Friday, February 12, 2010

{7} The Weakest Link in Jane Seymour's Royal Descent: Mary Clifford, Dame Wentworth

Jane (née Seymour), Queen of England
It's often remarked in peerage works that all six wives of Henry VIII descended from Edward I of England. Three of his wives - Katherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour, and Katherine Parr - are also descended from Edward III. Jane Seymour's 8-generation descent is given as:

Edward III of England, had
1. Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, who had
2. Lady Philippa Plantagenet of Clarence m. Edmund Mortimer, 3rd Earl of March, & had
3. Lady Elizabeth Mortimer m. 1) Sir Henry 'Hotspur' Percy, and had
4. Lady Elizabeth Percy, m. 1) John, 7th Lord Clifford (a descendant of Edward I), and had
5. Mary Clifford, m. Sir Philip Wentworth of Nettlestead Hall, and had
6. Sir Henry Wentworth of Nettlestead Hall m. 1) Anne Say, and had
7. Margery Wentworth m. Sir John Seymour of Wolf Hall, and had
8. Jane Seymour, Queen of England

Of the eight generations above, there is 15th-century evidence for all save Generation #5: Mary Clifford and Sir Philip Wentworth. There is plenty enough evidence for Sir Philip, who was a knight of the household of Henry VI, a M.P., a flunky of the notorious William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, and an ardent Lancastrian executed by Edward IV in 1464. He even appears in the Paston Letters [*1]. But in none of the many published 15th-century references to Sir Philip do we find out anything about his wife. All Complete Peerage says of her is: "Sir Philip Wentworthe, by Mary, da. of John (de Clifford), Lord Clifford” [*2]. Though it cites no source for her identification, the authority of that prestigious peerage series has been enough for subsequent 20th-century genealogists to present the Wentworth/Clifford marriage without question or reservation.
Wentworth/Clifford impalement
[Image from a 19th-century window in the Great Hall of Hampton Court Palace]
But back in 1850, Agnes Strickland had the following to say about Jane Seymour's royal descent: "Through Margaret Wentworth, the mother of Jane Seymour, a descent from the blood-royal of England was claimed, from an intermarriage with a Wentworth and a daughter of Hotspur and Lady Elizabeth Mortimer, grand-daughter to Lionel, duke of Clarence. This Lady Percy is stated by all ancient heralds to have died childless. Few persons, however, dared dispute a pedigree with Henry VIII.; and it appears that on this ground Cranmer granted a dispensation for nearness of kin between Henry VIII. and Jane Seymour; rather a work of supererogation, since, even if the Wentworth genealogy held good, the parties could not be related within the forbidden degrees, viz. as fourth cousins" [*3].

