Monday, May 23, 2011

Question from Tracey - Bessie Blount and Catherine of Aragon

Bessie Blount and Catherine of Aragon...

According to Philippa Jones in her work "The Other Tudors", Henry's wife visited Bessie Blount upon the birth of Henry Fitzroy...and offered her congratulations.

There are source notes used by Ms Jones, but nothing which pertains to this particular sentence.

What do other historians think? Did the visit occur?

I will say, there are quite a few statements in this book that cause me to frown. This sentence shouted out at me for some kind of clarification.


RW said...

I've read the book, and find much of it dubious, to say the least. I've read most books on Henry VIII's reign but never come across that elsewhere!

Foose said...

It may be a variation of a report in Mattingly's landmark Catherine of Aragon. I could only get into a snippet view in Google Books at work: "...Elizabeth Blount was still, in so far as any such position existed in England, maitresse en titre; in 1519 Henry proudly exhibited to the court a son she had borne him, and Catherine, with who knows how much - or how little - bitterness in her heart, dutifully attended, at the manor house Henry had built for Lady Tailleboys, the festivities in honor of the child Henry Fitzroy, Henry 'king's son' ..."

Can't see the source for Mattingly's statement in the snippet, but I'll look when I get home (unless someone tracks it in the meantime...?) Mattingly is usually considered fairly reputable, but I couldn't find another source supporting this statement. It all depends which one he cites, if any. (Note that Elizabeth Blount was not "Lady Tailleboys" just yet in 1519.) Philippa Jones may have gotten her information from Mattingly, or from his source.

Lara said...

I checked my copy and I didn't see a source note for that exact paragraph. I checked the notes before and after and I don't think they relate to the info we're looking for, but I might have missed something. Sorry!

Foose said...

That's OK - the hunt is on!

Antonia Fraser says, also without citation, "Instead, [Catherine] attended (with the rest of the court) the festivities that the King arranged to celebrate the birth of the child - by a further cruel irony, a healthy boy." Possibly her use of the word festivities traces the source to Mattingly.

Mattingly, as you point out, does not identify his source, but among his notes for the chapter is Francesca Claremont's 1939 Catherine of Aragon. Here we have "[Catherine] must have suffered, though indubitably in silence, when next year Eleanor [sic] Blount (Lady Taileboys), still in possession of a portion of Henry's heart and spare time, gave birth to a fine and healthy son ... With the unthinking cruelty of a man of Henry's type, he took Catherine to attend an entertainment in Eleanor Blount's honour, at a Manor House he had built for her." The use of "manor-house" suggests that Mattingly got his info from Claremont.

Claremont, naturally, supplies no citation. I can't find Beverly Murphy's biography of Fitzroy or W.S. Childe-Pemberton's biography of his mother, but I do have Michael Joseph Lechnar's dissertation on "Henry VIII's Bastard Son," which reports the incident and maddeningly assigns the source to Mattingly, but provides another detail - the entertainment took place at Blackmore.

Blackmore is also called Jericho, a house belonging to the priory of St. Lawrence at Blackmore, granted to Cardinal Wolsey, where Elizabeth Blount was domiciled during her pregnancy.

Back to Claremont. The erroneous name "Eleanor" for Elizabeth points us to Martin Hume, who makes the same error in his 1905 The Wives of Henry the Eighth:

"Later in the same year [1519] Katharine was present at a grand series of entertainments given by the king in the splendid new manor-house which he had built for Lady Tailebois, who had just rejoiced him by giving birth to a son. We have no record of Katharine's thoughts as she took part her in the tedious foolery so minutely described by Hall." Aha!

Unfortunately, Hall's Chronicle when consulted says nothing of the sort; Catherine's participation in the elaborate entertainment laid on for the French takes place at Newhall (Beaulieu) in Essex - "situated near Jericho," according to Strickland) and Fitzroy is not mentioned at all.

Foose said...

