Thomas Seymour, husband to the queen – guest post by Judith Arnopp
Today I have the honour of welcoming Judith Arnopp to my blog. She has visited before (see here) and this time she is back with a post about one of the more intriguing men of the Tudor era, the much maligned Thomas Seymour. This gentleman figures prominently in Judith’s latest book, Intractable Heart. For those of you who have as yet not discovered Judith’s books, I can but say that you’re in for a treat, because Judith has the talent to breathe life and fire into her characters, allowing them to more or less rise from the pages to stand before you.
And now, let me turn you over into Judith’s capable hands. Enjoy!
Thomas Seymour is often portrayed as a brash adventurer, a power hungry molester of young girls but I am not sure he is black as he is often painted. When writing history, even if it is fictional, it is important to keep things in perspective and stay true the time in which the events take place.
Elizabeth Tudor was fourteen at the time Seymour married Katherine Parr and, although to us the alleged relationship between him and his step-daughter is shocking due to her age, at the time fourteen was regarded as ‘marriageable.’ There was no undue public outrage and he was not labelled at the time as an ‘abuser.’ What was unacceptable to the royal council was Elizabeth’s status. Mistresses were perfectly acceptable, royal princesses were definitely not. She was, or should have been, untouchable. Even when you add this to his other alleged ‘crimes’ Seymour still doesn’t emerge as all bad. He was misguided perhaps, driven by his baser instincts, very human in fact.
Thomas was already romantically linked to Katherine Parr when she was spotted by the king as a potential wife but Seymour gallantly retired from the competition and gave way to his monarch. It was a wise decision, one of the last displays of wisdom he would make but, after Henry VIII’s death, Seymour lost no time in marrying his former sweetheart.
As Lord Protector, Thomas’ elder brother Edward Seymour held all the power that Thomas craved and feelings between the siblings were not sweet. After the death of Henry VIII the Lord Protector took possession of the crown jewels, including some personal pieces belonging to Katherine, not to the crown. This infuriated Thomas and he spent the rest of his wife’s life trying to regain her rightful possessions. Family feeling deteriorated further when his brother’s wife, Anne Stanhope, continued to snub Katherine and refuse to acknowledge her higher status.
Amid this family unrest Elizabeth Tudor, second in line to the throne, took up residence with her step-mother and her new husband, Seymour, at Katherine’s home in Chelsea. Katherine and Elizabeth were close, sharing a love of learning and religion but during this time rumours emerged involving Seymour and the fourteen year old Elizabeth.
When her servants, Kat Ashley and Thomas Parry were questioned, they confessed that Seymour had on numerous occasions entered the girl’s bedchamber early in the morning to tickle and slap her. In some instances Katherine joined in, whether to protect her step daughter’s virtue, or to aid and abet him is unclear. It sounds like something straight from fiction but, it is there in black and white, a frank confession from those closest to the princess.
Latterly, this has been seen both as innocent horseplay and sinister abuse but, whatever the truth of the matter is, there are no reports of undue outrage at the time. Even when suspicion of a deeper involvement between the princess and Seymour emerged, Katherine seems to have remained calm. Ultimately, Elizabeth was sent away but her relationship with her step-mother remained strong and they wrote to each other regularly. Katherine and Thomas moved to Sudeley, to await the birth of their first child. Seymour was delighted when Katherine gave birth to a daughter, Mary, but his joy swiftly faded when his wife died a short time later. Sadly, the records of her long-awaited daughter’s life fade from the record after just two years.
It is after the death of Katherine that Thomas seems to have become more ungovernable. He began an alleged campaign against his brother, trying to usurp the influence Somerset had over the boy king. He began to provide his nephew with pocket money, trying to win his favour by playing the popular fun-loving uncle. At the same time he abused his position as Lord High Admiral by encouraging piracy, criticising his brother’s policies and, most outrageous of all, bribing the Vice treasurer of the Bristol Mint to finance a coup against the Protectorship.
In 1548 he was called to appear before the Privy Council to explain his actions. To Thomas, it must have seemed that the world was against him. All he wanted was an audience with the king, to explain his behaviour and point out the error of Somerset’s ways. He wanted, once and for all, to put an end to his brother’s Protectorship. Thomas was convinced he would do a much better job. In the end he went so far as to hatch a desperate plot to gain access to Edward VI.
On the 16th January 1549 Seymour, by way of the privy garden, broke into the royal apartments at Hampton Court. The story goes that as he crept into Edward’s bedchamber the king’s favourite spaniel woke up and began to bark. Seymour, acting on impulse, silenced the yapping, snarling dog by drawing his pistol and shooting it dead. It was against all royal etiquette to draw one’s pistol in the presence of a king and the act, together with the death of the royal pet, sealed Thomas’ fate.
Thomas Seymour was sent to the Tower, accused of attempting to kidnap the king, and plotting to marry the King’s half-sister, Elizabeth and put her on the throne in Edward’s place. In all, thirty three separate counts of treason were brought against him and, with the murder of his pet probably uppermost in his mind, Edward, giving no thought to where his future pocket money would come from, had no hesitation in signing his Uncle Thomas’ death warrant.
