Friday, March 30, 2012

Margaret St John

Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII was famed for her piety, as was her half sister, Margaret St John.

Both women were the daughters of Margaret Beauchamp. Margaret St John was one of five daughters and two sons from her mother's first marriage to Oliver St. John. Margaret Beaufort was the only child of her second marriage to John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

Margaret Beaufort was married off to Edmund Tudor at the tender age of 12 and became the matriarch of the Tudor dynasty.

Margaret St John was destined for the religious life her sister craved. It has been suggested she might have departed to fulfil her vocation at Shaftesbury Abbey at an equally young age, barely out of childhood. Her obituary makes a reference that 'in her childhood being maried to Christe the king of kinges she shewed her self above others a most noble virgine.'

It is believed that the Benedictine nunnery at Shaftesbury was founded in 888 by Alfred the Great. The Abbey, dedicated to St Mary, added St Edward to it's title following the interment of the martyred Saxon King's body in 978. Benefactors were generous and throughout the 10th century the nuns added to their already considerable land holdings. In the Domesday survey of 1086 the Abbey held land in Tisbury, Donhead, Alvediston, Liddington and Downton in Wiltshire alone and at the time of Edward the Confessor the abbess owned 153 houses in Shaftesbury.

In fact a saying dating from the Middle Ages claimed 'if the abbot of Glastonbury could marry the abbess of Shaftesbury their heir would hold more land than the King of England.'

Subsequent Kings further endowed the Abbey. In 1090 William Rufus, the second son of William the Conqueror, confirmed various grants. William's brother Henry I confirmed the Manor of Donhead to pay for the nun's clothing while Henry II granted them his special protection.

But by 1218 the abbey appeared to be suffering the squeeze and the Pope forbade the community to exceed 100 nuns. Records reveal that the voting body at the election of Edith Bonham as Abbess in 1441 numbered 41 professed sisters and fourteen awaiting profession and nearly twenty years later when Margaret St John was elected there were 51 sisters.

The Benedictine nun's day was punctuated by prayers and periods of contemplation beginning with Lauds, the early morning service of divine office at 5am through to Matins, the night office recited at 2am. Aristocratic ladies were not required to do so much of the heavy work of the abbey which fell to those from the lower orders. And of course there were the indiscretions.

John Chandler quotes in 'A High Reality' that the Abbey during the time of Abbess Joan Formage elected in 1345 had - ‘some influential nuns, very often intent upon bringing men into the infirmary, held feats and drinking sessions resulting in drunkenness, and otherwise acted there contrary to the Rule. Others had amorous letters which they sent to lovers and suspect persons, sealed with appropriate seals and signets.’

The nuns took a vow of poverty, but Joan Formage didn't comply with this either. When she died in 1394 she left a will and several fur lined coats, five golden goblets and a cup with a golden lid and furniture which included a red bench embroidered with a design of birds and leaves, with ten red cushions.

So far there has been no evidence of impropriety to stain the reputation of Margaret St John, elected Abbess at Shaftesbury on March 9, 1460.

Shortly before her death in 1492 Margaret established a chantry, an endowment to fund either a chapel or a priest to pray for the souls of her royal relations and her parents.

Following the dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 by Margaret's great nephew, Henry VIII, the fabric of the Abbey was plundered for building projects in the town.

In 1985 the grounds were purchased by the Shaftesbury Abbey and Museum Preservation Trust Company Limited with the aim of preserving what remained and to create a permanent display of finds from the site. Visit their website on

Images - Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII
The page from the Beaufort/Beauchamp Book of Hours is published courtesy of The British Library and can be viewed on
The Consecration of Shaftesbury Abbey by Phyllis Wolff 1979 visit
The gardens at Shaftesbury Abbey

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Colonel and Lucy Hutchinson

When John met Lucy it wasn't her shy smile or her slender ankle that won his heart. John Hutchinson, a 22 year old law student at Lincoln's Inn, fell in love with Lucy Apsley after browsing through her Latin notebooks.

Lucy Apsley was the granddaughter of Sir John St John and his wife Lucy Hungerford. Sober and scholarly, Lucy has left a wealth of writing - essays, poetry and her invaluable account of a family at war in The Life of Colonel Hutchinson.

Lucy was born on January 29, 1619/20, the fourth child and eldest daughter of Sir Allen Apsley and his third wife, the former Lucy St. John.

Lucy records that she was born at 'about 4 of the clock in the morning' in the Tower of London where her father was Lieutenant.

She writes how after three sons her mother was 'very desireous of a daughter.' While pregnant Lady Apsley had a dream that she was walking in the garden with her husband when a star fell from the sky into her hand. Sir Allen interpreted the dream to mean that they would have a daughter of extraordinary distinction.

