Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir


  “Elysabeth ye Quene”

  As Queen, Elizabeth had her own household and administrative officers. They were an extension of the King’s court, and very much a part of it, although they operated separately, enabling her to fulfill her duties in her husband’s absence. Her household and estates were her legitimate sphere of influence,1 and it was through them that she could exercise patronage, but no queen could function without an army of officers and servants to support her, headed by her councilors and her chamberlain; and all were answerable ultimately to the King.2 They organized all her “matters and businesses” for her, from managing her estates and maintaining standards in her household to buying clothing, providing entertainment, and arranging pilgrimages and visits to her children. They were appointed by the Queen herself, or by the King or members of his council.

  The Queen had her own council to govern her affairs, which comprised her chief administrative officers—her chamberlain, chancellor, receiver-general (who collected her rents and revenues), secretary, attorney-general, sergeants-at-law, knights carver, the clerk to her council, and several noblemen. It probably met in the chamber in Westminster Palace that had been used since 1404 by the councils of previous queens. The function of the Queen’s council was to give her advice, oversee the administration of her lands, deal with her legal business, and act as a court of appeal.3 These were areas in which she and her council enjoyed some autonomy and took their own internal decisions without reference to the King. The business they transacted would be administered by clerks and other officials. Elizabeth’s chancellor, Edward Chaderton, had been Treasurer of the Chamber to Richard III. Richard Eliot was her attorney, Richard Bedell her auditor, John Holland keeper of the council chamber, and John Mordant, her sergeant-at-law.4

  Sir Thomas Lovell, who led the commons when they petitioned the King to marry, was the first treasurer of the Queen’s chamber, and treasurer of the King’s chamber and household. It was not uncommon for a man to serve both the King and the Queen in similar capacities. The Queen’s treasurer, unlike her council, was accountable to the Exchequer.5

  John Yotton was the Queen’s secretary. Richard Deacons was her clerk of the signet, cofferer, accountant, and surveyor of her lands. In 1503 his salary was £10 [£4,860]. In addition, “for his costs lying in London about the Queen’s matters and business” and riding out to survey the Queen’s lands, he received £16.13s.4d. [£8,100]. Paper, ink, and sealing wax was provided for him at an annual cost of £3.6s.8d. [£1,620].6

  Elizabeth’s most important personal servant was her chamberlain, to which office the King’s friend, the wealthy Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond, was appointed “with the Queen’s good grace.”7 His task was to rule her privy chamber, and by August 1486 he had been rewarded for his “good and acceptable service to the King and his consort, to their singular pleasure.”8 His chief duty was to look to his mistress’s welfare and comfort. He appointed and supervised her staff, ensured that due ceremonial was observed in her household and whenever she appeared in public, and made sure that she was properly attired at all times.9 Much of his work was delegated, of course.

  The Queen’s chamberlain had under him a vice chamberlain and many ladies, gentlemen, household officers, knights carver, esquires, valets, ushers, grooms, pages, and porters. Menial servants, such as kitchen staff, were employed by the King’s household, but the Queen had to pay their wages when her husband was away, and it has been estimated that Henry and Elizabeth were apart for an average of four or five months each year. When they were residing together she was obliged to pay £7 [£3,400] a day for their services. She also employed a personal chef, Brice, the “cook of the Queen’s mouth,” and a “gentleman of the pantry,” Richard Brampton.10

  Sir Roger Cotton, Elizabeth’s master of horse, had responsibility not only for supplying and caring for the Queen’s horses, but also for her traveling arrangements. Elizabeth journeyed widely around England. Her main form of transport was a horse litter (also known as a chair or chariot), a covered but unsprung wagon, which was “appareled” in velvet at a cost of £22.9s.8d. [£11,000]. She also owned “palfreys and other horses,”11 and would have used the former for riding when she wasn’t pregnant.

