Francis Yaxley

(The original Edmund Blackadder .........probably!)

Richard Yaxley and his wife Anne, would have lived quite a comfortable existence in their family home at Yaxley Hall, near Eye, Suffolk. The Yaxley's occupied Yaxley Hall for three hundred years and well into the eighteenth century. They were a god-fearing family and worshipped at the Church of St. Mary, Yaxley. It is clear that the Yaxley family held high positions in the community, indeed Richard's uncle, John Yaxley was a noted Serjeant-at-law in the reign of King Henry VII. In his will of 1459 Richard requested that he be buried in the north porch of Yaxley church, 'the rest of the porch to be paved at my cost'. The slabs formerly bearing brasses to John Yaxley and his son Richard (died 1503) were to be seen in the porch floor until 1868, but were destroyed during refurbishment.

Richard Yaxley must have been extremely proud of his two sons, Robert and Francis, for Robert Yaxley, M.D. was one of only six physicians recorded in King Henry VIII's original charter (1513) to the Royal College of Physicians, as 'consiliarius' of that college in 1523 and 1526. He was also physician to Margaret Pole, (Also known as Margaret Plantaganet) countess of Salisbury (beheaded in 1541), and indeed other eminent people at Henry VIII's court. A later Robert Yaxley has versus prefixed to Coryat's 'Odcombian Banquet;' Hunters Chorus Vatum'.

Francis didn't seem to hold down a 'proper' job and his colourful career started when he was employed by the Privy Council in about 1547, possibly in the signet office. In the following year he was tasked with hiring Italian mercenaries to be deployed as soldiers in England. In order that he completed his diplomatic education he was attached to the embassy of Peter Vannes in Italy for two years from 1550. After this service he returned home to England in the Winter of 1552 and a great banquet was thrown for him where the Palsgrave made Frances Yaxley his cup-bearer. In February of 1553 he was returned to Parliament for Dunwich and admitted a student of Gray's Inn; however in April he was despatched to join Nicholas Wotton, the English ambassador in France.

 

At this juncture I feel we should look at England to see its political stance and possibly understand why Francis Yaxley was moved around and see how influential he was at the time. After Henry VIII's death in January 1547, his only son Edward VI aged nine was crowned King of England. The child king had no real authority and England was governed by men whose consistent rivalry forced a revival in baronial feuding. Edward's uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset had already declared himself 'Lord Protector' but to beheaded three years later. His place was taken by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.

During this reign, Europe was divided by religion and these so called governing men were extreme Protestants, whereas Henry VIII had kept the English Church aloof, they made it part of the Protestant Reformation which had caused Europe's divide. England had now become a potential prize by the two catholic rivals, France and Spain.

In 1553 Edward VI died aged 16 of tuberculosis and was succeeded by his Catholic sister Mary Tudor, she married Philip II of Spain which consequently gave Spain an apparent advantage in its conflict with France. Due to her religious persecutions Mary lost her support, during her reign 300 Protestants had been burnt. She died Childless in November 17, 1558.

France attempted to take control of England by using Mary Stuart (Mary Queen of Scots) the only child of James V of Scotland, Queen of France by marriage, and she was put forward as Catholic Queen of England. As a result of her husband's death she returned to Scotland, only to find her Protestant subjects were extremely hostile. Because of this hostility she sought refuge in England only to be arrested, imprisoned and executed on the grounds of being implicated in plots to murder Elizabeth I who had effectively guarded the English throne against both French and Spanish designs.

Frances Yaxley had returned to England from France early in Mary's reign and on October 3, 1555 was elected Member of Parliament for Stamford. Before March 1556 he had become Clark of the signet, and in January 1557 he was returned to parliament for Saltash. He retained his clerkship under Queen Elizabeth I and letters he received from Sir Thomas Chaloner, Viscount Montague, Sir Thomas Wharton, the Earl of Huntingdon, requesting his cooperation in the 'furtherance of their suits', gave evidence that Frances Yaxley possessed of some influence in these circles.

Whilst great things were said of Francis Yaxley, the Spanish ambassador held the view that Francis was, "a good catholic and combined a love of intrigue with an inability to keep secrets". He also said that Francis was sent to prison in 1560 for "babbling" about Elizabeth's proposed marriage to Lord Robert Dudley, however the alleged prison sentence would have to been very short because in that same year Francis Yexley was said to be promoting a plot where the Queen would marry the King of Sweden.

It is suggested that during this time that he was in league with the Countess of Lennox, who paid Francis Yaxley to glean information from the Spanish ambassador and to push the project of the marriage between between Darnley, the Countess's Son and Mary Queen of Scots. it could be true that Francis spoke freely in order to extract information so to report back to Lady Margaret Douglas (Countess of Lennox).

On February 14 1561 Francis Yaxley wrote a letter from Ipswich to Lord Robert Dudley asking for his assistance because he had been summoned to appear before the Council and about one week later Yaxley was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Fortunately he was released and in July 1565 the Spanish ambassador reported to Philip II that Francis Yaxley was going to Flanders, and thence to Scotland, he reported about Yaxley: "he is a person well acquainted with affairs here, and will be able to give the Queen of Scots a great deal of information.....they tell me he is a devoted servant to your Majesty. Francis Yaxley's work to promote the marriage of Darnley and Mary Queen of Scots was a job well done, it was she that proposed to Darnley on July 29 1565. Their wedding was celebrated at Holyrood. Click on the link relating to his murder.

I cannot help but think of Edmund Blackadder whilst looking at these exploits and wonder how close Francis Yaxley's relationship would have been to Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I, and if there was a generous purse awarded to him for the successful marriage to one of these Queens for certain a large sum of money was handed to Francis Yaxley by a monarch.

Whilst in Flanders he was employed again by the Countess of Lennox as her envoy to the continental courts, some three weeks later he set sail to Scotland and during the voyage, his ship was chased by an English man-of-war which fired upon him. However he escaped serious injury and landed in Edinburgh after a five day sailing. He immediately became Darnley's confidant and secretary, indeed Mary Queen of Scots told Francis Yaxley all her secrets and asked him to go to Philip II and place her cause at his disposal and under his protection.

Francis Yaxley's previous problem with his inability to keep secrets reared its ugly head once more and the English Government quickly learned of his mission. Whilst sailing from Dumbarton to Flanders on 16 September he reached Segovia on 20th October and was well received by Philip II, he stayed with Gonsalo Perez for a week and then set sail on his return with favourable messages and assurances of support for Mary Queen of Scots. Francis was also given a large amount of money.

He was shipwrecked in the North Sea and his body was cast upon the coast of Northumberland, still carrying the money which became subject of a diplomatic dispute between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. His body was removed and returned to his family home for burial in the Church of St. Mary, Yaxley, here the annual distribution of £5 to the poor was made from the pension endowed by Francis Yaxley in 1565.

He was married to Margaret, third daughter of Sir Henry Hastings of Bramston, Leicestershire but had no issue and bequeathed his property and interest in Yaxley Hall to his father Richard, who survived him.