7.2.4. Oxford and the Pirates, April 1576


Ladite Royne d’Angleterre a aussy esté merveilleusement irritée de ce que le comte d’Auxfort, revenant d’Italye, gendre du grand thresaurier et des premiers Comptes de ce pays cy, a este mis tout nud et vollé jusques a la chemise, avecques ung fort mauvais traictement et en danger de sa vie, s’il n’eust esté cognu par ung Escossoys.

(Seigneur de Mauvissière to King Henri III, April 21, 1574)


N-aked we landed out of Italy,
I-nthral'd by Pirates men of no regard;
H-orror and death assail'd Nobility,
I-f Princes might with cruelty be scar'd.
L-o thus are excellent beginnings hard.

(Nathaniel Baxter [1], Sir Philip Sidney's Ouránia, 1606)


HAMLET. Ere we were two days at sea, a pirate of very warlike appointment gave us chase. Finding oursselves too slow of sail, we put up a compell’d valor, and in the grapple I boarded them on the instant they got clear of our ship, so I alone became their prisoner. They have dealt with me like thieves of mercy, but they knew what they did: I  am to do a good turn for them. They have dealt with me like thieves of mercy; but they knew what they did: I am to do a good turn for them.

(Prince Hamlet, IV/6)


 KING. [reads] 'High and Mighty, -You shall know I am set naked on your kingdom. Tomorrow shall I beg leave to see your kingly eyes; when I shall (first asking your pardon thereunto) recount the occasion of my sudden and more strange return.
What should this mean? Are all the rest come back?
Or is it some abuse, and no such thing?
LAERTES. Know you the hand?
KING. 'Tis Hamlet's character. 'Naked!'
And in a postscript here, he says 'alone.'

(Prince Hamlet, IV/7)



Dr. Valentin Dale, the English ambassador in Paris, noticed the coming departure of Oxford to England in his letter from April 10, 1576 to Lord Burghley: “I am right glad that I have occasion to send these letters by my Lord of Oxford, unto whom I find myself much beholden.” [2]


Acts of the Privy Council of England, April 15, 1576 [3]

The same day Mr Beale[4] was dispatched towards the Low Country upon occasion of a spoil committed upon th’ Earl of Oxford at the seas in his passage, and for other injuries done by them of Flushing against divers of her Majesty’s subjects, according to instructions remaining in the hands of Mr Secretary Walsingham. A letter to th’ Earl of Oxford signifying what their Lordships had done in respect of that injury done unto him, that Mr Beale should come unto him to be informed of the manner of the outrage and the particulars of his losses, and either to deliver him perfect instructions or to send some servant of his with him that know his stuff and whereof he made most account. For his dispatch there were signed by their Lordships sundry letters of credit for Mr Beale, as to the Prince of Orange and the Admiral of Flushing, and the Governor of Middelburg.


Lord Burghley to Sir Francis Walsingham, April 16, 1576 [5]

I have perused all your letters and memorials for Mr Beale concerning his voyage into Zeeland, and I do so well allow of the whole course therein taken by my Lords, as I do both with heart and hand sign them, And as I wrote yesterday, I found it hard to make a good distinction betwixt anger and judgment for my Lord of Oxford’s misusage, so surely, when I look into the universal barbarism of the Prince’s forces of the Flushingers, which are only a rabble of common pirates, or worse, and that make no difference whom they outrage, I do mistrust of any good issue to the cause, though of itself it be to be favoured. Yet as it is said bonam causam male agendo periisse [A good cause may be killed by bad proceeding], I humbly thank all my Lords for the regard of my Lord of Oxford, in whose person surely her Majesty and the realm hath taken disgrace, and if the Prince shall not yield to hang some of the principal for such a robbery, I must say, howsoever her Majesty shall bend herself for the public cause, she ought in justice otherwise to see it revenged. For if justice be denied in such a notorious case, all laws betwixt mere [pure] princes do warrant a proceeding otherwise to make an example of avenge. And surely, if Mr Beale shall speak with the Prince, he may do well to advise him to think that such an outrage as this is, cannot take end without more offence to him and his than may be the hanging of 5 or 6 such thieves, as, if he were rid of an hundred of them his cause would prosper better and his friends would increase, which if he shall by subterfuge in answer delay, he will feel shall neither prosper, nor yet his friends remain obliged to him as they have. You see my anger leadeth my judgment. And yet truly I am not hereto moved more for particular than for the public.

