Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Question from Lilly - Possible illegitimate daughters of Henry VIII

So, we all know that Henry VIII had several bastard children...

I know of Catherine and Henry Carey (still not affirmed whether or not he was an actual son of Henry) and Henry Fitzroy.

Somewhere, and I don't remember exactly where, I heard that Henry possibly fathered a girl by the name of Etheldreda (after the saint).

Is this true? If so, what is known about her and her life?

If she doesn't exist, does anyone know of any other females that Henry fathered illegitimately?

Thanks!

19 comments:

Hilary said...

Because Henry only acknowledged Henry Fitzroy, no one really knows if he had ANY other illegitimate children. There's lots of rumors, but the only way it can be a fact is if Henry himself acknowledged it, and he did not acknowledge any other children.

I believe most of these illigitimate claims come from people who WISH they were descendants of Henry VIII.

I will also say that I believe Catherine Carey is Henry's daughter, based on the time that the affair occured and the time she was supposedly born, and the fact that her daughter Lettice looks so much like Elizabeth I. I don't think he would have acknowledged a girl, and especially because it was the child of Anne Boleyn's sister. He didn't want to chance wrecking the chance of marriage.

Lilly said...

@ Hilary - Yes, that's true.
I wonder why he wouldn't have acknowledged Henry Carey, if he was his son, which I believe him to be?

So, I've been doing some research on Henry's mistresses, and I've found that it was actually Mary Shelton - not Madge, contrary to popular belief - that was Henry's mistress for a brief time during his marriage with Anne Boleyn.

Is it possible that he could have fathered a child by Mary, given the dates between her affair with him in 1535 and her marriage with Sir Anthony Heveningham in 1545? And if so, is it possible back then that women, when a child was unwanted, would simply retire from society under the pretense of an illness and secretly give birth, then hand off the child to a family member? Was this a practice done in that society as an alternative to abortion, or is this simply a romanticised theory?

Also, if Henry was aware of his illegitimate daughters, would he let them come to his court to serve the queen willingly? Or was that up to the queen?

PhD Historian said...

KB is our resident expert on the Careys and has addressed in other posts the possibility that any of the Careys were illegitimate descendants of Henry VIII.

I have to agree with Hilary: Henry VIII acknowledged only Henry Fitzroy as his "natural" (i.e., illegitimate) child. He never acknowledged any others, male or female. Absent anything more reliable than circumstantial evidence based on dates, I think we must accept the possibility that Henry actually had no other illegitiamte children, however disappointing (and astonishing) that may be.

Lilly, "retiring from society" would have been exceedingly difficult in an era when personal privacy was virtually unknown, even as a concept. Families members were much more involved in each others lives in the Tudor period than they are today, including not only immediate members (father, mother, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters), but also extended members (uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws, and even the families of in-laws). And among those families who could afford them, there were servants and their families. In short, people of every status lived in such close-knit groups that it is unlikely that any one member of the group could withdraw for very long without the rest of the group commenting on her absence. I seriously doubt that any pregnancy could have been kept secret for very long in such a world. I suspect that the notion of women withdrawing for secret births on some distant country estate is the product of a modern imagination.

Since Henry never acknowledged any illegitimate daughters, the question concerning their coming to court is moot and cannot realistically be answered.

Foose said...

Lilly (and others, of course), I am interested in your statement about Madge vs. Mary Shelton. Is this definite, that it was Mary and not Madge in both references to a Shelton girl? -- and not the king's fancy first turning to "Madge" in February 1535 and then, three years later, apparently having an interest in Mary? According to John Husee's letter to Lord Lisle in January 1538:

The King came to York Place the 2nd inst., and returns to Greenwich on the 4th. My lord of Wiltshire is again in Court and well entertained. The election lieth betwixt Mrs. Mary Shelton and Mrs. Mary Skypwith.

I was thinking that perhaps the king engaged in affairs with both of them -- it wouldn't be the first time he pursued one sister and then the other. If it was the same sister in both cases, she seems to have had staying power but not to have asserted herself as a noticeable power at court. (One envoy recommends the Duchess of Milan on the basis of her resemblance to "Mistress Shelton," but that's about it for subsequent references.)

Creepily, in the second instance of 1538, "my lord of Wiltshire" (Anne Boleyn's father) is mentioned as apparently being in favor at court right before Mary Shelton's name is mentioned -- could he have been attempting to engineer another queen? Mary and Margaret were his nieces, after all, and there's also a reference to him the same year being mentioned as a potential husband for Margaret Douglas, the king's niece.

Lilly said...

