The Tudor Society

3 March – Edward IV’s son dies of a heart attack in the Tower of London

On this day in Tudor history, 3rd March 1542, Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle, courtier, soldier, diplomat, administrator and illegitimate son of Edward IV, died of a heart attack after being informed of his release from the Tower of London. How very sad!

Find out all about Lord Lisle's background, his career in Henry VII and Henry VIII's reign, and how he came to imprisoned in the Tower of London, when he was probably innocent, in today's talk.

3rd March is also one of the dates given in the French contemporary sources for the secret marriage of Mary Tudor, Queen of France, and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, in 1515. I looked into this in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:


On this day in Tudor history, 3rd March 1542, Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle, courtier, soldier, diplomat, administrator and illegitimate son of Edward IV, died of a heart attack after being informed of his release from the Tower of London. How very sad!

Let me tell you a bit more about Lord Lisle, who he was and how he came to this tragic end.

It is not known exactly when Arthur Plantagenet was born, but it was before 1472 when Arthur is mentioned as “my Lord the Bastard” in the royal household’s accounts. We also don’t know for sure who his mother was, but most historians believe her to have been Elizabeth Lucy, a woman we don’t know anything about.

We don’t know anything about his early life and upbringing, except that the reference to him in the royal household accounts suggests that he was brought up with Edward’s other children in the royal nursery. By 1502, Arthur was serving in the household of Elizabeth of York, queen consort of King Henry VII and a woman who was Arthur’s half-sister. Following Elizabeth’s death in 1503, he entered the king’s household and was appointed as an esquire of the body, and after Henry VII’s death, he continued in the royal household under his nephew, King Henry VIII.

Records show that like Charles Brandon and Thomas Knyvet, Arthur was a close friend of King Henry VIII, one of his sporting companions. He also served his king in a military sense, in France in 1513. He was knighted in October 1513 at Tournai. He was in attendance on the king in 1520 at the historic Field of Cloth of Gold meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I.

In 1523, Arthur was elected as a knight of the Garter, and in the same year he was made Viscount Lisle. In 1525 he was appointed as vice-admiral to England, serving under Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, Henry VIII’s illegitimate son. He was also appointed Constable of Portchester Castle. From 1526 to 1533, he was a gentleman of the privy chamber.

He also served the king in local offices, such as by serving on the commission for the peace in Hampshire and Sussex, and as sheriff for Hampshire. And he served his king on diplomatic missions, for example, going to France in 1527.

In March 1533, following the death of John Bourchier, Arthur was made Deputy of Calais. In this role, he organised a spy network through France and into the Low Countries, and oversaw work to modernise Calais’ defences, Calais being an English territory at this time. However, he didn’t get on well with some of the others involved in the administration of Calais. As a Catholic conservative, he also opposed the plans of Thomas Cromwell and Archbishop Cranmer, who wanted to appoint Reformers to church positions and as preachers in Calais.

On 19th May 1540, Arthur was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. It was alleged that he had had treasonable communications with Cardinal Pole, using his chaplain as a go-between. His arrest was really down to his enmity with Thomas Cromwell and a power struggle at Henry VIII’s court. However, Cromwell was also on his way out as his other enemies rose against him and Cromwell himself was arrested on 10th June 1540 and executed on 28th July, the same day that the king married Catherine Howard.

In January 1542, Lisle’s luck changed as the king sought to rehabilitate him. He was sent the Garter which had been taken from him and on 3rd March 1542, Thomas Wriothesley, one of the king’s principal secretaries, visited Arthur with the king’s signet ring and news that the king was ordering Arthur’s release. John Foxe wrote “The message did in a few hours— perhaps in a few moments — what twenty-two months of solitary agony had failed to do. It killed the prisoner.” It’s so very tragic.

Arthur was married twice. His first wife was Elizabeth Grey, daughter of Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Lisle, and widow of Edmund Dudley. They had three daughters together. In 1528, following the death of his first wife, Arthur married Honor Grenville, daughter of Sir Thomas Grenville and widow of Sir John Bassett. Arthur and Honor didn’t have any children together, but Honor had 7 children from her first marriage. Honor out lived her husband, dying in 1566.

Arthur and Honor are known for the Lisle Letters, a collection of around 3,000 letters from their time in Calais. These still survive today and are one of my favourite primary sources. They are letters between them and their agents in London.

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