Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset

Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset is one of the most well-known of Henry VIII’s courtiers. Although the Duke was most influential under the reign of his nephew, King Edward VI, it was during the reign of Henry VIII that Seymour started his ascent at the Tudor court.

The exact date of Edward’s birth has not been recorded however it is generally believed that he was born around 1500 at the family’s home of Wolf Hall, Wiltshire to Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth. John and Margery had ten children, six sons, John, Edward, Henry, Thomas, John and Anthony; and four daughters, Jane, Elizabeth, Margery and Dorothy. [1] Edward Seymour descended from the ancient family lines of the Percy’s and the Cliffords and his father served both King Henry VII and King Henry VIII as sheriff of Wiltshire and of Somerset and Dorset cementing the family’s loyalty to the Tudors.[2]

Edward Seymour was introduced to court by his father in 1514 at the age of approximately fourteen years. In 1514 he was appointed as a page to Mary Tudor, younger sister of Henry VIII, when she journeyed to France to marry King Louis XII. In October, after the wedding, Louis VII dismissed many of Mary’s servants however he retained a small number, including young Edward.[3]

On the 15th of July 1517 Edward and his father were appointed the joint constables of Bristol Castle and the surrounding lands.[4] On August 25th 1522 the secret Treaty of Bruges was signed between Charles V and Thomas Wolsey on behalf of Henry VIII declaring that Henry would support Charles V in the war against France. In May 1523 England officially declared war upon France.[5] Edward travelled to France under the service of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and participated in the capture of Bray, Roye, and Montdidier. He was knighted by Brandon at Roye on the 1st of November 1523.[6]

Seymour’s star continued to rise and in 1524 he was created an esquire of the King’s household and then on the 12th of January 1525 he was elected as a JP for Wiltshire as well as being created the Master of the Horse for Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond; illegitimate son of King Henry VIII. Seymour gained his first taste of ambassadorial duties in July 1527 when he accompanied Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to France when the Cardinal began secret discussions regarding Henry VIII’s “Great Matter” – a possible annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.[7]

On the 5th of March 1529 Seymour was made a steward of the manors of Henstridge, Somerset, and Charlton, Wiltshire.[8] Two and a half years later on the 12th of September 1531 Seymour was appointed an esquire of the body to Henry VIII with an annuity of 50 marks. On New Year’s Day 1532 Seymour presented the King with a gift of a sword with a guilt handle and in return Henry VIII gave Edward money.[9]

Towards the end of 1532 Seymour was riding high within the King’s favour and he accompanied Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to Calais where they met with King Francis I of France. At Anne Boleyn’s coronation banquet on the 1st of June 1533 Seymour had the honour of acting as a server to the Archbishop of Canterbury. [10]

In October 1535 Seymour had the great honour of having the King and Queen visit him and his family at his manor of Elvetham in Hampshire. Less than six months later on the 3rd of March 1536 Seymour was invested as a gentleman of the privy chamber. This position put Edward within close proximity to the King and provided him with regular opportunities to converse with Henry VIII. Shortly after this Edward, his wife Anne and his sister Jane were given rooms at the Palace of Greenwich.[11]

There has been much written about Edward’s sister, Jane and her courtship with King Henry VIII. Far to much to detail in his small biography of Edward. It has been proposed that Edward coached his sister to turn Henry VIII away from his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Others have suggested that Jane was coached by Sir Nicholas Carew, a distant relative of the King. Weather Jane was coached or if she acted on her own she went on to marry Henry VIII on the 30th of May 1536 in the Queen’s Closet at Whitehall.[12] Seymour was now brother in law to the King.

On the 5th of June 1536 Seymour was created Viscount Beauchamp of Hache with an annuity of 20 marks and a grant of lands and manors in Wiltshire.[13] The following year on the 22nd of May Seymour was admitted into the Privy Council and also to Parliament where his new title ranked him higher than the Barons.[14]

Seymour was quick to cement his new position and on the 7th of July he purchased the position of Captain and Governor of Jersey for £150. Following this in August he was appointed as Chancellor of North Wales.[15]

On the 12th of October at two o’clock in the morning Jane Seymour gave birth to a baby boy named Edward. Seymour was now not only the brother in law of the King he was also uncle to the future King. On the 15th a grand procession took place at Hampton Court taking the newly born Prince to the Chapel Royal where he was christened. Seymour had the honour of carrying little Elizabeth, Henry VIII’s daughter with Anne Boleyn during the coronation procession.[16] Three days later on the 18th he was created Earl of Hertford with an annuity of £20.[17] Tragically Jane died just twelve days after the birth of her son of what was most likely puerperal fever, an infection of the vaginal passage or womb.[18]

After his sister’s death Seymour’s rise stalled briefly yet he continued to hold the King’s favour. In March 1538 his son and heir, Edward, was born and the King and Thomas Cromwell stood as Godfather’s to the infant.[19] In August of the following year the King sent Seymour to defend Calais and Guines against the French and he was granted the distinct honour of meeting Anne of Cleves, the woman who would become Henry VIII’s fourth wife, at Calais and escorting her to England.[20]

