Let’s take a look at the women who surrounded Queen Elizabeth and see what their lives were like. As we know already when you were a Lady-in-Waiting or Maid-of-Honour to the Queen that it meant she was responsible for you and your reputation. One would not dare marry without her consent, or be without virtue. As you’ll see from this list there were a few of her ladies that stepped outside the rules and disobeyed their Queen.
While this is by no means ALL of Elizabeth’s ladies, I’m confident that it is a decent chunk of the list to wet your appetite. To discover more, see the next paragraph.
A special thank-you to Kathy Lynn Emerson’s website since she allows it to be used and quoted as a wonderful resource and wealth of information! This article could not have been completed without her tireless research and writing. If you’re interested in checking it out, please go to: A Who’s Who of Tudor Women after you’ve read this piece.
Bess of Hardwick
Lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth. Bess was a very wealthy woman and became the second most powerful woman, next to Queen Elizabeth. Bess and her husband were asked in 1569 to hold Mary, Queen of Scots under house arrest at their residence. They did so for 15 years.
Elizabeth Hardwick, better known as Bess of Hardwick, was the daughter of John Hardwick (1495-January 29, 1528) and Elizabeth Leake (1499-c.1570). She married four times, first to Robert Barlow (1529-December 24, 1544) in 1543, second to Sir William Cavendish (c.1505-October 25,1557) in 1547, third to Sir William St.Loe (1518-February 1565) in 1559, and fourth to George Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury (1528-November 18,1590) on February 9,1568. In January 1566, she was suggested as a bride for Sir John Thynne of Longleat, but he married someone else later that year. She had eight children, all born of her second marriage, Frances (June 18,1548-1632), Temperance (June 10,1549-1550), Henry (December 17,1550-1616), William (December 27,1551-1625), Charles (November 1553-1617), Elizabeth (March 31,1555-January 21,1582), Mary (January 1556-April 1632), and Lucrece (1557-1557). She is best known as the builder of Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, but she had a long and eventful career at court, as well, and was for many years, with her fourth husband, responsible for keeping Mary, Queen of Scots prisoner in England. She raised her granddaughter, Arbella Stuart, who had a claim to the throne. She was also said to be the richest woman in England.¹
Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth. Lettice was a descendant of Elizabeth’s aunt, Mary Boleyn. Lettice is probably best-known for marrying Elizabeth’s favorite subject, Robert Dudley in secret. The Queen was furious with both of them.
Lettice was the third of sixteen children born to Catherine Carey and Sir Francis Knollys. She became a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth in 1559 and married Walter Devereux in 1560. Devereux died of dysentery in 1576, which left Lettice a widow and open to remarriage – secretly to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
Lady in Waiting & Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth. Margaret came to court with her brother Alexander.
Margaret Radcliffe was the daughter of Sir John Radcliffe of Ordsall (1536-1590) and Anne Ashawe. She came to court as a maid of honor in the 1590s and there was courted by Lord Cobham’s son, Henry Brooke. Brooke also paid court to Frances Howard, countess of Kildare, and Elizabeth Russell, another maid of honor. When news came in August 1599 that Margaret’s twin brother, Alexander, had been killed in battle in Ireland, Margaret was inconsolable. She returned to Ordsall, where she pined away, refusing to eat. Advised of her maid of honor’s condition, Queen Elizabeth ordered Margaret back to court, which was then at Richmond, but her decline continued and it was there that she died. The queen ordered an autopsy (an unusual step in those days). According to a letter written by Philip Gaudy, Margaret’s body proved “all well and sound, saving certain strings striped all over her heart.” She was buried in St. Margaret’s, Westminster.¹
Mary Borough was the daughter of William Borough or Burgh, 4th baron Borough of Gainsborough (c.1521-September 10, 1584) and Catherine Fiennes de Clinton (c.1538-August 14, 1621). She was a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth before her 1577 marriage, as his second wife, to Sir Richard Bulkeley of Beaumaris, Anglesey and Lewisham, Kent (d. June 28, 1621). He was knighted on the eve of their marriage. “Lord Borough’s daughter” appears on one list of maids of honor, but for 1599, which makes me wonder if that date was a mistake for 1577.¹
Margaret was a Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth. Her sister Anne was also Maid of Honour and Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth and married Ambrose Dudley, brother of the Earl of Leicester.
