Parrots for Ladies

A lady with her green parrot, 1540s.

A lady with her green parrot, 1540s, by Maarten van Heemskerck

On her death bed, Jane Dudley, the widowed Duchess of Northumberland and mother of Robert Dudley, remembered her recently acquired friends from Spain who had helped secure the freedom of her sons. Among the Spanish grandees mentioned in her will, the only woman was to have a rare bird: “I give to the duchess of Alva my green parrot; I have nothing worthy for her else”.

Psittacula krameri, or the green rose-ringed parakeet from India, while an exotic enough animal, was regularly found in European households as a status symbol. The sister of King Francis I of France, Marguerite of Navarre, had herself portrayed by Jean Clouet holding a green parrot. And as she was not only a princess and queen, but a writer as well, the bird was a fitting allusion. Parrots were seen as symbolizing eloquence; after all they could talk.

Marguerite d'Angouleme, Queen of Navarre, with parrot

Marguerite d’Angoulême, Queen of Navarre, with parrot

In November 1539, Lady Lisle, the wife of the king’s Lord Deputy at Calais and another woman owner of parrots, received yet another bird from a French gentleman:

Madame, I send you a parrot … beseeching you to be willing to accept it in as good part as I right heartily offer it to you. It grieveth me that it is no better and more worthy of your honour, in which I hold it well employed.

Madame, it cannot yet talk, but this is because it hath yet learnt nothing and it is young. As you have one that doth speak it will learn with yours.

See also:
The Green Parrot

Adams, Simon (2002): Leicester and the Court: Essays in Elizabethan Politics. Manchester University Press.

St. Clare Byrne, Muriel (ed.) (1983): The Lisle Letters: An Abridgement. Secker & Warburg.

Walker-Meikle, Kathleen (2012): Medieval Pets. Boydell Press.

About Christine Hartweg

Hi, I'm the author of "Amy Robsart: A Life and Its End" and "John Dudley: The Life of Lady Jane Grey's Father-in-Law". I blog at
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4 Responses to Parrots for Ladies

  1. Sherri says:

    This is very interesting to read about my ancestors and family history. I look at these photos and I feel that connection all these years later down the line.
    Thank you for posting.

  2. Claire Alty says:

    I am enjoying reading these articles since I have found recent connections to royalty first through the Plantagenet line and now so many others .
    Thank you !

  3. John Bird says:

    Hello there.
    My name is John Bird. I have a history book (blog) which you may well find interesting. You can find my free history book on line if you care to type the words “DUDLEY CASTLE JOHN BIRD” in to the Google Search box. My online book as a lot to say about the Dudley family because my 12th Great grandfather Sir Thomas Hawkins Fisher of the Priory in Warwick UK was agent of the Duke of Northumberland John Dudley, Robert earl Leicester stayed at the Priory for a complete week. I have typed out this information for you, hoping you will gladly receive it, that is if you do not already know of this.


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