As today marks the 208th anniversary of Lord Horatio Nelson’s naval victory at Trafalgar, we have chosen a parliamentarian with a notable naval career as our MP of the Month.
George Henry Seymour (1818-69), MP for County Antrim, 1865-9, was the scion of a distinguished line of seafarers. His grandfather, Lord Hugh Seymour (1759-1801), his father, Sir George Francis Seymour (1787-1870), and his father-in-law, Sir George Cranfield Berkeley (1753-1818), were all admirals of the royal navy. He himself entered the service at the age of twelve in 1831. He served in the East Indies and China before commanding the Cumberland, his father’s flagship at the North American and West Indies station, and captaining the Pembroke in the Baltic during the war with Russia.
Seymour’s father had served as a naval aide-de-camp to William IV and had been Master of the Robes from 1830-7, and Seymour himself became a favourite of the royal family. He was chosen to command the squadron that took the Prince of Wales to North America in 1860, and in January 1862 was appointed as captain of the royal steam yacht, Victoria and Albert. While in this post Seymour did more than simply ferry the royal family across the Solent to Osborne House. In September 1862 he conveyed the Queen to the Continent for her visit to the King of Denmark, and in March 1863 was given the important task of bringing the Danish Princess Alexandra to England for her wedding to the Prince of Wales.
Seymour would have been well aware of the diplomatic difficulties surrounding the marriage, given the heightened tension between Denmark and the German states over the province of Schleswig-Holstein. In January 1861 Seymour’s sister, Laura Williamina, had married Prince Victor of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, with whom Seymour had served on the Cumberland, and who had taken the title of Count Gleichen upon his marriage. Gleichen was a nephew of the Queen, his mother, Princess Feodora of Leiningen, having been Victoria’s half-sister. However, in 1856 Gleichen’s sister, Princess Adelheid, had married Frederick Christian Augustus, prince hereditary of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, thus making Seymour a relative by marriage to the pretender to the threatened Danish province.
His head presumably reeling with the ramifications of these dynastic entanglements, Seymour conveyed his elder brother, Francis George Henry Seymour, who, as equerry to the queen, had been despatched to Brussels to conduct Alexandra to England. On 7 March 1863 the Victoria and Albert passed up the Thames to Gravesend where the Prince of Wales received his future bride. The task accomplished, Seymour was soon afterwards made a rear-admiral, making him the youngest officer then of that rank.
Seymour was by now a member of the Prince of Wales’s circle and was a frequent visitor to Sandringham, perhaps being regarded by the Queen as a trusted and stable influence on her often wayward son. He also had political ambitions and in 1865 took advantage of his family ties to the Marquess of Hertford to stand as a Conservative for County Antrim, where the family held the most valuable estate in Ulster and exerted considerable political influence. Returned without opposition, in the Commons Seymour directed his attention largely to naval matters, opposing reforms such as the abolition of the rank of ship’s master and the compulsory retirement of naval officers. He was appointed a junior Lord of the Admiralty in July 1866, and was promoted to vice-admiral three years later. By this time, however, the ‘fatal seeds’ sown during his service in the tropics had begun to bear ‘their bitter fruit’, and he died shortly afterwards. His parliamentary seat was taken by his nephew, Hugh de Grey Seymour, Earl of Yarmouth.