Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Character of Margaret, Countess of Richmond
By John Fisher (c. 14691535)
From the Mourning for the Lady Margaret, Countess of Richmond
THIS holy Gospel, late read, containeth in it a dialogue, that is to say, a communication betwixt the woman of blessed memory called Martha and our Saviour Jesu, which dialogue I would apply unto this noble princess late deceased, in whose remembrance this office and observances be done at this time. And three things, by the leave of God, I will entend. First, to shew wherein this noble princess may well be likened and compared unto the blessed woman Martha. Second, how she may complain unto our Saviour Jesu for the painful death of her body, like as Martha did for the death of her brother Lazarus. Third, the comfortable answer of our Saviour Jesu unto her again. In the first shall stand her praise and commendation. In the second our mourning for the loss of her. In the third our comfort again. First, I say that the comparison of them two may be made in four things. In nobleness of person, in discipline of their bodies, in ordering of their souls to God, in hospitalities keeping and charitable dealing to their neighbours. In which four, the noble woman Martha (as say the doctors entreating this gospel, and her life) was singularly to be commended and praised, wherefore let us consider likewise, whether in this noble countess may any thing like be found. First, the blessed Martha was a woman of noble blood, to whom by inheritance belonged the castle of Bethany, and this nobleness of blood they have which descend of noble lineage. Beside this there is a nobleness of manners, without which the nobleness of blood is much defaced, for as Boetius saith: If ought be good in the nobleness of blood it is for that thereby the noble men and women should be ashamed to go out of kind1 from the virtuous manners of their ancestry before. Yet also there is another nobleness, which ariseth in every person by the goodness of nature, whereby full often such as come of right poor and unnoble father and mother, have great abilities of nature, to noble deeds. Above all these same there is a fourth manner of nobleness, which may be called an increased nobleness, as by marriage and affinity of more noble persons such as were of less condition may increase in higher degree of nobleness. In every of these, I suppose, this countess was noble. First, she came of noble blood lineally descending of King Edward III. within the fourth degree of the same. Her father was John, Duke of Somerset, her mother was called Margaret, right noble as well in manners as in blood. To whom she was a very daughter in all noble manners, for she was bounteous and liberal to every person of her knowledge or acquaintance. Avarice and covetise she most hated, and sorrowed it full much in all persons, but specially in any that belonged unto her. She was also of singular easiness to be spoken unto, and full courteous answer she would make to all that came unto her. Of marvellous gentleness she was unto all folks, but specially unto her own, whom she trusted and loved right tenderly. Unkind she would not be unto no creature, nor forgetful of any kindness or service done to her before, which is no little part of very nobleness. She was not vengeable, nor cruel, but ready anon to forget and to forgive injuries done unto her at the least desire or motion made unto her for the same. Merciful also and piteous she was unto such as was grieved and wrongfully troubled, and to them that were in poverty or sickness or any other misery. To God and to the church full obedient and tractable, searching His honour and pleasure full busily. A wariness of herself she had alway to eschew every thing that might dishonest any noble woman, or distain her honour in any condition. Trifelous things that were little to be regarded she would let pass by, but the other that were of weight and substance wherein she might profit she would not let for any pain or labour to take upon hand. These and many other such noble conditions left unto her by her ancestors she kept, and increased them with a great diligence. The third nobleness also she wanted not, which I said was the nobleness of nature. She had in manner all that was praisable in a woman either in soul or in body. First she was of singular wisdom far passing the common rate of women, she was good in remembrance and of holding memory. A ready wit she had also to conceive all things. Albeit they were right dark, right studious she was in books which she had in great number, both in English and in French, and for her exercise and for the profit of other, she did translate divers matters of devotion out of French into English. Full often she complained that in her youth she had not given her to the understanding of Latin, wherein she had a little perceiving, specially of the rubric of the ordinal for the saying of her service, which she did well understand. Hereunto in favour, in words, in gesture, in every demeanour of herself so great nobleness did appear, that what she spake or did it marvellously became her. The fourth nobleness which we named, a nobleness gotten or increased, she had also. For albeit she of her lineage were right noble, yet nevertheless by marriage, and adjoining of other blood it took some increasement. For in her tender age she, being endued with so great towardness of nature, and likelihood of inheritance, many sued to have had her to marriage. The Duke of Suffolk, which then was a man of great experience, most diligently procured to have had her for his son and heir. Of the contrary part King Henry VI. did make means for Edmond his brother, then the Earl of Richmond. She, which as then was not fully nine years old, doubtful in her mind what she were best to do, asked counsel of an old gentlewoman whom she much loved and trusted, which did advise her to commend herself to Saint Nicholas, the patron and helper of all true maidens, and to beseech him to put in her mind what she were best to do. This counsel she followed, and made her prayer so full often, but specially that night when she should the morrow after make answer of her mind determinately. A marvellous thing, that same night as I have heard her tell many a time, as she lay in prayer calling upon Saint Nicholas, whether sleeping or waking she could not assure, but about four of the clock in the morning, one appeared unto her arrayed like a bishop, and naming unto her Edmond, bade take him unto her husband. And so by this mean she did incline her mind unto Edmond, the kings brother, and Earl of Richmond. By whom she was made mother of the king that dead is, whose soul God pardon, and granddame to our sovereign lord King Henry VIII., which now by the grace of God governeth the realm. So what by lineage, what by affinity, she had thirty kings and queens within the fourth degree of marriage unto her, beside earls, marquises, dukes, and princes. And thus much we have spoken of her nobleness.