Blanche Parry 1507-1590 of Newcourt in the parish of Bacton, Herefordshire, in the Welsh Marches, was a personal attendant of Queen Elizabeth I, who held the offices of Chief Gentlewoman of the Queen’s Most Honourable Privy Chamber and Keeper of Her Majesty’s Jewels.
She was born at Newcourt, Bacton, Herefordshire in a Welsh speaking household. One of the daughters of Henry Parry of Newcourt, thrice Sheriff of Herefordshire, Steward of Ewyas Lacy and of Dore Abbey, a relative of the Welsh family of Herbert, Earls of Pembroke, also a relative of the prominent Stradling family of St Donat’s Castle in Glamorgan, Wales. Her mother was Alice Milborne, the English daughter and co-heiress of Simon Milborne. Her paternal ancestors were of prominent border gentry stock. Although brought up in a Welsh cultural environment, Parry was bilingual in Welsh and English. Indications exist of earlier family connections to the Lollards, not least her mother’s family connection to Sir John Oldcastle. However, it appears that she and her sisters were educated by the Augustinian nuns of Aconbury. She arrived at the Court with her aunt, Blanche Milborne Lady Troy, who was the Lady Mistress to Edward VI and his half-sister Elizabeth I as children. Blanche attended Elizabeth when she was imprisoned in the Tower of London and when she was under house-arrest. After Elizabeth’s accession in 1558, and Kat Ashley’s death in 1565, Parry was appointed the Chief Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber, and was one of those who controlled access to the Queen. She was in charge of the Queen’s jewels (a collection which grew in quantity, magnificence and value) from before Elizabeth’s accession, and of the Great Seal of England for two years, also of the Queen’s personal papers, clothes, furs and books, many of which were presented to the Queen as New Year gifts. She received considerable sums of money on behalf of the Queen.
She passed information to the Queen and also wrote letters on the Queen’s behalf. In addition, she supervised the Queen’s linen “and other things belonging to her majesty” this included “our musk cat”, probably a ferret. She was also associated with the publication of the Bible in Welsh. Blanche Parry’s position at the centre of the Court and conduit to royal power, with the ability to make pleas on behalf of those suffering under royal displeasure was fully recognized at the time. She was friends with her cousin Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the Queen’s chief advisor, and worked closely with him. Amongst the material rewards she received from Elizabeth were two wardships and she acquired lands in Herefordshire, Yorkshire and Wales. Records show frequent gifts of clothing previously worn by the queen. Blanche Parry died on 12 February 1590 (old style 1589), aged 82. She was buried in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, with the rank of baroness, the queen having paid all her funeral expenses., Yorkshire and Wales. Records show frequent gifts of clothing previously worn by the queen.
Two monumen ts to her memory survive, one in St Margaret’s, the other in St Faith’s Church, Bacton. Having originally planned her retirement to the family estate of Newcourt, Parry commissioned a monument in the parish church of Bacton, showing sculpted effigies of herself and the queen, with a 28 line inscription, probably composed by herself. Dated to before November 1578, the monument is the earliest known depiction of Queen Elizabeth I as Gloriana and signals the propagation of the queen’s iconography and cult of virginity beyond the court.
Eleri Lynn, curator of historic dress at Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), first discovered this cloth hanging on a wall in the 13th-century church of St Faith, Bacton in 2016. It is the dress worn by Elizabeth I in the Rainbow Portrait. It is made from cloth of silver, which, under Tudor sumptuary law, could only be worn by the monarch or immediate members of the royal family. It was given to Blanche by Elizabeth and from Blanche to her church in Bacton where it was used as an alter cloth for hundreds of years until it’s recent discovery.
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