22 JANUARY 1552: The Execution of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset

Edward Seymour contrast with Tudors
The Historical Edward Seymour (left) was in reality a shy man as opposed to the intimidating figure played by Max Brown (right) in “The Tudors”.

 

On the 22nd of January, Edward Seymour, the former Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset was executed.

John Dudley and William Herbert had grown dissatisfied with the way he was running the country. When Edward Seymour was elected Lord Protector, he got to that position by making deals with many of Henry VIII’s executors and members of his imagined Regency Council. Edward was also part of this council, and upon his death he was going to be elevated to Duke and his eldest son by Anne, to Earl. But this wasn’t good enough for him. Less than a year later, he had alienated most of his supporters, including his brother. After Thomas’ execution, there was a popular uprising and instead of dealing with them in the same manner he had dealt with the Scots in the battle of Pinkie Cleugh, he pardoned many of them.

One of his close friends and allies, (Paget) had warned him of what might happen if he continued down this path. In a letter, dated July 7th 1549, he wrote: “I see at the hand the King’s destruction and your ruin. If you love me or value my service since the King’s father’s death, allow me to write what I think. Remember what your promised me in the gallery at Westminster before the late King died … planning with me for the place you now occupy to follow my advice before any other. Had you done so, things would not have gone as they have. Society is maintained by religion and laws: you have neither. The old religion is forbidden and the new not generally imprinted. The law is almost nowhere used: The commons have become King.”

The Protector obviously chose to ignore it until August when John Dudley and his men dealt with the rebels accordingly.

“The Earl of Warwick commanded an army of twelve thousand professional soldiers and German mercenaries against Norfolk farm boys with few guns or blades, but hopes of “an equal share of things.” Three thousand men died outside Norwich at Dussindale on 27 August.” (Lisle)

As he and his men gained more supporters, Somerset took his nephew to Windsor where he promised him he would be safe from his enemies. The King highly distrusted his uncle but there was little he could do.

Edward VI

Anticipating his arrest, the Protector took his nephew to Windsor. He told him that he was taking him to a “safe haven” and that this would be temporary until he dealt with his enemies.

Anne joined her husband at Windsor days later. With no one else they could trust, they sent their ten year old son, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford to bring reinforcements. But these never came. Instead, the boy was intercepted in the West by Sir William Herbert.

Sir William Herbert’s allegiance was to the league of conspirators, among them his brother-in-law, the Marquis of Northampton, William Parr who was the late Queen’s brother and who was one of many who held a grudge on the Lord Protector for kicking him off the Privy Council. He probably held a grudge against his wife as well, given her treatment of his sister.

With their son captured, and one of their commanders asking the Protector to step down “rather than any blood be shed,” the two realized that they had no option but to surrender.

Eventually he was released and continued to attend council meetings, but on the 16th of October 1551, he was arrested once again and brought to the Tower. His wife was arrested the following day and also brought to the Tower and *“if we are to judge from the list of articles she sent for, she must have realized that her visit was a long one.”

The charges laid against the Duke of Somerset were outrageous. Following his first arrest, he had lost his Protectorate but still retained some influence. His wife went on to make deals with the leading families in government by proposing betrothals to the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, Warwick and others, to her son and daughters. Warwick married his son to her daughter Anne, but as tensions began rising, the couple decided to use the last card they had up their sleeves which was their illustrious daughter Jane.

John Dudley

Jane was smart, articulated, and was highly praised by her mother’s chaplain and other Reformers. If she could get her royal cousin’s attention, she could bring her father back into favor. Somerset’s plan were discovered and fearing what he would do if he succeeded, Dudley and the others prosecuted him, and charged him with attempted murder, saying he planned to invite all the nobles to dinner so he could murder them. Since there wasn’t any evidence regarding this, new charges were laid against him, this time they involved sedition treason and conspiracy to “overthrow the government, imprison Northumberland and Northampton, and convene Parliament.”

Somerset attended the hearings in December where Lord Strange was brought in to testify of his plans to marry his daughter to Edward VI so he could regain power, and others were brought in to add more weight to the other charges. After his trial, his sentenced was pronounced, along with his brother-in-law, Michael Stanhope who had also been arrested and charged with treason.

There are many versions of his last words, one comes from his chaplain (John Foxe) who wasn’t present for his execution but he maintained that his account was taken from a “certain noble personage” who was.

Edward began by saying: “Dearly beloved masters and friends, I am brought hither to suffer, albeit that I never offended against the king neither by word nor deed, and have been always as faithful and true unto this realm as any man hath been. But foresomuch as I am by law condemned to die, I do acknowledge myself, as well as others, to be subject thereunto …” and added that he had come here to die, according to the law, and gave thanks “unto the divine goodness, as if I had received a most ample and great reward” then asked them to continue to embrace the new religion and obey their young King.

