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The Life & Times of William Paulet
By Margaret Scard
The History PressCopyright © 2011 Margaret Scard
All rights reserved.
The Early years
The long procession moved slowly along the track towards the distant church tower. Above the banks on either side the first blackthorn blossom heralded the approach of spring and early primrose flowers nestled amongst the clumps of grass. The sun was shining but the earth was hard from recent frosts and the ice on the puddles in the cart ruts splintered beneath the walkers' feet. At the front of the procession thirty poor men, dressed in black gowns and walking two by two, were followed by a singing choir and priests, while stretching away into the distance behind them came a long line of over 100 knights, gentlemen and esquires all attired in black and riding two abreast. One rider held aloft an embroidered standard that fluttered overhead displaying the motto 'Love Loyalty' with a crest of a golden falcon, its wings outstretched and with a ducal coronet around its neck. Completing this first part of the procession rode three men, each carrying a white stick, the symbol of their offices as Comptroller, Treasurer and Steward in a great house.
The heart of the procession was led by five men riding on horses caparisoned with black cloth. The leader carried a large banner displaying a coat of arms of three black swords, points downwards and with gold hilts, set within an ermine border. The other four riders, all heralds, wore tabards embroidered with coats of arms and amongst them they carried a helmet and crest, a coat of arms, a sword and a shield. These men preceded an oak coffin draped in a black pall and carried aloft by pallbearers. It was a third of a mile to the village church from the palatial house where the procession had begun, too far for the six men who bore the coffin but they were accompanied by another six to take their places. Beside the coffin walked four men holding banners displaying the ancestral marriage alliances of the deceased and following behind rode the four sons of the dead man with other male relations and friends. Above the distant toll of the church bells they could just hear the sound of the choir of men and priests whose soft chanting drifted back to them and to the many knights, esquires and yeomen who walked at the rear of the procession. It was apparent to any onlooker that this funeral cortège was for a man of great importance.
As they approached the church some of the mourners talked of the life of the deceased. There was disagreement about his age. Some believed he was 87 while others said he was older, more than 100 – but all agreed that he was ancient. They spoke of his remarkable achievements, of how, born the son of a country gentleman, he died as the foremost noble in England, next in rank to Queen Elizabeth herself. They recounted how he had begun his career in royal service during the reign of the Queen's father, Henry VIII, and had maintained his place at Court to serve under three more monarchs – Edward VI, Mary and eventually Elizabeth. His contemporaries were all dead and he was the last of the men who had advised Henry VIII during the great events of that reign. The mourners marvelled that he had managed to survive the dangers of Court life, the factional struggles of ambitious men and the ever-changing religious demands of each monarch. Like a sturdy oak, William Paulet had weathered all the storms of Tudor rule.
* * *
The family background and upbringing of William Paulet, 1st Marquis of Winchester, were not extraordinary and did not mark him out for a brilliant career. Paulet inherited a family name that can be traced back to the reign of Henry II in the second half of the twelfth century. Hercules, Lord of Tournon in Picardy, had accompanied the King's third son, Geoffrey, to England and was granted land at Powlett in Somerset. Following the custom of the time he assumed the name of the place where he settled and became Hercules de Powlett. By the sixteenth century the most common usage was Paulet. Although Paulet's ancestors did not hold influential positions at Court they did manage to consolidate their position as gentry, largely by the acquisition of property through financially beneficial marriages. The first of these took place around 1320 between Sir John Powlett, sixth in descent from Hercules, and Elizabeth Reyney who inherited her father's considerable fortune. Sir John's grandson, William, brought further land into the family with his marriage to Eleanor de la Mare, who was heiress to her father's property at Nunney Castle in Somerset and Fisherton de la Mare in Wiltshire. Later their son, Sir John, inherited his father's properties in Somerset and Wiltshire together with those of his mother, and then substantially increased his fortune in 1427 by his marriage to Constance, the grand-daughter and co-heiress to Thomas Poynings, Lord St John of Basing.
Sir John Powlett and Constance Poynings were the great-grandparents of William Paulet, the future marquis. When their son John died in 1492 William's father, another Sir John, inherited an extensive portfolio of lands and property, which included his principal estate at Basing in north Hampshire, the manor of Fisherton de la Mare and several other manors in Hampshire, Wiltshire and Somerset. Sir John served as one of the King's army commanders at Blackheath in 1497, when the Cornish rebels were subdued, and in 1501 he was created a Knight of the Bath on the occasion of the marriage of Prince Arthur to Catherine of Aragon. He married his cousin, Alice, the daughter of Sir William Powlett of Hinton St George in Somerset, a family connection that was strengthened when his sister Margaret married Alice's brother Amias. Sir John and Alice had six children – four sons, William (the future 1st Marquis of Winchester), Thomas, George and Richard, and two daughters, Eleanor and Catherine. While William was rising to prominence at Court his siblings appear to have led ordinary lives. Only his brother George features briefly in William's story in an incident that resulted in George spending a short time in the Tower.
