The Tudor Society
The Tudor Society

Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount by Sarah Bryson

Priory Church of St Laurence, Blackmore, which is all that is left of the priory where Bessie gave birth to Henry Fitzroy.

Priory Church of St Laurence, Blackmore, which is all that is left of the priory where Bessie gave birth to Henry Fitzroy.

I've been talking about Henry VIII's illegitimate and alleged illegitimate children in my Claire Chats videos recently so it seems appropriate to look at a woman who was the mother of the king's only acknowledged illegitimate child, his son Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset. Over to Sarah...

Elizabeth "Bessie" Blount was the daughter of John Blount and his wife Katherine Pershall. She was born around 1498 at Kinlet Hall. Bessie's grandmother, through her mother, had been Isabel Stanley, daughter of Sir John Stanley, a distant relative of Lord Thomas Stanley whom had married Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII's mother. It had been Isabel's brother Sir Humphrey Stanley whom had arranged the marriage between John Blount and his niece Katherine Pershall when the couple were only young. Sir Humphrey, while quite a rogue was also a Knight of the Body to King Henry VII.

The Blounts were a well-known family in Kinlet, Shropshire, and had royal connections. John and Katherine had eight children: George, William, Henry, Elizabeth, Anne, Rose, Isabel and Albora. The exact order of the births remains unknown, however, it is believed that George was the oldest son born in 1513 and therefore Bessie must have been some years older than her brother.

Little is known regarding Elizabeth's upbringing. It has been proposed that she was educated by her mother and other female members of the household. She would have expected to have been well-mannered and to hld all the qualities suitable for a young lady of the time, including being able to play a musical instrument, sing and dance; being able to undertake needlework; to know her place amongst men and, most importantly, being devout in the Catholic faith.

The Blounts had strong connections with the Tudor family. Elizabeth's uncle, Sir Humphrey, was a Knight of the Body to King Henry VIII and her great-grandfather, Sir Richard Croft, was granted the important post of steward of Prince Author's household and ultimately became one of Arthur's most important advisors. Her own father John had become one of Henry VIII's King’s Spears at the time of the new King's coronation. It is most likely through her father's influence that Elizabeth found a place at court.

By the autumn of 1513, Bessie had become a maid of honour to Queen Katherine. Bessie is first linked to Henry VIII during the Twelfth Night celebrations in 1514 when the King chose Bessie to be his dancing partner. At this time, Bessie was around fifteen years of age and the King around twenty three. While it may seem like an extreme age difference it was not uncommon at the English Court for a man to partake in courtly love with a younger woman. This would have consisted of writing her love notes and giving the woman tokens of love and admiration. Bessie was considered to be extremely beautiful, eloquent and gracious and Henry was tall, handsome and athletic and the match between the pair became well-known.

When exactly the pair became intimate is unknown and when the relationship ended is also speculated upon; as with all of Henry VIII's mistresses he chose to keep his relationships as private as possible.

It is believed that Bessie fell pregnant around August 1518 as in 1519 Bessie left court to stay at the Priory of St Lawrence in Blackmore, Essex. On June 15th Bessie Blount gave birth to a healthy young boy who was named Henry Fitzroy, after his father the King. The name Fitzroy is a Norman-French surname meaning “son of the King”, and it was common for illegitimate children of the King to receive this name. Henry VIII publicly acknowledged the boy as his own and his godfather was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey who was the right hand man of the King.

Little Henry's care was overseen by Cardinal Wolsey and on 7 June 1525, just before his sixth birthday the little boy was elected as a Knight of the Garter, the most prestigious order in England. Then on 18 June 1525 at Bridewell Palace he was created Earl of Nottingham as well as given the double Dukedom of Richmond and Somerset. As Earl of Nottingham and Duke of Richmond and Somerset the six year old boy was given lands and revenues around £4845, a staggering sum of money at the time.

