The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor – Guest Post by Elizabeth Norton

Young Elizabeth IA big welcome to historian Elizabeth Norton who joins us today for a guest post on the subject of her latest book The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor. Over to Elizabeth…

June 1547. The court of Edward VI was stunned by the news that the queen dowager – Catherine Parr – had married the boy king’s uncle. The bridegroom, Thomas Seymour, had eagerly sought a royal bride. He was already disaffected with an unequal share of power, which saw his elder brother become both Lord Protector and governor of the king. After first proposing matches with the two princesses, Mary and Elizabeth, he had settled on their stepmother, joining her household at Chelsea that month.

On entering a household still draped in mourning black for Henry VIII, Thomas found his wife’s thirteen year old stepdaughter, Princess Elizabeth. When Queen Catherine married Thomas, along with the promise in the conventional marriage vows that she would be ‘buxom’ in bed, she vowed to obey him. The fact of her marriage allowed him dominance over every aspect of her person for, as a married woman, she ceased to exist independently in law. Everything that married women owned, down to the clothes on their backs, passed to their husbands, to whom wives were utterly subject. As well as regularly helping himself to his wife’s generous widow’s pension, Seymour also arrived at Chelsea as the house’s new master. No door was locked against him – he held a key to them all.

The first sign of Thomas’s interest in Elizabeth was a dramatic one. Not long after he arrived a Chelsea, he entered her bedchamber for the first time in the early morning, pulling back the bed-curtains with his hand. Leaning into the bed, he called ‘good morrow’, before seeming to pounce, as though he would climb in with her. Stunned and blushing, Elizabeth shrank deeper into the bed, ‘so that he could not come at her’. It was to be the first of many such visits with the girl. On one occasion, the princess who was (as she admitted) ‘no morning woman’, made an effort to rise early, not wanting to be caught by surprise. Yet, he still came, appearing in the doorway dressed in a short night-gown, ‘barelegged and in his slippers’, before again bidding her ‘good morrow’ and asking ‘how she did’. As Elizabeth turned to move away, Thomas reached out to smack her on the back and then ‘familiarly’ on her buttocks. For a girl who blushed even to brush hands with her stepmother’s husband when dancing, this was startling. She fled to her maidens, but Seymour followed, speaking playfully with the girl’s attendants as if nothing were amiss.

The danger to Elizabeth’s reputation of such conduct was very real. Although she was pale skinned and fair like her father, in most other respects she resembled her captivating mother. The princess was fascinated by the mother she could probably not remember, later hiding Anne Boleyn’s portrait in a secret compartment in a ring. But, as the daughter of ‘such a mother’, Elizabeth was expected by many to behave with the impropriety with which her mother had been accused.

The girl’s lady mistress, Kate Ashley, who had once encouraged Seymour’s suit, recognised the danger. She had earlier moved the pallet bed from Elizabeth’s bedchamber at Chelsea so that the girl slept dangerously unchaperoned. This had probably been done so that Kate could share a bed with her husband, rather than constantly supervising the girl, but it looked suspicious. As Seymour’s visits increased, Kate confronted him in the gallery at Hanworth, where the household moved later in the summer. Berating Thomas, she stated that ‘these things were complained of, and that My Lady was evil spoken of’. Seymour was having none of it, swearing fiercely ‘God’s precious soul!’, before declaring that ‘he would tell My Lord Protector how it slandered him, and he would not leave it, for he meant no evil’. There was little else she could do.

Catherine Parr, too, failed to protect Elizabeth from Seymour’s growing interest. She was a woman of great passions, but was under Thomas’s thumb, anxious to do nothing to antagonise him even if this meant persuading herself to look the other way. Seymour expected his wife to do as she had promised and obey her husband. He would even start petty quarrels as a means of testing her devotion and her willingness to submit. Once, in the highly charged summer of 1547, he accused her of infidelity after finding the door to Catherine’s chamber shut just before a groom emerged, carrying a coal basket. Although he later claimed to be feigning jealousy, Seymour flew into a rage.

