Written by Rebecca Larson
When it comes to the Seymour family, we generally read about the Duke of Somerset, Jane the Queen consort, and Thomas Seymour. But what about the woman who gave birth to them?
Margery Wentworth was a descendant of King Edward III, and it is through her ancestry, that her daughter Jane would be eligible to wed a king. Although she had royal blood in her veins, Margery could not have expected a life full of so much family drama.
In the time of the Tudors, death and tragedy was more the norm than we know it today. As a history lover we have a fascination with stories of the time, and sometimes forget the conveniences of being a modern woman. Women often died during childbirth when complications arose, but if they survived, there was still the chance that their child could die in infancy. Such was the life of a woman in 16th century England. Margery’s eldest daughter, Queen Jane Seymour, died twelve days after giving birth to the future King Edward VI. Little would Margery know that both her eldest and youngest surviving sons would later be executed for treason.
Margery Seymour was not alone in her loss. Her cousin, Elizabeth Boleyn, was a Howard by birth, and she was aware of the danger that came with coming from such a powerful family. Factions at court could change with the wind, and like her cousin Margery later, Elizabeth had two children executed in 1536. Within two days, she had lost two children.
The details behind Margery’s life are scarce. We do not know much about her location at precise points in history, but by looking at what she left behind, we can get a little sense of how she lived and possibly where. Her husband Sir John Seymour died in December 1535, and did not witness his daughter become the third wife of King Henry. When Sir John died, Margery’s world would have been changed by the fact that her eldest son Edward because the patriarch of the family – possession of Wolfhull was his, but it is believed that Margery remained there.
Evidence of Margery
While searching for original documents in the National Archives, I came across the will of ‘Dame Margery Seymour.’ The digital document is a copy and difficult to read because it’s not the original and is a photocopy of the original. Lack of punctuation in these documents can also make them more confusing than you would expect.
The document leads off with:
IN THE NAME OF GOD AMEN I Dame Margery Seymour widowe
sometyme wyfe unto Sir John Seymour knight deceased the 8 day of Marche,
When I first read the above-quoted lines, it looked like her husband, Sir John Seymour, died on 8 March, which left me confused. For most of history, we have believed that Sir John Seymour died in December 1536, but within the last few years, historian Graham Bathe has argued that his year of death was 1535 and not 1536.
So when I came across Margery’s will, I knew who I had to talk to about this particular document – Graham Bathe. Luckily, Bathe had looked at the will before, and I could compare his transcription with my own. The year on the record is MDXLIX, which is 1549, and that is the year that Margery’s son Thomas was executed.
On the 8th of March, 1549, Margery dictated her will. Days earlier, her son Thomas Seymour, Baron of Sudeley and Lord High Admiral of England, had an Act of Attainder passed against him. He would not be allowed a trial, and he would be executed for treason. It is plausible that Margery resented her son Edward, Duke of Somerset, for allowing his brother (her son) to die. Thomas was Margery’s youngest surviving son and was executed at the Tower of London on the 20th of March, 1549.
Margery Seymour made mention of several family members in her will, including her daughters Elizabeth (Cromwell) and Dorothy (Smith) and her surviving son Sir Henry Seymour. The one name that is notably missing is her eldest son, Edward, Duke of Somerset.
For her youngest daughter Dorothy Smyth/Smith she bequeathed:
one gown of black satten and gardyd with black velvet and embroyderyd / and also the furre
therein of squyrrell and faced with sabill
For her daughter Elizabeth Cromwell:
I give and bequeth unto my daughter Cromwell one pott or jugge of stone coveryd with silver and gilted
For her son Sir Henry Seymour:
twentie poundes of good and lawful money of England
This would be roughly £5,493.97 or nearly two years of wages for a skilled tradesman.
As you continue to read you’ll notice Margery left a little something to many members of her family, including grandchildren and godchildren. Notably absent from the document is her granddaughter Mary, by her son Thomas. This is yet another clue to show us that Lady Mary Seymour died at an early age.
But Margery’s children were not the only ones mentioned in her will, she also made mention of her son-in-law, godchildren and more.
Top of the list of grandchildren mentioned, the heir to the family dynasty, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford:
my godsonne the Lorde Edward Seymour sonneunto the Duke of Somerset three poundes of good and lawful money of England
Then next grandchild/godchild listed is the daughter of Dorothy Seymour and Sir Clement Smyth/Smith:
I give and bequeth unto my goddoughter Mabyll Smyth one of the doughters of my sonne
in lawe Sir Clement Smyth knight three pounds of good and lawful money of EnglandThis amount of money would pay for 100 days worth of a skilled tradesman’s wages.
And I give to my said goddaughter Mabyll Smyth a pettercell of crymsyn taffata furred with squirrell
I give unto the Lord Henry Seymour my godsonne one of the sonnes of my sonne the Duke of Somerset three pounds of good and lawful money of EnglandThis amount of money would pay for 100 days worth of a skilled tradesman’s wages.
The witnesses of Margery making out her will included her son-in-law, Sir Clement Smyth/Smith. It is likely that she had been residing with her daughter Dorothy and husband prior to her death and that is why he was present. Her son Sir Henry is not mentioned as being present, but he was listed as an executor of the will.
By the following October (1550), Margery was still alive, and made adjustments to her will. One adjustment being that the money she would leave her son Henry would be cut in half – he would receive ten pounds instead twenty. This change, among others, could indicate that Margery had been ill and that she needed some of the funds to pay for her care. She died two days later, on 18 October 1550.
The additions made to the will included her granddaughter, Anne Smyth/Smith:
a stone jugge covered with silver and three poundes in money
Both daughters were given more in this revision:
her said daughter Cromwell a boll of sylver and parcell gilt / Item she gevyth unto her said
daughter Dorothe Smyth myne basin and myne ewer
But it wasn’t just her family she wished to gift when her life was over, but also her servants. Her first edition of the will allowed for her servants to receive a large quantity of her clothing, however, that was “revoked”, and instead:
she gevyth unto her gentilwoman Anne Gressye a gowne of tawny Damask gardyd with tawny velvet and her French hood
A male servant of Margery’s was also named, and he must have been important to her because her received money and a bed. Beds, especially fine ones, were a valuable possession.
unto James Leke her servant foure pounds in money / and the bedd that he lyeth uppon with thappurtenances.
While little is known of her life, she clearly lived it and loved her family. The evidence provided by this document leads me to believe that in her final years, Margery resided with her daughter Dorothy and husband Sir Clement Smyth/Smith and their children.