-          Edward Underhill 4 Aug 1553 – imprisoned
-          Guilford Dudley – 12 Feb 1554, Tower, executed
-          Lady Jane Grey, - 12 Feb 1554, Tower, executed
-          Elizabeth I, 18 Mar 1554 – 22 May, imprisoned Tower of London, moved to Woodstock

Elizabeth I was also threatened by the rebellion and was brought to court and interrogated. On March 18, 1554 she too was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Debate ensued about whether she should be tried and executed to eliminate the threat she posed to the crown. Robert Dudley, the son of the late Duke John Dudley was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Following the death of King Edward VI, Robert Dudley went into the countryside to raise support for Queen Jane. He was captured by the townsmen of King’s Lynn and sent before Mary at Framlingham Castle. From there he was condemned to death and imprisoned in the Tower. However, his brother-in-law Henry Sidney and his mother secured his release with the help of Spanish nobles aligned with Philip. Dudley and Elizabeth would maintain close ties following their three months of confinement together in the Tower of London.[vii]

These were perilous times for nobles and gentry throughout England and Underhill’s were not exempted. The same Edward Underhill who during the reign of King Edward VI was known for seeking out Catholics and placing them in jail, [xviii] would find himself directly implicated in the Dudley and Lady Jane Grey plot.

Edward Underhill had a son during the brief reign of Lady Jane Grey and Lady Jane herself served as godmother. His son was named Gylford in honor of Lady Jane’s husband Lord Guilford Dudley.[xix] That same month Edward Underhill published a ballad attacking Lady Mary that would get him into a great deal of trouble. This action would gain Edward Underhill the title, “the Hot Gospeller.” On August 4, 1553, Edward Underhill was arrested and sent to the Tower of London where he was questioned. For him to be at the Tower of London around the same time that Duke John Dudley, Guilford Dudley, and Lady Jane Grey were all located there, all who would ultimately face their execution, spoke to the severity of the situation.  Something of a reprieve came when he was sent to Newgate prison, where he would be one of the first felons sent there for reasons of religion.

Underhill had his defenders though. His godfather Sir William Herbert, the 1st Earl of Pembroke who supported the Calvinistic cause came to his defense.[xx]  Despite this effort, it was not until the middle of September when Underhill was released on bail through interference of the Earl of Bedford. Once being released he was fully restored by the Queen. [xxi],[xxii] His salary as a gentleman pensioner was resumed without deduction from the time of his arrest.[xxiii]  Much of this story was recounted in even greater detail in the Autobiographical Anecdotes of Edward Underhill, One of the Band of Gentlemen Pensioners.[xxiv]

Edward Underhill would retain his place among the gentlemen pensioners and defend Queen Mary during Wyatt’s insurrection on February 6-7, 1553. He attended her later in Winchester on July 1555 to meet Philip of Spain. During the winter of 1549-1550 Edward Underhill was sent as controller of the ordnance under Lord Hutingdon to defend Boulogne along with 6,000 other men. [xxv] Two last references to Edward are known, including burial of his wife at St. Botolph’s Aldgate on April 14, 1562, and other reference made on May 12, 1562, when Edward Underhill was employed as “master of the common hunt” to suppress a disturbance in the city of London. [xxvi]

Through service to several successive monarchs of England starting with King Henry VIII and moving forward, members of the Underhill family rose to higher and higher positions of significance. And even despite the notoriety that figures like Edward Underhill experienced, he too came around and distinguished himself in service to the crown. One figure who would eclipse the accomplishments and honors of those who came before was another son of Thomas Underhill and Ann Wynter, who would become known as Sir Hugh Underhill (1519-1593).[xxvii]



[i] Starkey, David. "Elizabeth: Woman, Monarch, Mission." Elizabeth: The Exhibition at the National Maritime Museum. Susan Doran (ed.). London: Chatto and Windus, 2003. ISBN 0701174765.
[ii] The English arch├Žologist's handbook By Henry Godwin Published by Parker, 1867
[iii] History of England from the fall of Wolsey to the death of Elizabeth By James Anthony Froude
(Scribner, 1881), p.64.
[vi] Behind the mask: the life of Queen Elizabeth I By Jane Resh Thomas. p.48. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998.
[xviii] History of England from the fall of Wolsey to the death of Elizabeth By James Anthony Froude
(Scribner, 1881), p.64.
[xix] History of England from the fall of Wolsey to the death of Elizabeth By James Anthony Froude (Published by Scribner, 1881).
[xxi] Lives of the queens of England, from the Norman conquest By Agnes Strickland, Elisabeth Strickland (Published by Bell & Daldy, 1868).
[xxii] Lollardy and the Reformation in England By James Gairdner (2006, Kessinger Publishing)
[xxiii] Lives of the queens of England, from the Norman conquest By Agnes Strickland, Elisabeth Strickland (Published by Bell & Daldy, 1868) p.199.
[xxiv] Excerpt is re-published in Narratives of the Days of the Reformation: Chiefly from the Manuscripts of John Foxe the Martyrologist: With Two Contemporary Biographies of Archbishop Cranmer By John Gough Nichols Published by Kessinger Publishing, 2006.
[xxv] Narratives of the Days of the Reformation: Chiefly from the Manuscripts of John Foxe the Martyrologist: With Two Contemporary Biographies of Archbishop Cranmer By John Gough Nichols Published by Kessinger Publishing, 2006.
[xxvi] Dictionary of national biography by Leslie Stephen, George Smith, Sidney Lee, Edgar Trevor Williams, Robert Blake, Christine Stephanie Nicholls, Helen M. Palmer, L. G. Wickham Legg, John Reginald Homer Weaver, Henry William Carless Davis Published by Smith Elder, 1909. p.29-30
[xxvii] b. 1518, Hunninham, Warwickshire, England, d. Jan 1593, Greenwich, Kent, England

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