Elizabeth FitzGerald, ‘Fair Geraldine’

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, painted by Steven van der Meulen

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Woodville, had been born in Ireland in about 1528 and was the second daughter of Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare. Her mother was Lady Elizabeth Grey, daughter of Sir Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset and only surviving son of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s queen, and therefore 1st cousin to Henry VIII.

A wealthy, cultivated family, her early childhood was spent at the Kildare’s stately home of Maynooth, in Ireland, with her father acting as the king’s Lord Deputy in Ireland. However, in 1533 the earl was summoned to court to answer complaints against him. Claiming illness, he initially sent his wife, in hope that she could appease the king, but his presence was demanded and in 1534, the ailing earl left for England, leaving his son, Lord Offaly, as his deputy in Ireland. The Earl of Kildare was charged with treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he died of illness in August 1534. His son had come out in open rebellion against the king and would himself be executed at Tyburn in 1537.

The rebellion caused the downfall of the House of Kildare; the title forfeit and their estates confiscated. Lady Kildare and her children sought assistance from her brother, Lord Leonard Grey, settling on his estate at Beaumanor in Leicestershire. Her eldest son and the Kildare heir, Gerald Fitzgerald,  fled to exile on the continent, protected from Henry VIII by both Francis I of France and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.

Lady Kildare’s family connections to the king meant that young Elizabeth Fitzgerald was able to enter Princess Elizabeth’s household in 1539, possibly as a maid of honour but ostensibly to be raised alongside her cousin. She was only 9 or 10 years old at the time while the princess was about 6-years-old. While in the princess’s household, Elizabeth made an impression, it seems, particularly on Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who wrote a sonnet, From Tuscan cam my ladies worthi race in praise of her as his Fair Geraldine;

Bewty of kind, her vertues from above; Happy ys he that may obtaine her love¹.

Elizabeth’s 1st husband, Sir Anthony Browne

In 1542 Elizabeth married her first husband, the wealthy courtier Sir Anthony Browne, who was Henry VIII’s Master of the Horse. The marriage meant that Elizabeth now had the means to restore the family fortunes, applying for military command for her brother, Edward. Her older brother, Gerald returned to England in the reign of Edward VI; he was knighted and his lands restored. In 1554, during the reign of Mary I, Gerald married his sister’s stepdaughter, Mabel (Sir Anthony Browne’s daughter by his 1st wife, Alice Gage).

Elizabeth was widowed in 1548 her two sons by Sir Anthony, Edward and Thomas, had both died in infancy.

In 1552 Elizabeth married again, this time to Edward Fiennes de Clinton, ninth Baron Clinton and Saye; the same Baron Clinton who had married Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount in 1535. Clinton had remarried in 1541, after Bessie’s death, to Ursula, daughter of William, seventh Baron Stourton; Ursula was a niece of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland in the reign of Edward VI. She died in 1551 and Edward married Elizabeth the following year.

Sir Edward Fiennes de Clinton had led a very successful military career and in May 1550 he had been appointed a privy councillor and lord high admiral of England. He was made a knight of the garter in April 1551 and, later in the same year, was given the former Howard property of Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire, which he made his principal residence. Clinton was an adept political survivor; after being involved in the plot to put Jane Grey on the throne he was imprisoned for a short while, but managed to win Queen Mary’s trust and was active in her military campaigns.

Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire

With the accession of Elizabeth I, Clinton was appointed a privy councillor and his wife, Elizabeth Fiennes de Clinton, the queen’s childhood friend, was appointed Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber ‘without wages’ (this indicated her high-born status, as salaried members were drawn from the lower ranks of the nobility).

In 1572 Baron Clinton was rewarded for his service with the earldom of Lincoln.  Elizabeth had practically been raised with the new queen since she was ten years old and was thought to have considerable influence; she regularly received petitions and suits from others requesting she intervene with Elizabeth I on their behalf. She was also able to use her influence at court to benefit her own family; in 1569 Elizabeth and her brothers, Gerald and Edward, and sisters, Margaret and Cecily, successfully petitioned Queen Elizabeth for  the  restoration of the Fitzgeralds to their blood and lineage.

Edward trusted his wife considerably, and made her executor of his will, bequeathing Semprigham to Elizabeth, and Tattershall to his eldest son, Henry (his son by Ursula). Edward, Earl of Lincoln, died in 1585 and just before his father’s death, his son Henry had written to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, accusing Elizabeth of attempting to deprive him of his inheritance, and of maligning him to the queen. However, Henry’s tactic failed and the will was confirmed in 1587.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, by an unknown artist

Elizabeth herself appears to have withdrawn from court following her husband’s death. When she died in March 1589, the ‘Fair Geraldine’ was laid to rest beside her husband in the Lincoln Chapel of St George’s Chapel Windsor.

Although one of the greatest noble ladies of her time, with her only 2 children having died in infancy, Elizabeth’s legacy is in the poetry left by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey;

Do not deface them than wyth fansies newe, Nor chaunge of mindes let not thy minde infect.¹

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Footnote:  ¹H. Howard [earl of Surrey], Poems, ed. E. Jones (1964)

Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia, except photo of Tattershall Castle, ©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Bibliography: Accounts of the Chamber and Great Wardrobe Public Record Office; Howard [earl of Surrey], Poems, edited by E. Jones (1964); John Leland Leland’s itinerary in England and Wales 1535-43 edited by L Toulmin Smith (1906-10); Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII 1509-47 edited by JS Brewer, James Gairdner and RH Brodie, HMSO London 1862-1932; Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry VIII from November MDXIX to December MDXXXII edited by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas 1827; Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: the Recollections of Rose Hickman edited by Maria Dowling and Joy Shakespeare; Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 1980 & 1982; A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall by Sue Allan; Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son by Beverley A Murphy; Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; Henry VIII: King and Court by Alison Weir; In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger; Ladies-in-Waiting: Women who Served at the Tudor Court by Victoria Sylvia Evans; The Earlier Tudors 1485-1558 by JD Mackie; The Life and Times of Henry VII by Neville Williams; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence; Oxforddnb.com; Tudorplace.com

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Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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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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.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly