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Thomas Stucley

Born: c. 1525
Birthplace: Affleton, England
Died: 4-Aug-1578
Location of death: Battle of Alcazar
Cause of death: War

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Military

Nationality: England
Executive summary: English military adventurer

Thomas Stucley, or Stukely, an English adventurer, son of Sir Hugh Stucley, of Affieton, near Ilfracombe, a knight of the body to King Henry VIII, was supposed by some of his contemporaries to have been an illegitimate son of the king. He was a standard-bearer at Boulogne from 1547 to 1550, entered the service of the Duke of Somerset, and after his master's arrest in 1551 a warrant was issued against him, but he succeeded in escaping to France, where be served in the French army. His military talents brought him under the notice of Montmorency, and he was sent with a letter of recommendation from Henri II of France to King Edward VI. On his arrival he proceeded on the 16th of September 1552 to reveal the French plans for the capture of Calais and for a descent upon England, the furtherance of which had, according to his account, been the object of his mission to England. Northumberland evaded the payment of any reward to Stucley, and sought to gain the friendship of the French king by pretending to disbelieve Stucley's statements. Stucley, who may well have been the originator of the plans adopted by the French, was imprisoned in the Tower of London for some months. A prosecution for debt on his release in August 1553 compelled him to become a soldier of fortune once more, but he returned to England in December 1554 in the train of Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, after obtaining security against his creditors. He temporarily improved his fortunes by marrying an heiress, Anne Curtis, but in a few months had to return to the Duke of Savoy's service. As early as 1558 he was summoned before the council on a charge of piracy, hut was acquitted on the ground of insufficient evidence. In 1562 he obtained a warrant permitting him to bring French ships into English ports although England and France were nominally at peace. With six ships, one of which was supplied by Queen Elizabeth I, he started buccaneering against French, Spanish and Portuguese ships, though his commission was concerned with an expedition to Florida. Repeated remonstrances on the part of the offended powers compelled Elizabeth to disavow Stucley, who surrendered in 1565, but his prosecution was merely formal.

He had met Shane O'Neill at the English court in the winter of 1561-62, and was employed in 1566 by Sir Henry Sidney in a vain effort to induce the Irish chief to enter into negotiations with the government. Sidney desired to allow Stucley to purchase the estates and office of Sir Nicholas Bagnall, marshal of Ireland, for 3000, but Elizabeth refused to permit the transaction. Undeterred by this failure, Stucley bought lands and the office of seneschal of Wexford from Sir Nicholas Heron, but in June 1568 he was dismissed, and in the next year imprisoned in Dublin Castle on a charge of high treason, but was released in October. He now offered his services to Fenelon, the French ambassador in London, and was from that point forward continuously engaged in schemes against Elizabeth. Philip II invited him to Madrid and loaded him with honors. He was known at the Spanish court by the curious title of "Duke of Ireland", and was established with a handsome allowance in a villa near Madrid. He was knighted in 1571, and prepared to become a member of a religious order of knighthood. His credit with Spain was seriously injured by another Irish malcontent, Maurice Gibbon, archbishop of Cassel; but Stucley, who now desired to leave Spain, only obtained his passports after Elizabeth had demanded his dismissal. He commanded three galleys under Don John of Austria at the battle of Lepanto. His exploits restored him to favor at Madrid, and on the 2nd of March 1572 he was at Seville, offering to hold the narrow seas against the English with a fleet of twenty ships. In four years (1570-74) he is said to have received over 27,000 ducats from Philip II. Wearied by the Spanish king's delays he sought more serious assistance from the new Pope Gregory XIII, who aspired to make his illegitimate son, Giacomo Buoncompagno, king of Ireland. He set sail from Civita Vecchia in March 1578, but put into Lisbon, where he was to meet his confederate, James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald, and to secure better ships before sailing for Ireland. There he was turned from his purpose by King Sebastian, with whom he sailed for Morocco. He commanded the center in the battle of Alcazar on the 4th of August 1578, and was killed, in fair fight apparently, though tradition asserted that he was murdered by his Italian soldiers after the battle.

Stucleys adventurous career made considerable impression on his contemporaries. A play generally assigned to George Peele, The Battell of Alcazar... with the Death of Captain Stukely, printed by E. Allde in 1594, was probably acted in 1592, and is perhaps identical with a popular piece referred to by Philip Henslowe as Muley surnamed Abdelmilech. It deals with Stucley's arrival in Lisbon and his Moorish expedition, but in a long speech before his death he recapitulates the events of his life. A later piece, The Famous History of the Life and Death of Captain Thomas Stukeley, printed for Thomas Panyer (1605), which is possibly the Stewtley played, according to Henslowe, on the 11th of December 1596, is a biographical piece dealing with successive episodes, and seems to be a patchwork of older plays on Don Antonio and on Stucley. His adventures also form the subject of various ballads.

Father: Sir Hugh Stucley
Wife: Anne Curtis

    Converted to Catholicism 1565
    Counterfeiting 1555
    Piracy 1558, acquitted
    Treason 1569



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