Ethelreda Malte

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Ethel(d)reda Malte (sometimes referred to as Audrey; c. 1527/35 – c. 1559) was an English courtier of the Tudor period who was reputed to be an illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII. She was the wife of poet and writer John Harington, prior to Isabella Markham.

Contemporary reports claim she was fathered by Henry VIII.[1] Almost nothing is known about her mother, a woman identified as Joan Dingley, alias Dobson; under the circumstances, Joan would have been a member of the lesser nobility, not well-connected at court.[2] One theory is she was a laundress.[3] Though he never openly acknowledged Etheldreda, Henry VIII did give his tailor, John Malte, land and properties, including St Catherine's Court, when Malte recognised her as his illegitimate daughter.[4]

When he died in 1547, her putative father (Malte) left her money in his will and, in 1548, the reasonably well-endowed heiress became the first wife of John Harington, an eligible court official who served Lord High Admiral Thomas Seymour (evidently her previous engagement to an illegitimate grandson of Sir Richard Southwell had been cancelled).[5] Etheldreda brought to the marriage properties previously owned by Shaftesbury Abbey.[6] Sometime in 1550, she had a daughter: Hester (or Esther) Harington.[7]

On 18 March 1554, Etheldreda Malte was among the six ladies who accompanied the future queen Elizabeth to the Tower of London, where her rumoured half-sister was imprisoned under suspicion of causing rebellion.[8] Etheldreda was present at the coronation of Elizabeth I on 15 January 1559 and she died that same month. Her husband remarried within two months of her death. She may have died at St Catherine's Court, her residence near Bath, and perhaps lies buried in the church next door, but this is conjectural, as the church records for the period have been lost.[9]

Fictional portrayals[edit]

Audrey is the protagonist of Royal Inheritance, a historical novel by Kate Emerson.[10]


  1. ^ Hart 2009, p. 77.
  2. ^ Jones 2009, pp. 217-218. "Looking for Joanna is a difficult problem. She was not a noble lady like the well-recorded mistresses. The fact that Malte, rather than a great family, was asked to foster her daughter, suggests that the mother was not of noble rank, like Bessie Blount or Mary Boleyn. There are a number of Dingleys associated with the Court, and Joanna could be a sister or daughter of almost any of them."
  3. ^ Weir 2011, p.156
  4. ^ Cooke, Robert (1957). West Country Houses. Batsford. pp. 42–54. 
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 13, 2009. Retrieved June 14, 2009. 
  6. ^ "Dr Harrington's house at Kelston, from the upper Bristol road". The British Library. Retrieved 22 December 2012. Their estate originally belonged to Shaftsbury Nunnery and was given to Audrey Malte after its dissolution, who then married John Harington of Stepney. 
  7. ^ Jones 2009, p. 228.
  8. ^ Jones 2009, p. 229.
  9. ^ Jones 2009, p. 232.
  10. ^ "Kate Emerson Historicals, novels of the Tudor court". Retrieved 2016-05-13.