Friday, October 17, 2014

1551: Anne, Duchess of Somerset is Imprisoned in the Tower

Portrait of Anne Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset and wife of the Lord Protector. National Trust, Petworth House; supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation. Image via Lisby1 on Flickr.

On this day in 1551, Anne Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset and her husband Edward, the Lord Protector, were sent to the Tower of London. It had been decided by King Edward VI and his Privy Council that his uncle, the Protector, was no longer acting in the Crown's best interests, but in his own. Anne was equally unpopular; in previous years, her public disrespect of the beloved Dowager Queen Katherine Parr (who had died in 1548) had earned her many enemies. The couple had previously been imprisoned in 1549. Anne, though an extremely proud and outspoken woman, was by no means as dangerous as her husband. Since she had not been directly involved in any of his political decisions, she was released shortly thereafter; Edward had been released in January of 1550. 

However, after their arrest in October of 1551, Edward would never experience freedom again. He was executed for treason on January 22nd, 1552 at the Tower of London; Anne was released the following year.


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

When Edward VI came to the throne after the death of his father, King Henry VIII, his uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, brother of the late Queen Jane Seymour, was entrusted to help govern during the boy-king's minority. His wife, Anne Stanhope, was thus elevated to an equally lofty position at court. Anne, who had previously been present at the wedding of King Henry VIII and Katherine Parr on July 12, 1543 (Martienssen, 153-154), became the sister-in-law of the widowed Queen of England when Katherine married Edward Seymour's dashing-but-dastardly brother Thomas, Admiral Seymour.

In theory, Anne and Katherine should have been great friends, or at least allies. Both were heavily involved in the Protestant reform movement in England, so much so that both selflessly put their own lives at risk to aid those who were persecuted for their beliefs during the reign of Henry VIII; but Anne's personality did not lend itself to making new friends. Anne was known in court circles as a lady with little discretion, despite her pedigree. Katherine Parr, on the other hand, had the good sense of knowing when to keep quiet; it hand saved her life on at least one occasion during her marriage to Henry VIII.

Anne did not exactly roll out the welcome mat for Katherine when she joined the family. Anne presumptuously claimed that by her marrying again, Katherine was forfeiting her title and rights 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)

Dowager Katherine won this debate, however, as she called upon the terms of The Third Act of Succession of King Henry VIII to settle the score. The document stated that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Queen Dowager Katherine Parr would have precedence above all other ladies in England. And, the Duchess of Somerset not only came behind Katherine Parr, but also the Lady Mary, the Lady Elizabeth, and Henry VIII's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, who had remained in England after the annulment of their marriage as a wealthy property owner and satellite member of the royal family. History shows us that Katherine Parr was not an easy woman to anger, so her patience must have been tried significantly to refer to Anne Stanhope as, "that Hell" (Fraser, 403). In fact. Anne earned a lot of colorful nicknames during her lifetime, including "stirrer of heresy" from Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys. 

For all of the negative aspects of Anne Stanhope's character, one cannot deny that she was quite an amazing woman. For one thing, she was a devoted wife and mother, who educated her children well. Some of her daughters grew up to become accomplished literary figures of the Elizabethan era. And the same tenacity and ferociousness that Anne wielded at court was equally applied to moving forward the Protestant religion in England, even at great personal risk to herself and her family. You can read more about the formidable Anne Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset in our BeingBess biography of her here.

Sources

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

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

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