The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor (8 page)

BOOK: The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor
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The problem of how to meet and correspond was a very real one, but Catherine and Thomas were soon forced to put all thoughts of gaining acceptance for their marriage aside. First and foremost, Thomas was Lord Admiral, and he relished the adventure of the role and the outlet it gave to his restless spirit. In April word reached London that a particularly notorious corsair, one Thompson of Calais, had sailed with a fleet of Scottish and French pirates and taken the Scilly Isles by force.
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The rocky islands, lying some thirty miles off the western tip of Cornwall, were strategically important, since they effectively commanded the entrance to the English Channel. Their windswept isolation conferred protection on them and made them dangerous in the wrong hands. Thompson, with his seven or eight ships safely nestled among the rocks of his island fortress, had free rein to plunder merchant ships as they travelled between England and Spain. This was a dangerous and lawless situation, and one that could not be allowed to continue. Seymour was issued with instructions to grant the pirates a pardon, if they would only surrender to him.

Thomas Seymour duly sailed for Cornwall, where he took up residence in the Captain’s House at St Michael’s Mount. He sent some of his ships on ahead of him to challenge the privateers, waiting impatiently for news on this rocky tidal island off the Cornish coast. Against a chorus of shrieking of gulls and the sounds of the sea rushing over the slate and granite of the shore, he sat down on 20 April 1547 to write to his brother, informing him that ‘as soon as wind will serve’ he would sail to the Scilly Isles, ‘where I am sure to land safe’ since the fine galleass the
Greyhound
and the rest of her fellows were already there.
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Galleasses – larger adaptations of the trusty galleys – were the pinnacle of sixteenth-century naval technology. They had in fact already pacified the pirates, making Seymour’s visit a matter of surveying his victorious fleet.

He intended to take order of his ships there before returning to Portsmouth and then hurrying, overland, to London and the court. It was the type of campaign he liked best: short and exciting, with opportunity for glory. There was also the chance of a profit. It was probably in Scilly that Seymour struck a deal with Thompson and the other pirates. They could have free rein in their illegal endeavours in return for a share of the booty – which was quickly to make the Lord Admiral rich.

Thomas Seymour revelled in his role as Admiral that spring, becoming familiar with the ports in which he docked, though many of them were ‘frontier towns’ exuding ‘beggary, misery, and desolation’ as they decayed through lack of investment.
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The local people depended on the sea in all manner of ways. The poor there were employed in knitting nets and making and mending ships and tackle, as well as in fishing. Among those thronging the ports were the pirates. The Lord Admiral, who was popular with all, was soon on friendly terms with some of them.
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He returned to London in May, a conquering hero. Unlike his earlier attempts at naval command, Thomas’s Admiralty had got off to an excellent start. In addition to the Scilly success, in March his fleet, sailing without him, had captured three fine Scottish ships.
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Even the news that the Scots had – in revenge – captured some English vessels could not dampen Thomas’s jubilation.
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There was, though, a price to pay. While enjoying life on the high seas, Thomas Seymour was also being slowly manoeuvred away from any pretence of power. With the removal of Wriothesley, the Protector had manufactured a Council of men who ‘all worship him’.
17
Somerset sometimes went to farcical lengths to maintain his pre-eminence. When, early in May 1547, Ambassador Van der Delft’s wife gave birth to a son, the diplomat asked Princess Mary to stand as godmother and both Somerset and the young king to act as godfathers.
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It was, of course, out of the question that the boy-king should attend in person, while Mary – who was still grieving for her father – sent Lady Russell to act as her stand-in. Somerset also needed a proxy, so the Earl of Warwick arrived to play the part of the Protector. Yet in spite of this, standing beside Warwick at the font was none other than Somerset himself – who had insisted on representing the king. It was a ridiculous scene, but the Protector was single-mindedly determined ‘to take the first place on every occasion’. Thomas Seymour, who lacked his brother’s abilities and relentless single-mindedness, surely had no real hope of such power.

Thomas and Catherine still desired, though, to be part of the new regime, if Somerset would only distribute some of his power. By May 1547, they had decided to try to obtain the Protector’s support for their marriage – without admitting that it had, in fact, already taken place. The conceit was that Thomas would ask his brother to speak to Catherine in favour of an intended marriage. It was an uncertain course and Thomas was ‘in some fear how to frame’ Somerset to speak for him, as he admitted to Catherine’s brother-in-law Sir William Herbert.
19
Herbert, who was unaware of the reality of the marriage, was surprised to hear of Thomas’s intentions towards the queen. Catherine came to stay at Baynard’s Castle for a few days in early May, where Herbert informed her of Thomas’s interest.
20
Catherine startled him even further, by appearing unperturbed at the idea of such a suit. Indeed, she became indignant at the possibility that Somerset might deny Thomas’s request, declaring that his refusal of his brother’s suit would ‘make his folly more manifest to the world’. She was a queen and not prepared to beg. She wrote to Thomas that it was sufficient to ask his brother’s aid only once, and ‘after, to cease’. Her own plan was somewhat different. She wanted Thomas to obtain a letter in their favour from her stepson King Edward as well as the support of the Council, ‘which thing obtained shall be no small shame to your brother and loving sister, in case they do not the like’. In other words, Catherine wanted to go over Somerset’s head. Her husband, however, counselled her to wait.

