Anne Stanhope: Duchess of Somerset

There is one woman in Tudor history that inspires me beyond anything. She is not a Queen, far from it, although in some ways she often acted as if she was. But no, this woman was a duchess, the wife of a duke who eventually became Lord Protector of England and a woman who was so strong and so brave. The woman I am talking about is Anne Stanhope, wife of Edward Seymour and Duchess of Somerset.

I first became interested in Anne after watching Emma Hamilton’s portrayal of her in The Tudors. I began to try and find out some more information on the woman who held off the Earl of Surrey. Unfortunately my reading did not get me very far as there seems to be very little even written about her with the only the odd name drop here and there in books that seem to concentrate on either the male history or the history of Henry VIII’s queens. I was sorely disappointed with this, and tried my hardest to find some more information. During my travels across the Internet looking up information I came across an article on Susan Higginbotham’s blog on the last will of Anne Stanhope and so I sent an email across to this wonderful lady who promptly emailed me back with some great sources.

The first and most important of which was Anne Stanhope’s actual will, printed in The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1845 which made for hugely fascinating reading. The image we have of Anne today (thanked somewhat by Emma’s portrayal of her in The Tudors) is that she was one hard lady, who took no rubbish from anyone. And there were some lines in her will that really showed these colours come through. Although if I am honest, Anne’s will deserves a whole blog post all of its own.

Anne Stanhope herself was the second wife of Edward Seymour, his first marriage to Katherine Filliol having being dissolved on the grounds of adultery. I could find very little about Anne’s early life during my search and I certainly would not want to cite Wikipedia as a source so I really must do some more research on this, but the general consensus is that she was born at some stage in 1510. She was married to Edward Seymour by 1535 and throughout their marriage Anne bore him ten children. She was most certainly not an adulteress as the Tudors makes her out to be, indeed it seems as if Michael Hirst mashed parts of Katherine Filliol and Anne and made Anne’s character into a horrible adulterous monster! After the death of Henry VIII in 1547 and Edward VI became King, Anne ended up being one of the most important women in the land, second only to the Dowager Queen Katherine Parr.

There is a wonderful story of the intense rivalry between Katherine and Anne, a story that always gets mentioned from the time of Edward Seymour’s protectorship. Indeed it seems as though when Katherine Parr ended up marrying Edward’s younger brother Thomas that Anne believed that she had precedence over Katherine. The story goes that Anne tried to keep the Queen’s jewels away from Katherine, and that Anne refused to bear Katherine’s train. According to Fraser (1993, 403) Katherine had named Anne “That Hell!” and ended up invoking the Third Succession Act to prove that she was the first lady in the land and Anne came after her, the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth. There are many reports of contemporary peoples calling Anne names, for instance William Paget made the remark that Edward Seymour had “a bad wife” and Chapuys apparently believed her to be a “stirrer of heresy”. She certainly stirred up a lot of feelings! Yet she was loyal too, staying true to her husband and even helping out her friends. As a protestant and reformer Anne even sent aid to Anne Askew while she was imprisoned in the Tower, prior to being burnt at the stake for heresy.

When Edward Seymour was arrested in 1549 and taken to the Tower of London, Anne went with him. She was released in 1550 and her husband shortly after and thanks to Anne interceding with the new Protector Warwick, Edward was soon allowed back on the council. It was not to be however, and Edward was arrested again on a charge of felony in December 1551. Anne found herself once more in the Tower and stayed there whilst her husband was executed upon Tower Hill in 1552. Anne was released in 1553, the Dowager Duchess of Somerset, by Mary I and allowed to chose from the claimed lands of Northumberland who had previously been attained.

Ironically, Anne’s own son Edward, earl of Hertford, ended up in the Tower like his father and mother before him for marrying the sister of Lady Jane Grey – Katherine Grey. The couple both ended up in the Tower having conceived once before they were placed in the tower and even once during!

Anne Stanhope died on 16th April 1587 at a very old age (having been born in about 1510) and was buried at Westminster Abbey where her tomb can still be seen. Following the execution of Edward and her own release from the Tower she had remarried, taking Francis Newdigate as her husband whom she spent the remainder of her life with.

This is just a brief overview of the life of one of my all time favourite woman in Tudor England. There is so much left unwritten about Anne Stanhope, so much left to learn that is not really known. We know that she once was one of the most powerful women in England, we know also that Gardiner tried to have Anne Askew implicate Anne as a heretic and we know that Anne turned down the Earl of Surrey which culminated in a well known poem titled “A Lady Who Refused To Dance With Him”. I find it a huge shame that there is so little written about this remarkable woman who lived through so much, lived through two imprisonments in the Tower and saw her husband go to his death, and yet lived to such an old age. She may be one of those women that are vilified, after all she was apparently a very violent woman who held the hatred of Katherine Parr, yet she lead a remarkable life that deserves to be documented a little more than it is. She may have been strong willed, but her strong will mixed in with the strong will and remarkable mind of her husband Edward made them a force to be reckoned with. I have a huge amount of respect for this woman who seemed to be well before her time, a woman who knew what she wanted and who would not let anyone get in the way of it.

It is one of my biggest dreams to get to Westminster Abbey and see where this wonderful woman is buried. I’ll be making the trip to Westminster at some point in October which I am thoroughly looking forward to, and whilst I am looking forward to seeing the resting places of many other wonderful monarchs (Elizabeth I and Charles II included) I honestly do not think any of them will outshine that of Anne, a woman who I have a huge amount of respect for.

1 thought on “Anne Stanhope: Duchess of Somerset

  1. Thank you so much for your excellent writings! I am a descendant of Anne Stanhope: Duchess of Somerset, and I am trying to fill out her wikitree profile (yes, we are trying to verify more than what wikipedia provides, just like you!) I have had the honor of going to Westminster Abbey, but was only a child at the time, and had no idea that I was looking at the monuments of my ancestors. My grandparents waived at the paintings as we toured the palace and said, “You are related to those people.” I looked at them funny and thought everyone of English descent came from the Royal families! It was only later when I learned a bit about history and the real world, that I realized that it was something special. I have spent 16 years tracing my lineage, and am not even close to done! I wanted to say THANK YOU for taking an interest in history. I have found it so amazing to learn about the women that came before me. The men have been the writers of the history. Too often, us ladies go unnoticed and unappreciated. Thank you for noticing and appreciating.

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