Saturday, February 26, 2011

Question from Susan Higginbotham - Black Parliament

In his deposition given as part of the investigation of Thomas Seymour, Lord Clinton quotes him as saying, 'I have heard speaking of a Black Parliament; an they use me as they do begin, by G—d's precious soul I will make the blackest Parliament that ever was in England!'

I get the point of Seymour's threat in the latter part of this quote, but what was a 'black Parliament' in the first place?


Foose said...

As far as I can tell the only writer who explains what exactly Seymour meant is Richard Davey, author of The Nine Days' Queen, Lady Jane Gray and Her Times, and a source frequently discredited on this blog. Davey sees Seymour's remark as meaning "'the most humbled and depressed' Parliament ever seen, which shows that Sudeley [Seymour] was sufficiently self-confident to believe that he could coerce whole bodies of adminstrators at his will."

Here are some other speculative ideas I came up with:

There were two Black Parliaments in recent English history for Seymour's remark to recall.

The Black Parliament of 1523 was held at Blackfriars and featured an unpopular tax demand. The more famous Black Parliament of 1529 was held at Blackfriars, lasted six years, brought in the Reformation, ended Wolsey's career, and deposed two queens.

Possibly Seymour was referring to the 1529 Black Parliament, because in Dorset's deposition, immediately following the "blackest Parliament" remark, he starts ranting about his wife Queen Katherine Parr, who may now be exposed to insult. (Seymour made his remarks after the first session of the first Parliament of Edward VI's reign; apparently a law had been repealed that prevented people from "speaking evilly of the Queen" - evil-speaking that Seymour felt included the specific charge she had not been Henry VIII's lawful wife - something we've heard before.)

The 1529 Black Parliament was also generally agreed to have been a "packed" Parliament, meaning that Cromwell had orchestrated the seating of Members favorable to Henry's cause and hostile to the Church. So Seymour could have been referring to Somerset and his cronies packing this new Parliament with the goal of consolidating the Protector's power and thereby reducing Seymour's own. The legislation concerning the Queen might have been seen by Seymour as an effort to further reduce his influence - if people could go around saying that Katherine Parr was not Henry's legal relict, then Seymour was not married to the Queen but to the mere Widow Latimer, a vast come-down in the scale of his pretensions and a damaging blow to his argument that he should have control of his nephew.

If this were the case, then Seymour's reference to the "blackest Parliament" might suggest he was prepared to flood Parliament with his own supporters and introduce legislation more to his liking.

Finally, I found out that a book called The Complaynt of Scotland was published in either 1548 or 1549 (my sources vary). The book rebuts English government propaganda that claimed England legally held dominion over Scotland by presenting incidents, anecdotes, ballads and other historical material to demonstrate the long tradition of Scottish independence. One incident featured in the book was the 1297 Barns of Ayr, also known as the Black Parliament, in which the English treacherously ambushed Scots lords and knights loyal to William Wallace, and massacred them all after trapping them in a barn.

I don't know if this book was circulating in England, if the English government and the Protector were aware of it, if Seymour was familiar with it, and as I say the dates are a difficulty. But if it was available, the "Black Parliament" incident it recorded could have inflamed sentiment toward Thomas Seymour and his "blackest Parliament comment" - it might have suggested he was plotting a mass slaughter of Somerset and his colleagues, and replacing them with his own supporters.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks, Foose! I appreciate getting such a detailed answer!

tudor princess said...

The actual quote (according to Susan James) comes from the source of John Strype,"Ecclesiastical Memorials of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I". Seymour threatened to make "the blackest Parliament that ever was in England".

Interestingly Seymour was overheard to say that he would wear black for a year before re-marrying.

Since Seymour seems to have undergone a psychological breakdown after Katherine Parr's death, the use of the word black may give us an insight into the state of his mind. Perhaps he really was "in a dark place", as we would say today.

Foose said...

I think I might have come across a relatively simple explanation - the "Black Parliament" of 1529 (and possibly the 1523 one as well) started at Blackfriars but ended at Westminster, in the place where the black monks were residing - hence the appellation "black."

Edward VI's first Parliament also took place at Westminster, although obviously there were no more black monks. While making his threat, Seymour might have been making a rather labored Tudor witticism based on the current Parliament session being a "black" Parliament because of Westminster's association with the black monks in the past.

Again, it's just a speculation. He does seem to have run off the rails after Henry VIII's death, with only his elder brother between him and ultimate power.

tudor princess said...

Hence Elizabeth's comment on Seymour's death that Seymour was a man of much wit but very little judgement!

Susan Higginbotham said...

Thanks, Foose & Tudor Princess!