About Richard Levenson
Family and Education b. 1570, o.s. of Walter Leveson by Anne, da. of Sir Andrew Corbet of Moreton Corbet, Salop. m. 13 Dec. 1587, Margaret, da. of Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham, s.p. Kntd. 1596; suc. fa. 1602.2
J.p.q. Salop and Staffs. by 1594; custos rot. Salop 1596.
V.-adm. N. Wales 1593-1601; adm. of the narrow seas 1600, v.-adm. of England 1604.3
Biography Leveson was married at the age of 17 to a daughter of the lord admiral, under whom he served as a volunteer on the Ark Royal against the Armada. At first he did little to distinguish himself, during the 1590s committing several blunders, any one of which might have ended the career of a man with less influential connexions. But in the end Leveson justified his father-in-law’s patronage and the Queen’s opinion that he was a man of ‘resolution and discretion’. In less than a year, from his attack on Kinsale harbour in December 1601 to June 1602, when, under the guns of Cézimbra fort, he captured a caravel valued at a million ducats, he brilliantly retrieved his reputation. The gibes of John Chamberlain changed to admiration for the admiral who ‘played the man when all men’s hearts failed’, and Sir William Monson, who served under him, wrote of the ‘renowned courage’ of his commander, who attacked the Spanish fleet at odds of six to one, yet avoided a repetition of the Revenge tragedy. The letters written to Cecil, to Nottingham and to his cousin John, reveal Leveson’s grasp of naval administration, and particularly of the defects in the system of pressing and victualling. They also reveal a man who could give credit to his subordinates.4
Leveson was naturally exasperated by his father’s desperate financial situation. Asking Cecil for leave of absence in December 1601:
the miserable wrecks of my father’s torn estate are well-known. His want of care, and my want of credit with him to take up loose ends before they ravelled into extremities, are the cause that my lands ... are now by forfeitures brought into the hands of strangers. His father accused Leveson of procuring his imprisonment in the Fleet prison in 1600, and indeed he had written to his cousin, John Leveson, suggesting that if the Lords proposed ‘to enlarge’ his father, it might be deferred until his return. There seems to have been some sort of reconciliation between them, but Sir Walter died in prison, leaving his affairs in such confusion that his son lamented to Cecil, ‘What land soever I may discover in the Queen’s service upon a foreign coast, I am never likely to see any profit of my own lands at home’.5
Leveson made little mark in Parliament, the journals for the 1589 Parliament mentioning his name only once, 3 Mar., when he was granted leave of absence. He died in London in July 1605, aged 35, and was buried at Wolverhampton. His will dated 17 Mar. that year was made, ‘calling to mind the uncertainty of all earthly things, and that we hold and enjoy ourselves together with all our temporal blessings but as tenants at will to our good God that gave them’. The inscription on his tomb reads:
Here lieth the body of Perfection’s glory, Fame’s own world wonder, and the ocean’s story.6 Ref Volumes: 1558-1603 Author: J.J.C. Notes 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament. 2. Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 4), xi. 154; DNB; Genealogist, i. 385; J. S. Corbett, Successors of Drake, 257; CSP Dom. 1601-3, p. 259. 3. PRO Index 4208, f. 38; EHR, xxiii. 756; Clowes, Royal Navy, i. 512, n. 3; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 92. 4. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxviii), 137; Clowes, i. 534-5, 589; Corbett, 257, 367; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 134; 1601-3, pp. 79, 132, 134, 161, 208-9; CSP Ire. 1601-3, p. 238; HMC 5th Rep. 136-7. 5. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 400-2, 411-12; 1601-3, pp. 133-4, 259; HMC 5th Rep. 136-7. 6. Townshend, Hist. Colls. 23; Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 4), xi. 154; PCC 59 Hayes
Vice Admiral Sir Richard Leveson (1570–1605) was an important Elizabethan seaman, a member of the English parliament and a major landowner in Shropshire and Staffordshire.