The couple continued to meet in secret, but their encounters, though passionate, remained all too brief. Thomas’s longing for his wife’s company also drew him towards her sister, the pretty, charming and cosmopolitan Anne Herbert, whom Thomas already referred to as his own ‘sister’ in letters to Catherine. Anne was clever and urbane, corresponding with scholars and reading Cicero for pleasure.
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She had also spent a life of service at court. At thirty-one, she was still not past her prime, a woman in whose company, Seymour assured his wife, ‘in default of yours, I shall shorten the weeks in these parts: which heretofore were three days longer, in every of them, than they were under the plummet in Chelsea’.
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Time ticked by slowly for Thomas when he was away from Catherine.

Anne and her husband invited Thomas to dine with them on 16 May 1547, following Catherine’s stay in their house. As he sat privately with William Herbert, a bluff self-made man, whose father’s illegitimacy had proved no bar to his son’s rise to the Royal Council, the talk turned to Catherine.
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Herbert was a ‘mad fighting fellow’, a hothead whose glittering military career had begun with a midnight flit to France after being accused of murder. Age had mellowed him, but it had not calmed his restless spirit: he spoke as he saw. His wife, too, was determined to be outspoken at the meeting. She arrived later, bringing a message from her sister, addressed to Thomas.

Seymour had to be careful, since he was unaware of just how much Anne knew. When she chided him for visiting the queen at Chelsea, he immediately denied it, saying that he had merely passed Catherine’s garden on his way to the Bishop of London’s house. He and Anne stood silently for a moment before, smiling, Catherine’s sister told him other details of the courtship that could only have come from the queen. Aware that he had been caught out with a lie, ‘like a false wench’, Seymour now admitted everything.
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It was a burden off his shoulders: there were now four people in on the secret, and the Herberts rejoiced at the match. They also offered practical aid, since Anne volunteered to pass Thomas’s letters – as though they were from her – on to her sister.
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Seymour was delighted. He stayed up past midnight, when he returned home to write a lengthy letter to his wife. Seeing Anne, who resembled Catherine, had only increased his desire for the queen. He asked Catherine to send him her portrait in miniature, so that it ‘shall give me occasion to think on the friendly cheer that I shall receive when my suit shall be at an end’.

Thomas soon discovered that the queen had also confided her love for him to her friend, the romantic Duchess of Suffolk, who joked with one of Catherine’s servants that she wished Thomas could marry the queen and become his master.
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Word was spreading. But Thomas Seymour had still not informed his brother.

The couple decided to press on with their attempts to speak to Somerset. And so, in late May, while the court was still at St James’s Palace, Thomas made his third approach to his brother regarding matrimony. This time, he was humble, requesting only that Somerset ask Catherine to bear him goodwill and her favour towards marriage.
26
Once again, however, Seymour had badly misjudged his brother who – although he agreed to speak to Catherine – offered no support.

Three months earlier, on 7 February 1547, Catherine had been gratified that the young King Edward, despite the weight of his new responsibilities, had found the time to write to her, acknowledging her ‘remarkable and daily love for me’.
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But she had heard nothing since, and her attempts to meet with him were always postponed. Somerset had no wish to readmit the queen into his nephew’s orbit and affections.
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She nevertheless wrote regularly, ‘beseeching’ some response and reiterating her ‘everlasting love’ for King Henry and her goodwill towards Edward. In May, she commissioned portraits of both herself and her stepson as proof of the continuing bond between them.
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She could not, for propriety’s sake, be ignored, so Somerset finally gave the king permission to write to his stepmother on 30 May: it was the first letter that Catherine had received from him in nearly four months. In it, the boy sent his apologies, explaining that he had not written before as he had hoped daily to see her.
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Catherine resolved to make that a reality.

In the warm sunshine of early June 1547, Catherine made the short journey from Chelsea to St James’s Palace, dismounting from her horse with her attendants after passing through the red-brick gateway. The palace was a favourite of Edward VI, its fine high walls interspersed with chimneys, resembling his birthplace of Hampton Court. She strode into the palace across the cobbled ground, intent on demanding access to her stepson.

First, however, she had to run the gauntlet of an interview with the Protector and his wife. In anticipation that Somerset would, at Thomas’s bidding, represent his suit, Catherine had planned (as she assured Thomas) ‘to frame mine answer to him when he should attempt the matter, as that he might well and manifestly perceive my fantasy to be more towards you for marriage than any other’.
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She intended to inform Somerset that she had ‘a full determination never to marry, and break it when I have done, if I live two years’.

Yet Catherine’s carefully prepared words remained unspoken. Instead, as she entered the chamber the ducal couple began to berate her. They dismissed any notion of a marriage between her and Thomas Seymour as ‘that hell’ – something that they earnestly prayed would never happen. Their words made the queen ‘warm’ with fury, her anger so hot that, had she been only a little closer to the Protector, she feared that she ‘should have bitten him’. Nevertheless, on being given the promise of a meeting with the king – probably the next day, or on Saturday at 3 o’clock at the latest – she backed down and returned to Chelsea.
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She was not done with her ‘new brother’, however, and meant to ‘utter all my choler’ when she saw him again with the king. That evening, she wrote to Thomas asking him to calm her down and tell her what to say. He found her anger erotic, writing of his pleasure that she ‘hath been warmed’ for him and that this would mean that she no longer spoke of keeping apart for two years. For all Catherine’s fury, she found the doors to the royal apartments firmly closed against her.
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BOOK: The Temptation of Elizabeth Tudor
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