Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Burgh Bastards

Elizabeth Owen (d. bef 1551) was the daughter of David Owen (1459-1535) and his last wife Anne Devereux. As a child of David Owen, Elizabeth was therefore a blood relative of the Tudor monarchs.

Elizabeth Owen married Sir Thomas Burgh (d.1542) between 1529 and 1535.
Thomas was the eldest surviving son and heir apparent of Lord Thomas Burgh (1488-1550), whose family seat was Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire.
Elizabeth and Thomas' children were;
+ Margaret Burgh (b.1535)
+ Humphrey Burgh (b.1537)
+ Arthur Burgh

Lord Burgh, Thomas' father, claimed that the three children were not fathered by Thomas, but instead argued that Elizabeth had been unfaithful and the children had a different father and therefore he believed they should not inherit his title or wealth. Lord Burgh threw Elizabeth and the children out of his house, and so she returned to her mother's house.
In 1542 an Act of Parliament was passed with made the three Burgh children illegitimate and unable to inherit the Burgh estate. The Act stated that "during the life of her husband she had lived in adultery, not regarding the company of her husband, and in that time had brought forth three children, begotten by other persons than her said husband during the espousal" and "as she had confessed, which children being so gotten and born in adultery, during the said espousals, by the laws of this realm, be legitimate, and will be inheritable and inherit, &c. after the death of the said Lord Burgh".
As early as 1535, Lord Burgh - Elizabeth's father in law - was trying to bastardize the children; as seen from Elizabeth's letters to Thomas Cromwell begging him for his protection and defending her innocence.
However, Lord Burgh left a bequest in his will to his granddaughter Margaret of 700 marks when he died in 1550. The reason for this bequest is unclear as he leaves nothing to Elizabeth's other two children.

Gainsborough Old Hall, Lincolnshire

Katherine Parr, who became the sixth wife of King Henry VIII, was previously married  in 1530 to Lord Burgh's eldest son Edward Burgh (1507-33). Depending on the date of marriage between Elizabeth and Thomas, it is possible that Katherine and Elizabeth knew each other as sister-in-laws and spent time together. During her years as queen (1543-7), Katherine paid Elizabeth a pension from her own accounts.
The reason for Katherine's kindness towards Elizabeth can be understood through the work of Katherine Parr's biographer Susan James. Susan James discusses Lord Burgh's behaviour towards his family in that he was controlling and domineering over his sons. Also mentioned is the apparent mental illness suffered by members of the Burgh family; seen in Lord Burgh in the way he demanded total obedience from his family and the violent rages he flew into. Lord Burgh's own father had been known by many to be a lunatic. Therefore it is highly possible that Elizabeth's infidelity was an invention of Lord Burgh's mind and his son was simply too afraid to stand up to his father. Katherine and her husband Edward lived the first two years of their marriage in the family manor, and Katherine was unhappy during this time as she often expressed in frequent letters to her mother Maud Parr. It was only after moving out from under Lord Burgh's roof that Katherine began to enjoy married life.

In addition to Queen Katherine's aid, Elizabeth was also helped by other relatives; William FitzWilliam, Earl of Southampton, left his cousin Elizabeth 20 marks in his Will when he died in 1542.

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