Monday, July 24, 2017

Lady Spy

by Linda Fetterly Root

When the new Spanish ambassador Don Pedro de Zuniga arrived in London in the early autumn of 1605, he was given the names of seven individuals who were 'pensioners' of the King of Spain, presumably aristocrats who had rendered service to the Hapsburgs. The names were not made public nor were they presumed to have been revealed to King James.


Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton 

Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire 

Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset 

Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, the king's First Minister. 

Catherine Howard, Countess of Suffolk, Chief Lady-in-Waiting to the queen; wife of a principal peer.

Sir William Monson, Diplomat

Jean Drummond, first lady of the Queen's Bedchamber

This was a time in English history when aligning with the Spanish was a precarious course of action. The years between the appearance of the Armada off the Lizard in 1588 and the peace overtures of 1604 were not nearly enough to erase the terrors of the Armada years from the collective English memory. And if that were not concern enough, two months after the list came into the ambassador's hands,  the Spanish threat emerged again in the wake of the Gunpowder Treason. Anti-Spanish sentiment was again stoked and the new ambassador was forced into self-imposed house arrest at Spanish Place, guarded by a cordon of English soldiers. It would not have served the fragile peace had it become know that seven strategically-placed personalities at the Stuart court were  in the pocket of the Spanish.

Of the seven on the list, two were women. Six were either participants or, as was the case with the Duchess of Suffolk, closely associated with principals in the negotiations of the Treaty of London of 1603, an instrument that ended hundreds of years of hostilities and decades of actual war between the English and the Spanish. If the seven names were to be made public, the first six could stand behind an argument that King Philip III was merely thanking them for the successful conclusion of an enterprise as beneficial to England as it was to Spain.

Seated at the English side of the negotiating table at Somerset House where the Treaty of London was signed were Thomas Sackville, Charles Blount, Henry Howard and none other than Sir Robert Cecil, who was considered one of England's vociferous critics of the Spanish. The only male of the seven missing from the table was Sir William Monson, who had gone to Flanders as escort to the retiring leader of the Spanish-Hapsburg delegation, Don Juan de Velasco, Duke of Frias, who while in the portrait, was too ill to participate in the negotiations. Monson had strong personal ties to the Hapsburgs and his status as a pensioner should come as no surprise. Nor is Catherine Howard's inclusion a puzzle. Long before the autumn of 1605, she was a well known conniver with a propensity to assert herself into most matters of consequence, a Howard, and the wife of one of England's highest ranking peers. Sir Thomas had the title but his Countess had the brains.


To the casual historian, there is no plausible explanation for the inclusion of the last name on the list unless she was a spy. Jane (Jean) Drummond, the only Scot on King Philip's secret list was an unmarried woman and the third child of a well regarded but remote Scottish Earl. What prestige she may have acquired as sister-in-law of Alexander Seton, the powerful Scottish Chancellor, faded when Seton set aside Lilias Drummond for the same reason Henry Tudor discarded Queen Catherine for Anne Boleyn. Yet, while Lady Jane seemed the least likely to be of value to the Hapsburgs, hers was among the largest grants. The grants were given at a time when Philip III was nearly bankrupt, which begs the question: what services did Lady Drummond perform to warrant extravagant gifts and an annual stipend of 2000 Felipes?

Unfortunately, one of the most comprehensive sources of information regarding the influence of Queen Anne's ladies, The Politics of Female Households: Ladies-in-waiting across Early Modern Europe, (an anthology edited by Nadine Akkerman and Birgit Houben) is priced out of the budget of most researchers. Also, as pointed out by Linda Porter in her journal article, The Politics of Female Households, (History Today, Vol. 64, Issue 6, June 2014), the anthology has the weaknesses of having been written by graduate students of varying talents and being poorly edited. However, the portion dealing with the household of Anne of Denmark has much to offer about Lady Jane which is not found elsewhere.
Nevertheless, it includes little of her history before Lady Jane Drummond accompanied Anne to England in 1603. For that, one must delve into the Scottish history of the years from the time of the King's marriage to Anne of Denmark and his ascension to the English crown when Elizabeth Tudor died in 1603. By then, Anne had already shown a preference for staffing her household with Catholics. Some modern historians argue that she did so with the king's knowledge and half-hearted consent. The popular opinion is he advised her to be discreet about it and agreed to look through his fingers if she kept her Catholic leanings in the closet.

The king's ambivalence toward his wife's Catholicism raises the question of just whose agent Lady Drummond may have been. Recent research suggests if not an agent, she was at least a conduit for exchanges between the Stuart monarchy and the Catholic kings of early modern Europe which James wished to seduce to the peace table.

Those who follow the politics of James Stuart's last few years as Scotland's resident king will recall he often lived apart from his Danish bride, Anne, whose sons were expected to live in separate households, a tradition which the queen found abhorrent and which caused an estrangement between the royals. When she was separated from her firstborn, Prince Henry Frederick, she launched an aborted attempt to kidnap him while James was occupied elsewhere. As was his nature, the king forgave her, but their relationship was never quite the same. As a part of her dowry, she had an entitlement to lands at Dunfermline and established a residence in the Abbey Palace where her second son, Charles I, was born. He was a sickly child, and thus there was no pressure from the Scottish lords to separate him from his mother. There was no political advantage and considerable risk in obtaining guardianship of a child who would likely die.

At the time of Charles Stuart's birth, the king's Scottish counselor and confidante, Alexander Seton, was still married to his first wife Lilias Drummond. They, too, had established a palatial residence at Dunfermline. It was likely during her confinement before the birth of her second son that the Queen met Lilias's sister Jane. At any rate, a few months after James Stuart's arrival in England to ascend the English throne in the spring of 1603, His Majesty ordered his consort to gather up their remarkable son Prince Henry Frederick and travel south, leaving unappealing, crippled Charles behind with his Chancellor and his second wife, Grizel Leslie. Queen Anne selected Jane Drummond to accompany her to Stirling to collect Prince Henry Frederick, heir-apparent to three kingdoms and a well-known crowd-pleaser.

By then she and Lady Jane were fast friends and co-conspirators. In the autumn of 1603 when the Queen arrived in London, one of Jane's first assigned duties was to staff the queen’s household with priests disguised as servants, with the queen’s confessor posing as her Majesty’s falconer.
According to research contained in the book edited by Nadine Akkerman, Lady Jane Drummond’s activities on behalf of the Hapsburgs and the Vatican were likely instigated by the queen and possibly sanctioned by the king, who possibly used them as a conduit to the Catholic kings with whom he wished to reconcile. This viewpoint is consistent with recent research indicating James I aspired to a legacy as the monarch who brought peace to the modern states of Europe by minimizing the religious differences between Protestant rulers and the Catholic kings. (see King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom, W. B. Patterson, Cambridge Studies in Earl Modern British History, Cambridge University Press, 1997).

Jane’s relationship with the Spanish and likely, the Pope, were not the least bit casual. She had even been assigned the code name Amadisfrom a character in a medieval romance novel. She was a single woman and could not have gained her pension as a means of exerting pressure on a well-placed husband, for she did not marry reformed Scottish reiver-cum-courtier, Lord Robert Kerr (later Earl of Roxburgh) until 1614, after his first wife died. Her stock in trade was her actual or perceived influence over the queen. Before he was replaced by Don Pedro Zuniga in 1605, the Spanish ambassador Don Juan de Taxis, Count of Villa Medina, personally requested Philip III to grant a stipend to Lady Drummond, citing the numerous times she had passed on valuable secret information. While the extent of her disclosures are not known, it is likely she was also used to pass messages to the Spanish from James I when he himself could not.

Anne of Denmark
After the discovery of the Gunpowder Treason in November 1604, the queen found it politically astute to cut back on her Catholic leanings, which made Jane’s position critical insofar as it provided an avenue for the queen to maintain a clandestine contact with the Catholic European monarchies and the Vatican. However, the Queen and Jane had a a falling out in 1617 when Jane's husband, who was by then the Earl of Roxburghe, attempted to obtain the guardianship of Charles without first consulting either the king or the queen. The popular Henry Frederick had died in 1612, apparently of typhus, and control of adolescent Charles was indeed a power play characteristic of Lord Roxburghe. When Jane was expelled from the royal bedchamber, the Spanish discontinued the stipend, a rather clear statement of why it had been awarded in the first place.

