Today I’m shedding a light on what is fast becoming one of my favourite history blogs – Hisdoryan. I wrote a guest piece for the lovely Claire on Mary Boleyn – you can read it here: http://hisdoryan.co.uk/mary-boleyn.
However, this week Claire looks at Bessie Blount, probably the lesser known of the pair, but their relationship was actually better-known at the time, as Bessie gave Henry VIII the thing he most wanted – a son, Henry Fitzroy.
You can read Claire’s take on Bessie here – http://hisdoryan.co.uk/bessie-blount but I have also posted her ratings below, as I find this part of her Royal Mistresses series so fascinating!
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.
The wonderful Claire Miles (aka Hisdoryan) has done a series on royal mistresses, and rates them all according to various criteria like power, beauty, longevity, and scandal. Ratings for Mary Boleyn from Hisdoryan’s blog as below:
One thing Mary Boleyn did not have was power. If it wasn’t for rise of her sister Anne, she would probably have become another footnote in history.
Of course there’s lots written about Anne Boleyn and her striking appearance – but the little that is written about Mary suggests she was the prettier of the two sisters by the standards of the time. However, there is some debate amongst historians about what she actually looked like. Some say she fitted the curvy, blonde-haired, blue-eyed ideals of beauty of the time. Others examine the one surviving portrait of her and say she was a brunette!
Mary and Henry’s relationship lasted for approximately three years. That may not seem like long in the scheme of things, but it was longer that some of Henry’s marriages!
We must also remember that Mary packed giving birth to two children into these three years too. And these children were both possible illegitimate offspring of Henry. She may not have been in Henry’s bed long, but she was certainly busy!
Mary Boleyn probably didn’t know the meaning of the word scandal – unlike her sister…
Overall Mistress Rating **
Poor Mary. Another woman that was a candidate for the footnotes of history – all because she conformed to the womanly ideals of the time in terms of subservience to men, and didn’t go about shouting about her affair and trying to make the most of it.
From the opening scene of A King’s Obsession, Anne Boleyn is impatient for change—-for something new and exciting to happen. She is a capricious child, highly aware of her mother’s ancestry on one hand and her father’s ambition on the other. How do you think her character is influenced by this family background? How does Thomas Boleyn’s tendency to value his children in terms of their use to the Boleyn name affect Anne’s actions throughout her life?
Anne is immensely influenced by her family – her father and mother have both drummed into her in their own ways that theirs is a great family and they need to act in the family interests.
We are all influenced by our family and our environment, and I think that Anne’s childhood experiences in foreign courts and her father’s international influence played heavily with Anne.
Anne is determined that her father will be proud of her – her mother plays less of a role than her father I believe – and I think she acts to ensure that she will be remembered and will outdo her parents and siblings.
There is a definite sense of sibling rivalry, especially between Anne and Mary, as Mary comes to prominence first as the supposed mistress of Francis I and Henry VIII, but Anne betters her and becomes queen.
By including Anne’s education in the courts of Margaret of Austria, Queen Claude and Marguerite of Valois, Alison Weir explores a fascinating world of high culture and intellect. What key lessons does Anne learn at each court, and how is her outlook changed by these three women? Does she manage to emulate them once she has the crown? Did anything Anne learned surprise you?
The main lesson that Anne learns is that women can wield power – she sees Margaret of Austria in particular wield power in her own right.
Anne also sees how dependent women are on their menfolk in this world – if they want to have power it has to be allowed by a king or emperor, and this is the mistake which Anne ultimately makes.
Her time at the courts of Margaret, Claude and Marguerite introduce Anne to the new religion as well, although it takes a few years to fully develop in her consciousness.
Anne does manage to wield her own brand of power, but it is dependent on Henry VIII’s love for her, and her power ceases to exist when Henry falls out of love with her.
George Boleyn is a complicated and interesting character. He has a similar craving for power as Anne but has to find different ways to gain it. How are he and Anne alike, and how do they differ? On the surface he has far greater freedom, but is he also trapped into achieving the Boleyn family’s ambitions as firmly as she is?
George and Anne are quite similar in their personalities and their ambitions, but with George being a man he seems to have more freedom to take what he wants, where Anne has to depend more on others, particularly the men around her, to get what she wants.
George is also trapped into achieving the family ambitions – the main example of this is his marriage to Jane Parker. It is well known that their marriage didn’t seem to be a happy one, and it is rumoured that Jane actually spoke against George at the trial which condemned him to death.
George and Anne are more alike than either of them is to Mary – perhaps Mary doesn’t feel the same ambition as her siblings so doesn’t feel like she needs to push to get the best she can, perhaps she is more easily satisfied. After all, siblings can be complete opposites!