Meanwhile Bessie was married to Gilbert Tailboys, a servant in Cardinal Thomas Wolsey's household, sometime before June 1522. It is most likely that the King asked his Cardinal to find a suitable marriage for his former mistress. Bessie's second child, a daughter named Elizabeth, was born sometime between July 1519 and June 1520, before her marriage to Gilbert Tailboys. It has been suggested that due to these dates the father of Bessie's second child was not her husband but Henry VIII. There has been a great deal of debate as to whether Henry VIII was or was not little Elizabeth’s biological father, yet at the end of the day it would not have made a great deal of sense for the King to recognise an illegitimate daughter born through an affair with a mistress. In addition Gilbert Tailboys recognised the child as his own and therefore, biological or not Elizabeth was considered to be Gilbert's by the law. Bessie would go on to have two more sons, George and Robert.

After Gilbert's marriage to Bessie his financial income increased dramatically through a series of lands and grants, rising from £66 13s 4d to £343. In 1523 Gilbert was appointed Sheriff in Lincolnshire and then in 1529 he was created Baron Tailboys of Kyme. Tragically, Gilbert died in April 1530 leaving Bessie a widow with three children.

It would seem that Bessie remained close to the King as the pair exchanged New Year's gifts with one another over the years. In addition to this Bessie appears to have taken a strong interest in her son’s upbringing. Despite being taken into the care of Cardinal Wolsey, Bessie made regular visits to her son as well as giving him a wide range of gifts including two bay horses and a doublet of white satin. This choice of gift shows that Bessie knew her son had a love of physical pursuits including horse riding.

The death of her first husband left Bessie a wealthy woman and because of this she was courted by Lord Lenard Grey, younger brother of the Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset. Lord Grey visited Bessie in 1532 and she welcomed him warmly into her home, however, she was taken back by his marriage request. Although Grey was around twenty years older than Bessie, the Greys were a wealthy and well-to-do family and the marriage would have benefited Bessie greatly. However, Bessie decided to marry Lord Edward Fiennes-Clinton. Although being a descendant of William I, Lord Edward was not a man of great status as Lord Grey had been. Born in 1512, Lord Edward was around fourteen years younger than Bessie and said to be very handsome. The pair must have made quite a striking couple with Bessie still being very beautiful. With no great need to remarry, for Bessie was a well off woman in her own right, it has been proposed that the pair married for love. They married sometime in 1534/35. The couple went on to have three daughters together.

Sadly, Henry Fitzroy died quite suddenly at St James's Palace on 22nd/23rd July 1536. There is debate as to what exactly killed the young man of just seventeen years of age. It is believed that Fitzroy died of tuberculosis, although another suggestion put forward has been pneumonic plague. There are no records on Bessie's thoughts or feelings regarding the loss of her son, but one can imagine the great grief and loss that she felt.

Bessie outlived her oldest son by three or four years. There are very few records of Bessie's life after the death of her son but it appears that Bessie died in childbirth, or shortly after giving birth, sometime between 6 February 1539 and 2 January 1540 at the age of only forty or forty-one. Sadly not even the place of Bessie's burial has been recorded.

Click here to view a Claire Chats video on Bessie Blounts children, Henry Fitzroy and Elizabeth Tailboys.

Sarah Bryson is the author of Mary Boleyn: In a Nutshell. She is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours and currently works with children with disabilities. Sarah is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. Visiting England in 2009 furthered her passion and when she returned home she started a website, queentohistory.com, and Facebook page about Tudor history. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing, Tudor costume enactment and wishes to return to England one day. She is currently working on a biography of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.

Sources

Image of the Priory Church of St Laurence, Blackmore © Copyright John Winfield and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

  • Hart, K 2009, The Mistresses of Henry VIII, The History Press, Gloucestershire.
  • Jones, P 2010, The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards, Metro Books, New York.
  • Licence, A 2014, The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: the Women’s Stories, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.
  • Norton, E 2013 Bessie Blount Mistress to Henry VIII, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.

There are 4 comments Go To Comment

  1. Leslie /

    Thank you for this post, I really did not know much about Bessie, except for she gave Henry his first son. She seemed like an interesting woman, and she certainly lived through many childbirths! Can you imagine how Catherine felt, not being able to give Henry an heir, and witnessing Henry’s relationship with Bessie which produced a healthy son conceived out of wedlock?

  2. Angela Allen-Blount /

    I am a direct descendant of Elizabeth [Bessie] Blount

    1. Della /

      Me too Angela. She was my 15th great grandma.

  3. Pingback: Bessie Blount – The Lassicist /

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Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount by Sarah Bryson

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