BLOUNT, Charles (1563-1606), of Canford Magna, Dorset and Wanstead, Essex.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 1563, 2nd s. of James, 6th Lord Mountjoy, by Catherine, da. of Thomas Lee of St. Oswalds, Yorks. educ.Winchester scholar 1573; Oxf.; Clifford’s Inn; M. Temple 1579. m. 26 Dec. 1605, Lady Penelope Devereux (d. 7 July 1607), da. of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, div. w. of Robert Rich, 3rd Baron Rich, 2s. 2da. all illegit. 1 posth. ch. Kntd. 1587; KG 1597; suc. e. bro. as 8th Lord Mountjoy 1594; cr. Earl of Devonshire 1603.

Offices Held

Capt. in the Netherlands 1585, 1586; 1587; warden, New forest 1588 or 1589; capt. and high steward, Portsmouth 1594, 1604; high steward, Winchester 1595; jt. ld. lt. Hants 1596, 1603; eccles. commr. Hants 1597; lt.-gen. in London 1599; ld. deputy, Ireland 1599, ld. lt. 1603; PC 1603; master of the ordnance 1603; commr. for the trial of Sir Walter Ralegh 1603; jt. ld. lt. Hants 1604; commr. to treat with Spain 1604, to execute the office of earl marshal 1605; gen. of forces raised to suppress rebels 1605.1


Camden described Blount as ‘a person famous for conduct, and so eminent in courage and learning that in these respects he had no superior, and but few equals’. It was his youthful ambition to ‘rebuild the ancient house’, and to retrieve the declining fortunes of his family. In this he would have succeeded but for a lack of legitimate heirs.2

Blount was tall, dark, and of ‘comely proportion’, with beautiful hands and large black eyes, careful and elegant in his dress. Cheerful and amiable, modest and reticent, a ‘close concealer of secrets’, he smoked, and kept a good table. In his behaviour he was courtly and grave, mild in manner, and slow to anger. By nature he liked ‘retiredness’, in the select company of a few friends with whom to enjoy the comfort of a richly furnished house, the pleasures of study and the amusement of riding, fishing and games. Still, ‘he much affected glory and honour’, and was ‘frugal in gathering and saving’, in his later years being inclined to avarice.3

Blount was young and apparently ‘not well grounded’ when he first came from Oxford to London with the idea of becoming a lawyer. Besides studying law, he spent his leisure hours with scholars able to direct him and gradually established his own reputation as a scholar. He learnt to read French and Italian, and studied history, cosmography, mathematics and natural philosophy. Upon divinity he could converse with skill and learning. As a young man he was ‘addicted to popery’, but eventually conformed to the established religion.4

Queen Elizabeth noticed him immediately when, ‘much about the age of twenty’, he first went to court. She subjected him to ‘an inquisition with the eye of Majesty fixed upon him’, then, seeing his confusion, gave him her hand to kiss, saying she would bethink herself how to do him good. This was ‘his inlet, and the beginnings of his grace’—grace from which he never fell. His early favour in her eyes led to a duel with Essex, in which Essex was wounded. While Elizabeth was anxious to keep Blount at court, he was chafing to be away on active service.5

In September 1585 he began his military career as a captain in the Netherlands under Sir John Norris, to whom he was devoted. A few weeks later he received a bullet wound in the thigh, which troubled him at times for the rest of his life. Though he was anxious to rejoin his company, the Queen gave him ‘a flat denial’. Still, he spent several months at war in 1586 and 1587, was present when Philip Sidney received his fatal wound at Zutphen, and was knighted by Leicester at Flushing.6

During the Armada campaign Blount served on the Rainbow as a volunteer under Lord Henry Seymour. For several more years the Queen strove to keep him at court and, besides his regular pay, in 1592 he received a sum of £400. The following April the Queen directed that he should receive £200 annually, during pleasure. But, still restless, in 1593 he stole over with Norris to Brittany. Finally the Queen began to ‘take his decessions for contempts’, and confined him to the court and to her presence. The following January she employed him in England as captain of Portsmouth, where he devoted much time to the fortifications. In 1597 he accompanied Essex to the Azores, and, on the Queen’s wishes was made lieutenant of the land forces and one of the council of war. In the Earl’s instructions he was described as ‘a noble, wise man’, and in a letter to Essex before they sailed, Elizabeth saluted ‘faithful Mountjoy’ with her great favour. During the expedition he wrote frequently to Robert Cecil, and a friendship grew between them.7

Between his campaigns, Blount was returned to three Parliaments. It was easy for him to obtain a seat, his brother William Lord Mountjoy and the Marquess of Winchester owning jointly Bere Alston and St. Ives, Cornwall. In 1584 Blount at first intended to sit for Bere Alston himself, but withdrew at some stage, and finally represented St. Ives. He represented Bere Alston in 1586 and 1593. The only mention found of his participating in the business of the House is his membership of a large committee appointed to take the Commons’ answer to the Lords on 3 Mar. 1593 to the effect that it was against the privileges of the Commons to have a conference with the Lords over the subsidy. On 23 Mar. and 2 Apr. 1593 the burgesses for Devon constituencies were appointed to committees concerning kerseys. After succeeding his brother in 1594, he became a parliamentary patron both at Bere Alston and at Portsmouth, where, as high steward, he was able in 1597 to nominate one of the two Members.8

