I’ve just been having a trawl through long dead relatives and found Agnes, who was born in 1471 and became a Baroness on her marriage...titles were sprinkled about with gay abandon in those times so I no longer pay much heed to finding a VIP ‘cos they probably weren’t really.
What is seriously infuriating is getting no further with ladies like Agnes...I know the village she lived in and who she married but her life before her marriage is a closed book...no evidence of parents for instance...or siblings. And Agnes only had one recorded child...so I wonder if she had many babies who died or if her husband was away fighting foreigners so the opportunity to have more didn’t arise.
If her husband was away for months at a time that certainly wouldn’t have been unusual and it begs the question of how those women coped...left in England to manage the estates and servants....to oversee the harvest and the pig sticking and to rear their children, it must have been a lonely and isolated existence for them.
It was so commonplace in Ireland for the wealthy English landowners to build a house in the middle of virtually nowhere and then simply leave their wives to their own devices while they hot-footed back to London to live the life of Riley...I have a book with reprints of plaintive letters from such abandoned wives...writing to their sisters or mothers from an Irish bog...pleading that they come to visit and bring wools for working tapestries or paints and brushes so they could have some occupation to while away the long days.
It was heavily frowned upon for the English to learn and to speak the Irish language, so those women couldn’t even chat to the house servants who would at least have provided some female company and tid-bits of village gossip.
A few rebelled...they upped sticks and moved out of their grand houses and found a man with a cart to take them to the ferry port and they went back to their social lives and their balls and pretty frocks...
But I wonder if Agnes was so constrained by tradition...somehow I rather doubt it. Agnes could have chatted to her maids and to the general servants and been kept up to date with village gossip...she’d not have had to write away for wools for the tapestry she was making, because a traveller would have called at her door with a selection to choose from...it’s highly unlikely that her groom would simply refuse to saddle up her horse for her...her Irish counterpart had to suffer the indignity of having the stable lads turn their backs when she gave a request for her horse to be saddled...
And Agnes could afford to employ a teacher of Greek and Latin to educate her child...he would also have provided her with adult company in the evenings. Our English lady living out on a bog somewhere would have been hard pressed to employ a teacher of anything...especially one who was conversant in Greek and Latin and Mathematics. Not to say there weren’t any such teachers because there were...but the price would be high enough to persuade them into an English landlord’s home. And what self-respecting lady of class would want a scruffy down at heel teacher who only spoke the Irish sleeping under her roof.
We can only trace those with titles and those who met horrible ends...the plain and the ordinary people were never written down in parish records or recorded at Quarter Sessions...they didn’t leave Wills to be pored over or grand houses which fell into rack and ruin or were burned down in a fit of temper by insurgents...the ordinary people have wafted their way through history leaving barely a trace of themselves behind...
It is only the Agnes’s and her unfortunate, isolated, and abandoned sisters in Ireland who we can trace and wonder over their lives...
Their hopes for the future must have been much like ours...to ensure their children had an education and a livelihood and made a good marriage...to hope for a decent harvest so no-one went hungry during the winter...they probably prayed long and hard to hope their men returned safely from their sojourns overseas and no doubt wished the traveller who arrived unannounced at the back door, had the blue wool they so needed to finish the tapestry they were working on.
We’ll not ever really know...but we can give Agnes and her Anglo Irish sisters a voice...it might not be quite accurate...we might have misinterpreted...but I rather think Baroness Agnes would giggle and say it doesn’t really matter...you have the gist of it.