Monday, September 9, 2013

Who were Mary Dyer's parents?

Sorry to break it to you: Mary Dyer was not a Tudor, not the secret child of Arabella Stuart and William Seymour

© 2013 Christy K Robinson

 How do you stop a very old rumor, especially if it's hit the internet? I'm going to try, by telling you, repeating it, and saying it again. I will be overly redundant on the matter. Why do I try? Because this blog has received hundreds of search inquiries on this very subject.

Many genealogy pages (and Ruth Plimpton's book) say Mary Dyer's ancestry was royal by virtue of being the secret child of Lady Arabella Stuart and Sir William Seymour. If you've copied that to your records, it's time to erase the false legend now. No researcher has found proof of Mary's parents or her birth or christening record. They have, however, found proof that Mary Barrett had a brother named William Barrett who in the custom of the times was probably named after their father. Please read researcher Johan Winsser's articles at this link.

The pure fiction that Mary was the daughter of nobility and potentially an heir to the throne of Great Britain, was created by a Dyer descendant, Frederick Nathaniel Dyer, in the 1800s, the romantic Victorian era. It resembles many other attempts by conspiracy theorists to create some sort of connection to European royalty, perhaps to explain why a girl with no known background (as yet discovered) had an above-average education and stood out among other women of her time. The romantic notion was that a commoner from Westminster could never have risen socially without a royal background. 
Henry VII of England,
NOT Mary Barrett's ancestor,
therefore not your ancestor.

 The false story is that Mary was the child of Lady Arabella Stuart (3x great-granddaughter of Henry VII), aged 35, and William Seymour (4x great-grandson of Henry VII), aged 22 at time of their secret and illegal marriage. King James forbade their marriage, but they married in secret in early July 1610. The secret was revealed, and by 9 July 1610, Arabella and William were arrested and imprisoned. Separate quarters, as you must imagine! William was in the Tower of London; Arabella was at Lambeth Palace under house arrest. History records that there was no issue from this marriage. That means there was no secret child who would be raised as Mary Barrett.
Lady Arabella Stuart, probably about the time
of her illegal and short-lived
marriage to William Seymour.

 Age 35 was very old for first-time pregnancy in those days. It's called "elderly prima gravida" even today. If Arabella had become pregnant during her one week of married bliss and borne a baby while in custody and under a doctor's care for several maladies, it would have been noticed by servants, royal household personnel, Anglican clergy, or any of the hundreds of Tower of London employees like, oh, say, prison guards--it was impossible to hide something like that, especially since Arabella was a prisoner under a royal-watcher microscope! What about the laboring mother's screams or groans? What about a newborn baby's cry?

But according to FN Dyer's legend, the newborn Seymour child was spirited out of the Tower of London (a prison, remember, with security) and named after and raised by her nurse, the original Mary Barrett or Mary Dyer, and hidden from King James I while he searched for the child who had a better claim to the throne. What a crock of snooty bias! Another point against FN Dyer is that Arabella was not even in the Tower at this time--she was across the river under house arrest.

In early June the next year, the young William Seymour escaped the Tower and fled to France, having missed his connection with Arabella, who also escaped from her journey north to captivity in Durham. She traveled in men's clothes, but was delayed by weather, captured, and returned to prison. If Arabella and William had a child born in March 1611, would they not have taken that child with them to their exile in France? After all, the child was supposed to have had a better heritage for the throne than King James. But King James, a middle-aged man, had been on the throne for years, and had heirs by now, so there was no need, no chance for a Seymour baby to knock him out. That's just not logical.

I've read a false rumor that Arabella Stuart Seymour was killed by King James in 1615 in the Tower of London. No, Arabella actually died--childless--from a self-imposed hunger strike in 1615. You can read their story in detail, which cites letters of all the players involved, here: http://archive.org/stream/arbellastuartbio00harduoft/arbellastuartbio00harduoft_djvu.txt

After Arabella died, there was no reason to keep Seymour in prison, so (no doubt after a large fine paid by his family) he went back to England, and married Lady Frances Devereux in March 1617. They had seven children. Seymour took up a political career, and was a royalist supporter of his much-removed cousins, King Charles I and II. Again, if he had a baby by Arabella, wouldn't he have taken over the upbringing?

Let me be clear: it's impossible for Mary Dyer to have been a Stuart-Seymour daughter.

