January 22, 1552 – Execution of Edward Seymour

Edward Seymour by Magdalena de Passe, or by Willem de Passe, line engraving, 1620 (Creative Commons license from National Portrait Gallery)

What it is about power? The lust for power is often fed by power itself – and even more if that power is taken away.

In October 1549, Edward Seymour, fearing he was losing control, pulled a move that could have been copied out of his crazy younger brother’s playbook: he basically kidnapped his royal nephew and brought him to Windsor Castle “for safety’s sake.” He was quickly accused of treason and apprehended – but escaped the trap. John Dudley, then Earl of Warwick, quickly assumed control, immediately becoming Lord President of the Council (then in October 1551 he was raised to the Dukedom of Northumberland).

Despite Dudley’s relative kindness (Somerset’s release in the first place, his return to the Privy Council and Privy Chamber, a match between their kids…), Somerset missed his lost power and started to plan a coup. Rumors flew that he planned a “banquet massacre” that would assault the members of the Council and kill Dudley; he did later admit to “contemplating” Dudley’s arrest and execution. There would be no more mercy for Edward Seymour.

In Wriothesley’s Chronicle, we hear that:

“Friday, the 22 of January, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerest, was beheaded at the Tower Hill, afore six of the clock in the forenoon, which took his death very patiently, but there was such a fear and disturbance among the people suddenly before he suffered, that some tumbled down the ditch, and some ran toward the houses thereby and fell, that it was marvelous to see and hear, but how the cause was, God knoweth.”

Still, the most poignant and saddest report is given by Edward VI, the boy king. With little emotion for the uncle who had been an important part of his life since his birth, he simply wrote: “The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o’clock in the morning.”

Thus ended an era.

 

RESOURCES:

A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, From A.D. 1485 to 1559

Nichols, Literary Remains of Edward VI, edited from his autograph manuscripts, with historical notes and a biographical memoir

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