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Suffolk and the Seymours – Guest Post by Melita Thomas

Bradgate House, the Grey Home (photo (c) Melita Thomas)

I am thrilled to be the final stop on the Blog Tour for Melita Thomas’ new book, House of Grey: Friends and Foes of Kings, which is published by Amberley Publishing. The book is available through Amazon – but there were several pdfs of family trees that were too large to incorporate into the book so if you want those as well, you should order the book through the Tudor Times site via this link (or feel free to go explore the site – you will love it if you don’t already!).

I am really excited for this new book because Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, had an interesting relationship with both Seymour brothers – and was closely entwined in Seymour’s shenanigans in 1548. That relationship is precisely what Melita has written for me in this wonderful guest post. Without further ado, here you go!

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In the summer of 1525, King Henry VIII, angry with his wife’s nephew, the Emperor Charles V for failing to the terms of the treaty between them, decided to enoble his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. This move would humiliate Queen Katharine and her family, and show the Emperor that the king’s daughter, his cousin, Princess Mary, might not be the only heir to the English throne.

Fitzroy received the titles of duke of Richmond and Somerset. As the little boy was only six, the semi-regal titles did not have much effect on his day-to-day life, but the creation of a grand household, over which he was to preside at Sheriff Hutton, in Yorkshire, did.

It was customary for royal children to have companions in the nursery, so several boys were chosen to join Richmond as his playmates and fellow-scholars. Among them was Lord Henry Grey. Grey, who was two years older than Richmond, was a relative. His father, Thomas, 2nd Marquis of Dorset, was the king’s maternal cousin and on excellent terms with the monarch.  Other members of the little group were William Parr, son of the late Sir Thomas Parr, about four years older than Grey, Henry Clifford, son of Lord Clifford, and Thomas Fiennes.  The household was ruled by William Parr’s uncle of the same name, and one of the chief officers was Edward Seymour, son of Sir John Seymour and his wife, Margery Wentworth. Whilst Sir John was not of exalted birth, his wife was a connection of the king’s and Edward Seymour had first gained a royal position in 1514, in the household of the king’s sister, Mary the French Queen.

Seymour was nearly twenty years older than Grey, and was not in post for long, so it is unlikely that they became friends at this time, but nevertheless, the seeds of a future relationship were sown – and similarly, a friendship for both with William Parr. Nearly all the boys and young men in Richmond’s entourage went on to become upholders of the Reformed faith – perhaps influence by the elder Sir William, who was an early convert, or one of their tutors.

Seymour did not spend long at Sheriff Hutton, and nor, in fact, did the rest of them. By 1530, Richmond was established at court, with Henry Grey still amongst his household. By that date, far from Richmond being considered a possible heir, the king was straining every sinew to have his marriage to Queen Katharine dissolved so he could marry his inamorata, Anne Boleyn.

Over the next six years, it is likely that Henry Grey, who became Marquis of Dorset in 1530, and Seymour came across each other frequently. In 1531, Seymour was created Esquire of the Body to the king, and Dorset, so far as is known, stayed with Richmond, close to the court. Dorset would also have met at least three of Seymour’s siblings – Thomas, Elizabeth, who married Sir Anthony Oughtred in the early 1530s, and Jane, who became an attendant of Queen Anne’s.  During this period, Dorset married the king’s niece, Lady Frances Brandon, daughter of the Duke of Suffolk.  

In 1536, in a move that surprised and shocked many, Queen Anne Boleyn was disgraced and executed, and within ten days the king had married Jane Seymour.  Edward Seymour benefited greatly from the match, gaining the titles, first of Viscount Beauchamp, and then Earl of Hertford.  That the Dorsets were on good terms with the new queen and her family is suggested by the naming of their first child in her honour, and probably with her as godmother.

