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