When you look around in archives, be it browsing through them physically or, as is possible today, searching through them on the internet, looking for a particular subject or person, it´s always the possibility of stumbling on something completely different which catches your imagination and empathy. One such case is the (fragmented) story of Elisabeth Hungerford;
The signatory is Lady Elizabeth Hungerford, and she asks Thomas Cromwell to do right by her, and let her have a divorce.
She writes that she for several years has been kept a prisoner at her husband´s castle, and that he on one hand makes sure that no one that can be considered friendly to her ever comes into her presence, but that he on more than one occasion has had his men trying to poison her. This has made her afraid to eat and the only reason that she is still alive is that kind women from the village bring her food at night.
She has however no way of paying them back, as her husband has not given her any money for a long time.
Her letter ends by her saying that she “Wishes to be divorced upon reasonable causes, or else her husband to be required to let her out of prison. Would then come up on foot with some poor body to Cromwell for the security of her life. Will not longer continue this wretched life with him. Had rather destroy herself or beg her living from door to door.”
The letter is signed Eleisbet Hor´ford, but she was born Elizabeth Hussey, and she was one of four daughters of John Hussey, 1st Baron Hussey of Sleaford and his second wife, Lady Anne Grey.
Her husband´s name was Walter Hungerford, squire of the body of Henry VIII, and as Elizabeth hints in her letter to Cromwell, she was not his first wife, nor the first one to be treated appallingly by him.
At first he was married to Susan Denvers, with whom he had a son, also named Walter Hungerford. I haven´t been able to find any information on what year they were married, but already in 1527 when he himself, being born in 1503, was only 24 years old, he married for a second time, to Alice Sandys, the daughter of William, 1st Baron Sandys.
Here I find information that I really need to look further into, because it seems that William Hungerford the elder managed to get his second wife executed for his own murder, at least that is what the Grey Friars Chronicle as interpreted by Camden Society in 1862 suggests (They have traced the family trees of the Hungerford´s at the time and only found one ever married to an Alice; Walter Hungerford, later husband of Elizabeth), and in all honesty, they are as baffled as me. In any event, an Alice Hungerford was executed at Tyburn;
“And this yere in feverelle the xxti. day was the lady Alys Hungrford was lede from the tower un to Holborne and there put into a carte at the church-yard with one of her servanttes, and so caryed unto Tyborne, and there both hongyd, and she burryd at the Greyfreeres in the nether end of the myddes of the church on the north syde.”
In any event, Walter clearly wasn´t murdered, and he would move on to marry Elizabeth sometime after 1527.
There is reasons to believe that Cromwell didn´t act on Elizabeth´s plea, already in 1532 her own father had written to Crowell and stated that his son in law wished to be introduced to him, as well as desired the position as Sheriff of Wiltshire.
The request was granted, and apparently the work carried out to Cromwell´s satisfaction, because in 1535 he suggests that Walter Hungerford should be rewarded for his service, and just a year later Walter was created 1st Baron Hungerford of Heytesbury (not to be confused with Baron Hungerford).
Walter Hungerford´s fortune was however to come to a swift ending only four years later, in 1540 he was executed on July 28th, the very same day as Thomas Cromwell himself, accused and sentenced for treason, witchcraft (allegedly trying to have find out the life span of Henry VIII) and buggery. He was executed, like – if we assume that that´s who she was – his wife Alice, on Tyburn.
While I at the moment haven´t been able to find out what happened to Elizabeth during the years between her letter to Cromwell and the execution of her husband, she did move on to a new life, marrying Robert Throckmorton, courtier and first cousin of Katherine Parr in or around 1542.
Together with Robert he had four daughters; Muriel (who would later have a son, Francis Tresham, one of the members of the Gun Powder Plot), Anne, Elizabeth and Temperance.
Elizabeth Hungerford, later Throckmorton, died in 1554, approximately 44 years old.
I will return to her and her life.
‘Henry VIII: Addenda, Cromwell Period Papers’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 15, 1540, ed. James Gairdner and R H Brodie (London, 1896), pp. 510-568. British History Online
‘Additional notes’, in Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London Camden Society Old Series, Volume 53, ed. J G Nichols (London, 1852), pp. 99-104. British History Online.
‘The Chronicle of the Grey Friars: Henry VIII’, in Chronicle of the Grey Friars of London Camden Society Old Series, Volume 53, ed. J G Nichols (London, 1852), pp. 29-53. British History Online
‘Henry VIII: April 1536, 11-15’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10, January-June 1536, ed. Ja
‘Henry VIII: April 1536, 11-15’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10, January-June 1536, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1887), pp. 259-274. British History Online
Due to the lack of images of Elizabeth and Walter Hungerford, the post is illustrated by images of Farleig-Hungerfod Castle where Elizabeth was held prisoner by her husband.
- Photpgraph by nicksarabi/flickr
- Graham Horn/Creative Commons
- Ian Knox/Creative Commons