Thomas Seymour, the fourth of six sons of Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth, was probably born at Wolf Hall, Wiltshire, in about 1509. Through the Wentworths, the Seymours claimed royal blood through descent from Edward III. Edward's father had been knighted in 1497 by Henry VII after the Battle of Blackheath. In 1513 he accompanied Henry VIII in the French campaign. (1)
By 1530 Thomas Seymour was in service to the leading courtier Sir Francis Bryan. (2) His father and brother, Edward Seymour, accompanied Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to Boulogne to meet François I. (3) Henry met Thomas during this period and commented that he was confident that he was "armed with such lust and youth" that he would be able to please a bride "well at all points". (4)
Henry VIII continued to try to produce a male heir, but Queen Anne had two miscarriages. On 13th October 1534 Ambassador Eustace Chapuys reported to King Charles V that Henry was becoming romantically involved with an unnamed young lady. It is almost certain that this woman was Thomas's sister, Jane Seymour. Chapuys adds that the lady in question had recently sent a message to Princess Mary telling her to take good heart because her tribulations would end very soon. (5)
Antonia Fraser, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) has pointed out: "Jane Seymour was exactly the kind of female praised by the contemporary handbooks to correct conduct; just as Anne Boleyn had been the sort they warned against. There was certainly no threatening sexuality about her. Nor is it necessary to believe that her virtue was in some way hypocritically assumed, in order to intrigue the King. On the contrary, Jane Seymour was simply fulfilling the expectations for a female of her time and class; it was Anne Boleyn who was - or rather who had been - the fascinating outsider." (6) In March 1536 Edward Seymour was made a gentleman of the privy chamber and a few days later, he, his wife, and his sister Jane were installed in the palace at Greenwich in an apartment which the king could reach through a private passage. (7)
Anne Boleyn was pregnant again when she discovered Jane Seymour sitting on her husband's lap. Anne "burst into furious denunciation; the rage brought on a premature labour and was delivered of a dead boy." (8) It has been claimed that the baby was born deformed and that the child was not Henry's. (9) In April 1536, a Flemish musician in Anne's service named Mark Smeaton was arrested. He initially denied being the Queen's lover but later confessed, perhaps tortured or promised freedom. Another courtier, Henry Norris, was arrested on 1st May. Sir Francis Weston was arrested two days later on the same charge, as was William Brereton, a Groom of the King's Privy Chamber. Anne's brother, George Boleyn was also arrested and charged with incest. (10)
Anne was arrested and was taken to the Tower of London on 2nd May, 1536. Four of the accused men were tried in Westminster ten days later. Smeaton pleaded guilty but Weston, Brereton, and Norris maintained their innocence Three days later, Anne and George Boleyn were tried separately in the Tower of London. She was accused of enticing five men to have illicit relations with her. (11) Adultery committed by a queen was considered to be an act of high treason because it had implications for the succession to the throne. All were found guilty and condemned to death. The men were executed on 17th May, 1536. Anne went to the scaffold at Tower Green on 19th May.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer issued a dispensation from prohibitions of affinity for Jane Seymour to marry Henry the day of Anne's execution, because they were fifth cousins. The couple were betrothed the following day, and a private marriage took place on 30th May 1536. Coming as it did after the death of Catherine of Aragon and the execution of Anne Boleyn, there could be no doubt of the lawfulness of Henry's marriage to Jane. The new queen was introduced at court in June. "No coronation followed the wedding, and plans for an autumn coronation were laid aside because of an outbreak of plague at Westminster; Jane's pregnancy undoubtedly eliminated any possibility of a later coronation." (12)
Jane Seymour gave birth to a boy on 12th October 1537 after a difficult labour that lasted two days and three nights. The child was named Edward, after his great-grandfather and because it was the eve of the Feast of St Edward. It was said that the King wept as he took the baby son in his arms. At the age of forty-six, he had achieved his dream. "God had spoken and blessed this marriage with an heir male, nearly thirty years after he had first embarked on matrimony." (13)
Edward was christened when he was three days old, and both his sisters played a part in this important occasion. In the great procession which took the baby from the mother's bed-chamber to the chapel, Elizabeth carried the chrisom, the cloth in which the child was received after his immersion in the font. As she was only four years old, she herself was carried by Edward Seymour. Jane was well enough to receive guests after the christening. Edward was proclaimed prince of Wales, duke of Cornwall, and earl of Carnarvon.
