The Death of Queen Dowager and Baroness of Sudeley, Katherine Parr

Catherine Parr Tudors historical

On the 5th of September 1548, the Queen Dowager, Katherine Parr, died of puerperal fever, at Sudeley Castle. Six days prior she’d given birth to her daughter, Mary Seymour, which she named after her eldest royal stepdaughter.

Following the birth, she became feverish and in her delirium she claimed: “Those that are about me care not for me” referring to her husband, Thomas Seymour, Baron of Sudeley, who was by her side, comforting her the entire time. Jane Grey and other ladies were also with her, reading her the scriptures.

Katherine Parr as Henry's sixth wife according to Amy Licence was more than just a 'nurse' to Henry. She
Katherine Parr as Henry’s sixth wife according to Amy Licence “was a good catch.  At almost thirty-one, she was experienced and wise […]” and according to John Foxe, she possessed “rare gifts of nature, as singular beauty, favor and a comely personage; things wherein the king was delighted’. Ambassador Chapuys  described her before his leave on May 1545 as “worthy of her position”.

Historian Amy Licence theorizes she could have been infected after the birth by the midwives’ unclean hands which would have made possible the passage of bacteria to her body. (The lack of hygiene during childbirth was not uncommon. If she had lived through the same ordeal now she would have been treated right away and saved but as it was, the only medicine then was based on plants and folklore beliefs that Katherine, given her extensive knowledge of the former would have known very well. It is not known if he midwives or she used any of these methods. In any case it was too late, the fever spread rapidly and claimed her on the morning of September fifth).
Her husband was grief-stricken, unable to believe that she was gone that he later said: “I was so amazed that I had small regard to either myself or to my doings”.

Katherine was buried days later with full pomp and ceremony. Jane Grey acted as her chief mourner, walking behind her coffin with Lady Elizabeth Tilney carrying the long train. Katherine Parr was the first Royal to have a Protestant Funeral. Miles Coverdale headed the funeral which was in English and concluded it with the following eulogy:

“A beautous daughter blessed her arms,
An infant copy of her parents’ charms.
When now seven days this tender flower had bloomed
Heaven in its wrath the mother’s soul resumed
Our loyal breast with rising sighs are torn,
With saints she triumphs, we with mortals mourn.”

Thomas Seymour. Brash, impatient, he aspired everything too soon and that led to his death.
Thomas Seymour. Brash, impatient, he aspired everything too soon and that led to his death.


Her husband and daughter did not survive her for long. Sudeley was arrested at his house while entertaining a guest, and sent to Tower under charges of treason. He was found guilty and beheaded on March 20 1549. Afterwards, their daughter was given over to Catherine Brandon nee Willoughby, Duchess Dowager of Suffolk in whose care she probably died as she disappears from the records a year after.
Despite leaving everything to her husband, the Protectorate took her wealth and this made Sudeley angry, and he ended up conspiring with the Marquises of Dorset (Henry Grey) and Northampton (William Parr -Katherine’s brother), against his brother. The Duchess Dowager of Suffolk begged the Council many times to help her with her charge’s finances but they never took her pleas seriously until 1550 when Katherine Parr’s wealth was given back to her daughter, but by then she was probably sick or dying because she is never mentioned again.

Katherine Parr has gone down pop culture as Henry’s nurse and staunch Reformer but she was so much more than that. She and Mary I’s mother were the only two of Henry’s wives who served as Regents during his absence, and they were two of the most learned women in England who caused great impact on their respective faiths and both were known for being kind and generous. Eustace Chapuys before he left England on the summer 1545, commented that out of all of Henry’s Queens, with the exception of Katherine of Aragon, Katherine Parr was the only one who was worthy of her position. She was a good friend with Mary I, who was encouraged by her to translate one of the gospels of the New Testament and who followed her wherever she went.

Sources:

  • In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence
  • Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of of Katherine Parr, the Last Wife of Henry VIII by Linda Porter
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
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The Execution of Thomas Seymour 1st Baron of Sudeley

Thomas Seymour. Brash, impatient, he aspired everything too soon and that led to his death.
Thomas Seymour. Brash, impatient, he aspired everything too soon and that led to his death.

