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  • Kristin Bundesen, PhD

When was she born?

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

For all the things we know about Anne Morgan Carey, Baroness Hunsdon, there is one important fact we don’t know. Her birthday.

Anne Morgan Carey, Baroness Hunsdon. Born circa 1530.

While the births and deaths of the men in the Tudor era were often meticulously recorded for the purposes of passing on property and titles, the lives of women did not receive the same meticulousness - and they wouldn’t for another 400 years.

It wouldn’t be until two centuries after the last Tudor monarch that it became law to publicly register births and deaths in England. If a child was christened or baptized, then there may have been a notation in the parish records. But many parish records were lost or destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII.

If your parents weren’t famous, your birth rarely entered the public records. If Anne Morgan’s birth was recorded privately in a family bible or, say, in a Latin Dictionary, the document has not yet shown up. Sometimes an heir’s age was recorded in a father’s post mortem. Henry Carey’s father, William Carey, had lands to pass on to his son and so his estate went through an inquisition post mortem on June 22, 1528. This document records Henry’s age as two years, fifteen weeks and five days. This tells us that Henry Carey was born on March 4, 1526.

Daughters of wealthy families rarely inherited lands, particularly if male heirs existed. So, even though Anne’s father’s will was proved, or ratified, it would not include Anne’s birth date or age. In cases like this, historians must look for other life events, like marriages, births of first children, or court appointments to help establish female life spans. (More on court appointments in a future post.) Anne Morgan’s marriage to Henry Carey is recorded in the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace, London as taking place on Thursday, May 21, 1545. In Tudor England, it would have been unusual for an elite woman to live with her groom before she turned 16. However, many cases exist where elite women were married at a very early age, yet did not share a marriage bed until they turned 16.

In Anne and Henry’s case, we know they were sharing a bed as a newly-married couple because their first child George was born in 1546, the year after they got married. Using her marriage date and the birth of her first child as starting points, we can then surmise Anne’s birth date was at least 16 years before she got married, which means on or before 1530.

We know when some of Anne and Henry’s children were born because someone recorded their birth details in the Careys’ copy of Foissart’s Chronicles, a weighty multi-volume work on the history of Western Europe and England during the Hundred Years’ War that occupied a prominent place in libraries of the aristocracy. That source states that Anne gave birth to her first child, George, in 1546 and her last child, Margaret, in 1564, a span of 18 childbearing years.

If Anne was born in 1530, she would have been only 34 at the birth of her last child, which would have been quite young given the affectionate marriage she shared with Henry. There could be a few explanations for this. Perhaps Anne was actually older when she married Henry. If she had been 18 or 19, that would make her 37 or 38 when she gave birth to her last child. Another explanation is that Henry got syphilis, as was hypothesized by historian A.L. Rowse, based on an anonymous poem (quoted above). Anne could have kicked him out of their marriage bed. Or, perhaps their relationship simply devolved.

    Chamberlain, Chamberlain
    He of her Grace’s kin
    Fool hath he ever been
    With his Joan Silverpin;
    She makes his cockscomb thin
    And quake in every limb;
    Quicksilver is in his head
    But his wit’s dull as lead
    Lord, for thy pity!

        - Anonymous about Henry Carey, Lord Chamberlain

The fluid nature of names frequently obscures clear identification of women with similar names. In the Carey-Knollys kinship network alone, there were so many Elizabeths, Katherines, Margarets, and Annes that it is tricky to keep them all straight. By investigating the life events of women like Anne Morgan Carey, Baroness Hunsdon such as the dates of their births, marriages, or deaths, we can begin to know them better as individuals.

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