Somerset, Edward Seymour, 1st duke of

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Somerset, Edward Seymour, 1st duke of (c.1500–52). The foundation of Somerset's career was that he was elder brother of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII's third wife, and therefore uncle to Edward VI. His father had been a gentleman of good family at Wolf Hall in Wiltshire. Somerset's early career was in Wolsey's service and he was knighted in France in 1523. His progress was by no means spectacular until his sister's marriage in May 1536. A week later he was made Viscount Beauchamp and the following year earl of Hertford. Great honours followed—the Garter in 1541, lord high admiral 1542–3, lieutenant-general in the north 1544–5, when he waged war against the Scots. On Henry VIII's death in 1547, with his nephew aged 9, he became protector of the realm and duke of Somerset. For 2½ years he was the effective power in the land. In August 1547 he consolidated his position with a third campaign against the Scots ending in victory at Pinkie Cleugh. But his relations with his younger brother Thomas, created Baron Seymour and made lord high admiral in 1547, were difficult. Six months after Henry's death, Thomas Seymour married his widow Catherine Parr and when she died in September 1548 transferred his hopes to Princess Elizabeth. He was arrested in January 1549 and executed two months later.

During 1549 Somerset's position collapsed completely. The Prayer Book issued under his auspices provoked a serious rising in Cornwall and Devon in June, and was followed in July by Kett's rebellion in Norfolk. The second was put down by Northumberland, who now emerged as Somerset's chief rival. In October Somerset was deprived of his protectorate and sent to the Tower. Though he was pardoned the following year and restored to the council, he was again sent to the Tower in October 1551 and executed in January 1552.

Somerset's character and policy have proved controversial. Kindly and amiable in the view of some Victorian commentators, one contemporary thought him ‘dry, sour and opinionated’, while even an ally, Sir William Paget, warned him that ‘Your Grace is grown in great choleric fashion.’ The sentimental view of Somerset as ‘the good duke’ overthrown by the nobility because he showed too much sympathy for the people's complaints against enclosures is not easy to reconcile with his greed for estates. A better soldier than politician, Somerset lost control of the situation, made concessions to rebellion, and convinced his noble colleagues that he was a dangerous man to have in charge. More remarkable is that he was allowed a second chance by his opponents: fallen ministers did not often emerge from the Tower.

J. A. Cannon

Somerset, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of

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Somerset, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of (1500–52) English ruler, regent for Edward VI. Henry VIII appointed him to a Council of Regents for the young Edward VI (r.1547–53), but he assumed supreme authority and the title of Protector on Henry's death.

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