On 17th October 1537 Jane became very ill. Most historians have assumed that she developed puerperal fever, something for which there was no effective treatment, though at the time the queen's attendants were blamed for allowing her to eat unsuitable food and to take cold. An alternative medical opinion suggests that Jane died because of retention of parts of the placenta in her uterus. That condition could have led to a haemorrhage several days after delivery of the child. What is certain is that septicaemia developed, and she became delirious. Jane died just before midnight on 24th October, aged twenty-eight. (14)
Thomas Seymour was knighted in October 1537. The following year he was granted former monastic land in Essex, Hampshire, and Berkshire. In 1543 he fell in love with Catherine Parr. However, the following year she accepted the proposal of Henry VIII to become his sixth wife. (15) Jane Dunn, the author of Elizabeth & Mary (2003) has pointed out: "In marrying the King rather than this love, Catherine Parr had sacrificed her heart for the sake of duty." (16)
In the summer 1543 he was marshal of the English army in the Low Countries, serving under Sir John Wallop. Seymour took part in the capture of Boulogne on 14th September. In October of that year he was appointed an admiral of the fleet, and he was much involved in naval action in 1545. By 1546 Seymour's annual income was £458 6s. 8d. (17)
Henry VIII died on 28th January, 1547. The following day Edward and his thirteen year-old sister, Elizabeth, were informed that their father had died. According to one source, "Edward and his sister clung to each other, sobbing". Edward VI's coronation took place on Sunday 20th February. "Walking beneath a canopy of crimson silk and cloth of gold topped by silver bells, the boy-king wore a crimson satin robe trimmed with gold silk lace costing £118 16s. 8d. and a pair of ‘Sabatons’ of cloth of gold." (18)
Edward was only nine years old and was too young to rule. In his will, Henry had nominated a Council of Regency, made up of 16 nobles and churchman to assist Edward VI in governing his new realm. It was not long before his uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, emerged as the leading figure in the government and was given the title Lord Protector. His brother was now arguably the most influential person in the land. Thomas was jealous of his brother success but "his brother possessed all the qualities of leadership that he himself lacked". (19)
Thomas Seymour, although he was in his late thirties, proposed to the Council that he should marry the 13-year-old, Elizabeth, but he was told this was unacceptable. He now set his sights on Catherine Parr. At the time he was described as "being gifted with charm and intelligence... and a handsome appearance". (20) Just a few weeks after Henry's death Catherine wrote to Seymour: "I would not have you think that this mine honest good will toward you to proceed from any sudden motion of passion; for, as truly as God is God, my mind was fully bent, the other time I was at liberty, to marry you before any man I know. Howbeit, God withstood my will therein most vehemently for a time, and... made that possible which seemed to me most impossible." (21)
The historian, Elizabeth Jenkins, believes that the "Queen Dowager, released from the sufferings of her marriage to Henry VIII, behaved like an enamoured girl." (22) Seymour wanted to marry Parr but realised the Council would reject his proposal, as it would be pointed out that if she became pregnant, there would have been uncertainty about whether the child was Seymour's or Henry's. (23) Seymour married Parr in secret in about May 1547.
