Key Facts & Summary
- Edward Seymour was the brother of Jane Seymour. Thanks to her marriage with the king of England, Edward was able to gain relative success and numerous titles within the court of Henry VIII.
- Seymour demonstrated his military value during various military expeditions to Scotland (Edinburgh, 1544) and during the siege of Boulogne-sur-Mer (1546).
- Seymour wanted to create a union between England and Scotland.
- He was disfellowshipped and arrested on October 11, 1549.
- Seymour was beheaded at Tower Hill for treason on January 22, 1552.
Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset was an English statesman and brother of Queen Jane Seymour, the third wife of King Henry VIII. After the marriage of his sister with the king he became at court: he received in quick succession the titles of Viscount Beauchamp and Earl of Hertford, as well as the offices of Chancellor of North Wales and the governor and captain of Jersey. In the last years of Henry VIII Seymour took part in military campaigns against France and Scotland and was after his death lord protector for the still minor King Edward VI.
As Regent of England, Seymour openly promoted Protestantism, leading rebellions in Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset. Increasingly unpopular among the nobles, Seymour was overthrown in December 1549 and imprisoned for several months in the Tower of London. Although he was released in May 1550 and re-admitted to the Privy Council, the nobility continued to distrust him. On October 16, 1551, he was arrested on charges of treason at the instigation of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland and beheaded on 22 January 1552 on the Tower Hill.
Edward was the eldest surviving son of Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth. His father served both Henry VII and his son Henry VIII as a soldier and held between the years 1498 and 1527 six times the office of sheriff of Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset. Most likely, Edward was born in 1500 at the Wolf Hall mansion in Wiltshire. Overall, his parents had ten children, of which – excluding Edward – only five survived: Henry, Thomas, Jane, Elizabeth and Dorothy.
Seymour was probably introduced at court by his father. For the first time he appeared in 1514 as the honorary page of the Princess Mary Tudor (the younger sister of Henry VIII) when she was married to the French King Louis XII. On July 15, 1517, he and his father jointly received the post of sergeant of Bristol Castle. At an unspecified date before 1518, he married Catherine, daughter of Sir William Filliol (also Fillol), with whom he had two sons.
Since the 17th century rumours circulated that Edward’s father John Seymour had allegedly had an affair with his daughter-in-law, which is why the marriage was annulled and the two sons were classified as bastards. Usually, bastards were excluded from any inheritance and were not entitled to the ancestral hereditary titles. Seymour himself, however, decreed by parliamentary act that Catherine Filliol’s descendants were allowed to inherit his titles and lands, although only after the heirs of his second marriage.
In August 1523 Seymour took part in Henry’s campaign against France, and on November 1 he was knighthed by Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk. In 1525 he became both Justice of the Peace in Wiltshire and Captain of Henry Fitzroy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset, the illegitimate son of the King. In 1527 he accompanied Cardinal Thomas Wolsey on his journey to France and benefited in 1528 from the closure of some monasteries, which Wolsey was dissolved to promote his universities. On September 15, 1531 Seymour was appointed Esquire of the Body and thus a personal servant of the king, which gave him an annual salary of 50 English marks. Together with his father, he accompanied Henry and his lover Anne Boleyn to France in 1532 to meet the French King Francis I.
On March 9, 1535 Seymour had divorced Catherine Filliol and had instead married Anne Stanhope. In October of the same year, he and his new wife lodged in their mansion in Hampshire. Here, according to some sources, Henry VIII met for the first time Seymour’s sister, Jane. However, this is historically incorrect. At this time, Jane had been at court for several years and had served as the lady-in-waiting of both Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and his current Queen, Anne Boleyn.
Nevertheless, Seymour soon benefited from the King’s growing interest in Jane. On March 3, 1536 he received the prestigious office of a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, which gave him full access to the king. Only a few days later, he and his wife were housed in rooms at the Greenwich Palace, where they kept Jane company when the king visited them. On May 30, a few weeks after Anne Boleyn’s execution, Henry married Jane, making Seymour the king’s brother-in-law. As a new member of the royal family Seymour received a week later the title of Viscount Beauchamp of Hache. At intervals of only a few months, the offices of the Chancellor of North Wales and the governor and captain of Jersey followed.
