SEYMOUR, William, Lord Beauchamp (1587-1660), of Amesbury House, Amesbury, Wilts. and Tottenham Court, Great Bedwyn, Wilts.; later of Essex House, London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



1621 - 8 Feb. 1621

Family and Education

b. 1 Sept. 1587,1 2nd. s. of Edward Seymour (d.1612), styled Lord Beauchamp and Honora, da. of Sir Richard Rogers of Bryanston, Dorset; bro. of Sir Francis*.2 educ. Trowbridge g.s. Wilts. c.1598-1604;3 Magdalen, Oxf. 1605, BA 1607, MA 1636, MD 1645;4 M. Temple 1618.5 m. (1) 22 June 1610, Arbella (d. 25 Sept. 1615), da. of Charles Stuart, 1st earl of Lennox [S], s.p.;6 (2) 3 Mar. 1617, Frances (d.1674), da. of Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex, 5s. (4 d.v.p.) 4da. (1 d.v.p.).7 cr. KB 3 Nov. 1616; mq. of Hertford 3 June 1641; KG 27 May 1660;8 styled Lord Beauchamp Aug. 1618; summ. to Lords in fa.’s barony 29 Jan. 1621; suc. grandfa. 6 Apr. 1621 as 2nd earl of Hertford; restored 13 Sept. 1660 as Bar. Seymour and 2nd duke of Somerset. d. 24 Oct. 1660.9

Offices Held

Commr. subsidy, Som. 1621-2, Wilts. 1624, 1629;10 dep. lt. Wilts. 1624;11 gaol delivery, Southampton, Hants 1624-35, oyer and terminer, Western circ. 1626-42, 1660, Som. 1624, Mdx. 1641, 1660,12 Wilts. 1643-4, Hants 1643-4;13 j.p. Berks., Dorset, Hants, Som., Wilts. 1626-at least 1641, 20 July 1660-d., Oxford, Oxon. 1644, custos rot. Wilts. 1626-at least 1636, 20 July 1660-d., Som. 1641, 20 July 1660-d.;14 commr. Forced Loan, Hants, Som., Wilts. 1626-7, Dorset 1627,15 swans, Western counties 1629, piracy, Southampton, Hants 1636;16 ld.-lt. (jt.) Som. 1639-42, (sole) 10 July 1660-d., Wilts. 10 July 1660-d.;17 commr. oyer and terminer and gaol delivery, London 1641,18 array, Bristol, Som., Wilts. 1642;19 safety (roy.) Oxon. 1643, defence (roy.) Oxford 1644, inquiry, Christchurch hospital, Oxford 1644.20

Recorder, Lichfield, Staffs. ?1660.21

Commr. treaty of Ripon 1640,22 treaty of Uxbridge (roy.) 1645,23 treaty of Newport (roy.) 1648;24 PC 19 Feb. 1641-at least 1645; 31 May 1660-d.;25 gov. to Prince Charles, 1641-4;26 commr. relief of the king’s army and Northern counties 1641, safety of the kingdom 1641, enacting bills 1641, revenue inquiry 1641, raising and levying money for the defence of Eng. and Ire. 1642;27 member, Council of War (roy.) 1643-6;28 groom of the stool and gent. of bedchamber 1644-at least 1648, 5 June 1660-d.;29 member, Prince of Wales’s Council 1645;30 lt.-gen. (roy.) Western counties 1642-4.31

Chan. Oxf. Univ. 1643-7,32 6 June 1660-d.33


Seymour’s family reputedly originated from St. Maur near Avranches in Normandy, from were they took their name. A Thomas ‘de Sancto Mauro’ represented Wiltshire in 1353, but the genealogy of the medieval St. Maurs is confused, and it is unclear whether all of that name belonged to the same family. What is clear is that this Member’s ancestors started to rise to prominence in 1394, when Roger Seymour, the grandson of Sir Roger Seymour of Undy, Monmouthshire, inherited the estate of his paternal grandmother, the sister and heiress of John, 2nd Lord Beauchamp of Somerset. In addition, in 1413 Roger’s son Sir John, married the heiress of Sir William Sturmey† (Esturmey), from whom the family acquired extensive estates in Wiltshire centred upon Wolfhall, near Great Bedwyn.34