Seymour visited Parr in her home in Chelsea before the news of their marriage was announced. This created extra problems as Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey were also living with Parr at this time. (24) It has been pointed out that "Elizabeth was still only thirteen when her stepmother, of whom she was most fond, married for love. The young Princess remained in her care, living principally with her at her dower houses at Chelsea and Hanworth. Ever curious and watchful, Elizabeth could not fail to have noted the effects of the sudden transformation in Catherine Parr's life. From patient, pious consort of an ailing elderly king she had been transmuted into a lover, desired and desiring." (25)
Catherine Parr, who was now thirty-five, became pregnant. Although she had been married three times before, it was her first pregnancy. It came as a great shock as Catherine was assumed to be "barren". (26) Seymour now began paying more attention to Elizabeth. Katherine Ashley, Elizabeth's governess, later recorded: "Seymour... would come many mornings into the Lady Elizabeth's chamber, before she were 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, and so go forth through his lodgings; and sometime go through to the maidens and play with them, and so go forth... If Lady Elizabeth was in bed, he would... make as though he would come at her. And he would go further into the bed, so that he could not come at her." On one occasion Ashley saw Seymour try to kiss her while she was in bed and the governess told him to "go away for shame". Seymour became more bold and would come up every morning in his nightgown, "barelegged in his slippers". (27)
According to Elizabeth Jenkins, the author of Elizabeth the Great (1958) claims that the evidence suggested that the "Queen Dowager took to coming with her husband on his morning visits and one morning they both tickled the Princess as she lay in her bed. In the garden one day there was some startling horse-play, in which Seymour indulged in a practice often heard of in police courts; the Queen Dowager held Elizabeth so that she could not run away, while Seymour cut her black cloth gown into a hundred pieces. The cowering under bedclothes, the struggling and running away culminated in a scene of classical nightmare, that of helplessness in the power of a smiling ogre... The Queen Dowager, who was undergoing an uncomfortable pregnancy, could not bring herself to make her husband angry by protesting about his conduct, but she began to realize that he and Elizabeth were very often together." (28)
Jane Dunn has controversially argued that Elizabeth was a willing victim in these events: "Although not legally her step-father, Thomas Seymour assumed his role as head of the household and with his manly demeanour and exuberant animal spirits he became for the young Princess a charismatic figure of attraction and respect. Some twenty-five years her senior, Seymour in fact was old enough to be her father and the glamour of his varied heroic exploits in war and diplomatic dealings brought a welcome worldly masculinity into Elizabeth's cloistered female-dominated life.... Elizabeth was also attractive in her own right, tall with fair reddish-gold hair, fine pale skin and the incongruously dark eyes of her mother, alive with unmistakable intelligence and spirit. She was young, emotionally inexperienced and understandably hungry for recognition and love. She easily became a willing if uneasy partner in the verbal and then physical high jinks in the newly sexualised Parr-Seymour household." (29)
Sir Thomas Parry, the head of Elizabeth's household, later testified that Thomas Seymour loved Elizabeth and had done so for a long time and that Catherine Parr was jealous of the fact. In May 1548 Catherine "came suddenly upon them, where they were all alone, he having her (Elizabeth) in his arms, wherefore the Queen fell out, both with the Lord Admiral and with her Grace also... and as I remember, this was the cause why she was sent from the Queen." (30) Later that month Elizabeth was sent away to stay with Sir Anthony Denny and his wife, at Cheshunt. It has been suggested that this was done not as punishment but as a means of protecting the young girl. Philippa Jones, the author of Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010) has suggested that Elizabeth was pregnant with Seymour's child. (31)
Elizabeth wrote to Catherine soon after she left her home: "Although I could not be plentiful in giving thanks for the manifold kindness received at your highness' hand at my departure, yet I am something to be borne withal, for truly I was replete with sorrow to depart from your highness, especially leaving you undoubtful of health. And albeit I answered little, I weighed it more deeper when you said you would warn me of all evils that you should hear of me; for if your grace had not a good opinion of me, you would not have offered friendship to me that way that all men judge the contrary. But what may I more say than thank God for providing such friends to me, desiring God to enrich me with their long life, and me grace to be in heart no less thankful to receive it than I now am glad in writing to show it. And although I have plenty of matter, here I will stay for I know you are not quiet to read." (32)
