Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Paget, Charleslocked

(c. 1546–1612)
  • Peter Holmes

Paget, Charles (c. 1546–1612), Roman Catholic conspirator, was a younger son of the Tudor statesman William Paget, first Baron Paget (1505/6–1563), and Anne (d. 1587), daughter and heir of Henry Preston. He matriculated on 27 May 1559 as a fellow-commoner of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and was a member of Trinity Hall in August 1564, being present there when Elizabeth I visited the college. Like many other students of his rank he left without taking a degree. He was also admitted to the Middle Temple on 9 October 1560, but never practised the law. Following his father's death in 1563 he inherited, among other property, the lordship of Weston upon Trent, Derbyshire, which he claimed in 1598 was worth £200 a year.

Agent in France of Mary, queen of Scots, 1581–1587

Various members of Paget's family were overt or covert Roman Catholics, and it was to enjoy religious freedom that about 1581 he began his exile. He went to Paris and was to make his base in France for the next seven years. He lived largely in Paris, but also in Rouen, where he first went in late 1582 to recover his health by drinking English beer, which was more readily available there. Paget quickly associated himself with Thomas Morgan, who was a representative of Mary, queen of Scots, in Paris. Within a short time he was also a correspondent of Mary's and enjoyed her confidence, as well as a pension from her. Paget was possibly already known to Mary, since his family had their estates not far from her main place of imprisonment; his noble blood would also have recommended him to her. Even before he went into exile Paget had defended Mary in conversations he had with Henry, Lord Howard. Paget and Morgan worked but also quarrelled with James Beaton, archbishop of Glasgow, who was official ambassador of Mary at the court of the king of France. They kept Mary informed, as far as they could, of events in France and in the Catholic world generally, corresponding by way of Claude Nau and Gilbert Curle, Mary's resident secretaries in her English prison. Paget certainly deferred to Morgan as representative of Mary in Paris, and according to Morgan until 1585 Paget led a rather private life. In 1585, however, Morgan was placed in the Bastille at the insistence of Elizabeth I, and Paget was forced to take a more prominent role.

Paget and Morgan also helped Beaton administer Mary's income from her dower lands in France, which were considerable, and which provided them with their pensions. The degree of control which they were able to exercise over Mary's finances was probably quite slight, although Morgan and to a lesser extent Paget were accused by their enemies of fraud. However, it seems unlikely that they could cheat Beaton and also the French officials who were in charge of her funds. Indeed it is possible that Paget himself was deceived, since in 1586 Mary wrote to Beaton asking him to conceal from Paget the fact that Beaton had received a sum of money from Philip II of Spain; this, she explained, was so that Paget did not ask for repayment of a loan of 4000 crowns which Paget had previously made to Mary's estate.

Paget's mysterious journey to England in 1583

Paget and Morgan were, like their mistress, involved in a number of plots against the government of England. The first plot with which Paget was associated was hatched by Robert Persons and William Allen, and discussed with Beaton in 1582. The plan was to involve the duke of Guise, Philip II of Spain, the pope, and Scottish and English Catholics in a concerted effort to invade England, release Mary, and depose Elizabeth. According to Persons's later account of this plot, Paget and Morgan did not give it their full support, although they pretended to do so. Paget should have been an influential figure in all this since he could give the foreign plotters contact with the alienated Catholic aristocracy in England. Persons alleges that out of personal rivalry and spite Paget refused to co-operate sincerely with the plans. Another less hostile interpretation of the very scattered evidence might be that Paget was cautious and not keen to involve himself and his English friends in plans which would not be successful, but which threatened their lives.

Whatever the case, in the summer of 1583 Paget went from Rouen secretly into England, using the pseudonym Mope. He stayed first with William Davies at Patching in Sussex, and then at Conigar Lodge in the grounds of Petworth House, the residence of the earl of Northumberland. He met the earl, and also his own brother Thomas Paget, fourth Lord Paget, who came to the lodge to meet him. Charles Paget was known to the earl and had been looking after Northumberland's sons, who had recently been staying in Paris. He also had a meeting in Patching Wood with a gentleman called William Shelley. He probably also met Henry, Lord Howard, who had come to Sussex from Norfolk at that time. Paget then returned to France.

It is difficult to interpret Paget's visit to England. Clearly there may have been both some Paget and Northumberland family business to transact. An interpretation which is consistent both with Persons's account and that given later in a letter to Mary, queen of Scots, by Paget himself is that Paget met his friends in Sussex and told them what was being discussed, but advised them that it was unlikely to succeed and that they should keep out of it. The impracticality of these plots is perhaps illustrated by the fact that Persons was also at this time attempting to get Paget to agree that Northumberland's sons should be sent into Italy expressly to be arrested by the Inquisition, so that they might be weaned away from protestantism. Paget rejected this scheme, which he may have broached with the earl at Petworth. After Paget returned to France things unravelled quite quickly because the government got wind of the meetings. Lord Paget fled abroad and the Throckmorton plot, which was linked to these projects, was revealed. Shelley and Northumberland were arrested eventually, and the former was executed for treason, while the latter was found shot dead in the Tower of London, apparently a suicide. These deaths were blamed on Paget by his enemies, but unless he actually revealed what he had done to the English government, for which there is no evidence, this accusation is unfair.