Leveson's father was Sir Walter Leveson (1551-1602). The family name is pronounced /ˈluːsən/, loosen, and could be rendered in many ways in the 16th century, including Lewson, Luson and Lucen. The Levesons were originally important wool merchants based in Wolverhampton but became major landowners in Shropshire and Stafffordshire - mainly through esates acquired by Walter's grandfather James Leveson after the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries. The most important estates were at Lilleshall, where James Leveson had bought first the Abbey and then the manor, and at Trentham, where James bought the lands of the dissolved priory. Walter was initially an enclosing and improving landlord, raising the family's profile still further, and serving as MP for Shropshire three times.
Richard Leveson's mother was Anne Corbet the daughter of Sir Andrew Corbet of Moreton Corbet, who had been vice-president of the powerful Council of Wales and the Marches. The Corbets were very important landowners in Shropshire, supplying knights of the shire through much of the reign of Queen Elizabeth: in concert with the Levesons, they could dictate the representation of Shropshire in the English parliament.
Marriage and family
At the age of 17, Leveson married by license, dated 13 December 1587, Margaret, daughter of the Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham. The marriage was without issue.
In 1588 Richard Leveson served as a volunteer on board the Ark Royal against the Spanish Armada, and in 1596 had a command in the expedition against Cadiz, on which occasion he was knighted. In 1597 he is said to have commanded the Hope in 'the Islands' voyage' under Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, though other lists describe him as commanding the Nonpareil. It is possible that he moved from one ship to the other during the expedition. In 1599 he commanded the Lion in the fleet fitted out, under Lord Thomas Howard, in expectation of a Spanish attempt at invasion. In 1600, with the style of 'admiral of the narrow seas,' he commanded a squadron sent towards the Azores to look out for the Spanish treasure-ships. Great care was taken to keep their destination secret; but the Spaniards, warned by experience, changed the route of their ships, and so escaped. In October 1601 he was appointed captain-general and admiral of certain of her Majesty's ships to serve against the Spaniards lately landed in Ireland. (Cal. State Papers, Ireland), and in the early days of December fought a battle off Castlehaven and forced his way into the harbour of Kinsale, where, after a severe action, he destroyed the whole of the enemy's shipping.
Early in 1602 Leveson was appointed to command a powerful fleet of nine English and twelve Dutch ships, which were to infest the Spanish coast. The Dutch ships were, however, late in joining, and Leveson, leaving his vice-admiral Sir William Monson, to wait for them, put to sea with only five ships on 19 March 1602. Within two or three days the queen sent Monson orders to sail at once to join his admiral, for she had word that 'the silver ships were arrived at Terceira.' They had, in fact, arrived and left again; and before Monson could join him Leveson fell in with them. With his very small force he could do nothing. 'If the Hollanders,' wrote Monson, 'had kept touch, according to promise, and the queen's ships had been fitted out with care, we had made her majesty mistress of more treasure than any of her progenitors ever enjoyed.' It was not till the end of May that the two English squadrons met with each other, and on 1 June, being then off Lisbon, they had news of a large carrack and eleven galleys in Cezimbra bay. Some of the English ships had been sent home as not seaworthy; others had separated; there were only five with Leveson when, on the morning of the 3rd, he found the enemy's ships strongly posted under the guns of the castle. At ten o'clock he stood into the bay, and after a fight which lasted till five in the evening, two of the galleys were burnt, and the rest, with the carrack, capitulated, and were taken to England.
In 1603, during the last sickness and after the death of the queen, Leveson commanded the fleet in the narrow seas, to prevent any attempt to disturb the peace of the country or to influence the succession being made from France or the Netherlands. This was his last service at sea. On 7 April 1604 he was appointed lieutenant of the admiralty of England, or, by the more common title, vice-admiral of England for life (ib. Dom.), and in the following year was marshal of the embassy to Spain for the conclusion of the peace. Shortly after his return he died in London.