In the first half of the sixteenth century their local prominence enabled six members of the Seymour family to represent various Wiltshire constituencies.35 Among them, Sir John’s grandson and namesake sat for Heytesbury in 1529. A soldier and courtier, his daughter Jane became Henry VIII’s third wife in 1536. Henry VIII made her brother Edward Viscount Beauchamp, earl of Hertford and a privy councillor. Hertford became increasingly prominent in the last years of the Henrician period and reached the pinnacle of his power on the accession of his nephew, Edward VI, in 1546, when he became lord protector and duke of Somerset. However, Somerset fell from power in 1550 and was attainted and executed two years later.36

The Seymours were rehabilitated on the accession of Elizabeth but, because Somerset had repudiated his first marriage, it was Edward, his eldest son by his second marriage, who was created Baron Beauchamp and earl of Hertford in 1559. The bulk of the family estates, principally located in Wiltshire and Somerset, were restored to Hertford, although extensive lands in Devon passed to Somerset’s son by his first marriage, the father of Edward Seymour*. Hertford was disgraced when he secretly married Lady Katherine Grey, Elizabeth’s cousin, in 1560. The Court of High Commission judged the marriage invalid, and consequently their children, including Seymour’s father, were declared bastards, although Hertford never accepted the verdict.37

On the accession of James I, Hertford hastened to assure the new monarch of his loyalty and was rewarded with an extraordinary embassy to Brussels in 1605.38 Two years later the earl started legal proceedings to establish the legitimacy of his sons. Although these moves were blocked by James, in 1608 the king granted the sons the right to inherit Hertford’s lands and titles.39 All further attempts to rehabilitate the family were thrown into confusion in July 1610, when it was learned that Seymour had secretly married Arbella Stuart, cousin to both himself and James. Arbella posed a potential threat to James and his offspring, and were she to marry a Seymour she would unite her own claim to the throne with theirs. In 1602, with the death of Elizabeth looming on the horizon, Arbella had proposed a match between herself and Seymour’s elder brother Edward, whereupon Hertford had taken such fright that he handed Arbella’s letter over to the Privy Council. By early 1610 the Privy Council heard it rumoured that she would soon marry Seymour himself. Summoned before the Council on 20 Feb. 1610, Seymour admitted that a marriage had been discussed, but gave assurances that nothing would be undertaken without the king’s approval. Nevertheless, the couple wed in secret at Arbella’s apartments in Greenwich Palace on 22 June following.40 Alerted to the fact three weeks later, James committed Arbella to the custody of Sir Thomas Parry*, while Seymour was dispatched to the Tower, where it was intended he would remain incarcerated for life.41 In June 1611 the couple escaped, but although Seymour landed safely at Ostend, Arbella was seized by a naval vessel while in the approaches to Calais.42 She was sent to the Tower, and there gradually succumbed to illness and derangement before dying in September 1615.43

Following their escape, it was feared that Seymour and Arbella would convert to Catholicism in order to obtain the protection of the Spanish Netherlands.44 These fears seemed to be borne out by a report made on 28 Jan. 1612 by the papal nuncio in Flanders, that Seymour had been converted by the Jesuit, John Gerard, whom he had first met in Louvain. However, the report was almost certainly without foundation: Gerard observed that Seymour was so ignorant of theology as to make him an atheist rather than a heretic, while the adventurer Sir Henry Peyton declared after meeting him in Dunkirk in June 1613 that Seymour was free from the taint of Romanism. Peyton added that Seymour was well, ‘except in matter of expenses and such like youthful vanity as few of his rank at such liberty avoid’. His debts meant that Seymour was constantly on the move between the Spanish Netherlands and Paris, where became gravely ill with smallpox in October 1613.45 On learning of Seymour’s illness, James, far from rejoicing, promptly ordered Hertford to pay off Seymour’s debts and provide him with an annuity of £400.46

