The Mysterious Nan Cobham

Written by Rebecca Larson

The downfall of Anne Boleyn is one of the most talked about pieces of Tudor history. Her execution is the one event that all Tudor lovers are aware familiar with – people are fascinated by her because she was unjustly executed.

Most of us can agree that she did not deserve the end she met, but that is not what this article is about. This article touches base on the three women who may have been responsible for the events to take motion, but in particular, we want to look at the mysterious “Nan Cobham” and see if we discover her true identity.

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Anne Boleyn’s Dog Purkoy: Where Did He Come From?

You may already be aware that Anne Boleyn was very fond of her lap dog, Purkoy…but are you aware that he was originally a gift to Sir Francis Bryan from Lady Lisle?

Anne Boleyn Royal Doulton Figurine

I was recently going through my “Lisle Letters” book and came across a letter that made me aware of the situation. I’ll be honest, I knew very little of Purkoy except for his tragic end.

This adorable little dog, as I already stated, was originally given to Anne Boleyn’s cousin (Sir Francis Bryan) by Lord and Lady Lisle – it was a New Year’s gift. It is said that Lord Lisle’s business agent, John Husee recommended the couple give the dog to Bryan because they were in need of his assistance in some matter.

It appears that when Queen Anne saw the dog she had to have him. Bryan had no choice but to give the dog to the Queen.

On the 20th of January 1534, Francis Bryan wrote a letter to Lord Lisle letting him know what transpired:

…I beseech your Lordship, after my most hearty recommendations made unto my very good lady your wife – unto whom and to your lordship, because ye be both but one soul though ye be two bodies, I write but one letter – that it may please your lordship to give her hearty thanks on my behalf for her little dog, which was so proper and so well liked by the Queen that it remained not above an hour in my hands but that her Grace took it from me. Nevertheless, her ladyship and any friend of hers, for the same, and her kindness therein, shall be assured of such pleasure as in me at any time shall be. As our Lord God knoweth, who have our lordship, with my said good lady, in his blessed preservation.

At Westminster, the xxth day of January

Yours at commandment,

Francis Bryan

Little Purkoy would not be around forever. Only twelve months after she received him Purkoy was dead. In a letter from Thomas Broke to Lady Lisle on 18 December 1534, he informs the Lady of the death of her former pet and how upset the Queen was by it.

…the Queen’s Grace setteth much store by a pretty dog, and her Grace delighted so much in little Purkoy that after he was dead of a fall there durst nobody tell her Grace of it. But her Grace setteth more store by a dog than by a bitch, she saith….

So, there it is! Purkoy was a gift from Lord and Lady Lisle to Sir Francis Bryan who then gave it to Queen Anne Boleyn when she showed her desire to have the dog.

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Katheryn Howard’s Father in Trouble for Wetting Bed

Edmund Howard was the younger brother of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk and father of Henry VIII’s ill-fated fifth queen, Katherine Howard. While looking through “Lisle Letters” edited by Muriel St. Clare Byrne, I came across a letter that was like none I’ve ever come across before.

Howard was always in debt, and more than likely was the “black sheep” of his family. Even so, he held the position of Comptroller of Calais. The following letter is not dated but the one prior to it in the book is dated the Spring of 1535.


Lord Edmund Howard to Lady Lisle (Honor Glenville)

Madame, so it is I have this night after midnight taken your medicine, for the which I heartily thank you, for it hath done me much good, and hath caused the stone to break, so that now I void much gravel. But for all that, your said medicine hath done me little honesty, for it made me piss my bed this night, for the which my wife hath sore beaten me, and saying it is children’s parts to bepiss their bed. Ye have made me such a pisser that I dare not this day go abroad, wherefore I beseech you to make mine excuse to my Lord and Master Treasurer, for that I shall not be with you this day at dinner. Madame, it is showed me that a wing or a leg of a stork, if I eat thereof, will make me that I shall never piss more in bed, and though my body be simple yet my tongue shall be ever good, and especially when it speaketh of women; and sithence such a medicine will do such a great cure God send me a piece thereof.

All youres,

Edmund Howard

Translating the Letter

Okay, so….did you laugh like I did when I first read the letter? Never, in all my research, have I come across a letter so blatant and honest. What I gathered from the letter is that Lady Lisle gave Edmund Howard some type of remedy for kidney stones. The remedy worked so well that it made him wet the bed – which his wife was not too pleased about. Then he mentions something about eating a wing or leg of a stork to cure the bed wetting. All of this is quite interesting and one would normally think it a bit unseemly to be put in a letter. But I guess he needed a good excuse to miss out on the dinner with the Master Treasurer which may have been Sir William Fitzwilliam.


