Chapter 13 : Seeking a Place
The most successful, in career terms, of Honor’s children, was Anne. Having completed her time with Mme Riou, she returned home with her dowry of 100 marks and an annual income of 10 marks. This was comfortable but not excessive for a knight’s daughter. But, her mother having leapt up the social scale with her second marriage, Anne had the opportunity for a court career. Two of Honor’s nieces were already at court: Mary Arundell, and one of Mary’s half-sisters, although it is not clear which.
With this in mind, Honor swiftly made a play for Anne to be admitted as maid-in-waiting to the new queen, Jane Seymour. She approached Lord Montague and his mother, the Countess of Salisbury. This approach is politically interesting. Lady Salisbury had fallen into disgrace as a long-term supporter of Katharine of Aragon and former Lady Governess to Princess (now Lady) Mary. Although Mary was to be rehabilitated soon after Henry’s marriage to Jane, that had not yet occurred, and Lady Salisbury was not popular at court. Being in Calais may have made it difficult for Honor to have exact knowledge of who was in and who out and perhaps Hussee was less perceptive about the status of women. Lady Salisbury affirmed that she would help, but perhaps reflecting the diminished level of her influence said that it would take time and patience. She was also concerned that Anne was too young.
Lady Salisbury went on to suggest that Honor should make the effort to visit England for Jane’s coronation, which at that time was expected to occur during the late summer of 1536.
It was always important to have more than one string to a bow, and Honor made the same request to Lady Rutland. Eleanor Paston, Countess of Rutland, had been one of Honor’s fellow ladies-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn in Calais in 1532. She gave Queen Jane Honor’s ‘humble recommendations’ and promised to put forward Anne Basset’s claim to a place in the household. Mary Arundell, and Margery Horsman (another of Jane’s attendants) similarly promised to help, although they too thought Anne rather young.
Honor then suggested that her older daughter, Katherine, might be the better choice, although it does not appear that Katherine had the same education or good looks as Anne. When Mary Arundell married the Earl of Sussex in 1537 (apparently receiving the commiseration of her friends – perhaps on account of the Earl’s advanced age – about 50 compared with her 20), there was obviously a vacancy to be filled. With her niece a Countess, Honor hoped to move quickly, but the vacancy was soon filled and she was disappointed.
Casting about for another option, she suggested that the new Lady Sussex might take Katherine herself, but this was impossible as Mary Sussex already had three gentlewomen, rather than the two her rank warranted.
At this point Margery Horsman came to the rescue, sending Honor the message that she would take charge of Katherine, allow her to share her own room, and introduce her to the Queen. A second possibility was offered – the new Duchess of Suffolk, seventeen year old Katherine Willoughby, offered Katherine Basset a place. Honor hesitated – perhaps because of Lady Suffolk’s own youth, or perhaps because Lady Suffolk was already being seen as a reformer in religious matters. Lady Rutland then decided that she could find a place for Anne Basset herself, whilst still hoping to persuade the Queen to take one of the girls.
Queen Jane was now pregnant, and this gave Honor an excellent opening for promoting her daughters, which she did not fail to avail herself of. Towards the end of May, Sir John Russell was ordered by the King himself to request Lisle to send some ‘fat quails’ for which Queen Jane was craving. Apparently, there were none to be had in England. They were to be dispatched as quickly as possible, but Lisle must make sure that they were very fat indeed.
Three days later, Russell was chasing Hussee for an answer to the request. He was told to write to Lisle, urging the matter. Lisle was to immediately dispatch 2 or 3 dozen, with orders for them to be killed once they had reached Dover. A second consignment of 20 or 30 dozen should then be obtained and dispatched. Once again the desired plumpness of the birds was reiterated. If none were to be had in Calais, Lisle must send into Flanders for them, as the Queen’s craving for them had to be satisfied.
Fortunately, the very next day, the first contingent of the feathered delicacy arrived, and Hussee himself rode at speed to Hampton Court, arriving there with 2 dozen before seven o’clock. The King and Queen immediately gave orders for half to be prepared immediately, and half kept for supper that day.
Honor was told to keep sending the birds by the 2 or 3 dozen, and to accompany them with cherries and peascods (young peas in the pod), if they could be found.
Taking advantage of the King’s pleasure that the Queen’s cravings had been gratified, the Lisles’ friend, Sir John Wallop, mentioned Anne Basset to the King, who promised to speak to the Queen about it.
Honor continued to dispatch birds, and in July she had her reward. As the Queen was indulging in a meal of the favoured delicacy with Lady Rutland and Lady Sussex, she mentioned Honor, and the two ladies immediately asked her about a place of one of the Basset girls. Queen Jane replied that if Honor would send both Anne and Katherine to her, she would consider their ‘manners, fashions and conditions’ and give a place the one she liked best. Lady Suffolk would take the other sister.