On the twentieth of March 1549, Thomas Seymour, Edward VI’s uncle and younger brother of the Lord Protector, Ned Seymour, was executed at Tower Hill. Thomas Seymour is famous for marrying the late King’s last consort, Katherine Parr. While the couple had only one child, Thomas was very protective of her. He grew paranoid after the death of his wife and saw enemies everywhere and urged his ally, Henry Grey, Marques of Dorset to return his eldest and favorite daughter, Jane Grey, into his custody. Something Henry reluctantly agreed. Nonetheless, in spite of his assurances, Thomas began to scheme with him and other members of court who were dissatisfied with his eldest brother.  When they had agreed to elect Edward Seymour as Protector, they had all been promised key positions in the government. Most of them had been rewarded for their loyalty by being elevated to Marques or in Thomas’ case, Barons. But they were not content. Something was missing and that something was more favor. Edward Seymour showed more favor to the commons and his attitude against the nobility and rising gentry who had brought him to where he was, angered them.

During his wife’s pregnancy, the Lady Elizabeth, his nephew’s second older sister resided with them. Very soon it became clear to Lady Sudeley that her husband’s attentions towards the pre-teen were overly affectionate and she had Elizabeth banished. Thomas Seymour tried to make it up to her by being at her side at all times but this wasn’t enough. According to one source, in her delirium she berated him and accused him of never loving her. He tried calming her down but sickened with grief and possibly puerperal fever, she died days later.

His brother didn’t allow him to inherit on his daughter’s behalf, or to have his daughter inherit, his wife’s states. If the rift between brothers’ was not worse already, this made it even more.
In spite of his many allies, Thomas Seymour was too brash and paranoid and it was this brashness and impatience that brought about his doom.

According to a much later account, when Elizabeth heard the news she said "A man of much with and very little judgment" but in reality what she said is found in her book of psalm and prayers which is currently held at Elton Hall; it reads "Vanity of Vanities; and the height of Vanity. T. Seymour".
According to a much later account, when Elizabeth heard the news she said “A man of much with and very little judgment” but in reality what she said is found in her book of psalm and prayers which is currently held at Elton Hall; it reads “Vanity of Vanities; and the height of Vanity. T. Seymour”.

Elizabeth Tudor who was later sent to the Tower during her sister, Queen Mary I’s, regime appealed to her by invoking the example of Thomas Seymour, saying that if his eldest brother -the Duke of Somerset- hadn’t been prevented from seeing him, then he wouldn’t have condemned his little brother. This is true. Ned Seymour wasn’t allowed to see or speak with Thomas. Thomas Seymour was a master of rhetoric and ingenuity, and he could have convince his brother or at the very least, get him to give him a royal pardon.

Despite this shortcoming, Thomas Seymour entertained himself by trying all sorts of things to appeal to the good conscience of other people. He tried smuggling a letter written in orange juice with a hook “plucked from his hose” to Lady Mary but it was soon discovered. Before he died, he wrote one last poem:

“Forgetting God to love a king
Hath been my rod or else nothing:
In this real life being a blast of care and strife
till be in the past.
Yet God did call me in my pride
lest I should fall and from him slide
for whom loves he
and not correct that they may be of his elect.
The death haste thee
thou shalt me gain
Immortally with him to reign
Who send the King
Like years as new in governing his realm with joy
And after this frail life such grace
As in his bliss
he may have place.”

Like his brother who would meet the same fate three years layer, his execution would prove highly unpopular. While his supporters had abandoned him, the resentment that had been between them and the Lord Protector was still there and it only got worse after this.

As with all men and women condemned to death, he was allowed to give one last speech before the executioner swung his axe. He was executed at Tower Hill and while we know very little of what he said, according to one account, when he was about to lay his head on the block he said “speed of what you are to do”. Then came the blow that ended his life.

Sources:

  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

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.