The Temptation Of Elizabeth Tudor by Elizabeth Norton

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The Temptation Of Elizabeth Tudor by Elizabeth Norton

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Category: Biography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A thoroughly researched and very readable account of the early life of Princess Elizabeth, from her childhood and the death of King Henry VIII to her accession to the throne, but with particular emphasis on her relationship with Thomas Seymour, who married her stepmother Katherine Parr. The author traces a clear path through the intrigues and fierce family relationships, in an age when brothers, sisters and cousins often vied for power, and the result is a more than worthy addition to the shelves.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 355 Date: November 2015
Publisher: Head of Zeus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1784081720

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Life, or rather survival, in Tudor England was a precarious business. Being close to the crown was anything but a guarantee of safety, as the fate of two of King Henry VIII's Queen's amply demonstrated. His second daughter Elizabeth led a charmed life and went on to reign as Queen for over forty years, but she too had some narrow escapes when her liberty if not her very existence was under threat.

When the King fell ill and died in January 1547, thirteen-year-old Elizabeth was living with his last wife, her stepmother Queen Catherine. The latter had not been admitted to her dying husband's presence for several weeks, and she married Thomas Seymour with what was considered indecent haste less than six weeks later. In order to try and avoid scandal, it was kept secret at first, and he was reduced to secret meetings with her under the cover of darkness. His siblings included Jane, who had been the King's late third wife and thus mother of the boy King Edward VI, and Edward, Duke of Somerset, who was now Lord Protector and at the time King in all but name.

However the family were anything but united, with jealousy and desire for power dominating the brothers' relationship. The newly-married Thomas was careless enough to flirt openly with the adolescent Princess Elizabeth, and entered her bedroom on more than one occasion. Was what followed horseplay, or was there more to it than that? It seems that Elizabeth did not protest, but a girl of fourteen was in no position to resist if a grown man was unscrupulous enough to try and force himself on her. At first Catherine – still known as Queen – was apparently amused by their behaviour, but before long she realised that it was becoming too serious. For her stepdaughter's safety and good name, she sent her away to live with another guardian.

By now Catherine, in her mid-thirties and previously thought to be infertile, was expecting a child. She gave birth to a daughter, but died of fever a few days later. Although Thomas was distraught by her passing, he was still thoroughly infatuated with his stepdaughter-in-law. He probably now saw a chance of taking Elizabeth as his second wife, and according to some he was even hatching a plot to kidnap King Edward and his half-sister Mary, imprison them, and seize the throne for himself. The author suggests that much of this is far-fetched, but one cannot but remember the parallels with the ultimate fate of the last English boy King, also named Edward, the elder of the 'Princes in the Tower'.

What ultimately happened to both Seymour brothers in turn is well known to most Tudor history enthusiasts, but for the purposes of this review I will refrain from telling the complete story. Suffice to say, they played for high stakes – and though it is often said that only the strong survive, in this case neither was quite strong enough. After Thomas's death, Elizabeth's own verdict was that he was 'a man of much wit, and very little judgement'.

Despite the best efforts of Queen Catherine and of Elizabeth's devoted governess Kat Ashley, rumours of further scandal persisted and remain to this day. Did the teenage Elizabeth bear Thomas a child? Some years later, during her reign, it was said that she gave birth in secret, and the newly-born infant was speedily disposed of before the news leaked out. There is no convincing proof, but Ms Norton argues convincingly that the possibility was there.

The narrative ends with Elizabeth's accession in 1558 and the tying up of a few family loose ends. It is a soundly researched and very readable history, and Ms Norton vividly conveys the atmosphere of intrigue between members of the power-hungry families at the top who were perpetually locked in a war of wits with each other. There must be few if any stones unturned with regard to the Tudor saga and the sovereigns' relationships with their noble contemporaries, but this vivid account is a more than worthy addition to the shelves.

The Seymour family history has been well documented in The Seymours of Wolf Hall: A Tudor Family Story by David Loades, Queen Elizabeth's life in Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman; and the dynasty's turbulent saga in Tudor: The Family Story by Leanda de Lisle.

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