Southampton, Henry Wriothesley, 3d earl of (rŏtˈslē) [key], 1573–1624, English nobleman and patron of letters. He succeeded to his title in 1581, was educated at Cambridge, and gained favor at the court of Queen Elizabeth I. A generous patron of such writers as Barnabe Barnes, Thomas Nash, and John Florio, he is best known as the patron of William Shakespeare, who dedicated Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594) to him. Some scholars have maintained that Southampton is the patron and friend described in Shakespeare's sonnets. A friend of Robert Devereux, 2d earl of Essex, Southampton accompanied him on military and naval expeditions in 1596 and 1597. His secret marriage (1598) to Elizabeth Vernon, one of Elizabeth's ladies in waiting, angered the queen greatly, and she never forgave him. Southampton accompanied Essex to Ireland in 1599 as general of the horse, but Elizabeth revoked his appointment. He was closely involved in Essex's rebellion (1601) and was sentenced to death, but this sentence was changed to life imprisonment. Upon the accession (1603) of James I, Southampton was released and restored to favor. He became interested in colonial explorations and was a member of the Virginia Company and of the British East India Company. Although his impetuosity involved him in a number of court brawls, Southampton became (1619) a privy councilor. He lost favor, however, because of his opposition to the 1st duke of Buckingham. In 1624 he volunteered, with his son James, to lead a troop of English volunteers to fight for the Netherlands against Spain. Shortly after arriving in the Netherlands, both Southampton and his son died of fever.
See biography by A. L. Rowse (1965).