Cordell or Cordelia Annesley (Ansley/Anslowe/Onslow) was the youngest daughter of Brian Annesley of Lee, Kent (d. July 7, 1604) and Audrey Tyrrell. Her father was a gentleman pensioner to Queen Elizabeth and in 1600, Cordell went to court as a maid of honor, where she remained until 1603.¹
Douglas Howard was the eldest daughter of William Howard, baron Howard of Effingham and Margaret Gamage. It has been suggested that her godmother was Margaret Douglas, countess of Lennox. She was said to resemble her cousin, Queen Catherine Howard. She was a maid of honor in 1558. In 1560, at seventeen, she married John Sheffield, 2nd baron Sheffield. She is not mentioned in her husband’s will, written on December 10, 1568 and proved January 31, 1568/9. After Sheffield’s death, some later said by poison, his widow returned to court as a gentlewoman of the privy chamber. There she vied for the attention of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester with her own sister, Frances Howard. By May, 1573, it was an open secret that Douglas was his mistress. According to a later deposition by Douglas, they were secretly married late that year, well before the birth of their son, Robert, at Sheen House in Surrey.
When young Robert was two, Leicester took him to Newington to be brought up by Lord North as befitted an earl’s son, but he refused to support Douglas’s claim that she was his wife. In 1576, he offered her a settlement of £700 per annum to agree that they had never been married. After Leicester’s marriage to Lettice Knollys became public, Douglas was asked to help the queen in her effort to have that marriage annulled, but instead of pressing her claim, she married Sir Edward Stafford of Grafton, Staffordshire on November 28, 1579 at her house in Blackfriars. She later claimed she committed bigamy to put an end to Leicester’s attempts to have her poisoned. ¹
Mary Radcliffe was the daughter of Sir Humphrey Radcliffe of Elstow (c.1509-August 13,1566) and Isabella Hervey or Harvey (d.May 8,1594). She was given to the queen as a New Year’s gift in 1561 and actually came to court as a maid of honor in 1564 at the age of fourteen. She spent the rest of the reign at court, earning a stipend of £40 a year as a gentlewoman of the privy chamber (1570) and later (1580) as a lady of the bedchamber and keeper of the queen’s jewels.¹
Jane Brussells was the daughter of Barbara Hawke, long-time royal attendant. Jane Brussells is listed as a chamberer to Queen Elizabeth in 1586 and seems to have served in that post throughout her career. At one point, she was put in charge of the royal ruffs and cuffs. In about 1589, Jane Brussells married William Heneage of Hainton, Linconshire as his second wife. They had no children. The Heneage tomb shows both wives and states that Jane served Queen Elizabeth for twenty-four years in “her bedchamber and her private chamber.” Portrait: effigy on Heneage tomb in Hainton, Lincolnshire.¹
Elizabeth Knollys was the daughter of Sir Francis Knollys and Catherine Carey. She was at court as a maid of honor early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. n 1578, Elizabeth Knollys married Thomas Leighton or Layton of Feckenham but continued her career as a lady of the privy chamber. Her children with Leighton were a son, Thomas, and two daughters, Anne and Elizabeth. Leighton was governor of Guernsey from 1570 until his death and it is likely the family lived there at least part of the time. Elizabeth died by June 10, 1605.¹
Dorothy Brooke “of Bristol” was not one of the daughters of Lord Cobham, although she was a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth, which argues for some connection to those at court. She is listed as being in the queen’s service in 1565-8. She married Thomas Parry of Hampstead Marshall, Berkshire (1544-May 30,1616). Most sources say they were childless but one online genealogy gives them a daughter, Muriel (d.1616). Muriel was actually Thomas Parry’s sister. From 1601-1605, Parry was the English ambassador in France. In July 1610, he was named as custodian of Lady Arbella Stuart at Lambeth, following her unsanctioned marriage to William Seymour. Parry’s house is described by John Norden as “a fair dwelling house, strongly built, of three stories high.” It had a garden and was bounded by the Thames. What role Dorothy played in these assignments is unknown, but she outlived her husband by eight years and was buried in Welford Church, Berkshire.¹
