Monday, April 16, 2012

On This Day in Elizabethan History: The Death of Anne Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset

On This Day in Elizabethan History, Anne Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset, died in 1587. She is buried in Westminster Abbey. Anne was the second wife of Edward VI's uncle, the Lord Protector Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. Anne is most famous for her pride; her prestige as the Duchess of Somerset and the wife of one of the most powerful men in England led her to publicly declare precedence (without merit) over the Queen Dowager, Katherine Parr. Anne was, according to one Spaniard residing in London, "more presumptuous than Lucifer" (Fraser, 235). But Stanhope was no devil; she was also a reformer and a loyal wife...

Anne Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset's tomb and effigy at Westminster Abbey. The inscription says: "A Princesse descended of noble lignage, beinge daughter of the worthie knight Sir Edward Stanhope, by Elizabeth his wyfe, that was daughter of Sir Foulke Burgchier Lord Fitzwarin, from whom our moderne Erles of Bathe are spronge. Sonne was he hunto William Lord Fitzwarin, that was brother to Henry Erle of Essex and Jhon lord Berners; whom William theire sire, sometyme Erle of Eu in Normandy, begat on Anne the sole heire of Thomas of Woodstocke, Duke of Gloucester, younger sonne to the mighty prince Kinge Edward the Third, and of his wyfe Aleanoure coheire unto the tenth Humfrey de Bohun that was Erle of Hereford, Essex, and Northampton, High Constable of England." Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

 Anne was born probably in 1497 in Suffolk to Sir Edward Stanhope and Elizabeth Bourchier. She had two elder-half brothers through her father's first marriage, Richard and Michael. One could argue that Anne's self-important nature had its root in her impressive ancestry: she was descended on her mother's side from Thomas of Woodstock, who was the youngest son of Edward III and his wife Philippa of Hainault (Martienssen, 125)

A 14th century drawing of the coronation of Philippa of Hainault, the Queen Consort of Edward III. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Anne enjoyed the privilege of being educated in her youth; she came to court in 1511 after the death of her father (Emerson, 214). She would soon become known for her tendency to voice her strong opinions.

A detail of a portrait of Anne Stanhope, wife of the Lord Protector and the Duchess of Somerset. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

 Somewhere between 1534 and 1535, Anne married Edward Seymour. It is said that she caught Edward's eye around 1520 when she was a maid of honour at court (Emerson, 214). Anne and Edward were equally matched in ambition and self-importance. By the time of Anne's marriage to Edward, King Henry VIII was already showing favor to Edward's younger sister, Jane Seymour, even though he was still married to Anne Boleyn. Anne must have surmised that either her new sister-in-laws relationship would bring great opportunities for her and her husband, or disastrous consequences.

By 1536, Jane Seymour had become the third wife of Henry VIII. As Henry had previously done for Anne Boleyn and her relations, the Seymour's were all promoted to new titles and high-ranking offices. Edward became Viscount Beauchamp, and in October of 1537, he enjoyed the distinction of becoming the Earl of Hertford. And long after the death of Jane Seymour in 1537, Edward was elevated to the title of the Duke of Somerset in 1547. As was customary, his wife became the Duchess of Somerset.

A detail of a portrait of Edward Seymour. The resemblance to his sister, brother, and eldest son is particularly noticeable in this representation. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Anne and Edward were incredibly successful in creating little Seymour's; together they had ten children! One of these children, also called Edward, would secretly marry Lady Katherine Grey, who was in line for the throne of England; both were reprimanded by Elizabeth I for marrying without her permission. Three of Anne's daughters, another Jane Seymour, (who was the sole witness at her brother Edward and Katherine Grey's marriage) Anne (later Countess of Warwick) and Margaret Seymour would be celebrated in the 16th century for their writing. The three co-authored a compendium of 103 Latin verses for the tomb of Margaret Valois, Queen of Navarre (herself an author; she wrote The Mirror of The Sinful Soul). Anne Stanhope valued her education, and she afforded her own daughter's the same opportunities.

Edward Seymour, Edward and Anne's second child (their first, a son also named Edward, and of whom Queen Jane Seymour was godmother, had died when he was a toddler). Edward married Katherine Grey, a claimant to the throne, without Elizabeth I's knowledge. Both were imprisoned as a result. They had two sons, both of whom were declared illegitimate. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

 Anne Stanhope made a name for herself in court circles as one who spoke her mind, often at the expense of others feelings. She was still an intimate at court by the time Henry VIII married his final wife, Queen Katherine Parr. Anne was even present at their wedding on July 12, 1543 (Martienssen, 153-154). When Edward VI came to the throne after the death of his father, his uncle Edward Seymour was appointed to govern in the boy-king's minority. Anne became sister-in-law with the former Queen of England when Katherine Parr married Edward Seymour's brother, Thomas.

A miniature, probably of Queen Katherine Parr. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

 Anne did not exactly welcome Katherine to the family; it would appear that The Duchess of Somerset could not bare the thought of sharing the spotlight with another accomplished woman. Anne claimed that by Katherine Parr marrying again, Katherine was forfeiting her title and powers as Queen Dowager, instead becoming merely the wife of an Admiral (Martienssen, 231). It was recorded that the Duchess of Somerset said of her sister-in-law, "If Master Admiral (Thomas Seymour) teach his wife no better manners, I am she that will!" (Fraser, 402).

