Elizabeth Hatton and the Legend of Bleeding Heart Yard

Elizabeth Hatton was the second wife of Sir William Hatton, the nephew and heir of Sir Christopher Hatton (Lord Chancellor of England during the reign of Elizabeth I).

After the death of William Hatton in 1597, and after a failed wooing by Francis Bacon, Elizabeth Hatton married Edward Coke. Elizabeth’s often public disagreements with her second husband, together with her refusal to take his name, gave her a reputation as a troublesome woman. That reputation — along with a liberal dose of mistaken identity — led to the association of Elizabeth Hatton with the urban legend of Bleeding Heart Yard.

The Legend

The legend of Bleeding Heart Yard runs as follows:

Elizabeth Hatton was a 17th century society beauty and daughter of Sir Christopher Hatton. She was murdered in 1626, with her body being found on the morning of 27 January in what became known as Bleeding Heart Yard.

She had spent the evening of 26 January in the company of the Bishop of Ely at a ball in Hatton House. Later in the evening “Senor Gondomar”, the Spanish Ambassador, is reported to have arrived at the ball. He had one dance with Lady Hatton and then they both disappeared into the night. The courtyard in which her body was found was located behind the stables of Hatton House.

When found, her body was described as having been “torn limb from limb” and with her heart “still pumping blood onto the cobblestones”.

What Lies Behind the Legend

The legend of Bleeding Heart Yard is a fiction cobbled together from a series of unrelated facts:

  • There was an illegitimate daughter of Sir Christopher Hatton named Elizabeth. She had an illegitimate daughter (also named Elizabeth) by Sir John Perrot (who may have been an illegitimate son of Henry VIII).
  • “Hatton House” was originally part of Ely Place, the London residence of the Bishop of Ely. Elizabeth I compelled Bishop Richard Cox to surrender the residence to Sir Christopher Hatton in 1581.
  • Two different Christopher Hattons (both related to the original Sir Christopher) lived at about the same time as the supposed murder. The first (d. 1619) was married to Alice Fanshawe (of whom, see more below); the second (1605-1670) was married to Elizabeth Montague.
  • Diego Sarmiento de Acuña, conde de Gondomar (“Senor Gondomar”) was the Spanish ambassador at the court of James I of England in the periods 1613-1618 and 1619-1622 (and Elizabeth Hatton’s neighbour for at least part of that time).

The legend itself is a garbled version of a tale published as one of the Ingoldsby Legends by Richard Barham. The tale in question is called The House-Warming!!: A Legend Of Bleeding-Heart Yard.

In this version of the yarn, Sir Christopher Hatton has taken to wife a certain Alice Fanshawe, who is suspected of having made a deal with the Devil so that Sir Christopher might be a success at the court of Elizabeth I. Sir Christopher succeeds so well that he becomes Lord Chancellor, and the queen even goes so far as to force the bishop of Ely to give Sir Christopher the freehold of his London residence at Ely Place.

The housewarming party at the new Hatton residence is interrupted at midnight by the appearance of the Devil himself, who spirits away Lady Hatton…. All that can be found the next morning is “a LARGE HUMAN HEART!”

The Real Elizabeth Hatton

The reality is that Elizabeth Hatton was not murdered in Bleeding Heart Yard in 1626. Born Elizabeth Cecil sometime between 1574 and 1578, she was the daughter of Lord Burghley’s eldest son Thomas Cecil. She married Sir William Newport after the death of his first wife (Elizabeth Gawdy) and became Lady Elizabeth Hatton when her husband took on both the property and surname of his deceased uncle, Sir Christopher Hatton.

On William’s death in 1597, she married Sir Edward Coke, but kept the Hatton name. They had a daughter, Frances Coke, whose forced marriage to the brother of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, was a major factor in her parents’ marital strife.

On Elizabeth’s death in 1646, she was buried in the crypt at St. Andrew Guild Church in Holborn.

Confusion of personalities

The identification of Elizabeth Hatton with the supposed victim of the horror of Bleeding Heart Yard is no doubt caused in part by the sheer number of Christopher Hattons and Lady Hattons (Elizabeth or otherwise) in the family tree, including:

  • Sir Christopher Hatton (1540-1591)
  • His daughter Elizabeth
  • Elizabeth Hatton, née Cecil, (d. 1646)
  • Christopher Hatton (d. 1619)
  • His wife Alice, née Fanshawe
  • Their son, Christopher Hatton (1605-1670)
  • His wife Elizabeth, née Montague (d. 1672)
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