Catherine Parr gave birth to a daughter named Mary on 30th August 1548. After the birth, Catherine developed puerperal fever. Her delirium took a painful form of paranoid ravings about her husband and others around her. Catherine accused the people around her of standing "laughing at my grief". She told the women attending her that her husband did not love her. Thomas Seymour held her hand and replied "sweetheart, I would do you no hurt". Seymour is reported to have lain down beside her, but Catherine asked him to leave because she wanted to have a proper talk with the physician who attended her delivery, but dared not for fear of displeasing him. (33)
The fever eventually went and she was able to dictate her will calmly, revealing that Seymour was the "great love of her life". Queen Catherine, "sick of body but of good mind", left everything to Seymour, only wishing her possessions "to be a thousand times more in value" than they were. Catherine, thirty-six years old, died on 5th September 1548, six days after the birth of her daughter. (34)
Katherine Ashley later claimed that Elizabeth took the news very badly. She refused to leave her bed and for the next five months she was unable to go more than a mile from the house. (35) Elizabeth wrote to Thomas Seymour thanking him for sending the physician, Dr. Thomas Bille, to attend to her. However, rumours began to circulate that the reasons that Elizabeth was housebound was because she was pregnant and that those around her were protecting her by alluding to her illness. (36)
Thomas Seymour sought to win Edward's affection and gain acceptance as his intimate adviser. He regularly visited Edward's bedchamber. Antonia Fraser has claimed: "He showed no greater greed than the rest of the nobility round him. Seymour's real weakness was his morbid jealously of his elder brother Somerset, whose military victories had first marked him out before his position as Protector raised him up." (37)
When his brother, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, discovered what was happening he "put a special watch on all doors leading into the king's privy chamber in order to prevent Sudeley's clandestine entry". One night Thomas found the door to Edward's bedchamber bolted; enraged, he shot dead the king's barking dog. Somerset was given copies of letters that Sudeley had been passing to Edward. "Somerset found such correspondence intolerable" and ordered his brother's arrest in January, 1549. (38)
Elizabeth's governess, Katherine Ashley, and Sir Thomas Parry, the head of Elizabeth's household, were also arrested and interviewed by Sir Robert Tyrwhitt. They both provided accounts of Thomas Seymour's relationship with Elizabeth. On 22nd January, 1549, Tyrwhitt had a meeting with Elizabeth. He reported to Edward Seymour "all I have gotten yet is by gentle persuasion, whereby I do begin to grow with her in credit... this is a good beginning, I trust more will follow." (39)
On 28th January, Elizabeth wrote a letter to the Lord Protector denying that she was pregnant: "Master Tyrwhit and others have told me that there goeth rumours abroad which be greatly both against my honour and honesty, which, above all other things, I esteem, which be these, that I am in the Tower, and with child by my Lord Admiral (Thomas Seymour). My lord, these are shameful slanders, for the which, besides the great desire I have to see the king's majesty, I shall most heartily desire your lordship that I may show myself there as I am." (40)
The Lord Protector wrote back to her to say that if Elizabeth could identify anyone who uttered such slanders against her, the Council would have them punished. Elizabeth replied that she was unwilling to accuse specific people but suggested a better plan of action: "It might seem good to your lordship, and the rest of the council, to send forth a proclamation into the countries that they refrain their tongues, declaring how the tales be but lies, it should make both the people think that you and the council have great regard that no such rumours should be spread of any of the King's majesty's sisters (as I am, though unworthy) and also that I should think myself to receive such friendship at your hands as you have promised me, although your lordship showed me great already." (41)
Sir Robert Tyrwhitt attempted to discover if Elizabeth, Katherine Ashley, and Sir Thomas Parry were involved in what was described a "marriage plot" with Thomas Seymour. However, they all refused to confess and Tyrwhitt reported, "They all sing the same song and so I think they would not do, unless they had set the note before." However, without confessions, Tyrwhitt was forced to release Ashley and Parry but Seymour was charged with 39 articles of treasonable activities, including that he "had attempted and gone about to marry the King's Majesty's sister, the Lady Elizabeth, second inheritor in remainder to the Crown." (42)
