Guest Post: A New Mother by Melita Thomas

Good morning! I’m pleased to be hosting Melita Thomas, author of The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and His Daughter Mary, on her blog tour. Today Melita, who runs the site Tudor Times, will be blogging about Mary’s relationship with Margaret, Countess of Salisbury. Over to Melita, and thanks for stopping by!


As well as Mary’s own beloved mother, Katharine of Aragon, she also had five step-mothers, and was emotionally close to at least two of them, but the greatest female influence in her youth, other than Katharine, was her governess, Lady Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.

Margaret was of the highest blood in England, being the niece of King Edward IV, and thus the cousin of Katharine’s new mother-in-law, Elizabeth of York. Early in the reign of Henry VII, he had arranged for Margaret, with her dangerous Yorkist blood, to marry his loyal cousin, Sir Richard Pole. Sir Richard held a senior officer in the household of Katharine’s first husband, Prince Arthur, and the couple accompanied Katharine and Arthur to the Marches of Wales in 1501, remaining there until Arthur’s untimely death. Thus, Margaret became one of Katharine’s first, and longest-lasting, English friends.

Following Henry VIII’s accession and speedy marriage to Katharine, the new queen quickly brought her old friend, now widowed, to the court. It may well have been at Katharine’s urging that Henry granted Margaret’s petition to inherit her great-grandmother’s earldom of Salisbury. This inheritance made Margaret, now Countess of Salisbury, one of the greatest magnates in England. In 1516, she stood as godmother to Mary at the princess’ confirmation in a ceremony immediately following her baptism.

Lady Salisbury’s outlook was traditional and conservative. Places in her household were sought after for the daughters of the nobility and she spent much of her time in the usual pursuits of great landowners – arranging marriages for her children, endless litigation over landholdings and rigorous religious observance. Two of her sons, Henry, Lord Montagu, and Arthur Pole, were in the king’s circle of friends, while a third, Reginald, was educated, both at home and in Europe, at Henry’s expense. Lady Salisbury pulled off a dynastic coup with the wedding of her daughter, Ursula, to Lord Henry Stafford, heir to the Duke of Buckingham. Once duchess, her daughter would rank only after Queen Katharine, the French queen and Mary.

Reflecting her rank, impeccable reputation and character, and the affection in which Katharine held her, Lady Salisbury was appointed as governess some time before 1 May 1520, when Mary was just past her fourth birthday. It was Lady Salisbury who presided over Mary’s household whilst the king and queen were in France at the Field of Cloth of Gold.  Whilst they were absent, Mary, at Richmond, received a visit from the council, headed by the Duke of Norfolk. They found her to be ‘right merry, and in prosperous health and state, daily exercising herself in virtuous pastimes’.

Margaret then had to prepare her charge for a visit from three envoys of the King of France, sent to check on the health of the princess, who was betrothed to his son, the Dauphin François.  Mary was on her best behaviour, flanked by lords spiritual and temporal and a full suite of ladies, led by Lady Salisbury.  This was Mary’s opportunity to demonstrate her careful training and Lady Salisbury must have had her heart in her mouth – if Mary behaved badly, her governess would be discredited. Fortunately, Mary was not a shy child and, with great aplomb, she welcomed her visitors,

‘with most goodly countenance, proper communication, and pleasant pastime in playing at the virginals, [so] that they greatly marvelled and rejoiced the same, her young and tender age considered.’

She then offered them strawberries, wafers and wine and Lady Salisbury could be satisfied that her training was paying off.

Within a year, however, Lady Salisbury had been removed from her post. The Duke of Buckingham, her daughter’s father-in-law, and probably the only man in England (not excluding Henry!) whom Margaret would have felt to be her equal, was accused of treason and executed. Margaret and her family were tainted by association – her son, Lord Montagu went off to the Tower, and her daughter, Ursula,  now faced an uncertain future.

Over the following years, Henry relented towards Margaret’s family. Montagu was released, and in 1525, when Mary’s extensive new household was being formed to accompany her to the Welsh Marches, where she was to preside over the Council for Wales, just as Arthur had done, twenty-five years before, Lady Salisbury was re-installed as Lady Governess.

Together with the Bishop of Exeter, who was to be President of the Council, Lady Salisbury had overall responsibility for Mary. Amongst Mary’s other attendants were some of Lady Salisbury’s family – her granddaughter Katherine; her daughter-in-law Constance, and Constance’s daughter. Elizabeth.

Lady Salisbury had detailed instructions, headed with the following injunction:

‘First, principally, and above all other things, the Countess of Salisbury being Lady Governess, shall according to the singular confidence that the kings’ highness hath in her, give most tender regard to all such things as concern the person of the said princess, her education, and training in all virtuous demeanour.’

For the next eight years, Lady Salisbury supervised Mary’s every move. Religious practice formed a great part of daily life for everyone, and Lady Salisbury probably instituted the punctilious attendance at Mass that Mary followed for the rest of her life. Mary’s numerous visits whilst she was in the Marches to Worcester Cathedral are recorded in the Prior’s book, and he lists the gifts given by both Mary and Lady Salisbury – with rank being preserved by Mary offering more: two gold crowns for tapers at Candlemas 1526, compared with Lady Salisbury’s one.

