Sometimes while doing research you will come across a little treasure that you never knew existed. This has happened to me quite often but this time what I found truly caught me by surprise, made me blush and left me wondering what the event or events were that provoked this letter.
I can figure out the rough year of this letter by the mention of the marriage of the Duke of Orleans and the niece of the Pope, which references the future Henri II of France and Catherine de Medici, who were married 28 October 1533. That was the same year that Arthur Plantagenet became Lord Deputy of Calais.
As you will notice while reading said letter I have given you notes after certain words to help explain better what is being said – sometimes it can be confusing if you’re not familiar with the way they wrote.
Sir Francis Bryan to Lord Lisle (Arthur Plantagenet)
My good lord, after my hearty recommendation, this shall be to advertise you that I have received your letter, by the which I do not only perceive that ye would be glad of my return but also my Lady, your bedfellow, whom I do heartily thank. Sir, whereas in your last letter I perceive that in Calais ye have sufficient courtezans (A womanprostitute,especiallyonewhoseclientsaremembers of a royalcourt or men of highsocialstanding) to furnish and accomplish my desires, I do thank you of your good provision, but this shall be to advertise you that since my coming hither (referring to Marseille) I have called to my remembrance the misliving that ye and such other hath brought me to; for the which, being repented, have had absolution of the Pope. (What did Lisle and someone else do?) And because ye be my friend, I would advertise you in likewise to be sorry of that ye have done, and ask my lady, your wife forgiveness, and that forgiveness obtained, to come in all diligence hither to be absolved of the Pope, who I think will not tarry here much longer than Hallowmas, ere (before) which time shall be married the Duke of Orleans (future Henri II of France)to the Pope’s niece (Catherine de Medici), who arrived yesterday in this town, accompanies with fourteen or fifteen gentlewomen, which gentlewomen nor mistress be not as fair as was Lucrece (Lucretia). And thus heartily fare ye well, my good lord. From Merseles (Marseille), the 24th day of October.
I beseech you this letter many commend me to mr. porter (Sir Thomas Palmer) & my Lady his wife.
Your loving brother of world, Francis (he spelled ffranssys) Bryan
The question I have after reading this letter was this: Was Sir Thomas Palmer the person mentioned in this statement?:
“I have called to my remembrance the misliving that ye and such other hath brought me to; for the which, being repented, have had absolution of the Pope…”
What kind of incident happened that Sir Francis Bryan felt he had to get absolution from the Pope?
If we look at it from the other side, what type of sin would cause someone to seek absolution from the Pope? Absolution refers to forgiveness of mortal sins, especially grave sins to be forgiven. The Ten Commandments are examples of mortal/grave sins that would require absolution. If you are unfamiliar, here is an example of the Ten Commandments:
I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me.
You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain
Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day (Sabbath)
Honor your father and your mother
You shall not kill
You shall not commit adultery
You shall not steal
You shall not bear false witness
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife
You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods
So, one can only imagine what happened for Sir Francis Bryan to seek absolution. Until I can find out more, we’ll have to use our imaginations. What do you think happened?
We all know the tragic end of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. If you are new to Tudor history I’d highly recommend reading the guest article by Alan Freer called, “The Last Plantagenet” to get yourself better acquainted with her life, and grizzly execution.
Margaret was the daughter of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence. George was the brother of both King Edward IV and Richard III.
This letter is written by Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury to her first cousin, Arthur Plantagenet, the illegitimate son of King Edward IV Lord Lisle in Calais. It was written sometime between 1533-1538; I’m able to determine that since Arthur became Lord Lisle in 1533 and Margaret was arrested and imprisoned in 1538 – she did not write this letter from the Tower of London.
It appears to be mostly pleasantries between two cousins and some discussion about a Robert Baker that Margaret appears to know and Lord Lisle appointed him into the King’s service in Calais.
Mine own good cousin,
In my hearty manner I recommend me unto you, and to my lady your wife, being glad to hear of your good health; praying you, that where my friend Richard Baker is by your favor appointed to the king’s service in Calais, it may please you to be good lord unto him, and the rather for my sake, in all such things as you may do him favour therein; for I doubt not but that you shall find him an honest man, and meet to do the king service. And thus I pray Jesu preserve you in good health, and prosperous to His pleasure.
At Bysham, the 6th day of March.
