Ladies in waiting and maids of honour

Lady Catherine Knollys

And what exactly is the difference? The ladies are married and the maids are not generally speaking. The roles changed slightly with each queen so this is a look at ladies in the reign of Elizabeth I. The complication arrives with whether the lady in question a Lady of the Privy Chamber or a Lady of the Presence Chamber. As the name would suggest a lady of the privy or private chamber was on closer terms with the Queen than a lady who was part of the public arena. All good so far. On occasion the word lady is replaced with Gentlewoman.

The four most senior Ladies of the Privy Chamber were the ladies with the job title “Lady of the BedChamber.” These ladies looked after Elizabeth’s most intimate needs.

The Mother of the Maids was the woman, either married or widowed, appointed to look after the unmarried maids-of-honour. This was a salaried post of £20 per year. It wasn’t necessarily a straight forward job. One of them, Elizabeth Jones found herself in the Tower in 1591 when one of the maids, Katherine Legh, gave birth gave birth to Francis Darcy’s child. Katherine became a maid-of-honour in 1588 and ordinarily would have stayed in post until she married. Unsurprisingly producing an illegitimate child in the room opposite the Queen’s Privy Chamber resulted in dismissal. The couple married upon release from the Tower although other versions of the story suggest that the couple were already married. In any event they went on to have three children.

Not all maids left after their marriage, some returned in the role of ladies-in-waiting. Catherine Carey who was the Queen’s cousin (and in all likelihood her half sister) was a maid of honour for Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard She married Sir Francis Knollys in 1540. She returned to court as a lady-in-waiting for Elizabeth where she was the Chief Lady of the Bedchamber.

The Lord Protector’s daughter – Anne

Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset

Edward Seymour was swift to elevate himself to the Dukedom of Somerset when he took control of his nephew, Edward VI’s, Regency Council in 1547. The duke had twelve children as a result of his two marriages. His first marriage was to Catherine Filliol by whom he had two sons – or rather he thought he did but after his wife’s affair with her father-in-law came to light it all became rather complicated. John and Edward found themselves excluded from their inheritance on the grounds that no one knew if their father was actually their half-brother. Catherine was packed off to a nunnery where she conveniently died circa 1535 before nunneries became a thing of the past. I should point out that there is no existing contemporary evidence that Catherine and her father-in-law were rather closer than they should have been.

Anne Stanhope

Seymour married for a second time to Anne Stanhope. Today’s post is supposed to be about her daughter – Anne. She had more sisters including Margaret and Jane. All three of them were noted writers of their day. Anne, the oldest married John Dudley the eldest surviving son of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick as he was when the engagement was contracted and Duke of Northumberland when the marriage came to pass. John died of goal fever as a result of being locked in the Tower following froths father’s cunning but not terribly successful plan to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.

The girls received a humanist education of the kind that included Latin, French, Italian and Greek as well as other subjects. The sisters were also supposed to be notable singers. Her first marriage was supposed to seal a political alliance between Seymour and Dudley but within weeks of the marriage Seymour was off to the Tower for a date with the headsman. When John died Anne was still only sixteen or seventeen years old. An old family friend of the Seymours arranged a second marriage to Sir Edward Unton. She and her husband had seven children, though it didn’t stop him from going off on a Grand Tour. During that time and whilst her youngest child was scarcely out of babyhood she was declared to be a’ lunatic with lucid intervals.’ She was twenty-eight years old.

Anne and her sisters composed 103 Latin distichs- choric praise in couplets and rhyming quatrains- for the tomb of Margaret of Navarre which were published in France in 1550. This then makes the three young women an important voice in the development of the female written word but at the time they were regarded as political pawns on the marriage board. Marriage to John Dudley bought disaster but also financial advantage. Elizabeth I saw to it that she received an income from her jointure. Her second marriage saw her as a footnote. There is no explanation of her insanity.

There is even less known about Margaret Seymour who may have died at a similar time to her sister Jane who was born circa 1541 and died in 1561 from tuberculosis having served for a short time as one of Elizabeth I’s ladies. It was she who was the sole witness to her brother Edward Seymour’s marriage to Lady Katherine Grey.

Demers, Patricia. “The Seymour Sisters: Elegizing Female Attachment.” The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 30, no. 2, 1999, pp. 343–365. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2544708. Accessed 30 May 2021.

A Henry VIII interlude

I came across this on the C J Sansom Appreciation Society (https://www.facebook.com/groups/15046129703/) as posted by one of its members. It made me smile and I hope that you enjoy it as well – and the C J Sansom Appreciation Society has some lovely posts.