I need add nothing to your writings. Mr Beale is wise, and I pray him, if my name be of any value, to use it to the Prince, as feeling myself in the person of the Earl of Oxford interessed with this outrage, and so also expecting the rather some honourable amends by justice in executing of the pirates. 16 Aprilis 1576.

Your assured friend, W. Burghley

 (Relations politiques des Pays-Bas et de l'Angleterre, sous le règne de Philippe II, publiés par Kervyn de Lettenhove, Tome VIII. Bruxelles 1889, p. 340)


Lord Burleigh, les comtes de Sussex et de Leicester et le Secrétaire Walsingham au prince d'Orange.


Monsieur, D'autant plus que nous vous avons monstré et porté d'honneur et d'affection comme au prince que nous estimons pour lʼadvancement de la cause commune de la Religion, d'autant plus aussy pour le regard particulier de vous-mesmes, il nous vient extrêmement à regret que la Majesté de la Royne nostre souveraine aye occasion si juste de se sentir tellement offencée qu'elle est à raison des continuelles pilleries et excès qui se comettent journellement par des gens de delà, qui s'avouent de vostre aucthorité, sur les subjects de Sa Majesté: lesquels aussy, combien que par cy-devant ils ayent esté bien fort bien affectionnés et comme voués au faict particulier de vous-mesmes, se resentent tellement néantmoins de ces injures et oultrages que non-seulement ils se contentent de s'aliéner quasi tolallement de vous et de vostre faict, mais aussi ne laissent d'en murmurer contre Sa Majesté et contre ceulx qui ont le maniement des affaires soubs elle, en ce qu'il ne leur est pourveu de remède, mais plustost (comme ils disent) pour ce que tels oultrages ne sont point vengés par Sa Majesté: chose, Monsieur, que vous pouvez bien de vous-mesmes peser de quelle conséquence ce seroit que les subjects de Sa Majesté continuassent en ce mescontentement et qui nous faict par ces présentes vous prier et quant et quant conseiller (pour le bien que vous pouvez espérer à vos affaires en particulier et pour l'affection que vous estes tenu de porter à Sa Majesté), que vueillez promptement pourveoir à ce que ces déportements tant oultrageux ne se facent plus, et considérer que ces gens tant desbordés et comme barbares de Flusshingue, continuants leurs immanités, ne peuvent que vous rendre odieux non-seulement à nous autres de par deçà, mais aussi à toutes nations de la chrestiennté, dont non-seulement la cause de la Religion viendroit en scandale et décadence, mais aussi vostre faict particulier seroit quasi entièrement gasté. Il n'est pas question de vous en dire davantage: seulement nous vous prions derechef d'y penser et donner ordre promptement et à bon escient, et que cela puisse apparoistre tant à nous qui sommes de vos amis qu'aussi à tout le monde. Et à tant, Monsieur, prions Nostre-Seigneur Dieu vous conduyre tellement en vos actions à ce que le tout soit à l'honneur et gloire de son nom.

Escript à Westmester, ce xvj me d'avril 1576.


(Relations politiques des Pays-Bas et de l'Angleterre, sous le règne de Philippe II, publiés par Kervyn de Lettenhove, VIII, 1889, p. 341-42.)

Lord Burghley, the Earls of Sussex and Secretary Walsingham to The Prince of Orange



the more we have shown you reverence and affection, as a Prince whom we value highly for reasons of belief as well as your own character, do we most highly regret that Her Majesty, The English Queen, for good reason, must feel defied by the continued raids and attacks upon her subjects, which are carried out by people who appeal to your authority. Her Majesty’s subjects, most wholeheartedly devoted to your cause as they to date were, thus suffer the affront and insult of not only being wholly estranged from you and your cause, but also desist not in murmuring against Her Majesty and the servants of the State, because they are unable to provide redress – and because (as they say) such insults are not being avenged by Her Majesty. The carry of this matter, Monsieur, you can only imagine for yourself, should Her Majesty’s subjects remain in this state of discontent – it is this that prompts us to urgently ask you (in respect of the good of your own affairs), to take care to stop this insolent intemperance, and to be mindful that these people of Flushing, whose conduct is barbaric, if they do continue with their inhuman actions, bring discredit to you not only at home, but in all Christian nations, in which the religious background is being scandalised, and your national concern is dropping. More need not be said: we only ask of you to decide swiftly and emphatically, so that your command be soon known by us, your Friends, and across the world. And with this, Monsieur, we ask God, Our Lord, to assist you in your decisions, so that they do justice to the honour and glory of His name. 

