Chapter 9 : Household Matters
A huge amount of the Lisle correspondence relates to Honor’s management of her household and the children.
In early 1533, she ordered a ‘lettice’ cap for her oldest step-daughter, Frances. This was a small hood, worn indoors and made of fur. She also ordered furs and scarlet (a kind of woollen, from which the colour name of scarlet derives).
It was important to keep up with court fashions and Honor was fortunate in having access to the Queen’s own embroiderer, who did work for her. She would also enquire as to what other ladies did before committing to expenditure.
On one occasion Honor had need of a new saddle and harness for her riding horse. She was unsure whether to have them fringed with silk and gold, or not, and whether to choose Genoa or Lucca velvet. Her emissary, Robert Acton, advised her that the other court ladies were opting for the Lucca velvet, with fringes and buttons of pear-shape and tassels. The other pressing question was whether to have a stirrup of parcel-gilt (a grade of gilding on metal) and what device she wanted for the pommel of copper and gilt.
Whether this level of expenditure was wise is questionable as it appears the Lisle household was extravagant – there are numerous letters relating to disgruntled tradesmen clamouring to be paid. On the other hand, Honor had her own funds from her Basset dower, so may have been spending that.
On more practical matters, she considered a new employee – a priest who apparently could write a good secretary hand, as well as text and Roman hands. He was also ‘cunning’ in garden design, and other horticultural practices, such as grafting and the growing of cucumbers. She was also very concerned about finding the right person to be one of her own gentlewomen attendants.
John Hussee had the task of finding someone suitable in 1535 when Honor decided she did not like her current one. The role of gentlewoman was an important one – usually held by a young unmarried woman being trained to take her own position in society as mistress of a household, or by a widow who needed a home, who could help her employer with the day to day tasks of management and child care.
Many of the usual begging letters for jobs were sent to Honor, who was believed to have great influence with her husband. She also received a letter from Sir Anthony Windsor regarding a deer that had been killed in the Forest of Bere in Hampshire. The Forest was one of the parks for which Lisle was responsible, and Sir Anthony’s servant, together with a young man named Peter Norton, had killed a deer without permission. Sir Anthony wrote an exculpatory letter, claiming the killing had been an accident, and asking Honor to intercede for the two men. Apparently Norton’s father was so fierce that his knowledge of the affair would be sufficient punishment to Peter.
A very curious letter is extant regarding Honor’s medicinal skill. It was customary for women in Honor’s position to have responsibility for making and prescribing medicine to their households and friends when a doctor was not consulted. She apparently prescribed a remedy to Lord Edmund Howard. Howard was Comptroller of Calais, and the brother of the Duke of Norfolk. He was considered thoroughly incompetent, and he and Lisle were not on especially good terms. He wrote to Honor without any of the customary wishes for her health or flattering words, saying:
‘Madame, so it is I have…taken your medicine, for which I heartily thank you for it hath done me much good and hath caused the stone to break, so that now I void much gravel. But for all that, your said medicine hath done me little honesty, for it mde me piss my bed this night, for the which my wife hath sore beaten me, and saying it is children’s parts to bepiss their bed. Ye have made me such a pisser that I dare not this day go abroad, wherefore I beseech you to make mine excuse to my Lord (Lisle) and Master Treasurer, for that I shall not be with you this day at dinner. Madame, it is showed me that a wing or a leg of a stork, if I eat thereof, will make me that I shall ever piss more in bed, and though my body be simple yet my tongue shall be ever good, and especially when it speaketh of women; and sithence such a medicine will do such a great cure, God send me a piece thereof.
Edmund Howard’ (Transcription M St Clair Byrne)