22 JANUARY 1552: The Execution of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset

Edward Seymour contrast with Tudors
The Historical Edward Seymour (left) was in reality a shy man as opposed to the intimidating figure played by Max Brown (right) in “The Tudors”.

 

On the 22nd of January, Edward Seymour, the former Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset was executed.

John Dudley and William Herbert had grown dissatisfied with the way he was running the country. When Edward Seymour was elected Lord Protector, he got to that position by making deals with many of Henry VIII’s executors and members of his imagined Regency Council. Edward was also part of this council, and upon his death he was going to be elevated to Duke and his eldest son by Anne, to Earl. But this wasn’t good enough for him. Less than a year later, he had alienated most of his supporters, including his brother. After Thomas’ execution, there was a popular uprising and instead of dealing with them in the same manner he had dealt with the Scots in the battle of Pinkie Cleugh, he pardoned many of them.

One of his close friends and allies, (Paget) had warned him of what might happen if he continued down this path. In a letter, dated July 7th 1549, he wrote: “I see at the hand the King’s destruction and your ruin. If you love me or value my service since the King’s father’s death, allow me to write what I think. Remember what your promised me in the gallery at Westminster before the late King died … planning with me for the place you now occupy to follow my advice before any other. Had you done so, things would not have gone as they have. Society is maintained by religion and laws: you have neither. The old religion is forbidden and the new not generally imprinted. The law is almost nowhere used: The commons have become King.”

The Protector obviously chose to ignore it until August when John Dudley and his men dealt with the rebels accordingly.

“The Earl of Warwick commanded an army of twelve thousand professional soldiers and German mercenaries against Norfolk farm boys with few guns or blades, but hopes of “an equal share of things.” Three thousand men died outside Norwich at Dussindale on 27 August.” (Lisle)

As he and his men gained more supporters, Somerset took his nephew to Windsor where he promised him he would be safe from his enemies. The King highly distrusted his uncle but there was little he could do.

Edward VI

Anticipating his arrest, the Protector took his nephew to Windsor. He told him that he was taking him to a “safe haven” and that this would be temporary until he dealt with his enemies.

Anne joined her husband at Windsor days later. With no one else they could trust, they sent their ten year old son, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford to bring reinforcements. But these never came. Instead, the boy was intercepted in the West by Sir William Herbert.

Sir William Herbert’s allegiance was to the league of conspirators, among them his brother-in-law, the Marquis of Northampton, William Parr who was the late Queen’s brother and who was one of many who held a grudge on the Lord Protector for kicking him off the Privy Council. He probably held a grudge against his wife as well, given her treatment of his sister.

With their son captured, and one of their commanders asking the Protector to step down “rather than any blood be shed,” the two realized that they had no option but to surrender.

Eventually he was released and continued to attend council meetings, but on the 16th of October 1551, he was arrested once again and brought to the Tower. His wife was arrested the following day and also brought to the Tower and *“if we are to judge from the list of articles she sent for, she must have realized that her visit was a long one.”

The charges laid against the Duke of Somerset were outrageous. Following his first arrest, he had lost his Protectorate but still retained some influence. His wife went on to make deals with the leading families in government by proposing betrothals to the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, Warwick and others, to her son and daughters. Warwick married his son to her daughter Anne, but as tensions began rising, the couple decided to use the last card they had up their sleeves which was their illustrious daughter Jane.

John Dudley

Jane was smart, articulated, and was highly praised by her mother’s chaplain and other Reformers. If she could get her royal cousin’s attention, she could bring her father back into favor. Somerset’s plan were discovered and fearing what he would do if he succeeded, Dudley and the others prosecuted him, and charged him with attempted murder, saying he planned to invite all the nobles to dinner so he could murder them. Since there wasn’t any evidence regarding this, new charges were laid against him, this time they involved sedition treason and conspiracy to “overthrow the government, imprison Northumberland and Northampton, and convene Parliament.”

Somerset attended the hearings in December where Lord Strange was brought in to testify of his plans to marry his daughter to Edward VI so he could regain power, and others were brought in to add more weight to the other charges. After his trial, his sentenced was pronounced, along with his brother-in-law, Michael Stanhope who had also been arrested and charged with treason.

There are many versions of his last words, one comes from his chaplain (John Foxe) who wasn’t present for his execution but he maintained that his account was taken from a “certain noble personage” who was.

Edward began by saying: “Dearly beloved masters and friends, I am brought hither to suffer, albeit that I never offended against the king neither by word nor deed, and have been always as faithful and true unto this realm as any man hath been. But foresomuch as I am by law condemned to die, I do acknowledge myself, as well as others, to be subject thereunto …” and added that he had come here to die, according to the law, and gave thanks “unto the divine goodness, as if I had received a most ample and great reward” then asked them to continue to embrace the new religion and obey their young King.

His speech was then interrupted by the arrival of two horsemen which the people took as a sign of a pardon and shouted “A pardon! A pardon! God save the King!” But it wasn’t. Northumberland and the council had issued a law that prevented the lords’ tenants and the common citizenry yet they still managed to come. So they were sorely disappointed when they found out that no such pardon was given and turned to their hero, the “Good Duke”, who said lastly:

Edward Seymour

“Dearly beloved friends, there is no such matter here in hand as you vainly hope or believe. I have always showed myself a most faithful and true subject and client unto him. I have always been most diligent about His Majesty in doing of his business, both at home and abroad, and no less diligent about the common commodity of the whole realm.”

Kneeling down, he let his face be covered with his handkerchief and right before the axe cut through his neck, he prayed “Lord Jesus, save me.”

In many ways, Edward Seymour can’t be blamed for the economic disaster since he inherited that from Henry VIII, but in other ways his mismanagement caused an even worse economic crisis and despite his popularity with some of the commons, he attempted to solve the problem of vagabonds by turning them into slave and his wars with Scotland brought an even greater strain on the treasury.

But for the people gathered that day, he was their hero and like many popular saints with the old religion, they saw him as something larger than life, and some even went as far as dipping their handkerchiefs and other pieces of clothing in his blood and treasured them as relics.

Edward VI for his part showed very little emotion. He wrote in his diary after he had been informed of his uncle’s death: “The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o’clock in the morning.”

Sources:

  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour *
  • Sisters who would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor: A Family Story by Leanda de Lisle
  • Edward VI by Chris Skidmore
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Jane Seymour: The Death of the Phoenix and the Beginning of Myth

Jane Seymour tomb and depictions

On the 24th of October 1537, twelve days after she’d given birth to Prince Edward, Jane Seymour died of puerperal fever at Hampton Court Palace. She was buried on St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle on the 12th of the following month with Henry joining her ten years later. Despite the lack of monumental greatness that Henry had planned for the two of them, their tombs is marked by a simple slab on the floor telling indicating their resting place.

In popular fiction, Jane has gone down as ‘other woman’ or the ‘submissive’ antithesis of Anne Boleyn –Anne being a shrew and Katherine, being old and overtly pious. But the truth behind the myth of Jane Seymour lie in her actions and the few occasions where she displayed acts of rebelliousness that had characterized her predecessors. Although recent studies have rehabilitated her predecessors, there has been very little to rehabilitate Jane, and this is largely because Jane is perceived as the boring one, the tool, the young Ophelia with no thought or will of her own –who was manipulated by her family- and in some occasions, as the woman who stepped over Anne and –as a consequence- had her hands stained with her blood. Agnes Strickland’s biography on the Queens of England, spends a large portion talking about Anne’s death while at the same time telling what clothes Jane must be picking the day her predecessor was going to her death.

