Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and Duke of Somerset, married twice: the first time to Katherine Fillol, the second time to Anne Stanhope. Though his first wife was repudiated and died in obscurity, her descendants would ultimately succeed to the dukedom of Somerset.
Katherine Fillol was the daughter of Sir William Fillol. She and Edward Seymour (whom we’ll call Hertford from now on to avoid confusion, although he did not obtain his earldom until 1537) had two sons together: John and Edward.
At some point, the marriage of Hertford and Katherine went sour. In his will, dated May 14, 1527, William Fillol gave his daughter an annuity of forty pounds “as long as she shall live virtuously and abide in some house of religion of women.” (William also states, “I will that, in the best wise that may be, that the wall above the high awter wyndowe be made playne, in Horton Church, with playster of parys, yf yt made be reasonable had, & that playne & surely made, that Jesus be paynted therevppon, sitting upon a Rainbow, in as large stature as the rome will give, & underneath hym ymages arysing in significance of the Dome to come.” I must admit that the Rainbow Jesus makes me giggle.) More pointedly, Hertford and Katherine were not to “have any part or parcell” of his estates, except for some land in Sussex.
Plainly, something had happened to estrange Katherine from her father and from her husband, and it seems to have involved the paternity of Hertford’s oldest son, John. In 1540, Hertford, who was now married to his second wife, obtained this grant:
Grant to the earl of Hertford that the lands he now holds in fee simple may descend as follows:—The manors of Mochelney, Drayton, Westhover, Yerneshill, Camell, Downehed, Kylcombe, and Fyffec, Soms., to the heirs male of himself and lady Anne, his wife, or any future wife he may have; with contingent remainders in tail male to Edward Seymour, his son by his late wife, Katharine, dec., one of the daughters of Sir Wm. Fylolle, dec., to Henry Seymour, brother of the Earl, and to Sir Thos. Seymour, youngest brother of the Earl; with remainder to heirs female of the Earl’s body; with remainder to the right heirs of the said Edward Seymour. All other his possessions which he has or hereafter may hold to be judged to descend in the same manner.
Under the terms of the grant, Edward, Hertford’s second son by Katherine, would inherit only if Hertford left no male heirs by his second or any subsequent wife. John was cut out altogether.
It is not until later that writers would explicitly accuse Katherine of adultery. Peter Heylyn, writing in the seventeenth century, had this explanation for the disinheritance of Hertford’s offspring by his first wife:
Concerning which there goes a story, that the Earl having been formerly employed in France, did there acquaint himself with a Learned man, supposed to have great skill in Magics: of whom he obtained, by great rewards and importunities, to let him see, by the help of some Magical perspective, in what Estate all his Relations stood at home. In which impertinent curiosity, he was so far satisfied, as to behold a Gentleman of his acquaintance, in a more familiar posture with his wife, than was agreeable to the the Honour of either Party. To which Diabolical illusion he is said to have given so much credit, that he did not only estrange himself from her society at his coming home, but furnished his next wife with an excellent opportunity for pressing him to the disinheriting of his former Children.
A tawdrier explanation can be found in this marginal note that appears in Vincent’s Baronage in the College of Arms: “repudiata quia pater ejus post nuptias eam cognovit.” This note, which older sources like the Complete Peerage preferred to leave discreetly untranslated, suggests that Katherine had committed adultery with her own father-in-law, John Seymour. Nothing else, however, supports the story that Katherine and her father-in-law were lovers. It is noteworthy that John Seymour did have an illegitimate son, John, who may have been confused with Katherine’s son John, thereby giving rise to the report that the elder John Seymour had fathered Katherine’s child.
Modern writers, even authors of nonfiction, have improved upon the bare allegation of incest. Alison Weir in The Six Wives of Henry VIII writes that “the scandal had shocked even Henry VIII’s courtiers,” while Elizabeth Norton in her biography of Jane Seymour states that the relationship between Edward Seymour and his father “would have been irreparably damaged” and that society would have “shied away from any alliance with” the Seymour family. Joanna Denny in her peculiar biography of Anne Boleyn writes of “the great scandal that attached to the Seymour name.” None of these writers give any sources for their statements. In fact, there is no contemporary evidence of hostility between John Seymour and his son, no evidence that Hertford’s marital difficulties excited any interest at Henry VIII’s court at the time, and no evidence that the Seymour family was shunned. Far from being a pariah at court, Hertford enjoyed increasing royal favor throughout the 1520’s, long before his sister Jane came to Henry VIII’s attention. Thus, while Katherine Fillol may have been unfaithful to her husband, or at least may have been thought by him to have been unfaithful, there is no contemporary evidence to support the later story that her sexual partner was her father-in-law.
