Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Viscount Lisle – the Last Plantagenet III

Catherine of Aragon
A Case of Conscience

In northern Europe the influence of Martin Luther was spreading fast. Following his nailing his Ninety Five Theses to the door of All Saint’s church in Wittemburg in 1517 the Protestant Reformation had grown on the back of dissatisfaction with the corruption within the Catholic church. And now an unconsummated affair between Henry and one of his wife’s ladies-in-waiting was to kick off a series of events that was to see the throwing off of the Catholic Church’s mantle in England.

Henry fell in love with Anne Boleyn and when she failed to jump into his bed, he became obsessed with her. Queen Katherine was clearly at fault for failing to produce a male heir and now Wolsey was put under pressure to get Katherine off Henry’s hands so he could marry Anne. Katherine’s marriage to Henry’s brother Arthur now worried Henry’s conscience so that he was unable to remain married to his queen.

Thomas Cranmer
In 1527 Wolsey was commissioned to get the marriage annulled on the grounds that Katherine had slept with Arthur and therefore the marriage between Henry and Katherine should never have taken place. On 18th May 1527 the new Spanish ambassador reported that Henry had;

‘Secretly assembled certain bishops and lawyers that they may sign a declaration to the effect that his marriage with the Queen is null and void on account of her having been his brother’s wife…..[the King] was bent on this divorce.’[i]

Unfortunately for Henry the pope was a prisoner of Katherine’s nephew Emperor Charles, who was not prepared to see his aunt humiliated. The annulment was not granted and now, with the support of Thomas Cranmer,, Henry decided that the only answer was to divorce himself and his country from the religious overlordship of Rome.

With his failure to ensure a divorce from Queen Catherine Wolsey fell out of favour and by the end of 1530 Wolsey was dead and his secretary Thomas Cromwell was chosen to take a seat on the Privy Council.

A Trip to Calais

Anne Boleyn
In October 1532 Henry set out on a journey to Calais; his objective was to meet with François again. In Henry’s train came Anne Boleyn, now a peer in her own right as Marchioness of Pembroke, in place of Queen Katherine who had been set aside and was living at Enfield. Honor was one of six ladies chosen to accompany Anne Boleyn along with Anne’s sister Mary, Lady Rochford[ii], Lady Mary Howard[iii], Dorothea Howard[iv] Countess of Derby and Elizabeth, Lady Fitzwalter[v].

Henry set up in residence at the Exchequer Palace and he and Anne had interconnecting rooms. In discussions with Henry François showed himself sympathetic to the nullity suit. On 27th, Anne and her six ladies took part in a masque to entertain the kings; Anne was dressed in cloth of gold slashed with crimson satin, puffed with cloth of silver and laced with gold cords. Her ladies wore loose gowns of cloth of gold slashed with crimson tinsel laced in gold and all of them wore masks.

When the dance was finished Anne led François out to dance. Mary Boleyn asked Henry to dance while the other ladies invited other gentlemen present to join them. The following day the two kings joined a chapter meeting of the Order of the Garter, which Arthur would have attended if he was part of Henry’s entourage.

On 29th October Henry escorted François to the French border where they made their farewells and went their separate ways. For Henry that was back to Calais and Anne where they dallied for a further fortnight.

It was not until January 1533 that Anne Boleyn finally got her way and was secretly married to the king of her choice. But it was probably in Calais that she first allowed Henry into her bed and by December she was pregnant. In February Anne had, according to Thomas Wyatt,

‘An inestimable wild desire to eat apples, such as she had never had in her life before, and the king told her it was a sign she was with child, but she said it was nothing of the sort.’[vi]

Arthur acted as Chief Panter[vii] at the banquet celebrating the marriage.

Although Henry and Anne were married, Henry was well aware that he was not married in the eyes of Rome and Elizabeth, born on 7th September 1533, was viewed as a bastard. By November 1534, infuriated by the Catholic church’s refusal to give him what he wanted, under the Act of Supremacy, Henry separated from Rome, creating the Church of England with himself as its supreme governor and Cranmer as head prelate and Archbishop of Canterbury.


Pale of Calais
On 16 March 1533 Arthur was named as deputy of Calais, after the death of John Bourchier, 2nd Baron Berners. Frances accompanied her father, Honor and her Basset stepsisters to Calais where, when they first arrived, they moved into Baron Berners’ old home. In 1536 the Lisles moved to the Staple Inn[viii].