Despite the king’s evident concern, Seymour was refused permission to return to England until February 1616, by which time Arbella’s death had offered an opportunity for his rehabilitation.47 His return to royal favour was marked by his creation as knight of the Bath in November 1616, and the following February Hertford settled property on him in preparation for his marriage to Frances, daughter of the 2nd earl of Essex, which was solemnized on 3 March.48 His father having died in 1612, Seymour became his grandfather’s heir and took the courtesy title Lord Beauchamp on the death of his elder brother in 1618.49

At the elections to Parliament in December 1620 Hertford hoped that the family’s estates in Somerset would be sufficient for Seymour to be returned as knight of the shire for the county, and earnestly wrote to a number of the shire’s leading gentry requesting their support. However, these aspirations proved overly ambitious, for the electors, including Robert Hopton*, John Horner*, John Poulett* and Sir Henry Portman*, asserted that ‘the place of knight of the shire does properly belong unto the gentlemen inhabiting the country, the law requiring it so, and the custom of this country has not been other in their elections’.50 Seymour was instead returned for Marlborough on 22 Dec., a neighbouring borough over which his family had a strong influence. He had no opportunity to partake in the work of the House, for on 27 Jan. a warrant was issued for a writ to summon him to the Lords in his grandfather’s barony as Lord Beauchamp. According to the diarist Edward Nicholas, the writ was dated the day before the session began, and for this reason it is highly unlikely that Seymour ever took his seat. On 8 Feb. the Commons ordered a writ for a by-election at Marlborough to choose his replacement.51

On the death of his grandfather in April 1621, Seymour became 2nd earl of Hertford. In August 1640 he was one of the Twelve Peers who petitioned Charles to call a Parliament. His nomination to the Privy Council the following year was seen as a gesture to appease the Crown’s opponents, as perhaps too was his appointment, in succession to the 1st earl of Newcastle (Sir William Cavendish II*), as governor to Prince Charles.52 However, he opposed the impeachment of Strafford (Sir Thomas Wentworth, 2nd bt.*) and the following year threw in his lot with the king. During the Civil War he was the royalist commander in the West Country until superseded by Prince Maurice in early 1644. Subsequently one of Charles I’s principal civilian councillors at Oxford, he was among the prominent royalists whom the king wanted to consult during the 1648 Newport Treaty negotiations.53

Seymour compounded for his estates on the Oxford Articles, but his original fine of £12,603 was reduced to £8,375 in January 1648 after he demonstrated that much of his estate was held for life only.54 At the Restoration he received the Garter and was restored as duke of Somerset, but he died on 24 Oct. 1660 and was buried in the family vault at Great Bedwyn on 1 Nov. following.55 His will, dated 15 Aug. 1657, was proved on 20 November.56 He was survived by only one of his five sons, John, who sat for Marlborough at in the Cavalier Parliament before succeeding as fourth duke in 1671, on whose death four years later the estates descended by Seymour’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, to Thomas Bruce†, 2nd earl of Ailesbury.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Henry Lancaster