His speech was then interrupted by the arrival of two horsemen which the people took as a sign of a pardon and shouted “A pardon! A pardon! God save the King!” But it wasn’t. Northumberland and the council had issued a law that prevented the lords’ tenants and the common citizenry yet they still managed to come. So they were sorely disappointed when they found out that no such pardon was given and turned to their hero, the “Good Duke”, who said lastly:

Edward Seymour

“Dearly beloved friends, there is no such matter here in hand as you vainly hope or believe. I have always showed myself a most faithful and true subject and client unto him. I have always been most diligent about His Majesty in doing of his business, both at home and abroad, and no less diligent about the common commodity of the whole realm.”

Kneeling down, he let his face be covered with his handkerchief and right before the axe cut through his neck, he prayed “Lord Jesus, save me.”

In many ways, Edward Seymour can’t be blamed for the economic disaster since he inherited that from Henry VIII, but in other ways his mismanagement caused an even worse economic crisis and despite his popularity with some of the commons, he attempted to solve the problem of vagabonds by turning them into slave and his wars with Scotland brought an even greater strain on the treasury.

But for the people gathered that day, he was their hero and like many popular saints with the old religion, they saw him as something larger than life, and some even went as far as dipping their handkerchiefs and other pieces of clothing in his blood and treasured them as relics.

Edward VI for his part showed very little emotion. He wrote in his diary after he had been informed of his uncle’s death: “The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o’clock in the morning.”

Sources:

  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour *
  • Sisters who would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor: A Family Story by Leanda de Lisle
  • Edward VI by Chris Skidmore
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Struggling to be Neutral in a Tudor Squabble for the Protectorate

“Because the trouble between us and the Duke of Somerset may have been diversely reported to you, we should explain how the matter is now come to some extremity. We have long perceived his pride and ambition and have failed to stay him within reasonable limits.” -October 9, 1549 to the Tudor sisters Mary and Elizabeth.

Mary I historical

Mary had been one of the many who had been asked to aid in Northumberland’s plot to overthrow the Protectorate under Somerset. Mary refused. Why? Wouldn’t it had been better if she curried favor with Dudley from the start? Things would’ve worked far easier for her if she did, she wouldn’t have to fight her way to the throne like her grandfather (Henry Tudor) did, and she would’ve had most of the Protestant elite with her.

John Dudley


In theory yes.


But this goes back to the myth of the innocent little boy manipulated by the ‘evil’ Duke of Northumberland who couldn’t stand on his own two feet to oppose him.
Northumberland and Mary didn’t just have different religious views, they had different preferences in terms of foreign policy. Dudley favored the French over the Spanish Hapsburgs.
And yes, religion played a role but if you want to go there, I suggest you read more books on the subject because the politics were far more complicated than you think. Mary wasn’t stupid either, she knew where Dudley stood in terms of religion, foreign policy, and everything else. She wasn’t going to fair better under him and she told the more naive Francois Van der Defelt this who was not as familiar with English politics as his predecessor -Eustace Chapuys- had been. And there was some familiarity between them. Mary had fond memories of his late sister, her father’s third wife and Edward VI’s mother, Jane Seymour, and she was just as fond of his wife who, far from the shrew in the television series “The Tudors” was nowhere near as scandalous and the terrible remarks spoken about her reflects the misogyny about the era and the view of strong women. When she became Queen, while she never fully agreed with her husband’s policies, she released Anne Seymour nee Stanhope from the Tower and restored some of her lands.

Mary and ass Elizabeth The Tudors1
Elizabeth like Mary had abstained herself from participating in the Duke of Somerset’s overthrow. She knew the Duke still had friends in court, and who knew if he could be overthrown for good or if he, as he threatened, could mobilize the people against his enemies.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour
  • Mary Tudor by Anna Whitelock

Ordeal by Ambition: An English Family in the Rise of the Tudors by William Seymour

An in depth look at the most prominent Seymour siblings whose rise to power is continued to be source of controversy and who are blamed from everything from Anne's death, to everything else that can be found. The author in spite of being a descendant of this family, does not excuses them and is in fact (unlike other authors with their subjects) very objective with the three Seymours pointing out their flaws, their pride, and also their attributes and accomplishments and how until we see them as we see their predecessors, we can see history with a clearer lens.
An in depth look at the most prominent Seymour siblings whose rise to power is continued to be source of controversy and who are blamed from everything from Anne’s death, to everything else that can be found. The author in spite of being a descendant of this family, does not excuses them and is in fact (unlike other authors with their subjects) very objective with the three Seymours pointing out their flaws, their pride, and also their attributes and accomplishments and how until we see them as we see their predecessors, we can see history with a clearer lens.

