Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley
|Baron Seymour of Sudeley|
|Died||20 March 1549 (aged 40–41)|
Tower Hill, London
|Buried||Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London|
(m. 1547; died 1548)
|Father||Sir John Seymour|
Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, KG PC (c. 1508 – 20 March 1549) was a brother of Jane Seymour, the third wife of King Henry VIII. With his brother, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of England, he vied for control of their nephew, the young King Edward VI (r. 1547–1553). In 1547 Seymour became the fourth husband of Catherine Parr, who had been the sixth and last wife and queen of Henry VIII. During his marriage to Catherine Parr, Seymour involved the future Queen Elizabeth I (then 14 years old), who resided in his household, in flirtatious and possibly sexual behaviour.
Thomas Seymour was the son of Sir John Seymour and Margaret Wentworth. He was the younger brother of Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset (1500–1552). He grew up at Wulfhall, the Seymour family home, in Wiltshire, a county in southwest England. The Seymours were a family of country gentry, who, like most holders of manorial rights, traced their ancestry to a Norman origin.
Because Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, did not have a son (Henry hoped for a male heir), his interests turned elsewhere, to Thomas Seymour's sister Jane, one of Anne's ladies in waiting. Henry married Jane eleven days after Anne's execution in May 1536, and the Seymour brothers saw their fortunes rise, as they became part of the royal family. In October of the following year, Jane gave birth to a son, Edward Tudor, who would become King Edward VI. Her two brothers, Edward and Thomas, were therefore uncles to the baby Edward, heir to the throne. Less than two weeks later, Queen Jane died from complications related to childbirth.
Thomas Seymour's other royal connection was with Catherine Parr, Henry VIII's sixth wife, whom Seymour would later marry, after Henry's death. In 1543 Catherine Parr established herself as part of Princess Mary's household, where she caught the attention of the King. Although she had already begun a romantic relationship with Thomas Seymour, she saw it as her duty to accept Henry's proposal.
In 1538, Thomas Seymour was sent to the embassy at the French court. He was one of those appointed to meet Anne of Cleves, King Henry's fourth wife, at Calais on 13 December 1539. A few weeks later he was sent to King Ferdinand I of Hungary, brother of Emperor Charles V, to enlist support for Henry against France and Scotland. He arrived at Vienna in July, and remained there two years. In May 1543, he was appointed ambassador to the Habsburg court in Brussels. He was given this posting to remove him from King Henry's court, for the King's marriage to Catherine Parr. War breaking out between England and France, Seymour was made marshal of the English army in the Netherlands on 26 June, being second in command to Sir John Wallop. On 24 July 1543, with a strong detachment, he captured and destroyed the castles of Rinquecen and Arbrittayne near the French port of Boulogne. For a short time, he held the chief command during Wallop's illness. Due to his position of privilege as a royal uncle and as a reward for his services, Thomas was made Master-General of the Ordnance in 1544 and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1545, both very senior military positions.
Regency Council and marriage to Catherine Parr
He returned to court just before King Henry VIII died in January 1547, leaving Catherine one of the wealthiest women in England. According to the King's will, a regency council was constituted to rule on behalf of the 9-year-old orphaned King Edward. Thomas Seymour became 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley. Edward became Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, and is often, therefore, referred to as "Somerset". In addition, Thomas Seymour saw his brother rise, in the contentious and dangerous politics of the English Reformation, to the position of chief councillor with an approved title of "Protector" regent, referred to unofficially as Lord Protector of England, in effect, ruler of the realm as Regent for his nephew, the king. Thomas Seymour, unsurprisingly, began to resent his brother and the relationship between them began to dissolve. Although Thomas Seymour was named Lord High Admiral as a concession, he was consumed by jealousy of his brother's power and influence and worked to unseat and replace his brother as Lord Protector.
Thomas Seymour sought to over-turn his brother's position on the regency council by his personal influence over the young king, and also possibly, by making a royal marriage. Although his name had been linked to Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, he was still unmarried at the time of the King's death. He had previously shown some interest in marrying either of Henry's daughters, Elizabeth or Mary; however, within weeks of Henry's death, Thomas Seymour had rekindled the affair with Catherine Parr, and they were secretly married in April or May 1547, too soon after the king's death to suit many. Anne Stanhope, Somerset's proud wife, disliked Catherine and Thomas and began to turn many people in court against them. To demonstrate her hatred, Anne kept the Queen's jewels, which by right were Catherine's. In turn, Catherine was annoyed at the appointment of Edward Seymour (Duke of Somerset) as Protector regent, since as King Edward's stepmother, she had expected to be appointed regent.
Relationship with Elizabeth
Upon their marriage, Seymour moved into his wife's house, at Chelsea Manor in London, where she lived with her step-daughter, the 14-year-old Elizabeth. Seymour was the uncle of Elizabeth's half-brother, and the newly wed husband of her step-mother. Now, living under the same roof as Elizabeth, Thomas Seymour began to show affection toward Elizabeth, tickling her, and slapping her on her behind as she lay in her bed, or coming into her room in his nightclothes. Her governess, Kat Ashley, thought this scandalous, and reported it to Catherine. Indignant, Seymour retorted, 'By God's precious soul, I mean no evil, and I will not leave it!' At first, Catherine dismissed the behaviour as just innocent fun, and even joined in the behaviour on a few occasions. Elizabeth's feelings regarding this behaviour are unknown, but it was said that she bore Thomas some degree of affection. And though her governess "bade him go away in shame," she found him more amusing than dangerous. When Catherine was pregnant in the spring of 1548, she had become concerned enough about her husband's flirtatious relationship with Elizabeth that she sent Elizabeth away to live with Anthony Denny and his wife, Joan Champernowne (Kat Ashley's sister), in Hertfordshire.
