Today, I am pleased to welcome Sylvia Barbara Soberton back to discuss another forgotten Tudor woman, Gertrude Courtenay, who is the subject of her latest book, “The Forgotten Tudor Women: Gertrude Courtenay. Wife and Mother of the last Plantagenets”.
The biography of Gertrude Courtenay, Marchioness of Exeter, is the third volume in my best-selling series Forgotten Tudor Women. As the title of the series suggests, I am writing about the lesser-known women of the Tudor court. When I say “lesser-known”, I don’t mean that little is known about these women. Quite the contrary; they left an extraordinary trail of letters, papers, and documents and made their presence known to various chroniclers and ambassadors.
Why Gertrude, you may ask? Long story short: She was amazing! I wanted to write a biography of Gertrude for a very long time. Why was she so special?
Married to Henry VIII’s first cousin Henry Courtenay, Earl of Devon and then Marquis of Exeter, Gertrude was the wife and mother of the last Plantagenets at the Tudor court. Her husband, after whose noble title the Exeter Conspiracy is known today, was executed in 1538, and their son, Edward, spent fourteen years imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Gertrude was among the key political players of Henry VIII’s court during the infamous annulment, known as the Great Matter, commencing in 1527 and ending in 1533. A Catholic and staunch supporter of the King’s first wife, Katharine of Aragon, and their daughter, Princess Mary, Gertrude took an active part in the most turbulent events of Henry VIII’s political and private life. She was far from a passive observer, though. She exchanged letters with Eustace Chapuys, ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and even visited him in disguise when it was dangerous to become Henry VIII’s enemy. She gave ear to the Nun of Kent’s prophecies (for which the Nun was executed in 1534) and remained Katharine of Aragon’s supporter even after the Queen’s banishment.
Gertrude’s hatred of Anne Boleyn, the King’s second wife, and everything she stood for achieved epic proportions and made Gertrude’s support of Katharine and Mary even more resounding. It was Gertrude who took an active part in the fall of Anne Boleyn and the rise of Jane Seymour in May 1536. Godmother to two Tudor monarchs, Elizabeth I and Edward VI, Gertrude was prominent in court circles until her luck ran out when her husband was executed in December 1538. His crime was having a close friendship with Henry Pole, brother of Cardinal Reginald Pole, with whom he discussed politics. Although Henry Courtenay died on the scaffold and their son was imprisoned for fifteen years, Gertrude was released from the Tower of London and survived under the radar until Henry VIII’s elder daughter, Mary, ascended to the throne in 1553. Gertrude’s lifelong friendship with Mary was tested when the Queen rejected Gertrude’s son as a prospective husband.
Gertrude’s story had to be told, and I am overjoyed that I can introduce her to a wider audience.
About the Book
Gertrude Courtenay led a dangerous life, both personally and politically. Daughter of a prominent courtier, she started her career as maid of honor and then lady-in-waiting to Katharine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife.
She sided with the Queen during the Great Matter, as the divorce case between Henry VIII and Katharine of Aragon was then often known. A bitter enemy of the King’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, Gertrude, plotted and intrigued with Henry VIII’s enemies, brushing with treason on many occasions.
Wife and mother of the last Plantagenets of the Tudor court, Gertrude was an ambitious and formidable political player. The story of her life is a thrilling tale of love and loss, conspiracies and plots, treason and rebellion.
This is Gertrude’s story.