  Cotton was assisted in his duties by John Reading, the clerk of the Queen’s aviary—her “avener.” In July 1486, Reading was paid £51 [£25,000] for various “expenses of stable,” and later that year he received further payments of £50 “for his expenses in waiting upon the palfreys and other horses of the Queen,” and “for the expenses of her horses and other necessaries of her stable,” and also “for the expenses of the Queen’s palfreys and offices.” Cotton himself received various payments for “harness and other necessaries.” Nicholas Mayor was the Queen’s saddler.12 Elizabeth’s privy purse expenses show that she had horses stabled at the royal stud at Stratfield Mortimer, Berkshire, Havering, Essex, Fotheringhay, and Ham, near Richmond,13 and no doubt others were stabled elsewhere. The King gave frequent payments to Elizabeth for the support of her horses, in which she evidently took a keen and affectionate interest, given the many references to them in the records.

  Nicholas Gainsford and Arnold Chollerton were “ushers of the chamber to the King’s most dear consort,” with responsibility for many tasks, the most important being controlling entrance to the Queen’s apartments. Gainsford, who was granted an annuity of £20 [£10,000] in June 1486, had served Elizabeth Wydeville in the same capacity, and his wife, Margaret Sidney, was in the household of both Queen Elizabeths in turn. Nicholas Matthew was a yeoman of the Queen’s chamber; in 1502 she recompensed him for the charges he had incurred after being injured by servants of Sir William Sandys. John Duffin, William Pole, John Field, Thomas Woodnote, and John Staunton were grooms of the chamber, and Edmund and Edward Calvert, William Gentleman, and John Bright pages of the chamber. Owen Whitstones was the Queen’s messenger, receiving £2 [£970] per annum.14

  “The boys and pages of the Queen’s chamber” were sometimes handsomely rewarded with sums of £40 [£19,500]; it was the responsibility of the pages of the chamber to keep Elizabeth’s jewels securely.15 Her portraits show that she owned many costly pieces. George Hamerton was groom porter. William Denton was the Queen’s carver, as well as the King’s, and his high salary of £26.13s.4d. [£12,960] reflected the perception that carving meat was the attribute of a gentleman. Elizabeth also had her own cupbearers and servers.16

  One grant from the King was made “in consideration of the true and faithful service which our well-beloved Richard Smythe, the yeoman of the robes with our dearest wife, the Queen, hath done to us.”17 The Queen’s wardrobe, where her clothing and personal household stuff were stored, was headed by Smythe, appointed on June 20, 1486,18 and was staffed by a groom, Ellis Hilton, and pages.19 The pages were busy men, for the Queen’s clothes, food hampers, and other effects were frequently transported from one house to another, whenever she changed residences, and they also had to make each set of lodgings ready for her.20 In 1502, for instance, Richard Justice, page of the robes, was dispatched from the Great Wardrobe at Blackfriars to Westminster to fetch a gown for the Queen. Richard Deacons gave him 8d. for hiring a boat; 5d. “for conveying all the Queen’s lined gowns from London to Westminster by water, and for men’s labor that bare the same gowns” to and from the water; 5d. “for bringing the Queen’s furred gowns”; 4d. for conveying “such stuff as remaineth there”; 4d. for “going from Westminster to London for black damask, and for a frontlet of gold for the Queen”; and 6d. for making a new key for the “great standard” at her wardrobe of the robes and mending two locks. His expenses totaled 2s.8d. [£70]. His duties also included mending and hemming Elizabeth’s clothes.21

  John Coope was keeper “of the Queen’s stuff of her wardrobe of the beds” at Baynard’s Castle. John Belly and William Hamerton (probably a relation of George) were “yeomen of the Queen’s stuff of her wardrobe of the beds,” John Brown was groom of the beds, and Henry Roper
, Benjamin Digby, Thomas Swan, and William Paston were pages of the beds, and were each paid £1.13s.4d. [£810]. Elizabeth bought William Paston his wedding clothes in 1502. The pages of the beds were responsible for seeing that the Queen’s bed was properly arrayed and made up. Her wardrobes had a clerk to help with administration.22

  Lewis Walter was the Queen’s bargeman, with responsibility for the twenty-one oarsmen who rowed her barge—gaily decked out in her colors of blue and murrey—along the Thames, where most of the royal palaces were situated.23 Transport by river through London was quicker, as the streets were so narrow and overcrowded.

