Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset

Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset (13 August 1662 – 2 December 1748), known by the epithet "The Proud Duke", was an English aristocrat and courtier. He rebuilt Petworth House in Sussex, the ancient Percy seat inherited from his wife, in the palatial form which survives today. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, 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".[1]

The Duke of Somerset
CharlesSeymour 6thDukeOfSomerset ByJohn Closterman PetworthHouse.jpg
Portrait by John Closterman, c. 1690–1692
Lord President of the Council
In office
29 January – 13 July 1702
MonarchsWilliam III
Preceded byThomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke
Succeeded byThomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke
Personal details
Born(1662-08-13)13 August 1662
Wiltshire, England
Died2 December 1748(1748-12-02) (aged 86)
Petworth, Great Britain
Resting placethe Seymour Chapel of Salisbury Cathedral
Spouse(s)Lady Elizabeth Percy
Lady Charlotte Finch
Children9, including Algernon
Parent(s)Charles Seymour, 2nd Baron Seymour of Trowbridge (father)
Elizabeth Alington (mother)
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 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 SomersetEdit

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 Lerici. The 16-year-old Charles Seymour became the 6th duke and the 4th Baron Seymour of Trowbridge.

Percy inheritanceEdit

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.[1] 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 30 January 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:[5]

"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 HouseEdit

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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 King Charles II and in August 1685 he was appointed Colonel of the Queen Consort's Light Dragoons when James II expanded his army after the Monmouth rebellion.[10][a] However, he fell from favour in 1687 when as Lord of the Bedchamber he refused to escort the newly appointed Papal Nuncio and was deprived of his various offices.[11]

At the Glorious Revolution of 1689, he supported the 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.[1] 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)[12] of Longleat. The Duchess retained her influence even after the Queen, following a quarrel, dismissed the Duke as Master of the Horse in 1712.[13]

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.[1]

He retained the office of Master of the Horse for the first year of the reign of King George I (1714–1727) until 1715,[14] when he was dismissed and retired to private life.[1]

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.

The Duke died at Petworth on 2 December 1748.

Marriages and descendantsEdit

Elizabeth Percy
Charlotte Seymour, Duchess of Somerset

Somerset married twice. Firstly, in 1682, at the age of twenty, as described above, he married the 15-year-old heiress Lady Elizabeth Percy (1667–1722), already twice widowed. As Duchess of Somerset, she served as Groom of the Stole and First Lady of the Bedchamber at the court of Queen Anne.[15]

Following his wife's death in 1722 the Duke developed a romantic attachment to the widowed Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (1660–1744) (née Sarah Jennings) whose husband the 1st Duke of Marlborough had died the same year. He sent her "feverish love letters",[16] but she remained loyal to her late husband.

By Elizabeth Percy he had one surviving son and three daughters:

Secondly on 4 February 1725, at the age of 63 he married Lady Charlotte Finch (1693–1773), a daughter of Daniel Finch, 7th Earl of Winchilsea, later 2nd Earl of Nottingham. He treated her poorly and once told her, after she had gently tapped him on the shoulder with her fan: "Madam, my first wife was a Percy and she never took such a liberty".[18] By Charlotte Finch he had two further children:

Somerset's last known letter to Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, dated 1737, twelve years after his second marriage, declared his unchanged affections for her. The correspondence is preserved in the British Library.

Death and burialEdit

Somerset died at Petworth on 2 December 1748 and was buried in the Seymour Chapel of Salisbury Cathedral, in Wiltshire,[19] where the elaborate monument to his ancestor Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford (1539–1621), son of the 1st Duke of Somerset, survives.