In October and November 1598 Mountjoy’s name was widely canvassed as lord deputy of Ireland, Essex opposing the appointment on the grounds that Mountjoy had small experience of martial affairs, was ‘too bookish’, had too few followers and too small an estate. When Essex obtained the post Mountjoy did not go with him, but no quarrel arose between them. On the contrary, Mountjoy became dangerously involved in the Earl’s personal fortunes, and went so far as to intrigue with the King of Scots on his behalf. This disloyalty seems great, considering the Queen’s favour towards him, but for some reason his complicity, of which there can be no doubt, was overlooked. Next, in spite of his disinclination for the task, Mountjoy was sent to Ireland in place of Essex. When he learnt of Essex’s fatal rising he prepared a ship in Dublin Bay in which to flee to France, not realising that the authorities were suppressing the evidence against him. By the time he returned to England in June 1603—bringing the rebel Tyrone to submit in person to King James I—he was at the height of his career, and received all the honour and recognition to which he had aspired, including grants of lands in Ireland, manors in England, Exchequer lands and lands belonging to the duchy of Lancaster. He continued to supervise Irish affairs for the rest of his life, took part in diplomatic negotiations, and was active at court, joining in the pleasures and progresses of the King. In 1605 he was one of the commissioners to sign the confession of Thomas Winter after the Gunpowder plot, and was appointed to suppress any subsequent rebellion.9

These last years of his life were marred by ill health and domestic sorrow. For many years he had loved Penelope Rich, sister of Essex and Stella in the sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney. The precise nature of her relations with Sidney and the origins of her relationship with Mountjoy are uncertain. Probably she and Mountjoy wanted to marry by 1581 when her guardian, the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, forced her to marry the wealthy 3rd Baron Rich. Certainly their intimacy dates at least from 1590. After Mountjoy’s return from Ireland they lived together openly at Wanstead with their five children. This situation was generally condoned, and Penelope served at court as mistress of the Queen’s bedchamber. But when, in 1605—one month after her husband had divorced her in the ecclesiastical courts—Mountjoy (now Devonshire) persuaded his chaplain William Laud to marry them, a scandal ensued. Devonshire laboured with all his learning to excuse himself, and his former secretary, Moryson, believed that the distress contributed to his illness and early death. But he was not disgraced: the following March he was excused attendance in the Lords because he was waiting upon the King. Since his return from Ireland, Devonshire had suffered from ill health. In 1603 or 1604 he confided to Cecil that he feared he had some ‘desperate sickness’, and was therefore resting at Wanstead. He also complained of his ‘old fury ... the headache’. He was ill in the autumn of 1605 and again early in 1606. In March he contracted an infection of the lungs and died at Savoy House on 3 Apr., being buried in Westminster abbey. Among tributes paid to his memory were some by the poets of whom he was a patron. In his will Devonshire provided for his wife, their five children and a sixth, apparently born posthumously, though it would seem to have died in infancy. Being very wealthy, he set up a trust to administer his vast possessions in the counties of Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Leicester, Northampton and Worcester. The trustees were Sir William Godolphin, Sir Edward Blount, Joseph Earth, John Wakeman—who were also named among the executors—and Henry Berkeley. Other executors were Lord Danvers and Humphrey Maye. Besides the executors and trustees, the Earls of Suffolk, Southampton and Salisbury were made overseers.10

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.


  • 1. F. M. Jones, Mountjoy, passim; C. B. Falls, Mountjoy; 1st bk. of ordinances, Winchester, f. 286; CP, ix. 343 seq.; PCC 51 Stafford.
  • 2. J. G. Nichols, Progresses Jas. I, i. 38-39n; Falls, 13.
  • 3. Fynes Moryson, Itinerary (1907), ii. 261 seq.; Falls, 20.
  • 4. Moryson, loc. cit.; Falls, 21, 29.
  • 5. Naunton, Fragmenta Regalia, 57; Jones, 23.
  • 6. Lansd. 78, f. 138 seq.; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 588; CSP For. 1585-6, pp. 25, 85, 120, 289; 1586-7, p. 109; Naunton, 58.
  • 7. HMC Hatfield, vi. 120; vii. 152, 319, 373, 443; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 357; 1595-7, pp. 203, 205, 434, 441, 453; Naunton, 58; Falls, 34-5, 81.
  • 8. OR, i. 413; D’Ewes, 486, 507, 513; Neale, Commons, 178, 202.
  • 9. DNB ; Moryson, loc. cit.; Letters of Robert Cecil (Cam. Soc. lxxxviii), 90; Naunton, 59; Jones, 95, 100-1; HMC Hatfield, xv. 138, 244, 245; xviii. 513; CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 83, 227, 480; CSP Ven. 1603-7, pp. 59, 114, 155, 178-9, 293, 301; R. Winwood, Mems. ii. 173; Nichols, Progresses Jas. I, i. 515, 524, 584 seq.; Moryson, pt. 2, bk. i. ch. i. p. 296.
  • 10. Falls, 62-3, 226-7; Jones, 180; HMC Hatfield, xvi. 236, 430; xviii. 117-18; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 234; Chamberlain Letters ed. McClure, i. 226; PCC 51 Stafford.