Unlucky in Love

Henry VIII’s widow Kateryn Parr married the king’s third wife’s brother Thomas Seymour on 4 May 1547, just a few months after her royal husband had bitten the dust.

Kateryn Parr Thomas Seymour miniture by Holbein

The former queen had loved Seymour even before she had been coerced into marrying Henry, and thus she must have been very happy, but frankly she could have done a lot better. Seymour was a popinjay and an opportunistic skank. One he had married Kateryn, he started making the moves on her former stepdaughter Princess Elizabeth, who lived with them under Kateryn’s care. Seymour started “tickling” the young princess while she was still in her bed and it is thought that he was kissing her (or trying to kiss her) when his wife caught him in the act. Shortly thereafter, the princess was sent to another home – some say it was because Kateryn was jealous of the teen titan, and some say it was because Kateryn was trying to protect her. Either way, the now-pregnant Kateryn had to deal with the fact her husband was making the moves on her adolescent ward.

Elizabeth_I_when_a_Princess circa 1546

Although the fault for Seymour’s presumed infatuation and attempts to woo Elizabeth has frequently been laid the doorstep of the young princess, as though she was a coquettish man-eater, this is malarkey. As I wrote for the January 2016 edition of Tudor Life Magazine:

Past and modern historians have bolstered the idea that Kateryn was envious of her stepdaughter’s sexual allure by expressing a belief that Elizabeth was a teen temptress. For example, author Gaia Sevadio claims Seymour “seduced” Elizabeth, and Sevadio also claims that “judging from her character, it is more likely that it was Elizabeth who seduced him” (p.191). Not only is there no evidence that Seymour succeeded in having sex with the young girl living under his roof, the suggestion that the 14 year old princess was the active agent in any putative sexual relationship the 40 year old man – one who was moreover married to her surrogate mother — makes one’s flesh creep. If (and it is a big if) Elizabeth had sex with Seymour then it was rape and abuse, not consensual intercourse. Blaming Elizabeth for her own possible rape is slut shaming at its nadir.

Kateryn gave birth to her only child on 30 August 1548, a little girl who was named Mary. Sadly, the former queen developed childbed fever and passed away a few days later on 5 September. It was claimed she called Seymour to task for his behavior before she died, but that is unconfirmed. If she did scold him for his infidelity (of heart and mind if not in body) then I think she was perfectly justified. Regardless of his lack of spousal ideals, she left him everything she owned in her will and claimed she “wished it were 1000 times more”. She must have loved him until the very end.

Without his wife, Seymour seems to have lost what little discretion he had. The idiot tried to get Princess Elizabeth to marry him while Kateryn’s body was still cooling and tried to kidnap/rescue King Edward VI from the control of the Lord Protector. Perhaps Seymour thought that because the Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, was also his elder brother that there was a limited amount of trouble he could get into. Unfortunately for the widower, Edward Seymour loved running the kingdom more than he loved any family member and he forthwith beheaded his younger brother on 17 March 1549.

Now baby Mary Seymour was a seven month old orphan, but she would not live to be one long; the poor little girl appears to have died as a toddler. She was the last chance of some happiness coming of the union of Kateryn Parr and Thomas Seymour, which adds an extra layer of tragedy to her death.



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