A Royal Scandal

Chapter 5 : A Letter from the Admiral

Not long after her arrival at Cheshunt, Elizabeth fell sick and took to her bed, which was to provoke some of the rumours; however, she was up and about by July. In the meantime, she had received a letter from the Admiral, taking the blame for what had happened upon himself, and swearing to testify to her innocence if necessary. No words of love adorned his letter or her reply, in which she wrote, 'You need not to send an excuse to me', and ended 'I pray you to make my humble commendations to the Queen's Highness.' Telling the Admiral she was committing 'you and your affairs into God's hand', she effectively informed him that all familiarity between them must cease; and while his wife lived Seymour took her at her word. Elizabeth saw now that she had not only caused terrible hurt to the Queen, but had also risked her reputation and her place in the succession. Never again would she be so foolish.

After Elizabeth's departure, Katherine made an effort to rebuild her shaken marriage. Thanks to her determination, relations between her and Seymour improved, assisted by the Queen's advancing pregnancy and the shared pleasure of anticipating the birth of their child. The Admiral wanted his son born in his castle at Sudeley, and on 13 June 1548 they set off for Gloucestershire. There the Queen received a letter arrived from Elizabeth, 'giving thanks for the manifold kindnesses received at your Highness's hand at my departure' and saying how 'truly I was replete with sorrow to depart from your Highness' and that I weighed it deeply when you said you would warn me of all evilnesses 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 at all, meaning the contrary'. There was more, in the same appealing and penitential vein, and the letter was signed 'Your Highness's humble daughter, Elizabeth'. It was undoubtedly a plea for forgiveness. Katherine wrote a warm reply, assuring her step-daughter of her friendship. The Admiral wrote also, at his wife's request.

Elizabeth replied on 31 July, saying Katherine's letter was 'most joyful to me'. She rejoiced to learn of Katherine's otherwise excellent health and enjoyment of life in the country, and was grateful to the Admiral for undertaking to let her know from time to time 'how his busy child doth; if I were at his birth, no doubt I would see him beaten, for the trouble he hath put you to!' And with the passing on of good wishes for 'a lucky deliverance' from Mrs Astley and others, Elizabeth ended her letter, 'giving your Highness most humble thanks for your commendations'.

Katherine's child was born on 30 August 1548 at Sudeley Castle. It turned out to be no 'little knave', but a daughter, who was afterwards christened Mary, in honour of her stepsister, the Lady Mary. Hours after the birth Katherine was laid low with puerperal fever, that scourge of medieval and Tudor childbeds, and remained delirious for almost a week. With each passing day, it became more obvious that she was not going to recover. In her delirium, she spoke of her anguish over her husband's faithlessness and betrayal, which was to trouble her to the end, and which she no longer had the strength or wit to conceal. The Admiral hastened to reassure her, saying, 'Why, sweetheart! I would you no hurt!' To which Katherine replied, with heavy irony, 'No, my lord, I think so. But you have given me many shrewd taunts.' She died on 7 September 1548.

The Admiral was genuinely grieved at her passing. His servant Edward informed the Lady Elizabeth that 'my lord is a heavy man for the loss of the Queen his wife', but if the Admiral had hoped to find her willing to console him, he was quickly to be disappointed for there was no reply from her. At length, he returned to the world of men and affairs, and early in 1549 joined the English army at Musselburgh to do battle against the Scots. Yet not even his valorous performance in combat could dispel the whispers about his lack of scruples, nor the rumour, spread by Thomas Parry, 'that he had treated the late Queen cruelly, dishonestly, and jealously'.

As time passed his grief faded. He returned to court, taking the first of many ill-considered steps that would, in 1549, lead him to the block for having schemed to gain control of the young Edward VI. His arrest – after he broke into the royal apartments and shot the King's dog - was cataclysmic for the fifteen-year-old Elizabeth, for in its quest for incriminating evidence the Council subjected her to a series of rigorous interrogations, its aim being to prove that she had consented unlawfully to marry Seymour. She held her ground skilfully, refusing to admit anything, and only faltering when the depositions of Mrs Astley and Thomas Parry, obtained under duress in the Tower, were laid before her. But in the end the Council realised that there was insufficient evidence to arrest Elizabeth. When, in March 1549, news was brought to her of Seymour's execution, she held her nerve, merely observing, 'This day died a man of much wit, and very little judgement.'