Scandal at Chelsea: the courtship and marriage of Katherine Parr and Sir Thomas Seymour

katherine parrHenry 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.

thomas seymourEdward’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.

 

 

 

England’s Forgotten Queen – the use of wills.

lady-jane-greyHow many of you watched Helen Castor’s new three part series on Lady Jane Grey last night entitled England’s forgotten queen?  Its on BBC4 at 9.00pm on Tuesday evening.  I’m sure its on the Iplayer as well by now.

I usually think of Helen Castor in connection with the Wars of the Roses and I know that her history is thoroughly researched.  I’d have to say that I enjoyed her outline of events as well as the discussions about primary sources. I loved the fact that Lady Jane Grey was the first queen proclaimed by printed proclamation rather than a hand written one and that it required three pages to explain how she’d landed the crown rather than Henry VIII’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth. I enjoyed the dramatisations less but that’s probably just me.

But back to Lady Jane Grey and those wills.  On 30th December 1546 Henry VIII made his final will.  He died almost a month later on the 28th January 1547.  The succession was straight forward.  Henry VIII was succeeded by his son Edward VI – though interestingly Edward V was never crowned, disappearing instead quietly in the Tower (this is not the time to start pointing fingers at who did it.  Suffice it to say the V is a ghostly imprint upon the chronology of England’s monarchy.)

1531_Henry_VIIIMaking Henry VIII’s will was probably a tad on the tricky side to draw up as it had become illegal to speak about the king’s death thirteen years before it was drawn up in 1535- verbal treason.  Normally a family tree would have been sufficient to identify who was going to inherit what but Henry’s matrimonial past was complex to put it mildly.  Parliament had passed two Succession Acts – one in 1536 and the second in 1544.  Both of them empowered Henry to nominate his heir.  There was even a proviso for the appointment of a regency council.  Henry clearly thought that being dead was no barrier to dictating the way things should happen.

The will aside from giving directions to be buried next to his “true wife” Jane Seymour in Windsor and giving money to the poor obviously launched by placing Edward on the throne.  It then ran through a variety of scenarios about who should inherit in the event of Edward’s demise without heirs.  Rather optimistically for a man of increasingly poor health he identified that any children by Queen Catherine or “any future wife” should inherit.   He then identified his daughters, both of whom had been made illegitimate by that time – first Mary the only surviving child of Catherine of Aragon and then in the event of her not surviving or having children, her sister Elizabeth the only surviving child of Anne Boleyn.  So far so straight forward and very typical of Henry to decide who was and who wasn’t legitimate based on his particular plans – or even that they could inherit even if they were illegitimate so long as Parliament ratified it.

He identifies his nieces and their families after that.  His elder sister Margaret had married James IV of Scotland but Henry’s nephew James V was already dead.  That just left his great niece the infant Mary Queen of Scots.  Really, because she was descended from the eldest sister the little queen should have been identified next in Henry’s will but aside from being Scottish and the daughter of Marie de Guise there was the small matter that the Scots hadn’t taken kindly to the proposed marriage of their little queen to Edward.  There was also the issue that in Scotland Cardinal Beaton  had been murdered and the pro-French were becoming increasingly important (for the time being at any rate.) In any event Henry ignored the senior female line of the Tudor family tree and identified  the heirs of his younger sister Mary who had married Charles Brandon (duke of Suffolk).  Mary died in 1533 aged just thirty-seven.  She did however have two surviving daughters, Frances and Eleanor.  Frances was married to Henry Grey the Marquess of Dorset. They had three daughters Jane, Katherine and Mary.  Henry’s will went on to say that after the heirs of Frances that the heirs of Eleanor married to Henry Clifford earl of Cumberland would be by default his rightful heirs.

As Susannah Lipscomb observes Henry’s will is an intriguing document and its easy to see why it ended up being so roundly contested.  You have to admire Henry’s consideration of the possible scenarios and his plans for each eventuality.  It’s interesting that Frances wasn’t identified as a contender for the crown only her heirs.  What was it about Frances that Henry didn’t like?  Lipscomb observes that her husband Henry Grey wasn’t on the list that Henry VIII proposed as Edward VI’s councillors so it may simply have been that he didn’t like the man very much.

