The Manor & Grounds » Princess Elizabeth at Sulgrave?
The following ballad was “discovered” by Reverend W.S. Packenham-Walsh who was vicar of Sulgrave from 1922 and published in a booklet written by him, ‘The Washington Ancestry’.
|“Sister Mary ! Sister Mary !
Here I sit in this dark niche,
While your henchman, Mr. Tresham,
Moles the land with subtle speech.”
Thus 'tis said in Sulgrave Manor,
Once in papal Mary's reign,
Hid and sighted Ann Bullen's daughter,
When for her the Queen was fain.
“Here I sit in gloom and tremor,
While he lurks and spies below,
Seeking for to do your pleasure,
Me in death's grim shrine to cow.
But, dear sister, hark the whisper
That comes gladly to my soul,
Bidding me be high of courage,
For I shall escape your goal.
Yes, escape and reign, while sadly
You lie rotting in the grave –
Rotting, sister, rotting, rotting
In our father's England, brave.
Not to-day, nor yet to-morrow –
Sister, call you not to mind
How we once drew straws for fortune,
And the straws to me were kind?
Twice and thrice we drew, you mocking,
And the lot fell aye to me,
Still you mock and scorn, dear sister,
But I bide my destiny.
To my heart it whispers, whispers –
Now, e'en now in this dark hole!
Saving, ' Keep thy heart up stoutly,
Thou shalt play a queenly role.'
Thou shalt reign and men shall worship,
Thou shalt make thy Country great;
' England, England," so it whispers –
'Neath thy sway shall go its gate.
'Lift itself, up ! up! to splendour,
Till the nations look aghast!'
Now I sit in this dark chamber
But I'll win to light at last.”
On the basis of this ballad, the tale of Princess Elizabeth taking refuge at Sulgrave Manor is founded. Very shakily. The language of the ballad is nearer to 19th century than 16th century English and no other trace of it has been discovered. The Reverend Packenham-Walsh does not give its source in his pamphlet but investigations into his papers may, in due course, reveal more.
How likely is it?
This is really two questions:
|How likely is it that Princess Elizabeth attempted to escape from Woodstock at all? There is no reference to such an attempt in the government’s archives.|
|If she did, how likely is it that she would come to Sulgrave?|
Would Princess Elizabeth have tried to escape?
There is little doubt that she had good reason to try. 1554-1555 began as a dangerous year for Queen Mary but ended, for her personally, as a triumphant one, marked by her longed-for marriage to King Philip II of Spain and the first stages of the return of England to Catholicism. But both the cause of the danger and the triumph were serious threats to Elizabeth’s welfare – and even, she may well have thought, her life.
Mary became Queen in August 1553, determined to return her country to the Catholic Church and to undo the deeds of her father and brother which had divided England from its true allegiance to Rome. Her attitude to her sister Elizabeth, the woman whose birth had brought the ignominy of divorce upon Mary’s beloved mother, was clear-cut: Elizabeth was a thorn in Mary’s flesh, a living reminder of an horrendous experience. As the next heir under their father’s Act of Succession and clearly identified, despite, in many ways, her own best efforts, with the Protestant cause, Elizabeth had to be perceived as a threat. Wyatt’s rebellion in January 1554 which attracted considerable popular support made this theoretical danger only too real a possibility. Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London – from which few royal prisoners had ever emerged alive – immediately after Wyatt’s conviction.
But if Mary’s attitude to Elizabeth was fairly constant, those of her courtiers and advisors were less so. Some of them, less whole-heartedly Catholic than their monarch, regarded the link to Spain, inevitable after Mary’s planned marriage to King Philip in July 1554, with concern; others were conscious that Mary was in her forties and unlikely to produce an heir, leaving Elizabeth as their queen. It behoved them to have an eye to the future. The Earl of Sussex, for example, in the very act of imprisoning Elizabeth in the Tower, suddenly knelt to her and acceded to her request to write to her sister – ‘whatsoever came thereof’1 . Later, in the Tower, he made the point very clearly, reminding the others escorting the Princess that she was “the King, our master’s daughter.. Therefore, let us use such dealing that we may answer it hereafter, if it shall so happen; for just dealing is always answerable.”2 As others saw the sense of this attitude and as it became clearer and clearer that Elizabeth’s involvement in Wyatt’s rebellion could not be proved, the embarrassment of keeping her in the Tower for no cause had to be addressed. The time-honoured expedient of sending her away into the country was the solution.
Hence in May 1554, Elizabeth was taken from the Tower of London and was escorted to Woodstock, a royal hunting lodge, until it was destroyed in the Civil War and now the site of Blenheim Palace, where four rooms were ready for her in the gatehouse. The Queen instructed that Elizabeth was to be treated “in such good and honourable sort as may be agreeable to our honour and her estate and degree” but also “that neither she be suffered to have conference with any suspected person out of (her custodian’s) hearing nor that she do by any means either receive or send any message, letter or token to or from any manner of person”. Elizabeth settled into Woodstock, plaguing the Queen and Council with letters protesting her innocence and asking for a personal interview with the Queen. Her household were not permitted in Woodstock Palace itself but set themselves up in the Bull Inn in the village, where her steward Thomas Parry oversaw the comings and goings of her friends and servants.
There Elizabeth remained for what were possibly the eleven most dangerous months of her life. During that time, Queen Mary moved nearer and nearer to the re-establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in England. She also announced that she was pregnant; the birth of a royal heir would fundamentally change Elizabeth’s position. For the nineteen year old Princess, the future looked bleak – planning to flee from England might have seemed an attractive option.
So the answer to the first question “How likely is it that Princess Elizabeth attempted to escape from Woodstock at all?” is “Well, it’s not impossible.”
Of course, if she did, the plan must have failed and she must have returned to Woodstock, without any official finding out or we would know of the event from government records. So she must have had help.
How likely is it that she would come to Sulgrave for help?
Quite probable. Lawrence Washington had set up his family and estate there in the 1530s and was a wealthy and well-established farmer and merchant. He was related by marriage to the Spencers and to the Kytsons but the strongest link between the young Princess and the Washingtons is the Parr family. Sir William Parr, whom she called “my honest uncle”, being her step-mother, Catherine’s brother, was one of Elizabeth’s most trusted friends and out of favour with Queen Mary. The Parr manor at Horton had probably been the cause of Lawrence Washington’s first visit to Northamptonshire in 1528 in his role as Steward to the Lord Parr. It is likely that, when Lawrence settled in Sulgrave, he would have remained in contact with such a powerful former employer. If Elizabeth was intent on leaving the country from Woodstock, travelling north and east, away from the capital city and towards the busy sea-ports of East Anglia, would have been the sensible route. Sulgrave might well have seemed a good place to seek refuge for the first night of what would be a long and dangerous journey.
1. Foxe, vol VIII
2. Foxe, Holinshed, Chron Queen Jane