Elizabeth Blount, also known as Bessie, was a member of the English gentry and has the distinction of being one of the known and documented mistresses of King Henry VIII. She also was the mother of the king’s son, the only illegitimate child that Henry recognized as his own.
Elizabeth was born c. 1500. She was the second daughter and one of eleven children, eight of whom survived. Her father was Sir John Blount of Kinlet Hall in Shropshire. Her mother was Katherine Peshall whose father had fought for King Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth. Elizabeth would live her early years in Shropshire and she received a good education. She would grow up to be beautiful with a fair complexion, blue eyes and blond hair which was considered the epitome of Tudor beauty.
Elizabeth’s family was related to William Blount, 4th Lord Mountjoy, an important member of King Henry VIII’s court. She was also related to Sir John Croft who was the steward of Prince Arthur Tudor’s household in Ludlow. Either one of these men, or possibly both of them were instrumental in securing a place for Elizabeth at court where she could hopefully find a husband. She was given a position in the household of Queen Catherine of Aragon and records confirm she made her debut at court on March 12, 1512. She received a payment from the king of £100, half the wages of a full lady-in-waiting. This indicates she had a minor role in the Queen’s household. Six months later, she had joined the ranks of the maids-of-honor to the queen at full wages.
As a maid-of-honor, she would have attended the queen in her visits with foreign dignitaries, at her devotions and accompanied her to mass, waited on her at meals and joined her while embroidering and sewing the king’s shirts. Occasionally, the king would join the Queen and her ladies in entertainments and games and Elizabeth would have come into contact with him. It soon became clear Elizabeth excelled at singing and dancing and she participated in court masques and other pastimes.
As she became older, she participated more and more in court entertainments. At Christmas 1514 at Greenwich, Elizabeth participated in a masked pageant along with three other ladies and four men, including the king. The Queen was delighted with the women’s costumes and their performance and requested they perform the pageant again in her bedchamber. The king was Elizabeth’s partner.
King Henry had a pattern of taking mistresses when Queen Catherine was pregnant. It is most likely Henry became involved with Elizabeth sometime in April of 1518 when the queen became pregnant for the last time. Henry and Elizabeth’s relationship seems to have been of short duration. Because her son was born in the summer of 1519, she probably became pregnant by the king between April and November of 1518.
On October 3, Henry and his chief minister Thomas Wolsey welcomed an embassy from France. There was a feast in Wolsey’s palace at York Place. After the dinner, twenty-four dancers entered led by the king and his sister Mary. Elizabeth participated in the revels at York Place and this would be her last public appearance at court. Elizabeth and the king were likely having sexual relations at the time and she may have been pregnant on that date.
The arrangements for Elizabeth’s confinement were made by Wolsey. She delivered a healthy baby boy at the priory of St. Lawrence, Blackmore near Ingatestone, Essex with little fanfare or public notice. He was named Henry after his father and was given the royal patronymic Fitzroy (meaning son of a king). Henry was delighted and openly acknowledged the boy as his son. Wolsey was given responsibility for the child’s care but he most likely spent his early years with his mother. Elizabeth never returned to court and her affair with the king was not renewed.
Wolsey almost immediately arranged a marriage for Elizabeth with one of his wards, Gilbert Tailbois. Estates which were held in trust by the crown for Tailbois (his father was still alive but mentally ill) including land in Lincolnshire and Somerset, were released to Gilbert. Elizabeth was granted property by Parliament out of the Tailbois lands that amounted to £200 per annum. The couple were married in September 1519.
Gilbert Tailbois was knighted in 1525 and he would become a Member of Parliament and sheriff for Lincoln. Elizabeth had three children by him: Elizabeth, George and Robert. She remained on good terms with the king and he continued to favor her, giving her a succession of grants between June 1522 and January of 1539. In 1532, Henry gave her a gilt goblet with a cover that weighed thirty-five ounces.
In 1526, Elizabeth’s son by the king went to live in Durham House in the Strand. The king elevated him to the title of Earl of Nottingham and a double dukedom of Richmond and Somerset. From that point on, Elizabeth had little participation in the upbringing of her son. She did visit him occasionally and was kept informed of his education and activities. When Richmond was moved north to Yorkshire that year and given a full ducal household, many of Elizabeth’s relatives were given offices. Records indicate she gave her son a doublet and two horses and in 1529, she exchanged letters with Richmond’s tutor. Richmond remained warm and affectionate with his half-siblings.
Gilbert Tailbois died in 1530. In 1532, Lord Leonard Grey petitioned to marry Elizabeth but she turned him down. Sometime before February 12, 1535, she chose to marry another royal ward, Edward Fiennes de Clinton, ninth Baron Clinton and Saye who was fourteen years younger than her. This was a very respectable marriage. She had three daughters with him: Bridget, Katherine and Margaret. Elizabeth died sometime between January 1539 and June 1541 when there is a reference to Lord Clinton being remarried. Her place of burial is unknown.
Further reading: “Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son” by Beverley A. Murphy, “Henry VIII: The King and His Court” by Alison Weir, entry on Elizabeth Blount in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography written by Beverley A. Murphy, “Bessie Blount: Mistress to Henry VIII” by Elizabeth Norton