He was rumoured to be an ‘oppressor’ in his domestic arrangements, and Catherine, though she loved him, dared not vex him. The most she would do was join in some of the early morning romps herself, perhaps in an attempt to convince herself that all was as it should be. Nonetheless, she also admonished Kate to keep a closer eye on her charge while, in the autumn of 1547, she left Elizabeth behind at Hanworth when the household moved to London in time for the opening of parliament. She could not keep them apart indefinitely, however. On finding the pair locked in an embrace in June 1548, she finally sent the girl away.

Temptation of Elizabeth TudorFor propriety’s sake, Thomas accompanied Elizabeth part of the way to Cheshunt, where it had been hurriedly arranged that she would stay. While the pair never met again, this was far from the end of the story of his temptation of Elizabeth Tudor. On 5 September 1548, the thirty-six year old queen died in childbirth, leaving Thomas Seymour, once again, ‘the noblest man unmarried in this land’. He had no plans to remain that way for long, with his thoughts – and his ambitions – turning squarely towards Elizabeth.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for such a wonderful article. I have just reviewed Elizabeth’s book over on our review site – click here to read it now. It’s a brilliant read and I highly recommend it.

The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor is available in the US on Kindle and to pre-order as a hardback – click here, and as a hardback and kindle in the UK – click here.

Changing the subject… If you fancy making a Tudor lambswool/wassail as a change from mulled wine then do check out my video over at the Tudor Society – click here to view it now.

Related Post

9 thoughts on “The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor – Guest Post by Elizabeth Norton”
  1. My heart breaks whenever I recall this part of Elizabeth’s life! To be blunt, today we would call this child sexual abuse. I know sexual mores and women’s rights (or, lack thereof, as the case may be) were different in those days, and the only controversy at the time would be the fact that the sexual activity was premarital. Still, as a loved one of someone who has suffered and survived such atrocious behavior at another’s hands, I cannot help but well up with sorrow upon hearing of cases like this one. Thank God Elizabeth was ultimately a survivor in this instance, as she was in many other areas of her life. Such endurance is the main reason I admire her.

  2. In response to the information just given, I am quite literally appalled that the Royal men of that day were so brash, arrogant, and very bold. And to think that Thomas Seymour could be that way sure changes my opinion of him and I applaud Elizabeth. It’s bad enough today to hear that a child that has been abused. Or even a woman has been beaten by her husband or boyfriend. Tudor men were not the gentlemen that Hollywood portrays them to be in the movies. Such as “Young Bess” (portrayed by Jean Simmons) who portrays young Elizabeth. Thomas Seymour in this movie (portrayed by Stewart Granger, a British subject), Seymour is very kind, helpful, polite, very brave, nothing like the true Thomas Seymour. I do not know if their writers knew enough to check into history about what he was really like, but they sure doctored the movie up to show the opposite of who he really was.

    1. Hi Linda yes iv seen that film and I loved it when I was a child and still think it’s very good entertainment but Hollywood had a way of glamourising it’s leading men or women and he was just an arrogant ladies man, an opportunist who wanted to marry into royalty, he knew Catherine was in love with him but tried the princesses Mary and Elizabeth first and when that failed he tried his charm on the Queen, it’s disgusting behaviour and by no means was he a decent man, he tried to abduct his nephew the young king Edward and shot his little dog possibly by mistake, but he was a very dangerous man and it was inevitable that he ended up where he did, on the scaffold.

  3. Hi Linda and Claire-
    Lovely article and I look forward to the book. Your style of writing takes me back and I feel almost as frightened and confused as Elizabeth must have felt. I am wondering prior to reading the whole story, is it true that Seymour and Parr (I suspect in her efforts to please him) actually chased Elizabeth in their garden and cut shredds in her gown? If so, how on earth could that have been acceptable?


