Chapter 15 : Legal Matters
One of the problems with being in Calais and holding down a responsible position, was the little time that Lisle had to dealing with a long-running legal dispute over the lands in Somerset of his late wife, in which he had a life-interest. The properties themselves had been acquired by Edward Seymour, and Lisle’s rights were an ongoing bone of contention. In the world of Tudor politics, Lisle needed important friends, and he was very reliant on Cromwell to help him.
A summary of the dispute was prepared by Lisle’s lawyers for the Lord Chancellor (Sir Thomas Audley) and Cromwell. In it Lisle admitted that he had signed contracts given to him by Seymour without reading them, or taking legal advice. He had trusted to Seymour’s honour. The dispute rumbled on for several years before finally being compromised in 1535, although the agreement was hard for Lisle to fulfil. The difficulties added to the Lisles’ poor financial position.
In the mid-1530s the dissolution of the monasteries was resulting in the biggest land-grab since the Norman Conquest. Lisle was too far away to gain much advantage, although he tried his best to secure some of the plunder and he and Honor had been lobbying for a grant for some time.
They were very much handicapped by being in Calais, as Henry and Cromwell were besieged by supplicants, and Lisle could not join their number in the flesh, as he required licence to leave Calais. Henry agreed that they should have a grant of an ecclesiastic property worth 100 marks a year, following which, all should have been reasonably straightforward.
The man they really had to deal with though, was Sir Richard Rich, Attorney General, and Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, which court had been set up to deal with the disposal of monastery lands. Sir Richard has the worst reputation of any Tudor statesman for corruption, and this is borne out by the letters going back and forth between Honor and Hussee. To begin, it appears that the Lisles will be granted the Priory of Frithelstock in Devon, not far from Umberleigh. It was to be secured to their joint heirs, or failing any, to Lisle’s own heirs. Rich would not allow Honor’s Basset children to be named in the remainder, even though Hussee had promised him, on Honor’s behalf, a velvet gown.
Rich then repeatedly changes the terms on which the grant is to be made. Hussee, normally a restrained and polite correspondent describes him thus
‘he hath no fellow of all that ever I sued unto; for after I had delivered him your letter I shewed him your Lordship’s pleasure, to which he had little regard, full like a gentleman of his birth…by this your lordship shall see what constance is in his word and promise’
The delays relating to the grant (which Hussee thought Rich might scupper entirely) exacerbated the Lisles’ need for money. Even their London wine merchant was refusing to send more until his bill had been paid. Although the dispute with Seymour had been more or less resolved, Lisle had to pay a quarterly sum, which by mid-September 1537, it was clear he would be unable to do at Michaelmas. Although it was apparent that Seymour (now Lord Beauchamp) had behaved badly in the deal, there would be no redress, as he was Queen Jane’s brother. Cromwell seemed in no great hurry to help Lisle.
Hussee was so desperate to sort matters out that he thought of petitioning the King personally, although he believed that no matter what Henry said, affairs would be managed by Cromwell. After dashing hither and yon, calling in favours, Hussee could do no more than advise Lisle to write to the King, asking him to tell Beauchamp to wait 20 days for his money, and to borrow the sum in the City of London at up to 15% interest (Ed – not a lot changes…).
Even Frithelstock looked to be worth less than Lisle had hoped, as it had already been leased for 21 years to Sir George Carew.
Meanwhile, Honor had other legal and financial troubles relating to her son John’s Basset inheritance. There was a long, complex backstory dating to the 1450s, but the nub of the matter was that Honor needed to have ready money to buy out the interest of Henry Daubeney, at such time as he was interested in selling. Daubeney was known to be a difficult character, but he was frequently in want of cash, so Honor had to have funds available as soon as the moment was ripe. One of Daubeney’s servants was bribed to keep Honor up to date with his master’s affairs. Whilst this sounds very immoral to modern ears, it was common practice in Tudor England for everyone to be spying on each other.