Elizabeth Bessie Blount

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 who had married Margaret Beaufort, Henry VII’s mother. It has been Isabel’s brother Sir Humphrey Stanley who had arranged the marriage between John Blount and his niece Katherine Pershall when the couple were only young. Sir Humphry, while quite a rouge was also a Knight of the Body to King Henry VII.

The Blount’s 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 held all the qualities suitable for a young lady of the time including being able to play a musical instrument, be able to sing, dance, undertake needlework, know her place amongst men and most importantly be devout to the Catholic faith.

The Blount’s 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 becoming 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 the 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 publically acknowledged the boy as his own and his grandfather was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey who was the right-hand man of the King.

Little Henry’s care was to be 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 another son named 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.

After the death of her first husband Bessie left a wealthy woman and she was unsuccessfully 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 being around twenty years older than Bessie, the Grey’s 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 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 sometime in 1534/35. The couple would have three daughters together.

Tragically Henry Fitzroy died quite suddenly at St James’ Palace on 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 the pneumonic plague. There are no records on the thoughts or feelings regarding the loss of her son but one can imagine the great grief and loss that Bessie felt.

Bessie would only outlive her oldest son by three or four years. There are very few records of Bessie’s life after the death of her son however it does appear that tragically Bessie died in childbirth, or shortly after some time 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.

Henry Fitzroy

Henry Fitzroy, son of Bessie Blount and King Henry VIII

 

Sources:

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 2013, Bessie Blount Mistress to Henry VIII, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.

Licence, A 2014, The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII the Women’s Stories, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.

Wakefield and Towton: War of the Roses

by Philip Haigh

I am thoroughly enjoying Pen and Swords Battleground tour series! They have really inspired me to go back to England and take their books with me so I can visit some of these incredible sights. Philip Haigh’s book is another brilliant addition to this series and his driving and walking tour of the battles of Wakefield, Ferrybridge and Towton are so detailed and informative even just reading about the tour made me feel like I was there.

To begin Haigh provides a basic overview of the political atmosphere in England leading up to the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. What led Richard, Duke of York and his supporters to challenge King Henry VI and those at court? He details the battles, such as the Battle of St Albans, how the deaths of important political figures affected the decisions that were made and the events that unfolded over the course of the year. This detail provided a strong understanding of exactly why the Battle of Wakefield took place.

Haigh then provides an informative and detailed look at the events that unfolded from the Battle of Wakefield where Richard, Duke of York, his son Edmund, Earl of Rutland and the Earl of Salisbury, father of the famous Kingmaker, were killed. Moving to the political changes and upheavals in England following the battle, through to the little known, and often overlooked, Battle of Ferrybridge, to the famous and devastating Battle of Towton.

Detailed maps, photos and images are provided which help the reader to visualize what happened at Wakefield, Ferrybridge and Towton. I am a very visual person so I found these extremely useful to understand how the armies were positioned and how they maneuvered themselves within the battles.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the battle of Ferrybridge which happened the day before Towton and is often overlooked or only given a brief mention within other history books. Haigh goes into a great deal of detail about this battle, what happened, how the Yorkists and Lancastrian’s positioned themselves and maneuvered about one another, the deaths involved and how the loss of around 2000 men affected the upcoming atmosphere and morale of Towton.

Throughout the book, Haigh also provides names of other books that the reader may be interested in exploring if they wish to learn more about a certain battle, person or aspect of the Wars of the Roses. I thought this was a great touch as it provides the reader with an opportunity to further their knowledge if something in particular sparked their interest.

The tour guide at the end of the book was absolutely brilliant. The guide is very detailed, providing lots of information about how to travel along the same route as those that did five hundred years ago. It also provides suggestions at where to stop and park and even ideas of places to pause and have a bite to eat or get a refreshment. These were great little touches. In addition, there were lots and lots of photos and maps so you can check if you are in the right place.

I thoroughly enjoyed Philip Haigh’s book on the battles of Wakefield and Towton and I learnt a great deal about the battle of Ferrybridge, which is so often overlooked, but just as important. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about important events in England’s history.

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Towton: The Battle of Palm Sunday Field 1461

by John Sadler

The Battle of Towton was the bloodiest battle to take place on English soil. On Palm Sunday, 29th March 1461, approximately 28 000 men died fighting for their Lords and the King of England – be it Edward IV or Henry VI. This is one of the most bitter, devastating battles in English history, and through his book, John Sadler has brought the battle to the forefront once more.

Sadler’s book is brilliantly researched and this is evident in the quality of the writing and the detail included. Sadler starts the book explaining why the battle of Towton took place, outlining the events that led up to the disastrous day. It was interesting to read about the political upheaval of the day and how the decisions of those within the court filtered down to affect the men and women of England. He talks about influential players of the time including Richard, Duke of York, Henry VI, the Earl of Warwick, Richard’s son Edward IV and outlines their relationships and their political and personal beliefs of what they felt right for England. It was interesting to learn how these men maneuvered themselves around one another, forming factions and how their decisions led to a number of battles that saw changes in the Kingship of England at the time.

Several chapters are dedicated to the battle itself and Sadler goes into great detail to explain what happened from the night before the battle, through the changing events within the battle, to the tragic aftermath. What I found most interesting was the information that most other books forget to include, the little details such as the women involved with the battle. Women who carried water to the soldiers, facing accidental harm or misfortune to provide much-needed water to overheating men. There is no glossing over the reality of the battle and Sadler discusses what a battle on this scale was like during the Medieval ages. He talks about the armour the men would have had, or in some cases did not have. He discusses the limited sight men had to struggle with due to helmets worn, the overheating and exhaustion they faced and the strategies that needed to be used to survive. He talked about the length of the battle and how men would have had to have taken breaks, how it would have been impossible to fight for five-plus hours straight without rotating men on the field.