Unfortunately for Henry soon after his death the idea of a regency council was rather badly mauled by Edward VI’s Seymour uncles and by the time young Edward VI lay dying it was the duke of Northumberland who was the power behind the throne.

Henry VIII had stipulated that his daughters Mary and Elizabeth had to accept the order of succession on pain of their exclusion from the succession.  What Henry hadn’t accounted for was that his son Edward would write his own will.  A perusal of  Edward’s will was one of the highlights of last night’s programme on Lady Jane Grey.  It revealed poor penmanship and a last minute change of plan.  Logically if one king could leave a kingdom in his will as though it was a personal possession with the connivance of Parliament and its two supporting acts – it isn’t such a great leap that another king should do exactly the same.

edward-smEdward’s “devise” differed from his father’s in that he excluded Mary – she was just far too Catholic for devoutly Protestant Edward.  He also excluded Elizabeth- because she was legally illegitimate and because by that time, if we’re going to be cynical about it, John Dudley duke of Northumberland had acquired Lady Jane Grey as a daughter-in-law and wanted to remain in charge.  In excluding Mary Queen of Scots young Edward was simply following his father’s will. At first, as Castor revealed last night, the will only considered the possibility of male heirs – either his own or those of the Grey sisters.  As his health unravelled the amendment was made in two words which made Lady Jane Grey his heir; L’ Janes heires masles,” turned into “the L’ Jane and her heires masles.”  Simple really – though it did rely on Mary and Elizabeth accepting the turn of events or being rounded up sooner rather than later.

John_Dudley_(Knole,_Kent)Ignoring the  problem of Henry VIII’s daughters there was the small mater of Parliament.  The Third Succession Act of 1544 left Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate but placed them in line for the Crown.  Henry VIII’s will is backed up by Parliament.  It is not simply a personal document.  It is held up on the shoulders of law.  Edward’s on the other hand assumes that because one king has willed his kingdom to his heirs that another could do the same.  The problem for the duke of Northumberland was that Edward did not live long enough for the legal process to be fulfilled by an act of Parliament.

Lipscomb, Suzannah. (2015) The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland – traitor part two…or a game of queens

john_dudley_knole_kentThe correct title for this post should be the  succession crisis and it all occurs in 1553.  Edward VI’s health was an important affair.  These are the some of the key facts that we know:

  • Oct 1541 Edward had quartan fever (malaria) which was treated by Henry VIII’s doctor – Butts.
  • Oct 1550 – No diary entries suggest that Edward was too unwell to write.
  • 1552 – Edward caught smallpox or measles.  It is generally accepted, though not universally, that the suppression of immune system as a result of the measles or possibly smallpox that incipient TB flourished. .
  • Oct 1552- Hieronymus Cardano notes Edward short sighted and a little deaf which would suggest the measles as deafness is one of the possible side effects.
  • Dec 1552 TB evident?
  • Feb 15 1553 – Edward had a feverish cold and a violent cough

The one thing that we can be sure of is that the teenage king was not a well bunny despite having started his reign as a healthy enough nine-year-old but that by March 1553 he was forced to open Parliament in a very low key ceremony rather than with the usual pageantry. The Imperial Ambassador,  Jehan Scheyfve,  took an ever greater interest in the king’s health and it for ambassadorial reports that historians get much of their evidence for Edward’s symptoms.

Scheyfve had a rather tenuous contact at court in the form of  John Banister, a 21 year old medical student, whose father was a minor court official.  Both Scheyfve and and Italian visitor to Edward’s court report that Northumberland became so concerned about the king’s health that an elderly and unknown woman was allowed to administer unspecified potions to the king.  Unsurprisingly there were also rumours of poison, not least because in the immediate aftermath of the old woman’s visit Edward’s body, particularly his head and feet, began to swell.

Yet, when all is said and done it was not in Northumberland’s best interests to see the king off this mortal coil.  It would have been rather bad for his power base. Instead Northumberland began to look at ways of maintaining his power over a future monarchy. It can’t have been a particularly difficult job to plant some ideas in Edward’s head because Edward as a staunch Protestant wasn’t terribly keen on his catholic half-sister reversing all the changes that he and Cranmer had made by this time.  He also had a thing about legitimacy and in his family it wasn’t too difficult to cast aspersions.