Catherine Knyvett was the daughter of Henry Knyvett of Charlton, Wiltshire (1510-March 1547) and Anne Pickering (1514-1582). She was a maid of honor in 1562, until she married Henry, 2nd baron Paget by whom she was the mother of a daughter, Elizabeth. While she was at court, her chamber was robbed and £60 worth of plate was stolen. By her second marriage, c. 1568, to Sir Edward Cary of West Smithfield, London and Aldenham and Berkhampstead, Hertfordshire, she was the mother of Catherine, Philip, Adolphus, Jane, Henry, Viscount Falkland, Frances, Meriall, Anne, and Elizabeth. As Lady Paget and as Lady Paget-Cary, Catherine was a lady of the bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth. Her second husband was master of the jewel house.¹
Frances Radcliffe was the daughter of Henry Radcliffe, 2nd earl of Sussex (c.1506-February 17, 1557) and his second wife, Anne Calthorpe (1509-between August 22, 1579 and March 28, 1582). When Frances was two years old, her father attempted to have her declared illegitimate, having thrown her mother out of his house some years earlier, but he was not successful. Although Francis’s father may have been Sir Edmund Knyvett (1509-1551), with whom her mother was accused of having a bigamous marriage, Sussex eventually accepted her as his daughter and left her an income of £20/year and a dowry of £600. Under Queen Elizabeth, Frances came to court as a maid of honor.¹
Mary Hill was the daughter of Richard Hill of Hartley Wintney, Hampshire, wine merchant and master of Henry VIII’s wine cellar, and Elizabeth Isley. By 1539, Mary’s mother was trying to place her in the household of Elizabeth Tudor and according to the Oxford DNB (“Cheke, John”), she did join that household in 1546. Other sources place her, as a young girl, in the household of Anne Stanhope, countess of Hertford (later duchess of Somerset) and say it was there she met Sir John Cheke, tutor and close friend of King Edward VI. They were married on May 11, 1547. In the winter of 1549, Mary somehow displeased the duchess, prompting Cheke to write a letter of apology on January 27, 1549/1550. In it he tells the duchess that he has urged Mary to “be plain” and hopes that Mary’s “honest nature” will “content” the duchess. He also blamed Mary’s behavior on the fact that she was pregnant. Mary had three sons by Cheke, Henry, John, and Edward.
Her second husband, married before December 14, 1558, was Henry MacWilliams of Stambourne Hall, Essex, a gentleman at the court of Elizabeth Tudor, by whom she had Margaret, Susan, Ambrosia, Cassandra, Cecily, and Henry. Mary, who continued to be called Lady Cheke, was a gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber to Queen Elizabeth and received a number of valuable grants from the queen, including a grant with her husband of houses and a mansion called St. James, Westminster in 1576, becoming quite wealthy.¹
Under Queen Elizabeth, Anne Parry was a lady of the privy chamber. When she retired from the court in 1566, she received an annuity and more land in Gloucestershire.¹
Her third husband, married in about 1540, was Sir Thomas Parry of Hampstead Marshall and Welford, Berkshire (c.1505-December 15, 1560). According to The History of Parliament, the marriage was troubled early on. In August 1540, the Bishop of London set up a commission to investigate Parry’s complaint that his wife had left him. They were reconciled and eventually had two sons and three daughters. Thomas Parry had entered the service of Princess Elizabeth by 1548, when he was her cofferer. He was arrested in 1549 because of his knowledge of the activities of Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour but later released.¹
Faithful servant of Queen Elizabeth from a small, neglected child to the most powerful woman in England. Kat Ashley was a Chief Lady of the Bedchamber.
Kat Ashley was the closest thing to a mother that Elizabeth had experienced since her Anne Boleyn’s execution in 1536. Tracy Borman writes of how Kat’s intellect and her sense of fun appealed to the young Elizabeth and that she was an instant hit. Borman points out that Kat’s influence at an early stage of Elizabeth’s life must have had an effect on Elizabeth’s intellectual, spiritual and emotional development. However, although she was a very intelligent woman, and is credited with educating Elizabeth in the field of languages, mathematics, astronomy, geography and history, Borman makes the point that Kat’s naivety, her impulsive nature and overly romantic outlook did not make her the best role model for a young princess, but then all of the focus was on the young Edward VI, heir to the throne.²
Catherine Carey was a Chief Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Elizabeth. She was the daughter of Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary Boleyn and cousin to Queen Elizabeth. She was also the mother of Lettice Knollys. Catherine is suspected to be the illegitimate child of Henry VIII.
