Tag Archives: Bessie Blount

Henry VIII- Sir Loyal Heart?

1531_Henry_VIIIThis particular post and the next five which will follow all this week are by way of a reminder to me about Henry’s wives, mistresses and alleged children.  Although he only ever acknowledged Henry FitzRoy, the son of Bessie Blount who he created duke of Richmond and Somerset there is speculation about other children.

1509 – 1527 – Henry ascended the throne aged seventeen and promptly married his widowed sister-in-law Katherine of Aragon.  She was twenty-three and the archetypal princess in need of a heroic knight having been kept in limbo by the machinations of her father Ferdinand of Aragon and Henry VII who were as tight fisted as one another.

Henry saw himself as Catherine’s knight errant riding to her rescue.  Unfortunately things soon went badly wrong when Ferdinand manipulated his young son-in-law into going to war with France and then making a peace which served his purposes rather than Henry’s.  At home Cardinal Wolsey gained the king’s ear and Catherine failed to provide Henry with an heir to the throne.  It wasn’t long before mistresses abounded but Henry continued to wear love knots on his jousting armour with his initials inter-twined with those of Katherine.

The birth of Princess Mary in 1516 squashed rumours that Henry was looking to have his marriage annulled but matters can’t have been helped as Katherine became more and more pious, even wearing a hair shirt. In addition Katherine was troubled by an infection of the womb that may have caused an unpleasant smell.  In 1525 Henry stopped living with his wife.

Key facts:
1510 – Lady Anne Stafford – the sister of the duke of Buckingham and wife of Lord Hastings. She was also Henry VIII’s cousin and eight years older than him. The alarm was raised by Anne’s sister Elizabeth who spoke with her brother Edward. He caught Sir William Compton in her chamber.  Anne’s husband was summoned; Anne was packed off to a nunnery; there was a scandal; Katherine of Aragon was deeply upset; Edward informed Henry that a Tudor wasn’t good enough to carry on with his sister.  It is perhaps not terribly surprising that Buckingham ended up being charged with treason in 1521 and executed.  Henry appears to have continued his affair until about 1513.  Meanwhile, Sir William Compton was close to the king.  He was a gentleman of the privy chamber and appears to have arranged for the king to entertain ladies in William’s house on Thames Street as well as facilitating the discrete arrival of ladies in Henry’s bed chamber at court.

1513 Ettiennette de la Baume  After the Battle of the Spurs and the Siege of Tournai Henry went to Lille where he stayed with Margaret of Austria, the regent of the Netherlands as well as sister to Emperor Maximillian.  Henry was reported as dancing in his bare feet and shirt sleeves with “Madam the Bastard.”  History has no idea who the lady might be.  However, the following year Henry received a letter from Ettiennette who was one of Margaret’s ladies.  She sent a bird and medicinal roots as well as a reminder that Henry had spoken “pretty things” to her and promised her 10,000 crowns or angels when she was married- a generous gesture!

1514- in the same year as receiving the letter from Ettiennette Henry placed the whole court in mourning “for love of a lady.”

Elizabeth Carew- Elizabeth was just twelve when she gave birth to a son.  She was the wife of Henry’s bosom buddy Sir Nicholas Carew.  He was a champion jouster and friend of the king’s.  Like Compton he facilitated opportunities for Henry to be alone with the ladies.  It has been suggested that one of the ladies was his own wife.  Henry gave the happy couple the standard Tudor wedding present of 6 shillings but Elizabeth’s mother received £500 whilst Elizabeth was given presents of jewels and a mink coat.  Make of it what you will – he might have just been being generous to the wife of a very good friend.

bessieblount1Bessie Blount – Bessie was one of Catherine’s maids-of-hounour.  When she first arrived at court she is estimated to have been about eleven years old. We know that she was well educated and that she took part in the masque that occurred at court. In July 1514 her father received £146 in advance wages and there is also the evidence of a letter from Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk where he makes a courtly gesture to both Bessie Blount and Elizabeth Carew.   She was married off to Gilbert Tailboys, a gentleman in Wolsey’s household.

1514- Jane Popincourt – The frenchwoman began her career in 1498 in service of Elizabeth of York but transferred into the household of Mary Tudor and from there into Katherine of Aragon’s household.  She achieved notoriety in 1513 when  Louis d’Orleans, the Duc de Longueville was captured and sent to the Tower.  She visited him often and commenced an affair.  When Mary Tudor was sent off to France to marry King Louis XII Jane should have gone with her as a lady -in-waiting but Louis struck her name from the list because she was an immoral woman announcing,  “I would she were burned.” She did finally return to France in 1516 received a parting gift of £100 from Henry.  Their affair had begun in 1514 when Katherine of Aragon was heavily pregnant.

