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I. Thomas Doughtie: The Man - Service Under Essex[]

There is one other important source of documentation concerning Doughtie’s life in Ireland, a letter from Walter Devereux to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, dated the 7th of October, 1574. It mentions the name “Doughtie;” Corbett assumes it refers to Thomas Doughtie because his first name is mentioned specifically in some of Viege’s receipts. But later in his account, Corbett will function under the assumption that John Doughtie was in Ireland as well, or at least close enough to the Earl of Essex to land himself in a good deal of trouble. For the purposes of this article, let us proceed as if Corbett’s assumption is correct, but bearing in mind that the so-called disgrace which he impugns to Thomas Doughtie, which bolsters his later arguments about Doughtie’s disreputable character during the circumnavigation, may not even refer to Thomas, but rather to John, a man whom the records show served several terms in prison.

In his rush to judgment, Corbett misrepresents Essex’s letter, for one, only including the section of the document that supports his own conclusion, for another, ignoring the deeply ironic tone with which the lord writes. The usual assumption about the contents of the letter is that Doughtie was involved in some sort of intrigue with the Earl of Leicester, was caught by Essex and fell into disgrace. The nature of this intrigue is portrayed in contradictory fashions in the literature: Kelsey argues that Doughtie was plotting with Leicester against Essex to secure himself a place at court, Corbett that he was attempting to stir up trouble between the two men with some intention of increasing his own favor with Essex. According to Corbett, the attempt backfired, and Doughtie was dismissed.

I shall attempt to examine these points one by one, beginning with the text of the letter itself, here reproduced in full:

My good Lord, - I have received your L. letter, and have heard Flood’s speech concerning the former report made to me by Doughty, Your L. letter and Flood’s words do indeed concur and are both so different from the former information made to me, as I see how perilous it is to believe any servant’s speech. And yet I was the rather induced to give him credit because he had before that time spoken as much as any other of his devotion to me and my cause. And finding then, as I conceived by his words, a declination in you, and that joined with your L’s ill opinion of me when I thought myself most assured of it, I took this undeserved alteration so unkindly, as I must confess I was not satisfied until I had revealed it unto your L.; the manner whereof I trust with friendly interpretation cannot be ill taken, for I am sure it appeared how loth I was to lose your L., and I named both the cause of my grief, and the reporter. And as I mean not to use the man any more in that trust, or any way in soliciting of my cause, so if I have been over earnest in my late letters, I pray you impute it to my plain and open nature. And this recompense I will yield you, that from henceforward no one man’s tale shall make me conceive doubtfully of any friend of far meaner calling than your L., of whose good affection towards me I do now see sufficient cause to judge, not only by your letters to myself, but by two others written to this bearer Mr. Ashton where, in the middle of your unkindness, you have yet a care of me in revealing such bruits as it seemeth are given forth of me, to the end, as I take it, that I should avoid the cause, if any be, of such ill opinion; for which admonition I heartily thank your L. But yet, my Lord, I pray you consider whether I had cause to wax warm. Doughty’s tale charged me with ambition and ingratitude; your L.’s letter to Mr. Ashton declared an opinion conceived, I know not by whom, of my delicacy and cowardice. These be four cardinal virtues, but the devil hath more in store, from whose instruments, those sharp soldiers I mean, that gave me over in my enterprise, these rumors came: and are increased by others who are gone from hence, and would cover their own lewd practices by imperfections in me. But my patience can appease greater storms than this, till I know whom I may challenge. I am sure that those heralds who blaze me no better to your L. are not of my fee. But I heartily thank you in giving me the means to understand these things, by so good an instrument as Mr. Ashton, and I will account it among the rest of your L.’s good deserts of me. And since I hope that this my letter and my speech to the bearer shall now thoroughly satisfy you of me, I pray your L. that henceforth, howsoever reports come, you will suspend judgment, as I will do of you, and what this bearer shall persuade in my behalf, to receive from time to time as my mind and opinion, whose travail I mean to use even in my greatest matters. And so wishing your L. as to myself, and resting in all offices unto you as your assured friend and kinsman, I end; at this 7th October, 1574. (Devereux 76-77)

According to the editor of Lives and Letters of the Devereux Earls of Essex, Walter Bourchier Devereux, the preserved document is actually written to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, a man who will later play such a large and tragic role in the Doughtie saga. A copy of this letter was forwarded to Leicester, the intended recipient. Burghley had urged the two lords to reconcile their differences, and this copy of the letter is sent to him as proof that Essex has complied with his request. It is therefore to be born in mind that this is not a private letter between Essex and Leicester, but rather a letter for public consumption, and as such is very carefully worded.