  Lewis Gough, John Rede, Richard Chollerton (probably a relation of Arnold), and Thomas Barton, who accompanied Elizabeth’s daughter Margaret to Scotland in 1503, were the Queen’s footmen. They wore gowns of tawny damask, doublets of yellow Bruges satin, and jackets of black velvet.24

  Elizabeth had her own medical team. She did not forget the debt she owed to Dr. Lewis Caerleon, who had served her mother and been so active on their behalf during the dangerous days of 1483, and received him into her service as her physician.25 He died around 1494–95.26 Robert Taylor was her surgeon,27 but the word then meant one who works with instruments, inferior to a physician, although surgery had for some time been a recognized branch of medicine. Many surgeons were also barbers, who acted as dentists and performed blood-letting, operations, and amputations (the red and white barber’s pole represents a limb in a bloody bandage), all of course without anesthetics. John Pickenham and John Grice were the Queen’s apothecaries.28

  She had her own chaplains, who administered to her spiritual needs. One was Henry Haute, her maternal kinsman. Another, Jacques Haute, also related, was her servitor. One of Elizabeth’s chaplains, Christopher Plummer, later became confessor to Katherine of Aragon.29 Elizabeth’s confessor in 1502 was Dr. Edmund Underwood.30 One example of the Queen operating within her permitted sphere occurred in the autumn of 1498, when, upon the death of Giovanni de’ Gigli (who had written the epithalamium on her wedding), she put forward her confessor as a candidate for the vacant see of Worcester. When Pope Alexander VI wrote to the King suggesting his own nominee—Gigli’s nephew, Silvestro—Henry replied that he had already promised the see to the Queen’s confessor. In the end, however, it went to Silvestro de’ Gigli.31

  In 1501, Elizabeth took her half brother, Arthur Plantagenet, Edward IV’s illegitimate son by Elizabeth Lucy (née Waite), into her household, possibly through the good offices of Margaret Beaufort. That year, Margaret mentioned doing the King’s pleasure “for the bastard of King Edward’s,” which, she said, she “would be glad to fulfill to my little power.”32 Older than Elizabeth by three to five years, Arthur Plantagenet was “the gentlest heart living,” according to the future Henry VIII, who liked him enormously—until Arthur fell foul of him in 1540. Elizabeth would have known him well in childhood, for he was raised at her father’s court. In 1472 the Exchequer accounts record that the King’s tailor was paid for robes for “my lord the bastard”—probably a reference to Arthur. But after that he disappears from the record, and it may be that when his father died, he went to live with his mother’s family near Southampton. The next mention of him occurs in 1501, when, as “Arthur Waite,” he entered Elizabeth’s service as her carver.33 He was probably the “Master Arthur” (occupation not specified), paid a handsome salary of £26.13s.4d. [£12,960] in 1503.34

  Most of the members of the Queen’s household were men; the women who served her were those who kept her company or attended to her personal needs. Her life was governed by ceremonial and ritual, even in private. She was rarely alone; there was always someone in attendance or within earshot—usually her ladies, gentlewomen, and female servants, who were naturally chosen from the higher ranks of society. These were the women whom the Queen saw daily, in whose company she spent much of her life, and who might, with luck, become her friends.35 They had to be congenial to her, and virtuous, for their conduct would reflect upon her.

  Places in the Queen’s household were much sought after, for they provided women with status and an independent income, as well as perquisites, pensions for good service on retirement, and privileged access to their mistress—and sometimes the King himself—from which could flow the lucrative benefits of patronage. Effectively they were career women, and if they were as efficient as they were well-connected, they could look forward to years in royal service.

  Elizabeth’s mother once had just five ladies-in-waiting, but Spanish ambassador Rodrigo de Puebla was astonished to discover that “the Queen has thirty-two ladies, very magnificent and in splendid style,”36 who attended her even in private. Eighteen of them were noble-women.37 In 1502–03, Elizabeth had seven maids of honor, who each received salaries of £6.13s.4d. [£3,300], while sixteen gentlewomen each got £3.6s.8d. [£1,620] per annum. There were also three chamberers—women who attended the Queen in her chamber or, more specifically, bedchamber.38