Mary Boleyn- famously Henry owned a boat called the Mary Boleyn but he may have purchased it from Mary’s father. Mary, somewhat notoriously, was mistress of Francis I, the King of France before catching Henry’s eye.  When she returned to England she was married, rather promptly, to Sir William Carey a Gentleman of the Chamber. The wedding gift from the king was the usual 6 shillings.  The only written evidence that Mary was Henry’s mistress comes from Cardinal Pole.

 

Children

1519- birth of Henry FitzRoy, son of Bessie Blount followed in 1521 by a daughter called Elizabeth who received the name Tailboys.  There are some doubts about the dates. Bessie’s third child, George, was definitely her husbands so far as historians can tell these things.

1524- birth of Catherine Carey, daughter of Mary Boleyn.  She went on to marry Sir Francis Knollys.  Henry Carey was born in 1526.  However, Mary would have been pregnant with him in 1525.  It has been suggested that Mary’s pregnancy with Henry causedKing Henry to look more closely at Mary’s sister Anne.  Henry Carey’s parentage has always been much speculated upon. Understandably King Henry did not acknowledge either of these children as his because it would have rather sunk his argument about cohabiting with an in-law at a point when he was trying to divorce Katherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn.
 

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Cardinal Wolsey and the king’s women

wolseyCardinal Wolsey suffers from being the image of the Catholic Church prior to Henry VIII’s break with Rome and consequentially a figure for anticlerical comment.  He was also not careful about being nice to folk on the way up the greasy pole of ambition forgetting that he might well meet them on the way back down.  There were plenty of members of the nobility who were more than happy to bring him down to earth with a bump most notably the duke of Norfolk.  Today’s post, however, is about Cardinal Wolsey’s role in Henry VIII’s somewhat tangled love life.

Portrait_of_Anne_StaffordWolsey appears in a legal capacity in relation to Anne Stafford, the wife of Lord Hastings.  Anne was the daughter of the duke of Buckingham.  Her older sister Elizabeth was the wife of the earl of Sussex.  Both sisters served Catherine of Aragon.  A scandal broke during May 1510. We know of it thanks to the gleeful writings of Spanish Ambassador Luis Caroz.  What appears to have happened is that Henry, now that Catherine was pregnant, looked elsewhere for diversion.  He looked in the direction of his cousin Anne Stafford.  She was eight years older than him, married for the second time but childless (she went on to have eight children with Lord Hastings).  Somehow or other Elizabeth got to hear about the dodgy goings on and spoke with her brother who in turn summoned Lord Hastings.  Sir William Compton, one of the king’s friends, was caught in Anne’s private chamber.  There was a lively discussion with the duke of Buckingham announcing that his sister wasn’t for the likes of Compton or for Tudors either (he probably came to regret that particular phrase).  The upshot of it was that Hastings took his wife away from court to a nunnery where neither Compton or Henry could dally with the lady in question.  Henry VIII was deeply unhappy and banished Elizabeth and her husband from court for being a pair of tattletales which meant that the scandal came to the attention of Catherine of Aragon resulting in a very unpleasant argument between the royal couple.

Three years later Henry gave Anne a very expensive New Year’s gift well beyond what protocol or courtesy dictated giving rise to speculation that the couple resumed their relationship.  Double click on Anne Stafford’s image to open a new page and an earlier post from the History Jar on the subject.

Where does Wolsey fit into this?  Well in 1527 he had Sir William Compton charged with adultery with Anne.  Compton swore an oath that he hadn’t been up to any such thing but his will written in 1522 suggests otherwise as not only did he ask for prayers to be said for Anne but he left money for her use as well.

 

Let us move to the next mistress – Bessie Blount (b 1499 ish).  It is speculated that Henry’s affair with Bessie began sometime after 1513 during one of Catherine of Aragon’s periods of ill health but no one is certain of this.  There is a letter in existence from Charles Brandon (Mary Tudor’s second husband) to the king giving his very best wishes via the king to Bessie Blount and to Elizabeth Carew (who may well have been yet another royal mistress).  The letter gives rise to speculation that Brandon may have had a fling with Bessie prior to Henry showing interest, equally it might all have been part of the ritual of courtly love and have meant nothing at all or, equally, Brandon knowing the king’s interest in the ladies doing a spot of creeping. What we can be certain of is that in 1518 Catherine of Aragon miscarried a girl and that a month later Bessie Blount produced a bouncing baby boy.