Mary’s health, as the only legitimate child of the king, was a matter of deep concern. In April 1526, Lady Salisbury agreed with the Bishop, that none of the Princess’ councillors should be allowed into her presence, for fear of infection, which was raging. They were concerned that if the epidemic reached Hartlebury Castle, where Mary was currently housed, there would be nowhere for her to go, as infection had crept into her other houses at Tickenhill and Ludlow. In the face of the contagion, instructions were given for the Princess’ Council to make a monthly enquiry into her health – consulting Lady Salisbury and Mary herself.

It was an accepted part of noble education, that young women should be placed in the household of a lady of as high a rank as possible. In return for their service, the lady would supervise them, manage their education, take an interest in their marriages, and promote them where possible. Lady Salisbury’s supervision of Mary’s household was exemplary. She attended to every detail as is clear from a letter she wrote to Anne Rede, whose daughter was one of Mary’s attendants, regarding the young woman’s marriage. Lady Salisbury’s strictness and rectitude meant that, even after she ceased to be Mary’s governess, young women were still placed with her. Not for Mary the lax supervision that her half-sister, Elizabeth, encountered in her adolescence, ending with her good name being smirched by Sir Thomas Seymour.

In early 1528, it was decided that Mary should be recalled from the Marches to ‘reside near the king’s person’. Naturally, Lady Salisbury returned with her, but as the annulment case began to gather steam in 1528, Mary, who had been ill with small-pox, was again housed away from court with Lady Salisbury. We do not know when Mary was informed about her father’s attempts to have his marriage to her mother annulled, or who told her, but it might well have been Lady Salisbury.

From August 1531, Mary was parted from her mother, but Lady Salisbury was still in post, inculcating in Mary her own values of traditional religion, and a mixture of obedience to the king, and a determination to stand up for her rights – she was involved in an ongoing dispute with the king, over some of her landholdings. Her stubbornness in adhering to her rights (even though, legally, her position was questionable) may have influenced Mary.

Life proceeded as usual for Mary, other of course, than the stress produced by the knowledge of her mother’s unhappiness, and the ban on seeing Katharine, until the summer of 1533, when Mary and Lady Salisbury were at Newhall (or Beaulieu as it was also known) in Essex.  A message came to Mary’s chamberlain, John, Lord Hussey, that he was to hand over Mary’s jewels to one of Mary’s ladies, Frances Aylmer, who was to deliver them to Thomas Cromwell, Master of the King’s Jewels.

Hussey took the order to Lady Salisbury, who immediately made difficulties. She claimed there was no inventory of the jewels, and it was as much as Hussey could do to get her to produce the items and inventory them herself in front of him, but she refused to hand them over to Frances Aylmer without an express warrant from the king. Hussey wrote to Cromwell, requesting further instructions as he could not override Lady Salisbury.

A royal command soon arrived, followed in late August by one for plate, both that of the king’s that Mary might hold, and her own. Mary’s Clerk of the Jewels showed that she did not have any belonging to the king – at least, there was none noted in the inventory he had agreed with his predecessor on coming into office. As for Mary’s own items of plate, Lady Salisbury claimed they were all necessary when Mary was ill.

Mary saw these delaying tactics, and learnt from them – whenever she received an order she did not like, she would reject it until she had had it in an express letter or warrant from the king.

Henry was angered by Lady Salisbury’s attitude. He probably expected that she should be more grateful to him – he had been very generous to her and to her family in the past. He was certain that her influence was leading Mary astray, and, after the birth of Elizabeth, he determined that Mary must be separated from her governess.

Orders came that Mary was to travel to Hatfield, to a subordinate position in Elizabeth’s retinue. Lady Salisbury, on being told that the household was to be broken up, offered to go with Mary and provide staff for the princess at her own expense. This offer was firmly rejected, and Mary was now separated from a woman whom she described to the ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, as her ‘second mother’.

Mary spent two and a half years in misery within Elizabeth’s household. All requests for her to be allowed to see either Katharine or Lady Salisbury were rejected, even when she was gravely ill. Indeed, Henry described Lady Salisbury as a ‘foolish woman’ who would not have been able to care for Mary in her ill-health as well as the newly-appointed Lady Shelton. A far cry from his reliance on Lady Salisbury’s care of his daughter ten years before.

It was not until she had finally capitulated in 1536 to Henry’s demands that she recognise that her parents’ marriage had been invalid and that she was illegitimate, that Mary was allowed to return to the court. Lady Salisbury’s whereabouts during the period is unknown, but shortly after Mary had acquiesced to Henry’s demands, she came to court and attracted a crowd of thousands. Henry, on asking why a crowd was forming, was told that they hoped to see Mary in company with her old governess.

Although it is likely that Mary saw Lady Salisbury whilst at court with Queen Jane Seymour, there is no record of a meeting. Mary was now permitted to choose her own attendants , but she was too wise to ask for the return of Lady Salisbury – perhaps also, aged twenty, she did not feel the need to put herself under the dominion of a governess again.

In later 1538, the countess was put under house arrest, and the following year incarcerated in the Tower of London.  She was executed without trial on 27th May 1541. Again, there is no record of Mary’s reaction, but we can presume she was deeply upset at the news.

During her Mary’s own reign, Reginald, Lady Salisbury’s son, became her archbishop of Canterbury, and Lady Salisbury’s granddaughter, Katherine, mentioned above, was ‘restored in blood’.for blog tour 6

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: A New Mother by Melita Thomas”

  1. Fascinating. I was very familiar with Lady Shelton and Mary, but knew little about Lady Salisbury…thank you!

  2. I wish this book was available on as my eyes aren’t good for reading but my ears work fine!

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