To Protect Thyself and Thy King

When the Lord Protector, Thomas Seymour’s brother Edward, Duke of Somerset was off fighting the Battle of Pinkie in Scotland in 1547, Thomas used his time wisely by gaining friends and support from the King’s inner circle of servants and privy chamber members.

Thomas, as the Lord High Admiral of England, should have been in Scotland as well, but he had stayed in London to allegedly intrigue against Somerset. If I recall he feigned illness. This would not be the last time Thomas Seymour shirked his duties as Admiral.

It was also during the time when Somerset was at the Battle of Pinkie that Seymour was able to convince the King to write a letter approving of a marriage between Thomas and Kateryn Parr. Of course, nobody knew that the two had already wed, but Seymour got a letter written that protected himself and the queen dowager.

During this time Thomas Seymour was believed to have given money to two or three of the members of the King’s privy chamber and grooms of the chamber. By accepting the money from Seymour he believed that they would in return become ‘his men’.

The question that always remains is what was the catalyst that caused the falling out between the two Seymour brothers for Seymour to act this way?

The main cause of the following out between Thomas and his brother Edward was the fact that Edward became Lord Protector of the Realm and Governor of the King upon the accession of their nephew, Edward VI. Thomas believed that the titles should have been shared by the two brothers as had happened in the past. He even went so far to search the chronicles for precedents and discovered evidence to back him up: ‘that there was in England at one time one Protector and another Regent of France and the Duke of Exeter and the Bishop of Winchester, Governors of the King’s Person‘.¹

Some have suggested that John Dudley, Earl of Warwick instigated Seymour’s intrigues to cause discord between the brothers. After the death of Henry VIII, Thomas Seymour felt that he was unfairly treated and this caused a wound between the brothers. Like a vulcher, Warwick attacked the wounded prey.

Prior to the death of Henry VIII there is nothing of note to indicate that the brothers were anything but civil with one another. As a matter of fact, Thomas wrote to his brother when he was away that he had checked on his wife (Anne Stanhope) and Prince Edward:

“Our master and mistress, with my lord Prince, are merry, and so is my lady my sister, whom I will visit ere (before) I sleep. And thus most heartily fare ye well, and send you  a prosperous journey. Westminster, [14 March 1544]”

So Warwick, understanding that there was an opportunity to be had, promised that if Thomas pursued the cause to become Governor of the King with the council, that he would give him his support. Seymour played into Warwick’s hands like a puppet – he had already been angry and jealous toward his brother and the nudge from Warwick was enough to push him over the edge. When Thomas raised the matter at a council meeting his brother, Duke of Somerset upon hearing his statement, stood up (without saying anything) and ended the meeting.

The one thing that Warwick had not mentioned was the discord caused by having two uncles in charge – looking no further than the Duke of Gloucester and Cardinal Beaufort (previously mentioned Regent of France and Bishop of Winchester) during the minority of King Henry VI. This was something that Thomas’ brother, Somerset had mentioned and was one of the reasons he was reluctant to give his brother such a title.

We also know Thomas was not too keen on education, so did he know English history? Was he aware what had happened the last time two uncles held power during the minority of their nephew?

As Thomas pushed and pushed about the matter of becoming Governor, it only incensed Somerset further. It was brought to Seymour’s attention that he willfully signed the document making Edward, Lord Protector of the Realm and Governor of the King. This did not dissuade Seymour from his mission, however.

Ultimately, the council turned against Thomas Seymour – probably led by the Earl of Warwick and they convinced Somerset that his brother was a danger to his life.

Edward VI

Now, if we look at King Edward VI and his relationship with Somerset, we see a young King, who was the son of Henry VIII – that in itself probably means that Edward had a strong personality and wanted things his way.

John Fowler, servant to King Edward VI, had mentioned that Seymour would come to the privy buttery and drink there alone and ask him whether the king would say anything of him. Thomas had been giving the King gifts of money so that he could give gifts to his servants and have money of his own – you see, the Lord Protector had also put restrictions on his nephew the King and so Thomas may have believed he and the King were kindred spirits in the is matter…both were being held back by the Lord Protector. Seymour, while protecting and encouraging his nephew to become King in his own right was not only fighting for his nephew, but also for himself. He saw it as unfair and so had the King. At one time mentioning how he wished that his uncle Somerset was dead.