Evidence suggests that Wolsey was given the task of arranging for Bessie to have somewhere suitable for her laying-in at the Priory of St Lawrence near Chelmsford or Jericho as it was known.  The evidence is based on the fact that Wolsey was absent from London for much of June 1519 which coincides with Henry Fitzroy’s birth.  Thomas Wolsey also became the child’s godfather. Fitzroy remained under the care of the cardinal until he fell from favour in 1529 when he moved under the auspices of the Howard family.

Queen Anne BoleynThe next mistress in our story proved to be Wolsey’s downfall.  Popular history has it that it was Wolsey who split the young lovers Henry Percy and Anne Boleyn from one another in 1523. Percy was the heir of the earl of Northumberland and was part of Wolsey’s household whilst Anne was nothing but a ‘foolish girl.’  George Cavendish, Wosley’s biographer, notes that the leading aristocratic families were happy to have sons in Wolsey’s household.  He was at the heart of power after all.  Cavendish says that Henry had already taken a shine to Anne Boleyn and wished to put a spoke in Percy’s plans to marry the girl. Wolsey sent Percy home with a flea in his ear to marry the girl his family had already selected for him; Mary Talbot, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury.  In 1532 Mary Talbot claimed that Henry Percy had been pre-contracted to Anne Boleyn and thus her marriage was null and void.  Given that Henry was in hot pursuit of Anne Boleyn at that time it wasn’t the most politically astute thing to have been saying. Even though Henry no longer looked to Rome a dispensation from the Archbishop of Canterbury exists thawing that all impediments to marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were removed  including the unknown ones!

We cannot know whether Anne and Henry Percy really did love one another or the extent to which their relationship had developed.  We have circumstantial evidence in terms of Henry Percy weeping when Anne Boleyn was condemned and also the evidence of Cavendish as well as assorted hostile ambassadors.   To find out more about George Cavendish and his version of events double click on the image of Anne Boleyn to open a new page and an earlier post.

What we do know for certain is that Wolsey was unable to unravel Henry’s marriage from Catherine of Aragon and that this was what led to his fall from favour in 1529 even though Henry is said to have declared he couldn’t afford to lose the cardinal and sent him a ring as a token of his affections when Thomas became ill.  Come to think of it Wolsey didn’t get on very well with Catherine of Aragon either.  She regarded him as pro-french and thus anti-spanish as well as being the man who ensured that she was sidelined in politics by making himself indispensable to the king.

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Catherine of Aragon – queen of England

catherineofaragon_1769901iHistory might have been very different had the baby boy born on New Year’s Day 1511 survived beyond the first perilous months of infancy. Starkey records that two hundred and seven pounds of gunpowder were used to celebrate the child’s birth.

 

Little Prince Henry, Duke of Cornwall lived for fifty-two days. He was buried at the end of February. Catherine although she became pregnant readily enough either miscarried or produced infants who died: seven in all. Sir Loyalheart still wore lover’s knots on his jousting armour but the much needed heir had yet to make an appearance.   By 1514 the first rumours of a possible divorce were bandied about but in 1516 Princess Mary was born and there was renewed optimism.

 

In the meantime Henry went to war with the French and Katherine became regent of England and Wales. It was she who was in charge of England when the Earl of Surrey fought and won the Battle of Flodden. Meanwhile Henry’s father-in-law let him down with regard to France. Ferdinand signed a peace deal with the French having inveigled Henry into a war against them. It cannot have helped his daughter’s marital relations. Ultimately Henry would marry his youngest sister to King Louis XII of France. Spain went from being an ally to an enemy. Later Henry would propose that his daughter Mary, should marry to cement a French alliance when all Catherine wanted was for her daughter to marry her nephew, Charles, the son of Juana and Philip.

 

Charles V was a disappointment to his aunt. Catherine worked carefully after Princess Mary’s proxy marriage to the French dauphin in 1518 to bring her own plans about. He visited England and in 1523 launched an invasion of France along with the English but he failed to fulfil his side of the deal. Then Charles won the Battle of Pavia against the French and dropped the English because he no longer needed them. He deserted his aunt as well.

 

There had been other changes over the years. Henry came to rely on Wolsey during his time in France in 1513. He didn’t turn to Catherine so readily for advice when he returned to England. In 1515 Wolsey became Lord Chancellor. He would remain at the heart of Henry’s government until his fall in 1529.

 

If Catherine was finding life difficult with Henry and with shifting European politics she gave no sign of it. In fact she became increasingly popular with her English subjects. There had been riots in May 1517 and Catherine had interceded on behalf of the condemned apprentices.