Corbett quotes the first part of the letter only, up until the part which states that Essex means not to use Doughty any more in soliciting his causes, using it to prove both that Doughtie lied to Essex in an attempt to cause trouble, and that Doughtie is now disgraced in the eyes of his master (210-211). In the quoted section, Essex expresses his shock at discovering Doughtie’s intrigues, saying that he trusted Doughtie: “I the rather induced to give him credit, because he had before that time spoken as much as any other of his devotion to me and my cause.” But it is in the second part of the letter that very cleverly reveals his true opinion, concealed in honeyed words: "...from henceforth no one man's tale shall make me conceive doubtfully of any friend..." While, as we shall see, his protestation of friendship itself is dubious, even the premise of the statement is ironic. Devereux does not have to rely on one man’s tale, as he has "...two others [letters] written to this bearer Mr. Ashton, where, in the middle of your unkindness, you have yet a care of me in revealing such bruits as it seemeth are given forth of me..." Not only did Leicester speak badly of Essex in front of Doughtie; it would appear that he informed Ashton of several other insults to Essex making their way round the courts. "Doughtie's tale charged me with ambition and ingratitude; your L's letter to Mr. Ashton declared an opinion conceived, I know not by whom, of my delicacy and cowardice. These four be cardinal virtues…But heartily I thank you in giving me the means to understand these things, by so good an instrument as Mr. Ashton...” It does not take a careful reading of the passage to detect the scathing sarcasm in Essex’s words. But in this letter, written for Burghley’s benefit, he will not accuse Leicester of the offense, choosing ironically to read the repetition of an insult as a favor, and then foisting the blame for the insult on other courtiers, of which he says: "I am sure that those heralds that blaze me no better to your L are not of my fee." In other words, he is well aware that his own retainer, Doughtie, is hardly the only man reporting that his name is being blackened. Ultimately, the letter exonerates Doughtie whilst pretending to censure him!

Does this letter indicate any real discredit to Doughtie? Essex says: "I mean not to use the man any more in that trust, or in any way in soliciting of my causes..." Considering that, in effect, Doughtie has become the scapegoat which will allow these two rival lords to temporarily smooth over their differences, it would indeed be wise not to send him again to London. Corbett argues that after the letter, there is “no further trace” of his attendance upon Essex except for the receipt in November of 1574 and the two records concerning the livery. However, when one considers that there are but two entries in the ledger before the letter of October 1574, the illogic of this position is made manifest. If one is to draw conclusions about Doughtie’s life in Ireland based upon the scanty evidence of the only two documents which happened to survive the centuries, then we must note that Doughtie appears in the ledger more often after his supposed disgrace than before. A logical mind might conclude that Doughtie’s esteem in his lordship’s eyes grew due to his admirable frankness and loyalty – as long as one does not begin the tale looking for a foreshadowing of the villain of Drake’s story. It is also worth mention that even after the incident, the Earl trusts him to receive £100 in his name, and that since he is being given “winter livery” his disgrace does not extend to being dismissed from Essex’s retinue.

Corbett’s conclusions are based on ridiculous assumptions. For one, the most obvious, that Doughtie’s story alone was capable of causing a terrible and malicious rupture between Essex and Leicester. Removing Doughtie from the picture entirely reveals a different image. Many sources, Vaux for one (ix-x), mention almost offhand the supposition that Essex’s failure in Ireland was due to the malice of Leicester, malice which may have had a very concrete and sordid cause. Rumors were rife concerning Leicester’s involvement with Lettice Knollys, Devereaux’s wife. Even the biographer Devereux, at enormous pains to clear the reputation of his ancestors, reports the early enmity between Leicester and Essex, mentioning in passing that there was gossip that Leicester “loved the Earl’s nearest relation better than the Earl himself,” (18). It was whispered by some that Knollys’ first child, Robert Devereaux, was actually Leicester’s; even the Devereux biographer reports the inexplicable coldness of Essex to his first born son and his preference of the second (164). The slanderous screed Leicester’s Commonwealth claims that Knollys was pregnant with Dudley’s child while her husband was in Ireland, and that she had an abortion. A Spanish agent reported in December of 1575 that Leicester had fathered two of Lettice’s children (Gristwood 250-251) and attributed great enmity between Essex and Leicester to this fact. More believably, a letter by the puritan Thomas Wood written in August of 1576 (when Essex was still alive) reports rumors of Leicester’s ‘ungodly life,’ apparently an affair with Lettice (qtd. in Gristwood 250-251). It is possible, although not established, that the pair may have been involved as early as 1573 (Gristwood 251). And, a piece of information which will become very important later in our own narrative, a rumor Leicester had Essex murdered was such common hearsay that an autopsy on the dead lord was conducted. Essex himself believed he was poisoned although he laid the blame on the Irish (Gristwood 253). All of this is gossip and supposition: what is demonstrable fact is that Dudley resumes his liaison with Lettice soon after the demise of the unfortunate Essex, marrying her in secret, and then being forced into a more public union by her father a few years later.

