"... I'll have no little bastard KEYES laying claims to my throne," raged Queen Elizabeth, among a host of her usual oaths.
The date was August 1564.
The occasion was the marriage, in secret, under Elizabeth's nose, in the Watergate apartments in Whitehall Palace, at 9.00 p.m. on 10 August 1564, between her cousin, the Lady Mary GREY, one of the maids-of-honour at Court, and the Sergeant-Porter, Thomas KEYES.
Elizabeth's anger was raised by the fact that Mary had been named by Henry VIII, in his will, in the order of succession.
CECIL's observation was more prosaic - KEYES is said to have stood 6 feet 8 inches tall in stockinged feet, with a girth to match; and the diminutive Mary, who appears to have suffered a severe form of spinal curvature which left her looking "...almost a dwarf" [D.N.B.] and in the eyes of the Spanish Ambassador, "... little, crook-backed, and very ugly." [Calendars of State Papers, Spanish Series.].
The court regarded the match as ludicrous.
Mary was confined to house arrest, and KEYES was dispatched to the Fleet Prison. He was eventually released, in 1568, but ordered to live "quietly" at his residence in Lewisham. He died in early September 1571, having taken no further part in Court affairs.
But his story began earlier, in about 1546, when Thomas was appointed Captain of Sandgate Castle, which his father Richard had built for Henry VIII.
Richard KEYES, of Brockley, Lewisham, and of St Radigund's, Kent, was recorded in 1520 as owing rental to the Lord of Lewisham on a croft called Mabellforde, which had belonged to his father Thomas KAYS (died in 1525). He served first in Calais; then as Yeoman to Queen Catherine of Aragon, in 1523; and was appointed Sergeant-at-Arms to Henry VIII in 1528. He was of Folkestone, Kent, when granted, 10 May 1538, the lease of the house, site and certain lands of the dissolved Monastery of St Radigund, County Kent, for 21 years at a yearly rental of £13 10s. and 8d. He was appointed Commissioner for Works, Master of Works, and Paymaster, for the building of Sandgate Castle, 1539-43. He was succeeded as Captain of Sandgate Castle, on his death in December 1545, by his son Thomas.
Thomas was, according to BURKE ["Peerage and Baronetage," 1949, pages 1115-17], born in 1523. His mother was one of Richard's two wives, and probably the first - Agnes, daughter of Sir William SAUNDERS, Treasurer of Calais and after Cofferer to Queen Mary. Richard re-married, before 1531, to Mildred, widow of John DIGGES or Berham, and daughter of Sir John SCOTT of Scott's Hall, Smythe Parish, County Kent.
Some historians have said that Thomas KEYES was a distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth; Richard KEYES' second wife shared a common descent with Elizabeth from the WOODVILLEs; but BURKE recorded Thomas as a son of the earlier marriage.
Among his siblings, some or all of whom may have been half-siblings, were:
1. William KEYES, the second son, named in his father's will, 1546.
2. Sybell KEYES; named in her father's will.
3. Bennett KEYES; named in a Visitation pedigree, and in a 1914 pedigree by William Jackson PIGOTT of Dundrum, County Down.
4. Edward KEYES; present at his brother's second marriage in London, 1564.
5. Reginald KEYES; Lieutenant, Sandgate Castle, 1564; in the Army, 1588.
Thomas was appointed to a post in Court by Henry VIII, about September 1548. This was probably the post of Sergeant Porter of the Royal Water-gates, "... although he was entrusted with many other duties," which probably included adjudicating in all disputes and brawls between palace servants. He certainly had the build of a right Royal Bouncer.
His main duties were the safe handling of the Royal retinue and their baggage into and out of river barges at the Royal Water-Gates on the Thames when the court was on the move. His principal abode was at Westminster Water-gate, which still serviced the newer Whitehall Palace adjacent, and which building survived until 1808.
Thomas was the M.P. for Hythe, County Kent, in 1554, when summoned as a Baron of the Cinque Ports during the WYATT rebellion, which originated in Kent, and he "... took some share in suppressing the rising."
On 27 June 1556, he was granted for life, in consideration of ten years service as Captain of Sandgate Castle, an annuity of £40 to be paid half-yearly at the Receipt of the Exchequer. This suggests his full-time duties as Sergeant Porter were to come later, and perhaps not until after Queen Mary's death.
On 16 March 1558, he was requested, with Edward BOYES, Esq, to examine "... diligently a certain disorder committed in the churches of Dover of late."
Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1558, and her General Pardon Roll of 15 January 1559 included Thomas as "... Captain of Sandegate Castle in Foulstone, County Kent, now Serjeant-Usher of the Household, late of Sayncte Radigons in Poulton, County Kent."
He was thanked by the Council by letter dated 7 May 1559 for his diligence, together with William CRISPE, Esq, in apprehending and committing to ward of one BASDEN, Priest of Canterbury, who was attempting to pass the seas at Dover.
And on 19 August 1562, the Searchers of Dover were advised in writing that Thomas KEYES was appointed by Lord Robert DUDLEY, Master of the Queen's Horses, as his deputy, with a brief to report on all movements of horses in and out of the port of Dover, although it appears that the Searchers were reluctant to assist KEYES in the performance of his duties.
When Thomas KEYS married Mary GREY, he was already a widower with a grown-up family. Details of his first marriage are proving entirely elusive, but there is some evidence of several of the children of it:
1. Thomas KEYES, possibly born about 1550; granted administration of his father's estate, 24 September 1571; said to have married at Canterbury, in 1572, Joan CLARKE, with issue a son Richard KEYES, born on 3 January 1574, a Captain in the Army.