By your loving cousin,
Quite Possibly the Only Other Surviving Letter from Margaret, Countess of Salisbury
Here is another correspondence between Margaret and her son, Reginald from July 1536 – this is the only other letter that I’m aware of that survives. The letter was a heavily damaged copy and you’ll notice the areas that were unreadable. I included his letter so you could her interaction with her son.
Reginald Pole to the Countess of Salisbury (his mother)
Most humbly desiring your ladyship’s blessing. And, Madam, I doubt [not] but your ladyship continually desiring my com[ing ho]me, and speciall[y] at this time, having firm [ho]pe that it should [in] a few days come to pass [th]at you should [see] me there presently, as the b[ea]rer hereof, my [ser]vant, did inform me to be your w[or]ds at his departing from your ladyship, tru[st]ing that he was sent for that purpose to bri[ng] me home; now that my return doth not fo[llow] according to your expectation, the more, I doubt not, greve it woll be to you, and marvel both, that I do not come.” Must put her, however, in remembrance of her old promise to God touching him from his childish years, “that ever you had given me utterly unto God. And though you had so done with all your children, yet in me you had so given all right from you and possession utterly of me that you never took any care to provide for my living nor otherwise, as you did for other, but committed all to God, to whom you had given me. This promise now, Madam, in my [Maister]es name I require of you to maintain, [the wh]iche you cannot keep nor make good if y[ou] now beginne to care for me. Whan you see [me] . . . . . . . complayne of my Maistre, [th]an were [it] tyme for you to care for me; b[ut] afore [that] tyme you do God wrong if y[ou] . . . . . . . . . wiche cannot be without a certa[yne doubt] of the provident favor of Him towa[rds me to] whom you have given me. Therefore . . . . . Madam, let not this injurie be ever found [in y]ou towards my Master and yours both, specially . . . eng this testimony of me the servant, that [I ha]d never cause in my life to make the . . . . complaint, being, in comparison, infinitely [better] provided for in all parties than I was [worthi]e or could desire, never feeling from [child]wod, syns that I knew who was my verie [Ma]stre and Lord, the least displeasure, but [that] I had a thousand weight of comfort furthwith f[ollow]eng. Wherefore, what cause I have to have s[uch] confidence of His like goodness in all that may h[app]en the time to come your ladyship may hereby s[ee]. So that if you woll enjoy in me any part of that comfort God sendeth, the readiest way is, putting all care aside of me, let my Master and me alone; I mean this, not intermit the least care of mind for me, knowing to what master you have given me; but both touching yourself and me both, commit all to His goodness, as I doubt not your ladyship will, and shall be to me the greatest comfort I can have of you.
Reply from Countess of Salisbury to her Son
Here is Margaret’s reply to the above letter from her son. It is noted that this letter appears to be a copy.
Son Reginald,” I send you God’s blessing and mine, though my trust to have comfort in you is turned to sorrow. Alas that I, for your folly, should receive from my sovereign lord “such message as I have late done by your brother.” To me as a woman, his Highness has shown such mercy and pity as I could never deserve, but that I trusted my children’s services would express my duty. And now, to see you in his Grace’s indignation,—”trust me, Reginald, there went never the death of thy father or of any child so nigh my heart.” Upon my blessing I charge thee to take another way and serve our master, as thy duty is, unless thou wilt be the confusion of thy mother. You write of a promise made by you to God,—”Son, that was to serve God and thy prince, whom if thou do not serve with all thy wit, with all thy power, I know thou can not please God. For who hath brought you up and maintained you to learning but his Highness?” Will pray God to give him grace to serve his prince truly or else to take him to his mercy.
Letters of Royal and Illustrious Women of Great Britain, Volume 3, page 91
It is well-known that Henry VIII loved women. Especially ones that could potentially give him a male heir. After the execution of wife number five, Katheryn Howard, Henry was once again on the hunt for a new wife.
As King of England he would surely have been a great catch to any woman. He was all-powerful as King of England, Ireland and France, as well as being the head of the Church of England. Becoming his wife would mean you nearly had the world at your disposal. The downside, of course, was the fact you had to be intimate with him. I was not present in Tudor England, but I can make assumptions from everything I’ve read over the years and believe that any woman would have been repulsed by the obese king with a rotting leg. But, with that being said, it was impossible to say no to the king…especially Henry VIII.
