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Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee: Much Married

October 16, 2013

If there’s one word that would summarize most of Margaret (or Mary) Wyatt’s posthumous appearances, it would be “sensible.” In the stories where she appears for more than two sentences, she’s the sensible advisor, the cautious Hobbes to Anne’s Calvin, and generally the ideal best friend as depicted by romcoms — willing to let the heroine weep on her shoulder when things are going badly, doling out some sharp yet necessary advice, and discreetly removing herself from the scene once everything’s going well once more. Of course, since Anne’s story ends like no romcom ever would, Margaret usually reappears by the end to hold Anne’s hand one last time.

The reasons why she’s been cast in this role so often aren’t hard to decipher — as Thomas Wyatt’s sister, she would have spent much of her childhood at Allington, not far from Anne and her family; there’s a more than reasonable chance that the two knew each other, though if their projected birth dates of 1501 (Anne) and 1506 (Margaret) are correct, they might not have known each other terribly well before Anne was sent to France. Still, the connection is quite plausible enough to justify Margaret’s being positioned as Anne’s natural confidante (and occasional facilitator of meetings with Thomas Wyatt) once they’re both adults, as well as giving her the occasional youthful fling with George Boleyn.

Margaret’s most notable forays into acting as Anne’s conscience are centered around the Agnes Strickland-derived episode in which Anne supposedly dressed in yellow to rejoice at Catherine of Aragon’s death, while “making her ladies do the same.” The fictional Margaret’s reaction to the order is often Non serviam. “She is mad / I hardly know her for herself,” says the Margaret of Anne Boleyn: A Tragedy In Six Acts (1884) after Anne has giddily announced her intention of ignoring the king’s order for mourning, and after the king has discovered Anne dancing, it’s Margaret who urges her to try paper things over — “Tell him that yellow, in far countries, is / The badge of mourning.” Margaret herself refuses to wear yellow for Anne, appearing “in ordinary dress” later on. The Margaret of Brief Gaudy Hour (1949), while she helps Anne get her clothes changed, has “foreboding in her heart” when she hears of the king returning. She’s gotten bolder by the time of The Heir Of Allington (1973), when she warns Anne about the dangers of openly rejoicing, and concludes with “I shall wear black at the Requiem for I will not be a party to your lamentable indiscretion.” (Considering that this Margaret had previously winked at, if not condoned, Anne’s sleeping with and getting pregnant by Thomas Wyatt, wearing inappropriate mourning colours must be an even more heinous offense than I’d supposed before).

Standing up directly to Anne is only an occasional duty, though — most Margarets content themselves with more indirect conversation. “He is married,” says the Margaret of To Die For (2011), reminding Anne that Henry’s courtship of her isn’t exactly the most morally upright thing he could be doing. In The Concubine (1963) Margaret discreetly attempts to steer Anne away from the topic of Jane Seymour, although Anne has begun to get an inkling that something is up between her and Henry.

Would it, Margaret wondered wretchedly, be the truer kindness to admit that half London knew already? It was very difficult. Anne’s friends had all said, It’s nothing; he’s forty-four and at about that age most men fall in love for a little while with some young pretty face. It’ll pass. Why worry her?

The Margaret of Anne Boleyn: A Tragedy (1850) is even more practically helpful — carrying messages between Anne and the king, alerting Thomas when it looks like Anne is going to have an (understandable) meltdown, and laughing off the rumours about Anne’s fall from favour in order to comfort her.

‘Twould but fatigue your ears
Not profit you, to hear the thousand woes
That fools predict upon your majesty:
But there’s much comfort in the croak of folly.

In Le Temps Viendra (2013) Margaret — who’s about ten years older than Anne in this incarnation — is similarly startled by Anne’s eventual marriage plans but nevertheless promises to return to court in order to have her back. “Anne, you need friends to protect you in that vipers’ den; friends who will be your eyes and ears.”

