All that’s left is history. Letters to his king and his wife give us small insight into the man – it is what others had to say about him that have left a lasting impression.
Thomas Seymour had blue eyes, red hair and a long red beard and mustache. He was described as “…fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent but somewhat empty of matter².”
The portraits that remain vary in appearance yet all have something in common. The sitter. There is a Holbein sketch located at the Victoria and Albert Museum that is labeled as possibly Sir Thomas Seymour. The sketch is dated between 1535 and 1540. The sitter is without a cap (unusual compared to his other portraits) and wearing a fur collar. The sitter appears to be ‘middle-aged’¹ and the head it turned slightly.
Whether or not it is truly Thomas Seymour we may never know. The sitter has some similarities to the “1545” miniature portrait that is available at the National Maritime Museum – a portrait that is believed (by the National Portrait Gallery) to be the basis for all subsequent portraits. If indeed the Holbein portrait is that of Thomas Seymour we must believe that it is a true likeness of the man since Holbein was quite possibly the most talented artist at Tudor court.
There is another mysterious portrait (see below) of Thomas Seymour that was created by an unknown artist. This portrait has an inscription on the side as well. The portrait itself is mostly black with the inscription in gold lettering. There is so much black in the portrait that it appears to show a floating head. I have since taken this dark portrait and lightened it up to uncover a detail that was previously unseen.
What immediately caught my eye was the barely visible white color in the brightened image. When I zoomed in on the color is appears to have some type of black embroidery on it – was this an homage to his sister Jane’s wonderful handiwork?
This portrait and all the other ones where Seymour is dressed in black definitely appear to be copied from the “1545” miniature shown above.
I have attempted to transcribe the inscription on the portrait and here is what I came up with:
“Of person rare strong limbs & manly shape
Of nature framed to serve on sea & land
Of friendship firm in good state or ill hope
In peace ‘heade’ and in war great bold hands
On horse on foot in peril or play
None could excel though many did say
A subject true to king
A servant great
Friend to God’s truth, enemy to Rome’s deceit
‘Sumptuose’ abroad for honor of the land
Temperate at home yet kept great state (& stay)
And gave more mouths more meat
then some advanced on higher steps to stand
Yet against nature reason & just laws
His blood was spilt justly without just cause”
Then there is probably the most commonly used portrait of Thomas Seymour. In this portrait, like the others, Thomas is dressed in black and wears a black plumed hat with the ‘Little George of the Garter’ pinned to it. The pin indicates Seymour’s induction into the Order of Garter.
Becoming a member of the Order of the Garter was not immediate for Seymour. He was nominated every year from 1543 to 1547 (five times), before he was officially voted in under the reign of his nephew, King Edward VI.
Now that we know that he wears the pin of the Order of the Garter in this portrait we must once again look at the “1545” miniature. In that portrait he is also wearing the pin, so the date of that portrait could not be correct. It must be sometime between 1547 and 1548, but not later as he was arrested in January of 1549.
All we truly know is that Thomas Seymour was said to have been an attractive man with charisma. He was liked by both men and women. He was clever, yet reckless.
¹Victoria & Albert Museum
²Hayward, John, A Complete History of England –The LIfe and Reign of Edward VI, page 301
Victoria & Albert Museum
National Portrait Gallery
National Maritime Museum
3 thoughts on “Uncovering the Face of Thomas Seymour”
I love this site. So interesting to see the poem on the portrait made clear—a poem I’ve seen credited to John Harrington. ￼I’ve also read that a Seymour portrait was presented to Queen Elizabeth by Harrington after she became Queen, but with the poem “The Hospitable Oake.”
From what I understand, it’s the portrait with the poem written on it that was given by Harrington to Elizabeth. The poem you mention I believe has been debunked as a forgery. But I don’t know much more than that.
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Thank you. So interesting—and moving. I’m writing a YA about Elizabeth which will be, of course, very much about Thomas Seymour. Harrington is a very interesting character; he married one of Elizabeth’s attendants, as you no doubt know, a girl her own age. I’ve been seeking someone who might be a friend her age, someone who is with her through to her coronation, and Audrey Malte rather fits the bill. Right now I’m trying to find out when the House of Lords was in session in 1547 and 1548, because of course Thomas was in attendance. I’m also trying to find out if they were at Edward’s Christmas court festivities of 1547/8 and the big Shorve-Sunday festivities at Greenwich February 12-15 1548. It’s driving me crazy trying to nail it down! Any suggestions would be most helpful. If you like, you could reach me: sgulland AT sandragulland DOT com.