@ PHD Historian - Yes, that's what I thought. I heard that upon rare occasions unwanted children would be given to nunneries or convents, but I suppose that's not valid. I've got to check my facts! I've got lots of books on Henry and his wives, but I can't seem to find any on Tudor lifestyle and, as a result, tend to feel very naive asking these questions. What resources do you use for the information you have? Like, everyday lifestyle in the Tudor era for nobility and otherwise? I've really got to know more about this period.

@ Foose - Yeah, I was reading somewhere that historians confused the spelling in surviving documents for Mary and Madge and that it was really Mary who had an affair with Henry. I'm not sure if that's valid either, but it does make sense. Mary was a young, pretty poetess and Henry, as shown with Anne Boleyn, had a hard time trying to resist those kinds of girls.

kb said...

On first names - let me add that nicknames were frequently used and it is sometimes difficult for even the most careful of historians to keep track. Margarets were often referred to as Marys, or Molls, or Madges.

And while I acknowledge the possibility that Henry VIII had no other bastard children besides Henry Fitzroy, I am personally convinced that both Henry and Katherine Carey were the king's children. However, this is based on, as phd historian says, circumstantial evidence and analysis - not DNA testing.

TudorRose said...

The only illigitimate child that I know of that King Henry viii had was a boy named Henry fitzroy who was proclaimed the Duke of Richmond.I have not heard of any other illigitimate children that he had. The king's other children were all born legitimately.
The only other thing that I have heard of is that during his marriage to catherine of Aragon he had two misstresses one being Elizabeth Blount who was the mother of henry Fitzroy who I have mentioned above and Mary Boleyn.
Mary Boleyn had one son and one daughter but when the affair ended the king married her of for her own respectability to a man called William Carey now whether or not theese two children were actually illigitimate children born to her by the king or her husband William carey I do not know for sure but the children who were called catherine and Henry both had the surname Carey.

PhD Historian said...

If KB is certain that two of the Careys were indeed illegitimate children of Henry VIII, I can accept that, since she is a genuine expert on the Careys.

Lilly, my knowledge of women and families in the Tudor period and their "lifestyles" comes from many years of specializing in the topic. There really aren't just one or two books that cover the subject well. I've recommended a few books in other posts I've done, but I will repeat some of them here. These are just starting points, and not a definitive list.

David Cressy, "Birth, Marriage &Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England."

Anthony Fletcher, "Gender, Sex & Subordination in England 1500–1800."

P.J.P. Goldberg, "Women in England, c. 1275-1525."

Laura Gowing, "Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern England."

Barbara Harris, "English Aristocratic Women 1450-1550."

Ralph Houlbrooke, "The English Family 1450–1700."

Margaret King, "Women of the Renaissance."

Anne Laurence, "Women in England 1500–1760: A Social History."

Alan Macfarlane, "Marriage and Love in England: Modes of Reproduction, 1300–1840."

Jennifer C. Ward, "English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages."

Jennifer C. Ward, "Women of the English Nobility and Gentry, 1066-1500."

Retha Warnicke, "Women of the English Renaissance and Reformation."

I have deliberately excluded Lawrence Stone's book on family in the 16th century because it has been so discredited in recent years.

You might also read some of the many biographies of non-royal women, especially those of Bess of Hardwick, Margaret More Roper (Thomas More's daughter), Mildred Cecil, the daughters of Anthony Cooke (especially Anne Cooke Bacon), and others.

There are also a very few diaries left by women from the last half of the Tudor era.
"The Diary of Anne Clifford" (edited by Katherine Acheson),
"Diary of the Lady Margaret Hoby, 1599-1605" (edited by Dorothy M. Meads),
"With Faith and Physic: The Life of a Tudor Gentlewoman, Lady Grace Mildmay, 1552–1620" (edited by Linda Pollock).

I hope this list helps.

Lilly said...

PHD Historian, your list helps infinitely. Thank you so much! I will go look for those titles as soon as I can.

I also believe that Catherine and Henry Carey are the children of the king. The years point to nothing else, in my opinion. I was just hopeful that perhaps he had others that maybe he never knew about. Anything's possible, I suppose, but since people were such social climbers back then I doubt they would keep anything like that from the king.

Henry would never have had the chance to have a liason with anyone other than nobility, correct? He would never have been in a situation where he would find interest in a commoner.

Bah. The purpose of my entire question was to see if there was some historical loophole through which I could develop a character whom, as his illegitimate daughter, that would mirror my theories about Henry VIII and why he was the way that he was. Obviously, I would do much more research before I began to write it, but writing and history are my passions and I really want to connect them in this way.

