Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour

thomas seymourIn June 1547 it became public knowledge that the dowager queen, Katherine Parr had married the Lord High Admiral, Sir Thomas Seymour Baron Sudeley.  Elizabeth was thirteen-years-old when the admiral joined the household at Chelsea.  Although he was twenty-five years older than Elizabeth the admiral had previously approached the Privy Council in February 1547 with a view to marrying her and Elizabeth’s governess, Kat Ashley, had been rather taken with the idea.

It is difficult to see any positive reason for Seymour’s decision to make unannounced early morning visits to his step-daughter’s bedchamber to bid her “good morrow.”  On occasion Elizabeth would rise early so that Seymour would not catch her in her bed. Seymour’s actions became increasingly familiar, he smacked and tickled her on the buttocks on another occasion her servants hid her behind the curtains so that Sir Thomas might not find her. Kat Ashley eventually told the  whole story when she was questioned in the Tower but only after Sir Thomas Parry had made his confession: “And if she were up, he would bid her good morrow, and ask how she did, and strike her upon the back or on the buttocks familiarly, and so go forth through his lodgings; and sometime go through to the maidens and play with them, and so go forth.” If this was a modern situation the word grooming would probably be at the forefront of our minds.  But at thirteen in Tudor England Elizabeth was old enough to be married and Sir Thomas was something of a ladies man – if claver capable Katherine Parr’s head was turned by the Lord High Admiral what chance did a young girl stand?

kat ashley.jpgAt Hanworth, another of Katherine Parr’s properties Kat Ashley (pictured right) spoke sharply to Seymour telling him of the inappropriateness of his early morning visits but Seymour protested that he was doing nothing wrong. Ashley was increasingly concerned that Seymour arrived barelegged and in his slippers each morning as well as trying to climb into the same bed as Elizabeth.  Servants talked and Elizabeth could not afford to have scandal attached to her name given the charges that had been levied against her mother.

 

After that Kat had no choice but to tell Katherine Parr who made little of the incidents – believing them to be nothing more than horseplay.  Accounts include details of Katherine joining her husband in the early morning romps and on one occasion in the garden pinioning Elizabeth whilst Seymour slashed her mourning gown.  Dunn argues that Elizabeth was a willing participant in these events.  Indeed, Kat Ashley only became concerned by the admiral’s visits when she considered the gossip that might ensue.

 

In June 1548 Katherine caught Seymour embracing Elizabeth and sent the girl to Cheshunt to the home of Sir Anthony and Lady Denny.

Three months later on the 5 September 1548 Katherine Parr died as a result of complications in childbirth. As she lay dying she refused Seymour’s attentions claiming that he had never loved her – the scene was witnessed by Lady Tyrwhit.  Later Katherine would demonstrate her love for Seymour by leaving everything she possessed to her spouse which would mean that when he was attainted of treason her infant daughter would be left with nothing.

In the meantime Seymour needed a new wife.  He planned to marry Elizabeth amongst other things.  Thomas’s jealousy of his brother the Lord Protector had grown beyond reason. He was bribing one of Edward VI’s servants, a man called John Fowler, to say nice things about him to his nephew and was giving the king pocket money but as none of this seemed to be having the desired effect Seymour now planned to kidnap his nephew.  He made his attempt on the night of 16th January 1548 when his brother was in Scotland doing a spot of Rough Wooing.  Edward VI’s pet dog began to bark and Seymour shot it dead – which cannot have endeared him to his nephew.  Eleven-year-old Edward remained safely at Westminster while Thomas fled into the night.  He would later claim that he was testing royal security.

The Imperial Ambassador, Francois van der Delft reported events to the Emperor at the end of January:

Sire, I have heard here that the Admiral of England, with the help of some people about the court, attempted to outrage the person of the young King by night, and has been taken to the Tower. The alarm was given by the gentleman who sleeps in the King’s chamber, who, awakened by the barking of the dog that lies before the King’s door, cried out “Help! Murder!”

Everybody rushed in; but the only thing they found was the lifeless corpse of the dog. Suspicion points to the Admiral, because he had scattered the watch that night on several errands, and because it has been noticed that he has some secret plot on hand, hoping to marry the second daughter of the late King, the Lady Elizabeth, who is also under grave suspicion. On my arrival in England, however, I will write the truth more fully to your Majesty, having nothing now to go upon beyond the information given by those who repeat common report.

Six months later Seymour died a traitor’s death on Tower Hill.  The Bill of Attainder was passed against him on the 5th March 1549 and on the 20th he was executed.  He was charged with three counts of treason: first attempting to kidnap the king, planning to marry Elizabeth and third keeping armed men at Sudeley with the intent to rebel.

Thomas’s plots caught members of Elizabeth’s household in the governmental dredging-nets.  Sir Thomas Parry and Kat Ashley were known to have associated with him.  They were arrested and carted off to the Tower for questioning on the 21st January.  Elizabeth found herself being interrogated by Sir Robert Tyrwhitt the husband of Lady Tyrwhitt – who was intent on finding out whether Elizabeth had been part of a so-called marriage plot – he stated that he could see in her face that she was guilty.  Elizabeth for her part may have cried and begged for the release of her governess and Sir Thomas  Parry but  she did not incriminate herself and ultimately she won Sir Robert’s reluctant respect who complained that Elizabeth “sang the same song” as Parry and Ashley and that nothing could be got out of her.

Ultimately Parry, who was Elizabeth’s coffered told what he knew much to Kat Ashley’s disgust. Kat it should be noted had been left in a cold and dark cell and she had not told any tales until it became evident that her interrogators knew everything and even then she had to be taken to see Parry to confirm his words.

It became clear that Seymour had wanted to marry Elizabeth, that his behaviour in Chelsea was not that of a gentleman – this is how history knows about the frock shredding- and that he had discussed Elizabeth’s estates with Parry when Parry had visited Seymour in London.  None of them would admit that there had been any plans for a marriage without the consent of the Privy Council.

Elizabeth for her part wrote to the Lord Protector demanding to know what the Privy Council was doing about the rumours that she was pregnant and when Somerset wrote back saying that she should name names she responded by saying it would be better if she was seen.

Lady Tyrwhitt was set to be Elizabeth’s governess.  It could not have been a pleasant experience for either of them given that the lady had puritanical tendencies and Elizabeth was not in a happy frame of mind.  Elizabeth demanded the return of Kat and not unreasonably given the story that had eventually surfaced it was felt that she wasn’t suitable for the role.

Elizabeth set about reinventing herself as a sober and industrious Protestant princess.  It is clear from the accounts of the time that Elizabeth liked Seymour and would have married him had the Privy Council given its permission but the lessons she learned were to reinforce that love was a very dangerous game that could cost you your life if you weren’t careful and that public image  was everything.

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 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 the wife of Edward Seymour 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.