Alleged Kidnapping Attempt

On the night of the 16th of January 1549, Thomas Seymour was arrested for allegedly killing the King’s dog and attempting to kidnap the King. What is not fully stated in most cases is the facts that surround the case.

Weeks earlier, Thomas Seymour had made complaints that his nephew was not well protected. That he needed more guards. On the night of the incident it was reported that Thomas dispersed some of the guards to run errands, which left a gap in security. The Duke of Somerset had made it very clear prior to this that Thomas should not have access to his nephew. Would these guards have been brave enough to work against the Lord Protector by taking orders from his younger brother? I’m skeptical.

The story then continues with King Edward’s dog being shot outside the royal bedchamber. The sound of the gunshot alerted a nearby guard (why wasn’t there one closer?) who then collected other guards before approaching the door to the bedchamber. It was then that they spotted Thomas Seymour standing there. Immediately Thomas was accused of shooting the dog and plotting to kidnap the king.

Professor G.W. Bernard cannot definitively say whether or not Thomas Seymour meant to kidnap King Edward (and Elizabeth for that fact) – to me that speaks volumes. Nobody knows for certain if that was his intent that night at Hampton Court Palace. We know he was there – that’s a fact. We also know that sometime before the alleged kidnapping that Seymour was discouraged at the number of guards available to protect the king. Those who oppose Seymour see that as him scoping out the joint beforehand. I see it as an uncle who is concerned for his nephews safety.²

Henry Bullinger is quoted as condemning Seymour on the 15th of February 1549. Bullinger, a German reformer,  put all the blame on Seymour and insisted that Seymour killed the King’s dog and would have killed the King if he had not been halted by the guards.²

When we consider the killing of the King’s dog we must remember that there were no witnesses to the murder. It was easy to place the blame on Seymour. Contrary to what some authors have stated, the King’s dog was not next to the King’s bed in his bedchamber, instead he was just outside the room.²

Thomas Seymour had brought a few of his servants with him that night at Hampton Court Palace that night. My thought has always been that Seymour was concerned about the safety of his nephew. There was no advantage for him to murder his nephew, but protect him – yes. It is my belief that one of his servants made it to King’s room before Seymour to check if the room was being protected and got scared by the barking dog. In a panic the dog was killed. Seymour’s timing could not have been worse – as he approached the King’s room the King’s guards apprehended him. Seymour insisted that he was checking that the King was securely guarded. It is possible that he was there to kidnap his nephew. He may have seen this as his only option.²

Did Thomas Seymour want to kidnap his nephew? Well, he certainly mentioned one time that he wished to have the King in his possession. Here is how he responded to that charge against him:

“He said that about Eastertide he said to Fowler, as he supposeth it was, that if he might have the king in his custody as Mr. Page had he would be glad, and that he thought a man might bring him through the Gallery to his chamber, and so to his house, but this he said he spoke merely meaning no hurt.”²

After his arrest, Thomas Seymour was examined and mentioned that he and Fowler had a discussion about Mr. Stanhope’s paranoia surrounding the King. That he asked to be woken anytime someone came to the door. Then they went on to ask if he was afraid that any man may come and take the King. To which it was implied that that man was Seymour – he said, “If he think that I will go about it, he shall watch a good while”.³

The story of Thomas Seymour and his nephew ended with Edward VI turning against his uncle and Seymour being executed on the 19th of March 1549. Then a few years later, on the 22nd of January 1552, his other uncle and former Lord Protector was executed, leaving John Dudley as the most powerful man in England.

The Tudor court was full of scandal and intrigue and the reign of Edward VI was obviously no different.

We may never know the whole story when it comes to Thomas Seymour, but I promise you I will continue to dig until we have a better understanding of all the events that occurred between 1547 and 1549.

Notes:

¹ Dasent, J.R., Acts of the Privy Council

² Thomas Seymour Blog, Charges Against Thomas Seymour [5 March 2018]

³ A Collection of State Papers 1542-1570, Examination of the Lord Admiral [1549]

Sources:

England Under the Reigns of Edward VI and Mary with the Contemporary History of Europe

Bernard, G.W., Power and Politics in Tudor England – The downfall of Thomas Seymour (essay) [2000] ISBN 0 7546 0245 1

McLean, John, The Life of Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley

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