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

The Coronation of the Last Tudor King: Edward VI

Edward VI. The last Tudor King.
Edward VI. The last Tudor King.

Edward VI was the last Tudor King and the first true Protestant King of England. On the eve of his coronation, Edward made his procession from the Tower of London to Westminster. There were many pageants that greeted the boy-king as he rode horseback dressed in a jerkin of white velvet decorated with diamonds, rubies and pearls.

“His gown was a fine mesh of gold with a cape of sable, whilst the horse he rode upon was draped in crimson satin beaded with pearls.” (Skidmore)

The Imperial Ambassador Francois Van der Defelt was not impressed and when he met the king, he spoke to him in French to which his uncle, the Lord Protector and now Duke of Somerset, reproached him and told him he should speak in Latin instead because the king “understood better than French.” Defelt had no more good things to say about the King or the Archbishop of Canterbury who refused to speak to him because of his Catholic beliefs.

edwards-coronation-procession-1547

As for the pageantry itself, it was nothing short of glorious. Everything went according to plan. Protocol was followed. The Marquis of Dorset [Henry Grey, husband to Frances Brandon and father to Jane Grey] carried the sword of justice in his role as Constable of England and Edward was flanked by John Dudley and his uncle [Somerset]. Next came the Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber, the pensioners and the other guard.

Pageants greeted the young king. These were not rehearsed and many had to be improvised. Of these was one of children who each represented one of the four virtues: Grace, Fortune, Nature and Charity.

Another had a huge fountain topped with a “crown of imperial gold” garnished with pearls and other precious stones and sprayed jets of wine through pipes into the street. And there was one which had a stage where a scaffold had been erected. Beneath its roof was brilliant iconography with the sun, stars and clouds. On one of these clouds was none other than the image of a phoenix descending on to a mount, covered in red and white roses and hawthorn bushes.

Like with his first Tudor ancestors, Edward VI’s procession on the eve of his coronation served to leave its mark on history. The Tudors knew the importance of imagery and how powerful it was to manipulate or rewrite history. At the same time, it evoked the tales they themselves kept perpetuating of their legitimacy. For example the phoenix was his mother’s badge, standing on a golden tower with its wings spread up and nature flourishing as a result. Edward was making a powerful statement, and his uncle helped too perhaps, about his parents’ marriage as lawful and true. And also establishing his legitimacy. His sisters would do the same for their coronations [especially Elizabeth whose glorious pageantries marked the contrast between her future reign and her sister’s]; emphasizing on their legitimacy and lineage through their parents. The female consort played an important role here. Although she was not physically present, she could still be seen [and remembered] through her insignia. Secondly, the red and white roses were powerful symbols and reminders of the legitimacy of the Tudor line, or what they called their right to inherit the throne. It reminded everyone of the wars fought between brothers and cousins, that ended with the destruction of Houses Lancaster and York (represented by the red and white rose) and the ascension of the Tudors who brought about peace when their first monarch, Henry VII (considered the heir to the Lancastrians) married the beautiful Elizabeth, Princess of York.
The truth we now know is very different but it was a tale that worked very well for the Tudors and it simplified the conflict, and it gave their line legitimacy.

The Coronation of Edward VI, Shrove Sunday

Along the road he encountered more pageants, one which glorified his namesake and one of England’s most celebrated Kings: Edward the Confessor and another his country’s patron saint, Saint George. After he passed these, he encountered other ones that probably made a greater impression for the boy who was a committed Reformer. On Fleet Street a child representing ‘Truth’ epitomized the cause of the English Reformation and he said a few lines:

“Then Shall England, Committed To Your Guard, Rejoice in God, Which Hath Given Her Nation, After an Old David, A young King Salomon.”

David as everyone remembers was the legendary biblical King, father of the wise Solomon who succeeded him after his death. This told Edward that although his father started the break from Rome, it would be up to Edward like a new Solomon, to follow his work and improve it by carrying on with Reforms to ‘purify’ the church.

The procession had lasted nearly five hours and ended at six o’ clock.

The following day, the real show began when Edward was taken by barge to Whitehall where he was received by the guard and pensioners. Passing them into the chamber of Court of Augmentations, he donned the Parliamentary robes he was wearing and put on a robe of crimson velvet ‘furred with powdered ermines’. From there he went to Westminster Abbey under a canopy borne by the barons of the Cinque Ports. At his right and left was the Earl of Shrewsbury and Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham. John Dudley, the Marquis of Northampton –Catherine Parr’s brother, William Parr- and his other uncle, Thomas Seymour bore his train.

At his entrance into the Abbey, Cranmer began the address, asking the congregation “Will ye sirs at this time, and give your wills and assents to the same consecration, enunction, and coronation?” To which they responded “Yes, ye, ye, God save King Edward!”

In spite of the great response it received, the coronation had been altered significantly from the precepts set in the Liber Regalis (c.1375) and certain ceremony and addresses cut down not to wear the King, but more than that, because it was against the new tradition that Cranmer and the Reformers wanted to impose for their “new era”. The crowd who was aware of the changes, was explained by Cranmer the reason for this changes in a sermon to the King. He said that the alteration was due to the fact that before, Kings had atone for their actions to the clergy or somebody else, including their people. This time Kings were infallible. They were demi-gods of a sort. Edward as the Reformist king would account to no one and the clergy had no right “to hit Your Majesty in the teeth”. Nevertheless, he reminded that as God’s anointed sovereign he still had to have certain virtues for he was a messenger of Jesus and his representative on Earth.

“Your Majesty is God’s vice-regent and Christ’s vicar within your own dominions, and to see, with your predecessor Josiah, God truly worshiped, and idolatry destroyed, the tyranny of the bishops of Rome banished from your subjects, and images removed. These acts be signs of a second virtue, to revenge sin, to justify the innocent, to relieve the poor, to procure peace, to repress violence, and to execute justice throughout your realms. For precedents, on those kings who performed not these things, the old law shows how the Lord revenged his quarrel; and on those kings who fulfilled these things, he poured forth his blessings in abundance. For example, it is written of Josiah in the book of Kings thus: Like unto him there was no King before him that turned to the Lord with all his heart, according to the Law of Moses, neither after him arose there any like him.
This was to the prince a perpetual fame of dignity, to remain to the end of days.”

After the Mass was finished, Edward took his place on the throne and was first crowned with the St. Edward’s crown then the Imperial crown and finally his own which was made for the occasion and was lighter than the previous two. Then he was given the orb and scepter to hold on each hand. His most prominent uncle [Somerset] knelt before him and swore an oath of loyalty. He was followed by Cranmer and the rest of the nobility.

With this done, they followed their newly anointed King to the Great Hall of Westminster to take part in a sumptuous feast. The reign of Edward VI had begun.

Sources:

  • Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore
  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle

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.