Thursday, January 28, 2016

Question from Candace - Form of address for royal governesses

In several Tudor historical fiction books I have read, I have seen the governesses of Henry VIII's children, Margaret Bryan and Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, addressed as simply 'Bryan' and 'Salisbury', rather than with 'Lady' affixed to the front, which strikes me as rude. I know that historical fiction is a poor source for actual facts, but that I have seen it in several stories leads me to wonder if it was an accepted custom, or simply an invention on the parts of the authors that was replicated from story to story.


PhD Historian said...

Trust your instinct regarding historical fiction. It is not simply "a poor source for actual facts." Rather, it is not a source for any facts whatsoever, full stop. The form of address you describe is without question the invention of some modern novelist who was exercising minimal attention to historically-accurate detail.

Foose said...

The famous anecdote concerning the toddler princess Elizabeth commenting on her change of title begins with her saying "Why, Governor" to Sir John Shelton (or possibly Sir Thomas Bryan) - an anecdote that appears to date from 1607, so it may or may not represent the royal usage of the mid-16th century. I couldn't find any instances of Elizabeth or Mary Tudor addressing their governesses verbally (although the young Elizabeth referred to her governess in writing as "Mrs. Ashley"), but this example (Shelton not being especially eminent socially) suggests that the official position carried with it a formal address.

Although often referred to by modern writers as Mary's "governess," Lady Salisbury seems to have been "the lady mistress," so possibly the princess addressed her as such. Mrs. Ashley always seems to have been simply the "governess."

From the very same (Catholic, it seems) source for the "governor" anecdote comes the incident where Queen Mary praises Mistress Strelly, a gentlewoman or lady of the privy chamber, for refusing to collude in the general assurances that she was pregnant: "Ah Strelly, Strelly, I see they be all but flatterers ..." Strelly, of course, was not the queen's governess, and definitely not a great noblewoman nor holding a great court office, so perhaps this made it proper to address her by her last name.