You don't suppose Henry would have slept with one of his sister's French ladies in waiting, do you? If Mary, while she was briefly Queen of France, came to visit Henry for a large court celebration for Christmas or the like, would he have been likely to, for that short amount of time, develop interest in one of her handmaidens and woo her? And if the girl's family were social climbers and found out that she was carrying the King of England's child, would they try to climb the political ladder in England or what?

PhD Historian said...

In answer to two of your questions, Lilly, Henry would have "had the chance to have a liason" with virtually anyone, had he been so inclined. Elizabeth Blount, afterall, was the daughter of a very minor royal servant and definitely neither noble nor even aristocratic. She was merely "a commoner" and the daughter of a member of the gentry.

The question about attendants to his sister, Mary Tudor, is based on what I believe is a false premise. Mary was Queen of France for just three short months and did not leave France during that period, not even for Christmas. And even if she had, it is very unlikely that the family of any potential French mistress to Henry VIII would have had much ability to "social climb" in an English court, since England and France were traditional enemies. War in France was one of Henry's favorite goals, in fact.

Lilly said...

Ah, yes, how could I forget about that ancient rivalry?

As you described with Elizabeth Blount, how would a lower class citizen such as her get to a position where she would be eligible to serve the queen?

I'm really sorry for asking so many questions! I'm just so fascianted by all that everyone has to say and new questions keep popping up.

PhD Historian said...

Don't be sorry for asking questions. That's how we learn new things.

Elizabeth Blount and her family were not "lower class" in the modern sense of that term. While historians usually try to avoid the term "class" when referring to the pre-Marxian era, her family would best be described as middle or upper middle class. Her father's work might be compared to a modern "middle manager."

Elizabeth was admitted to service because of her family and social connections, overwhelmingly the most common route during that period. Her father was related to the steward of Prince Arthur's household. Through that family relationship, John Blount was able to enter service to the royal family, eventually landing a position in Henry's household. From there, it was an easy step to put his daughter forward as a candidate to become one of the many maids of honor to Katherine, which Elizabeth did in March 1512.

kb said...

lilly - A queen's chambers could include women from all ranks of society. Aside from the elite ladies of the chamber and maids of honour there were also chamberers who performed the more menial tasks. A young woman who washed linen, or fetched and carried lighter items would have been within the landscape of a royal wandering eye.

Are you set on a french girl? What about a Scottish lass attending his other sister Margaret?

As for whether Henry would allow a known bastard daughter to serve at court, I have a few ideas.

If you accept the premise that Katherine Carey was his daughter, then the answer is yes as she was invited to court to serve Anne of Cleves and stayed on for Katherine Howard. One of the reasons I think the Carey children were Henry's is that he showed unusual albeit discrete favour to them. He granted the manor of Rotherfield Greys to Katherine Carey and Francis Knollys when they married and then it was to be passed down to heirs of her body. This act was confirmed in Parliament.

phd historian has provided one of the best lists of books for your research. I would also suggest you look at the compendium Lara has posted on the blog page. It has some interesting information that may help you paint detail into your work of fiction.

Foose said...

Henry might have met a lot of French and Francophone girls, of various degrees, during his 1514 sojourn in northern France and Burgundy. It was his first time out of England and out of Catherine of Aragon's orbit, and by all accounts he had a whale of a time at Margaret of Austria's court and elsewhere, feasting, masquing, acting out all the courtly rituals and riding in triumph through the captured French town of Therouanne. I don't think any names are mentioned, but if you'd like some sort of plausible scenario for Henry to meet such a woman, this episode might provide it.

Getting her to England might be more difficult to script, but if your heroine were to be a French-speaking inhabitant of the Low Countries, or from a Burgundian family still loyal to the Empire although the duchy of Burgundy had returned to French rule, she would probably be welcome at the English court and acceptable as an addition to Catherine's chambers (as long as her relationship with Henry were not known).

Foose said...

There are also periodic references early in Henry's reign to a woman called Jane Popincourt/Popyncourt, who may have been at least partly French. Henry's name is coupled with hers, especially in romantic novels, but she also seems to have had a reputation as something of a "good-time girl" and apparently became the mistress of the Duc de Longueville when he was an aristocratic hostage in England.

I don't know the circumstances for Jane being in England. But if she could "make it" at Henry VIII's early court, perhaps another Frenchwoman could, too.

Lilly said...

@ kb - Ah, I see. What kind of women took those jobs (linen washing/etc.)? The daughters of lesser civilians such as tailors, stablemen or physicians, perhaps?

