Book Corner: The Seymours of Wolf Hall by David Loades

Although the Seymours arrived with the Normans, it is with Jane, Henry VIII’s third queen, and her brothers – Edward, Duke of Somerset, and Thomas, Lord Seymour of Sudeley – that they became prominent.

Jane bore Henry his longed-for son, Edward VI, and both her brothers achieved prominence through her. Her brother Edward was central to Henry’s activities in Scotland and became Lord Protector for the young king, his nephew, a hugely powerful position. Thomas married Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, and after her death in 1548 aimed to marry Princess Elizabeth (the future Elizabeth I), with whom he had flirted when she was in Catherine’s care, and for this he was executed for high treason. Edward fell foul of his fellow councillors and was also executed. Edward’s son was restored to the title of Lord Hertford by Elizabeth I, but was sent to the Tower when it emerged that he had secretly married Jane Grey’s sister, Catherine, who was Elizabeth’s protestant heir. Both her marriage and pregnancy were an affront to the queen.

This is the epic rise and fall of the family at the heart of the Tudor court and of Henry VIII’s own heart; he described Jane as ‘my first true wife’ and left express orders to be buried next to her tomb at Windsor Castle. The family seat of Wolfhall or ‘Wolf Hall’ in Wiltshire is long gone, but it lives on as an icon of the Tudor age.

The Seymours of Wolf Hall, A Tudor Family Story by Professor David Loades is the factual story of the family that achieved the height of power with the reign of Edward VI. Professor Loades traces the family’s story from their Norman origins, through Jane Seymour and her son, all the way to the current Seymour Duke of Somerset. It is the remarkable story of one family’s rise from minor gentry to sitting on the throne of England itself. Had Edward VI had children, we could have had Seymours on the throne for generations.

Edward VI

But it wasn’t to be and Professor Loades does not end the story there. He follows the fortunes of the family for centuries afterwards,  as they fell in and out of favour with subsequent monarchs, such as Elizabeth I and James I; usually for their disastrous marriage choices.

The height of Seymour influence was during the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) and Professor Loades highlights the lives of the king’s uncles, Edward, Earl of Hertford and later Duke of Somerset, and Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, as the central part of the book. The Seymours of Wolf Hall, A Tudor Family Story provides excellent analysis of the lives and actions of the two most famous Seymour brothers, dissecting their political and private influences on the young king and the nation at large.

So what sort of man was he, this Protector, the Earl of Hertford, shortly to become Duke of Somerset? He was soon to be known as the ‘good duke’ because of his alleged sympathy with the insurgents of 1549, and to be classed as a tolerant liberal by some twentieth-century historians. However, liberal in the twentieth-century sense he certainly was not, nor would he have understood what that meant. He was a man of action, particularly military action. knighted in the field in 1523, he had been largely responsible for the successful actions in Scotland after the victory at Pinkie Cleugh in 1547. Nor was he as interested in education as had been alleged. He had no intellectual training himself, and owned few books. Most of the dedications which he received owed more to his position as Protector than any known  sympathy with the causes maintained by the works concerned.

Jean Seymour

A fascinating part of the book comes when Professor Loades focuses on Edward VI himself, giving perceptive insight into this least known of the Tudor monarchs. He paints a wonderful portrait of this boy king who never got the chance to reach his potential, describing a boy whose emotions were well concealed but who had a calm and collected temperament – much like his mother, Jane Seymour.

Every family story is examined, such as the marriage of Seymour’s son to Catherine Grey, a claimant to the crown under Elizabeth I, which led to stays in the Tower of London for the happy couple. We also learn of the scandalous marriage of another Seymour, with Arbella Stewart, which led, again, to the Tower of London – and the couple being forced apart

The Seymours of Wolf Hall, A Tudor Family Story provides a fascinating, insightful look into the Tudor court from the point of view of one of its most prominent families. They are not studied in isolation, however, but also within the story of Tudor history as a whole, from the life of Henry VIII through the Reformation, the birth of Edward VI and beyond, with the family’s fortunes changing with each monarch.

Thoroughly enjoyable and a delight to read, this book is a must for any lover of English Tudor history, full to the brim with information about Henry VIII, his most-beloved queen, Jane Seymour, and a family who reached the highest echelons of politics and society through the birth of Henry’s long-awaited son and heir, Edward VI. Eminently readable and thoroughly researched, Professor Loades follows the family’s fortunes from its Norman roots, through its highs and lows, to the pinnacle of power to imprisonment and disgrace, leaving the reader breathless with their rise to power and subsequent fall from grace.

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Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley in September and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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Pictures of Edward VI and Jane Seymour courtesy of Wikipedia.

