Was Henry VIII the Father of Bessie Blount’s Daughter?

Thanks to Eilish Gallagher for letting me know about The Daily Mail article Henry VIII had a secret daughter who should have taken the throne before Elizabeth I, historian claims.

This article is about historian Elizabeth Norton’s research into the life of Elizabeth Blount for her new book “Bessie Blount: Mistress to Henry VIII” and her claim that Blount’s daughter, Elizabeth Tailboys, was actually Henry VIII’s illegitimate daughter and not Blount’s daughter by Gilbert Tailboys. Norton has found that Elizabeth was born between April and June 1520, two years before Blount’s marriage to Tailboys* and during the period when Henry VIII “was known to visit her regularly”.

Blount had given birth to the King’s acknowledged son in June 1519, around a year earlier than Elizabeth’s birth, and Norton feels that “If Henry had acknowledged her, it could have changed the whole course of British history” because her birthdate made her younger than Mary I but older than Elizabeth I. Norton says in the article:-
“As far as we know, she was conceived about three years before she met her husband Gilbert Tailboys, who would later give her his surname. At that time, Henry was staying in the same area as Bessie, within ten miles of her for the whole summer. Put simply, we know he was sleeping with her mother. In addition to the conception dates, there is also legal evidence that Henry took a personal interest in Bessie and Elizabeth’s affairs. It would have been very odd for a King to take such an interest in a girl with a relatively minor title otherwise.”

Whatever the truth of the matter, I think the headline is somewhat misleading. Elizabeth Tailboys was not acknowledged by Henry as his daughter, she was not the daughter of one of his wives and she was not named in the succession; at best she was simply a royal bastard and had no claim. Interesting though and I will definitely be reading Elizabeth Norton’s book to find out more about her research.

I did a little digging into Elizabeth Tailboys. She was the heir of Gilbert Tailboys, due to his sons dying in childhood, and she married first Thomas Wimbush and then, after his death, she went on to marry Ambrose Dudley, son of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, and brother of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Elizabeth was his second wife. When Ambrose was found guilty of treason and attainted for his part in his family putting Lady Jane Grey on the throne in July 1553, it was Elizabeth who may well have saved him by commissioning Roger Ascham to write an appeal to Philip of Spain in November 1554. He was out of prison by December of that year. The couple were childless and Elizabeth suffered a false pregnancy in 1555. She died in early 1563 and Ambrose went on to marry his third wife, Anne Russell.

Interestingly, Alison Weir has just claimed in her book on Mary Boleyn that Ethelreda Malte was probably the King’s daughter, and Philippa Jones discusses various possible illegitimate children in her book “The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards”. See my article Elizabeth I’s Early Life – Illegitimate Siblings for more on this.

Elizabeth Norton’s book “Bessie Blount: Mistress to Henry VIII” was released in the UK in November by Amberley- click here to order – and is due out in the USA in March, although Amazon UK ship worldwide, as do The Book Depository so everyone should be able to get their hands on a copy.

*I had always thought that Elizabeth Blount was married to Gilbert Tailboys by late 1519 but must do some digging!

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23 thoughts on “Was Henry VIII the Father of Bessie Blount’s Daughter?”
  1. Oh, dear, more books for me to buy! Both sound interesting. It would not surprise me to find Henry did not claim a daughter…he already had Mary and really, in his view, daughters were not all that important. It does make sense for him to claim his son. And of course, he did. This leads me to think Bessie Blount was more important to him than I had thought. Will have to get these books! What are your thoughts on the Greogry book?

    1. I found the article really annoying though as the headline was so misleading and her paternity could never have changed the course of history because she was illegitimate if she was Henry’s and I believe she was Tailboy’s.
      Which Gregory book, Anne, “The Cousin’s War” or whatever it’s called? I haven’t read it. Have you?

  2. Does Norton list contemporary sources for the claims she makes. I know that Amberley Press puts a page limit and does a bad job of editing the prolific amount of books they have put out over the past 3 years

    1. I haven’t got a copy of the book yet, Diana, but Norton generally references well so I’m assuming that she will have listed her sources. I’ve struggled dating Gilbert and Bessie’s marriage. Historians say by late 1519 or by 1523 but the only thing I’ve found is in June 1522: ” Sir Gilbert Talboys and Elizabeth his wife. Grant, in tail, of the manor and town of Rokeby, Warw., forfeited by Buckingham” in Letters & Papers (LP iii. 2356) so they were married by then.