    1. Let us not lose sight of one thing. Elizabeth was the child of a disgraced and discredited Queen. We do not have to think her guilty! I certainly do not. Henry had bastardised the Princess Mary in order to get at Anne Boleyn and over night Elizabeth went from being “My Lady Princess” to being “Lady Elizabeth”. That Katherine Parr took her with her speaks volumes. Nobody wanted her. Katherine was a true protestant with the zeal of a reformer. Edward was King and a petulant one at that. Imagine if you will a pre-pubescent teenage boy with the power of life and death over his people.That his express wishes went ignored on his death shows that the court was ruled by the strongest. He wanted Jane Grey and a protestant succession and it is common knowledge that she died on the block along with her husband when his sister Mary seized the throne. To popular acclaim. Turbulent times – a little slap and tickle with a paedophile for a step father must have been the least of her problems. That she survived and seems as if she came out relatively unscathed. seems to me to be wonderful. All the Seymours were a bit “iffy” I wept real tears when I realised that not only did Katherine die in childbirth but that her little daughter was also cast adrift upon the kindness of strangers. Daddy after all, lost his head in more ways than one.

      1. The wishes of Edward vi were not ignored on his death, that’s the problem, better if they had have been. He wasn’t a petulant or pre pubescent boy by then, he was almost sixteen and knew exactly what he wanted and he wanted an heir he believed was legitimate and Protestant which is why he chose Jane Grey. Actually her mother was the real heir afterwards but Frances was made to stand aside and she later willingly carried her daughter’s train. Henry had made the three siblings his heirs, without restoring his daughters to their legitimate status, in 1544, with the House of Suffolk and then of Clifford, so on succeeding in turn. Edward of course could change things and he did, naming Jane and her male heirs. He considered Mary out as not legitimate and Catholic and Elizabeth as illegitimate, even if she was of the reformed tradition. We don’t use the term Protestant at this time in England as that reference was to Germany. However, there were German Evangelicals in England as well as many types of reformers. The collective noun was Evangelical or Reformed. Elizabeth wasn’t a Protestant either as she wasn’t actually that extreme. She liked Catholic ceremony. She hated Puritanism. Her faith is actually still developing during the 1540s and 50s but it fits within the reformed tradition.

        Jane Grey as far as Edward was concerned was young, fertile, now just married and had the Tudor blood via her grandmother, Mary Tudor, Henry’s younger sister, Plantagenet blood via her father, a Woodville descendent and of course her mother. Jane was also a fervent Evangelical and possibly as close to a Protestant you can get, she was also legitimate and he had no doubt about her abilities. He was influenced by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and Head of the Council, her new father by law, but he wasn’t forced to name her his heir. The Devise was made formal by the Council, the Judges heard it read and approved it, the final documents were prepared for approval by Parliament, then Edward died. The Devise was therefore never given legitimate legal status. Mary and Elizabeth were still his lawful heirs by right of birth and Parliament.

        Mary didn’t seize the throne, she was the legitimate heir. Her parents were legally married, regardless of Henry Viii and Thomas Cranmer and the people supported her. Four pages were required to explain who Jane was to the silent crowd when she was proclaimed Queen, nothing was needed for Mary. For thirteen days, four of them in secret, there was a lot of trouble and chaos and Northumberland led an army to capture Mary who rallied her own. Jane signed orders as Queen regarding her orders to Northumberland and her father who also went forth but returned. She signed letters calling all who supported Mary as traitors, she wanted to destroy her and she was no innocent victim. Mary in the end to popular acclaim was proclaimed Queen, won the day and was restored as the legal, legitimate and lawful Queen. The Council and later Parliament confirmed her as such and made her legitimate again. Elizabeth was with her through all of this and remained at her side until the affair with Wyatt which cost a forgiven Jane and her husband and father their heads.

