Sir Christopher Hatton and an age of adventure

Sir Christopher Hatton

When Sir Christopher Hatton became the first private owner of Corfe Castle in 1572 it marked the dawn of a new age, both for the castle and the country.

Corfe had been a royal stronghold since the reign of William the Conqueror, but Hatton, who paid £4.,61.18s. 71/2 d for the castle, was a new breed - a self-made man who grew rich through his political connections and by backing risky sea voyages to the New World, among them those of Sir Francis Drake.

Drake repaid his support with Spanish treasure and by renaming his most famous ship, The Golden Hind, in Hatton’s honour.

Hatton was the son of Northamptonshire gentry who caught the eye of Queen Elizabeth I through his good looks and skill as a dancer, and quickly established himself as a court favourite.

With the Queen’s patronage he rose to become Lord Chancellor, the most senior judge in England, despite having left Oxford University without a degree and apparently never having qualified as a lawyer.

Piracy

Among his titles was Admiral of the Purbeck Fleet which gave him the right to fit out warships both to defend England against invaders and to capture enemy vessels as prizes – a sort of licenced piracy.

He also had right to the 'wreck of the sea' and to ‘prisage’ - a portion of the cargo from every ship carrying wine and landing in Purbeck.

Hatton spent his new found wealth lavishly and turned to get-rich-quick schemes to pay off his creditors.

Protestant England was at loggerheads with Spain, Europe’s Catholic superpower, and cast envious eyes on the wealth flowing from the Spanish overseas empire.

Hatton was a leading light among those who invested in Sir Francis Drake’s 1577-80 voyage in search of plunder, an adventure that took Drake and the crew of his ship Pelican around the world. 

The Golden Hind

When he reached the Pacific Ocean Drake renamed his ship The Golden Hind, inspired by the emblem on Hatton’s coat of arms and the stacks of Spanish gold in her hold. That venture alone earned Hatton £2,300 – a fortune at the time.

Hatton in later life as a Knight of the Garter
Hatton in later life as a Knight of the Garter

Hatton remained close to Elizabeth I until his death in 1591 when he was given a state funeral and buried at St Paul’s Cathedral. A magnificent monument to him stood there until it was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666.

He never married, though he is said to have had an illegitimate daughter, and his estates including Corfe Castle passed to his nephew William Newport, who changed his name to Hatton to take up his inheritance.