  • 1. Wilts. IPMs ed. G.S. and A.E. Fry (Brit. Rec. Soc. xxiii), 31.
  • 2. CP, vi. 597.
  • 3. The Gen. n.s. xvii. 103.
  • 4. Al. Ox.
  • 5. M. Temple Admiss.
  • 6. D. Durant, Arbella Stuart, 180, 207; CP, vi. 600-1.
  • 7. S. Shaw, Hist. and Antiqs. of Staffs. ii. 11; Wilts. RO, 1332/55.
  • 8. Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 34, 159; Wilts. RO, 1300/199.
  • 9. CP, xii. pt. 1, pp. 70-3; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 26; Wilts. IPMs, 30-1.
  • 10. C212/22/20-1, 23; Add. 34566, f. 132.
  • 11. SP14/178/21.
  • 12. C181/3, ff. 104v, 206v; 181/4, f. 202v; 181/5, ff. 183, 213, 220v; 181/7, ff. 2, 8.
  • 13. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 86, 91, 152, 243.
  • 14. C231/4, ff. 205v, 206v, 207; 231/5, p. 481; 231/7, p. 17; E163/18/12, f. 86; SP16/405; C66/2859; Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6, p. 159.
  • 15. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 145; C193/12/2, ff. 14, 49, 50v, 63v.
  • 16. C181/4, f. 2; 181/5, f. 43v.
  • 17. Sainty, Lords Lieutenant, 31, 91.
  • 18. C181/5, f. 213v.
  • 19. Northants RO, FH133.
  • 20. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6, pp. 30, 220, 233.
  • 21. VCH Staffs. xiv. 81.
  • 22. Rymer, ix. pt. 3, p. 35.
  • 23. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6, p. 253.
  • 24. Clarendon, iv. 393.
  • 25. PC2/53, pp. 101, 232; PC2/54, pt. 2, p. 4.
  • 26. Rymer, ix. pt. 3, pp. 76-7; Clarendon, Hist. of the Rebellion ed. W.D. Macray, iii. 258.
  • 27. SR, v. 78, 167; Rymer, ix. pt. 3, pp. 61-2, 82.
  • 28. Harl. 6851, f. 104; Harl. 6852, f. 254.
  • 29. HMC 4th Rep. 308; LC3/1; Clarendon, iv. 393; Sainty and Bucholz, Royal Household, pt. 1, p. 120.
  • 30. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6, p. 252.
  • 31. Clarendon, ii. 227; Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6, pp. 27-9, 140.
  • 32. I. Roy and D. Reinhart, ‘Oxford and the Civil Wars’, Hist. of Univ. of Oxf. ed. N. Tyacke, iv. 708, 724.
  • 33. R.A. Beddard, ‘Restoration Oxford and the remaking of the protestant establishment’, Hist. Univ. of Oxf. ed. N. Tyacke, iv. 816.
  • 34. Wilts. RO, 1332/55; 1300/1, 11H, 41, 141; OR; CP, ii. 50; xii. 59; J.E. Jackson, ‘Wulfhall and the Seymours’ Wilts. Arch. Mag. xv. 142.
  • 35. HP Commons, 1509-58, iii. 291-301.
  • 36. Oxford DNB sub Seymour, Edward, duke of Somerset.
  • 37. Ibid. sub Seymour, Edward, first earl of Hertford; CP, vi. 504-7; HMC Bath, iv. 278.
  • 38. Handlist of British Diplomatic Representatives comp. G.M. Bell, 266.
  • 39. Oxford DNB sub Seymour, Edward, first earl of Hertford; Wilts. RO, 1300/191; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 410.
  • 40. Letters of Lady Arbella Stuart ed. S.J. Steen, 28, 63; HMC Downshire, ii. 240; CSP Ven. 1607-10, p. 439; D. Durant, Arabella Stuart, 180.
  • 41. CSP Ven. 1610-13, p. 110; Durant, 181-2.
  • 42. Durant, 191; Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, iii. 279-80; CSP Ven. 1610-13, p. 166.
  • 43. HMC 8th Rep. 228-9; CSP Ven. 1615-17, pp. 38, 45.
  • 44. Winwood’s Memorials, iii. 280; CSP Ven. 164, 165.
  • 45. B. Fitzgibbon, ‘Conversion of William Seymour duke of Somerset 1588-1660’ Recusant Hist. i. p. 117; HMC Downshire, iv. 140, 145-6, 228, 438; Trumbull Pprs. (Sotherby’s sale cat. 1989), p. 76; Add. 63543, ff. 17, 19.
  • 46. HMC Bath, iv. 216.
  • 47. CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 342, 349.
  • 48. Wilts. IPMs, 27; Wilts. RO, Savernake Estate, 9/4/33.
  • 49. CP, vi. 507.
  • 50. HLRO, HC/LB/1/19.
  • 51. Lansd. 255, f. 233; Nicholas, i. 26; CJ, i. 511a.
  • 52. P. Christianson, ‘Peers, the people, and parliamentary management in the first six months of the Long Parliament’, Pols. Peers and Power ed. C. Jones and D. Jones, 60; CSP Ven. 1640-2, p. 172.
  • 53. Clarendon, i. 563; iv. 393.
  • 54. CCC, 1329.
  • 55. J. Ward, ‘Great Bedwyn’, Wilts. Arch. Mag. vi. 286-7.
  • 56. PROB 11/302, ff. 352-6.