52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Misfortune

Image of Anne Unton holding her son Henry found in the Unton Portrait.

Some of my ancestors had easier lives than others, but when I think of the word “misfortune,” my mind immediately travels to my 14th great grandmother, Lady Anne Unton, former Countess of Warwick. Although she grew up the daughter of a duke, the first cousin of the king, and the wife of an earl, and there was hardly a young woman in England more privileged than she, her life was full of trials and one misfortune followed another.


Early Life

Anne was born the oldest daughter of Edward Seymour, at the time Viscount Beauchamp, and Lady Anne, the only daughter of Sir Edward Stanhope and Elizabeth Bourchier. Some new scholarship has come out concerning Anne’s birth date. In short, it seems that Anne was born about 1536, as she was certainly alive by 30 November 1537 when two daughters of Lady Anne Seymour, now Lady Hertford, were brought to visit Lady Mary, Henry VIII’s oldest daughter. Where she was born is another issue. If she was born in 1536, she was likely born wherever the court was being held as her father’s position required him to be there and available to attend upon the king.

Anne’ father, Edward Seymour, was the son of Sir John Seymour and Lady Margery Wentworth. Margery Wentworth was a descendant of King Edward III. It was this royal connection that helped enable Henry VIII to marry Edward’s sister, Jane.





Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset

Anne’s mother, Anne Stanhope, was also a descendant of Edward III on her mother’s side. She was her husband’s confidant and was good friends with Lady Mary Tudor.

If Anne was born in 1536, is was quite an auspicious year. Queen Anne Boleyn was arrested and beheaded in that year, Henry VIII began courting Jane Seymour with the help of her brother Edward, and the king married Jane. Anne’s father Edward was raised to the peerage upon his creation of Viscount Beauchamp on 5 June 1536. The Seymours were now the most powerful family in England and had the most influence with the king. A year later, Queen Jane gave birth to her only child, the future King Edward VI. Edward Seymour was rewarded with an elevation to the Earl of Hertford, and little Anne was now the first cousin of the heir to the throne.

Growing up in the Royal Court gave Anne advantages that were available to few girls at that time. Anne’s mother was literate, and quite a few of her letters survive, so it is not too surprising that Anne and her sisters Margaret and Jane were well educated. Anne began to learn to read as early as three years old when a prayer book was purchased for her in the second half of 1539. Anne and her sisters learned among other things Latin, Greek, French, and Italian. The three sisters also composed a poem in Latin about Queen Margaret of Navarre. Remarkably, Anne corresponded with John Calvin; he wrote her at least one letter on 17 June 1549. He addressed her as “the Most Noble, Most Gifted, and Most Honourable Lady Ann, Eldest Daughter of of the very Illustrious Protector of England.” He seems to have initiated the correspondence, stating that Anne was “cultivated in liberal knowledge (a singular thing in a young person of rank in this place) but that you were also so well informed in the doctrines of Christ.” It is not clear if Anne sent a response, but she was clearly known as being well-educated.

Misfortune: Her Parents’ First Arrest

When Henry VIII died in 1547, and his son Edward became king, Anne’s father became Lord Protector and created himself Duke of Somerset. He essentially became king in all but name, appointing privy councilors, taking complete charge of his nephew Edward, and enriching himself and his friends. He did govern efficiently, but some domestic disasters caused problems for him. In 1549, fearful of being relieved of power, he took Edward VI to Windsor to hide. He was subsequently arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London with his wife Anne. Anne was released earlier than Edward, who was released in 1550.

This political unrest must have been very traumatic for Anne and her siblings. When her parents were imprisoned, Anne was only thirteen years old. She was undoubtedly aware that when Tudors imprisoned people in the Tower, they rarely left with their bodies in tact. At this time, she was without her father for about a year and her mother for a few months.

John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, the Duke of Somerset’s political enemy, was now the head of the privy council and had essentially replaced Edward as the regent. Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset, knew that for her husband’s survival, she must make nice with the Earl. She visited his home every day, apparently working to have Edward restored to the council. Her efforts paid off, and Edward was released, to the relief of his family.

Anne’s First Marriage

Edward saw the advantages of allying himself with the Earl of Warwick, and to achieve this, he suggested a marriage between his oldest daughter, Anne, and the Earl’s oldest son, John Dudley, Viscount Lisle. This was not unusual for the time, and Anne probably expected that a marriage would be arranged for her. However, she probably did not expect the offer to come from her father’s enemy. On 3 June 1550, at the Palace of Sheen, 14 year old Lady Anne Seymour married the 23 year old John, Viscount Lisle. The marriage was a grand affair; Edward VI attended and wrote about it in his journal. He also presented Anne with a ring worth 40 pounds.

Anne’s father-in-law, John Dudley, became the Duke of Northumberland in October 1551, at which time Anne’s husband became the Earl of Warwick. Anne herself was styled Lady Anne, Countess of Warwick. She was one of the most important Peeresses in England, and undoubtedly, this was a burden for a young girl. Her family was always proud of her rank, and she was memorialized several times as the Countess of Warwick even after her second marriage.

