Blanche Parry was the Chief Gentlewoman of Queen Elizabeth I’s Privy Chamber and Keeper of Her Majesty’s Jewels but, until now, little more has been accurately known about her or her family. Even in recent books about Queen Elizabeth Blanche Parry, if she is referred to at all, is accorded only a footnote or a passing mention, which is usually factually wrong. It was seeing such a reference that encouraged the author to research further to find out verifiable facts about the lady.
Blanche was born in Herefordshire’s Golden Valley to a well connected family and lived until she was 82 years old, a great age at the time. She was constantly with Elizabeth from babyhood until she was 56 years old and so she was at the centre of the Elizabethan Court. Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley was Blanche’s cousin and friend and they worked closely together through the years. Much has been written about the men at Court but very little about the women and yet the evidence shows that everyone at the time recognized Blanche’s pre-eminent position. She was discreet, meticulous, trustworthy, elegant, respected and evidently well-liked despite the factional politics.
In the 1930s Charles Angell Bradford published a pamphlet on Blanche Parry but this book is the first full length biography of the lady - and yes, she was considered a lady as the Queen treated her as a baroness. Ruth E. Richardson’s extensive research has included examining original documents including a corpus of 9 bardic poems concerning Blanche’s family. The bardic tradition was still prevalent in 15th and 16th century Wales with the bards, honoured guests of the lord, providing after-dinner entertainment in the great hall. The poems sung to a harp often had allusions to the family and these families included the Herberts of Raglan Castle, the Stradlings of Saint Donat’s and Blanche Parry’s own family. The poems give immediacy to the narrative as they describe the claret flowing freely at Blanche’s childhood home of Newcourt. Most of these poems have never before been transcribed into modern Welsh, far less translated into English and Ruth has had the benefit of excellent Welsh scholars to help. (Eurig Salisbury was named as the chaired bard for a poem in strict meter at the 2006 National Eisteddfod.) The poems themselves have been described as ’revelatory’ and for the very first time they show that Blanche’s aunt, Lady Troy was the Lady Mistress for both the young Elizabeth and her brother Edward. Mary too was a member of the household run by Lady Troy when she lived with the younger children.
This wealth of new information will be of interest to anyone who wishes to know about Queen Elizabeth, King Edward, the way the Tudor Court worked and about Lady Troy and Blanche Parry herself. The chapters explore Blanche’s family background, her upbringing, education and the religious influences in her life, which included a residual connection with Lollardy. Her family were gentleman of the March of Wales and closely connected with the House of York and with the Herberts of Raglan. One of the bardic poems actually provides a pedigree for her family. Such certainty is very rare and stories of her forebears, fascinating people in their own right, are included. How Blanche arrived at the Royal Court is discussed and her relationship with Elizabeth examined.
Then Elizabeth becomes Queen and the chapters describe Court life. Here Blanche’s particular responsibilities prove to be far more varied than hitherto supposed. We hear about the little musk cat and Elizabeth’s quantity of glorious jewels. We also hear about Blanche’s role in being a confidante for her mistress and even channelling Parliamentary bills. Evidence is given of people she is known to have helped, their difficulties carefully examined by her and the Queen’s wishes carried out. Blanche obtained lands in Herefordshire, Wales and in Yorkshire and the legal cases resulting from some of them, notably Llangorse Lake, are placed in context.
The new information is as accurate as possible, with references and there are relevant illustrations. It is rare to find a new book on such well-written subjects as Queen Elizabeth and the Tudor Court but this is precisely what this book provides. It will become a standard text for future students and those interested in the period. As Blanche was born between March 2007 and March 2008 it was appropriate that the 500th anniversary of her birth was celebrated by the publication of this compelling book which places her where she should be, in the heart of the Elizabethan Court. THE BOOK IS NOW REPRINTED DUE TO POPULAR DEMAND.