Elizabeth Somerset, Countess of Worcester (d. 1565)

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Elizabeth Somerset (Browne), Countess of Worcester

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Bechworth, Surrey, England
Death: Died
Place of Burial: Priory and Parish Church of St Mary, Chepstow, Monmouthshire, Wales
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Sir Anthony Browne and Lady Lucy Neville
Wife of Henry Somerset, 2nd Earl of Worcester
Partner of Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, Chief Minister to Henry VIII
Mother of Lucy Neville; William Somerset, 3rd Earl of Worcester; Anne Somerset, Countess of Northumberland; Charles Browne Somerset; Francis Browne Somerset and 2 others
Sister of Sir Anthony Browne; William Browne; Henry Browne and Lucy Browne
Half sister of Thomas Fitzwilliam, of Aldwark; Richard Fitzwilliam; Anthony Fitzwilliam; Elizabeth Fitzwilliam; William FitzWilliam and 5 others

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About Elizabeth Somerset, Countess of Worcester (d. 1565)

Elizabeth Browne, countess of Worcester (d. 1565) was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne Boleyn and the main informant against her. She may have been a mistress of King Henry VIII.

Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir Anthony Browne, a trusted courtier at the court of Henry VIII, and his wife Lucy Nevill, a daughter of John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu.

In some reports of the time, Elizabeth is described as a 'former mistress of the King's.'

She was the second wife of Henry Somerset, 2nd earl of Worcester. Their marriage produced ten surviving children:

  1. Anne Somerset, countess of Northumberland by marriage to Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland (1538 - 1591 / 1596) Court gossip at the time of Anne's birth suggested that she was actually the daughter of Sir Thomas Cromwell.
  2. William Somerset, 3rd Earl of Worcester (1527 - 21 Feb 1589)
  3. Lucy Somerset, Lady Latimer by marriage to John Neville, 4th Baron Latimer (d. 23 Feb 1583)
  4. Eleanor Somerset
  5. Thomas Somerset
  6. Charles Somerset
  7. Francis Somerset (d. 10 Sep 1547, in battle)
  8. Jane Somerset
  9. Henry Somerset
 10. Mary Somerset

-------------------- Elizabeth Somerset, countess of Worcester (died 1565) was a lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn and the main informant against her. She may have been a mistress of King Henry VIII.[1]

Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir Anthony Browne, a trusted courtier at the court of Henry VIII, and his wife Lucy Nevill, a daughter of John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu.

In some reports of the time, Elizabeth is described as a 'former mistress of the King's.'

She was the second wife of Henry Somerset, 2nd earl of Worcester. Their marriage produced ten surviving children:

  1. Anne Somerset, Countess of Northumberland by marriage to Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland (1538 - 1591 / 1596)
  2. William Somerset, 3rd Earl of Worcester (1527 - 21 Feb 1589)
  3. Lucy Somerset, Lady Latimer by marriage to John Neville, 4th Baron Latimer (d. 23 Feb 1583)
  4. Eleanor Somerset
  5. Thomas Somerset
  6. Charles Somerset
  7. Francis Somerset (d. 10 Sep 1547, in battle)
  8. Jane Somerset
  9. Henry Somerset
 10. Mary Somerset

-------------------- Elizabeth (née Browne) Somerset, countess of Worcester (died 1565) was a lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn and the main informant against her. She may have been a mistress of King Henry VIII.[1]

Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir Anthony Browne, a trusted courtier at the court of Henry VIII, and his wife Lady Lucy Neville, a daughter of John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu and Isobel Ingaldesthorpe.

About 1508, Elizabeth's sister, Anne Browne, married Sir Charles Brandon, later Duke of Suffolk. By that union, Elizabeth was aunt to Lady Anne Brandon, and her younger sister, Lady Mary Brandon.

She was the second wife of Henry Somerset, 2nd earl of Worcester. Henry's first wife, Lady Margaret, had died without issue.[2] It is Elizabeth who produced their surviving children:

   Lady Anne Somerset, married Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland (1538 - 1591/1596)
   William Somerset, 3rd Earl of Worcester (1527 - 21 February 1589)
   Lady Lucy Somerset, married John Neville, 4th Baron Latimer (died 23 February 1583)
   Lady Eleanor Somerset, married 1) Sir Roger Vaughan and 2) Henry Johns[citation needed]
   Thomas Somerset
   Charles Somerset
   Francis Somerset (died 10 September 1547, in battle)
   Lady Joan or "Jane" Somerset, married Sir Edward Mansel

From http://under-these-restless-skies.blogspot.com/2014/03/elizabeth-browne-somerset-countess-of.html:

Elizabeth Browne Somerset, Countess of Worcester

While Jane Parker traditionally takes most of the blame for the incest allegations against Anne Boleyn and her brother, George, the Countess of Worcester may be the one who betrayed Anne and sealed her doom.

