Elizabeth Blount, more commonly known to history as ‘Bessie’, was born around 1498-1500. Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir John Blount (Politician) and Catherine Blount (formerly Pershall). Elizabeth’s mother Catherine had served as a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon during her marriage to Prince Arthur. She served the couple at Ludlow, where they stayed as Prince and Princess of Wales. However, any hope of advancement appeared dashed for the Blount’s upon the premature death of Arthur in 1502 and the impoverished limbo in which Catherine of Aragon found herself.
However, the fortunes of the Blount family changed when 12-year-old Bessie became a maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon (who was now married to the new king Henry VIII). During this time, many contemporaries noted Bessie’s musical talent and beauty.
The King’s Mistress
It seems likely that the relationship between Henry VIII and Bessie emerged in 1514 shortly after the young king noticed her, possibly at a masque. It appears that very few people were aware of Henry’s affair with Bessie during the early years with only a few of Henry’s intimates alluding to the affair in letters or conversation. Unlike many of Henry’s later short-lived affairs, Bessie remained Henry’s mistress until around 1519 when she gave birth to an illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.
Henry Fitzroy was born in June 1519 and lived to be the only recognised illegitimate child of Henry VIII, although many historians have suspected that Henry may have fathered other children out-of-wedlock who weren’t acknowledged. Fitzroy was created Duke of Richmond and was eventually set up in his own establishment, away from his mother. Despite the fact that King Henry was immensely proud of his new son, the birth marked the end of his relationship with Bessie.
A few months after the birth of her son, Bessie married Gilbert Tailboys. In addition to arranging the marriage, Henry also granted his former mistress property which generated significant income. From this marriage, Bessie would have three more children before the death of her husband in 1530. As a wealthy widow, Bessie made a beneficial marriage to Edward Fiennes, a Lincolnshire gentleman who owned a bordering estate.
In 1536, Bessie’s eldest son (Henry Fitzroy) died of suspected tuberculosis at the tender age of 17. Bessie would have three more daughters from her third and last marriage before dying in 1539 or early 1540. The cause of her premature death at the age of 42 has traditionally been assumed to have been consumption.
Despite her importance as the mother of Henry VIII’s only recognised illegitimate son, Bessie has largely been forgotten by history. Bessie would be overshadowed by one of her infamous successors as Henry’s mistress, Anne Boleyn.