The story of Britain is contained in the lives and histories of the Kings and Queens but also of the families ruled by them. Some stories stand out in history as was the case for King Henry VIII. It is well known that he had a series of wives in his search for an heir, less well known in America is the impact this had on the relationship between England and Ireland. The Tudor Queens Mary and Elizabeth struggled with the problem as well James I, Kings, Queens and politicians up to the present day. Henry VIII's Reformation caused endless problems in England and Europe but also proved to be a festering problem in Ireland which has never been resolved. This post is provided as a background article for my posts on the Wallace Collection of art in London.
Ireland played a minor part in the reign of Henry VIII. Royal concern in Ireland extended as far as the Pale – four small counties around Dublin. The Irish nobility ruled the area around the Pale, known as the Colony. Royal decrees had given them the right to do this. The most powerful family was the Fitzgerald’s, the Earls of Kildare. The rest of Ireland was known as the Lordship. The families who ruled this area had no binding loyalty to the monarch nor were they under royal law. However, this land offered little to the Crown, as it was so barren. Therefore, they had little interest in it. Thomas Cromwell wanted to bring the Pale under greater control from London. To this end he sent 340 troops to be permanently stationed in the Pale. Between 1536 and 1537, a subservient Irish Parliament passed into law statutes referring to the Reformation that had already impacted England and Wales. By 1541 nearly all the major figures in Ireland had accepted Henry’s supremacy and the Irish Parliament bestowed on Henry the title “King of Ireland”. After the death of Henry VIII in 1547 new policies for controlling the thinly-colonised island were attempted, including “plantation”, which was first introduced under Edward VI. English settlers were given lands confiscated from rebellious Catholic Irish families, and the native Irish were supposed to be driven out. However, manpower shortages often made this impractical.
The Seymours were a family of country gentry who, like most holders of manorial rights, traced their ancestry to a Norman origin. One or two had been knighted in the wars of France, but their names had never emerged from the herald's visitation-rolls into historical celebrity. They increased their boundaries by fortunate alliances with heiresses, and the head of the family married into a collateral branch of the lordly line of Beauchamp. During the next three or four generations the wealth and importance of the Seymours in the western counties increased, until in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII Sir John Seymour of Wolf Hall became a personage of note in public affairs. He took an active part in suppressing the Cornish Rebellion of 1497 and afterwards attended Henry at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and on the occasion of the emperor Charles V's visit to England in 1522. The eldest of his ten children was Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, the famous Protector in the reign of Edward VI; his third son was Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley; and his eldest daughter Jane was third wife of King Henry VIII, and mother of Edward VI.
The Conways or Conwy were of English origin, descended from Sir William Coniers, high constable of England under William the Conqueror. Distantly related to the Conways of Botryddan (through Edward Conway, another son of John “Aer Conwy Hen” by his second wife) were the Conways of Arrow and Alcester in Warwickshire. This branch of the Conway family descended from Sir John Conway, Governor of Ostend in 1586. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir John Conway came from Conway Castle in Wales to marry the heiress to Arrow, just outside Ragley Park. He then bought Ragley Castle and its lands in 1591, the last time Ragley has changed hands by purchase. By his wife Helen, or Eleanor, daughter of Sir Fulke Greville of Beauchamp's Court, Warwickshire, he had four sons: Edward, who was created Viscount Conway, Fulke, John and Thomas (these four names are different in some documents) and four daughters: Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary and Frances.
The settlement idea continued under Queen Mary, Elizabeth and King James. In the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603), Jenkin Conway and his brothers Hugh, Edward and William (notice the names of the brothers are different) had gone to Ireland with Sir William Herbert, Sir Edward Dering and Robert Blennerhassett. The Conway family were the recipients of large estates under the Elizabethan settlement.
Smith indicates that Captain Jenkin Conway received over 5000 acres after the Desmond rebellion and afterwards was granted the seigniory of Killorglin. He built a Killorglin castle known thereafter as Conway Castle in Kerry but by 1600 it was burned to the ground by the MacCarthys. All that is left today is one wall which has been incorporated into a beer garden. In 1611 James I granted Sir Fulke Conway (probably Edward Conway) the lands of Killultagh in south-west County Antrim, Northern Ireland and he founded the town of Lisburn in the Lagan Valley. From that time the Conways divided their time between England and Ireland. This was a much more successful land grant for the family.