In reality, as one women’s historian put it in her biography on the six wives, Jane had no more freedom than Anne. Could any woman, she asks, have said no to Henry? The answer is of course no. In his biography on Katherine Howard (whose motto of ‘No Other Will but His’ resembles Jane’s ‘Bound to Obey and Serve’) Conor Byrne highlights the sexual and honor politics that are central when it comes to studying this period. It was in the interest of every woman to find a good husband, not just because it was acceptable but also because of what it could bring to their families.

Jane Seymour (Wallis) and Henry VIII (Meyers) in
Jane Seymour (Wallis) and Henry VIII (Meyers) in “The Tudors” s3.

A marriage of that caliber that was proposed to Jane by the King was too good of an offer to refuse. As her predecessor, she would have recognized the benefits that this would mean for her family. And she wasn’t wrong. As soon as she married the King, her eldest brother (who had already distinguished himself since his early career fighting in the first phase of the Italian Wars in the 1520s and being knighted by the Duke of Suffolk around the time, as well as earning and buying important governmental positions) was created Viscount of Beauchamp and Hache, and not only that but Jane stood as godmother for his son. Three days after Prince Edward’s christening, he was elevated to Earl of Hertford and it was around this time that Jane started to feel very ill.

Given how dangerous childbirth was, and that many women had gone through similar ordeals, the fact that she was growing tired, wasn’t that much of a red flag to anybody as she soon recovered. But on the twenty third she suffered her last relapse and this time it became clear to everybody that she wasn’t going to make it. Suffering from child-bed fever, her chamberlain Lord Rutland reported that she was going to be better thanks to “a natural laxe” but this didn’t last.

“The doctors told Henry that if she survived the vital crisis hours that day she would definitely recover. Henry remained with her to the end” William Seymour writes, while Antonia Fraser adds in her biography on the six wives, that Henry had planned a hunting trip to Esher that day but put it off after hearing the news of his wife’s illness. John Russell wrote to Cromwell later on saying that “if she amend not, he told me this day, he could not find it in his heart to tarry.”

But despite the comfort of having her husbaand stay, it didn’t stop the inevitable. Her confessor arrived early on the twenty fourth to prepare the sacrament, and Jane exhaling her last breath, died a little before midnight that same day.

Masses were held to pray for “the soul of our most gracious Queen”. After her death, most of her possessions were bequeathed to her ladies and stepdaughters (the main beneficiary being Mary) and some other jewels went to her younger brothers, Thomas and Henry.

“Could any female subject really give Henry a decisive refusal?” ~Amy Licence, Six Wives and the many Mistresses of Henry VIII p.211

And while it has been previously stated that Jane’s true self can be seen by some of her actions, some might still choose not to believe this, opting instead for the image of the dull, conniving, or innocent traitor. But the truth is that Jane was a woman of her times, one that didn’t have the connections that her first predecessor (Katherine of Aragon) had. If she said ‘no’ to the King, then she wouldn’t have become Queen which would mean that her family would have never benefited, which means that Henry would have looked elsewhere to replace Anne (and that woman would now be in Jane’s position, falling under harsh scrutiny, and likely blamed for her predecessor’s downfall). More importantly what characterizes Jane is not the image that Henry wanted everybody to remember, but rather the image she crafted for herself. As her mother-in-law, she was everything that a consort was ought to be, and everything she knew she had to be in order to survive. If Jane failed to please the King, or worse yet, to give him a male heir, who would defend her? Which faction would come to her rescue? Which powerful nephew would be there to demand Henry not to annul her marriage? The answer is pretty clear. No one.
Jane, like so many ambitious courtiers, played her cards, and so did her family who saw the benefits of such a union, and had she not died, she would have reaped off the benefits of being the mother of the future King of England.

Unfortunately, history is not a matter of what-ifs, and what would have been, we will never know but what we do know is that by giving Henry a male heir, she became immortalized as the ideal wife, mother and consort. And the “Death of Queen Jane”, written many years after, has Jane asking Henry to cut her open so the child could live. In reality, no such thing happened as Henry was away at the time of the birth, and the first C-section wasn’t practice on England until the late 1500s. But it is symbolic of the narrative that was created around Jane.

Henry would go on to marry three more times, but none of these marriages produced any issue. Jane’s son succeeded his father in 1547, but he died young at the age of 15. He was the last Tudor King and first Protestant monarch in England.

Sources:

  • Edward VI: The Lost Tudor King of England by Chris Skidmore
  • Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love by Elizabeth Norton
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour

The Death of King Philip II of Spain

Portrait_of_Philip_II_of_Spain_by_Sofonisba_Anguissola_-_002b

On the 13th of September 1598, King Philip II of Spain died at the Palace of Escorial. His last act as king was giving a written permission for one of his two favorite offspring, Isabel Clara Eugenia to marry. From his bed, he continued to sign document and meet with his advisers but it was clear to everybody that their king was dying and that his son (also named Philip) would become their new king.

His daughter, the Infanta Isabel, remained by his side, screaming at him that somebody was touching the relics that had brought him so much comfort during his agony, so he would wake up and keep him from dying. Unfortunately by the twelfth, he was too sick to do anything and when his ministers thought he died, he laughed softly to assure them that he was still alive and finding some dark humor in the fact that he was not long for this world. He asked for his parents’ crucifix and “kissed it several times and afterwards he also held a consecrated candle from our Lady of Montserrat … and kissed it too.” On the next day, his ministers watched as their king gave his last breath before “his saintly spirit left him to enjoy eternal life”.

Philip II's Black Legend is perpetuated in "Elizabeth the Golden Age" where he is played by Jordi Mola
Philip II’s Black Legend is perpetuated in “Elizabeth the Golden Age” where he is played by Jordi Molla

To this day Philip II continues to be a controversial figure. The image of the “Black Legend” remains and it is not likely to go away very soon. As a monarch, Philip was no different than others. It can be said that he bled his country dry for his expensive wars, and although there was some justification in some of these, others were just for the same reason his enemies engaged in war: for pure demonstration of might.

Historians such as Henry Kamen defend him, exculpating him from his mistakes, pointing out that although in the latter half of the century in which he reigned “much had changed”, the economic problems at the end of his reign were the result of events that were completely out of his control. And these came to light after his death, receiving great criticism from people who had once praised and served him faithfully.

“Philip was never at any time in adequate control of events, or of his kingdoms, or even of his own destiny. It follows that he cannot be held responsible for more than a small part of what eventually transpired during his reign … He imprisoned within a destiny in which he himself had little hand’. He could do little more than play the dice available to him. Condemned to spend his days sorting out the workings of his vast web of a monarchy, he was among the few who had access to a broad perspective on its problems. But he was unable to turn that perspective into a vision that might inspire his people… Eminently efficient and practical, he struggled always with the immediate and the possible.” (Kamen)

And although Henry Kamen has a point, historians Geoffrey Parker and Hugh Thomas make more valid ones. Geoffrey Parker is fair in his assessment, denoting his flaws as well as his achievements and giving us a king who was flawed, efficient, and full of many contradictions while Hugh Thomas shows us how vast his empire was.

Philip II and his second wife, Mary (I) Tudor of England. Although he showed her deep respect in public and in their letters, in private was another matter.
Philip II and his second wife, Mary (I) Tudor of England. Although he showed her deep respect in public and in their letters, in private was another matter.

As a man Philip was pious in the sense that he was highly spiritual and cared deeply for his soul and on his last days, he refused to grant the pope one request because it went against his conscience. Despite this deep passion though, he was not above bullying his own church to get what he wanted and this is eerily similar from what his father and maternal grandmother did. And like so many kings during this period, there was a cruel streak in him. His contemporaries didn’t flinch from punishing their own people with the excuse that they were punishing enemies of the state (heretics, rebels, etc) and sending their troops against them. His father’s on and off ally and rival, Henry VIII did it on several occasions, and so did his offspring (one to whom he was married). Philip II made a public exhibition of an execution in October of 1568 where he hundreds of heretics were burned at the stake.
He was called the “Prudent King” by many because he showed a deep humility that they found lacking in many monarchs, and despite his piety, he allowed Protestant chaplains in some of his battles out of the Continent and refused to let the Jews be expelled from his non-Spanish domains (but he finally agreed in 1597) and more than his predecessors, he read every document that was put on his table.