The caption is Henry VIII’s wives if they hadn’t married him – they certainly look different when smiling.

The Wheel of Fortune

Detail of a miniature of the Wheel of Fortune with a crowned king at the top, from John Lydgate’s Troy Book and Siege of Thebes, with verses by William Cornish, John Skelton, William Peeris and others, England, c. 1457 (with later additions), Royal 18 D. ii, f. 30v. https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2012/02/the-wheel-of-fortune.html

The wheel of fortune or rota fortunae features in Chaucer’s writing and in Shakespeare’s. Both Hamlet and Lear have something to say on the topic.

Dating from Classical times the goddess Fortuna is pictured blindfolded with a cornucopia in one hand and a wheel or a rudder in the other. The original concept of the wheel or even sphere was linked to the astrological frame in which the signs of the zodiac were placed. Boethius, writing in the sixth century, extended the idea. The problem with Fate was that it was pagan and the Church didn’t necessarily approve.

But by the medieval period the rota fortunae was being used to remind people that it was probably best to concentrate of God and the hereafter rather than earthly things because Fortuna can bring luck, fortune and power or can remove all those things at a slip of the wheel and because everyone is bound to their wheel they have no choice but to accept what Fate throws at them. Fortuna isn’t being capricious – she’s more of a Heavenly enforcer. It is God’s will whether your business venture is successful, whether there is a famine, whether you suddenly find yourself being usurped from your throne.

The concept of destiny is an important one in the medieval and Tudor world views. It is linked also to the concept of the Great Chain of Being – everything has it’s place and shouldn’t try to step out from the place that God has allotted. Another way of describing the Great Chain of Being is to call it Divine Order. Essentially the more “spirt” something has the closer it is to God so therefore the higher up the Great Chain of Being it is – ladies you will no doubt be delighted to know that we’re lower down the chain than men. You are where you are in a rigid social hierarchy because God wants it that way – so please don’t revolt because if you do the Divine Order will be upset and this will reflect across the universe…there will be storms and floods and strange and monstrous happenings.

So – we’ve all been given a place in the universe based on the Great Chain of Being. Our destinies are in the stars and allotted to us when we’re born – remember horoscopes are cast as part of the medical process and Books of Hours contain dates which are more auspicious than others for things like moving house, having blood taken and going on journeys. The wheel of fortune is in the background as the main controlling force in life – explaining all life’s successes and adversities, joys and tragedies. It helped explain all those things for which there seemed to be no explanation.

Of course the Renaissance and the concept of humanism sees things a bit differently.

Radding, Charles M. “Fortune and Her Wheel: The Meaning of a Medieval Symbol.” Mediaevistik, vol. 5, 1992, pp. 127–138. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/42584434. Accessed 16 Feb. 2021.

Blowing up the bed…the queen and the plotter’s mother.

Elizabeth I – The Armada Portrait

In 1586 the younger brother of Sir Edward Stafford, the English ambassador in Paris, went to see the secretary of the French ambassador, a man called Leonard des Tappes. Stafford had a plan. Des Tappes informed his master – Chateauneuf.

Stafford explained that the plan was to blow up the queen’s bed with the queen in it. Unfortunately the queen was afraid of the dark and never slept without one of her ladies in waiting. Stafford’s own mother Lady Dorothy Stafford served Elizabeth faithfully. Although the job title Mistress of the Robes hadn’t yet been created it was what Dorothy did.

Lady Dorothy Stafford

The ambassador pointed out that the risk of blowing up Lady Dorothy was quite great. Stafford said that in that case it would probably be best to stab Elizabeth or possibly poison her.

Stafford was very swiftly arrested and escorted to the Tower as was Des Tappes. The ambassador was questioned and eventually admitted that he knew about the plot. What he should have done was to reveal to the Privy Council, to Cecil, to Walsingham…to any one who would listen really…that there was a dastardly plot afoot. He hadn’t blabbed which wrong footed him and effectively put him out of the complicated Anglo-French game of spies and intrigue for a significant month of two. He was placed under house arrest and thus unable to get anywhere near Mary Queen of Scots who was being quietly entrapped by Walsingham (Babbington Plot)

Elizabeth’s guard was doubled and she became much more wary of Mary Queen of Scots which was exactly what Walsingham hoped to achieve.

And Stafford, described in documents as “a lewd, discontented person?” His mother was very distressed at the thought that he might try to blow either her or the queen up so it’s unlikely that Elizabeth was aware that it was a ruse. Certainly he was in Walsingham’s pay as indeed had Moody been at various times.