Katherine won this debate, however, as she called upon the terms of The Third Succession Act to settle the score; this document stated that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Queen Dowager Katherine Parr would have precedence above all the other ladies in England. The Duchess of Somerset not only came behind Katherine Parr, but also the Lady Mary, the Lady Elizabeth, and Henry VIII's fourth wife, Anna of Cleves, who had remained in England, and was referred to as "the king's sister". History shows us that Katherine Parr was not an easy woman to anger, so her patience must have been tried significantly to cause her to start referring to Anne Stanhope as "that Hell" (Fraser, 403).  

In theory, Katherine Parr and Anne Stanhope could have been great friends; both were heavily involved in the Protestant reform movement, so much so that both put their own lives at risk to aid those who were persecuted for their beliefs. While no one should ever turn to the Showtime series The Tudors as gospel, the plot line of Anne Stanhope* sending aid to Anne Askew, who was burned at the stake as a heretic, was absolutely true. Both Parr and Stanhope were friends of Askew, and they were both profoundly affected by the nature of her death. Stephen Gardiner, one of my least favorite people in Tudor history, attempted to get Anne Askew to implicate the Queen and the Duchess of Somerset as fellow heretics, but she would not give in. Eustace Chapuys called Stanhope a "stirrer of heresy" for her promotion of reform. (*It should be mentioned that the character of the Duchess of Somerset in the show is a conglomeration of the real Anne Stanhope and Edward Seymour's first wife, Catherine Filliol, whom he divorced on grounds of her adultery.)

Anne's treatment of the beloved Queen Dowager had started to aggravate and alienate other courtiers. To make matter's worse, her husband Edward had grown exceedingly power hungry, and his wielding of absolute authority in England was unpopular. The Privy Council challenged him on his behavior, and he and his wife were sent to the Tower in October of 1549. Anne, though an irritant, was by no means as politically dangerous as her husband, and due to her distance from his professional missteps, she was released shortly thereafter (Loades, 150). After cooling his heels in prison, Edward was released in January of 1550.

A 16th century portrait detail of the Lord Protector of England, Edward Seymour, wearing his chain of office. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

 According to the Imperial Ambassador, the Duchess of Somerset had been working overtime on her husband's behalf, visiting the new chief advisor to the king, John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick (and father to Robert and Ambrose Dudley). She was petitioning him to allow her husband to rejoin the Privy Council after his brief disgrace. The plan worked, and as soon Somerset was back on the council, the Dudley's and Seymour's were arranging a marriage between Anne Seymour (the aforementioned writer) and John Dudley (jr).

Unfortunately, Somerset's freedom was to be short-lived, as he was arrested again in October of 1551, on charges that he had been conspiring against Warwick, now the Earl of Northumberland. Northumberland, like Seymour, was ambitious to a fault, and when he saw his opportunity to rid himself of another power-player, he took it. The Duchess of Somerset must have been frustrated when all her negotiating (or as she might have seen it, 'condesceding to') Dudley had come to naught, as she was also imprisoned, again, along with her husband.

On December 1st of that same year, Somerset was convicted of the charges against him, and  sentenced to death, and on January 22nd, 1552, the young King Edward VI's uncle was beheaded. His other uncle would soon share the same fate. The Duchess was not released from the Tower until May 3 of 1553 (Loades, 188-190). One can only imagine how she managed to bare the confinement and humiliation of her family's fall from power.

After Mary Tudor came to the throne and the Earl of Northumberland was executed for his role in a coup d'etat, the Duchess of Somerset was allowed to rummage through the personal belongings of the Dudley's to take whatever she wanted. This must have brought her great satisfaction!

A portrait of Queen Mary I early in her reign. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Anne Stanhope was made of strong stuff; she had endured the public backlash for her unfriendly behavior toward Katherine Parr, survived two stints in the Tower of London, and the public disgrace and execution of her husband. Anne gradually put herself back into society. She would marry for a second time to the former steward of her and her late husband, Francis Newdigate. This marriage was presumably for love, since she already had mothered ten children and because Newdigate was her social inferior (something that Stanhope typically paid great attention to!) Newdigate and Anne were likely already friends, or at least acquaintances, given their close proximity in earlier years.

In 1560, Queen Elizabeth I granted the manor of Chelsea to Stanhope for life, and granted "the widow of the Protector" an annuity for the payment of her household. Not much of Anne and her second husband's marriage is known, but in 1570 they were prosecuted for failing to pay rent on the property for ten years (History of the County of Middlesex, pages 108-115). Francis died shortly before his wife, in 1581. Anne lived the remainder of her life away from court, in Shelford, Nottinghamshire. On the 14th of July in 1586 she completed her will; it was later published in it's entirety in The Gentleman's Magazine issue from April of 1845, on page 371. In addition to being buried at Westminster, there is a memorial for Anne in St. Peter and St. Paul's Church in Shelford.

A detail from The Clopton Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, circa 1560-65. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.

Had Anne lived just one year more, she would have witnessed one of the greatest triumphs in English history...the defeat of the Spanish Armada.


Emerson, Kathy Lynn. Wives and Daughters: The Women of the Sixteenth Century.Whitston Publishing Company, 1984. Print.

Fraser, Antonia. The Wives of Henry VIII. Vintage, 1993. Print.

Martienssen, Anthony. Queen Katherine Parr. McGraw-Hill, 1974. Print. 

Loades, David. John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland 1504-1553. Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.

"Landownership: Chelsea manor", in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 12: Chelsea (2004), pages 108-115, at