Sunday, November 09, 2014

Question from Kristin - Lady Mary Cholmondeley

I'm looking for information on Lady Mary Cholmondeley, a lady knighted by Queen Elizabeth according Nichols. [J. Nichols, Progresses of King James the First (1828), vol. 3, p.406.]

Any tips for possible sources appreciated.

Thank you


Foose said...

It was Lady Mary's husband who was knighted. The passage reads:

"Here King James was received by Mary Lady Cholmondeley, "the bold Ladie of Cheshire," widow of the younger Sir Hugh Cholmondeley, distinguished for military prowess in the reign of Elizabeth, and knighted by her on the eve of the expected Spanish invasion."

There is quite a lively record in 19th and early 20th century works on Queen Elizabeth that insist Lady Cholmondeley was knighted by the Queen; "at Tilbury in 1588," is the typical assertion. Strickland mentions it and cites Nichols as her source.

I think it's just a misreading of the various subclauses in Nichols' sentence. "Distinguished for military prowess" could allude to either Mary or Sir Hugh, and the mention of her being known as the "Bold Ladie of Cheshire" may have led some readers to think that Mary was the one who was knighted.

I also tend to disbelieve it because for Queen Elizabeth to knight a woman would have been pretty scandalous at the time. We think of knighthood as a sort of gender-neutral civic honor handed out to celebrities, charitable bigwigs and retired politicians every year; in the 16th century it represented elevation to a sacred and mystical Christian bond of brotherhood, requiring the candidate to undergo a solemn ceremonial ritual. For the Queen to knight a woman would have been blatant mockery of the institution and a flagrant devaluation of the status of existing English knights. Despite being a female ruler and hence anomalous, Elizabeth was a social conservative, who was careful to reinforce, not denigrate, the existing culture of late-Renaissance chivalry and preferred other women to keep their divinely appointed place.

I can't find the original source where King James called Lady Cholmondeley the "bold ladie of Cheshire." It may be a local history compiled by Sir Peter Leycester, which is unfortunately not available on Google Books. Some later sources argue the wording should properly be the "best ladie" of Cheshire, as the appellation was allegedly assigned following a visit by the King to her estate in 1617. Others favor "bold," citing her energetic building activities, lengthy family lawsuits, and general temperamental similarity to Bess of Hardwick.

Some could argue that a woman called the "bold ladie of Cheshire" was likely to be a martial spirit and hence a fine candidate for the first female knight. However, "bold" was not necessarily a complimentary adjective - or one signifying military prowess - in the 16th or 17th century. Traitors who refused to confess their fault were said to "die boldly," implying that they were impudent, overweeningly proud, mischievous. The famous rhyme about Henry VIII's sister marrying Charles Brandon warns the commoner, "Cloth of frieze, be not so bold, That thou hath matched with cloth of gold" (i.e., don't be offensively haughty because you married above yourself). Consequently, James calling Lady Cholmondeley "bold" would not have been a compliment. On the other hand, if he had been pleased with the hospitality in 1617, he might have said "best."

Marilyn R said...

I think she was involved in a lawsuit that lasted decades, and the famous painting in the Tate Gallery of twins who married on the same day and gave birth on the same day could be of two of her daughters.
Today the name would be pronounced as "Chumley" - not sure what it would have been in her day.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Foose for the careful reading extricating the more likely events!

Thank you Marilyn R for the pointer to the possible painting of her daughter.