Honor Grenville was one of the younger children of Sir Thomas Grenville, a staunch supporter of Henry VII, with estates in both Devon and Cornwall. Honor was probably born at the Grenville manor of Stowe, Kilkhampton, Cornwall around 1493 or 1494.
In 1515, about a year after her father’s death, Honor’s oldest brother, Sir Roger Grenville, arranged her marriage to another gentleman of good estate in the two counties. Sir John Basset was at least thirty years older than Honor with four daughters by his first marriage, who were probably all older than their new step-mother. Over the following thirteen years, until Sir John’s death in January 1528, Honor bore seven children, four daughters and three sons. Sir John clearly trusted his wife and thought highly of her, as he left a life interest in his estates to her, together with responsibility for her step-children.
Honor, now in her mid-thirties, next appears married to Sir Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, and half-uncle to the king himself. How the marriage of a Cornish widow to a quasi-prince came about is unknown, but the couple appear to have been devoted to each other, despite the wide disparity in age. Lisle was at least twenty, and possibly as much as thirty, years older than his new wife.
Lisle was a great favourite with his royal nephew, and held a number of prestigious offices, including Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, a role which he carried out based in a number of properties on the Hampshire coast. As with her first marriage, Honor acquired more step-children, the three daughters Lisle had had by his first marriage, and the three step-sons John, Andrew and Jerome Dudley, with whom his first wife presented him. John Dudley would go on to become Duke of Northumberland and be executed for his part in the attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne.
During the period 1529 – 1532, we know that Honor largely lived in Hampshire, although she paid at least one visit to court in April 1532, when she is recorded as visiting the Princess Mary at Richmond. In October 1532, the Lisles were part of the small party chosen to travel to Calais for the meeting between Henry VIII and Francois I of France. The meeting was important because Henry was accompanied by Anne Boleyn, whom he had recently elevated to the rank of Lady Marquess of Pembroke, a step that was believed to be a preparation for marrying her. Honor was one of six ladies who attended Anne and who danced with the French king when he visited the English at Calais.
The following June, Lisle played a part in Queen Anne’s coronation, and we can infer that Honor attended the coronation feast.
Within a few days of the coronation, the Lisles were on their way to Calais again, where Lisle had been appointed to the prestigious post of Lord Deputy. For the next seven years, Honor made her home in this small outpost of England on the northern coast of France. During these years, a copious correspondence was kept up with friends, relatives and, most important of all, the Lisles’ agent on London, John Hussee, who managed much of their business, kept his ear to the ground at court, bought supplies and kept an eye on Honor’s sons as they were educated.
The Tudor court worked on a system of patronage. If you wanted a job, you asked a friend to recommend you to someone who owed him or her a favour. In return, you gave positions to your friend’s friend. The Lisle correspondence shows this system in all its complexity – the gift-giving that was part of relationship building, and the requests to be ‘good lord’ or ‘good lady’ to a dependent.
Honor took advantage of this system in 1536/7 to try to secure a place as a maid of honour for one of her daughters with Queen Jane Seymour. She approached the Countesses of Salisbury and Rutland, as well as her own niece who already had a place on the royal household, and was soon to become Countess of Sussex. Initially, she had no luck, but was eventually able to win the Queen’s favour with presents of quail which Jane craved during her pregnancy.
In 1540, Lisle found himself at the centre of the power struggle between Cromwell and the Duke of Norfolk. Cromwell had frequently undermined Lisle as Deputy of Calais, but found himself exposed when the marriage he had arranged between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves turned out to be a disaster. Cromwell’s enemy, the Duke of Norfolk, who was the rising star at court, with his niece Katheryn Howard poised to supplant Anne, took the opportunity to support Lisle.
A commission into the conduct of affairs in Calais presented Lisle in a very positive light, and he was summoned to London. Honor waved him off, presumably believing the rumour that Lisle was to be granted an earldom. Unfortunately, unbeknown to Lisle, one of his chaplains, together with other members of his household, had hatched a ludicrous plot apparently to hand Calais over to the Pope and Henry’s arch-enemy, Cardinal Pole. Despite the fact that Lisle was never implicated by any of the conspirators, Cromwell accused him of involvement and he was sent to the Tower. Honor, together with her daughters, was placed under house arrest, and all the household papers were seized. The Lisles, particularly Honor, were believed to be unsympathetic to Henry VIII’s religious changes, so there was at least some plausibility to the accusations.
Lisle languished in the Tower for nearly two years, never formally charged or tried. Eventually, in March 1542, Henry appeared to accept that he was innocent of any wrong-doing, and sent once of his councillors, Wriothesley, to give Lisle a ring from the King’s own finger as a token of trust. The good news was too much for Lisle, who had a heart attack and died within a few hours.
Honor was released from house arrest, and returned to Cornwall where she lived in retirement for the remainder of her life at Tehidy, not far from Illogan. She died in 1566, and was buried in Illogan church.