|Stained glass depiction of William Compton|
Compton was born about 1482 to Edmund Compton and Joan (née Alyworth) of Warwickshire. He became a ward to King Henry VII when he was 11 due to his father's death. He was placed in the household of Prince Henry. William initially served as a page to the young prince. Growing up together, the two formed a close friendship which continued the rest of Compton's life. Before Henry VII died, Compton is only mentioned as a servant and ward. However, by the time of Henry VII's funeral, he was Groom of the Stole to Henry VIII, one of the highest court positions (Bernard).
Life at Court
|King's Jewels as depicted on "The Tudors"|
According to one contemporary courtier, writing of Compton after his death, he "had no lernyng in the law other than alitill experiens of the same," meaning he had no real formal education, simply his experiences living in the Royal Household. Compton certainly knew how to write, as letters indicate, however he was no academic. Despite this, he mastered his position, efficiently running Henry's household and progresses. He remained Groom of the Stole until 1526, and was then promoted to User of the Receipts of the Exchequer. In 1511, the French Ambassador stated that Compton had more influence with the King than any other man. It must have been true, for in 1514 he received an annual pension of 700 livres from the French. Another example of Compton's influence comes from a letter he wrote Lord Darcy, in which he thanks him "in especiall for your kyndely fauor and goodness shewed..." Darcy was clearly ingratiating himself with Compton, and in return, with the King (Bernard). Despite his immense influence, Comtpon did not create his own political faction, but simply enjoyed his wealth, position, and made sure to serve his King diligently, from whom all his bounty flowed.
|Henry VIII jousting|
War was another occupation of King and Men. On Sept. 21, 1513, Henry, along with Compton, took the town of Tournai. Afterwards, he knighted Compton, along with two hundred other men. He was now a Knight, and officially part of the gentry.
As befitting his rise, Compton played host to Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII in 1516. She arrived on May 3rd from Scotland, and waited at Compton's estate until Henry arrived to escort her to London. Clearly, he was considered one of the most important men in the country to play host to the the King's sister, and Dowager Queen of Scotland.
Throughout his service to the King, Compton amassed over 40 estates. One of his homes still remains, Compton Wynyates in Warwickshire. It is still inhabited by his Compton descendents. He also amassed a huge number of crown posts. Upon Compton's death, Henry himself wasn't sure how many crown posts Compton had, and commanded Wolsey to send men about England to find out (Bernard).
Sir William, the Pimp?
Despite Compton's great advances at court, he is most remembered for his alleged assistance in organizing trysts between women of the court and the King. One accusation for this is from the Lady Elizabeth Amadas. According to her, the King had sent Compton to arrange a tryst at his London home between herself and the King. However, what she says must be taken with a grain of salt. The lady said these things when being accused of treason for speaking against Anne Boleyn. To read more about this situation, please refer to my article on Elizabeth Amadas.
|The Duke of Buckingham|
He then goes on to point out that this is all gossip, for, "another version is that the love intrigues were not of the King, but of a young man, his favourite, by the name of Compton, who carried on the love intrigue, as it is said, for the King, and that is the more credible version, as the King has shown great displeasure at what I am going to tell..."
Clearly, something was going on with either the Duke of Buckingham's sister, the King, and/or Compton.
Caroz continued with detail on the events transpired, saying, "the favourite of the Queen has been very anxious in the matter of her sister, and has joined herself with the Duke her brother, with her husband, and her sister's husband...The consequences [were] that, whilst the Duke was in the private apartments of his sister, who was suspected with the King, Compton cam there to talk with her, saw the Duke, who intercepted him, quarreled with him, and the end of it was that he was severely reproached in many very hard words."
|Young Henry VIII|
Afterwards, Henry's anger turned to Buckingham's sister, Elizabeth, the Queen's favorite, as well as the instigator in this whole situation. He dismissed her and her husband from court, which vexed the Queen immensely. She, in turn, made her ill-will towards Compton well known, which made the King very upset.
Relationship with Anne Hastings
The entire situation, explained above, leaves several questions:
1) Who was the lady?
2) Why was Compton meeting with her in secret?
3) Why did Buckingham and the King have such a falling out over it?
To answer the first question, the lady was almost undoubtedly Lady Anne Hastings (née Stafford). She was the sister of the Duke of Buckingham, and wife of Sir George Hastings.
Secondly, why was Compton meeting with her in secret? There are two possibilities:
A) The King sent him to arrange a meeting for himself with the lady.
B) Compton was arranging a meeting for himself.
|Anne Stafford, around 1535|
Another possibility (which I personally believe) is that it is a combination of both theories. It is possible that Anne first had an affair with the King, then with Compton. It is impossible to know, as Henry kept his affairs very private. However, the evidence suggests that the lady at least had an extensive affair with Compton. There is strong evidence from several sources, including Compton's own will, that there developed some type of relationship between them. Compton's will settled two things on Lady Hastings:
1) "Two chantries to be founded in his name at Compton, to do daily service for the souls of the King, the Queen, my lady Anne Hastings, himself, his wife and ancestors. The priests to be appointed by the abbot of Winchecombe, or, failing him, the abbot of Evesham."
2) "100 pounds a year to be paid to his wife during her life, for her jointure, besides her inheritance in Barkeley's lands...and to lady Anne Hastings."
Clearly, he was very fond of her to leave so much to her. It is obvious that her role in his life must have been an intimate one, either as a very close friend or, more likely, as a mistress. Compton's will was written in 1522 and executed after his death in 1528. Their relationship lasted at least 6 years, but probably began before that.
Such an affair, especially with a man the Duke of Buckingham would have considered completely unacceptable, would account for his and Lord Hastings' hot reaction to the entire situation with the King. I feel that if the King were the real culprit, the two might have behaved better. I feel their strong reaction was a result of Compton's involvement.
Regardless, Buckingham's days were numbered. In 1521, Buckingham was arrested for treason. Compton held the warrant and led the guards to arrest him. He was found guilty and beheaded on May 17th. Others close to Buckingham also fell, however Lady Anne Hastings and her husband remained untouched (Hart). This could have been a result of either Compton's influence on the King to spare his mistress, or the King's own affection for the lady. It is not recorded how Anne felt about her brother's downfall, nor about her feelings on Compton receiving some of her brother's repossessed lands. I'm sure it upset her, but it did not stop her from continuing in her affair.
This ends Part One of my article on William Compton. Wednesday I will investigate Compton's relationship with Cardinal Wolsey, his marriages, modern portrayals (such as "The Tudors), his questionable conduct with the acquisition of lands, and finally, his untimely death.
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII.
Bernard, G.W. "The Rise Of William Compton, Early Tudor Courtier." The English Historical Review. Vol. 96, No. 381 (Oct. 1981), pp. 754-777.
Hart, Kelly. The Mistresses of Henry VIII. The History Press (Malta: 2009).
Weir, Alison. Henry VIII: King and Court. Ballantine Books (New York: 2001).