    2. Dear Diane
      Amberley does not put a page limit on books! The claim was made by Alison Weir in her Mary Boleyn book and it’s just not true. If you’re in any doubt consult some other books I’ve published, ‘Spooks’ by Tom Hennessey is 500,000 words, Holman’s ‘Titanic Voices’ is almost 300k and Elizabeth Norton’s Anne Boleyn source book (from memory) is about 180k.
      Jonathan Reeve, Publisher, Amberley

  3. It makes no difference if she was Henry VIII’s daughter anyway – Elizabeth was named in her father’s Act of Succession after her brother and sister. This so-called daughter had no claim to the throne anyway. Whatever Henry may have said afterwards, he married Anne Boleyn and made her his queen – and he accepted Elizabeth as his legitimate heir when she was born and included her in the Act of Succession. It’s just sensationalism to launch a new book, IMO. I’m fed up with all this ‘other Boleyn girl’ and now Bessie Blount.

  4. This is an expensive book! Someday… but not this day LOL. I am looking forward to your research on the matter Claire! Lovely calendar too. I got it and it is very filled up now! 🙂

  5. I agree with Anerje. This is just a way to write a book about someone who really would not have changed history and who her biological father was is of no importance. She was not named in the will so case closed. Just a way to make a quick buck.

    1. In Elizabeth Norton’s defence, her book is a bio of Bessie Blount and it was not up to her how this finding of hers was reported, this newspaper does have a tendency to focus on salacious stuff.

      1. How else are newspapers going to compete with trashy news shows and the internet, unless they make up sensationalist trash?

        I agree with the view that Henry probably would not have wasted his time acknowledging a “mere daughter” born out of wedlock to one of his mistresses. He was gunning for sons, not yet ANOTHER daughter. He might, if cornered, have offered a nice, tidy dowry for when she married and that would have been it. Since there is no record of him ever doing anything like that, I would say this girl was not likely to be his child.

  6. Some of the comments are really in touch with history esp this one..

    “Is Bessie Blount a descendent of the singer James Blunt? (real name Blount)”

  7. you know, I think all these `maybes`and `whatifs`and other speculations are all terribly èntertaining but in the end the course of history turned out as it should have turned out.. Isn`t what we know to have happened concretly , riveting enough? There is everything there! Love, sex, passion, war battles executions gre rivalries, births and more and more and more were that came from. One can not stop the human brain from fantasising and conjuring `new plots“ but I for one am glad that the `maybe`daughter of Henry V111 and Bessie Blount did not take the succession after Mary, as it would have robbed England of it`s greatest Queen.

  8. I personally have been curious about Bessie Blount. What sort of woman was she? Anyway, had Edward not lived, we might have found Bessie’s son as included in the succession. Hmm, very curious indeed. Perhaps bessie’s daughter might have been closer to royalty had things turned out that way.

  9. Even if Henry didn’t recognize Elizabeth formally because of his gender I think he couldn’t have resisted mentioning his daughter to his friends. Yet there is not a hint of contempary gossip on the subject. If Norton came to the conclusion that Henry was close enough to Bessie to pay her visits its odd that if this was true no one around him reached the same concluson. This in a court where gossip, scandal and rumour were almost raised to an art form. I also think that he would have done something for the girl if she was his as he was (unless they annoyed him) very fond of both Mary and Elizabeth.

  10. Interesting! This wou ld have thrown a major spanner in the works. I saw a programme a few years ago about a man in Australia who is apprarently descended from Henry Carey, the son of Mary Boleyn by Henry VIII. I wonder if anyone else nowadays could trace their lineage to him!

    1. I think there will be lots of people who’d be able to trace back to Henry and Catherine Carey because both of them had lots of children who would have gone ont to have children and so on. It would be interesting to follow the family tree down and I know that the present royal family descend from Mary Boleyn.

  11. I hope your right and a lot of people are descended from them I would like to be because they are kind of cool ,but you guys are so right there wouldnt have been no hope in hell for Bessie Blounts daughter to have the throne, if Henry Fitroy had lived then he might have been made heir, and maybe if Henry hadnt been so obsessed with getting an legitmate heir he might have had a remote chance.

    Henry the eighth is said to have some rare disorder that caused the earlydeath of his children, it wasnt Katherines fault at all that the babies were stillborn or had deformities medical experts figured it out

  12. I descend from the Elizabeth Blount, Besse’s half sister. I would like to know more about that side of the story.I also descend from the sister of Katherine Paar. Any ideas about research or books written about them? Henry VIII was a busy boy. I understand he was a very outstanding young man and well liked at the time. The inbreeding among the royals caused many physical and mental defects. This is also true among the farmers who owned land and married cousins to keep the land in the family. The history of our ancestors makes interesting reading. I come away grateful I am born a commoner in” the colony”.

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