Honor Grenville: Life Story

Chapter 11 : Education

Two of Honor’s Basset stepdaughters were already married, and the other two, Thomasine and Jane, remained in England when Honor left. They moved from the Lisle household at Soberton to Devonshire. Neither married, although each had the dowry her father had left her, but stayed in the Basset properties, helping to manage them, or with their sisters, Anne, Lady Courtenay of Powderham, and Mrs Marryes. Honor therefore had to concentrate on her seven Basset children and Lisle’s other two daughters.

Sometimes, children were sent to religious establishments as part of their education, and this is what Honor arranged for three of the children. George Basset went to the Abbey of Hyde at Winchester, where his master reported him to be a good and amenable child, although, being so young, he seems to have boarded with a woman in the town, rather than with the monks. He remained in Winchester until 1536, after which time he went to St Omer to improve his French in the household of a priest named Jehan des Gardins.

James Basset was sent to the Abbey of Reading, and then joined George in St Omer, in territory ruled by the Emperor. The boys were not there for long – the increased threat of the French in Flanders meant that they were sent back to Calais in April 1537. De Gardins was owed £40 for the boys’ keep and teaching, but he preferred Lisle to hold the money, as he was concerned about what might happen to St Omer. By 1539, George had entered the household of Sir Francis Bryan at Woburn. In due course, he returned to his father’s lands and lived at Tehidy.

James Basset, the youngest of Honor’s sons, was a much more colourful character than his brother George. He was a charming child, and many of his mother’s correspondents gushed over him. Whilst Hugh Cook, the Abbot of Reading, had overall responsibility for him, he put the little boy into the charge of his under-steward’s wife ‘for his dressing and ordering for because he is as yet too young to shift for himself’.

The Abbot had been offered wine or herring as part of the arrangements for James – we know that Honor was dealing in herring in her ship, and perhaps in wine too. Abbot Cook requests four tuns of claret (for which he would pay) and a barrel of herring as a gift.  

James did not remain long at Reading. In late 1534, when he was probably around eight years old, Lisle sent an Oxford scholar to test his progress in Latin and French, with a view to sending him on to Paris to the household of the President of the Parlement of Paris, George de Poyet, who, having met him, expressed great delight in him.

Honor was nervous – as any mother of an eight-year-old might be – at sending him to a foreign country and looked for some Englishmen in Paris to keep an eye on the little boy and make sure that M. de Poyet looked after him properly. He was eventually sent to Paris in August 1535, in the care of John Worth, who had been his brother John’s guardian, and who was now in the official retinue of the Deputy in Calais.

Worth wrote from Paris that James ought to have a servant to remain with him constantly to look after his bodily needs. Worth would stay with him for the six weeks he could be absent from Calais without losing his wages, but Honor needed to let him know what to do about finding an attendant. M de Poyet, although he was taking overall charge of James, placed him in one of the Colleges of the University of Paris (the College de Calvi) for his continued education.

Thomas Reynold, one of the scholars that Honor had employed to keep an eye on her son, although satisfied that James was being looked after, gave his opinion that the education he was receiving was not appropriate. The College required all of the boys to speak Latin, and together with having an English servant, this meant that James was not hearing enough French to learn it properly. Reynold recommended that he be sent to an ‘honest’ house of the town for a year, for total immersion. This would cost around £20 per annum, he thought. By July 1536, James had returned to Calais before joining George at St Omer.

The third of the children to be sent to school was Lisle’s daughter, Bridget Plantagenet, who went into the care of Dame Elizabeth Shelley, Abbess of St Mary’s, Winchester – Dame being the titled of a professed Benedictine nun. Dame Elizabeth’s personal household contained a gentlewoman attendant, a servant and a laundress, and twenty-six children of lords, knights and gentlemen sent to her for education. Seven year old Bridget was to be one of these as was Mary Pole, grand-daughter of Lisle’s cousin, Margaret, Countess of Salisbury.

Of course, there were fees to be paid, and Dame Elizabeth, in response to a request from Honor in February 1535, sent an account of what she had spent on Bridget, and what she had received for the year – which was £70. She added that Bridget had outgrown all her clothes and need gowns, kirtles, partlets and coifs.

John Hussee was responsible for making sure that clothes ordered for the children were made and delivered. In a note reminiscent of any time, he comments that George’s new coat of velvet at 22s the yard, was large and long enough to last for five years, and was made of good quality cloth that would wear well. He had chosen the velvet in preference to the silk or damask that Honor had requested, as he did not believe that those materials would last a year.

 Honor Grenville

Honor Grenville

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