Revered as he was for his longevity, establishing the exact year of William Paulet's birth is almost impossible. Suggested dates of birth have been 1465, 1473, 1474, 1483 and 1484, meaning that Paulet could have been as much as 107 years old when he died. Prior to the middle of the sixteenth century written records of place and date of birth are very sparse and the only available documented evidence suggests 1484. An inquisition post mortem (an inquiry to establish legal rights over land after a death) in January 1525 described Paulet as 40 years and more, placing his birth at 1484 or earlier. This date accords well with his grandfather's birth in 1428, his father's birth sometime before 1460 and his marriage by 1509. The only record of Paulet's place of birth (and the day) is found in a poem written as an encomium on the man's life and death. This tells us that 'At Fisherton, hight Dalamer, this subject true was borne' on Whitsun night, which in 1484 fell on 6 June. Paulet's family owned a manor at Fisherton de la Mare in Wiltshire, a hamlet ten miles north-west of Salisbury on the River Wylye. Paulet's grandfather, John, died in possession of the manor in 1492 and it is entirely feasible that William Paulet's parents could have been at the manor at the time of his birth and may indeed have used the manor as their home.Therefore Paulet was at least 87 when he died in March 1572. Any earlier date supposes that Paulet's father was rather young when his son was born and Paulet rather old when he married.
There is no record of Paulet's childhood but it is probable that in common with other children of the time he was baptised soon after birth. Due to a high infant mortality rate, many babies were presented for baptism within days of being born because of the belief that only those who were baptised could enter heaven. Members of church congregations were encouraged to memorise the baptism service so they could recite the prayers and baptise a newborn infant who might not survive long enough to be attended by a priest. Godparents were chosen with care to enlarge the family's social network and to provide opportunities for the future advancement of the child.
* * *
For the three days since his birth, the infant had been cocooned within a warm stuffy chamber; now he was being carried by his godmother to his baptism. His two godfathers and his relatives, together with family friends and neighbours, had all come to witness this important event. The only people missing were the baby's parents who had remained within the manor. They had no part in the ceremony since the godparents would speak on behalf of the child.
The party came to the door of the church and waited until the priest came out to them – before the baby could be taken into the church he must be exorcised of all evil. The priest asked the name of the child – 'William' replied the godparents – and whether he had already been baptised, to which his godmother answered 'no'. She moved to stand on the right-hand side of the priest (she would have stood upon the left side if the baby was a girl) who began to perform a series of ceremonies to purify the young William Paulet. He made the sign of the cross on the baby's forehead and breast to free him from the power of Satan. The priest recited prayers over him and then placed a small trace of salt on his tongue. The salt was to be the 'salvation of body and soul', purifying his body and driving out the devil. The priest read a passage from the Gospels in Latin, and then those who were able joined him in reciting the Lord's Prayer and the Creed. After he had made the sign of the cross on the infant's right hand the priest led the baby with his godmother into the church by that hand while the rest of the party followed behind.
They gathered around the font where, in answer to questions from the priest, the godparents renounced the devil and affirmed their belief in Christ, and were then admonished that they should ensure that their godchild was brought up to lead a virtuous and Christian life. The priest took the child and after asking the baby's name again he dipped the child's head into the cold water in the font. Three times he lowered the baby, each time with the child's face turned to a different direction, while he recited: 'William, I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost'. He raised the child up and passed him back to his godmother then, taking a small jar containing chrism, a mixture of oil and balm, he dipped his finger into the liquid and marked the sign of the cross on the child's head. William was baptised, he was a member of the Catholic Church and, as a token of his innocence, was wrapped in a white linen chrisom cloth. Finally, taking the lighted candle which stood on the edge of the font, the priest placed it within the child's open hand before passing it to one of William's godfathers. The ceremony was finished and the group thanked the priest and moved out into the sunlight.
The formal part of the day was over and now the christening party could look forward to the feasting and drinking that awaited them back at the manor. William's father was at the door waiting for them. The three godparents went upstairs to take William to his mother and to congratulate her on the birth of her son. Alice was sitting in bed and took the baby who was starting to fret. She removed the chrisom cloth and cuddled him but when he began to cry she passed him to the wet-nurse who waited by her side. The wet-nurse had been carefully chosen. She came from a good local family and led a clean and sober life, important factors because it was thought that some of her characteristics might flow into the baby during breast feeding. The nurse carried William into her small chamber next door and sat feeding him. When he was old enough to be weaned she would feed him sops of bread soaked in milk or water, perhaps with a little sugar, and when he was teething the leg of a chicken with most of the flesh cut off would serve as a dummy for him to chew upon.
