Bessie, Mother of the King’s Son

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Effigy of Elizabeth Blount

Elizabeth Blount was born around 1500 in Kinlet in Shropshire, to John Blount of Kinlet and his wife Katherine, daughter of Sir Hugh Pershall of Knightley. There is some confusion as to whether she was her parent’s first child, but it is likely that she was their eldest daughter. Elizabeth (Bessie) was born at Kinlet Hall, but probably grew up at Bewdley, Worcestershire, where the family had moved to shortly after her birth.

Her family lived close to Ludlow and several relatives were employed in the household of Henry VII’s eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales. It may well be through her family’s connection to the Prince of Wales’ household that Elizabeth achieved her position at court. It is also likely that her distant cousin, Lord Mountjoy affected the introduction.

However it was achieved, it is possible that Elizabeth was at court by the time she was 12 years old, as a Maid of Honour to the queen, Katherine of Aragon. She was definitely at court by Christmas 1514, when Elizabeth partnered the King, Henry VIII, in the entertainments as Queen Katherine was recovering from childbirth and the loss of the child.

Elizabeth was described as golden-haired, blue-eyed, lively and merry. She was an accomplished dancer and able to play and compose music. She is believed to have composed the following lines during her relationship with Henry:

While life and breath is in my brest, My sovereign lord I shall love best.¹

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Henry VIII

Most historians agree that Bessie’s relationship with the king was most likely of a short duration, probably lasting just a few months in the summer of 1518. In those days, Henry was still hopeful of he and Katherine having a son and heir and so its possible he only strayed from the queen’s bed when she was pregnant, and therefore unavailable.

In October 1518, Elizabeth Blount took part in the festivities to celebrate the betrothal of 2-year-old Princess Mary to the French Dauphin; Elizabeth danced in the ‘mummery’ with the king’s sister, Mary. Possibly already pregnant with Henry’s child, it was to be her last appearance at court.

As soon as Elizabeth’s condition was known, it seems, she was sent away from court and settled at the Augustinian Priory of St Laurence, in Blackmore, near Chelmsford, Essex. Bessie was far enough away to be protected from prying eyes, but close to the king’s manor of Newhall that he would have been able to pay private visits to his mistress. Henry had given his right-hand man, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, charge of the arrangements. Wolsey took care of everything, even standing as godfather when the baby arrived, and ensuring he was baptised Henry, after his father.

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Henry Fitzroy

Elizabeth’s little boy, Henry Fitzroy, was born in the summer of 1519. He would be raised in his own establishment, being educated as a prince – albeit an illegitimate one. Elizabeth had little involvement in his day-to-day care, although she seems to have been consulted by his tutors, and 2 of her brothers, George and Henry Blount, were given positions in the child’s household. Elizabeth did send her son gifts from time-to-time; in 1531 she sent him a white satin doublet and 2 horses. Her younger sons would also be given young Henry’s cast-off clothes, once he’d grown out of them.

Elizabeth didn’t return to court after the birth; within a few months she was married to one of Wolsey’s wards. Cardinal Wolsey had taken over the wardship Gilbert Tailboys of Kyme when his father’s mental health went into decline. Sir George Tailboys had been declared a lunatic in 1517 and his lands were being administered for him. The Cardinal arranged the marriage with Gilbert, who was only 2 or 3 years older than Elizabeth; they were married sometime in late 1519 or early 1520.

The marriage was a great prize for Elizabeth. The Tailboys were a wealthy family, related to the earls of Northumberland through Gilbert’s mother, Elizabeth Gascoigne, and with lands spread as far away as Northumberland and Somerset – and various places between. The couple settled on the Tailboys family estates in Lincolnshire. King Henry ensured that property from the Tailboys estates, worth £200 per annum, was settled on Elizabeth for her lifetime. The king’s favour continued throughout Elizabeth’s lifetime, by way of gifts and land grants.

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The Tailboys family crest

By the end of 1520 Gilbert and Elizabeth had their first child, a daughter, Elizabeth. There is some speculation that young Elizabeth could also be the king’s child; however, the fact that Henry never claimed her as his own, when he so readily did with young Henry, seems to suggest that Gilbert was the father. Two more children, George and Robert, were born before 1525.

In 1525 Elizabeth’s son, Henry Fitzroy, now a blond, robust 6-year-old, was created Duke of Richmond and Somerset by his father, the king. It’s not known whether Elizabeth attended the accompanying celebrations, however, but her husband, Gilbert, was knighted at about the same time.

The king was now despairing of having a legitimate son by his queen, and so was looking at strengthening young Fitzroy’s position as his son, if not his heir. Fitzroy was proof that the king could provide male children, even if the queen could not. There was talk of making the young duke King of Ireland and Henry had even sent ambassadors into Europe in hope of finding a foreign princess as a bride for the child.

