Born: ABT 1502, Newport, Devonshire, England
Died: 25 Sep 1558
Buried: Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England
Father: William BLOUNT (4° B. Mountjoy)
Mother: Ines De BENEGAS (B. Mountjoy)
Married: Henry COURTENAY (1° M. Exeter)
1. Edward COURTENAY (12° E. Devon)
The daughter of William Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy, and Ines de Benegas, a Spanish lady who came to England with Catalina of Aragon. Her father served as chamberlain for Queen Catalina. In Oct 1519 she became the second wife of Henry VIII's first cousin, Sir Henry Courtenay, Earl of Devon; the couple produced two sons. Henry Courtenay was a close friend of Henry VIII, having been brought up of a child with his grace in his chamber. As a result of her marriage, she was styled Countess of Devon from Oct 1519, and after the death of her father-in-law in Jun 1525, she was styled Marchioness of Exeter.
Lady Exeter drew suspicion upon herself and her husband by continuing to correspond with Catalina after the queen's banishment from Court. In 1532, Henry forbade the Exeters from visiting Princess Mary.
In 1533, when Anne Boleyn gave birth to Princess Elizabeth, Gertrude, a close friend of Queen Catalina, was chosen as the godmother at the confirmation, which was performed immediately after the baptism. Apparently, it was well-known that Gertrude really wanted to have nothing to do with this, but agreed so as not to displease the King. This was a public spectacle, and as a godparent she was expected to provide an extremely expensive present.
A devout Catholic, Gertrude had supported the agitation of Elizabeth Barton, the alleged prophetess who had denounced the King's marriage to Anne Boleyn, and had visited her shrine at Canterbury. After Barton was arrested and had confessed herself a fraud, Lady Exeter was included in the bill of attainder that condemned Barton and the friends of Catalina who had encouraged her. In 1533, when Barton was executed, the Marchioness had begged the King to pardon the intimacy (Wood, Letters, ii. 96-101). Confessing herself deceived and explaining that her meeting with Barton was arranged only to ask for prayers on behalf of her unborn child, the Marchioness was pardoned.
The Marchiones of Dorset had been appointed to carry Prince Edward in his christening in 1537, but she had been obliged to send her excuses because of sickness in the nieghbourhood of at Croydon and was replaced by Gertrude. She had, however, decided views in favor of the Roman Catholic Church and her affection for the repudiated Queen Catalina, with whom she corresponded after the divorce, gave the King's ministers grounds to view her with suspicion.
Despite this scare, Lady Exeter continued to serve as the chief source of information for Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys. The Marchioness did not shrink even from treason, talking openly to Chapuys about raising rebellion on Catalina's behalf. In Nov 1535, Gertrude was visiting Chapuys in disguise, she had promised him the support of her Blount connections in any attempt to make Mary queen, and warn him that Henry had threatened to execute Catalina and Mary. In early 1536, after Catalina's death and Queen Anne's miscarriage, Lady Exeter informed Chapuys that Henry was tired of his wife and anxious to be rid of her.
Gradually information was collected in Devonshire and Cornwall to justify a prosecution for treason. Incriminating letters were found in a coffer belonging to Gertrude. At St. Keverne, Cornwall, a painted banner had been made wich was to be carried round the villages, rousing the men to rebel against the crown in order to declare Courtenay heir-apparent to the throne, at any rate in the west of England. Reginald Pole, the cardinal, was found to be in repeated communication with Courtenay. Pole's brother, Sir Geoffrey, turned traitor, and came to London to announce that a conspiracy was hatching on the lines of the Pilgrimage of Grace. It was called Exeter Conspiracy. Early in Nov 1538 Courtenay, his wife, and their son Edward were committed to the Tower. On 3 Dec Courtenay was tried by his peers in Westminster Hall. Evidence as to the Marquis's treasonable conversation with Sir Geoffrey Pole was alone adduced; but he was condemned and beheaded on Tower Hill 9 Dec 1538. A week later he was proclaimed a convicted traitor, and guilty of compassing the king's death.
Gertrude and her son were kept in prison, and were attained in Jul 1539. The Marchioness for a time had for her companion Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (mother of Cardinal Pole), who was beheaded 27 May 1541, and the distressed condition of these two ladies was made the subject of a petition from their gaoler to the King in 1540. Subsequently the King pardoned the Marchioness, and she was released in 1540, but unable to inherit her husband titles and lands.
The Princess Mary was always her friend: in 1543 Mary sent her a puncheon of wine, and other presents were interchanged between them for many years afterwards.
On Mary's accession to the throne she became a lady-in-waiting; her attainder was removed and she was granted all of her husband’s impounded goods as well as several estates. The especial favourite ladies of the Queen were chosen to escort her in the coronation procession on 29 Sep. Behind the Queen rode Elizabeth, dressed in white, smiling and nodding at the people, and after her came Anne of Cleves, the Duchess of Norfolk and the Marchioness of Exeter. In front of Mary rode the Earl of Arundel, bearing the sword of state, preceded by 740 men in velvet coats and 180 ladies and gentlewomen. Sir Anthony Browne rode behind the Queen.
In Aug 1553 her influence with the Queen
was high (she was one of the few persons who
shared her bed), all the more so as Mary had not yet disappointed speculation
that she might indeed marry
Edward Courtenay, shortly to be restored to the earldom of Devon.
The Marchioness was reportedly helpful to
Northumberland's old ally
William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke,
in securing his appointment to Mary's council on 13 Aug.
Lady Exeter, ambitious for her son, joined forces
Pembroke to persuade
Parliament to beg the Queen
not to wed a foreigner. Learning of this, Mary
had her erstwhile friend evicted from her lodging at court and sent
her to live in
Pembroke's house. The
Marchioness, fearing she had gone too far, sought to regain Mary's
favour by telling her that
Courtenay intended to ask her permission to visit the French
Ambassador de Noailles. 'He has gone often enough without
leave... I hope he will behave prudently and do nothing inconsistent
with his duty' retorted the Queen
icily. After a week her anger cooled and she permitted Lady
Exeter to return to her old lodgings, but their friendship was
never as close as formerly.
The official announcement of the marriage of the Queen
Felipe of Spain was published on 15 Jan
1553/4. There were
general manifestations of displeasure all over the country. Many
people Catholics and Protestants, feared England would be
dominated by Spain. Some men from fashionable courtly families under the command
more or less informal of Thomas
Courtenay, Earl of Devon, as the figurehead; the object being to depose
and make Elizabeth Queen in her stead, with
Courtenay as her
prospective husband. In Mar 1553/4 Wyatt's rebellion
was suppressed and its ramifications known.
Courtenay was easily snared, he was brought to the Tower of
London, where he was given his old room in the Bell Tower. After
his arrest, his mother, the Marchioness of Exeter, was
banished from court, and on 3 Mar,
Courtenay himself was moved to St Thomas's Tower.
On 29 Apr 1555, at Felipe's
was issued with a pardon, released from Fotheringhay and sent on a
diplomatic mission to the Imperial court at Brussels. He suffered
miseries of homesickness during his exile, which brought added
suffering to his sick mother, lady Exeter, who wrote: 'If
wishing might take place, you
She died on 25 Sep 1558, just two months before her former mistress, and was buried at Wimborne. Her extant letters to her son Edward show her in a very attractive light.
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