Tag Archives: Thomas Seymour

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.

 

 

 

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Henry Howard- Henry VIII’s last victim.

henry_howard_earl_of_surrey_1546-289x300Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey is perhaps not one of Henry VIII’s most likeable victims although perhaps one of the most gifted as a poet. His father was Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk and his mother was Elizabeth Stafford, daughter of the Duke of Buckingham.  This meant he was doubly descended from Edward III.  Now whilst some folk wear their aristocracy lightly Henry looked down his nose at virtually everyone as being inferior to him.  He couldn’t abide Cromwell and wasn’t terribly keen on the Seymour brothers regarding their bloodline as inferior to his own. Understandably this outlook didn’t win him many friends and ultimately it would cost him his life, in between times it landed him in rather a lot of debt as he certainly believed in living in style.

Howard born in 1517 was bought up at Windsor with Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII’s illegitimate son with Bessie Blount.  His sister Mary Howard would marry Fitzroy. His cousin, Anne Boleyn, would marry the aforementioned monarch.  In short in Henry Howard’s youth his fortune looked assured.

In 1536 it all changed for the Howards. Anne Boleyn was executed for treason, Henry Fitzroy died and Henry Howard, who took part in the suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace, was accused of having sympathy for it by Thomas Darcy at his trial. This accusation was to haunt Surrey.  The Seymours who, although related to the Howards, formed a rival faction used Surrey’s supposed sympathy with the pilgrims as a slur against the Howard family.  The earl of Surrey was a tad on the touchy side so thought nothing of striking a courtier who repeated the gossip.  It probably didn’t help that Thomas Cromwell was also using the information as a means of keeping the Howards in line.  The combined effects of breaking court rules and getting on the wrong side of Cromwell resulted in him spending time in prison – although it was Windsor- whilst there he developed a deep-seated dislike for Cromwell and low born advisers in general.  He came to regard new men who’d gained their places by virtue of their intellect and ability rather than their family trees as the lowest of the low.

He was released in time to mourn Jane Seymour’s demise but the “most foolish proud boy” was back in trouble in 1542 for fighting a duel. At about the same time he was accused of eating meat during Lent which was more dangerous than fighting the duel because it smacked of Protestantism.  Henry’s reformation was a very mild one – in that he was head of the Church and everything else stayed more or less the same. Surrey was also accused of vandalism and shooting arrows at Southwark’s prostitutes by way of light entertainment (what a delightful chap).

By 1546 it was becoming ever clearer that Henry, who was in his thirty-seventh year as king, was reaching the end of his life. Young Prince Edward would require a regency council. The factions circled one another warily vying for power.  In one corner were the reformers headed up by Jane Seymour’s brothers – the royal uncles.  In the other corner were the conservative Catholic faction headed up by Stephen Gardener, Bishop of Winchester and Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk.

Norfolk came up with a marriage plan that would have united the two opposing families.  He suggested that Henry Fitzroy’s widow Mary could marry Thomas Seymour.  He also wanted two of Surrey’s sons to marry two of Edward Seymour’s daughters.  Surrey was against the idea because he thought that Seymour was beneath him.  Henry VIII thought it was an excellent idea but Seymour wasn’t particularly keen – he didn’t want to share power with the wily duke of Norfolk.

Surrey taking a leaf from his father’s book considered the options that were available and told his sister Mary that she ought to make herself available to the king – mistress would be good but wife number seven would be better.  Mary was not amused.  The siblings had a very public argument.

And that might have been that apart from the fact that when Surrey had been busy breaking windows and terrifying ladies of the night a maid called Alice Flaner who worked at an inn near St Lawrence Lane had been questioned and she’d revealed that Surrey regarded himself as something of a prince and that he’d said that if anything should happen to the king then the Howards would have a jolly good claim.  For an intelligent man who wrote some of the greatest poetry of the period it was a pretty stupid thing to have thought, let alone said in the hearing of others.

