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Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland

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Title: Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland  
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Subject: Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland, Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland, Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland, Thomas Harriot, Thomas Percy (Gunpowder Plot)
Collection: 1564 Births, 1632 Deaths, 16Th-Century Astronomers, 16Th-Century English People, 16Th-Century Scientists, 17Th-Century Astronomers, 17Th-Century English People, 17Th-Century Scientists, Deaf Royalty and Nobility, Earls in the Peerage of England, Earls of Northumberland, English Alchemists, English Astronomers, Knights of the Garter, People of the Tudor Period, People with Speech Impediments, Percy Family, Prisoners in the Tower of London
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Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland

The Earl of Northumberland
Spouse(s) Lady Dorothy Devereux
Noble family House of Percy
Father Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland
Mother Katherine Neville
Born 27 April 1564
Tynemouth Castle, England
Died 5 November 1632(1632-11-05) (aged 68)
Petworth House, England
Quartered arms of Sir Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, KG

Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland KG (27 April 1564 – 5 November 1632) was an English nobleman. He was a grandee and one of the wealthiest peers of the court of Elizabeth I. Under James I, Northumberland was a long-term prisoner in the Tower of London. He is known for the circles he moved in as well as for his own achievements. He acquired the sobriquet The Wizard Earl (also given to Gerald FitzGerald, 11th Earl of Kildare), from his scientific and alchemical experiments, his passion for cartography, and his large library. His mild deafness and slight speech impediment did not prevent him from becoming an important intellectual and cultural figure of his generation.


  • Early life 1
  • Catholic sympathiser 2
  • In the Tower 3
  • Intellectual interests and associates 4
  • References 5
  • Notes 6

Early life

He was born at Tynemouth Castle in Northumberland, England, the son of Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland, whom he succeeded in 1585. He was brought up a Protestant, as his father had been, taking instruction from the vicar of Egremont. This did not prevent suspicions in later life, particularly when he associated with Charles Paget, that he was a crypto-Catholic.[1] Around 1586, he first employed the artist Nicolas Hilliard paying 60 shillings for his portrait.[2]

Although his earldom was in the north of England, Northumberland also had estates in the south at Petworth House in Sussex and also at Syon House in Middlesex, acquired by his marriage to Lady Dorothy Devereux (sister of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex) in 1594.

They had four children:

Through his eldest daughter Dorothy, Countess of Leicester, he is an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales. Though it did produce a male heir, Algernon, the marriage was not successful, and the couple separated after a time, despite efforts by the Queen, who was fond of Dorothy, to reconcile them.

Catholic sympathiser

The Percy family was still largely Catholic, while Northumberland was at least nominally Protestant. When it became clear that the Protestant James VI of Scotland was likely to succeed Elizabeth, Northumberland sent Thomas Percy, a recent Catholic convert, on a secret mission to James's court three times in 1602. He said that English Catholics would accept James as king if he reduced the persecution of Catholics. Northumberland employed Thomas Percy as a rent-collector at Syon House. Thomas was the great-grandson of the 4th Earl of Northumberland, but was unscrupulous, with 34 charges of dishonesty brought against him. Henry wrote to James "It were a pity to lose a good Kingdom for not tolerating a mass in a corner". Through Thomas Percy, Henry received loosely-worded assurances of religious tolerance from James.[3][4]

Shortly before James's accession to the English throne in 1603, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury through Lord Henry Howard particularly warned the king against Henry Brooke, 11th Baron Cobham, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Northumberland.[5] This theory of the "diabolical triplicity" rested on innuendo, about the occult interests supposedly cultivated by the intellectual circles led by Percy and Raleigh, and possibly on the traitorous intent suggested only by rumours from the 1580s that Percy would marry Arbella Stuart.[6][7] Brooke led the Main Plot against James, and Raleigh soon lost his freedom. Northumberland, on the other hand, was appointed to the Privy Council.

