The Ambitious Thomas Seymour Is Beheaded

On this day in 1549, the English nobleman and politician Thomas Seymour was executed for his part in a treasonous plot to kidnap the King of England and bring power into his own hands. Envious of the powers attained by his older brother Edward in the aftermath of the death of Henry VIII, Thomas attempted to undermine his sibling, and made efforts to affect a coup d’etat.

Both brothers were able to make considerable political gains through their sister Jane. At a young age Jane became lady-in-waiting to Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn, a position that gave her the opportunity to win the King’s favour. Anne, having failed to produce a male heir for Henry, became increasingly resented by the King, and after facing spurious charges of incest and high treason, was beheaded in May 1536. Just 11 days later, Jane became Henry’s third, and most adored, wife.

Although a happy one, the marriage proved short-lived, as Jane died in October the following year, shortly after giving birth to Henry’s only surviving legitimate son, the future Edward VI. Despite its brevity, the alliance had proved rewarding for the Seymour brothers, both attaining significant positions and rank through their direct association with the Queen Consort.

Henry VIII died in 1547, when his successor Edward was only ten years old. Although Henry had made no specific demands that he should do so, Edward Seymour manoeuvred himself into the position of Lord Protector, ensuring that real power in England lay with him.

Thomas meanwhile started to plot a path that would bring power to his door. He supposedly made advances on Henry VIII’s daughters, the princesses Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope that an alliance would bring him closer to the throne. These advances proved unsuccessful, but he nonetheless made a significant step through marrying the deceased King’s widow, the dowager Queen Catherine Parr.

Catherine died, also following the birth of a child, in 1548, leaving Thomas further isolated and frustrated at his lack of influence. As First Lord of the Admiralty, he began using his position to lobby the Navy for support in a coup. He also bribed the vice-treasurer of the Royal Mint into providing funds for his campaign.

However, the desperate Thomas was indiscreet in his rabble-rousing, and news of the potential coup soon reached Edward and the Privy Council. Thomas was summonsed to explain his actions, but ignoring the warrant, he instead hatched a plan to kidnap the young King. On 16 January, he broke into the King’s apartment at Hampton Court Palace, but his attempts to seize the boy were thwarted by a vigilant spaniel. With the alarm raised, Thomas was detected, and swiftly arrested by the King’s guard.

Charges of High Treason soon followed, and despite the efforts of his brother to spare him, a warrant for his execution was signed by the King himself. He was beheaded at the Tower of London. His brother would follow him to the executioner’s block three years later, victim of the coup d’etat that Thomas was never able to effect.