Thomas Seymour was examined on 18th and 23rd February but refused to answer unless his accusers stood before him. (43) Seymour demanded an open trial to face his accusers but this was denied. To prevent his brother, Edward Seymour, from showing leniency, the Council gained permission to act without the Lord Protector's authorization. On 20th March, 1549, Seymour was beheaded on Tower Hill. Even on the scaffold, Seymour refused to make the usual confession. Bishop Hugh Latimer commented: "Whether he be saved or no, I leave it to God, but surely he was a wicked man, and the realm is well rid of him." (44)
When she heard the news, it is claimed Elizabeth commented: "This day died a man of much wit and very little judgment." Elizabeth Jenkins, the author of Elizabeth the Great (1958) has pointed out: "If the words are apocryphal their tenor shows the effect of her beating. No one who saw her doubted the intensity of her emotion: they merely admired the fortitude with which she restrained it." (45)
Thomas's desire to resume his relationship with Catherine was due, in part, to his previous affection for her, but it was also driven by ambition. His brother, Edward, was now arguably the most influential person in the land, and sadly for Thomas, his brother possessed all the qualities of leadership that he himself lacked. Henry VIII had recognized this and made Edward one of his close advisers, sending him abroad on key diplomatic missions. Edward VI's Council similarly recognized Edward's powers as a reliable, intelligent, capable soldier and administrator.
When the Council awarded titles to its various Councillors, Edward became the 1st Duke of Somerset. Thomas also received the tide of lst Baron Seymour of Sudeley and was appointed Lord High Admiral, but he was far from satisfied. Edward was still more important, and Thomas was furious that his brother had risen so far so fast. Thomas was not only ambitious: he genuinely believed that he was equal, if not superior, to his brother.
Thomas's subsequent behaviour both involving Catherine, and later, Elizabeth sought to level the playing field. Marriage to the Dowager Queen was just one step further towards reaching a particular goal. Until Edward VI married, which was some years off yet, Catherine was the First Lady in England and the beloved stepmother of the King. She was arguably the most important woman in the country and could be expected to use her influence to support her husband in gaining the King's favour, if he so required.
While he was wooing Catherine, Thomas was also in communication with some of the Councillors to see if they might match him with either of Edward VI's half-sisters, Mary or Elizabeth. He received a strong negative response, as sometime in April or May of 1547 he secretly married Catherine.
Edward VI noted Edward Seymour's reaction to the marriage in his journal: "The Lord Seymour of Sudeley married the Queen, whose name was Catherine, with which marriage the Lord Protector was much offended." While Catherine had approached her stepson and asked for his approval for the union, which he gladly gave, neither Thomas nor Catherine had approached the Council, perhaps suspecting that the Lord Protector might prevent the marriage, not just on the grounds of timing, but also because it would give too much influence to Thomas. When Edward VI took the throne, Thomas had tried to persuade the young King to sign a Bill to allow him to share the role of Protector, which Edward had refused.
By June, the marriage was common knowledge at Court and Thomas was living openly at Chelsea with Catherine and her household, which now included Elizabeth, but soon grew to encompass 11-year-old Lady Jane Grey. As part of Thomas's plans to increase his power, he plotted to arrange a marriage between Edward VI and Jane, the granddaughter of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII's sister, and Edward's own cousin. Evidence for what happened next at Chelsea, and at Catherine and Thomas's houses at Hanworth and Seymour Place in London, came from statements given by witnesses in the 1548-49 enquiry into the treasonable actions of Thomas Seymour. The most prominent and damaging statements came from Kat Ashley and Sir Thomas Parry, Elizabeth's Cofferer (treasurer).
Thomas Seymour was made Lord Seymour of Sudeley and Lord High Admiral. Somerset, though arrogant, grasping and unscrupulous, had some enlightened ideas of government. Seymour, on the other hand, had the total selfishness and irresponsibility of a criminal. He bitterly resented the fact that the office of Protector was not shared equally between Somerset and himself; from the time of their nephew's accession, they behaved like a pair of brothers in some classical tragedy of fratricide.
