Tag Archives: The Lisle Letters

Edward IV’s wily mistress…or should that be elusive mistress?

images-17I’ve become side tracked by Edward IV’s mistresses and illegitimate children. I’ve already posted about his holiest mistress – Lady Eleanor Butler and I posted last year about the ‘merriest mistress’ Jane, or rather Elizabeth, Shore. I may write another post about her in due course. That just leaves the wiliest mistress – who would appear to be Elizabeth Lucie or Lucy nee Wayte and who often merits only a sentence in works on Edward IV  because unlike the other two very little is known about her.

There were other women as well but they seem to have been so numerous and so unimportant in the great scheme of things that no one bothered to jot down their names. Polydore Vergil writing after 1505 for his Anglica Historia commissioned by Henry VII suggests that Edward may have made overtures in some very inappropriate places – including the Earl of Warwick’s wider household “and yt caryeth soome colour of truthe, which commonly is reportyd, that king Edward showld have assayed to do soome unhonest act in the earls howse; for as muche as the king was a man who wold readyly cast an eye upon yowng ladyes, and loove them inordinately.” Obviously it wasn’t in Vergil’s best interest to sell the York king as a choir boy but then neither did anyone else. Commines noted that much of Edward IV’s problem was his interest in pleasure. Mancini described him as “licentious in the extreme.” He also wrote “he (Edward) pursued with no discrimination the married and unmarried the noble and lowly: however he took none by force.”  According to Ross, the Croyland Chronicle was amazed that Edward was able to rule a kingdom whilst partaking of so many “sensual enjoyments.” Gregory’s Chronicle, which Ross notes is the most contemporary of the reports, commented that Edward wasn’t very chaste…something of an understatement it would appear.

 

Sir Thomas More, who was only four when Edward died, wrote about Elizabeth Lucy and seems to have mistaken her with Eleanor Butler – either that or Edward spent his time running around the countryside promising to marry unsuitable widows whenever they put up a bit of resistance to his advances. He writes, “The Duchess (Cecily, Duchess of York, Edward IV’s mother), with these words nothing appeased, and seeing the King (Edward IV) so set thereon that she could not pull him back, so highly she disdained it that under pretext of her duty to God, she devised to disturb this marriage [to Elizabeth Woodville], and rather to help that he should marry one Dame Elizabeth Lucy, whom the King had also not long before gotten with child. Wherefore the King’s mother objected openly against his marriage, as it were in discharge of her conscience, that the King was betrothed to Dame Elizabeth Lucy, and her husband before God….Whereupon Dame Elizabeth Lucy was sent for. And although she was by the King’s mother and many others filled with good encouragement-to affirm that she was betrothed unto the King-yet when she was solemnly sworn to say the truth, she confessed that they were never betrothed. However, she said his Grace spoke so loving words unto her that she verily hoped he would have married her, and that if it had not been for such kind words, she would never have showed such kindness to him, to let him so kindly get her with child.”

 

So just who was Dame Elizabeth Lucy? Ashdown-Hill, pro-Richardian historian, identifies her as the daughter of Thomas Wayte of Hampshire. Further digging around reveals that this is not necessarily the case. Michael Hicks notes that  More was wrong about the pre-contract and goes on to suggest that he was also wrong about the lady’s name as there is no one by the name of Elizabeth Lucy in the records – at least not some one of reasonably noble birth. Digging around on the Internet yielded an interesting forum discussion which identifies Margaret FitzLewis widow of Sir William Lucy. Its perhaps not surprising then that historians have placed her social status as anything from the wife/daughter of the peer of the realm to good-time girl or  as the Seventeenth Century historian Buck described her – a ‘wanton wench.’

 

Byrne is much more clear cut in her introduction to the Lisle Letters. She places Elizabeth Lucy as being a nineteen-year-old widow  of  Lancastrian connections from an established Hampshire family holding a number of manors when she met the king.

 

Whoever the elusive Elizabeth really was she is the mother of Arthur Plantagenet (born anytime between 1461 and 1475 depending upon which source you read but Byrne opts for 1462) who is referenced as having family in Hampshire, a fact which is corroborated in the Lisle Letters which locates the Wayte family, or parts of it, in Titchfield. Arthur also had a sister called Elizabeth (born 1464 ish), though apparently we can’t even agree on that, some researchers argue that actually she was called Margaret…so there’s either a name error or possibly two daughters.  And of course, some historians argue that because of the possible difference in their ages Arthur and Elizabeth might not have had the same mother (yes I know, if there’s only about three years between them that its not an issue but there is a reference which suggests Arthur was born in 1475 -so a lot of ifs, buts and maybes.)

Any way, Elizabeth daughter of Edward IV married Thomas Lumley of Durham. The Duchess of Cambridge is numbered among her descendants. Further evidence as to Elizabeth’s royal father is provided by the papal dispensation which allowed Elizabeth’s son Roger to marry Anne Conyers – the two of them being related within the prohibited degrees of affinity (something like fourth cousins) Testamenta Eboracensia 3 (Surtees Soc., vol. 45) (1865): 355).

