Today, we have a guest article by Anne Boleyn Files visitor and author Anne Clinard Barnhill. Many of you will know Anne from her comments, her posts in the forum and also from The Anne Boleyn Fellowship. I want to take this opportunity to thank Anne for the support and encouragement she’s given me in running The Anne Boleyn Files and to also congratulate her as today sees the release of her first historical novel “At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn”, which I have just reviewed over on our Review website – see At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn

Lady Margaret Shelton or “Pretty Madge” as she was known at court

Lady Margaret Shelton was one of ten children born to Sir John and Lady Anne (Boleyn) Shelton, according to In Z.F.Shelton’s family history, The Sheltons, only nine children are listed.

The date of Lady Margaret’s birth is unknown, but is stated as coming sometime after 1501. We know her mother, Lady Anne, was 21 when she married Sir John in 1497 and we know one of her last children born, Thomas, was born in 1520 when Lady Anne was 44. We can only guess which year Margaret was born. It is thought she was older than her sister, Mary, with whom she is often confused.

Though we do not know the exact date of her birth, we do know when her first cousin, Anne Boleyn, was crowned queen, Lady Margaret was at court to serve as lady-in-waiting. In the family history book, there is a note by her name which says, “Madge was attendant at the Court of her cousin Queen Anne Boleyn and was instructed by her to distract the attention of King Henry VIII when he was making love to Jane Seymour.” Of course, we have no way of knowing whether Anne Boleyn instructed Margaret or not. But we do know that for a brief period of about six months, Pretty Madge had the king’s attention. Was their affair merely a play on courtly love? Or was it consummated? Again, we will never know for sure.

We know Lady Margaret was an attractive young woman. Besides her nickname, Pretty Madge, we have other descriptions of her. In David Starkey’s The Queens of Henry VIII, he writes that John Hutten, the English agent in the Netherlands, told Henry that Anne of Cleves, the woman he was considering for a wife was, indeed, beautiful and she ‘resembleth much one Mistress Shelton, that sometime waited in Court upon Queen Anne (Boleyn).” Hutten also said Anne of Cleves “excelleth” Christina of Denmark in beauty, “as the golden sun excelleth the silvern moon.”

Antonia Fraser, in her book, The Wives of Henry VIII, says “Madge Shelton must have been extremely appealing; a few years later when the noted beauty Duchess Christina of Milan was being investigated as a possible royal bride, it was declared in the Duchess’ favor that she ‘resembleth much one Mistress Shelton, late of the queen’s chamber, who had dimples–‘pits’-in her cheeks, and was ‘very gentle of countenance’ and ‘soft of speech.'”

We also know that Lady Margaret attracted the attentions of several courtiers besides the king himself. Two of the incriminating speeches Cromwell used against Anne Boleyn were in regard to ‘Pretty Madge.’ The first, an argument of some sort with Henry Norris, Groom of the Stool, has Anne egging Norris on to marry Madge, to whom he was betrothed. He says, “I would tarry a while longer.” No one knows why this put Anne into a rage but, as Eric Ives suggests in Anne Boleyn ,because of Anne’s increasingly weak position, Norris might have wished to get out of marrying into Anne’s family. This snub may have infuriated Anne and she spoke the damning words, “You look for dead men’s shoes. If aught came to the king but good, you would look to have me!” Immediately after, she sent Norris to her almoner to swear she was a good woman.

The Madge of "The Tudors"

The second event actually took place about a year prior to the one mentioned above. This time, Sir Francis Weston is the man seemingly infatuated with Pretty Madge. According to Ives, Weston was ignoring his wife in order to pursue Lady Margaret. The queen chided him about this and he said he did not love his wife and there was one there he came to see and loved above Madge–the queen herself! Again, this sort of banter was part of the courtly love tradition where the unworthy man seeks and loves a woman above him, who rejects him though he continues to “serve” her in all he does. Henry VIII loved this kind of chivalrous behavior and practiced it himself. After all, this is how he began his love affair with Anne. But for Weston, the consequences of his flirtations would be more dire.

So, we know Lady Margaret (Pretty Madge) Shelton served at her cousin’s court, carried on at the least a flirtation with the king in February, 1535, was very attractive and of interest to several men besides the king. What about the confusion with her sister, Mary? Where does that confusion come from?

It depends on which historian one reads as to which woman is the one with whom the king had an affair. Eric Ives writes in The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn concerning Madge and the Devonshire Manuscript, a compilation of poems passed around at court, a book to which Queen Anne herself is rumored to have contributed. Those involved in creating this written monument to courtly love were, according to Ives, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Mary Howard (Anne’s cousin and soon-to-be wife of Henry Fitzroy) Margaret Douglas, the king’s niece and Madge Shelton. He is skeptical about Anne’s involvement. To further corroborate that Margaret is the sister involved, there is an episode where Anne becomes very angry with Madge for writing “idle poesies” in her prayer book, an indication that Margaret was literate and possibly interested in writing. The queen’s admonishment is directed to Madge, not Mary. I believe this makes Margaret the likely sister who took part in the making of the Devonshire manuscript, as well as the woman who caught the king’s attention.