That Paget was not a double agent at this time is demonstrated by the response of the English government to his journey to England. In June 1584 Sir Edward Stafford, the English ambassador in Paris, asked the French authorities, unsuccessfully, for the extradition of the two Paget brothers and various of their associates. They were attainted of treason by act of parliament in 1587.

Paget and the Babington plot, 1585–1587

In 1586 Mary, queen of Scots, was revealed by the English government to have received and written treasonable letters as part of what became known as the Babington plot. She was tried and executed early in 1587. Charles Paget was named in Mary's trial as one of the correspondents who had plotted with her, and her letter to him of 17 July 1586, which the government intercepted, formed part of the evidence against her. Elizabeth I demanded Paget's extradition from the French ambassador, and in her interview with the ambassador threatened that she could easily have Paget assassinated if he remained in Paris. Paget and Morgan have also been accused by Catholic historians of helping lure Mary into a trap set by Walsingham to convict her. Thus Paget discussed invasion schemes and plans for insurrections with Ballard, a misguided adventurer priest who was travelling the continent in 1585, and who then plotted with Babington and his associates in England early in 1586. Ballard was executed along with the other plotters a little before Mary's own death. In a letter to Mary of late 1585 Paget had recommended Ballard to her. Similarly, Morgan had written to Mary advising her to write to Babington. Were they, therefore, culpable of Mary's death? The notion that they deliberately co-operated with the English authorities and that Paget was, as Lady Antonia Fraser puts it, following the Jesuit Leo Hicks, an 'outright spy' in 'Walsingham's service' (Fraser, 553), is not supported by any real evidence. It is difficult to see, in any case, what their motive was for such an action, since it led Morgan to the Bastille, and led to Paget being threatened with assassination by the queen of England. Furthermore, to have Mary killed was to remove their chief financial support. It is worth emphasizing also that Mary retained to the end her affection for Paget and Morgan, but condemned her own secretaries, Nau and Curle, who definitely did betray her.

Had Paget and Morgan innocently led Mary to her death by themselves being duped by Walsingham and his agents? Clearly there is some truth in this, but an air of caution is at times present in their letters written to Mary at this time. In 1585, after the Throckmorton plot, Paget had written to Mary advising her to avoid further plotting, but also saying that if she had the physical strength to escape she should do so. But by early 1586 it is possible that Mary's only hope was a plot of some sort since, as the armada campaign developed, the chances of her surviving a Spanish invasion were very slight indeed. If anyone could help Mary escape it was Babington, whose family estate was only a few miles from Mary's prison, and who was furthermore one of the midland gentry known to Paget.

Exile and faction, 1588–1603

In March 1588 Paget moved from Paris to Brussels, where he lived for the next eleven years. France was no longer safe owing to its descent into civil war. He had already while in Paris been granted, like many other English Catholic exiles, a pension from Philip II; he received, intermittently, the comparatively large sum of 70 escudos a month. He was, not unreasonably, an enthusiastic supporter of the Spanish armada. However, the defeat of the Spanish efforts to conquer England gradually exposed the tensions within the English Catholic movement. Paget was involved at a number of levels in these faction struggles, which had first surfaced in 1582 in disagreements between himself and Morgan on the one hand and Robert Persons and William Allen on the other hand over policies to help Mary, queen of Scots. These quarrels rumbled on even after Mary's death, and in 1590 the rival group was able to get Morgan imprisoned in the Low Countries by the Spanish authorities on a series of charges which questioned his integrity in the service of Mary, queen of Scots. There was clearly a personal element in this, and also rivalry between Paget and Morgan as laymen and Allen and Persons as clergymen, although both factions had supporters from both groups. In addition, anti-Jesuit feeling was growing among the secular clergy and laity all over Europe at this time, but especially in France, and this sharpened hostility to Persons, and to Jesuit control over the English College, Rome. There were fundamental issues of strategy at stake, and these can be traced back to the quarrels of the 1580s too. Although an enthusiastic supporter of the Spanish armada and a recipient of a Spanish pension, Paget became in the 1590s again a committed supporter of a Scottish solution to the English succession question, while Persons adopted the Spanish alternative.

