Elizabeth Tilney, Countess of Surrey

Elizabeth Tilney, Countess of Surrey (before 1445 4 April 1497) was an English heiress and lady-in-waiting to two queens. She became the first wife of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey.

Elizabeth Tilney
Countess of Surrey
Detail of a stained glass window at Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk depicting Elizabeth Tilney
BornBefore 1445
Ashwellthorpe Manor, Norfolk
Died4 April 1497
BuriedConvent of the Minoresses, outside Aldgate, London
Spouse(s)Sir Humphrey Bourchier
Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk
John Bourchier, 2nd Baron Berners
Margaret Bourchier
Anne Bourchier, Baroness Dacre
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
Lord Edward Howard
Lord Edmund Howard
Lord John Howard
Lord Henry Howard
Lord Charles Howard
Lord Henry Howard (second of that name)
Lord Richard Howard
Lady Elizabeth Howard
Lady Muriel Howard
FatherSir Frederick Tilney
MotherElizabeth Cheney
Lady of the Bedchamber

She served as a lady-in-waiting to Queen consort Elizabeth Woodville, and later as Lady of the Bedchamber to the Queen's daughter, Elizabeth of York, consort of King Henry VII of England. She stood as joint godmother to Princess Margaret Tudor at her baptism.

She was the mother of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Through her daughter Elizabeth she was the maternal grandmother of Anne Boleyn, and through another son, Edmund, the paternal grandmother of Catherine Howard, both queens consort of King Henry VIII. Elizabeth's great-granddaughter was Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Elizabeth was commemorated as the "Countess of Surrey" in John Skelton's poem, The Garlande of Laurell, following his visit to the Howard residence of Sheriff Hutton Castle.


Elizabeth Tilney was born at Ashwellthorpe Hall sometime before 1445, the only child of Sir Frederick Tilney, of Ashwellthorpe, Norfolk, and Boston, Lincolnshire, and Elizabeth Cheney (1422–1473) of Fen Ditton, Cambridgeshire. Sir Frederick Tilney died before 1447, and before 1449 Elizabeth's mother married as her second husband Sir John Say of Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, Speaker of the House of Commons, by whom she had three sons, Sir William, Sir Thomas and Leonard, and four daughters, Anne (wife of Sir Henry Wentworth of Nettlestead, Suffolk), Elizabeth (wife of Thomas Sampson), Katherine (wife of Thomas Bassingbourne), and Mary (wife of Sir Philip Calthorpe).[1] A fifth daughter died as a young child. Henry VIII's third queen consort, Jane Seymour, was the granddaughter of Henry Wentworth and Anne Say,[2] and thus a second cousin to Henry VIII's second and fifth queens consort, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.[3]

Elizabeth's paternal grandparents were Sir Philip Tilney and Isabel Thorpe, and her maternal grandparents were Sir Laurence Cheney of Fen Ditton and Elizabeth Cockayne, widow of Sir Philip Butler. Elizabeth Cockayne was the daughter of Sir John Cockayne, Chief Baron of the Exchequer and Ida de Grey. Ida was a daughter of Welsh Marcher Lord Reginald Grey, 2nd Baron Grey de Ruthyn and Eleanor Le Strange of Blackmere.[4] Through her mother, Ida 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 right of her descent from Roger Hillary, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas (d.1356).[5]


Elizabeth married her first husband, Sir Humphrey Bourchier, the son and heir of John Bourchier, 1st Baron Berners, and his wife Margery, in about 1466. The marriage produced a son, John Bourchier, 2nd Baron Berners and two daughters. Following her marriage, Elizabeth went to court where she served as lady-in-waiting to Queen consort Elizabeth Woodville, whose train she had carried at the latter's coronation in May 1465 at Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth accompanied the queen and her children into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey when King Edward IV had been ousted from the throne, and was present at the birth of the future King Edward V. She remained with the queen until Edward IV was restored to power.

