LEVESON, Sir Richard (1570-1605), of Lilleshall Lodge, Salop; Trentham and Parton, Staffs. and Bethnal Green, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 1570,1 o.s. of Walter Leveson† and his 1st w. Anne, da. of Sir Andrew Corbet† of Moreton Corbet, Salop.2 educ. vol. aboard Ark Royal, 1588.3 m. lic. 13 Dec. 1587, Margaret (d.1642), da. of Charles Howard†, 1st earl of Nottingham, 1ch. d.v.p.;4 1da. illegit. with Mary, da. of Sir Edward Fitton† of Gawsworth, Cheshire and w. of John Lougher.5 kntd. 27 June 1596;6 suc. fa. 1602. d. 2 Aug. 1605. sig. Richard Leveson.
The son-in-law of lord admiral Nottingham, Leveson became admiral of the Channel squadron at the age of just 28. His paternal great-grandfather, a Wolverhampton merchant, bought over 20,000 acres of former monastic properties in Shropshire and Staffordshire in the later 1530s and 1540s, including Lilleshall Lodge. This estate was enlarged by Leveson’s grandfather, who made a profitable match with the niece of a London alderman.15 However, Leveson’s father, Sir Walter, ran up debts amounting to almost £10,500 in 1591, forcing him to convey his Shropshire ironworks to his principal creditors for ten years.16 He subsequently became unhinged: thinking that his financial difficulties could be ended by murdering his daughter-in-law, he took to growing poisonous plants at Lilleshall and studying necromancy, and made one attempt on her life.17 Fearing for his inheritance and his wife’s safety, Leveson had his father imprisoned in the Fleet in 1598.
In March 1600 Sir Walter claimed to be reconciled with his son, but Leveson, then at sea, requested that he remain a prisoner ‘until my return because the manner of the enlargement may much import me both in my reputation and otherwise’.18 In desperation Sir Walter turned to the 2nd earl of Essex, who referred the matter to Henry Howard. Through Howard’s mediation, it was agreed in June 1601 that Leveson would pay off his father’s debts, which had now risen to about £12,000, and grant him a life annuity of £580 in exchange for his entire estate. In return, Sir Walter promised to swear that his lands were free from secret encumbrances,19 for his income, which Sir John Leveson* later put at less than £600 p.a., would be insufficient to settle his debts unless land was sold.20 However, these agreements never took effect, perhaps because Leveson suspected some secret plotting between his father’s sister, Mary Curzon, and Sir Walter. Indeed, his stepmother later testified that her late husband ‘did greatly affect Mary Curzon and did as much hate his son, cursing him, saying he hoped to see him hanged’.21 Leveson’s distrust was well founded, for he intercepted one of his father’s servants, who had been instructed by Sir Walter to engross a conveyance settling part of the estate on his illegitimate daughter Penelope. Leveson confiscated the deed and rewarded the servant by taking him into his own service.22
Sir Walter’s death in October 1602 did not signal the end of Leveson’s difficulties, for he was now liable for his father’s debts. Indeed, in June 1603 Leveson and his stepmother were prosecuted by Sir Julius Caesar*, who was owed £800.23 However, shortly before Sir Walter’s death, Leveson captured a Portuguese carrack, the St. Valentine of Lisbon, laden with pearls and other jewels. The queen was so delighted that she conferred £3,000 on Leveson. This sum was undoubtedly welcome, but Leveson’s finances remained precarious and he denied that he was now ‘infinitely rich’.24 Rumours that he had become wealthy nevertheless circulated, and after his death considerable evidence was assembled to indicate that the benefit he derived from the carrack significantly exceeded his official reward for its capture. Perhaps the most damning testimony was provided in 1607 by his former cabin-keeper, Walter Grey, who claimed that, before returning to England, Leveson offloaded a large quantity of goods, including 16 chests of calico, each worth £100, and 13 hundredweight of pearls. On arrival these were supposedly conveyed to the houses of Leveson’s friends and relatives. One consignment of pearls, for instance, was allegedly hidden in a barn in Sheriffhales. Grey also claimed that Leveson sold pearls to the value of £4,000 and kept many more.25 On the strength of Grey’s evidence, it was concluded that Leveson had embezzled goods worth approximately £40,000. However, Leveson’s cousin and de facto heir, Sir John Leveson, later cast serious doubt on Grey’s testimony. Michael Nicholl, who had served on the carrack voyage, recalled that Leveson had lost confidence in Grey, who was considerably in debt, and had entrusted the keeping of his cabin to William Sherwood. Another deponent stated that, shortly before he died, Leveson had given Grey some money to be rid of him.26 The most damning evidence against Grey, however, was provided by a deed which showed that Grey had been promised £450 out of the proceeds of any fine paid in connection with the carrack. Drawn up by lord treasurer Dorset, whose grandson (Sir) Edward Sackville* had married Mary Curzon, daughter of the heir-general to Sir Walter Leveson’s estate, and also by a Scottish courtier named Sir James Creighton, who had petitioned Dorset for a share of the spoils,27 the deed’s existence implied that Grey had perjured himself in order to alleviate his own financial difficulties. There was, in fact, no compelling evidence that Leveson plundered the carrack for his own gain, merely that he used some of the proceeds to reward his captains and followers. He certainly obtained several chests containing jewels, but these were given to him by the commissioners for the sale of the carrack’s goods in part payment of the reward that the queen had promised him. Had he really embezzled a vast fortune, it would not have been necessary for Sir John Leveson to sell his plate, goods and household effects after his death to settle his debts. However, the Crown remained unconvinced, and Sir John Leveson was ultimately fined £5,000.
