I’ve arrived at today’s metaphorical advent in a rather circuitous way. My story starts with John Billesdon’s will. He wrote it on the 18th of December 1522 and left rather a lot of money to chantries being built for the repose of Sir Thomas Lovell’s soul. The image on the left comes from the National Portrait Gallery. Here’s the will:
Billesdon (John),”grocer.”—To the Wardens of the Commonalty of the Mistery of the Grocery of London he leaves certain messuages, comprising “the Weyhouse,” (fn. 2) in Cornhill in the parish of S. Michael, held by him in trust, so that the said wardens maintain two chantries, in the chapel erected by Sir Thomas Lovell on the south side of the priory church of Halywell without Bysshoppisgate, for the souls of the said Sir Thomas when dead, Isabell, late wife of the same, and others, with observance of an obit, &c., in manner as directed. The sum of three hundred pounds he declares to have handed over, on behalf of the said Sir Thomas Lovell, to the wardens aforesaid, for repairing the above messuages. In case of default made in carrying out the terms of the devise the property is to go over to the Master and Wardens of the Marchaunte Taillours of the Fraternity or Guild of S. John Baptist of London under like conditions, with further remainder to the Mayor and Commonalty of the City of London. Desires that his will be enrolled of record before the Mayor at the Guildhall, there to remain for ever. The will made tripartite: one part to remain with the Wardens of the Commonalty of Grocers, another with the Prioress of Haliwell, and the third with Sir Thomas Lovell and his heirs. Dated 18 December A.D. 1522.
Roll 240 (54).
‘Wills: 21-38 Henry VIII (1529-47)’, in Calendar of Wills Proved and Enrolled in the Court of Husting, London: Part 2, 1358-1688, ed. R R Sharpe (London, 1890), pp. 634-651. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/court-husting-wills/vol2/pp634-651 [accessed 10 December 2016].
Why was I perusing wills? Well, for a start wills are an insight into the medieval/Tudor hereafter and the way ordinary people perceived themselves. In this particular hereafter it was important, somewhat unexpectedly, for Mr Billesdon not to care for the repose of his own soul but to fulfil a debt to Sir Thomas Lovell. Lovell would die two years after our grocer made his will but it is clear he was already concerned with his immortal soul – and further exploration suggests he may have had cause for concern.
The specific purpose of a chantry was to say prayers for the dead so that their souls would spend less time in Purgatory before heading off to Heaven – think of Purgatory not so much as God’s waiting room but God’s sauna for the soul where you had to go in Catholic ideology until such time as your soul was sufficiently cleansed in order to be admitted to Heaven. The prayers offered by the monks and nuns who prayed in the chantries weren’t necessarily ‘get out of Purgatory free cards’ but definitely ensured that you would arrive at your destination sooner than otherwise.
And who was Sir Thomas Lovell? The name Lovell is suggestive of someone with strong white rose sympathies – think Francis Lovell of Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire- but this particular Lovell came from a Norfolk family and was not related to Richard III’s friend, chamberlain and most loyal supporter. Sir Thomas, a Lincoln’s Inn trained lawyer, was strongly Lancastrian in sympathy, so Lancastrian in fact that he’d had to flee to Brittany to join Henry Tudor during the reign of Richard III in 1483 having become involved with Buckingham’s rebellion. His brother-in-law was Henry Tudor’s standard bearer at Bosworth.
Sir Thomas returned with Henry and after Bosworth was elected to Henry’s first parliament. Sir Thomas was the chap who asked that Henry should honour the arrangements made between Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville and marry Elizabeth of York – of course, Henry was going to do it anyway but by having Parliament make the request dressed the whole thing up as the will of the people. The logic is rather like a succession of falling dominoes: if the people want something to happen anyone reacting against it or Henry in particular was essentially not only a traitor to the Crown but also a traitor to the country…a nice piece of Tudor spin.
Lovell continued in his support for Henry not only politically but militarily at the Battle of Stoke in 1497 where he was knighted and also in terms of his financial policies. Henry’s best known money men were Empson and Dudley but records show that Lovell was also a signatory to the forced loans that much of the nobility were required to make during this period, thus ensuring they didn’t have money to plot against Henry and were finically reliant upon the Tudors. Empson and Dudley were the sacrificial tax collectors executed by Henry’s own son when he became Henry VIII in 1509 in a bid for popular acclaim. It should be noted he also cancelled most of the outstanding loans.