I think this is the crucial information, though. There was apparently some claim that Henry VIII built Beaulieu/Newhall as a "manor-house" for Elizabeth Blount. (Benedict Fitzpatrick's 1931 Frail Anne Boleyn: "For Elizabeth Blount he had a splendid new manor-house built at New Hall, and even forced Katharine to be present at the series of entertainments which he caused her to give there for the duke of Longueville and other French hostages ...")

The Beaulieu/Blount connection is disposed of by WS Childe-Pemberton in his 1913 biography of the lady (can't find my copy; snippet view only in Google Books): "The assertion which has recently appeared, that Henry VIII built Newhall for Elizabeth Blount, has no foundation in any of the records."

If this belief was floating around when Hume wrote his book, it may have led to him identifying the Beaulieu diplomatic entertainments for the French as a special insult to Spanish Catherine in that they were held at what he believed to be the house of her husband's mistress. Subsequent repetitions by other authors may have augmented and embellished what they believed to be an actual incident, possibly even transferring the "entertainments" back to Blackmore - with the queen attending the christening of her rival's child, suffering through elaborate festivities marking the birth, or "congratulating her" at the king's behest.

I'll keep an eye out for Murphy's Fitzroy book and Childe-Pemberton. It would be interesting to know where the belief regarding Beaulieu/Newhall's connection to Elizabeth Blount originated.

Note that I can't say definitively that there was never an actual incident where entertainments or celebrations were laid on in honor of Fitzroy's birth that Catherine was compelled to attend - but the chain of sources casts doubt on its likelihood.

Tracey said...

Thank you all!!

I can understand Catherine of Aragon having to attend festivities celebrating the birth of Henry VIII's son. She was Queen of England, her duty was to attend any and all festivities that her husband created.

However, I am reading the sentence as Catherine going personally to Bessy, face to face, and offering her congratulations...not just in a general sense as far as appearing at a party. Perhaps my confusion is in the way Philippa Jones structured the sentence?

Foose said...

That's how I understand the sentence, too, and I don't think there's any foundation for it. Offering congratulations in Tudor times was a more formal process, and if Catherine did visit Mistress Blount for such a purpose she would have been attended by her suite and various courtiers. It could perhaps be construed that the Queen's mere presence at a celebration or festivity relating to the child's birth would be a "mark of honor" or de facto congratulations.

However, I think Jones is amplifying the original statement from Fraser or Mattingly. The arguments against Catherine "offering congratulations" can be summarized:

-There appears to be no contemporary source extant that supports the alleged incident.
-Such an incident would have diplomatic as well as domestic ramifications, and one might expect some such report to exist.
-Of the modern historians who might have been expected to note such an incident (Starkey's Virtuous Prince, and Six Queens, Hutchinson's Young Henry, Loades' Tudor Queens and The Six Wives of Henry VIII,, Kelly Hart's The Mistresses of Henry VIII and much of Alison Weir), only Fraser notes even the "festivities."
-There was no reason for Henry to compel his wife to offer congratulations. There was no precedent for her doing so (admittedly, previous English kings had sufficient legitimate sons or appeared not to care, as with Richard II) - and although Henry broke precedents later on, at this stage he was fairly orthodox in his behavior. The child was acknowledged as his son, but not as his heir - which might have required the queen's countenance.
-The one well-documented incident where Catherine publicly demonstrated her awareness of the child - his elevation in 1525 to Duke of Richmond - describes her as manifesting anger and concern over the threat to her interests. It is unlikely that she would not have manifested the same anger, if not greater anger, at the time of the child's birth, if Henry had attempted to force her to "offer congratulations," and that this anger would have been reported.
-To offer congratulations to her husband's mistress would most likely have seemed to Catherine as an open endorsement of adultery, and consequently abhorrent.
-I do not think that a Tudor queen would offer, or be expected to offer, formal congratulations to someone so substantially lower in rank and so morally compromised, even if Mistress Blount was the mother of the king's son.

Murphy and Childe-Pemberton might have something else to say, so I'll keep looking.

Cate Drewry said...

One question which springs to my mind is: why would Henry have felt like celebrating in the first place? From Henry's point of view, Bessie's pregnancy probably meant to him (to be blunt) that his fun with his mistress was over, or at least suspended for the duration of the pregnancy.

