In 1537, Jane Seymour accomplished what Henry VIII’s previous wives had failed to do, and gave birth to a male heir, Edward Tudor, the future king Edward VI. As relatives of a future king, the Seymour family’s stock rose even further, although it came at a price: Jane Seymour died of childbirth complications soon after producing the heir to the throne. Her brothers Thomas and Edward, making the best of their opportunity, cemented their place in the royal court, and steadily gained in stature and power.
By all accounts, Thomas Seymour was a likeable fellow who knew how to put on the charm, so his royal brother in law made use of those talents by putting him to work as a diplomat. In 1538, Thomas was sent to the English embassy in France, and a year later, he accompanied a scouting mission to check out and report back on Anne of Cleves, who ended up as Henry VIII’s fourth wife. Soon thereafter he was sent to try and forge an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor and the king of Hungary against France, and he eventually ended up as ambassador to the Hapsburg court.
Thomas Seymour had demonstrated his skill as a diplomat, but the main reason he ended up as ambassador to the Hapsburgs was that Henry VIII took a shine to Seymour’s lover, and wanted him out of the way. In 1542, Seymour had started a romantic relationship with a wealthy widow, Katherine Parr, and the duo began making plans to marry. Then the king became infatuated with Parr, decided that he would like her for himself, and got Seymour out of the way by bundling him off to the Hapsburg court. Parr reportedly loved Seymour, but when Henry VIII proposed, she decided that should could not say no to the king.
While Seymour was serving as ambassador to the Hapsburgs, war broke out against France, so Henry VIII made him a marshal and second in command of the English forces in the Netherlands. Seymour demonstrated that he was a competent commander by capturing and destroying some important French castles. He also took overall command temporarily when the commander in chief fell ill, and gave a credible performance in that leading role. He was rewarded with prestigious military appointments, such as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and Master General of the Ordnance.
Henry VIII died in 1547, and was succeeded by his 9 year old son, and Seymour’s nephew, Edward VI. A regency council was set up to rule England during the king’s minority, to which Thomas Seymour, now 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, was appointed. So was his older brother Edward, who received an even more prestigious title of nobility, and became Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. Thomas’ envy of his older brother, which had lain dormant while he was abroad, was rekindled.
Thomas’ envy of his older brother – he was made a mere baron while Edward became a duke – increased when Edward became the regency council’s chief, with the title of Protector, and became known as Lord Protector of England. As a consolation prize, Thomas had been made Lord High Admiral, but the power and prestige of that paled in comparison to what his brother had secured for himself. Jealousy gnawed at Thomas, and his lifelong resentment of Edward soon blossomed into hatred.
Thomas Seymour actively set out to undermine his older brother in a bid to weaken his hold on power, and thus replace him as Lord Protector. Unsurprisingly, Edward Seymour resented that, and the siblings’ relationship took a nosedive from rivalry to enmity. Thomas adopted a two track strategy to increase his power: gain personal influence over the child king by charming him, or wed one of the king’s sisters, Mary or Elizabeth. He was relentless in his pursuit of both strategies.
28. He Sought to Increase His Power by Marrying 13 Year Old Princess Elizabeth
Ticked off that his older brother seemed to be hogging all the power via his control over the underage king Edward VI, Thomas Seymour figured he could get his own access to power by controlling another royal: princess Elizabeth. Less than a month after the death of her father, king Henry VIII, Thomas Seymour wrote a letter to 13 year old princess Elizabeth, asking her to marry him. An alarmed Elizabeth elegantly rejected his proposal, writing him back that she was too young – Seymour was 25 years older – and that she planned to mourn her father for the next two years.
27. Thomas Seymour Also Proposed to Elizabeth’s Sister, Princess Mary
Thomas Seymour was clearly not interested in princess Elizabeth because of who she was as a person, but because of what she was – the king’s sister, and a potential heir to the throne if the frequently ailing Edward VI kicked the bucket. What Seymour wanted was a princess – any princess – and so to hedge his bets, even as he was trying to get the 13 year old Elizabeth to marry him, he also proposed to her older sister, princess Mary. Like her kid sister, princess Mary rejected Seymour’s proposal.
