William Seymour, 1st Marquis of Hertford, 2nd Duke of Somerset, 1587-1660

Nominal commander of the Royalist western army at the beginning of the English Civil War, he remained a faithful adviser to the King.

Portrait of William Seymour, 1st Marquis of Hertford, 2nd Duke of SomersetWilliam Seymour was born in Suffolk, the eldest surviving son of Edward Seymour, Lord Beauchamp (1561-1612), and his wife Honora Rogers. In June 1610, he secretly married his cousin Lady Arabella Stuart, who was twelve years his senior. The marriage alarmed King James I when it came to light because both parties had claims to the throne and they had not sought his permission to marry. Seymour was imprisoned in the Tower and Lady Arabella at Lambeth. With the help of the Countess of Shrewsbury, they escaped in June 1611, but Lady Arabella was recaptured before they could be reunited. She was confined in the Tower until her death in September 1615. Seymour remained in exile until his reconciliation with King James in January 1616.

In April 1618, Seymour married Lady Frances Devereux (1599-1674), sister of the Earl of Essex. He succeeded his grandfather as second Earl of Hertford in 1620 but, like his brother-in-law Essex, with whom he formed a close friendship, he remained marginalised from court and was regarded as a political opponent of King Charles.

In August 1640, after the dissolution of the Short Parliament, Hertford was one of the twelve peers who signed a petition urging the King to recall Parliament. During 1641, however, the King sought a reconciliation with the twelve in an attempt to win their support for the Earl of Strafford. Hertford was created a privy councillor in February, elevated to the rank of marquis in June and appointed governor to the Prince of Wales in August 1641. He joined King Charles at York in April 1642 and ignored Parliament's order to return to London.

When civil war broke out in August 1642, Hertford was appointed a commissioner of array for Somerset and lieutenant-general of Royalist forces in south-western England and south Wales. Driven back by strong Parliamentarian resistance in the south-west, Hertford crossed the Bristol Channel into Wales, leaving his second-in-command Sir Ralph Hopton in England while he recruited further forces during the autumn and winter of 1642. He joined King Charles at Oxford with 2,000 Welsh levies in January 1643.

In June 1643, Hertford was sent back into the West to rendezvous with Hopton's army advancing from Cornwall. Hertford's army clashed with Parliament's Western Association at Lansdown and decisively defeated it at Roundway Down before joining forces with Prince Rupert to storm and capture Bristol in July. Hertford, however, played little part in these victories. His subordinates Hopton and Prince Maurice led the army in the field. Hertford quarrelled with Rupert and Maurice over the governorship of Bristol, which Rupert claimed for himself. The King supported Rupert; Hertford was recalled to Oxford while Prince Maurice replaced him as commander of Royalist forces in the West.

Hertford was elected Chancellor of Oxford University in October 1643 and appointed groom of the stole in January 1644. He was a commissioner at the Uxbridge Treaty in 1645 and joined other Royalist peers in trying to persuade the King to resume peace negotiations after the discussions had broken down. In June 1646, Hertford was one of the signatories of the articles of surrender at Oxford. He was among the peers summoned to attend the King during his imprisonment at Hampton Court in October 1647.

Along with the Duke of Richmond and the Earls of Lindsey and Southampton, Hertford acted as an adviser to the King during the Treaty of Newport negotiations in 1648. These peers remained with the King throughout his trial in January 1649 and tried to intervene by undertaking to guarantee with their lives and estates any terms under which the Army and Parliament would restore his freedom. The initiative came to nothing and, after his execution, the four peers were left with the melancholy task of arranging the King's funeral and acting as pallbearers at his burial at Windsor.

Hertford lived quietly during the Interregnum, avoiding involvement in any Royalist conspiracies. He was among the peers who welcomed Charles II at Dover in May 1660 after which he was invested as a Knight of the Garter and restored to his great-grandfather's title of Duke of Somerset, which had been forfeit in 1552 and was specially revived in recognition of Hertford's loyalty to Charles I. However, his health was in decline and he died in October 1660. Having outlived his three eldest sons, he was succeeded as third Duke of Somerset by his grandson, also called William Seymour.


Sources:

Ronald Hutton, The Royalist War Effort 1642-46, (London 1999)

G. Ridsdill Smith & M. Toynbee, Leaders of the Civil Wars 1642-48 (Kineton 1977)

David L. Smith, William Seymour, first marquess of Hertford and second duke of Somerset, Oxford DNB, 2004