On a busy day Harvington Hall attracts many visitors. As well as enjoying the history of the Hall it is a wonderfully peaceful and restful place. Someone once remarked that as soon as you cross the moat it can feel as if time has stood still here. If you have even a bit of imagination it is easy to sit quietly in the Hall and think about the people who once lived here.
Sometimes I like to try and see in my mind’s eye what it must have looked like. A lot of posts on Tudor Stuff have focused upon the big players on the Tudor stage, King Henry and his wives, Queen Elizabeth, Thomas Cromwell or Shakespeare. Otherwise, we talk about religion, persecution, torture – events that still have echoes today.
What about the ordinary folk though? I suspect that for the common people life (usually) went on, untroubled by events at court. What would it be like to talk to these people? – what would they tell us about their lives?
Let’s go back to 1608 and meet Susan, a lady’s maid.
I am Lady’s maid to Mistress Abigail Packington. She is married to the Master of the House, Humphrey Packington and she comes from a fine family in Derbyshire, the Sacheverell family.
My day begins early, before the sun is up. I make sure that my mistress has her clothes laid out to wear and that she has water to wash with. Mistress Packington says her prayers every morning before breakfast and I go with her to the little chapel in the house. The Master and Mistress like to keep to the old religion and so do I.
After breakfast, I go about my duties. I have to look after the Mistress’ things and her own chamber. I make it my business to know what is going around the house and the mistress likes me to tell her what is going on. All of the servants have to look up to me and as I am responsible for helping the Mistress with her clothes and personal things I get to talk to her quite a lot – especially when the master is away on business. My clothes are quite nice too – I have a proper pair of shoes, an underskirt and a nice dress. I carry a lot of keys too – I know where the jewellery is and I am trusted by the Mistress.
I am trusted with things that the other servants don’t hear about too.
I was one of the first to hear that Mistress Abigail was pregnant, I was there this summer when the baby was born – a little baby girl. I was there at her Christening and at her funeral, poor little thing. That was hard on the Mistress.
I know about things that happen here too, things that other folk don’t know and have no business knowing. I see the Priests that come here and I hear them say the Mass – poor things they are too! Some of them are so young; and they are so brave – especially when everyone knows what dreadful things will happen to them if they are caught by the priest hunters. There are so many treacherous people around these days, spies that would betray us – but they will never hear anything from me!
That is all from Susan right now but over the next few weeks I will try to introduce you to a few more of the people around the Hall.
PS – Historical note: The character ‘Susan’ is completely fictional. The above account is a creative mixture of fact and imagination.
On the 23rd of June 1608 there is a record of the christening and burial of ‘Mistress Abigail Packington’ daughter of Humphrey and Abigail.