As the 1530s turned into the 1540s, the Hertfords and the Dorsets were part of a friendship circle that included the Lord Admiral, John Dudley, Viscount Lisle, and his wife; Lady Dorset’s step-mother, Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk; William Parr and his sister, Anne, and her husband, Sir William Herbert.  All of them came to be known a favourers of further reformation in religious practice.  Hertford’s brother, Thomas, was also in the group, as vice-admiral to Lisle, but he seems to have been less concerned about religious matters than the others.  On the fringes of the group but married and not living at court until she was widowed in early 1543, was the other Parr sister, Katherine, Lady Latimer.

Lady Latimer was no sooner widowed than Thomas Seymour began courting her. He was quickly disappointed of his hopes when the king’s eye fell upon her, and, persuaded by Archbishop Cranmer, and probably this group of friends who hoped she would promote the Reformist cause, Katherine accepted the king’s proposal and became his sixth queen. 

The last years of Henry VIII were troubled – Hertford and Lisle were achieving reasonable success in the king’s wars with Scotland, and Henry himself had some minor victories in France, but the country was close to bankruptcy and the religious divide was growing wider, and more partisan every day. Two factions were forming at court, one led by Hertford and Lisle, to which Dorset was attached, and the other by the religious traditionalists, the Duke of Norfolk and Bishop Gardiner – although the matter was more nuanced than just disagreement over religion.  

The balance between the factions ebbed and flowed, but when Henry VIII died in January 1547, the Reformers were at the forefront – Norfolk was in the Tower, and the man closest to Henry VIII, Sir William Paget, was Hertford’s right-hand man. The new king was the nine-year-old Edward, nephew of Hertford and Thomas Seymour.

Henry had appointed a regency council of equals that included Hertford, Lisle and Paget, with a second phalanx of back-up councillors including William Parr and Thomas Seymour. Dorset, despite being the king’s nearest adult male relative had no place at all. Hertford, however, aided by Paget, persuaded the council that he should have the role of Lord Protector, and almost all the powers of the monarch.

Neither Seymour nor Dorset was at all happy with the situation.  Seymour, in particular, was angry and envious. He was not mollified by his appointment as Lord Admiral, and the grant of a barony. Dorset, too, was irritated by Hertford’s self-promotion to the dukedom of Somerset, which gave him higher rank than Dorset, who previously had precedence as a marquis.

Seymour’s unhappiness was, according to the French ambassador, fomented by Lisle, now promoted to the earldom of Warwick, who, the ambassador thought, was deliberately setting the brothers at odds.  The sibling rivalry was intensified when Seymour took up his old courtship of Katherine Parr, and secretly married her. Somerset was outraged, and Katherine’s access to her step-son, the king, who had previously been very attached to her, was curtailed. She was made unwelcome at court, partly by Somerset’s duchess claiming precedence over her as wife of the older Seymour brother, even though Henry VIII had left instructions that Katherine was to continue to be treated as a queen. Duchess Anne jostled Katherine out of place, and Somerset refused to release the queen’s jewels, claiming they were crown property. Insult was added to this injury by Duchess Anne being seen to sport the gems herself.

As well as seeking, and failing, to promote himself through marriage to Katherine, Seymour began to court Dorset. The marquis was permanently short of money, and he was also a rather suggestible man, easily led by stronger personalities.  Seymour suggested that Dorset sell him the marriage of his eldest daughter, Lady Jane Grey. The clinching argument, beyond the £2,000 fee, was that Seymour would be able to arrange the marriage of Jane to the king himself.  Why Dorset believed this is a mystery. Government policy throughout the last years of Henry’s reign, and determinedly followed by Somerset, was for King Edward to marry the young Mary, Queen of Scots.  Nevertheless, Dorset swallowed the bait, and Jane and her tutor, John Aylmer, took up residence at Seymour Place. Dorset was a man of deep and genuine religious convictions. He applauded the rapid move towards Protestantism that Somerset and Cranmer were overseeing, and Jane’s education under Aylmer was at the most radical end of what was legally permitted in England. 