Philip II daughters
As a man though, he was deeply devoted to his children, especially his daughters, Isabel Clara Eugenia and Catalina Michaela. Both were some of the most educated and illustrious women of their day, and Philip’s letters to her survive to this day.

When Philip died, the Venetian Ambassador, Soranzo, wrote that “rich and poor universally show great grief” and acknowledged that he also grieved the King and that “for many the weeping will not end until life itself ends” adding that “he was a prince who fought with gold rather than with steel. Profoundly religious, he loved peace and quiet … He held his desires in absolute control and showed an immutable and unalterable temper.”

Philip II was buried the following day on Monday morning, in the church of San Lorenzo. Less than two months later, the criticisms began, largely by Franciscan friars and former members of his inner circle.

“Our Catholic King died after a drought that lasted almost nine months without a break, revealing that the earth had declared itself bankrupt –just like an unsuccessful merchant. At the same time, the price of everything in Castile increased as supplies ran short, coinciding with the collapse of public health throughout the kingdom and opening the door to plague in many areas … These disasters were harbingers of the greatest catastrophe Spain has even suffered since our Patriarch Tubal, grandson of Noah settled here.”-Fray Lorenzo de Ayala

Even one of the members of the Inquisition, the lawyer Martin Gonzales de Cellorigo, wrote that the decline of Spain had begun with Philip and that he:
“Grieved to see that, because we lack the funds, we undertake campaigns with such weak forces that they serve more to irritate our enemies than to punish them; and the worst is that, whatever we may say, we eternalize the wars so that they become an infinite burden, and the problems that stem from these wars are both major and endless.”

And yet, not to condone or to exculpate him and all other kings from their responsibilities, something Philip II comes to mind and that is that even for a person who had this much power, he was incapable of doing everything at once. “I don’t think that human strength is capable of everything least of all mine which is very feeble.” To his son, he once wrote that kingship is like a prison, and it is for the points already mentioned, but it is the burden they feel they have to carry, and in Philip’s case, he felt it was his duty to do the impossible to protect his kingdom.

Sources:

  • Imprudent King: A New Life of Philip II by Geoffrey Parker
  • Philip of Spain by Henry Kamen
  • World Without End by Hugh Thomas
  • Isabella: Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey

Edward VI: The Death of the First True Protestant King of England

Edward VI. The last Tudor King.
Edward VI. The last Tudor King.

On the 6th of July 1553, King Edward VI of England died at Greenwich Palace. He was fifteen. He was the first true Protestant King of England. Although his father initiated the break with Rome, it was his son who instituted a book of common prayer that changed the face of how people worshiped throughout the country. During his reign, there were many disturbances, within his family and in the realm. As the coinage was devalued, and his uncles fought for control over their nephew, Edward became colder and agreed that sacrifices had to be made to ensure the stability of his realm. The rebels were severely punished, his uncles were executed and everyone who celebrated the Catholic Mass was a traitor. On the latter, he faced a great backlash from his sister, the Lady Mary Tudor who refused to give up her religion and confronted him many times (on one occasion she forced him to recall all the times she’d been good to him and another one she confronted his officials when they visited her house head on and screamed at them as they left).

Because he was leaving no heirs, he created a document called “My Device for the Succession” in which he posed a legal question of who should take the throne if he died? The question was answered months later when he and his councilors excluded his sisters from the line of succession and replaced them with Frances’ male heirs and (in case there were none) her daughters from eldest to youngest and their male heirs.

Edward VI's eldest sister, Mary Tudor.
Edward VI’s eldest sister, Mary Tudor.

On Sunday the second of July, the contents of the King’s will were made public and church services excluded the usual prayers for Mary and Elizabeth. This was a powerful symbol of things to come.
His eldest sister did not miss a thing. She knew something was amiss before the will was made public. She departed from her homestead the next day to Kenninghall in Norfolk from where she could flee in case Dudley and co. tried to apprehend her.

On Thursday between eight and nine o’clock on the evening, Edward VI drew his last breath. He had been surrounded by his two chief gentlemen of the privy chamber, Sir Thomas Wroth and Sir Henry Sidney, his groom Christopher Salmon and his doctors, Doctor Owen and Doctor Wendy. His last words, uttered in the form of a hoarse whisper were:

“Lord God, deliver me out of this miserable and wretched life, and take me among thy chosen: how be it not my will, but thy will be done. Lord I commit my spirit to thee. Oh Lord! Thou Knowest how happy it were for me to be with thee: yet, for thy chosen’s sake, send me life and health, that I may truly serve thee. Oh my Lord God, bless thy people, and save thine inheritance! Oh Lord God save they chosen people of England! Oh my Lord God, defend this realm from papistry, and maintain thy true religion; that I and my people may praise thy holy name, for thy Son Jesus Christ’s sake!”

Raising his head and looking straight at them he asked “Are you so nigh? I thought ye had been further off.”

“We heard you speak to yourself, but what you said we know not” was their reply. Edward told them it was because he was praying to the Almighty then when Sidney took him in his arms, he said with a note of finality “I am faint; Lord have mercy upon me, and take my spirit” then he died.

Some people were quick to say that the King had been poisoned by the ambitious Dudley who was eager to see Jane Grey on the throne (since she was married to his younger son Guildford) but these rumors have no basis. The people who whispered such things were immediately put in the Tower. Machyn, a merchant reported this in his diary. “The noble King Edward the VI was poisoned, as everybody says, where now, thank be God, there be many of the false traitors brought o their end, and I trust in God that more shall follow as they may be spied out.” Although this can be used by some to prove that he was poisoned, it is highly unlikely. Edward had been sick once of measles but he recovered very quickly. Now he wasn’t so lucky. This was the Tudor era where sickness ruled their world and everyone could be taken in the blink of an eye.

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.
John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.

The Duke of Northumberland wanted to keep his death a secret for three days so it would give him enough time to install Jane as Queen and apprehend Mary Tudor before she could stir up any trouble or worse, escape to Flanders where she could receive Imperial support from her cousin, the Emperor and King of Spain.
His plans were foiled. Someone ran to Mary right away and informed her of her brother’s death and this gave her the perfect weapon to rally up her tenants and countrymen, being the first one to inform them of her brother’s death and the Duke’s plot as well as the coup d’ etat.

Elizabeth (I) Tudor.
Elizabeth (I) Tudor.


“The King was dead”
as Leanda de Lisle writes in her biographies of the Tudors and the Grey sisters, “but the Tudor women were not finished yet”. And their fight would last decades until only one was left standing and we know who that was.

Sources:

  • Edward VI: The Lost Tudor King by Chris Skidmore
  • The Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this Day in Tudor England by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle

George Boleyn’s Farewell

George Boleyn (played by Padriac Delany in
George Boleyn (played by Padriac Delany in “The Tudors”).

On the 17th of May 1536, George Boleyn and the other four men accused of adultery with the former Queen, Anne Boleyn, were beheaded. George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton, and Sir Francis Weston were brought together to Tower Hill, to be executed.

“Henry had been so convinced that the public spectators would be gratified by the deaths of these traitors that he had ordered the scaffold to be built especially high so as to give everyone in the crowd a good view.” –Ridgway & Cherry.

