Mary Seymour, the infant daughter of Katherine Parr and her fourth husband Thomas Seymour, probably did not reach her second birthday. Romantic traditions that she survived into adulthood notwithstanding, there is enough evidence to suggest she was just another victim of high child mortality. A poem recently unearthed seems to close the case in a touching way.1 Additionally there are a few official documents to consider.
Shortly after Thomas Seymour’s execution in March 1549 his seven months old daughter was, according to his last wish, placed in the care of Katherine Brandon, the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk. Although so young, Mary Seymour as a queen’s daughter was entitled to a ridiculously expensive household to mark her social rank. As it turned out, all this went “wholly at my charges”, as the Duchess wrote to her friend William Cecil on 27 August 1549, asking him for help to secure aid from the Duke of Somerset, the Lord Protector: “I have written to my lady of Somerset at large, that there be some pension allotted unto her according to my lord grace’s promise. Now, good Cecil, help at a pinch all that you may help.”2 William Cecil was then not a member of the privy council, but more importantly, a man close to Somerset, who had all but abandoned government “by counsel” (and thus by the council). Still, this was an inauspicious time to molest the duke, because the entire government was busy suppressing widespread rebellions in England. In early October 1549 Somerset was away hunting, just before a revolt of the privy council removed him from office and imprisoned him and William Cecil in the Tower of London.
It was not until 22 January 1550 that something was moved in Mary Seymour’s case. Parliament had reconvened after Somerset’s fall and now passed a private act which allowed her any of her father’s property that had as yet not passed to the crown on his attainder ten months earlier. Such remaining possessions were most unlikely to be substantial, though.3 The next and last record of little Mary Seymour occurs on 13 March 1550, when the privy council issued a warrant to the Court of Wards to pay some £438 for “diets, wages, liveries of the household of Mistress Mary Seymour for a year and a half ended at the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lady next coming”.4 This date would have been 25 March 1550, so was Mary still alive when the warrant was issued or might it have been a document concerning the winding up of her household?
While Katherine Parr’s biographers point out that, bereaved of both parents, Mary Seymour “was denied the affection of any members of her immediate family”,5 they do give the impression that the final improvement of Mary Seymour’s endowment had something to do with Protector Somerset, her uncle, or at least with William Cecil, the Duchess of Suffolk’s close friend. Porter writes: “Perhaps the letter did eventually stir Somerset and the Privy Council into some sort of action”, while Norton postdates Somerset’s fall and subsequent rehabilitation by a year, to 1550/1551.6
In fact, neither Somerset nor Cecil could possibly have been involved in either parliamentary proceedings or council decisions in early 1550. Cecil entered the Tower as a prisoner on 24 November 1549 and was released on 25 January 1550, three days after parliament passed the act in Mary Seymour’s favour. He only became a privy councillor on 5 September 1550.7 The Duke of Somerset, in custody from 11 October 1549 until 6 February 1550, was restored to the council on 10 April 1550.8 Meanwhile, John Dudley, Earl of Warwick succeeded to establish himself as undisputed political leader in December 1549 and officially took office as the council’s lord president on 2 February 1550. It is crystal clear from these dates that it was Warwick’s, not Somerset’s, administration that was in charge when the final decisions about Mary Seymour’s upkeep were made.
If the notion that Somerset did anything much for his orphaned niece Mary seems untenable, the charge made by historians that her relatives on the Parr side did not care for her either may be unsubstantiated, too. Katherine’s brother, William, Marquess of Northampton had been in trouble under Somerset because of a denied divorce from his unfaithful first wife and a secret remarriage. His council membership was suspended between January 1548 and July the next year,9 so that he had very little influence at the time of his brother-in-law’s downfall and condemnation in early 1549. Along with his other brother-in-law, William Herbert, he seems to have had strong feelings about the fate of Thomas Seymour, though.10 Both Northampton and Herbert became very influential members of Warwick’s government and this was already clear in January 1550, the Imperial ambassador van der Delft thought:
finally they said to me that they would communicate the business to Warwick, the Lord Admiral, and would afterwards give me their answer; from which it is clear that the said Warwick has the whip hand of them all, using for his own ends these Marquises and Master Herberts whom no one dares to contradict. During the whole interview neither the Great Master [William Paulet] nor the Chancellor [Richard Rich] nor any of the other Lords of the Council said a single word.11
It may seem unlikely that John Dudley himself did have any interest in little Mary Seymour’s well-being, yet it is certainly plausible that her uncles, William Parr and William Herbert, did.
1 Porter 2011b
2 Porter 2011a p. 342; Norton 2011 pp. 240 – 241
3 Porter 2011a p. 342
4 APC II p. 411; Norton 2011 p. 241
5 Porter 2011a p. 341
6 Porter 2011a p. 342; Norton 2011 pp. 242; Porter 2011b
7 Alford 2011 pp. 39 – 40; Hoak 1976 p. 63
8 Beer 2009; MacCulloch 1996 p. 454
9 Hoak 1976 pp. 48, 50
10 CSP Span 31 January 1550
11 CSP Span 31 January 1550
Acts of the Privy Council of England. Volume II. (ed. J. R. Dasent, 1890).
Calendar of State Papers, Spain. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/catalogue.aspx?gid=136&type=3
Alford, Stephen (2002): Kingship and Politics in the Reign of Edward VI. Cambridge University Press.
Alford, Stephen (2011): Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I. Yale University Press.
Beer, B. L. (2009): “Seymour, Edward, duke of Somerset (c.1500–1552)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online edition.
Hoak, Dale (1976): The King’s Council in the Reign of Edward VI. Cambridge University Press.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid (1996): Thomas Cranmer: A Life. Yale University Press.
Norton, Elizabeth (2011): Catherine Parr. Amberley.
Porter, Linda (2011a): Katherine the Queen. The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr. Pan.
Porter, Linda (2011b): “Lady Mary Seymour: An Unfit Traveller”. History Today. Issue 61. July 2011. http://www.historytoday.com/linda-porter/lady-mary-seymour-unfit-traveller