26. Rejected by Both Princesses, Seymour Settled For Marrying Their Stepmother
When Seymour’s marriage proposal was rejected by princesses Elizabeth and Mary, he simply moved down the ladder to the next closest royal marital link, and made his moves on their stepmother and the late king’s widow: his former lover, Katherine Parr. The dust had hardly settled on Henry VIII’s grave before Thomas set about the rekindling the romance that had been interrupted when the late king swooped in and snatched Katherine Parr from Seymour. The former lovers were married within six months of the king’s death – a scandalously brief period of mourning, that set tongues wagging.
25. Seymour’s Marriage to Katherine Parr Gave Him an Opportunity to Seduce Princess Elizabeth
13 year old princess Elizabeth, who had rejected Thomas Seymour indecent marriage proposal, found herself faced with a serious problem when the baron married her stepmother. Elizabeth’s father had chopped off the head of her mother, Anne Boleyn, and now that he was dead himself, the princess was a double orphan. Katherine Parr had filled the role of mother when she married Henry VIII, and Elizabeth was raised in her stepmother’s house, Chelsea Manor. Parr’s marriage to Thomas Seymour brought into that house as a stepfather the man who had sought to marry Elizabeth just a few months earlier. He would prove to be an exceptionally creepy stepfather.
24. Seymour Began Molesting Princess Elizabeth Soon As He Moved In
Katherine Parr had been in love with Thomas Seymour since before her marriage to Henry VIII. However, whatever affections he might have felt for her years earlier, he probably married Parr only as a means of getting closer to her stepdaughter, princess Elizabeth, who lived in the dowager queen’s house. Elizabeth was a potential route to power, and perhaps to the crown itself, so Thomas was determined to secure her, and decided that the best way to do that was to seduce the 13 year old princess. He got started on that before he had finished unpacking.
As soon as he moved into Katherine Parr’s house, Thomas Seymour started making his moves on princess Elizabeth, and began flirting with her nonstop. Under the guise of fun and games, he got into the habit of bursting into the 13 year old girl’s room at all hours of the day and night, sometimes dressed just in his nightgown, to tickle, pinch, wrestle, “romp with”, and smack her butt as she lay in bed. It raised eyebrows in the household, and Elizabeth’s governess, Kat Ashley, was so scandalized by the creepy behavior that she complained to Katherine Parr.
22. Elizabeth Did Her Best to Thwart Seymour, But He Kept Creeping on Her
According to later testimony by princess Elizabeth’s household staff, including her governess, Kat Ashley, Thomas Seymour started subjecting the young girl to early morning visits in her bedroom as soon as he moved in. As the governess put it, he would: “make as though to come at her“, and she would shrink back from him. Elizabeth tried to thwart him by waking up earlier, so he wouldn’t catch her in bed when he stopped by, only for him to counter that by visiting her earlier still, to ensure that she was in bed when he dropped by.
21. Seymour Did His Best to Catch Elizabeth in a State of Undress
It became clear that Seymour was trying to catch the young Elizabeth when she was barely dressed. As her governess testified in a later deposition, if Elizabeth was in her nightgown when Seymour burst into her bedroom, he would proceed with his routine and tickle, “romp”, slap her behind, “strike her in the back or the buttocks familiarly“, and otherwise endeavor to cop a feel. However, if the princess was fully dressed when Seymour arrived, he would promptly turn around and leave her bedroom.
20. Elizabeth’s Governess Tried to Get Seymour to Back Off, to No Avail
Elizabeth’s governess described in her depositions that she grew so alarmed by Thomas Seymour’s behavior, that she started visiting the princess’ room at the crack of dawn or earlier, to make sure that her mistress was not left alone with him. He was not pleased. Elizabeth’s governess also testified that she remonstrated with Seymour about his scandalous behavior, told him to “go away for shame“, and warned him that word of his unseemly conduct was spreading. However, he dismissed her concerns, and told her that he “meant no evil“.
19. Seymour Took Chutzpah to New Levels in Defending His Molestation of Elizabeth
When Katherine Parr questioned her husband about what he was up to with Elizabeth, he put on an indignant routine, and claimed to be aghast at the kinds of dirty minds that could have possibly misinterpreted or misunderstood what he was doing. Indeed, in a piece of mental jujitsu, he basically argued that backing off would be an affront to his honor, and would let the bad guys win. Thus, the only right thing to do in the circumstances would be keep doing what he was doing. As he exclaimed: “By God’s precious soul, I mean no evil, and I will not leave it!”
