Elizabeth I’s Closest Aide: 7 Facts About Sir Christopher Hatton | History Hit

Elizabeth I’s Closest Aide: 7 Facts About Sir Christopher Hatton

Esther Arnott

10 Mar 2023
Sir Christopher Hatton, by Unknown artist. Oil on panel, probably 17th century, based on a work of 1589.
Image Credit: © National Portrait Gallery, London / NPG 2162 / CC

In the cut-throat world of the Elizabethan court, Sir Christopher Hatton (1540-1591) became one of Elizabeth I’s favourites. After catching her eye in 1561, Hatton was quickly promoted to the Privy Council, making a significant impact on Elizabeth’s complex religious policy.

However, Hatton has often been overshadowed by such Tudor heavyweights as Robert Dudley, William Cecil and Francis Walsingham. So how did Hatton rise from minor gentry to becoming the Queen’s closest aide?

Here are 7 facts about Sir Christopher Hatton.

1. It is said he caught Elizabeth’s attention when dancing

In 1561/2, while in residence at the Inns of Court in London, Hatton was participating in a dance – one of the many revels that Inns held between October and February every year to which the queen was invited.

Hatton was dancing the galliard – a very vigorous dance, popular in the French court. The dancer performed four hopping steps followed by a high leap, giving men an opportunity to show off their athleticism. 

Elizabeth was so taken with Hatton’s dancing and his ‘tall and portionable’ person that he earned the nickname ‘the Dancing Chancellor’. 

Who was Sir Christopher Hatton, Elizabeth I's closest favourite? Prof. Suzannah Lipscomb explores.
Listen Now

2. Being a favourite earned Hatton positions of authority

In 1564, Elizabeth gave Hatton the position of Gentlemen Pensioner – an elite bodyguard to the monarch, and a royal warrant was issued commissioning a new suit of armour for Hatton’s use. She also made him a member of the Privy Chamber.

In 1572, Hatton became Captain of the Yeoman of the Guard, followed by Vice Chamberlain of the Household and a member of the Privy Council in 1577. He was made Knight of the Garter and then in 1587 he became Lord High Chancellor, the second highest office of state in which he was the presiding officer of the House of Lords and the highest-ranking judge in the country.

3. He was also a man of talent

Although Hatton did not complete his education at the University of Oxford, he was a learned, intelligent man. 

He patronised writers and men training in the law, and counted playwrights such as Edmund Spenser among his friends. He himself wrote plays and poetry and represented Higham Ferrers and Northamptonshire as a Member of Parliament and Justice of the Peace.

In 1588 he became the Chancellor for the University of Oxford.

4. He received many gifts from Elizabeth

In 1568 Hatton was rewarded with Sulby Abbey in Northamptonshire and was given Holdenby House on a 40 year lease. Hatton set about making Holdenby fit for his Queen, swearing never to sleep there until Elizabeth did. Despite completing the renovations in 1583 and it being bigger and grander than Hampton Court Palace, Elizabeth never set foot in the house.

Still, the rewards kept coming. He became Keeper of the Parks at Eltham (Kent) and Horne (Surrey) and also received a London inn, lands in Yorkshire and Leicestershire, Wellingborough and Corfe Castle in Dorset. In 1581, Elizabeth gave Hatton Ely Place in London and it is from his ownership of this house that Hatton Garden today takes its name. 

Property and land was evidently not enough, for every year when Elizabeth gave New Year’s gifts to her courtiers, Hatton received 400 ounces of silver – twice the amount given to other high ranking people, and eight times the usual gift size.

The original Holdenby House, since demolished and rebuilt

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

5. He was possibly in love with Queen Elizabeth (or very good at the game of courtly love)

In 1573, Hatton fell ill and went to a European spa to take the restorative waters. He wrote to Elizabeth lamenting ‘the twelfth day since I saw the brightness of the sun that giveth light unto my sense and soul’.

He used pet names for himself, which Elizabeth used in return (‘lyddes’ and ‘sheep’) who with ‘pure love and diligent faith may everlastingly serve you’.

Of course, this may have been a superlative play of courtly love, but Hatton remained by Elizabeth’s side for his entire life. He never married.

6. He was in debt so invested in overseas enterprises to make money

In 1575 Hatton was in at least £10,000 debt – a huge sum by early modern standards. Managing his estates was proving costly – in 1576 he spent £1,900 on repairs to Ely Place alone.

In a bid to make money, Hatton invested in Francis Drake’s planned circumnavigation voyage of 1577-80, so Drake renamed his ship the Golden Hinde to reflect the animal on Hatton’s family crest. Hatton made £2,300 from his investment.

Hatton also invested in Martin Frobisher’s bids to find the North-West Passage, as well as attempts by other men to voyage to East India and Moluccas (Indonesia). 

7. He was the only favourite to be given a state funeral

Hatton died aged 51. Although Elizabeth never granted him a title (such as duke or earl) she did give him what we might regard to be a state funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral in 1591, where his tomb and elaborate monument remained until it was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

Esther Arnott