Richard Bertie’s Attempt to Become Lord Willoughby d’Eresby ~ Part II

This post is a continuation of the one from September 3, which introduced my readers to Richard Bertie and his unsuccessful attempt to become Lord Willoughby d’Eresby. 


Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk (Wikipedia)

Richard Bertie married the widowed Duchess of Suffolk and had issue by her, a son named Peregrine. Bertie made a claim to the Barony of Willoughby, for his wife was the 12th Baroness Willoughby in addition to her title as duchess. Bertie’s claim considered the two Baronies of Willoughby and Eresby.  He did so in right of his wife, Catherine, as tenant of the curtesy. The claim was referred to Queen Elizabeth I, who turned it over to Lord Burghley and two other Commissioners. There was an additional claim to the same dignity by Peregrine Bertie, the son of the claimant. The commissioners made their report in favor of the son, who was accordingly admitted to the dignity, in the lifetime of his father. (Cruise, William, Esq. A Treatise on the Origin and Nature of Titles of Honor: All the Cases of Peerage, Together With the Mode of Proceedings in Claims of This Kind, London, Joseph Butterworth and Son, 1823.)

But there was more going on than a simple proceeding. For example, Henry VIII declared he would not permit a female heir to provide him his barons. Two questions were to be addressed in this claim: (1) Could a female could inherit as a right and later transmit said peerage to her heirs, a Barony in fee. (2) If she had that privilege, was her husband entitled to the barony or to style himself as a baron in her right?

In reality, little of this case was settled until 1674 when “the judges expressed an opinion that Gervas Clifton (who was summoned to Parliament in the sixth year in the reign of James I) was by virtue of the writ of summons and sitting in Parliament ‘a Peer and Baron of this kingdom, and his blood thereby ennobled,’ and that ‘his honour descended from him to Katherine, his sole daughter and heir and successively after several descents to the petitioner,’ who was his great-granddaughter. The House of Lords thereupon resolved ‘that the claimant Katherine O’Brien had right to the Barony of Clifton. Even this was a decision upon a particular case than an enunciation of a general principle. It appears, however, to have been a sufficient precedence for all subsequent cases in which the circumstances were the same, but to have left open the question of the period at which a summons to Parliament following by a sitting first operated to create an hereditary barony.” (Pike, Luke Owen. A Constitutional History of the House of Lords, from Original Sources, Burt Franklin, New York, first published in London, 1894, page 131.)

In his case, Bertie argued with another precedence. His wife Catherine was named the heir to the dukedom. At her father’s death, Catherine became the ward the King, who on 1 March 1528, sold it to his brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk. Catherine was reportedly betrothed to Suffolk’s son by his third wife, Mary Tudor. Mary Tudor died at Westhorpe on 25 June 1433, and six weeks later at the ages of 49 for Suffolk and 14 for Catherine, the pair wed. [Henry Brandon, 1st Earl of Lincoln, Suffolk’s son died in 1534. Although Suffolk was forty-nine and Catherine only fourteen, the marriage was a successful one. The Willoughby inheritance was not fully settled until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but Suffolk was able to force Sir Christopher Willoughby to relinquish possession of some of the contested Willoughby estates, and Suffolk eventually became the greatest magnate in Lincolnshire. Suffolk and Catherine had two sons, Henry Brandon, 2nd Duke of Suffolk and Charles Brandon, 3rd. Duke of Suffolk.

Lord Brandon succeeded his father as 2nd Duke of Suffolk on 22 August 1545. He and his younger brother were both minors and continued their education by going up to St John’s College, Cambridge. During an epidemic of the sweating sickness, the two youths died, Suffolk first and his younger brother about an hour later. They died at the Bishop of Lincoln’s Palace in the village of Buckden, near Huntingdon, where they had fled in an attempt to escape the epidemic.

More importantly, to Bertie’s case, Suffolk had influenced a decision in favor of his wife, who as her father’s daughter, had usurped her father’s younger brother, the male heir, after Lord Willoughby’s death in 1525. Bertie claimed that Catherine’s right had been established against her uncle’s claim, and that said uncle’s son was denied the title of Willoughby of Eresby (and assigned that of Willoughby of Parham) when he was raised to the peerage in 1547. 

More than two years passed before Bertie could secure a hearing on the matter. On 14 April 1572, Bertie writes to Lord Burghley, “I send to your Lordship by this bearer my servant (1) the bill for confirmation, having used therein the advice of Mr. Attorney General. I send also (2) a collection of such as have in the right of their wives enjoyed titles of honour; though you required but a few names, yet, I send many; … And, to prove the use of it in the Barony of Willoughby, I send (3) two Court Rolls where you shall find it in the title etc.” (British History Online. Calendar of the Cecil Papers in Hatfield House: Volume 15, 1603. Originally published by His Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1930.)

The two questions presented above were decided in opposition. Beyond dispute, it was decided that not only could a female inherit a barony, but she could transmit said barony to her heirs. However, the claim of the husband to right of her title was not upheld. The thing we must remember about is Bertie’s claim came about when there was little precedent on the books to support his claim. It was questionable then whether Richard Bertie’s claim was valid. Much debate on the issue occurred. The writ of summons to his son Peregrine, especially occurring during Richard’s own lifetime, was a landmark decision, one that was fatal to the view that a barony could be held by “the curtsey of England.” In other words, Richard Bertie could not succeed to the Barony of Willoughby d’Eresby at the same time as his son was named to that peerage. There could not be two Barons of Willoughby operating at the same time. 


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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