In 1513 King Henry VIII, four years into his reign as King of England, went to France to fight against Louis XII, leaving his young Queen, Katherine to reign as regent in his absence. Whilst he was away, a Scottish invasion led by King James IV, met with the King’s army, led in battle by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, and the combined forces of England’s nobles at Flodden Field, on September 9th. The Queen, hearing of the invasion, mustered the Southern army and rode out to meet any Scottish forces, who may have broken through the first wave against Surrey. Howard and his supporters were successful. James was slain on the battlefield, the last British monarch to die this way. The jubilant Katherine received a piece of the Scottish King’s coat, which she sent to her husband on the French battlefield, to show their success, and for him to use as a banner in his own conflict. There was a heavy price to pay for her duty, Katherine was heavily pregnant when she took to her horse for England. A few weeks later, she gave birth to a son, who died shortly after birth. Katherine and Henry had already suffered the loss of a stillborn daughter, and their firstborn son, who had died aged 52 days. Losing this son was a cruel blow, but it wasn’t to be the last.
Accompanying Henry on the French campaign was a loyal but somewhat insignificant courtier, Sir John Blount. From his marriage to Catherine Pershall, their daughter, Elizabeth was introduced to Court as a lady-in-waiting to the Queen. Elizabeth was born at some point between 1498 and 1502, sources vary. It was around 1513, when she was somewhere between 11 and 15 years old that her father left her in the service of the Queen when he accompanied Henry to France. The following year, after another of the King’s children, a third son after a few short hours, perhaps days of life, young Bessie Blount caught his eye, quite possibly during this period of pregnancy and confinement of his Queen, or the following one, in 1515. By 1515, Bessie was the mistress of the King. Bessie’s position as Henry’s mistress was unusual in that she lasted somewhat longer than any of his previous dalliances. Their affair lasted around 5 to 8 years, during which time the Queen successfully delivered a daughter, Mary in early 1516 followed by one further short-lived daughter, who died a week after her birth, in November 1518. Catherine was now in her mid-thirties and it was highly unlikely she would have further children.
As the Queen grieved, Bessie found herself with child. On June 15th, 1519 Elizabeth Blount delivered a healthy baby boy, who was very quickly acknowledged as the King’s son and christened as Henry Fitzroy, meaning Henry, (illegitimate) son of the king Henry. Cardinal Wolsey stood as the baby’s Godfather. King Henry knowing he would have no legitimate heir seemed to dismiss the notion that his son was illegitimate. Princess Mary’s household was quickly rearranged, with the Countess of Salisbury, Margaret Pole taking the place of Lady Margaret Bryan as Mary’s guardian. Lady Bryan along with two nurses were reassigned to the care of Henry Fitzroy, although it is quite likely that the new baby spent a fair amount of time alongside his older half-sister in the Royal nursery. Bessie’s affair with the King ended a year or two after her son’s birth and she was subsequently married to Gilbert Tailboys, with whom she had three further children. The oldest, Elizabeth is considered by some to also have been the King’s child. Despite claims Bessie’s position in King Henry’s life was insignificant, as the mother of his first surviving son, this can easily be contested. As her association with the King faded, Henry Fitzroy’s place in history was only just beginning.