Lady Elizabeth (née Mortimer)
Though she was accurate as to Henry VIII and Jane not being fourth cousins (they would be fifth cousins if the Clifford-Wentworth marriage was true), she was mistaken in claiming that ancient heralds had Lady Percy as childless. The true difficulty in the descent was that many of the earlier heralds, including Sir William Dugdale, did not assign any daughters to John, 7th Lord Clifford and his wife, the daughter of Lady Percy. But Strickland did provide a great clue: the fact that the Seymours were claiming such a royal descent in the 1530s is the earliest evidence that exists for a Wentworth/Clifford marriage. In 1853 William Hardy corrected Miss Strickland, providing the descent as given above, and cited manuscripts in the Harleian collection in the British Library as his sources [*4]. He went on to point out that Dugdale, in his 1675 opus, The Baronage of England, did not give John, 7th Lord Clifford and Elizabeth Percy any daughters, and instead made the wife of Sir Philip Wentworth a daughter of Roger, 5th Lord Clifford (which removes any descent from Edward I and Edward III). Collins's Peerage followed Dugdale in making Mary, the wife of "Sir Philip Wentworth, of Wentworth-Woodhouse," a daughter of Roger, 5th Lord Clifford, and said that the only child of John the 7th Lord and Elizabeth Percy was their son and heir, Thomas, 8th Lord Clifford [*5]. Hardy pointed out that in the Wentworth account in Collins's Peerage, though, the wife of Sir Philip Wentworth is said to be a daughter of the 7th Lord Clifford. He then argued that on chronological grounds, Mary Clifford would have to have been the daughter of the 7th, not the 5th, Lord Clifford, to be the wife of Sir Philip Wentworth [*6].
Wentworth pedigree from 1612 Visitation of Essex, published by the Harlan Society in 1878
The pedigree Hardy worked out in 1853 was based on chronological deduction and various Harleian manuscripts. Many of the manuscripts were subsequently published by the Harleian Society, and turned out to be notes and pedigrees compiled by 16th and 17th century heralds from the College of Arms as they made visitations to the gentry throughout the counties of England and Wales. Many of the visitation manuscripts were published later in the 19th and throughout the 20th centuries by the Harleian Society and privately by individual editors. The earliest mention I can find of a Wentworth/Clifford marriage in the published visitations is in the Wentworth pedigree in the 1558 Visitation of Essex, where "Richard Wentworth of West Bretton in Yorksh. 2 sonne" [of "John Wentworth of Elmeshall in Yorkshire = Elizabeth da. to Rich. Beaumont of Whitbye Hall in Yorksh."], had two wives: "Mawde da. to Thom. Lord Clifford", by whom he had a son "Mathew Wentworth of West Bretton in Yorkshire"; and "Margery da. to Sr Phillip le Spencer Kt widow to the L. Roose", by whom he had "Henry Wentworth 2 sonne of Codham in Essex," with Margery also having married the brother of Richard, "Roger Wentwoorth of Nettlested in Suff." In 1612, the Wentworth pedigree had some changes and additions. "Richard Wentworth, of Westbretton in com. Yorksh. 2d sonne[of "John Wentworth of Elmeshall in com. Yorksh. = .... daugh. to Beaumont of Whitby hall in Yorkshr. esquier"] mar. Mawde dau. to Thomas Lord Clifford." Richard's elder brother was "Roger Wentworth of Nettellsted in com. Suffolke ar. = Margarett, dau. & coheire to Phillip, Lord Spencer, wydow to ye Lord Roose whoe died wtowt issue", and they were shown as parents of "Sir Phillip Wentworth of Nettellsted in com. Suffolke, Knight, sonne and heire = Mary daugh. to John Lord Clifford", who in turn were parents of "Sir Henry Wentworth of Nettellsted in com. Suffolke, Knight, sonne and heire = Ann, dau. to Sr John Saye Knight." [*7]. In the Visitation of Suffolk in 1561, there was a Wentworth pedigree in which "Sir Philip Wentworth of Nettlested, co. Suff., Kt., son and heir to Roger, mar. Mary, da. of John, Lord Clifford, and by her had issue,--Sir Henry, son and heir" [*8].
Gateway of Nettlestead Hall, Suffolk
[All that remains of the original manor house of the Wentworths]
Finally, in three Wentworth pedigrees presented by Charles B. Norcliffe in 1881, we have Richard Wentworth of West Bretton married to Maud, Countess of Cambridge, with his younger brother Roger Wentworth and wife Margery Despenser, Lady Ros, the parents of Sir Philip Wentworth, whose wife is not given [*9]. In the Clifford pedigree in the same volume, no daughter is shown for John, 7th Lord Clifford and Elizabeth Percy, nor is there any marriage to a Wentworth. In a footnote to one of the Wentworth pedigrees, Norcliffe states that the name of Maud, Countess of Cambridge, was scratched out in one version, and that genealogist Joseph Hunter, in his work South Yorkshire, stated that the wife of Richard Wentworth of West Bretton was Cecilia, daughter and heir of John Tansley of Everton.

