In the next instalment of horny Henry VIII’s many royal mistresses, the spotlight turns to the mistress who gave him what he desired most – a healthy son. The lady that gave him that was Bessie Blount.
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive surviving image of Elisabeth Blount (better known as Bessie). Some historians have speculated that this portrait miniature (right) may be of her, but unfortunately its probably one of those situations where we will never find out the true identity of the sitter.
Bessie’s Early Life
Bessie was one of eleven children of a Shropshire knight. She was born c. 1500 to Sir John Blount and Catherine Pershall of Kinlet, Shropshire. Her family lived close to Ludlow and several relatives were employed in the household of Henry VII’s eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales.
Bessie first came to the Tudor court in March 1512. By 1514 she was a maid of honour to then queen Catherine of Aragon.
Dennis Friedman in his book Ladies of the Bedchamber describes Bessie as ‘an accomplished dancer and singer…high spirited and energetic‘. Contemporary sources describe her as ‘eloquent, gracious and beautiful‘. Lord Herbert of Chirbury wrote Bessie ‘was thought for her rare ornaments of nature and education to be the beauty and mistress-piece of her time‘. Basically, Bessie would have outshine Catherine, who by 1514 was verging on 30 years old and whose health was already beginning to suffer because of several miscarriages.
Henry VIII and Bessie
Henry and Bessie’s romance may have began at Christmas 1514. In a masque at a Christmas pageant in Greenwich Bessie played one of the Four ladies of Savoy ‘rescued’ by the Four Knights of Portugal. It’s no surprise that one of these knights was Henry himself.
Bessie Blount is remembered in history as the woman to give Henry his first male child i.e. the only present a 16th Century monarch truly wanted!
Bessie would have fallen pregnant in around August 1518 – while the queen was six months pregnant herself. Unfortunately, Catherine gave birth to a still born daughter, and would go on to have no further pregnancies.
In contrast, Bessie gave birth to a healthy baby boy in the spring of 1519 at a house in Blackmore, Essex known as Jericho. There is some debate among historians about if the house was kept by Henry for the sole purpose of entertaining his lady friends.
Henry did not make any attempt to hide his joy at the fact Bessie had produced a male child. The boy was christened Henry Fitzroy, meaning ‘son of the king’. He further rubbed Catherine’s face in it by organising celebrations for the birth of his son and having him bought up at the royal court. By the time he was six Henry Jr. was Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and by ten he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Learn more about the life of Henry Fitzroy in this post by Tudor Blogger.
Bessie became known as the ‘Mother of the King’s Son’, and would have been shown a certain degree of respect around court.
The end of the relationship
Most historians seems to agree that the relationship ended sometime in 1519, after the birth of Henry Jr. Others suggest
it didn’t finish until 1522, where there is firm evidence Bessie was finally married off by this point. Due to the secretive circumstances in which the affair was carried out, we will probably never really know the truth.
After her first husband’s death in 1530 she married Edward Fiennes de Clinton, the 9th Baron Clinton in 1533. She bore him three daughters. Bessie died in 1539, probably of consumption.
Poor Bessie. You think after giving Henry VIII his heart’s desire she could have whatever she wanted. However, despite having the king’s son the only thing she was rewarded with was a marginally advantageous marriage. This was the same reward as other mistresses – like Mary Boleyn – received. Bessie did get a certain degree of respect and recognition as mother of the king’s son, which earns her one more star than Mary B.
While Bessie is described as beautiful by a handful of sources, most people seemed to comment on her personality. Basically she seemed to have been a really fun person to have been around, and we all know how Henry VIII preferred having fun to doing any actual ruling.
We’re looking at a potential 4 to 5 year long relationship here. This was very long by Henry’s standards!
If a monarch was to have a child out of wedlock now it would be scandalous, but back then having illegitimate offspring – much like having a mistress – was almost the norm for male monarchs.
Overall Mistress Rating **
I think the fact that Bessie Blount has ended up with the same score as fellow mistress of Henry VIII Mary Boleyn is very interesting. Even though Bessie gave Henry a much longed for son, it didn’t leave her much better off in the scheme of things. I think this is indicative of the way Henry treated his mistresses generally, and also perhaps of the types of personalities he liked – women who conformed to the subservient norms of Tudor society, and who did what they were told when their king told them to do it. It really makes the actions and personality of his future queen Anne Boleyn stand out in stark contrast.
- Bessie Blount: Mistress to Henry VIII by Elizabeth Norton
- The Mistresses of Henry VIII by Kelly Hart
- The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards by Phillipa Jones