Review: Ordeal By Ambition by William Seymour

I wrote this review about a year ago, and was reminded about it after a conversation I had on twitter last night and picking up the book to try and answer a question on the author. This book is written by a direct descendant of Edward Seymour, and an absolutely fantastic read! I definitely recommend it to any one interested in the Seymour family

When I first picked this book up, I almost put it down again in sheer frustration. The first chapter, or the Prologue, describes how the Seymour’s came to power through Anne Boleyn’s fall. However, William Seymour made so many mistakes in describing Anne Boleyn’s fall that it was unreal, and I almost gave up. I will say only this, Seymour mentions that when Anne Boleyn was arrested and taken to the Tower of London she was taken through Traitor’s Gate. She was not. But I can forgive that, as for the longest time that was believed to be what actually happened and since this book was written we know a lot more now than we did back then.

Anyway, moving on. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It read very easily and there were times where I forgot that I was reading a history text. The stories of the three Seymour children were told wonderfully and colourfully and I now have a more profound respect for all three of them, even Jane Seymour who has never been my favourite Tudor Queen. However, over the past few months this family has become of great interest to me and reading their stories in greater depth has proven incredibly enlightening.

The main reason I read this book was to gain a greater understanding of Edward Seymour and his wife, Anne Stanhope. Yet again though, there is very little mention of Anne but what I did read made me hop around with excitement. She is often talked about as a haughty woman and a woman who had little love for her husband. However, how can a woman who went to the Tower with her husband be one who did not love him? Not only that she bore him 9 children. They really seem to have been a force to be reckoned with, after all, Anne was the one who refused to give Katherine Parr her rightful jewels back. What a woman. Yet, the stories are abounded in sadness. Both brothers ended their careers thanks to the axeman’s block, and it seems through Seymour’s writings that these careers were ended through very little evidence. Edward in particular lost his life through a charge of treason and felony and all on trumped up charges and lies brought against him. Thomas however, went down in history as a notorious womaniser who tried to bring about his brothers downfall.

The chapters on Jane Seymour took up only a very small proportion of the book whereas the huge careers of both Thomas and Edward took up a huge majority. After all, Jane’s career as Queen was very short lived whereas her brothers lived through two Tudor reigns. I found the stories evocative and thrilling and found out facts I never knew before. I read stories of the brothers participation in various wars (The Battle of Pinkie being one I had never known of before) and how through sheer hard work both climbed their way from humble beginnings at court to the heights they finally reached. For instance, Edward Seymour started out humbly as Master of the Horse to Henry VIII’s bastard son Henry Fitzroy before being employed as an Esquire of the Body in Henry VIII’s Privy Chamber and working his way up from there. Now that’s working your way up the ladder!!

There is a line at the end of the book where Seymour describes how his ancestor was buried in the chapel of St Peter Ad Vicula next to Anne Boleyn, and how this woman with her wonderful sense of humour would not have lost the irony of the situation. There, one of the main players in her downfall, lost his life the same way she did. He met the same fate as her, and like her, on trumped up charges. Towards the end, I was almost in tears reading the account of Edwards execution.

William Seymour shows his ancestors as loved by the people, who only fell because of the work of factions in court. Edward Seymour was known as the Good Duke, and a man beloved by his people. He even had to calm the people down who were there to watch his execution. In the end, this man only wanted to run the country to the best of his ability and hand over a peaceful country when his nephew came of age. But unfortunately this was never destined to come through.

I found I could not put this book down, it read so easily and was written very, very well. This book will forever stay on my shelf as my bible of the Seymour family. And despite the lack of Anne Stanhope mentions, there is enough in there to keep me going and will help hugely in the years to come

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