Edward Seymour (born about 1500) the eldest surviving son of Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth of Wolf Hall in Wiltshire was following the court trajectory of many other Tudor men in terms of patronage and a slow climb up the social ladder until his sister, Jane Seymour, caught the eye of Henry VIII at which point Thomas Cromwell moved out of his accommodation to make way for Edward and his wife Ann Stanhope so that the king could speak privately to Jane whilst chaperoned by her family. Once Jane became queen Edward swiftly acquired some nifty new titles.
The trajectory of his rise can be seen in the manner of his address in 1523 he became Sir Edward when he was knighted by the Duke of Suffolk when he went with him on campaign to France. In 1536 the king made him Viscount Beauchamp and then in 1537 the Earl of Hertford. In 1542 he became the Lord High Admiral but really he was a soldier and he handed that position back when the Scots repudiated the Treaty of Greenwich which had been made in the aftermath of the Battle of Solway Moss. In 1544 he headed north for a spot of Rough Wooing, sailed into Leith and burned Edinburgh. He also won a victory against the French at Boulogne in 1546. He gained a reputation for military efficiency.
On 27 January 1547 Henry VIII died leaving a regency council to care for is son, the new king Edward VI. Sir Edward had no desire to share power with the rest of the Privy Council and promptly managed to wangle the post of Lord Protector based on the fact that he was the new king’s uncle and had a reputation as a soldier in both Scotland and France. He also dished out a new title for himself becoming the Duke of Somerset on February 16 1547. He then edged the Privy Council out even more into the cold by drawing up Letters Patent that his nine-year-old nephew signed decreeing that he only need call on the services of the Privy Council when he thought it was necessary. Needless to say this resulted in resentment and would ultimately leave him isolated. Thomas Wriothesley the chancellor and newly minted Earl of Southampton protested. He found himself being deprived of the chancellorship for his pains.
Essentially historians are torn about the Lord Protector. Many of them see him as highly principled and concerned for the care of the poor within England’s realm. It was he who issued the proclamation saying that hedges and fences enclosing common land should be removed. Others see him as failing to take the necessary command and control of the situation – when Kett’s Rebellion erupted in 1549 it was because they believed they were following the Protector’s instructions in demolishing the new enclosures. It didn’t help that there were a series of bad harvests and that inflation was rampant.
There was also the tricky matter of his difficult relationship with his little brother Sir Thomas who was jealous of Edward and did everything he could to make life difficult for the Lord Protector.
Edward Seymour even managed to please no one in religious terms when he tried to steer a middle path between Catholics and Protestants and failed to please either group when as part of Cranmer’s reforms he instituted the Common Prayer Book in English resulting in the Prayer Book Rebellion in 1549 when the population of the west Country rose up in protest at the english content of church services. Calvinists didn’t think he went far enough even though he banned the lighting of candles and got rid of a number of holidays and suppressed the chantries.
Meanwhile so far as foreign affairs were concerned Somerset had tried initially to suggest that the Scots should enter a union voluntarily with England and when that failed he headed north and induced in a bit of Scot bashing – the Battle of Pinkie occurred on September 10 1547 and was an English victory but resulted ultimately in the Scots sending their little queen to France for safety which was what Henri II wanted but which was not what the English wanted as the country once more became the bone between the two dogs. The cost of the war was prohibitive as was the need for a standing army. By the end of the period the borders between England and Scotland were back at their Henrican starting point.
Somerset’s rival on the council, John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick was able to bide his time and draw on the support of all the people that Somerset had managed to irritate including Edward VI. Somerset realised what was happening and headed off to Windsor from Hampton Court with Edward VI on 1 October 1549 but when it became clear that if he stood his ground that it would result in faction, feud and blood shed he “came quietly” as the newspapers would say. The people who supported I’m were the ones without power or influence. Seymour was arrested on the 11th of October on charges that included ambition and followings own authority.
Somerset and his faction were toppled but after a time in prison Somerset was allowed to return to the Privy Council which he had managed to alienate by not conferring with them. Unfortunately for him he tried to law back his position so found himself under arrest for treason along with the Earl of Arundel. Dudley claimed that Somerset intended to capture the Tower of London and then raise rebellion around the country. There was no evidence but it didn’t matter.
Somerset was found guilty and executed on 22 January 1552. The people of London were ordered to stay indoors on the morning of Edward Seymour’s execution but a huge number of people turned out, many of them sobbing. When some soldiers arrived late there was a cry that “the good Duke” was to be spared but it was Seymour who calmed the crowd and explained that there would be no reprieve. Certainly his nephew Edward VI does not spare his uncles blushes in his journal and is completely, apparently, unmoved by his execution in 1552 simply noting that he had had his head chopped off.
Weir, Alison. (2009) Children of England: the Heirs of Henry VIIILondon: Jonathan Cape