Sunday, 12 October 2014

Thomas More's adopted daughter

Margaret 'Mercy' Giggs (1508-70) was born the daughter of Thomas Giggs, from Burnham in Norfolk and his wife Olive (Alice) Hoo. Thomas Giggs was the servant of a London Merchant who, with his wife, lived on the same road as Thomas More and his wife Joanna Colt in Cheapside, London. Due to Olive giving birth to her daughter Margaret Giggs so soon before the birth of Margaret 'Meg' More, Olive became wet nurse to the More's new baby. Shortly after Margaret More had reached the age of no longer needing a wet nurse, in 1510, Olive Giggs died. Her father Thomas Giggs, due to his employment, was often away from home travelling abroad. Therefore it was decided that the young Margaret would be taken in by the More family and raised by them as their adoptive child. However, there were no official documents making Margaret a legal child or a Ward of the Mores.

Margaret Giggs was 'as dear as though she were a daughter' to Thomas More, who raised her with his children as own of his own. Due to them being the same age, and Olive Giggs having cared for both girls as babies, Margaret Giggs and Margaret More became the closest of friends. She was called Margaret More's 'cognata'; meaning sharing a relationship by birth. Margaret Giggs was present at the execution of Thomas More, and along with her sister Margaret Roper she buried him in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Margaret kept the blood-stained shirt that Thomas More had died in, giving a portion of it to Margaret Roper's maid Dorothy Harris, nee Colley.

Margaret was particularly skilled at Mathematics, and in Thomas More's last letter to her he enclosed her algorism stone which he had taken with him to the Tower. Like her husband, Margaret was also highly skilled in medical lore, which she had received lessons in; when Thomas More was sick with tertian fever and his doctors had given him up for dead, Margaret managed to cure him.

Evidence of Margaret's care and medical knowledge can be seen in an event which occurred as a consequence of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. In order to suppress the London Carthusians as part of the wider suppression of all monasteries in England at that time, two of its members, John Rochester and James Waiworth, had already been executed and in May 1537 ten more of its members were imprisoned in Newgate prison. None of these ten men had been involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and they were never tried, but left in the prison to starve to death. The ten comprised of three priests - Richard Bere, Thomas Johnson, Thomas Green - and one deacon named John Davy, as well as six laybrothers; William Greenwood, Thomas Scryven, Robert Salt, Walter Pierson, Thomas Redyng and William Horn. The men had been chained to tightly that they could not move to feed themselves or help themselves in any way. Margaret heard about the conditions that her fellow Catholics were being kept it, and after bribing the gaoler, she disguised herself as a milkmaid and went to attend upon the imprisoned men. The milk pail she carried with her was filled with food which she fed the men with her own hands. As a result of her care, the men were not dying as quickly as the authorities thought they would and an investigation was made. It appears that it was discovered that Margaret, or at least a woman, was visiting them and helping them to survive. Margaret was forced to stop her visits, however she made one final attempt to help them by trying to enter their cell from the roof, but this was proved useless. Between June and September nine of the Carthusians had died from starvation. The tenth survivor was the laybrother William Horn, who lived until 1540 at which time he was tried, sentenced to death and hanged at Tyburn.

Margaret married Dr John Clement (1500-72), who had previously been tutor to the children of Thomas More from 1515-8. Clement was a Doctor of Medicine as well as a skilled scholar of Greek and Latin. He had travelled with Thomas More on his embassy in 1515 to Bruges and Antwerp. In the 1520's he changed his career path and went to Italy to study medicine, on his way there visiting Belgium and meeting Erasmus. He graduated from the University of Siena with his medical degree in 1525. In his role as doctor he attended to Cardinal Wolsey in 1529, and later to Bishop Fisher in 1535. Some theorists suggest that due to John Clement's unknown origins and a number of hints left in paintings and letters, he is in fact living under an assumed name and in truth is Prince Richard, Duke of York, one of the Princes in the Tower.