Very occasionally a Margaret breaks the mold. A few are notably devout — the Margaret of The Uncommon Marriage (1960) lends Anne her copy of Julian of Norwich’s writings and encourages Anne to think about the religious life, and in To Die For she’s jettisoned Julian of Norwich and is instead a convinced reformer. Just once or twice, she gets to be frivolous — the prime example being the Margaret of Anne Boleyn (1957) who’s in love with George Boleyn. Although the latter wanted to marry her, but Jane Parker was a better match financially and so that was that. The flame between George and Margaret isn’t entirely gone, however, as Anne teases George that “You must think we’re all blind not to notice the two of you mooning at each other like sick calves and slipping out of sight when you think no one sees you. I’ve seen Madame Meg come in after a good tumbling, as pink-faced as you are at this moment!”

Overall, a fairly staid fictional existence, you would think, except for one quirk. For some reason, authors like to marry Margaret off — not to her actual husband, Sir Anthony Lee, but to other, usually imaginary gentlemen. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s happened to her more than it has to any other fictionalized real person in these books.

Anne Boleyn: A Tragedy (1826) contains the first instance that I know of in which Margaret gets an imaginary groom. One Squire Gadsden, who has loved her from afar since she was young, comes swooping to the rescue after she’s seduced and abandoned by Francis Weston, and she gratefully marries him and retreats to a life in the country. In To Die For (2011) she’s married first to kindly old stick Baron Blackston, who has the courtesy to die before insisting that they sleep together, and secondly to William Ogilvy, ex-priest turned reformer. None of these men have any real-life counterpart that I know of, but the author of the latter book justifies the character’s actions by hypothesizing that the wife of Sir Anthony Lee was not actually Margaret Wyatt but Margaret Wyatt Rogers, daughter of Thomas Wyatt’s older sister Margaret Wyatt, who supposedly married a man named Rogers and was the mother of — among others — John Rogers, who keeps getting dragged into the story for no discernible purpose until we discover at the end that he was one of the first Marian martyrs. The character called “Meg Wyatt” in the book was actually Anne, but renamed Meg for the purposes of the story. I know, clear as mud and I don’t believe a word of it anyway, but the reason I mention it is because of the mention of John Rogers.

John Rogers was, as you can see, quite real, but his connection with Thomas Wyatt and his sister seems less likely to be. Joseph Chester’s 1861 biography of Rogers lists his mother’s name as Margery Wyatt but doesn’t say anything about her family. It does say, however, that Rogers’s parents were married in — and lived in — Warwickshire. Apart from other considerations (would a Rogers have really been considered good enough for the daughter of Henry Wyatt, beloved of Henry VII?) Allington is in Kent, which is a good long way from Warwick. But all over the web you’ll find genealogical listings like this one, stating that Thomas Wyatt’s sister (her birthdate now placed about 1480/1485) was also the mother of one of the first Protestant martyrs. Sometimes she’s said to have been married to Rogers first, and Anthony Lee second, but sometimes she’s confusingly described as “Lady Lee” with no explanation of how she came by that title if neither she nor her husband held a knighthood or title of any kind. My guess is that someone, somewhere, conflated two women named Margaret Wyatt and made both families’ family trees a lot fancier with one slip of the pen. I could well be wrong about this, but it wouldn’t be the first or the hundredth time that two genealogies crossed wires.

That person may yet have launched a new trend in fiction. The latest book I’ve read which features Margaret Wyatt is Le Temps Viendra (2013), which disposes of confusing sidetracks about hypothetical nieces and has the older (born 1490) Margaret Wyatt “married at fifteen to John Rogers of Warwickshire.” They have six children, the oldest being young John. We’re introduced to Margaret at Christmastime of 1527, but when she arrives at court a few months later, she’s introduced as Lady Lee, with no apparent change in marital status. If the John Rogers connection proves to be a popular story, I predict we’ll be seeing a change in Margaret over the next decade or so — from wise, patient best friend she’ll start changing into Margaret Wyatt, zealous advocate for religious reform and stoic, uncompromising mother of a future victim of burning. Whether or not this is considered a good character trait will, of course, be up to the author.

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