HENRY VIII’S CHILDREN: Part 2 – The Birth of Elizabeth Tailboys

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 snippet the story of Bessie Blount’s second child born to King Henry.


When the king’s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy was born in June 1519, the royal court was on progress, only travelling north to Essex in August. King Henry and the court stayed at Havering for three nights, less than twenty miles south of Blackmore, where Henry’s mistress Bessie Blount and her new son lived at the priory. Nearby Newhall Palace then hosted the banquet of the summer, where the king spent 200l (over £100,000 today) on a masque to be performed, and this is likely when the myth of how Henry boasted of a son was born (in truth, he toasted King Francis’ new son Henri). Henry then moved to Heron Hall, just six miles from Blackmore between 12-14 September, and likely met with Bessie and her son at this time, or indeed several times during these close movements around her home in August and September.

Blackmore Church, via wikimedia commons

Assuming Bessie had a straightforward birth, by mid-September, Bessie would have recovered and been able to resume her relationship with the king. The king was not a man to use and discard women; despite the later image of a gluttonous, womanising tyrant, Henry was once a charming, popular, athletic, and intelligent man who loved to love. There is nothing to suggest Bessie was tossed aside. Given that Bessie then gave birth again, likely at Blackmore in mid-1520, her relationship with Henry was still ongoing, and their baby Elizabeth could have been conceived during Henry’s September visit to the area.

Newhall Palace, renamed Beaulieu Palace in 1523, via wikimedia commons

Bessie’s second child shared the surname of her first husband, whom she only married several years later. Baby Elizabeth possibly had no surname for a time, living quietly with her mother at Blackmore. Lord Herbert of Chirbury, who wrote of King Henry with the benefit of now lost evidence, recorded, ‘(Henry Fitzroy), roving so equally like to both his parents, that he became the first emblem of their mutual affection’. Whether Herbert meant the literal ‘first’ emblem or its sixteenth-century meaning of ‘foremost’, both suggest there was more than one result of their relationship.

In June 1520, King Henry and the entire court attended the Field of Cloth of Gold in France, including Bessie’s father John Blount, and all their extended relatives in royal service. Bessie Blount is the notable exception. Given baby Elizabeth was twenty-two in 1542, she was born while the king was away. Bessie’s absence in France is suddenly much easier to explain.

It was two more years before Henry had Cardinal Wolsey find a husband for Bessie, though some historians suggest Henry wanted Bessie married off as soon as Fitzroy was born, and that baby Elizabeth was not Henry’s daughter. There are things to suggest that was not true. Given that Bessie did not fall pregnant again after her daughter Elizabeth’s birth in mid-1520, her relationship with the king may have cooled.  Bessie and her family had not received much in the way of gifts or grants from the king, but Henry could help her find a good marriage. Cardinal Wolsey, who had been overseeing Fitzroy’s life and housing, arranged for Bessie to marry one of his wards, Gilbert Tailboys. Tailboys was a suitable husband and would gain the barony of Kyme after his father died. The date of the marriage goes unrecorded, but Bessie and her husband received the Tailboys’ lands in Somerset, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire on 18 June 1522, Fitzroy’s third birthday. This suggests the marriage had recently taken place, with the land worth 200l and with an annuity of 40l (around £20,000 today).  While Bessie’s many sisters were doomed to the fate of simple marriages and provincial lives, Bessie was safe. More sons for Bessie quickly followed, with George born in 1523 and Robert born in 1528, and at least three tragic losses between the two.

Little Malvern Priory, one of the last lands given to Elizabeth Tailboys by King Henry in late 1546, via wikimedia commons

Meanwhile, Henry Fitzroy’s sister Elizabeth, while named Tailboys, was not forgotten by the king, even if she was not acknowledged as his daughter. King Henry visited Elizabeth once she was grown, helped her gain the title of baroness in her own right, and backed her in legal battles against her terrible first husband. Elizabeth was able to live the life of a titled and wealthy heiress, and married Ambrose Dudley, becoming the Countess of Warwick. Elizabeth Tailboys had never been welcome among the Tailboys family but was certainly welcome in noble circles throughout her life.

Up next, Part 3 – The Carey Children

HENRY VIII’S CHILDREN: Part 1 – The Royal Lockdown of 1517-18

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.

