Honor Grenville: Life Story

Chapter 3 : Viscountess Lisle

Part of the routine of Tudor life and the way in which affairs were managed, was the system of patronage or clientage. In a hierarchical society, which relied on personal relationships and influence, nearly every appointment to office, marriage or financial grant was made on the basis of one person making a request on behalf of another. Everyone used his or her influence on behalf of friends, friends of friends or clients of more distant acquaintances. In return, you received a suitable present, which might be a material gift, or the use of influence in a different matter.

It was a system of obligation that was well understood. The recipient had to weigh the merits of the various place-seekers against the inducements they offered, and also the needs of the role. It was not expected that positions should be given to people wholly unsuited to them, no matter what the relationship between the place-seeker and the person of influence, nor should gifts be so great as to amount to bribes, rather than ‘sweeteners’.

Tudor correspondence is littered with requests for someone to be ‘good lord or good lady’ to the requestor, and Honor was no exception. She both used her influence and requested others to use theirs on her behalf for her family and network.  

Whilst she lived in Wiltshire, she took an interest in the affairs of Bruton and its Abbey. She petitioned for the town to be permitted to hold two fairs, writing to Thomas Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal, Sir Francis Weston, and William Sulyard. Whether her request was granted for her sake or for a different political reason, the result was that the town received permission to hold two fairs each year: the first on the three days surrounding the feats of St George the Martyr (22 – 24th April) and the second surrounding the feast of St Mary the Virgin (7 – 9th September). As well as the fair itself, Bruton was permitted to hold a Court of Pie Powder, which dealt with market infractions and petty crimes.

The Abbey at Bruton was a house of Augustinian friars. In July 1533, the Abbot, William Gilbert, died. Both Lisle and Chief Justice FitzJames (brother of the Bishop of London) requested the King to appoint their preferred candidate, John Ely, although the canons themselves had the right to choose their leader.

Henry, with two of his councillors advocating the same man, consented to write to the Abbey to give effect to Lisle and FitzJames’ choice, although he was not concerned himself as to who should be chosen.

Within months the new Abbot had upset his neighbours – he had annoyed Lord Stourton (married to Lisle’s step-daughter, Elizabeth Dudley) by failing to pay his servant an agreed pension, and Honor wrote to Cromwell condemning the Abbot for sacking one John Legat, who had already had the King’s pardon for killing a man in self-defence. According to Honor, the Abbot (whom she referred to as a ‘churl’) had acted thus purely to spite Lisle and herself. Disappointingly, we do not know why, after the Lisles had helped Ely to office, they had fallen out with him.

One particularly amusing request for patronage was written to Honor in August of 1533 by Thomas Gilbert of Bishop’s Waltham. From his name, we can infer that he was a relative of Honor’s mother (Isabella Gilbert). He requests her to be ‘good lady and gracious lady’ to William Rose, saying that Gilbert’s whole parish would testify to Rose’s virtue. Rose is in desperate need of a job because

his wife will not suffer him in ease no manner of way, where that he came to my master with weeping tears for that she is so unreasonable a woman.

 Honor Grenville

Honor Grenville

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