Monday, June 08, 2009

Question from Lovey - Rape case against the Earl of Northumberland

I have a couple of question,that I can't seem to find the answer anyone. I read that in the year of 1515 (I'm not sure about the year)That Thomas Wolsey had the Earl of Northumberland charge with raping his royal ward, and the Earl of Northumberland was found guilty,and serve time in prison for the crime. I want to know , which Earl? was it Henry Algernon Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland , Henry Percy's father? or another Earl of Northumberland ? Does anyone know who the royal wards was who was supposedly had been rape by the Earl?


PhD Historian said...

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Henry Algernon Percy (1478-1527), 5th Earl of Northumberland, had a youthful career marked by "minor brigandage." In 1505, during the reign of Henry VII and long before Wolsey became a person of power under Henry VIII, Percy was brought before the Court of Star Chamber on a charge of having abducted Elizabeth Hastings, daughter and heir of Sir John Hastings of Yorkshire. Elizabeth died while in the earl's custody, thereby depriving the Crown of her wardship.

(As an unmarried female, Elizabeth could not inherit her father's estates in her own right. Instead, the Crown had the right to exercise wardship, or legal guardianship, over her and to sell that wardship to the highest bidder. Whomever purchased Elizabeth's wardship would have had virtually complete control over her property and finances until she married, as well as control over when and to whom she was eventually wed. It was a highly profitable undertaking for both the Crown and the purchaser of her wardship.)

The earl was fined 10,000 pounds, a massive sum at the time. Half of that fine was in the form of what would today be called a bail bond, and the earl never served any significant time in prison for the affair.

The ODNB does not address explicitly the question of sexual assault or violence, but the actual court charge was not one of rape or even kidnapping. It was simply a charge of interfering with the Crown's right of wardship.

The 6th earl, also named Henry Algernon Percy, was a member of Wolsey's household in his youth, and the cardinal exercised considerable control over the young man. When the 6th earl reportedly became involved with Anne Boleyn in late 1521, Wolsey put a stop to the relationship. And although the younger Percy's life was marked by power struggles, he does not seem ever to have been involved as a defendant in a criminal action.

So from what I was able to find through just a quick scan of the ODNB, it seems that whatever you read was a bit muddled, perhaps a conflation of several separate events involving two different Percy earls of Northumblerand.

Kathy said...

I'm in the middle of reorganizing my household and don't have access to give you precise information here, but PhD Historian is correct that the charge was actually interferring with wardship.

The word rape meant just that back in Chaucerian times, only occasionally involving physical assault of any kind. More often it had to do with a virtual kidnap involving money or custody. Chaucer himself was at one point accused of rape or raptus regarding one Cecily Chaumpaigne. There are still some scholars who insist that this was a physical rape, but most believe it to have been an interference with custody issue.

The idea that the crown had the right to guardianship over orphaned minors of nobility died out slowly as did the idea that a forced bethrothal of a minor could be enforced. The word rape slowly lost those meanings and was left with it's current one.

PhD Historian said...

Kathy is absolutely correct, and I am grateful to her for pointing out what I so absentmindedly overlooked. The modern word "rape" does indeed derive from the Latin noun "raptus," which can mean anything from simple abduction to looting and robbery. The Latin verb "rapto, raptare" means "to seize and carry off or to plunder." And since the written records of legal proceedings in Tudor-era England were usualy in Latin, Henry Percy's act of seizing and carrying away Elizabeth Hastings was quite probably described using the verb, "raptare."

Further, the Oxford English Dictionary offers the following definition of the word "rape" in a sixteenth-century context: "The act of taking something by force; esp. the seizure of property by violent means; robbery, plundering." The OED indicates as well that "rape" had the meaning of violent sexual assault as early as 1425.

Rape was a capital crime in early modern England, and thus punishable by execution. Henry Percy was neither executed nor imprisoned. Whoever wrote the account that Lovey read misinterpreted "raptus" or "raptare" (i.e., rape) using the modern meaning of sexual assault rather than the contextually appropriate meaning of having abducted Miss Hastings in an effort to seize her lands and to plunder her financial resources ... not her person.

Kathy said...

PhD Historian, this just happened to be an example of a confusion of terms I was familiar with because of my study of Chaucer.

But I think it could serve as an example to all who are interested in the Tudors to be extremely wary of words from those times, because they do not necessarily have the same meaning today as they did then.

My favorite mistake in this area is when a very occasional critic says that William Shakespeare could not possibly have written the works attributed to him because he had only a grammar school education. The modern critic assumes (quite erroneously of course) that an Elizabethan grammar school was the same as a 21st century American grammar school!

Luv said...

I want to thank PhD Historian and Kathy for answering my question. In The book "Henry VIII" by historian Derek Wilson (pg83) . Wilson states that Wolsey found The Earl of Northumberland guilty of raping a royal ward, and sent him under guard to Fleet prison. But it do not state how long he was in prison. I was just wondering is that was the reason why Henry Percy's father was so afraid of Wolsey?