Isabella MARKHAM

Born: 28 Mar 1527, Allerton, Nottinghamshire, England

Died: 20 May 1579, London, Middlesex, England

Buried: 26 May 1579, London, Middlesex, England

Father: John MARKHAM of Cotham (Sir Knight)

Mother: Anne STRELLEY

Married: John HARRINGTON of Kelston ABT 1559, Exton, Rutland, England


1. Elizabeth HARRINGTON (b. 1559)

2. John HARRINGTON (Sir Knight)

3. Robert HARRINGTON (d. 6 Dec 1601)


5. James HARRINGTON (b. 1565 - d. 1592)

Daughter of Sir John Markham of Cotham and his third wife, Anne Strelley. Her family had deep roots in Nottinghamshire and at court: her grandfather fought with Henry VII at the battle of Stoke and later was a familar figure at court; and her father served with Henry VIII and was also a member of the royal household for many years. At the time of Isabella's birth her father was the sheriff of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, an office which he occupied for five separate terms. He later held the position of lieutenant of the Tower of London.

She married John Harrington of Stepney as his second wife. She may have met him when he was imprisoned in the Tower from around Feb 1549 until early 1550, as her father was Lord Lieutenant of the Tower of London at that time, but other records indicate that she was already in the service of Elizabeth Tudor.

Upon Elizabeth’s arrest in Mar 1554, Isabella remained with her during the two months of her captivity, and later went to stay with a Mr. Topcliffe. Harrington had been at Cheshunt with Elizabeth just before that, in Jan, and was arrested on 8 Feb 1554 on the basis of a compromising letter connecting him to the conspiracy of Sir Thomas Wyatt. He was held for eleven months and was finally released on 18 Jan 1555 on a bond of 100.

Elizabeth was eventually released but placed under house arrest in the lodge at Woodstock Palace, where she was held for almost a year. It is not known whether Isabella was with her during her sojourn at Woodstock, but she returned to Elizabeth’s household at Hatfield in Oct 1554, and remained part of that household during the reign of Queen Mary.

John was at that time married to Ethelreda Malte. Ethelreda had been raised by John Malte, the king's tailor, but was widely believed to be the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII and Joan Dingley. Henry admitted as much by settling on her "and the heirs of her body" the manor of Watchfield, the former church lands of Bath Priory and Shaftsbury Abbey, Kelston, Easton, and St Catherine, all near Bath, and after their marriage Ethelreda and John Harrington lived at Kelston, near Bath, on one of these properties.

Isabella was the subject of Harrington's poems, all of them written before his wife's death. He became entranced with the beautiful young woman who eventually became his wife and, after his first glimpse of her standing near a window, wrote what was to be only the first in a long series of poems dedicated to her.

Sonnet (John Haryngton to sweete Isabella Markham, 1549)

Marvelous be thie matchles gyftes of mynde,

and for thie shape, Ewrithnia rightly growen,

Reckless of prayse, a prayse rare in the kynde;

Great in desert, small in desyre well knowen;

A mansion meete, where Chastitie doth dwell;

Rype in all good, of evell the seede unsowen:

Endued with thewse that do the rest excell,

Temp'raunce hath wonne and constancye cloth holde;

Wisdome hath taughte that myldness mastreth might,

I am unskild the reste howe to unfolde:

Let envious eyes deeme that by e'xact sight

Of bewtie, hewe, and partes of pryce untolde:--

But yet I reede thye looke with reverent care;

Each wighte is wise thod, warned, can beware

Several sources give 1554 as the date of John and Isabella's marriage. That is the year that Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower, and their reasoning appears to be based on a letter that John wrote from the Tower to Chancellor Stephen Gardiner which said "... My wife is [Elizabeth's] servant, and does but rejoice in this our misery, when we look with whom we are held in bondage". However Ethelreda, John's first wife, was still alive during 1554 (she died early in 1559) and like Isabella was a lady in waiting to Elizabeth and accompanied her to the Tower. John Harrington's letter to Gardiner is refering to Ethelreda, not Isabella. The date of Isabella’s marriage to Harrington is unknown, but it was after 1 Apr 1559. John and Isabella made their home, for the most part, at Kelston and it is said that they "brought up a considerable family".

Elizabeth I's coronation was held 15 Jan 1559 and Isabella served as a Maid of the Privy Chamber at that event, one of the six ladies each riding upon palfreys who followed the Queen's own litter in the royal procession from the Tower to Westminster Abbey.

Their son, John, was christened on 4 Aug 1560. Queen Elizabeth was his godmother. On 12 Mar 1563 Elizabeth "granted to John and Isabella his wife, gentlewoman of the privy chamber, the manor and former priory site of Lenton in Nottinghamshire in tail male". This grant can be seen as a gift from the Queen to her godchild.

Isabella was a lady of the privy chamber from 1558 until her death and was rarely absent from court. She received the dedication of Thomas Palfreyman’s Divine Meditations in 1572.

Isabella Harrington died 20 May 1579 while her eldest son was still at Cambridge. She was buried on 25 May in the churchyard of St Gregory by St Paul at London. Three years later her husband John was laid to rest at her side.

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