Written by Rebecca Larson
Born At Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire on 30 August 1548, Lady Mary Seymour was the long-awaited child of dowager queen Kateryn Parr, and her fourth husband Sir Thomas, Baron Seymour of Sudeley. The unexpected pregnancy left both parents overjoyed.
In a letter from 9 June 1548, Thomas Seymour writes to his wife:
I do desyer your hignes to kepe the letell knaue so leanne and gantte with your good dyett and walkynge that he may be so small that he may krepe owt of a mowse holle…
I do desire your highness to keep the little knave so lean and guant with your good diet and walking, that he may be so small that he may creep out of a mousehole…
Thomas’ words show that he was concerned for his wife’s health and that he wished to ensure of her safe delivery.
Sometime shortly after, Kateryn wrote to her husband:
I gaue yowr lyttel knaue yowr blessyng who lyke anonest man styred apase after and before for Mary Odell beyng abed with me had layd her hand vpon my bely to fele yt styre yt hathe styred thyse thre dayes every mornyng and evenyng so that I trust whan ye come it wyll make yow sum passe tyme.
I gave your little knave your blessing, who like an honest man stirred apace after and before, for Mary Odell, being abed with me, had laid her hand upon my belly to feel it stir. It hath stirred these three days every morning and evening, so that I trust when ye come it will make you some pastime.
Everyone was a bit on edge with Kateryn’s advanced age, and it seems that she may have suffered from morning sickness, or that she was merely close to her delivery date.
The Lady Elizabeth, wrote from Cheshunt and mentioned the Queen’s health:
…for truly I was replete with sorrow to depart from your highness, especially leaving you undoubtful of health.
The Lady Mary wrote on 9 August 1548:
I trust to hear good success on your grace’s great belly, and, in the meantime, shall desire much to hear of your health, which I pray almighty God to continue and increase to His pleasure, as much as your own heart can desire.
By all accounts both parents were overjoyed with the birth of a healthy daughter, but their joy was short-lived. Only six days later, Kateryn Parr succumbed to puerperal fever.
Prior to her death, there are no accounts that indicate Parr requested to see her child. This may seem unusual to us, but it may have been due to her illness.?
The Queen’s servant, Elizabeth Tyrwhitt, reported (during Thomas’ downfall) in February 1549, that two days prior to Kateryn’s death that ‘she did fear such things in herself, that she was sure she could not live.’ Kateryn requested to write her will. In it, she said:
Lying on her deathbed, sick in body, but of good mind, perfect memory and discretion; being persuaded, and perceiving the extremity of death to approach her; disposed and ordained by the permission, assent and consent of her most dear, beloved husband, the Lord Seymour aforesaid, a certain disportion, gift, testament, and last will of all her goods, chattels, and debts, by these words or other, like in effect, being by her advisedly spoken to the intent of a testament and last will in the presense of the witness[es] and records undernamed:
That is to say, the said most noble Queen, by permission, consent, and assent aforesaid did not only, with all her heart and desire, frankly and freely give, will, and bequeath to the said Lord Seymour, Lord High Admiral of England, her married espouse and husband, all the goods, chattels, and debts that she then had, or of right ought to have in all the world, wishing them to be a thousand times more in value than they were or been; but also most liberally gave him full power, authority, and order, to dispose and prosecute the same goods, chattels, and debts at his own free will and pleasure, to his most commodity.
The witnesses to her will were Kateryn’s physician, Robert Huick and her chaplain, John Parkhurst.
By all accounts, Lady Mary Seymour should have had a privileged childhood. As the daughter of a queen, she would have had the best of everything, as well as a father who loved her. But only six and a half months later she became an orphan, upon the execution of her father.
The life of Lady Mary Seymour appears to be a mystery – so, what happened to her?
In this article I am going to gather all the information at my disposal to look at the facts, the myths and the stories told to aid you in determining her fate.?
The mystery begins after the death of her mother, the dowager queen. There is no evidence to suggest how long she was at Sudeley Castle before she transferred to her uncle Somerset at Syon House in London. The only thing we can assume is that she was taken in by the Somersets after Thomas’ arrest and imprisonment in the Tower of London on 17 January 1549.