  All the Queen’s unmarried sisters waited on her. Cecily was her chief attendant until her marriage in 1487, when she was replaced by Anne. Next in precedence came Lady Elizabeth Stafford (d. after 1544), who served as first lady of the bedchamber from 1494, at the latest. The daughter of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, by Katherine Wydeville, she was Elizabeth’s first cousin. She married Sir Walter Herbert, who died in 1507, and then George Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon. The highest paid of the Queen’s female attendants, she received a salary of £33.6s.8d. [£16,300].39

  Margaret, Lady Pole, was another of the Queen’s cousins. Her husband, Sir Richard Pole, was a kinsman of Margaret Beaufort and great-grandson of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer. He had been in the service of the future Edward V at Ludlow, and fought for his cousin Henry Tudor at Bosworth. His marriage to Margaret had been arranged to bind another Yorkist claimant to the royal house. Elizabeth’s aunt, Mary FitzLewes, Lady Rivers, widow of the executed Anthony Wydeville, was also one of her favored attendants.40

  These close relations ranked above the ladies-in-waiting, married women who waited daily upon Elizabeth; some were there because their husbands served the King in his Privy Chamber. Impeccable courtesy, discretion, and social skills would have been expected of them, and indeed of all the women and girls who served the Queen. The ladies-in-waiting were her constant daily companions in her privy chamber; they attended her on ceremonial occasions and in private, and their function was to provide pleasant and decorous companionship at all times. They had to have “a vigilant and reverent respect and eye,” so that they might notice by their mistress’s “look or countenance what lacketh, or is her pleasure to be had or done.”41

  Elizabeth’s ladies were required to be accomplished in dancing, singing, playing musical instruments, and other pastimes beloved by their royal mistress. Besides music and watching players and other entertainers, Elizabeth took pleasure in her gardens, and enjoyed gambling at games of chance, dice and cards.42 Playing cards, which originated in China, became popular in Europe in the late fourteenth century. The four suits we know today originated in France around 1480, and so would have been known at Henry VII’s court. It was in the fifteenth century that kings, queens, and knaves began to feature on the cards. The “knave” derives from the German knabe, meaning a male child or prince.

  An old tradition, probably apocryphal, has it that the image of the queen of hearts in a pack of playing cards represents Elizabeth of York. It is said that, after her death, Henry VII ordered her image to appear on every deck of cards, in commemoration of the love they had shared. Certainly the long-lappeted gable headdress resembles the type she is known to have worn, and the queen of hearts is usually shown holding a Tudor rose. But others have claimed that the lady is meant to be Helen of Troy, and still others argue that the figures on playing cards represent no one in particular.

  Dancing was often practiced in the Queen’s chamber in preparation for court entertainments, or just for its own sake. The ladies would also have been diverted by the antics of
Elizabeth’s fools, Patch and William. Henry VII once bought new shoes for Patch, and Elizabeth paid for William to be boarded out for several months while he was sick; she also bought coats, shirts, and shoes for her fools.43

  Every married woman in Elizabeth’s train was expected to put the Queen’s needs before those of her family, for royal service meant spending long periods at court. Time off was allowed for confinements, but once the baby was established with a nurse, the mother would return to court.

  Next in rank after the ladies-in-waiting came the maids of honor, unmarried, well-born girls who were often appointed by the recommendation of the ladies-in-waiting, or through the influence of their relations or friends at court. The usual age for appointment was around sixteen. Since Edward IV’s reign, beauty had been a prerequisite, since it would enhance the appearance of the Queen’s entourage, and attract suitable husbands for the girls in question. Ambitious parents would compete to place their daughters in the Queen’s household, for she and the King were better placed than anyone to arrange advantageous marriages for them, upon which they might be promoted to the rank of lady-in-waiting. Maids of honor were therefore expected to be virtuous, for their mistress was in loco parentis, and no scandal could reflect upon her name.

  Also residing in the Queen’s household, but not in her service, were the daughters and gentlewomen of her ladies, many of whom made good marriages through living at court. All the women attendant upon the Queen and her ladies had accommodation and board at court, as well as stabling for their horses. In addition to their salaries, they received new liveries and clothing at Christmas and Whitsun, and for coronations, royal weddings, and funerals. They were given gifts by the King and Queen at New Year and at other times, often in recognition of good service, and if they were lucky they were granted annuities and pensions, which could be quite substantial.44

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