Elizabeth Browne was born around 1502, the eldest daughter of Sir Anthony Browne and his wife, Lucy Neville. Sir Anthony served as the lieutenant of Calais. Lucy was an avowed Yorkist and did not support the reign of Henry VII. She supposedly once intimated that if the king should happen to die, she would seize control of the fortress of Calais and hold it for her cousin, Edmund de la Pole. The king fired a heavy shot across the family's bow in 1507, imposing a huge fine on a trumped-up pretext. Lucy got the hint and kept her head down after that.

Elizabeth had a brother also named Sir Anthony Browne, who served as a close advisor to Henry VIII. He was so trusted by the king that he held a "dry stamp" of the king's signature, carved in wood, used for impressing the king's signature on minor documents, which would then be inked over.

Elizabeth Browne married well. In about 1527, she wed Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester. Somerset had been married first to Margaret Courtenay, granddaughter of Elizabeth Woodville, and a cousin of the king. They had no children before Margaret died, supposedly from choking on a fish bone.

Elizabeth's marriage to Somerset was very fruitful. They had up to ten children together, though the number is somewhat in question because not all of the children lived to adulthood.

The couple seems to have had financial difficulties of some sort. Somerset never rose to a position of much prominence, and is barely mentioned in most histories of the era.

At one point, a "Mistress Browne," first name unknown, was said to be a short-term mistress of the king. It's generally assumed to have been Elizabeth, but there's no direct evidence of it. Things of that nature weren't considered important to the chroniclers of the era, and so the beginnings of most of Henry's relationships are shrouded in mystery. We don't know for certain that it was Elizabeth Henry was pursuing, or that the relationship ever progressed to the point of consummation. None the less, it may have given Elizabeth an unsavory reputation, or a vulnerability to accusations of that sort, as we will see later.

Elizabeth appears to have been a close friend of Anne Boleyn. Henry VIII's privy purse expenses detail a payment made to a midwife for Elizabeth in February, 1530, likely on Anne's behalf to assist her friend. Three years later, during Anne's coronation feast, Elizabeth knelt beside Anne with a silver ewer, tasked with holding up a cloth in front of the queen whenever she needed to spit out a bone. To modern eyes, it seems somewhat of a demeaning task, but in the Tudor era, it was a position of high honor.

After Anne became queen, Elizabeth was appointed as one of her ladies in waiting. It must have been somewhat of a relief to Elizabeth and Somerset for her to have a steady source of income, but living at court was expensive. The financial troubles of Elizabeth and her husband seem to have continued, because in April 1536, she borrowed from Anne the substantial sum of £100 (about $40,600 in today's money). Elizabeth did not tell her husband she had borrowed the money and later begged Cromwell not to mention it to him.

Less than a month later, Anne Boleyn was arrested on trumped-up charges of adultery and treason, and Elizabeth was named as one of the principal witnesses against her. How did Elizabeth come to betray a friend who had been so good to her?

Lancelot de Carles is the source which gives further details.

   A lord of the Privy Council seeing clear evidence that his sister loved certain persons with a dishonorable love, admonished her fraternally. She acknowledged her offence, but said it was little in her case in comparison with that of the Queen, as he might ascertain from Mark [Smeaton], declaring that she was guilty of incest with her own brother.

Sir Anthony Browne The "lord of the Privy Council" is identified as Elizabeth's brother, Sir Anthony Browne, by John Husee, writing to Lady Lisle.

   As to the confession of the Queen and others, they said little or nothing; but what was said was wondrous discreetly spoken. "The first accuser, the lady Worcester, and Nan Cobham with one maid mo; but the lady Worcester was the first ground."

Sir Anthony Browne was a religious conservative and a proponent of Princess Mary. In fact, he later got in a dicey situation himself for trying to promote Princess Mary's claim to the throne over that of Princess Elizabeth. He probably wasn't troubled about helping to bring down the reign of Anne Boleyn.

