Saturday, February 06, 2016

Question from Den - Story of Elizabeth unchaperoned at a party

Where did the story that Kat Ashley allowed Elizabeth unaccompanied go to a party on the Thames?thanks for any answers.


PhD Historian said...

I hate to see questions go unanswered, but this question is too vaguely worded and lacks sufficient detail to make it answerable. Can you please tell us, Den, where you read or heard any story about Elizabeth attending a "party on the Thames"? We need more detail.

Den said...

It was in Alison Plowden's book "The young Elizabeth".Lord protector's wife,Anne Stanhope,declared that Kat Ashley was not fit to have governance of the king's daughter becouse she permitted her charge to go to a party on the Thames unchaperoned. I want to know whether it's fiction.

Foose said...

I think this question was asked already, and answered, on June 7, 2012:

The story comes from the confession of Thomas Parry, "cofferer to the Lady Elizabeth," dated 1549, when Elizabeth's confidential servants were being questioned by the Protector's government with regard to her relationship with Seymour.

Parry recounted a conversation between himself and Katherine Ashley, Elizabeth's Governess: "And with this she [Ashley] fell in discourse of her last being with the Lady Somerset's Grace, how that my Lady Somerset found great faults with her, for my Lady Elizabeth's going in a night in a barge upon the Thames, and for other light parts; whereupon she should say to the said Mrs. Ashley then, she was not worthy to have governance of a King's daughter ..."

Susan Higginbotham observed to the previous querent that Seymour's name doesn't come into Parry's story. We don't know who was on the barge with Elizabeth.

Also, I'm not sure where an alleged lack of chaperonage came in. The reported conversation doesn't say that Elizabeth was "unchaperoned," either in Lady Somerset's accusation or Parry's conversation with Ashley, nor does it specify the Elizabeth went without Ashley herself along. Moreover, any Tudor personage of consequence would find it hard to go anywhere without "chaperonage": ladies, maids, cofferers, grooms, messengers, pages, chaplains, runners, linksmen, secretaries, guards, etc. Being a royal personage meant you had an entourage, inevitably.

However, a few lines later, Parry reports that Ashley said that Catherine Parr "came suddenly upon them, they being all alone (he having her in his arms)" - they being Seymour and Elizabeth - so it could perhaps be contrived. On the other hand, Parry declares subsequently that "But after she [Ashley] had told me the tale of the finding of her Grace in his arms, she seemed to repent that she had gone so far with me; and prayed me in any way not to disclose these matters ..."

Maybe Ashley had over-egged her exciting tale, and then realized it would not do her any credit if it got abroad. And how did she know what happened if only Elizabeth, Seymour and Parr were present? Did Elizabeth tell her? Was she rated by Catherine Parr? Or were Elizabeth and Seymour "all alone" only by the standards of the time, meaning that Ashley was on hand in the room as Elizabeth's trusted confidante (and chaperone) and Seymour's enthusiastic accomplice, but not counting as one of the scene's principals.

Just some speculations, nothing concrete.

Den said...

Complicated story.Thank you for your answer foose

PhD Historian said...

Just an additional note, if I may: Alison Plowden was not a historian and had no training whatsoever in writing "history." Her education ended at secondary school. She became a scriptwriter for the BBC in the 1950s, and seems to have specialized in historical drama. Any "history" or "biography" she subsequently published should be regarded with extreme caution. Her two books on Jane Grey, for example, were largely copied directly from Agnes Strickland and Richard Davey. She even copied their most blatant errors of fact. Thus anything she wrote on Elizabeth almost certainly included a lot of fictional material dreamed up to fill gaps and to make the story more "dramatic." Foose has already done a very good job of pointing out some specific examples of how Plowden embellished on sources that actually said very little in the first place.

Foose said...

The sticking point for Lady Somerset may have been the barge ride "at night," not the company or the merriment or questions of chaperonage. According to Alison Sim,a Tudor food historian, "Damp night air and the air near stagnant water was also considered dangerous. Even the stars could cause 'bad air' and this was when plague was likely to break out." (From Food and Feast in Tudor England) In the last analysis, the Protector Somerset was responsible for the health and safety of the late king's heirs, and was answerable to the Council if Elizabeth had fallen ill and died. Lady Somerset was perhaps taking a proper line with Ashley, although the popular presentation of the lady is that of an officious meddler with an unjustified down on Elizabeth.

PhD Historian said...

I am sorry to have to quibble with you, Foose, but I am not entirely convinced that Somerset would have faced more than cursory opprobrium had Elizabeth fallen ill and died. Yes, she was Edward VI's second heir-at-law at the time. But prior to the spring of 1553, and certainly prior to Somerset's death in 1552, no one seriously anticipated any chance whatsoever that Elizabeth would ever inherit the crown. Prior to then, it was assumed that Edward would marry and produce heirs of his body. And even if he did not, Mary would inherit first, and surely she would marry and produce heirs of her body ... or so it was thought/assumed. A simple scan of English history prior to 1552 would have told any observer that it was highly unlikely that two successive monarchs would fail to produce heirs of their own body. The last time two kings in a row had failed to produce legitimate issue was almost four centuries earlier, with William II and Henry I. Death was an ever-present danger in Tudor England, as everyone knew at the time. Had Elizabeth taken ill with a fever and died, it is unlikely that Protector Seymour would have been scrutinized, any more than Cecil was scrutinized when Elizabeth almost died of smallpox in 1562.

But with hindsight, it is perhaps too tempting to assume that Mary and Elizabeth were treated with greater reverence *as heirs* than was actually the case. Any reverence toward them was based far more in their status as the king's sisters than their status as potential heirs. And they were both sometimes not well treated even as sisters to the king. See Jeri McIntosh's "From Heads of Household to Heads of State" for a comprehensive discussion of the waxing and waning of status enjoyed/suffered by each during Edward's reign.

As for the specifics of Ashley's report that Lady Somerset accused her of being unworthy of the post of governess to Elizabeth, I am inclined to suspect very strongly that Ashley may have been coloring her details to reflect her own very strong affinity for Thomas Seymour and Katherine Parr. Thomas Seymour was at that time being investigated for capital offenses, and Ashley was being called upon for testimony that the investigators hoped to use against Thomas Seymour. In striking out at the Duchess of Somerset, Ashley was venting her anger toward the Somersets generally for what she no doubt perceived to be the Lord Protector's ill treatment of his own brother, Thomas Seymour. Or so I suspect. As you said, speculation with nothing concrete.