And no, I'm definitely not set on any particular nationality for my protagonist's mother. She can be anything, and Scottish is a very good idea! Thank you! I shall add that to my list of possibilities.

@ foose - Yes, this is all true. I never knew of his liason with Jane Popincourt; I've only ever heard of Bessie as one of his first. That's very interesting, though. And the fact that not much is known about her is perfect for fictional manipulation, haha. I did have in mind someone of lower status, however, whom Henry became attracted to on a whim, etc. I was thinking the daughter of his physician or tailor would be interesting.

Which brings me to yet another question... Did the king have multiple tailors and physicians, or just a few if not only one? I suppose nobility could flip back and forth between whichever tailor or physician they perceived to be the best, but did the king have a specific, esteemed one for exclusively his use?

Kathy said...

Ah, an item in my area of interest....

Regarding Jane Popincourt, I am very dubious that she had a relationship with Henry at any time.

Jane was French and was brought over to England in Henry VII's reign to be an attendant/friend to Mary. I believe the idea was that she was supposed to be somebody Mary could speak French with. She did become very close friends with Mary.

When Mary was preparing to leave for France to marry Louis, she submitted a list of attendants she wished to take with her. The only attendant that Louis refused to allow was Jane Popincourt because Jane was involved in a very public relationship with the Duc de Lougueville who was officially a prisoner in England but who was treated more like an ambassador.

Lougueville was released from his status as prisoner and accompanied Mary to France while Jane had to remain in England. While she was there, Henry awarded her a small pension for services rendered to Mary. I think that is what caused all the gossip that is still repeated today by those who aren't interested in searching out the truth. Henry, in fact, had done the same to various others of Mary's attendants, especially after Louis dismissed most of them (but that's another story). In any case, there is no reason other than that pension to tie Henry to Jane.

After Louis died, Jane returned to France just as soon as she could and presumably was reunited with Longueville, though we don't really have much information on either of them after this time.

Most historians doubt there was anything going on between Jane and Henry. I agree with them.

Foose said...

I think it's the hyperbole in Louis XII's statement about Jane that drives the gossip -- that he would have "such an immoral woman burnt alive," which makes her sound like the town pump, when in fact there is no evidence, as Kathy points out, for her scandalous conduct beyond the relationship with the Duc de Longueville.

Still, she turns up reliably in Tudorfic, most recently in Diane Haeger's "The Secret Bride" (meh) and stars in the forthcoming and luridly titled "Secrets of the Tudor Court: The Pleasure Palace," which technically should not soil the eyes of a serious Tudor scholar but will probably be relaxing and hilarious reading in a Sunday afternoon bubblebath.

Re the doctors: Henry had a lot of them, but none of them appear to be French, although there's a foreign-born surgeon called Veyrier early in his reign who might qualify, and a probably French-speaking Savoyard surgeon named Chabo. Elizabeth Lane Furdell's "The Royal Doctors" also lists the usual suspects as his doctors (a definite cut above surgeons) - Dr. Butts, who ought to have kept his own secret diary, since he was present at many of the most celebrated incidents of Henry's reign, Cromer, Linacre (who persuaded Henry to found a college of physicians), Wendy, Wotton, Chambre and many more. Also mentioned are an Italian, Agostini (Angustinus), whom Henry annexed from Wolsey after the Cardinal's fall (Agostini supplying the evidence of Wolsey's treason, helpfully), the Italian Brasavola, an expert on syphilis (he attended Henry while in France), and the Spaniard de Victoria who defected to Catherine of Aragon's cause. Apparently Henry maintained a ranking system; when Anne Boleyn fell ill with the sweat, he sent her his "second-best" physician: "my physician, in whom I have most confidence, is absent at the very time when he might do me the greatest pleasure; ... yet for want of him I send you my second ..."

Monica said...

You're thinking of Ethelreda Malte, also known as Audrey, who married John Harington. She married well for the illegitimate daughter of the royal laundress and the royal tailor, becoming a baroness, and I think there is little else that this rumour is based on. It's discussed in Kelly Hart's 'The Mistresses of Henry VIII' but dismissed. Henry tried so hard for legitimate children, with limited success, that I think he may not have been particularly fertile. I agree that the descendants of these people are just wishing it was true. I've read fictional accounts, such as David Tudor's 'In The Shadow of the Throne' (on Richard Edwardes) and F.W.Kenyon's 'Henry VIII's Secret Daughter' (bizarrely, on Lady Jane Grey). They were quite interesting, but there's nothing to back them up. There are obvious reasons he wouldn't have acknowledged the Careys, but no reasons I can think of that he wouldn't have acknowleged others, especially as he treated Henry Fitzroy so well.