While looking for something else this morning, I made the mistake of looking in the Lisle letters and got completely sidetracked by the question of the birthdates of the older children of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and his second wife, Anne Stanhope. Since this has blown a good part of the day, I thought I would at least get a blog post out of it.
According to eminently respectable sources, including the Complete Peerage, Edward Seymour, then Lord Beauchamp, and Anne had a son who was born shortly before February 22, 1537, his baptismal date. Other less reputable sources claim that the son was born on October 12, 1537 (the same day Jane Seymour bore Henry VIII his son). Which of these dates is correct?
Neither, it appears.
As a letter from John Husee to Lady Lisle shows, there was indeed a Seymour child baptized on February 22, 1537—but the baby was a girl. The tip-off is the identity of her godparents: Jane Seymour, the Lady Mary (that is, Princess Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter), and the Lord Privy Seal. Children had three godparents: two of their own gender and one of the other. The baby’s gender is further confirmed by Mary’s privy purse expenses, which indicate that the princess gave Lady Beauchamp’s nurse 20 shillings at the christening in February. This entry does not give the child’s gender, but a subsequent entry, in November 1537, records that one of Anne’s servants brought one of her daughters to see Mary, “my lady being godmother to the same.” (Note the “one of” her daughters; this becomes important later.)
Anne Seymour had not been yet been churched as of March 11, 1537 (Lady Lisle was waiting for some goods which could not be sent until the churching took place). Mary traveled back and forth to visit Anne Seymour in March 1537, probably to the churching, as she gave Anne’s nurse another ten shillings on that occasion. As Anne would not have been allowed to resume sexual relations with her husband until the churching, which probably took place shortly after March 11, any child born to her in October 1537 would have been seriously premature. It appears likely, however, that no child was born to the Seymours in October 1537, because in fact their next child was born in March 1538. Most likely, the October 1537 birth date arises from confusion with that of Edward VI.
On March 20, 1538, Henry VIII’s accounts mention a warrant given to a goldsmith for “a certain cup given at the christening of the earl of Hertford’s son.” (Edward Seymour had been made Earl of Hertford after Edward VI’s birth in October 1537.) That a child was born to the Seymours this spring is confirmed by Lady Mary’s privy purse expenses, which show that in April 1538, she reimbursed Lady Kingston for money laid out at two christenings she had attended: one for the Countess of Sussex (Mary Arundell) and one for the Countess of Hertford. The sum—a combined total of seventy shillings for both countesses—is more generous than that given out at the February 1537 christening, even when divided into half to account for the Countess of Sussex’s child. This again suggests that Mary’s latest Seymour godchild was a boy, since boys usually inspired more generous gifts than girls.
A draper’s bill for July 17, 1538, mentions “my Lord, my Lady, my young Lord,” the latter presumably being the infant Lord Beauchamp.
The boy born in 1538 does not appear to have survived childhood. On May 22, 1539, Anne Seymour gave birth to a second son, Edward, who was christened at Beauchamp Place and whose godfathers were the Duke of Suffolk and the Duke of Norfolk. This was the Seymour son who grew up to become the Earl of Hertford, as evidenced by a letter describing the earl as 13 in 1552. (The keeper of Ludgate and Aldgate received 8 pence for “letting John Smith in and out in the night when he went for Mris Midwife.”)
All this, however, leaves us with a problem. Anne and Edward Seymour’s daughter Anne, whom we’ll call Anne II to save everyone’s sanity, is generally thought to have been born in 1538, but as we’ve seen, the child born in March 1538 was a boy, and another child can’t be squeezed in between March 1538 and May 1539. This must mean that Anne II was the girl born in February 1537. Or was she? Mary’s privy purse expenses indicate that on November 30, 1537, a gentlewoman of Lady Hertford’s brought two Seymour girls to visit the princess, and another November 1537 entry mentioned earlier refers to “one of” Lady Hertford’s daughters. Since nothing indicates that twins were born in February 1537, it seems that another Seymour girl had been born before February 1537. Because Edward Seymour and Anne Stanhope were married no later than March 9, 1535, there would have certainly been time for them to have two daughters born by November 1537. If Anne II was born in early 1536, she could have been named for Anne Boleyn, Henry’s current queen. (Indeed, given Anne Boleyn’s fate and subsequent image problem, “Anne” seems an odd name for a Seymour girl to have been given in February 1537, although Anne II could have been named after her mother.) This would mean that Margaret Seymour, the second Seymour daughter, was the girl born in February 1537. All this fits in nicely with an inventory dated in 1539 or 1540, which mentions the beds of Lady Anne and Lady Margaret, and with the purchase of a primer (a prayer book) for Lady Anne sometime between August 22, 1539, and December 31, 1539. The latter purchase would seem somewhat premature if Anne II had been born in 1538, but seems quite reasonable if she was born in 1536.
In sum, it seems certain that no son was born to the Seymours in 1537, that a son instead of a daughter was born in 1538, and that Anne Seymour didn’t get much of a break between babies. No wonder she was cranky!
All of these calculations come too late, by the way, to be reflected in my upcoming novel, in which Anne II is depicted, in line with conventional wisdom, as having been born in 1538. Forget you saw this post, please, when you read my book.
Marjorie Blatcher, ed., Report on the Manuscripts of the Most Honourable Marquess of Bath Preserved at Longleat. Vol. IV. Seymour Papers 1532-1686. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1968.
Muriel St. Clare Bryne, ed., The Lisle Letters. Vols. 4 and 5. University of Chicago Press, 1981.
The Rev. Canon J. E. Jackson, “Wolfhall and the Seymours.” Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, XV (1875).
Letters and Papers of Henry VIII.
Frederick Madden, ed., Privy Purse Expenses of the Princess Mary. London: William Pickering, 1831.
National Archives SE/VOL. X/8 22 Aug.-31 Dec. 1539