Somerset's son and heir apparent, Algernon Seymour, Earl of Hertford (1684–1749) had in 1725 produced a son of his own, Lord Beauchamp. However, in 1744 this grandson died unexpectedly without having married, and thus his only grandchild was a daughter and sole heiress, Lady Elizabeth Seymour, who in 1740 had married Sir Hugh Smithson, 4th Baronet. By 1744 Algernon Seymour was aged sixty, and his wife was past child-bearing age. Thus, on the death of his grandson, Somerset foresaw that his own line of the Seymour family was about to die out in the male line. As was said of the 9th Duke of Norfolk, "the honours of his family were about to pass away from his own line to settle on that of a distant relative".[20] So before the death of the 6th duke in 1748, it had become apparent that the dukedom of Somerset would ultimately 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, being descended from the first marriage of the first Duke, which had been excluded from the direct succession to the dukedom and placed in remainder only, due to the suspected adultery of the first duke's first wife. Moreover, 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. However, the sixth Duke "conceived a violent dislike for Smithson",[21] 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).


Arms of Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset
Arms of the 6th Duke of Somerset

The Somerset coat of arms is blazoned Quarterly, 1st and 4th: Or, on a pile gules between six fleurs-de-lys azure three lions of England (a special grant to the first Duke of Somerset); 2nd and 3rd: Gules, two wings conjoined in lure or (Seymour).[22] These arms concede the positions of greatest honour, the 1st & 4th quarters, to a special grant of arms to the first Duke of Somerset (died 1552) 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.

The 6th Duke of Somerset used these arms with an inescutcheon of pretence of the House 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 the overmantel of the Marble Hall at Petworth House.[23]


  1. ^ Commissions were private assets that could be bought, sold or used as an investment and many Colonels played no active military role.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Somerset, Earls and Dukes of". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 25 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 385–386.
  2. ^ "Seymour, Charles (SMR662C)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ "Trinity College, University of Cambridge". BBC Your Paintings. Archived from the original on 11 May 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  4. ^ Collins, Arthur, Peerage of England, Volume 4, London, 1756, p. 192
  5. ^ a b 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. ^ Nicolson, Nigel, Great Houses of Britain, London, 1978, pp.159-60
  8. ^ "ViewFinder - Image Details". Archived from the original on 23 November 2015. Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  9. ^ Nicolson, Nigel, Great Houses of Britain, London, 1978, pp.159-60
  10. ^ Chisholm 1911.
  11. ^ Cannon, Richard (1846). Historical Record of the Third or King's Own Regiment of Light Dragoons (2015 ed.). Forgotten Books. ISBN 1-330-44220-2.
  12. ^ Gregg, Edward Queen Anne Yale University Press 1980
  13. ^ Gregg Queen Anne
  14. ^ Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p.1037
  15. ^ "Warrant Books: April 1713, 1-15 Pages 169-184 Calendar of Treasury Books, Volume 27, 1713. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1955". British History Online. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  16. ^ "Collections".
  17. ^ a b c d Lodge, 1835, p.7
  18. ^ Lodge, p.4
  19. ^ Lodge, p. 7
  20. ^ Tierney, M.A., History and Antiquities of Arundel, 1833, Chapter 6, p. 565, note 4
  21. ^ 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 [1]
  22. ^ Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p.1036
  23. ^ Photograph in Nicolson, Nigel, Great Houses of Britain (London, 1978), p. 166


  • Lodge, Edmund, Portraits of Illustrious Personages of Great Britain, Vol X, London, 1835, pp. 1–7: Charles Seymour, Sixth Duke of Somerset[2]
  • St Maur, Harold, Annals of the Seymours, Being a History of the Seymour Family, From Early Times to Within a Few Years of the Present, London, 1902 [3] The author was the illegitimate grandson of the 12th Duke of Somerset, from whom he inherited the estate of Stover, Teigngrace in Devon.
Political offices
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Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by Lord Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum of the East Riding of Yorkshire
Succeeded by
Preceded by Lord Lieutenant of Somerset
Succeeded by
Preceded by Senior Privy Counsellor
Succeeded by
Peerage of England
Preceded by Duke of Somerset
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