Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset


Anne Seymour is an interesting character from the Tudor era, wife of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of England under King Edward VI. She witnessed and participated in many important events at the Tudor court. She was a proponent of the Protestant religion and a benefactor of literary writers. Anne has also been the undeserved recipient of a poor reputation historically.

Born sometime in 1510, Anne was the only child of Sir Edward Stanhope and his second wife, Elizabeth Bouchier whose great-great grandmother was Lady Anne, Countess of Eu, daughter of Thomas of Woodstock, fifth son of King Edward III. So Anne had a royal pedigree of which she was very proud. Anne received an education worthy of her rank.

Anne was chosen to serve as a maid of honor to Queen Katherine of Aragon. Her future husband, Edward Seymour was knighted in 1523 and became an esquire of the body to King Henry VIII. Anne may have met Edward at court during this time. About 1527, Edward married a nobleman’s daughter, Katherine Fillol. Katherine had two sons but Edward had reason to question the children’s paternity leading him to repudiate Katherine. Katherine retired to a nunnery and died in early 1535.

Sometime before March 9, 1535, Anne and Edward were married. In October of that same year, King Henry and Anne Boleyn visited them at Elvetham in Hampshire. In 1536, when Edward’s sister Jane became the love interest of King Henry, she was installed in rooms near the king at Greenwich. Edward was named a gentleman of the privy chamber and Anne and Edward acted as chaperones for Jane. On May 30, just eleven days after the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn, Henry married Jane and on June 5, Edward was ennobled with the title of Viscount Beauchamp. Three days after Jane gave birth to the future Edward VI, Edward was given the earldom of Hertford. Anne was now Lady Hertford and after Jane’s death, she enjoyed a prominent life at court.

Anne gave birth to a baby girl on the same day King Edward VI was born, October 12, 1537. The child’s godparents were Princess Mary and Thomas Cromwell. There is no record of a baptism and it is assumed the child died in early infancy. On May 25, 1539 Anne gave birth to a healthy son. His godparents were the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, an indication of the high favor Anne’s husband was held. In 1540, Edward obtained a statute settling his lands on Anne’s children, disinheriting his two sons by his first wife.

King Henry VIII visited the Seymours at their home of Wulfhall in 1539. In 1540, Anne and her husband participated in the welcoming of Anne of Cleves to England for her marriage to the king. Anne later became an attendant to Catherine Howard when Henry married her. Anne was in the party welcoming the repudiated Anne of Cleves at Hampton Court Palace. She was at court again in 1542, perhaps attending to the Lady Mary with whom she enjoyed a close friendship. The two women liked to play cards together and Mary usually sent Anne New Year’s gifts. Mary also sent a christening gift to Anne when she gave birth to a daughter named Anne in 1538.

In 1543, Anne witnessed the marriage of King Henry to Katherine Parr and she remained at court afterwards as part of the Queen’s household. In 1544, when Anne’s husband was posted to oversee the Scottish Borders at Newcastle, Anne wrote a letter to Queen Katherine which was delivered to her via the Lady Mary. The letter expressed her concerns about the safety of her husband and requested her husband be returned home. The queen interceded with King Henry and he assured Anne that her husband would be returning home before the king departed to fight in France.

Portrait of Anne's first husband, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset
Portrait of Anne’s first husband, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset

During Anne’s marriage to Edward, she gave birth to ten children. Other children not already mentioned included a son Henry in 1540, a daughter Margaret in 1540, Jane in 1541 and then two daughters Mary and Catherine. After her husband became Lord Protector, a third son Edward was born in 1548 and was the godchild of King Edward VI. Finally a daughter Elizabeth was born in 1550. According to the custom of the time, the three eldest daughters were given a classical education, learning Latin, Greek and French.

Anne was a great supporter of the Protestant faith and her activities and behavior exhibit a strong support of Protestant clergymen. She cultivated a relationship with the prominent Protestants Martin Bucer and John Calvin on the Continent through correspondence with her daughters Jane and Anne. These men commended themselves through friendship and benevolence, sending salutations to Anne. It was at this time that Anne received her first dedication as a patron of literature in “The Flower of Godly Prayers” by Thomas Brecon.

