There are a number of puzzling facts about teen Elizabeth Tudor’s relationship with her charismatic stepfather Sir Thomas Seymour. In his second year as Elizabeth’s new stepfather, he was arrested for a score of misdeeds, including behaving inappropriately with her. A number of people were put in prison and many more were questioned, including Elizabeth herself, who was put under a sort of house arrest. The resulting 652 pages of “confessions” are an amazing historical record of 16th-century Tudor England. (See links below.)
One detail I’ve not been able to come to any satisfying conclusion about is this account in the “confession” of Elizabeth’s governess Kat Ashley:
At Hanworth, the queen told Mrs. Ashley that the Lord Admiral looked in at the gallery window and saw Princess Elizabeth cast her arms about a man’s neck. The which hearing, Mrs. Ashley asked Princess Elizabeth, who denied it weeping, and bade ask all her women. They all denied it. And Mrs. Ashley knew it could not be so, for there came no man but Grindle, Princess Elizabeth’s schoolmaster.
Kat Ashley goes on to say that she thought that Dowager Queen Kateryn Parr had made up this story so that Kat would keep a closer eye on her 15-year-old charge. This doesn’t seem plausible to me. If Kateryn Parr was making this up, she could have said that someone else had seen Elizabeth; why involve her husband?
Might Thomas Seymore have made up this story, told his wife that he’d seen their stepdaughter in the arms of a man? The only motivation I can think of is that he had in fact embraced Elizabeth and was nervous that they might have been seen, creating an “It wasn’t me!” defence by throwing Elizabeth under the bus. Cad that he was, this is possible — cover a crime with a crime — but would that have been to his advantage? Elizabeth would have known it was a fib. Thomas Semour was impulsive by nature and not always savvy in his often shady dealings, but this seems too shabby even for him.
Also: might it have been true? Fifteen-year-old Elizabeth was constantly in the company of attendants and it would not have been at all in character for her to embrace a man. That her schoolmaster was entirely out of suspicion is, if anything, charming, giving a rare impression of what the distinguished Cambridge scholar might have been like.
For my novel, I’ve taken a fictional path — created whole-cloth, but not historically impossible — by creating a scene where Elizabeth is accosted by her stepbrother. John Neville, the Queen’s stepson by her second marriage, was a troubled youth who was later charged with rape and murder.
I write historical fiction, but I like it to be as close as possible to the known facts. I’m not entirely comfortable creating a fictional account of this episode, so I keep coming back to this breadcrumb of a clue: What really happened? What was going on? If only we could know.
A Collection of State Papers: relating to Affairs In the Reigns of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth: From the year 1542 to 1570, edited by Samuel Haynes, available online at https://tinyurl.com/HaynesStatePapers, pages 99-100. I’ve reworded this quote for clarity.
The post above was first posted on Substack, where I can be found at https://tinyurl.com/SandraSubstackNews. I’m enjoying Substack quite a lot, both as a reader and writer. I recommend it! Please subscribe there if you wish to catch all my musings.
The image at top: “Unknown man,” recently identified as possibly Thomas Seymour, a sketch by Hans Holbein the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.