I am thrilled to host author and researcher Kyra Cornelius Kramer on the first stop of the blog tour for her just-out Edward VI In a Nutshell. Straightforward and informative, this book will give you a better understanding of the life and reign of England’s last child monarch – and a fascinating new theory of what, exactly, caused his death (Kyra is a medical anthropologist, she also wrote Henry VIII’s Health in a Nutshell). It’s a wonderful addition to MadeGlobal Publishing‘s History in a Nutshell Series, which “aims to give readers a good grounding in a historical topic in a concise, easily digestible and easily accessible way.”
Today’s post was written by Kyra – it is a special post for me about Edward Seymour and his “reign” while he served as Lord Protector to the boy king…a wonderful thematic match-up with my own Seymour Saga!
As part of the tour, Kyra’s publisher (MadeGlobal Publishing) is offering one lucky follower the chance to win a copy of Kyra’s book (your choice between a signed paperback or the kindle version) – details at the bottom of the post.
Over to Kyra…
Few men have ever embraced ambition with as much gung-ho as Edward Seymour. He and some of his siblings, including Jane Seymour, came to court with the exact same goal that EVERYONE had when they came to court in the Tudor era — to earn royal favor and maybe get a juicy gift that would give them fortune and power. That was just the way it was done. The Seymours, however, scored bigger than they could have ever hoped.
Sometime in late 1535 or early 1536 King Henry VIII developed a hankering to see Edward’s sister Jane in her birthday suit. According to Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys (who was not unknown to bend the truth, so his word is not axiomatically reality) the savvy Edward instructed his sister to make like Anne Boleyn and NOT let Henry seal the deal until he put a ring on her finger. Sure, Anne Boleyn was pregnant at the time with the king’s baby but maybe the Seymours would get lucky and Anne would have another girl, giving them the chance to convince Henry to annul his second marriage and replace his queen with Jane. Fingers crossed, right?
If Edward sold his soul to the devil for power he got a better bargain than most gents do in contracts with Satan. Not only did Anne Boleyn miscarry her male fetus, Henry lost his marbles shortly thereafter and had her beheaded. The king was engaged to Jane within hours and married her before Anne’s headless body could start decomposition.
Now Edward was brother-in-law to the king! Henry generously named Edward Viscount Beauchamp shortly after the marriage to Jane in 1536. He would later elevate Edward to the Earl of Hertford in 1537 when Jane gave birth to a son in 1537. Thus, the eldest son of a mere “sir” became a lord. Not bad, but Edward hoped for even better things.
Opportunities for betterment came when Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547 and Jane’s son became Edward VI. That is when the Earl of Hertford saw his chance to get “creative” with Henry’s last wishes. As I explain in my book, Edward VI in a Nutshell:
There were some serious shenanigans surrounding the death of King Henry VIII and the execution of his will. Men who were powerful enough, or influential enough, to sway the king to appoint a singular regent, or who were high-ranking enough to be that singular regent, were kept away from the dying king. During the last month of Henry’s life, the powerful Howard family was decimated by arrests and executions, which some historians argue (with convincing evidence) was actually orchestrated by Jane Seymour’s eldest brother, Edward. Henry Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, was spuriously accused of treason and his son, the Earl of Surrey, would die shortly before the king’s death, beheaded for the crime of knowing he and his father were traditionally more worthy to be the prince’s caretakers. Although Henry’s will called for a council to collectively act as regent, the boy-king’s uncle, Edward Seymour, managed to get himself named lord protector of the realm and governor of the king’s person, most likely in exchange for the lavish gifts the old king’s will was mysteriously found to authorise.
The protector and the privy council made out like bandits in the few weeks between Henry VIII’s death and Edward VI’s coronation. Edward Seymour … became the Duke of Somerset and inducted himself into the Order of the Garter. John Dudley moved up from lord admiral and Viscount Lisle to the Earl of Warwick, and was also appointed Great Chamberlain. The now-vacant spot of lord admiral was given to a younger Seymour brother, Thomas, who was promoted to Baron of Sudeley.