Paget was also willing, as he had been from the beginning of his time in exile, to countenance some sort of accommodation with the English government in return for a degree of religious toleration in England. He had written to both the queen and Walsingham when he first went into exile in respectful terms, and like other exiles was in occasional contact with the various English ambassadors in Paris. After the armada he tried to make contact again with the English government, and was reported as early as 1591 as hoping to discuss the question of toleration for Catholics with them. During the reign of Elizabeth, however, he never recovered his credit in England, and in 1594 when Sir Thomas Wilkes was sent to the Netherlands on an embassy he was instructed to seek the extradition of Paget and other exiles.

Specific events sharpened the faction fighting among Catholic exiles. The death of Allen in 1594 led Paget and his group to oppose the promotion of Persons to the vacant position of cardinal, and to support the candidature of Owen Lewis instead. In 1595 disputes began in the English College at Rome, and one of the dissidents, Robert Fisher, received Paget's strong support when he travelled to Brussels on his way to canvass for support among the secular clergy at Wisbech Castle in England, with whom Paget also had contacts. In 1598 fresh quarrels arose, due to the appointment of George Blackwell as archpriest. Paget supported Blackwell's opponents, the appellants, enthusiastically, and contributed a short written memoir to the controversial publications which were generated by the dispute. By late 1598 he had returned to Paris, now at peace, and a more congenial base from which to maintain an anti-Jesuit and anti-Spanish campaign.

Return to England

From Paris, Paget worked hard to curry favour with the English statesmen already preparing for a Scottish succession. The accession of James VI, whose mother Paget had served for six years, enabled him to return to England. His attainder was reversed, and on 13 July 1603 he recovered his lands. The king also granted him a pension of £200 per annum. He died, probably on his estate at Weston upon Trent, at the beginning of February 1612. He was unmarried and left his estate of six manors, a park, and the advowson of three benefices to his niece, Mary Gerard.

Paget has suffered considerably at the hands of later writers. He has been accused of dishonesty and betrayal, or, at the very least, of hopeless incompetence as adviser to Mary Stewart. These assessments are very harsh, and not supported by evidence. What Paget's career illustrates is the difficulties faced by the dissident Catholic aristocracy in the reign of Elizabeth. The clerical Counter-Reformation proclaimed by Persons and Allen was a reasonable course to follow, but only if it worked; otherwise, a more pliable, co-operative policy, rather on the lines of the politique programme developed in France in the years of Paget's exile there was to be preferred. Paget's approach triumphed personally and James I allowed him to return. In the longer term the strategy of Catholic accommodation with the protestant authorities also won through. Unfortunately for Paget's reputation, the history books have tended to be based on the researches of those who have regarded themselves as descendants of his opponents.


  • L. Hicks, An Elizabethan problem: some aspects of the careers of two exile-adventurers (1964)
  • C. Nau, The history of Mary Stewart, ed. J. Stevenson (1883)
  • Lettres, instructions et mémoires de Marie Stuart, reine d'Écosse, ed. A. Labanoff, 7 vols. (1852)
  • A. Fraser, Mary, queen of Scots (1972), 552–3, 555–6, 561, 566, 586
  • CSP Scot., 1581–6
  • ‘The memoirs of Father Robert Persons’, ed. J. H. Pollen, Miscellanea, II, Catholic RS, 2 (1906), 12–218, esp. 12, 31–6, 183–5, 253–72
  • J. H. Pollen, ed., ‘Official lists of Catholic prisoners during the reign of Queen Elizabeth’, Miscellanea, II, Catholic RS, 2 (1906), 219–88, esp. 253, 255–6, 258, 263, 265, 272
  • A. J. Loomie, The Spanish Elizabethans (1963), 35, 37–8, 42, 58, 95, 113, 255–6
  • The letters and despatches of Richard Verstegan, c. 1550–1640, ed. A. G. Petti, Catholic RS, 52 (1959), 136, 140, 166, 205–7, 231
  • P. Renold, ed., The Wisbech stirs, 1595–1598, Catholic RS, 51 (1958)
  • Miscellanea, IV, Catholic RS, 4 (1907), 97–9
  • L. Hicks, ed., Letters and memorials of Father Robert Persons, Catholic RS, 39 (1942)
  • Letters of William Allen and Richard Barret, 1572–1598, ed. P. Renold, Catholic RS, 58 (1967)
  • ‘Correspondence of Cardinal Allen’, ed. P. Ryan, Miscellanea, VII, Catholic RS, 9 (1911), 12–105, esp. 42–3
  • H. A. C. Sturgess, ed., Register of admissions to the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, from the fifteenth century to the year 1944, 3 vols. (1949)
  • TNA: PRO, PROB 11/119


  • oils, 1595, Parham Park, West Sussex

Wealth at Death

£40 p.a. rental income; plus six manors, three advowsons, and a park: will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/119

G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)
J. Bain, W. K. Boyd, & others, eds., , 13 vols. in 14 (1898–1969)
C. H. Cooper & T. Cooper, , 3 vols. (1858–1913); repr. (1967)
, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London
Camden Society