Henry and the officials who were to be disappointed. In spite of Anne’s unpopularity, the people were not happy with the outcome of the trial. Many sensed something was amiss; not to mention that Lord Rochford and Norris were respected courtiers, and their charisma was well thought of when they saw them kneel down, putting their heads on the block, to meet their ends (especially George whose career as it has previously been discussed on this site, was remarkable –barely missing any council meetings and parliamentary sessions, and taking his job as an ambassador very seriously, not to mention that like his sister, he was a natural charmer).

Unlike Anne Boleyn who would die two days later, they died by the axe. Little is known about George’s speech but some of the people who knew him best wrote about it later, and accounts by those who remembered his speech recorded it decades later. Thomas Wyatt, one of men arrested with George Boleyn, got out free and years after his friend’s execution wrote a beautiful poem commemorating his death.

“Christian men, I was born under the law,
and I die under the law
for as much as it is the law which has condemned me.
Masters all, I have not come here to preach but to die
for I have deserved to die if I had twenty lives,
more shamefully that can be devised, for I am a wretched sinner, and I have sinned shamefully.
I have known no man so evil, and to rehearse my sins openly,  it were no pleasure to you to hear them,
nor yet for me to rehearse them, for God knoweth all.
Therefore, masters all, I pray you take heed by me,
and especially my lords and gentlemen of the court, the which I have been among,
take heed by me and beware of such a fall,
and I pray to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost
three persons and one God,
that my death may be an example unto you all.
And beware, trust not in the vanity of the world,
and especially in the flattering of the court.
And I cry God mercy, and ask all the world forgiveness of God.
And if I have offended any man that is here now,
either in thought, word or deed,  and if ye hear any such,
I pray you heartily in my behalf,
pray them to forgive me for God’s sake.
And yet, my masters all, I have one thing for to say to you:
Men do moon and say that I have been a setter forth of the Word of God, and one that have favored
the Gospel of Christ;
and because I would not that God’s word should be slandered by me,
I say unto you all, that if I had followed God’s word
in deed as I did read it and set it forth to my power,
I had not come to this.
If I had, I had been a living man among you.
Therefore I pray you, masters all,
for God’s sake stick to the truth and follow it,
for one good follower is worth three readers, as God knoweth.” –George Boleyn’s execution speech according to the Chronicle of Calais.

Eustsace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador has him saying that he had been “contaminated” and had been “contaminating others with the new sects”. We don’t know if what Chapuys said was true because he wasn’t there but unlike what has been written about him, he was one of the most reliable foreign sources, and he did respect George on a level that he seldom had for any other English courtier, and his dispatches to the Emperor days later after Anne Boleyn’s execution demonstrates how he was capable of showing deep admiration for his enemies.

There is a reason why his speech was so impassioned and it was because as so many other men condemned to death, conscious that they were guilty or not guilty, they had to make their last moments on earth remarkable, worthy to be remembered. This was a highly religious era, and Henry had done something unprecedented, he had declared himself Head of the Church, his own church which made him in many of his people’s eyes, the representative of God on Earth. Which also made him infallible and those who opposed him were no longer committing acts of treason, but sins against God. It sounds far out but that is how it would have been viewed back then, especially by Henry (who being a deeply religious man, was convinced what his conscience and God’s will were one and the same).
In the view of Henry’s new Church –which the Boleyns had helped build when Anne encouraged Henry to read ‘forbidden’ books that gave him an alternative to waiting for a papal decision on his desired divorce with Katherine- George had not only committed treason against his sovereign, but against God as well. Therefore, before he put his head on the block, he addressed the crowds one more time and begged them to pray for him, to pray for his comrades, and although he didn’t ask for their forgiveness (perhaps a silent act of rebellion, knowing in his heart of hearts that he was innocent of the charges laid against him, and George being a highly religious man himself, could not admit to something he had not done, but the sins he spoke of –if Chapuys is to believed- could have been something else such as adultery with somebody else which might have hurt his wife, Jane Parker, or an arrogance that he had often been accused by his contemporary and later detractors) he went on to emphasize his religious and kingly devotion, ending his speech with “God Save the King.” The rest as they say is history.

“These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, y youth did them depart, And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.
The Bell Tower showed me such a sight
That in my head sticks day and night. There I did learn out of a greater,
For all fair, glory, or might,
That yet, circa Regna tonat.”

Thomas Wyatt wrote this poem during his time in prison never forgetting this event and the people behind it.

Sources:

  • George Boleyn: Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat by Claire Ridgway and Clare Cherry
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo
  • Inside the Tudor Court of Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writing of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys by Lauren Mackay
  • The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir

May the 4th: The Twilight of the House of Lancaster

Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, only son of King Henry VI of House Lancaster and his Queen, Marguerite of Anjou.
Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, only son of King Henry VI of House Lancaster and his Queen, Marguerite of Anjou.

On May the 4th 1471, Edward Prince of Wales, otherwise known as Edward of Westminster for his place of birth, lost his life at the Battle of Tewkesbury. The prince was only seventeen years old, months short of being eighteen. He was the last hope of the Lancastrians. After the Earl of Warwick Richard Neville had been slain at the battle of Barnet the previous month, the Prince and his mother decided not to make any more haste and keep with the plan, and attack the Yorkists. Some historians like Skidmore believe that the death of Richard Neville might have been a blessing in disguise since it eliminated a potential rival, if they ever came to a complete win. However, others are not so sure of this. Jones, Higginbotham, Lisle, among many others view that Warwick’s death was truly the end-game for the Lancasters. The battle of Barnet destroyed whatever chance they had left. Marguerite of Anjou was never one to give up and continued to march forward unto the battlefield. With her, besides her son, was her daughter-in-law, Anne Neville. Anne Neville was the youngest daughter of Richard Neville, and the news of her father’s death when she touched English shore, must have been devastating. Yet, true to her position of Princess Consort of Wales, she kept moving and joined her husband and her mother-in-law in their fight, to completely restore the Lancastrian dynasty to its rightful place. Henry VI had already been captured and sent back to the Tower. London was back in Yorkist control but Marguerite remained optimistic. Weeks after they landed, they made their way to Exeter then to Bristol and the Severn Valley where Edward IV “prepared for a second round of battle, sending out orders to fifteen counties”. He wanted to stop them at all costs from crossing the river Severn but come the end of April he realized they were journeying to Bristol where they were joined by a larger army and supplied with more weapons.

Although Edward had the upper hand, one mistake (he knew) could’ve cost him everything. So it became a race against time, for the Yorkist King to encounter them when he was still strong before they reunited with others (such as Jasper Tudors who was far off and was looking forward to joining with them).

Edward of Westminster in the "White Queen" (2013)
Edward of Westminster in the “White Queen” (2013)

The Lancastrian army then reached Tewkesbury on 3 May. The next day they faced the Yorkist troops. The Prince of Wales along with the Duke of Somerset, Edmund Beaufort were the principal commanders. Marguerite and Anne Neville were likely hiding as Licence points out in her biography on Anne Neville; probably in Coventry with other Lancastrian wives waiting for news of the outcome.

The following day on Saturday May the 4th, Edward IV “donned his armor and divided his army into three divisions under the same leadership that had prevailed at Barnet -himself, Hastings and the brilliant young Gloucester, who was not given command of the vanguard.” Jones writes. The Lancastrias “were arrayed under Prince Edward” who was assisted by Lord Wenlock, Sir John Lagstrother (the prior of St. John) and of course his second in command Edmund Duke of Somerset, followed by John Courtenay the Earl of Devon. Edward IV began his assault with “a hail of arrows and gunshot” which was returned by the enemy. The Lancastrias had chosen a “strong defensive position” Skidmore notes “encamped on high ground to the south of Tewkesbury.” The battle raged on, “Somerset had chosen to command the right flank, placing the elderly veteran Lord Wenlock in charge of the center of the army.” Edward did not waste any time and told his brother leading the left flank to advance, the Lancastrians did their best to repel the wave of arrows flown at them, but they were soon overwhelmed.

