A power-hungry and charming courtier. An impressionable and trusting princess. The Tudor court in the wake of Henry VIII’s death had never been more perilous for the young Elizabeth, where rumors had the power to determine her fate
England, late 1547. King Henry VIII Is dead. His fourteen-year-old daughter Elizabeth is living with the king’s widow, Catherine Parr, and her new husband, Thomas Seymour. Seymour is the brother of Henry VIII’s third wife, the late Jane Seymour, who was the mother to the now-ailing boy King.
Ambitious and dangerous, Seymour begins and overt flirtation with Elizabeth that ends with Catherine sending her away. When Catherine dies a year later and Seymour is arrested for treason soon after, a scandal explodes. Alone and in dreadful danger, Elizabeth is threatened by supporters of her half-sister, Mary, who wishes to see England return to Catholicism. She is also closely questioned by the king’s regency council due to her place in the line of succession. Was she still a virgin? Was there a child? Had she promised to marry Seymour?
Under pressure, Elizabeth shows the shrewdness and spirit she would later be famous for. She survives the scandal, but Thomas Seymour is not so lucky. The “Seymour Scandal” led Elizabeth and her advisers to create of the persona of the Virgin Queen.
On hearing of Seymour’s beheading, Elizabeth observed, “This day died a man of much wit, and very little judgment.” His fate remained with her. She would never allow her heart to rule her head again.
I was recently sent “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor” by Elizabeth Norton, but don’t be deceived by the title. It is just as much the story of Thomas Seymour. Thomas Seymour was the brother of Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII and mother to his heir, Edward VI. He was also the younger brother of Edward Seymour, who was lord protector for his nephew. Thomas would go on to marry Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife, after the King’s death. Elizabeth would live briefly in her stepmother’s household and it was there that something happened, though we cannot be sure exactly what. Thomas apparently engaged in romps and horseplay with the then 14-year-old Elizabeth, while she was in her nightgown. Sometimes Catherine would join in, but by May 1548 Elizabeth was sent away.
Thomas, now the husband of a dowager, continued to scheme. Catherine tragically died in childbirth on 5 September 1548, which only renewed Thomas’ interest in Elizabeth and it is believed he wanted to marry her. When this came out he was arrested in early 1549 on suspicion of plotting to marry Elizabeth and to overthrow his brother, the lord protector. Elizabeth never admitted to anything regarding Thomas, despite interrogations. Thomas was beheaded on 20 March 1549.
For a while Elizabeth might have been enamoured by his attentions and maybe she even considered marrying him. For me the story was quite unknown and Elizabeth Norton really makes it come alive. It’s an interesting look at the woman who in later life would so adamantly refuse to marry anyone, because for a little while it almost seemed like her life would have been entirely different.
Elizabeth Norton is also the author of England’s Queen’s, Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love, Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Discarded Bride, Elfrida: The First Crowned Queen of England, Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s Obsession, Catherine Parr: Wife, Widow, Mother, Survivor, The Story of the Last Queen of Henry VIII and She Wolves: The Notorious Queens of Medieval England. The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor is available now in the UK and the US.