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Elizabeth Tilney

Grandmother of Queens


About Elizabeth Tilney

Known for: grandmother of both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard

Dates: before 1447 - April 4, 1497

Occupation: noblewoman, heiress; Countess of Surrey

Background, Family

  • Mother: Elizabeth Cheney (about 1428 - September 25, 1473)
  • Father: Sir Frederick Tilney (about 1430 - ?)
  • Stepfather: Sir John Saye
  • Elizabeth Tilney was a direct descendant through her mother of Prince Gruffydd II ap Madog of Wales


  • first husband: Sir Humphrey Bourchier (descendant of King Edward III; a Yorkist killed in the Wars of the Roses at the Battle of Barnet, April 4, 1471)
  • second husband: Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk

Elizabeth Tilney Biography

Elizabeth Tilney was born in Norfolk, England, at Ashwellthorpe Manor. Elizabeth's mother, Elizabeth Cheney, was widowed while Elizabeth was a child, making Elizabeth an heiress. Elizabeth Cheney remarried about 1453, and her husband, Sir John Saye, was stepfather to Elizabeth Tilton.

Elizabeth Tilney's first husband was Sir Humphrey Bourchier. He was killed in 1471 at the Battle of Barnet, fighting for the Yorkist faction. They had three children. A daughter from this marriage, Margaret Bourchier, later served as a governess to the children of Henry VIII.

Elizabeth Tilney married Thomas Howard on April 30, 1472. Howard, originally in the employ of Edward IV, became a supporter of Richard III. Some historians have speculated that Thomas Howard and his father, the Duke of Norfolk, were involved in the disappearance and, perhaps, murder of Richard's nephews, Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York.

In 1485, Elizabeth's father-in-law was killed at the Battle of Bosworth, where he was fighting on the side of Richard III, who lost that battle. Her husband, the Earl of Surrey since 1483, was injured in the same battle and then imprisoned. Though he was freed, his title and lands were not restored until 1514, after Elizabeth Tilney's death.

Elizabeth Tilney had nine children with Thomas Howard. Their son, also named Thomas Howard, was the third Duke of Norfolk, whose family held much prominence during the reign of Henry VIII. A son, Edmund Howard, born 1479, married Joyce Culpeper; their daughter was Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII. A daughter, Elizabeth Howard, born 1480, married Thomas Boleyn. Their children were Anne Boleyn, Henry's second wife; Mary Boleyn, Henry's mistress; and George Boleyn, convicted of having an incestuous affair with his sister Anne, resulting in both their executions.

Another granddaughter of Elizabeth Tilney, Elizabeth Carew, was a mistress of Henry VIII. Yet another granddaughter, Mary Howard, was rumored to have also been Henry's mistress. Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII and mother of his son, Edward VI, was a great-granddaughter of Elizabeth's mother and her second husband.

After Elizabeth Tilney died in 1497, Thomas Howard married Agnes Tilney, Elizabeth's cousin, and had eight children in that marriage.

Books About Elizabeth Tilney

Historical fiction:

  • Juliet Dymoke. The Sun in Splendour.

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