The Six Wives Of Henry VIII – The TV Series (Guest Post by Roland Hui)

I am thrilled to host author Roland Hui on the third stop of the blog tour for his just-out The Turbulent Crown: The Story of the Tudor Queens, which recounts the dramatic events of the ten Tudor women who sat on the English throne. From the book description:

The Turbulent Crown begins with the story of Elizabeth of York, who survived conspiracy, murder, and dishonour to become the first Tudor Queen, bringing peace and order to England after years of civil war. From there, the reader is taken through the parade of Henry VIII’s six wives – two of whom, Anne Boleyn and Katheryn Howard, would lose their heads against a backdrop of intrigue and scandal.

The Turbulent Crown continues with the tragedy of Lady Jane Grey, the teenager who ruled for nine days until overthrown by her cousin Mary Tudor. But Mary’s reign, which began in triumph, ended in disaster, leading to the emergence of her sister, Elizabeth I, as the greatest of her family and of England’s monarchs.

Today’s post was written by Roland – it is a special post for me about the Six Wives series (he’s read my blog and he knows how much I admire Keith Mitchell’s masterful portrayal, so this was a really cool piece!)

I got a copy of the book – I just started it and I am enjoying it immensely. Roland has a wonderful, clear voice (you can hear it in the post).  And as part of the tour, MadeGlobal Publishing is offering one lucky follower of mine the chance to win a copy of the book as well (your choice between a  paperback or the kindle version) – details at the bottom of the post.

Over to Roland…

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The period from the middle 1960’s to the early 1970’s was the heyday of English history motion pictures. The critical and commercial success of ‘Becket’ (1964) was an indication that audiences were keen to see more of such films. ‘A Man For All Seasons’ (1966), ‘the Lion in Winter’ (1968), ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’(1969), ‘Cromwell’ (1970), and ‘Mary Queen of Scots (1971) were all made during this renaissance of historical pictures. Television, recognizing this interest in England’s past, released a teleplay of Maxwell Anderson’s ‘Elizabeth the Queen’ (1968). In 1970 an even more ambitious project was undertaken – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’, a series of six teleplays about the King’s merry-go-round of queens.

The Henry VIII most viewers were still familiar with at the time was actor Charles Laughton’s interpretation of the notorious monarch in ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII’ (1933) and again in ‘Young Bess’ (1953). As popular as Laughton’s interpretation was, it bordered on the comical. His Henry was a rather a buffoon, though even he had, arguably, better table manners! There was no suggestion of the cultured Renaissance prince who composed music, built palaces and warships, made war on the French and the Scots, and defied the Vatican by establishing his own Church.

To play such a larger than life personality, the producers of ‘The Six Wives’ chose Australian actor Keith Michell. In his early 40’s when he was cast, not only was Michell expected to interpret Henry VIII in all his complexity, but also to age from a young man of 17 to an ageing despot of 55. The physical demands of the part were not lost on Michell. It was ‘murder’ as he recalled. “The make-up got more and more complicated. Toward the end it was a 4 hour job that meant wearing plastic all over my head, a plastic nose, things in my face, padding up to my neck.” Interestingly enough, it was not Henry VIII himself who would inspire the actor, but rather plutocrats of another era. Michell imagined Henry as ‘a kind of cigar-smoking American billionaire, very rich and very powerful.’ The costumes, he also mentioned, with all their padding, jewels, and fur, were a big help in creating the King’s persona.

The series begins with the arrival of Catherine of Aragon (Annette Crosby) to England in 1501. It is commendable that the producers of the series chose to present Catherine as she actually looked. She was not stereotypically Spanish with an olive complexion and dark hair (as the character had appeared in ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’ for instance), but fair and blond as Catherine was depicted in her early portraits. The episode emphasizes the happiness she and Henry VIII shared as a young couple. Upon ‘the word of a Henry’, her husband promises, Catherine will always be loved.

However, the marriage sours when she is unable the bear a son, only a daughter, the Princess Mary. The years take a toll on her looks, and she is often ill and melancholy. Not only must she endure the humiliation of being a ‘barren’ wife, but also the King’s attraction to a lady of the Court, Anne Boleyn. So much for ‘the word of a Henry,’ as Catherine later muses with bitterness.

