Monday, September 5, 2016

For Sale: Rich Orphans - The Tudor Court Of Wards

by Barbara Kyle 
       

       In the late 1400s a young woman named Jonet Mychell was abducted. Her step-father, Richard Rous, wrote to the Chancellor of England asking for help. According to Rous, Jonet had been living with her uncle in London when some "evil disposed" people led by one Otis Trenwyth took her away so that "neither father nor mother, nor kin nor friend  that she had could come to her, nor know where she was." She was subsequently forced to marry against her will to "such a person that was to her great shame and heaviness."

       To modern eyes, the crime of a man abducting a young woman is a sexual one. But Tudor eyes saw things differently. The main dispute in Jonet Mychell's abduction was about wardship and marriage, and what those two things entailed, above all, was money. What concerned Tudor bureaucrats was the abduction of young women who were heirs to property.

Henry VII
 Abduction of heiresses was not uncommon. Certainly it occurred frequently enough to necessitate a statute passed in 1487 under Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch:  "An Act Against Taking Away of Women Against Their Will."  A stolen heiress meant lost revenues for the Crown.

The revenue stream went back for centuries. The wardship of minor heirs of any tenant-in-chief was one of the king's ancient feudal rights, a royal prerogative dating back to the feudal principle of seigneurial guardianship. It entitled the king to all the revenues of the deceased's estate (excluding lands allocated to his widow as dower) until the heir reached the age of majority: twenty-one for a male, fourteen for a female. The king generally sold the wardships to the highest bidder or granted them gratis to favoured courtiers as a reward for services.
       
        In other words, all orphans, male and female, who were heirs to significant property became wards of the king, who then sold the wardships. Gentlemen bid for these sought-after prizes, because control of a ward's income-generating lands and their marriage was a significant source of revenue. The guardian pocketed the rents and revenues of the ward's property until the young person came of age, at which time the guardian often married the ward to one of his own children.
Henry VIII
       
        When Henry VIII, the second Tudor monarch, came to the throne he fully exploited the royal right of wardships. Monarchy had to be a money-making business, and wardships provided an excellent way to replenish the royal treasury. Surveyors were appointed to search for potential royal wardships throughout the realm. Managing all of this was a Master of the King's Wards who supervised royal wardships and administered the lands and revenues of wards during the period of crown control, and sold those not to be retained. The revenues went into the king's private funds.
       
       In 1540 Henry VIII replaced the office of Master of the King's Wards with the Court of Wards, which assumed complete control of wards and the administration of their lands and the selling of the wardships. Eventually, the Court of Wards became one of the Tudor crown's most lucrative ministries. In the reign of Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch, the Court of Wards was supervised by Sir William Cecil (later Lord Burghley) who exerted enormous control over this court, keeping several lucrative and important wardships for himself.
      
       I became familiar with the situation of royal wardships when I wrote The Queen's Lady. My book features Sir Thomas More, Henry VIII's chancellor, who famously went to the execution block rather than swear the oath that Henry was supreme head of the church in England, a title Henry created in order to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.

Sir Thomas More
 Sir Thomas More had two wards, Anne Cresacre and Giles Heron. He brought them up in his household where they were educated alongside his children. Eventually Anne married More's son John, and Giles married More's daughter Cecily. The marriages seem to have been happy ones.

Sir Thomas More and Family

Anne Cresacre (sketch by Hans Holbien)
       
       Anne Cresacre's story inspired me to create another ward for Sir Thomas More: Honor Larke, the heroine of my novel The Queen's Lady. Honor grows up revering More and becomes a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon. Forced to take sides in the religious extremism of the day, Honor fights to save the church's victims from death at the stake, bringing her into conflict with her once-beloved guardian. She enlists Richard Thornleigh, a rogue sea captain, in her missions of mercy, and eventually risks her life to try to save Sir Thomas from the wrath of the King.

                         ____________________________________________

Barbara Kyle is the author of The Thornleigh Saga series:



Visit Barbara at www.barbarakyle.com.

Coming November 2016: 
Page-Turner
Your Path to Writing a Novel 
That Publishers Want and Readers Buy
 
 

       




17 comments:

  1. Thank you! Wish all legal history was explained so well.
    Charlotte Frost

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My pleasure, Charlotte. History is endlessly fascinating, isn't it?

      Delete
  2. That is fascinating and I didn't know much about wardship in Tudor times. I feel a little sorry for the poor orphaned rich kids now.

    Thanks for the interesting posting!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is so interesting--thanks! And what gorgeous covers your books have!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for your comments, Sophia and Heidi - and I'm delighted you like the book covers :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I had heard these terms tossed around before, "Master of the King's Wards" and "Court of Wards," but I never knew what they meant. Thanks for your well-researched and well-written explanation. It's fascinating. Gives new meaning to "poor little rich kid."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I so agree, Petrea. So many references to historical terms and institutions are obscure. It's a pleasure to give names and faces to the people involved, to make their flesh-and-blood hopes and fears come to life across the centuries. (Come to think of it, that's a novelist's job description!)

      Delete
  6. What a fascinating subject. My sister is an Elizabethan enthusiast but I've never heard this talked about before. Great post! :D

    ReplyDelete
  7. I really enjoyed this post. I had never really given wardship much thought in detail but I'm glad that I have learned something here. Finding this site has not only brought "new to me authors" my way but has given me a place to go to learn. I cannot seem to soak up enough history. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, Leah. Like you, I always enjoy learning something new on this site. Cheers!

      Delete
  8. Thank you for this post, which has helped me better understand the relationship between the Leighton family and John St John.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Frances, I'm delighted that this info has helped you with your research. Music to my ears :)

      Delete
  9. Elizabeth Gayle FellowsSeptember 22, 2012 at 8:51 PM

    Thank you Barbara. Great clarification on Wards in the Tudor times. It is sometimes hard for us to comprehend what it must have been like for children under royal wardships. It makes us look and think about the Tudor times with better understanding.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So true, Elizabeth. Thanks for your thoughts - I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

      Delete
  10. Fascinating. Follow the money...or Kingdom! This so reminds me of Lady Jane Grey's story....and how she was made to marry John Dudley,Duke of Northumberland's younger son. Thanks for posting!

    ReplyDelete
  11. You're so right about Jane, Anne. Thanks for your comment!

    ReplyDelete