The Tudor Society

16 January 1549 – Thomas Seymour tries to kidnap Edward VI

Thomas Seymour

Thomas Seymour

On this day in history, 16th January 1549, Edward VI's uncle, Thomas Seymour, was alleged to have broken into the King's apartments at Hampton Court Palace to kidnap the young King. As he entered the royal residence, it is said that he disturbed the King's beloved spaniel who started barking at him. In panic, Seymour is said to have shot the dog, a noise which alerted one of the guards who then apprehended Seymour.

One of the primary sources for this eventise François van der Delft, the imperial ambassador, who reported it to the Emperor on 27 January 1549:

Sire, I have heard here that the Admiral of England, with the help of some people about the court, attempted to outrage the person of the young King by night, and has been taken to the Tower. The alarm was given by the gentleman who sleeps in the King's chamber, who, awakened by the barking of the dog that lies before the King's door, cried out “Help! Murder!”

Everybody rushed in; but the only thing they found was the lifeless corpse of the dog. Suspicion points to the Admiral, because he had scattered the watch that night on several errands, and because it has been noticed that he has some secret plot on hand, hoping to marry the second daughter of the late King, the Lady Elizabeth, who is also under grave suspicion. On my arrival in England, however, I will write the truth more fully to your Majesty, having nothing now to go upon beyond the information given by those who repeat common report.

Another is a letter dated 15 February 1549 from John Burcher in Strasbourg to Henry Bullinger in which he wrote that Seymour had "attempted, by an unheard of treachery and cruelty, to destroy with his own impious hands, in the deep silence of the night, our innocent king". Burcher related how Seymour had obtained a key to the royal bedchamber from one of the king's chamberlains, but that things went wrong when he attempted to get to the king because Edward's dog, which was just outside the king's chamber, "betrayed the murderer by his barking". Burcher went on to explain that Seymour killed the dog and was just about to kill the king when he was found by one of the king's guards. Seymour explained that he was simply checking that Edward was properly guarded, but his explanation fell on deaf ears and he was apprehended.

Seymour was taken to the Tower of London. Seymour confessed to saying to John Fowler, a gentleman of the privy chamber, that "if he might have the king in his custodie as Mr. Pag[et] had he wolde be glad, and that he thought a man might bring him through the galery to his chamber, and so to his howse," but that he had said this "meaning no hurte." Seymour had used Fowler as a go-between, sending gifts of money to the king to try and stay close to him.

Thomas Seymour was not only accused of trying to kidnap his nephew, he was also accused of plotting to marry the teenage Elizabeth and put her on the throne. As her husband he would then have been made Lord Protector, just like his brother was for Edward VI. He was interrogated in the Tower and examined before the Privy Council and on the 25th February a bill of attainder was introduced into Parliament and lawyers argued that Seymour's offences ‘were in the compasse of High Treason’. The bill was passed on the 5th March and Thomas Seymour was executed on Tower Hill on the 20th March 1549.

Had Seymour been trying to kidnap the king so that he could arrange a marriage between Edward and Lady Jane Grey? He had said to Dorset, Jane's father, that Edward would marry Jane "if he might ones get the king at libertye" and it was alleged that the other part of this plan was for Seymour to marry Elizabeth. He could then make himself Protector, removing his older brother from power.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. What was Seymour trying to do that night? Is there a possibility that he was framed to stop him having influence over his nephew? Was he a foolish man who'd let ambition go to his head?

Notes and Sources

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