During the queen’s final illness, Leveson was again at sea. His vice-admiral, Sir William Monson, recalled that he ‘was not beloved’ by the Privy Council whose members feared his ‘ambition’. Indeed, Monson claimed to have been secretly instructed to take command of the fleet in the event that James VI encountered any opposition to his succession. However, Monson’s statement is suspect, for it is doubtful whether a man so closely tied to the Howards and so politically insignificant was ever considered a serious threat.28 The new king certainly entertained no distrust of Leveson, for in May 1603 he appointed him a gentleman of the privy chamber.
Leveson served as a knight of the canopy at Elizabeth’s funeral.29 He was subsequently ordered to escort Thomas, Lord Grey to Winchester, to be tried for his involvement in the Bye Plot.30 On 9 Feb. 1604 he was elected for Shropshire to the first Jacobean Parliament. As son-in-law to the earl of Nottingham and one of his protégés, it is not surprising that the lord admiral deputed him to help administer the Oath of Supremacy to the rest of the House (19 March). His association with Nottingham must also explain why he was later named to the committee for the bill to naturalize Nottingham’s wife (2 Apr.) and a bill to provide for his sister-in-law Lady Kildare following the attainder of her husband Henry Brooke II†, Lord Cobham (30 May). As a naval officer he was naturally included on the committee for the bill to prohibit the export of iron ordnance (12 Apr.), and having served on the Irish coast he was naturally included on the committee to consider the relief of those who had fought in Ireland (26 March). His remaining appointments concerned Sir Robert Wroth I’s motion concerning grievances (23 Mar.), reform of religion and the abuses of the commissary courts (16 Apr.), the confirmation of letters patent granted to Sir George Home (30 May) and a measure to enable the statutes regarding the hunting of game to be better enforced (30 May). He was also added to the committee to consider a proviso to the subsidy bill (13 June). As well as these appointments, Leveson was named to two conferences concerned with wardship (26 Mar. and 22 May) and another regarding the Union (14 April). On 2 May it was complained that those who had access to the king were guilty of misrepresenting the House’s proceedings. Leveson, a member of the king’s privy chamber, stood up to answer this accusation, but Sir Francis Hastings rose at the same time, the House ruled in the latter’s favour, and Leveson was obliged to resume his seat. He proved more successful on 5 June, when he addressed the House concerning the bill for the continuance and repeal of expiring statutes, but it is not known what he said.31
During the first session, Leveson was appointed lieutenant of the Admiralty, or vice-admiral of England, which made him the most senior naval officer next to the lord admiral. In the following spring he accompanied Nottingham to Spain to ratify the Treaty of London. Before he departed he drew up a deed which conveyed his property in the event of his death to three trustees, including his distant cousin and friend Sir Robert Harley*, who were to raise £10,000 to settle his debts. That same day, 23 Mar. 1605, Leveson, whose only legitimate child was dead, drew up a second deed settling his estate on his godson Richard Leveson*, the second surviving son of Sir John Leveson, and on his illegitimate daughter Anne Leveson, alias Fitton. Leveson intended that in due course Anne should marry Richard.32 Two days later Leveson drafted his will. His half-sister Penelope, whom he had earlier prevented from receiving a share of her father’s estate, was now bequeathed £1,000. Further legacies, mainly to friends and servants, brought the total bequests to around £3,000. His executors included Sir John Leveson and Sir Robert Harley.33
