Who Really Was Francis Cosby’s Wife?

It wasn’t Lady Mary Seymour as claimed on the family’s website.

Screen shot of part of an article on the website of Cosby Hall.

What follows is a tale that illustrates the difficulty of researching history without the benefit of a costly subscription to one or more authoritative sources.

I have been exploring the history of the family that established the small town in which I currently reside, in anticipation of a post I hope to put up in a day or two. Meanwhile I have uncovered what is, almost certainly, a false claim about the family’s ancestry.

The claim is that the first member of the family to arrive in Ireland was the husband of Lady Mary Seymour, daughter of Edward, Earl of Somerset and Lord Protector of England during the reign of the boy King Edward VI, Henry VIII’s only son.

The problem with this claim is that the marriage of Lady Mary’s parents took place in 1535. Lord Edward was executed in January 1552. During those 17 years the couple had ten children. According to the Wikipedia entry for Lord Edward, Lady Mary was born in 1552 as was Lady Elizabeth, suggesting they were twins.

Screen shot of part of the Wikipedia entry for Lord Edward Seymour, showing his children.

Elsewhere, Lady Mary is referred to as the couple’s fourth daughter. This would make her the seventh child, because three of the first four children were sons. That places her birth year as 1542 or 1543, between Lady Jane and Lady Catherine.

The Cosby family also claim that Francis arrived in Ireland following the death of Lord Edward, ‘accompanied by his son Alexander.’ If it is the case that Lady Mary was Alexander’s mother, she would have had to have been born very soon after her parents’ marriage and had her first child at a very young age.

There is a further problem. Francis died, aged 70, in battle, in 1580. Lady Mary is known to have married Andrew Rogers, who died some time between 1599 and 1601. She subsequently married Sir Henry Peyton (in 1607). Sir Henry’s entry in the Dictionary of National Biography also records Lady Mary’s death: “she was buried in Westminster Abbey on 18 Jan. 1619-20.”

Screen shot of the entry in the dictionary of National Biography for Sir Henry Peyton

It is possible that both of these marriages took place after Francis’s death. That would mean, however, that she was over 70 when she married Peyton, who was probably about 30 at the time, and that she was about 85 at the time of her death.

None of this is impossible. However, the available biographies of each of her husbands (other than Cosby) indicate she was the fourth daughter. According to the online history of parliament, Rogers graduated from Oxford in 1567, suggesting that he was born some time in the mid 1540s. That he and Mary were about the same age when they married is far more likely than that he was already over 35 and she ten years his senior.

The claim, in the Wikipedia entry, that she was his second wife, is not confirmed by the cited source. That source does, however, refer to a dispute “between his father and the Earl of Hertford, father of Lord Beauchamp, who had married Andrew Rogers’s sister Honora against the Earl’s strong opposition.”

The Earl was none other than Lady Mary’s older brother, and the Lord her nephew, born in 1561.

She still would have been much older than Peyton, marrying him when she was around 62 and dying aged around 75. This is, to me, a much more plausible scenario than any suggestion that she, or any of Lord Edward’s daughters, was ever married to Francis Cosby.

The family history article in which the claim was made was compiled by Major E A (Ashworth) S Cosby in April 1951. I have no idea what research tools he had available to him back then. Nothing to match what is available to us in the twenty first century, with or without a subscription, for sure. The present owner of the estate, the major’s eldest son, was at Eton at that time. Management of the estate has been in the hands of his son, Thomas, these past number of years.

There is no doubt that Francis curried favour with the Lord Protector. He was instrumental in establishing ‘Fort Protector’ as one of the first English outposts beyond the Pale, so named in Lord Edward’s honour. It would later be renamed Maryborough and the surrounding territory as Queen’s County, after Edward VI’s successor to the throne, his half-sister Queen Mary. Cosby retained his influence during her reign and that of her sister Elizabeth, but that is a subject for the next post.

Added 23/2/22:

I think I may have found the original source for the suggestion that Francis Cosby was the husband of Lady Mary Seymour, daughter of Edward Seymour, Lord Protector during the reign of Edward VI.

Grainne Doran, currently Archivist at Wexford County Council, held the position of Midlands Regional archivist between 1998 and 2002. During that time she was provided with access to documents held by the Cosby family. These she meticulously catalogued with summaries of the contents, printed in a hard bound volume of some 329 A4 pages titled The Cosby Papers 1558-1955.

The vast bulk of these documents concern property transactions from the 18th century onwards. There are only four relating to the late 16th century. These concern Francis’s appointment as General of the Kerne; the grant to him of the former monastery at Stradbally; the grant of a pension to his son and an undated manuscript purporting to have been compiled by Francis’s daughter-in-law Dorcas (nee Sidney).

I have not personally seen any of these documents, although I hope to be able to do so one day. MS Doran’s summary of the contents of Dorcas’s alleged manuscript does, however, provide a clue as to the origin of the claim that her mother-in-law was Lady Mary.

He [Francis Cosby] married the Honourable Lady Marye Seamour, daughter of the Duke of Newcastle . . .

There are at least two things wrong with this statement. First and foremost, the Dukedom of Newcastle was not established until 1665, 42 years after Dorcas’s death. Secondly, it was granted to a member of the Cavendish family. So whoever produced this undated document, it was not Dorcas but, rather, someone writing much later who mistook the Duke of Newcastle for the Duke of Somerset, or vice-versa.

I had hoped to discover the truth about Francis Cosby’s wife from this source. I was, sadly, mistaken. I shall continue with the theory that he was married to Elizabeth Palmer. What a pity that the ‘Dorcas’ manuscript is, it seems, a fabrication. I am left wondering who created it and why. I suppose, should the family permit it, a scientific analysis of the document might porovide a clue, at least to the date of it’s composition.


12 thoughts on “Who Really Was Francis Cosby’s Wife?

  1. nteresting, Frank. It certainly is a nightmare researching family history. I’ve done quite a bit of it myself. I’m afraid I can’t help with your research, except that I used to live in a village called Cosby, near Leicester. I’ve no idea if it was named after the same family, but there may be a connection. A local history group there, if there is one, may be able to shed light.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Looks like you’ve got a real challenge on your hands there, Frank. You obviously need some verifiable sources, but it’s not my area of expertise. Is there a whiff of foul play?!

    I really just dropped in to wish you the best Christmas possible in the weird and unsettling circumstances we find ourselves in.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Intriguing history, Frank. I love a mystery. According to “Cosby Family History” on Roots Web, Francis Cosby was Mary Seymour’s third husband. Would this explain the discrepancies in the dates? Here’s the excerpt, together with the link to the website.

    “Francis Cosby (John Cosbie), born in 1510 and died in Ireland in 1580, became the patriarch of the family in Ireland. He was a man famed for personal courage as well as civil and military talents. When young he served in the wars of King Henry VIII _in the Low: Countries and was not distinguished. His abandonment of his native soil arose from the downfall of Sir Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and first Duke of Somerset, the Lord Protector of England, who had fallen into disfavor and was afterwards beheaded. His daughter, Mary Seymour, niece of Jane Seymour, third wife of King Henry VIII, married first Andrew Rogers and married secondly Henry Peycon, then married Francis Cosby. Three sons were born of the third marriage, namely, Henry Cosby, who died in England, .Alexander Cosby, and Arnold Cosby.”

    Liked by 3 people

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