See our article: Illegitimate Children of Henry VIII
Blanche Parry had cared for Queen Elizabeth since her childhood and became Gentlewomen of the Bedchamber. Blanche was a personal attendant of Queen Elizabeth. She was Chief Gentlewoman of the Queen’s Privy Chamber and Keeper of Her Majesty’s jewels.
Blanche knew Elizabeth for a combined 56 year. She arrived at court with her aunt, Blanche Milborne, Lady Herbert of Troy was the Lady Mistress in charge of the upbringing of Queen Elizabeth I, Edward VI and also of Queen Mary when she lived with the younger Tudor children.
Anne Russell #1
Maid of Honour and Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth. Anne Russell married Ambrose Dudley. Ambrose was the brother of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Her sister, Margaret was also a Maid-of-Honour to Queen Elizabeth.
After marriage, Anne remained at court as a lady of the privy chamber. She became extremely influential, and was once said to have refused a bribe of £100 to advance a suit in chancery because the sum was too small. In addition to her lodgings at court, Ann kept a house in what had once been the garden of the priory of the Austin Friars in Broad Street, London. She was also lady of the manor of Rowington, Warwickshire and it was to her that William Shakespeare had to apply for the copyhold on his cottage and grounds in Stratford-upon-Avon. Ann was a patron of the arts. She had no children of her own, but she was guardian to her nephew, the 3rd earl of Bedford, and took an interest in the upbringing of three of her nieces, Anne and Elizabeth Russell and Ann Clifford. Ann Russell was with Queen Elizabeth when the queen died.¹
Anne Russell #2
Anne Russell was the younger daughter of Lord John Russell (d.1584) and Elizabeth Cooke (c.1528-May 1609). She went to court as a maid of honor in 1594. On June 16, 1600, she married Henry Somerset, Lord Herbert (later earl of Worcester) (1577-December 18,1646). Her nine sons and four daughters included Edward, 2nd marquis of Worcester (1601-April 3,1667), John (d.1630), Thomas (d.1676+), and Elizabeth (d.c.1684). Biography: Roy Strong’s The Cult of Elizabeth gives a detailed account of Anne’s wedding and the painting attributed to Robert Peake called “Queen Elizabeth going in Procession to Blackfriars in 1600.” Portraits: There were at least two portraits done of Anne Russell, one as a child and one c.1600, plus her likeness in the wedding portrait. She also appears in effigy on her mother’s tomb in Bisham Church.¹
Elizabeth Throckmorton was Lady-in-Waiting & Maid-of-Honour (Lady of the Privy Chamber) to Queen Elizabeth. She secretly married explorer, Walter Raleigh and when Elizabeth discovered it fell out of favor for an extended period of time.
Raleigh was executed in 1618. Elizabeth is said to have carried her husband’s embalmed head around with her for the rest of her life. When she died, Raleigh’s head was returned to his tomb and interred at St. Margaret’s Church (Llyod, J & Mitchinson, J. The Book of General I).
