Lady Honor Lisle, an Extraordinary Woman

Steph Saunders

Lady Lisle was one of the six ladies chosen to accompany Anne Boleyn to Calais

Lady Honor Grenville (b.1493) was the obscure widow of Sir John Bassett and gentlewoman living in Hampshire with her eight children. In 1529, Honor married Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, the illegitimate (but recognized) son of Edward IV and half uncle to Henry VIII, and almost 25 years her senior. The famous Lisle Letters published by Muriel St Clare Byrne, detail the period between 1533 and 1540 in which the Lisle family navigated the difficult terrain of the Tudor Court from their seat in Calais, during the time of the Reformation and the fall of Anne Boleyn to name a few. The letters detail the everyday concerns of a titled, noble Tudor family from the pets they kept, the sports they indulged in, to what they wore. The dominant voice in the letters is Lady Lisle, who has been described as ‘a neat, compact, and dignified little person, cleverer than Lisle and a born manager’. She was an energetic, capable, and intelligent woman. It was now part of her role to secure her family's interests and promote her children into positions at court. Lady Lisle was a prolific letter writer and giver of gifts. Women at the time used gift giving to create a system of obligation with influential members of the court. In 1532, Lady Lisle was one of the six ladies chosen to accompany Anne Boleyn to Calais for the interview between Henry and Francis I. The ladies are reported to have danced with the French King. `In the dancing the King of England took away the ladies’ visors so that there the ladies’ beauty was shewed.’ In 1534, Lady Lisle sent a gift of a small dog to Sir Francis Bryan, the cousin of Anne Boleyn. It is reported that Anne fell in love with the little dog, which she named ‘Purquoy’. Sir Francis writes to Lord Lisle, ‘that it may please your lordship to give her hearty thanks on my behalf for her little dog, which was so proper and so well liked by the Queen that it remained not above a hour in my hands but that her Grace took it from me…her ladyship…shall be assured of such pleasure as in me at any time shall be’. Lady Lisle not only had secured the friendship of the Queen’s cousin, but had also, once again caught the attention of the Queen.
<strong>Lady Honor Lisle, an Extraordinary Woman</strong>
This is a the only known image of Lady Lisle and is shown on the monumental brass on her first husbands tomb.

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<strong>Lady Honor Lisle, an Extraordinary Woman</strong>
Jane Seymour

Places within the Queen’s household were hugely coveted and competition from other noble families intense

Places within the Queen’s household were hugely coveted and competition from other noble families intense. In 1537, upon hearing Jane Seymour was pregnant with the much-anticipated Tudor heir, had a craving for quails, Lady Lisle seized the opportunity to send the expectant queen quails. The ploy worked when on the 17th of July, Lady Lisle received an invite to send her daughters to court for the chance to become part of the Queen’s household. Consequently, her daughter Anne Bassett was chosen to join the royal household, and her other daughter Katherine was appointed to the household of Lady Sussex. Lady Lisle had successfully placed her daughter’s in influential positions at court by masterfully spotting an opportunity and acting on it quickly to secure her familial interests. A notable event in the political career of Lady Lisle was during the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. Spotting an opportunity to obtain lucrative monastic lands, the Lisle’s petitioned to leave Calais and visit court to petition the King. As Lord Lisle could not leave Calais without approval, a letter was sent to Lady Lisle, petitioning her to come to court herself to speak on behalf of her husband as ‘a noble woman may do more than twenty fearful solicitors’. Following Lady Lisle’s visit and audience with Henry, the Lisle’s were awarded Frithelstock Abbey along with its revenues. Lady Lisle’s political capital had no doubt increased, she had independently of her husband, petitioned the Crown for a share of the spoils of the dissolution of the monasteries and subsequently won. In 1540, Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle, Lord Deputy of Calais was arrested on charges of Treason and sent to the Tower. After spending almost two years in prison, the ever-mercurial Henry decided to free his Uncle. Unfortunately, his excitement at receiving his pardon proved too much for Lord Lisle given his advancing age, and it is thought he suffered a heart attack and died in the Tower the same night. Unfortunately, little is known of Lady Lisle’s life following her husband’s death. However, this extraordinary woman remains the best example of the significance of female networks in the complex social relationships of the Tudor court. Lady Lisle died in 1566 and is buried at Illogan Church.
Ancestry UK
<strong>Lady Honor Lisle, an Extraordinary Woman</strong>

Steph Saunders

Stephanie is a historian living in London, specialising in women in the early modern period. Having recently gained a distinction master’s degree in public history. She is also a mum to 3-year-old Samuel and spends her time researching with the hopes to one day earn her PhD in early modern female power networks.
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