In June 1548, Catherine and Thomas Seymour moved their household from London to Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, the property granted to Seymour when he became Baron Seymour of Sudeley. In September 1548, Catherine gave birth to a daughter, Mary Seymour. In the following days, she became uncharacteristically hostile and delusional. Thomas lay in bed with her to quiet her, but she did not get better, and died of childbirth complications, just before Elizabeth's 15th birthday. Upon her death, Catherine bequeathed all of her possessions to Thomas, making him one of the wealthiest men in England. He said he was "amazed" at her death; yet it opened up new opportunities to him, as his eye returned to Elizabeth. From fear or shrewdness, she avoided him, returning with her governess to her childhood home, Hatfield House in Hertfordshire.
Relationship with Edward VI
Despite his great wealth and high position, Thomas Seymour could not come to terms with his brother's appointment as protector; and in his struggle with Somerset, he tried to ingratiate himself with the king, who was just a little boy. He sought the 9-year-old Edward to write a letter on his behalf in support of his marriage to the dowager queen, Catherine Parr. The letter was obviously dictated by Thomas for Edward's signature and only enraged Somerset. He began to visit Edward frequently, secretly giving him an extravagant allowance of coins, so that Edward might be satisfied in feeling more grown-up and more king-like, giving gifts to his servants, teachers, and friends. Even though he lived in sumptuous splendour and wanting for nothing, no provisions had been made for Edward's pocket money, and he became accustomed to these regular payments and began to ask Seymour freely for his allowance. Thomas continued his manipulation of the king. In trying to get a bill through Parliament making him Edward's personal governor, Seymour requested Edward's royal signature on the bill. But Edward was uncertain, and reluctant to go behind the back of the protector, Somerset, and of the regency council, and he would not sign it. Seymour persistently pressured Edward, until Edward felt threatened. But Seymour did not give up. He tried to persuade Edward that he did not need a protector, getting Edward to admit that it might be better for Somerset to die. It is not known what the king meant by this, but it was probably uttered innocently. Seymour intended that the king's royal signature and personal support would destabilize Somerset's position as protector, and as a member of the regency council. In his frustration and inability to gain any significant influence over the king, Thomas Seymour began to think in terms of open rebellion. Although he was a boy, King Edward did not seem completely naïve regarding any of this.
In summer 1547, Edward Seymour, 1st duke of Somerset and the Protector of England, invaded Scotland. During his absence from the court, his brother, Thomas Seymour, fomented opposition to his authority, voicing open disapproval of his brother's administrative skills. Because his activities seemed suspicious, several members of the nobility advised him to be content with his position, but he would not listen. As Lord High Admiral, he was able to control the English navy, and he openly asked for support in case of a rebellion. He entered into relations with pirates on the western coasts, whom it was his duty as Lord High Admiral to suppress, with a view to securing their support. Thomas seems also to have hoped to finance a rebellion through crooked dealings with the vice-treasurer of the Bristol Mint, Sir William Sharington.
By 1548, the regency council was becoming aware of Thomas's bid for power. Somerset tried to save his brother from ruin, calling a council meeting so that Thomas might explain himself. However, Thomas did not appear. On the night of 16 January 1549, for reasons that are not clear (perhaps to take the young king away in his own custody), Seymour was caught trying to break into the King's apartments at Hampton Court Palace. He entered the privy garden and awoke one of the King's pet spaniels. In response to the dog's barking, he shot and killed it. The next day, he was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. The incident, being caught outside the king's bedroom, at night, with a loaded pistol, was interpreted in the most menacing light, even casting suspicion on Elizabeth's involvement with Thomas. On 18 January, the council sent agents to question everyone associated with Thomas, including Elizabeth. On 22 February, the council officially accused him of thirty-three charges of treason. He was convicted of treason, condemned to death and executed on 20 March 1549. Catherine’s brother William Parr, 1st Marquess of Northampton, then inherited the castle.
When he was arrested for treason, Seymour's associates were also cast under suspicion, including 15-year-old Elizabeth. She did not realize her own danger until her servants, including her governess Kat Ashley, were also arrested. Upon realizing that Thomas would probably be executed, she was noticeably disconsolate, trying to free herself and her servants from suspicion. The regency council was sure of her complicity with Thomas, and sought to bully an easy confession from her. She was interrogated for weeks. But the council found itself in a sharply defined game of wits with Elizabeth, who proved to be a master of logic, defiance, and shrewdness. The embarrassing details of Seymour's flirtatious behaviour came to light. But there was no evidence that Elizabeth had conspired with him.
After his execution, all of Thomas Seymour's property was seized by the Crown. His attainder was reversed by Parliament in 1550, although the property was not returned to Mary Seymour, his only child; Mary is believed to have died at about the age of two years soon afterward.
To his contemporaries, he appeared as forceful and reckless, and also very attractive to women. Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, a boyhood friend of King Edward, described Thomas Seymour as "hardy, wise and liberal ... fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent, but somewhat empty of matter."
In popular culture
In the 1953 movie Young Bess (based on the novel of the same title by Margaret Irwin), Stewart Granger was cast as Seymour. The plot, largely a romance between him and Princess Elizabeth (played by 24-year-old Jean Simmons), had very little historical accuracy.
He is a character in the C. J. Sansom novel Revelation, featuring Sansom's fictional lawyer/detective Matthew Shardlake. He is portrayed as a hot-headed military man, with designs on Catherine Parr, in the months before the latter's marriage to Henry VIII. He reappears as a secondary character in the next two novels in the series, Heartstone and Lamentation.
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- Sir Thomas Seymour, Lord Seymour of Sudeley Family tree
- Portraits of Thomas Seymour, Baron Sudeley at the National Portrait Gallery, London
- Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley at Find a Grave