As lord deputy of Calais during the 1530s, Arthur, Lord Lisle had to “ensure the defense and provision of the town, to see that the soldiers’ wages were paid, and—most difficult of all—to keep the peace among the English officials, all of whom were on the make and some of whose families had been entrenched there for generations.” These disagreements were nothing new. In the French Rolls of Henry VI, frequent contention between the staplers and the town government are detailed. In the reign of Henry VIII, a notable governor of Calais was Arthur, Lord Lisle, illegitimate son of Edward IV. Lisle was active in the service of Henry VIII, but his most important role was as Lord Deputy of Calais, a post to which he was appointed in 1533
Lisle obtained his title through his first wife, Elizabeth, the widow of Edmund Dudley. The Lady Elizabeth was only the aunt to the current baroness when she married Lisle. However, in 1523, she became the heir to the entire estate when her niece died without issue. Besides the title, the Lisle estate included a great deal of property, so Arthur Plantagenet became a substantial landowner. While he probably lost the Dudley lands when his first wife died, he kept the Lisle lands and acquired the Waytes’ lands in Hampshire in 1528. So, when he married Honor Grenville Basset, Lisle was an extremely eminent member of the court of Henry VIII besides being of the blood royal.
Lisle was a man known for his extravagant lifestyle. He was generous to a fault and was usually insolvent. Honor had to spend a great deal of her time trying to sort out the family’s financial predicaments while still making sure that her children had the right clothes to make the proper impression in the world and that the hospitality in Calais—which was a focal point for English diplomatic and foreign trade activities—was on the lavish scale expected of the governor and his wife. In 1533, Honor wrote to Henry, Lord Montague, complaining that entertaining in Calais was very expensive. Montague advised her to attempt to bridle her husband’s natural tendencies to extravagance.
Madame, I perceive by your letter that Calais is somewhat chargeable, as I reckoned alway it should be somewhat, to such a free stomach as my Lord hath. Therefore, for the love of God, look upon it in the beginning, now: for I assure you everything here is harder than it was at your departing; and so like to continue.
In her introduction to the Lisle Letters, Muriel St. Clare Byrne points out that Christine de Pisan teaches the same lesson. To reinforce the point, in 1478, Thomas Betson, who was at the staple in Calais, wrote to Elizabeth Stonor in the same vein as quoted in Kingsford’s edition of the Stonor letters.
I will advise you, Madam, to remember large expenses and beware of them, and in likewise my master your husband; it is well done ye remember him of them for divers considerations, as ye know both right wel.
Honor Lisle also had to make sure that the proper gifts were sent to the proper people, in order to maintain the network of influence so necessary to maintain a position in Tudor England. For example, she sent a cheese to Sir William Kingston, wine to Lord Hereford, fish to the French families that educated her children, and quails to Queen Jane Seymour. All of this took money that the Lisles seldom had and a flair for providing the most appropriate gift for each recipient.
Lisle himself was warned by a friend about his extravagances at Calais. On 1 October 1534, Sir Francis Bryant wrote to Lisle, “[A]s I am informed, you are no good husband in keeping of your house, which is a great undoing of many men; therefore I would advise you to look upon it, and to consider that in taking good heed you may do yourself pleasure and your friends also.” The constant entertaining that was necessary in the Lord Deputy’s position made for a necessarily expensive lifestyle. Sometime after 10 December 1534, Sir Thomas Palmer wrote to Thomas Cromwell,
Please you to understand that on Wednesday at ij of the clock at afternoon my Lord Admiral arrived in this road in Calais, and I think had had as short a passage as needed to be. That night my Lord Deputy had him home to his own house, and gave him his own chamber, and there he kept his chamber all that night and came not abroad. My Lord Deputy made a full good supper for all the noblemen that were with him, where I, with other of the Council, kept them company....[T]he next day, which was Thursday , my Lord Deputy made ready a good dinner, where the Admiral was, with all his gentlemen, who reported more honour than all the others which passeth my brain to recite....And so, Sir, he and his were entertained to the best of our power in everything.
As Muriel St. Clare Byrne commented, “Everything that we hear shows that he and his wife, in entertainment at Government House, sustained the honour of King and country by hospitality on a fitting scale that was certainly not provided for by his wages and fees...”
However, the expensiveness of the appointment in Calais was not the source of Lisle's downfall. He was accused of treason in 1540, supposedly for planning to turn Calais over to the French. However, it is more likely that his wife's suspect religious leanings were the true source of Lisle's difficulties as Honor was not circumspect in expression of her opinions. The intrigues and factionalism at the aging king's court made negotiating the political waters difficult and the Lisles became less and less able to do so successfully. In the meantime, having to provide hospitality and expensive gifts for the king's court only added to the burden.
To conclude, an appointment to Calais was a highly coveted office. However, with the honor went huge expenses. In order to uphold the position as well as the honor of the crown, the appointee needed to have large sums of money of his own available. Giles Daubeney, a rich man and a good manager, was able to survive, although not without a taint on his character. Arthur, Lord Lisle, generous and profligate, was not so lucky. Politics and life were fickle and it was often the case that the prize so sought after brought only financial ruin, imprisonment and death (from a heart attack while in prison) in the end.
Copyright Sharon D. Michalove 2009. All rights reserved.