Almost a year into Jane’s reign, her widowed sister Elizabeth wrote to Cromwell from her house in York. Several local abbeys were scheduled to be dissolved, and she asked for one of them (she included the list) to help support her and her children.
Why Cromwell and not Jane? Well, Jane and Elizabeth were not all that close (I fudged that point a bit in Jane the Quene, because I needed Jane to have a confidante – otherwise she would have been in her own head too much). Anne Boleyn had been quite generous with Elizabeth’s husband and Cromwell had implemented that generosity so Elizabeth had developed a bit of a friendship with him, enough to ask for a favor (especially since she was the sister of the reigning queen…let’s not forget that point!)
Cromwell was a brilliant politician who immediately saw the opportunity in Elizabeth’s request. She was just a year or two older than his son Gregory, and he immediately proposed a marriage between the two (I say immediately because the marriage took place less than five months later, on August 3 – I wrote about it here). As a result, the former commoner became brother-in-law to the King of England (you have to squint a bit for that one – the relationship was once removed because Henry and Gregory both on the “in-law” side and then removed a second time to reflect Cromwell’s parental role, but it was still a pretty sweet connection!).
Elizabeth and Gregory went on to have a successful marriage (there were several loving letters between the two of them, go check out one of them here), all from this one simple note….
I beg your favour that I may be the King’s farmer of one of those abbeys, if they go down, the names of which I enclose herein. As my late husband ever bore his heart and service to your Lordship next to the King, I am the bolder to sue herein, and will sue to no other. When I was last at Court you promised me your favour. In Master Ughtred’s days I was in a poor house of my own, but since then I have been driven to be a “sojorner,” for my living is not sufficient to entertain my friends. Begs help, as she is a “poor woman alone.”