With a view to the personal hostility between Essex and Leicester, is it improbable that Thomas Doughtie, on a visit to court in London, overheard Leicester making insulting remarks about his rival? It seems likely that with more bluntness than common sense (and, as will be later evidenced, these are characteristics typical of Doughtie) he reported what he had heard to Essex, causing the nascent hostility between the two men to burst into the open. The Devereux biographer cites the letter in question as evidence that Knoylls had not been unfaithful, “It is not possible that one endowed with so nice a sense of honor as the Earl of Essex should offer his friendship in such terms to the man with whom he had quarreled for injuring him in the tenderest point,” (76). This is pure wishful thinking; it shows little awareness of both the ironic subtext of the letter and the fact that, as proved in his treachery to Sir Brian Mac Phelim O’ Neill (Kelsey 70) and the Rathlin massacre, Devereux was a man well acquainted with realpolitik. Essex could hardly accuse Leicester of seducing his wife; he would be perceived as a laughing stock, a fool and a cuckold, but he could very well accuse Leicester of insulting him. It is, indeed, difficult to believe that such a volatile rift could be caused by the charge of being ambitious and ungrateful (ironically, the charges of being delicate and cowardly would be seen as far greater insults), but if these accusations provided a convenient excuse for what was really a feud of a very personal nature, it is quite understandable. Nevertheless, he was hardly likely to reveal such sensitive information in a letter intended for the eyes of William Cecil Lord Burghley as well as his rival.

The charge that Doughtie was scheming with Leicester against Essex, and so doing, opened himself a place at court (Kelsey 74) is insuperable. For one, what could Leicester have possibly hoped to accomplish by provoking Essex’s anger through Doughtie’s report? Indeed, if the rumors concerning Dudley and Lettice Devereux were true, the last thing an intelligent seducer would want to do is draw the attention of his inamorata’s husband to his person. For another, when Doughtie lands on his feet at Elizabeth’s court, apparently none the worse for his supposed disgrace, he is not in the employ of Leicester, but of his sometime rival for Elizabeth’s attention, Christopher Hatton. And finally, there is considerable evidence to support the suppositions of the early historians: “…it was well known that the earl of Leicester bore a mortal hatred to Doughty,” (Mortimer 147).

According to Corbett’s article, “The Tragedy of Mr. Thomas Doughty,” in November of 1576, John Doughtie was thrown into jail, saying that the offense was most likely “libel against Leicester,” (Corbett “Tragedy”) presumably concerning the death of Essex, a matter to be considered later in detail. In any case, it is to Leicester that John Doughtie petitions for release, and so Corbett assumes that Leicester is the subject of the offense. Corbett’s date cannot be right, as he surely realized when writing about the incident in his later book Drake and the Tudor Navy, for he states that the petition is actually dated October, but the date is written with a more modern hand. It is unclear whether the date referred to is the date of the letter, the date of John Doughtie’s imprisonment, or the date of his release. In the petition, Doughtie says that he was imprisoned for eleven months. If the date refers to his date of imprisonment, John Doughtie would not have been released until September of 1577, when, as we see from Thomas Doughtie’s will, he was already planning to undertake the voyage with Drake. It seems unlikely that he would have done so if his brother were still in jail, and he had an influential position at court from which to argue for clemency. But if the date that the petition was written was October of 1576, John would have been imprisoned since December of 1575, and his jailing could have nothing to do with the death of Essex, which happened in September of 1576.

