Tag Archives: Sir Thomas Lovell

Sir Thomas Lovell – Tudor lawyer and henchman.

sir thomas lovell.jpgI’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.

anne_ashby_largeIn 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].



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Filed under Fifteenth Century, The Tudors

Great Malvern Priory and Henry VII

IMG_7791.jpgHenry VII stamped his presence as King of England on Great Malvern Priory. His is the least of the medieval windows.  His son destroyed the monastery.

The window is called the Magnificat Window and tells the story of the Incarnation and scenes from Christ’s life including his presentation at the Temple and turning water into wine.

The bottom lights, or panes, depict the donors and send a significant political message alongside the joys of the Virgin Mary. The key donor is King Henry VII.  He is pictured along with his queen, Elizabeth of York.  Sadly her image is lost. There are tiny Tudor roses as well as the Tudor heir, Prince Arthur. Pictures of Arthur are rare so this is a treasure, that Worcester Cathedral copied.  The window was placed in 1501 or early 1502 to celebrate the Tudor success of an heir married to a Spanish princess. Arthur, the red and white rose combined, died in 1502 at Ludlow a few months after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so the grand window with its less than subtle political message, trumping the Plantagenet west window of Richard, then duke of Gloucester, is rather flawed.


Two other donors feature.  There is Sir Thomas Lovell on the far left, then Sir John Savage, his image is gone as well, and finally Sir Reginald Bray.

Lovell, a Norfolk man, was attainted by Richard III but under Henry VII, having fought alongside him at Bosworth, became chancellor. In 1487 he fought with Henry at the Battle of Stoke and in 1489 he became Constable of Nottingham Castle.  He had links with the Malvern area. He was also an executor for Margaret Beaufort. He died in 1524 having served Henry VIII but increasingly sidelined by the rise of Wolsey although in 1506 it was Lovell who went to Dover to collect Edmund de la Pole and transport him to the Tower.  It is said that Lambert Simnel attended Lovell’s funeral.

Sir John Savage, another of Henry VII’s privy council, commanded the left wing of Henry Tudor’s army at Bosworth.  He was also the nephew of Margaret Beaufort’s husband Thomas, Lord Stanley. The Savages were a Cheshire family with strong connections to Macclesfield. They were also linked to Malvern Chase being keepers of Hanley Castle. Savage and his father were both Sheriff of Worcestershire.

IMG_7792.jpgSir Reginald Bray was a Worcestershire man and as Chrimes observes it is unlikely that Henry VII, if he had been the key donor of the window, would have placed Savage, Lovell and Bray alongside his son – or himself for that matter.  Far more likely then that Bray and his fellow privy councillors paid for the window which Henry VII graciously permitted (Chrimes: 337). To find out more about Bray double click on his name.

Chrimes, S.B. (1999) Henry VII (The Yale English Monarch Series)

Wells, Katherine. (2013) A Tour of the Stained Glass at Great Malvern Priory.  Friends of Great Malvern Priory.



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Hans Holbein and the mystery lady

anne_ashby_largeThe catchily titled Lady was a Squirrel and a Starling  was painted, experts believe, on Holbein’s first visit to England (1526-28). She is sometimes supposed to be Margaret Giggs, Sir Thomas More’s step-daughter on account of the fact that her unusual fur hat is very similar to a drawing of Margaret held at Windsor in the royal collection but evidently a pointy hat was a fashionable item – because who would want to be painted in clothes that weren’t their very finest?

Another, and more likely, suggestion made by the National Portrait Gallery is that the lady may be Anne Lovell nee Ashby. The rationale for this suggestion comes from the presence of the very perky pet squirrel in the portrait. Holbein portrayed monkeys and even a marmoset as well as falcons in his portraits.  Not that there was anything new about being painted with your pet – think of Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait of the girl with her pet ermine. The squirrel may indeed just be a pet in the picture for a bit of foreground interest. Apparently they were popular from medieval times onwards but this is a sixteenth century portrait and symbolism was important.

east_1aAlternatively, and more likely, the squirrel is an allusion to the Lovell family of Norfolk  who had three squirrels on their coat of arms. If this is the case then it is also suggested the starling is a rebus for the East Harling Estate in Norfolk which Anne’s husband Francis inherited from his uncle Sir Thomas who had fought at Bosworth on the side of Henry Tudor. There is a squirrel lurking in the stained glass at East Harling.

Anne and Francis were only recently married when Holbein came to England.  It is possible that the picture is one of a pair of husband and wife but that the husband has gone astray.  So is the portrait a celebration of marriage? Of inheritance? Or something else?  Once again history in it’s many guises offers some tantalising insights but leaves much of the story untold.  We do know that Anne was dead by 1539 and that Francis remarried to a woman called Elizabeth but of Anne we know very little other than what she looked like.

According to Time Out this picture is number thirty-one on the hundred best paintings to see in London. It is certainly an opportunity to admire the way that Holbein creates texture not only in the textiles but also in the squirrel which looks as though it is about to leap off the oak board upon which it is painted.


Filed under Sixteenth Century