Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley
|The Lord Seymour of Sudeley|
Lord Seymour of Sudeley, Nicholas Denizot.
Thomas spent his childhood in Wulfhall, outside Savernake Forest, in Wiltshire. Historian David Starkey describes Thomas thus: "tall, well-built and with a dashing beard and auburn hair, he was irresistible to women." A prominent Tudor courtier, Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, described Thomas Seymour as "hardy, wise and liberal... fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent, but somewhat empty of matter."
Family's royal connection through marriage
The Seymour family's power grew during Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn, to whom Jane Seymour was a lady in waiting. As Anne failed to give King Henry a son, the Seymour brothers saw an opportunity to push their sister Jane in the King's direction. Henry married Jane 11 days after Anne's execution in May 1536, and she gave birth to their son and only child — the future Edward VI — in October of the following year.
It was the elder brother, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, who benefited most from his sister's marriage to the King. Historians have speculated whether the division between Edward and Thomas began at that time, as Thomas unsurprisingly began to resent his brother and the relationship between them began to dissolve. Although Thomas was named Lord High Admiral, he was consumed by jealousy of his brother's power and influence.
In 1543, John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer, died leaving a wealthy widow, formerly Catherine Parr. An attachment then developed between Catherine and Thomas. Unfortunately for Thomas, Henry VIII also became interested in Catherine and eventually married her, having been impressed with her dignity and intelligence. Jealous of Seymour's attentions to Catherine, the King sent Thomas away on a diplomatic mission to the Netherlands. Thomas also served as a Knight of the shire for Wiltshire in 1545.
Henry VIII died in January 1547, leaving Catherine one of the wealthiest women in England. Thomas had been made Master-General of the Ordnance in 1544 and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1545. He returned to court a few months before Henry's death and saw his brother Edward become Lord Protector of England and, in effect, ruler of the realm as Regent for his nephew, Henry VIII's minor son and successor, the short-lived Edward VI. As part of an "unfulfilled gifts clause" left unmentioned in Henry's will, Thomas was granted the title Baron Seymour of Sudeley. However, Thomas's fervent desire was to unseat and replace his brother as Lord Protector.
Though Thomas Seymour's name had been linked to Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, he was still unmarried at the time of the King's death. One view is that Thomas schemed to marry either Mary or Elizabeth, Henry VIII's daughters by his first two marriages, and there were rumours that he attempted to pursue a relationship with Elizabeth, still in her early teens. If he hoped for such a marriage as a route to power, he was unsuccessful, though his secret marriage to Catherine Parr, Elizabeth's guardian, in late April 1547 was viewed by some as an attempt to become close to Elizabeth. Certainly, many regarded this marriage as having occurred too quickly after the King's death. Anne Stanhope, Somerset's proud wife, disliked Catherine and Thomas, and began to turn many people in court against them. To demonstrate her hatred, Anne kept the Queen's jewels, which were also claimed by Catherine.
Elizabeth had gone to live with her stepmother in Chelsea after Henry VIII's death. Thomas, therefore, acquired the guardianship of Elizabeth and also of Lady Jane Grey, another young member of the household. The over-ambitious Thomas started to make advances toward Elizabeth, sneaking into "the 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..." Thomas, while doing this, was often only partly dressed. He was 40; she was just 14. As gossip began to spread, Kat Ashley, Elizabeth's governess, implored Seymour to quit his bedroom antics. Indignant, Thomas retorted, "By God's precious soul, I mean no evil, and I will not leave it!" Strange episodes followed as he continued his advances towards Elizabeth. Historian David Starkey writes, "He may have even sexually abused her; at the very least he abused his power." Elizabeth was confused by these affairs. Sometimes she acted as if it were all a game; other times she would become offended. Although Elizabeth's governess at one time averred that the Queen had found Elizabeth in Seymour's arms (implying a sexual encounter or close to it), she later withdrew the story. Catherine did, nevertheless, try to save Elizabeth's reputation by sending her away to the house of Anthony Denny in Hertfordshire. However, when Catherine died in childbirth in August 1548, Thomas renewed his attentions to Elizabeth.
Thomas also bribed a man called John Fowler, one of King Edward VI's closest servants, from whom he received information that the King frequently complained about the lack of pocket money he received. Thomas smuggled money to the King and began to voice open disapproval of his brother's administrative skills. As Lord High Admiral, he was able to control the English navy, and he openly asked people for support in case of a coup. As admiral, he also encouraged piracy, after bidding to capture the pirate Thomas Walton, Thomas Walton instead made an agreement for a share of all booty seized by him. He was completely and thoroughly indiscreet in his bid for power.
Thomas seems also to have hoped to finance a coup by bribing the vice-treasurer of the Bristol Mint, Sir William Sharington. Sharington was responsible for debasing the coinage in Bristol and he had been fiddling the account books and keeping the majority of the profit. When Thomas learned of the scheme, he blackmailed Sharington.
By the end of 1548, Thomas's plans had been reported to the Privy Council by an informant. The Bristol Mint was investigated and Sharington revealed all. Somerset attempted to protect his brother and called a council meeting that Thomas was supposed to attend in order to explain his actions. However, Thomas did not appear and developed a plan to kidnap the King.
On the night of 16 January 1549, Thomas broke into the King's apartments at Hampton Court Palace. He entered the privy garden and awoke one of the King's pet spaniels. Alerted, the dog tried to bite Thomas, who killed it with a sword. The guards arrested Thomas, and he was sent to the Tower of London. On 18 January, the council sent agents to question everyone associated with Thomas, including Elizabeth.
On 22 February, the council officially accused him of 33 charges of treason. Somerset delayed signing the death warrant, so the council went to Edward VI for his signature. On 20 March, Seymour was executed at the Tower, dying "dangerously, irksomely and horribly." His daughter by Catherine Parr, Mary Seymour, was placed in the care of the Duchess of Suffolk, Catherine Brandon. Mary should have been left wealthy, but her mother, dying at her birth, had left her entire fortune to Thomas. When Thomas was executed, the crown confiscated everything he had, including Catherine's bequest. The child appears to have died around the age of two, when she disappears from the historical record. The title "Baron of Sudeley" passed to Catherine Parr's brother, William.
|Ancestors of Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley|
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (July 2009)|
- G. W. Bernard, "Seymour, Thomas, Baron Seymour of Sudeley (b. in or before 1509, d. 1549)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 1 May 2010; subscription requred
- David Starkey, Struggle for the Throne
- Carolly Erickson, Bloody Mary
- or Sir Robert Coker of Lydeard St Lawrence
- Fraser, Antonia. The Wives of Henry VIII. New York: Knopf, 1992.
- MacLean, John: The life of Sir Thomas Seymour, knight, baron Seymour of Sudeley, Lord High Admiral of England and Master of the Ordnance J.C. Hotten, 1869
- Starkey, David. Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
- Weir, Alison. The Children of Henry VIII. New York: Ballantine, 1996.
|Master-General of the Ordnance
Sir Philip Hoby
The Viscount Lisle
|Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
(jointly with Sir Thomas Cheney)
The Lord Cobham
The Earl of Warwick
|Lord High Admiral
The Earl of Warwick