PART 1: The Royal Lockdown of 1517-18

King Henry, in his typically luxurious manner, hosted a banquet at Greenwich on 7 July 1517, to celebrate England’s new League in Defense of the Church, a three-sided treaty with King Charles of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian. This treaty specifically excluded France, but also defended the Catholic faith. The festivities of St Thomas’ Day celebrated the alliance; dinners, banquets, jousts, dancing, music, and a buffet thirty feet long, with meals brought out on elephants, panthers, and lions. But, among the glorious celebratory jousts, the worst possible scenario occurred, a huge outbreak of sweating sickness. The international pageant was not over, but ominous news of sudden deaths arrived at the court. While the disease did periodically spring up in England, it is also possible the hundreds of international visitors may have transported the illness. Two of King Henry’s younger privy chamber men, Thomas Baron Clinton, and Lord Grey of Wilton, died suddenly at Richmond.

Windsor Castle, via wikimedia commons

Henry and Katharine fled immediately to Windsor and did not see their eighteen-month-old daughter Princess Mary for months. The last thing they needed was their precious daughter succumbing to the illness, not unlike the illness that killed Prince Arthur fifteen years earlier. The illness spread through England and then Europe, and deaths quickly ran into the thousands. Cardinal Wolsey fell sick with the illness for the fourth time and vowed to take a pilgrimage to Walsingham if he survived. The illness killed noble and common-born subjects with impunity, and with the king away, the locals of London planned more attacks on foreign merchants.

Farnham Castle drawbridge entrance, via wikimedia commons

Henry and Katharine passed the months in seclusion, but those around them kept dying, and they fled to Farnham Castle to allow Windsor to be cleaned. They only returned to Windsor for New Year, where they could be reunited with Princess Mary. Mary stayed on with her parents at Windsor, celebrating her second birthday, and met Venetian ambassador Sebastian Guistanian on 28 February 1518. The sweating sickness was still out of control, but the ambassador touched Mary’s hand, given more deference and respect than Katharine. It was at this meeting that Henry uttered his well-known boast that Mary never cried, and Mary’s first public word. After the meeting, Henry and Katharine, and likely Mary too, left for Woodstock Palace to continue running from the sweat.

Woodstock Palace, via wikimedia commons

While Henry started his first book in isolation, Assertio Septem Sacramentorum, a collection of claims refuting Martin Luther’s works, the quiet time for the royal couple had a better result; Queen Katharine was finally pregnant, likely conceiving in early March 1518. The queen took a private pilgrimage to St Frideswide’s in Oxford, to give an offering to Christ Church cathedral’s relics. Having multiple children gave Henry and Katharine options; if Katharine had a son, England would have an heir, and Queen Claude of France had just given birth to a son. Mary could marry him and be Queen of France.

This time, thanks to the illness and the resulting isolation, Katharine kept her pregnancy quiet, and Princess Mary was returned home to Ditton to remain safe, as even Henry’s bedchamber servants were dying. Katharine did have a few ladies to keep her company during isolation, one being twenty-year-old Bessie Blount. While still in isolation, Princess Mary’s future marriage to infant Francis, Dauphin of France was agreed upon on 30 June 1518, and at once, this upset King Charles of Spain and Emperor Maximilian, the same rulers Henry had painstakingly entertained one year earlier when the banquet unwittingly released the sweating sickness.

Bisham Manor, once attached to Bisham Priory, via wikimedia commons

Around the time of the marriage treaty, the sweating sickness infiltrated Princess Mary’s household, when one of her servants fell desperately ill. Henry ordered Mary’s household to move to Bisham, eleven miles northwest of her home at Ditton, before travelling to The More in Hertfordshire, where the king remained safe with Katharine. By this time, Katharine would have been visibly pregnant, and news of her pregnancy had spread. After time with her parents and staying well, Princess Mary’s household continued to move through summer homes, stopping at Havering, Hatfield, and Tittenhanger, before heading back to Ditton. This period of dodging the sweating sickness gave Mary one of the longest periods of her life when she could stay with both of her parents.

Havering Palace, via wikimedia commons

By September 1518, it was back to business as usual at the royal court, with a lavish banquet in honour of French delegates in London for Mary’s betrothal treaty on 2 October. England was giving away its heir in marriage; it was a massive gamble and the couple needed a son, so France did not take England’s crown when Mary married. As Queen Katharine was due to give birth to the longed-for royal son, King Henry was paired for dancing at the banquet with Bessie Blount.

Queen Katharine’s last child, a baby girl, was stillborn or died just after birth on 10 November 1518. Bessie would give birth to illegitimate Henry Fitzroy nine months after the banquet.

Up next -Part 2: The Birth of Elizabeth Tailboys