Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland

Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland

Anthony van Dyck.] Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland (September 29 (baptized October 13), 1602 – October 13, 1668) was an English military leader and a prominent supporter of constitutional monarchy.

Family Background

Algernon Percy was the third, but eldest surviving, son of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, the so-called 'Wizard Earl.' His mother was Lady Dorothy Perrott, daughter of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex and sister of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, one of Elizabeth I's favourites who was executed for treason in 1601. In 1605, the 9th Earl was accused of either participation or complicity in the Gunpowder Plot, and as a result, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London until 1621. The 9th Earl exerted influence on young Algernon's education in spite of his imprisonment, and Algernon frequently stayed with the 9th Earl in the Tower for 4 or 5 days at a time. On the model of King James I's "Basilikon Doron", the 9th Earl wrote an essay of advice to his son in 1609.

His sister, Lucy Percy Hay, dowager countess of Carlisle, and his younger brother, Henry Percy, were members of the household of Charles I's queen, Henrietta Maria. Another sister, Dorothy, was married to Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester.

Education and early years, 1615-24

In 1615, Algernon was sent to study at St John's College, Cambridge, and in 1616 he was admitted to the Middle Temple in London. He received his MA in 1616 and was made a Knight of the Bath, meaning he was now Sir Algernon Percy.

In 1618, Algernon and his tutor, Edward Douse, began a six-year tour of continental Europe, visiting the Netherlands, Italy, and France. Algernon returned to England in 1624 and joined his father, recently released from the Tower, at court.

Public life before the Civil Wars, 1624-42


Algernon's first public service involved serving as MP for Sussex during the "Happy Parliament" of 1624-25 and as MP for Chichester during the "Useless Parliament" of 1625-26.

In March 1626, Algernon was summoned to the House of Lords, assuming his father's barony and becoming known as "Lord Percy." In November 1626, he was appointed joint Lord Lieutenant of Cumberland, Westmorland, and Northumberland. Percy became a leader in the House of Lords of the faction opposed to Charles I's favourite, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.

First Marriage

In 1629, Algernon married Anne Cecil, daughter of William Cecil, 2nd Earl of Salisbury, "in spite of his father's deep disapproval, who said that 'the blood of a Percy would not mix with the blood of a Cecil if you poured it on a dish" (Percy family history). (The 9th Earl blamed the 2nd Earl of Salisbury for his imprisonment in the Tower.) The marriage, however, produced five daughters.

Upon the death of the 9th Earl in 1632, Algernon Percy became the 10th Earl of Northumberland.

Naval career

Throughout the early 1630s, the 10th Earl attempted to ingratiate himself with Charles I's court, initially unsuccessfully, although his family connections in the queen's household did manage to get him admitted to the Order of the Garter in 1635. By 1636-37, he was in good enough standing at court to be appointed admiral of the ship money fleet. Northumberland attempted to initiate naval reforms, often bypassing the lords of the admiralty and submitting his proposals directly to Charles I and the Privy Council. Although most historians would not consider Northumberland a Puritan, he did enforce the Oath of Supremacy on his fleet and removed three Catholic officers who refused to take the oath.

Northumberland's first expedition as admiral in 1636 was to force Dutch ships fishing in waters claimed by England to purchase English fishing licenses, in exchange for which the English fleet would offer protection from the Dunkirkers. If Dutch sea captains refused to purchase the licenses, their nets were cut.

Northumberland was less enthusiastic about his second expedition as admiral, which was to transport Spanish money to the Netherlands in 1637. Northumberland's political faction was strongly pro-French and anti-Spanish, so he rankled at the thought of aiding the Spaniards.

Lord High Admiral

In 1638, two of Northumberland's prominent supporters at court - Thomas Wentworth and Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud - used their influence at court to have Northumberland made Lord High Admiral of England, a position which had been vacant since the assassination of the 1st Duke of Buckingham in 1628. At the time he was appointed, it was understood that Charles I's son James would become Lord High Admiral upon attaining his majority, although the Civil Wars occurred before this could happen and Charles removed Northumberland from the post in 1642.

