Margaret and Mary Shelton

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Drawing of Mary, Lady Heveningham, by Hans Holbein the Younger

Margaret (Madge) Shelton and Mary Shelton (1510/15 – 1570/71)[1] were two sisters in Tudor England, one of whom may have been a mistress of King Henry VIII. Recent research has indicated that they were the same person.[2][3]

Family[edit]

Both Margaret and Mary were daughters of Sir John Shelton and his wife Anne, the sister of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, the father of King Henry VIII's second Queen consort, Anne Boleyn. Margaret and Mary were thus first cousins of the Queen.[4]

Mary Shelton (1510/15 – 1570/71) was the youngest of Sir John Shelton's daughters. She was an attendant of her cousin, Queen Anne Boleyn, who is said to have chided her "for writing 'ydill poesies' in her prayerbook".[5]

Mary was part of a social group which included the poets Sir Thomas Clere (d. 14 April 1545), Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and Thomas Wyatt,[6] with all of whom she was romantically linked. In an epitaph he composed at the death of Sir Thomas Clere, Surrey identified Mary as Clere's "beloved".[1] Mary's two closest friends were Lady Margaret Douglas, a niece of King Henry VIII, and Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, wife of the King's illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond.[2] Shelton was the main editor of and a main contributor to[2] the famous Devonshire MS, where members of their circle wrote poems they enjoyed or had composed.[2]

Her father was John Shelton (Born 1472 and died December 21, 1539), the son of Sir Ralph Shelton and Margaret Clere. He was a high sheriff in 1504, and knighted in 1509. Her siblings were; John, Ralph, Elizabeth, Anne, Gabriella, Emma, Thomas, Margaret and Amy Shelton (Mary was one of 10 children). She was married three times and had seven children. After the death of her fiance, Thomas Clere, she married, Anthony Heveningham of Ketteringham, her first cousin. She had seven children with Heveningham: Arthur, John, Abigail, Bridget, Elizabeth, Mary and Anne. Another son, Anthony, died on November 22, 1557. Mary's final marriage was to Phillip Appleyard.[7]

King's mistress[edit]

One of the Shelton sisters is believed to have been King Henry's mistress for a six-month period beginning in February 1535, according to statements about mistresses made by the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, who referred to Mistress Shelton.[8][9] According to biographer Antonia Fraser, this was Margaret Shelton.[10][11]

However recent research has suggested that it was Mary who was rumoured to be Henry's mistress, and was rumoured to have been selected to become his fourth wife. Supposedly, the confusion of earlier historians arose from the label "Marg Shelton", in which the "y" resembled a "g", a common confusion in sixteenth-century writing. Some historians, including the two who have full chapters on Mistress Shelton in their books, Paul G. Remley and Kelly Hart, argue that Margaret and Mary were the same person, and not two separate individuals.[2] In fact, Kelly Hart’s research has concluded that Mary was indeed the Shelton girl who was involved with King Henry VIII.[12]

Mary would have been a ‘lady-in-waiting’ to Anne, and although the two were cousins, according to Hart, “...this did not mean that their families were allies--not all Boleyns supported the queen...” [13] In point of fact, Queen Anne has been said to have been deeply in love with Henry and also very jealous of his attention to other women. Mary, known for having contributed greatly to the Devonshire MS, wrote many poems about love. Queen Anne was especially jealous that Mary could have been writing love poems about her husband, the King.[14] To make matters worse, Mary has been described as a young girl of great beauty[15] and talent, and her friends at court were a great influence on her, most of them also being highly literate.[16]

According to Heale, "Rumour twice linked Mary amorously with Henry VIII".[1] This other rumour, that Margaret or Mary Shelton might become Henry's wife in 1538, appears in one of the Lisle Letters.[17]

