One of the most popular stories that comes to mind in the saga of Thomas Seymour and teenage Lady Elizabeth, is the one about Thomas proposing to Elizabeth after the death of Kateryn Parr. In this article I will attempt to explain some of the circumstances surrounding that situation but mostly try to explain the dowager queen’s ladies and maids being kept at Sudeley after her death and how some have assumed it was because Seymour wished to marry the Lady Elizabeth.
Wardship of Jane Grey
At some point prior to the death of dowager Queen, Kateryn Parr, Thomas Seymour negotiated with Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset about purchasing the wardship of his daughter, Lady Jane Grey. Jane’s mother Frances Brandon was the daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and Mary Tudor, dowager queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk. This meant that Henry VIII was Jane Grey’s great-uncle and she was a cousin to Edward VI.
Dorset finally agreed to the terms of the deal when Seymour told him that he would arrange a marriage between his nephew, the King and Jane. Lady Jane Grey, if married to Edward VI would become queen consort. Since she was much further down in the line of succession this option seemed like the perfect way to raise the family’s status once again. The Dorsets were no different from any other noble family of the time, they were social climbers.
Jane stayed primarily at Seymour Place and only very rarely was in the same location as the Lady Elizabeth. We honestly do not know what type of relationship the two teenagers had, if they had one at all. We also can assume that Jane was not present for the alleged escapes between Seymour and Elizabeth.
After the Lady Elizabeth was sent to Cheshunt Place, Seymour, Parr and Jane moved to the newly refurbished Sudeley Castle where Parr would do her “lying in” prior to giving birth.
Changes After Death of Parr
All seemed well until Parr died only days after giving birth to a daughter. Thomas was reportedly devastated and this was about the time it appears he went off the rails. I am confident that he did not expect Parr to die, and when she did it catapulted him into a world where he didn’t have a “powerful” queen dowager at his side.
It was not long after the death of Parr that I had always believed that Seymour chose to disband her ladies and maids as well as his ward, Lady Jane Grey. I would soon discover that he did not disband the Queen’s former servants at all, only his ward, Lady Jane Grey. When it came to Jane it did not take long for Seymour to realize he made a hasty decision and wrote to the Dorsets to let them know he wished to have their returned to him.
Seymour said in his letter that he wrote to Henry Grey:
“in a time when partly with Queen’s Highness’ death, I was so amazed, that I had small regard either to myself or to my doings; and partly then thinking that my great loss must presently have constrained me to have broken up and dissolved my hole house, I offered unto your Lordship to send my Lady Jane unto you….“.
Seymour then went on to mention how he had now put his ‘trust in God’ and decided to ‘begin anew’ to establish his household. He said that he would have not only the Gentlewomen of the Queen’s Highness’ privy chamber but also her maids. He mentioned that some of the Maids and Gentlemen requested a month off to see their friends and then immediately would return to Sudeley.
But Seymour evidently did not believe that the Queen’s household would be enough to entice Dorset to return his daughter. Maybe he believed they were concerned that she did not have a strong female to guide her any longer. He mentioned that “My Lady, my mother, shall and will, I doubt not, be as dear unto her, as though she were her own daughter.”
Letters did not appear to do the trick. Seymour got on his horse and went straight to the Dorsets and convinced them in person to send Jane back to Sudeley. I assume with more promises of Jane marrying Edward VI. The plan worked. Jane was returned to Seymour.
Household for a Queen
It was Elizabeth Tyrwhit, former lady to Kateryn Parr (and a woman known to despise Seymour) who, in her confession, stated that she believed Seymour kept the Queen’s household together to wait upon Elizabeth because he wished to marry her. It appears Tyrwhit’s husband had connection with the council, so it may be that she heard the rumors from her husband.
Through my research I have been unable to discover proof that Thomas proposed to Elizabeth in the Fall of 1548, other than a hint of it in Professor G.W. Bernard’s essay about the downfall of Seymour. This may have something to do with the suspicion of the council. Lord Russell, who was a member of the council, warned Thomas Seymour that if he would go about any such thing, he [Seymour] would undo himself. Seymour definitely was familiar with the suspicions and told his friend and brother-in-law, William Parr, Marquess of Northampton that ‘he was credibly informed, that my Lord Protector had said he would clap him in the Tower if he went to my Lady Elizabeth’.¹ When Kat Ashley asked Thomas about a marriage with Elizabeth he responded: “I look not to lose my life for a wife. It has been spoken of, but it cannot be.”² Seymour understood, fully, that if he attempted to marry the Lady Elizabeth that he would most likely be executed.
Seymour’s servant, Harrington mentions the marriage between Edward VI and Lady Jane Grey:
And some say that he meaned to marry the Lady Jane to the King’s Majesty, but I understand by other men’s danger, what it is to marry a king; and therefore I ‘entred’ not that; but if I might have any in my house, whom the king might ‘phantase” (fantasy), I were much to blame, if I would be against it.
I don’t trust Kat Ashley’s statements but she mentioned to Mr. Cheke that she spoke with Seymour and that he wished to visit Elizabeth but was concerned that it would appear he was wooing her.
There are times in Tudor history that all is not as it appears – I believe this to be one of those instances. It is my believe that Thomas Seymour kept on the ladies and maids of Kateryn Parr to serve Lady Jane Grey, not the Lady Elizabeth. Why? Well, because Thomas planned to marry her to the King Edward VI and she would require a household of a queen – something that he already had in place due to his deceased wife. I would be kidding myself if I said that such a move would not benefit Seymour, but that is a different topic for another day.
¹ State Papers – Confession of Marquess of Northampton – page 79-80
² Froude, JA. History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Death of Elizabeth