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2017

Book Corner: In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger

51C52QElN8L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_This book provides a fresh perspective on the lives of Henry VIII’s six wives by embarking on a journey through the manors, castles and palaces in which their lives were played out.

Each location is described in a fascinating narrative that unearths the queens’ lives in documents and artefacts, as well as providing practical visitor information based on the authors’ first-hand knowledge of each site. Accompanied by an extensive range of images including timelines, maps, photographs and sketches, this book brings us closer than ever to the women behind the legends, providing a personal and illuminating journey in the footsteps of the six wives of Henry VIII.

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger, is an absolute treasure trove of pictures and information of the many historic locations associated with Henry VIII’s 6 wives. The book is divided into 7 easy-to-follow sections; the 1st covers the principal Royal residences of the period and the 6 subsequent portions are each dedicated to one of the 6 wives, in chronological order.

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St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury

The book examines each of Henry’s queens in turn, looking at the locations associated with them, not only when they were queen, but also from their childhood and early life. In each section, we are treated to the queen’s story, her triumphs and failures, told through the palaces in which she experienced them.

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII takes you on a visit of each location, whether it’s a palace or manor house, the authors give vivid tours, telling you what to look out for, what is still extant – and what is lost to history. In one location, they guide you to a housing estate and point out the walls which once made up the exterior of a Henry VIII’s now-lost palace. You are also provided with a practical guide to the locations covered, giving you visitor information, parking suggestions, details on refreshments and facilities.

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Windsor Castle

With Katherine of Aragon, we visit the magnificent palaces of Spain, while Anne Boleyn takes us from Burgundy to the Loire Valley. Jane Seymour allows us to investigate the renowned Wolf Hall and Anne of Cleves gives us a fascinating glimpse into Germany’s wonderful castles. Jane Seymour The tragic story of Katherine Howard allows us to join Henry’s great progress of 1541,  through Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, before the tragic last months of imprisonment at Syon House. Which finally brings us to Katherine Parr, investigating the locations associated with her first 2 marriages, her life with Henry and then her final years with Thomas Seymour.To walk the grounds and corridors of Hampton Court Palace is to walk in the footsteps of all the Tudor kings and queens. Within the Tudor palace’s russet-coloured walls, the present fades into the brickwork and the past emerges to greet us. Although mush of the Tudor palace has, over the years, been modified or demolished and replaced with William III’s and Mary II’s baroque palace, the buildings that survive propel us back through the years to a time when Hampton Court was one of Henry VIII’s most beloved palaces, at the centre of court life and politics.

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Hever Castle, Kent

If nothing else, it is worth reading In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII for the research the Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger have conducted into the Anne of Cleves panels. These wonderful wood carvings are discussed and investigated in detail; their fascinating story told for the first time in its entirety. It is not hard to imagine the feelings of curiosity and, sometimes,  disappointment the authors must have felt as they tried to uncover the provenance of these panels, and their associations with Henry VIII’s 4th wife. Their eventual success and discoveries are a testament to the author’s persistence and tenacity.

This book is amply supported by quotes from primary sources, describing the locations as they were at the time the queens lived. The authors have a wonderful habit of discussing the difficulties involved in locating and identifying some of the less famous sites, making you feel part of their investigations.

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The Bishop’s Palace, Lincoln

An abundance of photographs and illustrations are included in the book. These include colourful photos of the sites as they are now, black and white floor plans from the Tudor period and artwork painted through the ages.

Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger have created a wonderful book, which is a combination of history book and travel guide. They have worked so well together it is impossible to see the join; they speak with one voice in this stunning collaboration. The book is produced in a way to make it easy to dip in and out of, making it possible to read only about the locations you are currently touring, or to read from beginning to end in a couple of sittings. But be careful, in just looking up one specific location you may find that you lose an entire hour without noticing.

The only criticism I would have is that there are no footnotes to clarify the source of quotations, which makes it harder to use as a research tool, but not impossible. This fault is partly offset, moreover, by an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the book as a whole.

Remarkably, the authors give equal empathy to each of Henry’s wives. It is impossible to discern a bias for Katherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn (a remarkable achievement). Each property is subject to the same attention to detail, whether it was a frequently occupied palace, or a manor house visited for just a few days while on progress.

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Gainsborough Old Hall, Lincolnshire

In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII is beautifully written and thoroughly engaging. You can practically hear, see and smell the Tudors. The book is a detailed, enjoyable and enlightening read, no matter whether you are intending to travel to the palaces, or visiting them through the book, you are in for a real treat. The authors have an incredible ability to invoke the past and recreate the sumptuous, lavish lives of England’s most fascinating queen consorts. It will be a valued addition to anyone’s Tudor library.

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Photographs ©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016