2/07/2009

Woman of the week - Helena Snakenborg

Name: Helena (Elin) Snakenborg; Helena, Marchioness of Northampton
Born: c. 1549 in Sweden (probably in Fyllingarum, Ostrogothia/Östergötland, where the family had land and estate)
Died: 10 April 1635 at Redlynch, Somerset, England
Married to: 1. William Parr, 1st Marques of Northampton (married 1571)
2. Thomas Gorges (married 1576-1610)
Children:
Elizabeth (1578-1659)
Francis (c. 1579- before 1600)
Frances (1580-1649)
Edward (c. 1582 - before 1653)
Theobald (1583-1647)
Bridget (1584-c 1634)
Robert (1588-1648)
Thomas (1589 - after 1624)
Occupation: Maid of honour

Helena was born in Sweden, daughter of Ulf Henriksson,
a High Councilor of Sweden, and his wife Agneta Knutsdotter. At the baptism she was given the name Elin Ulfsdotter (i.e. daughter of Ulf). She was a member of the best circles of the country, being on friendly terms with the royal family. When the princess Cecilia Vasa left for England, Helena was one of the ladies to accompany her. She was then about 16 years old. When arrived in England she caught the eye of William Parr (the brother of Katherine Parr, the last queen of Henry VIII) and though he was much older, she encouraged him, and wrote letters home about his high rank and the beautiful gifts she received from him. The only problem was that the man was already married. Despite this, Helena stayed in England when Cecilia was forced to flee the country in 1566 - it was not just the matter of a rich suitor, she was also a favourite with the queen, Elizabeth I, who made her a maid of honour.

She was to remain a friend of the queen throughout Elizabeth's life, despite a couple of bumps on the way. Her first marriage, when William Parr finally was widowed in 1571, was not a bump, though. The couple married in May 1571 - but Helena was widowed in October the same year. The couple had no children and she returned to the queen's service. As Parr left no children and no heir to the title Helena got to keep her title of Marchioness for life. What was a bump, on the other hand, was Helena's second marriage, to Thomas Gorges, who was 'just' a gentleman. The couple married secretly in 1576 when the queen refused to giver her consent to the match. When Elizabeth found out she was furious, Helena was exiled from court - and her husband incarcerated in the Tower, in London. Eventually the couple was forgiven and could continue with their lives as before. Thomas was knighted in 1586.

Now Helena shared her time between her family, the couple had eight surviving children, and the court. She had her hand in the diplomatic connections with Sweden, due to her connections with the royal family. She and her husband were granted the estate of Sheen, close enough to the court for them to be able to both be at home with the family and serve the queen.

Elizabeth passed away in 1603 and Helena was the chief mourner at the funeral procession - a great honour indeed. After this, with a new king and queen, Helena was no longer one of the highest ranked maids of honours, but retired for the most part to the country, but both she and her husband served at court from time to time. Sir Thomas passed away in 1610 and after this Helena mostly kept away from the public eye. She died herself in 1635, and was buried in Salisbury Cathedral.

It is not a hundred percent certain this portrait really is of Helena Snakenborg, but it is not unlikely - that some portrait of her should have been made is likely and the age of the girl is correct. The portrait also matches descriptions of her looks, being red-haired and brown-eyed, fair skinned and a general beauty.

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