Lady Mary Scudamore (nee Shelton) by Anne Clinard Barnhill

Posted By on March 6, 2014

Queen Elizabeths DaughterToday we have a guest post from historical novelist Anne Clinard Barnhill, author of Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter: A Novel of Elizabeth I.

When I began writing my first novel, AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN, I’d done tons of research about my ancestors, the Sheltons. As a matter of fact, I’d been obsessed with these people for about thirty years, ever since my grandmother explained that we were descended from this British family and as a result, we could say we were also related to the infamous Anne Boleyn. Lady Anne (Boleyn) Shelton was the sister of Sir Thomas Boleyn, making Lady Anne an aunt of the remarkable queen. I had already fallen in love with Queen Anne Boleyn and to discover I was connected to her was heady news indeed.

I wrote the first novel about Lady Margaret Shelton, daughter of Sir John and Lady Anne, and her affair with Henry VIII. In my new novel, QUEEN ELIZABETH’S DAUGHTER, I chose another Shelton ancestor about whom to write — Lady Mary Shelton. This Lady Mary is not to be confused with the Lady Mary Shelton who may have been a sister to Lady Margaret. This Lady Mary is in the next generation and served at the court of Elizabeth I, her second cousin.

Lady Mary was born around 1550-1551 to Mary Parker Shelton and Sir John Shelton, 22nd Lord of Shelton. Most likely she was born at Shelton Hall in Norfolk. We know nothing of her early years but in her late teens she was sent to serve Queen Elizabeth at court in 1568 as a gentlewoman of the queen’s privy chamber. Prior to her service to the queen, she would have been a royal ward, as she was orphaned in November of 1558, the same month Elizabeth became queen. Her parents died within two weeks of each other, most likely from an illness or riding accident.

As a royal ward, Mary would have had her wardship sold by the queen to a courtier whose lands lay near Mary’s marriage portion. Or the queen could have rewarded a favorite with custody of Mary. Perhaps the queen allowed Mary’s brother, Sir Ralph, to keep her, along with the monies collected from her property. We just don’t know for certain. It could be that the queen herself took charge of Mary’s income. Along with the income from Mary’s property (this property would have been her dowry upon marriage), the queen could retain Mary’s marriage rights as well. Or she could have sold or given those away. Because Mary ended up serving at court, it is unlikely her wardship was sold. Most likely, she remained with her brother in the family home until Elizabeth called for her.

Once at court, Mary rose quickly from gentlewoman of the queen’s privy chamber to Chamberer in 1571. As Chamberer, she was paid 20 pds a year. But she also received “bouge of court” which included food, clothing and lodging, all at the queen’s expense. Mary would have been given an allotment of red wine, beer, fuel, candles and stabling for her horse. With her income, she would have lived very nicely at court.

Once at court, Mary met people from all walks of life. One of those was Sir John Scudamore (also spelled Skydemore, Skidmore, Scydmore), a widower who had five children. Sir John had come to study law at the Inns of Court. John was a Catholic at a time when the laws pertaining to recusants were growing more and more punitive. However, Mary and John fell in love and asked John’s father –in-law, Sir James Croft, to send out feelers to see if the queen would approve their match.

She did not.

So, like other young lovers — Romeo and Juliet come to mind — John and Mary eloped. They were secretly married by a Catholic priest, most likely the one who had served the Scudamore family for years. As a result, Elizabeth flew into a fit of rage when the news reached her and she broke Mary’s finger. Later, according to a letter from Mary Queen of Scots, who mentions the incident, Elizabeth tried to deflect blame by saying a candlestick fell on Mary’s hand, thus breaking the finger.

The young couple married in January, 1574, and by the fall of that same year, both had been forgiven and were back at court. All seemed to go well after that first episode of violence, and both Mary and John continued to rise in power and prestige at court. Unfortunately, Mary was so favored by the queen that it became difficult for her to visit Sir John’s home, Holme Lacy. Elizabeth depended more and more on Mary for friendship and as a sleeping companion. At the end of her reign, Mary was one of three women (Blanche Parry and Jane Russell were the other two) who advised and protected the queen from those who would use her.

