Sudeley Castle

On this day in history, 30th August 1548, Catherine Parr, Queen Dowager and wife of Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, gave birth to a healthy baby girl. The birth took place at Sudeley Castle and the little girl was baptised Mary, being named after her godmother and stepsister, Mary Tudor, the future Mary I.

Lady Mary Seymour had been born into a happy, healthy and loving family, but by the age of seven months she was an orphan and a burden. Her mother had died of puerperal fever just days after her birth and her father had been executed for treason on 17th March 1549; Mary was alone. Her mother’s friend, Catherine Brandon (née Willoughby), the Duchess of Suffolk, was appointed as Mary’s guardian but found the burden of paying for a Queen’s daughter’s household too much. She appealed to William Cecil to talk to the Duke of Somerset about helping her with Mary’s upkeep and this resulted in an act of Parliament being passed in January 1550 allowing Mary to inherit her father’s property.

As Christine Hartweg points out in her article Who Cared for Little Mary Seymour’s Upkeep?, the next record of Mary Seymour is a grant from the privy council on 13th March 1550 for her household’s wages, liveries and food. Sadly, that is the last we hear of little Mary Seymour, who would have been around 16 months old when she was allowed to inherit Thomas Seymour’s remaining property. Mary just disappears from the records and she never claimed her inheritance.

What happened to Mary?

Historian Linda Porter believes that Mary died in infancy and that this is backed up by a poem written by John Parkhurst, Catherine Parr’s chaplain. The poem, which is found in his 1573 collection, reads

“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.
Now, whoever
You are, fare thee well
Because I cannot speak any more, this stone
Is a memorial to my brief life.”

Linda Porter writes that “this must surely be the epitaph that Parkhurst, who would have known Lady Mary Seymour, wrote on her death”, and who else could it refer to? Porter concludes that “It suggests, as has long been conjectured, that she died young, probably around the age of two. She may well be buried in Lincolnshire, near Grimsthorpe, the estate owned by the Duchess of Suffolk, where she had lived as an unwelcome burden for most of her short, sad life.”

You can read more about this in Linda Porter’s article for History Today – see Lady Mary Seymour: An Unfit Traveller.

Romantic tradition has Mary surviving childhood and puts her disappearance down to her being sent to Ireland, and being raised there by the Hart family, friends of her late father, or by her being sent to France to escape Protestant persecution in Mary I’s reign. Victorian historian and author Agnes Strickland writes of Mary surviving into adulthood and marrying Sir Edward Bushel, a member of the household of Queen Anne of Denmark, but I don’t see any evidence to back this up.

The mystery of Mary’s disappearance is, of course, perfect for historical novelists and Mary’s story is featured in Sandra Byrd’s novel “The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr”. Sandra wrote a guest article for us on Mary – see What Happened to Lady Mary Seymour?.

What do you think happened to Mary?

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23 thoughts on “30 August 1548 – Birth of Lady Mary Seymour”
  1. Sadly, I believe chances are she really passed away around her second birthday. I mean if she had stayed alive, we would have some records, after all she was a Queen’s daughter. Tragic, really.

  2. A queens daughter, true enough, but no one stood up for her after her fathers execution. She was a girl remember, do not that valuable in the eyes of the council, and they weren’t that happy that Queen Catherine married her true love so soon after Henry’s death. Had she been a male, I think s(he) would have had people stepping up for his welfare. Poor child…

  3. Thank you, Claire, for mentioning my article! I think there may be quite a number of instances where we don’t have any proof of children’s deaths, not least in the upper classes. So much material has been lost. It’s usually mere chance when personal letters survive which throw light on these things.

    1. It’s so frustrating when we don’t know. Yes, she’s not the only child to be “lost”. I often wonder what happened to Mary Boleyn’s child, the one she was carrying when Anne banished her from court after her marriage to William Stafford. I assume it was stillborn or it died young.

  4. While the lack of records for this timeframe is very frustrating, I think it is part of the allure of the time period, too. After all, it turns historians, whom some believe have the most boring careers imaginable, into detectives. After all, the story of Anne Boleyn is itself a murder mystery – we ALL know whodunnit, but it is figuring out the motive that is proving almost as fascinating at the life of the murder victim herself.

  5. I wish it were otherwise, but I think little Mary Seymour died as a toddler, as did so many other children under the age of 5 during this time. I have three kids, one of whom is a toddler, and doing historical research about child mortality cured me of ANY desire to have lived in those days. I confess that I get a little weepy about Mary’s death. She was so young and so alone, it really is heartbreaking.

    1. Yes I agree I believe poor Mary died probably around 1551, although i remember reading somewhere long ago (may have been an Agnes Strickland book) that Mary lived to adulthood, married and had children of her own, and died when she was in her Sixies. It was also believed she served as a lady in waiting to Elizabeth towards the end of Elizabeth’s life, and was transferred in Anne of Denmark’s household, when she became Queen of England.
      A pretty story and a life which perhaps might have been for little Mary Seymour. I always feel great sadness for Catherine and Mary, I think if they had both lived Mary would be a woman well ahead of her times, and I’m sure that both Catherine and Mary would have been devoted to each other.