The Seymours have had a bad reputation thanks to the black and white portrayals of recent fiction and television dramas and I know what you are going to say: it’s only fair. How dare they step over poor Anne Boleyn’s shoes and cause her and her good brother’s death? First of all, nothing excuses what happened to Anne but this was a highly political game. The stakes were HIGH and the Seymours were no different from her family -or any other family from that matter- and they were going to do whatever it took to stay safe. If that meant stepping over a woman’s shoes, then so be it. Anne Boleyn learned that lesson early on when she stepped over Katherine. It can be argued that Katherine was alive when she became Queen, but Katherine’s undoing, much Henry’s doing as it was Anne’s and Katherine’s, was slower and more painful than Anne’s death. Katherine suffered a slow death with little comfort and as some people have told me, some things are worse than deaths and I believe that since I have seen many things worse than death myself.

Jane Seymour as played by Annabelle Wallis in the third and fourth seasons of "The Tudors" and the great contrast to the real Jane as shown in her Holbein painting who was plain, but as the author pointed out, anything but witless and while not as impressive as her predecessors, she was highly observant and constructed an image for herself that may or may not have been genuine, in order to survive a man who had cast one wife aside and killed another.
Jane Seymour as played by Annabelle Wallis in the third and fourth seasons of “The Tudors” and the great contrast to the real Jane as shown in her Holbein painting who was plain, but as the author pointed out, anything but witless and while not as impressive as her predecessors, she was highly observant and constructed an image for herself that may or may not have been genuine, in order to survive a man who had cast one wife aside and killed another.


Jane Seymour was no plain-spoken, outspoken, or alluring Anne Boleyn, she certainly did not posses the beauty of her first predecessor Katherine of Aragon or her powerful friends. If anything, Jane had even less to recommend her than Anne. But Jane had something valuable: her wit and it was a wit she used to her full advantage. Learning from her mistresses’ mistakes, she emulated every virtue accepted in female monarchs to become the type of woman that Henry could find attractive, that would remind him of his mother -a woman he admired and it as it has been argued by some historians, he tried to find in every wife he married- and one who would be safe. But to achieve this completely, she had to give him a son. And had she not died we would have no doubt seen Jane’s true colors. There were times where she showed specs of her personality. As her older brother (Edward Seymour), she was subtle in the way she handled things. She would voice her opinions with delicacy, but there wasn’t anything delicate when she voiced her opinions regarding the Pilgrimage of Grace. Her education was simple but her understanding of things was not and had she lived we would have no doubt seen more of her.

The next subjects on the author’s list are none other than her controversial brothers, Edward and Thomas Seymour. There are more misconceptions about Thomas and Edward than there about Jane and they have become so ingrained into our understanding of them, that it becomes harder and harder to distinguish what is real and what is not. William Seymour sets the record straight, pointing out that, that as ambitious as both men were, what really brought them down was not lust or their alleged crimes but in fact it was their impatience and arrogance.

Thomas Seymour, a contrast to his real self. Andrew McNair in the right who played him in "The Tudors".
Thomas Seymour, a contrast to his real self. Andrew McNair in the right who played him in “The Tudors”.


Thomas Seymour was in fact intelligent, accomplished, a great warrior who sought to emulate the fame his brother had amassed during the Italian Wars and his bloody -and cruel- campaigns in Scotland. He was also a consummate courtier and great diplomat who proved himself on more than one occasion. As his brother, he knew that coming from the rising gentry, he had work twice as hard as his noble counterparts. Ironically though, he ended up conspiring with them to depose his brother and while his actions regarding this conspiracy and many others cannot be excused, we must understand the reasons behind them. Thomas has been depicted as a child molester who took advantage or forced himself on an unsuspected Elizabeth; and if his intentions to marry her after his wife was dead were true or not, there must be a clear-up regarding these allegations. A great friend of the family, the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, Katherine Willoughby, and another firm Protestant who was actively against his older brother’s Protectorate, wed her late husband when she was a little younger than Elizabeth. She had been meant for his son with the Princess Mary Tudor (King Henry VIII’s youngest sister) but he ended up marrying her instead. This does not excuse Thomas, if his intentions with the Lady Elizabeth were true, or if he had some sort of attraction to her. But with different time and different social and moral standards; people saw things differently. A lot of what has come down to us was written posthumously by his enemies to discredit him so they must be taken with a grain of salt. What is true as Seymour points out, is that Thomas might have felt an attraction or rather, being a calculate courtier as his brother, felt that forming an attachment to her would bring him connections, which he needed to bring his brother down. Nonetheless when Katherine Parr banished her from their house, Thomas became more devoted to his wife and her loss was felt deeply. As was expected, Thomas became angrier with his brother and blamed him for everything. He became increasingly paranoid, suspecting everyone of hurting his baby daughter -he would not trust anyone with her. And he had reason to be angry with his brother. Edward Seymour had in fact barred Thomas’ daughter, Mary Seymour from her inheritance many months before Thomas’ arrest. It was something that Thomas could not forgive. Drowned in melancholy, self-pity, and hungry for blood he begun conspiring with his in-law William Parr, and the Greys and Dudleys. Unfortunately, Thomas Seymour as his brother would later show in his own downfall, was his own worst enemy and his blunt hatred for his brother brought him down. So ended the life of a savvy, bold and impatient, and overtly ambitious individual. A man whose sole mistake was letting himself be controlled by his emotions and who was too impatient unlike his allies.