Nothing seems to be known about Katherine after her father made his will. By March 9, 1535, when the couple were given a grant of land, Hertford had married his second wife, Anne. It is said in various places that Hertford divorced Katherine, but there are no records of such a proceeding. More likely, Katherine had simply died, leaving Hertford free to remarry.
Hertford did not entirely throw off his sons by Katherine. Accounts from 1536 and 1537 refer to a “Mr. Edward” who was delivered to the Prior of Sempringham and who received a coat, hose, and a doublet, and to a “Mr. John Seymour,” who was supplied with money for a winter coat and other necessaries, for “necessaries against Christmas,” and for “necessaries against Easter.” (It may be, however, that the John referred to was Hertford’s illegitimate brother, not his son by Katherine.)
More is known, naturally, about the two men as adults. John Seymour represented Wooton Bassett in Parliament. He is often said to have accompanied his father to prison in the Tower in 1551; in fact, the John Seymour who was imprisoned was Hertford’s illegitimate brother. The younger John took advantage of his father’s execution in 1552 to attempt to recover lands of his mother that Hertford had sold without her assent. He was successful, but he did not live long to enjoy them. He died in December 1552, unmarried and childless. In his short will, witnessed by his recently pardoned uncle John, he left the bulk of his property to his brother Edward:
That I John Seymor hath and doth give and bequeathe thes p[ar]celles and somes of money as followith /. In primis I give and bequeathe to Mastres Yonge for her paynes taken with me vjli xiijs iiijd /. Item I give and bequeathe to Mystres Alice for her paynes taken with me vjli xiijs iiijd /. Item I give and bequethe unto Thomas Wright my boye xxs /. Item I give and bequeathe unto Nicholas Skynner my s[e]rv[a]unte twentie poundes /. Item I give and bequethe unto Mother Yonge fourtie shillinges /. Item I give to Richard Whytney the lease of Bridgenorth and of Clarley and of Bevyngton which is all but on lease of the kinge / and also I give hym the lease callyd Seynt Mary Lande of Martley /. Item I give to Thomas Bydyll three poundes / Also I make my brother Sir Edwarde Seymor thelder my full Executour and I give hym all my landes and goodes that is unbequeathed he to paie and discharge all my debtes
Witnesses Richard Corbet. John Skynner / John Seymor
John Seymour was buried at Savoy hospital.
Edward Seymour accompanied his father to Scotland in 1547 and was knighted there. He also gained by his father’s death; in June 1553, he was granted a number of lands, including Berry Pomeroy in Devon. He married Jane Walsh and died in 1593, a prosperous man. Although he had only one son, another Edward, that was enough to mean that in the eighteenth century , the dukedom of Somerset would pass to his descendants. Two hundred years after Katherine Fillol had been put aside by her husband, her descendants had been restored to their rightful inheritance.
Barrett L. Beer, ‘Seymour, Edward, duke of Somerset (c.1500–1552)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25159, accessed 5 March 2011]
S. T. Bindoff et al. The House of Commons, 1509-1558. London, Secker & Warburg, 1982.
Calendar of Patent Rolls.
Frederick Arthur Crisp, Abstracts of Somersetshire Wills. Volume 2. 1888.
Peter Heylyn, Ecclesia restaurata: The History of the Reformation of the Church of England. London, 1674.
Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on the Manuscripts of the Most Honorable the Marquess of Bath, Preserved at Longleat. Vol. IV, Seymour Papers. London, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1968.
A. Audrey Locke, The Seymour Family: History and Romance. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1914.
PROB 1/29 (Will of John Seymour)
William Seymour, Ordeal by Ambition: An English Family in the Shadow of the Tudors. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1972.