Upon the dissolution of Syon Abbey, and death of King Henry VIII, Syon was passed to Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, who then ‘initiated the process of transforming the Abbey complex into a grand private house’. Gardens were laid out and a plant collection was developed by his physician, the radical botanist and equally radical theologian, William Turner”.1https://www.syonpark.co.uk/explore/our-history/arrival-of-the-percy-family
Move to Grimsthorpe
While imprisoned in the Tower of London, probably after receiving his death sentence, Thomas Seymour’s final request was for his daughter to be raised by the dowager Duchess of Suffolk. Katherine Willoughby was a close friend of Parr and one can assume that Thomas thought her a good choice for guardian of his young daughter. Prior to moving to Grimsthorpe, Lady Mary had been placed at Syon House with her uncle Somerset and his wife. Assuming that Thomas was angry with his brother for the death sentence, he requested she be moved.
On the same day that Thomas was given his death sentence (17 March 1549), the Privy Council, from the receiver of the court of Wards, granted (for her maintenance) of just under £500/year2James, Susan; Catherine Parr -Henry VIII’s Last Love; pg 299. But upon the child’s transfer from Syon to Grimsthorpe the income was not transferred, leaving the duchess pinched for funds.
Affording the Queen’s Daughter
In Acts of the Privy Council, 1547-50, it says that the money was for ‘dyettes, wages and lyvereyes of the howshold of Mistres Mary Seymour for a yere and a half ended at the Feast of theannunciacion of Our Lady next cummyng’. The Feast of Annunciation is also Lady Day (25 March), or the beginning of the new year for the Tudors.
As the daughter of a queen, Lady Mary’s upbringing was expected to be much greater, and because of that she was expensive to raise. When Lady Mary transferred from Sudeley to Syon to Grimsthorpe, she came with a staff: Her Governess, Mrs. Elizabeth3James, Susan; Catherine Parr – Henry VIII’s Last Love; pg 299 Aglionby, a nurse, two maids and other servants. All of the staff needed to be paid for their care of the child, yet the duchess had not received what was promised to her.?
By 24 July 1549, the dowager Duchess of Suffolk was writing to William Cecil, who was at the time a secretary in Somerset’s household, pleading for what was promised:
I have so wearied myself with letter to [the Duke and Duchess of Somerset]…??
The Duke of Somerset was distracted after his brother’s execution because revolts arose around England regarding religion (as always). Somerset’s kindness toward the rebels turned some of his staunch supporters into enemies, namely the Earl of Warwick. To the modern reader, it seems obvious that the welfare of his niece was not a priority.
The dowager Duchess of Suffolk, desperate for help, even tried to get Parr’s brother, William, Marquis of Northampton to take his niece, but said:
‘he has a weak back for such a burden as I, and would receive her, but more willingly with the appurtenances.’
By 27 August, the servants of Lady Mary must have demanded payment for their services: ‘with the maid’s nurse and others, daily call for their wages, whose voices my ears hardly bear, but my coffers much worse’4Goff, Cecilie; A Woman of the Tudor Age, pg 175-6
Suffolk again wrote to Cecil:
Indorsed: From my lady of Suffolk’s grace to my Mr. –, concerning the queen’s child, nursed at her house at Grimesthorpe, with a bill of plate belonging to the nursery.’
‘It is said that the best means of remedy to the sick is first plainly to confess and disclose the disease wherefore lieth for remedy; and again, for that my disease is so strong that it will not be hidden, I will discover me unto you you. First, I will as it were under Benedicite, and in high secrecy, declare unto you that all the world knoweth, though I go never so covertly in my net, what a very beggar I am. This sickness (Lady Mary), as I have said, I promise you increaseth mightily upon me. Amongst other causes whereof is, you will understand not the least, the queen’s child hath lain, and yet doth lie, at my house, with her company about her wholly at my charges. I have written to my lady Somerset as large; which was the letter I wrote, note this, with mine own hand unto you; alloted unto her, according to my lord’s grace’s promise. Now, good Cecil, help at a pinch atll that you may help. My lady also sent me word at Whitsuntide last, by Bartue that my lord’s grace, at her suit had granted certain nursery plate should be delivered with the child’and lest there might be stay for lack of a present bill of such plate and stuff as was there in the nursery, I send you here inclosed of all parcels as were appointed out for the child’s only use; and that ye may the better understand that I cry not before I am pricked, I send you mistress Eglonby’s (governess) letter unto me, who, with the maids, nourice and others, daily call on me for their wages, whose voices mine ears may hardly bear, but my coffers much worse. Wherefore, I cease and commit me and my sickness to your diligent care, with my hearty commendations to your wife. At my manor of Grymesthorpe, the 27th of August, you assued loving friend, K. Suffolk.5Strickland, Agnes; Lives of the queen of England. pg 133
The bill of plate included:
- First, 2 pots of silver, all white.