In December 1546 Surrey’s chickens came home to roost. He was arrested on the 2nd. The duke of Norfolk was also rounded up.  Father and son were sent to the Tower. Their home at Kenninghall was searched and their belongings confiscated. Everyone who had a grudge against the Howards emerged from the woodwork to offer their two penneth – mostly recounting Surrey’s dislike of the low born and his own inflated view of himself.

Mary Howard was also called as a witness.  She told the tale of Norfolk’s plans to forge an alliance with the Seymours and of Surrey’s objections. She along with Bessie Holland (Norfolk’s mistress) also mentioned Surrey’s new heraldic device – they noted that they didn’t like it and neither did the Duke of Norfolk. Very very foolishly in a realm where being Plantagenet could result in an appointment with the axeman Surrey had started using his grandfather Buckingham’s coat of arms along with other Plantagenet emblems.  In resurrecting the defunct coat of arms it was claimed that Surrey was repudiating the attainder that Richard III had served against Buckingham and was also stating his claim to the throne.  It was a very complicated coat of arms because Surrey had also managed to dredge up his link to Edward the Confessor and include that on the arms as well.  Lord Chancellor Wriothesley knew that not only did he have Surrey “bang to rights” but that Henry VIII would regard it as a direct threat to the Tudor succession.

Now whilst Henry didn’t necessarily wish for the balance of power to shift too far in the direction of the Seymours he couldn’t risk Surrey’s claim to the crown – at least not once Wriothesley had carefully explained it to him. Whether he’d meant to or not Surrey had managed to fall foul of the Succession Act of 1536. He was tried at the Guildhall where he called his accusers low born and wretched.  He was outraged that one of the witnesses was a woman…never mind the fact that it was his sister who’d revealed Surrey’s plan to make her Henry’s mistress.

Henry Howard, earl of Surrey was executed on 19th January 1547.  Henry VIII would die just nine days later – a fact which saved the duke of Norfolk from suffering the same fate as his son.

Hutchinson, Robert. (2009) House of Treason: Rise and Fall of a Tudor Dynasty. London: Pheonix

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Katherine Parr

kathparr emblem.pngKatherine Parr, the wife who survived, was the daughter of Thomas Parr of Kendal who died in 1517. She was also twice widowed; first married to Sir Edward Burough when she was about fifteen, but was widowed shortly after in 1529. Her second husband was Sir John Nevill, Lord Latimer. He was a wealthy landowner in Yorkshire, his land was in the path of the pilgrims of the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace and the family were held hostage. He died in 1542 just as Henry was looking for another wife.

 

Katherine had moved into the household of Princess Mary and was courted by Thomas Seymour, one of Jane Seymour’s brothers. Whatever Katherine’s thoughts on the matter she attracted the attention of Henry and when Henry proposed there wasn’t really a polite way out of it. They married on 12 July 1543. Katherine had yet another old husband and this one was probably the most dangerous of all of them.

 

 Like all of his wives Henry was related to Katherine. The Parrs were descended from King John and Edward III as well as Joan Beaufort who became the Countess of Westmorland. There was rather more Plantagenet blood in Katherine’s veins than in Anne Boleyn’s or Jane Seymour’s for that matter.

 

The maiden with flowing hair in Katherine’s emblem is St Catherine of Alexandria – she of wheel fame who was martyred by the Emperor Maxentius after she’d bested his scholars in a debate about Christianity. It probably didn’t help that many of the scholars she argued with became Christians on the strength of Catherine’s argument and were promptly put to death. Maxentius’s wife apparently suffered a similar fate leaving the way clear for Maxentius to try and win Catherine over with a marriage proprosal which she rejected. The alternative turned out to be death on a wheel. She was one of the most important medieval saints.

The Tudor rose needs no explanation.

 

Her motto was “To be useful in all that I do.” And she was. She brought the royal family together, advised Henry to get himself some reading glasses and forwarded the Protestant faith. She even had books of her own work published.