  6. What was the kind and value of the estate she inherited from her father, and where — and to whom — did it go 16 months after mary Seymour was born? Surely, someone has followed the money and the trail should lead in the direction of some answers.

    1. As far as I know, it wasn’t much as most of Seymour’s property had passed to the Crown because he was executed as a traitor. There isn’t a money trail as it appears that Mary never claimed her inheritance so it would have just stayed with the Crown.

  7. Great article! I have always thought this was such a sad story for that poor girl–parents gone, her guardian not wanting her–nobody wanting her. I’m glad Sandra Byrd gave her a better future in fiction! Thanks!

    1. I often wonder about Catherine Brandon. Mary was obviously a huge financial burden to her, with her large household, but we don’t know Catherine’s feelings towards the little girl. I wonder what really happened.

  8. Yet another excellent read,sadley I think she did most likely die as a child as there really does’nt seem to be any more history fact’s to back up that she did live in to her teens or a young adult,aswell as a sad ending for Queen Catherine Parr,mortality was not on there side back in those day’s.This is sad as Queen Jane died aswell from complecations after she had Edward.Just think if you could go back in time knowing just what we know today,we could have tought them so many things, but we can’t still a really great read!! THX Baroness

    1. Thanks, Baroness. The story of Catherine, Thomas and Mary always makes me sad. Catherine had finally married the man she loved and yet within just a few years all of them were dead.

  9. In Cynthia Harrod Eagles’s Morland Dynasty series, Mary joins the household of a former lady-in waiting to both Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr. She grows up and marries one of the Morland sons, though an illegitimate son, who was also adopoted by said lady in waiting.

    1. I read that series of books Anyanka, many years ago, I had forgotten all about them as I don’t have them anymore and I had forgotten that tale about Mary too.

  10. Like Claire says, poor little Mary seems to have faired better through fiction than reality, which is a great shame, for if she and her mother had lived I imagine she would have become a very learned young lady under Catherine’s guidence. As for her Father, he seems he liked to live life on the edge, and its no suprize he ended up on the scaffold really…Elizabeth summed him up very well on being informed of his execution, when she said ‘This day died a man of much wit, and very little judgement’ All three of them were ill fated, poor things..

  11. Thanks for the mention of my book and article, Claire! I do have hope that Mary had a future we don’t know about, only because the trail of such a high-born girl grew cold so fast! But the mystery is certainly intriguing!

  12. I’ve just found this reference with regards to Lady Mary Seymour

    (Agnes Strickland, Elisabeth Strickland, “Lives of the Queens of England, From the Norman Conquest” Vol 2 @ page 469-470

    There seems to be some claim that Mary Seymour did marry and have children. According to Strickland & Strickland Lady Mary married Sir Edward Bushall.

    Has anyone heard anything else to substantiate these claims?

  13. I like to think she grew up and married and had a family, and enjoyed a happy life something that her poor mother never really had, it’s strange that there are no records of her, maybe her guardians changed her name if that was allowed, being a Queens daughter, I’m sure her death would have been recorded had she died young, she didn’t have a very good start in life never knowing her mother and father, it would be exciting to know what did happen to her as her descendants might be with us today.

  14. As sad as it is, I think she died very young. I, too read the Morland books, but that is a work of fiction. In those days, the mortality rate was quite high, and since poor Lady Mary was unwanted and a burden, she might have met her end through some neglect on her caretaker’s part. Or, she simply died, as so many did.

  15. If the Duchess wrote asking for financial assistance in 1549, and that was fair enough, it does not necessarily mean the Duchess did not want her or care for her, and the grant was made in Jan 1550, Mary must have died at about that time. Surely, after making the request, Catherine would have claimed funds for Mary’s upkeep, rather than deplete her sons’ inheritance. I can think of no reason unless it had something to do with the fall of Edward Seymour. Could it be she feared Mary ‘s inheritance, or the child herself, would be taken away if she called attention to her? By early 1550, the Seymour fortunes were at a low ebb with Dudley coming to the fore in Feb 1550. Was she warned to lay low? She certainly had good political instincts-getting out of the country during Mary’s reign. zit seems unlikely Mary lived to adulthood, more a question of just how young she really was when she died. It would appear pre-adolescent in any case, as there’s no documentation she was ever betrothed, or that anyone else attempted to buy her guardianship, something which might well have occurred had she lived long into Dudley’s rule, or Mary’s reign.

  16. Well it might indeed be she died young. I had some book which mentioned in the notes at the back of the book that supposedly Mary Seymour did live and married into the bushall family.
    It’s could have happend maybe. Or could she have found her way to her uncle Edward Seymour and his wife? Maybe her name was changed from Mary to something else.
    I guess one would have to look at a list of his children before Thomas Seymour his brother died, then compare the number of children Edward and his wife had after his brother’s death. That might give a clue. Or if she did live she could have been given to another branch of the Seymour family or to some other relatives.

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