 

Catherine’s last known pregnancy occurred in 1518. By 1523 her good looks had faded and she’d become somewhat on the fat side. Francis I of France described her as “old and deformed.” Then, to add injury to insult, in 1525 Henry unveiled a son. Henry Fitzroy was Henry’s son with Bessie Blount and he was six years old. Catherine was not amused. The row was tremendous. If only she’d realised it, things were about to get worse.   In 1525 Henry stopped sleeping, it would appear, with Catherine. He may also have put his current mistress Mary Boleyn to one side.

 

In May 1527 the King’s Great Matter was discussed. Henry wanted to be rid of his Spanish wife. He wanted a divorce. He claimed that he was concerned for his immortal soul.  He should never have married his brother’s wife. He felt that his childlessness- because clearly girls didn’t count- was a consequence of his sin. He also wanted to marry Anne Boleyn who’d refused to become his mistress.

 

Poor Catherine had lost her looks, her fertility, her political influence and now she was going to lose her husband.

 

 

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Arthur Plantagenet -not quite royal and not a traitor.

200px-ArmsOfArthurPlantagenet_ViscountLisle.jpgWho would have thought that Henry VIII had a maternal uncle  whom he loved very much. He once said that Arthur had the kindest heart of anyone he knew.

Arthur Plantagenet was Elizabeth of York’s illegitimate half-brother. His mother was Elizabeth Lucie or Lucy or possibly Wayte. Thomas More describes her as a naïve girl who believed Edward IV’s blandishments. There were other mistresses and other children. History has not provided a clear list of which children belong to which mother or how long Edward’s various relationships lasted or indeed whether he was pre-contracted to any of them before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville.

In any event, young Arthur was born in Calais and is mentioned in an exchequer account of 1477 – assuming that Edward didn’t have any other natural male sons kicking around Calais at that time, and then vanishes into historical mist and fog  for a time or, depending upon which source you read, is brought up in Edward IV’s court. He emerges after the difficulties of 1483-1485 in Elizabeth of York’s household. On her death he moved into Henry VII’s household. He then appears to have been inherited by his half-nephew in 1509. He became an ‘esquire of the king’s bodyguard,’ and was apparently much loved by Henry – a dangerous position to hold as poor Arthur came to recognize.

 

In 1511 he married Elizabeth Dudley the widow of Henry VII’s tax collector. The position of husband having fallen vacant because young Henry VIII had executed his father’s two foremost tax collectors in a move guaranteed to win friends and influence people. Elizabeth also happened to be the daughter of Edward Grey, Viscount Lisle (who just happened to be the younger brother of John Grey of Groby who was married to Elizabeth Woodville prior to his death at the Second Battle of St Albans in 1461- making for a very complicated family tree.)   Now would probably also be a good time to mention the fact that Elizabeth Grey is Robert Dudley’s granny – which just makes things even more incestuous when you consider Elizabeth I’s interest in that young man.

 

Back to Arthur:
 he turns up in the records on 8 February 1513 having obtained protection from his creditors- he seems to have been frequently troubled by there being too much month for his money- on the proviso of going to sea with an expedition to Brittany. The ship in which he sailed had a nasty accident with a rock and he was saved from death by something close to a miracle. Understandably he took himself off on a holy pilgrimage to Walsingham to give thanks for his safe return from the sea.

His experience didn’t stop him from returning to Europe where he joined his nephew on his European military adventure culminating in the Battle of the Spurs  which was more of a skirmish than a battle whilst the real action was taking place at home on the English Scottish Border – the Battle of Flodden.

By the following year Arthur, who was in Henry’s good books, was Sheriff of Hampshire and a captain on the vice-admiral’s vessel, the Trinity Sovereign. He turns up at the Field of the Cloth of Gold and was one of the king’s carvers. He also seems to have played an important role in the life of young Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII’s natural son by Bessie Blount. In 1524 he became a Knight of the Garter.   As is the way of these things he became a widower and remarried in 1528 to Honor Basset nee Grenville.

 

On March 24 1538 he was made Deputy of Calais and then things started to go very wrong. In addition to personal debt; there were the shifting sands of the king’s religious preferences and the faith of the locals; keeping Calais’s garrison fed and watered; keeping the local elite happy- and they frequently weren’t very happy and spent a lot of time trying to stab him in the back; keeping Cromwell informed as well as providing him with a new pet dog (no I’m not making that up – it’s all there in Arthur’s letters) and then there was keeping his wife happy and ensuring his children received an appropriate education. Ultimately things did not go well – there were simply too many plates to keep spinning. Arthur was summoned back to London in 1540 and sent to the Tower whilst his wife and daughters were kept under house arrest in Calais.