Lovell may well have felt that he was lucky not to join Empson and Dudley, not least because as Chancellor of the Exchequor ( an appointment for life) as well as master of wards for a time, he’d successfully feathered his own nest during the reign – the Magnificat Window at Great Malvern was part funded by his donations which is why his image once featured in it. Lovell even lent Elizabeth of York money. The debt was secured against her plate. A clue as to where this younger son gained his wealth can be gleaned from William Worseley, Dean of St Paul’s. The dean kept careful accounts which reveal that he paid Reginald Bray and Thomas Lovell ‘fines of allegiance’ on a regular basis. Lovell was perhaps fortunate in 1909 that he was one of the executors of Lady Margaret Beaufort’s will along with Reginald Bray, Henry VII’s own shady ‘Mr Fix-it.’
Lovell could bear looking at a little more closely. He was appointed Constable of the Tower and was present at the time when the Earl of Warwick and Perkin Warbeck made their ‘escape’ in 1499. This very foolish not to mention convenient action allowed them to be executed, leaving the way clear for Katherine of Aragon to marry Prince Arthur.
It was Lovell who arrested Sir James Tyrell at Guisnes near Calais in 1501 where he’d served since 1485 with only a brief interlude to change allegiance from Richard III to Henry VII who pardoned him not once but twice from all possible crimes he might have committed whilst in the service of Richard III (you can just feel the conspiracy theory thickening nicely can’t you?)
Tyrell’s arrest and eventual execution was precipitated from having become involved with the doings of the de la Pole family. Tyrell had given Edmund de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, shelter at Guisnes then waved the earl merrily on his way rather than arresting him on the spot. Lovell turned up, offered Tyrell safe conduct and then promptly arrested him. Tyrell rather belatedly made his confession as regards to the killing of the two princes in the Tower but claimed not to know where the bodies were on account of the fact they’d been moved. He also named another person who was alive at the time – oddly Lovell didn’t feel the need to have words with the chap. No one has ever clapped eyes on Tyrell’s confession (That’s not to say it doesn’t exist of course because things can get put on the proverbial safe place only to turn up five hundred or so years later but none the less circumstantially very suspect whatever Thomas More may have thought on the subject). Thomas Penn, Henry VII’s award winning biographer, notes that ‘strange things tended to happen’ in Lovell’s vicinity. It’s also worth noting that Tyrell was attainted two years after his death but at no point does the bill against him mention slaughtering the princes in the Tower – which in the circumstances you might think it should. Tyrell’s son was arrested at the same time as his father but was granted his freedom and after a sufficient time had elapsed regained his father’s estate…make of it what you will. There will be more posts on the topic in 2017.
And how does our grocer fit into this rather shady picture? Further exploration reveals that Billesdon was one of a number of merchants sent to negotiate with Lovell on behalf of the Mercers’ Company in relation to subsidies and rates (Watney:349). His name also turns up on the Calendar for Payment of Fines. This together with the will suggests that palms had been greased and favours exchanged in the cut throat world of Tudor politics.
Lovell is one of Henry VII’s new men. These men were appointed for their ability rather than their bloodline and because since Henry had made them, Henry could break them. This did not necessarily win friends and influence people at the time but it ensured that the Tudor administrative system was much more effective than anything that had come before. I’ve posted about Bray earlier in the year. Double click on his name to open a new page for the earlier post.
In an interesting aside, Sir Thomas featured in another of the History Jar’s posts. He and his wife had no children. He left his estate at East Harling in Norfolk to his nephew Francis. Francis married Anne Ashby who turns out to be Hans Holbein’s ‘Lady with the Squirrel.’ I told you the Tudor world was a small one! Double click on Anne’s image to open the post on a new page if you want to read further.
Penn, Thomas. (2012) Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England. London:Penguin
Watney, Frank D and Lyell Laetitia. (2016) Acts of Court of the Mercers’ Company 1453-1527 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Wroe, Ann (2003) Perkin A Story of Deception. London: Jonathon Cape
‘London and Middlesex Fines: Henry VIII’, in A Calendar To the Feet of Fines For London and Middlesex: Volume 2, Henry VII – 12 Elizabeth, ed. W J Hardy and W Page (London, 1893), pp. 16-68. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/feet-of-fines-london-middx/vol2/pp16-68 [accessed 28 November 2016].