Initially Edward had suggested in his will any future, as yet unborn, sons of Lady Frances Grey or even sons of her daughters: Ladies Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey.  Edward clearly did not approve of the idea of women on the throne.  Aside from being temperamentally unsuited as he pointed out when his will was ratified with Letters Patent they could run off and marry strange foreign types at which point England would be at the mercy of the whims of the aforementioned foreign types. There was also the problem of a possible civil war.  No one wanted another round of the Wars of the Roses.

At some point when Edward’s mortality became all to obvious his will was amended through a ‘devise’ which was then passed through council and by the lawyers.  All that was required was an act of Parliament to make the whole thing completely legal. Aside from cutting out his sisters on grounds of their dubious legitimacy, and dodgy faith in the case of Mary, Frances Grey had also been bypassed.  The heir to the throne was Lady Jane Grey.

lady-jane-grey

Conveniently for Dudley the lady in question was his young daughter-in-law having been married off to his son Guildford with the king’s blessing in the form of a grant for clothing and jewels for Jane.  It cannot be said that Jane was so enthusiastic.

 

Edward died on the 6th of July.  His death was kept a secret.  Jane was moved from Syon House to the Tower in preparation for her coronation. Northumberland had secured the treasury and the capitol.  What could possibly go wrong?

There was the question of running up and isolating the Ladies Mary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was at Hatfield – where she stayed watching events unfold from a safe distance- hardly sisterly unity but definitely demonstrating a strong sense of self-preservation.

marytudorMary had been on her way from her Suffolk estates to visit her sick brother but forewarned she turned back and avoided capture by Robert Dudley and a force of armed men.  Once she’d regained the safety of Framlingham Castle she declared herself queen and sent Thomas Hungate to London with a letter to present to the Privy Council to that effect. She fled deeper into East Anglia – to Kenninghall in Norfolk.

Meanwhile, Hungate was bundled off to the Tower for his troubles and the Privy Council tried to threaten Mary by suggesting they’d execute the likes of Gardiner if she continued to be stroppy about Edward’s wishes.  But at Kenninghall men flocked flocked to her cause, both Catholic and Protestant.

Northumberland had underestimated an English sense of fair play that had nothing to do with religion.  Mary was King Henry’s oldest daughter.  She should be queen – as a certain commercial meercat might say – simples.  There was also the fact that Northumberland wasn’t widely liked and admired by anyone very much.  The Commons resented him for the death of Somerset who was known as the ‘Good Duke’  and the regional gentry liked the conservatism represented by Mary.  The Protestants who you might have expected to rally to Northumberland distrusted him.

Undeterred by the fact that Privy Councillors started to feel unwell and make their excuses to leave London, Northumberland set out with a body of men to take on Mary.  He got to Bury St Edmunds where his men waved him good bye and went to join their lawful sovereign – Mary. Following this blow, Northumberland sent a letter to Henri II inviting him to invade England.  He promised the French that they could have Calais and Guines if only they would assist.  The letter was intercepted. It was the final straw for the Privy Council who defected as fast as they could scurry. Jane’s own father tore the canopy of state from over her head.

On July 23 1553 Northumberland surrendered in Cambridge by then it was all over.

On the 3rd August 1553 Queen Mary  entered London. Lady Jane Grey was in the Tower.  Northumberland and all his sons shared a similar view.

Inevitably Northumberland was tried for treason.  He argued that he had only done Edward VI’s bidding.  Sadly for him, Edward’s will wasn’t legal.  There had been no act of Parliament.  It was no good arguing that more than two hundred men had signed up to the Letters Patent that validated the will nor that the Privy Council had all sworn allegiance to Queen Jane.

The writing was on the wall.  Dudley promptly became a Catholic – he’d been associated with the reforming party since the rise of Anne Boleyn, his role in the investigation into Katherine Howard’s behaviour had confirmed it.  He was a leading player in a government that had done away with many of the rites of Catholicism.  Lady Jane Grey was not amused – she declared that Northumberland was afraid to die.

It didn’t make any difference.  Dudley, like his father before him, was executed on 22 August 1553. Two of his sons would follow him to the block.  His oldest son, John Dudley, was spared in 1553 because like his father he turned to catholicism. Unfortunately Wyatt’s rebellion saw an end to that and he was executed in 1554. Guildford Dudley, Lady Jane’s unwanted husband suffered a similar fate along with his wife.