In the early summer of 1548, aged about eleven, Jane accompanied a now-pregnant Katherine to Sudeley Castle, in Gloucestershire, where Katherine died in childbirth that September. Within a few days, Seymour wrote to Dorset, saying that he would send Jane back to her father, as the person who would be most ‘tender on her’. The ink was hardly dry on this letter before he had second thoughts, writing on 17 September to Dorset that he had decided he would maintain his late wife’s household for the sake of his baby daughter, Mary Seymour. Consequently, he proposed Jane should remain with him, under the supervision of his mother, Lady Seymour, who would love Jane as her own daughter, while he himself would be ‘half a father’ to her, and all in his house would ‘be as diligent about her’ as Dorset could wish. Dorset was grateful for the offer, but declined. He though Jane would be better at home with her mother.  He seemed to fear that Seymour might be over-indulgent and that in her young years, Dorset needed to address Jane’s mind to ‘humility, sobriety and obedience’. He hoped Seymour would agree, and was at pains to point out that he was not going back on their agreement for Seymour to have control of Jane’s marriage;

Jane returned to the family home in Bradgate, but within weeks Seymour had followed her there, accompanied by his crony, Sir William Sharington, who as Master of the Bristol Mint, had a nice little side-line in counterfeiting underway, from which Seymour was profiting.  Between them, Seymour and Sharington prevailed on Dorset and his wife to allow Jane to return to Seymour’s household, still promising marriage to the king. Dorset himself accompanied his daughter back to London.

With Seymour and Jane settled at Seymour Place, Dorset was a frequent visitor, spending convivial evenings there along with the Earl of Huntingdon, and Sharington, but Seymour was now so consumed by envy of Somerset that he was determined to overthrow him. He schemed to marry the king’s sister, the Lady Elizabeth, and soon, according to Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, people were talking of Seymour’s ‘slothfulness to serve’ and ‘greediness to get’.  Even Sharington was alarmed and counselled Seymour to show discretion and drop any plans he had pertaining to Elizabeth.

In December 1548, the admiral became convinced that Parliament was planning some new Act that would harm him. ‘If I be thus used, they speak of a black parliament. By God’s Precious Soul, I will make it the blackest parliament that ever was in England,’ he shouted to his deputy, Lord Clinton, in Dorset’s hearing. Clinton replied, ‘If you speak such words, you will lose my Lord (Somerset) and undo yourself.’ The admiral, enraged, responded, ‘I would you should know, by God’s Precious Soul, I may better live without him, than he without me.’ He then added, ‘Whosoever shall go about to speak evil of the queen, I will take my fist from the first ears to the lowest.’ Dorset intervened to keep the peace: ‘My lord, these words need not; for I think there is no nobleman that would speak evil of her for he should then speak evil of the king that dead is; wherefore you have no cause to doubt therein, and I trust all shall be well, and you friends again.’

Seymour continued to be argumentative and irrational. He told Dorset that he would refuse to pay the newly granted subsidy of 2d per sheep. Dorset asked why Seymour objected, considering it was less harm than a subsidy on land. But Seymour stubbornly affirmed he would not pay it. He continued to attack Somerset’s office, claiming there was no need for any protector because the king, being ‘wise and well-learned’, ought to rule himself, perhaps with Somerset as head of the council. Although the admiral knew he could not make the change he wished immediately, he swore he would bring it about within three years. Seymour began to talk even more wildly, hinting at rebellion – Dorset was not to worry too much about courting the gentlemen of the counties, who ‘had somewhat to lose’, but to be on good terms with the yeomen who were able to command the commons. He wanted Dorset to move to his house at Astley in Warwickshire, to build up his networks there, as a bulwark against the Earl of Warwick, who was still working closely with Somerset. Dorset objected that Astley was almost a ruin, which he could not afford to repair. Seymour offered to send a man there at Christmas to make a plan for repairs, for he thought that Dorset must have plenty of stone, brick and timber. Dorset agreed he had, but suggested that he was perfectly well placed at Bradgate, which was only 15 miles from Warwick. Despite agreeing this to be a negligible distance, Seymour was still insistent on Dorset moving.

