After Henry VIII dies, his widow Catherine Parr hastily marries the new king’s youngest uncle, Thomas Seymour. The marriage is suspect from the start as Henry VIII is barely cold in his grave and Catherine and Thomas marry without permission. Yet Thomas proves a canny manipulator and does an end-run around his older brother, the Lord Protector, tricking the boy king into believing it was his idea for his stepmother to marry Thomas all along. This would be the first, but not the last, in Thomas Seymour’s long list of schemes involving his vulnerable nephew and aimed at empowering himself and displacing his older brother on the council. Thomas would begin a secretive campaign to bribe his nephew the king and all those closest around the young monarch in order to better his access to the wealth and power the Lord Protector withheld from him. Meanwhile, the young Princess Elizabeth takes up residence in the Parr-Seymour household. Underneath his wife’s nose, Thomas begins an aggressive flirtation with the girl, arriving in her bed chamber before she is dressed and engaging in erotic horseplay. Elizabeth is shocked but also seems to welcome the advances of her handsome and charming stepfather. Thomas even manages to charm Elizabeth’s lady mistress, the ever-watchful Kat Astley, who believes Thomas is the only man suitable to marry her young lady. These shenanigans come to a head, however, when Catherine Parr dies in childbirth and Thomas makes serious designs on having Elizabeth for his next wife, no matter the cost. A scandal ensues which results in the imprisonment of many and the eventual execution of Thomas Seymour for treason. Elizabeth escapes all consequences but never forgets Seymour or the danger he pulled her into. The author argues that this near miss greatly shapes the future Elizabeth I, who never again allows such emotions to overrule her better judgement.
This is an incredibly comprehensive look at the plotting and subsequent downfall of Thomas Seymour, Lord Admirable and youngest uncle of Edward VI. Never before have I seen such insight into Thomas Seymour and the Lord Protector’s motives. The fact that Thomas’ actions were treacherous but not strictly illegal goes a long way to setting the stage for that period, a time when Thomas’ oldest brother did everything, including fratricide, to control the boy king and the remnants of the kingdom after Henry VIII’s death. Ms. Norton tells the story with much more emphasis on Seymour’s exploits than on Elizabeth’s POV, so although the reader gets a detailed account of what happened (and even what may have happened), the argument implied in the title feels less than complete. The sequence of events is what gets the most attention. The fall-out – the ramifications of Seymour as Elizabeth’s “greatest temptation” – receives much less space. This book is a fascinating read for Tudor aficionados, and the implications between this event and Elizabeth’s future behaviors as monarch are there, but most of the cause and effect is left up to the reader’s own interpretations and imagination.
Amazon link is here.