Mary died in 1603. In 1602, she’d become very ill and Elizabeth had allowed her to go to Holme Lacy. However, she rallied enough to attend Elizabeth’s funeral but died that summer and was buried in August of 1603.

Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter: A Novel of Elizabeth I

Blurb from Amazon:
From Anne Barnhill, the author of At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, comes the gripping tale of Mary Shelton, Elizabeth I’s young cousin and ward, set against the glittering backdrop of the Elizabethan court

Mistress Mary Shelton is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite ward, enjoying every privilege the position affords. The queen loves Mary like a daughter, and, like any good mother, she wants her to make a powerful match. The most likely prospect: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. But while Oxford seems to be everything the queen admires: clever, polished and wealthy, Mary knows him to be lecherous, cruel, and full of treachery. No matter how hard the queen tries to push her into his arms, Mary refuses.

Instead, Mary falls in love with a man who is completely unsuitable. Sir John Skydemore is a minor knight with little money, a widower with five children. Worst of all, he’s a Catholic at a time when Catholic plots against Elizabeth are rampant. The queen forbids Mary to wed the man she loves. When the young woman, who is the queen’s own flesh and blood, defies her, the couple finds their very lives in danger as Elizabeth’s wrath knows no bounds.

You can read my review of Anne’s first novel, “At the Mercy of the Queen: A Novel of Anne Boleyn” at our Tudor Book Reviews site – click here.

“Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter: A Novel of Elizabeth I” can be purchased at, Amazon UK or your usual bookstore.

15 thoughts on “Lady Mary Scudamore (nee Shelton) by Anne Clinard Barnhill”

  1. Mary Ann Cade says:


    I love hearing about the players around Court in addition to those we know so well.

    Just curious, do you believe that Elizabeth broke her finger in a rage or do you believe it was an accident as she stated in the letter?

  2. Anne Barnhill says:

    Hi Mary Ann,
    I do think she broke it in a fit of rage, though I don’t think she intended for it to break…she was probably just letting Mary know how very angry she was for the secret marriage. What do you think?

  3. Kimberlee says:

    I’ve got this one on my TBR list. Can’t wait to get to it.


  4. Mary McCauley says:

    I’m recently read a “A Dangerous Inheritance” by Alison Weir.about Katherine Grey. Her parents used their daughters as pawns. Involved in a plot to make their oldest daughter Jane Queen which resulted in Jane’s her death by Queen Mary Tudor. Her parents were pardoned but the writer seemed to make Katherine Grey desire to be the queen. She secretly married young Edward Seymour and when she was unable hide her pregnancy at court. Elizabeth had Katherine put into the Tower of London where she had a her son. Her husband was also put into the Tower, but in the book someone allowed them to have conjugal visits. Katherine had another child. Katherine was eventually had her marriage annulled,was sent away and died at the age of 27 from consumption. All this was in the book. My question is if Elizabeth knew she would never marry why did she see her Grey and Shelton cousins as rivals. Or was Elizabeth unsure whether she would marry?. She had to have an heir, a Protestant one. Any thoughts on why she didn’t groom a Grey or Shelton cousin as her heir?

  5. Mary McCauley says:

    Sorry about the misspellings and typos in my last comment.

  6. Ceri C says:

    My view would be that Elizabeth never forgot the time when she was heir apparent to her sister Mary’s throne and her every word and deed was suspect in Mary’s eyes and many in the kingdom were only too eager to rebel in her name, whether with or without her involvement.
    If people were prepared to do that for a young unmarried woman, how much worse would the threat be with one who was married and had children and thus ensured the future royal line? By never naming an heir and keeping as many claimants as possible unmarried, Elizabeth hoped to avoid rival factions in her kingdom.