The Spanish Ambassador wrote to Philip II telling the story. Apparently Lady Dorothy and her older son were not on good terms with little brother William but that William had pretended to be a Catholic and told the French that he would place a barrel of gunpowder in the bedroom and er, well – kerboom!

And whilst we’re on the subject of Dorothy Stafford her grandmother was Margaret Pole the 8th Countess of Salisbury – yes – that one. The daughter of the Duke of Clarence (the one drowned in a vat of Malmsey) married off to a member of Margaret Beaufort’s extended family and eventually executed without trial by Henry VIII in 1541 making her grand daughter Dorothy Stafford doubly related to some degree to Elizabeth I.

Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury

Whitelock, Anna. The Queen’s Bed.

Elizabeth I’s health before she became queen.

According to existing records Elizabeth I was healthy and active child apart from teething problems as documented by Lady Margaret Bryan. However as she arrived at adolescence her health deteriorated and she began to experience a series of chronic ailments.

There were some very obvious additional stress factors to take into consideration – at six she’d gained her fifth step-mother, a cousin, Katherine Howard. Less than two years later Katherine was sent to the block.

In Katherine Parr Elizabeth found some sort of family life and stability, although on occasion wife number six’s head did not rest easy on her shoulders.

Not long after the death of her father, Thomas Seymour asked her to marry him. She was thirteen. Less that six weeks after Henry VIII’s death Thomas went on to marry Katherine Parr and Elizabeth found herself living in the same household as Seymour. It was not long before the thirty-eight year old began making in appropriate advances to the fourteen year old princess. Ultimately she was sent away from the household, Katherine died after giving birth to Seymour’s daughter and Seymour’s ambition became so great that he once again looked to a taking a Tudor bride. This resulted in his execution. Elizabeth now became ill and required the attended of Edward VI’s physicians.

When Mary Tudor became queen Elizabeth used her health – stomach ache in particular- to avoid attending mass. After Wyatt’s Rebellion in 1554 Elizabeth began to look ill – so much so that the French ambassador de Noailles reported that she was being poisoned. Mary’s doctors examined her and blamed her poor health on watery humours. And no wonder, Elizabeth spent the years between 1554 and 1558 dissembling. Just before Mary’s death Elizabeth became ill and complained of pain when moving. She also experienced painful swelling. One of the problems was that Mary and her advisors did not know whether she was really ill or not.

Elizabeth also experienced fainting fits, insomnia, debilitating headaches, nightmares and depression. There was much stress involved in the preparation to become Gloriana!

“The Medical Personnel of Elizabeth I (1558–1603).” The Royal Doctors, 1485-1714: Medical Personnel at the Tudor and Stuart Courts, by Elizabeth Lane Furdell, NED – New edition ed., Boydell & Brewer, Rochester, New York; Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2001, pp. 67–97. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt14brw4d.7. Accessed 11 Jan. 2021.

Taylor-Smither, Larissa J. “Elizabeth I: A Psychological Profile.” The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol. 15, no. 1, 1984, pp. 47–72. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2540839. Accessed 11 Jan. 2021.

The complicated extended family of the Tudors – The St John family

Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe

I’ve posted about Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe before. She is the mother of Margaret Beaufort – to the maternal grandmother of Henry VII. She was born in about 1410, the daughter of Sir John Beauchamp of Bletsoe in Bedfordshire.

In 1421 her brother John died and she became an heiress. She inherited the manors of Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire, Ashmore in Dorset as well as Bletsoe and Keysoe in Bedfordshire.

Four years later she married Sir Oliver St John. He died in 1437 in France. Margaret would marry again to John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and have one child – Margaret Beaufort the mother of Henry Tudor. Margaret Beauchamp had effectively been elevated from the gentry to the aristocracy and her St John children became, at different times, more significant players upon the political chessboard as a consequence, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Margaret Beaufort (Hever Castle)

Sir John St John, Oliver St John, Edith St John, Mary St John, Elizabeth St John, Agnes St John and Margaret St John were Margaret Beaufort’s half-siblings. Where there was close contact to Margaret Beaufort and the Tudors elevation followed.

Margaret St John became the prioress of Shaftesbury Abbey. She was elected in 1492 demonstrating that the nuns knew which sides their bread was buttered and were demonstrating their loyalty to the Tudor regime.