Elizabeth herself does not seem to have testified directly. Indeed, we don't even have mention that she was ever personally questioned by the council or judges. We have only the mention that her brother said she'd made these accusations against the queen.

Lancelot de Carles has her offering the information freely, but his poem is a paraphrase of her brother's testimony. Sir Anthony Browne, knowing his sister was a close confidant of the queen, may have interrogated her personally as soon the "investigation" of the queen began. He was in the thick of the plot, and his sister could be a valuable tool to getting what the king wanted.

We can only speculate as to what happened, but Elizabeth must have been badly frightened if her brother approached her with the accusations of immoral behavior. She would have feared for her position at court. Anne was very strict about moral behavior in her ladies; she had even sent her own sister away from court for misconduct. Elizabeth must have been terrified the same thing would happen to her. Since Elizabeth was heavily pregnant at the time the allegation was made, she may have feared her husband would claim the child was not his.

With the secret loan from Anne and the accusations of immorality hanging over her head, Elizabeth could have thought her marriage, her child, and her future at court were all at stake.

Then, she would have realized the true scope of what was happening. If she did not "confess" to witnessing Anne's misconduct, Elizabeth might have feared she would be accused of assisting her. She could do only what the rest of the court was doing: obey the will of the king and hope that the shadow of the axe passed away her own family. Jane Parker may have faced the same sort of choice.

The Somersets did not escape unscathed. Elizabeth's husband's sister was married to William Brereton, one of the men accused of adultery with Anne Boleyn. Brereton just so happened to be withholding control of some lands that Sir Anthony Browne wanted. In short, he had a financial incentive to see to it that his sister cooperated.

Anne didn't know that Elizabeth had betrayed her when she was imprisoned in the Tower. She is recorded to have worried about Elizabeth's pregnancy.

   [Anne] myche lamented my lady of Worceter, for by c[ause that her child di]d not store in hyre body. And my wyf sayd, what shuld [be the cause? And she sai]d, for the sorow she toke for me.

The "sorrow" Anne spoke of was likely her own miscarriage in January and the subsequent loss of the king's favor.

Anne was executed, along with her brother and the other men accused of being her lovers. Elizabeth and her husband left court, probably when Anne Boleyn's household was dissolved. She resided afterward in Tintern, Monmouthshire, Wales.

Sometime before September, Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter she named Anne. Was it in remembrance of the doomed queen whom had once been her friend, or after her long-dead sister, Anne Browne, who had been the second wife of Charles Brandon, an enemy of Anne Boleyn?

Two years later, Elizabeth wrote a letter to Cromwell, thanking him for being so kind in the matter of the money she had borrowed from Queen Anne. She asked him not to tell her husband about the loan because he didn't know about it - or how she had spent it - and she didn't know how he would take it if he found out. There is no mention of whether she actually repaid the debt or not before her own death in 1565. If not, it would have been one of the debts paid for by her estate after her will was probated.

Elizabeth is buried beside her husband in Cheapstow. --------------------

Elizabeth Browne

  • Birth: unknown, England
  • Death: 1565, Wales
  • Dowager Countess of Worcester
  • Dowager Lady Herbert

Daughter of

*Sir Anthony Browne and Lady Lucy Neville. Paternal granddaughter of Sir Thomas Browne, Sheriff of Kent, and Eleanor FitzAlan. Maternal granddaughter of John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu, and Isabel Ingoldesthorpe.

Children:

  • Mary Somerset*
  • Lucy Somerset Neville (1524 - 1583)*
  • William Somerset (1526 - 1589)*
  • Elizabeth was the second wife of Henry Somerset, 2nd Earl of Worcester, and the mother of his children. Her eldest son succeeded to his father's titles, while her eldest daughter became the Countess of Northumberland.

After Henry's death, she never remarried and was buried with him when she died n 1565

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Elizabeth Somerset, Countess of Worcester (d. 1565)'s Timeline

1502
1502
Bechworth, Surrey, England
1523
1523
Age 21
Chepstow, Worcestershire, Wales, United Kingdom
1527
1527
Age 25
Chepstow,Monmouthshire,,England
1527
Age 25
Chepstow, Monmouthshire, Wales
1536
1536
Age 34
Rhaglan, Monmouthshire, Wales
1540
1540
Age 38
Worcester, Worcestershire, England
1565
April 20, 1565
Age 63
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