The Office for National Statistics estimates the UK population in 2014 to be something in the order of 64,000,000 – which is rather a lot of people! Consequentially I am always delighted by the way in which the same names pop up throughout history and even more delighted when they prove to be related to one another. Take Sir John Bulmer of Lastingham for instance. He appears to be related one way or another to most of the Yorkshire gentry. His mother was a Conyers and his first wife was Anne Bigod – another Yorkshire name.
However, it’s not his family tree that I’m interested in today. It’s what happened to him and his second wife. Margaret Cheyney had been Sir John’s mistress prior to the death of Anne but once Sir John was free to marry – not having the facility to chop off his wives’ heads in the same way as his monarch- he eventually married Margaret. In October 1536, after two years of marriage, Margaret was pregnant with their child.
Unfortunately the Pilgrimage of Grace destroyed their world. Sir John claimed that he’d only joined the rebels because they threatened to burn his home. It was a common assertion. Adam Sedbar, Abbot of Jervaulx only came out of hiding when rebels threatened to do the same to the abbey. As a member of the gentry Sir John was expected to take a lead and he is evident at the end of October as part of the group negotiating with the Duke of Norfolk. Along with the other rebels he was pardoned and duly hurried home for the festive season not realising that Thomas Cromwell had a little list of names for future reference.
In January 1537 Margaret gave birth to a boy and Sir Francis Bigod, not a close relation of Sir John’s first wife, alarmed at Henry VIII’s continued military build up in Hull became concerned that the Tudor monarch wasn’t going to keep his word or re-establish the monasteries. He, in his turn, instigated rebellion. It was all over by February 20th with Sir Francis in cold storage at Carlisle Castle.
Now Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell took their opportunity to cleanse the north of perceived enemies and break the power of the old nobility. First Robert Aske and the leading captains, including Sir Robert Constable, were invited to London and imprisoned. Then Cromwell began to fling his net more widely. Sir John Bulmer was caught in the wider circle but Sir John and his wife didn’t want to be separated from one another. Moorhouse records that Sir John is supposed to have said that he would rather be racked than separated from Margaret. This meant that Sir John couldn’t flee and besides Sir John is supposed to have said that he was an Englishman and had no desire to leave his country.
As a result, rather than fleeing, the pair rather unfortunately began, it was alleged, to plot another uprising. Sir John is supposed to have gone along to his neighbours and told them his plan. They, in their turn, informed Cromwell. Interestingly even if they hadn’t done this Margaret’s council that her husband should flee the kingdom also constituted treason. Inevitably the pair were arrested.
Ultimately both husband and wife pleaded guilty but Sir John absolutely refused to implicate Margaret and although Margaret appears to have confessed there is no paper evidence of this confession. In reality, during the Pilgrimage of Grace she was heavily pregnant so the claim that she was an active leader of that particular rebellion is either fanciful or Margaret was a very determined woman. Sir John was executed on the 25 May 1537 at Tyburn for his part. His lot it would have to be said is not a great deal different to the fate of Sir Nicholas Tempest. That gentleman joined the rebels under duress but having taken the oath appears to have played his part to the full. The argument that the gentry became part of the rebellion in order to help contain it cut little ice with Henry VIII.
Cromwell seems to have had a bit of an agenda when it came to Margaret. She was the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Buckingham (executed 1521) and had been Sir John’s mistress before she became his wife. In London, where they were tried, Cromwell was very keen to have it appear that no marriage had taken place despite the repeated insistence of Sir John and Margaret that they were lawfully wed. Cromwell’s need for Margaret to be ‘no better than she ought to be’ was because it really wasn’t the done thing to go around executing respectable women….unless they were ex-queens or Plantagenets. But, and there is a but, there needed to be a message to the aristocratic ladies of England that they couldn’t go around formenting rebellion. Lady Hussey, for example, had clearly encouraged her husband to rebel against his better judgment. He was executed in Lincoln but she was unharmed. Margaret, on the other hand had no title and no family to protect her. She was convicted of encouraging Sir John to join in the Pilgrimage of Grace and that she had continued her treasonous activities in January 1537.
There’s a reason why you don’t hear of women being hanged, drawn and quartered. It’s not seemly apparently. Far better to burn them. This was the fate that befell Margaret Cheyney, sometimes called Stafford at Smithfield on the same day that her husband was executed.
History does not record what befell their infant son. The Complete Peerage reveals that Sir John did have another son. Sir Ralph Bulmer was the son of Anne Bigod. Although his father had been convicted of treason he was restored to his position in society in 1548.