Rumour had it that it was Honor who was the traitor rather than her unfortunate spouse – whatever the case it seems to be agreed by Bishop Foxe (who didn’t like her- suspecting that she was a closet Catholic) and another chronicler that she lost her senses and never fully recovered them as a consequence of  Arthur’s arrest and imprisonment.

 

Unfortunately for Arthur  there was a plot. His chaplain, Gregory Botolph had come up with the idea of handing Calais over to the Pope in the person of Cardinal Pole, who was of course, a Plantagenet and Arthur’s cousin.  Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury styled Arthur ‘cousin’ in her correspondence a fact which Henry VIII must have been aware.  By now the Tudor monarch was ageing and vicious.  Being a Plantagenet had become exceedingly dangerous to one’s health as Margaret Pole was to discover.  Botolph managed to evade capture even though an act of attainder was passed against him. He evaded the king’s wrath, unlike his fellow conspirators – Edmund Brindholme, Clement Philpot and Adam Damplip- who presumably paid the full price for their treason – though I need to find confirmation of that.

 

There was no direct evidence against Arthur. So naturally he was released? Er, actually – no, he wasn’t. Arthur remained a prisoner in the Tower until 1542. It seems unfair that Arthur should have been rounded up as a consequence of Botolph’s misdemeanours as Arthur had spent considerable time and effort trying to get his chaplain a living, first in Lowestoft and then in Kettlebarston in Suffolk as demonstrated in his various letters.  It seems even more unfair that Arthur who had served the Tudors most loyally should have been so poorly treated. At the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign a family member could be looked upon with warmth, especially one who could never make a claim on the throne because of his illegitimacy but by 1540 Henry VIII had contemplated forwarding the claims of his own illegitimate son so the bar-sinister wasn’t the protection it had once been.  Arthur languished in the  Tower – Cromwell fell, Katherine Howard was married and discarded, her various lovers executed along with the erstwhile queen.

In March 1541 Honor Plantagenet, Lady Lisle and her daughters were released. Their jewels were returned to them and £900 made available to cover their debts and transport them wherever they wanted.  Honor ultimately returned to her home county of Cornwall where she died in 1566.

Arthur remained in the Tower, although he was allowed to walk upon the ramparts.  According to one story Arthur saw his nephew sailing along the Thames in the royal barge, shouted and waved at him reminding henry that he’d locked his uncle up and left him there.  As you might expect, this is anecdotal and not back by any concrete evidence.  Arthur must have thought that things were looking up when his collar of the Garter was restored to him. Two months later Henry VIII sent him a diamond ring via the person of his secretary Sir Thomas Wriothesley– Arthur was possibly so overwhelmed by relief “immoderate joy” was the way that Holinshed phrased it that he had a heart attack. He died in the Tower, of old age rather than a sharp pain in the neck, and was buried there, leaving his wife distraught with grief whilst he himself became a footnote in Ambassador Marillac’s letter to Francis I. “Lord Lisle, formerly deputy of Calais, being out of trouble and his Order, honour and goods restored, died a few days afterwards.” (4 March 1542)

 

Papers were seized in Lisle’s house at the time of his arrest – 3,000 of them. They were mainly letters to him and his wife, ranging in date between 1533 and 1540, from ambassadors, princes, governors of French and Flemish frontier towns: he knew them through his role of courtier, politician and Deputy of Calais. There were letters to and from friends and agents in England; including one which suggests that sending Anne Boleyn a pet monkey wasn’t one of Arthur’s better ideas. There was also letters between him and his wife during visits of one or the other to England.  Thomas Cromwell complained about Arthur’s letter writing. He said that Arthur wrote trivia that was of no political interest what-so-ever and to please get a grip on his meanderings.  Of course, so far as historians are concerned they couldn’t disagree more. The Lisle Letters are one of the most important collection of Tudor documents that we have available to us.  They can be purchased in six volumes or one abridged selection.

 

As an aside it is worth noting that Arthur’s daughter Frances was an ancestress of George Monck who famously, or infamously depending on your viewpoint, fought on both sides of the English Civil War

 

 

‘Henry VIII: March 1542, 1-10’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 17, 1542, ed. James Gairdner and R H Brodie (London, 1900), pp. 62-71 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol17/pp62-71 [accessed 18 January 2016].

Notes and Queries (1926) CLI (aug21): 129-130. doi: 10.1093/nq/CLI.aug21.129.

Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study In Colonial And Medieval Families, 2nd Edition

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