Edith St John married Geoffrey Pole a member of the Cheshire gentry and that would have been fine had not her son Richard then been married to Margaret the daughter of the Duke of Clarence (the one who drowned in a vat of wine). Henry VII regarded it as a safe marriage which would effectively remove Margaret from the political game of crowns. Unfortunately for Edith’s Pole grandchildren and at least one great grand child Henry VIII was less convinced – Henry, Reginald, Arthur and Geoffrey Pole came to represent the last of the Plantagenet line. Margaret, Countess of Salisbury was executed without trial. Henry Pole her eldest son was executed and his son who had been imprisoned in the tower with his grandmother Margaret never emerged. Geoffrey narrowly escaped execution and went into exile where he had a breakdown. He eventually died in 1558 a few days before his more famous brother Cardinal Reginald Pole who spoke out against Henry VIII’s divorce.

Two more of Margaret Beaufort’s half-siblings married into the Scrope family. The Scropes were an important North Yorkshire family who spent a lot of time on the borders fighting the Scots. Elizabeth St John was initially married to William la Zouche, the fifth baron. The Zouches were later attainted for their loyalty to Richard III but by then Elizabeth having been widowed in 1462 had married John Scrope, Baron Scrope of Bolton (Bolton Castle in Wensleydale) and another Yorkist.

Elizabeth, despite her Lancastrian antecidents, was one of Edward V’s godparents. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising given that Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth’s half-sister, was herself godmother to one of Edward IV’s daughters. It reflects the fact that all parties thought that the battle for the throne was over and were settling down to winning power and influence under the Yorkist regime. There was no reason to suppose that Edward IV would die young and leave a minor on the throne.

John Scrope despite being Henry Tudor’s step-uncle supported Richard III at Bosworth so required a pardon, which was forthcoming. Unfortunately he then became involved with Lambert Simnel’s rebellion of 1487 and was forced to pay a large fine and stay in London. Ultimately his services as a northern lord were required for the traditional activity of fighting the Scots which he did in 1497 by which time Henry’s Aunt Elizabeth had died.

Elizabeth’s brother Oliver, the younger of the Margaret Beaufort’s two half-brothers married the twice widowed Elizabeth Scrope of Bolton, sister of John Scrope. He died in 1497 in Spain but his body was returned for burial to East Stoke.

And that just leaves John St John who for the purposes of this post married and had children – all related to the Tudor crown. What it takes is a little bit of digging to discover is that John’s grandson born in 1495- perhaps unsurprisingly another John – was raised by Margaret Beaufort and that he became a courtier. We know for instance that he went to Calais with Cardinal Wolsey in 1521 and that he began to take a key role in the administration of Bedfordshire and Huntingtonshire.

We know that John attended the coronation of Ann Boleyn in 1533. Much of the information comes from the inscription on his tomb. It describes him as ‘custos’ to Princess Mary. A letter of 7 Jan. 1536 sent to Cromwell by ‘John St. John’ request that the King excuse the writer’s wife from being a mourner at the ex-Queen’s funeral, both because she was recovering from a pregnancy and because the writer, ‘being in service with my Lady Princess’, could not furnish the horses and servants needed for the occasion. Although Princess Mary had been officially deprived of that title since 1533, this is who St John must have meant. History can continue to track St John at his royal cousin’s family occasions including the funeral of Jane Seymour and the baptism of Prince Edward. He was also on hand to help put down the rebels in the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace. In 1547 he stood down from Parliament so that his eldest son – an Oliver- could take his place. He died in 1558.

John had positioned his son to advance in the Tudor court by obtaining a place for Oliver in Prince Edward’s household. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that when Elizabeth I was crowned in 1558 that Oliver became Lord St John of Bletsoe. The family continued its loyalty to the Crown into the Stuart period gaining titles on the accession of Charles I but siding with Parliament at Edge Hill.

So on one hand the St John family remained part of the gentry but on the other they were trusted by the Tudors because they were family and as a consequence their value on the political board rose…sometimes rather dangerously.

And why am I digging around the St John family? Well it turns out that Sir Robert Dudley the illegitimate son the Duke of Leicester was descended via his maternal grandmother from the St John family making him a someone distant member of the Tudor family circle, proving once again that in Tudor England everyone appears to be related to everyone else!

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Jumballs – festive biscuits – time to get knotting

Twelfth century sugar cone

Jumballs can be found in many different sixteenth and seventeenth century recipe books. They were a popular biscuit at the time. They could be flavoured with caraway seeds, rosewater or almonds depending on personal preference and what was in the cupboard.