If Leicester were involved with John Doughtie’s imprisonment, Thomas Doughtie would have ample reason to dislike him. And if Thomas Doughtie had reported to his lord the truth of what he had overheard in London, be it Leicester’s insults towards Essex or his advances towards his wife, Leicester would have ample reason to dislike Doughtie, perhaps a reason to revenge himself upon his brother. And there is indeed further evidence of enmity between the parties concerned. Doughtie was a man, unusual for his time, who had few outstanding debts and many debtors. In his will, he forgave all the debts owed to him, except one – the debt owed by the Earl of Essex:

Item I give to my cosin Francise Doughtie sonne to my uncle John Doughtie one hundredth poundes out of the Earle of Essex his Debte. And because that Debte of the Earle of Essex shall the more speedelie be paide I will that Master Richard Broughton shall in consideration of his procuringe the mones the more speedie payment thereof have out of the same twentie poundes besides that for the same consideration I will he be acquitted of two poundes thirteen shillings and four pence which he doth owe me.

Richard Broughton is likely the same man as the Mr. Broughton who returned with Doughtie from England in August of 1574, just before the quarrel between Essex and Leicester. The statement of Essex’s accounts upon his death also lists Broughton as his administrator (“Statement” 492), so he would have been a logical choice to procure the funds. This document also tells us exactly how much Essex owed Doughtie: £150, 13s, 4d, payable upon All Saint’s Day of 1575. If Doughtie was no longer about Essex’s person at that time, his money still was…but the text notes that the money is owed for disbursements made by Doughtie, “in his l’ps affairs,” which hints that Doughtie served longer than Corbett would have it. By the time of his death, Essex is ten months overdue in repaying the debt. Essex ran up a number of outstanding bills which were past due far longer than Doughtie’s (pity the poor milliner who waited three years to get £10 for stockings made for his lordship!), but obviously Doughtie was not so odious to Devereux’s person that he would not submit to remain in his courtier’s debt. Furthermore, the text states, remarkably, that the debt is “…by warrant and sp’ill l’ve of the Earle in his death bed to his officers to pay it if it were not paid upon the warrant.” This is in reference to a letter from the Earl dated the 18th of September, 1576, a few days before the Earl’s passing: “Let Thomas Doughtie be paid if he have it not alredie” (Devereux Camden Miscellany 6). There is no other debt in either text treated with this language. If Doughtie were in such great disfavor with the Earl, then why would Essex take such special care to remember his debt on his death bed? A better hypothesis might be that the Earl felt a lingering guilt over how Doughtie had been treated.

Despite this, Doughtie is apparently not paid by the time his will was written, on 6 September, 1577 (this is reported erroneously in many texts as 11 September, but the document clearly reads “sixe”), a year after Walter Devereux had died. The current Earl of Essex was Robert Devereux, then a child of only eleven years old. Why would Doughtie, a man who forgave all his other debtors and donated a decent amount of money to charity, choose to pursue a debt against a mere boy? Perhaps because the money was, for all intents and purposes, in the hands of Lettice Knollys, his mother, and indirectly, her lover and secret husband, Leicester, two people Doughtie had ample reason to dislike. And he may have chosen Broughton as his agent because as his companion in London, Broughton might also have had the full story behind what Doughtie reported to Essex, some information about Dudley and friend that would encourage the “more speedie payment” of the debt.

Doughtie’s supposed disgrace makes little sense in light of his known fortunes of the next few years. Kelsey argues that his fall could not have occurred before Drake appeared upon the scene since Drake, in Essex’s employ from April to September of 1575, would hardly have associated with an outcast (444 n.26). Then again, Kelsey suggests that Drake may have been in on the scheme to discredit Essex (74) for some unfathomable reason. Corbett argues Doughtie was indeed in Coventry, citing the statement Drake made at Doughtie’s trial that Drake saw Doughtie with Essex only once, and that long after Drake’s employment with him (Cooke 203). But at this point, Drake is trying to disavow that he owes anything at all to Doughtie, and it is difficult to imagine other circumstances under which the two men would have met. Many historians accept Doughtie’s claim to have introduced Drake and Essex at face value, including several otherwise hostile to Doughtie (for example, Gibbs 19; Thomson 96 is clearly pro-Drake). If, however, Doughtie’s disgrace was actually minor, a hand-slap administered for the sake of formality, his easy access to the most powerful figures of his time becomes far less problematic.

Next page - Thomas Doughtie the Man - Career and Associates

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