Honor Grenville: Life Story

Chapter 7 : Friends & Neighbours

England’s long alliance with the Low Countries (a loose affiliation of states including Flanders, Artois, Guelders, and parts of Burgundy) had broken down when Henry tried to repudiate Katharine of Aragon, whose nephew, Emperor Charles, was Duke of Burgundy.

Instead, a series of alliances with France had been instituted, although there was limited trust between Henry and Francois I, especially as France’s long friendship with Scotland was felt to be a threat on England’s northern border. Henry and Francois had met in both 1520 and in 1532, and in 1534, Henry planned to visit Calais for at third meeting. Potentially, James V of Scotland was to be included, but the plans came to nothing. One theory for the decision not to press ahead with a conference is that Henry was reluctant to leave a pregnant Anne Boleyn alone, with many still resentful of her marriage.

During the various embassies back and forward, Lisle won the praise of Charles’ ambassadors for his conduct, and developed long term relationships with them. He was, however, nervous about a deteriorating continental situation and made reports about the whereabouts of French and Imperial troops and shipping.

Despite this, the Lisles maintained good relationships with their nearest French neighbour, the Seneschal of Boulogne, and also the Flemish Captain of Tournehem and his family. These friendships were maintained by frequent gifts. The Seneschal, a frequent hunter of wild boar in the lands surrounding the Pale, would frequently send presents of meat, which the Lisles might pass on to other friends, one of whom was Sir William FitzWilliam, one of Henry’s most influential Councillors, and Captain of Guines Castle. FitzWilliam asked Lisle to request the Seneschal to have a female boar captured, to be sent to his country estate in England to improve his own hunting stock.

In another example of the comfortable relationships shared with other officers and diplomats, the Admiral of France’s secretary, Jehan de Moucheau, wrote to Honor, thanking her for the hospitality that had been shown to the Admiral on his recent trip through Calais en route to England.

By way of thanks, the Admiral sent to her ‘certain small beasts’ recently imported from Brazil. Although Sir Francis Bryan had suggested they be sent to the King, the Admiral insisted they should be for Honor.  The creatures in question were two marmosets and a long-tailed monkey, the latter of which was apparently ‘pretty and gentle’. Strict instructions were given for their care – they ate apples and almonds, and drank a little warm milk. The monkey was to be kept near the fire, and the marmosets to be kept in cages hung up near the chimney at night, or outdoors during the day.

Sadly, there is no record of what Honor made of the creatures. We may perhaps guess from the fact that Honor tried to offer the monkey to Queen Anne Boleyn, that she thought it a good present, but she received the message that the Queen ‘loveth no such beasts nor can scant abide the sight of them.

Another French neighbour M. de Harchie sent a parrot. Apparently, it could not speak, but would learn from the one that Honor already had. Mme de Bies, wife of the Seneschal of Boulogne, sent her a monkey in 1536 and Mme de Morbeecque a chatelaine from which Honor could hang small items from her waist – usually keys, rosary beads or a prayer book.

Whilst the Lisles were in Calais, it was important for them to keep in contact with the court – in a system that was based on personal influence, they had to be at the forefront of the King’s mind or that of his chief advisors. To ensure this, a stream of letters, gifts, recommendations and favours crossed back and forth over the English Channel. Their correspondents included Sir William Kingston, the Constable of the Tower, and a Privy Councillor, whose wife, Mary Scrope, was a distant cousin of Lisle’s; Sir John Russell, later Earl of Bedford; Sir Henry Norris, one of the King’s closest friends and Sir Francis Bryan.

That they were in the King’s favour is shown by the fact that Henry sent Lisle one of his old suits of armour, that no longer fitted. A King’s armour was extraordinarily valuable, and the gift must have delighted Lisle.

But they could not rest on their laurels. Honor despatched a gift of dottrels and a linnet to Queen Anne – the first for her to eat, and the second to sing to her. She then received a hint from one of Anne’s gentlewoman, Margery Horsman, that the Queen, whose favourite dog, Purkoy, had died falling from a window, might welcome another pet spaniel – a dog would be preferred to a bitch.

Animals were frequent gifts – the Lisles received hawks and hunting dogs, and even a house dog named ‘Wolf’ and sent dogs in return, particularly spaniels, of which Honor seems to have been particularly fond. On one occasion Cromwell flexed his muscles when he suggested that a present of a spaniel would be welcome. Hussee knew that Cromwell really meant Lisle should send him Honor’s own pet. Knowing that ‘her ladyship would in no wise depart (give it away) withal’ Lisle was advised to find another and have it despatched.

Probably more welcome to them was the news that a couple of spaniels sent to Master Reynold and Sir Francis Bryan were appropriated by no less persons than the King and Queen Anne themselves. Thomas Culpeper (probably not the alleged lover of Queen Katheryn Howard, but a relative) wrote asking Honor to remind Lisle that he wanted him to procure a spaniel. In return, he had sent a buck for the table.

Gifts of hawks were particularly prized as a trained bird was valuable. When one of the Seneschal of Boulogne’s retainers lost the Seneschal’s saker falcon whilst hunting, he quickly wrote to Lisle asking for a look out to be kept for it and to have it returned if found. It could be identified by three missing tail feathers.

Other presents from people wanting to keep the Lisles’ goodwill included a diamond ring from Lady Ryngeley in 1535. This lady was the wife of the Marshal of Calais, Sir Edward Ryngeley. Ryngeley had been Marshal under Berners, but he and Lisle did not see eye-to-eye. Honor and Jane Ryngeley appeared to want to mend fences (Honor sent Jane a set of rosary beads of coral and gold, which were her own) but to little avail and Ryngeley sold his office to one of Honor’s Grenville relatives in 1535.

 Honor Grenville

Honor Grenville

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