Cardinal Wolsey was arguably the most powerful man during the early years of Henry VIII’s reign. To deny him was close to denying your king. The fact that Elizabeth Scrope did just that and stood up for herself was remarkable.
Elizabeth Scrope was the daughter of Sir Richard Scrope of Boulton and Eleanor Washbourne.¹ Elizabeth was married twice. Her first husband was William Beaumont, 2nd Viscount Beaumont. Beaumont suffered from mental illness and Parliament ruled that his land and estates were to be his handled by his comrade, John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford. After Beaumont’s death in 1507 and the death of Oxford’s wife the same year, he became the second husband of Elizabeth Scrope.
Elizabeth Scrope, the Countess of Oxford and her sister, Margaret Scrope, Countess of Suffolk were both Ladies-in-Waiting to Henry VIII’s first wife Katherine of Aragon.² She also served the previous queen consort Elizabeth of York.
At the time of his death, the Earl of Oxford was staying at Wivenhoe and Castle Hedingham in Essex. This would explain why Wolsey was writing his widow, the now dowager Countess of Oxford, about obtaining stone from another location in Essex. Harwich.
First Letter – In Response to Wolsey’s Request
This correspondence is in response to a request from Cardinal Wolsey in 1528.
To my Lord Cardinal’s good grace,
Pleaseth it youR grace, I have received your honourable letters dated the 2d of July, whereby I perceive your request is that I would grant unto your grace, for the foundation of your college in Ipswich as much stone and calions out of my cliff of Harwich as will be thought necessary by the masters of your works there for the foundation of the same; to the which your grace’s request I am as glad and desirous to condescend, if it might there be had without prejudice or hurt in time coming unto my town there.
And where upon the request made in your grace’s name by your chaplain, in that behalf, I sent my receiver Daniell there to meet your said chaplains, to the intent that they then and there my perceive and know how much might resonably be borne; and it was well perceived, and I credibly informed by the tenants and inhabitants there, little might be forborne, unless the town’s great prejudice, forasmuch as the cliff is not of stone,, but only the stone there remaining lieth as a foreland to defend the same: if that were gone the cliff to be washed away within short space, to the utter destruction of the town. notwithstanding, as much as might be reasonably forborne your grace to have the same, to stay your works for the time. Certifying your grace, in that being nothing prejudicial unto the strength and defence of the town, I would as gladly to do your grace pleasure as any poor woman living. Beseeching your grace to accept herein my good mind, who is always at your commandment; as knoweth our Lord, who preserve your grace in prosperous estate long to endure.
Written the 8th day of July.
Your continual beadwoman,
The above letter explains to Wolsey that she cannot under good conscience allow his men to take stone from Harwich since what remains there cannot be removed. If the existing stone is removed, the cliff will wash away and destroy the town. Seems like a logical reason to deny his request, right? We do not have Wolsey’s reply to her but her response back shows that he was none too pleased with her denial of his request.
Pleaseth your grace, I have received your honourable letters, dated the 15th day of July; the contents whereof being not a little to my discomfort. Where your grace doth suppose my denial of your request for the stone and calions was but a pretence of hinderance to my town of Harwich, I humbly beseech your grace to accept therein my true and faithful mind, and not to conject it to be done under any such manner. And to the intent your grace shall well perceive in any wise I would avoid your displeasure, and glad to do the thing to your grace most acceptable, and ever have been, am very well contented you shall take your pleasure in my said haven, and have not denied your formal request by any manner wilfulness, but only did give your grace knowledge as I was informed by credible persons. Humbly beseeching your grace in like manner to accept, and be it hurtful or otherwise, your grace to do your pleasure; forasmuch as I always have found you my most gracious and very singlular good lord, not doubting of the same hereafter. And thus the blessed Trinity preserve your grace in prosperous estate, long to endure.
Written the 22nd day of July.
Your continual beadwoman,
The outcome of these letters is unknown. I have been unable to find out if Wolsey demanded she heed his request. Either way, the fact that Elizabeth Scrope was a woman, and a widow at that, who was brave enough to stand up to Wolsey and deny his request is amazing. She should be applauded for her bravery.
Building began in 1528 on a very ambitious project for a college in Ipswich. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was an Ipswich native and intended the new school to be a feeder to his recently built ‘Cardinal’s College’ of Oxford University, which is now known as Christ Church. Unfortunately, Wolsey fell out of favor with Henry VIII (probably because of Anne Boleyn) and the college was demolished in 1530 – it was only half built. The only thing left standing is the cherished ‘Wolsey Gate’.