Elizabeth TILNEY

(C. Surrey) 

Died. 4 Apr 1497

Father: Frederick TILNEY of Ashwellthorpe (Sir)

Mother: Elizabeth CHENEY

Married 1: Humphrey BOURCHIER (Sir Knight) 30 Apr 1472


1. Margaret BOURCHIER

2. John BOURCHIER (2 B. Berners)

3. Anne BOURCHIER (B. Dacre of the South)

Married 2: Thomas HOWARD (2 D. Norfolk) 30 Apr 1472


4. Elizabeth HOWARD (C. Wiltshire)

5. Thomas HOWARD (3 D. Norfolk)

6. Edmund HOWARD (Sir)

7. Henry HOWARD

8. Edward HOWARD (Sir)

9. Muriel HOWARD (V. Lisle)

10. Richard HOWARD

11. John HOWARD

12. Charles HOWARD

Born at Ashwellthorpe Manor, Norfolk, England, sometime before 1445. She was the daughter and heiress of Sir Frederick Tilney of Ashwellthorpe, Norfolk, and Boston, Lincolnshire, by his wife Elizabeth Cheney, of Fen Ditton, Cambridgeshire. Her father died when she was a young child. Shortly before 1 Dec 1446, Elizabeth's mother married her second husband,  Sir John Say of Broxbourne, Speaker of the House of Commons by whom she had three sons, Sir William Say, who married Elizabeth Fray; Thomas Say, and Leonard Say, who would later become a priest; and four surviving daughters, Anne Say, who married Henry Wentworth; Mary Say, the wife of Sir Phillip Calthorpe; Elizabeth Say, wife of Thomas Sampson; and Catherine Say, wife of Thomas Bassingbourne. A fifth daughter, whose name is not known, died as a young child.

Elizabeth's paternal grandparents were Sir Phillip Tilney and Isabel Thorpe. Through her maternal line she was a direct descendant of Welsh Prince Gruffydd II ap Madog, Lord of Dinas Bran and his wife Emma de Audley. Elizabeth was co-heiress to the manors of Fisherwick and Shelfield in Walsall, Staffordshire by virtue of her descent from Roger Hilary, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas who had died in 1356.

In about 1466, Elizabeth married her first husband Sir Humphrey Bourchier, the son and heir of John Bourchier, 1st Lord Berners and Margery Berners. The marriage produced a son John Bourchier, 2nd Lord Berners and two daughters, Anne Bourchier, B. Dacre, and Margaret Bourchier. Sir Humphrey, who was heir to the title of Baron Berners, was killed at the Battle of Barnet on 14 Apr 1471 fighting on the Yorkist side.

Elizabeth married her second husband, Thomas Howard on 30 Apr 1472. On 22 Aug 1485 his father John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk was killed at the Battle of Bosworth while fighting for Richard III who was also his close friend and companion. Thomas, who had been created Earl of Surrey on 28 Jun 1483, was wounded in the battle and imprisoned in the Tower of London for several years, his right to ascend to the dukedom of Norfolk being forfeit. He would not gain the title until 1514. After his Earldom and estates were restored to him, he continued in the service of the Tudor king Henry VII.

Elizabeth was fortunate that Thomas' attainder stipulated that she would not lose her own inheritance. On 3 Oct 1485, she wrote to John Paston, who was married to her cousin. The letter, which she had written from the Isle of Sheppey, mentioned how she had wished to send her children to Thorpe, pointing out that Paston had pledged to send her horses as a means of transporting them there. She continued to complain that Lord FitzWalter, an adherent of Henry VII, had dismissed all of her servants; however, because of the stipulations in her husband's attainder, FitzWalter was unable to appropriate her manor of Askwell. In Dec 1485 she was living in London, near St Katharine's by the Tower, which placed her in the vicinity of her incarcerated husband.

After Thomas was released from prison and his earldom and estates were restored to him, he entered the service of Henry VII. In Nov 1487, Thomas and Elizabeth attended the coronation of Henry's consort Elizabeth of York, who appointed Elizabeth a Lady of the Bedchamber. Elizabeth was further honoured by being asked to stand as joint godmother to the Princess Margaret Tudor at her baptism in late 1489.

The marriage produced nine children including Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Elizabeth Howard, mother of Anne Boleyn, Admiral Sir Edward Howard, and Lord Edmund Howard, father of Catherine Howard. Her granddaughters included not only two Queens, but also two of Henry VIII's mistresses Elizabeth Carew and Mary Boleyn.

Elizabeth Tilney died on 4 Apr 1497 and was buried in the nun's choir of the Convent of the Minoresses outside Aldgate. In her will, she left money to be distributed to the poor of Whitechapel and Hackney. She never held the title of Duchess of Norfolk. Four months after Elizabeth's death, by licence dated 8 Nov 1497, Thomas Howard married as his second wife her cousin, Agnes Tilney, by whom he had six more children.

Elizabeth Tilney has been identified as the "Countess of Surrey" commemorated in John Skelton's Garlande of Laurrell, which was written by the Poet Laureate when he was a guest in the Earl of Surrey's residence of Sheriff Hutton Castle. Her daughters, Anne Bourchier, Elizabeth Howard, and Muriel Howard are also addressed in the verses of the poem, which celebrates the occasion when Elizabeth, along with her daughters and gentlewomen of her household, placed a garland of laurel, worked in silks, gold, and pearls, upon Skelton's head as a sign of homage to the poet.

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