Because there is still some speculation as to when Mary was born, it is believed that she could have been as young as fifteen when she began her affair with King Henry VIII.[12] Their affair together was short-lived, only lasting about six months. Mary seemed to have been very accepting of the situation with the king, and did not press him to give her land, money, or a title.[14] Surprisingly, Mary was engaged to a Henry Norris during the time of her romance with the king. Her engagement to Norris was broken off when her father died at the age of sixty-two and left his family with financial troubles.[18] As a result, Mary went away to a convent.[18] After returning home, Mary became engaged to Thomas Clere the poet. However, he died soon after their engagement, leaving Mary his lands in his will.[18]

By 1546 Mary had married her cousin[2] Sir Anthony Heveningham (1507–1557).[1] by whom she had five children, including Arthur Heveningham, and her youngest daughter, Abigail (wife of Sir George Digby of Coleshill, Warwickshire), who was in attendance on Queen Elizabeth in 1588.[1] Interestingly enough Kelly Hart writes, "...through Arthur, Mary is thought to be an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales." [18]

In 1546 there was suspicion of conspiracy between Mary and Surrey, which was noted for investigation by the Privy Council.[1]

Mary married Philip Appleyard (b. c.1528) in 1558.[1]

She was buried in Heveningham church, Suffolk, on 8 January 1571.[1] A probable portrait of Mary by Hans Holbein is in the collection at Windsor Castle.[1]

Mary Shelton is one of the main subjects of The Mistresses of Henry VIII by Kelly Hart, and Rethinking the Henrician Era: Essays on Early Tudor Texts and Contexts by Paul G. Remley.

Involvement in the Devonshire Manuscript[edit]

Circulation and Mary's Possession of the MS[edit]

It is clear that the Devonshire MS passed through many hands during its circulation in the 1520s and 1530s. A few months after the confinement of Margaret Douglas and Thomas Howard for an impolitic affair in 1536, the MS was passed to Mary Shelton for the first time, where it is likely she added poems and allowed others to add poems to folios 22-50.[19] The MS returned to Mary Shelton (and Mary Fitzroy) in 1539, with the return of Mary Fitzroy to the Court. During this time, at Kenninghall, Mary Shelton is believed to have largely completed the manuscript with the addition of many Medieval fragments in folios 88-92.[19]

Authorship Ambiguity[edit]

Of the roughly 184 poems included in the collection, 80 have not been attributed to a definitive author. The majority of poems are ascribed to Thomas Wyatt. Others are attributed to Chaucer and other Medieval poets, and still others are assumed to have been created by Mary Shelton’s contemporaries, including Edmund Knyvet, Thomas Howard, and Henry Stuart, along with some ambiguous notations of “A.I.” and “Jon K.” as well as “Ann,” which may refer to Anne Boleyn.[19]

Although there is much debate and ambiguity surrounding the manuscript, Shelton is argued by scholars to be the main contributor and editor of the document.[19] Margaret Douglas is sometimes also credited with this.[20]

The 'Courtly Love Lyric'[edit]

Women and the Court[edit]

Mary Shelton, as a part of the Court of Anne Boleyn, was subject to a culture of fine lines of social acceptability. Tudor culture expected a level of both amorous and conservative behavior from women. As Ann Jones assesses, a woman was encouraged "to be a member of the chorus prompting men to bravery in tournaments and eloquence in conversation; she was expected to be a witty and informed participant in dialogues whose subject was most often love.[21]

The poetry of the time reflected this. In Tudor Court, poems, like the ones ascribed in the Devonshire MS, were an integral part of social interaction, exchanged between members “perhaps for songs, perhaps for rumor and the innuendo of gossip.[20]

'Ydill Poesies'[edit]

Along with the poetry she 'lifted' from medieval poets, Mary is thought to have added few original poems to the Manuscript. What is thought to be Mary Shelton’s handwriting has been identified in the following folios of the manuscript: 3, 22, 26-29, 30, 40-44, 55, 58-60, 61-62, 65, 67-68, 88, 89-90, 91-92.[19] An "unsentimental, plain-speaking[20] " tone is often associated with her contributions.