18. Seymour’s Wife Enabled His Molestation of Her Stepdaughter
Katherine Parr accepted her husband’s protestations that he was just having innocent fun with princess Elizabeth, and dismissed the complaints of scandalized servants and household staff as unwarranted. Indeed, in a bid to demonstrate just how little credence she gave to the wagging tongues, Katherine took to joining in the “romps” between her husband and stepdaughter. She even reportedly held the teenaged girl down on a few occasions, while Seymour went about tickling the girl and slapping her butt. On another occasion, Seymour wrestled with Elizabeth in a garden, and Katherine Parr stepped in to hold the girl down while he cut the princess’ gown “into a hundred pieces“.
17. Living With Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour Was Awkward For Princess Elizabeth
Understandably, it got confusing and uncomfortable for the teenaged Elizabeth, living under the same roof with a stepfather who had wanted to marry her not that long ago, and who was in the habit of feeling her up under the guise of play whenever he could. On the one hand, Elizabeth reportedly bore Thomas Seymour a certain degree of affection. On the other hand, the girl exhibited signs of discomfiture around her stepfather that modern child sex abuse investigators could readily identify.
Katherine Parr eventually asked Elizabeth’s governess to keep an eye on the young girl, claiming that her husband had told her that he had seen the princess “cast her arms about a man’s neck“. However, nobody else in the household had ever seen any such behavior from Elizabeth, and the governess concluded that Parr must have made the story up. As the governess figured, Parr’s real goal was to get her to spy for her on Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour.
15. Respite From and Resumption of the Molestation
During the winter of 1547 – 1548, Thomas Seymour and Katherine Parr moved to London. At her stepmother’s suggestion, Elizabeth was left behind with the household staff. It was a welcome break from Seymour’s advances, but it only lasted for a few months. When Elizabeth joined her stepmother and her husuband in the spring of 1548, Seymour promptly resumed his routine of early morning visits and creepy conduct. The princess’ governess once again complained to him of the unseemliness of dropping into “a maiden’s chamber” in his nightgown, but to no avail.
In the summer of 1548, when Seymour was away, Katherine Parr asked Elizabeth to arrange the delivery of a letter to him. Before handing the letter to a messenger, Elizabeth took the opportunity to write on the outside, in Latin, “thou, touch me not“. She then scratched it out, and replaced it with “Let him not touch me“. It spoke volumes of the princess’ desperation at finding herself in a helpless situation, in the clutches of a predator whom she wanted to warn off, yet was too frightened to challenge or confront directly.
13. Seymour’s Wife Caught Him in a Compromising Position With Princess Elizabeth
It is unclear whether Katherine Parr had truly believed that her husband’s behavior around Elizabeth was innocent, whether she was deluding herself, or whether she knew, but was so desperate to please her husband and too afraid to challenge him, that she ignored his antics. Whatever she truly thought, things came to a head, and to an end, on June 11th, 1548, when Parr chanced upon her husband and stepdaughter alone in a room, embracing. She hit the roof. As a household servant put it: “they were all alone, he having her in his arms, wherefore the queen fell out” with Thomas Seymour and her stepdaughter.
Catching her husband and stepdaughter in a compromising position sufficiently alarmed Katherine Parr, and finally convinced her that the time had come, at last, for her to take action and do something. Thus, a year into the marriage, a pregnant Katherine grew fed up with her husband’s ceasless flirtations with her stepdaughter – especially after catching the duo embracing and kissing. So she packed off the by-then 14 year old Elizabeth, and sent her away to go and live with the family of Kat Ashley, the princess’ governess.
A few months after sending Elizabeth away, Katherine Parr bore Seymour a daughter, then took ill and died shortly thereafter as a result of birth complications. The dowager queen had been England’s richest woman, and she left it all as an inheritance to Thomas Seymour, who suddenly became one the realm’s wealthiest magnates. That only served to further enhance his ambitions, and no sooner had Parr’s corpse grown cold, than Seymour’s covetous gaze returned to princess Elizabeth, now all of 15 years old.
Soon as his wife died, Thomas Seymour went back to creeping on Elizabeth. When the princess moved into and set up her own household at Hatfield House, Seymour sent his nephew, John, to help her move and settle into the new place. However, Seymour being Seymour, lending out his nephew was bound to have not been mere altruism on his part, and there was bound to be a creepy element to it. Sure enough, Seymour wanted to know whether Elizabeth’s butt had filled out, and instructed his nephew to ask: “whether her buttocks were grown any less or no“.