In ‘The Six Wives’, Anne Boleyn (Dorothy Tutin) was not a sympathetic character. She is brash, vain, and overly proud. While her personality was certainly meant to act as a foil to Catherine’s, when the series was made, the historical Anne was not viewed very kindly. Many perceived her as a shameless hussy who in the end got what she deserved, even though she was falsely accused of treason. This opinion was even expressed by actress Charlotte Rampling who played Anne Boleyn in the later film version of ‘The Six Wives.’ “Anne wasn’t a very nice girl, I’m afraid,” Rampling said in an interview, “she had dangerous qualities of spitefulness and arrogance.”

Though Queen, Anne comes to realize that her happiness, like Catherine’s, is fleeting. She too is unable to bear a son and the episode centers upon her fall from grace. Brittle and haughty, the proud Anne finds herself in the Tower of London charged with adultery. It is in her darkest despair that Anne redeems herself. She learns humility, and her courage shines through as she steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the crimes of which she is accused. She goes to her execution in assurance of her innocence.

The episode on Jane Seymour, Anne Boleyn’s successor, differs slightly from the others as her story is told in flashback. It begins in 1537 with the christening of her son, the longed-for Prince Edward. However, Jane (Anne Stallybrass) cannot experience the joyfulness. She is in delirium and, unbeknownst to her and all others, is in fact slowly dying. Her fevered mind recalls her courtship by the King. He is unhappy with his tempestuous wife Queen Anne and finds solace in the company of the meek and mild Jane. Historians continue to debate whether Jane Seymour was really as gentle a lady as she appeared, or rather a ruthless courtier itching for a crown. Evidently, the screenwriter imagined Jane as the former. However, even her tenure as Queen is troubled. Jane is haunted by thoughts of the late Anne Boleyn. Was she judiciously murdered so that she could take her place? As Jane tells her brother Edward Seymour, “I have no – no waking or sleeping moment when I am at peace.” Perhaps it was only by her death by puerperal fever that Jane was finally able to find that peace.

Two years after Jane Seymour’s passing, Henry VIII, at the urging of his chief minister Thomas Cromwell, decides to take another wife. No longer the athlete and handsome man he was, the King is now fat and ageing. Nonetheless, he still considers himself a worthy catch, and he contracts a marriage with the German Anne of Cleves (Elvi Hale). The writing of this particular episode was probably not without its challenges. The marriage was short-lived and, except for the fall of Cromwell, was relatively uneventful. As well, Anne spoke no English. Thus some dramatic license was taken with Anne already speaking the language (as an earlier incarnation of the character did in ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII’), and some facts distorted and made up. Unlike the historical Anne of Cleves who was most eager to wed the King of England, the ‘Six Wives’ version of her was not. At their first meeting, she is appalled by his appearance; an interesting twist in that history usually has it the other way around. Also, the real Anne did not meddle in politics, but the episode has her counseling her countryman, Philip of Hesse, who visits England in secret to seek advice on getting rid of his wife. Philip’s visit is entirely fictional, but it did serve to add more to the storyline.

If Anne Boleyn wasn’t a ‘nice girl’, her cousin Catherine Howard (Angela Pleasence) was worse. In ‘The Six Wives’ she is selfish, conniving, and immoral. She seduces one of the King’s courtiers to conceive a son to pass off as the King’s. She even considers having an old lover murdered to prevent him from revealing her sordid past. Although historians of late have been more sympathetic towards Catherine (that she was a child of abuse whose poor upbringing led her to make bad life choices is one modern opinion), the television series accepts the traditional view of her as a wanton woman. Catherine’s one redeeming quality is her loyalty to her Howard family, even though they, like her uncle the pandering Duke of Norfolk, have abandoned her to her fate. The young Queen goes to the block admitting her guilt and asks that her kin be spared the King’s wrath.

From a girl just out of her teens, Henry VIII moves on to a mature woman in her 30’s for his sixth Queen in the final episode of ‘The Six Wives.’ Catherine Parr (Rosalie Crutchley) is a sensible no-nonsense widow with a strong religious (Protestant that is) streak. The actual Catherine, though very pious, was not as severe as the series made her out to be. She was attractive and vivacious. It was these qualities, not her theological opinions that attracted the King to her. Still, emphasis was put on her religious views.  In ‘The Six Wives,’ John Foxe’s famous story of her getting in hot water for heresy was played out. But peace was restored with Catherine giving in, and she manages to outlive the King who dies in 1547.

