Friday, October 24, 2014

Katherine Parr's Only Baby, Another Tudor Mystery

Linda Porter wrote about Katherine Parr's baby girl, named Mary after Henry VIII's eldest daughter, for History Today in 2011. Mary's mother, died in childbed and then her father was beheaded " for treason on March 17th, 1549, leaving Lady Mary an orphan at the age of seven months." Sadly, Mary did not find a very loving guardian, even though the person selected shared her mother's religious views:

Thomas did not appoint any of his own or Katherine’s relatives as guardian to his daughter. He could scarcely have handed her to the brother who signed his death warrant and no one else among the extended Parr or Seymour families seems to have taken much interest in the child. Like most of his former ‘friends’, they were all trying to put as much distance between themselves and Thomas Seymour as possible. Instead, Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, a close friend of Katherine Parr and a lady of seemingly unimpeachable reforming religious ideas, was appointed as guardian. It was not a charge she accepted with enthusiasm.

Despite her strong religious views, the duchess’s bosom was not full of Christian charity. Lady Mary may have been a dispossessed orphan, but she was an expensive one. As a queen’s daughter, she came with a household of her own, consisting of a lady governess, rockers, laundresses and other servants. The government was supposed to provide for her upkeep and the payment of her staff but the duchess could not get Somerset to part with the money until she appealed to William Cecil, then a prominent member of the duke’s household, to intervene on her behalf. The letter she wrote makes it clear how much she resented ‘the queen’s child’, as she frostily referred to the little girl.

Katherine Brandon (pictured above), the widow of Charles Brandon, did get some money from the seized (attainted) estate of Thomas Seymour, but what happened to the little girl is still unclear, although there is a clue:

The answer to this compelling Tudor mystery seems to lie in a Latin book of poems and epitaphs written by John Parkhurst, Katherine Parr’s chaplain, who had previously served the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. The discovery was made by the American academic, Janel Mueller, but has been overlooked by historians. I am grateful to Jean Bray, the archivist at Sudeley Castle, for drawing it to my attention. In Parkhurst’s Ludicra sive Epigrammata juvenilia, published in 1573, appears the following poem, which translated reads:

I whom at the cost
Of her own life
My queenly mother
Bore with the pangs of labour
Sleep under this marble
An unfit traveller.
If Death had given me to live longer
That virtue, that modesty, That obedience of my excellent Mother
That Heavenly courageous nature
Would have lived again in me.
Now, whoever
You are, fare thee well
Because I cannot speak any more, this stone
Is a memorial to my brief life

Though no name is given, this must surely be the epitaph that Parkhurst, who would have known Lady Mary Seymour, wrote on her death. It suggests, as has long been conjectured, that she died young, probably around the age of two. She may well be buried in Lincolnshire, near Grimsthorpe, the estate owned by the Duchess of Suffolk, where she had lived as an unwelcome burden for most of her short, sad life.

Perhaps the Princess Mary, for whom the little baby was named, would have been a better choice as guardian, if her Catholicism could have been overlooked. Reports are that she loved children, and might not have found little Mary "an unwelcome burden".

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