Tower of London

Misfortune: Second Arrest of the Duke and Duchess of Somerset

Even Anne’s marriage couldn’t keep her father and father-in-law from struggling for power. Edward again began plotting to overthrow John Dudley, now the Duke of Northumberland, and his efforts were rewarded with his arrest. Both the Duke and Duchess of Somerset were sent to the Tower of London in October 1551. Edward was convicted of treason and conspiracy on 1 December and was beheaded at Tower Hill on 22 January 1552. Edward VI stated very blandly that the Duke was beheaded in his journal, with very little emotion and with no indication that the Duke was a very close family member.

I am not sure if Anne was present for her father’s execution, but whether or not she was, this must have been a heart-wrenching day for her. Not only was her father beheaded with the approval of her first cousin the king, but her father-in-law orchestrated the event. I can’t imagine that this created a very happy atmosphere within her marriage. Anne also probably felt torn between the two factions, as she was by birth a Seymour but by marriage a Dudley.

Anne’s mother, the Duchess of Somerset, still remained imprisoned in the Tower. The Tudors were not above executing women who in their minds committed treason, so Anne was probably constantly worried that her mother might be charged and beheaded. The Duchess was to languish in the Tower until her release on 30 May 1553.

Misfortune: Imprisonment and Execution of the Earl of Warwick

By early 1553, Edward VI was sick, and by the summer, those closest to him knew that he was dying. Under the influence of the Duke of Northumberland, Edward chose Lady Jane Grey as his heir, who had recently married the Duke’s son, Guildford Dudley. Edward VI died in July, and Lady Jane was proclaimed queen on 10 July 1553. Anne’s brother-in-law Guildford was now married to the Queen, but he was not made king as he wished. It quickly became a dangerous time to be a member of the Dudley family when Princess Mary also proclaimed herself Queen. As Mary had the support of the people, the Privy Council switched their allegiance to Mary and proclaimed her queen on 19 July. Queen Jane and Guildford Dudley were both arrested and imprisoned in the Tower.

Carving in Beauchamp Tower by John Dudley

Anne’s husband John, father-in-law the Duke of Northumberland, and the other of her Dudley brothers-in-law were arrested, convicted, and imprisoned in the Beauchamp Tower of the Tower of London. The Duke of Northumberland was executed on the Tower Green on 22 August 1553. This must have been a terrifying time for Anne, and I suspect it reminded her of her parents’ arrests and her father’s execution. Fortunately for her, she was never arrested or connected in any way to the treasonous activities of the others. Anne was allowed to visit John during his imprisonment as often as she wished, which she continued to do until his release on 18 October 1554. John had become very ill towards the end of his stay in the Tower, and Anne was understandably worried about him. Anne and John traveled to Penshurst Place in Kent to help him recover, but sadly, he died on 28 October 1554. Anne was only 18 years old, and John 27.

Penshurst Place

Within the space of 5 years, Ann had been in the center of one of the most dangerous periods of Tudor history for people who were close to the monarchs. Not only had she watched both of her parents be imprisoned in the Tower of London twice, but her father, father-in-law, brother-in-law (Guildford), and sister-in-law (Queen Jane) were executed for treason. Her own husband, who it seems like she cared for, succumbed to the illness he contracted during his imprisonment. Anne watched as her family was literally torn apart.

Misfortune: “A Lunatic Enjoying Lucid Intervals”

Only six months after John’s death, Anne remarried. Her new husband was Edward Unton, the heir of Sir Alexander Unton of Berkshire. The marriage took place on 29 April 1555 at St. George’s Church in Hatford, Berkshire. It was a bit of a step down socially for Anne, but Edward’s step-father had some connections with the Seymours, which may have brought about the marriage. It could have also been arranged to remove Anne from any position of power that she might be able to claim as the widow of the Earl of Warwick.

Edward was knighted at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, and he was to become very involved in political life. The remainder of Anne’s life was to be a quiet one. She an Edward had a total of 7 children, although only 4 of their children grew to adulthood: Edward, Henry, Anne, and Cecily.

By 1566, when she was about 30 years old, her brother-in-law and Queen Elizabeth’s favorite, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, wrote in a letter that Anne was suffering from “lunacy.” When her husband died in 1582, she was declared “a lunatic enjoying lucid intervals.” Other scholarship on Anne has blamed the traumatic experiences of her teenage years as the cause of her problems. Perhaps three children dying contributed to her illness, or maybe it was genetic. Whatever the cause, Anne needed supervision and care. Edward did not even mention her in his will when he died even though she was still living. This probably indicated that one of his children, likely one of the sons, was caring for his or her mother.

Tomb of Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset in Westminster Abbey

Anne’s illness possibly explains why she was not mentioned in the will of her mother, Duchess of Somerset, written 14 July 1586. However, when the Duchess died in 1587, all of her children were listed on her enormous tomb Westminster Abbey. Anne and her younger brother, Edward Seymour Earl of Hertford, were the only children whose titles were noted in the epitaph. Even though Anne’s brother-in-law, Ambrose, was the new Earl or Warwick and his wife was the Countess, Anne was still referred to as the Countess of Warwick.

Anne died in February 1588 when she was about 52 years old and was buried in Faringdon Church, Berkshire. A large monument to her and Sir Edward Unton is attached to the wall. She lived quite a sad life, full of misfortune interspersed with periods of happiness. The Tudor era is absolutely fascinating, and it is especially exciting that some of my ancestors were so involved in the schemes of the time. However, after learning about the devastating, real-life implications those events had on my ancestress, I now have gained a completely new perspective on this time period.