Elizabeth Boleyn readily admits that she is a vain woman. What do you think of her vanity and pride and the way they affect her thoughts and actions? Do you agree that she was raised to be this way or do you regard this as an excuse and her attitude as more of a personal failing? Does she remain you of the Tudor era equivalent of the mean, pretty, snobby girls everyone encounters in high school? What do you think of the way she treats people, like her maid Matilda, her husband, children, and the men she has affairs with? Near the end of this novel she describes her husband’s attitude toward people as “use and then lose” – he discards them when they are of no further profitable use to him. Though, as far as we know, no one has ever died as a result of Elizabeth’s behaviour, is this a case of the pot calling the kettle black?
I think that Elizabeth was raised to be vain and spoilt – she was a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, one of the greatest and most powerful nobles in England, and she would have been raised to know and understand this. However, I think that you can change the way you were brought up, but Elizabeth shows no desire to do so. It is one of her failings that she sees the only improvement she can make to herself to be social improvement – she can’t see any personal improvement being necessary. I think she treats people more as stepping stones to advancement rather than people in their own right – except her husband, who she initially sees as a block to her social advancement. She sees Thomas Boleyn as not being good enough for the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. I think Elizabeth and Thomas do treat people very similarly – Elizabeth uses people to help her social advancement and then discards them when they are of no use, in the same way that Thomas does.
Discuss the marriage and relationship between Elizabeth and Thomas Boleyn. Do you believe he deserves the contempt Elizabeth treats him with? She regards herself as superior, sneers when he changes the spelling of his name from Bullen to Boleyn, and rubs his family’s mercantile origins in his face whenever she has the chance. She glories in cheating on him with men of an even lower social status. What do you think of all this? How would you react, if you were in Thomas Bullen’s shoes, to a wife like Elizabeth?
I think that Thomas Boleyn was the archetypical man aiming for a higher social status – the Tudor court was full of them, and even outside the court, people were always aiming to better themselves. However, I think that, because Elizabeth was born into a well to-do family she was one of those who saw social advancement of the low classes (as she saw Thomas) to be silly. She believed, as many of the nobility did, that the country should be ruled by them and not by the “new men”, raised to the nobility by the likes of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Elizabeth enjoys rubbing Thomas’s nose in his origins I think because it establishes her as the primary partner in the relationship – she is of higher origins so should take the lead. I think she enjoys cheating on him with men of lower status because it emphasises Thomas’s own humble origins, and how far Elizabeth has to go to find someone lower than him. I think Thomas saw Elizabeth as his stepping stone to greater power. I think that, as long as she didn’t take lovers in public he didn’t really mind all that much. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – The Boleyn Bride by Emily Purdy”
Title/s: Earl of Essex / Lord Lieutenant of Ireland / Earl Marshal / Master of the Horse
Birth / Death: 10 November 1565 – 25 February 1601
Spouse: Frances Walsingham 1567-1633
Children: Frances Seymour Duchess of Somerset 1590-1674 / Dorothy Shirley / Robert Devereux 3rd Earl of Essex 1591-1646 (by Frances Walsingham) / Walter Devereux (by Elizabeth Southwell)
Parents: Walter Devereux 1st Earl of Essex 1541-1576 &LetticeKnollys 1543-1634
Siblings: Penelope Blount Countess of Devonshire 1563-1607 / Dorothy Percy Countess of Northumberland 1564-1619 / Walter Devereux / Francis Devereux / Robert Dudley Lord Denbigh
Noble Connections: Essex’s great-aunt was Henry VIII’s second queen, Anne Boleyn, through her sister, Mary. He married the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham the queen’s spy master. His step-father was Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, the favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Continue reading “Spotlight – Robert Devereux Earl of Essex”
Children: Mary Stalker c.1541-1593 / Henry Knollys c.1542-1582 / Lettice, Countess of Essex and Leicester 1543-1634 / William, 1st Earl of Banbury c.1544-1632 / Edward Knollys 1546-1580 / Robert Knollys 1547-1626 / Richard Knollys 1548-1596 / Elizabeth Leighton 1549-c.1605 / Thomas Knollys d.1596 / Francis Knollys c.1552-1643 / Anne West 1555-1608 / Catherine Fitzgerald 1559-1620 / Margaret Knollys (unknown) / Dudley Knollys 1562 Continue reading “Spotlight: Catherine Carey, Lady Knollys”
Catherine and Henry Carey were the children of Mary Boleyn. Their parentage is questioned, as their father could be one of two men; either Mary Boleyn’s husband, William Carey, or her lover, King Henry VIII of England. This post will examine the evidence for each side, and look at the futures of the pair. Neither Henry nor Catherine were acknowledged by Henry VIII, unlike Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII’s son by Bessie Blount. However, Mary Boleyn was already married, unlike Bessie Blount. If Mary was sleeping with both the King and her husband, then she herself may have been unsure of their paternity. Leanda de Lisle claims that there was no evidence at all to suggest that either of Mary Boleyn’s children were fathered by Henry VIII. Read on for my arguments and a summary of the ‘evidence’.