There were a few women who were singled out as potential candidates for Henry’s sixth wife. As we are aware, his ultimate choice was Katherine Parr, but who were the other contenders and what do we know about them?
The Imperial Ambassador Eustace Chapuys is always a great source when it comes to court gossip — here are a couple of correspondances he had regarding Henry’s search for a sixth wife:
The lady for whom he showed the greater predilection on the occasion was no other than the sister of Monsieur Coban (Cobham) the same lady whom Master Huyet (Whyatt) did some time ago repudiate on a charge of adultery. She is a pretty young creature, and has sense enough to do as the others have done should she consider it worth her while. (fn. n2) It is also rumoured that the King has taken a fancy for the daughter of Madame Albart, the niece of the grand esquire Master Antoine Brown, and likewise for a daughter by the first marriage of the wife of Monsieur de Lyt (Lord Lisle), once debitis of Calais.
Indeed my impression is that unless Parliament entreats him to take another wife, he will not be in a hurry to marry; besides that there are few, if any, ladies at Court now-a-days likely to aspire to the honor of becoming one of the King’s wives, or to desire that the choice should fall on them; for a law has just passed in Parliament enjoining that should the King or his successors wish to marry a subject of theirs, the lady chosen will be bound to declare, under pain of death, if any charge of misconduct can be brought against her.
Many here think that in the midst of all this feasting and carousing the King may well take a fancy to some lady of the court and marry her, but I must say that at present I see no appearance of that.
Anne Bassett (step-daughter of Lord Lisle)
Anne Bassett, born circa 1520, was the daughter of Sir John Bassett and Honor Grenville. Sir John died when Anne was young and her mother married a second time to Arthur Plantagenet, illegitimate son of King Edward IV. They later became Lord and Lady Lisle and resided in Calais.
Lady Lisle had huge ambitions for herself and her children — marrying an illegitimate son of a late king wasn’t a bad choice for her, and it certainly brought some recognition. Arthur was a Plantagenet, but he was illegitimate so he wasn’t a huge threat to the Tudors.
When Anne’s mother moved to Calais to be near her husband, she sent her daughters Anne and Mary Bassett off to school in France to improve their French. Since Calais was an English territory the girls needed to travel further into the country to learn the native language. Anne was sent to live with madame and monsieur de Ryon at Pont de Remy, while Mary was sent to live with monsieur and madame de Bours at Abbeville. Surely both girls behaved very similar to Anne Boleyn with the French influence they had obtained during their time living there.
Anne eventually served Jane Seymour near the end of her reign after her mother convinced the queen.
Anne is said to have been more beautiful than her sister Mary and her wit was similar to Anne Boleyn. As we already know youth, wit and beauty were quick ways to be noticed by the King of England. However, in a letter that Anne Bassett wrote to her mother on the 15th of March 1538, she writes from England explaining why she has not written more often (this might say something about her actual education):
For surely, where your ladyship doth think that I can write English, in very deed I cannot, but that little that I can write is French…
Between 1538 and 1542, Anne was rumored as a mistress to Henry VIII and a potential fourth wife (in place of Anne of Cleves) in 1540 and then again as a sixth wife after the downfall of Katheryn Howard in 1542. Anne was merely 18 years old in 1538…Henry, not long after considering Anne, married the very young Katheryn Howard.
Here is what happened to Anne after Jane Seymour passed away:
At the queen’s death, she was placed in the household of her cousin, Mary Arundell, countess of Sussex, to await the king’s next marriage. Later she resided with Peter Mewtas and his wife (Jane Asteley) and then with a distant cousin, Anthony Denny, and his wife (Joan Champernowne). The king took a particular interest in her, at one point giving her a gift of a horse and saddle. Upon his marriage to Anne of Cleves, Anne Bassett resumed her position as a maid of honor and she also held this post under Catherine Howard. After that queen’s disgrace, Anne was particularly provided for because at the time her stepfather, mother, and two sisters were being held in connection with a treasonous plot to turn Calais over to England’s enemies. This does not seem to have affected the king’s feelings for Anne. At a banquet held a short time later, she was one of three ladies to whom he paid particular attention and there was speculation that Anne Bassett might be wife number six. When King Henry chose Katherine Parr instead, Anne resumed her role as maid of honor.²
Here is another source that discusses Anne Bassett and Henry’s interest in her:
“By the end of January (1542), the King was said to have cheered up a little, although his health remained poor and his weight in consequence increased. But he did at least enjoy ‘a great supper’ with twenty-six ladies at his table and another thirty-five at a table nearby. Among those singled out by his attentions were Sir Anthony Browne’s niece, Lord Cobham’s sister and Mistress Anne Bassett. Of the Latter Marillac commented sourly that she was ‘a pretty young creature with wit enough to do as badly as the other if she were to try’.”
