First, some background. Just a few months after Henry VIII died, his widow, Katherine Parr, married Thomas Seymour, uncle to the new King Edward VI. Elizabeth went to live with the newlyweds, and Seymour began to be far more familiar than propriety or their positions warranted. He would come into Elizabeth’s bedchamber early in the morning, in bare feet and clad only in his nightclothes, to wake her up. Elizabeth’s governess complained to Katherine, who at first dismissed the behavior as innocent fun, and even joined in some of the early morning tickling sessions – so Elizabeth took to getting up earlier and earlier to be fully dressed before he arrived. But after a very pregnant Katherine came upon her husband on his knees before the young princess, Katherine sent Elizabeth away…then died in childbirth just a few months later. Tom went off the rails at that point; I wrote the details here but long story short, he tried to kidnap the King in a bid for power. In the pileup of treason charges stemming from this incident, one of the claims was that Seymour intended to secretly marry Elizabeth (which was itself treason because of her place in the succession…)
Not surprisingly, the question turned to whether Elizabeth was part of this plot. She denied that Seymour had ever raised the issue with her, but the Council arrested her servants, Kat Ashley and Tom Parry, and brought them to the Tower for questioning. There, Ashley and Parry quickly shared all the details of the early morning romps, and admitted that Seymour had asked about Elizabeth’s estates to see how many of them adjoined his own. Copies of the confessions were shown to Elizabeth – who now had to admit to *something* since “nothing” was no longer going to fly…and she had to do it right away.
Of course, this went against Elizabeth’s grain – she never liked to do things in haste. She bought herself a day by sending off an immediate letter to the Lord Protector explaining that oh, yes, she had quite forgotten this happened but now she remembered and would sit down to write it all out.
I have received your gentle letter and also your message by Master Tyrwhit, for the which two things especially (although for many other things) I cannot give your lordship sufficient thanks, and whereas your grace doth will me to credit Master Tyrwhit, I have done so, and will do so as long as he willeth me (as he doth not) to nothing but that which is for mine honor and honesty. And even as I said to him and did write to your lordship, so I do write now again, that when there doth any more things happen in my mind which I have forgotten, I assure your grace I will declare them most willingly, for I would not (as I trust you have not) so evil an opinion of me that I would conceal anything that I knew; for it were to no purpose, and surely forgetfulness may well cause me to hide things, but undoubtedly I will declare all that I know. From Hatfield the 6th of February,
Your assured friend to my little power,
ElizabethLetters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain: From the Commencement of the Twelfth Century to the Close of the Reign of Queen Mary, Volume 3
The next day, Elizabeth wrote her own confession which set the events in the proper perspective. She smartly went a little further than Ashley’s and Parry’s confessions, relating an incident where she had been asked whether she would “have” the Admiral in marriage or not – and had responded that this was a matter for the Council to decide…an important clarification that took everything right out of the treason category, at least for her (I wrote another post detailing the legal ins and outs – transcribing Cecil’s explanation in the brilliant scene from Elizabeth R). This also allowed Elizabeth to argue that she hadn’t lied, that her forgetfulness was due to a misunderstanding (“I didn’t realize you wanted ‘servants’ gossip’”). And got her exonerated.
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