“Outnumbered, Somerset’s forces force was slowly being driven back up the slope. It was at this point that Edward performed a masterstroke, ordering his 200 men-at-arms waiting hidden in the woods to launch a surprise attack into the side of Somerset’s beleaguered troops. The Duke’s men scattered, ‘dismayed and abashed’; some fled along the lanes, some into the park and down to the meadow by the river running alongside the abbey, but most would suffer the same fate of being cut down and killed as they ran. Somerset, however, refused to give up, making his way back to the Lancastrian center whose troops had stood motionless at Lord Wenlock’s order. Riding up to the aged nobleman, Somerset was in no mood for excuses; according to a latter account, in a fury, he raged at Wenlock, and before he had a chance to respond, Somerset seized his battle axe and beat his brains out, though a more contemporary chronicle suggests that this dramatic confrontation never took place, with Wenlock being captured and executed after the battle.” (Skidmore)

As everyone scrambled and ran to safety, Somerset took refuge in the Abbey with a few. The Prince was not so lucky.

“Exactly how Anne’s husband met his death is unclear. Literary and dramatic sources have presented a range of possibilities, implicating various Yorkists in differing degrees. Of the contemporary chroniclers recording the scene without being present, Commynes agrees with the Croyland and Benet chronicles, which clearly state that he fell on the field of battle, while the Arrival observes, ‘And there was slain in the field Prince Edward, which cried for succor to his brother-in-law, the Duke of Clarence.’ Even having sworn allegiance to him less than a year before, Clarenece clearly did not feel sufficiently moved to show the prince pity, stating in a letter to Henry Vernon that the Prince was ‘slain in plain battle’, differentiating his death from the ‘execution’ of Somerset also described in the correspondence. Warkworth agrees that the prince ‘was taken fleeing townwards, and slain in the field’, perhaps heading back for the safety of the abbey, or ‘poor religious place’ where his wife and mother waited. Tudor Historian Andre Bernanrd writing in 1501, also stated that the prince was slain in combat, even though, at the time, it would have been in his interests to slur the reputation of the Yorkist brothers. The alternative story of Edward’s murder began to gain credence soon after his death. Weeks after the battle, Bettini wrote to the Duke of Milan that the Yorkists had ‘not only routed the prince but taken and slain him, together with all the leading men with him’.” (Licence)

According to various accounts, he was executed before Edward IV, others say that he was killed by Richard III himself. Not surprisingly during the Tudor period the blame was lain on Richard’s feet. Even if this is true, as Licence argues in her biography of both of these men’s only wife, Anne Neville; he would not have risked doing something of that magnitude without his eldest brother and King, Edward IV’s approval. Edward IV wanted the entire Lancastrian line wiped, therefore he was not going to shrink away from executing him or giving the order to someone else if he was indeed brought before him.

Anne Neville played by Faye Marsay in the "White Queen" (2013).
Anne Neville played by Faye Marsay in the “White Queen” (2013).

The battle was a huge and decisive win, Jones notes for Edward because he had “at last gained a glorious victory” and two days after he had slain Edward Prince of Wales, he dragged Edmund Duke of Somerset, Sir John Langstrother, Sir Hugh Courtenay and other Lancastrians who had sought sanctuary inside the Abbey, to behead them. The following day on the 8th, he left Tewkesbury to track the Queen and her daughter-in-law, Anne Neville who was now a widow and like the Queen, at the mercy of the Yorkist King. Not long after, Henry VI also died under mysterious circumstances. No one believed the official story that he had died of melancholy.

Sources:

  • The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changes English History by Chris Skidmore
  • The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Anne Neville: Richard III’s Tragic Queen by Amy Licence
  • The Prince who did not become King: Edward of Lancaster (1453-1471) by Susan Higginbotham

Dispelling myths: The Truth Behind Edward IV & Cecily Neville

Cecily and Edward IV
Edward IV “the Rose of Rouen” and his mother “Proud Cis” Cecily Neville, Duchess Dowager of York.

Today historians still debate Edward IV’s parentage but a poem done in his honor, shortly after he was sworn in as King, leaves it very clear he was Richard, Duke of York’s son:

“Y is for York that is manly and mighty
That be grace of God and great revelation
Reining with rules reasonable and right-full
That which for our sakes hath suffered vexation.

E is for Edward whose fame the earth shall spread
Because of his wisdom named prudence
shall save all England by his manly deeds
Wherefore we owe to do him reverence

M is for March, through every trial
Drawn by discretion that worthy and wise is
conceived in wedlock and coming of blood royal
Joining unto virtue, excluding all vices.”

There was a scene in the White Queen, both in the book and the mini-series where Cecily Neville, Duchess of York and “Queen by Rights” is completely humiliated by her daughter-in-law and her mother, Lady Rivers. She threatens to disown her son Edward in favor of George because she is mad he married a Lancastrian impoverished widow. Elizabeth Grey nee Woodville’s father was a knight, albeit he had been made a Baron thanks to his service to the Crown –and Jacquetta’s friendship with the Lancastrian Queen. Her mother was Jacquetta of Luxemborg whose lineage was quite impressive. However in the middle ages, if your father was a nobody, it didn’t matter if your mother was a somebody, to their standards, you were technically a nobody unless you married above your station. Edward was the first King of the York dynasty –another branch of the Plantagenet Dynasty. His position was very unstable as Henry VI was still alive somewhere and his warring wife and son were seeking the support of Scotland and France to invade England and restore her husband to the throne. Everything he did or said could be used against him; he couldn’t afford to be his own man until he was safely installed. Yet, Edward disregarded this –as he did many things- and went ahead and married Elizabeth Woodville.

There are many possible reasons as to why he did this. Susan Higginbotham in her biography on the Woodville posits that he could have done it as another plot to convince Elizabeth to sleep with him, or for the simplest reason that he genuinely fell in love with her. Dan Jones in his latest book on the wars of the roses and the Tudors, give another approach that combines all reasons: That Edward was uncertain regarding his cousin Warwick’s proposal to marry the King of France’s relative, Bona of Savoy. If he agreed to marry this girl then he would be seen as Warwick’s tool. People were already saying that Warwick ruled. Edward didn’t want to give them any more reason to think this way. It was a great risk he was running but he did it anyway. Marrying Elizabeth was a public statement of his independence and furthermore that he was not going to show favoritism to any nobles regardless of their previous affiliations. The Woodvilles like so many former Lancastrians, had been pardoned in 1461 but there was still a lot resentment between noble families. People expected Edward IV to be like his counterpart and his wife and take retaliation against the people that supported his enemies.

He clearly didn’t.

Edward IV and Elizabeth in portraits and in the White Queen (2013) played by Max Irons and Rebecca Ferguson.
Edward IV and Elizabeth in portraits and in the White Queen (2013) played by Max Irons and Rebecca Ferguson.

His marriage with Elizabeth could have been handled better, and publicized more as his daughter’s to Henry VII was. Perhaps Edward believed that marrying her was enough for people to get the message of a reconciliation between both parties. It failed drastically. As we all know, Warwick and the rest were appalled at his decision. These were no simple dissatisfied nobles after all. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick had lost his father and younger brother when they helped Edward’s father, Richard Duke of York and his second eldest son Edmund Earl of Rutland fight the Queen’s army at Sandal Castle. His father as the rest, were beheaded, their heads stuck on a pole and exhibited on top of the gates as traitors. Warwick had to flee many times and muster whatever men he could, with what money he had left for his cousin. To have his cousin all the sudden say ‘sorry dude but I don’t like you anymore. Get the hell out’ was a huge slap in the face.

