Helena, Marchioness of Northampton

Helena, Marchioness of Northampton (c.1549-1635) was born Elin Ulfsdotter (Bååt) at Fyllingerum in Östregötland, Sweden in 1549 or 1550. She came to England in the train of Princess Cecilia Gustavsdotter (Vasa) in 1565. She was probably a maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth I between 1565 and 1571 and certainly a lady-in-waiting from 1572 (at the latest) until the Queen’s death in 1603. At the Queen’s funeral procession, Helena was the principal female mourner.

She married twice. Her first husband was William Parr, Marquess of Northampton. They married in May 1571 when he was 58 years old and she was perhaps 21. He died in October, six months later. Her second husband, Thomas Gorges of Wraxall, Somerset, was one of Queen Elizabeth’s Gentlemen and a distant relative of the Queen. Helena and Thomas married in secret in 1576, were found out and spent some weeks or months (though probably not much more than a year) suffering the Queen’s displeasure before being reinstated.

Helena’s marriage to William Parr was childless, but with Thomas Gorges she had at least seven children. At the time of her death on 1st April 1635 “the sum of their descendents was said to have been 92”. (This statement is made by all her biographers.) She is buried beside Thomas Gorges in Salisbury Cathedral.

There are two principal biographies of Helena Northampton. The first is Helena, Marchioness of Northampton by Charles Angel Bradford, published in London in 1936. The second is Gunnar Sjögren’s Swedish language Helena Snakenborg: En svenska vid Elisabet I:s hov (Helena Snakenborg: A Swede at the court of Elizabeth I), published in 1973 in Stockholm. There is also a chapter devoted to her in a privately produced family history of the Gorges from 1944.

Gunnar Sjögren is also responsible for the tentative identification as a portrait of Helena of an anonymous painting in the Tate Gallery (now called A Young Lady Aged 21, Possibly Helena Snakenborg, Later Marchioness of Northampton and dated 1569).

More …

What were the colour of her eyes?
Was she really known as ‘Helena the Red’?
What was her name “as it would have appeared on a passport”?
Why do you say she was “probably” a maid of honour to Queen Eizabeth?
Did she marry for love?
Did she ever return to Sweden?

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