Vain, reckless and unreasonable as Seymour was, he had the charm of a handsome man who is genial and high-spirited. "Fierce in courage," runs the famous description, "courtly in fashion, in person stately, in voice magnificent, but somewhat empty in matter." The latter drawback, as far as women were concerned, did not injure the rest of his qualities. On the King's death, Seymour proposed to the Council that he should marry Elizabeth, and Mrs. Ashley who thought the King himself had favoured the idea was disappointed that the matter came to nothing. But Seymour received an unequivocal rebuff from the Council, and immediately renewed his old suit. The Queen Dowager, released from the sufferings of her marriage to Henry VIII, behaved like an enamoured girl. She married Seymour secretly, and received his clandestine visits at her house in Chelsea, where her porteress let him in at five in the morning. The situation was full of submerged danger, for by the Council's permission Elizabeth was now living with her stepmother.
Seymour, for all his geniality, was a man of ruthless ambition. He was twenty years older than Elizabeth, but as he was in his prime this meant only that he had the maturity a very young girl admires, and his attractions were of the kind to which she was susceptible all her life. He had been put into her head already as a possible husband, and now he was coming and going in romantic secrecy, in the first light of the May mornings, as the husband of her still-youthful stepmother.
Had Seymour left Elizabeth alone, no harm would have come of it; but one of his reasons for marrying the Queen Dowager was that Elizabeth had been consigned to her care. His brother had control of the King: he himself would have control of the King's enigmatic young sister. It was true that if she were drawn into any entanglement it might be regarded as high treason, and that the penalty for this was, for a woman, beheading or burning alive. Seymour knew these facts, but he preferred to disregard them.
The Queen Dowager's household was a charming one. Beyond it, indeed, matters were stormy. Seymour was perpetually at variance with his brother, refusing to accept his authority or to carry out his own duties as Lord Admiral, while the situation between the brothers was the more embittered by the hostility of their wives. The Duchess of Somerset, eminently strong-minded and disagreeable, had once been obliged to treat Catherine Parr with ceremonious respect; she now took pains to show her that the Queen Dowager was merely the wife of the Protector's younger brother. This occasioned anger abroad, but at home all was pleasure, ease and a delightful freedom from past restraints.
The Princess's household formed a unit within the Queen Dowager's; it included Mrs. Ashley, the tutor, young Mr. Grindal, and several ladies-in-waiting. There was also attached to it a man who would seem to have had more sense than all the rest put together; this was the Princess's distant cousin John Ashley. In the months after the King's death he gave his wife a warning "to take heed for he did fear that the Lady Elizabeth did bear some affection to my Lord Admiral". He had noticed that she looked pleased and sometimes blushed when Seymour was spoken of. His wife was coarser-fibred; either she saw no danger, or in the congenial atmosphere of ease and pleasure with the exciting undercurrent that Seymour's presence brought, she would not recognize it.
