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Thomas Seymour
Thomas Seymour Denizot.jpg
Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, Nicholas Denizot.
Baron Seymour of Sudeley
Personal details
Born c. 1508
Died 1549
Spouse(s) Catherine Parr, Dowager Queen of England, Ireland and France
Coat of arms of Sir Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, KG

Arms of Sir Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, KG

Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, KG (c. 1508[1] – 20 March 1549[1]) was a notable figure of 16th century Tudor England, who rose to prominence when his sister, Jane Seymour, married King Henry VIII. She would be King Henry's third wife, and the mother of Edward, King Henry's son and heir to the throne. For all of these important associations, however, he is probably most well known for his influence in the life of the adolescent Princess Elizabeth, later to be Queen Elizabeth I.

Thomas was the son of Sir John Seymour and Margaret Wentworth. He grew up at Wulfhall, the Seymour family home, in Wiltshire, a county in southwest England, near Wales, (also famous for the archaeological site, Stonehenge). The Seymours were a family of country gentry, who, like most holders of manorial rights, traced their ancestry to a Norman origin.[2] To his contemporaries, he was forceful, lively, and reckless; and also, very attractive to women. Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, a favored boyhood friend of King Edward, famously described Thomas Seymour as "hardy, wise and liberal...fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent, but somewhat empty of matter."[3] And though ambitious, his brother, Edward Seymour, far surpassed and out-distanced him in their rivalry over control of their nephew, Edward Tudor, and for power.[4]

Royal connectionEdit

Because Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, did not have a son (Henry's hoped for male heir), his interests turned elsewhere, to Jane Seymour one of Anne's ladies in waiting. Henry married Jane eleven days after Anne's execution in May 1536, and the Seymour brothers saw their fortunes rise, as they became part of the royal family. In October of the following year, Jane gave birth to a son, Edward Tudor, who would become King Edward VI. Less than two weeks later, Queen Jane died from complications related to childbirth, leaving her two brothers, Edward and Thomas, behind, as uncles to the baby Edward, heir to the throne.[5] Therefore, because of this marriage, Thomas Seymour's sister, Jane Seymour, had been queen; his nephew, Edward Tudor, would be king;[4] and his older brother, Edward Seymour, would be Lord Protector, ruler of England, on behalf of the minor King.[6]

Thomas's other royal connection would be with Catherine Parr, Henry VIII's sixth wife, whom Thomas would later marry, after Henry's death. The Parrs were a substantial northern family, both of Catherine's parents being friends with King Henry and Queen Catherine of Aragon, (who was Catherine Parr's godmother and Henry's first wife). In 1529, when she was 17, Catherine married Sir Edward Burgh, who died in the spring of 1533, not surviving to inherit the title of Baron Burgh.[7] In 1534 Catherine married John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer, a man twice her age. With this marriage, Catherine had a secure home, step-children, and a husband with influence and a title. As a result of the uprising of the North, in January 1537, Catherine and her family spent much of their time in London where,in 1542, she became acquainted with Thomas Seymour. Catherine preferred the atmosphere of the court which was very different from the rural estates she had known. She nursed her husband until his death in 1543, which left her a rich widow. After Lord Latimer's death, she faced the possibility of having to return north. However, in that same year, Catherine established herself as part of Princess Mary's household, where she caught the attention of the King, (who had been married two more times since Queen Jane's death). Although she had already begun a romantic relationship with Thomas, she saw it as her duty to accept Henry's proposal over Thomas's. Thomas was given a posting in Brussels to remove him from the king's court.[8] Thus, on 12 July 1543, Catherine Parr became Henry's sixth and final wife.[9]

Regency Council and marriage to Catherine ParrEdit

Queen Catherine Parr

The Melton Constable or Hastings portrait of Queen Catherine.