Events leading to the Civil Wars

In response to the rise of the Scottish Covenanters, who opposed the attempt to introduce the Book of Common Prayer in Scotland in 1637, Charles I appointed an eight-man subcommittee of the Privy Council to deal with the issue. Northumberland's patron, Thomas Wentworth, favoured war with Scotland, while Northumberland did not want to go to war, and feared that his estates in northern England would be occupied during the hostilities. As such, when Wentworth had Northumberland appointed general of the English forces during the second of the Bishops' Wars in January 1640, Northumberland was happy to let illness prevent him from joining the army in the field, and Northumberland was entirely defeatist about the prospect of defeating the Covenanters militarily. In May 1640, Northumberland was one of only two members of a subcommittee of the Privy Council who opposed the dissolution of the Short Parliament, a move which confirmed his break with Wentworth (whom Charles had recently named Earl of Strafford) and earned him the displeasure of the king.

When the Long Parliament met, Northumberland became one of the leading critics of royal policy. During Strafford's trial for high treason and the subsequent bill of attainder against him, Northumberland gave evidence at his trial which, though favourable on the important point of bringing the Irish army to England, was on the whole damaging.

Northumberland's brother Henry was involved in the First Army Plot of 1641, an attempt to rescue Strafford from the Tower of London and to forcibly dissolve the Long Parliament. Northumberland encouraged his brother to write a letter exposing the royalist plot to rescue Strafford, and then, at John Pym's urging, agreed to allow Denzil Holles and John Hampden to publish this letter.

The English Civil War, 1642-49

Northumberland's Role in the First English Civil War, 1642-46

Break with the king

With the coming of the English Civil War, Northumberland became the highest-ranking member of Charles I's government to side with the Parliamentarians.

His first action in open defiance of royal authority came in November 1641, when he obeyed Parliament's instruction to prepare four ships to take men and arms under parliamentary control to Ireland to suppress the rebellion there. He did not, however, support the Grand Remonstrance. However, when James Stewart, 1st Duke of Richmond suggested in January 1642 that the parliament adjourn for six months, Northumberland led a protest which favoured sanctioning Richmond for breach of privilege. In February, Parliament named Northumberland Lord Lieutenant of Sussex, Pembrokeshire, and Anglesey. Northumberland subsequently voted in favour of the Militia Ordinance. During the subsequent fighting between royalist and parliamentary forces, Northumberland's control of the navy was a crucial factor in securing parliamentary victory. As a result, Charles I removed Northumberland from the post of Lord High Admiral in late June 1642 and Northumberland relinquished the position. In July, he accepted a position on the parliamentary committee of public safety.

Northumberland's support for the war wavered shortly thereafter, however, in the wake of setbacks faced by parliamentary forces in 1642-43. Northumberland was also disappointed that Parliament chose Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick rather than himself as the new Lord High Admiral. Northumberland was apparently appalled by the violence of the Battle of Edgehill and the Battle of Turnham Green, and became the leader of a party favouring peace by early-to-mid-1643.

econd marriage

Northumberland's first wife died of smallpox in 1637. In October 1642, he remarried, to Lady Elizabeth, daughter of Theophilus Howard, 2nd Earl of Suffolk.

Conversion to the peace faction

In April 1643, Northumberland headed the parliamentary delegation to negotiate with Charles I at Oxford, but Charles was willing to grant little. Returning to London, Northumberland's peace party was increasingly attacked by the party favouring continued war: for example, in June, Northumberland was accused of complicity in Waller's Plot, though he was never prosecuted. In August, a leading hawk, Isaac Penington, the Lord Mayor of London instigated a plot whereby a number of lords were physically threatened, in the hopes that he would be able to have Northumberland arrested. After Northumberland was unable to convince his cousin, Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex to support further peace negotiations with the royalists, he retired to his estates at Petworth (unlike other "peace lords", who joined the king at Oxford at this time).