In May 1537 he was officially admitted to the Privy Council and was a member of the jury, which sat over the Barons Hussey and Darcy for their participation in the Pilgrimage of Grace to court. On October 12, his sister Jane gave birth to the long-awaited heir to the throne Edward, making Seymour the uncle of the future king. At the christening of his nephew three days later, Seymour accompanied Edward’s half-sister Princess Elizabeth and was appointed three days later Earl of Hertford. Just a little later, on October 24, Jane Seymour died of childbed fever.
Although no longer the brother of the queen, Seymour remained a confidant of the king. He was one of the committees that examined the so-called Exeter conspiracy and was entrusted in March 1539 with the fortification of Calais and Guines. In the same year he led Henry’s new wife Anne of Cleves from Calais to England. Although Thomas Cromwell was certain that nothing since the Prince’s birth would have pleased him as much as this marriage, Cromwell fell out of the king’s favour for this choice and was eventually executed in 1540. Seymour survived Cromwell’s fall and gained increasing influence in Henry’s last years in government. Therefore, he was admitted to the prestigious Order of the Garter on January 9, 1541 and took over the affairs of state together with the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Baron Audley, while the king was on a summer trip. Once again, he worked with Cranmer in November when young Queen Catherine Howard was accused of adultery. On December 28, 1542, he was appointed Lord High Admiral, and two months later, on February 16, 1543, he was appointed Lord Great Chamberlain
Seymour demonstrated his military value during various military expeditions to Scotland (Edinburgh, 1544) and during the siege of Boulogne-sur-Mer (1546) which led to the Treaty of Ardres. The essential aim of the Duke of Somerset was henceforth the creation of a union, by will or by force, between England and Scotland. During the autumn of 1547, the English army began to march against the Scots: it won a brilliant victory at the battle of Pinkie Cleugh and occupied the Lowlands. In spite of these promising successes, this project comes to a standstill since the Scots appealed to France, who despatched an expeditionary force to the rescue of Edinburgh (1548). The young Queen of Scotland Marie became fond of Francois, Dauphin of France, reinforcing at the same time, the old alliance between the Scots and the French. This news weakened the position of the Duke of Somerset since England was absolutely unable to oppose both countries simultaneously.
He also faces a revolt led by Thomas Seymour, his own brother. A law unanimously passed by Parliament obliged Edward VI to sign the execution order of Thomas. The decapitation of his “favourite uncle”, which took place on March 20, 1549, aroused a certain hostility from the King to his Lord Protector.
After the failure of its offensive against Scotland, an insurrection in Cornwall in June 1549 (known as the Cornish insurrection or Rebellion of the Prayer Book) was crushed by force. Another peasant revolt known as the Kett brothers is also subjected the same year by a bloodbath. Henry II’s declaration of war against England forced the Duke of Somerset into unpopular financial measures. He was disfellowshipped and arrested on October 11, 1549. He was beheaded at Tower Hill for treason on January 22, 1552. His property (including Somerset House, and the castles of Sleaford and Berry Pomeroy) was confiscated by the Crown. John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick, resumed his position, but not his charge of Lord Protector.
[1.] Jordan, W. K. (1968), Edward VI: The Young King. The Protectorship of the Duke of Somerset, London: George Allen & Unwin.
[2.] Loach, Jennifer (1999), Bernard, George; Williams, Penry, eds., Edward VI, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
[3.] Loades, D. (2004), Intrigue and Treason: The Tudor Court, 1547–1558, London: Pearson Longman.
[4.] Starkey, David (2002), The Reign of Henry VIII, London: Vintage.
[5.] Wormald, Jenny (2001), Mary, Queen of Scots: Politics, Passion and a Kingdom Lost, London: Tauris Parke