For the past few installments of this newsletter, we’ve been looking at weird, wacky, and eccentric historical assholes whose life stories bring me joy. But this week’s subject is the recipient of an award we have distributed many times together:
We’re going back to my Tudor England roots for this one, so please give a warm, welcoming middle finger to today’s guest:
Thomas Seymour, AKA One of My Top 5 Least Favorite Tudor Men
If you’ve heard of Thomas Seymour at all, it’s probably because of the women in his life (which would have pissed him off no end, frankly). He was the older brother of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife. Eventually, he married Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife. In other words, he’s one of the many Henry VIII Peripheral Guys Who Were All Named Thomas. I would argue, though, that he’s the worst of the Thomases.
If you’ve listened to the new Broadway musical SIX, Catherine Parr’s song is about Thomas Seymour. How much she loved him, how they could have had a life together, if she hadn’t been forced to marry big bad Henry VIII. And don’t get me wrong. Henry sucks.
But Thomas Seymour is an asshole, not a softboi star-crossed lover, and this is the hill upon which I will die.
So let’s take it back to the beginning. Thomas Seymour was born in 1508 at Wolf Hall (yes, that Wolf Hall), about a year before his sister Jane. By the time he reached his early twenties, he was gallivanting around Europe in the service of one Sir Francis Bryan—which, if you were with me for last year’s Sir Francis Bryan episode, really tells you everything you need to know about what kind of Tudor frat boy Thomas Seymour was.
Thomas met Henry VIII in about 1532 or so during a trip to France. The king, upon meeting him, reportedly said that Thomas was “armed with such lust…that he could please a bride well in all points.” Which is, frankly, a fucked-up thing to say about a guy you just met, but also underlines my main point that Thomas Seymour thought with his dick and not with his brain.
In 1534 or so, Henry began to tire of his marriage with then-queen Anne Boleyn, and his eye landed on Thomas’s younger sister Jane. Was Thomas scheming behind the scenes to get his sister on the throne, so that he could become one of the most powerful dudes in the kingdom? I think so, but I hate him, so I’m biased.
Anyway, after Anne Boleyn was beheaded, King Henry married Jane. And when Jane had Henry’s only legitimate son—the soon-to-become Edward VI—that made Thomas Seymour the future king’s uncle.
If there’s anything that Richard III or The Lion King have taught us, it’s that you should never trust a future king’s uncle.
Unfortunately, Jane died soon after giving birth, and Henry went on to marry a handful more times. But Thomas was still the uncle of the future king! That was something!
Trouble was, Thomas Seymour was the fourth of six Seymour brothers. So if anyone was really going to benefit from being the future king’s uncle, it would be his older brother Edward Seymour. Presumably Edward Seymour owned one of those “Number-One Tudor Uncle” mugs.
So Thomas had to find a new way to stay powerful. And being a horny sonofabitch, he did.
A Sub-Parr Husband
After Henry VIII died in 1547, Thomas Seymour started poking around for a well-connected person to marry. His first idea was to marry Henry’s second daughter, Princess Elizabeth. You know, the one who would become Queen Elizabeth I. The one who, at this moment in time, was thirteen years old.
When the king’s Regency Council rightly struck this idea down as gross and bad, Thomas Seymour came up with a Plan B. In quick succession, he courted and married Henry VIII’s surviving widow, Catherine Parr.
(Note: Wife Four, Anne of Cleves, was also still alive at this time, but she was busy spending Henry’s money, owning her own palace, and basically being the fucking legend she always was. She has no part in this story, and good on her for it.)
Legend has it that Thomas Seymour and Catherine Parr had been in love with each other before the death of the king. Maybe they had been casually together the year before the king proposed to Catherine. That’s where SIX got its whole “star-crossed romance” thing.
We don’t know if this is true. Frankly, I don’t care. This isn’t a love match. Can you imagine a Valentine’s Day card that says “I used to think you were hot, and now that your husband is dead and I’ve been told I can’t marry your thirteen-year-old daughter-in-law, wanna bang so I can inherit your jewels?”
Thomas Seymour was a power-hungry little dweeb who used people, especially women, to get what he wanted. I cannot imagine he was a good husband. I hope for Catherine’s sake he was as hot as all the primary sources say he was, because God, she deserved to get something out of all of this.
No Jokes, Just Bad Shit
[CW for this section: CSA]
After the wedding, Thomas Seymour moved into Catherine Parr’s house in Chelsea. The bad thing was, Catherine Parr was also Princess Elizabeth’s legal guardian, so that meant that Thomas, Catherine, and Elizabeth were all living in the same house together. This went exactly as bad as you think it did, especially after Thomas got Catherine pregnant.
Historians have uncovered letters suggesting that Thomas Seymour molested Elizabeth, possibly with Catherine’s knowledge. I won’t go into the details because they’re awful, but if there is a hell, I hope Thomas Seymour is having a very bad time in it.
Elizabeth was sent to stay with a different noble family about a year after Thomas moved in, and good for her.
Uncle Tom’s Treason
When Catherine Parr died giving birth to her child with Thomas Seymour, she left all her worldly possessions and wealth to him. As far as I know, historians don’t suspect him of murdering her, but I’m just saying, I’d believe it.
So, newly single and once again foiled in his plan to gain power in the kingdom, Thomas Seymour threw caution to the winds and decided to really fucking go for it. And by “it,” I mean “high treason.”
Thomas Seymour started hanging around his nephew, now King Edward VI, trying to become the kid’s best friend and get himself named Lord Protector. If he could manage it, this would give him more power than anyone else in the kingdom, which was all he’d ever wanted. The current Lord Protector, though, was not at all interested in giving the job to Thomas, and he forbade the young king from meeting with him.
But one night in 1549, Thomas Seymour tried to break into King Edward VI’s rooms and kidnap him. Like a fucking idiot. It didn’t work, and he shot Edward VI’s dog in his desperate attempt to escape.
As if you needed another reason to hate him. He literally murdered a puppy.
Fortunately, Thomas Seymour was caught and immediately sent to the Tower of London, where he was charged with 33 counts of treason and executed on March 20, 1549.
When she heard about Thomas Seymour’s death, Princess Elizabeth reportedly said “This day died a man of much wit and very little judgment.”
That sound you just heard? Was me, reaching 450 years into the past to give Elizabeth a high-five.
I’ll be doing a live chat tomorrow (Sunday, 4/3) with the lovely folks at Paper Lantern Writers. Stop by at 4pm CT if you’d like to hear me talk about Elizabethan history, snarky one-liners, and other things histfic. The YouTube livestream will live here.
You can also still register for my historical fiction virtual writing workshop with Bookends & Beginnings on April 26, should you care to!
And lastly, I’m doing an occasional costume drama discussion podcast called Vulgarpiece Theater with Ann Foster of Vulgar History and YA author Lana Wood Johnson. Our conversation about Shakespeare in Love is available for free, and all other episodes are on the Vulgar History Patreon. Next week’s episode will cover The Affair of the Necklace, a frankly awful film about Jeanne de la Motte in which Christopher Walken plays the clairvoyant Italian leader of the 18th-century Illuminati. It’ll be a time.
Be well, all, and take five minutes this weekend to wish Thomas Seymour a very bad day.