Beyond the Monarchy: The Naughty Regents

10 September 2013 - 04:00pm
Edited by Cindy Stockman - Spotted an Error?



There were a few naughty chaps and a distinct lady that are part of this offshoot of the “Naughty Nine” series. History sometimes glosses over the men and women who were in the background, making decisions and participating in some rather wicked behaviour. The list of badly behaved is certainly not only the Kings of England.

First in the queue is Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer. The Queen and Mortimer were a rather foul duo. For many years they sought to remove King Edward II from the throne. Isabella, wife of Edward II and her lover, Roger Mortimer finally did so in 1327. Yet, they ruled as poorly as Edward II. Their worst failing was deciding to recognise Robert the Bruce as King of Scotland, as Isabella was far more concerned with regaining areas of France then retaining rule of Scotland. Not even Edward would have gone as far as that during his reign. At the time, King Edward III was a minor, so unfortunately there was not much he could do. When Edward III turned 18 in 1330, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Edward had Mortimer arrested and tried for treason in Parliament. Once convicted, Mortimer was hanged, drawn, and quartered, despite the protestations of Queen Isabella. The Queen was fortunate and spared her life. Edward had her withdraw from public life and she remained in seclusion until she died in 1358.

Next is Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. Somerset let power go to his head, which he subsequently lost, literally! The will of King Henry VIII called for a council to rule in his son’s name after Henry’s death. Seymour, as Earl of Hertford, was on the council. The will also allowed Seymour to name himself as The Duke of Somerset. As the council began, The Duke of Somerset wasted no time in taking over the leadership of the council and subsequently naming himself Lord Protector.

Somerset demanded the council to act on his orders and ruled as if he were King. He would not allow the young King to know what was transpiring in court. Somerset had worse problems. Firstly, his brother Thomas was a cause of trepidation. Thomas Seymour married King Henry VIII’s widow Catherine Parr and began making advances on Princess Elizabeth, who was in her care. After the death of his wife, Thomas Seymour wanted to marry Elizabeth, who, it is rumoured, agreed to the union only if the council agreed. The notion of this marriage did not bode well with the council and Thomas was arrested.


Since they were not able to convict him of treason, he was executed after an act of attainder had been delivered. Next in the queue of The Duke’s growing list of problems was a rebellion that had broken out against his maladroit rule. After trying to gain the protection of the King, Somerset was arrested and tossed off the council. He was replaced by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, and soon to be Duke of Northumberland. The Duke was later reinstated to the council, but was arrested for trying to form a coup to overthrow Northumberland. The Duke of Somerset was executed in 1552.

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland was a conniver and schemer. Taking over from the Duke of Somerset the governance of the minority council ruling for King Edward VI in 1551, Northumberland was a sound regent and ruled well in the beginning. He believed in compromise. as much as possible, as opposed to the subjective rule of The Duke of Somerset. Northumberland also involved the King in order to prepare Edward to rule once he became 18. Unfortunately for Edward this was never going to happen. In 1553, word was the young king was dying. Knowing that his Catholic half-sister Mary was next in line, Edward, with the support of Northumberland, altered his will. Northumberland had succeeded to get his son Guilford married to Lady Jane Grey, a cousin of the King and a descendent of King Henry VII. Edward then named Jane as his heir. This move not only cut Mary from the line of succession but also his other half-sister Elizabeth. Edward died on July 6, 1553. For the next nine days, Northumberland sought to find support for Jane and to bar Mary from the throne. He was dreadfully ineffective. Mary gathered her supporters, marched to London and had Northumberland, Lady Jane Grey, and her husband Guilford seized and sent off to the Tower. All three were convicted of treason. Northumberland was executed in August. Lady Jane Grey and Guilford were spared the axe. They were however, executed in 1554 after a later rebellion, which tried to reinstate them to the throne failed.

Our final naughty regent is none other than Richard Cromwell, Lord Protector of England. Richard Cromwell was the son of the preceding Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell. Oliver had originally been a MP in the House of Commons in 1628. Cromwell was back in the Commons in 1640 when Charles recalled Parliament (King Charles I dissolved Parliament for 12 years). He played an active role in Parliament’s drafting up an army against Charles leading up to the English Civil War. Throughout the war, Cromwell became one of the most dominant Parliamentarians. He was one of the key people to overthrow the King which ended the monarchy.

As years passed of little being accomplished under the Commonwealth, Parliament selected Cromwell to hold the position of Lord Protector. Though not an inherited position, Cromwell designated his son Richard to take over after upon his death. In 1658 Oliver died and Richard grabbed the reigns. Unlike his father, Richard had no military experience whatsoever. The Army had great influence under the Protectorate and they were not too ecstatic with the young Cromwell ruling over them. Various factions began to develop which the new Lord Protector could not gain control of. In 1659, Parliament was called and Richard Cromwell turned in a letter of resignation. Parliament re-established the Commonwealth that had been dissolved in 1653. The objective was to reinstate the monarchy under King Charles II, which finally transpired in 1660. Cromwell went willingly into exile, returning to England where he remained until his death in 1712.

photo credit: Duncan via photopin cc

  • John Edwards

    May I just point out that Seymour, Dudley, and Cromwell were NOT “regents”? That term applies to a very specific legal role and office. Seymour was Lord Protector, an entirely different office. Dudley was merely the leading member of the Privy Council. And Cromwell was likewise Lord Protector, but in a very different capacity than Seymour.

  • Julaine

    Cromwell went willing into exile in July of 1660 (originally to France and then later throughout Europe). Then in either 1680 or 1681 he returned to England where he lived until his death in July of 1712. He was 85 at the time of his death.

    These articles are very interesting but sometimes the fact checking (and proofreading) leaves something to be desired.

    • Anglogeek

      In the summer of 1660 he left his wife and family in England
      and went into exile remaining abroad until 1680. When he returned to England,
      he lived Hertfordshire, under a false name until his death
      in July 1712. What I wrote was a general summary, but I did not misconstrue the

      • Julaine

        You stated that Cromwell “went willing into exile, returning to England where he lived until his death in 1712. That compound sentence gives the impression that he went TO England instead of FROM England as was the actual case. If you had put a period after the word “exile” it would have been better but then you would have to modify the second sentence to give the reader the crucial infromation about where he returned from. It is rather significant that he remained in exile for more than 20 years before he returned.

        It was very confusing, that is all I meant to imply. You as the writer are more aware of the facts than your reader and sometimes meanings get confused when the writer does not take into consideration how a sentence is parsed. Perhaps you are aware of the famous example.

        Eats, Shoots and Leaves vs. Eats shoots and leaves. The first gives the impression of a undesirable outcome for someone while the second is merely giving the reader some benign dietary infromation.

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