On 15th April 1530 Gilbert Tailboys died; according to sources, he was buried at South Kyme. Elizabeth was left a widow with 3 small children, although her lifetime interest in the Tailboys estates meant she was financially secure. Her young son, George, inherited his father’s title, becoming Baron Tailboys of Kyme. Young George would go on to marry Margaret Skipwith in 1539, but he died the following year, aged about 18. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Robert, as the 3rd Baron, but he died in 1541, still only in his mid-teens.

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Funeral brass of Elizabeth Blount

The boys’ older sister, Elizabeth, would then become the 4th Baroness Tailboys. She married, firstly, Thomas Wymbish of Nocton. Not only was the marriage childless but it appears to have been an unhappy union and Thomas left his wife little in his will. In 1553 Elizabeth made a more exalted 2nd marriage with Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick and son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. However, this union was also childless and the Barony of Tailboys of Kyme became extinct on Elizabeth’s death in 1563.

Following Gilbert’s death Elizabeth Blount was courted by Lord Leonard Grey, son of the Marquess of Dorset and cousin to the king. Grey visited Elizabeth in Lincolnshire and, following the visited, wrote to the king’s minister, Thomas Cromwell, asking for him to approach Elizabeth on Grey’s behalf. In 1532 Lord Grey told Cromwell that he would “rather obtain that matter than to be made lord of as much goods and lands as any noble man within this realm”². Despite Cromwell’s backing, however, and the acquiescence of the king,  Elizabeth turned him down.

Elizabeth married again on 12th February 1535. Her 2nd husband was Edward Fiennes de Clinton, 9th Baron Clinton and Saye; he was about 12 years younger than Elizabeth and although his family had lands in Kent, he settled on Elizabeth’s Lincolnshire estates.

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Edward Fiennes de Clinton, 9th Baron Clinton and Saye

Only a year after the marriage Elizabeth’s eldest son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, died. Richmond had been married in 1533, to Mary Howard, a younger daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, though the marriage was never consummated due to the young couple’s tender ages. Young Henry passed away on 23rd July 1536 after a 2-week illness, aged only 17. The cause of death was a pulmonary infection, possibly tuberculosis. He was buried, with little ceremony, in Thetford Priory; the king did not want to draw attention to the loss of  his only son, legitimate or not.

Elizabeth was to have 3 more children with Edward Fiennes de Clinton; all girls. The eldest, Bridget, was born around 1536 and would marry Sir Robert Dymoke of Scrivelsby, Lincolnshire, a nephew of Gilbert Tailboys through his mother, Anne Tailboys. A 2nd daughter, Katherine, was born around 1538 and married William, 2nd Lord de Burgh of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, former brother-in-law of Henry VIII’s last queen, Katherine Parr. Their last daughter, Margaret, was born around 1539 and would go on to marry Charles Willoughby, 2nd Baron Willoughby of Parham.

Elizabeth continued to receive the king’s favour even into her 2nd marriage; although her husband did not share in the privilege. Land grants were made jointly to Elizabeth and her son George, but excluded Edward. Elizabeth returned to court, briefly in 1540, as lady-in-waiting to Henry’s 4th queen, Anne of Cleves, but seems to have withdrawn to her estates due to illness.

330px-South_Kyme_Church_-_geograph.org.uk_-_418304The date of Elizabeth’s death, and the cause of her final illness, remains unknown. Given that her eldest son, George, died in 1540, she may have had to suffer one last bereavement before her own death, sometime in 1540 or early 1541; leaving her teenage children and 3 very young daughters, the youngest possibly still in the cradle. By June 1541 Edward Clinton had remarried. He would go on to marry a 3rd time and gain rewards and titles under Elizabeth I, becoming Earl of Lincoln in 1572.

Elizabeth Blount’s final resting place has been lost to history. Although there was a brass plaque – now in a private collection – commemorating her and her husband, Gilbert Tailboys, in St Mary and All Saints Church, South Kyme, it seems that only Gilbert is buried there.³

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Footnotes: ¹Amy Licence, In Bed with the Tudors: ²Beverley A Murphy, Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son; ³Thanks to Georgina Faye Carter

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia, except Effigy of Elizabeth Blount ©BNPS,co,uk and funeral brass courtesy of flickriver.

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Sources: In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son by Beverley A Murphy; oxforddnb.com; The Life and Times of Henry VIII by Robert Lacey; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; The Earlier Tudors 185-1558 by JD Mackie.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

14 thoughts on “Bessie, Mother of the King’s Son

  1. Suzanne 10/04/2016 / 15:53

    It’s time we learned more details about Bessie’s family and descendants. Thanks a bunch bunch! And happy Spring!

    Like

      • Georgina Faye Carter 14/06/2017 / 16:03

        Hi Sharon, It is true that a brass plaque bearing Bessie’s name and that of her husband was uncovered at South Kyme however she was not actually buried there according to local knowledge. When the Tailboy’s family crypt was opened in 1805 they discovered only the body of a grown male and those of three children, one well preserved in a coffin filled with spirit. Although the brass plaque is now in a private collection the remains of the commemoration can be seen in the vestry of the small church.

        Like

  2. Jean Setering 10/04/2016 / 22:29

    Thank you. Very interesting 🙂

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

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