Elizabeth Wriothesley, Countess of Southampton

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Elizabeth, Countess of Southampton c. 1620

Elizabeth Wriothesley (née Vernon), Countess of Southampton (11 January 1572 – 23 November 1655) was one of the chief ladies-in-waiting to Elizabeth I of England in the later years of her reign.

Family[edit]

Elizabeth Vernon was the granddaughter of George Vernon (d.1555), and the daughter of John Vernon (d.1592) of Hodnet, Shropshire, by Elizabeth Devereux (c.1541-c.1583) the daughter of Sir Richard Devereux (d. 13 October 1547)[1] of Weobley by his wife, Dorothy Hastings, daughter of George Hastings, 1st Earl of Huntingdon (1487–1544).[2] She was the sister of Sir Robert Vernon, Comptroller of the Household to Queen Elizabeth I, and of Susan Vernon, second wife of Sir Walter Leveson, and a first cousin of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex.

Her paternal great-grandfather, Humphrey Vernon, was the grandson of John Talbot, 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Butler, the daughter of James Butler, 4th Earl of Ormond. By her mother, Elizabeth was the great-granddaughter of Walter Devereux, 1st Viscount Hereford and his wife Lady Mary Grey, daughter of Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset and his wife Cecily Bonville. By her mother, Elizabeth was also a great-granddaughter of George Hastings, 1st Earl of Huntingdon and Lady Anne Stafford, daughter of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and his wife Lady Katherine Woodville. Both of Elizabeth's maternal grandparents descended from King Edward III.

Marriage and children[edit]

On 30 August 1598 Elizabeth married Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, the dedicatee of Shakespeare's sonnets. The marriage occurred after Elizabeth discovered she was pregnant. Upon discovering this, the Queen had both Elizabeth and her husband locked in Fleet Prison and, after their release, were never again received into her favour.

Elizabeth and Henry had several children, including:

  1. Lady Penelope Wriothesley (18 November 1598 – 16 July 1667) who married William Spencer, 2nd Baron Spencer, by whom she had issue.
  2. Lady Anne Wriothesley (born 1600) who married Robert Wallop of Farley Wallop.
  3. James Wriothesley, Lord Wriothesley (1605–1624)
  4. Thomas Wriothesley (10 March 1607 – 16 May 1667) who became the 4th Earl of Southampton and married firstly Rachel de Massue, daughter of Daniel de Massue, Seigneur de Ruvigny, by whom he had two daughters, Elizabeth, Viscountess Campden (died 1679) and Rachel, Lady Russell.

Shakespeare connection theory[edit]

A German professor of English, Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, has proposed a theory, mainly based on an apocryphic sonnet, she claims was written by William Shakespeare, and evidence from portraits, that Elizabeth Wriothesley was a lover of the poet. Her eldest daughter Penelope is, according to this theory, a child of Shakespeare. The author stresses that in this way, Lady Diana Spencer would be a descendant of William Shakespeare.[3] Questions have been raised about this theory, namely why the Earl of Southampton would have risked certain royal displeasure from the Queen by marrying Elizabeth if she was pregnant with somebody else's illegitimate child.

Elizabeth, Countess of Southampton, c.1618

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Keen & Lubbock 1954, p. 216.
  2. ^ Burke & Burke 1891, p. 546; Howell 2004.
  3. ^ (In German) Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel: Das Geheimnis um Shakespeares 'Dark Lady'. Dokumentation einer Enthüllung Darmstadt: Primus-Verlag 1999 ISBN 3-89678-141-3

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]