        Elizabeth wasn’t neglected by her father. She may not have been highly favoured but she wasn’t neglected either and after Jane Seymour became Queen and the former was reconciled she was also often at Court. She was there as often as Mary, who had permanent rooms there, during the rest of the reign and especially under Katherine Parr. She went to live with the Seymour family when Katherine married Tom Seymour, as did Jane Grey, as his wards. We don’t really know the truth of what went on and these tales do give a bad impression of a sexual predatory man, but he wasn’t a paedophile. Elizabeth was fourteen and legally not a child, but she was still a very young, vulnerable adolescence, barely a woman, who didn’t want his attention. However, we are only being told about these allegations via rumours and reports made by two servants under the threat of harm. No doubt Seymour fancied the growing Elizabeth, his intentions were hardly those of a gentleman and he later wanted to marry her. She couldn’t marry without the consent of the Council, she was an heiress, she was very rich and one of two prime keys to the throne. His actions were treason. Katherine Parr did the right thing and sent her away, because she carried her husband’s child. His so called attention to Elizabeth who was flattered at times, revulsion showed at others, confusion and fear at others, was disruptive and disrespectful. However, it wasn’t that of a paedophile and we have no evidence, beyond the frightened testimony of a servant to say that he was.

  4. Thanks for a fascinating article. I look forward to reading more! I think Seymour had a great lust for life (and danger and women!) —one has to wonder if he had the sense God gave a goose. Just look how he ended up! But I do think this strange behavior did mark Elizabeth for life. She seemed attracted to men of action, perhaps much like Seymour. The real victim here, though, is Catherine Parr, who finally married for love, saw her new husband flirt ridiculously with her step-daughter, then died in childbirth, leaving her own little girl to the care of strangers. Very sad.

    1. Catherine is the real victim? What Seymour did to Catherine was awful. But, Elizabeth by any standards was sexually assaulted. How is she not a victim in this?

      1. Surely both ladies are victims if Seymour really was attempting to abuse his step daughter. Elizabeth was fourteen, going on fifteen, the Tudor age for sexual activity within marriage to be considered acceptable which made her a viable target as now she would be deemed sexually mature. Tom Seymour wanted to have his cake and eat it, but we have to be cautious over the evidence presented here.

        It was reported that Tom Seymour came into the room of Elizabeth and sat on her bed, half dressed in the middle of the night, which was highly inappropriate. Even if she was older it was inappropriate because she was a Princess of the ruling family and this was disrespectful. It was later reported that he again came and tickled her while she was in bed, crossing the line and touching Elizabeth in an inappropriate manner. His attentions were not welcome and Elizabeth it was reported demanded he leave. However, he continued to do it and became more familiar, crossing the line into what we would deem abuse. Another report said that one day Katherine Parr and Tom Seymour saw Elizabeth in the garden and both assaulted her, cutting at her dress. Again, Katherine found her husband and step daughter kissing and sent Elizabeth away. But what was the truth here?

        Well, actually most of this may well have been invented or misinterpreted. The only evidence comes from two servants of the Princess who were investigated and interrogated by the Privy Council and they were bullied into giving up this information. There may have been some truth in all of these stories but many details are also considered fantasy. It is unlikely that the gown cutting incident actually happened, but there may be some truth in the night time longings of Tom Seymour and his visits to Elizabeth. Certainly, there was a trace of affection between them and he did fancy Elizabeth. Katherine is another victim because she loved Tom Seymour before she married King Henry Viii. She adored her husband and he had betrayed her trust. She caught her husband and step daughter in a compromising embrace. She was a wronged wife. She was pregnant with his child at the time and had no choice but to send Elizabeth away for her own honour. It wasn’t a punishment, it was to protect her.

        After the death of Katherine Parr, Seymour proposed marriage to Elizabeth who saud she would consider it but never marry without the consent of the King her brother and the Council. She would be involved in intrigue if she did, disobeying Royal protocol and she also stood to lose a fortune. Elizabeth had been given much land and wealth by her father but she lost all of it if she married without Royal consent. Seymour intrigued to marry Elizabeth regardless. It was part of the reason he was arrested and executed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *