Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, judicially murdered his own brother, Thomas Seymour, in the name of their nephew King Edward VI on 20 March 1549. Why do something so vile as to kill a sibling? For power, nothing more.
As I explain in my book, Edward VI in a Nutshell:
The third surviving Seymour brother, Thomas was dissatisfied with his position when compared to Somerset’s. Since Edward’s coronation, Thomas had spent his time trying to seduce/molest his wife’s thirteen year old ward, the future Queen Elizabeth I, and trying to worm his way further into the young king’s affections with gifts of money and praise. Thomas flattered Edward, and encouraged his nephew to take over the reins of government, probably because he thought his nephew would be more generous than Somerset. Moreover, Thomas was insistent before the Council that he should become Governor of the King’s Person to balance out his older brother’s role as Lord Protector. Thomas was bold enough to be ambitious, but not smart enough to be clever about it. His scheming for power was too overt, and too clumsy. The final straw was when Thomas actually attempted to ‘rescue’ (or kidnap) Edward from Somerset’s control, shooting the king’s dog when it barked and killing it. Why was Thomas willing to act so rashly? Perhaps he thought that Somerset would hesitate before taking drastic measures against his own brother? If so, he thought wrong. Thomas Seymour was condemned to death by an Act of Attainder and beheaded … The execution without trial was unpopular, and it the fact he was willing to kill such a close family member reflected poorly on Somerset.
Since Somerset was getting a lot of blow-back from the execution, he decided to the best way to make himself look less like a fratricidal monster was to slaughter his brother’s reputation as well. Of course, there was plenty of TRUE things that make Thomas seem like a skank from our prospective – like the fact he kept making the moves on the 13 year old Elizabeth Tudor (and perhaps molested her) when he was married to her stepmother, Kateryn Parr. However, reality was not Somerset’s weapon of choice. Instead, Somerset spread the tale that his brother had sent both Elizabeth and Mary Tudor letters bidding them to rise up in rebellion against King Edward VI. This is a complete taradiddle; Edward VI was the source of Thomas’s standing as much as he was Somerset’s and nether man would have ever hurt him.
With Somerset controlling England as de facto king during Edward VI’s childhood, there was no one willing to publically dispute the disreputable tales … not even Mary and Elizabeth, who knew for sure they were not called on to lead an insurrection by the doomed Seymour. Moreover, even Thomas Seymour’s friends and men he had patronized turned on him after death. In On This Day in Tudor History, author Clair Ridgeway points out that Hugh Latimer, Seymour’s friend and personal cleric, preached a sermon against him. Latimer claimed Seymour was an greedy, seditious, atheist and said, “I would there were no more [like him] in England. Well he is gone … surely he was a wicked man and the realm is well rid of him.”
What did King Edward think of this? He did not seem to be overly fond of his opportunistic Seymour uncle, despite Thomas’s attempts to win the king’s favor. The king showed no qualms about testifying in court that Thomas had given him money (albeit perhaps not understanding that this could result in a death sentence), and was apparently unmoved when Thomas was beheaded. In his personal diary, the king mentioned only that “the Lord Sudeley, Admiral of England, was condemned to death and died the March ensuing” (Loach, 1999). If nothing else, this was a kinsman he had known since his infancy who was being lost to the axe; why not more show of grief? For a deeply religious person like King Edward, it had to have at least led to reflections on the short and brutal nature of life. Perhaps Edward no longer regarded Thomas as a ‘true’ uncle, since the man had shot Edward’s beloved spaniel in a potential kidnapping attempt? Or perhaps Somerset whispered into the king’s ear, assuring the boy of Thomas’s evil and Somerset’s own devotion?
Somerset would not outlive his brother by long. Once he was removed from the read of the Privy Council by a coup, he inadvisably plotted against the councilors to regain his psuedo-throne as sole regent to Edward VI and was summarily executed on 22 January 1552.
I admit I think of the self-implosion of the Seymour family as karmic justice for their lethal plots against Anne Boleyn. They were willing to pay for their advancement and wealth with her life, but in the end they also paid for it with their own.