Warwick also had other motives for hating this union. Edward IV had always felt close to Burgundy. His mother had ties to that royal family, but Warwick wanted an alliance with France for obvious reasons (the Lancastrian Queen, Margaret of Anjou was there, begging the King to send troops to invade England and restore her husband. If she succeeded, then it was the end of everything and everyone they loved. Plain and simple. The best way to avoid that was by marrying Edward to the King’s relative so Margaret of Anjou would be completely cut off from allies. Now thanks to Edward’s latest marriage, that wasn’t going to happen).

Cecily had more reasons to hate that marriage though. She loved her son fiercely. Having lost her husband and her second son in such a brutal way, she became increasingly protecting of her remaining children. The year before her husband and son lost their heads (when they had to go abroad to escape the royal army) what do you think Cecily Neville did? She had to beg (I repeat, beg) for mercy and throw herself at the feet of her enemies so her youngest children would be spared. She counted on her friendship with Queen Margaret, to help her in these difficult times. It paid off.  Margaret of Anjou never lifted a finger against her and let her be (under the condition that she stayed with her sister, Anne, Duchess of Buckingham whose husband was a die-hard Lancastrian and who happened to be Margaret Beaufort’s mother-in-law). This time though, Cecily knew it wasn’t going to be so simple. Even *if* -and that was a big *if*- the Queen forgave her as before, she would see her youngest offspring (Richard, George and Margaret) as potential claimants who would one day rise to avenge their fallen brothers if Edward died too. Cecily had no choice but to send her two boys abroad to Burgundy where they were well taken care of. Imagine yourself as a forty five year old woman who had been married since she was twelve, who had lived through so much carnage and humiliation, and you suddenly found out that your sons could be seen as potential dangers to your best friend? What could you do? They say there is nothing a mother won’t do for her children, and that is what Cecily did. She let go of her children, and took refuge in God, praying that the next news she would receive would be a good one.

Edward’s choice therefore angered her. The White Queen made her look as if she hated Elizabeth because of her condition of ‘commoner’. But as much as I did enjoy some parts of the White Queen, we must look at it for what it is, fiction and acknowledge the facts. Cecily did not want to acknowledge Edward’s marriage to this Lancastrian widow because it was dangerous. She had seen the worse of humanity. She had lost nephews, uncles, husband, son, and a brother! Edward wasn’t even in his fifth year when he married Elizabeth. He had so many enemies, this marriage left him without alliances and completely naked to them. Not only that, but his failure meant the destruction of her family.

Cecily was not about to act all happy and ignorant and pretend this was okay. Her husband was gone but she was still there. Before Edward married Elizabeth, she was the most powerful woman in the land and many ambassadors met with her before they met with her nephew Warwick and her son, Edward IV. Elizabeth might become a good Queen, but her common status put them all in danger.

Cecily Neville is forced to bow to Elizabeth.
Cecily Neville is forced to bow to Elizabeth.

When Jaquetta and her daughter enter the Duchess’ chambers, smirking at her as if she is too far beneath them, the former threatens her to expose her as a “common whore”. Jacquetta says in the TV show that she vouched for her when the rumors began circulating that she had cheated on her husband with a Welsh archer. “Blaybourne, wasn’t it? Ah yes, I said that a great lady like you would not so demean herself as to lie with a common archer and let his bastard slip into a nobleman’s cradle like she was a common whore.”
Fiction sensationalizes these things to make them more interesting, I take it as an alternate universe where people are obviously very different from what they really were. A woman as conscientious of her lineage, her status, would never let herself be humiliated by a woman who was lower in rank than her. Even her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville, was lower in rank to her since she had been the daughter of a knight and although her mother had great lineage, that didn’t matter. Queen she might be, but to Cecily she was lower than her. And furthermore, she and Richard were very close in age, the two got to know each other since they were children –when his custody as passed to her father Ralph Neville, the Earl of Westmorland and then her mother. Her mother was Joan Beaufort and she was the only daughter of John, 1
st
Duke of Lancaster and his mistress, Katherine Swynford. He had been married two times before he married her. When he did, Richard II agreed to legitimize their children for all the good services his uncle had done in government. John’s cruel nature was a small price to pay to protect his third wife and their children whom he obviously felt closer to. Their half-brother and the first Lancastrian King, Henry IV, added a new clause to their legitimate status where it excluded them from the line of succession. Because of this, many of them became very religious because they felt deeply ashamed of having been born a bastard and their birth being an impediment to being in the line of succession. The fact that they didn’t carry the last name Plantagenet, was awful enough. Joan spent her entire life praying and making huge donations to churches, and her piety was passed on to her youngest offspring, Cecily.
Many medieval women took comfort in religion. Contrary to what it shown in movies and TV, many women saw religion as a means to an end. It gave some of them power and comfort from their everyday hardships. A year before her third son’s George Duke of Clarence’s death, Cecily began to take on a rigorous religious routine and wake up at certain hours of the day for religious devotion.
With this in mind, it is impossible that a woman such as Cecily whose other nickname was “proud Cis” would have gone behind her husband’s back and cheat with the first bloke she saw. Status was everything and as I’ve stated, Cecily was very aware of her place in society. Of course some historians will then state the matter of Edward’s low key baptism. This can be explained simply. The belief of something in between heaven and hell: Purgatory. People believed that premature children would die quickly and if they died quickly without being baptized then that meant that their souls would never reach heaven and they would be stuck in a perpetual limbo.

Not something nice, isn’t it?

Cecily Neville and her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville.
Cecily Neville and her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville.

“Cecily fell pregnant soon after her arrival in Rouen. The exact timing of the conception has been the subject of much debate among historians and would later prove a significant bone of political contention. Edward would arrive on 28 April 1442. This would place his conception sometime at the end of July 1441 or in the early days of August, assuming that it was a nine-month pregnancy. Records discovered in Rouen recently detail that Richard, Duke of York was absent from Rouen on campaign at Pontoise for several weeks, returning to the city on 20 August. From this detail, several historians have inferred that Edward was not Richard’s son. They believe this proves that Cecily must have had an adulterous liaison during his absence, which would render Edward illegitimate.

There are a number of problems with using this timing as evidence. If Cecily conceived on the night of Richard’s return to Rouen, 20 August, this still allows for a pregnancy of thirty-six weeks … To be premature, a baby must be born before thirty seven weeks and there is a fair chance that Edward might have arrived early.” -Licence

Richard and Cecily were very young when they were married and they didn’t consummate their marriage right away. When Cecily’s first recorded pregnancy became known, it probably wasn’t an easy pregnancy as her baby died in less than a year. He was named Henry for the King and the loss devastated them both. They had a daughter later who thankfully was born healthy, but like any couple they would have been hoping for a son. If Edward was premature and conceived during Richard’s comings and goings from his camp to Rouen Castle, then it makes perfect sense why they wanted to baptize him right away. If they didn’t then he would likely die (being so frail) and his soul would be wandering off in purgatory. There were some extreme cases where –if a priest wasn’t found- the midwife could take on the role of the priest and baptize the baby instead. The other reason for his quick baptism could be that although he wasn’t premature, they were both worried that he would die like his brother or Richard could be killed any day. The two weren’t exactly living in a peaceful area. England was still at war with France and he had been sent there to defend Normandy from Charles VII’s forces.

Sources:

  • The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Cecily Neville: The Mother of Kings by Amy Licence
  • Royal Babies by Amy Licence
  • The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham

Henry VII Dies: The Death of the Red Dragon

Henry VII Bosworth

On Saturday 21st of April 1509, Henry VII died at Richmond Palace. He was the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty and while he has been eclipsed by his larger than life son, Henry remains one of the most fascinating figures of the modern era.