Seymour went openly to work. He began romping with the Princess, and his wife did what many women do in such a case: to prove to herself and everybody else that there was no harm in the romp, she joined it herself. There was no doubt as to Elizabeth's state of mind - Ashley had recognized it at once; but with the passion there was considerable fear. Seymour's boisterous approaches were liable to be alarming to a girl of fourteen, and one with, who knows what buried dread of men? Seymour would come into her bedchamber in the mornings. If she were up "he would strike her familiarly on the back and buttocks". If she were in bed he would open the bed curtain "and make as though he would come at her", while she "would go further into the bed". One morning he tried to kiss her in her bed, at which Mrs. Ashley, who slept in the Princess's room "bade him go away for shame". Elizabeth's bedroom, at Chelsea and at Seymour's town house, Seymour Place, was above the Queen Dowager's, and Seymour used to come up "in his nightgown, bare-legged in his slippers". Mrs. Ashley told him "it was a shame to see a man come so, bare-legged, to a maiden's chamber", but her protests were not taken seriously. The Queen Dowager, however, took to coming with her husband on his morning visits and one morning they both tickled the Princess as she lay in her bed. In the garden one day there was some startling horse-play, in which Seymour indulged in a practice often heard of in police courts; the Queen Dowager held Elizabeth so that she could not run away, while Seymour cut her black cloth gown into a hundred pieces. The cowering under bedclothes, the struggling and running away culminated in a scene of classical nightmare, that of helplessness in the power of a smiling ogre. Seymour had possessed himself of a masterkey, and early one morning at Chelsea, Elizabeth heard the privy lock undo, and, "knowing he would come in" - Seymour, smiling in his long red beard - " she ran out of her bed to her maidens and then went behind the curtains of the bed, the maidens being there; and my Lord tarried a long time in hopes she would come out". Afterwards, "she was commonly up and at her book", by the time Seymour came, and then he would merely look in at the door and say good morning. But he had overcome her initial resistance; the Queen Dowager, who was undergoing an uncomfortable pregnancy, could not bring herself to make her husband angry by protesting about his conduct, but she began to realize that he and Elizabeth were very often together; then one day in May, she went into a room unexpectedly and found Elizabeth in his arms.
There was no quarrel and no public appearance of her being sent away in disgrace, but it was decided she should remove with her establishment to the house of Sir Anthony Denny at Cheshunt. She and her train arrived there just after Whitsun, and Elizabeth wrote to her stepmother to say that at their parting she had been too much moved to thank her properly for her kindness, so sad was she to go away, leaving her "in doubtful health", and, she said, "albeit I answered little, I weighed it the more, when you said you would warn me of all evils you should hear of me, for if your Grace had not a good opinion of me, you would not have offered friendship to me that way".
The abrupt parting from Seymour, the disgrace and the contrition, and the warring of sexual excitement with deep-buried dread, all this coming upon her at the critical age of fourteen-and-a-half, coincided with, if it did not bring on, an illness. In Mrs. Ashley's words: "She was first sick about mid-summer." At times she was "sick in her bed", and so unwell for the rest of the year that Mrs. Ashley said she herself had never been more than a mile from the house."
For the next few years, the Princess suffered from intermittent illhealth; she developed migraine attacks and pains in the eyes, and by the time she was twenty, it was a matter of common rumour, of particular interest to ambassadors, that her monthly periods were very few or none, a condition often accounted for by shock and emotional strain. In Elizabeth's history, the events of her mother's death, and that of her mother's cousin, and the engaging of her own affections by Seymour's outrageous siege, seem to have done her nervous system and her sexual development an injury from which they never recovered. But her loyalty in her affections remained unshaken. She wrote anxiously of her stepmother's condition, "so big with child and so sickly", and to Seymour she wrote a letter, brief and touching. She waived away an apology he made for not being able to fulfil some small promise:"I shall desire you to think that a greater matter than this could not make me impute any unkindness to you, for I am a friend not won with trifles, nor lost with the like."
In August the Queen Dowager's daughter was born, and in the delirium offever, Catherine complained that those she had meant well to, and tried to be good to, stood around her bed, laughing at her pain. She died within a week, and was buried in the small chapel of Sudeley Castle. The chief mourner in the scene of sable draperies and attendants hooded in black was Lady Jane Grey, in deepest mourning, with a long mourning train upheld by another young lady.
Her parents now wished Lady Jane to return to them, but the child's body contained an infusion of the precious royal blood and Seymour did not intend to let her go. He held out a dazzling prospect: "If I can get the King at liberty, I dare warrant you he shall marry none other than Jane." The Dorsets were elated, and that Seymour might have complete authority in negotiating their daughter's marriage, Dorset sold him her wardship for Za,ooo, of which Seymour gave him kSoo on account immediately.