Really, isn't it MORE remarkable that Mary Dyer was brilliant and accomplished on her own, without a privileged background? Now, please go to your ancestry or genealogy files and DELETE the Stuarts and Seymours from your records. Arabella Stuart Seymour had no issue. No Mary.

Celebrate that you are descended from a brilliant and beautiful woman who became great not because of whose child she was, but because of her conscious choice to lay down her life for her friends.

Christy K Robinson is the author of five-star nonfiction and fiction historical books, as well as author of Rooting for Ancestors and William and Mary Barrett Dyer websites. You will find her books at http://bit.ly/RobinsonAuthor.

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)

To join hundreds of friends and descendants of Mary and William Dyer in a discussion of their culture and experiences, follow this Facebook group and the following blog:


  1. Miss Robinson, your arrogance and condescending attitude toward those who have a different theory of Mary's early life is so obvious. You are so critical of those who hold a particular point of view which is not in congruence with your own, you fail to see your own mistake, which is that you have absolutely no evidence to whatsoever to prove your theory either. By the way, what are your academic credentials in history and genealogy? You are talking about facts, but yet you have written your book as fiction and now you set yourself up as an authority on the early life of Mary Barrett Dyer. How arrogant indeed. However, a far better case can be made with substantial circumstantial evidence. Why wouldn't it be possible and understandable for example for Arabella to hide her pregnancy with big gowns and have attendants who were loyal to her? Have you ever found a birth or baptism record for Mary Seymour? I think not, because if one would have existed, it is quite understandable that King James would have had that child snuffed out like he tried to do to Arabella. And there is evidence in writings of the period that Mary did have a child and the King sent out people to investigate it, but round nothing. But that doesn't mean that there was nothing, it means that they didn't find anything. So, it is quite plausible that this child, Mary Seymour didn't legally exist and her identify had to be kept secret.

    Mary Dyer was a very well educated woman for her time and it is highly unlikely that she came from a poor family as you assert and very likely she came from a well to do family. So, how is it that there is no birth record and baptism records, or church records of her early life with the Barrett family? How do you explain that? Probably because there weren't any and the family couldn't create a birth or baptism record without creating suspicion, so they kept quiet and secret.. Descendants of Mary Dyer report that when she went back to England in the 1650s, she moved in Royal circles? Now, what kind of coincidence is that? Also, leaving her several children for several years, there must have been a compelling reason.

    Yes, Miss Robinson, there are just too many of these coincidences, don't you think, to give any credibility to your story, because you have no proof whatsoever of anything you say.

    1. Anonymous, you’re very rude, hiding behind your computer screen and attacking me in personal terms. Do you have an agenda here (in my blog), or are you this nasty to everyone?

      May I point out that YOUR lack of evidence also does not prove Mary was a Stuart-Seymour secret love-child. And who are these “descendants” who report that Mary moved in royal circles in the 1650s—when the royals were *oops* in exile and Oliver Cromwell and the Council of State ruled Great Britain during and after the horrendous civil wars? How inconvenient and thoughtless of Charles II to leave Cousin Mary out in the cold.

      As for birth records of the time, hundreds of thousands of birth records were never made, or lost, or destroyed when Separatists destroyed Anglican churches. Just because her name hasn’t been found means nothing for or against her heritage. If you do genealogy as a hobby, you know that many family lines just stop or skip generations during the upheavals of the Reformation, the reign of Bloody Mary, the rise of the Separatist reformers, and the waves of epidemics and persecution. Also it could be as simple as a fire or flood.

      FN Dyer, in the 1800s, 250 years after Mary’s birth, fantasized this royal background you defend with such energy. The FACT is, he made it up. And it was all the rage in 19th century Victorian Britain to invent royal lineages to prop oneself up in a rigid class system. If you want to believe that Mary was a descendant of Arbella Stuart Seymour, go ahead and live in your dream world that Mary was born an aristocrat, when her marriage record to William Dyer, from the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a proven FACT, lists her as “Marie Barrett.”

      Decades of intensive research by Johann Winsser (Dyerfarm.com), who is in the last stages of publishing a factual book on Mary Dyer, has shown that Mary had a brother named William Barrett, who died childless in 1633-34 and named her in his will. He was no Seymour, no aristocrat, but he had property that could account for Mary’s “good estate,” if you limit that term to money only, instead of an alternate meaning like dignity and a wholeness of being.