Member of Parliament
Richard Leveson was elected a member of the English parliament for the first time on 7 November 1588, sitting in the 1589 parliament. He was one of two members for the county of Shropshire, the other being his own father, Walter. In the previous election, in October 1586, Walter had been paired with Richard Corbet, his brother-in-law, and the two families had decisive influence over the choice of MP for several decades. At the time of his election he was only 18 years old, unusual but not unique in this period. He did not sit again until 1604, only a year before his death, once again for Shropshire.
Leveson was not a prominent parliamentarian and the journals for the 1589 Parliament mention him as asking for leave of absence.
For most of Richard Leveson's life he was heir to great estates, and in his later tears he was forced to look on helpless as they were endangered and dissipated. He lived occasionally at Lilleshall, Trentham or Wolverhampton, but was on active service for long periods. Although his personal wealth was largely derived from his maritime activities, including his naval service, privateering and trade, he was appointed to some of the offices appropriate to the Staffordshire and Shropshire landed gentry. By 1594, at latest, he was a justice of the peace in both counties. In 1596 he was made Custos Rotulorum of Shropshire, the senior position in the civil administration of the county, and an important honour.
It was Sir Walter Leveson who placed the Leveson patrimony in great danger, as he was accused of piracy in 1587, and later of sorcery. Initially he took rational measures to increase his income but gradually declined mentally. From 1598 he was incarcerated in the Fleet Prison. Although his great estates were still largely intact, they were endangered by the massive debts he incurred as a result of the compensation and fines he was ordered to pay. By this stage, Richard's mother, Anne Corbet, had died and Walter had married Susan Vernon, a cousin of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. Walter wrote to Essex asking that he or one of the Vernons be appointed trustee of the family estates. However, Walter was in the grip of a persecutory delusion. He claimed that he was the victim of a plot connected to jealousy of his second marriage. When Richard made suggestions, his father accused him of plotting with a girl called Ethel to ruin him.
Writing to Robert Cecil in December 1601, Richard pointed out that
"the miserable wrecks of my father’s torn estate are well-known. His want of care, and my want of credit with him to take up loose ends before they ravelled into extremities, are the cause that my lands are now by forfeitures brought into the hands of strangers....What land soever I may discover in the Queen’s service upon a foreign coast, I am never likely to see any profit of my own lands at home"
Not until 1602 did Richard inherit the estates on the death of his father, imprisoned to the last in the Fleet. By this time the wreck was complete and he was forced to put the estates into the hands of trustees, headed by his cousin John Leveson of Halling, Kent. John made progress but little was achieved before the death of Richard, less than three years later. John then found that he faced the further problem of a charge by the Crown for the vast sum of £40,000 to cover the cost of goods seized by Richard from a carrack but unacounted for. After his death in 1615, his wife Christian took up the challenge, and after numerous further setbacks, paid off the debts in 1623. This allowed the estates to pass later that year to another Sir Richard Leveson, John and Christian's son, and the admiral's designated heir.
Death and succession
Leveson made his will on 17 March 1605. In it he chose to characterise life in terms of the travails of landholding:
"calling to mind the uncertainty of all earthly things, and that we hold and enjoy ourselves together with all our temporal blessings but as tenants at will to our good God that gave them."
Leveson died in July 1605; he was buried on 2 September in St Peter's Collegiate Church, Wolverhampton. A statue and monument in the church by Hubert Le Sueur originally formed part of a family group in the chancel. After damage during the English Civil War, it was detached and reassembled in the lady chapel. His portrait, said to be by Vandyck, belongs to the Duke of Sutherland.
As there was no heir, Leveson had already decided to leave the bulk of his property to the heir of his Kentish cousin John, who had once shared in his privateering activities. By the time of his death, this was John's son, Richard Leveson, who went on to become a member of parliament and a prominent Cavalier.
Vice Admiral Sir Richard Leveson, MP's Timeline
August 2, 1605
Wolverhampton, West Midlands, United Kingdom