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Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle, KG (died 3 March 1542) was an illegitimate son of King Edward IV of England, and an important figure at the court of Henry VIII. The survival of a large collection of his letters make him in some ways one of the best-known people of his time.

He was born in Calaismarker then an English possession in Francemarker, between 1461 and 1475, and died at the Tower of Londonmarker, where he is buried. The identity of his mother is uncertain; the most likely candidate appears to be the "wanton wench" Elizabeth Wayte, although the historical record is spotty on this issue, and it is not entirely clear that Wayte is distinct from another of Edward's mistresses, Dame Elizabeth Lucy. Dame Lucy is another possible candidate, as is Jane Shore. His godfather was William FitzAlan, 16th Earl of Arundel.

Arthur spent his childhood at the court of his father Edward IV. How he passed his youth after his father's death in 1483 is not known. In 1501 he joined the household of his half-sister, the queen consort Elizabeth of York, and moved to the household of Henry VII after her death in 1503. After the accession of his nephew Henry VIII (1509) he was formally designated an Esquire of the King's Bodyguard, and was a close companion of Henry's (despite the age difference).

In 1514 he was captain of the Vice-Admiral's ship "Trinity Sovereign", rising to become Vice-Admiral of England. In 1519 he and his wife took possession of the lands that had belonged to her father (her brother and niece having both died). In 1520, he attended his nephew, King Henry VIII, at the Field of Cloth of Gold. On 25 April 1523, Arthur was created Viscount Lisle. He was also to be selected Sheriff of Hampshire, Privy Councilor, Governor of Calais, and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and was named as deputy of Calais after the death of John Bourchier, 2nd Baron Berners, on 16 March 1533.

In 1540 several members of the Plantagenet household in Calais were arrested on suspicion of treason, on the charge of plotting to betray the town to the French. Suspicion unavoidably fell upon Arthur as well, and he was recalled to England and eventually arrested on 19 May 1540.

The actual conspirators were executed, but there was no evidence connecting Arthur with the plot. Nevertheless he languished in the Tower of Londonmarker for two years until the king decided to release him. However, upon receiving news that he was to be released Arthur suffered a heart attack and died two days later. The 18th-century historian Francis Sanford commented "[Henry VIII's] Mercy was as fatal as his Judgments".

During his time at Calais, Arthur and his wife had to manage much of their affairs outside Calais by correspondence. Copies of 3,000 of these letters were seized as evidence after Arthur was arrested. They survive to the present day in the Public Record Officemarker, and have become a valuable historical resource for a critical period in English history.

Marriages and Issue

On 12 November 1511 Arthur married Elizabeth Dudley (c. 1480-1525), daughter of Edward Grey, Viscount Lisle. She was the widow of Edmund Dudley, treasurer to Henry VII, who had been executed in 1510 by Henry VIII. The next day the king granted Arthur some of the Dudley estates which had come to the crown due to Edmund Dudley's attainder. Arthur and Elizabeth had three daughters:
  • Frances (born c. 1513)
  • Elizabeth (born c. 1514)
  • Bridget (born c. 1516)


Arthur's second marriage was in 1529 to Honor Grenville (1493-1566), the widow of Sir John Bassett, and daughter of Sir Thomas Grenville by his first wife, Isabella Gilbert. Arthur and Honor had no children, but he helped bring up her children, including Anne Bassett, an alleged mistress of Henry VIII, and Elizabeth Bassett. Honor was buried at Logan, Cornwallmarker, on 30 April 1566.

References

  • Muriel St. Clare Byrne, ed.: The Lisle Letters (University of Chicago Press, 1981) ISBN 0226088014
  • Muriel St. Clare Byrne, ed.: The Lisle Letters: An Abridgement (University of Chicago Press, 1983) ISBN ISBN 0226088006
  • Hugh Trevor-Roper, "The Lisle Letters", in Renaissance Essays (University of Chicago Press, 1899), ISBN 0226812278, pp. 76-95. (This is a reprint of the forward to Byrne's collection of the letters)


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