Written in Westminster, 16th April 1576.


Oxford arrives at Dover on 20 April 1576.


 Michel de Castelnau, seigneur de Mauvissière à Henri III, roi de France [6]

Sire. Ceste-cy sera pour dire a Vostre Ma{ges}téque j’ay receu celles qu’ il luy a pleu m’escrire du Xe de ce moys, qui me sont venues bien a propos pour le long temps qu’il y avoit que je n’en avois point eu, et en attendant que je voye plus clair et approfondisse dadventaige ung mescontentement extreme qu’il semble que la Royne d’Angleterre vostre bonne seur et aultres de son conseil veulent prendre contre le prince d’ Orenges pour les excessives voleries et depredations qui se font ordinairement par les siens, sans espargner nonplus les Anglois que les Espagnolz, dont elle demeure si mescontente, que l’on m’a dict qu’elle s’en irreloit prendre à ceulx qui luy avoyent conseillé de favoriser led{ite} Prince d’Orenge, laquelle avec propos fort aigres a repeté ce que plusieurs foys avoit dict en colere, que, plus elle alloit avant, moings elle estimoit et desiroit de favoriser ceula qui estoient rebelles à leurs princes disant que d’eulx ne venoit que toute meschanceté et trahisons, et plusieurs autres desdaings et parolles où elle a este merveilleusement confortée par ceula qui tiennent le party d’Espaigne, et m’a l’en asseuré pour certain que Monsieur de Walsingham s’en trouve en grand peine, d’aultant que c’est luy qui a aydé et deffendu les affaires dud{ite} prince d’Orenge plus que nul aultre de ce royaume. Dont ses ennemys luy veulent jeter le chat aux jambes et imposer, ou qu’il particippe au butin, ou qu’il a pensions et estatz dud{ite} prince d’Orenges. Mais je croy qu’il n‘y a a rien que la seulle haine qu’il porte aux Espagnolz et la grande volonté qu’il a d’advancer sa religion qui luy ait tant faict embrasser cest affaire. Son beau frere le sieur Beale, partira demain pour s’en aller a la Flessingue et voir led{ite} prince d’Orenge, pour leur faire des remonstrances et des measses de la part de lad{ite} Royne d’Angleterre, telles qu’ilz s’en trouveront mal s’ilz ne font promptement raison de ce qu’elle leur demande, et qu’ilz ne rendent tout ce qu’elle leur demande, et qu’ilz ne rendent tout ce qu’ilz ont peins et pillé sur ses subjectz, out aultrement qu’elle s’attacquera à eux comme a ses ennemis.

Elle a aussy esté merveilleusement irritée de ce que le comte d’Auxfort, revenant d’Italye, gendre du grand thresaurier et des premiers Comptes de ce pays cy, a este mis tout nud et vollé jusques a la chemise, avecques ung fort mauvais traictement et en danger de sa vie, s’il n’eust esté cognu par ung Escossoys. Lad{ite} Royne d’Angleterre luy a envoyé le Mylord Havard jusques a Douvres pour luy faire la bien venue et le consoler, car on dict qu’il apportoit une infinité de belles hardes d’Italie, qui luy ont este prinses, ou il a ung infini regret. Vostre Magesté se peult asseurer que led{ite} Grand Thesaurier s’en sent merveilleusement offensé, et leur fera du pis qu’il pourra, et desja commencent à parler de mectre quelques vaisseaux en mer, attendans le retour dud{ite} Beale et ce qu’il en aura apporté... Et ont icy nouvelles que led{ite} Roy d’Espaigne y est mieux servy a ceste heure qu’ilz y ont pourveu par le Conseil d’Estat qu’il n’estoit auparavant par la passion d’ung seul Contrefoys, il y en a d’autres qui disent que ce n’est qu’une colere qui passera a lad{ite} Royne d’Angleterre, d’aultant que led{ite} prince d’Orenge ne fera que ce qu’elle vouldra, encores quelle se deuille et pleigne fort.

(Public Record Office, 31/3/27, ff. 75- 8.)