While living under the same roof as Katherine Parr and her creepy husband, princess Elizabeth had been constrained in her ability to openly defy Thomas Seymour. Moving into and setting up her own household made her more independent. When rumors circulated that she was to marry Seymour, and she was asked whether she would accept his proposal if he asked, she replied: “when that comes to pass, I will do as God shall put in my mind“. It was an ambiguous response that contemporaries interpreted as a de facto rejection.
Elizabeth’s growing coolness towards Seymour spurred him into putting more effort into his other strategy to secure power: gain personal influence over his nephew, the child king Edward VI. He sought to pull that off by being the cool uncle. Soon as the 9 year old Edward was made king, Seymour began to visit him frequently, and to give him a generous allowance of coins so he could splurge them on his friends, teachers, and household servants, and thus feel more grownup.
Edward VI became so accustomed to his uncle Thomas’ gifts of coins, that he began to freely ask him for his allowance. In addition to currying favor with the child king by showering him with pocket money, Seymour bribed one of the king’s men, John Fowler, to say nice things about him. He also started reading law books, with an eye towards making himself co-Protector, alongside his older brother. To that end, Thomas tried pushing a bill through Parliament that would have made him the king’s personal Governor, and sought to get his nephew’s royal signature on it.
Edward VI was more than happy to accept his uncle Thomas’ coins, but although a child, he was shrewd enough to not fall under his scheming uncle’s grasp. So when Thomas asked him to sign a bill that would make him the king’s official Governor, the underage monarch saw through the power play, and refused to go behind the back of his other uncle, the Protector. Thomas Seymour might have been the fun uncle, but he was dangerous. His other uncle, Edward Seymour, might have been a stick in the mud and buzz kill, but he was clearly a responsible and serious grownup.
In addition to his attempts at seducing princess Elizabeth, Thomas Seymour had also made an attempt at marrying her older sister, princess Mary. Luckily for Mary, she never had the misfortune of living under the same roof as Thomas, so she did not have to endure what her younger sister had. Thomas asked the Privy Council for permission to marry Mary Tudor, but his older brother shot that idea down, explaining that neither of the Seymour siblings should be king or marry a king’s daughter. As to Mary, when she was informed of the proposed match, she laughed.
By early 1549, Thomas Seymour was growing increasingly frustrated by the failure of his plans to increase his power and supplant his older brother. His efforts to manipulate and control his nephew, the child king, had borne no fruit. Similarly, his attempts at marrying either princess Mary or princess Elizabeth were going nowhere: Mary loathed him on general principal, while Elizabeth was shook by her experiences living with him. So Thomas began contemplating a more direct path to power: open rebellion.
Although Thomas Seymour hated his older brother and sought his ruin, Edward Seymour went out of his way to try and save his kid brother from himself. When the Privy Council grew alarmed at Thomas’ increasing brazenness, including efforts to stir up rebellion, and allying with pirates in a bid to secure their support, the Protector invited his younger brother to come and explain himself. Thomas failed to do so, and instead, tried to kidnap the king. On the night of January 16th, 1549, Thomas Seymour tried to break into the child monarch’s apartments, but his attempt was foiled when one of the king’s spaniels woke the place up with its barking. So Thomas shot it dead.
The day after the failed kidnapping, Thomas Seymour was locked up in the Tower of London. Considering that he had been caught outside the king’s bedroom at night, with a loaded pistol, there was little that his older brother – or anybody else for that matter – could do to help. Thomas was charged with thirty three counts of treason, convicted, and sentenced to death. Parliament passed a Bill of Attainder against him on March 5th, 1549, and he was beheaded fifteen days later.
1. Seymour’s Molestation of Elizabeth Had Long Term and Significant Consequences
It is unclear if Thomas Seymour ever actually had sex with princess Elizabeth, but his conduct made it clear that he had wanted to. Like any child victimized by a predator, Elizabeth’s experience at a tender age was bound to leave some scars. When she wrote about Seymour “Let him not touch me“, it seems to have applied not just to him, but to all men. Whether or not the “Virgin Queen” ever had any lovers or was literally a virgin, she certainly never married. Her decision to stay single was probably associated, at least in part, with the sexual harassment she had been subjected to by Thomas Seymour during her formative years.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading