Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset

Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset

Portrait c.1690–1692 by John Closterman (1660–1711), Collection of National Trust, Petworth House
Lord President of the Council
In office
29 January  13 July 1702
Monarch William III
Preceded by Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke
Succeeded by Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke
Personal details
Born (1662-08-13)13 August 1662
Wiltshire, United Kingdom
Died 2 December 1748(1748-12-02) (aged 86)
Petworth, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Parents Charles Seymour, 2nd Baron Seymour of Trowbridge (father)
Elizabeth Alington (mother)
Arms of Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset: Quarterly, 1st and 4th: Or, on a pile gules between six fleurs-de-lys azure three lions of England (special grant to 1st Duke of Somerset (d.1552)); 2nd and 3rd: Gules, two wings conjoined in lure or (Seymour)[1] These arms concede the positions of greatest honour, the 1st & 4th quarters, to a special grant of arms to the 1st Duke of Somerset by his nephew King Edward VI, incorporating the fleurs-de-lys (with tinctures reversed) of the Royal arms of France (first quartered by King Edward III) and the lions of the royal arms of Plantagenet
Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, portrait by Nathaniel Dance-Holland (1735–1811) (presumably a copy, artist aged 13 at sitter's death), collection of Trinity College, Cambridge. He was Chancellor of the University of Cambridge 1689-1748
Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, portrait c.1703 by Godfrey Kneller, National Portrait Gallery, London

Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset (13 August 1662 – 2 December 1748), known by the epithet "The Proud Duke", was a British peer. He rebuilt Petworth House in Sussex, the ancient Percy seat inherited from his wife, in the palatial form which survives today. He was a remarkably handsome man, and inordinately fond of taking a conspicuous part in court ceremonial; his vanity, which earned him the sobriquet of "the proud duke," was a byword among his contemporaries and was the subject of numerous anecdotes; Macaulay described him as "a man in whom the pride of birth and rank amounted almost to a disease".


Charles was the second son of Charles Seymour, 2nd Baron Seymour of Trowbridge (died 1665), of Marlborough Castle in Wiltshire, by his wife Elizabeth Alington (1635–1692). The 2nd baron was (in a junior line) a great-great-grandson of Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset (executed 1552), brother of Queen Jane Seymour, uncle of King Edward VI and Lord Protector of England.


Charles was educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge,[2] where his portrait by Nathaniel Dance-Holland survives in the College's collection.[3]

Inherits Dukedom of Somerset

In 1675, Charles's elder brother Francis Seymour, 5th Duke of Somerset, aged 16, inherited the Dukedom of Somerset from their father's childless first cousin, John Seymour, 4th Duke of Somerset (1629-1675). However, the 5th Duke did not inherit the unentailed Seymour estates, including the family seat of Wulfhall and other Wiltshire estates, and much of the lands of the feudal barony of Hatch Beauchamp in Somerset, which were bequeathed to the 4th duke's niece, Elizabeth Seymour, wife of Thomas Bruce, 2nd Earl of Ailesbury (1656-1741). In 1660, following the Restoration of the Monarchy, the 4th duke's own father, a Royalist commander in the Civil War, had been restored to the dukedom created for and forfeited by his own great-grandfather, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset (executed 1552).

Three years later, in 1678, Charles's brother, the 5th duke, was murdered in Italy, aged 20, unmarried and without progeny, having been shot at the door of his inn at Lerice. The 16-year-old Charles Seymour became the 6th duke and the 4th Baron Seymour of Trowbridge.

Percy inheritance

In 1682, at the age of 20 he married a great heiress, the 15-year-old Lady Elizabeth Percy (1667-1722), daughter and sole heiress of Joceline Percy, 11th Earl of Northumberland (1644-1670), who brought him immense estates, including Alnwick Castle, Northumberland; Petworth House, Sussex; Leconfield Castle, Yorkshire; Cockermouth Castle, Cumberland; Egremont Castle, Cumberland; Syon House, Middlesex, and Northumberland House in London. It had been agreed in the marriage settlement, although both parties to the marriage were minors, and thus legally incapable of being bound by a contract, that:[4]

"... for the preservation of the noble family and name of the Percys, he the said duke and all and every the issue of his body on her the said duchess begotten, should forever take upon him and them and be called and named only by the name and surname of Percy".

However, on attaining her majority of 21 the duchess under her hand and seal dated January 30, 1687 consented to waive and dispense with the agreement.[5] The intention stated in the marriage contract was however fulfilled in 1749 by their granddaughter Lady Elizabeth Seymour and her husband the former Sir Hugh Smithson, 4th Baronet (who by special remainder had inherited in 1749 his father-in-law's title Earl of Northumberland) when in 1749 they obtained a private Act of Parliament entitled:[6]

"An‌‌‌‌‌ ‌‌‌‌Act‌‌‌‌ ‌‌‌‌‌to‌‌‌‌‌ ‌‌enable‌‌‌‌ ‌‌‌‌Hugh‌‌ ‌‌‌‌Earl‌‌‌‌ ‌‌‌‌of‌‌‌‌ ‌‌‌‌Northumberland‌‌‌‌ ‌‌‌‌and‌‌‌‌‌ ‌‌‌Elizabeth‌‌‌ ‌‌‌Countess‌‌‌ ‌‌‌of‌‌ ‌‌Northumberland‌‌ ‌and Barones Percy, his Wife, and their Children, Progeny and Issue, to take and use the Name of Percy, and bear and quarter the Arms of the Percies Earls of Northumberland".

The reason for the name-change was stated in the preamble to the Act as follows:[7]

"And as Algernon, late Duke of Somerset, did in his lifetime express his desire that the name of Percy should be used by and be the surname and family name of the Earls of Northumberland ... Sir Hugh Smithson now Earl of Northumberland and Lady Elizabeth his wife, Countess of Northumberland and Baroness Percy, as well out of their great regard to, and in compliance with the desire of, the said late duke, as for preserving the noble and ancient family and name of Percy and the coats of arms borne and quartered by the Percys Earls of Northumberland should be ... confirmed ... upon them ... by authority of Parliament".

Rebuilds Petworth House

Petworth House in Sussex, west front, depicted in about 1700, as newly re-built by the 6th Duke of Somerset. Collection of the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle
Petworth House, west front, in 2015, with flat roof line

Between 1688 and 1696 the Duke rebuilt Petworth House on a palatial scale. A painting made in about 1700 of his new house was identified by the art historian Sir Anthony Blunt in the collection of the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle.[8] It shows evidence of a French chateau style, with original central dome, now lost. A similar image is included in Laguerre's wall-painting on the Grand Staircase at Petworth.[9] Horace Walpole called it "in the style of the Tuileries". The parapets of the walls are surmounted by urns. On the three sections of the parapet in front of the central dome and the domed roofs of the two projecting wings are placed gesticulating statues. Today the roofline is lower and flat, giving the building a plain appearance, possibly following the fire of 1714 and subsequent repairs. The statues and urns are now lost and the entrance front has been moved to the rear.[10] One of the few elements of the old mansion he retained is the mediaeval chapel, which retains the large early 17th century Percy Window, depicting the coats of arms of several Percy Earls of Northumberland.


In 1683, Somerset received an appointment in the royal household of the Stuart King Charles II, and two years later received a colonelcy of dragoons. At the Glorious Revolution of 1689, he supported Prince of Orange, who became King William III. Having befriended Princess Anne in 1692, he became a favourite of hers after her accession to the throne as Queen Anne (1702-1714), and was appointed by her in 1702 Master of the Horse, a post he held until 1712. Finding himself neglected by Marlborough, he made friends with the Tories, and succeeded in retaining the Queen’s confidence, while his wife replaced the Duchess of Marlborough as Mistress of the Robes in 1711. The Duchess of Somerset became the Queen's closest confidante, causing Jonathan Swift to direct at her a violent satire, The Windsor Prophecy, in which he accused her of murdering her previous husband, Thomas Thynne (died 1682)[11] of Longleat. The Duchess retained her influence even after the Queen, following a quarrel, dismissed the Duke as Master of the Horse in 1712.[12]

In the memorable crisis when Anne was at the point of death, Somerset acted with John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll, Charles Talbot, 1st Duke of Shrewsbury and other Whig nobles who, by insisting on their right to be present in the Privy Council, secured the Hanoverian succession to the Crown.

He retained the office of Master of the Horse for the first year of the reign of King George I (1714-1727) until 1715,[13] when he was dismissed and retired to private life.

In 1739, the Duke became a founding governor of the Foundling Hospital in London, the country's first and only children's home for foundlings, after his second wife, Charlotte Finch (1711-1773), became the first to sign the petition to King George II of its founder Captain Thomas Coram.

He died at Petworth on 2 December 1748.

Marriages and progeny

Elizabeth {Percy} Seymour.
Arms of Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset: Seymour, Duke of Somerset, with inescutcheon of pretence of Percy, of three quarters: 1st: Or, a lion rampant azure (Percy modern/Brabant); 2nd: Gules, three lucies hauriant argent (de Lucy); 3rd: Azure, five fusils conjoined in fess or (Percy ancient). Marshalling as shown sculpted on overmantel of the Marble Hall, Petworth House[14]

He married twice:

Death & burial

He died at Petworth on 2 December 1748 and was buried in the Seymour Chapel of Salisbury Cathedral[22] in Wiltshire, where survives the elaborate monument to his ancestor Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford (1539-1621), son of the 1st Duke of Somerset.