Sir Humphrey was killed at the Battle of Barnet on 14 April 1471 fighting on the Yorkist side.[6] On 30 April 1472 Elizabeth married Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey,[7] a marriage arranged by the King.[8] In 1475, Elizabeth inherited her father's property of Ashwellthorpe Manor.[9] Her second husband was a close friend and companion of Richard, Duke of Gloucester who was crowned king in 1483. Elizabeth was one of Anne Neville's attendants at Richard's coronation, while her husband bore the Sword of State.[10] On 22 August 1485 Thomas's father John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk was killed at the Battle of Bosworth while fighting for Richard III; like his son, John was also one of King Richard's dearest friends.[11] Thomas Howard was wounded at Bosworth and imprisoned in the Tower for several years, and the dukedom of Norfolk was forfeited. Elizabeth was fortunate that Thomas' attainder stipulated that she would not lose her own inheritance. On 3 October 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 the new king 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.[12] In December 1485 she was living in London, near St Katharine's by the Tower, which placed her in the vicinity of her incarcerated husband.[13]

After Thomas was released from prison and his earldom and estates were restored to him, he entered the service of Henry VII. In November 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.

Her second marriage produced eleven children, including Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Elizabeth Howard, mother of Anne Boleyn, and Lord Edmund Howard, father of Katherine Howard.

Death and legacy

Elizabeth Tilney died on 4 April 1497 and was buried in the nun's choir of the Convent of the Minoresses outside Aldgate.[14] In her will, she left money to be distributed to the poor of Whitechapel and Hackney.[15] By licence dated 8 November 1497 Thomas Howard married as his second wife her cousin, Agnes Tilney, by whom he had seven more children.[16]

Elizabeth's granddaughters included not only Katherine Howard and Anne Boleyn, but also three of Henry VIII's mistresses, Elizabeth Carew, Mary Boleyn and, allegedly, Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond.[17] During the reign of Henry VIII the Howards, led by Elizabeth's eldest son, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, became the premier family of England.

In poetry, art and fiction

Elizabeth Tilney has been identified as the "Countess of Surrey" commemorated in John Skelton's The Garlande of Laurell, written by the poet laureate while he was a guest of the Howards in 1495 at Sheriff Hutton Castle. Three of Elizabeth's daughters, Anne, Elizabeth and Muriel are also addressed in the poem, which celebrates the occasion when Elizabeth, 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.[18]

Elizabeth's likeness is depicted in a stained glass window at Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk. She is shown facing Elizabeth Talbot, Duchess of Norfolk, and both figures are surmounted by the Mowbray family's coat of arms.

A highly romanticized fictional account of Elizabeth Tilney's life was written by Juliet Dymoke in The Sun in Splendour which depicts Elizabeth, known as "Bess", at the court of King Edward IV.


By Sir Humphrey Bourchier:

By Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk:


See also


  1. Roskell 1981, p. 170; Richardson 2004, pp. 206–207; Kirby 2008.
  2. Beer 2004; Richardson 2004, pp. 381, 611, 729.
  3. G. E. Cokayne. The Complete Peerage
  4. Taylor 1822, p. 8.
  5. Richardson 2004, p. 141.
  6. Cokayne 1912, pp. 153–154.
  7. Richardson 2004, pp. 141, 236; Cokayne 1912, p. 153.
  8. Women of History - Index S Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 15 March 2011
  9. Women of History - Index S
  10. Women of History - Index S. Retrieved 15 March 2011
  11. Kendall, pp. 193–196.
  12. Kathy Lynn Emerson. A Who's Who of Tudor Women - T
  13. Kathy Lynn Emerson. A Who's Who of Tudor Women - T. Retrieved 15 March 2011
  14. Women of History - Index S. Retrieved 15-03-11
  15. Women of History - Index S
  16. Richardson 2004, p. 237.
  17. Hart 2009.
  18. Skelton 1990, pp. 23, 31–32; Scattergood 2004.
  19. Richardson 2004, p. 142; Cokayne 1912, pp. 153–154.
  20. Richardson 2004, pp. 141–2.
  21. Richardson 2004, p. 141.
  22. Richardson 2004, p. 236.
  23. Richardson 2004, p. 236; Loades 2008.
  24. Richardson 2004, p. 236;Warnicke 2008.
  25. Richardson 2004, p. 236.
  26. Richardson 2004, p. 236.
  27. Richardson 2004, p. 236.
  28. Richardson 2004, p. 236.
  29. Richardson 2004, p. 236.
  30. Richardson 2004, p. 236; Hughes 2007.
  31. Richardson 2004, p. 236; Gunn 2008.
  32. Weir 1991, p. 619.


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