Seymour’s violent words and angry temper undid him. His final act of insanity was to break into the king’s apartments in an attempt to take control of the king. Disturbed, he panicked and shot one of the king’s dogs before being arrested. On 8 January 1549, Sharington’s house was raided by order of the council, and evidence of his counterfeiting activities discovered. But that was not the purpose of the raid – an attack on Seymour was the motivation. Sharington quickly sang like the proverbial canary. Next to be hauled in was the young Earl of Rutland, who admitted that Seymour had talked to him about building relationships with yeomen. Seymour, warned of Rutland’s interrogation, put a brave face on matters. He attended Parliament on 17 January 1549, and then he, Dorset and Dorset’s brother, Lord Thomas Grey, dined at Huntingdon’s house. Seymour continued to bluster that he would refuse to obey any summons from the council, but Lord Thomas advised him to throw himself on his brother’s mercy. Later that night, Seymour was arrested and taken to the Tower. Within days, his friends and associates were being questioned – including Dorset, who was interviewed by Somerset himself. He was quickly persuaded by the duke that Jane, rather than being a suitable bride for the king, should marry Somerset’s son. He did not want to put the agreement in writing, but would confirm it verbally, if necessary.

In March 1549, Seymour’s death warrant was signed by his brother and he was executed. This act, although it seemed necessary to Somerset at the time, was looked upon with horror and surprise. Even the hardened men of the Tudor court were uncomfortable with fratricide. Dorset did not suffer from his involvement with Seymour, but nor did the latter’s death give Dorset himself any more influence with Somerset.

Always looking for someone to follow, Dorset now hitched himself to Warwick’s wagon.  This proved a more successful strategy in the medium term. Over 1549-50, Somerset lost power as his handling of the 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion, and Kett’s Rebellion proved inept and the stealthy increase of Warwick’s power became too much for the duke to resist. By the autumn of 1550, Somerset was in the Tower, and Dorset finally had a seat on the Privy Council.  Tensions seemed to ease slightly, and Somerset was released and restored to the Council, although without the role of Lord Protector, Warwick now holding sway as Lord President of the Council.  

Somerset was not reconciled either to the loss of power, or, perhaps more pertinently, Warwick’s policies, and over the course of 1551, sought to regain control.  Meanwhile, Dorset was riding high in the new regime – in October 1551, the dukedom of Suffolk, vacant after the death of his wife’s half-brothers, was conferred on him, at the same time as Warwick became Duke of Northumberland.  One of the first documents he signed as duke, was a warrant for Somerset’s removal to the Tower – probably the most important document he had ever signed. It seems more likely that he felt the thrill of power than any compunction about sending a man who had once been his friend to prison, and probably execution. Perhaps he saw it as revenge for the death of Seymour.

With Norfolk and Somerset both in the Tower, and the latter soon beheaded, the two new dukes were at the top of the noble tree.

The only way was down….

About Melita

Melita Thomas is the co-founder and editor of Tudor Times. Her life-long interest in Mary I led to her first book, ‘The King’s Pearl’, published in 2017. Researching this brought her attention to the Grey family – cousins to the Tudors, and closely involved with their lives. The result was ‘The House of Grey’, which looks at how national events both influenced, and were influenced by, people close to the monarch, from the 1450s to the 1550s.  Melita will be studying for a Master’s in Historical Research from October 2019, and is planning her third book – also covering the Tudor period.

Connect with Melita

Tudor Times: Tudor Times
Facebook: Tudor Times
Twitter: @thetudortimes

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If you like my posts, you’ll love my books! The Path to Somerset is the latest in the Seymour Saga – have you read it yet? (Will you please review it?) Click on the photo to be taken to Amazon.Com:

(What? You haven’t read or reviewed Jane the Quene yet? Please do! Here are some easy links to Amazon.Com,  Amazon.Co.UK  and Amazon.Com.Au!)

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