After a period of relative inactivity Seymour’s star rose once more during the final years of Henry VIII’ life. He was elected to the Order of the Garter on the 9th of January 1541, England’s highest order of Chivalry and was included on a small council to govern the affairs in London while the King went on his Northern progress between July and November. The following year in September Seymour was appointed to the position of the Warden of the Scottish Marches although he spent only a few weeks there before returning to London. On the 28th of December 1542 he was created Lord High Admiral and then on the 16th of February 1543 he was created Lord Great Chamberlain, one of the highest positions within the court.[21]

In December of 1543 Scotland broke ties with England and Seymour was appointed as Lieutenant General in the North. He left for the border in March 1544 and began a series of skirmishes against Scotland and an attempted invasion of Edinburgh.[22] In June 1544 England went to war with France.[23] While Henry VIII was overseas his sixth wife, Katherine Parr was appointed regent. Seymour was instructed to act as one of the Queen’s councillors. One of Seymour’s first duties was to dismiss the women of Edward Tudor’s household, now almost seven years of age, and install him with a male dominated household, including his own son Edward.[24]

Seymour’s time as councillor under Queen Katherine was short lived as on the 13th of August 1544 he travelled to France to serve in the King’s army. He was present at the capture of Boulogne on the 14th of September and took command of the city when the French made an attempt to recapture it.[25]

Upon returning England Seymour was once more appointed as Lieutenant General of the North in Mary 1545 and instructed to organise an invasion of Scotland. Once more he conducted a series of skirmishes and battles along the Scottish border which came to be known as ‘rough wooing’. Leaving Scotland in October Seymour returned to Parliament until he left for Boulogne in March 1546.

Seymour was influential in negotiating a treaty with France which would see England occupy Boulogne until 1554 when the French would buy it back. In the final years of Henry VIII’s reign Seymour travelled between France and England. He witnessed the fall of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk and his son Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Seymour and Howard had fallen out several years previously and with Howard’s fall from grace Seymour’s position rose.

By the end of 1546 Henry VIII was seriously ill and not likely to live long. On the 26th of December he drew up his will, appointing sixteen men to be the executors of his will and councillors to his son, the future Edward VI; one of these men was Edward Seymour.[26]

Henry VIII died on the 28th of January 1547, his son was just nine years of age. The late King’s death was kept secret for several days and it was during this time that Seymour put a plan into action. With the support of Sir William Pagnet Seymour sought to become the ‘Lord Protector’ of the King and the head of the council that would rule England until Edward VI came of age.[27]

On the 1st of  February 1547 Seymour was officially created Lord Protector of the Realm and the Governor of the King’s Person. He also acted as High Steward of England for Edward VI’s coronation, and held the positions of Lord Treasurer and Earl Marshal. Then on the 17th of February he was created Duke of Somerset.  Seymour was now the most powerful man in England, a King in all but name.[28]

He sought religious reform, rejected the idea of debasing the coinage to counter price inflation and brought about the treasons Act which sought that two people must witness an act of treason rather than one. He also sought to increase grain production and reduce sheep grazing by enforcing enclosures. This was met with great resistance as the people relied upon the common ground to let their sheep graze. In a period of approximately two years Seymour also allowed around £20,000 of the crown’s annual income to be granted to members of the court in the form of gifts and entitlements.[29]

There were those at court that resented Seymour’s power, including his own brother Thomas. Thomas Seymour acted irrationally marrying the Dowager Queen Katherine Parr without the young King’s permission and possibly behaving inappropriately towards the young Princess Elizabeth. In a desperate attempt to obtain the King’s ear even made an attempt to kidnap him and spoke out against his brother. Ultimately Thomas was arrested and Seymour agreed to the decision to have his own brother executed. This act ultimately harmed Seymour’s reputation.[30]

War with Scotland always loomed on the horizon and in 1547 Seymour personally led about 19 000 men north. Seymour and his men won a decisive victory at Pinkie, located nine miles east of Edinburgh on the 10th of December. France quickly came to Scotland’s aid and in June 1548 the French army landed at Leith, attacking various posts held by the English. As this was happening England’s defences of Calais and Boulogne were attacked. In a desperate effort to defend their cities in England Seymour was forced to hire mercenaries to fight on England’s behalf. The huge costs were disastrous for England and saw the crown debasing the coinage, selling off crown lands and seeking large loans. For such great expenses the results were little with English forces withdrawing from many garrisons surrounding Boulogne. Ultimately the great cost of defending Boulogne saw its return to France in 1550.[31]

Meanwhile in 1548 rebellions broke out in Cornwall and spread to Devon and Somerset. People protested against the Book of Common Prayer and other religious changes that had been put in place when Edward VI came to the throne. Instead of responding to the rebellion straight away Seymour seemed to delay and it was not until August that the rebellions were finally stopped.[32]

Only a year later in July 1549 another rebellion broke out in East Anglia, this time the common people protested against landlords who enclosed land and misused their power. The leader of this rebellion was Robert Kett, a tanner from Wymondham. The rebels managed to occupy Norwich, the second largest city in England at the time. Instead of raising an army against the rebels Seymour wrote a number of letters, sympathising with them and offering them pardons and even a promise to bring up their grievanes in Parliament. Members of the King’s council were furious at such undecisive actions and it was not until John Dudley, Earl of Warwick lead an army against the rebels that they were finally stopped on the 27th of August.[33]

