Anne Bassett …king’s mistress and er, step-cousin.

lisle lettersArthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle was the illegitimate son of Edward IV.  He turns up in the court of Elizabeth of York during the reign of Henry VII and as mentioned in another post had a kind heart, wrote many letters and ended up in the Tower where he died with the relief of being set free rather than having his head ceremoniously removed from his neck having been accused of treason.  Most of what we know about Anne Bassett comes from the letters she wrote or which were written about her and survived in the archive of Lisle letters.

Anne Bassett was Arthur’s step-daughter.  Her mother was Honor Grenville and her father was Sir John Bassett.  Arthur married Honor in 1529. They didn’t have any children together although both had children from their first marriages. Honor had gone to France with Anne Boleyn in 1532 when Henry VIII met with Francis I. Honor was undoubtedly ambitious.  She tried to get her daughters taken on as Anne Boleyn’s ladies in waiting but Anne wasn’t playing ball.  When Jane Seymour became queen Honor renewed her endeavours to get one or both her daughters placed at court.  Jane gave way having eaten a large dish of quail presented by Lady Lisle.  It would have to be said that Jane was about six months pregnant at the time so a dish of quail seems like rather a nifty idea.

Anne was hustled off to court to attend Jane Seymour just prior to her taking herself into seclusion in preparation for the birth of her child. There is a letter in Lord Lisle’s papers written to Lady Lisle saying that, “the Queen’s pleasure is that Mrs Anne wear no more of her French apparel. So that she must have provided a bonnet or ii, with frontlets and an edge of jane seymourpearl, and a gown of black satin, and another of velvet, and this must be done before the Queen’s grace’s churching.” (p211)  Or in other words Jane Seymour didn’t approve of girls dressing up like french floozies.  It’s also clear that there was a great deal of investment in sending one’s daughters off to the royal court.

We know that Anne attended Prince Edward’s baptism but, of course, there would be no churching for Jane Seymour because she died due to complications despite initially seeming to be in good health following the birth of Henry VIII’s much longed for son. Anne Bassett was part of Jane Seymour’s funeral cortege, a situation she would rehearse at Henry VIII’s own funeral in 1547.  She and her sister are in the accounts as being provided with appropriate clothes for the funeral. Anne Bassett had been a lady-in-waiting for a month and there was no longer a queen. The ladies-in-waiting were to be disbanded.  Henry VIII wore mourning for three months and didn’t marry again for two years when he did Anne Bassett’s name would be mentioned as a possible candidate.

Anne remained on the outskirts of the court. Henry VIII’s gift of a horse and a saddle for it caused some speculation.  Anne was seventeen at the time. Her name had been mentioned before the Cleves match  and it would resurface in 1542 following the departure of Katherine Howard from the scene but there is very little to build on in terms of specific evidence other than ambassadorial and court speculation.

anne of clevesWhen Anne of Cleves arrived on the scene our Anne reported for duty as one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting but there were too many German ladies and Anne was told that her services were not required.  Anne Bassett wrote to her mother expressing her irritation. Lady Lisle used her connections to find out that Mother Lowe, Anne of Cleves’  german mother of the maids was the person to approach and before long Anne Bassett was serving queen number four.

We know that Anne Bassett was ill in 1539.  We have letters written from Anne to her mother during this time.  She stayed in the countryside to regain her health at the home of her cousin Sir Anthony Denny “at the King’s grace’s commandment.” Denny was so trusted by the king that he had possession of a dry stamp so that he could sign documents without having to bother the king.  Did Henry want to get his mistress off the scene with another queen on her way?  Was Henry looking for some privacy to carry out his courting? Was Anne pretending to be unwell to avoid having to dally with Henry or marry him ? The former seems unlikely as Anne of Cleves was in Germany at the time.  Whatever the illness was it appears to have caused Anne some indisposition for sometime before hand but not to have been too serious and her physician suggested walking as a cure.

Anne remained at court through out the rest of Henry VIII’s reign even when her step-father was under suspicion of treason in the Tower.  Robert Hutchinson describes Anne at a feast in 1543 using the words of the French ambassador Charles de Marillac who was not terribly impressed with Anne  – “a pretty creature with wit enough to do as badly as the other (Katherine Howard), if she were to try.” Hutchinson notes Anne’s reported limited intelligence – something which may or may not be true but you have to admire the girl if she managed to avoid marrying Henry given his track record …but there again Hutchinson has a point if Anne was Henry’s mistress and only managed to acquire a husband of dodgy repute after Henry’s death.  It was from Queen Mary that she received several land grants.

In 1553 Anne became Queen Mary’s lady-in-waiting and in 1554 she married Sir Walter Hungerford of Farleigh, a man troubled by the fact that his father had been executed under Thomas Cromwell’s 1533 sodomy law.  Sir Walter went on to marry Anne Dormer after Anne Bassett died.

 Hutchinson, Robert.(2005)  The Last days of Henry VIII: Conspiracy, Treason and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson

St Clare Byrne, Muriel (ed) (1983) The Lisle Letters London: Secker and Warburg Ltd

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3 Comments

Filed under Queens of England, Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

3 responses to “Anne Bassett …king’s mistress and er, step-cousin.

  1. May have touched on this before, but Arthur’s daughter Frances Plantagenet married into the Bassett family: the senior line of the Bassetts of Cornwall are her descendants.

    Not sure whether the Cornish Bassets of my family are related to those: they descended from one Hannibal Basset, who was perhaps not coincidentally given the same name as Hannibal Vyvyan, a member of the local gentry. The Bassets, Bassetts, Vyvyans, Carlyons, Arundels, Godolphins and Kitchens all inhabited the same district, but I only know of a few marriages between some of them: Arundel-Vyvyan, Vyvyan-Carlyon and Carlyon-Kitchen, but not in a genealogical straight line, so to speak.

    • Hannibal is certainly memorable! I’ve found tracing my husband’s family tree very much easier than mine because they all came from the same area and the same names come up again and again but as you say not in a genealogical straight line. Fascinating stuff and rather frustrating as well.

  2. Deborah

    Frances also married Thomas Monck, they are my 13th great grandparents. I wish more was posted about them.

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