25g (1oz) soft butter)

2tsp rosewater

70g (3oz) caster sugar

1 egg beaten

15g (2oz) caraway seeds

160g (6oz) plain flour

Preheat the oven to 180c. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.
Beat the butter and rosewater well together, then cream in the sugar.

Mix in the beaten eggs. Then add the caraway seeds and flour. Work the mixture into a dough. It should be possible to handle. If too wet, add some more flour. Separate the dough into balls the size of a walnut, then form them into rolls about 5mm in diameter and 15cm long. Shape into rings, knots and plaits.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. (knots and plaits will take longer than rings).

Tudor jumballs

This recipe comes from A Taste of Townend and were written by Elizabeth Burkett in 1699. Along with Christmas treats her recipe books contains cures and charms. Other recipes are available including one from the BBCGood Food magazine:

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/spice-vanilla-jumbles You can even find a Bake Off recipe for the Tudor treat:

https://thegreatbritishbakeoff.co.uk/recipes/all/paul-hollywood-jumbles/

So why small biscuits in a festive count down to Christmas? – the spices and sugar would be expensive so these little biscuits represent a treat. They are also representative of the fact that society became more affluent because more people could afford the spices and sugars which were now becoming more readily available because of trade and the growth of Empire -which draws us on to the less pleasant fact that the sugar was becoming cheaper because it was being grown by slaves.

Sugar was taxed until the Nineteenth Century. If you couldn’t afford sugar then sweetness was provided by the use of honey. From medieval times until the Victorian period sugar was sold in cones or loafs. For more about sugar cones/loafs follow this link: https://livesandlegaciesblog.org/2018/12/13/all-about-sugar-cones/

A medieval/Tudor merchant’s house

Payecocke’s House, Coggeshall nr Colchester

Paycocke House in Coggeshall was the home of a prosperous sixteenth century wool merchant.  It was built- or rather added on to an existing building- at the beginning of the centry by Thomas Paycocke for his bride Margaret. Their initials are carved on the house along with the Paycocke merchant’s mark.   

Not only did Thomas and his wife live in the house but it was also the centre of his business.  What today is a lovely garden would have been a bustling hive of industry when Thomas was alive.

Coggeshall was famous at the time for undyed broadcloth – it’s sometimes called Coggeshall White. It’s described as a “bays”  – so a baize if I’ve got it right is a variety of worsted fabric. Thomas not only used his own home for the cloth but he also sent pieces out to the homes of his workers  – preparing, weaving and finishing.  One of the reasons for “putting out” of work may have been that the extension was designed to impress rather than to be practical – the wealth on display certainly suggests that Thomas wanted to make an impression to his visitors – think of it as a showroom perhaps?

Thomas didn’t have sons. His second wife had a daughter. The house left the family in 1584 when the last male Payecock, a great nephew of Thomas, died. It passed into the hands of the Buxton family, who were related by marriage.  The house continued to evolve. These days it’s a National Trust property and like many other National Trust properties in the area it has been partly planted with dye plants.

Thomas’s father had set Thomas on his way but the economic conditions of the period helped Thomas to become very wealthy. Raw wool prices slumped at the end of the fifteenth century – it began to rise relatively early in Henry VIII’s reign.  In the meantime Payecock was able to export his cloth at a substantial profit.

https://www.essexlifemag.co.uk/people/500-years-of-paycockes-house-1-5729009

Picture Quiz 6 answers

How many of you spotted Cardinal Wolsey’s travelling sundial this week?

Cardinal Wolsey’s travelling sundial
Museum of the History of Science


This delightful object was created by the German mathematician Nicolaus Kratzer in 1522. He came to England in about 1518 and was astronomer to King Henry VIII. The base has Wolsey’s coat of arms on one side, the arms of York Minster – he was it’s archbishop form 1514 onwards- on the other and on the two smaller sides there’s a cardinal’s hat.

The sundial is polyhedral – basically it tells the time in a number of different ways depending on which side you’re using. And yes it is completely covered in gold. Aside from being a very busy man who needed to get to his meetings on time Wolsey was also demonstrating that he was a cultured and learned chap. Or put another way he liked beautiful and complicated things and if you were really lucky you might be invited to take a closer look if you visited him – so a conversation piece as well.

Holbein depicted Kratzer holding a sundial and there’s a polyhedral sundial in his picture of the Ambassadors which can be seen in the National Gallery.

Nicholas Kratzer, Hans Holbein Held by the Louvre

For a happy half hour finding out more about the importance of mathematical objects including sundials visit the National Gallery page below to explore the Ambassadors by Hans Holbein.

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/hans-holbein-the-younger-the-ambassadors