‘The Six Wives’ was a success with critics and audiences. It won BAFTA Awards for Keith Michell and Annette Crosbie, as well as for the design and costume teams. It also received the Prix d’Italia for the sensitively written episode on Jane Seymour. When the series was exported to America for broadcast on ‘Masterpiece Theatre’, it was a hit with viewers there too, and Michell was given an Emmy Award for his performance. The positive response to the series spawned a sequel ‘Elizabeth R’ (1971), a prequel ‘The Shadow of the Tower’ (1972), and even a theatrical version entitled ‘Henry VIII and His Six Wives’ (1973). For the film, Michell repeated his part, but different actresses played his Queens.

In the years following Keith Michell’s celebrated role as Henry VIII, a multitude of actors (including Ray Winstone, Eric Bana, Jared Harris, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Damian Lewis) have also tackled the part, but none have received the acclaim Michell did for bringing Henry VIII to life onscreen. In 1996, when the role of the King was being cast for a television adaptation of Mark Twain’s ‘The Prince and the Pauper’, the producers had only one actor in mind – Keith Michell. Even today, Michell (who sadly passed away in 2015) is remembered as the definitive Henry VIII.

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Roland Hui received his degree in Art History from Concordia University roland_huiin Canada. After completing his studies, he went on to work in Interpretive Media for California State Parks, The U.S. Forest Service, and The National Park Service. Roland has written for Renaissance Magazine and for Tudor Life Magazine. He blogs about 16th-century English art and personalities at Tudor Faces at tudorfaces.blogspot.com.

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Giveaway

So – ready to try to win a copy? Paperback or kindle version, your choice! Just leave a comment below this post before midnight on Sunday, March 5.  Tell me which was your favorite scene from the series, or your favorite other TV or film version of Henry and his wives, or just that you loved my Jane the Quene!   One lucky commenter will be picked at random and contacted for their details.

There will be a giveaway at every stop of Roland’s book tour (!) and here is the schedule:

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Isabella of France – A Study in Contrast (Guest Post by Conor Byrne)

I am thrilled to host author Conor Byrne on the second stop of the blog tour for his just-out Queenship in England, which examines the challenges faced by the nine queens who were married to kings of England between 1308 and 1485. Conor investigates the relationship between gender and power at the English court, while exploring how queenship responded to, and was informed by, the tensions at the heart of governance. I found it a great way to  understand the model of queenship under which Tudor queens operated – and which they inevitably modified.

Today’s post was written by Conor – it is a special post for me about the first woman in this line-up of queens: Isabella of France, who was Queen of England as the wife of Edward II, and Regent of England from 1326 until 1330).

As part of the tour, Conor’s publisher (MadeGlobal Publishing) is offering one lucky follower the chance to win a copy of Conor’s book (your choice between a  paperback or the kindle version) – details at the bottom of the post.

Over to Conor…

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For the first fifteen years of her tenure as queen consort of England, Isabella of France conformed to conventional expectations of queenship. In 1308, at the age of twelve, she married Edward II of England and went on to provide her husband with four children. Their eldest son, Edward, was born in 1312. Isabella was praised by her contemporaries for her successes as an intercessor, both at home and abroad. She was acknowledged as a moderating force in an unstable kingdom, in which the king’s relations with his nobility fluctuated and were often characterised by tension.

By the mid-1320s, however, everything had changed. In the realm of popular history, the relationship between Edward and Isabella has been cast in lurid terms, with allegations of sexual impropriety, betrayal, vengeance and hatred. In recent years, the queen has been depicted as a long-suffering victim of her cruel and sexually perverted husband, who lost the respect of his nobility and courtiers as a result of his sexual shenanigans with Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger. Edward has been accused of permitting Despenser to seduce, and perhaps rape, Isabella. According to this narrative, so fed up did Isabella become that, when she was sent on a diplomatic mission to France in 1325, she plotted to force her husband’s removal from the throne and set up her young son in his place. When Isabella returned to England, widely supported by her adoring subjects, her husband was imprisoned and either murdered or allowed to escape abroad and live out the remainder of his life on the continent. The increasing opposition to Isabella’s regime during her son’s minority was a result of the cruel actions of her lover, Roger Mortimer, who controlled and manipulated her. Eventually, after Mortimer’s execution, Isabella won back the respect and love of both her son and her subjects and lived out the rest of her life in quiet dignity.

This narrative makes for a gripping story, and it is perhaps unsurprising that so many lurid novels have been published about Edward, Isabella and Piers Gaveston, her husband’s favourite and, possibly, his lover. The problem with this narrative, however, is that much of it is speculative and is situated in modern attitudes to spousal relations and femininity. In some instances, the narrative of the long-suffering Isabella, controlled and abused by her merciless husband, is distinctly homo- or biphobic, and reveals more about modern attitudes to sexuality than those of the fourteenth-century. The surviving sources present a more nuanced picture of the relationship between Edward and his queen and the circumstances that led to their separation from one another and Edward’s eventual deposition.