Most of the detrimental stories of Thomas Seymour date from after his death. Like so many others executed in this period, his name has been blackened by those who survived him. Brother of a queen, uncle of a king, husband of a dowager queen, Seymour may have craved power in his own right but that is not a monstrous crime.
He was man who believed he could serve England better than his brother; a headstrong man who made unwise decisions; a man who dallied with a royal princess; a man who shot the king’s dog. Had he approached the matter in a more measured fashion the outcome may have been very different. It is the survivors who live to tell the tale and they seldom paint a pretty picture.
If Thomas had a flaw it was that he was driven by human failings. In the words of Sir Nicolas Throckmorton, Thomas Seymour was, ‘… fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent, but somewhat empty of matter.’
Not the most becoming epitaph but in my novel, Intractable Heart, Thomas Seymour has a section of the narrative to himself; a chance to redress the balance and provide his own version of his extraordinary life.
As luck would have it I am granted an audience with the king before Fowler has time to press my suit further. I enter the royal apartments well-armed with gifts and bribes for my nephew.
“Uncle!” The boy looks up from his book, dismisses his companions with a jerk of his chin, and climbs from the window seat. “It is good to see you, sir. I am kept very busy by the Protector and have little time for good company.”
I can sense no resentment in his words so say nothing in disparagement of my brother.
“I have brought you presents,” I announce as I delve into my bag. First I toss him a bag of coin. “This should keep you from the embarrassment of an empty purse for a while.” When he feels the weight of coin his coolness melts away. He gets up and comes closer, leaning over my shoulder as I bring forth some books, suggested by Katheryn; dry, dusty stuff about religion and philosophy. He turns the pages carefully, looks up with a wide smile that reminds me fleetingly of his mother. With a surge of guilt I realise I seldom think of Jane except in terms of the son she has left behind. The quietly pious girl that grew up in the midst of our noisy family at Wulfhall is almost forgotten.
With a surge of irritation I realise I should look after Edward better. The boy is too pale, too bruised beneath the eye. He should read less and be outside more. My brother is too careful of him. A boy needs fresh air and hunting; his life shouldn’t be all study and inactivity. If we are not careful we will create a milksop king. “We should go hunting, Your Majesty, just you and I and a few of your retainers.”
“Uncle Somerset would never allow it. He keeps me closeted, safe from assassins, but I’d like to, if we could arrange it.”
“You are the king.” Without waiting or asking for permission I sit beside him and crane over his shoulder at the picture he is studying. It is an image of the flayed man; a grisly thing for a boy to ponder. “You should instruct your council, not the other way round.”
He says nothing but his sigh is lofty. I sit up straighter, hand him a packet of sweetmeats. “I have something else for you. Shall I call my man to bring it in?”
In an instant he forgets he is king and becomes a boy again. “Oh yes; what is it, uncle?”
His cheek bulges with a sugared comfit, his eyes alight with speculation. I clap my hands and the doors open to admit my man who has a monkey clinging to his head. Edward’s face opens in surprise, his high pitched laughter carefree, as it should be. “Is that it? Is the beast for me?”
“It is, Your Majesty, but be wary; his teeth are sharp, as my man will no doubt attest.”
Edward jumps from his seat and approaches the monkey with his hand outstretched but the creature takes one look at the king and leaps from the fellow’s shoulder to swing along the priceless wall hangings.
“Ha, ha, look at him! He is like a little devil. Can you get him down, Uncle Tom?”
It is good to be called ‘Uncle Tom’ again but even I cannot tempt a monkey to sit upon a king if he does not have the mind for it. We spend an hour in pursuit until I am weary, and Edward is growing disillusioned.
“Your Majesty, if we ignore the beast and pretend we do not care for him, he may grow curious and come to us, especially if we eat from your royal fruit bowl. I am told monkeys have a special love of fruit.”
With one eye straying constantly toward his errant pet Edward chatters on about his lessons, the injustices of being a king who is yet denied command. He pops half a pear in his mouth and when he falls silent, I put my fate in his hands.
“Your Majesty, I have a mind to marry.”
The king swallows, coughs and wipes his fingers on his velvet sleeve.
“Do you? Who Tom? Is it one of my sisters?”
“Nay. Mary will have none of me and Elizabeth is too young as yet.”
“I can order one of them to wed you. Do you want me to do so? Which one do you want?”
“Your Majesty, I’d prefer a willing bride and there is such a lady who would, I think, be pleased to have me if she had your blessing.”
He stops eating, licks pear juice from his fingers. “Who is the lady?”
Behind him I notice his new pet inching down the curtains but having no wish to distract him from the conversation, I say nothing.
“Katheryn, your stepmother. It would bring you and I even closer, Your Majesty. Instead of merely uncle, I would become a sort of father. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Edward’s eyes narrow. It is not a sign of displeasure but rather an indication of his thought process. “You want to wed my mother? And she welcomes this?”
“Oh, I have not been so indelicate as to approach the lady but I do have hopes that, with your blessing, she would find the idea agreeable.”
He sits up, wipes fruit juice on his velvet doublet and claps his hands. “Then my blessing you shall have, Uncle Tom. I can think of no lady I love and respect more.”
Intractable Heart: a story of Katheryn Parr is available on Kindle now, the paperback will follow soon. Please click here to read a free sample.
Judith’s other books include: