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Portrait of Sir Amyas Paulet
Sir Amyas Paulet (1536?-1588)

SIR AMYAS PAULET or POULET (1536?-1588), keeper of Mary Queen of Scots, born about 1536, was son of Sir Hugh Paulet, by his first wife.

He was made his father's lieutenant in the government of Jersey on 25 April 1559, and remained in residence in Jersey for some twelve years. A convinced puritan through life, he distinguished his rule of the island by repressing the practice of the catholic religion, and offered ostentatious protection to Huguenot refugees from France. With Sir Philip Carteret, the native leader among the islanders, he was in repeated conflict. On his father's death in 1571 he succeeded to the full post of governor; but he soon left Jersey and delegated his powers to his brother George, who became bailiff in 1583, and subsequently to his son Anthony. His representatives ruled the island with greater rigour than he had practised, and their tyranny occasionally drew from him a gentle reproof. But although he watched with attention the course of events in Jersey until his death, other duties compelled him to exercise a merely nominal control.

Paulet was knighted in 1576, and in September of the same year left London for Paris to fill the important office of ambassador at the French court. He regarded the movements of the Huguenots with keen sympathy, and corresponded with his government copiously, if not enthusiastically, on the proposal to marry the Duc d'Alençon to Queen Elizabeth. His Parisian career wast uneventful,and in November 1579 he was recalled. The Earl of Leicester had no liking for his stern demeanour, but he had completely gained the confidence of Sir Francis Walsingham.

On Walsingham's recommendation he was nominated in January 1585 to the responsible office of keeper of Mary Queen of Scots, and was made a privy councillor. Mary was Queen Elizabeth's prisoner at Tutbury. Sir Ralph Sadler had been her latest warder, and Lord St. John of Bletsoe had been, in the first instance, invited to relieve Sadler. It was only after Lord St. John's refusal of the post that Paulet's name had been suggested. Paulet's instructions, dated 4 March, are not extant, but it is known that he was directed to treat his prisoner with far greater severity than Sadler had employed. Her correspondence was to be more carefully inspected; her opportunities of almsgiving were to undergo limitation; she was to be kept in greater seclusion, and less regard was to be paid to her claims to maintain in her household the etiquette of a court. Queen Mary protested against the selection of Paulet; she feared his puritanic fervour, and urged that while in Paris he had shown marked hostility to her agents there. Elizabeth retorted in an autograph letter that he had done his duty.

On 17 April Paulet arrived at Tutbury, and was installed in office. His attitude to his prisoner was from the first courteous but firm, and her frequent complaints left him unmoved. He took the most minute precautions to make her custody secure, and he told Walsingham (5 July 1585) that whenever an attempt at rescue seemed likely to prove successful, he was prepared to kill Mary rather than yield her alive.1 His anxieties were intensified by Elizabeth's parsimony. He had to provide, as a rule, for nearly one hundred and twenty-seven persons—Mary's attendants numbered fifty-one, and his own retinue, including thirty soldiers, consisted of seventy-six men. Frequently kept without adequate supplies, Paulet advanced large sums of money from his own purse, and the government showed no haste in repaying him.

At the end of 1585 Mary desired a change of residence, and Paulet was ordered to remove the establishment on 2 Dec. to Chartley, a house belonging to the Earl of Essex. The cost of living proved much higher than at Tutbury, and the difficulty of meeting the expenses was greater. In March 1586 Morgan, Mary's agent in Paris, wrote urging her to employ all her powers of enchantment on Paulet; he suggested that she might promise, in the event of her regaining her liberty and influence, to obtain for Paulet a great increase in his power over Jersey, if not independent sovereignty. But Paulet declined to neglect his duty through 'hope of gain, fear of loss, or any private respect whatever.' With the aid of Walsingham and his spies he kept himself accurately informed as to his prisoner's and her agents' plots and machinations, and he aided in arrangements by which the government was able to inspect, without her knowledge, all her private correspondence [see Gifford, Gilbert].

