Today we have a guest post from Sandra Byrd, author of “The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr”, and a giveaway! To celebrate the success of her novel, Sandra is giving away a pair of Anne Boleyn Ivory Pearl Drop Earrings to one lucky person who leaves a comment on this article before midnight* on Thursday 26th July. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday in the comments thread below.
“The Secret Keeper” is a wonderful novel and you can read my review on our book review site – click here. Over to Sandra…
What Happened to Lady Mary Seymour
by Sandra Byrd
Lady Mary Seymour was the only child of Queen Kateryn Parr and her fourth husband, Thomas Seymour. Parr died of childbed fever shortly after giving birth to Mary, and the baby’s father, Thomas Seymour, was executed for treason just a few short years thereafter. But what happened to their child, who seems to have vanished without trace into history? This is an enduring mystery.
The last known facts about the child include that her father, Thomas Seymour, did ask as a dying wish, that Mary be entrusted to Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk and that desire was granted. Willoughby, although a great friend of Mary Seymour’s mother, Queen Kateryn Parr, viewed this wardship as a burden, as evidenced by her own letters. According to Parr’s biographer Linda Porter, “In January, 1550, less than a year after her father’s death, application was made in the House of Commons for the restitution of Lady Mary Seymour…she had been made eligible by this act to inherit any remaining property that had not been returned to the Crown at the time of her father’s attainder. But in truth, Mary’s prospects were less optimistic than this might suggest. Much of her parents’ lands and goods had already passed onto the hands of others.”
The 500 pounds required for Mary’s household would amount to approximately 100,000 British pounds, or 150,000 US dollars today, so you can see that Willoughby had reason to shrink from such a duty. And yet the daughter of a Queen must be kept in commensurate style. There were many people who had greatly benefitted from Parr’s generosity. None of them stepped forward to assist Baby Mary.
Biographer Elizabeth Norton says that, “The council granted money to Mary for household wages, servants’ uniforms, and food on 13 March, 1550. This is the last evidence of Mary’s continued survival.” Susan James says Mary is, ” probably buried somewhere in the parish church at Edenham.”
Most of Parr’s biographers assume that Mary died young of a childhood disease. But this, by necessity, is speculative because there is no record of Mary’s death anywhere: no gravestone, no bill of death, no mention of it in anyone’s extant personal or official correspondence. Parr’s biographer during the Victorian ages, Agnes Strickland, claimed that Mary lived on to marry Edward Bushel and become a member of the household of Queen Anne, King James I of England’s wife.
Various family biographers claimed descent from Mary, including those who came down from the Irish shipping family of Hart. This family also claimed to have had Thomas Seymour’s ring which was inscribed, What I Have, I Hold, till early in the twentieth century. I have no idea if that is true or not, but it’s a good detail and certainly possible.
According to an article in History Today by biographer Linda Porter, Kateryn Parr’s chaplain, John Parkhurst, published a book in 1573 entitled, Ludica sive Epigrammata juvenilia. Within it is a poem that speaks of someone with a “queenly mother” who died in childbirth, child of whom now lies beneath a marble after a brief life. But there is no mention of the child’s name, and 1573 is twenty-five years after Mary’s birth. It hints at Mary, but does not insist.
Fiction is a rather more generous mistress than biography, and I was therefore free to wonder. Why would the daughter of a Queen and the cousin of the King not have warranted even a tiny remark upon her death? In an era when family descent meant everything it seemed unlikely that Mary’s death would be nowhere definitively noted. Far less important people, even young children, had their deaths documented during these years; my research turned up dozens of them.
Edward Seymour requested a state funeral for his mother, as she was grandmother to the King (which was refused). Would then the death of the cousin of a King, and the only child of the most recent Queen, not even be mentioned? The differences seem irreconcilable. Then, too, it would have been to Willoughby’s advantage to show that she was no longer responsible for the child if she were dead.
The turmoil of the time, in which Mary’s uncle the Lord Protector was about to fall, the fact that her grandmother Lady Seymour died in 1550, and the lack of motivation any would have had to seek the child out lest they then be required to then pay for her upkeep, all added up to a potentially different ending for me. The lack of solid facts allowed me to give Mary a happy ending in my novel, The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr, an ending I feel is entirely possible given Mary’s cold trail, and one which I feel both “Kate” and Mary deserved.
*Midnight US Eastern time.