However, the nurses in attendance at her birth expressed concern at the baby's heightened colour and feared she would not live, according to Lucy.

It's fair to say that Lucy was the apple of her parents eye. Quick to count her many blessings, Lucy acknowledged the advantageous circumstance of her birth and in particular the education her parents provided for her. She recalled learning to speak in both English and French and how by the age of four she was reading 'perfectly.'

As a seven year old the young Lucy had no less than eight tutors to school her in languages, dancing, writing and needlework (which she hated). In fact, she spent so much time studying that her mother feared for her daughter's health and locked away her books.

"After dinner and supper I still had an hower allow'd me to play, and then I would steale into some hole or other to read," Lucy writes.

She describes how she enjoyed the company of adults in preference to her same age playmates. 'Play among other children I despis'd, and when I was forc'd to entertaine such as came to visitt me, I tir'd them with more grave instructions than their mothers, and pluckt all their babies [dolls] to pieces.'

John was lodging at the home of his music teacher Mr Coleman when he met fellow student Barbara Apsley, Lucy's younger sister. Barbara talked at length about her sister Lucy and showed John some of her poetry.

While John Hutchinson was leafing through Lucy's Latin books, Lucy and her mother were visiting relatives in Wiltshire where a marriage settlement was under discussion.

Fortunately for the smitten young law student the negotiations had come to nothing and the young couple met for the first time at a party at Syon House, the home of the Duke of Northumberland.
John's affections were reciprocated and Lucy, who paid little heed to fashion and outward appearances, allowed herself a little leeway when it came to describing her suitor.

'She was surpriz'd with some unusuall liking in her soule when she saw this gentleman, who had haire, eies, shape, and countenance enough to begett love in any one at the first, and these sett off with a gracefull and generous mine [mien] which promis'd an extraordinary person.'

But mischief makers tried to drive them apart. John's friends advised him to be cautious while 'the weomen, with wittie spite, represented all her faults to him, which chiefely terminated in the negligence of her dresse and habitt and all womanish ornaments, giving herselfe wholly up to studie and writing,' Lucy recorded.

But of course this is exactly what John loved about her.

With the critics silenced and the wedding date set, disaster struck. On the very day the couple were to exchange their vows Lucy fell ill with small pox. For several days her life hung in the balance. According to Lucy's account the disease made her 'the most deformed person that could be seene for a greate while after she recover'd. Yett he was nothing troubled at it, but married her assoone as she was able to quitt the chamber, when the priest and all that saw her were affrighted to looke on her.'

The couple were eventually married on Tuesday July 3, 1638 at St Andrew's Church, Holborn and began married life with Lucy's mother at Bartlett's Court. Lucy fell pregnant but miscarried twins and nearly died herself. Quickly pregnant again, her health gave cause for concern and her worried mother and husband moved her out of London to a property called Blew House in Enfield Chace where Lucy gave birth to twin sons, Thomas and Edward.

The couple's continuing love affair would be played out against the backdrop of civil war in which Lucy's Parliamentarian husband played a prominent part. John was Governor of Nottingham Castle 1643-47 and in 1649 was one of the judges at the trial of Charles I. His signature appears on the King's death warrant.

In 1663 John was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the Northern Plot and was imprisoned in the Tower. The following year he was transferred to Sandown Castle in Kent where he died four months later.

Lucy's account of her husband's life has been criticised for her exaggerations of his virtues. She would continue to protest his courage and his innocence. The inscription she had carved on his memorial at St Margaret's Church, Owthorpe reads:

'He died at Sandowne Castle in Kent, after 11 months harsh and strict imprisonment, - without crime or accusation, - upon the 11th day of Sept 1664, in the 49th yeare of his age, full of joy, in assured hope of a glorious resurrection.'

It is believed that Lucy began her account of her husband's life for her children soon after his death.

Their love affair transcended death as Lucy wrote:

'Soe, as his shaddow, she waited on him every where, till he was taken into that region of light which admitts of none, and then she vanisht into nothing.'

To be continued...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Anne Douglas, Lady Dalkeith.

While three St John sons famously gave their lives fighting for the Royalist cause during the English Civil Wars, another member of the family – a woman – performed an equally brave act of duty and devotion.

Anne Villiers was the daughter of Sir Edward Villiers and Barbara St John, the 5th daughter of Sir John St John and Lucy Hungerford. The date of her birth appears unconfirmed as does her name, occasionally mentioned as Elizabeth, but the part she played in history is not up for debate.