The River Lagan flowed alongside the village and it was because of the river and the damp climate of the Lagan Valley, that flax was first grown there. This resulted in Lambeg becoming a center for the Linen industry in the area. The fertile land of the Lagan Valley was part of the manor granted in 1611 to Sir Fulke Conway (or Edward Conway). English tenants, mainly from the north of England according to Rankin, were brought over by Conway to settle on his estate. It is suggested that they also brought experience of textile making with them and Huguenots from the Netherlands joined them. The earliest documentary evidence of the textile industry in Lambeg records the setting up of a bleach green in 1626. Lisburn is also known as the birthplace of Ireland's linen industry, which was established in 1698 by Louis Crommelin and other Huguenots. This became a very profitable property and funded purchases and buildings in England.
Edward Conway commanded a foot regiment at the sack of Cadiz in 1596, where he was knighted. He then served as governor of Brill, near Rotterdam in the Netherlands, where his daughter Brilliana was born. In the first parliament held in the reign of James I, he sat as member for Penryn. When Brill was handed back to the States of Holland in 1616, he was given a pension. Edward was created Baron Conway, of Ragley, in 1624 or 1625 and Viscount Conway in 1627, and received the Irish peerage title of Viscount Killultagh. He was appointed to the Privy Council in 1622 and was made Secretary of State in 1623. He bought the Conway Castle in Wales (which was built by King Edward III) from the Crown in 1628 for 100£ and his son, Edward Conway (1594-1655), the 2nd Viscount took preliminary steps towards putting it into repair with a view to living there but was interrupted by the English Civil War. I would assume he purchased the castle because his father was from the area.
Earl of Conway was a title in the Peerage of England. It was created in 1679 for Edward Conway, 3rd Viscount Conway, subsequently Secretary of State for the Northern Department. It was Sir John’s great-grandson, the first Earl of Conway, who engaged Robert Hooke to design the Palladian House at Ragley in Warwickshire which can be seen today. Hooke, a contemporary of Christopher Wren, was a notable architect and scientist and of the several great houses he built only Ragley remains. This Edward was born in 1623 and married Anne Finch (1632-1679) of another prominent family in 1651. Through this marriage he acquired an interest in Kensington House which became his residence when in London. In the time of William III it was acquired by the Crown and became Kensington Palace. He died in 1683, without an heir and the Conway family became extinct.
In 1683 Popham Seymour got a nice surprise. The Earl of Conway, his mother's cousin, left him his extensive estates in Warwickshire and Lisburn, on condition that he change his name to Seymour-Conway. Considerable suspicion was aroused by this transaction, displacing as it did Arthur Rawdon, Conway's nephew; it was thought that Sir Edward had taken advantage of the Earl's senility to bring it about. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards he was killed at age 24 in a duel by a Colonel Kirk. The estates then passed to the next brother Francis Seymour. Both assumed the additional surname of Conway in accordance with the Earl of Conway's will. In 1703, Francis was created Baron Conway, of Ragley in the County of Warwick, in the Peerage of England. In 1712 he was also made Baron Conway and Killultagh, of Killultagh in the County of Antrim, in the Peerage of Ireland. His son Francis, the second Baron, was created Marquess of Hertford in 1793.
This branch of the Seymour family descended from Sir Edward Seymour, son of Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset by his first wife Catherine Filliol. His nephew Sir Edward Seymour succeeded as 8th Duke of Somerset in 1750. The Marquesses of Hertford are members of the Seymour family headed by the Duke of Somerset.
In 1833 the Irish estate included the manors of Killultagh and Derryvolgie and contained 11 parishes, and was computed at 80,000 acres. The income from this estate was about £70,000 per year. The estate included the whole of the Parish of Lisburn lying on the Antrim side of the River Lagan and part of the parish lying on the Down side. This is in addition to Conway Castle, Ragley Hall and the house in London. This post was partly fueled by my curiosity of where all the money came from, since the Wallace Collection in London has a spectacular assemblage of the very best art (read that as priceless) from Europe but also my curiosity about the people who managed to get the money in the first place. The Marquess of Hertford represented the fusion of one of the most influential families of Britain, the Seymours, with the fabulous wealth built up by the wit, clever marriages and good luck of the Conways. Had the first four Marquesses of Hertford had even the smallest inclination for the advancement of their fortune, they might have been Kings of their own nation, perhaps Ireland. Instead the fourth Marquess blew most of the money on art, not unknown even today if you consider J Paul Getty, and his illegitimate son made amends for the criminal mistreatment of the Irish tenants who were the source of most of the money in the first place. In my mind things evened out for everyone. There is a fair amount to consider in this story of two ancient English families, which is reminiscent of so many other famous families, I hope you enjoyed the story.
Pedigree of Seymour: http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/SEYMOUR.htm
Welsh Conway: http://wbo.llgc.org.uk/en/s1-CONW-BOT-1400.html
Conway Castle in Kerry: http://humphrysfamilytree.com/Conway/castle.conway.html