Making Babies and Dressing Meat: Visits from the Family, Tower-Style

While those imprisoned at the Tower in Tudor England could expect to receive official visitors, such as royal officials charged with the task of interrogating them, or spiritual visitors, brought in to give comfort or in some cases for the monarch’s own purposes, some lucky individuals got to receive more welcome sort of visitors—their own loved ones.

The following is by no means an exhaustive account of those Tudor prisoners who received visits from family members—only the ones I ran across in researching Her Highness, the Traitor.

Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, imprisoned by Henry VIII, was allowed by Edward VI’s council to receive visits from his wife, the Duchess of Norfolk, and his daughter Mary Fitzroy, the Duchess of Richmond, in February 1550. Since the duke and his wife had been estranged in the years before his imprisonment, one wonders whether Norfolk was particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of meeting her.  Perhaps the Lieutenant of the Tower, who was to be present during these visits, was required as a referee! The Duchess of Richmond, however, had been diligently working to get her father set free, and had succeeded in making his lodgings more comfortable by getting tapestries hung and his windows glazed, so she was probably a welcome sight to her aging father.  The council seems in fact to have given the Duchess of Richmond permission to visit her father before the official order was given: On December 15, 1549, Richard Scudamore reported that the duchess had been allowed by the council to visit Norfolk and had sat with him the day before “by the space of ii long howres.”

Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, was confined twice in the Tower. Scudamore reported that during his first imprisonment, which lasted from October 1549 to February 1550, the Duchess of Somerset spent Christmas Day of 1549 with her imprisoned husband “to his no little coumfort.”

The Duchess of Somerset herself was sent to the Tower as a prisoner in October 1551, shortly after her husband was imprisoned for a second time. In June 1552, the privy council ordered that Lady Page, her mother, be allowed to “resort to” her now-widowed daughter, the Duke of Somerset having been executed in January 1552. Lady Page must have been a particularly devoted mother, for rather than simply visiting her daughter, she appears to have moved into the Tower with her. A list of the duchess’s “diets” while in the Tower indicates that while the lieutenant was given an allowance for the duchess’s expenses, he was not given such for “the lady Page, being for the most part with the said Duches.”

When Mary came to the throne, both the Duke of Norfolk and the Duchess of Somerset were released from captivity, but the ill-fated attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne brought a host of prisoners to take their places. I have found nothing to indicate that John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, Jane Grey, or her husband Guildford Dudley were allowed to receive family visitors, but other captives were more fortunate. In September 1553, several ladies were given permission by the privy council “to have access unto their husbands, and there to tarry with them so long and at such times as by [the lieutenant of the Tower] shall be thought meet.” The ladies included the wives of Ambrose and Robert Dudley, the wife of Francis Jobson, the wife of Sir Henry Gates, and the wife of Sir Richard Corbett. In addition, the Tower chronicler reported that about this time, the wife of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick (Northumberland’s eldest son), was allowed to visit her husband. Nothing indicates that the Duchess of Northumberland was allowed to visit her imprisoned sons, although she would spent the next months working mightily to get them freed.

One man had already succeeded in persuading the council to allow him a spousal visit: the aged Sir Edward Montague, the chief justice of the common pleas. In August 1553, he was allowed not only the privilege of taking the open air, but “to suffer the Lady, his wife, in consideration of his weakness, to repair to him at convenient times to dress his meat.”

Finally, what of those couples who were prisoners in the Tower at the same time? There is no indication that the Duke and Duchess of Somerset, imprisoned in October 1551, were allowed to meet before the duke’s execution in January 1552. Contrary to the movie Lady Jane, which depicts Jane Grey and Guildford being allowed to spend their last night on earth together engaging in passionate pre-execution sex, nothing indicates that the couple met privately during their imprisonment, although they saw each other at their joint trial in November 1553 and might have glimpsed the other strolling about the Tower grounds on other occasions. Indeed, Jane is said to have refused the chance to embrace and kiss her husband before their deaths, on the ground that it would only increase the couple’s misery and that they would meet shortly elsewhere.

Jane’s younger sister, Katherine, and her husband Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, were imprisoned in 1561 for marrying without Elizabeth I’s consent. In 1562, Edward bribed his guards to allow him to visit his wife on two occasions. The couple made good use of their time, for the result of their visits, Thomas Seymour, was born on February 10, 1563.


Acts of the Privy Council of England.

Susan Brigden, “The Letters of Richard Scudamore to Sir Philip Hoby, September 1549-March 1555,” Camden Miscellany XXX (1990).

Leanda de Lisle, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen.

John Gough Nichols, “Anne, Duchess of Somerset.” Gentleman’s Magazine, April 1845.

John Gough Nichols, ed., The Chronicle of Queen Jane and Two Years of Queen Mary.

17 thoughts on “Making Babies and Dressing Meat: Visits from the Family, Tower-Style”

  1. Interesting — I was thinking about Katherine Grey and her husband and then saw them at the very end :). And yes, I’m guessing that the Duke of Norfolk’s visits from his wife may have been more in the line of increasing his punishment rather than alleviating it.

  2. This was really interesting, but there is a mistake in the last paragraph. The year should be 1562 instead of 1462. I’m guessing that this was just a typo.
    Thanks for the interesting blog entry!

  3. Thank you for this! The Duke of Norfolk’s visits from his wife have intrigued me since I read online in a book by R. Hutchinson. I wondered whether it was 1549 or perhaps 1550 (because late 1549 and 1550 was after the regime change, so I asked myself if this was under Northumberland or Somerset). I recently bought the book and indeed Hutchinson has the year wrong because of the 1549-1550 dating in the APC. So it was indeed under Dudley (as I had suspected). Norfolk was later also allowed to walk and ride within the Tower provided Leutenant or Marshal was present and he recieved a visit from his grandson Lord Thomas on 8 April 1551 (this must have been the 4th duke, the one executed by Elizabeth).

  4. THanks! I’m interested in this Richard Scudamore. Do you know if he is related to Sir John Scudamore? Are his letters online? Love the idea of NOrfolk’s wife being not sucha welcome guest. Isn’t she the one who was angry about his affair with a washerwoman and he sat on her chest in an argument? Wow! I’ll be he didn’t want to see her coming!

    1. Hi, Anne! According to Brigden, Richard was a son of John Scudamore. Brigden thinks they were estranged, since Richard was omitted from John’s will, possibly because John was a Catholic and Richard had evangelical views. I don’t think his letters are online. I can make a copy for you and bring them to you when we get together if you like.

  5. I can’t help but think how luckly Thomas Howard was – no, not having his wife visit him (I’m surprised she went as well!) but escaping execution. Amazing he survived into Mary’s reign, considering his meddling/family.

  6. A referee for the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk had me giggling! Methinks that since his mistress gave evidence against Norfolk, he might have started thinking his wife was a better option to have in his cell.

    As for the earlier Tudors, Thomas More was also allowed visitors, probably more in the hope of letting them convince him to change his mind.

    1. Thanks, bluffkinghal! I couldn’t remember whether More was allowed visitors or not, and I was too lazy to look it up.

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