Having a child with her meant complications, expense, embarrassment, tension between himself and Catherine ... in an era when the birth of a child was often valued for what it meant, far more than for love of the child itself, Fitzroy was an untimely and probably painful reminder of the problems the king was facing. He solved none of the king's troubles in terms of trying to have a legitimate heir, and I'm sure it occurred to Henry that, should Fitzroy live and thrive, his existence could be a threat to any legitimate son Henry might father subsequently.

Additionally, Catherine herself was yet only 34. There was certainly a great deal of worry in the fact that all their children except Mary had not survived, but Catherine was not past her child-bearing years yet. Fitzroy was probably not seen by Henry as his "last hope" or as "proof that he could father a son." He had already fathered several sons; they had simply not survived. And at the time of Fitzroy's birth, there was no guarantee that he would either.

The concept of "putting aside" a queen for the sake of the succession, if it were suspected that the queen was incapable of providing an heir, was not unheard of at that time; I have always believed that even if he had not fallen for Anne, Henry would have eventually tried to persuade Catherine to enter a convent and free him to remarry anyway.

From a human and historic standpoint, it just seems more likely that both the claims of a royal celebration of Fitzroy's birth, and Catherine's supposed forced participation, were stories that were circulated to paint Henry in a certain light. Things had changed by the time she attended Fitzroy's investiture years later, and there is a big difference between attending a ceremony in which many individuals (one of whom happens to be your husband's illegitimate son) are elevated, versus allowing and attending a big bash to celebrate his birth. It is hard for me to imagine Henry insulting Catherine like that (at that time, especially) or her meekly going along with it.

JMHOs, of course ... sometimes I find the personalities and psychologies more telling when the "facts" and evidence are confusing or contradictory.

Aly said...

Cate, you are looking at Katherine's age through the lens of today. 34 at the time was getting on past child bearing years. Katherine was considered as "older" for a woman to be having kids. That doesn't mean that women back then didn't have kids past that age (Katherine Parr did for example), but it wasn't like it is today, where 34 is still completely within childbearing years. Fitzroy was born three years after Mary, and in those three years, Katherine was pregnant only once. Whereas before, she had been pregnant fairly regularly. And that was to be her last pregnancy.

I also think that there was already tension between Katherine and Henry. Yes, Fitzroy probably caused more, but after six pregnancies which resulted in only one child who reached past the age of one, I'm sure the tension was already there. I'm sure Henry was thinking about all the implications that came with Fitzroy, but I do think he was excited to a point. He had a son, he could father a son.

I do agree with you though, I don't think Henry would embarrass Katherine like that. And I also don't see her just going along with it either. I personally find it dubious that she would go to Blount's side and congratulate her.

tudor princess said...

This is what Murphy has to say, which supports Foose's opinion:

"Garrett Mattingly supposes that there was some formal celebration of Fitzroy's birth which Katherine was required to endure. If there was, it was not recorded. However, during his time in Essex, Henry would have had ample opportunity to show off his son. The King just might have been tactless enough to parade the child at the "sumptuous banquet" given by the Queen in August 1519, at her manor of Havering-atte-Bower, in honour of the French hostages....

Murphy ends by saying: "If the child was presented at the banquet held at the King's recently refurbished residence of Newhall, this would also accommodate the myth that Henry had been revamping the property for the use of his mistress".

I hope this helps!

Foose said...

Thank you very much, tudor princess! I had a bunch of books fall on my head last night during the hunt, which diminished much of my enthusiasm for tracking down Murphy. Your quote shows that clearly she has done all the work already.

Cate Drewry said...

Aly, I agree with you that Catherine would certainly have been considered on the back end at that point, especially given her childbearing history. But it seems like I remember the official acknowledgement that she was indeed no longer capable - which I assume has to do with menopause - came a few years later. Apologies that I'm only able to offer my memory to back that up, I cannot recall where I read it. It would certainly have been a long shot hope at that time, at best. I have new baby at 38 and pregnancy is a very different thing at my age than it was when I had my first 17 years ago, even in our enlightened times lol.