Margaret and John married about 1526, about the time that Clement joined the royal household as a physician to the king. After their marriage they went to live at The Barge, which was leased in the names of Thomas More and his wife Alice. The Clements remained at that address even after 1542 when Thomas More's property was confiscated. In 1544 John became President of the College of Physicians.
Following the example of her own childhood, Margaret ensured that all of her children were educated; in particular they were taught Latin and Greek.
The children of Margaret and John were;
+ Thomas
Thomas attended Louvain University in 1547 for his Bachelors, then again in 1563 for his Masters degree.
+ Margaret (1539-1612)
Margaret joined St Ursula's convent in Louvain in 1557 and became Prioress after only being there a short while, and remained so for over forty years until her retirement in 1605 due to blindness.
+ Dorothy (b.1532)
Dorothy was a Poor Clare in Louvain.
+ Bridget m. Robert Redman
Bridget's son John Redman was a Catholic priest who was involved with the printing of Richard Smith's books.
+ Helen m. Thomas Prideaux
+ Winifred (1527-53) m.1544 William Rastell (1508-65)
William Rastell had been a printer, but had given this up and trained to be a lawyer at Lincoln's Inn, taking the bar in 1539. Rastell was Thomas More's nephew, being the son of his sister Elizabeth More, and he printed More's written works, and those of his family.
+ Caeser
Caeser became Dean of St Gudula's in Brussels.

As a well known Catholic family, the Mores and Clements were targets of persecution during the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I. At the same time as his father-in-law Thomas More's imprisonment in the Tower, John was imprisoned in The Fleet, for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy.
The Clement family left England in 1549 as Catholic exiles and did not return until 1554, after Mary Tudor became Queen. John left in July 1549, with Margaret and the children following in October. Winifred and her husband William followed in December. The family settled in Louvain. When news of their departure reached the court, their home The Barge was confiscated by the king. The loss of their house also meant the loss of John's extensive library containing 180 books. Winifred died of a fever in July 1553 just four days after the death of King Edward VI, so William returned to England alone as the couple had no children together. William became a judge of the Queen's Bench in 1558. The Clements left England again in 1562 due to further restrictions on Catholic worship, and settled in Louvain. In 1568 they moved from Louvain to Mechlin. John, his son Thomas and William Rastell matriculated at Louvain University in 1563. William Rastell died in Louvain in 1565, and was buried in the same chapel as his wife.

Margaret Clement died on the 6th July 1570, on the thirty fifth anniversary of the execution of her adoptive father Thomas More, in Mechlin. Her husband John died two years later and the couple were buried behind the altar in St Rumbold's Church.

The circumstances of Margaret Giggs' death, as recorded by her daughter Margaret;
But the time had now come that God had appointed to reward her for her good works done to the Fathers of the Charterhouse. He visited her with an ague which held her nine or ten days, and having brought her very low and in danger, she received all the sacraments with great devotion, and being desirous to give her blessing to all her children who were all present except her Religious daughters and one more that remained at Bruges with her husband, she caused her to be sent for in all haste. Wednesday being now come, which was the last day before she died, and asking if her daughter were come, and being told no, but that they looked for her every hour, she made answer that she would stay no longer for her, and calling her husband she told him that the time of her departing was now come, and she might stay no longer, for there were standing about her bed the Reverend Fathers, Monks of Charterhouse, whom she had relieved in prison in England and did call upon her to come away with them, and that therefore she could stay no longer, because they did expect her, which seemed strange talk unto him. Doubting that she might speak idly by reason of her sickness, he called unto her ghostly Father, a Reverend Father of the Franciscans living in Mechlin, to examine and talk with her, to whom she constantly made answer that she was in no way beside herself, but declared that she still had the sight of the Charterhouse monks before her, standing about her bedside and inviting her to come away with them, as she had told her husband. At the which they were all astonished. 

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