Tangent: Robert Basset, Nicholas Hill, and the Lame Plot

Banner - detail of coat of arms of Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle

10 June 2016

This tangent is linked from:
· A Lot of Hot Air (10 June 2016)
· Tangent: Nicholas Hill (10 June 2016)

Worthies of Devon - excerpt on Sir Robert Basset

Here lived Sir Robert Basset, our Collonel’s father; who being by his grandmother, descended from the Plantagenets, and of the blood royal, in the beginning of King James the First’s reign, made some pretensions to the crown of England; but not being able to make them good, he was forced to fly into France to save his head. To compound for which, together with his high and generous way of living, Sir Robert Basset greatly exhausted his estate; selling off, with White-Chapple, the ancient house, no less than thirty mannors of land.

See, I wasn’t the only one who burned through my patrimony, and I had better reasons.

Once upon a time, King Edward IV had an illegitimate son named Arthur Plantagenet. In his later years Arthur was created 1st Viscount Lisle by his half-nephew Henry VIII. That’s the center of Arthur’s coat of arms in the banner above, where you can see the diagonal bendlet sinister azure identifying him as a royal bastard.

Arthur’s first wife was Elizabeth Grey (not King Edward’s wife the Woodville one*). Arthur and Elizabeth had a daughter, Frances Plantagenet.

Arthur’s second wife was Honor Grenville, who had first been married to John IV Basset. Honor and John IV had had a son, John V Basset. Keeping things in the blended family, John V Basset married Frances Plantagenet. They had a son, Arthur Basset.

Arthur Basset and his wife Eleanor had a son, Robert Basset.

Robert was therefore a great-grandson of Edward IV’s baseborn son Arthur on his paternal grandmother’s side, and a great-grandson of Arthur’s second wife Honor on his paternal grandfather’s side.

Clear as mud? Pedigrees resembled pretzels in those days of early death and serial marriage.

Here’s where the fun really begins. When Queen Elizabeth Tudor died in 1603 without an acknowledged heir, Robert Basset believed that his diluted drop of bastard Plantagenet blood was enough to qualify him for the throne, over the legitimate descendant of Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth (Plantagenet) of York, Edward’s legitimate daughter and Arthur’s half-sister. This descendant was King James VI of Scotland.

Robert Basset was delusional.

James was the candidate backed by my ex-in-laws the Cecils, both the Lord Treasurer William (Lord Burghley) while he lived and his son Robert, who stepped into his deceased father’s still-warm shoes near the end of Elizabeth’s reign.

Nicholas Hill, our man from Merchant-Taylors’ and my ex-factotum, supported Basset in his addled fantasy. In the yellow highlighted text above you can see that Basset was another example of Hill’s favourite sort of mark: a rich man with liberal spending habits. Of course Hill was going to play along with the whim of his meal ticket.

I’ve given the Lame Plot its name because it has no other. It’s a forgotten, nameless bastard. (Arthur Plantagenet, though illegitimate, was acknowledged by his royal father.) The Lame Plot is notable only for its lack of notability. James VI/I faced other plots, legitimate ones with real names, at the beginning of his reign. The Main Plot, the Bye Plot, the Gunpowder Plot. All came a-cropper, as did the the Lame Plot.

When the the Lame Plot failed, Basset found it wise to flee to France, and Hill to Rotterdam. Basset was hit with fines that cost him most of what was left of his inheritance, before he was eventually allowed to return to England. Nicholas Hill remained an exile until he took his own life in about 1610.

  • Lessons to be learned:
  • 1. Don’t be delusional.
  • 2. Never cross a Cecil if you know what’s good for you.

* More Pedigree Pretzels: Elizabeth Woodville Grey was the Lancastrian widow who married the Yorkist king Edward IV and became the unpopular Queen of England, mother of the Princes in the Tower and Henry VII’s mother-in-law. Arthur Plantagenet’s first wife Elizabeth was a Grey by birth. Same family though.

Still hungry? Arthur’s Elizabeth had previously been married to Edmund Dudley, Henry VII’s hated henchman. That marriage ended when Dudley got the axe at the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign. Elizabeth and Edmund were the paternal grandparents of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, Bess’s favourite and my sometime rival at court.

Elizabeth Grey Dudley Plantagenet lost her first husband Edmund Dudley, her eldest son John Dudley (1st Duke of Northumberland), her grandson Guildford Dudley (John’s son and Leicester’s older brother), and her granddaughter-in-law Jane Grey Dudley (Guildford’s wife the Nine Days Queen, who was a great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Woodville Grey!), all to the executioner’s blade. Perhaps fortunately for Elizabeth, she predeceased all but the husband.

Those Dudleys were an ambitious bunch. Makes your head spin. Hopefully not all the way off.