The Cosbys of Stradbally Hall

The Cosbys of Stradbally Hall

By Frank Parker

Having established, to my own satisfaction if no-one else’s, that Francis Cosby was never married to Lady Mary Seymour, I couldn’t help wondering who was the woman to whom he was married.

Was she a member of a family with connections close to his birth place in Nottinghamshire?

Was she a member of one of the six other families who settled in Laois at the same time as Francis?

Was she a member of another of the families, like the Seymour’s, with close ties to the royal household?

One thing can be stated for certain: she was not related to any of the families already living beyond the Pale in Ireland at this time. Unlike the Normans, the English ‘planters’ of the Tudor period did not inter-marry with the locals, not least because such relationships between Catholic and Protestant were forbidden on both sides.

And then I found an entry for Stradbally Hall on Tim Ferres’s website, Lord Belmont in Northern Ireland.

It was from Tim’s site that I discovered a good deal of information about Arthur Kennedy’s family history when researching for Called to Account. His entry for the Cosby family repeats the assertion that Francis Cosby was married to Lady Mary Seymour, but goes on to say that he had a second wife: Elizabeth Palmer.

I also checked out the village history website for East Leake. This showed me that Francis Cosby’s family was quite minor, in terms of standing within the gentry. Their manor was one of three in the village. Francis, as the second son, had little hope of inheriting anything of significance. The website claims that the manor was inherited by his nephew, following the death of his grandmother.

This, of course, further reinforces the case against him having been the kind of man that Lord Edward Seymour would choose as a husband for any of his daughters.

Lord Edward was, after all, the brother of the woman who had finally provided king Henry with a male heir. That someone so high up the greasy pole of Tudor royal preference would grant to the junior member of a very minor family a boon of such generosity is hard to believe.

“The Field of the Cloth of Gold” – Henry VIII’s meeting with Francis I of France in 1520

I see, in Francis Cosby, someone who recognised at an early age that he had nothing much to look forward to by remaining in Nottinghamshire. Like many another, he chose to seek his fortune through service in the army. It was a time when the army was as busy as ever, fighting the French and the Scots. The only alternative to participating in land battles, for an ambitious young man, was to join the navy and fight at sea.

I suspect, too, that being sent to Ireland was not the most attractive of possible postings. But, once arrived, it seems that he saw possibilities for enrichment through the expansion of English influence into the land beyond the Pale. Possibilities that almost certainly were not available in England.

At what point did he encounter Elizabeth? Who was she? I have been unable, thus far, to discover any reliable information about her.

There were Palmers at the Court of Henry VIII and of Edward VI. One of them played a leading role in Lord Edward’s downfall. They held manors in Sussex and in Kent. At least one distinguished himself in one or more of Henry’s campaigns against the French. It is likely that Francis began his military career in these campaigns.

Looking at the descendants of these men, I can see a couple of Elizabeths. One genealogy focused website shows a Robert Palmer as having two daughters named Elizabeth, one born in 1506 (too soon to be ‘our’ Elizabeth?) the other in 1526. Setting aside the improbability of anyone having two daughters with the same forename (the first Elizabeth was, according to the same record, still living at the time of the second’s birth), that suggested birth date is about right for her to be the mother of a child brought to Ireland in 1552 or earlier.

Whatever her family background, did they know each other before his first posting in Ireland? At what point did she join him? When was their first child born? The Cosby family’s website claims that this first son was with him in the early 1550s, but other sources suggest that he had been in Ireland, on and off if not full time, since 1546.

How did the family survive? Presumably members of the army serving beyond the Pale were supplied with food and other essentials from within the Pale, but that was likely a precarious arrangement, subject to ambush by members of the Irish clans or by independent bandits.

The remains of St. Colman’s Abbey at Stradbally. 📷 Frank Parker

Within the many monasteries, abbeys and friaries that had been disbanded and destroyed in the 1530s there were cultivated lands which could be reinstated to produce food for the invaders, but they, too would have needed armed protection against attacks from the Irish.

I imagine that life for the young mother and her children in Ireland at this time would have involved much greater hardship than life in an English manor house.

I can see lots of material here for another novel rooted in Irish history. ‘The Planter’s Wife’ suggests itself as an obvious title, but I have a great deal of reading and research to do before I commence writing.