History of the Earl of Southampton

Thomas Wriothesley. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton was born in March 1607 in Little Shelford, the only surviving son of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton and his wife Elizabeth Vernon. His father was best known as Shakespeare’s patron and the playwright dedicated the poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece to him. His mother was one of the chief ladies-in-waiting to Elizabeth I.

Henry Wriothesley.  Courtesy of Wikipedia

Thomas Wriothesley attended St. John’s College Cambridge. Initially he sided with Parliament in the English Civil War but the violence of his fellow supporters caused him to become a loyal follower of Charles I. During this period he attended several peace conferences where he represented the King. In the Commonwealth period, Wriothesley paid £6000 to the state in order to live peacefully. Shortly after the restoration he was appointed Lord High Treasurer, a position he maintained until his death. In his position he was championed for his professionalism in keeping finance free from corruption but found a critic in famous diarist Samuel Pepys who wryly commented on Lord Wriothesley’s ability to find money even in dire circumstances.

Southampton Row and Southampton Street in the Bloomsbury area named after the Earl who began the development of the district during the 17th Century. He enclosed the previously open land to make what is now known as Bedford Square in the typical style of the time, with mansion houses designed for the gentry and a central garden.  The land was eventually transferred to the Earl Bedford who continued to develop the area.

Bedford Square. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In addition to the Bedford Square development, the Wriothesley estate included Titchfield Abbey, gained from the dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII and passed to the 1st Earl of Southampton.  The property included 11 manors and 5,000 acres. It was reported that several Shakespeare plays were performed here for the first time for the 3rd Earl of Southampton. During the first year of his reign, Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria were entertained at the Abbey by the 4th Earl. Charles I returned in 1647 and is believed to have stayed in a room in the gatehouse.  Colonel Hammond of the Parliamentary army later arrived from the Isle of Wight and took him into custody.

Titchfield Abbey. Courtesy of English-Heritage.

Wriothesley married three times during his life. His first wife was Rachel de Massue, a French Huguenot with whom he had two daughters: Elizabeth Wriothesley and Rachel Wriothesley. Rachel would marry Lord Russel, a conspirator in the Rye House Plot which sought to ambush Charles II and his brother James on their way back from the Newmarket Races. These two daughters would receive their father’s estate upon his death.

His second marriage to Lady Elizabeth Leigh enabled him to inherit the title Earl of Chichester and they had one child, Lady  Elizabeth Wriothesley. His third marriage was to Frances Seymour and they remained childless. Upon his death his two daughters by Rachel de Massue inherited his estate.

The Earl died in 1667 at the age of 60. With no male heirs, the Southampton name became extinct.

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