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Lady Margaret by E.M.G. Routh (pub. 1924)




1489 - 1495

ALL these family affairs and Court gatherings were, however, only interludes in a busy life.

The Earl of Derby, owing to his close connexion with the royal family, was little affected by Henry VII's policy of breaking down the power of the baronage in order to build up that of the Crown, and although extensive social changes were taking place he was one of the few great nobles who remained prominent among the ruins of feudalism. He was usually addressed by the King in public documents as 'our dearest relative', and once at least as 'oure right entierly beloved fader Therle of Derby'. [1] He and his wife between them had immense wealth and influence and their vast possessions entailed a great deal of business; they had lands in many places and lived sometimes at the earl's estates of Knowsley and Lathom and at Lady Margaret's manor of Woking.

They did a rather surprising amount of travelling considering the very bad state of most of the roads and bridges and the time and trouble needed for getting about. Twenty miles a day was considered a fair rate of travel, and the stir of their arrival must often have caused some excitement in the quiet country villages at which they stopped for the night. They would be accompanied by a train of horsemen and servants -- probably thirty or forty at least -- when they went from one estate to another, with a number of baggage mules and horses laden with personal luggage ('wardrobe-stuff'), household goods, and provisions for the journey. Carts might be used for this purpose if the roads were unusually dry.

The most comfortable means of conveyance was a well-trained 'palfrey', but ladies sometimes travelled in a horse-drawn 'chare', though they ran the risk of the wheels becoming firmly embedded in a foot or two of mud in wet weather and of having to wait until the 'chare' could be dragged out by oxen from a neighbouring farm. It is not surprising that the Court journeyed by water when it was possible, nor that the rivers were made the principal highways for traffic. A litter, upholstered in cloth of gold and piled with silk-covered down cushions, was sometimes used by noble ladies, but only, as a rule, in towns for ceremonial occasions. Probably Lady Margaret's favourite home, from which many of her letters were written, was the 'goodly, fair and stately house', begun by Lord Cromwell and finished by herself, at Collyweston in Northamptonshire, on the Welland River. [2]

It was, in the medieval fashion, as self-supporting as a village and had almost as many inhabitants; it con tained a chapel, library, counting-house, a 'great parlour', the 'Queen's chamber', guest-chambers, a jewel-house, vestry, 'wardrobe of the beds', 'wardrobe of robes', spicery, brewery, bake-house, 'pastrye', kitchen and 'scollere', a 'skaldyng-house', 'wette larder', and many other rooms, besides a clock-house in the great tower.

Among a numerous household, mention is made of the Countess' chancellor, her comptroller of the household, gentleman of the chamber, clerk of the signet, serjeant at arms and clerks of the kitchen, besides many gentlewomen and servants and the stewards and bailiffs of her various estates. The expenses of her household for five or six weeks amounted to the large sum of £551. 14s. 2d. although wages were not high-her cook, Henry Ludlow, had 40s. for half a year. [3]

Lady Margaret's houses were well furnished and equipped; her rooms were carpeted and hung with cloth or needlework; she had some fine tapestries worked with Biblical and other subjects (one was 'Nabugodonosor' and another 'Parys and Helyn') and several hangings of 'verdours' for her walls, one of them 'full of clusters of grapps'.

She had a luxurious bed with counterpane and curtains of white damask, another with a 'sparver of cloth of gold paled with crymsen veluet'; several beds with 'tapstery work' and counterpanes of silk and gold; 'beddis of red saye' and of 'fyn arras'. There was a chair upholstered in red velvet, and another in russet cloth of gold with blue fringe; a table-cloth woven with 'Rosis and Portculis', and 'quysshons' of worsted, of silk, of velvet, and of cloth of gold.

She had a magnificent collection of gold plate, a great quantity of which adorned her richly furnished private chapels. One specimen, which she left to Christ's College, was 'a great shipp gilte, with a littel gilt sponne and on euery ende of the shipp is a lion and on the fforparte under the lion ben ii portculis and halfe a nakyd man servithe to open and shete the lide'. This was valued at £8. 2s. 6d. [4] (at 4s. an ounce).

She had also some chased gilt candlesticks, and a number of beautiful gold cups which any collector might admire and envy. One was garnished with white hearts, pearls and stones; another was 'with a cover chased, upright, with a borage flour enamyled in the botom of the cupp and a perle on the knopp'. A pair of gilt pots were 'compase about like a hopp graven with portculious and margarettes'. (This was of heraldic significance-- the portcullis of the Beauforts, and Lady Margaret's own emblem. Her special device was the familiar little daisy plant with three flowers.) A gold salt-cellar was 'chased chevorn-wyse garnysshed with perles and on the heght of the couer restith a saphir'. There was a standing cup of gold with a cover 'chased with a margaritt in the botom and on the pomell four perles enamelled', and another with 'a blewe jelofere flowre enameled in the botom and on the pomell oon perle nayled', and one was ' chacede and wrethen with a blew colambyn enamelde in the botome of the cup'.

An elaborate gilt cup was 'like an horne with a couer full of portculis and Roses the same cup standing upon a brode foote like a towr ffull of margaretes and portculis and upon the hight of the Couer a tuft of margarettes standing upon a red rose'. This was valued at .£4.16s. 0d.

Six 'bolles, parcel gilt' had covers 'with greatt doppis and small and two redde lyons enameld in the botome of yche of them'.