Lords Clifford coat of arms
Is there any sign from the Cliffords that they held the tradition of a marriage with the Wentworths some time in the past? William Hardy found one in The Pembroke MS., an account of the lives of the Lords Clifford and Earls of Cumberland, compiled in the 1600s for descendant Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke, from original documents and family records. The family of the 7th Lord Clifford is described: "This Elizabeth Percy was one of the greatest women of her time, both for her birth and her marriages, &c. Their eldest son, Thomas de Clifford, succeeded his father both in his lands and honours. Henry, their second son, died without issue, but is mentioned in the articles of his brother's marriage. Mary Clifford, married to Sir Philip Wentworth, Kt., of whom descended the Lords Wentworth that are now living, and the Earl of Strafford, and the Earl of Cleveland." It should be noted that even this family account is not without error for daughters, younger sons and their marriages when it comes to the medieval Lords Clifford, but at least we get the mention of Mary and Sir Philip Wentworth, and in the proper generation given Sir Philip's known chronology.

So, summing up the evidence so far:
  • Nothing from the 15th century to indicate the identity of the wife of Sir Philip Wentworth of Nettlestead Hall.
  • A tradition from the Seymours in the 1530s that they had a royal descent through the Cliffords via the Wentworths, and a dispensation being granted to Henry VIII and Jane Seymour to marry though related.
  • A pedigree from the Wentworths in Essex claiming a Richard Wentworth of West Bretton marriage to Maud, daughter of Thomas, Lord Clifford, but no mention of Sir Philip Wentworth.
  • A pedigree from the Wentworths in Suffolk in 1561 stating that the wife of Sir Philip Wentworth was Mary, daughter of John, Lord Clifford.
  • A pedigree from the Wentworths in Essex in 1612 claiming both the Richard Wentworth/Maud Clifford marriage and Sir Philip Wentworth's marriage to Mary, daughter of John, Lord Clifford.
  • No mention of a Sir Philip Wentworth/Mary Clifford marriage in either Clifford or Wentworth pedigrees from a compilation of 16th-century Yorkshire Visitations, though there is reference to a marriage of Richard Wentworth of West Bretton and Maud (Clifford), Countess of Cambridge, in Wentworth pedigrees.
  • An account of the Clifford family from the early 17th-century which mentions Mary, daughter of John, 7th Lord Clifford & Elizabeth Percy, and wife of Sir Philip Wentworth.
  • The statement by Dugdale in 1675 that the wife of Sir Philip Wentworth was the daughter of Roger, 5th Lord Clifford - a statement later shown by Hardy in 1853 to be chronologically impossible.
Seymour/Wentworth impalement
[Image from a 19th-century window in the Great Hall of Hampton Court Palace]
Given the evidence, it's fair to say, despite the lack of corroborating 15th-century documentation, that the wife of Sir Philip Wentworth was Mary, daughter of John, 7th Lord Clifford and Elizabeth Percy, and that Jane Seymour's family was correct to claim a royal descent in the 1530s. In a follow-up post, I'll look more closely at the Cliffords and the Wentworths and try to piece together when, how and why the marriage between the two families came about.