Between 1548 and 1551, eight different publications by five separate authors along with two manuscripts were dedicated to Anne. More works of literature were dedicated to her than any other woman in early Tudor England. When reformer Marin Bucer died at Cambridge in 1551, Anne acquired most of the books from his library. She is suspected of protecting and supporting the avowed heretic Anne Askew in the late years of King Henry VIII’s reign. In 1546, Askew confessed that a servant who delivered gifts to her disclosed that Anne had sent her ten shillings. Remarkably, Anne did not suffer any punishment for this alleged indiscretion.

In January of 1547, King Henry VIII died. Henry’s will designated a council to rule for the minority of his son Edward but Edward Seymour maneuvered his position on the council into being named Lord Protector, essentially acting as the ruler of England until Edward reached his majority. He was also ennobled as the Duke of Somerset. It is believed that Anne guided her husband in the path he took religiously during his reign and her own views on Protestantism became more prominent at this time.

Somerset’s reign as Lord Protector was fraught with conflict. He was greedy and lacked tact, doing more than enough to alienate his own brother Thomas and the rest of the councilors. The origins of the crisis between the Seymour brothers started before the death of King Henry. Thomas objected to Edward’s position as Lord Protector, arguing that it was the custom for both uncles to have a role in the king’s government. The estrangement was caused by Thomas’ jealousy, Somerset’s arbitrary conduct as Lord Protector and partly due to the intervention of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.

Anne Seymour by Thomas Nugent, published by  Edward Harding, after  Sylvester Harding, stipple engraving, published 1 March 1792
Anne Seymour by Thomas Nugent, published by Edward Harding, after Sylvester Harding, stipple engraving, published 1 March 1792

Thomas’ marriage to the dowager queen, Katherine Parr did not help matters. Katherine failed to get permission from the council for the marriage. Thomas went around the council and composed a letter for the king to sign, sanctioning the marriage. Anne and Edward strongly objected to the union and this letter made matters worse.

Some bad blood definitely existed between Anne and the Dowager Queen. The source of the conflict was the issue of the court jewels. At the time of King Henry VIII’s death, all the jewels that Katherine was entitled to wear as Henry’s consort were in safe keeping in the Tower. Some of Katherine’s own personal jewels were also in the Tower, including pieces once owned by her mother.

By the terms of the King’s will, Katherine definitely had permission to use these jewels. But the Duke of Somerset declined to allow her to use them and refused to deliver the personal pieces to her. Anne began to wear the jewels herself making Katherine very angry. All of this turmoil caused further strain in the relations between the two brothers. Katherine may have been disappointed by Anne when she sought her help along with her husband in a dispute over one of her dower properties. Katherine also supported her husband in his machinations against Somerset.

In fact, it was common practice for many to approach Anne for her assistance in their causes with her husband. She was expected to have influence with him but she may not have been able to fulfill those expectations. Around 1548, Katherine Parr complained she was no longer able to present petitions or requests to the Protector and blamed it on the malice of Anne.

In September of 1548, Katherine Parr died after giving birth to a daughter named Mary. Mary’s father, Thomas Seymour was executed in March of 1549. The child went to live with Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk. Anne was in charge of her welfare and it was intended she would pay allowances for the upkeep of the child. No pay was forthcoming. Even William Cecil was involved in trying to collect the funds. Anne was requesting a list of the child’s possessions before she could decide how much to pay. Then her husband fell from grace and she couldn’t pay anything even if she wanted to.

The reality of the situation was that Somerset had alienated many on the council and the Duke of Northumberland and others were conspiring to oust him from his position as Lord Protector. Somerset engaged in a vain attempt to raise the masses in his favor. Some people blamed Anne for his troubles. She was sent away weeping before any confrontations broke out. Anne was vociferous in her defense of her husband and worked tirelessly on his behalf. She wrote to Sir William Paget who was also on the council, appealing to his loyalty as he had been a supporter of her husband in the past.

After Somerset was sent to the Tower in 1549, Anne asked for an audience with the King where she proceeded to plead for her husband’s life. Edward asked her where his uncle was and to his astonishment, he learned he was in the Tower. He had been told Somerset was ill. Edward questioned Archbishop Cranmer and others about his uncle’s imprisonment and excuses were made. Anne began to constantly visit the wife of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and also hosted banquets with her. She pleaded with Dudley to release her husband. It may be due to this influence and that of his Duchess that Dudley realized his own political survival rested in the King and his wish to save his uncle. Anne was allowed to visit her husband in the Tower on Christmas day, 1549. The Duke was eventually released from the Tower and restored to his place on the council but not as Protector.