Shortly before his death he foresaw that his own line of the Seymour family was about to die out in the male line and that as was said of the 9th Duke of Norfolk (d.1777) "the honours of his family were about to pass away from his own line to settle on that of a distant relative".[23] His son and heir apparent Algernon Seymour, Earl of Hertford (1684-1749) had produced a son of his own, Lord Beauchamp (d.1744), who had predeceased him without progeny, and thus he had only a daughter and sole heiress Lady Elizabeth Seymour, who in 1740 had married Sir Hugh Smithson, 4th Baronet. Before the death of the 6th duke in 1748, it had thus become apparent that the dukedom of Somerset would devolve by law onto an extremely distant cousin and heir male, the 6th duke's 6th cousin Sir Edward Seymour, 6th Baronet (1695-1757) of Berry Pomeroy in Devon and of Maiden Bradley in Wiltshire, who in fact represented the senior line of the Seymour family, descended from the first marriage of the 1st Duke, but who had been excluded from the direct succession to the dukedom and placed in remainder only, due to the suspected adultery of the 1st duke's first wife. Moreover, it was apparent that all the combined estates of the Seymours of Trowbridge and the incomparably greater inherited Percy estates were unentailed and would not devolve the same way, but could be bequeathed as the 6th duke pleased. He "conceived a violent dislike for Smithson",[24] whom he considered insufficiently aristocratic to inherit the ancient estates of the Percy family; his son disagreed, and wanted to include his son-in-law Smithson in the inheritance. The 6th Duke had included King George II in his plan to exclude Smithson from the inheritance, yet the King had received proposals in opposition from his son and Smithson himself. The 6th Duke died before his plan was put into effect, yet nevertheless the 7th Duke and King George II created an arrangement which did not entirely dismiss his wishes: the Percy estates would be split between Smithson and the 6th duke's favoured eldest grandson, Sir Charles Wyndham, 4th Baronet (1710-1763). Smithson would receive Alnwick Castle and Syon House, while Wyndham would receive Egremont Castle and the 6th Duke's beloved Petworth. It was deemed appropriate and necessary by all parties concerned, including the King, that heirs to such families and estates as the Percys and Seymours should be elevated to the peerage. This was done in the following manner: Following the 6th duke's death in 1748, in 1749 King George II created four new titles for the 7th duke, each with special remainders in anticipation that he would die without having produced a male heir, which death in fact occurred the next year in 1750. He was created Baron Warkworth of Warkworth Castle and Earl of Northumberland, both with special remainder to Smithson; and was created at the same time Baron Cockermouth and Earl of Egremont, with special remainder to Wyndham. (It has always been customary on the creation of a greater peerage title to create at the same time a barony, to be used as a courtesy title for the eldest son).


See also

List of deserters from James II to William of Orange


Further reading


  1. Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p.1036
  2. "Seymour, Charles (SMR662C)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. "Trinity College, University of Cambridge". BBC Your Paintings.
  4. Collins, Arthur, Peerage of England, Volume 4, London, 1756, p.192
  5. Collins, Arthur, Peerage of England, Volume 4, London, 1756, p.192
  6. Deed Poll Office: Private Act of Parliament 1749 (23 Geo. 2). c. 14
  7. Collins, Arthur, Peerage of England, Volume 4, London, 1756, p.192
  8. Nicholson, Nigel, Great Houses of Britain, London, 1978, pp.159-60
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 November 2015. Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  10. Nicholson, Nigel, Great Houses of Britain, London, 1978, pp.159-60
  11. Gregg, Edward Queen Anne Yale University Press 1980
  12. Gregg Queen Anne
  13. Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p.1037
  14. Per photograph in Nicholson, Nigel, Great Houses of Britain, London, 1978, p.166
  16. Lodge, 1835, p.7
  17. Lodge, 1835, p.7
  18. Lodge, 1835, p.7
  19. Lodge, 1835, p.7
  20. Cokayne Complete Peerage
  21. Lodge, p.4
  22. Lodge, p.7
  23. Tierney, M.A., History and Antiquities of Arundel, 1833, Chapter 6, p.565, note 4,
  24. Cruickshanks, Eveline, biography of Smithson, Sir Hugh, 4th Bt. (1715-86), of Stanwick, Yorks. and Tottenham, Mdx., published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Political offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery
Lord President of the Council
Succeeded by
The Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery
Preceded by
In Commission
Master of the Horse
Succeeded by
In Commission
Preceded by
In Commission
Master of the Horse
Succeeded by
In Commission
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Earl of Mulgrave
Lord Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum of the East Riding of Yorkshire
Succeeded by
The Earl of Mulgrave
Preceded by
The Earl of Winchilsea
Lord Lieutenant of Somerset
Succeeded by
The Lord Waldegrave
Preceded by
The Earl of Carlisle
Senior Privy Counsellor
Succeeded by
The Earl of Dartmouth
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Francis Seymour
Duke of Somerset
Succeeded by
Algernon Seymour
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