Agnes Strickland, historian (1796-1874)
[*1] Oddly, given the fact that he was a rather influential player in the Wars of the Roses, Sir Philip Wentworth doesn't have an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). The most thorough account of him to date is his entry in Josiah C. Wedgwood, The History of Parliament Vol. I: Biographies of the Members of the Commons House, 1439-1509 (1936), pp. 934-935. Complete Peerage was the only source Wedgwood used for Sir Philip's genealogical facts, however.
[*2] Complete Peerage, Volume 4 (1916), p. 292 (sub Despenser).
[*3] Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, New Edition, Volume 4 (1850), p. 217.
[*4] William Hardy, "Descent of the Queen From John of Gaunt", Notes and Queries, Volume 7 (January-June 1853), pp. 41-43.
[*5] Sir Egerton Brydges (ed.), Collins’s Peerage of England, Volume 6 (1812), pp. 515-516 (sub Lord de Clifford).
[*6] William Hardy, "Lady Percy, Wife of Hotspur (Daughter of Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March), and Jane Seymour's Royal Descent", Notes and Queries, Volume 8 (July-December 1853), pp. 251-252.
[*7] Walter C. Metcalfe (ed.), The Visitations of Essex by Hawley, 1552; Hervey, 1558; Cooke, 1570; Raven, 1612; and Owen and Lilly, 1634, Part One (Harleian Society Publications 13, 1878), pp. 124-125 (Wentworth pedigree of 1558); 313-314 (Wentworth pedigree of 1612).
[*8] Walter C. Metcalfe (ed.), The Visitations of Suffolk made by Hervey, Clarinceux, 1561, Cooke, Clarenceux, 1577, and Raven, Richmond Herald, 1612 (1882), p. 77 (Wentworth of Nettlested pedigree).
[*9] Charles Best Norcliffe (ed.), The Visitation of Yorkshire in the Years 1563 and 1564, made by William Flower, Esquire, Norroy King of Arms (Harleian Society Publications 16, 1881): "Richard Wentworth of Bretton a second sone out of the howsse of Emsall = Mawde Countess of Cambrydge" (Wentworth of Bretton pedigree p. 339); "Rychard Wentworth 2 son (his descent in the leaf folowing) = Mawde Countess of Cambrydge" and "Roger Wentworth 3 son of whom is descended the Lord Wentworth = Margery Lady Rosse doter & heyre of Phelyp Lord Spenser" (Wentworth pedigree, p. 340); "Rychard Wentworth of Breton = Mawde Countess of Cambrydge" and "Roger Wentworth 3 son = Margaret doughter & on of theyres to Phelype Lord Spenser, and the wedoo of the Lord Roos", parents of "Sir Phelyp Wentworth of Netelsted in Suffolk of whom the Lord Wentworth & others be descended" (Wentworth pedigree, p. 342).


  1. Genealogy seems to be quite a jigsaw puzzle, sometimes. :)

  2. That is the great thing about genealogical deduction; by finding out who people "aren't" we can find out who they "are"....or something like that. Thanks for reminding us of the pitfalls of taking any genealogy at face value without checking the facts. Great stuff!

  3. Loved reading it...although my head is spinning a bit. Am I right in recalling that Jane and Anne B were related (cousins of some sort?)

  4. Gabriele and Kate, thank you. Genealogy is a passion of mine, probably even more so than history, but as Allison pointed out, it does make for complicated reading.

    There will probably be many more posts like this on the blog - the ones where I'm basically working out genealogical connections.

    Hopefully, they'll be balanced out with easier to follow biographies of the individuals (once the genealogy wrinkles have been ironed in my head).

    Sorry for the delay in posting. The Olympics are proving to be a strong distraction. But in the free time I can spare, I am wading through Prestwich's bio of Edward I and Parsons's bio of Eleanor of Castile, so I hope to have another Plantagenet post up soon.

  5. Allison, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour were indeed related: their mothers (Elizabeth Howard and Margery Wentworth) were cousins, their grandmothers (Elizabeth Tilney and Ann Say) were half-sisters through their mother (Elizabeth Cheney) who was married first to Frederick Tilney and second to John Say. It's an odd thought that Lady Boleyn and Lady Seymour probably knew each other from childhood.

  6. A very interesting read, as I am a descendant of Elizabeth Wentworth, daughter of Philip and Mary.

  7. Hi, I was wondering if you have seen the Hampton Court Pedigree window of Jane Seymour. Her lineage from Edward III is outlined in the window and Mary Clifford is the ancestor that links her back to Edward.


  9. The Royal Descent site is a very fine thing. Did you know that there were two Anne Boleyns in Henry VIII's life? The first was his wife, and the second was her first cousin, Anne Boleyn [From the De Bouillion or De Boulogne family] Shelton who was married to John Shelton, Governeur of the Princess Elizabeth's Royal Household. My many time great-grandparents, John and Anne, secreted the young Princess in the top of the Shelton Family Chapel near their country home for a time to protect her from sister Queen Mary's assassins. Without her own loyal cousins, Elizabeth might have been murdered.

  10. wasnt ann shelton anne boleyns aunt