Due to his position of privilege as a royal uncle, Thomas had been made Master-General of the Ordnance in 1544 and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1545, both very senior military positions. He returned to court just before King Henry VIII died in January 1547, leaving Catherine one of the wealthiest women in England. According to the King's will, a regency council was constituted to rule on behalf of the 9 year old orphaned King Edward. As the uncles of the king, both Thomas and Edward Seymour were members of the regency council. As part of an "unfulfilled gifts clause" left unmentioned in Henry's will (and of dubious authenticity), the members of the council granted themselves, on behalf of the king, lavish gifts and titles. Thomas became 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley. Edward became Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, and is often, therefore, referred to as "Somerset." In addition, Thomas saw his brother rise, in the contentious and dangerous politics of the English Reformation, to the position of chief councilor with an approved title of "Protector" regent, referred to unofficially as Lord Protector of England, in effect, ruler of the realm as Regent for his nephew, the king.[6] Thomas, unsurprisingly, began to resent his brother and the relationship between them began to dissolve. Although Thomas was named Lord High Admiral as a concession, he was consumed by jealousy of his brother's power and influence and worked to unseat and replace his brother as Lord Protector.[10]

Thomas Seymour sought to over-turn his brother's position on the regency council by his personal influence over the young king, and also possibly, by making a royal marriage.[11] Although his name had been linked to Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, he was still unmarried at the time of the King's death. He had previously shown some interest in marrying either of Henry’s daughters, Elizabeth or Mary; however, within weeks of Henry’s death, Thomas had rekindled the affair with Catherine, and they were secretly married in April or May of 1547, too soon after the king's death, to suit many.[9] Anne Stanhope, Somerset's proud wife, disliked Catherine and Thomas and began to turn many people in court against them. To demonstrate her hatred, Anne kept the Queen's jewels, which by right were Catherine's. In turn, Catherine was annoyed at the appointment of Edward Seymour (Duke of Somerset) as Protector regent, since as King Edward's stepmother, she had expected to be appointed regent.[10]

Flirtation with Princess ElizabethEdit

Elizabeth I when a Princess

The Lady Elizabeth in about 1546, by an unknown artist

Upon their marriage, Thomas moved into his wife’s house, at Chelsea Manor in London, where she lived with her step-daughter, the 14 year old Princess Elizabeth.[9] Thomas was the uncle of Elizabeth's half-brother, and the newly wed husband of her step-mother, and their family roles regarding each other, were, perhaps, unclear. Now, living under the same roof as Elizabeth, Thomas became more than a little familiar, if not intimate, with Elizabeth, indulging in daily romps with her, tickling her, and slapping her on her behind as she lay in her bed, or coming into her room in his nightclothes. Her governess, Kat Ashley, thought this scandalous, and reported it to Catherine.[12] Indignant, Thomas retorted, 'By God's precious soul, I mean no evil, and I will not leave it!'[10] At first, Catherine dismissed the behavior as just innocent fun, and even joined in the romps on a few occasions.[12] Was Elizabeth frightened, or merely annoyed? Or was she infatuated with his boldness? It was said that she bore him affection.[13] And though her governess, Kat Ashley, "bade him go away in shame," she found him more amusing than dangerous. When Catherine was pregnant in the Spring of 1548, she had become concerned enough about her husband’s flirtatious relationship with Elizabeth that she sent Elizabeth away to live with Anthony Denny and his wife, Joan Champernowne, (Kat Ashley's sister), in Hertfordshire. In June 1548, Catherine and Thomas Seymour moved their household from London to Sudeley Castle, the property granted to Seymour when he became Baron Seymour of Sudeley. In September 1548, Catherine gave birth to Thomas’s child, a little girl. In the following days, she became uncharacteristically hostile and delusional. Thomas laid in bed with her to quiet her, but she did not get better, and died of complications due to childbirth, just before Elizabeth’s 15th birthday.[9] Upon her death, Catherine bequeathed all of her possessions to Thomas, making him one of the richest men in England. He said he was "amazed" at her death; yet, it opened up new opportunities to him, as his eye returned to Elizabeth.[14] From fear or shrewdness, she avoided him, returning, with her governess, Kat Ashley, to her childhood home, Hatfield House.[15]

Relationship with the young kingEdit

Painting of Edward at 9 years.