2. Isabel KEYES. She is widely believed to have married William ST LEGER, the disinherited eldest son of Sir Anthony ST LEGER, of Ulcombe, Kent, Lord Deputy of Ireland, with issue a son Warham ST LEGER, and a daughter Anne ST LEGER, the first wife of Sir Robert PIGOTT of Dysart in the Queen's County, Ireland. But the dates suggest this spouse of William ST LEGER was perhaps older, and may have instead been Thomas KEYES' sister, rather than his daughter.
But, to return to the ill-conceived marriage.
Henry KNOLLEYS, the son of Sir Francis KNOLLEYS, was married to Catherine CAREY, a niece of Anne BOLEYN; Queen Elizabeth attended the wedding, which was held in the Palace. The wedding party later retired to the apartments of his distant relation, Thomas KEYES, where, freed from court etiquette, they feasted and danced until shortly before 9 p.m.
Then, after delivering a secret token by his man JONES, Thomas went to the Council chamber to collect the Lady Mary GREY, and Mrs GOLDWELL, and brought them back to his apartments over the Watergate, where they were married, by candle-light, shortly after 9 p.m., by a priest apparelled in a short gown, being old, fat and of low stature, apparently named Thomas WITHERS, a parson in the employ of Sir Henry CHENEY.
[See Richard DAVEY. "The Sisters of Lady Jane GREY." Chapman and Hall, London, 1911, pages 262-63.]
The Spanish Ambassador reported to his King that KEYES:
"... confessed that it is true, and that the wedding was performed with all solemnity by a clergyman, and has been consummated. She asserts to the contrary that merely a promise for the future was given and nothing else."
[C.S.P., Spanish Series.]
[A later portrait of Lady Mary GREY, showing off her wedding rings.]
Thomas KEYES's punishment was hard on a man of his physical size.
His committal to the Fleet Prison, on 23 August 1564, was on the direct orders from the Queen, "... to keep him in safe and severall warde, without having conference with any... for an offence which the Quene's Majesty taketh moche to harte against him."
On 17 October, the Council instructed the Warden of the Fleet to permit Thomas, "... now a close prisoner there, to receive a casket of writings, sent him by Mr Comptroller's servant, touching matters he hath depending before the law, and further to permit any such as shall come to him about his said causes in the law to have access to him and speak with him, so the same be in the presence and hearing of the said Warden."
By June and July 1566, KEYES made pleas from the Fleet to CECIL for intercession with the Queen, concerning his volunteering for employment in Ireland, and asking that if he not be so employed, he may be permitted to remain as a prisoner with some of his friends.
Bishop GRINDALL, at Fulham, 5 August 1566, advised CECIL of what he had "... done in the Serjeant Porter's matter. If the marriage contract be dissolved, it must be done judicially."
He observed of KEYES that "... for his bulk of body such as I know it to be, his confinement in the Fleet puts him to great inconvenience," and recommending he be allowed to take some open-air exercise; whereupon, for a time, he was allowed to walk in the garden attached to the Prison.
This privilege was withdrawn by a new Warden in December, and he was also prevented from cooking his own food.
He further complained of ill-treatment, saying that "... a rib of roast beef for his dinner had been immersed in a liquid wash prepared for a mangy dog, and his illness thereon"; and of the removal of his small stone-bow "... wherewith I was wont to shoot at birds out of my prison-window, for the refreshment of myself sometimes. But even this little solace is denied me."
Despite GRINDALL's further intercession, after Thomas had fallen into "a languor," and recommending his release, he appears to have been still in the Fleet when he wrote to CECIL on 26 October 1568, begging him to intercede with the Queen, as he:
"... had rather end his life in her service than remain as a banished man from her Majesty's presence."
And appealing for the Queen's pardon:
"... if only for the sake of my poor children, who innocent as they are, suffer punishment with me for my offence. If it were her Majesty's and your honour's pleasure to fetter me with iron gyves, I could willingly endure it; but to bear the cruelty of this warden of the Fleet is no small grief to my heart."
But he was released, and in 1569 was re-appointed a Captain of Sandgate Castle, on the threat of a coalition between France and Spain. He wrote from there, in May 1570, imploring Archbishop PARKER to intercede with the Queen that "... according to the laws of God, he may permitted to live with his wife."
But the Queen was unmoved.
Lord COBHAM advised BURGHLEY, on 5 September 1571, that "... Captain KEYES ys departyd... which the Lady Mary taketh grievously"; GRESHAM wrote to CECIL seeking permission for her to wear mourning, which was denied; she apparently continued to call herself Lady Mary KEYES, and expressed her "... determination to keep and bring up his children."
Which is at odds with reports that they were, by then, all grown adults.
And we know not where his rather large mortal remains were laid to rest, perhaps at Lewisham.
His family Arms were - "Gules, A chevron Ermine between three leopard's faces Argent."
His pedigree may be found in "The Pedigree Register," Volume 1, December 1908, page 197, and inserted by R.J. FYNMORE of Sandgate. Another pedigree was published in two editions of BURKE's "Peerage and Baronetage," [1949 and 1970] being based on unpublished research done by Sir Terence KEYES (1877-1939). These two pedigrees do not entirely agree with one another.
Additional published sources referred to were:
1. Dictionary of National Biography - KEYES, Lady Mary.
2. Mary M. LUKE, "Gloriana; the Years of Elizabeth I." Victor Gollancz, London, 1974, pages 236-37.
3. Neville WILLIAMS. "Elizabeth. Queen of England." Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1967, pages 98-99.
4. Christopher HIBBERT. "The Virgin Queen - The Personal History of Elizabeth I." Viking, 1990.
5. Calendars of State Papers, Elizabeth.
Thomas was my probable gtx11 grandfather.