Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Wriothesley, Henry, third earl of Southampton

(1573–1624)

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Entry by Park Honan

Copyright © Oxford University Press 2019
Reproduced with permission of the Licensor through PLSclear.

Published in print: 23 September 2004

Published online: 23 September 2004

This version: 04 October 2012


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Wriothesley, Henry, Third Earl of Southampton (1573–1624), courtier and literary patron, was born at Cowdray House near Midhurst in Sussex on 6 October 1573. He was the third child and only surviving son of Henry Wriothesley, second earl of Southampton (bap. 1545, d. 1581), and his wife, Mary Browne (b. in or before 1552, d. 1607), daughter of the first Viscount Montague. His parents had a stormy marriage, and when the boy was six they separated, largely because the father—a fervent Catholic who had spent eighteen months confined in the Tower of London—accused his young wife of adultery with a commoner named Donesame. In a long, rambling, somewhat incoherent letter to her father, the countess claimed that as for ‘donesame his coming hither’ for a secret tryst at the family's Dogmersfield estate, this could ‘never’ be proved (Akrigg, 14), but her husband was obdurate, unforgiving, and convinced of his own rightness. Serving as a go-between for his difficult parents, the young Henry Wriothesley carried a letter from the countess to his father, after which he was forbidden to see his mother.

The angry second earl, according to Father Foley, went briefly to prison again for his Catholic practices in consequence of the anti-recusancy act of 16 January 1581 (Foley, 3.659). That ordeal worsened his already uncertain health, and two days before his son's eighth birthday, the father died: thus on 4 October 1581 the boy became third earl of Southampton. The troubled state of his parents' marriage, the boy's enforced separation from his mother, and no doubt what he had heard said about her, contributed to Southampton's early distrust of women, and for years he was to turn primarily to men for stimulus or affection. He did not come to be on easy terms with his mother, who remained a widow during nearly all of his minority; but on 2 May 1594 she married Sir Thomas Heneage, vice-chamberlain of the royal household, who died within a year, and in 1598 she took as a third husband a man younger than herself, Sir William Hervey, who had seen army service in the Lowlands and is sometimes thought to be the ‘Mr W. H.’ in Thomas Thorpe's dedication to Shake-Speares Sonnets (1609). Southampton's mother died in November 1607.

OXFORD DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY

Thomas Wriothesley

First Earl of Southampton (1505-1550)

Entry by Michael A.R. Graves
Copyright © Oxford University Press 2019 
Reproduced with permission of the Licensor through PLSclear. 

ODNB

Henry Wriothesley

Second Earl of Southampton (1545-1581)

Entry by J. G. Elzinga 
Copyright © Oxford University Press 2019 
Reproduced with permission of the Licensor through PLSclear. 

ODNB

Henry Wriothesley

Third Earl of Southampton (1573-1624)

Entry by Park Honan
Copyright © Oxford University Press 2019 
Reproduced with permission of the Licensor through PLSclear. 

ODNB

Thomas Wriothesley

Fourth Earl of Southampton (1608-1667)

Entry by David L. Smith
Copyright © Oxford University Press 2019 
Reproduced with permission of the Licensor through PLSclear. 

ODNB