~ Antonia Fraser The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Elisabeth Brooke or Elizabeth Brooke
As referenced above, the sister to Lord Cobham was also singled out by Henry VIII. Elisabeth Brooke (b. 1526) was the eldest daughter of George Brooke, 9th Baron Cobham (of Kent) and his wife Anne.
Elisabeth was the niece of Sir Thomas Wyatt and his wife Elizabeth Brooke. Wyatt had been estranged from his wife for over fifteen years on accusations of adultery, on her part. However, we already know that Wyatt was indeed an adulterer because it was common knowledge that he had continually laid with Elizabeth Darrell. It seems that the Elizabeth was indeed an adulteress because her father completely ignored her in his will and favored Wyatt over her.
The younger Elisabeth was described as vivacious, kind and one of the most beautiful women at court.
It had been thought by Eustace Chapuys that Henry VIII considered Elizabeth Brooke (wife of Thomas Wyatt) as his 6th wife, however she had been accused of adultery and Henry just lost his fifth wife to that charge. Plus she was around 40 years old. Chapyuys must have confused her with her young niece, Elisabeth Brooke. During this time in history it was clearly frowned upon, if not forbidden to divorce your spouse — you could not marry again until one spouse died. Wyatt effectively disowned his wife and forbade to see her again. This is another reason why she was most likely the wrong woman discussed in the letter by Chapuys because she was still married.
Lady Lucy Somerset
Lucy was mentioned in a letter by Imperial Ambassador Eustace Chapuys to his master Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor as having been one of the three ladies in whom the King was showing a marked interest and was considering for his sixth wife. The previous statement was on the wikipedia page for Lady Lucy Somerset, however, there is no source linking to the article. I was unable to find the letter.
Notarial instrument witnessing that, on 12 July 1543, 35 Hen. VIII., in an upper oratory called “the Quynes Pryevey closet” within the honor of Hampton Court, Westm. dioc., in presence of the noble and gentle persons named at the foot of this instrument and of me, Ric. Watkins, the King’s prothonotary, the King and lady Katharine Latymer alias Parr being met there for the purpose of solemnising matrimony between them, Stephen bp. of Winchester proclaimed in English (speech given in Latin) that they were met to join in marriage the said King and Lady Katharine, and if anyone knew any impediment thereto he should declare it. The licence for the marriage without publication of banns, sealed by Thos. abp. of Canterbury and dated 10 July 1543, being then brought in, and none opposing but all applauding the marriage, the said bp. of Winchester put the questions (recited) to which the King, hilari vultu, replied “Yea” and the lady Katharine also replied that it was her wish; and then the King taking her right hand, repeated after the Bishop the words, “I, Henry, take thee, Katharine, to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us depart, and thereto I plight thee my troth.” Then, releasing and again clasping hands, the lady Katharine likewise said “I, Katharine, take thee Henry to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to be bonayr and buxome in bed and at board, till death us depart, and thereto I plight unto thee my troth.” The putting on of the wedding ring and proffer of gold and silver (described) followed; and the Bishop, after prayer, pronounced a benediction. The King then commanded the prothonotary to make a public instrument of the premises. Present : John lord Russell, K.G., keeper of the Privy Seal, Sir Ant. Browne, K.G., captain of the King’s pensioners, and Thos. Henage, Edw. Seymer, Hen. Knyvet, Ric. Long, Thos. Darcy, Edw. Beynton, and Thos. Speke, knights, and Ant. Denny and Wm. Herbert, esquires, also the ladies Mary and Elizabeth the King’s children, Margaret Douglas his niece, Katharine duchess of Suffolk, Anne countess of Hertford, and Joan lady Dudley, and Anne Herbert.
Notarial attestation by Ric. Watkins, Ll. B., King’s prothonotary. Large parchment.³