There were personal ornaments also, including a collar of gold, fine gold chains and heavy gold girdles, one of these 'conteyning vi flowres and xxxvi linkes with a grett cnopp atte on ende and a hoke on the other ende'. [5] The inventory of her wardrobe and furniture made after her death came to an estimated value of £17,664, and included 'Plate and greate juells, small juells, Chapel stuff, warderobe of bedds, warderobe of robez, sylkez and naprey, certeyn wynez, kechyn stuff, certeyn stuff in store-house, standards and chests, certeyn spycez, palfrays and chareys, small trasshe with glassez and pewter basons'. [6]

Lady Margaret was a most notable housekeeper and hostess, and when the King wished to 'be merry' he went to stay with his mother, 'to re-create his spirits and solace himself' with her company, and she entertained him with her band of minstrels and women singers.

One of his visits to Lathom House with the Queen took place in rather uncomfortable circumstances in 1495 soon after the execution of Lord Derby's brother, Sir William Stanley, who had saved Henry's life at the Battle of Bosworth, but who had subsequently entangled himself in the conspiracy of Perkin Warbeck, and was not held excused by his former service to the King.

There is a well-known tradition that Lord Derby showed the King all over the house (which he had built), ending on the roof, where Henry went to the edge of the leads to admire the view -- and the Earl's Fool, thinking it an excellent opportunity to avenge Sir William's death by tipping the King over, pointed downwards and said to his master in a loud stage whisper: 'Tom, remember Will!' -- upon which Henry instantly bolted downstairs with more haste than dignity, to the safer company of the Queen and his mother, and so, to the Fool's great disappointment, the chance was missed.

As Bishop Fisher once sagely observed: 'moche besynes there is in kepynge hospitalyte', and he added that Lady Margaret had a 'wonderfull redy remembraunce and perfyte knowledge' of this business and of everything that was conducive to the comfort and pleasure of her guests; she gave her personal orders that all should be done for their convenience and spared no effort nor trouble to entertain them 'according to their degree and haviour' and to keep them company 'of her very gentleness'.

She ordered her household with 'marvellous diligence and wisdom' and drew up a set of rules which she ordered to be read aloud to her assembled servants four times a year; often she would herself 'so lovingly courage every of them to do well'. 'If ony faccyons or bendes (bands?) were made secretely amongest her hede offycers she with grete polycye did boulte it oute' -- and if there were any strife or controversy she would 'with grete dyscrecyon' study the reformation thereof.

In her private chapel Divine Services were held daily, and she herself was always present; she maintained priests, clerks, and chapel children at her own cost. She maintained at Hatfield twelve poor men and women whom she often visited, ministering to them with her own hands when they were ill, and 'when it pleased God to call any of them out of this wretched world she would be present to see them depart and to learn to die and likewise bring them unto the earth'.

In accordance with the practice of the time, several boys of good family were sent to be brought up in her household, and she undertook to give them a good education at her own expense. She engaged the services of Maurice Westbury of Oxford as tutor, and requested the University to dispense with him so that he might 'instruct certain young gentlemen at her finding'. [7] She was always interested in promoting education, and at Wimborne, where the Duke and Duchess of Somerset were buried, she endowed a chantry of one priest, who was to pray for herself and her parents and to teach grammar freely to all who would come to learn. Her bounty was afterwards absorbed in a school.

Her house was sought by her poor neighbours as well as by her rich friends, for she could be unkind to no one, and relieved and comforted the needy who came to her door. 'Merciful and piteous she was unto such as was grieved and wrongfully troubled and to them that were in poverty or sickness or any other misery'. She very often obtained justice for the 'suitors' who came to ask her help; there is a peremptory letter written by her 'at our Manoir of Colyweston' to the Mayor of Coventry 'upon the compleint of oon Owen, burchis of the Citie ther' because

'the said Owen can or may have no reasonable aunswer of you . . . to or mervall: Wherfor we wol and in the kinges name commaunde you eftsones to call befor you the said parties and roundely texamyn them, and therupon to order and determine the premisses as may stand wt good reson and thequytie of the kinges lawes, so as no complaint be made unto us hereafter in that behalve'. [8]

It was always 'to her marvel' that she found any one acting unjustly; the same expression occurs in a letter which she wrote as executrix of William Paston, her kinsman by marriage, when she arranged for arbitration between rival claimants to his lands. [9]

Her own sound judgement and impartiality were held in high esteem, and she appears for a long time to have settled in person such cases as were brought to her, and afterwards she paid learned men 'evenly and indifferently to hear all causes and administer right and justice' to very many comers, 'and yet meat and drink was denied to none of them'.

The countess was herself on several occasions engaged in litigation with different ecclesiastical bodies on questions relating to property and the payment of rents. She had considerable influence with the King in episcopal appointments, and a number of livings were in her gift. Hugh Oldham is said to have owed the Bishopric of Exeter to her influence in 1504, and she obtained the See of Ely in 1506 for her stepson James Stanley, 'the worst thing she ever did', and perhaps that of Lichfield in 1493 for William Smyth, Dean of St. Stephen's, whom she had before befriended. [10]

Her activities were varied and her recorded benefac tions too many to enumerate. She endowed chantries and made frequent gifts to churches and monasteries; she might be found at different times endowing a priory in Lincolnshire and another in Yorkshire; building or restoring a chapel over a 'Holy well' in Flintshire; [11] repairing Corfe Castle in Dorset; draining fenlands and settling a boundary dispute in Lincolnshire; going to Calais on business; granting a deed to incorporate a guild of tanners and shoemakers founded in Barnstaple Church, or becoming a member of the guild of St. Katherine, the objects of which were 'charitable, devotional and convivial.' [12]

It is not easy for any one who has great possessions to lead an idle life, and Lady Margaret was fully awake to the responsibilities of her position; she must have been one of the busiest people of her time in England.