Edward Seymour: Life Story

Chapter 8 : Sibling Rivalry

As noted above, one of the chief critics of Somerset’s power-grab, was his brother, Thomas. His desire to have a substantial part in government was rejected. He had proved himself an able naval commander, but his political abilities were not admired by anyone, other than his friend, the Marquis of Dorset, who, snubbed by Somerset in the matter of new titles, cleaved to Seymour. Seymour came up with several schemes for improving his profile – he contemplated a marriage to either of the king’s half-sisters, the ladies Mary and Elizabeth, but soon settled on reigniting his courtship of Katherine Parr, that had been interrupted by her marriage to Henry. The couple were married in secret some time before May 1547.

Whilst there was no specific legal requirement for the couple to have royal permission to marry, it was a sensitive point. Seymour decided that the best way of dealing with the fall-out was to enlist the help of the king. He had spent some time and effort cultivating one of Edward’s servants, a Mr Fowler, and was in the habit of sending cash to Edward, who was kept short of pocket-money by Somerset. Seymour persuaded Fowler to ask the king who Seymour should marry. At first the boy suggested the Lady Mary, then Anne of Cleves, then, after suitable prompting, Katherine Parr. Seymour was thus able to say to the council when his marriage became public, that the king himself had ordered it. Somerset was not pleased, but there was little he could do.

Henry had left orders for Katherine to be treated as queen for the rest of her life, but Lady Somerset, who had once seemed to be on good terms with Katherine, now claimed that, as the wife of the older brother, she herself should take precedence of Katherine. Whilst matters of precedence seem vanishingly unimportant to modern readers, in the sixteenth century, it was of great moment. Somerset also refused to release Katherine’s jewellery, saying that it belonged to the state, and should be kept in the Tower – a position somewhat undermined by his duchess being seen wearing pieces of the collection.

The rivalry between the women exacerbated the poor relationship of their husbands, and Katherine, having been jostled out of a doorway by Lady Somerset, largely withdrew from the court. Since one of Seymour’s motives for the marriage (as well as genuine affection) had been to increase his influence as Katherine had previously been close to her stepson, this turn of events was unwelcome.

Having seen that Edward could be used, Seymour continued to try to influence the boy. He encouraged him to believe that he would soon be old enough to rule himself, without a protector, and continued to play upon the theme of Edward’s lack of ready cash. It was not, of course, that the king lacked anything, but the ability to bestow largesse on grateful servants and subjects was an important part of the royal aura, and, by pointing out to Edward that he was a ‘beggarly king’ was to touch his royal pride. Nevertheless, Edward was an intelligent boy, and did not take everything that Seymour said without questioning it. He thought that Michael Stanhope would be able to give him the requisite cash.

Seymour laughed this to scorn – he would send even more money via Mr Fowler. Edward decided that his uncle might be right and gave him a list of royal servants whom he wished to reward. These included the preachers whose sermons he enjoyed (Edward being a remarkably precocious and religious child) and his musicians. On a lighter note, he also wanted to tip a tumbler.

Such largesse had a price – Seymour suggested that Edward should appoint him governor of the king’s person, in place of Somerset. But Edward was not at all sure about that – he consulted his tutor, John Cheke, about whether he should sign the paper Seymour wanted. Cheke was very sure – Edward should do no such thing. But as the amount of money Seymour lent him mounted up, Edward began to feel the moral obligation to repay his uncle by signing the bill he wanted. At last, Edward told Seymour to give the bill to Cheke. Seymour handed Cheke a paper with the words ‘My Lords, I pray you to favour my Lord Admiral mine uncle’s suit’ with the instruction to take it to Edward for signature. Cheke, however, refused. Instead, he explained to Edward that to sign anything privately that undermined Somerset would be wrong. The king, chastened, promised that he would not.

Seymour’s disappointment at his relative lack of power compared with Somerset’s was exacerbated in the summer of 1547, when the duke led the English army against Scotland. Although the Imperial ambassador speculated that Seymour might be left as guardian of the king’s person in his brother’s absence, or at least appointed to preside over the council he was disappointed. The former position was taken by the Duchess of Somerset’s stepfather, Sir Richard Page.