Chapter 5 : Calais
Honor’s status rose yet higher when, on the death of Lord Berners in March 1533, Lisle was appointed as the King’s Deputy in Calais. This was an important role, Calais being the centre of the last remnants of the once great English holdings in France. The charge consisted of the city itself and the area known as the Pale of Calais, which included fortresses at Guisnes and Hammes. The Pale stretched more or less from the border with the County of Flanders (held by the Emperor Charles V, nominally as a vassal of the King of France) at Gravelines, to Wissant, some twenty miles further south-east. The borders were ill-defined as the area was generally rather swampy.
Whilst France was always keen to press its claims to Calais, it was a not much more than a minor irritation to a King whose primary target was maintaining his hold on the Duchy of Milan. Since François I was usually willing to ally with Henry VIII rather than his main rival for power in Europe, Charles V, the threat of a French attack was limited although it was important for Lisle to maintain vigilance.
Lisle had charge of a garrison of five hundred men, as well as his own official retinue, the chief of which held the position of ‘Spear’. This was a prestigious office and ‘Spears’ often went on to greater office. Whilst the Deputy, with his council of ten officers, had wide-ranging powers, he was still responsible to the King and Privy Council at home – it was a matter of judgement, in which Lisle was sometimes accused of failing, to decide what could be decided locally and what needed to be remitted to Westminster.
Before Honor and Lisle could depart for Calais, there was the matter of Anne Boleyn’s coronation. The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, had pronounced that Henry’s first union with Katharine of Aragon was invalid and that his marriage to Anne, which had taken place probably on 25th January 1533 was valid. Anne was proclaimed as Queen and her coronation was to take place on 1st June 1533.
In the coronation dinner, Lisle had the role of ‘Chief Panter’, an historic office, which made him, in theory, responsible for the bread served. Honor is not specifically named, but we can probably assume that she sat at the feast with the other countesses and ladies.
The merriment over, it was time to sail. The Lisles sailed from Dover, and reached Calais in time for Lisle to be sworn in on 10th June. Since the appointment in March, Honor and Lisle had had to make practical arrangements for housing in Calais. They were helped by John Atkinson, who seems to have been part of the permanent retinue at Calais.
Of prime importance was ensuring there was sufficient food. Atkinson had sent Lisle’s servant, Talbot, to England to export beef and mutton to Calais (presumably on the hoof) for the Lisle table. It was only after the orders had been given that Atkinson realised that export was forbidden. Lisle was advised to ask the King for a licence to export the meat, or his family would be ‘shrewdly served’ over the winter – shrewd in this case meaning harshly. He was also advised to bring three ships’ worth of firewood, which was scarce in the wetland surrounded port.
The former deputy, Lord Berners, had died in debt to the Crown, and orders were sent by the Council to secure his goods. The matter of Berners’ belongings was complex – the late lord’s retinue was asking the Duke of Norfolk to have the goods sold to pay their wages, and Berners’ illegitimate son wanted to have his house. Atkinson advised Lisle to buy all of Berners’ goods at valuation, on the understanding that he would pay the debts to the Crown and Berners’ servants.
This lack of attention to Calais was probably a mistake – tensions were running high in its neighbours, France and the Empire, as Henry threw off Papal supremacy, and isolated England diplomatically. Lisle’s concern that a failure to victual the town might result in its easy fall to France, although it did not prove well-founded at the time, was certainly true twenty-five years later when an unprepared Calais fell to France in 1558.