Posted By Claire on March 6, 2014
Today we have a guest post from historical novelist Anne Clinard Barnhill, author of Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter: A Novel of Elizabeth I.
When I began writing my first novel, AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN, I’d done tons of research about my ancestors, the Sheltons. As a matter of fact, I’d been obsessed with these people for about thirty years, ever since my grandmother explained that we were descended from this British family and as a result, we could say we were also related to the infamous Anne Boleyn. Lady Anne (Boleyn) Shelton was the sister of Sir Thomas Boleyn, making Lady Anne an aunt of the remarkable queen. I had already fallen in love with Queen Anne Boleyn and to discover I was connected to her was heady news indeed.
I wrote the first novel about Lady Margaret Shelton, daughter of Sir John and Lady Anne, and her affair with Henry VIII. In my new novel, QUEEN ELIZABETH’S DAUGHTER, I chose another Shelton ancestor about whom to write — Lady Mary Shelton. This Lady Mary is not to be confused with the Lady Mary Shelton who may have been a sister to Lady Margaret. This Lady Mary is in the next generation and served at the court of Elizabeth I, her second cousin.
Lady Mary was born around 1550-1551 to Mary Parker Shelton and Sir John Shelton, 22nd Lord of Shelton. Most likely she was born at Shelton Hall in Norfolk. We know nothing of her early years but in her late teens she was sent to serve Queen Elizabeth at court in 1568 as a gentlewoman of the queen’s privy chamber. Prior to her service to the queen, she would have been a royal ward, as she was orphaned in November of 1558, the same month Elizabeth became queen. Her parents died within two weeks of each other, most likely from an illness or riding accident.
As a royal ward, Mary would have had her wardship sold by the queen to a courtier whose lands lay near Mary’s marriage portion. Or the queen could have rewarded a favorite with custody of Mary. Perhaps the queen allowed Mary’s brother, Sir Ralph, to keep her, along with the monies collected from her property. We just don’t know for certain. It could be that the queen herself took charge of Mary’s income. Along with the income from Mary’s property (this property would have been her dowry upon marriage), the queen could retain Mary’s marriage rights as well. Or she could have sold or given those away. Because Mary ended up serving at court, it is unlikely her wardship was sold. Most likely, she remained with her brother in the family home until Elizabeth called for her.
Once at court, Mary rose quickly from gentlewoman of the queen’s privy chamber to Chamberer in 1571. As Chamberer, she was paid 20 pds a year. But she also received “bouge of court” which included food, clothing and lodging, all at the queen’s expense. Mary would have been given an allotment of red wine, beer, fuel, candles and stabling for her horse. With her income, she would have lived very nicely at court.
Once at court, Mary met people from all walks of life. One of those was Sir John Scudamore (also spelled Skydemore, Skidmore, Scydmore), a widower who had five children. Sir John had come to study law at the Inns of Court. John was a Catholic at a time when the laws pertaining to recusants were growing more and more punitive. However, Mary and John fell in love and asked John’s father –in-law, Sir James Croft, to send out feelers to see if the queen would approve their match.
She did not.
So, like other young lovers — Romeo and Juliet come to mind — John and Mary eloped. They were secretly married by a Catholic priest, most likely the one who had served the Scudamore family for years. As a result, Elizabeth flew into a fit of rage when the news reached her and she broke Mary’s finger. Later, according to a letter from Mary Queen of Scots, who mentions the incident, Elizabeth tried to deflect blame by saying a candlestick fell on Mary’s hand, thus breaking the finger.
The young couple married in January, 1574, and by the fall of that same year, both had been forgiven and were back at court. All seemed to go well after that first episode of violence, and both Mary and John continued to rise in power and prestige at court. Unfortunately, Mary was so favored by the queen that it became difficult for her to visit Sir John’s home, Holme Lacy. Elizabeth depended more and more on Mary for friendship and as a sleeping companion. At the end of her reign, Mary was one of three women (Blanche Parry and Jane Russell were the other two) who advised and protected the queen from those who would use her.
Mary died in 1603. In 1602, she’d become very ill and Elizabeth had allowed her to go to Holme Lacy. However, she rallied enough to attend Elizabeth’s funeral but died that summer and was buried in August of 1603.
Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter: A Novel of Elizabeth I
Blurb from Amazon:
From Anne Barnhill, the author of At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, comes the gripping tale of Mary Shelton, Elizabeth I’s young cousin and ward, set against the glittering backdrop of the Elizabethan court
Mistress Mary Shelton is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite ward, enjoying every privilege the position affords. The queen loves Mary like a daughter, and, like any good mother, she wants her to make a powerful match. The most likely prospect: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. But while Oxford seems to be everything the queen admires: clever, polished and wealthy, Mary knows him to be lecherous, cruel, and full of treachery. No matter how hard the queen tries to push her into his arms, Mary refuses.
Instead, Mary falls in love with a man who is completely unsuitable. Sir John Skydemore is a minor knight with little money, a widower with five children. Worst of all, he’s a Catholic at a time when Catholic plots against Elizabeth are rampant. The queen forbids Mary to wed the man she loves. When the young woman, who is the queen’s own flesh and blood, defies her, the couple finds their very lives in danger as Elizabeth’s wrath knows no bounds.
You can read my review of Anne’s first novel, “At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn” at our Tudor Book Reviews site – click here.