A Royal Scandal

Chapter 3 : Life at Chelsea

Katherine was still officially in mourning for the late King when she married Thomas Seymour some time before the end of April 1547. The Lord Protector 'was much offended' at the news, and the matter was debated at great length by the Privy Council, who argued that, if the Queen was already pregnant, 'a great doubt' would exist as to 'whether the child born should have been accounted the late King's or her husband's, whereby a marvellous danger might have ensued to the quiet of the realm'.

Seymour was summoned to account for his actions, but the marriage had been lawfully solemnised before witnesses and consummated. It was, anyway, late May: King Henry had been dead for four months, and his widow showed no signs of pregnancy. Somerset was therefore prepared to overlook the small risk to the succession occasioned by their marriage. All the same, he made his displeasure clear.

Not long afterwards Katherine welcomed her step-daughter Elizabeth into the household at Chelsea. She had no idea that her husband had once schemed to marry Elizabeth, still less that he had seen her as an infinitely more desirable prize than a dowager queen. It seems never to have occurred to her that this slight young girl would hold any attraction for the Admiral. But Elizabeth was evidently fascinated by the handsome 'step-father' who welcomed her with undisguised affection to her new abode, and within months he had made it clear to her that he found her both stimulating and desirable.

So wrapped up was the Queen in her personal happiness, that she apparently failed to notice what was soon going on under her very nose. She did not realise that while she was at her prayers each morning and afternoon, her husband would always be elsewhere, nor did she suspect anything when Elizabeth began making excuses to be absent.

The Admiral would openly romp with Elizabeth in front of her attendants, so that no one would think anything of it, and when he and the Queen stayed with Elizabeth at Seymour Place in London in the spring of 1548, he came to Elizabeth's bedchamber one morning, wearing only his night-gown and slippers, and burst in, though she was in bed. Her lady-in-waiting, Mrs Katherine Astley, was present, and thought it 'an unseemly sight to see a man so little dressed in a maiden's chamber'. Mrs Astley made her feelings very clear to the Admiral, which angered him, but he did at least go away on that occasion.

What really disturbed Mrs Astley, according to her later deposition to the Privy Council, was that he only stayed if Elizabeth was in bed; if he found her up and dressed, he would just look in at the gallery door, then leave.

Seymour was irritated by Mrs Astley's attitude, but it only served to make him all the more determined to have what he wanted. Elizabeth was at a highly impressionable age, and very flattered that the dashing Admiral's attentions were focused upon her.

The morning visits continued, to Mrs Astley's dismay. The Admiral would go into Elizabeth's bedchamber and tickle her as she lay in her bed, clad only in her night-gown. Once he tried to kiss her, but Mrs Astley ordered him out 'for shame'. However, he was back the next morning, and most mornings thereafter. What was more, Elizabeth did not rebuff him. Soon, matters had reached the stage where the Admiral would bid her good morning, ask how she did, and smack her on the back or buttocks with great familiarity. Then he would go to the maids' room and flirt with them.