At last he was finished and she laid him on her bed to change his nappy. She unwrapped the long linen cloth from around his body. The nurse was always careful not to swathe him too tightly. Although the binding would help William to grow with a straight spine and reduced the risk that he might break his legs by kicking too hard, the binding could crush his ribs if too tight and pull his spine out of alignment, leading to a mis-shapen back and shoulders. She removed the wet napkin, replaced it with a clean one and took the swaddling cloth. It was about six inches wide and ten feet long. Starting at William's shoulders she wound the cloth around his body, wrapping his arms to his side, and down to his feet until he was a neat little bundle, easy to carry – he could even be hung on a hook out of harm's way. With his head protruding from the top he resembled an insect emerging from a chrysalis. As the summer weather got hotter she might leave his arms free from the bands, beginning the swaddling at his armpits, so that he was a little cooler. She lifted up the baby and going back to Alice's room placed the little bundle in the cradle, a decorated wooden box on wooden rockers, and tied strings across the top so that he could not fall out while being rocked. The godparents were taking their leave of Alice. The merrymaking to celebrate the birth of John Paulet's first son and heir had begun down below and they were keen to join the other guests.
* * *
After six months the swaddling bands were removed from the baby and the young Paulet was dressed in the unisex attire for boys and girls. This comprised full- length bell-shaped skirts or petticoats, with a top possibly styled as a doublet, all worn over a shift. Young children sometimes wore a 'black pudding', a narrow padded ring of black silk or satin that was tied horizontally around the head, to protect them in case of a fall. At the age of six Paulet was ready to be 'breeched', a proud family occasion on which he first wore hose and breeches. From then on he ceased to wear children's clothes – except perhaps for play when he might have worn a smock over loose trousers – and instead would have worn garments that were smaller versions of men's clothes. The style during the reign of Henry VII was for linen or flannel drawers under hose similar to tights, with a shirt and a top garment of a doublet, like a close-fitting jacket that reached only to the waist. For extra warmth a gown was added, which could be either short or to the floor. Shoes were flat with a wide, round-toed shape.
Childhood was short. Children were dressed to look like adults and were encouraged to grow up quickly in a world where infant mortality was high. Young boys were cared for and educated by the women in the household but after a few years they started to move into the world of men. In 1543 the future monarch Prince Edward was moved to his own suite of rooms at Hampton Court at the tender age of six; the women of his household were dismissed and a household of gentlemen and tutors appointed. Children were taught to be well-mannered and polite and to be respectful towards others. It was important to understand who had precedence over whom. The young Paulet would have learned which people were above his parents in society and those who were below.
By the time of Henry VIII's reign the government of England and the management of the Royal Court employed the services of a decreasing number of clerics and nobles and an increasing number of officials with an academic education. This provided an opportunity for young educated men who might not previously have gained a place at Court to seek a position, usually through a sponsor. To this end the young William Paulet would have been taught all those skills and attributes that were considered essential for a young Tudor gentleman and which would enable him to socialise with and impress those people who were ranked above him in society.
Although some courtiers received little academic education – in 1550 the Imperial ambassador commented that Sir William Herbert, the Master of the Horse, could speak only English and could neither read nor write – Paulet's impressive administrative skills were only made possible by his good education. This would have begun at the age of seven or eight when attendance at school generally commenced. While most girls continued to be educated by their mothers, it was usual for boys to start attending lessons either at home with a tutor or in a school run by a priest or at a grammar school, so-called because its primary purpose was to teach Latin grammar. Latin was an essential part of an ambitious schoolboy's education. It was the language of church services and of written law and was used by clerks for official documents and accounts. It was even useful as a common conversational language. In 1533 the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, during a discussion with several councillors including Paulet was asked to speak in Latin as the councillors did not all understand French.
Boys' earlier instruction in social and musical skills continued but was supplemented by the teaching of French, arithmetic, geometry, scripture and handwriting. Much of the teaching was oral and in some subjects the emphasis was on learning by rote. For those at school the day was very long and the boys attended six days a week. The day began at 6am with prayers, and lessons continued until 11am or noon, with a short break for breakfast at around 9am. After a midday meal and recreation, studies resumed and continued until 5 or 6pm. Holidays were short but the children usually celebrated the many church festivals and saints' days with a day off. On St Nicholas' Day many great churches chose a 'boy-bishop' from amongst the choristers to preside over the service and to give a sermon. The local schoolchildren were encouraged to attend this service and one can imagine their delight to see one of their own as 'chief cleric'. Shrove Tuesday was another holiday when the boys were spared lessons and allowed to spend the day in ball games and cockfighting.
Excerpted from Tudor Survivor by Margaret Scard. Copyright © 2011 Margaret Scard. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
Chronology of the Life of William Paulet and Wider Events,
1 The Early Years,
2 Growing Influence in Hampshire,
3 Master of the King's Wards and the Royal Divorce,
4 Comptroller of the King's Household and the Act of Supremacy,
5 The Dissolution of the Monasteries and the Pilgrimage of Grace,
6 Treasurer of the Household and the Fall of Cromwell,
7 Privy Councillor and Lord Chamberlain,
8 The Siege of Boulogne and Lord Great Master,
9 Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and the Fall of the Seymours,
10 Lord High Treasurer and Marquis of Winchester,
11 The Death of Edward and the Disputed Succession,
12 Matters of Finance and the Return of Catholicism,
13 The King of Spain and War with France,
14 A New Queen and the Restructuring of the Exchequer,
15 An Oak, not a Willow,
Paulet Family c.1340–1572,