was the second son of William Hatton of Holdenby, Northamptonshire, and his second wife, Alice. Hatton’s early education is said to have been supervised by his maternal uncle, but otherwise nothing is known of his life until he entered St Mary Hall, Oxford at 15 or 16 years of age leaving without taking a degree, and enrolled in the Inner Temple on 26 May 1560. No evidence exists as to whether he was called to the bar.
In 1561 he played the part of Master of the Game at a masque at the Inner Temple, and it was on a similar occasion that he first attracted the attention of Queen Elizabeth. He was handsome and accomplished, and reputedly an excellent dancer. He thrived at court becoming in 1564 one of the Queen’s gentlemen pensioners and a gentleman of the privy chamber and in July 1572 was appointed captain of the yeomen of the guard. On 11 November 1577 he was appointed vice-chamberlain of the royal household and sworn in to the Privy Council, and in the same month was knighted. His attendance record in attending Privy Council meetings was impressive. He soon was given diplomatic jobs such as welcoming a new Scots ambassador to London and attending the baptism of Mary Queen of Scots son, James, in Edinburgh as part of the Duke of Bedford’s retinue.
In June 1578 the Queen formally granted him the Bishop of Ely’s house in Ely Place, Holborn, despite the vigorous protests of the Bishop. He was later given the Isle of Purbeck with Corfe Castle. These appointments, together with the valuable grants with which the Queen showered him during these early years, prompted rumours that he was her lover, a charge specifically made in 1584 by Mary, Queen of Scots. There was undoubtedly a close personal relationship between them. In correspondence, the Queen called him her “Lyddes”, (Earl of Leicester was her eyes), and he is said to have referred to himself in at least one letter as her “sheep”. However, Hatton “was probably innocent in this matter.” He never married and was an expert in the courtly love that transpired at that time and in which Elizabeth delighted. They certainly had a close relationship. Hatton’s loyalty to his sovereign appears to have been unquestioned, and on one memorable occasion in December 1584 he led 400 kneeling members of the House of Commons in a prayer for the Queen’s safety.
In Parliament Hatton was an active agent representing Higham Ferrers in 1571, and from May 1572 onwards Northamptonshire. He was active in the prosecutions of John Stubbs and William Parry and he was also one of those appointed to arrange a marriage between the Queen and Francois, Duke of Alencon in 1581, although he personally urged the Queen not to marry him.
Hatton was a member of the court which tried Anthony Babington in 1586, and was one of the commissioners who found Mary, Queen of Scots, guilty of treason in the following year. He vigorously denounced the Queen of Scots in Parliament, and advised William Davison to forward the warrant for her execution to Fotheringay.
In 1587 Hatton was made Lord Chancellor. Though he had no great knowledge of the law, he appears to have acted with sound sense and good judgement in his new position. He is said to have been a Roman Catholic in all but name, yet he treated religious questions in a moderate and tolerant way. He was anti Puritan,
Hatton was a Knight of the Garter and chancellor of the University of Oxford. He is reported to have been very parsimonious, but he patronized men of letters, and among his friends was Edmund Spenser. Hatton never married, and his large and valuable estates descended to his nephew, Sir William Newport (1560–1597), who took the surname Hatton.
Hatton became very wealthy as a result of his progressing career and the Queen’s fondness for him, so much so that in 1583 he embarked on the construction of a magnificent house in Holdenby, It was, at the time, the largest privately owned Elizabethan house in England. It contained 123 huge glass windows, in the days when glass was very expensive (indeed, a good show of wealth was how many windows you could afford in your house). It had two great courts and was as large as the palace of Hampton Court. It was three storeys high and had two large state rooms, one for himself and another for the queen should she ever come and stay, which she never did. No expense was spared, and Hatton even paid to move an entire small village because it spoiled the view from one of his windows. The cost of the house was such that Hatton was permanently short of money for the rest of his life. Hatton claimed to refuse to sleep in the mansion until Elizabeth had stayed there
To maintain his dwindling wealth, Hatton began investing in some of the voyages of Francis Drake. He helped fund Drake’s acts of piracy in Spanish America. During Drake’s subsequent circumnavigation of the globe, when he reached the straits of Magellan, he renamed his ship The Golden Hind in honour of Hatton’s coat of arms, which contained a golden hind, and of all the Spanish gold on board. Hatton made a profit of £2300 from this particular expedition. He also invested other adventures such as Frobisher’s three attempts to find the North West Passage.
Despite his successes, Hatton died with large debts,(he owed the Queen £18,071), only a few years after his house at Holdenby was finally completed. The house passed to James I, who used it as a place of entertainment. For his son, Charles I, it became a prison. He was held here for 5 months in 1647. He plotted to escape but Cromwell sent Cornet Joyce with 500 soldiers to remove him to safer custody and eventual execution. After the Civil War, the Palace was sold to a Parliamentarian, Adam Baynes, who reduced the house to a single wing. After the Restoration it reverted briefly to royal ownership but in 1709 the Duke of Marlborough bought it since when it has descended down the female line to the Lowther family who still own it. This family dates from 940AD and has produced more Members of Parliament than any other family in England. His other residence Kirby Hall began construction in 1570 is now an English Heritage site.
Hatton’s health declined in 1591. The Queen visited him on 11 November, and on 20 November he died at Ely Place, and was given a state funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral on 16 December. A magnificent monument to him stood at the high altar of Old St Paul’s until the Great Fire of 1666 dethroned and destroyed it. Hatton is listed on a modern monument in the crypt as one of the important graves lost. Hatton Garden a major centre of the diamond trade, is named after him as was in 1983, a school in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.