The 9 year old Edward

Despite his great wealth and high position, Thomas could not come to terms with his brother's appointment as Protector; and in his struggle with Somerset, he tried to ingratiate himself with the king, who was just a little boy. He sought the 9 year old Edward to write a letter on his behalf in support of his marriage to the dowager queen, Catherine Parr. The letter was obviously dictated by Thomas for Edward's signature and only enraged Somerset. He began to visit Edward frequently, secretly giving him an extravagant allowance of coins, so that Edward might be satisfied in feeling more grown-up and more king-like, giving gifts to his servants, teachers, and friends. Even though he lived in sumptuous splendor, and wanting for nothing, no provisions had been made for Edward's pocket money and he became accustomed to these regular payments and began to ask Thomas freely for his allowance. Thomas continued his manipulation of the king. In trying to get a bill through Parliament making him Edward's personal Governor, Thomas requested Edward's royal signature on the bill. But Edward was uncertain, and reluctant to go behind the back of the Protector, Somerset, and of the regency council, and he would not sign it. Thomas persistently pressured Edward, until Edward felt threatened. But Thomas did not give up. He tried to persuade Edward that he did not need a Protector, getting Edward to admit that it might be better for Somerset to die. It is not known what the king meant by this, but it was probably uttered innocently. Thomas intended that the king's royal signature and personal support would destabilize Somerset's position as Protector, and as a member of the regency council. In his frustration and inability to gain any significant influence over the king, Thomas began to think in terms of open rebellion.[10] Although he was a boy, King Edward did not seem completely naïve regarding any of this. For, it is recorded that Edward referred to William Parr, his step-mother's brother, as "mine honest uncle," indicating unspoken scorn for both of his Seymour uncles.[citation needed].

Thomas Seymour's downfallEdit

When Lord Somerset, the Protector, invaded Scotland in the summer of 1547 and was absent from court, his brother, Thomas, fomented opposition to his authority, voicing open disapproval of his brother's administrative skills. Because his activities seemed suspicious, several members of the nobility advised him to be content with his position, but he would not listen.[16] As Lord High Admiral, he was able to control the English navy, and he openly asked for support in case of a rebellion. He entered into relations with pirates on the western coasts, whom it was his duty as Lord High Admiral to suppress, with a view to securing their support. Thomas seems also to have hoped to finance a rebellion through crooked dealings with the vice-treasurer of the Bristol Mint, Sir William Sharington.[10]

By 1548, the regency council was becoming aware of Thomas's bid for power. Somerset tried to save his brother from ruin, calling a council meeting so that Thomas might explain himself. However, Thomas did not appear. On the night of 16 January 1549, for reasons that are not clear, (perhaps to take the young king away in his own custody) Thomas was caught trying to break into the King's apartments at Hampton Court Palace. He entered the privy garden and awoke one of the King's pet spaniels. In response to the dog's barking, he shot and killed it.[17] The next day, he was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. The incident, being caught outside the king's bedroom, at night, with a loaded pistol, was interpreted in the most menacing light, even casting suspicion on Princess Elizabeth's involvement with Thomas.[18] On 18 January, the council sent agents to question everyone associated with Thomas, including Princess Elizabeth. On 22 February, the council officially accused him of thirty-three charges of treason. He was convicted of treason, and condemned to death and executed on the 20th of March 1549.[16]


As mentioned earlier in this article, Thomas Seymour is probably best known for his influence in the life of the adolescent Princess Elizabeth. For when he was arrested for treason, his associates were also cast under suspicion, including the Princess Elizabeth. The regency council was sure of her complicity with Thomas, and sought to intimidate an easy confession from her. Distraught over Thomas’s arrest, she had not realized her own danger until her servants, including her beloved governess, Kat, were also arrested.[16] Upon realizing that Thomas would probably be executed, she was noticeably disconsolate, trying to free herself and her servants from suspicion. She would be interrogated relentlessly for weeks.[19] The council was, in fact, to find itself engaged in a sharply defined game of wits with the 15 year old Elizabeth. She proved to be a master of logic, defiance, and shrewdness. Eventually the embarrassing details of the flirtatious incidents with Thomas came to light. But there was no evidence that Elizabeth had conspired with him.[16] This incident revealed the emergence of strong and distinctive personality traits in Elizabeth which would foretell of her future life as queen. From this difficult experience, she seems, for the first time in her young life, to have become fully aware of the serious, even deadly, nature of her succession rights to the throne.[20] When she made her first public appearance at court 18 months later, when she was just turning 17, the Princess Elizabeth would be dressed in a simple, somber manner with plain and unadorned hair, contrasting sharply with the other ladies who dressed in bright showy splendor, as if trying to live down her reputation with Thomas.[21] In this self-rehabilitation to restore her good name and reputation, she was largely successful. In the short span of 22 months, from May 1547 until March 1549, when she was just 13, 14, and 15 years old, she had experienced the sexually charged flirtation with Thomas, (her sometimes "uncle," sometimes "step-father"), the unexpected death of her step-mother in childbirth, Thomas's sudden arrest and execution, even herself, accused of treason, through association with him. There can be no doubt that these experiences made a lasting impression on Elizabeth, and affected her personal development. But these are matters for speculation elsewhere. And what became of Mary Seymour, daughter of Catherine and Thomas? It is a bit of a mystery. After her father’s execution in March 1549, she was a penniless orphan, all of her father’s property having been seized by the Crown. She was placed in the care of the Duchess of Suffolk, Catherine Brandon. There are no more historical references to her, suggesting that she may have died, possibly of some childhood illness, probably before she had even reached her second birthday.



