Posted By Claire on March 16, 2012
I was eager to read this biography of Bessie Blount, Henry VIII’s mistress, after the controversy caused by The Daily Mail’s article “Henry VIII had a secret daughter who should have taken the throne before Elizabeth I, historian claims”. That intrigued me as although I had heard of Bessie’s daughter, Elizabeth Tailboys, I had never linked her to Henry VIII.
Elizabeth Norton, author and historian, has kindly written a guest article on this claim for The Anne Boleyn Files – see Was Elizabeth Tailboys the Daughter of Henry VIII? – but this is obviously only a small part of her book and the book is a biography of Bessie’s life, not simply an exploration of the claim regarding Elizabeth Tailboys.
The main part of the book is 288 pages and so is a full, detailed biography, and when the Notes and Bibliography run from page 289 to 344 it is clear that Norton has meticulously researched her subject. The book is divided into four parts – Bessie Blount of Kinlet c. 1498-1512; Bessie Blount, the King’s Mistress, 1512-1522; Lady Tailboys of South Kyme, 1522-1530; and Bessie the Widow and Bessie the Wife, 1530-c.1539 – and each part has a number of chapters in it, twenty chapters in all. There is also a section of genealogical tables so the reader can see how everyone links together.
I must admit to finding Chapter 3: Bessie Blount of Kinlet hard going but this was simply because of the genealogy, all of the names. It wasn’t the style of writing that made it tough, it was simply the detail and the amount of names. I really wanted to understand the family so I kept re-reading it. As soon as that background information was out of the way, the book really took off and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Bessie and her story. Bessie is usually such a shadowy figure, the beautiful mistress who gave Henry VIII a son and then was married off to a nobleman and forgotten, but this book brings her to life and follows her right through to her death. It is a fascinating read for any Tudor history buff.
As for the claim made in The Daily Mail, well, Elizabeth Norton makes a convincing argument for Elizabeth Tailboys’ paternity and backs it up with solid primary sources. It’s no empty claim and Norton has convinced me.
So, if you like a biography which is meticulously researched, fully referenced (joy!) and is also an interesting read, then I would say that this book would suit you. The excellent referencing and bibliography means that you can double check the sources and do your own digging, something that I often do. I would say that this is Elizabeth Norton’s best book to date.
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (14 Nov 2011)
Available at Amazon.com – click here and Amazon.co.uk – click here. You can also order it through your usual bookseller.