Ambrose, who became the third earl of Warwick following his brother’s demise was condemned to death as well but he got out a of tight fix  thanks to his mother and brother-in-law who asked virtually anyone who would listen to them at court for their release. He went off to fight for Philip of Spain when Mary relented enough to release him from custody. Robert Dudley famously became Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite. Henry Dudley was the youngest of the Dudley sons.  Like his brothers he was condemned as a traitor but like Ambrose he became a soldier for Philip of Spain.  He was killed at the Battle of St Quentin in 1557.

It is tempting to think that perhaps the Duke of Northumberland, who is known to have had a close and loving relationship with all his children, turned to catholicism not just because he wanted to live but because he wanted to save his sons. Of course, that is speculation and speculation is not history.

History has not been terribly kind to Dudley.  If Somerset is the ‘Good Duke’ then Northumberland is the nasty one. If Somerset was autocratically virtuous then Northumberland is just plain conniving. His last minute change of faith didn’t help matters – was it genuine or was it a ploy?  Did he do Edward VI’s bidding – a loyal servant of the crown?  Or was he determined to keep the power that he wielded? Was he yet another wicked uncle?  People tend not to be motivated by one thing or the other perhaps it was a mixture of factors that caused him to try and put Lady Jane Grey on the throne. The only thing that we can be sure of is that he miscalculated very badly in July 1553.

 

 

 

Princess Mary’s opposition to the divorce

princess mary.jpgIf Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was invalid it followed that eleven-year-old Princess Mary was illegitimate. This in turn would prohibit her from the crown and make her less valuable on the international marriage market. No doubt, this was one of the reasons that Catherine remained adamant about fighting to keep her position rather than taking herself off to a nunnery as Cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio helpfully suggested prior to the Blackfriars trial where Catherine challenged the court’s authority.

 

Later, after Parliament enacted the necessary laws that broke with Rome and Henry’s marriage to Catherine was annulled by Thomas Cranmer the Princess Mary was used as a weapon by Henry to ensure that Catherine was compliant, although Catherine’s letters to her daughter are suggestive of shared martyrdom. The girl, now seventeen and no longer a princess but a bastard was refused permission to see her ailing mother, she lost her household and her governess. In 1533 at the point when this occurred, Lady Salisbury (Margaret Pole)  offered to pay for Mary’s household out of her own purse but the king would have none of it, or perhaps Anne Boleyn would have none of it. Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, reported that Anne had said she would have Mary for her chambermaid.

 

Mary’s opposition to the king was seen in the fact that she continued to be called the Princess Mary rather than the Lady Mary even when her servants suffered the indignity of having Mary’s insignia removed and replaced with Henry’s own. She told anyone who would listen that if she disavowed her mother that she would ‘offend God.’ It was a very personal resistance that directed itself to the king from Beaulieu where Mary was staying at the time.

 

When Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth was born, Mary’s chamberlain Lord Hussey was told to change Mary’s name to lady rather than princess. He tried. Mary informed him that until the instruction was received in writing then she was a princess.

 

Henry reacted badly. He sent officials to browbeat and threaten his daughter. In December 1533 the duke of Norfolk was required to fetch Mary to serve in her half sister’s household. He told her that she was to go to the Princess of Wales. Mary told him that the title was hers by right. Norfolk gave her half and hour and two ladies in waiting to accompany her. He did not become involved in the argument. He followed orders.

 

Norfolk left Mary in  Hatfield in tears but Henry complained he had been too soft on the girl. The ladies-in-waiting were removed and Anne Boleyn’s aunt Lady Shelton was put in charge of the ex-princess having been given a list of instructions about her treatment.

 

Henry put Mary’s refusal to comply with the change in her status down to her bad blood. It would only be after the death of Anne Boleyn that Henry would begin to soften towards his eldest, formerly legitimate, daughter and even then she would be required to submit to the king’s will before a reunion could take place.  On the 15th June 1536 Mary signed the document which recognised her parents’ marriage as unlawful and recognised Henry as the head of the Church of England.

Poor Mary; she went from her father’s pampered darling to being ill treated, neglected and isolated.  She was forced to act in direct opposition to her religious beliefs and all this had happened as her character formed. Her only allies during this time seemed to be the Spanish.  No wonder she looked towards Spain when her turn to ascend the throne arrived.  She was undoubtedly scarred by the whole experience.