- Item, 3 goblets, silver, all white.
- One salt, silver, parcel gilt.
- A mser (wooden cup) with a band of silver, parcel gilt.
- 11 spoons, silver, all white.
- Item: a quilt for the cradle.
- 3 pillows, and 1 pair of fustians.
- 3 feather beds, 3 quilts, 3 pair fustians.
- Item: a tester of scarlet, embroidered with a counterpoint of silk serge, belonging to the same, and curtains of crimson taffeta.
- Item: 2 counterpoints of imagery for the nurse’s bed.
- Item: 6 pair of sheets of little worth.
- 6 fair pieces of hangings of the twelve months within the outer chamber.
- 4 carpets for windows.
- 10 pieces of hangings of the twelve months within the outer chamber.
- Item: 2 cushions cloth of gold, and a chair of cloth of gold.
- 2 wrought stools, and a bedstead gilt, with a tester and counterpoint, with curtains belonging to the same.
Victorian historian, Agnes Strickland believed ‘the fair hangings and the embroidered scarlet tester and counterpoint were doubtless wrought by the skillful hands of the royal mother and her ladies in waiting to adorn the apartments and cradle of the fondly expected babe’.
Also included in the list were, ?2 milch beasts, which were belonging to the nursery, the which it may please your grace (Somerset) to write may be bestowed upon the two maids toward their marriages, which shall be shortly. Item: one lute.
On 22 January 1550, an application was made in the House of Commons, for the restoration of Lady Mary Seymour. This meant that she was eligible by this act to receive any of the remaining property (that wasn’t already returned to the Crown) that she would have inherited from her father. Unfortunately, it had been nearly a year since her father’s execution and so much of the land he had inherited from Parr had been sold or reverted to the Crown. Sudeley Castle, Mary’s birthplace, was now in the hands of her uncle Northampton. This is the last we hear of Lady Mary Seymour. There is no evidence that she was transferred to her uncle Northampton, or her aunt Anne Parr, Lady Herbert. Lady Herbert died in 1551 and there is no record of Lady Mary in their households.
Historians, John Strype, Edmund Lodge and Agnes Strickland have varying accounts of what they believed happened to Mary Seymour.
Strype, after discussing that Mary Seymour was restored in blood in 1550, he went on to say:
I have no more to say of this child, but that she died not long after.6Strype, John, Ecclesiastical Memorials, Relating Chiefly to Religion, and Its Reformation, Under the Reigns of King Henry VIII. King Edward VI. And Queen Mary the First: with the Appendixes Containing the Original Papers, Records. London : S. Bagster, 1816. p. 210
Edmund Lodge claimed:
Historian John Nicholas believed that Parr never had children:
The Lady, however, dying Sept. 5, 1548, childless (or as some have said, leaving an infant daughter who not long survived her)…
Strickland stated that it is just as easy to believe that she lived to be a wife and mother. Strickland as a descendant of Kateryn Parr’s family, makes it possible that she was privy to information that is no longer available to modern readers. It was asserted by her that she (Strickland) was ‘favoured’ by Johnson Lawson, Esquire of Hereford of Grove Villa, Clevedon, and his brother, Henry Lawson, Esquire of Hereford, the sons of the late very reverend Johnson Lawson, dean of Battle, in Sussex, vicar of Throwley, and rector of Cranbrook, in Kent, affords, at any rate, presumptive evidence that they derive their descent from this lady. 7Strickland, Agnes; Lives of the queens of England. pg 136-7
Strickland then goes on to say that any contemporary or authentic records of this appear to have been destroyed by the widow of Lawson upon his death.
A family record states:
‘A good account of my pedigree given me by my grandmother, July 26th 1749’:
Paul Johnson, a gentleman of good family and estate, residing at his mansion at Fordwich, in the county of Kent, also having another named Nethercourt, in the Isle of Thanet, married Margaret Heyman (of Baronet’s family of Kent and Norfolk). Their son, Sylas Johnson married the daughter of Sir Edward Bushel, who had married the only daughter of the Duke of Somerset’s younger brother, lord Seymour, which daughter the lord Seymour had by queen Katharine Parr, whom he married after the death of harry the Eighth, whose queen she was. The above Sir Edward Bushel daughter was a great fortune to Silas Johnson; and their daughter, Mary Johnson, married the Rev. Francis Drayton, of little Chart, in Kent, where he and his wife lie buried.?
