Queen Anne Boleyn’s Friendship with Margery Horsman

A ‘great friendship’ between Queen Anne Boleyn and Margery Horsman


Sylvia Barbara Soberton

GreatLadies In my newest book, Great Ladies: The Forgotten Witnesses to the Lives of Tudor Queens, I’m focusing on the forgotten ladies-in-waiting who led interesting lives but who are often only footnotes in history. I’ve always been interested in Anne Boleyn and her women, and I was particularly keen on researching her relationships with them.

One of the women with whom Anne was especially close was Margery Horsman, who worked in the Queen’s Wardrobe. Margery was one of the women interrogated before Anne’s arrest on 2 May 1536, and Edward Baynton, vice-chamberlain of the Queen’s household, recorded that he had “mused much at [the conduct] of Mrs Margery, who hath used herself strangely toward me of late”. He attributed this sudden change in her attitude towards him to a “great friendship of late between the Queen and her”.[1]

What do we know about Margery Horsman and her “great friendship” with Anne Boleyn? The sources tell us that Margery became Anne’s maid of honour in 1532 and that she was one of the ladies who attended her coronation in 1533. Margery’s name often cropped up throughout Anne’s tenure as Queen in the letters of John Hussey and Thomas Warley, the London agents of the Lisle family. From these letters, we learn that Margery was very close to the Queen, and this was noticed at court. John Hussey and Lady Honor Lisle used Margery as an intermediary with Anne Boleyn. Lady Lisle in particular was keen to demonstrate that although she was not the Queen’s regular lady-in-waiting, she belonged to her royal household. She decided to ask the Queen, through Margery Horsman, to give her a livery kirtle that demonstrated her loyalty. “There is no doubt you shall have one of the best kirtles the Queen has”, Hussey promised Lady Lisle on 12 July 1535.[2] It took Lady Lisle’s agents several months to acquire the kirtle, but when it was finally presented to Thomas Warley, he made sure to emphasise that Lady Lisle “should write letters of thanks to Mrs Margery and George Taylor, and remember those of the Queen’s wardrobe”.[3] Among the gifts Lady Lisle sent to Margery was a steel casket. Margery was “right glad of it and said it would serve to keep her jewels in”.[4]

Margery was close enough to Anne to know that she grieved when her favourite dog, Purkoy, was found dead after he fell out of a window. Margery also knew that nobody dared to inform the Queen of Purkoy’s tragic death until “it pleased the King’s Highness to tell her Grace of it”.[5] Margery had free access to the Queen’s Privy Chamber, as demonstrated by Thomas Warley’s letters, and distributed golden cramp rings blessed by Henry VIII on Good Friday to Anne Boleyn’s supporters. She was also responsible for delivering items of clothing to the Queen, including six frontlets—decorative bands worn with French hoods—in May 1536.

Late in April 1536, Anne Boleyn was preparing to meet Lady Lisle at Dover in May and had sent word to her via Margery Horsman. Unfortunately, the trip was cancelled and the Queen was arrested on 2 May on trumped-up charges of adultery, incest and high treason. John Hussey, a seasoned courtier, tried to discover what really happened, but everything was so “discreetly spoken” that he could hardly learn anything of substance. Some ladies were said to have been chief among the Queen’s accusers: “the Lady Worcester, and Nan Cobham, with one maid more”.[6] Only Elizabeth Somerset, Countess of Worcester, can be identified without doubt. The Nan Cobham mentioned in the letter may have been Anne Brooke, Baroness Cobham, who received a summons to attend Anne Boleyn’s coronation in 1533. Historian Eric Ives suggested that the “one maid more” may have been Margery Horsman, but it seems unlikely since she refused to cooperate during the interrogation, as noted in the beginning of this article. On the other hand, Margery remained highly in royal favour when Jane Seymour became Queen in May 1536, so perhaps she gave evidence against Anne Boleyn after all.

On 27 January 1537, Margery married Michael Lister, and they were jointly appointed as Keepers of the Queen’s Jewels. Margery received small jewels as tokens from Jane Seymour and was instrumental in helping Lady Lisle install one of her daughters, Anne Basset, as maid of honour to the Queen. Margery rode in the third chariot during Jane Seymour’s funeral on 12 November 1537, but she is not mentioned as serving this queen’s successors; this is perhaps due to the fact that she went on to give birth to two sons, Charles and Lawrence, and withdrew from royal service to devote herself to raising her children. Little is known about Margery’s life post 1537, and the date of her death remains unknown. No portrait of Margery is known to survive, but a certain “Lady Lister” sat for Hans Holbein’s preparatory sketch that still survives in the Royal Collection.

Lady Lister Hans Holbein

Lady Lister by Hans Holbein the Younger. Source: Wikimedia Commons

[1] Letters and Papers, Henry VIII, Volume 10, n. 799.

[2] Ibid., Volume 8, n. 1028.

[3] Ibid., Volume 10, n. 499.

[4] Ibid., n. 573.

[5] Muriel St Clare Byrne, The Lisle Letters: An Abridgement, p. 150.

[6] Muriel St Clare Byrne, The Lisle Letters, Volume 3, p. 378.

Buy Great Ladies: The Forgotten Witnesses to the Lives of Tudor Queens  from Amazon US.

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  1. Dawn 1st says:

    Enjoyed the ‘taster’ of the book. I will look forward to reading this to learn about those who would have known the Queen more intimately as a person than most…perhaps even more so than the King himself

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