The themes Chidiock Tichborne wrote about


Chidiock (Charles) Tichborne is remembered as an English conspirator and poet.


He was born in Southampton sometime after 24 August 1562 to Roman Catholic parents, Peter Tichborne and his wife Elizabeth (née Middleton).His birth date has been given as circa 1558 in many sources, though unverified, and thus his age given as 28 at his execution. It is unlikely that he was born before his parents marriage so he could have been no more than 23 years old when he died.

Chidiock's father Peter appears to be the youngest son of Henry Tichborne (born circa 1474) and Anne Mervin (or Marvin) but the records are unclear. Peter was clerk of the Crowne at the trial of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton in 1554 and was an ardent catholic supporter. Being the youngest son of a youngest son he was of little means and required to make his own way. He secured an education and the patronage of Lord Chidiock Paulet. In later life he spent many years imprisoned unable to pay recusancy fines. Chideock's mother was Elizabeth Middleton, daughter of William Middleton (grandson of Sir Thomas Middleton of Belso, Kt.) and Elizabeth Potter (daughter of John Potter of Westram). William had been servant to John Islip, Abbot of Westminster, and a banner bearer at Islip's funeral 1532 , and later bought lands in Kent.

At least two of Chidiock's sisters are recorded by name: Dorothy, first wife of Thomas Muttelbury of Jurdens, Somerset ; and Mary, second wife of Sir William Kirkham of Blagdon, Paignton, Devon. At his execution Chidiock mentions his wife Agnes, one child, and his six sisters. In his letter to his wife, written the night before his execution he mentions his sisters - and also 'my little sister Babb'. Another sister is implied in a secret intelligence note to Francis Walsingham, dated Sept 18 1586, in which the writer has had conference with "Jennings of Portsmouth" who reports that Mr Bruyn of Dorset and Mr Kyrkham of Devon are persons to be suspect as they had married Tychbourn's sisters.

Given the recent succession of Elizabeth I to the throne after the death of Mary I, he was allowed to practice Catholicism for part of his early life. However in 1570 the Queen was excommunicated by the Pope for her own Protestantism and support of Protestant causes, most notably the Dutch Rebellion against Spain; in retaliation she ended her relative toleration of the Catholic Church. Catholicism was made illegal, and Roman Catholics were once more banned by law from practicing their religion and Roman Catholic priests risked death for performing their functions.

Chidiock descended from Sir Roger de Tichborne who owned land at Tichborne, near Winchester, in the twelfth century. Chidiock's second cousin and contemporary was Sir Benjamin Tichborne who lived at Tichborne Park and was created a Baronet by King James I in 1621. The Tichborne family is ancient and believed to have held land at Tichborne from before the Norman Conquest. In Chidiock's reported oration from the scaffold before his execution he allegedly stated: "I am descended from a house, from two hundred years before the Conquest, never stained till this my misfortune.".

In 1583, Tichborne and his father, Peter, were arrested and questioned concerning the use of "popish relics", religious objects Tichborne had brought back from a visit he had made abroad without informing the authorities of an intention to travel. Though released without charge, records suggest that this was not the last time they were to be questioned by the authorities over their religion. In June 1586 accusations of "popish practices" were laid against his family.

Chidiock's father secured the patronage of his distant kinsman, Lord Chidiock Paulet (1521–1574, son of the 1st Marquess of Winchester), after whom he named his son. The name originates from a Paulet ancestor, Sir John Chideock, Kt., who owned land at Chideock, a village in Dorset. Chidiock Tichborne was never called Charles - this is an error that has grown from a misprint in the AQA GCSE English Literature syllabus which has included the Elegy in its early poetry section for several years. Unfortunately this error persists in much of the educational literature supporting the syllabus.

In June 1586, Tichborne agreed to take part in the Babington Plot to murder Queen Elizabeth and replace her with the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, who was next in line to the throne. The plot was foiled by Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's spymaster, using double agents, most notably Robert Poley who was later witness to the murder of Christopher Marlowe, and though most of the conspirators fled, Tichborne had an injured leg and was forced to remain in London. On 14 August he was arrested and he was later tried and sentenced to death in Westminster Hall.

While in custody in the Tower of London on 19 September (the eve of his execution), Tichborne wrote to his wife Agnes. The letter contained three stanzas of poetry that is his best known piece of work, Tichborne's Elegy, also known by its first line My Prime of Youth is but a Frost of Cares. The poem is a dark look at a life cut short and is a favorite of many scholars to this day. Two other poems are known by him, To His Friend and The Housedove.

On 20 September 1586, Tichborne was executed with Anthony Babington, John Ballard, and four other conspirators. They were eviscerated, hanged, drawn and quartered, the mandatory punishment for treason, in St Giles Field. However, when Elizabeth was informed that these gruesome executions were arousing sympathy for the condemned, she ordered that the remaining seven conspirators were to be hanged until 'quite dead' before being eviscerated.

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