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George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, after Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1590

George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland (8 August 1558 – 30 October 1605) was an English peer, as well as a naval commander and courtier in the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Contents

Background

Clifford was born at Brougham Castle in Westmorland. Son of the 2nd Earl of Cumberland, Henry Clifford, he was orphaned by his father's death in 1570. Clifford subsequently succeeded to his father's titles. His guardianship was granted to the second Earl of Bedford, who married the young Clifford to his daughter Lady Margaret Russell in 1577.

Arms of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland
Portrait of the family of Anne Clifford, artist unknown. This portrait includes the sons of George Clifford. Sir Robert Clifford and Francis Lord Clifford, both of whom died before age 5.

Life at court

Clifford rose in the world as an accomplished jouster, becoming Queen Elizabeth's second champion on the retirement of Sir Henry Lee. She made him a Knight of the Garter and he sat as a peer in the trial of Mary Queen of Scots. He turned to sailing as a career at some point, commanding a ship in the Anglo-Spanish War. He had little success during the war but was later renowned for his naval battles against the Spanish fleet, and particularly Spanish shipping, in the Caribbean. To aid him in this endeavour, he had his own 38-gun ship built, the Scourge of Malice. He is famous for his short lived 1598 capture of Fort San Felipe del Morro, the citadel protecting San Juan, Puerto Rico. He arrived in Puerto Rico in June 15, 1598, but by November of that year, Clifford and his men had fled the island due to harsh civilian resistance. His buccaneering earned him quite a lot of money, but it seems that he lost so much at jousting and horse racing that he was eventually obligated to sell his inherited lands. Clifford died at The Savoy in Middlesex. Although he had two sons, Robert and Francis, they died before reaching the age of 5. He had only one surviving child, his daughter Anne Clifford, to whom he left £15,000 at his death, while passing his titles to brother Francis Clifford.

Miniature by Hilliard

A cabinet minitaure by Nicholas Hilliard, c. 1590, commemorates Clifford's appointment as the Queen's champion, showing him in tilting attire with the Queen's glove as her favor pinned to his hat.

Sir George Clifford's tournament armor

Armor

George Clifford's tournament armor survives; it is considered the finest surviving garniture from the Tudor period. Holding the title of Queen's Champion, Clifford's armor would have to have been unrivaled in beauty. It was made at the Greenwich workshop originally established by King Henry VIII, and a drawing of it is included in the "Jacob Album," a book of designs for 29 different armors for various Elizabethan gentlemen. Clifford's armor, as it is part of a garniture, includes many pieces of exchange, including a grandguard, an extra helmet, a shaffron and several lance guards. These extra pieces allowed for Clifford to modify his armor for different forms of tournament combat. The armor is of blued steel and etched and inlaid with elaborate gilded designs, incorporating columns of alternating Fleurs-de-lis and Tudor roses, as well as the letter E (for Queen Elizabeth I.) it is currently located in the Armor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, next to the two armors of Sir James Scudamore which were also made at the Greenwich armory.

In Literature

In Virginia Woolf's novel "Orlando: A Biography", The 'Earl of Cumberland' discovers Orlando and his lover asleep amongst his cargo; he believes them to be ghosts sent to punish him for his buccaneering. In his terror, the Earl vows to mend his ways and, in repentance, founds a row of almshouses. Although not explicitly stated, the period of the episode in the novel (shortly after the death of Queen Elizabeth I) would suggest that the Earl referred to is the 3rd Earl.

References

Political offices
Vacant
Title last held by
The Earl of Huntingdon
Lord Lieutenant of Cumberland,
Northumberland and Westmorland

1603 – 1605
Vacant
Title next held by
The Earl of Cumberland
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Henry Clifford
Earl of Cumberland
1570 – 1605
Succeeded by
Francis Clifford
Baron de Clifford
1570 – 1605
Succeeded by
Anne Clifford
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