Anne married Robert Douglas, Lord Dalkeith, 8th Earl of Morton, in around 1627. Little is written about their married life. At least three children survived to adulthood. Their son and heir, William 9th Earl of Morton, Lady Anne Douglas, who married the Earl of Marischall and Lady Mary Douglas who married Sir Donald Macdonald. Lady Anne is mentioned in her grandmother’s will along with her more notorious cousin, Charles II’s mistress Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland

Anne, Lady Dalkeith was a Lady in Waiting to Charles I’s French born Queen, Henrietta Maria and is pictured with Anne Kirke in a portrait by Anthony van Dyck painted in the late 1630s.

In 1644 England was in the grip of war. Royalist York was under siege, Lincolnshire and Manchester lost and the Royal court headquartered at Oxford was under threat.

The heavily pregnant Queen left Oxford to seek refuge in her homeland. Forced to halt her journey at Exeter, the Queen came under the protection of Sir John Berkeley, Governor of the city. The Queen’s health gave cause for concern and the baby daughter she gave birth to on June 16, 1644 was small and delicate.

Just two weeks after giving birth Henrietta was forced to continue her journey and placed her baby daughter in the care of Anne, Lady Dalkeith. She could hardly have chosen a better guardian for the little Princess.

The child’s first few months were blighted by ill health and uncertainty. By the autumn of 1645 Exeter was surrounded by Parliamentarian troops under the leadership of Sir Thomas Fairfax and Sir William Waller.

The Royal garrison held out for more than six months until, at the point of starvation, Sir John Berkeley was forced to surrender.

Berkeley escorted the small royal entourage to Salisbury where Anne informed Fairfax of the arrangements she had made with the King.

“I have prevailed with Mr Ashburnham to acquaint you that I have His Majesty’s allowance to remain, with the Princess, for some time about London, in any of His Majesty’s houses. I have judged Richmond the fittest. This bearer will inform you of those particulars concerning the settlement of the Princess in that place, wherein I conceive your assistance and recommendation to the Parliament to be necessary, which His Majesty will acknowledge as a service, and I as an obligation to Sir, your humble servant. A. Dalkeith,” she wrote.

But Parliament now called the shots and instructed Anne that she should take the child not to Richmond but to Oatlands, a Royal house near Weybridge, Surrey. The allowance promised for the Princess’ support was withheld and Lady Dalkeith paid all the household bills out of her own pocket.

Next came the order that Anne should deliver the child to St James’ Palace, where she would join her brother and sister, the young Duke of Gloucester and the Princess Elizabeth, in the charge of Lady Northumberland. She would then be dismissed from her post.

But Anne was having none of this. Although she had no objection to taking orders from the Lord and Lady Northumberland, she had made a promise to her King and there was no way she was going to give up the young Princess.

Anne wrote to the Speakers of both Houses of Parliament asking for the allowance as promised and her intention to remain with the child. She waited a month for a reply, before taking events into her own hands.

Anne hatched a daring plan that would test her courage and her physical strength to the limit. She would reunite the child with her mother – in France.

On the night of July 24, 1646 Anne, the child and two trusted servants left Oatlands under cover of darkness. Anne disguising herself as a beggar woman, dressed the three year old Princess in a ragged suit of boy's clothes, and with the child on her back, walked to Dover, a distance of approximately 95 miles.

Apparently the little Princess further compromised their perilous situation by regularly announcing that she was not ‘Pierre,’ the name given her for the flight, but ‘the Princess.’

Anne wrote en route to the staff at Oatlands, informing them she had ‘removed her Highness to a better air’ and pleading that they ‘conceal her being gone as long as you can.’

The faithful Sir John Berkeley followed at a distance until, arriving at Dover, they boarded a French boat bound for Calais. Landing on French soil, Anne wrote to the Queen who sent a carriage to convey them to Saint Germain.

It is no exaggeration to say the journey nearly killed Anne. Having handed over the young Princess to her mother, the Queen, Anne collapsed and was seriously ill for several weeks. But Anne’s heroic feat did not go unrecognised and she was much feted during her lifetime.

Anne remained with her Royal charge until the death of her husband Robert Douglas, Lord Dalkeith and 8th Earl of Morton and in 1651 she returned to England where it was said her children required her presence.

Anne died in 1654 following a bout of fever.

Images - top Anne Douglas, Lady Dalkeith
Ladies in Waiting - Anne, Lady Dalkeith and Anne Kirke
Princess Henrietta as an infant
Princess Henrietta as a young woman

Three letters written by Anne during her guardianship of Princess Henrietta are held in the Bodleian Library