I also agree that tensions were already drawing taut between Henry and Catherine, which was why I was thinking that Henry might not have wanted to throw more oil on the fire with a public celebration. Political enemies though they became, I think Henry felt fondness for Catherine and never truly wanted to hurt her out of spite. Even when trying to rid himself of her in later years, he seems to have been as gentlemanly as he could be under the circumstances. There are several routes he could have gone which would have made the one he took, look quite friendly.

I agree that he was probably excited at the prospect of a son ... just maybe not excited enough to host celebrations which might have been misinterpreted as to his intentions.

Lara said...

Oh geez Foose - you go above and beyond to help answer questions on the blog, but I think bodily harm is going too far! :)

(And I joke only because I once had a nice dent in my head from the corner of a hardback, so I can sympathize!)

shtove said...

Foose, I always assumed you were an information whiz who used the internet to track down references.

But you manage it with a physical library?

Please share your secret.

kb said...

Well done Foose! Ably aided by Tudor Princess!

Tracey said...

I am of the opinion that Henry was overjoyed at the birth of Henry Fitzroy, and for one simple reason.

It proved that he could have a son!

It was all Catherine's fault there weren't any male children of his running around the court...over and above Catherine's poor pregnancy issues.

Again...thank you for all the help with this question...books falling on head/back included! Hope you're OK, Foose!!

Foose said...

Oh, I am fine, thank you everyone who asked. These are honorable bumps on the head, acquired in the pursuit of Tudor knowledge. "Whoso list to hunt," etc.

Per shtove's question - you flatter me! I have an ecumenical approach to research. I know there is a philosophical fight in some quarters over using the "codex" (books) vs. using Google Books and other online resources, but to me it's whatever works. It comes down to a series of questions that I think many people will recognize - do I have an immediate idea of where to find the reference, do I have the book, is the book readily to hand, can I find the book without winding up pinned beneath a mountain of books, am I at work or at home, do I have access to a computer, do I feel like getting off the couch, will Google Books allow me a full view, preview, or snippet view, can I manipulate the snippet view to get at the crucial evidence, if I can't get to it through Google Books could I get to it through Google alone (this happens, believe it or not), could I get the source at the library, have I run across it at a used bookstore, etc.

It takes time, but I find it very interesting. The questions posted on this blog often provoke an immediate response in me, but then I think "How do I know this?" and in tracking down the origin of something I think I know usually shows me that I am mistaken or have much to learn still. It is a very good workout for the brain, even when no conclusion is ultimately reached.

Cate Drewry said...

Again, Henry HAD sons prior to the birth of Henry Fitzroy. I don't see how Fitzroy proved Henry's manhood, or that he was needed as evidence that Henry could father a son. I think this "question" about Henry's capabilities is something that has a dramatic element in novels and movies, but were there really people at the time (including Henry himself) who were concerned about this as a question of HIS manhood or ability?

There are some debates about the dates and outcomes of each of Catherine's pregnancies, but they certainly had a son on January 1, 1511, Henry, Duke of Cornwall. He lived almost two months, long enough for there to be an enormous christening and celebrations of his birth. Another apparently survived birth in December 1514, although he lived less than a month.

The question for Henry VIII was not whether he could "father" a son. He had proved that already and conclusively with Catherine. The question was how to have a SURVIVING son. Henry may have been happy at the time of Fitzroy's birth, but again, there was no assurance at the time that Fitzroy would survive infancy either. And even if he did, being able to have a healthy son outside his marriage did nothing to solve his problems. It may have encouraged him on his course toward divorce/annulment, convincing him that the problem lay entirely with Catherine, but that was not until some years later.

Anonymous said...

In the books by Carolyn Meyer, Catherine of Aragon was furious when Henry Fitzroy was given many titles, thinking that he would be chosen over her daughter Princess Mary to inherit the throne. I doubt that Catherine would have been happy about a bastard son being born.

f blount said...

think about cathrine not sharing till later how she felt . may be she wanted to please the king or need to stay in his good books ' she had failed the king by not keeping her children alive ; and now was unable to change this . would she not of done anything?