An Enduring Tudor Mystery

An Enduring Tudor Mystery

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.

{ Main photo credit: By Gordon Robertson – Flickr: Sudeley Castle 2, CC BY 2.0, }

{ Additional photo credit: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. By Unknown –, Public Domain, }

20 Comments On This Topic
  1. Rosanne E. Lortz
    on Aug 24th at 6:59 am

    Would love to win this! 🙂 RoseLZ18(at)yahoo(dot)com

  2. Michelle
    on Aug 24th at 7:45 am

    I really enjoyed reading this and I truely hope that someday the secrets of Mary can be found.

  3. Terry Martini
    on Aug 24th at 8:31 am

    What a great blog. It certainly peaked my interest about what happened to Mary. Would love to win a copy of The Secret Keeper.

    tmrtini at gmail dot com

  4. ✿Terri C
    on Aug 24th at 8:39 am

    Thank you for the giveaway. I don’t know anything about Kateryn Parr so would love to read this!

    Terri, niteofblu at gmail dot com

  5. Wendy WD
    on Aug 24th at 9:06 am

    So intriguing! I am anxious to read The Secret Keeper to learn more!

    Thank you for the entry!

    Wendy – wendysfictionaddiction(at)gmail(dot)com

  6. Lalani D.
    on Aug 24th at 11:04 am

    The books looks interesting.

  7. Jen H.
    on Aug 25th at 2:21 am

    Thank you for the great giveaway!

  8. Suz Reads
    on Aug 25th at 2:41 am

    Thanks for this amazing giveaway! This book sounds great and I would love to win it!

  9. nan
    on Aug 25th at 10:37 am

    I know very little of Kateryn Parr. Would love to read this, thanks.

  10. Leah Weller
    on Aug 25th at 6:23 pm

    I have found so many new blogs to follow and have been in high cotton today. 🙂 Thank you for this giveaway! What a wonderful book up for grabs. Someone will be extremely happy!


  11. Michelle @ The True Book Addict
    on Aug 25th at 7:15 pm

    These little mysteries are what I love best about history and historical fiction. It gives us room to speculate. I think it’s terrible that no one stepped forward for baby Mary, but I’m not really surprised. Sometimes it seems that there wasn’t any real loyalty during those times.

    Thank your for the chance in your giveaway!

  12. s voss
    on Aug 26th at 8:16 am

    I like the idea that Mary didn’t die young and went on to have some sort of life and perhaps children. It is curious that there is so little evidence one way or the other. But that is what makes historical fiction great – filling in the blanks with plausible scenarios.

    I am a new email follower: nrlymrtl AT gmail DOT com

  13. Kathy S
    on Aug 26th at 10:46 am

    Sounds very interesting. Thansk for the giveaway!

  14. Kelly R
    on Aug 26th at 6:25 pm

    Thank you for the giveaway..

  15. krista grandstaff
    on Aug 26th at 10:05 pm

    I would love to read this!!!! Thanks so much for giving us the opp 🙂

  16. Paula Osborne
    on Aug 27th at 6:29 am

    I never knew this history and interesting that Mary just seemed to vanish, would love to know what happened to her, interested in your book you are sharing.
    Paula O(

  17. sawcat
    on Aug 27th at 10:30 pm

    Given how people pop in an out of the historic records in more recent centuries, your telling is just as plausible as her dying earlier. I’ve been looking forward to reading your book.

    booklove at sawcatsverse dot com

  18. Missy
    on Aug 28th at 8:11 am

    Thank you for this giveaway! I love historical fiction.

  19. Tiffany
    on Aug 28th at 10:03 am

    Thanks so much for the giveaway! Cross my fingers that I win!

    kohlert at mail dot gvsu dot edu

  20. sandrabyrd
    on Sep 1st at 10:47 am

    Hey all! The blog hop has ended and Terri C is our winner! Terri, I will send you an email to get your mailing address.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and please check back often because I will be offering prizes monthly and sometimes weekly on this blog!