The king was just a nine year old boy and Edward was determined to take “good care” of his nephew and namesake. One way that Somerset took care of Edward was to run the country on the boy king’s behalf. Somerset was so devoted to taking care of Edward by being de facto king that he was even willing to murder his brother Thomas in the spring of 1549 to make sure no one else took good care of the king but himself. Sadly, Somerset wasn’t all that competent at being the uncrowned King of England:
When not executing a sibling or keeping the king impotent and dependent on him, Somerset was busy botching England’s military aims in Scotland. In continuance of Henry VIII’s “rough wooing” of Mary, Queen of Scots, the protector was trying to bully the Scots into marrying their queen to King Edward by force of arms. Somerset piled the Lowlands of Scotland with fortifications and troops to no avail; the Scots would not yield their sovereign. The French arrived to bolster the beleaguered Scots in June 1548, landing at Leith and entrenching in Edinburgh. Somerset’s advisors warned him that it was dangerous to allow the French to gain a stronghold so near the five-year-old queen, but the protector didn’t listen … Not only was Somerset failing as a military leader, he soon proved himself to be over his head when it came to ruling the country. He would swing back and forth between draconian measures and bribes to those he needed as allies, alienating even those he wished to charm. Somerset also issued contradictory proclamations — some tolerant and some intolerant of Catholicism, some progressive and some totalitarian regarding economically relevant policies – and the populace was left uncertain as to whether they were coming or going …
Having supported Mary (Henry VIII’s eldest daughter) a decade earlier, Edward Seymour and his family had become as staunchly Protestant as they had been devoutly Catholic … There was a constant, and not unreasonable, worry that the Catholics would rise up in rebellion. Mary had been reinstated into the royal succession by her father shortly before his death … Therefore, the Catholics had a ready-made Catholic monarch to put on the throne if Edward was overthrown. If that happened, the Seymours wouldn’t just lose their power and wealth; they would lose their heads. Somerset’s foolish solution to the theoretical problem of a Catholic uprising was to crack down on those practising the old faith. As ever, martyrdom and governmental demands did nothing more than further entrench the beliefs by the faithful …
By the beginning of October in 1549 the privy council had gotten well and truly fed-up with Somerset’s clandestine reign. So how does Somerset deal with this? Not well:
Panicked, Somerset grabbed the king and ran for it. You have to consider how frightening this all was for Edward, who still trusted his uncle implicitly. The king would later write in his diary how he was rushed away from Hampton Court to Windsor Castle late on the evening of 7 October, and observers reported that Edward had carried a drawn sword as he rode through the night, declaring, “My vassals will you help me against those who want to kill me!” Once at Windsor, the king wrote a letter to the lords of the privy council claiming that he knew, “what opinion you have conceived of our dearest uncle the Lord Protector … we do lament our present estate being in such and imminent dangers … we pray you, good cousins and councilors … in nowise counsel us to proceed to extremities against him, for fear of any respect that might particularly seem hereafter to touch any of you” …
The councillors arranged to have a private letter smuggled in to Edward, assuring him that they only wanted to depose Somerset because he was abusing his position and taking advantage of his nephew, but the king was unmoved by their assurance and remained certain that Somerset was only trying to protect them both. When the duke was arrested via a coup at Windsor on 11 October, the king’s first reaction to his liberators was profound alarm. He had been told so often and so urgently that his councillors meant to kill him that he had no doubt that was what they intended to do.
Happily for Edward, he “was soon afterwards disabused; and when he went from there to Hampton Court and dismounted, he thanked all the company for having rid him of such fear and peril” (CPS, Spain, 17 October 1549). Assured of his safety, he complained about his time at Windsor, where he had been “much troubled with a great rheum” and where he felt as though he was “in prision” because there were “no galleries nor gardens to walk in”…
King Edward rode triumphantly back into London on 17 October, trusting his privy council once more, but with enough good feeling towards Somerset that he demanded to see his uncle. Under Edward’s protection and due to the king’s intervention, the former protector was able to pay a fine and be released from the Tower with the king’s pardon on 6 February 1550. By May of that same year Somerset’s lands were restored to him and he had been elevated once again to a Gentleman of the privy chamber.”
