Chapter 16 : Life in Calais
Honor’s day to day life in Calais was pleasant. The couple had moved out of their initial house into the old Inn of the Staplers’ Company, a large and commodious property with a Great Chamber and Great Parlour, my Lady’s Dining Chamber and a chamber each for Honor and Lisle, as well as additional rooms for Honor’s gentlewoman, for the daughters of the house and for a nursery.
There was a counting house, a chapel, an armoury and the myriad of rooms required for a Tudor household – bakehouse, brewhouse, spicery, chaundery (for candles) etc. There were close on seventy people in the household, counting family, attendants and servants. One of Honor’s attendants might have been an unmarried gentlewoman of thirty who had waited on Lady Waldon, and, in return for 40s and livery would sew, embroider, wash and brush or do anything else required.
The management of this household was in Honor’s hands. She was responsible for ensuring that food was purchased, stored and cooked; that guests (of which there were many on official business) were fed, watered and had their horses stabled; that the limited amount of furniture was cared for; that the vast quantities of linen, silver and cushions were maintained and that the servants were properly managed. She was also required to take care of such additions to her household as the ‘singing child’ sent by a monk of Christ Church for Lisle’s chapel.
In December 1539, Calais was in a fever of anticipation. King Henry had chosen a new bride, who was travelling from her native Cleves, and would come to Calais to sail to her new kingdom. Their neighbours rallied round to help – M. de Harchie sent wild boar and the Seneschal de Bies a mule for the new Queen’s use.
Overall responsibility for the reception of the new Queen was in the hands of Sir William FitzWilliam, now Earl of Southampton as well as Lord Admiral.
Anne of Cleves reached the Calais Pale on 11th December after a journey of two weeks. She was met by Lisle, together with Sir John Wallop, Sir Richard Grenville, Sir George Carew and an impressive retinue. They accompanied her into the town, where she was formally greeted by Southampton and four hundred gentlemen.
There is no information about how much time Honor spent with Anne during the fortnight she was obliged to remain in Calais owing to bad weather, but as the most senior lady in the territory, it seems likely she did see a certain amount of her. Honor wrote to her daughter, Anne, who had been appointed as one of the new queen’s maids-of-honour, that Anne of Cleves was ‘good and gentle to serve and please.’ Lisle’s stepson, John Dudley, was to be the new Queen’s Master of Horse.
Honor and Lisle had hoped to be permitted to sail with Anne, but Lisle was not given licence to leave his post, and Honor elected to stay with him. She asked her daughter, Anne, to pass on her decision to the King, and to explain it in such a way that the King would not be offended. One of the reasons she gave was that she and Lisle were obliged to ‘sustain heavy charges’ and could not really afford the trip.
It appeared that Anne Basset was high in the King’s favour – it has even been suggested that she was his mistress. She was certainly on very good terms with him, and thanked Honor for ‘the good and motherly counsel your ladyship doth give me, concerning my continuance in the King’s favour.’ However, there is no definite proof of any physical relationship. If Henry had had a mind to Anne, he might have married her – she was better born than Jane Seymour. At any rate, he sent thanks by Anne for quince marmalade that Honor had sent him.