One reason for the confusion between Margaret and Mary Shelton is there was also a Mary Shelton at the court of Elizabeth I, a very prominent woman, one of the three most influential ladies in the queens apartments, along with Blanche Parry and Kat Ashley. It is easy to see how one generation could get confused with another.
Another possible reason for the mix-up is that, if Margaret were to abbreviate her name–MARG–it would be easy to read as MARY and thus, adding more confusion. It is likely she did use such abbreviations, especially in the Devonshire manuscript, to differentiate between her work and the other Margarets included in the book. Alison Weir refers to the woman caught scribbling in her prayer book as “Madge or her sister, Mary.” So, her true identity is muddled further. Kelly Hart, in her book, The Mistresses of Henry VIII, believes it is Mary, rather than Margaret, who is both the king’s lover and the author of the Devonshire manuscript. I suspect this is based on the William Latymer (Anne Boleyn’s chaplain) letter which speaks of Mary, rather than Margaret Shelton.

However, because of her age (Margaret being the older and therefore, more likely to be selected to attend the queen) and the consistent use of the name Madge (which is an nickname for Margaret, not Mary), I believe the woman who was, for a time, involved in some way with Henry VIII, to be Lady Margaret Shelton.

And, as you can see, I have been fascinated with her for a very long time, reading all I could about this one woman who lived so long ago. Now, in my novel, AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN, I have told her story, given her a voice, so that she is more than one of the named mistress of Henry VIII. I hope I have brought her to life in a way she would have liked. And, I hope you like it, too.

Click on the book cover above to order the book from or click here to read a review and see more details.


  • Chapman, Hester W., The Challenge of Anne Boleyn
  • Denny, Joanna, Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England’s Tragic Queen
  • Fraser, Antonia, The Wives of Henry VIII
  • Hart, Kelly, The Mistresses of Henry VIII
  • Ives, Eric, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
  • Ives, Eric, Anne Boleyn
  • Shelton, Z.F., The Sheltons
  • Somerset, Anne, Ladies in Waiting
  • Starkey, David, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII
  • Weir, Alison, Henry VIII: The King and His Court
  • Weir, Alison, The Six Wives of Henry VIII
  • Warnicke, Retha, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn

Related Post

27 thoughts on “Lady Margaret Shelton or “Pretty Madge””
  1. A pity Nostradamus wasn’t present in this era, at the Tudor court. Maybe he could have predicted this site, which would have encouraged people to write more, and to thoroughly document their names, connections and works better, so they could be thus immortalized for future generations.

    Then again, it’s probably just as well, because that would take all the detective work and fun out of it for historians such as yourself and Professor Ives.

  2. THank you, everyone–I’ve learned so much from Claire and this site about being sure to document and do detective work–it is great fun! And thanks to you, Claire, for your support and your ongoing excellent work!

  3. What a wonderful achievement! Congratulations to you and I very much look forward to reading it. The Sheldon sisters have fascinated me as well, but I have not read or researched much about them as of yet. I am off to find it on the Nook App! Happy New Year!!!

    1. It’s available on, Fiz, for £8.69 with a 2-4 week delay because they must be shipping it from the US. I assume that it will be brought out in the UK too sometime.

  4. Claire, I just wanted to say that although I have left no comments lately, the reason is that they are so good, and so documented, and lead one from one to another that get so caught up, there is no time to comment. I love all of these, and especially your dedicaton, and accuracy to the point of which I have not read since finishing my post graduate studies, and post graduate after that.

    I would like to thank you so very much. I LOVE each of these, and I would love to comment on each, but they would keep saying how truly wonderful you are, and this or that. All in all, please keep them coming, as I almost at this point would truly feel like something is missing without them. Thank you again, WilesWales

    1. Thank you! I can’t take any credit for this article but I appreciate your support and encouragement. Researching and writing about Tudor history is never a chore for me, it’s my passion, but it’s always good to hear that people enjoy what I write. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  5. I must and have to agree 100% with Anne Barhnill. I couldn’t have said it better without repeating her. Yes, Claire, is a gem! Thank you, WilesWales

  6. What a great way to start the New Year having your 1st novel released for sale. I am going to have to get hubby to put another shelf up soon for all these wonderful books on the Tudor era to read. Very well done Anne….and can’t wait for yours Claire.

  7. I read this book many months back and is now at the top of my favorite reads of all time. A MUST READ. Cant wait for her next book to come out.

  8. I want to start off by saying thank you very much on sharing this information about Margaret Shelton. Here recently I’ve been working on my family genealogy and family tree when if correct the name Shelton came up on my research. Lady Anne (Boylen) Shelton seems to be my 13x or 14x great-grandmother. So, it’s great to hear some more about the Shelton name also because of my LOVE for the Tudor Dynasty era in history. Definitely going to find and get your book.

  9. I’m delighted to find out about this website & book, at long last. As a descendant of some people of the Tudor era, I’ve long had an interest in the period, and shall order the book forthwith.
    Sir John & Lady Anne Shelton are supposedly my 13th great grandparents, & I also descend from Sir Thomas Wyatt, so this promises to be a feast for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *