Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, was a key figure of the Elizabethan court, a close confidant of Elizabeth I and the commander of the English naval forces during the Spanish Armada. Little is known of his youth but he seems to have earned Elizabeth’s trust at an early stage, becoming keeper of the queen’s house at Oatlands in 1562. His links to the monarch were strengthened when, in 1563, he married Katherine Carey (d. 1603), the queen’s second cousin and her closest female companion. In 1570 he received his first naval appointment, acting in joint command of the fleet that was to accompany the Spanish ships bringing Anne of Austria to Spain. Following the death of Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex in 1583, Howard was appointed lord chamberlain and then privy councillor before being made a commissioner for the trial of Mary Stuart.
On the eve of war with Spain in December 1587, Howard’s commission was signed to command the English forces. He surrounded himself with experienced councillors, including Sir Francis Drake, as the ensuing battles began against the Spanish Armada. He also later led the Cadiz expedition in 1596 before being created the Earl of Nottingham. His wife died in February 1603, which was said to have deeply affected Elizabeth, whose death followed shortly thereafter in March 1603. But Nottingham, who married Lady Margaret Stewart in 1604, continued to perform a key role in the major events of the time under James I, being involved in considering the union between England and Scotland, and as a commissioner during the Gunpowder Plot trial in 1605.