I am honoured to host Day Four of author Susan Higginbotham’s book tour for her new book “Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower”. Susan Higginbotham is a lawyer and author who currently resides in North Carolina, USA. She is the author of five successful historical fiction books set in Lancastrian and Tudor England. Susan is also the author of the non-fiction books ‘The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family’ and her latest book ‘Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower”. Susan has kindly written an article about Margaret Pole’s time as Governess to Mary Tudor…..
Just two months after establishing his out-of-wedlock son Henry Fitzroy in the North, Henry sent Mary to the Welsh Marches, where the nine-year-old princess was to preside over the Council of Wales and the Marches. If not an explicit admission that Mary was to be Henry’s heir, it certainly sent that message: both Edward IV and Henry VII had sent their heirs, the ill-fated Edward V and Prince Arthur, to reside in the Marches once they passed through the earliest stages of childhood. Presiding over the princess’s household of over three hundred servants would be Margaret, alongside Mary’s steward, Lord Ferrers, and her chamberlain, Lord Dudley. With expenses totalling nearly £4,500 per year, Mary’s household was a splendid one.
As Edward IV had done when sending his heir to Wales, Henry VIII set out a detailed set of instructions regulating his daughter’s household at Ludlow. Margaret had the daunting task of overseeing ‘all such things as concern the person of the said princess, her noble education and training in all virtuous demeanor’. The women around the princess were to ‘use themselves sadly [decorously], honourably, virtuously and discreetly in words, countenance, gesture, behaviour and deed with humility, reverence, lowliness . . . so as of them proceed no manner of example of evil or unfitting manner or conditions, but rather of good and godly behaviour’. No detail of the young princess’s day-to-day routine was left to chance. Mary was to learn Latin and French, to practice on her virginals and other musical instruments, to dance, to take exercise in the open air, and eat meat that was ‘pure, well-prepared, dressed and served, with comfortable, joyous, and merry communication in all honourable and virtuous manner’.
Our view of Mary is indelibly coloured by her grim adolescence, when she was caught between warring parents, by the burnings of hundreds of Protestants during her reign as queen, and by her sad last years, during which she suffered two false pregnancies and pined for an absent husband who took only a polite interest in her. As a nine-year-old, however, she was lively, intelligent, and attractive, with an apparent gift for courtly banter. Giles Duwes, Mary’s former French tutor, writing after the household had disbanded, remembered an incident when Mary, following what the tradition of drawing Valentines, picked the name of her gout-stricken treasurer, Sir Ralph Egerton. Young Mary referred to the older man as her ‘husband adoptive’ and scolded him for taking better care of his gout than he did of his wife (i.e., Mary herself). She then requested that Egerton teach her the full definition of love. In another incident recounted by Duwes, Mary scolded her almoner for not joining the household at dinner, reminding him that incidentally that she had praised his French and that he had assured her ‘within a year I should speak as good or better than you’.
Mario Savorgnano, a Venetian visitor, paid a call upon Mary’s household in August 1531, leaving us not only with a description of the princess, but of the Countess of Salisbury, her governess, as well. He wrote:
We next went to another palace, called Richmond, where the Princess, her daughter, resides; and having asked the maggiordomo for permission to see her, he spoke to the chamberlain, and then to the governess, and they made us wait. Then after seeing the palace we returned into a hall, and having entered a spacious chamber where there were some venerable old men with whom we discoursed, the Princess came forth accompanied by a noble lady advanced in years, who is her governess, and by six maids of honour. We kissed her hand, and she asked us how long we had been in England, and if we had seen their Majesties, her father and mother, and what we thought of the country; she then turned to her attendants, desiring them to treat us well, and withdrew into her chamber. This Princess is not very tall, has a pretty face, and is well proportioned with a very beautiful complexion, and is 15 years old. She speaks Spanish, French, and Latin, besides her own mother-English tongue, is well grounded in Greek, and understands Italian, but does not venture to speak it. She sings excellently, and plays on several instruments, so that she combines every accomplishment. We were then taken to a sumptuous repast, after which we returned to our lodging, whither, according to the fashion of the country, the Princess sent us a present of wine and ale (which last is another beverage of theirs), and white bread.
Savorgnano’s description of the attractive, courteous, and well-educated Mary did credit to both the countess and her charge. But all was not well in the well-run and hospitable household. It had not been in some time.