Sadler also discusses the weapons that would have been used and the injuries that men sustained. He talks about the famous finds of the Towton burial trenches and the skeletons of men that were slaughtered during and after the battle. He talks about the wounds upon the skeletons and personally I found this to give a human touch to what these tens of thousands of men would have endured. These were real men who lived and died and not simply figures five hundred years removed. On a side note, I have seen one of these skeletons and the battle injuries were horrific!

After the battle Sadler talks about what happened to the victors and the repercussions that befell the losers. He talked about how the battle affected the monarchy and ruling of England. He also details what the battlefield looks like today and how with such momentous loss and devastation, there is little to remember where the battle took place. He gives some information about how to visit the battlefield and to walk in the footsteps of the men that fought.

The only addition I would have liked to Sadler’s book would be maps. There were two hand-drawn maps but these were quite simple and did not lend to a great deal of detail. An updated map with more detail showing the movements of the participants of the battle would have been a brilliant addition to the book.

I have been enjoying Pen and Sword’s books on English battles and John Sadler’s book on the battle of Towton is quite possibly the best. Sadler details the sheer brutality of the battle giving a human touch to the reality of the day. Well written and with a wealth of information, I would strongly recommend John Sadler’s book on the bloodiest battle to take place on English soil.

Towton

For today’s shout out I wanted to focus on one of my all-time favourite historians and authors, and all-round good guy, Matthew Lewis!

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Matthew is an author, historian and also the Education Officer for the Richard III society – a pretty big responsibility. He’s written a number of books including:

  • The Wars of the Roses: The Key Players in the Struggle for Supremacy
  • The Survival of the Princes in the Tower: Murder, Mystery and Myth
  • Richard III: Loyalty Binds Me
  • Richard Duke of York: King by Right
  • Medieval Britain in 100 Facts
  • The Wars of the Roses in 100 Facts
  • Henry III: Son of Magna Carter
  • Steven and Matilda: Cousins of Anarchy (his latest book)

It’s clear that Matthew Lewis has a love of history and one thing I love and respect about his writing is that he’s fair. There’s no pressing of personal thoughts and beliefs, instead, he uses primary sources to peel back the long-held beliefs about history and presents the facts as they are and allows the reader to make up their minds. It’s clear that he does a huge amount of research when he writes a book and this adds a wealth of credibility to his work. I’ve read six of Matthew’s books and I’ve loved each and every one of them.

I’ve had several really great conversations with Matthew about the Wars of the Roses and although we don’t always see eye to eye (Richard III did kill my beloved Sir William Brandon after all!) he’s a man that knows what he’s talking about and can also have a good laugh.

If you haven’t read any of Matthew Lewis’ books then I strongly encourage you to get to your local bookstore or jump online and order them – I promise you won’t regret it!

You can find Matthew on:

Twitter

Facebook

 

Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou: A Marriage of Unequals

By Amy Licence

 

Amy Licence’s latest book on Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou is one of her best to date. Thoroughly researched and written in such fluent and easy to read style, Amy details the turbulent and often confusing life of King Henry VI while also shining a light onto Margaret, an often-maligned Queen.

While I have read quite a lot about Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou, a large portion of what I have read only details Margaret’s life in relation to her husband. She is mentioned often as a side thought, or merely reacting to the actions of those around her, yet Licence portrays Margaret as her own person. She details Margaret’s life, from her family lineage to her upbringing to the events that saw her become Queen of England. She discusses how Margaret’s upbringing, the events she witnessed, the people she knew, how these helped to form her beliefs, both religious and political.

Throughout her time as Queen, Licence details Margaret’s behaviour, decisions and reactions as an individual, rather than as an extension of her husband. It was utterly fascinating to view Margaret in this new light, to credit her with her own decisions and thoughts – as best as have been recorded – and to see that in fact, she was a strong, determined woman, rather than a she-wolf seeking nothing but revenge. In England she was defined by strict gender roles, a woman and a Queen was not to be a political leader. Yet growing up in France Margaret had seen strong women become leaders and fighters for what they believed in. Margaret was a Queen but she was also a wife and mother and it was these last two relationships that continued to push her forward, to fight for her family, despite the terrible times she endured.

Licence also explores Henry’s deeply personal religious beliefs and how these affected not only his behaviour as a man but also how it had a huge impact upon the decisions he made, or in some cases, did not make, as a King. Henry VI is often portrayed as weak and mad, having no personal strength or the ability to make decisions for himself. Yet Licence shows that Henry VI could be strong, he could be a leader, and that he often responded to the situations around him on the basis of strongly held religious beliefs, not because he was incapable of doing so.

I also valued the detail in which events and decisions were described. Major political moves were not simply mentioned and glossed over, they were discussed with depth, with primary letters often included, to show a true understanding of the events of the time. As a reader I wanted to keep reading, to find out what happened next, to learn what drove Henry and Margaret to make the extraordinary decisions that they made.

I thoroughly enjoyed Licence’s book on Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. It is clear that she has spent a great deal of time delving into primary sources to gain a deeper understanding of who Henry and Margaret were as people, not just as a King and Queen, and in doing so has brought their lives to the forefront once more. I would highly recommend adding this book to your bookshelf!

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