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.


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Where There’s A Will

I have no shame in admitting that I really love wills, especially wills left by female ancestors! Wills are amazing documents because they offer a glimpse into the minds of ancestors at the end of their lives, and for women, they are often one of the few places where their voices can be distinctly heard. Women’s wills reveal their personalities, relatives and friends they were close to, or in some cases, who they were not close to, their favorite or most valuable possessions, their religious and charitable inclinations, and descriptions of land and houses.

Tomb of Dame Elizabeth Unton and her husband, Sir Thomas Unton, in Faringdon Church, Berkshire.

One of my favorite wills was composed by my 16th great grandmother, Dame Elizabeth (Hyde) Unton on 21 April 1536. Elizabeth was the daughter of Oliver and Agnes Hyde of Denchworth, Berkshire, England. She married Sir Thomas Unton, son of Hugh Unton, of Faringdon, Berkshire. Elizabeth and Thomas had four children, including my ancestor, Alexander. Sir Thomas was the sheriff of Berkshire and Oxfordshire, and he received his knighthood at Anne Boleyn’s coronation in May 1533. Sir Thomas died on 4 August 1533 and was buried in the north transept of Faringdon Church. Elizabeth did not long survive her husband, and she was buried next to him in Faringdon Church, where their large tombs still rest.

The Structure

Elizabeth’s will follows the same structure and form as other wills of this period. It begins by providing context for this period in Elizabeth’s life (date, reigning monarch, her name, marital status, and name and position of her husband). She then gives her soul to God and gives instructions as to the burial of her body. Next, Elizabeth disperses her earthly possessions to her children, relatives, friends, and servants. Her final acts are to distribute money to the poor people of the parish and to name her executors and overseer of her will.

There are several other aspects of the will that are worth noting. As per the time period, the registered copy of Elizabeth’s will was written in secretary hand, which is a challenge in itself. In addition, spelling was not standardized in the 16th century, so for example, cow was written as “kowe,” wholly as “hooly,” and satin as “Satten.” The will also contains archaic words including “kyne” (plural of cow). Between the old handwriting, spelling, and archaic words, her will is a little difficult to navigate. However, the contents were worth the effort of the transcription!


Context is very important, especially when I am determining if I am looking at the right will for the right ancestor. Elizabeth’s will begins with the date (21 April 1536) and the regnal year (27) of the monarch, Henry VIII. She then states her name, Elizabeth Unton, and her home parish, Faringdon in Berkshire. Widows often stated their marital status and the name and position of their husbands (Knight, Gentleman, Esquire, Yeoman, Butcher). Elizabeth styles herself as the “widowe and late wife of Sir Thomas Unton Knyght decessed.” She also provides some context and clues to her identity at the end of the will by naming “Thomas Hyde and John Hyde my brethren, myn executours” and “my brother William Hide Overseer.” In the 16th-century, “brother” could also refer to brother-in-law, not just a blood brother, but in Elizabeth’s case, these three men are her real brothers. In a few sentences, Elizabeth positioned herself within her family groups and in Berkshire society.

Understanding the historical and political context for an ancestor’s will can help make connections between major life events, therefore, the date of Elizabeth’s will, 1536, is particularly important. The rise of Anne Boleyn and later her fall in 1536 and the marriage of Jane Seymour to Henry VIII in the same year share some interesting connections with the personal lives of Sir Thomas and Elizabeth. Sir Thomas was knighted at Queen Anne’s coronation only a few months before his death in 1533. Elizabeth composed her will on 21 April 1536, 9 days before the arrests of men accused of having sexual relations with Queen Anne. On May 19, Queen Anne was beheaded on the Tower Green, and on 17 June, Elizabeth’s will was probated in London. Queen Anne’s ultimate success of becoming queen corresponded with Sir Thomas’s rise in station, and her death occurred probably within a month of Elizabeth’s death. On 20 May, Henry VIII became engaged to Jane Seymour, and on 30 May, he married her at the Palace of Whitehall in London. Elizabeth may have still been alive on this date, and she probably did not imagine that the execution of one queen and marriage of another would so personally affect her family. Also, the fact that the Untons were courtiers and spent time at court serving the king meant that any political or personal turmoil in the King’s life meant possible changes in theirs.

Connections with events in both the Tudor royal family and the Untons continued in the next two generations. Sir Thomas and Elizabeth’s oldest son, Sir Alexander Unton (my 15ht great grandfather), was knighted at the coronation of King Edward VI, son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, on 20 February 1546/7.

