England,  ER,  Western Europe

Kidnapping a King-  The Fall of Thomas Seymour

Portrait of Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley Photo Credit-  By Nicholas Denizot - http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/14494.html
Portrait of Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley Photo Credit- By Nicholas Denizot – http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/14494.html

Henry VIII had labored over the need for a son.  He changed the country’s religion and sent two women to their death- one by neglect the other to the block- to get his much beloved son.  Finally, Edward was born to his third wife, Jane Seymour, on October 12, 1537.  Jane died in the process and Henry grieved, but it was a small price to pay for an heir.  Edward’s life and health was guarded zealously as he was the one thing standing between the Tudor dynasty and oblivion.

However, Henry didn’t live as long as he had planned.  Most people don’t.  He left Edward a ten year old boy king instead of the strong heir he had hoped.  In his will, Henry set up a regency council of peers- men who would be equal to each other to guide the young king.  Once he was dead, this plan was thrown out.  The earl of Hertford, Jane’s brother Edward Seymour, and Sir William Paget made their play.  Hertford was made Lord Protector for his young nephew, Edward.  Hertford was then raised to the dukedom of Somerset.  A few months later when his ally Lord Rich was appointed lord chancellor, Somerset was now the most powerful man in England.  He was king in all but name.

Many people weren’t thrilled to see Hertford in the seat of power- John Dudley, earl of Northumberland for one and his own brother Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley.  Thomas had married the king’s widow, Katherine Parr, in unseemly haste.  Edward seemed to have an amiable relationship with his younger brother, but was not about to relinquish guardianship of the king to him.  Thomas’ new marriage seemed only to underscore his naked ambition and a rift widened between the two.  Thomas protested that it was unfair one brother should have the power and he should get consolation prizes.  He went to great pains to ingratiate himself to the young king. Thomas brought him money and gifts and played the benevolent uncle to Somerset’s strict behavior.  Thomas also got himself the wardship of young Jane Grey, Edward’s cousin by Henry’s sister Mary’s daughter.  He promised the Grey’s he would arrange the girl’s marriage to the king.  How Thomas was going to do that, no one was quite sure.   He also tried to court the favor of Edward’s half sister, Mary.  However, perhaps most dangerously, and in my opinion most odiously, he began flirting shamelessly with the young Elizabeth Tudor, Edward’s sister who was living with his wife, Katherine Parr, at Chelsea.  The flirting could easily be construed as molestation in modern times as he climbed into the thirteen year old girl’s bed naked but for a nightshirt.  For more details on this, please see this post on young Elizabeth http://www.historynaked.com/elizabeth-tudor-early-years/


Somrset continued to lose popularity with both the king and his fellow nobles.  He lacked any tact and at one point reduced a colleague to tears with his sharp tongue.  He was significantly ill-equipped to balance the egos on the Council or his wife, Anne Stanhope.  She considered herself the first lady of the kingdom over Katherine Parr, Henry’s widow, or either of the princesses and was happy to let anyone who listened know it.  Anne refused to bear Katherine’s train, and even physically tried to push her out of her place at the head of their entrances and exits at court.  In short, she was a veritable shrew.  There was no love lost between the king and Somerset either.  Somerset treated Edward like a child, whereas both Dudley and Thomas treated him as a king.  In fact, Thomas remarked to Edward “ye must take upon you yourself to rule, for ye shall be able enough as well as other kings; and then ye may give your men somewhat; for your uncle is old, and I trust will not live long”. Edward’s reply was telling: “it were better that he should die”.  Yikes.

In the meantime, Katherine Parr died in childbirth giving Thomas a daughter, Mary.  Being free, he began looking for another wife and began meeting privately with Elizabeth’s cofferer, Thomas Perry, in London.  In other fronts, he met with Sir William Sharington, the under-treasurer at the Bristol mint.  Sharington began counterfeiting coins to pay for men to bring about a palace coup for control of the king.  Thomas Seymour was about to have it all.  A young royal bride and the king in his pocket.  Except it all went wrong.

Portrait of Edward VI in 1547, in a pose reminiscent of his father
Portrait of Edward VI in 1547, in a pose reminiscent of his father

Sharington got caught and the Bristol mint was searched by Somerset’s men.  The arrest could lead back to Thomas but the ambitious man kept going.  Underfunded and undermanned, Thomas pushed ahead with his crazy plan.  He began quizzing his main contact in the king’s privy chamber, John Fowler, about what the king was saying about him.  Then he wanted to know if the king was locked in at night.  He made comments like “there is a slender company about the king”, before stating that “a man might steal away the king now, for there come more with me than is in all the house besides”.  By day, Thomas attended Parliament, but by night was thinking up a kidnapping plan.  He was openly asking other disaffected nobles for support.  He was completely indiscreet and it was a matter of time before he was found out.  On January 16, 1549, a servant tipped him off that a deposition was made against Thomas by the Earl of Rutland.  He would be arrested soon.  It was time to act.

Fowler had supplied keys to Thomas for the king’s private apartments at Hampton Court.  That night, he entered through the privy garden and entered the room adjoining the king’s bedchamber.  Unfortunately, the king had a little dog, a spaniel, who slept in his bedroom.  The dog heard Thomas coming in and began barking.  Some reports say Thomas shot the dog, other say he stabbed it.  In either case, the barking summoned the Yeoman of the Guard who demanded an explanation.  The king woke and stood his bedroom doorway, in his nightshirt and visibly frightened.  Remember this was a ten year old boy who had been awakened from a dead sleep and watched his beloved uncle kill his dog.  Thomas tried to spin some line he was “testing the king’s guards”.  Then he tried to claim he had the king’s permission for everything.  None of this flew and he was taken to the Tower and beheaded on March 20, 1549.

The following scandal swept up Elizabeth and she barely kept her reputation and head.  In the end, Somerset fell as well and John Dudley step in to clean up the mess.

Sources available on request