In my last post, I mentioned that after the execution of their father, Jane Seymour and three of her sisters came to live with their aunt Elizabeth, Lady Cromwell. As the following letter to William Cecil indicates, Lady Cromwell wasn’t entirely happy about having four young girls (the oldest of the four, Margaret, was twelve) thrust into her care:
After the due manner of my most hearty commendations unto you, good Master Cecil, I dare not think any unkindness that my lady, your bed-fellow, and you did not, according to your promise, see the poor house of Launde. I ensure you it would have been greatly to my comfort, and I most heartily pray you, when you come into these our parts again, to take my poor house as your own, where you shall be so heartily welcome as my heart can think to the nearest friend I have in the world.
Your great gentleness, many ways shewed towards me, emboldeneth me to trouble you with these my letters, whereby it may please you to understand that, where it pleased the king’s majesty and his most honourable council to will me to take into my tuition my four nieces, I thought it my duty, and the rather being moved by your friendly advice declared unto me by your gentle letters, to satisfy the council’s honourable requests and not to refuse them; although, if I should have declared unto my said honourable lords at that time what charge and other cares I, being now a lone woman, am troubled with, I doubt not but it would have pleased them, of their honours, to have accepted in good part my reasonable cause to have refused them. Wherefore, considering with myself the weighty burden and care which nature bindeth me to be mindful of, as well for the bestowing of my own children, as also for such poor family as my late lord and husband hath left me unprovided for, enforceth me to require your help and advice, that hereafter, about Christmas next, or shortly after then, by your good means, my said honourable lords of the council may understand that, when my said nieces have accomplished a full year with me, then my trust is that they shall be otherwhere provided for and bestowed than with me: trusting that there be places enough where they may be, better than with me; and, as I do perceive by them many ways, much more to their own contentations and pleasings. And even as I was bold to write unto the king’s highness’ most honourable council, that I, being a lone woman, not nigh any of my kinsfolk, whereby I the rather am destitute of friendly advice and counsel, how to use myself in the rule of such company as now I am careful of, so now I am likewise bold to declare the same unto you, being not at any time either instructed by you or any other of my said honourable lords, how to use my said nieces; considering that I have, in some cases, thought good that my said nieces should not all wholly be their own guides, but rather willing them to follow mine advice, which they have not taken in such good part as my good meaning was, nor according to my expectation in them.
Trusting, therefore, so much in your worship, that you will so tender my aforesaid desire, as the same may so come to pass that my request herein may be satisfied in convenient time, and without any displeasure towards me for my good meaning. And thus I beseech the living God to send you continual health and much increase of honour. From Launde, the 25th of October, 1552.
Yours always assured to her power,
To the Right Honourable Sir William Cecil, Knight, one of the king’s highness’ privy council,
Though Lady Cromwell may strike us as rather coldhearted, it can’t have been easy, suddenly having four bereaved young girls dropped into her household. Nor could the girls have been the most congenial of houseguests: their father was dead, their mother was a prisoner, and they had been torn away from the luxurious existence they had known as the daughters of the very wealthy Duke of Somerset. Moreover, Lady Cromwell herself was a widow; her husband had died in 1551, leaving her with five children of her own to support. Now instead of five young people in the house, she had nine.
Lady Cromwell’s letter must have produced at least some of the desired effect: on November 1, 1552, the council, which had originally granted her 50 pounds per annum for each girl, increased this sum to 100 marks per girl. Whether this made relations between Lady Cromwell and her nieces more amicable is unknown, but in August 1553, Mary I released the Duchess of Somerset from the Tower, after which she presumably reclaimed custody of her children. Lady Cromwell herself ceased to be a “lone woman” in the spring of 1554: she married John Paulet, Marquess of Winchester.
John Strype, ed. Ecclesiastical Memorials, relating chiefly to Religion and the Reformation of it, and the emergencies of the Church of England under King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, and Queen Mary. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1822.
Mary Anne Everett Wood, ed. Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies. London: Henry Colburn, 1846.