Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset, was one of the more prickly personalities of the Tudor period, but among her attractive qualities was her devotion to her husband, which he repaid in full. One of the most difficult periods in the couple’s lives was in 1549, when Somerset, who as uncle to King Edward VI had the virtual rule of England as his nephew’s Protector, fell dramatically from power.
Following the unrest of the summer of 1549, relations between Somerset and his fellow councilors had hopelessly deteriorated, and on October 6, Somerset hauled the young king from his comfortable chambers at Hampton Court and rode hard for Windsor Castle, which was unprepared to receive him. (It seems likely that the king, who apparently caught cold on the journey, resented being seized in this manner.) Previously that day, the Protector had sent his unpopular wife away: “About five in the afternoon he sent his wife off to her house, and she went out weeping, very badly handled in words by the courtiers and peasants, who put all this trouble down to her.”
It was in this state of mind that the duchess wrote this letter on October 8, 1549, to William, Lord Paget, one of the duke’s most trusted advisers.
Good Master Comptroller, I have receaved commendacons from yow by my brother, for which I geve yow thankes from a sorrowfull hart as ever woman had. Ah, good lorde, what a miserable vnnaturall tyme is this? What hath my lorde done to any of these noble men? or others? that they shulde thus rage and seke thextremitie to him and his that never had thought in the like towardes any of them. Ha, Master Comptroller, I have ever loved and trusted youe, for that I have seine in yow a perfyte honest frende to my lord who hath always made the same accompt and assuredly bare yow his good will and frendship as yow your selfe hath best tryall. God hath geven yow a great wisdome and a frendly nature. A, good Master Comptroller, for Christes bloodes sake spare not for payne study and wryting as I here yow do, the lyvinge God will prosper yow and yours the better. I knowe yow maye do muche good in these matters beinge a wiseman. Howe can God be content with this disorder to daungier the king and all the realme in sekinge extremities. God must nedes of his rightuousnes sore plage those that seketh these matters. Oh, that I could bere this as I ought to do with patience and quietnes, but it passeth all fraile fleshe to do. For knowynge so well my lordes innocency in all these maters taht they charge him with all, they be so vntrewe and most vnfriendly credyt taht surely it hath bene some wicked persone or persones taht furst sought this great vprore. I saye againe yf I could bere the tyme, I know well and assure my selfe taht God will kepe and defende him from all his enemies, as he hath alwais done hitherto. Good Master Comptroller, comefort my lorde as I trust yow do, both with counsaile and otherwise, for I muche feare he is sore greved at the hart, furst for the kinge and the realme, and as greatly to se these lordes frendeshippes so sclender to him as it doth appear and specially of some, albeit he hath pleasured them all. Alas, that ever any Christian realme shulde be so sclaundered. Thus to ende with all I crie to yow eftesones shewe youe, shewe your selfe like a wurthie counsailour and a servaunt to God and the kinge taht these tumultes might cease.
The tumults did soon cease, but not in the way the duchess would have preferred. By October 11, she was at her brother’s house in Bedington, where Somerset had sent Richard Whalley, a relation of the duchess and one of his supporters, to “re-comfort her.” Somerset, increasingly isolated, surrendered that same day. On October 14, he was imprisoned in the Tower. His wife then devoted herself to trying to win his release. Van der Delft, the imperial ambassador, reported on December 19, 1549, that she was “always in [the] house” of John Dudley, Earl of Warwick (who would later emerge as the most powerful of Edward VI’s councilors), and that she had won him over to her husband’s side. A few days later, on Christmas Day, the duchess was allowed to visit her husband in the Tower “to his no little coumfort.”
After her Tower visit, the duchess continued her efforts on behalf of her husband. Van der Delft reported on January 18, 1550, that “Warwick, who has succeeded in gaining full control of affairs, is openly favourable to the Protector, and their wives exchange banquets and festivities daily.” (Jane Dudley, the Countess of Warwick, and Anne Seymour had known each other for some years: they were among the select group of courtiers who had attended Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine Parr.) On February 6, 1550, Somerset was released from the Tower, where after a stop at the sheriff’s of London, “the duke toke his barge and passed to Savoye wheare my lady hys wyff lyeth and hath kept hur chambor of a long tyme.”
Following the Protector’s release, the Earl of Warwick attempted a reconciliation with Somerset, which the men sealed by arranging the marriage of Warwick’s eldest son to Somerset’s daughter Anne. Van der Delft, however, wrote that it was said that “the two mothers have made the match.” Whatever the truth of this, the wedding between their children was probably the high point of the relations between the two men. By 1551, Somerset was plotting against Warwick, and by October 1551, he was again a prisoner in the Tower. This time, the Duchess of Somerset would not be able to work on her husband’s behalf, for she too was a prisoner. Only in August 1553, when the triumphant Mary I rode into London, would the duchess, widowed when her husband was executed on January 22, 1552, be set free.
Barrett L. Beer, ‘Seymour, Edward, duke of Somerset (c.1500–1552)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2009 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25159, accessed 19 Feb 2012]
Barrett L. Beer and Sybil M. Jack, eds., “The Letters of William, Lord Paget of Beaudesert, 1547-63.” Camden Miscellany XXV, Camden Fourth Series, Volume 13, 1974.
Susan Brigden, ed., “The Letters of Richard Scudamore to Sir Philip Hoby, September 1549-March 1555.” Camden Miscellany XXX, Camden Fourth Series, Volume 39, 1990.
Alan Bryson, “‘The Speciall Men in Every Shere’: The Edwardian Regime, 1547-1553.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of St. Andrews, March 2001.
Alan Bryson, ‘Whalley, Richard (1498/9–1583)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/29161, accessed19 Feb 2012]
Patrick Fraser Tytler, ed., England Under the Reigns of Edward VI and Mary. Volume 1. London: Richard Bentley, 1839.