There is a curious poem, written at some point between 1553 and 1555, about eight ladies who served Mary I. The poem is signed R.E., leading to its attribution to the poet Richard Edwardes. Not a lot is known about Richard; he was born on the 25th March, 1525 and died on the 31st October, 1566, and served as a musician in the courts of both Mary and Elizabeth. There were rumours that he was an illegitimate son of Henry VIII; however, there is very little to go on, and the claim is generally not taken seriously. Edwardes was known for composing music, plays, and of course, poetry.
My fancy fawned on me, somewhat of you to say,
Good ladies all, accept my will, This thing I only pray.
Howard is not haughty, but of such smiling cheer,
That would allure each gentle heart Her love to hold full dear.
Dacres is not dangerous, her talk is nothing coy,
Her noble stature may compare with Hector’s wife of Troy.
Baynam is as beautiful as nature can devise,
Steadfastness possess her heart And chastity her eyes.
Arundel is ancient, in these her tender years,
In heart, in voice, in talk, in deeds, a matron’s wit appears.
Dormer is a darling, of such a lively hue
That whoso feeds his eyes on her, may soon her beauty view.
Mansell is a merry one, and is right worthy love,
Whom nature wrought so featously her cunning for to prove.
Cooke is comely, and thereto in books sets all her care,
In learning with the Roman dames, of right she may compare.
Bridges is a blessed wight, and prays with heart a voice,
Which from her cradle has been taught in virtue to rejoice.
These eight now serve one noble queen, but if power were in me,
For beauty’s praise and virtue’s sake, each one a queen should be.
Professor Ros King calls the poem a ‘courtly compliment…based on a rhetorical exercise of finding a flattering but sometimes teasing adjective to alliterate each lady’s name.’ The ladies chosen all held positions in Mary’s court; however, some of the identifications are not certain, due to multiple women at court having the same name. However, based upon inferences which can be drawn from the dating and contents of the letter, the most likely list of women described is:
A Mary Howard, either the wife or daughter of William Howard, who rose to favour for his role in suppressing the Wyatt Rebellion.
Magdalene Dacre, 1538-1608, maid of honour to Mary.
Frances Baynam, one of Mary’s long-time attendants, since at least 1538.
Mary Fitzalan, daughter of the Earl of Arundel, who died in 1555.
Jane Dormer, 1538-1612, one of Mary’s favourite confidants.
Cicely Mansell, who served a young Princess Mary in 1525, and was listed as attending Mary’s coronation.
A daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, probably Margaret, who was granted a life interest in land by Queen Mary upon her marriage in 1558.
Katherine Bridges, a gentlewoman who was granted a very generous swathe of lands and manors upon her marriage in 1555.
Top image: Portrait of Mary I by Antonis Mor, c.1554