Conversion to the war party

Northumberland did not remain at Petworth for long, though. Although he had opposed an alliance between parliament and Scotland against the king, following the passage of the Solemn League and Covenant in September 1643, Northumberland returned to the capital and took the Covenant. He was soon appointed to the newly-created Committee of Both Kingdoms, serving as its first chairman. Northumberland would gain a reputation as a supporter of the Scots on the committee - many speculated that this was because Scottish forces were occupying his lands in the north. Thus, although he continued to favour negotiations with Charles I, Northumberland was quickly coming around to the war party's position. Northumberland was one of only four lords to vote in favour of the Self-denying Ordinance. Soon, Northumberland would prove to be one of the greatest supporters of the New Model Army, with Northumberland's servant Robert Scawen chairing parliament's army committee.

In March 1645, Parliament made Northumberland guardian of Charles' two young children, Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Gloucester (and also the Duke of York in July 1646), and there was talk that Northumberland might be made king if negotiations with Charles failed. Following the failure of the negotiations at Uxbridge, Northumberland was thoroughly behind the war party, now known as the Independents. In spite of Northumberland's political conversion, he did not vote in favour of the bill of attainder against his old patron, Archbishop Laud.

1647: Between the First and Second English Civil War

In early 1647, Northumberland sided with Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester and the Presbyterian party against the Independents as they attempted to draw up terms acceptable to the king.

In the emerging dispute between parliament and the army, Northumberland sided with the army, and in July 1647, Northumberland was one of nine peers who left Parliament for the army following riots around Westminster. Meetings were subsequently held between Northumberland and the army at Northumberland's property, Syon House.

Northumberland led a final attempt to negotiate with Charles I in December 1647, but this failed.

Role in the Regicide

Following the Second English Civil War, most parliamentarians became increasingly disillusioned with Charles I and began to favour his execution. Northumberland attempted to halt this movement, opposing the Vote of No Addresses in January 1648, and attempting to negotiate terms with the king at Newport until the end of 1648.

Northumberland would prove to be one of Charles I's greatest supporters in the Rump Parliament. When Parliament moved to try Charles I for treason in January 1649, Northumberland was the leader of the forces in the House of Lords opposed to trying the king.

Life During the English Interregnum, 1649-60

Northumberland withdrew from public life following the execution of Charles I. In May 1649, he was relieved of responsibility for the king's children and no longer had any official duties.

Northumberland was briefly placed under house arrest in 1655 after John Thurloe accused him of encouraging his northern tenants to participate in the Penruddock uprising.

Northumberland refused requests from both Oliver Cromwell and Richard Cromwell to sit in the upper house of their parliaments.

Life Following The Restoration, 1660-68

With the coming of the Restoration in 1660, Northumberland attempted to re-enter politics by organizing the Suffolk House cabal, which included Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester, Denzil Holles, Oliver St John, and William Pierrepont, and which hoped to force on Charles II the terms offered to Charles I at Newport. This cabal collapsed when General Monck chose to support the Convention Parliament in April 1660.

With Charles II's return to England in May 1660, Northumberland rushed to curry favour with the new king. He did however oppose the bill to execute the regicides responsible for Charles I's death.

Charles II appointed Northumberland to his Privy Council in late May 1660, and Northumberland was named Lord Lieutenant of Sussex in August and Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland in September. His return to politics was completed with his service as Lord High Constable of England at Charles II's coronation in April 1661. Northumberland gained a reputation as a diligent enforcer of the Clarendon Code and as an efficient organizer of the militias.

During the period of Restoration politics, Northumberland's closest ally at court was Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester, while Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon remained a constant enemy, a rivalry which climaxed with Northumberland voting in favour of Clarendon's impeachment in 1667.

Northumberland died at Petworth on October 13, 1668 and was buried there in September 1668. His son Joceline succeeded him as 11th Earl of Northumberland.

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