The mayor Sir Richard Whetwill, of an old Calais family, was to prove particularly troublesome to Arthur. Another troublemaker was Sir Robert Wingfield, a member of the Calais council. Whetwill insisted that his son Richard should have priority, something which Arthur, for all his easy going ways, resisted and the resultant quarrel saw all Calais take sides.

On his side Arthur had his man of business, John Husee, a merchant who managed Arthur’s affairs in England while he was absent in France. Husee became Arthur’s agent in August 1533; He carried letters from Calais to England, and kept Lord Lisle informed of political events at court.

Much of Husee’s time was spent in England following Lord Lisle's suits at law. Husee was particularly adept at relations with those in the upper echelons of power, and even at times offered Arthur advice on dealing with King Henry VIII. Husee performed more mundane tasks for the Lord Deputy and his family as well, seeing to the care of Honor's children by her first marriage;

‘By Swift I sent a cap with a white feather in a cap case for Mr [John] Bassett, which I trust is there ere this time….Mr Popley lent me XX nobles, whereof I think he doth owe the best part for his rent., which I paid for the furring of Mr Basset’s gown.’[ix]

Husee was compensated for his services with a post in the Calais garrison which by 1535 provided him with a daily wage of 8d[x]. In October 1536 he received a grant for life from the Crown as 'searcher of the lordships of Marke and Oye within the Calais pale', which brought him an additional 8d a day.

An Unimportant Spearman

Mary Boleyn
When Arthur arrived in Calais one William Stafford joined the garrison as a spearman. Stafford was soon being used by the Lisles as a courier between Calais and England and running commissions for the family. In December 1533 Husee met with Stafford in Dover; Stafford had been in England to purchase a gorget, ribbon and lawns for Honor. In August 1534 a correspondent of Honor’s wrote to her;

‘Since my coming from London from Hampshire, I hear that Stafford your servant, to whom I gave the letter, was in London long after, so I wish to know whether it has been received.’[xi]

Stafford, a relatively unimportant manservant probably met up with Mary Boleyn, to further his romance with the Queen’s sister, a woman who was not prone to thinking of the consequences of her actions. Stafford and Mary probably married in the summer of 1534. Mary had been living under her father’s displeasure[xii] since the death of her first husband. This marriage to Stafford was seen as a great mésalliance, making the king brother-in-law to a common spearman. Certainly the couple were never received at court again.

There is evidence to show that Stafford retained his place with the Lisles, as mention is made in letters to Honor and Arthur of their man Stafford running errands for themselves and their friends. It is assumed that Mary joined him in Calais, though not with the children of her previous marriage; her son was taken by Anne as a ward. Thomas Boleyn was every bit as disapproving as his younger daughter and it is unlikely that they were ever reconciled.


The Lisle Letters – Muriel St Clare Byrne, Penguin Books 1985

The Royal Bastards of Medieval England – Chris Given-Wilson and Alice Curteis, Barnes and Noble Inc. 1984

The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune – David M Head, University of Georgia Press 2009

Thomas Cromwell – Robert Hutchinson, Phoenix 2008

Henry VIII – Robert Lacey, Weidenfeld & Nicholson and Book Club Associates 1972

The Earlier Tudors – JD Mackie, Oxford University Press 1992

Thomas More – Richard Marius, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1993

Six Wives – David Starkey, Chatto & Windus 2003

The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1992

Mary Boleyn – Alison Weir, Vintage 2012


[i] Six Wives - Starkey
[ii] Anne’s sister-in-law
[iii] The Duke of Norfolk’s daughter, Anne’s cousin and later Duchess of Richmond
[iv] Mary’s sister
[vi] The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Weir
[vii] An honorary positon as head of the royal pantry
[viii] Formerly the Inn of the Staplers’ Company
[ix] The Lisle Letters – Byrne
[x] Per annum in 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £6,603.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £216,700.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £2,936,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[xi] Mary Boleyn - Weir
[xii] Henry had forced Thomas to pay for Mary’s upkeep and house her

1 comment:

  1. You mention that Rob Wingfield was a trouble, I would be interested to know in what way [beyond being certain that he was as ornery as they come as the Wingfields are an Ipswich family]