 

After Henry’s death she married Thomas Seymour – the ambitious admiral who turned his attentions to Katherine’s step-daughter. Katherine died at Sudeley Castle in 1548 having given birth to a daughter called Mary. She left all her possessions to Thomas who would shortly afterwards find himself condemned to a traitor’s death.

 

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Frances Brandon

frances-tombFrances Grey nee Brandon is another ‘not quite Tudor princess.’ She was the elder daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor the Dowager Queen of France and her second husband Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk- based on modern rules she would not be defined as a princess but her nearness to the crown at a time when there was a shortage of Tudor heirs created tragedy for her three daughters.

Frances was born at Hatfield on July 16, 1517. Interestingly, like her cousins there was some legal wrangling as to her legitimacy. Charles had been married to Margaret Neville before marrying Mary – unfortunately Margaret was still very much alive at the time. Charles had to get the marriage annulled on grounds of consanguinity by which time Frances had arrived so his legal paperwork had to declare her legitimate.

 

Mary Tudor was close to her sister-in-law Catherine of Aragon so inevitably Frances spent time with her cousin the Princess Mary meaning that the arrival of Anne Boleyn made family gatherings a tad tricky.

 

In 1533, Frances married Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset. He was the great-grandson of Elizabeth Woodville through her first marriage. Soon after the marriage Frances’ mother died. By 1551, Frances’ half brother was dead and Henry Grey became Duke of Suffolk. Frances was also third in line for the throne, the Tudor lack of males making her more important than she might otherwise have been. By the time she was nineteen she’d already lost a daughter and more importantly, in the minds of folk wanting male Tudors, a son. In 1537 another daughter, Lady Jane Grey, was born. Roger Ascham, her one time tutor, recorded Jane’s views of Frances’ parenting strategy –

 

“For when I am in presence either of father or mother; whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand, or go, eat, drink, be merry, or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing any thing else; I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure, and number, even so perfectly, as God made the world; or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea presently sometimes with pinches, nips, and bobs, and other ways (which I will not name for the honour I bear them) so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell, till time come that I must go to Mr Elmer; who teacheth me so gently, so pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the time nothing whiles I am with him…”

 

No wonder then that numerous writers have suggested that the greys were disappointed that Jane was not a boy – although expectations of learning amongst the Tudor children was undoubtedly high.

 

Unlike Eleanor Brandon who seems to have been unambitious, perhaps because of her poor health Frances appears to have been much more determined to shin up the Tudor powerlist. When Henry VIII died in 1547 they handed Jane over to Thomas Seymour as a ward in the hope that he might arrange a match with her cousin the new king Edward VI.

 

But by 1553 it was clear that Edward was dying. Jane leapfrogged over her cousins Mary and Elizabeth bypassing Henry VIII’s will when Edward named her his heir. She was married off to Guildford Dudley. Novels suggest that Frances beat Jane in order to ensure compliance but there are no historical sources to support this.

 

Frances’s husband Henry Grey was executed on February 23, 1554 for his part in Wyatt’s rebellion against Mary- he outlived his daughter by ten days. His involvement in the rebellion cost Jane her life.

 

Frances went on to marry her Master of Horse, rather suggesting she wasn’t as ambitious as all that the following month. By marrying Adrian Stokes she lowered her rank so significantly that William Camden believed that she distanced herself and her surviving children far enough from the throne to make them less of a threat. Leanda de Lisle’s book about the Grey sisters reveals that Katherine and Mary remained at risk because of their closeness to the throne but that during Mary’s reign they were welcome at court, as indeed was their mother Frances.

 

Frances’ health deteriorated in part from late pregnancies- she gave birth to a daughter who died the same day – had she visited Henry Grey in the Tower after his arrest there might have been some doubt as to whether or not Adrian Stokes was the father. And there were also two sons who died in infancy. Frances died in the Charterhouse at Sheen in 21 November 1559. She was given the burial of a princess in Westminster Abbey and was described as such by the heralds at the funeral demonstrating that the term princess was a moveable feast during the Tudor period.

 

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