In A BRIEF HISTORY of the home of Percy from the earliest times to the present century(1902) writer Gerald Brenan attributes the fall of Henry Percy, Ninth Earl of Northumberland to his cousin Tom. Even Brenan’s sympathetic account cannot avoid noting the Wizard Earl must have seen it arriving. If there is a dark sheep in the Percy family, it was Thomas definitely. In his youth he got away with murder, but in his middle years, he got away with regicide nearly. To add to the irony, popular history blames it all on a man named Guy Fawkes.
Described in Brenan’s tome as a high, handsome man with large clear eye who had a propensity to sweating and who was simply regarded as ‘half-fanatic-half ruffian’, Thomas was often in trouble with regulations. He was a most unlikely person to have attained the high position in the service of his mighty cousin which provided him the chance and wherewithal to engage in an idea to blow up the Houses of Parliament.
If there were any such thing as poetic justice, Of November would be called Percy-Catesby Day The Fifth, for Tom and his closest friend Robert Catesby were the real instigators from the Gunpowder Treason. Fawkes was just their foot soldier. Nevertheless, the Percy fortune was not as vast as it can have been had the Percys of the sixteenth century behaved themselves to the satisfaction of Elizabeth Tudor. The 6th Earl, another Henry, is most beneficial known for his unsanctioned betrothal to a woman named Anne Boleyn. The 7th Earl cut the widest historical swatch of the group by leading the Northern Uprising of 1569 and getting himself beheaded and beatified.
The always fiscally powered Elizabeth did not mind restoring a few of the Percy lands and the title to the lifeless Earl’s brother as long as the exorbitant fines were paid. The 8th Earl of Northumberland got supported the Queen in her struggles against his errant older brother and was saturated in Elizabeth’s favor until he embraced the reason for the imprisoned Queen of Scots.
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He was murdered during one of is own remains in the Tower. Thus, the Henry Percy of our story, Ninth Earl of Northumberland, inherited estates reduced by forfeitures, fines, and levies incurred due to antics of his family during Elizabeth’s reign. The Earl’s employment of his controversial cousin as his agent needed been a business decision based on nepotism, since there was nothing in Tom Percy’s past performance to recommend him to the task. The upkeep of the Northern properties required skilled administration, not the heavy corrupt and handed management design of Thomas Percy.
Thomas Percy may have been a grandson of the Fifth Earl of Northumberland, ‘the Magnificent Earl’ who offered both Henry Tudors, but he was not a detailed kinsman of his contemporary, the Ninth Earl. He visited London at the urging of his sibling Jocelyn to study law ostensibly, but the academic regimen failed to entice him, and he ended up living in Alsatia, a London suburb known for its violence. In the vernacular of his day, he was known as a ‘free-friend,’ making his way through his sword. Before he became the manager of the Earl’s considerable estates in Northumberland, Tom Percy experienced walked in the shadow of the gallows more often than once.
Yet, whether by virtue of his elegance or by reason of his bloodline, trouble seemed to roll quickly his back. In 1596 the most notorious of his exploits brought him close to the gallows perilously. While Brenan’s history will not divulge the details, other sources suggest he murdered a Scotsman named Burns in a street fight, the two begin several events where he escaped punishment through the intervention of people in high places. Before his trial, one of is own older brothers appealed to the Earls of Essex and Northumberland on his behalf.
Essex penned a note to Lord Beaumont, Chief Justice of the Court of Sessions, flaunting Tom’s ties to himself and Northumberland, stressing Tom’s background, and predicting he’d be of great service to his country in the future. Upon Essex’s involvement, Thomas was sprung. Essex later defined service to his county by leading a failed rebellion against his Queen, an action which got him wiped out. His protege was to check out in his footsteps. If Thomas Percy discovered anything from the escapade it was to exploit his ties to people in high favor with the crown.