In August he arranged to send her papers to London, and, so as not to excite her suspicions, he removed her for a fortnight to Sir Walter Aston's house at Tixall, on pretence of enabling her to take part in a stag hunt. In her absence from Chartley her coffers were searched, and their contents, including not only letters but many of her jewels, were seized. Early in September, in accordance with orders from London, Paulet took, moreover, possession of his prisoner's money, and on the 25th of that month he removed her to Fotheringay to stand her trial. He acted as a commissioner. After her condemnation in October he treated her with far less ceremony than before, and urged, in letters to Walsingham and Burghley, with a pertinacity that became at times almost grotesque, the need of executing her without delay. In November, Sir Drue Drury was associated with him in the office of keeper. On 1 Feb. Secretary Davison sent by letter to Paulet plain hints that he might safely murder Mary privately, and thus relieve Queen Elizabeth of the distasteful task of signing her death-warrant. Paulet at once replied that he could not perform 'an act which God and the law forbiddeth.'

Mary's execution at Fotheringay on 8 Feb. 1586-7 brought Paulet's duties to an end. Elizabeth, who had frequently corresponded with him on familiar terms while he was in charge of Mary, expressed full satisfaction with his performance of his difficult task. On the St. George's eve following (22 April) he was appointed chancellor of the order of the Garter, and held the office for a year. On 14 Jan. 1587-8 he was lodging in Fleet Street, and was corresponding with the lord-admiral Nottingham respecting the 'right of tenths in Jersey [of which he was still governor] belonging to the government.' In February and March he was one of four commissioners sent to the Low Countries to discuss Elizabeth's relations with the States-General. On 24 April following he was living at Twickenham. On 4 Jan. 1587-8 he attended the privy council, and signed orders directing catholic recusants to be dealt with stringently. He died in London on 26 Sept. 1588, and was buried in the church of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. When that church was rebuilt, his remains were removed, together with the monument, to the parish church of Hinton St. George.

By his wife Margaret (d.1536), daughter and heir of Anthony Hervey (d.1564), a catholic gentleman, of Columb John's in Devonshire, Paulet had three sons and three daughters. Hugh (d.1558), the eldest son, died young, but left behind him a memorial of his study of French in a French romance, entitled 'L'histoire de la duchesse de Savoye traduitte d'anglois en francoys' (Harl. MS. 1215). The second son, Sir Anthony (1562-1600), was his father's heir, and, having acted as his father's lieutenant in the government of Jersey, became full governor on Sir Amias's death. His rule was extremely severe, and his uncle, George Paulet, the bailiff of Jersey, encouraged him in his autocratic policy. He was guardian of Philip de Carteret, seigneur of St. Ouen, who was a minor, and did what he could to depress the fortunes of the Carteret family. In 1589 he imprisoned the three jurats of Jersey for disputing his authority. In 1590 commissioners were sent from London to inquire into the grievances of the islanders against Sir Anthony and his uncle George. Both officers were fully exonerated from blame. Sir Anthony, who was also captain of the guard to Queen Elizabeth, died on 22 July 1600, and was buried in the church of Hinton St. George. He married, in 1583, Catherine, only daughter of Sir Henry Norris, baron Norris of Rycote. She died on 24 March 1601-2, and was buried with her husband. Their son was John Poulett, first baron Poulett. Sir Amias's third son, George (d.1565), by marriage with a distant cousin, Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Paulet, became the owner of Gothurst in Somerset. Of Sir Amias's daughters, Joan married Robert Heyden of Bowood, Devonshire; Sarah married Sir Francis Vincent of Stoke D'Abernon, Surrey; and Elizabeth died unmarried.

1. The Letter-books of Sir Amias Poulet, ed. Morris, 1874. 49. link


      Lee, Sidney L. "Sir Amias Paulet."
      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. XV. Sidney Lee, Ed.
      New York: The Macmillan Company, 1909. 526-528.

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Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

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