      If you study Arbella Stuart’s biography, there’s no mention whatsoever of her having a child, secretly or any other way. In fact, she was bankrupt, had just recovered from smallpox, then married when she was (for that era) quite old, to a much-younger second son. She might have had porphyria, which ran in the Stuart family, and would support her self-starvation and madness when she died in the Tower in 1615.

      You can find the following information by Googling in any number of genealogical websites. Professional genealogists have known, for 80 years at least, that the Arbella Seymour connection to Mary Barrett Dyer is a myth.
      From http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/DYER/2002-03/1015093032 Andrews Moriarty refuted this theory quite soundly in his article, "The True Story of Mary Dyer" (NEHGS Register, Vol. 104, January 1950). He states that "no proof is offered that the Lady Arabella ever "had" issue except a vague statement from Mr. Hardy's (Life of Lady Arabella Stuart) of a rumor that such was the case." Furthermore, Moriarty points out that "there never was such a tradition [of this lineage] among Mary Dyer's descendants, but that it was a quite modern story, emanating from an English gentleman, Mr. F. M. Dyer of Macclesfield [sic -]. for "Frederick Nathaniel" Dyer who was an American - his father was born in Rhode Island - and who moved to England to do research]....who, not so many years ago, sent the story of his beliefs to the descendants of Mary Dyer in this country. ... This 'tradition' does not even have the authority of age ...

    2. Though interesting, I kinda think that most of the facts you state is also as skeptical and loose as the very thing you are trying to convince is not true. Though I side with the "very doubtful" that she was there is still a margin for error that you simply do not acknowledge nor accept. A good detective looks at not only the facts but also the possibilities no matter how remote....and on occasion admit mistakes. I know you are selling a book and marketing yourself but the beatdown of your critics is monumental...to say the least

    3. I've read Arbella's biographies and her letters. I find it stunning that none of the authorities on Arbella, from 400 years ago until the present, have ever heard of a pregnancy and secret birth, and only hobby genealogists looking for a Mary Barrett royal connection hold this birther conspiracy theory close to their hearts. I've done the extensive homework of researching Arbella so that I KNOW and have proven there's no "margin of error," but those who cling to the legend will not bother to read the links I've given. That's intellectual sloth.

      As for marketing my books, Anonymous, I researched and wrote this article more than a year before the books were published. For the sake of my ancestors, and for truth, and trying to set the lies aside and put forward the truth, I will not stop. Maybe I'll only convince a few people at a time, but it's progress.

      This article also appears at the Dyer blog with more critics--and supporters: http://marybarrettdyer.blogspot.com/2013/07/who-were-mary-barrett-dyers-parents.html

  2. Thanks for your blog! I've just come to the hobby of genealogy and have spent a lot more time than I ever intend researching! I am stuck at Dr. William Dyer- some theories are that he is the son of Samuel and Anne Hutchinson Dyer, others say a different person from the Colonies and some from England....I'm rooting for Samuel Dyer, because what an honor it would be to be related to Mary Barrett Dyer! :)

    1. (reposting) I encourage everybody to continue on searching for the truth with Mary Dyer. Mary Bassett would be Lady Arabella's daughter. Can we confirm that the document in Kings English (Barrett) is not infact Bassett? The Bassett family married into the William Seymours family. William signing would confirm, even if he signed Bassett. Her mother was imprisoned for being the heir, her life would always be in a certain amount of danger, even as the niece of the king. She would have been careful about stating who she was. In fact, one of her prison letters refers to her eldest son, not having a mother. A problem for the Puritans if he had future ascended the throne after King James. And she was freed/banished, while her friends were hung. She returned to Boston to face the gallows choosing to die in obedience to Jesus. Either way Mary Dyer was one of the greatest women in our countries history. Whether she was royal or not, the seeds of religious freedom were sowed with Mary and her Christian brothers and sisters.

    2. Angel Mullins,
      Feel free to research all you like into Arbella Stuart and Mary Barrett Dyer. But there is NO CONNECTION between the two. NONE, except in the fantasy of FN Dyer in 1890, 230 years after Mary Dyer died. Ruth Plimpton repeated the myth in her 1994 book, and it was wrong again. People need to get over that idea. Repetition of a lie will not make it true. I don't see why people are so set on believing a fantasy.

      Mary Barrett was not Mary Bassett. Arbella Stuart had NO CHILDREN AT ALL, secret or otherwise.


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