Marlborough College Summer School

At Home and Away: The Earl of Leicester

Simon Adams goes through the household accounts of a Tudor courtier to give a revealing insight into his lifestyle and milieu both at and away from Gloriana's court.

On the 11th of August 1585, the day after the signing of the Anglo-Dutch treaty of assistance at Nonsuch Palace, the Earl of Leicester left the court for a vacation at Kenilworth Castle. He had holidayed in this manner every year since 1570, with the sole exception of 1583. He also intended to visit the newly-popularised well at King's Newnham near Coventry, having become a great sampler of spas. He was accompanied by his wife and an entourage of sixty. Sir Francis Walsingham was intending to join him, but in the event called off owing to 'unseasonable' weather.

Leicester took what was clearly a well-worn route, first to Northall (now Northaw), his brother the Earl of Warwick's house, then Watford, Maidenhead, Rotherfield Greys (his father in law, Sir Francis Knollys' house) near Henley, Ewelme, Abingdon, Cornbury House, Woodstock, Sir Anthony Cope’s house at Hanwell near Banbury and, finally, Kenilworth, which he reached on August 20th. At each stage he and his wife spent the night at the house of a friend while his servants lodged at inns in the nearby towns. After a week at Kenilworth, he was preparing to go on to King's Newnham when he first sprained his leg in a riding accident, and then received word from Walsingham and Lord Burghley that the Queen intended to offer him the command of the forces she was sending to the Netherlands.

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