Logically, this should be the end of the story, but it is not. Jane Drummond did not disappear from the world of power politics when her relationship with Anne ended. By then, she had already gained the favor of the heir-apparent Charles. When he married the Catholic French princess Henrietta Maria, Jane's stars were in ascendance. She remained an important figure in the Court of Charles I until her death. The circumstances of her last mission were not fully known until last year when its details were reported in The Guardian.


The year 1642 found Jane Drummond, Countess of Roxburghe, in the household of yet another Stuart consort, Henrietta Maria, wife of ill-fated Charles I. She had known Charles since he was an infant in the Scottish household of Alexander Seton. Between the Setons and his mother, he had spent most of his early life in the care of Catholics, until he was placed in the care of Sir Robert Carey and his wife, Dame Robert. At some point after his marriage, Charles I wished to make the Countess of Roxburghe governess of his heir, the future Charles II, but the anti-Catholic faction at the English court balked. Nevertheless, Jane Drummond was appointed governess of his other children. Charles and Henrietta Maria's marriage is said to have become a love match, and the royal household, however stressed, was a happy one. Unfortunately, domestic harmony did not save Charles I from his shortcomings or his inability to adapt to change.

King Charles, his consort and his children

Charles I and his allies (PD Art)
A scant few months before the outbreak of what became the English Civil War, the king's consort and a few of her most trusted ladies sailed from Dover to the Netherlands, ostensibly to deliver the princess Mary, who was five, to the protection of her betrothed, William of Orange. But that was not the true reason for the trip. Henrietta Marie was traveling to Europe to pawn the Crown Jewels, in order to finance a Royalist army. It was a highly dangerous mission, both practically and politically. Many of Charles's failings had been attributed to his Catholic consort. While the details of the mission are unclear, the fleet of twelve ships in the Consort's convoy was shipwrecked off the Dutch Island of Texel. The royal party either survived or was not at sea when the storm hit. Reports of the shipwreck are vague. With England soon to be at war, the event was overshadowed. However, in 2014, Dutch divers found the wreckage of one of the ships and among the items salvaged was an elegant dress, heavily embroidered in gold and silver threads and wonderfully preserved.

Courtesy of the Texil Museum
The discovery was not widely publicized until the origin of the items could be researched, but thanks to circumstantial evidence, a newly discovered letter from Charles I's sister Elizabeth of Bohemia, the Winter Queen, and the research of Nadine Akkerman and her colleague Helmer Helmers, the dress is accepted by most historians as a gown belonging to Jane Drummond, Countess of Roxburghe. The claim is largely based upon its dated style and large size.  At the time of the shipwreck, the Countess was 46 years old, stout, and no longer a fashion trend-setter.  Her inclusion on the mission is a testimony to the degree of trust and high esteem in which she was held by the Queen Consort and by King Charles, who sought to entrust her with his children.  If the mission to  pawn the Crown Jewels had been exposed, more than just gowns and trinkets would have been sacrificed. Jane Drummond, Countess of Roxburghe, died the following year.  King Charles was beheaded at Westminster on January 31, 1649.


Linda Fetterly Root is the author of seven novels set in Marie Stuart's Scotland and early modern Britain. She lives in the Southern California high desert and is a retired major crimes prosecutor. She is a member of the Marie Stuart Society, the California Bar and the Bar of the Supreme Court.


  1. Brilliant post! Love the Stuarts!

  2. Thank you, Cryssa. While I was aware of her, I knew nothing of substance about Lady Drummond until I researched my way out of writers' block in my WIP. What historical novelists do is a mix of research and luck.

  3. She would make a fascinating heroine for a novel.

  4. A fascinating post, thank you. One small point, if I may: the public uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot was in November 1605, not 1604. When the authorities actually knew about it, however....!

  5. Fantastic article. Love the history of this period & this says it all, so clearly. Thanks.

  6. I enjoyed this, because I have been curious to know more about Queen Anne's Catholicism, and reaction to the Gunpowder Plot. This gives me a lot of ideas. Thanks. And yes, a book about Jane/Jean is a splendid idea.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.