PERCY, Sir Henry (c.1532-85), of Tynemouth and Norham Castles, Northumb. and Petworth, Suss.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Nov. 1554

Family and Education

b. c.1532, 2nd s. of Sir Thomas Percy of Prudhoe, Northumb. (exec. 1537) by Eleanor, da. and event. coh. of Sir Guischard Harbottle of Beamish, co. Dur.; bro. of Thomas. m. by 25 Jan. 1562, Catherine, da. and coh. of John (Neville), 4th Lord Latimer, 8s. 3da. Kntd. 30 Apr. 1557; suc. bro. as 2nd Earl of Northumberland 22 Aug. 1572.1

Offices Held

Capt. Norham castle by Jan. 1558; constable, Tynemouth castle 1559, gov. 1560-83; steward of crown property at Tynemouth 1570-83; member, council in the north Dec. 1558-Apr. 1571; j.p. co. Dur., Northumb. from 1559, Cumb., Yorks. (N. and E. Ridings) from 1569; sheriff, Northumb. 1562-3.

Commr. to treat with Scottish congregation 1559, with French 1560; capt. in Scottish campaign 1560; commr. piracy 1565, to enforce Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy in province of York 1568.2


Percy first became well-known as a soldier on the Scottish border. In 1557 and 1558 he was warmly commended for his activity in the fighting against the Scots at Norham and elsewhere. In September 1558 he was wounded and ‘driven to lie at Berwick for recovery of his hurt’, and he further enhanced his reputation in the campaign of 1560. On 10 Apr. Thomas Randolph wrote, ‘How worthily Sir Henry Percy behaved himself the first day against the enemy; I would be loth to write more than truth, but never saw man do better since I was born’. Proud and quarrelsome, and, except when the Scottish danger was threatening, on bad terms with his neighbours, Percy disputed with them the smallest matters, such as the right to the custody of prisoners and trivial amounts of money. One of these, over a plea of trespass, for £16 10s., dragged on for years.3

If the northern rebellion of 1569 placed him in a dilemma this was not apparent, though opinions differed as to whether his loyalty was disinterested, or arose from a desire to succeed to his brother’s peerages. There was no doubt that his decision, which ensured that Tynemouth castle was held by loyal troops, was of the greatest value to the government. The Queen wrote to him on 17 Nov. 1569,

We are very glad to understand ... of your constancy and forwardness in our service, although ... against your brother of Northumberland ... Continuing your service and duty, we will have regard to ... the continuance of such a house in the person and blood of so faithful a servant.

The Act for Confirmation of Attainders, May 1571, contained a special clause saving Percy’s rights; it was possibly with this in mind that he stood for election to the Parliament of that year. Northumberland and Cumberland both returned him as senior knight of the shire; he chose Northumberland, and a new writ for Cumberland was issued on 9 Apr. He and his legal advisers were heard on the attainder bill before it was passed. Why, at this moment when he was in high favour with the authorities, Percy should have become involved in the plot to free Mary Stuart and to marry her to the Duke of Norfolk, is not clear. His Catholic sympathies hardly furnish an explanation in the light of his previous conduct. The Duke of Norfolk distrusted him and by 15 Nov. he was in the Tower. He admitted discussing the matter of Mary’s escape with one of Norfolk’s friends ‘last Lent, in the parliament time’, Mary to be freed ‘by six or seven tall men on horseback in the night’, but maintained that he himself ‘would be no doer in anything to offend the Queen’s Majesty’. His trial, at which he was sentenced to a fine of 5,000 marks, took place in the Queen’s bench the following Easter. When his brother was executed over the northern rebellion, Percy was still in the Tower. To appeals on his behalf Elizabeth replied that ‘his fault was as great as any man’s, though it be no high treason’. He was let out in May 1573 but for some months longer was not allowed to leave London. By January 1575, when he was specially admitted to Gray’s Inn, he had apparently been restored to favour: at the beginning of the second session of Parliament, on 8 Feb. 1576, he took his seat in the House of Lords, as Earl of Northumberland, and in November was one of the commissioners for the prorogation.4

For the next few years he lived comparatively quietly. In addition to extensive lands in the north he had property to administer in Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire and elsewhere, which came to him in right of his wife on the death of Lord Latimer in April 1577, and about 1576 he began to rebuild Petworth, where he lived frequently during the last ten years of his life, acting as a commissioner for breeding warhorses in the county and helping the local justices to suppress unlawful hunting in Lord Montagu’s park at Cowdray. The Queen was expected to come to Petworth during the progress of July 1583, but whether she did is not known. Had she arrived in the September she would have found strange company in the person of Francis Throckmorton’s accomplice Charles Paget, who thought that Northumberland’s Sussex estates would make a good base for the proposed invasion of England. There had been some communication between the conspirators and the Earl, but Paget’s arrival ‘much appalled’ Northumberland, who reportedly said, ‘Well he is come, I cannot help it now’. Paget stayed hidden in a lodge in the park for about a week, and drew the Earl into the plot, though he had ‘not much living or many followers in Sussex’. Northumberland was arrested in December, released, re-arrested on Jan. 1584 and sent to the Tower. Walsingham seems to have been well disposed, writing to the ambassador in Paris who had to make arrangements for three of the Earl’s young sons who were living there: ‘Charles Paget is a most dangerous instrument, and I wish for the Earl of Northumberland’s sake he had never been born’.

No preparations were made for his trial, but some 18 months later a servant of Sir Christopher Hatton, who was known to be on bad terms with Northumberland, was appointed his gaoler, and the next day, about midnight 20/21 June 1585, Northumberland was found dead in bed, shot by a bullet from his own pistol. He was buried at St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower some days later. The government tried to prove suicide, but, as Sir Francis Russell wrote to Walsingham from Tynemouth on 26 June, ‘The Lord of Northumberland’s death will hardly be believed in this country to be as you have written’.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Lansd. 874, f. 118; CSP Dom. Add. 1580-1625, p. 131.
  • 2. CSP Dom. Add. 1547-65, pp. 468-9; C. Sharp, Memorials of the Rebellion, p. 351; Northumb. Co. Hist. viii. 165; W. S. Gibson, Monastery of Tynemouth, i. 239-41; ii. 115-19; CSP Scot. 1547-63, p. 391; Reid, Council of the North, 186, 210, 493; CPR, 1560-3, pp. 11-12, 187; 1566-9, p. 172; 1569-72, pp. 151-2, 223-4; Camden, Annals, i. 57; CSP For. 1560-1, p. 78; Lansd. 4, ff. 126 seq.; APC, vii. 284.
  • 3. APC , vi. 143, 221, 374, 396, 399; vii. 233; CSP Scot. 1547-63, p. 355; CSP For. 1560-1, p. 553; 1562, p. 34; 1564-5, p. 117; St. Ch. 5/N6/21; Border Pprs. 1560-94, p. 81.
  • 4. Haynes, State Pprs. 555; HMC Hatfield , i. 535-72 passim; Murdin, State Pprs. 229; Cobbett, State Trials , i. col. 1115; APC , viii. 102, 130; LJ , i. 729, 753; D’Ewes, 159.
  • 5. D. G. C. Elwes and C. J. Robinson, Western Suss. 171; CSP Dom. 1547-80, p. 688; 1581-90, p. 113; APC , xiii. 414; HMC Hatfield , xiii. 270-81 passim; CSP For. 1583-4, pp. 272, 301, 351; N. St. John Brooks, Sir Christopher Hatton , 244 seq.; CSP Dom. Add. 1580-1625, p. 145; C142/208/167.