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Margery Horsman: Who?

September 19, 2012

Madge Shelton and Meg Wyatt will be familiar names to any Boleyn novel-reader, as will, in somewhat diminished form, Anne Zouche and Anne Savile. Jane Seymour is of course a given, though she has strikingly few lines in most books, despite her importance to the story. And of course there are the women who waited on Anne in the tower, most notably her aunt and one Mrs Coffin, whose name is so striking it would be almost impossible not to mention her. But there’s at least one attendant whose existence you could be readily forgiven for not knowing, and that is one Margery Horsman. She will be known to readers of the Lisle Letters as “Mrs Margery”, the woman who assisted the Lisles’ agent John Hussey in procuring various favours from Queen Anne and ultimately in placing Lady Lisle’s daughter Anne Basset in the Queen’s household, although by then the Queen in question was Jane Seymour. But when Jane’s predecessor was still in the ascendant, Lady Lisle had ingratiated herself by sending Anne Boleyn her much-loved dog Purkoy as well as a large quantity of quails, all in the hopes of being granted the right to wear Anne’s livery. When this was finally achieved, Hussey noted that “it may please your ladyship to send a letter to Mrs Margery and another to Mr George Taylor, giving them thanks for their pains …” One gets the impression that these pains were not materially unrequited. Mrs Margery also appears, rather ambiguously, in the swirl of testimony surrounding Anne’s arrest and trial. As Kate Emerson summarizes her career on her wonderful Tudor Women site:

Margery Horsman was a maid of honor to Henry VIII’s first three queens and a member of the households of the last three, although in some accounts of Anne Boleyn’s life, she is identified as “of the queen’s wardrobe.” In the January 1534 list, hers is the seventh name after Mrs. Marshall, “mistress of the maidens.” If there were only six maids of honor, this may indicated she held another position. Or not. She was probably the “one maiden more” who was the third of three women to make accusations against Anne Boleyn in 1536. Edward Baynton recorded that “Mistress Margery” first assisted him and then became uncooperative, which fits with a report by Sir William Kingston that suggests she was loyal to the queen. Margery may also be the “Marguerite” mentioned as a witness in some reports. And she may have been with Anne Boleyn in the Tower.

You can read Sir Edward Baynton’s letter here — the ellipses mark damage from the Cottonian fire of 1731.

Considering her perfect positioning as a potential Flashman of the Henrician court — always in the background, but always there, and attendant in some capacity upon all six of Henry’s queens — it’s surprising how seldom she turns up in fiction. (Perhaps it’s her name — it does sound so uncompromisingly stolid). Lady Lisle and her incessant correspondence occasionally get a nod, but her intermediaries aren’t mentioned. She gets a brief mention both in Kate Emerson’s own The King’s Damsel (2012) and Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies (2012) — in the latter, her name is spelled Marjorie, probably to distinguish her from Jane Seymour’s mother Margery Wentworth. In neither one does she get more than a sentence or so simply noting her presence. So far, A Lady Raised High (2006) is the only book I’ve found in which Margery gets her own personality — a thoroughly unpleasant one, in this case. She is “Margery Horsman, who had been a lady of the wardrobe and had never liked her,” and who also rivals Lady Rochford for tale-telling (she steals some of the heroine’s ill-considered love poetry to George Boleyn and carries it off to Anne, with unhappy results). This Margery is appointed as a lady-in-waiting to Anne in the Tower specifically because of her hostility, and recommends the heroine as another attendant under the mistaken belief that the heroine dislikes Anne as well. “She will be as good an attendant as I,” says Mrs Margery, and that’s the last we hear of her.

Considering the number of maid-of-honour narrators, both real and fictional, whose stories have gone to press in the last few decades, I think it may be time to revive Mrs Margery. Anyone who could serve all six queens and survive the experience relatively unscathed (possibly even greatly enriched) should have a story worth telling.

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From → Brief Lives, Essays

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