 Michel de Castelnau, Seigneur de Mauvissière, to King Henri III, 21st April 1576

Sire. I notify Your Majesty with this letter that I received your writing on the 10 th of this month, and that it arrived just at the right moment, considering I remained without news for such a long time. While I was waiting, I detected and did fathom an extreme disgruntlement in your Good Sister, the Queen of England, and a number of members of the Privy Council towards the Prince of Orange, namely due to the escalating number of thefts and forays displayed by his people again and again, giving reprieval to neither the English, nor the Spanish. She is so upset by this, that she does consider directing her discontent towards those who had counselled her to support The Prince of Orange. The Queen repeated in bitter words what they have called for many a time in anger: that with the passing of time they wish to lend increasingly less support to those who rebel against their ruler, who are nothing but malicious and treacherous. She is wonderously reinforced by fellow-travelers of Spain in these disparaging speeches and slogans; I have been assured with certainty that Sir Walsingham does, as a result, find himself under great pressure, and all the more, as it was he who supported and defended the affairs of The Prince of Orange more than anyone else in this Kingdom. Walsingham’s enemies seek to throw down the gauntlet and impure him of partaking in the booty, that is to say, that he does accept benefits and sinecure from the Prince of Orange. But I believe this only to be Walsingham’s hate towards the Spanish, and that his firm determination to promote his religion, champions the Dutch cause. 

His Good Brother, Master Beale, will tomorrow leave and proceed to Flushing to find the Prince of Orange. With him, from side of the Queen of England, he will bring remonstrations and threats, in such a manner that the Dutch will regret it if they do not immediately do as the Queen demands, namely to return all goods they have taken from her subjects; failing which, she will attack them as her enemy.

She was also greatly disgruntled that the Earl of Oxford, the Good Son of this country’s Treasurer, was upon his return from Italy, stripped naked and plundered right to his very shirt. In this he was most gravely maltreated and was in danger of losing his life, had he not been recognised by a Scotsman just in time. The Queen of England sent him Milord Howard off to Dover to welcome and console him. As it is said, he had brought with him a plethora of fine garments from Italy, which to his great regret, were taken from him. Her Majesty can be assured, that this has enraged the Treasurer acutely and that, wherever possible, he will spare no effort in doing harm to the Dutch. They say that strains are already showing, and that the Spanish King is presently judged with greater goodwill than thought by the Privy Council and feverously sought to establish by one single heretic [= Walsingham]. There are others, who say that the anger of the Queen of England will subside, particularly since the Prince of Orange will not do as she wants, if she continues to be so aggrieved and to complain so bitterly.



The Prince of Orange to the Lords of the Council, 31 May 1576

Has received their letter and heard from Mr. Robert Beale the continual complaints made against his people for outrages committed at sea against the Queen's subjects, and especially for the arrest of certain vessels belonging to the Merchant Adventurers. Has not been able to answer sooner on account of having to attend to the revictualling of Zierikzee. Expresses his regret that this should have happened, and has consulted with the Estates of Zeeland about a remedy, but could find no other more expedient considering the present state of affairs than that reply which they have given in writing to the bearer Buiz than to have regard to the justice of their cause, and the great charges they are at to deliver this poor country from a tyranny which can only redound to the great detriment of religion, and also to the realm of England, and hopes that they will be contented with the said answer.— Campveer [7], 31 May 1576. Signed.

(Relations politiques des Pays-Bas et de l'Angleterre, sous le règne de Philippe II,publiés par Kervyn de Lettenhove, Tome VIII. Bruxelles 1889, p. 388)