Thomas Percy went on to become one of the five conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. When the plot was discovered, Percy fled and was besieged at Holbeache House in Warwickshire. On 8 November 1605, a marksman shot dead both Robert Catesby and Thomas Percy with a single bullet. As a result, the Earl of Northumberland was suspected of being part of the plot and spent the next 17 years as a prisoner in the Tower of London. He also paid a fine of £30,000. His life was spared, largely because it was accepted that he had planned to be present at the fatal meeting of Parliament, which was strong evidence of his innocence of any direct involvement or knowledge of the Plot.

In the Tower

Still a rich man, Northumberland made himself comfortable in the Tower of London. He took over Martin Tower, and had a covered-over bowling alley installed. Raleigh, who preceded him to the Tower with a death sentence hanging over him, he saw regularly. From 1616, Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset and Frances Carr, Countess of Somerset were inmates, and he was on social terms with them. Frances promoted the marriage of his second daughter Lucy Percy to James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle, while as a father he disapproved and required Lucy to reside with him; but Frances outwitted him.[8]

He met friends while in the Tower;[9] these included Thomas Harriot. With Raleigh they discussed advanced scientific ideas and smoked tobacco.

Intellectual interests and associates

Because of his interest in scientific experiments and his library, Northumberland acquired the nickname "The Wizard Earl". The library was one of the largest in England at the time. He was a patron to Thomas Harriot, Nicholas Hill, Robert Hues, Nathaniel Torporley and Walter Warner.[1][10] The astrologer John Dee, nearby Syon House at Mortlake, was also a friend of Henry, and their circles overlapped.[11] Harriot had been a navigational tutor to Ralegh and his captains. From 1598 (or possibly from 1607) Harriot lived at Syon House. There he used a telescope to make a map of the moon several months before Galileo did the same. He may have been the first person to observe sunspots.

Peele wrote a poem The Honour of the Garter, dedicated to Northumberland and for the occasion of his admission to the Order of the Garter, on 26 June 1593.

Northumberland had also connections to the literati.

Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Lord Hunsdon
Captain of the Gentlemen Pensioners
Succeeded by
The Earl of Suffolk
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Henry Percy
Earl of Northumberland
Succeeded by
Algernon Percy
Baron Percy
(descended by acceleration)

  1. ^ a b Percy, Henry (1564-1632) (DNB00)
  2. ^ Batho, G. R., ed., Household Papers of Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, Camden Society, (1962), 64-65.
  3. ^ Alice Hogge, God's Secret Agents (2005), pp. 303-5.
  4. ^ Gerald Brenan, William Alexander Lindsay, A History of the House of Percy (1902), vol. ii p. 81.
  5. ^ Christopher Lee, 1603: A Turning Point in British History (2003), p. 101.
  6. ^ Robert Lacey, Sir Walter Raleigh p. 274.
  7. ^ Sarah Gristwood, Arbella, England's Lost Queen (2003), p. 109.
  8. ^ Anne Somerset (1997), Unnatural Murder: Poison at the Court of King James I, p. 429 and p. 433.
  9. ^ Gordon Batho, The Education of a Stuart Nobleman, British Journal of Educational Studies, 1957
  10. ^ Pyle, pp. 646-8, article Percy, Henry, 9th Earl of Northumberland.
  11. ^ Peter J. French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (1984), p. 62 and pp. 171-2.
  12. ^ Millar MacLure, Christopher Marlowe: The Critical Heritage (1995), p. 39.
  13. ^ Patrick Gerard Cheney, The Cambridge Companion to Christopher Marlowe (2004), p. 282.
  14. ^ Park Honan, Christopher Marlowe: Poet and Spy,pp. 235-241 and p. 280.
  15. ^ David L. Edwards (2001), John Donne: Man of Flesh and Spirit, p. 255.
  16. ^ Frances Yates, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (2001 edition), p. 169.


  • Andrew Pyle (editor) (2000), Dictionary of Seventeenth Century British Philosophers


In [16]


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