Bassett [née Roper], Mary
- Caroline M. K. Bowden
Bassett [née Roper], Mary (d. 1572), translator, was the second of five children of Margaret Roper (1505–1544), favourite daughter of Sir Thomas More, and her husband, William Roper (1495x8–1578). Herself a fine classicist, Margaret Roper was determined that her daughter should be taught Latin and Greek by the most distinguished scholars and approached Roger Ascham. In a letter written to Mary in 1554 Ascham explained his failure to take up the invitation, saying that at the time nothing would induce him to leave Cambridge University. However other tutors were found, including John Morwen of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, who taught her Greek and Latin. Her education was praised by Ascham, and Nicholas Harpsfield in his Life … of Sir Thomas More described her as a person of rare learning and an expert in Greek and Latin.
There is little evidence regarding the detail of Mary's personal life. She married first Stephen Clarke, but there were no children of the marriage; and second, by June 1556, James Bassett (c. 1526–1558), Stephen Gardiner's secretary, who, like Mary, became a part of the royal household. This was a short marriage, since Bassett died on 21 November 1558, but they had two sons, Philip and Charles, the latter still unborn when his father made his will in September 1558. A devout Catholic to the end of her life, Mary Bassett attended Queen Mary's court as a gentlewoman of the privy chamber. Ascham's letter of 1554 in search of friendly contacts at court praised her intellectual capabilities, particularly in view of the innumerable distractions for ladies of the court. In fact Mary made excellent use of her opportunities, gaining a reputation for her skill in translation. She dedicated to the queen a presentation copy in a velvet binding of five books of Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, which she had translated from Greek into English. In her preface Bassett elaborated on her aims in translation, explaining that she tried to reflect as clearly as possible the aims and intentions of the author of the original text. She considered the Ecclesiastical History to be an important work which ought to be read by all Christians, both men and women. Her linguistic skills enabled her to judge the existing Greek edition as being full of mistakes. She expressed conventional authorial reluctance to make the translation available publicly, claiming that she had been pressed by friends to make this fine copy. Mary explained that she could not bear to disappoint them and she feared lest refusal be interpreted as pride or sloth.
Mary Bassett's second extant translation is the later part of her grandfather's History of the Passion, the original of which had been given to the family together with some other manuscripts at the time of More's execution. Her translation from the Latin appeared under her own name in the volume of More's collected works in English published by More's nephew William Rastell in 1557. Rastell himself praised the quality of the work and Harpsfield described Bassett's translation as being of such elegance that the reader might think that it was the original written by Sir Thomas himself in English. Harpsfield refers to other translations by Mary Bassett including the History of Socrates, Theodoretus, Sozomenus, and Evagrius, but he adds that out of modesty she suppressed them. No trace of these has yet been found.
Mary Bassett's will drawn up in 1566 is a clear indication of the strength of her Catholic faith. She committed her soul to the blessed lady St Mary and any beneficiaries who were heretics were to be excluded. Her bequest to her younger son, Charles, hinted at purchases of land which she negotiated on his behalf partly by using her own resources. The will also contains interesting links with her grandfather Thomas More and she passed on to her elder son, Philip, the gold cross that had belonged to him, as well as a gold ring with a ruby that King Philip had given her. Mary Bassett died in London on 20 March 1572.
- E. E. Reynolds, Margaret Roper: eldest daughter of St Thomas More (1960)
- P. E. Hallett, ed., St Thomas More's ‘History of the passion’ (1941)
- N. Harpsfield, The life and death of Sr Thomas Moore, knight, ed. E. V. Hitchcock, EETS, original ser., 186 (1932)
- HoP, Commons, 1509–58, 1.392–4
- will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/54, fols. 82v–83r
Wealth at Death
wealthy; bequeathed lands and jewels