Isabella of France is a controversial figure, but her queenship can be interpreted as a study in contrast. As noted earlier, her actions for most of Edward’s reign were conventional and conformed to contemporary attitudes of how the queen ought to behave, act and exercise authority. Above all, as a French tract of 1347, later translated as The III Consideracions Right Necesserye to the Good Governaunce of a Prince, noted, the queen should ‘have good and due regarde to suche thinge as toucheth the profyte and the honeure of hir lord and hir self.’ With the consent of her husband, the king, the queen should ‘take in hande… greet maters’, for her duty was to ‘bere reverence and oneure’ to her husband ‘at all tymes.’ It will be seen that Isabella’s actions were authorised by virtue of her close relationship with Edward and sought to redound to his ‘oneure’.

Isabella’s Household Book of 1311-12 survives, and documents the queen’s activities in her household management and intercession from early on in her tenure. Evidence indicates that the queen provided care for a Scottish orphan named ‘little Thomelinus’, to whom she granted alms by way of ‘sustenance and clothing’. In this respect, Isabella appears to have been cultivating a motherly role, which reflected contemporary depictions of the queen as the mother of the kingdom, and can be understood in the context of motherhood being idealised and emphasised as the primary duty of the queen. The calendar rolls, moreover, reveal that Isabella frequently sought pardons for malefactors. Thus Gilbert de Berewick, the ward of her lands, was pardoned at Isabella’s request for not appearing before justices appointed to investigate felonies, trespasses, and oppressions in Wiltshire. Isabella also responded to the contemporary expectation that the elites, including the consort, rewarded their servants for their loyalty and good service. William de Ros received pontage and pavage, perhaps as a reward for his good service. The queen also granted sums of money to her maidens when they were about to be married, including Margaret de Vilien shortly before her marriage to Odin Bronard. Isabella also drew on her good relationship with her husband to seek his assistance in matters concerning her household. Thus, in 1320, she sought Edward’s help in assisting her yeoman Godard Hauteyn. In actions such as this, Isabella was able to exercise authority by deferring to her husband, in ‘honouring’ him as her contemporaries expected the queen to do.

That Edward and Isabella enjoyed a stable, harmonious relationship for much of their marriage is further demonstrated by the king’s decision to enhance his wife’s authority within her household, therefore enabling her to exercise authority as a landowner. In 1313-4, perhaps in gratitude for the delivery of a son, Edward granted his wife lands, manors and castles in Kent, Oxfordshire, Derbyshire and Northamptonshire, thus extending her authority. Edward also appreciated Isabella’s effective actions as an intercessor between England and France, a duty that she took seriously given that her marriage had sought to maintain peace between the traditionally warring kingdoms. It was Isabella’s success in her foreign mediation that explains why she was selected to travel to France in 1325 to promote England’s interests with the French king.

She also interceded regularly on behalf of her husband’s subjects. In 1319, she wrote a letter on behalf of Philip Malton, requesting that the mayor and aldermen of London uphold the king’s appointment of Malton to the office of mace bearer and crier of Guildhall. Three years later, the queen was approached by Joan de Knovile, who sought her assistance for the release of her husband, who was then imprisoned in York Castle. Contrary to popular narrative, Isabella also maintained stable relations with her husband’s favourite, Piers Gaveston, and attempted to conciliate him by sheltering some of his supporters in her household.

It was in her motherhood, however, that Isabella most successfully conformed to contemporary expectations of queenship, and permitted her to maintain good relations with her husband. Contemporaries reported Edward’s ‘love’ for his wife in 1313, several months after she gave birth to their first child, Edward. The birth of the prince has been interpreted by Kathryn Warner as ‘an enormous public relations coup’ that demonstrated divine favour and confirmed Edward II’s right to rule at a time of political tension. Three more children followed, but Isabella’s motherhood was to prove a source of controversy, for it came into tension with her role as wife to the king. Contemporaries warned that the queen should not be ‘curious in nourisshynge of her children’ to the detriment of her husband. However, the rise of the Despensers and the escalating tensions during the mid-1320s meant that Isabella experienced a conflict of interests. The queen’s lands were seized and sequestrated, and members of her household dismissed, as a result of her displacement in the king’s counsels by the Despensers. This resulted in the deterioration of relations between Edward and Isabella, and explains why the queen resolved on her husband’s removal while seeking peace with France in 1325.

