Today, I am pleased to welcome Sylvia Barbara Soberton to my blog to discuss one of the women featured in her latest book, “Ladies-in-Waiting: Women Who Served Anne Boleyn.”
In 1533, Anne Boleyn had seven maids of honour and one mother of maids, Mrs. Marshall, who supervised them on the Queen’s behalf. Apart from Mary Howard, Margery Horsman, and Jane Ashley, the maids who served Anne in 1532, there was Mary Zouche, Mary Shelton, Margaret Gamage, and Elizabeth Holland. Howard and Shelton were Anne Boleyn’s first cousins, and Holland was mistress of the Queen’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. Margaret Gamage was the first cousin of Jane Boleyn; only Mary Zouche was not related to Anne Boleyn.
Hans Holbein’s sketch inscribed “M Souch” depicts an exceptionally good-looking young woman dressed in highly flattering French fashions, revealing her blonde hair and décolletage. It is often suggested that the sitter may be Anne Gainsford, who married George Zouche in the 1530s, but Anne Gainsford rarely appears in the court records, whereas Mary Zouche is mentioned often. This “M Souch” was most likely Mary Zouche, daughter of John Zouche, eighth Baron Zouche of Harringworth, and his first wife Dorothy Capell. At some point during the late 1520s, she wrote a letter to her cousin, John Arundel, imploring him to help her and her sister to find employment at court as maids to either Katharine of Aragon or Princess Mary. She may have served one of them, but in 1533 she was Anne Boleyn’s maid, attending the Queen’s coronation.
After Anne’s execution in 1536, Mistress Zouche went on to serve as maid of honour to Jane Seymour. She became one of this Queen’s favourite ladies, receiving jewellery, including beads and girdles. Zouche was still unmarried in 1542 when she was granted an annuity of £10 “in consideration of her services to the King and the late Queen Jane.”
The aspects of Anne Boleyn’s life and death are fiercely debated by historians, yet her ladies-in-waiting remain an understudied topic. Much emphasis is usually put on Anne’s relationships with the men in her life: her suitors, her royal husband, her father and brother, and her putative lovers, who were executed on 17 May 1536. By concentrating on a previously neglected area of Anne Boleyn’s female household, this book seeks to identify the women who served Anne and investigate what roles ladies-in-waiting played in this Queen’s household.