Strickland went on to say that ‘the old grandmother declared the marriage of Katherine’s daughter to Sir Edward Bushel, it is impossible now to say in 1841; but it seems that Silas Johnson, by his marriage with their daughter, Mary Bushel, obtained a great fortune together with some relics of Katherine Parr’s person property, which have continued in the Lawson family, their descendants, ever since.?8Strickland, Agnes; Lives of the queens of England.pg 138
Strickland also stated that it was possible that in the reign of Queen Mary I, when the dowager Duchess of Suffolk, fled persecution, provided an honorable marriage for her charge to Sir Edward Bushel. Think what you like about this entire story. Since we do not know for certain what happened to Lady Mary Seymour, we have to keep our minds open. For those of us who look for solid evidence to prove fact from fiction, Lady Mary Seymour is no longer mentioned after January 1550.?
Kateryn Parr’s chaplain (Parkhurtst) was known to write epitaphs (published in 1573) for those he knew, he wrote this one, presumably about Lady Mary Seymour:
I whom at the cost
Of her own life
My queenly mother
Bore with the pangs of labour
Sleep under this marble
An unfit traveller.
If Death had given me to live longer
That virtue, that modesty, That obedience of my excellent mother
That Heavenly courageous nature
Would have lived again in me.
You are, fare thee well
Because I cannot speak anymore, this stone
Is a memorial to my brief life.
Let’s look at the warrant for payment for the upkeep of Lady Mary Seymour:
There is no documentation that this warrant ever being renewed. I’ve looked through the records of this time and have found nothing. That is a strong indication that it was no longer needed as Mary was deceased.
In the Autumn of 1550, there is evidence of a letter from the Duchess of Suffolk to Cecil again. I only have a summary of what the letter was about: ?
Thanks for his letter and the?news communicated. Has received and answered Lady Somerset’s letter.
While this does not say what the letter was about, we could assume it’s about Mary, but it could have also been about a multitude of other things. All we know for certain, is that Lady Mary Seymour was alive on 22 January 1550, and that is the last record of her existence. The last evidence, the last proof that she existed.
In his biography on Edward VI, Chris Skidmore claimed (without evidence given) that Thomas Seymour asked to see his daughter prior to his death. He states, whether or not he was able to see her is unknown.9Skidmore, Chris, Edward VI – The Lost King of England. St. Martin’s Press, 2007. p. 106
Something else that we must consider is that the dowager Duchess of Suffolk lost both of her sons to The Sweat in 1551, it is possible that little Mary Seymour also contracted and died from the disease? We will never know. There is no evidence to suggest this to be true.
What do you think happened to Lady Mary Seymour?
Fraser, Antonia, The Wives of Henry VIII. First Vintage Books, 1992.
Goff, Lady Cecile, A Woman of the Tudor Age. J. Murray, 1930.
James, Susan, Catherine Parr – Henry VIII’s Last Love. The History Press, 2009.
Nichols, John, The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth. London : Printed by and for John Nichols and Son, 1823
Norton, Elizabeth, Catherine Parr: Wife, Widow, Mother, Survivor, The Story of the Last Queen of Henry VIII. Amberley Publishing, 2011.
Parr, Katherine and Editor Janel Mueller, Katherine Parr: Complete Works and Correspondence. University of Chicago Press; Reprint edition, 2014.
Porter, Linda, Katherine the Queen. St. Martins Press, 2011.
Skidmore, Chris, Edward VI – The Lost King of England. St. Martin’s Press, 2007.
Strickland, Agnes, Lives of the Queens of England: From the Norman Conquest, Volumes 1-3. Blanchard and Lea, 1852
Strype, John, Ecclesiastical Memorials, Relating Chiefly to Religion, and Its Reformation, Under the Reigns of King Henry VIII. King Edward VI. And Queen Mary the First: with the Appendixes Containing the Original Papers, Records. London : S. Bagster, 1816.
Wilson, Derek, The Queen and the Heretic: How Two Women Changed the Religion of England. Lion Books, 2018.
Withrow, Brandon G, Katherine Parr: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Reformation Queen. P & R Publishing, 2009.