It is worth emphasising, once more, that until 1325 Isabella’s model of queenship had been entirely traditional, and in her activities as an intercessor, patron, lord and mother, she had conformed to conventional expectations and had exercised significant authority through informal means, as a result. However, the political context necessitated Isabella’s decision to ally with her husband’s enemies in a bid to secure the inheritance of her son, Prince Edward, for whom she may have been greatly concerned as a result of the aggressive posturing of the Despensers, who seemed to control her husband. Isabella’s actions astonished her husband, whose response was initially one of shock. Before long, however, the king had publicly branded his wife and eldest son traitors; others reported that he had ordered their exile from the kingdom. In response to this hostility, Isabella publicly represented herself as a much-wronged wife, who earnestly sought reconciliation with her husband. She explained, however, that she could not return to the realm, much as she would like to, until her enemies had been apprehended.

In representing herself as reacting to the corruption of her husband’s ‘evil counsellors’, and in presenting herself as an explicitly feminine victim, Isabella secured the support of her husband’s enemies. As Margaret of Anjou was later to do, Isabella presented herself as concerned for her son’s inheritance and exercised authority on his behalf. The success of her mission, which resulted in the deposition of Edward II and the executions of the Despensers, demonstrated the potential authority that could be exercised by a consort. However, Isabella failed to learn that the support she had attained from large parts of the kingdom was dependent on the succession of her son, to restore peace and harmony to a fractured realm. By effectively taking on the role of regent between 1327 and 1330, and in engaging in corrupt actions alongside her ally – and possibly lover – Roger Mortimer, Isabella began to be hated, where before she had been ‘so much loved’. Her contemporaries accused the queen and Mortimer of keeping the young king ‘in subjection to themselves.’ This unlawful exercise of authority effectively meant that Isabella’s actions were no longer legitimised. She was seen to be acting against her son, rather than for him.

The young king rebelled against his mother and Mortimer and commenced his ‘personal reign’ in 1330, which was accompanied by the execution of Mortimer, who was tactfully accorded full responsibility for the corrupt actions that had characterised the preceding years. Although she appears to have been initially reluctant to cede her queenship to her daughter-in-law, Philippa of Hainault, Isabella came to occupy a more conventional role during her period as dowager queen. After the turbulence of the 1320s, her subsequent role more closely resembled that of the early years of her marriage to Edward II.

As noted at the beginning of this article, Isabella of France’s queenship is a study in contrast. She admirably conformed to conventional expectations of queenship for most of her marriage to Edward II and was renowned for her piety and patronage during her tenure as dowager queen. Her son, Edward III, sought Isabella’s involvement in ceremonial and diplomatic occasions at court, which demonstrated that he continued to respect her influence. By contrast, her actions during the mid-1320s, which led to the deposition of her husband, were unconventional, but they were mainly supported because Isabella successfully represented herself as a victim of tyranny, concerned for the lawful inheritance of her son. To begin with, she enjoyed the support of the kingdom, but she was later criticised for the perceived corruption undermining the body politic.

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conor-byrne

Conor Byrne studied History at the University of Exeter. He is the author of Katherine Howard: A New History and Queenship in England, both published by MadeGlobal. Since 2012 he has run a historical blog and was formerly editor of Tudor Life Magazine. His research to date specialises in late medieval and early modern European history, with a focus on gender, sexuality and the monarchy.

 

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Giveaway

So – ready to try to win a copy? Paperback or kindle version, your choice! Just leave a comment below this post with one trait of Isabella’s that you see in one of Henry’s wives (or daughters!) – and leave it by midnight on Sunday, February 19. Or just feel free to tell me you loved my Jane the Quene and that will be fine too!  One lucky commenter will be picked at random and contacted for their details.

There will be a giveaway at every stop of Conor’s book tour (!) and here is the schedule:

blog-tour-queenship-in-england

The Brief Reign of Edward VI’s Uncle – Guest Post by Kyra Kramer

Edward VI In a Nutshell - by Kyra Kramer

Edward VI In a Nutshell – by Kyra Kramer

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…

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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.

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kyra-kramer

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.

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Giveaway

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.

There will be a giveaway at every stop of Kyra’s book tour (!) and here is the schedule:

kyra_kramer_book_tour

 

Good luck!