By Gillian Bagwell
When “Blood Mary” Tudor died and Elizabeth succeeded her as queen, one of the first things she did was to name Sir William St. Loe captain of her personal yeoman guard and give him a life annuity of 100 marks and several lucrative offices, including Chief Butler of England and Chief Butler of Wales.
Sir William had already been at Elizabeth’s side for a long time. When she was nineteen, her brother Edward VI had put him in charge of her security and made his daughter Mary one of her six maids of honor. When Edward died, and Jane Grey was briefly queen, William’s father raised an army at Jane’s command, which included two of his other sons, and set out to defend her claim against Mary Tudor. Fortuitously, when those chaotic days ended with Mary on the throne, he escaped punishment.
Sir William put himself in an even more dangerous position during the Wyatt Rebellion, whose plotters, opposed to Queen Mary’s Catholicism and her planned marriage to King Philip of Spain, intended to put Elizabeth on the throne in place of Mary. Thomas Wyatt sent a messenger to ask Elizabeth if she would go along with the plan, and it’s likely that William personally conveyed her favorable response. For either of them to be found complicit would have meant execution for treason, and Elizabeth trusted William with her life in sending him to say if she would cooperate. There was nothing in writing, and when the plot was discovered, both of them escaped conviction, though William spent time in the Tower and was questioned.
William was with Elizabeth at Hatfield House where she learned that Mary had died and she was queen. And Bess of Hardwick was probably among the courtiers who began to flock there in anticipation, so it’s likely she met him there if she didn’t know him already.
It was natural that once she became queen, Elizabeth rewarded William for his faithful service. He was close by her at her coronation, and as Chief Butler, gave the queen the first cup of wine at the banquet afterward. She authorized him to commission an expensive suit of armor from Erasmus Kerckenar, the royal armorer. It was she who set the date of August 27, 1559 for William’s wedding to Bess, and she may have been present. Soon after, she made Bess one of her ladies of the privy chamber, her highest ranking attendants other than ladies of the bedchamber.
Bess’s first husband had been little more than a child, and her second had been old enough to be her father. William St. Loe was about ten years older than she, vigorous, and in the prime of his very active manhood. From their correspondence and everything else that is known about their marriage, it seems that he was the love of her life. But Bess was destined to be widowed again. And William, concerned about what would happen to her if he died suddenly, had made a will leaving everything he owned to Bess and her heirs forever. So upon his death in 1565, Bess, who had already inherited money and property from her first two husbands, was very wealthy and could easily have lived independently for the rest of her life. But she was a very desirable widow, and before long, she had many suitors and a choice to make.
Gillian Bagwell’s novel about Bess of Hardwick, Venus in Winter, will be released on July 2. To find links to Gillian’s posts on Bess’s other husbands and other subjects related to the book, please follow her on Twitter, @GillianBagwell, and on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/gillianbagwell, and visit her website, http://www.gillianbagwell.com