HENRY VIII’S CHILDREN – PART 5: Etheldreda Malte

Ahead of the release of Henry VIII’s Children: Legitimate and Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Tudor King on 30 May (Pen & Sword Currently have a 30% off special throughout May), I am doing a 15-part series on some of the smaller, lesser-known details that are covered in the book. These details played out in the background of the defining moments of the lives of each of Henry’s children. Here is a short introduction to Etheldreda Malte, daughter of the king.

This portrait painted in the 1550s, was once considered to be Queen Mary

Among the women King Henry VIII is thought to have bedded, few stand out; but of those thought to have become pregnant, one was listed as a royal laundress. What did persist was the suggestion that Henry fathered a daughter named Etheldreda Malte. King Henry had his pick of women at court and had no reason to keep his indiscretions and choices a secret. So why did Etheldreda’s mother’s name get lost among the bevvy of women unfortunately remembered as royal mistresses? A daughter born to a laundress would have been forgotten, and yet the baby of this rumoured affair instead lived her life in the orbit of her supposed half-sister Queen Elizabeth.

The window between 1525-1535 is littered with supposed affairs between King Henry and ‘forgettable’ women, among them Joan (or Jane or Joanna) Dingley alias Dobson. Dingley was a common name at court among the lesser-ranked members right through to those working in the privy chamber. Sir John Moore, from the merchant hub of Dunclent (also spelt Dunkelyn, Douklin or Dobson) in Worcestershire, had a daughter named Joan (or Jane), who married James Dingley at a young age in the mid-1520s, but James died soon after. Later rumours claimed Joan ‘met’ King Henry, and Etheldreda (or Audrey) was born in the late 1520s, and the  Moore and Dingley families remained working quietly at court.

A man of a similar social standing as Joan Dingley was John Malte, the king’s tailor. By 1530, Malte was doing well in the king’s household, and by the mid-1540s had been lavished with manors and lands far beyond what a servant could expect, earning thousands from the leases granted to him while he designed, created, and finished King Henry’s attire. But in January 1547, as Henry was aware of his failing health, he finalised a 1,312l 12d (over £550,000 today) gift of lands, manors, and livestock to ‘John and Etheldred Malte, alias Dyngley, bastard daughter of the said John Malte and Joan Dyngley alias Dobson’. The fine lands and grants were for Etheldreda and her heirs, not for Malte’s sons.

King Henry had ordered Malte to ensure Etheldreda’s education, and she married Sir John Harington of Stepney, an attendant of Sir Thomas Seymour, and then the Grey family while Etheldreda served Princess Elizabeth, including spending time in The Tower with her during Queen Mary’s reign. Etheldreda remained close to Elizabeth only to die just months after seeing her alleged half-sister be crowned queen in 1559.

Up next, the making of Henry Fitzroy, Wannabe King of the North