Robert Beale to Lord Burghley, 5 June 1576

My duty most humbly remembered to your honourable good Lordship, besides the general letter which I have written to all their Lordships of my doings with the Prince here, I know not what to advertise Your Lordship particularly of. In the matter of my Lord of Oxford, I have dealt as earnestly as I could, and the rather for that by a letter of your Lordship’s, which it pleased Mr. Secretary Walsingham to show unto me before my departure. I perceived the great care Your Lordship had thereof as indeed the case deserved. And, if so much has not been done therein, as reason were and as Your Lordship doth desire, I shall most humbly beseech Your Lordship to attribute the same rather to the unreasonableness of these persons with whom I have to do than to my default (as God is my witness). For notwithstanding the Prince’s letters to both Your Lordships and his fair promises to me that justice shall be done and that the parties be in prison upon inquiry, I cannot learn but that only one hath been apprehended, whose name is Lambellon[8], who now is but kept in a townsman’s house in Flushing [Vlissingen] and has liberty to walk abroad; and upon hearing that my Lord of Oxford will be appeased with a letter (which I understand he [Lambellon] sent unto his Lordship when I was in Holland), he trusteth to escape[9]; and, when I regard the small consideration they have of her Majesty and your Lordship’s letters (more than in fair words), I do partly believe it. And therefore in my simple opinion both your Lordships are to deal earnestly in your next letters for justice, for considering the carelessness and impunity of such offenses in these places, all will be little enough. And where they demand more particular information, I have declared unto them the manner of the outrage committed to his person, as I understood it from His Lordship at Rochester. And as for the particularity of the goods, although I demanded to have them restored, yet my chiefest desire was, seing iam constat de facto[an already accomplished fact] by the confession of the said Lambellon and the things taken here, to have justice done for the reparation of injury and dishonour. And as an upon my information they found the dags [daggers] which were sent by Mr. Herbert, so might they find more stuff if they listed, but I hear some of his golden stuff hath come to some of the chief officers’ hand, which now bear out the matter. I have ben fed in this matter, as in the rest, with delays, and if her Majesty send not a pleasing answer to the Prince’s writing, they seem to be so desparate that I think no justice nor ought else will be had of all my demands.

(Relations politiques des Pays-Bas et de l'Angleterre, sous le règne de Philippe II,publiés par Kervyn de Lettenhove, Tome VIII. Bruxelles 1889, p. 396-7)


Robert Beale to Sir Francis Walsingham, 8 September 1577

Howbeit I look for little good[10], no more than was in the matter of my Lord of Oxford ; for the three ships and parties being known that misused him, during Sir William Winter's and my abode there, one Cantillon was imprisoned[11], and after without any other form released, so as he is now far, is reported again upon the seas to do the like.




[1] Oxford was accompanied on his journey to Italy, including Venice, by the Englishman Nathaniel Baxter (c. 1550-1611), who recalled the event in a publication he entitled Sidneys Ourania, printed in 1606, two years after Oxford's death. Although the publication is dedicated to Philip Sidney's sister Mary, countess of Pembroke, a poem within the volume is dedicated to Oxford's daughter Susan Vere, and assigns her conception to Oxford's miraculous rescue from “infamie”.

[3] Acts of the Privy Council of England Volume 9, 1575-1577. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1894.

[4] Robert Beale (1541–1601) was an English diplomat, administrator, and Clerk of the Privy Council. He married Edith St. Barbe, the sister of the wife of Sir Francis Walsingham. - From the entry for Robert Beale in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: ‘Beale's clerkship, his involvement with the principal secretaryship, and his prior experience overseas made him an unusually good candidate for a variety of diplomatic activities. Between 16 April and 26 July 1576 he went to the Low Countries as special ambassador on £2 per day to protest at Dutch seizures of English shipping. He had an audience with William of Orange about 1 May and carried with him a scarcely veiled warning: if Dutch piracies did not cease, Elizabeth would consider joining Philip II in suppressing the rebellion there. The queen emphasized her displeasure by sending Sir William Winter to join with Beale, the former arriving with new threats and demands that the Dutch repay outstanding English loans. The failure of the two men to gain Dutch cooperation led for a time to something not far removed from war between England and the Low Countries.’

[6] Michel de Castelnau, Sieur de la Mauvissière (c. 1520–1592), the French ambassador to Queen Elizabeth between 1575 and 1585. During this period he used his influence to promote the marriage of the queen with the duke of Alençon, with a view especially to strengthen and maintain the alliance of the two countries.

[7] Campveer alias Campheer is identical with the Dutch town of Veere on Walcheren island.

[8] There is nothing known about the said ‘Lambellon’. - See also: Jan Scheffer, Oxford’s Capture by Pirates, 10 April 1576. De Vere Society newsletter October 2015. http://deveresociety.co.uk/articles/JS-2015Oct-Pirates.pdf

[9] Jan Scheffer believes that Oxford was the fugitive who escaped. That’s the false conclusion.

[10] Howbeit I look for little good. Robert Beale was attacked and robbed on the Channel (like Oxford in 1576). - See Robert Beale’s letter to Walsingham from September 8, 1577. Calendar of State Papers Foreign: Elizabeth, Volume 12, 1577-78

[11] for the three ships and parties being known that misused him, during Sir William Winter's and my abode there, one Cantillon was imprisoned. The mentioned “Cantillon” seems to be identical with “Lambellon”, of whom Beale reported in his letter from June 5, 1576. – See also note 4.