“The reality of Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne –his narrow escapes from death, his failures and anxieties, complete with constant uncertainty of his situation … was a far less welcome tale. It remains nonetheless just as remarkable; against all the odds, at Bosworth Henry achieved victory that he should not have won.” (Skidmore)

He created a new symbol called the Tudor Rose which was nothing more than a device, an alternate tale to explain the roots of the conflict known today as the “wars of the roses”. The wars was a more complex conflict than what we are told and involved as many players as we can imagine. The warring Houses known as Lancaster and York, had many sigils. The white and the red rose where the emblems chosen by Henry Tudor to represent both Houses to give a new narrative of this conflict. It was an effective device that would become to represent not just the union of both Houses that came about with Henry VII’s marriage with Elizabeth of York, but of his descendants. On January 1559, fifty years after his death, his granddaughter, Elizabeth I rode from the Tower of London to Westminster on the eve of her coronation, and on her way she encountered five pageants, one of which showed “two personages representing King Henry the Seventh and Elizabeth his wife, daughter of King Edward the Fourth” seated together, above each head was the red rose and white rose respectively “out of which [these] two roses sprang two branches gathered into one, which were directed upward to a second stage wherein was placed one representing the valiant and noble prince King Henry [VIII]”.

Clearly, the Tudor rose was seen not just as a validation to his descendants’ right to the throne, but as something preordained by God, something that told the people that with them, the wars of the roses had come to a close, and peace had finally reigned in England. Whether this was true or not, and nobles believed it or not, is up to dispute. But nobody can deny that it was an effective piece of propaganda that convinced the people that war had come to an end, and that this new dynasty would bring them peace and prosperity. Tudor and Elizabethan literature helped a great deal when they continued to use this device to explain the reasons behind the conflict, reducing it to a dynastic conflict between two warring houses.

Tudor Rose 1

“The frontispiece was such a popular motif that it was repeated and reused on other, unconnected works: the same family tree appeared unmodified in John Stow’s 1550 and 1561 editions of Chaucer’s works, introducing the section on the Canterbury Tales. Just as John, Duke of Bedford, had plastered occupied France with genealogies advertising the legitimacy of the joint monarchy during the 1520s; just as Edward IV had obsessively compiled genealogies tracing his rightful royal descent from centuries long gone; so too did the Tudors drive home the message both of their right to rule and of their version of history. By Elizabeth’s reign the mere sight of red and white roses entwined was enough to evoke instantly the whole story of the fifteenth century: the Crown had been thrown into dispute and disarray by the Lancastrian deposition of Richard II in 1399; this had prompted nearly a century of warfare between two rival clans, which was a form of divine punishment for the overthrow of a rightful King; finally in 1485, the Tudors had reunited the families and saved the realm. It was that simple.” (Jones)

And yet all of Henry’s hard work, to maintain stability in his new realm, his marriage and his family, suffered a huge setback when his eldest son and beloved heir, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia died as a result of the plague in early April 1502. He and his wife were utterly devastated. “The shadow cast by Arthur’s death” writes Dan Jones “was long and dark” but not as dark as historians Amy Licence and Alison Weir add, that of Elizabeth of York’s death a year later. Their deaths were too much for the aging King, who began to isolate himself from the public, coming out only for state occasions. When Henry’s condition worsened, his mother (Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond) who was sick herself, ordered that her son be moved to Richmond that March.

Margaret Beaufort old

“Her hands, now cramped with arthritis, were so painful that she would sometimes cry out ‘Oh Blessed Jesus help me!’ But to watch her son suffer was so much worse. The dying King sobbed as he reflected on the lives he had ruined. His last agonies began at about 10 pm Friday 20 April.” (de Lisle)

Margaret brought her confessor, John Fisher, to hear his confession and give him his last rites. And then on the morning of April 21st, Henry died.

Margaret immediately began to make preparations for her grandson’s coronation and kept the King’s death a secret for three days. She organized a meeting with his councilors and co-executors at his will at Greenwich to discuss, among many things, her son’s burial and the upcoming regency during her son’s short minority. Henry VIII was not yet eighteen and Margaret wanted to make sure that he was safely installed in his throne, before he took on the reins of government. Margaret had great experience in this since she had been a child of nine attending the court of her cousin, Henry VI, to repudiate her betrothal to de la Pole. The meeting took place on the celebration of the Order of the Garter –an Order she was a member of. Her grandson was present and while he was anxious to start his new reign, he recognized his grandmother’s experience, and respected her authority. Later that night, Henry’s death was announced and sadly (at least to Margaret, it must have been) nobody mourned his death and according to contemporary chroniclers, they greeted his death with celebration. To many historians, Thomas Penn included, Henry VII is a miserly figure who was consumed by darkness of his own making and who will forever be remember as a somber and cold figure. But this, as Linda Porter in her recent biography of the Tudors and Stewarts points out, is “an unfair assessment”.

A young Henry Tudor.
A young Henry Tudor.

“He was comely personage, a little above just stature, well and straight-limbed, but slender. His countenance was revered, and a little like a churchman, and as it was not strange or dark so neither was it winning or pleasing, but as the face of one well disposed. But it was to the disadvantage of the painter, for it was best when he spoke.” (Bacon)

Although written over a century after his death, Francis Bacon’s description of the first Tudor King, is right on the spot. Linda Porter adds:

“[He was] A considered person, not given to great public displays of emotion, somewhat ascetic in appearance, not exactly handsome but with an interesting and by no means unattractive face, the whole man only at his most appealing when he was animated. His portraits show that he did, indeed, have something of the churchman about him: a calm and also inscrutability, a sense that you would never entirely know that he was thinking. It gave him an air of authority.” (Porter)

Henry VII was an energetic young man at the time of his exile, yet he was also controlled and cautious as the descriptions above, provide. He loved to laugh, joke and gamble but whereas some kings and leaders were known for their vices, Henry was not known to have any. Some of those who met him during his exile, were surprised how someone who had lived and survived through so much, could be so controlled and yet not bitter. When he became King, he kept some of the measures that King Edward IV had introduced, he kept the Star Chamber on a tight leash, terminated private liveries which meant that nobles could no longer have private armies, and defeated the pretender forces of Lambert Simnel who posed as Edward, Earl of Warwick (George, Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville’s son) and Perkin Warbeck who posed as Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York.

Henry never forgot those who had helped him get to where he was and in his last will he names those “lords as well of our blood as other, and also knights, squires and divers our true loving subjects and servants’ who had ‘faithfully assisted us, and divers of them put themselves in extreme jeopardy of their lives, and losses of their lands and goods, in serving and assisting us, as well about the recovery of our Right and Realm of England.’ And in one final tribute to his victory in battle twenty four years before, the dying King requested that a wooden image, wrought with plate of fine gold, should be made, ‘representing our own person … in the manner of an armed man’, to be equipped with an enameled coat of the arms of England and France, together with a sword and spurs. The statue was to be placed kneeling on a silver table, ‘holding betwixt his hands the crown which it pleased God to give us, with the victory over our enemy at our first field.’ The statue was to be dedicated to St. Edward the Confessor, and set in the middle of his shrine, with detailed instructions as to the exact measurements of the statue, so that it would seem as if Henry was almost offering up his crown to St. Edward in thanks.” (Skidmore)

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.
Henry VII and Elizabeth of York tomb at the Lady Chapel located in Westminster Abbey.

Henry’s body remained in Richmond for two weeks until it was finally laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, inside the Lady Chapel that Henry had ordered constructed for him, his wife and his descendants. He was buried right beside her. Above them, standing a massive golden effigy, representing both of them.