Edward Seymour, a zealous individual but also hardworking who earned the popular acclaim and sobriquet of 'the Good Duke' for his sympathetic glance at the commons. Yet his pride and arrogance towards the elite doomed him. In "The Tudors" (right) he was played by Max Brown.
Edward Seymour, a zealous individual but also hardworking who earned the popular acclaim and sobriquet of ‘the Good Duke’ for his sympathetic glance at the commons. Yet his pride and arrogance towards the elite doomed him. In “The Tudors” (right) he was played by Max Brown.

Last but not least is Edward Seymour whom the author dedicates most of his book to. Though he does a great deal for Jane and Thomas, it is Ned Seymour who he does a lot for the most. Ned Seymour who has been portrayed in recent fiction and television dramas as an amoral, akin to the terminator from science fiction, cold and emotionless individual who will not stop until everyone who isn’t Seymour is dead or bowing down to him. The author shows the real Protector, how he lived, what he died, his troubled married life (in the case of his first wife, Catherine Fillol who may or may not have been unfaithful. The author lends credibility she may have) and finally his military and political career.
Edward was the first of his siblings to distinguish himself in the field, knighted when he was very young by the Duke of Suffolk during the first phase of the Italian Wars at France. He returned home a hero, immediately was recommended to Wolsey’s service and distinguished himself there too and quickly caught the attention of other nobles and the King. Edward bought many mansions, remodeled many homes and made them grand. However he was not blind to who he was and what he represented. The Tudor world was a world where new men could rise but also one where they could be unmade. Edward intended to secure for his family, wealth and position and he worked hard to get it. Nonetheless, in spite of his hard work, his later rise was owed to his sister after she became Queen and gave Henry what he desired the most: a son. As governor of Jersey and having more responsibilities, Ned became a strong workaholic and refused to rest, even for a day. He took care of all his finances, simple tasks that could have been handled by his secretaries were handled directly by him. In spite of this, he never neglected his second wife and their large brood of children. As Seymour points out, Ned Seymour, the Protector who was arrogant and could be mocking to nobles, while merciful and gentle with members of the lower classes; was caring husband and father to his children and looked to all their well-being.

*But* as history shows us, and this book further proves my point, if you wanted to keep your head or be on good terms with everybody on this period -and by everybody I mean the half that has the armies and money- then you had to be nice with the nobility and kiss their feet, or at least give them their “dues” or else face animosity. And *that* is exactly what happened to Edward Seymour. Good politician, check. Good Protector. Check. Famous with the commons. Check. But good friend of the rich and his brother: Err … no. You failed big time there Ned, and he paid dearly with his wife. As his last trump card, he kidnapped his nephew just as another uncle had done with his royal nephew a century before, and told him that there were people out there to kill him, and he had to go with Ned and Anne to protect him. However Dudley and the Greys got wind of this and forced Edward to surrender him and from that point on, when Ned became their prisoner, his fate was sealed. He died over two years later. His wife’s appeals falling on deaf ears. The commons believed he had been pardoned and celebrated on the day of his execution but when they learned he had not, they wailed and afterwards dipped piece of cloths in his blood and keeping them and worship them as relics.

It is a great book and one every Tudor aficionado must have. Even if you are not into the period but want to learn about the Seymours or the politics during this era, this is a must-have! My only criticism is the way that Anne Stanhope, second wife of the Protector was portrayed. The author lets the reader decide for his or herself, not telling them unlike other writers how they should think or view this period, he lays out the facts for you (and there are other few authors who do this who I have included in my book recommendations album) and that is it. However he does give one personal opinion regarding Anne, and he voices what the Spanish Ambassador said about her, and that is that her pride did not help Edward Seymour at all and quickened his fall. This is entirely false as Porter has pointed out in her biographies, and Conor Byrne (author of Katherine Howard: A New History) in his latest blog entry. Anne was a deeply devoted religious matron who was fairly tolerant for the era and who stuck by her husband, and did the impossible to keep him alive -and this included arranging betrothals between one of their daughters to one of Dudley’s sons. When he died she was sent to the Tower and wasn’t released until on her of old friends, Mary Tudor now Mary I of England, first Queen Regnant of her country, released her and restored some of her properties. Anne lived the rest of her life in relative obscurity, remarrying beneath her in the hope that it would keep her out of the royal radar.