Chapter 14 : Queen Jane's Maid of Honour
Katherine and Anne were to be sent to England towards the end of August, with two full changes of clothing, one each of satin and damask. When they arrived they would be lodged with the Ladies Rutland and Sussex until the Queen made her choice. Once she had chosen, the Queen would pay the girl’s wages and for livery, but Honor must pay for all her other needs.
Queen Jane’s court was a dignified and well-regulated place. Anne and Katherine were to be warned to be ‘sober, sad (serious), wise…discreet…lowly…obedient….to serve God and to be virtuous (chaste). After giving this litany of rules, Hussee felt it necessary to apologise – he did not mean to imply that Honor had not brought her daughters up properly, but he wanted to ensure them the best chance of success.
The girls did not in fact, leave Calais until early September, perhaps because Honor did not want to part with them. She had suffered a terrible disappointment and was in state of some unhappiness. The previous autumn, Honor had fallen pregnant. As she cannot have been less than forty-two, this was probably a matter of great surprise and trepidation, although no doubt of delight as well. By the end of November her condition was common knowledge. On 18th December, Sir John Wallop, Lieutenant of the Castle of Calais and thus a near neighbour, wrote congratulating Lisle, and also saying that it gave him hope as he and his wife had not been married so long as the Lisles and ‘man for man and woman for woman’ were younger.
He then helpfully sent some waters which would help her recovery after the birth. In particular ‘when a woman’s breasts be long, it raiseth them higher and rounder, which, peradventure shall be good for some of your neighbours.’ He hastily adds ‘As for my Lady (Honor) needeth not.’ No doubt Lisle was delighted to know that his colleague admired Honor’s breasts.
Unfortunately, not all was as it seemed. Having spent the spring bargaining for the necessary requisites for childbirth, Honor ‘took her chamber’, that is retired for the birth in June, anticipating delivery within a few weeks. The next we hear is a comforting letter from Hussee, reassuring her that she was not the first woman to mistake her dates, but that if, in fact, there was no pregnancy, she should cease weeping and sorrow, and take comfort in God’s grace.
No more is heard of the pregnancy – no letters of condolence are in the Lisle letters, from which we may infer that all of Honor’s friends were too sensitive to mention it, or that in her grief she destroyed any written mention of it. Unlike Mary I, twenty years later, the phantom pregnancy does not seem to have been a symptom of any underlying illness – Honor lived another thirty-two years after the incident.
The only hint of enduring sorrow comes in a letter from Antoinette de Saueuses (the sister of Mme Riou), who wishes Honor to have her little piece of unicorn horn which was believed to have magical properties, and which Seur Antoinette clearly valued. Antoinette was clearly a loving soul – she later sent a pair of gloves for Anne that she had worked herself, but warned Honor not to mention their provenance, as she feared that for Anne to receive gloves from a nun might lead her into trouble.
But life had to continue and Katherine and Anne were sent to England. By 17th September, Anne had been appointed, and Katherine received the consolation prize of serving Lady Rutland, with the possibility of going to the Duchess of Suffolk later. Katherine herself expressed a wish to serve the King’s daughter, Lady Mary, which Hussee thought might be possible.
The kind Lady Sussex gave Anne a kirtle and sleeves of crimson damask, and Katherine a gown of taffeta. Anne also received a list of the clothes that the Queen required her to wear, although she was permitted to wear out her current French modes, except in the matter of the hood, which had to be replaced, presumably with one in the English style that covered the hair, as Hussee thought that one of Honor’s old hoods might be serviceable.
Hussee then listed a number of people whom Honor ought to thank, as they had welcomed the girls with ‘right good dishes and good cheer’. Among them was Jane, Lady Dudley, wife of Lisle’s step-son, Sir John.
Within weeks of the Basset girls’ arrival at court, Queen Jane had died in childbed. Anne was retained by Lady Sussex, and the King, who appeared to like her, promised that she would be given a place in the household of any new queen.