Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Question from Annette - Gertrude Blount and Jane Seymour

To question about Gertrude Blount,lady Exeter, I have just been reading david starkys six wives of Henry viii and he says that she and sir Nicholas Carew were sponsors to jane Seymour , what did sponsors do for their sponsees? and does anyone know what she looked like..apparently she was supposed to be attractive.


Foose said...

Regarding Gertrude Blount's appearance, I think there is only conjecture, having scoured the sources and found no account of her in terms of a physical description.

-She was one of Katherine of Aragon's attendants in the 'teens; the Venetian envoy Giustiani remarked that "the damsels of her court are handsome, and make a sumptuous appearance."

-She was the second wife of Henry Courtenay, the king's cousin, who was presumably in a position to choose among various candidates. She may have been an heiress (her mother - Elizabeth Saye, although this is disputed in some accounts - had been an heiress, but her father had children with subsequent wives). However, Courtenay was of royal blood and considered for foreign princesses as well, so possibly Gertrude's appearance may have been influential in his choice. The status of her father, Lord Mountjoy, as the king's valued friend, may also have had weight in the decision.

-As Countess of Devon, she featured in the "Chateau Vert" entertainment of 1522, which also featured Anne Boleyn. It was a court entertainment, and there's anecdotal evidence that the ladies chosen to perform in court masques were selected at least in part for their beauty, to impress the foreigners present; but against this we must consider that Gertrude was the wife of the king's cousin (rank would have factored into the casting) and the daughter of the king's favored friend Lord Mountjoy; at this point she was also related to the king's illegitimate son through her kinswoman Elizabeth Blount.

-Her son, Edward Courtenay, was universally regarded as "wonderfully handsome," possibly owing his appearance to his mother. However, his father, the luckless Marquess of Exeter, was reckoned a near double to Henry VIII when young; and the young Henry VIII was acclaimed as a model of good looks.

-Gertrude's image in popular fiction may also benefit from contemporary accounts of Elizabeth Blount's good looks, although they appear to be distantly related.

-Camden, the historian of the later 16th and early 17th century, wrote that the name Blount "deriv'd from their golden locks" (i.e., blonde.) Since beauty was to a large extent synonymous with blondness in the 16th century, Gertrude might have been accounted a beauty for no other reason than having fair hair.

Foose said...

Regarding Gertrude's "sponsorship" of Jane Seymour (in cooperation with Nicholas Carewe) - I think it would be more accurate to say that Jane (actually, Jane's family and more particularly her brothers) joined the Carew-Exeter patronage network. Presumably Jane, as a cousin of Anne Boleyn and a lady-in-waiting, had previously been affiliated with the Queen's network.

A patronage network at court under Henry VIII apparently did not randomly "choose" a potential favorite and groom her up for the job of king's mistress or wife; scholars have pointed out that the way it worked was that the king indicated his liking for a particular individual and power brokers at court then hastened to attach the new favorite to their existing patronage network.

Once attached, the favorite would benefit from the social expertise, expanded kinship and business connections, and organized political support of their patron or patrons. Her family would receive lucrative jobs, positions, emoluments, tips on upcoming moneymaking opportunities, help with lawsuits and petitions, access to insider deals, assiduous promotion of their talents and qualifications to the king, plus help with cashflow and meeting the court's standards for material display.

Knowing how to behave at court was essential for any successful favorite. A patron always took pains to make sure that a promising candidate had the proper deportment, learned the complex rules of precedence, could behave gracefully in company, and most of all, understood the king's preferences.

The contemporary accounts argue that Jane was "coached" in her response to the king; possibly Gertrude participated in the coaching. Carewe, her co-sponsor, was cousin to the Boleyns and the husband of an early favorite of the king, Margaret Bryan Carewe; Gertrude had served with the maids of honor and was related to Elizabeth Blount. You might expect them to have groomed Jane in the perfect cortegiana style epitomized by Anne Boleyn; but there's no evidence of this. Maybe they realized early on that whatever the king liked Jane for, it was not her resemblance to Queen Anne. (Anne of Cleves' lack of musical talent is often brought up in Tudor books, but there's no evidence Queen Jane was musical either.) Perhaps Gertrude, who served Catherine of Aragon during the years she was still in favor, was able to tutor Jane is the ways of a born princess - poise, decorum, a certain placid composure in the face of the king's moods, infidelities, etc. But that's just a guess.

She could have also acted as a chaperone, since Henry clearly valued Jane's virtue. Once Queen Anne fell out with her lady in waiting, Jane would have needed the social protection of some established court lady to protect her reputation for chastity.

Gertrude might also have been able to teach the courtly love game and the king's expectations from his partner. (It is Gertrude who relates the big set piece of the Seymour romance - Jane rejecting the purse of gold sent by Henry, an episode also found in Marguerite of Navarre's Heptameron, so you rather wonder if the king and Jane were acting out some famous courtly-love tradition.)

However, the records mostly show Gertrude furiously intriguing with Chapuys, so this is all speculation. Exactly how she "sponsored" Jane is unknown. Jane could have picked up the courtly love game during her service with Anne; her calm may have been innate, or acquired by observation of Queen Catherine (according to some accounts, she served her during her exile from court).