Algernon Percy, 10th Earl Of Northumberland

The earls of Northumberland were amongst the country’s premier aristocrats, albeit with a propensity for opposing the crown. Both the 7th and 8th earls were accused of treason and died in the Tower of London. Algernon’s father Henry, the 9th earl, was suspected of complicity in the Gunpowder Plot and was imprisoned for sixteen years. He died in 1632 and Algernon then succeeded to the title.

Algernon married Lady Anne Cecil, the eldest daughter of William Cecil 2nd Earl of Salisbury, in 1629. They had five daughters, but only two survived to adulthood. Anne died of smallpox in 1637. He married Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the second Earl of Suffolk, in 1642. They had one son, Jocelyn. 

The earl sat as an MP in the Parliaments of 1624-5 and 1625-6. In March 1626 he entered the House of Lords as Lord Percy. He was promoted to high office by Charles I who made him a Privy Councillor and Lord Admiral. In 1640 he was appointed commander-in-chief of the king’s army with the rank of Captain General. However, he did not take the field against the Scots in the second Bishops’ War, due to ill health.

He upset the king by opposing the dissolution of the Short Parliament in 1640 and was a leading critic of royal policies in the Long Parliament. He refused the king’s request to perjure himself at the trial of the Earl of Strafford. Immediately after the trial he allowed MPs Hampden and Holles to make a copy, for publication, of a damaging letter from his brother Henry that revealed details of a royalist plot to rescue Strafford from the Tower.

In his role as the Lord Admiral, he helped secure control of the Navy for Parliament. His commission was revoked by the king in June 1642 and he was disappointed when Parliament chose not to reappoint him to the Admiralty. But he was appointed to the Committee of Public Safety and became the highest ranking member of the king’s party to side with Parliament.

He was one of the five peace commissioners who went to see the king at Colnbrook in November 1642. Despite those negotiations, the royalist army advanced the next day and attacked the parliamentarian force in Brentford. They also occupied Northumberland’s mansion, Syon House, close by, which was damaged by cannon fire from parliamentarian boats. On the following day Northumberland joined Essex’s army at Turnham Green, where the royalist advance was halted.

Initially Northumberland was a member of the peace party. In 1643 he led a delegation sent to negotiate with the king. By 1644, however, his attitude had hardened and he became a firm supporter of the New Model Army. From 1645 to 1649 he had charge of the king’s two youngest children.

Northumberland opposed the trial of Charles I and following the king’s execution he withdrew from public life. He was involved in the efforts to restore Charles II, but favoured a more limited form of monarchy than was eventually agreed. Charles II appointed him a Privy Councillor, but he had few friends at Court. He spent most of his remaining years on his estate at Petworth where he died in 1668.