History isn’t totally sure what happened to Elizabeth Lucy nee Wayte. She simply disappears from the records which suggests that either the king was no longer interested in her, she died or if she was from the lower social orders simply got on with her life along with countless other undocumented medieval people.  Putting a post on Elizabeth Lucy together is rather like a composite character exercise!

Edward IV did have other illegitimate children, not counting his children with Elizabeth Woodville who found themselves delegitimised by their Uncle Richard, but history doesn’t provide them with mothers. Grace Plantagenet, for example, turns up at the funeral of Elizabeth Woodville but beyond that we know very little.  There is a tantalising hint of an unknown daughter marrying into the Musgrave family but it was unsupported by any evidence. There’s a better evidenced possibility of the wife of the 6th Baron Audley being one of Edward IV’s daughters – though I’m sure that there are probably arguments for her being someone else entirely!

 

Ashdown-Hill, John (1999) ‘The Elusive Mistress: Elizabeth Lucy and Her Family’ in The Richardian  11 (June 1999), pp. 490–505. 31

Crawford, Anne. (2007)  The Yorkists: The History of a Dynasty. London: Continuum

Given-Wilson & A. Curteis (1984) Royal Bastards of Medieval London:Routledge and Keegan

England

Hicks, Michael. (2002) English Political Culture in the Fifteenth Century.  New York: Routledge

Hicks, Micael (2004) Edward IV London: Bloomsbury

Ross, Charles Derek. (1997)  Edward IV (English Monarchs Series)  New Haven and London: Yale University Press

St. Clare Byrne, Murial (1983) The Lisle Letters: An Abridgement

Weir, Alison (1994) The Princes In The Tower  London:Random House

http://www.thomasmorestudies.org/docs/Richard.pdf

Elizabeth Waite, in Lundy, Darryl. The Peerage: A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe.

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, Kings of England, surprising connections, The Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses

Arthur Plantagenet -not quite royal and not a traitor.

200px-ArmsOfArthurPlantagenet_ViscountLisle.jpgWho would have thought that Henry VIII had a maternal uncle  whom he loved very much. He once said that Arthur had the kindest heart of anyone he knew.

Arthur Plantagenet was Elizabeth of York’s illegitimate half-brother. His mother was Elizabeth Lucie or Lucy or possibly Wayte. Thomas More describes her as a naïve girl who believed Edward IV’s blandishments. There were other mistresses and other children. History has not provided a clear list of which children belong to which mother or how long Edward’s various relationships lasted or indeed whether he was pre-contracted to any of them before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville.

In any event, young Arthur was born in Calais and is mentioned in an exchequer account of 1477 – assuming that Edward didn’t have any other natural male sons kicking around Calais at that time, and then vanishes into historical mist and fog  for a time or, depending upon which source you read, is brought up in Edward IV’s court. He emerges after the difficulties of 1483-1485 in Elizabeth of York’s household. On her death he moved into Henry VII’s household. He then appears to have been inherited by his half-nephew in 1509. He became an ‘esquire of the king’s bodyguard,’ and was apparently much loved by Henry – a dangerous position to hold as poor Arthur came to recognize.

 

In 1511 he married Elizabeth Dudley the widow of Henry VII’s tax collector. The position of husband having fallen vacant because young Henry VIII had executed his father’s two foremost tax collectors in a move guaranteed to win friends and influence people. Elizabeth also happened to be the daughter of Edward Grey, Viscount Lisle (who just happened to be the younger brother of John Grey of Groby who was married to Elizabeth Woodville prior to his death at the Second Battle of St Albans in 1461- making for a very complicated family tree.)   Now would probably also be a good time to mention the fact that Elizabeth Grey is Robert Dudley’s granny – which just makes things even more incestuous when you consider Elizabeth I’s interest in that young man.

 

Back to Arthur:
 he turns up in the records on 8 February 1513 having obtained protection from his creditors- he seems to have been frequently troubled by there being too much month for his money- on the proviso of going to sea with an expedition to Brittany. The ship in which he sailed had a nasty accident with a rock and he was saved from death by something close to a miracle. Understandably he took himself off on a holy pilgrimage to Walsingham to give thanks for his safe return from the sea.

His experience didn’t stop him from returning to Europe where he joined his nephew on his European military adventure culminating in the Battle of the Spurs  which was more of a skirmish than a battle whilst the real action was taking place at home on the English Scottish Border – the Battle of Flodden.

By the following year Arthur, who was in Henry’s good books, was Sheriff of Hampshire and a captain on the vice-admiral’s vessel, the Trinity Sovereign. He turns up at the Field of the Cloth of Gold and was one of the king’s carvers. He also seems to have played an important role in the life of young Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII’s natural son by Bessie Blount. In 1524 he became a Knight of the Garter.   As is the way of these things he became a widower and remarried in 1528 to Honor Basset nee Grenville.

