Southampton, Earl Of
SOUTHAMPTON, EARL OF, an English title borne by the families of Fitzwilliam and Wriothesley. In 1537 Sir William Fitzwilliam (c. 1490-1542), lord high admiral of England, was created earl of Southampton. A son of Sir William Fitzwilliam of Aldwarke, near Rotherham, Fitzwilliam was a companion in boyhood of Henry VIII., and was knighted for his services at the siege of Tournai in 1513. Later he was treasurer of Cardinal Wolsey's household, and was sent several times to France on diplomatic business. As vice-admiral he commanded a fleet when England and France were at war in 1523. He was comptroller of the royal household, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, and keeper of the privy seal. He went to Calais to conduct Anne of Cleves to England and wrote in flattering terms to Henry about his bride. While marching with the English army into Scotland he died at Newcastle in October 1542. He left no sons and his titles became extinct.
In 1547 Thomas Wriothesley (1505-1550) was created ear) of Southampton. Entering the service of Henry VIII. at an early age, Wriothesley soon made himself very useful to his royal master, and he was richly rewarded when the monasteries were dissolved, obtaining extensive lands between Southampton and Winchester. Having been on errands abroad, he was made one of the king's principal secretaries in 1 540, and was knighted in the same year; in spite of the fall of his patron, Thomas Cromwell, he rose higher and higher in the royal favour, and in 1542 it was said that he almost governed everything in England. He sought to bring about an alliance between England and Spain in 1543, and was created Baron V/riothesley of Titchfield in 1544. Having been lord keeper of the privy seal for a few months, he became lord high chancellor in 1544, in which capacity he became notorious by his proceedings against Anne Askew. He was one of the executors of Henry's will, and in accordance with the dead king's wishes he was created earl of Southampton in February 1547. However, he had committed an offence in appointing four persons to relieve him of his duties as lord chancellor and advantage was taken of this to deprive him of his office in March, when he also ceased to be a member of the privy council. Again in the council Southampton took a leading part in bringing about the fall of Somerset, but he had not regained his former position when he died on the 30th of July 1550. His successor was his son, Henry (1545-1581), the 2nd earl, one of the Roman Catholic nobles who conspired for the release of Mary Queen of Scots. He died oh the 4th of October 1581 and was succeeded by his son, Henry, the 3rd earl (see below).
For the career of the 1st earl see Lord Campbell, Lives of the Lord Chancellors; E. Foss, Judges of England; and the various state papers and letters of the reign of Henry VIII.
The 3rd earl was succeeded by his son Thomas (1607-1667) as 4th earl. When the dispute began between the king and the parliament he took the side of the latter, but soon the violence of its leaders drove him into the arms of Charles, one of whose most loyal advisers he remained thenceforward. He was however very anxious for peace, and treated on behalf of the king with the representatives of the parliament in 1643, and again at Uxbridge in 1645. Having paid over 6000 to the state, Southampton was allowed to live unmolested in England during the Commonwealth period, and on the restoration of Charles II. he was made lord high treasurer. As treasurer he was remarkable for his freedom from any taint of corruption and for his efforts in the interests of economy and financial order. He died without sons on the 16th of May 1667, when his titles became extinct. Much of his property passed to his eldest daughter Elizabeth (d. 1693), wife of Edward Noel, 1st earl of Gainsborough (1641- 1689). The name of the earl is perpetuated in London in Southampton Row and Southampton Street, Holborn, where his London residence stood. After the death of Lady Gainsborough the London property of the earl passed to her sister Rachel, wife of William, Lord Russell, the patriot, and later to the duKes of Bedford.
In 1670 the mistress of Charles II., Barbara, countess of Castlemaine, was created duchess of Cleveland and countess of Southampton. Her son, Charles Fitzroy (1662-1730), was created duke of Southampton in 1675, this title becoming extinct when his son William died in May 1774.
The barony of Southampton was created in 1780 in favour of Charles Fitzroy (1737-1797), a grandson of Charles Fitzroy, 2nd duke of Grafton, he being thus, like the holders of the dukedom of Southampton, descended from Charles II. and the duchess of Cleveland. The title is still held by his descendants.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)