In any dynasty, those closest to the throne are the most at risk of dealing with suspicions and conspiracies. Those who were not next in line for the throne were seen as threats, especially those whose bloodline was a bit stronger than those who sat on the throne. The Tudor dynasty’s biggest threat was the few Plantagenets who still lived at court. The family that had the most Plantagenet blood in their veins and poised the most significant threat was the Pole family. However, one woman who was very close to Henry VIII and his family married a man who had Plantagenet blood in his veins. Her name was Gertrude Courtenay, the Marchioness of Exeter, and her story is finally getting the light it deserves in Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s latest book, “The Forgotten Tudor Women: Gertrude Courtenay: Wife and Mother of the Last Plantagenets.”
I want to thank Sylvia Barbara Soberton for sending me a copy of this book. I am always looking for new stories from the Tudor dynasty, especially about strong women, so I was intrigued when I heard about this title.
Gertrude Blount (later Courtenay) was the daughter of William Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy, a distinguished humanist scholar and chamberlain to Katherine of Aragon. William would marry one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies-in-waiting, Inez de Venegas, and was made a Knight of the Bath by King Henry VIII. As the daughter of such an esteemed gentleman at court, Gertrude received an outstanding education and served Katherine of Aragon as one of her maids of honor.
In 1519, Gertrude married Henry Courtenay, 1st Marquess of Exeter and the first cousin of Henry VIII; his mother was Katherine Plantagenet of York, the younger sister of Elizabeth of York. Gertrude and Henry would stay loyal to Katherine of Aragon and her daughter Mary through The Great Matter, even when Anne Boleyn was queen; Gertrude was a godmother to Anne’s daughter Elizabeth. Even though Henry Courtenay and his son Edward was seen as a potential opponent to Henry VIII, they continued to curry royal favor.
Gertrude’s life was by no means perfect as she was involved in several scandals, including the one around Elizabeth Barton and the Exeter Conspiracy, which resulted in the death of her husband in 1538. Gertrude and Edward would spend time in the Tower, but fate had another twist to their story as young Edward was seen as a potential husband for Queen Mary I.
The strength and tenacity of Gertrude Courtenay are nothing short of admirable. To survive so many conspiracies and scandals during the Tudor dynasty was nothing short of extraordinary. Soberton’s writing style brings to life Gertrude’s story and illuminates one of the forgotten women of the Tudor dynasty. I hope others will appreciate Gertrude Courtenay’s story as much as I did when they read Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s latest book, “The Forgotten Tudor Women: Gertrude Courtenay: Wife and Mother of the Last Plantagenets.”