But the most significant connection to the Tudors was still to come. Sir Alexander and Lady Cecily Unton’s oldest son, Sir Edward Unton (my 14th great grandfather), married Lady Anne, Countess of Warwick, who was born Lady Anne Seymour, eldest daughter of Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, eldest brother of Queen Jane Seymour and Lord Protector, and his second wife, Anne (Stanhope) Seymour, Duchess of Somerset. The advantageous marriage of a Countess and daughter of a Duke to the son of a knight (who had yet to be knighted himself) was quite a success story for Edward. However, by studying how life events of the Tudors, Seymours, and Untons overlapped and placing those events in context, this marriage is not as far fetched as it seems at first.

Bequests: Possessions

It is interesting to note that due to English common law practices, Elizabeth could only bequeath possessions that were specifically willed to her by Sir Thomas. She automatically received a life interest in 1/3 of his estate, but that property would go to her husband’s heirs (their children) after her death. However, Sir Thomas gave her additional control of certain possessions and property upon his death, therefore, Elizabeth was able to distribute them to people as she desired. It is hard to imagine that women really had very little control over property unless it was specifically given to them by their fathers, through a marriage contract, or by their husbands. It is possible that some of the valuable items seen below came with Elizabeth upon her marriage, which is why Sir Thomas bequeathed them to her. Or, he left them to her for extra income and to help support her after his death (I am thinking particularly of the farm animals and stores of wheat, malt, and wool). Whatever the case, Elizabeth had control over the property seen below, and she carefully thought out to whom she would leave it.

Bequests of silver, candlesticks, textiles, and other items to Alexander Unton.

Elizabeth thoughtfully bequeathed her most valuable possessions to her children.

1. Alexander:

  • “the great palett with all thinges thereto belonging”
  • “a Chaffingdishe of silver”
  • “twoo candelsticks of silver”

    Example of a 16th-century chafing dish.
  • “a diap table Clothe”
  • “a Cupbord clothe of diapre”
  • “vj napkyns of diapre”
  • “all the hanging of my hall”
  • “the hanginges of the parlour”
  • “then hanging of the Chamber over the hall”
  • “my silver bason wt an Ewer of silver”
  • “my twoo silver saltes gilte”

2. Anne Vampage:

  • “twoo gownes”
  • “twoo kirtells of Satten”
  • “a velvet bonnett”

3. Thomas:

  • “the bedde in the parlour with all thinges therunto apperteynying”
  • Example of a 16th-century bed.

    “thre fetherbeddes and all the mattreses unbequethed wt there appurtenances”

  • “all my plate”
  • “all my Carpettes and Cusshens”
  • “an other silver bason wt an Ewer”
  • “other twoo silver saltes gilt”

4. Edith “doughter Unton:”

  • one cushion

Elizabeth’s most valuable items included textiles like gowns, napkins, tablecloths, wall hangings, and cushions, and silver pieces like salts, ewers, and basins. In order to distinguish some of her possessions, Elizabeth noted where they were located within Wadley Hall, the house and estate left to Elizabeth by Sir Thomas. This is particularly wonderful because it gives me an idea about the layout of the house. There was a hall, a parlor where a bed (likely the best bed) stood, and a chamber over the hall. The house most likely had more rooms, and by the time her great grandson owned the house, it contained 59 rooms.

Bequests: Animals, Implements, and Crops

Elizabeth also left farm animals, implements, and crops to her children.

1. Alexander:

  • “fyve hundred Shepe after they be shorne”
  • “viij oxen”
  • “a plowe wt (with) all things therto Belonging”
  • “fourty beasts that were bred since my husbond dyed”
  • all my Swyne pigges and pecockes

2. Anne Vampage:

  • “tenne Rames after they be shorn”
  • “my hakny horss”

3. Thomas:

  • “fyve hundreth ewes wt lambs”
  • “tenne hundreth wethers” (rams)
  • “xxxti Rammes after they be shorne”
  •  “viij oxen”
  •  “a plowgh wt thappurtenances”
  •  “all my carte and my Carte horsses with there appurtenances”
  • “fourty kyne wt there calves”
  • “tenne steres”
  • “all my whete and malt wt other graynes shall remayne to thuse and mayntennce of my house”

4. Alexander and Thomas:

  • “all my blades and Corne now in the feldes sowen”

Bequests: Relatives, Friends, and Servants

Elizabeth also left possessions and animals to her relations, servants, and other people who are likely other servants, tenants, or friends.

