August 30, 1548: Kathryn Parr Gives Birth to a Daughter
On August 30th, in 1548, Dowager Queen Kathryn Parr, gave birth to Mary Seymour, her only child. The little girl was named Mary after Kathryn’s stepdaughter, the Lady Mary. Kathryn had married Thomas Seymour in 1547, after the death of King Henry VIII. At first, the physicians and Mary Odell, the midwife, believed that Kathryn would survive, and thought that the severe weakness Kathryn was feeling would subside. Unfortunately, Kathryn did not get a chance to be a mother to her child, since she died six days after giving birth after contracting childbed fever. And on March 17th, in 1549, Thomas Seymour was executed for committing treason, leaving their daughter a seven-month-old orphan.
A Tudor Mystery: What Happened to Mary Seymour?
After Thomas Seymour’s execution, Kathryn Parr’s close friend, Katherine Brandon (née Willoughby), the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, was allowed to be appointed as Mary’s guardian, and she intended to bring the girl up with twelve other orphans she was taking care of at her house in Grimsthorpe. It was apparently hinted at that Lord Northampton, Mary’s uncle, would be willing to take the child it, but only if the Duchess of Suffolk paid the allowance she and the Duke had promised him for Mary’s upkeep. But the Duchess of Somerset was notoriously tight-fisted and she refused to pay. This caused the full weight of Mary’s upkeep to fall upon the Duchess of Suffolk, and within a month, she was having difficulty affording the girl’s upkeep. Since Mary was the daughter of a Queen, she was expected to be raised with all the benefits and trappings due her rank. As one can imagine, that was quite expensive. The Duchess of Suffolk then decided to write to William Cecil (who had greatly admired Kathryn Parr) and ask him to use his influence to convince the Duke or Duchess of Somerset (Mary’s uncle and aunt) to pay her the promised allowance necessary for the upkeep of little Mary’s household. However, Cecil’s pleas fell on deaf ears and the allowance was not paid. Anne Somerset did, however, send one of her servants, Richard Bertie (who Katherine Willoughby later married), with a message that she would be sending some nursery plate for her niece in time. But, she added, she wanted an inventory drawn up of all the valuables being used in the girl’s nursery, in order to better decide what pension amount would be sufficient. This infuriated Lady Suffolk, and she wrote in exasperation to Cecil the following letter: “The Queen’s child hath lain, and doth lie, at my house, with her company [i.e. servants] about her, wholly at my charge. I have written to my Lady Somerset at large; there may be some pension allotted to her, according to my lord’s Grace’s [Somerset’s] promise. Now, good Cecil, help at a pinch all that you may help.” Enclosed with the letter was a package that contained the requested inventory of all the valuables that had been set aside for Mary’s use when she was taken from Sudeley Castle, along with a letter from her nurse, Mistress Eglonby, which demanded payment for herself and her maids, “so that ye may the better understand that I cry not before I am pricked”, the Duchess added.
The inventory was forwarded to the Duchess of Somerset in the summer of 1549, but soon afterwards her husband, the Lord Protector, was overthrown by the Duke of Northumberland. This made it impossible for the Lady Somerset to fulfil any of her promises, even if she had been intending too. However, in January of 1550, an act of Parliament allowed Mary to inherit her father’s property, despite the fact that as a traitor, his goods and properties were forfeit to the crown upon his execution. This act must have been a relief to the Dowager Duchess, since she could now depend upon little Mary’s inheritance to maintain the little girl’s expensive household.
Other than these brief glimpses into Mary Seymour’s early childhood, very little is known about her fate. She seems to disappear from the records shortly after 1550, and she never came forward to claim her inheritance. Exactly what happened to this ill-fated little girl is a compelling mystery that might never be solved. Many believe that she died while she was still quite young and living at Grimsthorpe. And historian Linda Porter writes of a poem that was written by Kathryn Parr’s chaplain, John Parkhurst, in 1573, which might shed a bit of light on Mary’s fate. It reads as follows:
“I whom at the cost
Of her own life
My queenly mother
Bore with the pangs of labor
Sleep under this marble
An unfit traveler.
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 any more, this stone
Is a memorial to my brief life.”
Porter believes that while no name is given, this is the epitaph of Mary Seymour. And if that is true, the epitaph indicates that whomever it is about died very young. Porter also ponders whether Mary may have been buried at the Duchess of Suffolk’s Lincolnshire estate.
Ridgway, C. (2012). On This Day in Tudor History. MadeGlobal Publishing.
Starkey, D. (2003). Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII. New York City: HarperCollins Publishers.
Weir, A. (n.d.). Six Wives of Henry VIII.