Scheming at the Court of Edward VI

Scheming at the Court of Edward VI

As the King lay dying at Westminster, important men, men of the council, either  whispered in dark hallways at the palace, or in their homes, about the future of England.

The King’s son was but a child, which led ambitious men to flock to the dying King’s bedside looking for power. Many had understood that the King had completed his will the previous year but hoped that there was still a bit of glory remaining for them.

The conversation that has repeated in history is that of Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and Sir William Paget, another council member. Hertford was the eldest uncle of Edward, Prince of Wales. His sister Jane was the third wife of King Henry who gave her husband the longed for male heir he was so desperate to obtain. Unfortunately for Jane, the birth of a prince took her life when she died twelve days after his birth. The death of Jane did not quell the ambition of either Seymour brother.

Hertford pulled Paget aside in the dark gallery at Westminster and ask his friend for his allegiance. Hertford desired the role of Lord Protector and felt it necessary to have one man rule instead of a council, but in order to do so he would need the agreement of the entire regency council. Paget agreed, and like all men that would follow, they agreed with stipulation. Paget wished to have Hertford’s ear and to be his council. It was agreed.

There was one man, a men of lesser lineage than the Seymour family, who agreed without asking for something in return, John Dudley, Lord Lisle and Lord Admiral. He was made Earl of Warwick in exchange for handing over the title of Lord High Admiral of England to the other Seymour brother, Thomas.

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

Lisle was the son of Edmund Dudley, close adviser to the first King Henry. It is evident that Henry VII trusted Dudley’s judgement but it was the next King Henry that felt Dudley had too much power and the English subjects felt him and his cohort, Richard Empson.

Edmund Dudley was an administrator and financial agent during Henry VII’s reign.

Henry VIII, had decided to signal to the people that his reign would be much different from his father’s, and his first step was to arrest his father’s
notorious and unpopular officials

The charge against Dudley was that on April 22, he had:

“conspired with armed force to take the government of the King and realm.” The charge seems absurd; Dudley had thrived under the reign of Henry VII and surely must have been hoping to do the same under that of his son, whom he had once given a gold ring set with a pointed diamond. S. J. Gunn suggests that Dudley and Empson might have actually summoned armed men to London, either out of fear of their political enemies or in anticipation of political instability following the death of the first Tudor king. “[S]teps they had taken with no thought of treason were, as so often in the politics of Henry VIII’s reign, twisted into the stuff of which indictments were made.” Despite the trumped-up nature of the charge, Dudley was convicted on July 18, 1509.¹

After the execution of his father on 17 August 1510, John and his siblings were all under the age of six. David Loades states that the Dudley children presumably stayed with their mother afterward, but it is unclear where.

In February 1512, a well-connected esquire of the body by the name of Edward Guildford was granted the wardship of John Dudley.

At the same time John Dudley was restored in blood ‘being not yet eight years old’ and his father’s attainder was annulled by statute (Statutes of the Realm, 11 vols., 1810–28, 3 Hen. VIII c. 19). Why this arrangement was made, and on whose initiative, is not known…²

From an early age Dudley must have been aware that his father was executed on orders of King Henry VIII. It makes one wonder if he held a resentment to the throne and all those near it. You really could not blame him if he did.

That resentment leads me to the Seymour brothers and Dudley’s involvement in their downfall. There are writers out there who believe that Dudley was friends with Edward and Thomas Seymour and that he should not be blamed for his downfall, however, friendship in Tudor England did not mean loyalty, necessarily. It was every man for himself and that cut throat world led Dudley to do the unspeakable. He played the usually amicable brothers against one another.

It is evident to me now that the brothers indeed trusted Dudley. They believed him to be a friend, but it appears that he was playing them for the fools that they became.

The duke of North [Dudley] was familiar with them bothe and loved bothe and trusted of them bothe. And after the consultation of making the duke of Somerset lord protector of therealme and of the kinge’s person and thereupon secretely agred and not pronunced;³

What that quote tells us is that Dudley was well aware that Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford (later Duke of Somerset) wished to become Lord Protector of the Realm and Governor of the King’s Person.

The duke of the North [Dudley] came to Sir Thomas Semour and tolde him not what was concludid, but what he ment; that the duke of Somerset [Hertford] sholde be the lord protector of the realme; and he sholde haue his voyse to be the governor of the kinge’s person, and he sholde haue all the furtheraunce he cold make; Sir thomas Semour did give the duke [Dudley] great thankes and prayed him that he wolde move it at the counselle’s boord; the duke [Dudley] answered that he thought not beste to do nor any other elles but only himself king [sic: knowing?] right well if he shode demande himself it was so reasonable a request that he knewe no man wolde dnye it him.

So Dudley went to Sir Thomas Seymour and instructed him that he should be Governor of the King’s Person, but he did not mention that he already knew that Hertford (future Somerset) had claimed both titles: Lord Protector of the Realm and Governor of the King’s Person. Then Dudley went on to instruct Thomas to have his voice heard that the title should be his, but that he should go directly to the King and not the Council.

It appears to me that this was Dudley’s first move against the brothers. Playing ignorance and instigating Thomas Seymour to fight for what should be his. He does warn him not to go to the “boord” (Council) but directly to the King because ‘no man wolde denye it him’ if he did and it was approved.

You could say that this became a learning experience for Thomas Seymour. That because he went directly to the council and ‘showed his hand’ that he was denied his request. In the future, Thomas learned, he would go directly to the King.

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.

Edward Seymour was well-educated, unlike his younger brother. He was aware of the history of uncles and a minor king and that was one of the reasons he was reluctant to give his brother such a title. Was he really worried about keeping a good relationship with his brother, or did he wish to have all the power to himself? We just don’t know for certain. All we can do is speculate.

Even though they disagreed on sources of power, the now Duke of Somerset would not break from his brother, at least not until his death. Dudley appeared to understand this and found a way to ingratiate himself in the company of Somerset.

In “Religion, Politics, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England” the witness account states that Dudley stayed with Somerset ever evening until the execution of Thomas Seymour, after which he no longer stayed. Those who are pro-Dudley will probably argue that he was there to protect Somerset from the dangers of his brother, I, on the other hand, see it as Dudley making sure that Somerset did not waiver from executing his brother. There is no evidence to prove that Thomas wished to harm his brother – quite the contrary, he mentioned several times that he did not wish his brother harm.

It is due to these actions by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick that I believe he hold the majority of the responsibility for the death of Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron of Sudeley and Lord High Admiral of England. It should come as no surprise that months later he also made his move against Somerset.


¹ History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham; The Execution of Edmund Dudley; [24 April 2011]

² Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Dudley, John, duke of Northumberland; [23 September 2004]

³ Religion, Politics, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England (Camden Fifth Series); Jan 21, 2008 by Ian W. Archer and Simon Adams

4 ibid

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