Honor Grenville: Life Story

Chapter 10 : Bringing Up Children

Honor’s most important role was the upbringing of her children and step-children. Contrary to popular belief, Tudor parents were just as fond of their children as any modern day parent, but they had different views on how they should be brought up, and on what constituted their welfare. She had five step-daughters (two Bassets and three Plantagenets) as well as her own four girls and three sons to take care of. Lisle also became the guardian of Honor’s eldest son, John Basset V.

The purpose of late mediaeval education, for both girls and boys, was to fit them for service in a household of equal rank or greater than their own, before they married and set up their own household, or, if marriage did not materialise, for long-term service. For young people to enter this kind of service for education and to make good contacts that would extend the power and prestige of their own kin was not in any way seen as degrading. It was part of the natural order for the young to be subservient, and for the good of the family as a whole to be the paramount ambition. Thus the focus was on obtaining the best possible position for children, if possible in the royal household, or else in that of nobleman or woman.

Of Lisle’s Dudley step-sons, the eldest, Sir John Dudley was in his thirties, and already advancing in his career. He would eventually become Lisle’s deputy in Calais before going on to a stellar career as Lord President of the Council under Edward VI, and then being abruptly terminated for his part in the attempted Lady Jane Grey coup of 1553. His younger brothers, Andrew and Jerome do not seem to have been Lisle’s responsibility.

One of Lisle’s daughters by Elizabeth Grey, Elizabeth Plantagenet, remained in England with her half-brother, Sir John Dudley. She was Lisle’s second daughter, and probably aged about sixteen when he negotiated a marriage for her to the son of Sir Frances Lovell in September 1534, with a dowry of £700 and a jointure of £100 per annum – which was generous as a jointure of about 10% of the value of the dowry was the norm. On the other hand, Lady Elizabeth had royal blood, even if it were illegitimate. Despite the negotiations, it does not appear that the marriage ever took place. She later married a client of Sir John Dudley’s, Sir Francis Jobson.

John Basset V, Honor’s eldest son, lived with the Norton family in East Tisted, Hampshire before going to Lincoln’s Inn for legal training. John communicated regularly (although in the common complaint through the ages, not frequently enough) with the Lisles, usually in Latin. Honor, of course, did not read Latin, so John’s servant, William Bremelcum, would send translations. Bremulcum was from a family based in the Basset’s Cornish estates.

Being a fond mother, Honor sent regular presents of money and clothes and she did not forget to keep the Nortons sweet with gifts of velvet and a pair of beads (a rosary) for Mrs Norton.

On 6th February 1535, John entered Lincoln’s Inn, and was placed under the tutelage of one Thomas Lane. Hussee wrote frequently to Honor about the arrangements he was making for clothes, board and lodging and his recommendations for pocket money. Honor sent parcels of say (a cloth suitable for hangings) and ready cash. Hussee spoke very highly of the seventeen year old – telling Honor that she might ‘be glad that ever [she] bare Mr Basset, for he proveth the towardest and quickest witted young gentleman that ever I knew.’

Whilst most of Honor’s own letters are lost, we can see from Hussee’s responses that she had the usual maternal concerns – John was to eat breakfast before leaving his room, and to take her patent anti-plague remedy of water imperial to ward off sickness.

Plague, whether the Black Death, or the sweating sickness or some other unspecified epidemic, was a constant worry to the Tudor population, and there had been a high mortality rate in London in 1535. For this reason, John spent much of his first vacation at Cobham, cramming with a Mr Danastre, a Senior Bencher of Lincoln’s Inn. Hussee recommended that Danastre should be remembered with a tun of Gascon wine – apparently the fussy gentleman disliked French vintages. (Gascony, although by the 1530s incorporated within France was still a distinctive cultural and linguistic region).

The following year, despite the advent of plague, John declined to go to Mr Danastre’s house. Hussee was obliged to report that John was no longer so well treated ‘by reason of a Dun Cow that is in the house by whom he (Danastre) hath had v or vi calves’.  This Dun Cow (by which Honor was to infer a mistress and illegitimate children) wanted Danastre to keep both house and money for herself and her children.

By 12th June 1537, John had finished his education and returned to Calais. He was past eighteen and it was time for him to marry. His bride was Lisle’s daughter, Frances Plantagenet. They were married the following February, Hussee having to purchase her wedding clothes in London on credit. On the advice of the sophisticated Lady Rutland, Honor was assured that she only needed to give gloves as presents to the guests.

John returned to London in October, where he went into service in Cromwell’s household. Frances did not accompany him, presumably because she was pregnant – delivering her first child in early May 1540, named Honor, after her grandmother. In typical Tudor fashion, Hussee greeted the news with the hope that next time Frances would ‘hit the mark’ with a son. She did, in fact produce a boy, named Arthur for his grandfather, but by the time of the child’s birth, John was dead.

 Honor Grenville

Honor Grenville

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