Folios 6 and 7 of the document include the poem 'Suffryng in sorow in hope to attayn,' a poem about a despondent lover who cannot figure out her lover's pain. Above the poem in the folios, Margaret Douglas expresses her disappointment with it, saying 'forget thys,' but Mary Shelton, in her handwriting below Douglas', asserts the poem's worthiness: 'yt ys worhy.' This poem is usually ascribed to Mary Shelton because the first letters of the first seven stanzas spell out "SHELTVN"[20]

There are a number of poems in the collection that are written from a woman's point of view, but it is unclear if the author is Shelton, or if, for that matter, the author is a woman at all.

In Fiction[edit]

She appears in The Lady in the Tower by Jean Plaidy.

The character of Madge Sheldon, played by Laura Jane Laughlin in the Showtime series The Tudors is loosely inspired by the two sisters.

Mary Shelton appears in the series of books "The Lady Grace Mysteries" as a maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth I.

She is the main character in "At the Mercy of the Queen" by Anne Clinard Barnhill.

Is called Margaret Shelton in Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl as a mistress of King Henry VIII in the summer of 1524 when Mary Boleyn is away from court at Hever Castle with her and Henry's daughter, Catherine Carey, and is later a minor character at the end of the book from 1533-1536 when she comes to court as Madge Shelton (possibly a younger sister or cousin to Margaret) where the king has a brief affair with her through 1534-1535 before his affair with Jane Seymour. She tells Mary Boleyn that she had a fling with Henry Norris (a courtier who by some accounts actually married Madge in the mid-1530s before his execution for being a supposed lover of Anne Boleyn, along with various other men at court) and wanted desperately to kiss him, and was afraid for Mary because of all the suspicion against Anne Boleyn, Mary's younger sister and Madge's cousin. She asks Mary if she can leave court and go somewhere safe with her, but Mary explains that she has her husband, William Stafford, her son, Henry Carey, her daughter, Catherine Carey, who is in the Tower of London with Anne, and her younger daughter, also called Anne, to worry about. Mary tells Madge to go stay with the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Heale 2004.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Hart, The Mistresses of Henry VIII by Kelly Hart pp 120-128
  3. ^ Rethinking the Henrician Era: Essays on Early Tudor Texts and Contexts by Paul G. Remley
  4. ^ Richardson 2004, p. 179; Weir 1991, p. 277.
  5. ^ Herman 1994, p. 65; Heale 2004.
  6. ^ Herman 1994, p. 40.
  7. ^ Castelli, Jorge H. "Shelton Family." Tudorplace.com. Jorge Castelli, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2013.
  8. ^ Kelly Hart, The Mistresses of Henry VIII, The History Press, 2009
  9. ^ CSP Spanish, V, pt.2, p.126
  10. ^ Weir 1991, p. 277.
  11. ^ Antonia Fraser The Six Wives of Henry VIII
  12. ^ a b "Hart p.121"
  13. ^ "Hart p.122"
  14. ^ a b "Hart p.124"
  15. ^ "Hart p.123"
  16. ^ "Hart p.125"
  17. ^ Remley 1994.
  18. ^ a b c d "Hart p.128"
  19. ^ a b c d e Southall, Raymond (May 1964). "The Devonshire Manuscript of Early Tudor Poetry, 1532-41". The Review of English Studies 15 (58): 142, 146. doi:10.1093/res/xv.58.142. 
  20. ^ a b c d Heale, Elizabeth (April 1995). "Women and the Courtly Love Lyric". Modern Language Review 90 (2). 
  21. ^ Jones, Ann Rosalind (1987). Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse, ed. The Ideology of Conduct: Essays on Literature and the History of Sexuality. New York and London: Methuen. pp. 39–72. 

References[edit]

  • The Other Boleyn Girl

|Gregory |Philippa |Three River's Press |London |2001

See also[edit]