Henry VIII was buried on 16th February 1547 at Windsor with Jane Seymour. Their son Edward was now king with a five man regency council nominated by Henry VIII. It wasn’t long before Edward Seymour had nobbled the council and rather than five equal men had become Lord Protector.
Katherine Parr moved to Chelsea with her two hundred servants, one hundred and fifty man yeoman guard, Elizabeth Tudor and the queen’s jewels which Henry VIII’s will gave her permission to wear until Edward was of an age to be married. The will also stipulated that Katherine was to be accorded the honour of first lady in the land which rather irritated Anne Dudley the wife of Edward Dudley the newly styled Lord Protector (March 1547) who felt that honour ought to go to her. Edward created himself Duke of Somerset and also become Earl Marshal given that the hereditary Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk was sitting in the Towner on charges of treason.
Edward’s younger brother Thomas felt aggrieved. Even though he was now the Lord High Admiral (sounds vaguely Gilbert and Sullivan), Baron Sudeley and a privy councillor he felt it was somewhat unfair that his brother was the Lord Protector. What resulted was two years of rampant ambition, scandal and tragedy followed by Thomas’s execution on three charges of treason not that he was ever brought to trial.
Thomas began a campaign against his brother beginning by giving his young nephew pocket money and bribing one of Edward VI’s men, John Fowler, to say nice things about him; he started reading up the law books with a view to demanding to being made Edward’s co-protector and he began looking around for a royal bride. He started of by asking the Privy Council if he could marry thirteen-year-old Elizabeth Tudor. The Privy Council said no but Elizabeth’s governess Kat Ashley was rather taken with the smooth talking charmer which was unfortunate when Sir Thomas turned his attentions from Katherine Parr to her young step-daughter.
John Fowler, the servant bribed to say nice things about Thomas to King Edward, was asked to find out the king’s view on the matter. Edward thought that Thomas should either marry Anne of Cleves or “my sister Mary to change her opinions.”
Thomas trotted back to the Privy Council to request the hand of Mary Tudor. On this occasion the Duke of Somerset explained that neither one of the brother should look to be king or to marry a king’s daughter. The brothers argued violently and when Mary was informed of the proposed match sometimes later laughed at the idea.
That just left the dowager queen. Katherine Parr was thirty-five years old and before the king had made his intentions to claim her as wife number six clear on 1542 she had been linked romantically to Thomas. This time Thomas didn’t check to see what the Privy Council thought about the idea. He began to visit Katherine at her home in Chelsea in secret. By the end of April 1547 or the beginning of May the couple decided to marry – even if society would regard it as an indecently hasty match so soon after Henry VIII’s demise. This was thrice-married Katherine’s chance of happiness and she intended to grab it with both hands.
Katherine had been married first to Sir Edward Borough – he was not a well man. After that she married John Neville, Lord Latimer who was much older than Katherine (approximately twice her age) and, of course, thirdly, she had married Henry VIII. Katherine, thanks to Latimer, was left a wealthy woman so should, by rights, have had more choice in who she wed next if at all. Sir Thomas Seymour courted her but Henry VIII had noted her care of Lord Latimer and seen her in Mary Tudor’s company. In July 1543 Katherine Parr became queen of England setting her romance with Thomas Seymour to one side and possibly disappointing Seymour’s aspirations to marry a wealthy widow.
Now though nothing was going to stop Katherine. They were married secretly in May and Katherine gave orders for a gate to be left unlocked so that her new husband could visit her in the middle of the night.
There was the small problem of telling the people who mattered. Katherine knew that she needed her step-son’s approval. However, by June there was gossip. Kat Ashley, Elizabeth Tudor’s governess met Sir Thomas at St James Park and commented on his failure to pursue his match with Elizabeth and also commented on the fact that he was rumoured to already be married to the queen.
Katherine went to see Edward VI who had no objection to his step-mother’s marriage to his uncle. Edward VI wrote to her confirming his views on the 30th May saying; “I do love and admire you with my whole heart.” He agreed to keep the marriage a secret until the relationship between Thomas and Edward Seymour was better. Katherine, however, felt that rather than relying on his brother’s kindness that Thomas should garner support for the match from leading members of the court.
Mary Tudor was not so generous as her little brother. When she received a letter from Thomas asking for her support in the matter she was horrified that a) he had aspired so high and b) that Katherine had so quickly forgotten the king who was “ripe in mine own remembrance.” Mary never seemed to forgive Katherine for marrying in haste and expressed concern that Elizabeth should continue to live in Katherine’s household believing that the newly weds had “shamelessly dishonoured” Henry VIII’s memory (you’d have thought that Mary would have been dancing on her late lamented parent’s grave given the way he treated both her and her mother.)
At the end of June 1547 the news of Katherine Parr’s marriage to Sir Thomas Seymour was public knowledge. Edward VI kept his promise to support them. The Duchess of Somerset still had to give precedence to Katherine but she did exact a revenge of sorts in that she persuaded her husband to confiscate Katherine’s jewels which should by rights have been worn by the next queen of England but which Anne Dudley now modelled.
The problem was that Chelsea would not be free from Scandal for long. In addition to her two hundred servants and one hundred and fifty yeomen there was the small matter of Elizabeth Tudor. It wasn’t long before Sir Thomas began making inappropriate visits to his step-daughter’s bed chamber. Kat Ashley didn’t immediately see any harm in his morning calls but Elizabeth took to rising earlier and earlier so that he would not catch her in bed. Ultimately Kat took him to task for arriving in his night shirt with bare legs. When he failed to see the seriousness of his behaviour Kat took the matter to Katherine Parr who made little of the morning visits, even joining in with them herself on occasion. Society was in for another scandal and it looked as though Mary Tudor may have had a point after all.
Norton, Elizabeth. (2015) The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor. London: Head of Zeus
Weir, Alison. (1999) Children of England: the Heirs of King Henry VIII. London: Jonathan Cape.