Thomas Seymour is as much a victim as Anne Boleyn. I know, that’s going to be a highly debated statement but it’s one I believe to be true.
When Anne Boleyn fell out of favor with the King it was those around him who found ways to make her guilty of charges that would rid Henry of his second wife to make room for his third, who, coincidentally was Jane Seymour.
This is exactly what happened to Thomas. While I agree he made some sketchy choices in his life he did not deserve death.
Thomas Seymour made an enemy of his brother Edward, Duke of Somerset when he continued to find ways of embarrassing his brother and having him removed from his position as Lord Protector. I do however see some of Thomas’ actions as those of an uncle who is trying to fight for his nephew’s rights as monarch. For example, some may see Thomas sending his nephew money as a way to bribe him. I see it as an uncle giving his nephew spending money since the Lord Protector tightly controlled his household.
When we look at the confession of Kat Ashley, in particular, on the outside it appears that Thomas was a horrid man who preyed on young Elizabeth. However, we must remember that Kat was a fan of Thomas Seymour after the death of Katherine Parr and believed he was a good match for the princess. She merely wanted the Council to give the okay to move forward before encouraging Elizabeth to accept. In her confession she makes Thomas out to be a monster. The stories were most definitely fabricated or exaggerated because Ashley was under duress. Mind you this is after Anne Askew was the first woman to be tortured so I believe that was a real threat to her.
Let’s take a look at her confession:
What familiarity she has known/seen between the Lord Admiral, and the Lady Elizabeth’s Grace?
She said at Chelsea, incontinent after he was married to the Queen, he would come many mornings into the said Lady Elizabeth’s chamber, before she was ready, and sometimes before she did rise. 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: And if she were in her bed, he would put open the curtains, and bid her Good Morrow, and make as though he would come at her: And she would go further in the bed, so that he could not come at her.
Let’s examine the first paragraph and read through the lines, remembering that some of this may be false statement. Do I believe that Thomas went into her room? Yes. Yes I do. However that is where the scandal ends in my opinion. When I read the above paragraph it sounds like a parent, or let’s say an older brother going into her room to wake her in the morning – maybe she was sleeping too late. We do not know how Thomas behaved with his own sisters so we cannot know what may have been exaggerated by Kat Ashley. I believe it’s possible that he would go into Elizabeth’s room in the morning to wake her – going so far as to pull the curtains open to let in daylight and then make it as though he’s going to pull her out of bed. It’s also possible that he would “play” with her maids. I’m sure they giggled and laughed at his playfulness because he was a tall and very handsome man and I’m sure he enjoyed the attention from them. Did he slap Elizabeth on the back and buttocks? At what point do we believe that Kat Ashley was trying to incriminate Thomas to her interrogator? My guess would be that he “slapped” her on the back but not the buttocks. That is where it would have been deemed most inappropriate.
And one morning he strave to have (tried to) kissed her in her bed: And Kat was there, and asked him to go away for shame. Ashley was unsure whether this incident happened at Chelsea or Hanworth.
He tried to kiss her in her bed? I wish there was more detail to that statement. It seems odd that it was included in her confession – almost like it was another way to make him look bad. When someone is accused in Tudor England it is often followed by torture or execution. Imagine Kat Ashley fearing for her own life – being worried that if she did not incriminate Thomas Seymour that she would be tortured for a confession whether it was true or not. At some point self-preservation kicks in and you work out a preemptive strike.
At Hanworth, he would likewise come in the morning unto her Grace; but, as she remembers, at all times, she was up before, saving two morning, the which two mornings, the Queen came with him: And Thomas Seymour lay with her Grace; and there they tickled my Lady Elizabeth in the bed, the Queen and my Lord Admiral.
I see this as a playful to wake up a teenager, nothing more. Again we have to question whether or not Thomas ever tickled her in bed alone or if it was always him and Katherine Parr together.
Another time at Hanworth, in the garden, he wrated (writhed) with her, and cut her gown in a hundred pieces, being black cloth; and when she came up, Thomas Seymour chid (either chided or kid) with her; and her Grace answered, she could not do with all, for the Queen held her, while the Lord Admiral cut it.
The above incident in the garden seems very far-fetched to me. It doesn’t make any sense at all. In my imagination I feel like they were all in the garden and Elizabeth tore her dress on something – Thomas gave her a hard time about it and Katherine Parr was there as well. It’s totally speculative but I cannot imagine that Kat Ashley completely made up these stories to save herself – she may have only changed and exaggerated things that had indeed happened.
Here is more from Kat Ashley’s testimony:
Another time at Chelsea, the Lady Elizabeth hearing the privy-lock undo, knowing that he would come in, ran out of her bed to her maidens, and then went behind the curtain of the bed, the maidens being there; and my Lord tarried to have her come out, she can not till how long. This examinate hard of the Gentlewomen. She thinks Mr. Power told it to her. And then in the Gallery this examinate told my Lord that these things were complained of and that my Lady was evil spoken of: The Lord Admiral swore, God’s precious soul! he would tell my Lord Protector how it slandered hi, and he would not leave it, for he meant no evil.
At Seymour Place, when the Queen lay there, he did use a while to come up every morning in his night gown, barelegged in his slippers, where he found commonly the Lady Elizabeth up at her boke: and then he would look in at the Gallery door and bid my Lady Elizabeth Good Morrow, and so go his way. Then she told my lord it was an unseemly sight to come so bare legged to a maidens chamber; with which he was angry, but he left it.
At Hanworth, the Queen told this examinate that my Lord Admiral looked in at the Gallery window, and see my Lady Elizabeth cast her arms about a man’s neck. The which hearing this examinate enquired for it of my Lady’s Grace, who denied it weeping, and bad ax all her women: They all denied it: And she knew it could not be so, for there came no man, but Gryndall, the Lady Elizabeth’s Schoolmaster. Howbeit, thereby this examinate did suspect, that the Queen was jealous betwixt them, and did but seen this, to thentent that this examinate should take more hede, and be, as it were in watche betwixt her and my Lord Admiral.
She sayeth also, that Mr. Ashley, her husband, hath divers times given this examinate warning to take heed, for he did fear that the Lady Elizabeth did bear som affection to my Lord Admiral, she seemed to be well pleased therewith, and sometime she would blush when he were spoken of: And one other told her so also, but she cannot tell who it was.
I find it interesting that in Kat Ashley’s confession that at times she knows for sure what was said and where and other times she cannot remember where or whom said something. It was only a short time before, on 16 July 1546, that Anne Askew was burned at the stake for her religious beliefs. She was the first woman to be tortured it was so bad that John Foxe wrote:
…she was brought into Smithfield in a chair, because she could not go on her feet, by means of her great torment. When she was brought unto the stake she was tied by the middle with a chain that held up her body.
Imagine being Kat Ashley and fearing the same torture happening to her – would you not tell your interrogator whatever they wished to hear in order to save yourself?