 

On March 24 1538 he was made Deputy of Calais and then things started to go very wrong. In addition to personal debt; there were the shifting sands of the king’s religious preferences and the faith of the locals; keeping Calais’s garrison fed and watered; keeping the local elite happy- and they frequently weren’t very happy and spent a lot of time trying to stab him in the back; keeping Cromwell informed as well as providing him with a new pet dog (no I’m not making that up – it’s all there in Arthur’s letters) and then there was keeping his wife happy and ensuring his children received an appropriate education. Ultimately things did not go well – there were simply too many plates to keep spinning. Arthur was summoned back to London in 1540 and sent to the Tower whilst his wife and daughters were kept under house arrest in Calais.

Rumour had it that it was Honor who was the traitor rather than her unfortunate spouse – whatever the case it seems to be agreed by Bishop Foxe (who didn’t like her- suspecting that she was a closet Catholic) and another chronicler that she lost her senses and never fully recovered them as a consequence of  Arthur’s arrest and imprisonment.

 

Unfortunately for Arthur  there was a plot. His chaplain, Gregory Botolph had come up with the idea of handing Calais over to the Pope in the person of Cardinal Pole, who was of course, a Plantagenet and Arthur’s cousin.  Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury styled Arthur ‘cousin’ in her correspondence a fact which Henry VIII must have been aware.  By now the Tudor monarch was ageing and vicious.  Being a Plantagenet had become exceedingly dangerous to one’s health as Margaret Pole was to discover.  Botolph managed to evade capture even though an act of attainder was passed against him. He evaded the king’s wrath, unlike his fellow conspirators – Edmund Brindholme, Clement Philpot and Adam Damplip- who presumably paid the full price for their treason – though I need to find confirmation of that.

 

There was no direct evidence against Arthur. So naturally he was released? Er, actually – no, he wasn’t. Arthur remained a prisoner in the Tower until 1542. It seems unfair that Arthur should have been rounded up as a consequence of Botolph’s misdemeanours as Arthur had spent considerable time and effort trying to get his chaplain a living, first in Lowestoft and then in Kettlebarston in Suffolk as demonstrated in his various letters.  It seems even more unfair that Arthur who had served the Tudors most loyally should have been so poorly treated. At the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign a family member could be looked upon with warmth, especially one who could never make a claim on the throne because of his illegitimacy but by 1540 Henry VIII had contemplated forwarding the claims of his own illegitimate son so the bar-sinister wasn’t the protection it had once been.  Arthur languished in the  Tower – Cromwell fell, Katherine Howard was married and discarded, her various lovers executed along with the erstwhile queen.

In March 1541 Honor Plantagenet, Lady Lisle and her daughters were released. Their jewels were returned to them and £900 made available to cover their debts and transport them wherever they wanted.  Honor ultimately returned to her home county of Cornwall where she died in 1566.

Arthur remained in the Tower, although he was allowed to walk upon the ramparts.  According to one story Arthur saw his nephew sailing along the Thames in the royal barge, shouted and waved at him reminding henry that he’d locked his uncle up and left him there.  As you might expect, this is anecdotal and not back by any concrete evidence.  Arthur must have thought that things were looking up when his collar of the Garter was restored to him. Two months later Henry VIII sent him a diamond ring via the person of his secretary Sir Thomas Wriothesley– Arthur was possibly so overwhelmed by relief “immoderate joy” was the way that Holinshed phrased it that he had a heart attack. He died in the Tower, of old age rather than a sharp pain in the neck, and was buried there, leaving his wife distraught with grief whilst he himself became a footnote in Ambassador Marillac’s letter to Francis I. “Lord Lisle, formerly deputy of Calais, being out of trouble and his Order, honour and goods restored, died a few days afterwards.” (4 March 1542)

 

Papers were seized in Lisle’s house at the time of his arrest – 3,000 of them. They were mainly letters to him and his wife, ranging in date between 1533 and 1540, from ambassadors, princes, governors of French and Flemish frontier towns: he knew them through his role of courtier, politician and Deputy of Calais. There were letters to and from friends and agents in England; including one which suggests that sending Anne Boleyn a pet monkey wasn’t one of Arthur’s better ideas. There was also letters between him and his wife during visits of one or the other to England.  Thomas Cromwell complained about Arthur’s letter writing. He said that Arthur wrote trivia that was of no political interest what-so-ever and to please get a grip on his meanderings.  Of course, so far as historians are concerned they couldn’t disagree more. The Lisle Letters are one of the most important collection of Tudor documents that we have available to us.  They can be purchased in six volumes or one abridged selection.

 

As an aside it is worth noting that Arthur’s daughter Frances was an ancestress of George Monck who famously, or infamously depending on your viewpoint, fought on both sides of the English Civil War

 

 

‘Henry VIII: March 1542, 1-10’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 17, 1542, ed. James Gairdner and R H Brodie (London, 1900), pp. 62-71 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol17/pp62-71 [accessed 18 January 2016].

Notes and Queries (1926) CLI (aug21): 129-130. doi: 10.1093/nq/CLI.aug21.129.

Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study In Colonial And Medieval Families, 2nd Edition

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Filed under Fifteenth Century, Sixteenth Century, The Plantagenets, The Tudors