The excessive fear of plague and illness for Henry VIII was none stop. Stories are told that upon the birth of Prince Edward his household had been cleaned daily to prevent illness and early death. Because of the high mortality rate and lack of antibiotics in the mid 16th century the king would sometimes require notifications from those who served him and were affected by illness. They were often required to report to his ministers on the appearance of the plague in his realm. The plague was constant in England in the mid 16th century and a regular threat to the well-being of the king’s subjects.
The following letter was written by Margaret (Dymoke) Coffin, a lady in waiting at the court of Henry VIII, on the day of her husband’s death. Margaret is best known as one of the five ladies who served Anne Boleyn in the Tower prior to her execution.
Margaret’s husband, William Coffin was Master of the Horse for both Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour and died from the plague. The letter his wife wrote was to Secretary Cromwell. This letter gives us an interesting insight into court life that we don’t often hear about.
Right honorable and my singular good lord,
In my most humblest manner, as a poor widow full of heaviness and without comfort for the departing of my husband, whose soul God pardon, beseeching your lordship to be good lord unto me, and that it may please you to advertise the king’s highness of his departing, and whereon he died, and as the women that laid him forth said, and showed me, it was the great sickness and full of God’s marks over all his body. And I most humbly beseech his grace to be good and gracious lord to me in all my rightful causes; for I know not what case I and my servants stand in, but I remit all to the mercy of God, to whom I beseech God send your lordship long life.
Written at Standon, the 8th Day of December (1538), by your beadwoman,
Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain, Vol. 3; page 63