  1. 1.0 1.1 Karen Lindsey, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived, xviii, Perseus Books, 1995
  2. Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, Jane Seymour
  3. Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great, 1959
  4. 4.0 4.1 Carolly Erickson The First Elizabeth, 1983, page 53-54
  5. Chris Skidmore, Edward VI, the Lost King of England, 2007, page 12-19
  6. 6.0 6.1 Chris Skidmore, Edward VI, the Lost King of England, 2007, page 45-50
  7. Linda Porter, Katherine, the Queen, Macmillan. 2010
  8. Susan E. James, Catherine Parr: Henry VIII's Last Love, History Press, 2009 US edition. page 61–73.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Carolly Erickson The First Elizabeth, 1983, page 65-79
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Chris Skidmore, Edward VI, the Lost King of England, 2007, page 71-87
  11. Carolly Erickson, Bloody Mary page 232
  12. 12.0 12.1 Allison Weir, The Life of Elizabeth I,(published in America) 1998, page 14-15
  13. Christopher Hibbert The Virgin Queen page 29
  14. Chris Skidmore, Edward VI, the Lost King of England, 2007, page 98-99
  15. Carolly Erickson The First Elizabeth, 1983, page 83
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Chris Skidmore, Edward VI, the Lost King of England, 2007, page 102-104
  17. Carolly Erickson, Bloody Mary
  18. Carolly Erickson, The First Elizabeth, 1983, page 84
  19. Carolly Erickson, The First Elizabeth 1983, page 89-90
  20. Mary M. Luke A Crown for Elizabeth, 1970, page 232-233
  21. Christopher Hibbert The Virgin Queen 1991, page 36-38
  22. or Sir Robert Coker of Lydeard St Lawrence


  • Erickson, Carolly, The First Elizabeth, 1983.
  • Fraser, Antonia, The Wives of Henry VIII, New York: Knopf, 1992.
  • Hibbert, Christopher, The Virgin Queen, 1992.
  • Luke, Mary M., A Crown for Ellizabeth, 1970.
  • Jenkins, Elizabeth, Elizabeth the Great, 1959.
  • Lindsey, Karen, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived, xviii, Persius Books, 1995.
  • MacLean, John, The life of Sir Thomas Seymour, Knight, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, Lord High Admiral of England and Master of the Ordnance J.C. Hotten, 1869.
  • Porter, Linda, Katherine the Queen,Macmillan, 2010.
  • Skidmore, Chris, Edward VI, the Lost King of England, 2007.
  • Starkey, David, Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
  • Weir, Alison, The Children of Henry VIII. New York: Ballantine, 1996.
  • Weir, Alison, The Life of Elizabeth I,(published in America) 1998.
Military offices
Preceded by
Master-General of the Ordnance
Succeeded by
Sir Philip Hoby
Political offices
Preceded by
The Viscount Lisle
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
(jointly with Sir Thomas Cheney)
Succeeded by
The Lord Cobham
Preceded by
The Earl of Warwick
Lord High Admiral
Succeeded by
The Earl of Warwick

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