Lady Elizabeth Tyrrwhit
Lady Elizabeth Tyrrwhit was Governess to Elizabeth as Princess. – (no image)
Elizabeth Russell was the elder daughter of Lord John Russell (d.1584) and Elizabeth Cooke (c.1528-May 1609). Queen Elizabeth and Frances Sidney, countess of Sussex, were her godmothers with Anne Russell, countess of Warwick, serving as the queen’s proxy. Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, was her godfather.¹
At nineteen, she went to court as a maid of honor. She and her sister Anne sold their inheritance, Russell House in St. Martin-in-the-fields, provoking a quarrel with their mother. Elizabeth further irritated Lady Russell by being thrown out of the Coffer Chamber in April 1597, in company with Elizabeth Brydges, for going unchaperoned to watch the earl of Essex and other gentlemen play at ballon. One rumor makes Elizabeth Russell the earl’s mistress. She certainly had admirers, Lord Cobham and Lord Admiral Charles Howard (later earl of Nottingham) among them. Although the Lord Admiral was already married, Lady Russell urged her daughter to use her influence with him. Lady Russell wanted him to grant her the lease to Donnington. At one point in the 1590s, negotiations were ongoing for Elizabeth Russell’s marriage to the earl of Worcester’s heir, but that young man died and the next brother in line was betrothed to Elizabeth’s younger sister, Anne. Elizabeth danced at their wedding. Then, within a fortnight, she fell ill and died. There are various stories about her death. One says she died of consumption. Another blames her death on a prick from a needle and asserts that it was her punishment for working on a Sunday. However she died, she was buried in Westminster Abbey, where she is the subject of a most unusual sculpture. She is shown asleep sitting up, one foot resting on a skull.¹
Anne Vavasour was Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth and the mistress of the Earl of Oxford, by whom she had an illegitimate son – Edward. Both Anne and the Earl of Oxford, for their offences, were sent to the Tower by the Queen’s orders. Later she became the mistress of Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley, by whom she had another illegitimate son – Thomas. This affair happened shortly after she had married her first husband, John Finch, a sea-captain. The Queen apparently was not as displeased with this affair as Anne and Lee entertained the Queen together at Ditchley.
Interestingly enough, Anne was charged with bigamy when she married John Richardson after she had already married (in c.1590) John Finch, who was still living. Her fine was £2,000 and she was spared from performing a public penance.
The younger sister of Ann Vavasour. Frances came to court as a maid of honor around 1590, when “our new maid, Mistress Vavasour” was said to “flourisheth like the lily and the rose.” By 1591, she was romantically involved with Sir Robert Dudley. Later that year, he married Mary Cavendish while Frances secretly wed Sir Thomas Sherley or Shirley (1565-1633). Before the secret marriage was revealed in September 1591, Sherley publicly courted Frances Brooke, the widowed Lady Stourton, as if he were free to marry her. Sherley was imprisoned until the spring of 1592 as punishment for his deceitful behavior. In 1606, after Frances’s death, Dudley claimed he had married her around 1591 and thus had never been legally married to either Mary Cavendish or his second wife, Alice Leigh. Dudley was trying to free himself from this second marriage in order to wed his mistress, Elizabeth Southwell, with whom he had eloped to the Continent.¹
Eleanor Brydges was the daughter of Edmund Brydges, 2nd baron Chandos and Dorothy Bray. She went to court with her sister Katherine to be maids of honor to Queen Elizabeth and remained in the Privy Chamber after her marriage to George Gifford or Giffard (b.1552), a courtier, at some point during the 1570s. Gifford was arrested on August 23, 1586 on charges of dealing with Jesuits, but he was released by the end of that year. After that he was much abroad. I have not been able to discover when either Eleanor or her husband died.¹
Katherine Brydges was the daughter of Edmund Brydges, 2nd baron Chandos (d. September 11, 1573) and Dorothy Bray (c.1524-October 31,1605). She went to court with her sister Eleanor to be maids of honor to Queen Elizabeth. She was considered the most beautiful of that group and a poem by George Gascoigne (d.1577), “In Prayse of Bridges,” called her the damsel at court who “doth most excell” and praised “her sweet face.” In 1573 she married William Sandys, 3rd baron Sandys of the Vyne (c.1545-September 29, 1623). They had a daughter, Elizabeth.¹
Frances Walsingham was Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth and the wife of Sir Philip Sydney. Her second husband was the Earl of Essex. She was the daughter of Francis Walsingham, who was a trusted adviser of Queen Elizabeth. He is best known as Elizabeth’s “spymaster.”
In 1590 Frances married her second husband, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. The match caused great displeasure to the Queen Elizabeth, partly because Essex was the stepson of her lifelong favorite, Robert Dudley and partly because Elizabeth herself had a crush on Robert Devereux.
In 1601, Robert Devereux was executed after participating in an attempted coup against Elizabeth. Frances and Robert had three children who survived infancy: Frances, Robert and Dorothy. Robert became the 3rd Earl of Essex.
Elizabeth Brydges was Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth and was at court in 1603 when Queen Elizabeth died and was included in Queen Elizabeth’s funeral procession.
¹Emerson, Kate; A Who’s Who of Tudor Women