This letter was written sometime between 1537 and 1547. We can determine that since it is written to King Henry VIII, who died in 1547, and also mentions Prince Edward, who was born in 1537. The letter, in my opinion, sounds like this may be the time between the death of Queen Jane and Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves – when he was looking for a new wife.
While researching the ladies in the letter below it was brought to my attention that this letter was written after Margaret Skipworth, who was rumored to be a mistress to Henry in 1538, had married George Tailboys/Talboys in April 1539. As well as Jane (Joan) Denny who until 1538 was Jane Champernowne. Now seeing the discrepancy in dates it is possible that Maragaret had already been using the name of her future husband, which was not uncommon in letters.
From my research, I believe the ship that is referred to in this letter is:
- Henri Grâce à Dieu (“Great Harry”) – rebuilt 1539, renamed Edward 1547, but accidentally burned 1553.
- English carrack or “great ship”
- Larger than its contemporary, the Mary Rose
- Henry VIII’s flagship
The “Great Harry” which is what the men who sailed her had called it, was laid down and constructed at the Woolwich dockyards located on the River Thames in London. Henry VIII was known to watch the progress of the building of his great ship. The ship was used to transport Henry VIII’s court to Calais in 1520 (before its rebuild) to attend “The Field of the Cloth of Gold.”
From 1536 to 1539, the “Great Harry” was rebuilt to fix it’s top-heavy nature. Upon it’s completion is when I believe these ten women visited the Henri Grâce à Dieu.
The Letter: Written to the King
Most gracious and benign sovereign Lord, please it your highness to understand that we have seen and been in your new Great Ship, and the rest of your ships at Portsmouth, which are things so goodly to behold that, in our lives we have not seen (except your royal person and my lord the Prince your son) a more pleasant sight; for which, and the most bountiful gifts, the cheer and most gracious entertainment, which your Grace hath vouch saved to bestow upon us your most unworthy and humble servants, we render and send unto the same our most humble and entire thanks which we beseech your Majesty to accept in good part, advertising the same that there rest now but only two sorrows; the tone for lack of your royal presence that you might have seen your ships, now at this time when we might have waited on you here; the “toodre that wee thinke long til it may eftsones” like you to have us with you, which we all most heartely beseech our Lord God may be shortly; who preserve your most noble person, and my Lord Prince, and grant you both to reign over us; Your Majesty many years, His Grace with long continuance but by late succession, as never Princes did before you. From your Majesties haven and town of Portsmouth the fourth day of August.
Your Highness most bounden and humble servants, and beadwomen
Mabyell Southampton, Margaret Tailboys, Margaret Howard, Alice Browne, Anne Knevytt, Jane Denny, Jane Meows, Anne Basset, Elizabeth Tyrwhyt, Elizabeth Harvey
When we look at the ladies who were present, we immediately see a few names that look familiar to us, especially Anne Bassett who was considered a prospective wife to Henry VIII after the execution of his fifth wife, Catherine Howard in February 1542. Anne was the daughter of Honor Grenville and Sir John Basset was brought up by her step-father, Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle.
Mabel Southampton: It is possible that this is Mabel Wriothesley, the daughter of Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton but I am not certain.
Margaret Tailboys, nee Skipworth: In 1538, when Henry was looking for a foreign bride, it was rumored that Maragaret was his mistress. In 1539 she married George, Lord Tailboys.
Margaret Howard, nee Munday: Margaret had married Edmund Howard between 1533 and 1537. She was the daughter of Sir John Munday, the Lord Mayor of London. She would have been step-mother to Queen Catherine Howard. This also could be the half-sister of Catherine Howard, Margaret Howard who was born in 1515, however, she married Thomas Arundel in 1530 and would have been referred to most likely by his name in her signature.
Alice Browne, nee Gage: Alice was the daughter of Sir John Gage and went on to marry Sir Anthony Browne around 1528. “Lady Browne was one of the gentlewomen who met Anne of Cleves when she arrived in England in January 1540. She is reported to have remarked that Anne was “far discrepant from the King’s Highness’s appetite.”
Anne Knevytt/Knyvett, nee Pickering: Anne was orginally married to Sir Francis Weston and pleaded with the King to spare his life from execution in 1536…she was unsuccessful. Her second husband was Sir Henry Knyvett until his death in 1547. She married for a third time in 1549 to John Vaughn.
Jane (Joan) Denny, nee Champernowne: Jane came to court as a maid-of-honor to Katherine of Aragon and stayed at court for all of his six wives. In 1538 she married Sir Anthony Denny.
Elizabeth Tyrwhyt, nee Oxenbridge: She was at court in the household of Queen Jane Seymour and Queen Catherine Howard where she was a gentlewoman of the privy chamber. She was also lady of the privy chamber to Queen Katherine Parr.
I was unable to find information on Jane Meows and Elizabeth Harvey.
Video about Henri Grâce à Dieu
A Who’s Who of Tudor Women; compiled by Kathy Lynn Emerson