Byrne, Muriel St. Clare, (ed.) The Lisle Letters

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The King’s Mistress: Letter from Anne Bassett to Lady Lisle

This letter was written around 1539 and found in Lisle Paper, Vol. I. No 86. It states that Anne of Cleves had passed through Calais where Lady Lisle was to greet her. It is around this time (1538-1539) that Anne Bassett is first rumored as a mistress to King Henry VIII.

Bassett was sent to court with her sister during the end of the reign of Queen Jane Seymour. The Queen had informed their mother, Lady Lisle, that she only had room for one lady – she chose Anne. It is sometime after Jane’s death in 1537 that Henry apparently grew interested in the young Anne Bassett. Whether or not the rumors are true we do not know. It is possible that there was only a flirtation between the two and others noticed and tried to shame the young girl. At this time Henry was in need of a new queen so every family was vying for their daughter to be the next.

In this letter we see how Anne Bassett, who was in England awaiting to serve the new queen, was relaying messages and gifts to the King on behalf of her mother, Lady Lisle. Lady Lisle’s second husband was Arthur Plantagenet, illegitimate son of Edward IV, making him an uncle to the King. He was not Anne Bassett’s father.

This letter leaves me wondering what advice Lady Lisle gave her daughter in continuing her favor with the king.

It also appears that Lady Lisle liked to bribe royalty with food. First Queen Jane, by sending her large amount of quail eggs to accept one of her daughters into her household and now the King Henry with some type of preserve or marmalade, which he clearly enjoyed.

Anne Bassett to Lady Lisle

To the Right Honourable and my singular good lady and mother, the Viscountess Lisle:


My duty done, I humbly recommend me unto your ladyship, desiring you of your daily blessing. This shall signify your ladyship that I received your letter of Husee; and, according to the contents thereof, I have declared unto the king’s highness all things, as your ladyship willed me to do, so that his grace took the same in right good part, accepting your good will and toward mind therein as thankfully as though your ladyship had waited on her grace hither; pondering right well the charges that my lord and your ladyship hath lately been at, and do sustain, specifically at this present time. I humbly thank your ladyship of the news you write me of her grace, that she is so good and gentle to serve and please: it shall be no little rejoicement to us, her grace’s servants here, that shall attend daily upon her, and most comfort to the king’s majesty, whose highness is not a little desirous to have her grace here. And for the good and motherly counsel your ladyship doth give me, concerning my continuance in the king’s favour, I thank your ladyship most lowly therefor; trusting God shall no longer spare me life than I shall therein continue. For I knowledge myself most bound to his highness of all creatures: if I should, therefore in any thing offend his grace willingly, it were pity I should live. Madam, the king doth so well like the conserves you sent him last, that his grace commanded me to write unto you for more of the condiniac of the clearest making, and of the conserve of damascenes; and this as soon as may be. No more to you at this time, but I pray God send your ladyship long life, to the pleasure of Almighty God.

From York Place, the Monday afore Christmas day. By your humble and obedient daughter,

Anne Bassett


Letters of royal and illustrious ladies of Great Britain, from the commencement of the twelfth century to the close of the reign of Queen Mary;by [Green], Mary Anne Everett (Wood), Mrs., 1818-1895, [from old catalog] ed;Published 1846; pages 148-149

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Singled Out: Potential Wives of Henry VIII


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 obeseking 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 outas 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:

9 February 1542- Ambassador Chapuys to the Holy Roman Emperor:

The ladyfor 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.

25 February 1542 – Ambassador Chapuys to the Holy Roman Emperor:

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.

15 January 1543 – Ambassador Chapuys to the Holy Roman Emperor:

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)

Capture2Anne Bassett, born circa 1520, was the daughter of Sir John Bassett and HonorGrenville. 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. Arthurwas a Plantagenet, but he was illegitimate so he wasn’ta 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 herwit 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 KatherynHoward.

Here is what happened to Anne after Jane Seymour passed away:

At the queens death, she was placed in the household of her cousin, Mary Arundell, countess of Sussex, to await the kings 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 queens 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 Englands enemies. This does not seem to have affected the kings 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.

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 MistressAnne 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

Capture1As 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.

12 July 1543 – The King’s Choice

The King’s Marriage.



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.


Letters of royal and illustrious ladies of Great Britain: Anne Bassett to Lady Lisle (page 22)

A Whos Who of Tudor Women,compiled byKathy Lynn Emerson

Thomas Wyatt: The Heart’s Forest, by Susan Brigden

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