Twists and Turns of History

Joan Dingly

History has many strange twists and turns. Looking into my wife’s family tree – I came across the odd tale of Joan Dingley. I’d never heard of her before, and she may just be a young lady who got involved with a tailor – without benefit of marriage – or the tale might be a bit different.

It seems Joan was a laundress – a royal laundress – for King Henry VIII. Joan had a child out of wedlock. The King’s tailor, a man named Malte, claimed the child – which was followed by gifts of land and money from King Henry. Joan later married Richard Dobson.

The daughter of this union. Ethelreda, or Esther, Malte also received gifts of land – and became a lady in waiting for the Princess, later Queen, Elizabeth – being one of the ladies in waiting who accompanied Elizabeth to the Tower of London when Elizabeth was incarcerated by her half-sister, Queen Mary.

So, of course, there is a rumor that King Henry VIII, rather than Malte, was the father of Ethelreda.

Ethelreda went on to marry John Harrington, a courtier of Queen Elizabeth, and my wife’s 10th great-grandfather. Not too shabby for the illigitimate daughter of a laundress. With a second wife, John Harrington had a son. This John Harrington, Sir John Harrington, was a well known author and poet – and the Godson of Queen Elizabeth. He also invented the flush toilet – though he only produced two – one in his home – and one in Queen Elizabeth’s residence. The Queen never used it. She was afraid of the noise.

All told, a strange tale, but even if true, it just goes to show – you are far better off being Henry VIII’s washerwoman – than his wife.

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