With the series of rebellions, great financial costs of war against Scotland and France many of those on the council had lost faith in Seymour. Seeking support Seymour sent out letters requesting men take up arms and head to Hampton Court to defend the King. Seymour then took Edward VI to Windscor Castle to better defend him. Seymour was no fool and with the majority of the council against him he finally surrendered himself on the 11th of October 1549 and his title of Lord Protector was dissolved on the 13th. He was sent to the Tower of London the following day and on the 14th of January 1550 Parliament officially dissolved him of his title and deprived him of his positions at court, his land and grants worth around £2000 a year.

Edward VI stated that his uncle’s crimes were: “ambition, vainglory, entering into rash wars in mine youth, negligent looking on Newhaven, enriching himself of my treasure, following his own opinion, and doing all by his own authority.”[34]

John Dudley, Earl of Warwick tightened his grip on the council and began to oversee the running of England. Seymour was released from the Tower on the 6th of February and received a pardon on the 8th, however he was still under house arrest. Finally on the 8th of April Seymour was admitted back into the council. He was restored as a gentleman of the king’s chamber on the 14th of May and on the 17th his lands were returned to him. Seymour was then made Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire and Hampshire on the 10th of May 1551.[35]

Soon after rumours began to spread that Seymour sought to regain his former power. Sir Thomas Palmer alleged that Seymour was planning to invite Dudley and the Marquess of Northampton to dinner, kill them, take control of the Tower of London and have the people of London rise up in rebellion. Although there is doubt that there was any truth to such rumours John Dudley, now the Duke of Northumberland, was not going to take any chances. After a dinner with Edward VI on the 16th of October 1551 Seymour was arrested and taken to the Tower of London.

On the 1st of December 1551 Seymour was tried by his peers and pleading not guilty. He defended himself skilfully and was acquitted of treason but found guilty of bringing men together to riot against the King. Seymour’s execution was set for the 20th of January 1552. Such was the concern that there would be rioting people were ordered to stay in their homes and a thousand guards attended the execution.[36]

At eight o’clock in the morning Seymour was beheaded upon Tower Hill. Before his death he denied that he had ever offended the King but that he was condemned to death by the law. He was buried at the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within the Tower of London between the graves of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.[37]

Edward Seymour had been a controversial figure throughout his life. He started his life at court under the rule of King Henry VIII and his favour grew with the marriage of his sister to the King. Seymour was politically astute and held a strong understanding of military tactics. However he appears to have been a man who overreached himself and was unable to hold his grasp upon ultimate power.

Edward Seymour

Sources:

Bernard, G.W. 2015, Seymour, Thomas, Baron Seymour of Sudeley (b. in or before 1509, d. 1549), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, viewed 19 February 2017, <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25181&gt;.

Beer, B 2009, Seymour, Edward, duke of Somerset (c.1500–1552), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, viewed 18 February 2017, <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25159&gt;.

Britain’s Tudor Treasure: A Night at Hampton Court 2015, Documentary, BBC, United Kingdom, Presented by Dr Lucy Worsley and Dr David Starkey.

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47, ed. J.S Brewer, James Gairdner and R.H Brodie, His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1862-1932.

Lipscomb, S 2015, The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII, Head of Zeus, London.

Richardson, Douglas 2011, Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study In Colonial And Medieval Families, 2nd Edition, CreateSpace, USA.

Scard, M 2016, Edward Seymour: Lord Protector Tudor King In All But Name, The History Press, Gloucestershire.

Skidmore, C 2011, Edward VI The Lost King Of England, Orion Books, London.

Wilson, Derek 2009, A Brief History of Henry VIII, Constable and Robinson Ltd., London.

[1] Richardson 2011, p. 82

[2] Beer 2009

[3] Letters & Papers Vol 1, 3357

[4] Letters & Papers Vol 2 3474

[5] Wilson 2009, p. 124

[6] Beer 2009

[7] Beer 2009

[8] Beer 2009

[9] Scard 2016.

[10] Scard 2016

[11] Beer 2009

[12] Scard 2016

[13] Letters & Papers Vol. 10, 1061

[14] Scard 2016.

[15] Beer 2009

[16] Letters & Papers Vol. 12, 2, 911

[17] Beer 2009

[18] Britain’s Tudor Treasure: A Night at Hampton Court 2015

[19] Scard 2016

[20] Beer 2009

[21] Beer 2009

[22] Beer 2009

[23] Wilson 2009, p. 325

[24] Scard 2016

[25] Beer 2009

[26] Lipscomb 2015, p. 85-86

[27] Lipscomb 2015, p.127-128

[28] Beer 2009

[29] Beer 2009

[30] Bernard 2015

[31] Beer 2009

[32] Beer 2009

[33] Beer 2009

[34] Skidmore 2011

[35] Skidmore 2011

[36] Scard 2016

[37] Beer 2009

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