1. She left 6 shillings 8 pence to each of her servants who carried her body to Faringdon Church to be buried.

2. “my men servants and my sonns servants”

  • “blak cotes”

3. Annes Badham: (unknown)

  • “a kowe”

4. Mawde, Jane, and Annes: servants

  • each “a kowe”

5. Dorothe Doram: (unknown)

  • “a gowne of Clothe”
  • “a gowne of Say”
  • “a kirtell of tawnye Satten”
  • “a velveet bonnet”
  • “a Blak frontlet”
  • “a score of shepe after they be shorne”
  • “two kyne”

6. Thomas Richards: (unknown)

  • “one holding in Throppe wtout paying therfor any fyne”
  • “a score shepe after they be shorn”
  • “two kyne”

7. Rauf Harper: (unknown)

  • “twoo kyne”
  • “a mattre”
  • “twoo paire of Canvas shets”
  • “a white Coverlet”
  • “a score shepe after they Be shorne”

8. Henry Pimperloo: (unknown)

  • “a mattres”
  • a coverlet
  • a bolster
  • “a paire of shetes”
  • “two kyne”

9. Thomas Wordaine: (unknown)

  • “a score of shepe after they be shorne”

10. William Badnall: (unknown)

  • “thirtye shepe after they be shorne”

11. Thomas Dybley: (unknown)

  • “thirty shepe after they be shorne”

12. “Maistres” Hulcott: (unknown)

  • “a blak gowne”

13. Sir Nicolas and to Sir Thomas: (unknown)

  • “eche of them a blak gowne”

14. Thomas Cockes: nephew

  • “thirty shepe after they be shorne”

15. Robert Cooke: nephew

  • “twenty shepe after they be shorne”

16. Her sons and daughters, sons and daughters in law, brothers and sisters, sisters in law, nephew Cooke and his wife:

  • “blak gowns”

At some point, I would like to do extra research to determine who the unidentified people were and how they were connected to Elizabeth.

Her bequests also show the scale of farming at the Wadley Hall estate. As can be seen, the Untons main source of revenue was wool.

  • Sheep: 1,190 (plus lambs)
  • Rams: 1,040
  • Unidentified “beastes:” 40
  • Cows: 52 (pkus calves)
  • Steers: 10
  • Oxen: 16
  • Horse: 1, unspecified number of cart horses
  • Swine and pigs: unspecified number
  • Peacocks: unspecified number

Bequests: Church and Charity

All Saints Church, Faringdon, Berkshire.

Not only did Elizabeth leave possessions, animals, and other valuable items to her children, relatives, friends, and servants, but like a good, wealthy, Tudor woman, she also made numerous bequests and donations to the local Faringdon Church and poor people living within the parish. It was also customary people of means to request family or priests to pray for their souls and the souls of close family members.

1. Faringdon Church

  • Body to be buried in Trinity Chapel next to her husband.
  • 2 shillings to the high altar.
  • 3 shillings 4 pence to maintain the bells.
  • 20 pounds “bestowed for the newe making of seets in the Ile where my husbonde lyeth.”
  • “myn executours shall fynde a preest to pray for my soule my husbande soule and all xpen soules by the space of fyve yeres and to geve him yerely for his salary sex poundes.”

2. Parish Poor

  • 20 pounds “bestowed in Almes amonge pour people.”
  • “twenty nobilles to be gevyn to the pour people of Ffaryingdon wtin the space of fower yeres that is to sey every yere xxxiij s iiijd.”
  • “to pour people abrode in the Country in almes at tymes convenient by the space of fyve yeres thurtye pounde.”

3. General Charity

  • “myne executours shall sell my Cheyne of gold and to bestowe the money therof in deades of charitie as they shall thinke best for the welthe of my soule.”


I really enjoyed getting to know my ancestress, Dame Elizabeth Unton, a little bit better this week. Her will was well organized and specific, which suggests that she was detail oriented and wanted to ensure that her valued possessions and farm accoutrements went to the appropriate people. She also seemed to enjoy beautiful clothing and fine furnishings, but she was also generous to those less fortunate than herself. Elizabeth’s will offers some tantalizing glimpses into the life of a Tudor-era woman, and I am excited to continue to research her!