Somerset’s brief reign was over, and King Edward VI (although only 12) would never allow anyone to run his country for him again. The king would listen and be advised by the councilors he trusted, particularly John Dudley, but the journals and letters of Edward VI made it clear that he and he alone was absolute monarch of England.
The king, now well aware of his own powers, appears never to have rebuked his uncle Seymour for trying to be sovereign in all but name. Edward VI seems to have loved his uncle, and kept the man prosperous as well as safe. Regrettably, Somerset did not have the good sense to appreciate this and stop trying to rule England in the king’s place.
Perhaps he was maddened by jealousy when [John Dudley] was elevated to the 1st Duke of Northumberland in October 1551, or perhaps he was unhappy with riches that lacked the spice of power. For whatever reason, a year after he had scarpered off with the king’s person, Somerset began to plot with a handful of shady conspirators to overthrow the council and resume his position as lord protector. Part of the plan included the murders of Northumberland, the Marquess of Northampton, and the Earl of Pembroke. As fate would have it, one of Somerset’s conspirators realised how futile their attempt would be and ratted out the whole plot to Northumberland and the Privy Council. On 17 October 1551, Somerset was arrested and once more confined to the Tower. This time, the duke would find no more mercy from either the council or his nephew than that which he had given his brother, Thomas. Somerset was put on trial on 1 December, and the king recorded in his personal diary:
The duke of Somerset cam to his triall at Westmyster halle. … He answerid he did not entend to raise London, [. . ….] His assembling of men was but for his owne defence. He did not determin to kill the duke of Northumberland, the marquis, etc., but spake of it and determined after the contrary; and yet seamid to confess he went about there death. The lordis went togither. The duke of Northumberland wold not agree that any searching of his death shuld bee treason. So the lordis acquited him of high treason, and condemned him of treason feloniouse, and so he was adjuged to be hangid. He gave thankis to the lordis for there open trial, and cried mercy of the duke of Northumberland, the marquis of Northampton, and th’erle of Penbroke for his ill meaning against them, and made suet for his life, wife and children, servauntes and dettes, and so departed without the ax of the Toure. The peple, knowing not the matter, shouted hauf a douzen times, so loud that frome the halle dore it was hard at Chairing crosse plainly, and rumours went that he was quitte of all.
After a few weeks grace to put his affairs in order, Edward Seymour, once the most powerful man in England, was led from his prison and executed on 22 January 1552. The king, once an ardent partisan supporter of his uncle, merely noted that:, “The duke of Somerset had his head cat of apon Towre hill betwene eight and nine a cloke in the morning.”
Seymour must have used up whatever love and goodwill the king had felt toward him. Edward VI was obviously not heartbroken over the loss of his uncle. Conspiracies to take your throne away have that effect on people, I guess.
Somerset’s beheading was a sad and yet fitting end to the son of a knight who had worked his way into becoming the acting king of all England without a legal leg to stand on. It is also an abject lesson in why ambition is a good servant but a bad master. The unchecked lust for power is why Edward Seymour died shorter and younger than he needed to.
Kyra Cornelius Kramer is an author and researcher with undergraduate degrees in both biology and anthropology from the University of Kentucky, as well as a masters degree in medical anthropology from Southern Methodist University. Her work is published in several peer-reviewed journals, including The Historical Journal, Studies in Gothic Fiction, and Journal of Popular Romance Studies and she regularly writes for The Tudor Society. Her books include Blood Will Tell: A medical explanation for the tyranny of Henry VIII, The Jezebel Effect: Why the slut shaming of famous queens still matters, Henry VIII’s Health in a Nutshell and Edward VI in a Nutshell.
So – ready to try to win a copy? Signed copy or kindle version, your choice! Just leave a comment below this post about what you find most interesting about either of the Edwards – and leave it by midnight on Sunday, November 20. One lucky commenter will be picked at random and contacted for their details.