Shortly after returning from Spain, Leveson stayed in the house of his friend Hugh Bunnell, next to St. Clement’s Temple Bar. From there he complained on 22 July to Sir John Leveson that ‘I have lived this 24 hours in fear of an ague, and in truth am not well’. Eleven days later, on 2 Aug., Nottingham reported him to be ‘most dangerously sick … for he is the weakest man that I ever saw and is still in the extremity of the burning fever, and now in a very great looseness’. Nottingham was heartbroken, for ‘the king shall lose a worthy servant, and myself one that I accounted rather my natural son than a son-in-law’. Leveson died later that day, attended by Nottingham’s chaplain and Sir Robert Harley.34 A few weeks later the rumour circulated that he had been poisoned while in Spain.35
Leveson had requested that he should be buried ‘as it shall please God to appoint’,36 but his executors had his embalmed corpse conveyed to St. Peter’s, Wolverhampton, where he was interred on 2 September. The cost of the funeral amounted to a staggering £1,284 0s. 6d. The bill for black mourning cloths alone came to £679 6s. 6d., while the cost of feeding and lodging the large number of mourners, many of them naval officers who had travelled from London and Kent, exceeded £300.37 A few months later Leveson’s widow, Lady Margaret, was resettled at her father’s house in Chelsea. She had been driven insane by the loss of her only child, and an anxious Nottingham had begged Robert Cecil†, earl of Salisbury, for her wardship.38 It was instead granted to her brother, Lord Howard of Effingham, though it later passed to Nottingham on Effingham’s death.39 An inventory of Leveson’s goods taken in December valued his moveable possessions at £907 3s. 9d., though they were later sold for £2,666 0s. 7d.40 A monument erected at St. Peter’s was vandalized by Cromwell’s soldiers, but a bronze statue of Leveson was kept hidden in Lilleshall church until the Restoration.41
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Andrew Thrush
- 1. C142/283/90.
- 2. N and Q, cxcvi. 63.
- 3. R.W. Kenny, Elizabeth’s Adm. 143.
- 4. London Mar. Lics. ed. J. Foster, 839; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 347.
- 5. C78/250/11.
- 6. S. and E. Usherwood, Counter-Armada, 147.
- 7. NLW, Bodewryd docs. 98; HCA 49/106, packet A, no. 64.
- 8. Staffs. Q. Sess. Rolls, III ed. S.A.H. Burne (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), 54; Staffs. Q. Sess. Rolls, V, 261-2; Hatfield House, ms 278; C66/1620.
- 9. Staffs. RO, D593/S/2/1.
- 10. Monson’s Naval Tracts I ed. M. Oppenheim (Navy Recs. Soc. xxii, 358; Monson Naval Tracts II (Navy Recs. Soc. xxiii), 21, 89, 96; APC, 1600-1, p. 344; 1601-4, pp. 384, 451.
- 11. Harl. Misc. iii. 425.
- 12. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 92.
- 13. Harl. 6166, f. 68v; CJ, i. 197a.
- 14. NLW, Carreglwyd ms I/699.
- 15. VCH Salop, iv. 130-1; xi. 153; VCH Staffs. vi. 79.
- 16. Staffs. RO, D593/C/8/2/8.
- 17. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 401-2.
- 18. Ibid. 407; Staffs. RO, D868/1/8.
- 19. Staffs. RO, D593/E/3/10/3.
- 20. Staffs. RO, D593/E/3/6/2, unnumb. item (draft petition to Privy Council).
- 21. Staffs. RO, D593/E/3/10/1, unnumb. item, breviat of defence depositions in Leveson v. Sheppard.
- 22. STAC 8/197/31, f. 2 (stray from STAC 8/205/26).
- 23. C2/Jas.I/C16/39.
- 24. Staffs. RO, D868/1/15.
- 25. E178/4429; E134/5Jas.I/Mich. 41 (stray from the former).
- 26. Staffs. RO, D503/E/3/6/3/3, unfol.
- 27. Staffs. RO, D593/C/9/3, unnumb. item (Sir John Leveson’s acct. bk.), unfol.