  7. BanditQueen says:

    The temper of Queen Elizabeth is well known, but I feel is often brushed under the carpet when it was something she had plainly inherited from her two parents, both passionate and both people of forward opinion and also terrible tempers. Elizabeth too had a fiery character as well as appearance with that red hair. I have heard about this famous event of her breaking the fingers of one of her ladies but historians often fail to mention the name of that lady. Reading about this Lady Mary Shelton Skidmore is amazing as she has a very lively life and seems to be a person determined to make her own way despite the barriers, her dower rights and money being denied and to find her in love and making her own marriage is wonderful. And a Catholic marriage as well, forbidden at the time, and a dangerous thing to do, especially in the face of a jealous Queen, and laws against Catholic conversion and practice. Had they been found with the priest, he would have been killed and they would have been fined, their home and fortune seized and may have been put in prison. Later in the reign they too may have been executed for harbouring a priest had the government chosen to bring this charge, for they could have claimed they had hid the priest before he was brought to the wedding even if this was not true. This was the sort of world that Catholics lived in; one in which they were constantly under suspician and when government spies planted evidence or made evidence that they wanted just to please themselves and the Queen who was also very paranoid.

    It is also great to read about a lesser well known person of middle to later Tudor England and a woman as well, as women have mainly been hidden by history for the main part of 500 years or more. Yes, Lady Mary was lucky in that she rose to a good position in the inner chambers of Queen Elizabeth with pay and board at court, she is still a woman whose story may not have been told but for authors who have them as ancestors or personal interest working to dig them up and bring them to the fore of our knowledge. There is so much more to these ladies of the bedchambers and others at court who were in the shadows of greater historical figures but who still made an imprint on the fabric of the world in which they lived and deserve to be brought out of the shadows and into the light of human memory. She appears to be a woman who fights and has spirit and I will be getting the book to learn more about her.



    P.S Good luck with the book.

  8. Anne Barnhill says:

    Mary McCauley, I think Elizabeth was terrified of anyone who had a claim to the throne because many of her enemies did NOT think she had a justified claim herself. Her own father had declared her a bastard at one time and her mother died in shame. I think the Tudors, even in Elizabeth’s day, were still on shaky ground, at least in the minds of some of the old guard. Add to that Elizabeth’s sex and she was very nervous indeed. Any children of the Seymours could have threatened her…not that that would have happened but it was possible.
    Lyn-Marie, thank you–I agree that these lesser players deserve the spotlight–they often had quite interesting lives as well as the royals.

  9. Anne Barnhill says:

    Ceri, I think you make a very good point!

  10. Kathy Bolding says:

    I was at Holme Lacy about 10 years ago and met a woman who was in a club dealing with Queen Elizabeth’s clothes. She said that Mary Scudamore was also her clothier and their club had a copy of the original ledger she was required to keep of all of the materials that were used to make the queen’s wardrobe. She also said it was recorded somewhere that Queen Elizabeth was so angry that Mary married Sir John that she cut off her finger rather than her head. Because she was so very good at what she did and supposedly cared about her the Queen didn’t want to loose her. I wish I could remember the name of the lady who told my sisters and I this information. She also said that the reason that Mary has her hand inside her dress in her portrait is because of the missing finger. The reason my sisters and I were there is to chase our family roots. Our mother was a Scudamore.

  11. Sandie says:

    Ms Barnhill, John Dee and Sir Walter Mildmay were very influential characters around this time in history – I am wondering if you have any information about either of them? There is a significant connection there somewhere, but I haven’t managed to find it yet.

    My partner is a direct descendant of Sir Walter Mildmay.

  12. Lisa Faulkner says:

    I had a hard time putting this book down. I was wanting to read more history on mary & John but I have had trouble finding books on them . Would like to learn more about them when they weren’t living at the Cort & after they were able to come back, and just more about them as people. And what happend to the rest of his children.

  13. joyce cameron beshears says:

    I believe I already emailed you – I do not check my email as I should – my grandmother was a Shelton. I remember my mother saying something about my grandmothers ancestors being blue bloods or something of that nature. At the age of 6 my first love was my cousin Vestel Sheton. He was 19. My sister was also in love with him, she was 11. I have been saying for years that there was something different about my mother’s family. Something special and then I saw the long line of Sheltons back to Anne Boleyn, who married John Shelton. I hope this is not a repeat LOL.

  14. joyce cameron beshears says:

    BTW Vestel married when I was still 6 years old. I wanted to say if any of the Sheltons were like him they were wonderful people. He was a special type of person.


    I am also related to her… What relation are you connected to exactly?

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