Honor Grenville: Life Story

Chapter 2 : Widowhood & Remarriage

It is clear that Sir John had every confidence in his wife. On his death he left her a life interest in all of his property and the management of his daughters, including those by his first marriage, Jane and Thomasine, together with income for his daughters’ support. The monies were to be paid into Honor’s own hands, although, if she remarried, which nearly everyone did, the daughters’ income was to be paid to the trustees of his enfoeffed land and to be expended by them for the girls’ benefit.

As Honor’s son, now John Basset V, was under age, he immediately became a ward of the King. Wardships were valuable and the King could grant or sell them to either reward a courtier or gain ready income. If an heir (or heiress) were underage, the guardian was entitled to the income of his estates. Although there were restrictions on what the guardian could do, there were opportunities for large profits to be made and it was therefore vital to keep the wardship in the family, if possible.

In this particular case, the wardship was not especially valuable, and it was sold either to John Worth, a friend or servant of Honor’s who remained in her circle for many years, or to Worth and Honor jointly (the records are ambiguous).

By 1529, Honor had remarried. Her second marriage catapulted Honor from country gentlewoman, to membership of the extended royal family. Her new husband was none other than Sir Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, illegitimate son of Edward IV, and therefore half-uncle to Henry VIII himself. Lisle had had a good relationship with his half-sister, Elizabeth of York, and it is interesting to speculate whether Elizabeth’s son, rather than being named after the ancient King of the Britons to bolster Henry VII’s claims to kingship, as is always assumed, might just have been name after her brother.

Frustratingly, there is no information about how Honor came to meet her second husband, or why he chose her. Although the couple later became devoted to each other, it seems unlikely to have been a love match initially – Honor’s new husband was probably more than twenty-five years older than her. Estimates of his birth date vary between 1462 and 1472. Although Byrne favours the earlier date, it seems difficult to believe that Lisle would have been appointed to high office in 1533, as he was, at the age of 71.

Lisle had been on good terms with his nephew ever since Henry’s coronation in 1509. He had attended the Field of Cloth of Gold, was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, a Privy Councillor and Vice-Admiral from 1525. His first marriage had been to Elizabeth Grey, who was Viscountess Lisle in her own right. Elizabeth already had three sons by her first marriage to Sir Edmund Dudley, who had been Henry VII’s treasurer, executed by Henry VIII during the early days of his reign. These sons were John, Andrew and Jerome. John Dudley later became Duke of Northumberland and Lord President of the Council under Edward VI. Arthur had three daughters by Elizabeth – Frances, Elizabeth and Bridget. After Elizabeth’s death, Arthur was granted her viscountcy, rather than it immediately devolving on her son John.

Throughout their married life, Honor and Arthur were seldom apart until 1540 and he clearly loved and depended on her. In one letter he wrote to her he said:

‘ I had never better health, but I think so much on you I cannot sleep…’.

Whether Lisle was always faithful to his wife may be questioned. He received a letter in October 1533 from Sir Francis Bryan (a notorious womaniser, gambler and generally dissolute character and a member of the King’s inner circle). Sir Francis thanked Lisle for an invitation to Calais in which Lisle had tried to tempt him by mentioning the courtesans available who could ‘furnish and accomplish [his] desires.’  Francis went on to say that he was a reformed character – had repented and been absolved of his sins by the Pope himself, and advised Lisle likewise repent, and request Honor to forgive him for his misdemeanours.

In the first four years of her marriage to Lisle, Honor lived largely at one of his three properties, all close to the south coast, reflecting Lisle’s duties as Vice Admiral and Warden of the Cinqe Ports. The properties were Canford in Dorset; Clarendon, near Salisbury in Wiltshire and Soberton in Hampshire. Soberton was part of the Lisle inheritance, but Clarendon was a royal property, once a palace, where, in 1165, Henry II had promulgated the Constitution of Clarendon, an early encapsulation of the respective rights of the Crown and the Church.

It soon became apparent that, in many ways, Lisle had made a good choice of second wife. Honor was an energetic and competent manager of both lands and money. A number of contemporary sources suggest that she drove a far harder bargain than her husband, and that if anyone wanted to impose upon Lisle (notoriously free and easy in business affairs) he should wait until ‘my lady was not in the way.

Honor’s careful management was an invaluable skill in her second marriage, although not all she could do could control Lisle’s expenditure – some of which was due to his own extravagance but more to the exigencies of his office.

 Honor Grenville

Honor Grenville

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