There was a second powerful and ambitious Seymour brother, who was to teach the teenage Elizabeth some malign lessons on the delusions of sexual desire and the snares of ruthless men who would be king. Thomas Lord Seymour of Sudeley, at nearly forty years old, still cut a dashing soldierly figure having distinguished himself in diplomatic, naval and military campaigns under Henry. He became Lord Admiral early in the reign of Edward VI under the protectorship of his own elder brother, Somerset. Thomas Seymour had not only been admired by Henry, he had been loved by his queen. In marrying the King rather than this love, Catherine Parr had sacrificed her heart for the sake of duty. However, on Henry's death her sense of obligation was fulfilled and after only four month, of widowhood, Catherine married Seymour. This was considered in indecorous haste, especially for a queen - and for a couple well into Tudor middle-age. But even more surprisingly the thirty-five year-old queen, who had remained childless throughout her first three marriages, now belatedly conceived. This could only enhance the self-confidence and reputation of an already proudly virile man. It seemed inevitable that such a man would have sired a son.
Elizabeth was still only thirteen when her stepmother, of whom she was most fond, married for love. The young Princess remained in her care, living principally with her at her dower houses at Chelsea and Hanworth. Ever curious and watchful, Elizabeth could not fail to have noted the effects of the sudden transformation in Catherine Parr's life. From patient, pious consort of an ailing elderly king she had been transmuted into a lover, desired and desiring.
Although not legally her step-father, Thomas Seymour assumed his role as head of the household and with his manly demeanour and exuberant animal spirits he became for the young Princess a charismatic figure of attraction and respect. Some twenty-five years her senior, Seymour in fact was old enough to be her father and the glamour of his varied heroic exploits in war and diplomatic dealings brought a welcome worldly masculinity into Elizabeth's cloistered female-dominated life.
Up until now, Elizabeth had never lived in daily proximity with a man other than her tutors and servants. Her father had been a distant, revered, almost superhuman figure to her, someone she strived to impress with something of her own talents and individuality, but it is unlikely that Henry offered her more than the scantest recognition. From the start, there was evidence that Seymour paid Elizabeth most gratifying attention.
From a purely political point of view, Elizabeth was worthy of this attention for Seymour always had an eye for the main chance and this receptive young woman was a royal Princess, third in the line of succession. But Elizabeth was also attractive in her own right, tall with fair reddish-gold hair, fine pale skin and the incongruously dark eyes of her mother, alive with unmistakable intelligence and spirit. She was young, emotionally inexperienced and understandably hungry for recognition and love. She easily became a willing if uneasy partner in the verbal and then physical high jinks in the newly sexualised Parr-Seymour household.
Although I could not be plentiful in giving thanks for the manifold kindness received at your highness' hand at my
departure, yet I am something to be borne withal, for truly I was replete with sorrow to depart from your highness, especially leaving you undoubtful of health. And albeit I answered little, I weighed it more deeper when you said you would warn me of all evils that you should hear of me; for if your grace had not a good opinion of me, you would not have offered friendship to me that way that all men judge the contrary. But what may I more say than thank God for providing such friends to me, desiring God to enrich me with their long life, and me grace to be in heart no less thankful to receive it than I now am glad in writing to show it. And although I have plenty of matter, here I will stay for I know you are not quiet to read.
Master Tyrwhit and others have told me that there goeth rumours abroad which be greatly both against my honour and honesty, which, above all other things, I esteem, which be these, that I am in the Tower, and with child by my Lord Admiral (Thomas Seymour). My lord, these are shameful slanders, for the which, besides the great desire I have to see the king's majesty, I shall most heartily desire your lordship that I may show myself there as I am.
It might seem good to your lordship, and the rest of the council, to send forth a proclamation into the countries that they refrain their tongues, declaring how the tales be but lies, it should make both the people think that you and the council have great regard that no such rumours should be spread of any of the King's majesty's sisters (as I am, though unworthy) and also that I should think myself to receive such friendship at your hands as you have promised me, although your lordship showed me great already.