Sunday, 18 August 2013

Joan Vaux, the governess who impressed Erasmus

Joan Vaux was born in 1463 to Sir William Vaux (d.1471) and his French wife Katherine Penyston (1440-1509). Joan was a life long courtier and would be present to see all of the great events that took place during her lifetime under Tudor rule, also she was beloved by the royal family despite her being only the daughter of a knight.
Joan's mother Katherine had been an ever faithful lady in waiting to the former queen Margaret of Anjou and travelled with her, Katherine's life was to span the reign of six different kings of England. Joan and her brother Nicholas (b.1460) spent their childhood in the household of Margaret Beaufort. Joan then came to court as a lady in waiting to Margaret Beaufort after the Battle of Bosworth, and then was later to serve Queen Elizabeth.
At the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1487 all three surviving members of the Vaux family are present; Nicholas being part of the celebrations in that he held the Queen's canopy over her litter during her journey to Westminster.
In 1489 Joan became the second wife of Sir Richard Guildford (1455-1506), a wedding which the King and Queen both attended which would have been a rare honour to have both monarchs present at the marriage of a knight.
The couple had one son; Sir Henry Guildford (1489-1532) who became Master of the Horse and married twice but had no children by either wife. Sir Henry was knighted twice, once by King Henry VIII but firstly he was knighted in 1511 by the King of Aragon for his military involvement - this honour led to his life long loyalty to Queen Catherine of Aragon. He attended upon the king at the 1520 Field of the Cloth of Gold and was later an ambassador in 1529 when he accompanied Cardinal Wolsey in his journey through France. His loyalty to Queen Catherine meant that he was outspoken in his disapproval of the Royal divorce and of Anne Boleyn; Anne demanded he be deprived of his post as comptroller yet instead he declared he would resign instead, however he remained in his post until his death as King Henry valued his loyalty and refused to accept his resignation. During the divorce proceedings he was called as a witness along with his mother however he refused to testify as he was only a child at the time and could be of no help - his real reason may have been that he would remain loyal to Queen Catherine and her position as the king's lawful wife. Sir Henry died in 1532.
Sir Henry Guildford, by Hans Holbein, 1526
By 1499, Joan was installed as the Lady Governess to the royal children; Princesses Margaret and Mary in particular. Princess Mary became very close to Joan and relied upon her a great deal.
Erasmus visiting the royal children at Greenwich 1499 (Margaret, Henry, Mary and Edmund in the arms of a nanny)
The philosopher Erasmus visited England in the summer of 1599, and during this time paid a visit to the royal children (Margaret, Henry, Mary, Edmund) with his friend and fellow humanist Thomas More where he met and conversed with Joan. He was so impressed with her that even many years later on the 15th May 1519, Erasmus wrote a letter to Joan's son Henry addressing her as 'the noble lady your mother' and wishing her well in life. For such a great man, who had met so many people during his travels, for him to remember this governess so many years later is a credit to her and an honour as she must have made quite an impression upon him.
"My warmest good wishes to the noble lady, your mother, whose acquaintance I owe to several conversations." Letter from Erasmus to Henry Guildford, 15 May 1519, Antwerp.*

In 1501 Joan waited upon Queen Elizabeth during the arrival of Infanta Catalina de Aragon (the future Queen Catherine of Aragon). Before the marriage of Catalina and Prince Arthur took place, Joan was reported to have partnered Prince Arthur in a traditional Spanish dance performed in the English style, which she danced 'right pleasurably and honourably'.
Joan's husband Sir Richard died in 1506 whilst on pilgrimage in Jerusalem. At the time of his death Sir Richard was heavily in debt as a result of his dismissal as comptroller of the king's household due to his poor management of money, after which he spent six months in the Fleet before being released by the king's order; his pardon came just before he left England on his pilgrimage. Joan later remarried to a man named Anthony Poyntz (1480-1533).
In 1506 Joan joined the household of Margaret Beaufort once again until the lady's death in 1509, at this time Joan herself retired from court life. Joan moved to a house in Blackfriars, London where she was living on a small pension.In 1510 she inherited a life interest in a house from Sir Thomas Brandon, however she later leased the house back to Sir Thomas' heir, Charles Brandon.

In 1514 Joan was reunited with her former charge when she accompanied Princess Mary to France as the mistress to her maids of honour, for her wedding to the king of France. After the wedding, King Louis sent most of Mary's English attendants back home to England, and Joan was among these. However, Mary was upset at the loss of her 'Mother Guildford' and demanded her return. On the 12th October 1514 Mary wrote to Cardinal Wolsey that 'I have not yet seen in France any lady or gentleman so necessary for me as she is'. Cardinal Wolsey then proceeded to write to the King of France asking him to permit Joan to be returned to Mary's service; 'I have no doubt, Sire, that when you know her well,  you will find her a wise, honourable, and discreet lady'. However neither Mary nor Wolsey could change the French King's mind; Louis had taken a particular dislike to Joan as he felt she was ruling Mary and that her constant presence with Mary was preventing the king from being alone with his wife and creating a relationship between them. King Louis told the English ambassador that he did not wish that "when he would be merry with his wife to have any strange woman with her". Therefore, Joan returned to England.

It can be surmised that upon her return from France, Joan rejoined the court in the service of Queen Catherine. In 1515 and 1516 King Henry granted Joan two pensions which gave her a yearly income of £60. Furthur in 1519 she was granted an annual gift of a tun of duty free Gascon wine.
'Hen. VIII. on 23 Nov. in his sixth year, grants an annuity of 20l. during her life, for her services to his father, mother, the Queens of France and Scotland, his sisters, and to himself; and 7 Hen. VIII. she had an aditional annuity of 40l. payable for her life, out of the issues of the county and honour of Richmond'.**

When King Henry VIII was divorcing his wife Catherine of Aragon, he called into question the validity of the marriage between her and his brother Prince Arthur, to do this he recalled several of the former royal attendants who were witnesses at that time including Joan. Joan gave had to give a deposition on the issue of their marriage being consummated, to which she said that the young couple had spent their wedding night 'in together in the same bed', and that Queen Elizabeth had personally told Joan that Arthur and Catherine had lain together 'as man and wife all alone five or six nights after said marriage'. Joan's testimony played a key role in King Henry's ability ti be granted a divorce.

During these later years Joan received several New Years gifts from King Henry, including a garter with a gold buckle and pendant in 1532; this gift suggests that Joan was indeed back at the royal court in the service of Queen Catherine, how active she was in court life is hard to tell as there is little mention of her at court festivities perhaps due to her age.
In 1533 Joan's second husband Anthony died, and Joan retired to a prayer house in Bristol until this was closed down in 1536, when she returned to Blackfriars until her death on the 4th of September 1538. She was one of the last people to be buried at the Blackfriars convent before it's dissolution later that year. In her will, written only four days before her death, she left bequests to her cousin Sir William Penyston, her niece Bridget Walsh, her nephew Lord Vaux - to whom she left her book of French and a tapestry - and to Maud her fool. At her death, her money, jewels and all other possessions came to a total value of 12,000 marks.
Joan's nephew, Lord Thomas Vaux

*The Correspondence of Erasmus: Letters 842 to 992, 1518 to 1519, Volume 6
**The English Baronetage, Arthur Collins, 1741

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