By October of 1551, Northumberland and his allies moved once again against Somerset. On November 16, the Duke was arrested and on the 18th, Anne followed him into the Tower. It is unclear why she was imprisoned. Her husband was beheaded on January 22, 1552. Anne lived reasonably well in the Tower. Her mother was with her and she was attended by two gentlewomen and a male attendant and she was served by three other gentlemen. Records show in 1553 she received an allowance of £100 from her late husband’s estates and ate mutton, wild game, bread, beer and wine.

Arrangements were made for the custody of Anne’s younger children while she was imprisoned. After Northumberland’s unsuccessful attempt to place Jane Grey on the throne, Mary Tudor was declared Queen and took control of the government. One of her first acts, on August 11, 1553, was to release Anne from the Tower. Anne began the work of regaining her jointure which amounted to £10,000 and in 1558, she obtained from the crown an annuity of £700 to be paid until the entire debt was fulfilled. She remained friends with William Cecil and he visited her in 1557 and 1558. In March of 1558, Queen Mary granted Anne the manor at Hanworth. This may have been in anticipation of Anne’s intended marriage.

Sometime before January 5, 1559, Anne married her first husband’s gentleman usher Francis Newdigate. He was younger than her (he was 40 and she was 49) and her prior husband’s servant but this wasn’t unusual for the time. Women of her status sometimes needed a male relative to help them manage finances. Newdigate would have been familiar with the family’s business affairs. Newdigate became a Member of Parliament, possibly through Anne’s influence.

Anne lived quietly as her children married and had their own children. Anne exchanged New Year’s gifts with Queen Elizabeth I in 1562 and in 1563, Elizabeth leased her the manor of Colehill for life. In 1560, her eldest son made an unsanctioned marriage to Lady Katherine Grey. Anne told Secretary Cecil she knew nothing of the marriage. Katherine would give birth to two sons and when she died in 1568, the younger son Thomas was sent to live with Anne while her eldest son was under house arrest. Anne petitioned Queen Elizabeth, the Earl of Leicester and Cecil for his release and he was freed in January of 1566. Anne would eventually be in charge of both grandsons. In 1570, Queen Elizabeth granted Anne and Francis titles to seven manors. In September of 1577, Elizabeth dined at the Duchess’ home. She exchanged New Year’s gifts with Elizabeth in 1578 and Anne dined at court in August of 1580.

Anne Seymour's tomb in Westminster Abbey (Image by Bernard Gagnon from Wikimedia Commons)
Anne Seymour’s tomb in Westminster Abbey (Image by Bernard Gagnon from Wikimedia Commons)

Francis died on January 26, 1582 and Anne acted as his executor. She exchanged New Year’s gifts with the Queen in 1586 and in July of the same year, her will was drawn up by her preacher. She had some ailment that was causing her suffering and by Good Friday of 1587, her physician was advising her to put her affairs in order. She died on Easter Sunday, April 16. Queen Elizabeth arranged to have her buried in the chapel of St. Nicholas in Westminster Abbey.

Retha Warnicke argues quite forcefully in her book that there never was a precedence dispute between Anne and Katherine Parr. The rumor was taken from an anonymous Spanish and Catholic chronicler and then taken by other writers as gospel. Also, there are no sources blaming Anne for urging her husband to have his brother Thomas put to death that are dated before Thomas’ execution and none of them were written in England. In 1891, she was mistakenly identified as the she-wolf in a poem by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. All of this is purely speculative with no historical evidence to back up the claim.

It is safe to say the Duchess was an intellectual with a strong personality, a woman of fervent religious convictions and significantly involved in religious patronage. Her marriage to Edward Seymour was stable and relatively happy and her second marriage was comfortable. She was a proud woman and loyal to her family.

Further reading: “The Seymours of Wolf Hall: A Tudor Family Story” by David Loades, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” by Alison Weir, “Edward VI: The Lost King of England” by Chris Skidmore, “Wicked Women of Tudor England: Queens, Aristocrats, Commoners” by Retha M. Warnicke, entry on Anne Stanhope in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography written by Retha M. Warnicke

I would like to thank my friend and fellow historian Nicola Tallis for her help in writing this article.