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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Margaret Beaufort’s other family part 2

478px-Lady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPGMargaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe, Margaret Beaufort’s (pictured  at the start of this paragraph)  mother, was married in the first instance to Sir Oliver St John who died in 1437. From this union Margaret Beaufort had seven siblings; two brothers and five sisters.

 

The eldest of the five daughters was called Edith and she married Geoffrey Pole who owned land in Cheshire. Edith, about whom not much appears to be known, died in 1459.  She had a daughter called Eleanor Pole who served as one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies-in-waiting (double click on the link to open a new window with my post about Eleanor).  And that might have been that apart from the fact that her son Sir Richard Pole, a loyal supporter of the Tudors married the daughter of the Duke of Clarence, the one who was allegedly drowned in a vat of Malmsey.

 

Just so we’re clear, Sir Richard Pole a Lancastrian of Welsh descent via his father Geoffrey was Henry VII’s cousin because Richard’s mother Edith was Henry VII’s aunt.  Margaret Beaufort had fond memories of her all to short childhood growing up with her St John kin. She took an interest in her extended family and it is perhaps not surprising that they lurk in the background of Tudor history.

 
As family Sir Richard Pole was trusted by Henry VII. He was married off to Margaret Plantagent the niece of Edward IV and Richard III and whose brother the youmargaret salisbury.jpgng Earl of Warwick was kept locked up in the Tower until he was executed –. Henry VII was satisfied with letting the blood of Margaret’s brother and marrying her to a minor member of his own family.  Even Shakespeare, the Tudor spin doctor, said of this union; “His daughter (the Duke of Clarence’s) meanly have I match’d in marriage.” They went on to have five children and must have thought that they had weathered the Wars of the Roses storm.

It cannot, sadly, be said that Henry VIII trusted the Poles. The Poles were doubly his cousins – through their relationship to Margaret Beaufort and through the fact of their descent from George Duke of Clarence. Despite Sir Richard Pole’s loyal service to two generations of Tudors, his wife and sons were rounded up and executed on account of their Plantagenet blood  and their Catholicism– an irony for the Pole children given their Lancastrian heritage and links to Margaret Beaufort.

 

 

Eleanor Pole

eleanor pole.jpgKatherine of Aragon’s household included thirty-three ladies in waiting according to Harris. No doubt as the years passed and Henry’s eyes and hands wandered Katherine wished several of them many miles away from the royal court. However, it is interesting to note that in the early years there was a sense of continuity between the household’s of Elizabeth of York and Katherine of Aragon. One of the women who served both Elizabeth and Katherine was Eleanor Pole.  It should also be noted that once Henry began to play his royal game of divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived many of the ladies-in -waiting found themselves in situ rather longer than the various queens they served.

 

It is also interesting to note the way in which the Tudors sought to employ their family in much the same way as earlier monarchs had done. Eleanor’s mother was Edith St John – making Margaret Beaufort Eleanor’s half aunt; so Henry VII was some sort of cousin. More practically Eleanor’s father had served Henry VI and was in cahoots with Jasper Tudor. Weir notes that Eleanor was one of Elizabeth’s favourite women and that Henry VIII eventually awarded her a pension.

Eleanor’s brother Richard Pole served Prince Arthur and went on to marry the daughter of the Duke of Clarence: history knows her as Margaret, Countess of Salisbury meaning that Richard Pole was the father of Cardinal Reginald Pole and Eleanor, at the risk of being obvious, was his aunt demonstrating that everyone was related to everyone else one way or another at the Tudor court. The Poles’ closeness to the crown through the link to Margaret Beaufort explains their position at court…not of course that family ties would stop Henry VIII from executing Eleanor’s sister-in-law who had far too much Plantagenet blood flowing through her veins.

 

Evidence of Eleanor’s time at court can be found in Elizabeth of York’s account book. There are details of her salary and also of occasions when she lent the queen money including three shillings to give as alms to a poor man. Her alarm and the time she spent at court reflects that service to the queen was not only a duty but also a career for many aristocratic women who would be expected for promote their family when the opportunity arose.

Eleanor married Ralph Verney of Buckinghamshire. He was Lord Mayor of London and began his rise to prominence with the ascent of the Tudors to the throne. The Verney papers suggest that Ralph, a second son, was one of the esquires at Elizabeth of York’s coronation. By 1502 Ralph had become respected enough to marry Eleanor – who was after all family to the Tudors as well as a lady-in-waiting. Eleanor demonstrates rather effectively that Ralph Verney was on the rise.

 

Eleanor died in 1528 and is buried in King’s Langley Church Hertfordshire with her spouse as shown in the image at the start of this post.

 

(1838) Letters and Papers of The Verney Family Down to the End of the Year 1639 published by the Camden Society  https://archive.org/details/verneyfamily00camduoft

Harris, Barbara Jean. (2002) English Aristocratic Women, 1450-1550: Marriage and Family, Property and Careers. Oxford: OUP

Weir, Alison (2014) Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen. London: Vintage