Edward Seymour: the fall of the dithering dictator

With Henry VIII dead and his son, Edward VI, a mere boy, Edward Seymour assumed power, seeking to govern England as a radical autocrat. But, writes Derek Wilson, when two rebellions erupted, Seymour vacillated – and that was to cost him his life...

Portrait of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of England, 1535. From the New York Public Library. (Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the April 2017 issue of BBC History Magazine

On 7 July 1549, Sir William Paget, secretary to the royal council, wrote a letter to Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. “I see at hand the king’s destruction and your ruin,” Paget declared. “The people are out of discipline because of your softness… I know your good meaning but it is a pity it should have caused the present evil. Society is maintained by religion and laws: you have neither.”
As denunciations go, Paget’s was devastating. And it was made all the more damaging by the fact that he was merely communicating what had become an open secret in aristocratic circles: Edward Seymour – regent to the boy-king Edward VI, self-styled autocrat and the most powerful man in England – was heading for a fall.

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