Sources:

  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • The Winter King by Thomas Penn
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • The Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation and Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Family by Leanda de Lisle

Arthur Tudor: Forever Young, the Death of the Camelot dream

Arthur Tudor (b.1486), was the Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia and he was named after the legendary Welsh and English hero. He represented the hopes and dreams that Henry had for his realm and the future of his dynasty. His death was a huge blow to everyone.
Arthur Tudor (b.1486), was the Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia and he was named after the legendary Welsh and English hero. He represented the hopes and dreams that Henry had for his realm and the future of his dynasty. His death was a huge blow to everyone.

On the 2nd of April 1502, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and Lord of Snowdonia died at the age of fifteen at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches. No one knows exactly what the cause of his death was, but mostly agree it was this one. Contrary to what’s shown in popular culture, Arthur Tudor was not a sickly teen. In fact, he was very sheltered, reared with a very religious and rigorous regime that included the latest Humanist books and of course,  classical texts. His tutor Andre remarked that he was a bright pupil who absorbed everything that was taught to him immediately. Clearly, he represented a dream, the chosen Prince who would herald a new era into England. A new Camelot, and would make the Tudor dynasty the most famous dynasty in history. His father was a quarter Welsh through his half-Welsh/half-French father Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond.  Through his mother (Margaret Beaufort) he inherited the claim to the throne as she descended from the eldest son of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster and his mistress (and later his wife) Katherine Swynford. When Henry went into battle, he came with a red dragon as his emblem and incorporated it into the royal arms. The red dragon represented none other than Cadwalladr. It won Henry many Welsh allies, who since his birth had begun making poems of him since his father and his uncle were very loved there. Henry never forgot his Welsh roots and naming his firstborn after this legendary hero and being born at Winchester (where Camelot was reputed to have been) was a statement that he intended to make the Tudor Dynasty immortal, and like his son’s namesake, bring a new Camelot.

Sadly, this was not to be. Arthur died and with him, Henry’s dreams. He and his wife, Elizabeth of York, received the news two days later on April 4. The council deemed it appropriate to have Henry’s confessor tell him the news.

"If we receive good from the hand of God, should we not also tolerate the bad?’ It was then that he ‘showed his Grace that his dearest son was departed to God." -Henry's confessor to the King.
“If we receive good from the hand of God, should we not also tolerate the bad?’ It was then that he ‘showed his Grace that his dearest son was departed to God.” -Henry’s confessor to the King.

The news shocked Henry so much that he went into full despair. Elizabeth, equally heartbroken, but nonetheless stoic as she’d aways been; took him in her arms and reminded him of his position and that they were still young  and could have more children.

Elizabeth "did her best to comfort him as they took ‘the painful sorrow together’" writes Licence. And that "God had left him yet a fair prince, two fair princesses" and that they were still young and could have more children. Afterwards, she went into her rooms to cry, and he comforted her as well.
Elizabeth “did her best to comfort him as they took ‘the painful sorrow together’” writes Licence. And that “God had left him yet a fair prince, two fair princesses” and that they were still young and could have more children.
Afterwards, she went into her rooms to cry, and he comforted her as well.

Perhaps the one who took his death the hardest was Katherine of Aragon, the young Infanta who was not yet seventeen and who had come from Spain with the mindset that she woud become the future Queen of England.

Katherine of Aragon as a widow Portrait by Michael Sittow. Arthur's death left her in a political limbo for seven years.
Katherine of Aragon as a widow Portrait by Michael Sittow. Arthur’s death left her in a political limbo for seven years.

Katherine had been trained  almost as a renaissance Prince. She was taught the same subjects as Arthur and furthermore was taught canon and civic law and had been with her mother on her military campaigns. No other princess was better prepared. Arthur’s death left her in a political limbo and although her mother secured a papal dispensation before she died (1504) and made Henry VII agree to a betrothal, she was still left in despair. Her father made her into his ambassador to increase her allowance and that helped and gave her a taste of the intrigue of the Tudor court. For five more years she waited, and what seemed in vain at last took fruit when the friendship she had formed with the new Prince of Wales (Harry Tudor) convinced him that she was the only wife for him. After the death of his father, the new King, Henry VIII, told his council that he would take no other wife but Katherine of Aragon. At last Katherine fulfilled her life’s dream, becoming Queen of England.

Sources:

  • Sister Queens: The noble and tragic lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana I of Castile by Julia Fox
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • Elizabeth of York by Amy Licence
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle

Glorianna: The Death of Queen Elizabeth I & the End of an Era

Elizabeth I's most iconic portrait, the "Rainbow" portrait.
Elizabeth I’s most iconic portrait, the “Rainbow” portrait.

On the 24th of March 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died at Richmond Palace at the age of sixty nine. She had ruled England for forty five years, the longest reigning monarch in Tudor history and the third longest ruling female monarch in English history. Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. She was born on September 7th, 1533, she was bastardized less than three years later in 1536, following the execution of her mother. It is not known whether Elizabeth remembered her mother, likely she did not. However, she spent a lot of time with people who did, namely her maternal family. Through them, she probably got to know the woman who gave birth to her. She had one ring with her picture on it, and while she didn’t renew the validity of her parents’ marriage as her sister had done with hers; she made them an important part of her coronation celebrations, showcasing them together along with their sigils, the Tudor rose and the glorious white falcon crowned. Elizabeth also made an important point of showcasing her paternal grandparents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and what their union represented: The end of the wars later known as the wars of the roses, and the bringing of peace. Elizabeth I’s reign was not an easy one and she was always plagued by conspiracy, betrayal and suspicion. As she got older the Queen saw enemies everywhere, and as her predecessors she became more ruthless. While her religious establishment was more conciliatory than any of her ancestors (especially her father, sister and brother) had been, she still burned heretics, namely Anabaptists, and persecuted many Catholics who resisted her rule.

Out of all the monarchs, Elizabeth was unique in the sense that she never married. She refused to be tied to anyone; not so much because she feared love but because as a woman in a country that was not used to female rule, she knew that being married would mean submitting to her husband’s rule, or worse. If she married into another House, that House would expect more favor than the others and that could disrupt the whole order of things. Elizabeth I had many favorites nonetheless, but it is unlikely she had any sexual relations with any of them. They were more of platonic love interests, who gave the Queen companionship and who (like Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester) also served as faithful advisors.

News of the Queen’s death spread like wildfire, also reaching her preferred successor, James VI of Scotland. Weeks before, on March 9th, Robert Cecil, the son of her most trusted adviser, William Cecil (Lord Burghley) wrote to George Nicholson, the English Ambassador in Edinburgh, informing him that the Queen was ailing and that “her mouth and tongue” were “dry and her chest hot” and that she couldn’t sleep anymore. This is somewhat false. Elizabeth was deathly ill, but she was far from helpless as Cecil’s report suggests. She was in fact, walking back and forth in her chambers, perhaps pondering of what the future would bring once she was gone. Less than a week later, she became worse and was no longer able to move so freely. On the 19th of March she gave a last audience to Sir Robert Carey (Mary Boleyn’s youngest grandson). She held Carey’s hand and confessed to him that she was not well. Her cousin tried to cheer her but it was clear to everyone that their beloved Queen wouldn’t live for much longer.

On Tuesday, the twenty-second she was brought to her bed where she stayed until her death. Her councilors visited her and insisted that she dictate her will, but she refused. Like before, Elizabeth refused to name an heir. All those who had been potential heirs, had suffered tragic fates. Katherine Grey had been punished for marrying without royal permission, and with her only witness to her wedding, dead, she had been incarcerated and forced to give birth (twice) in prison. Then she died from depression. Her youngest sister, Mary Grey was forbidden from having intimate contact from her husband who was of lower rank, with no royal ties whatsoever. She was later forgiven and became one of Elizabeth’s most loyal subjects. Her other cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, suffered the worse penalty by being executed for plotting against her. Her son, James VI, was Elizabeth I’s councilors favored heir.

According to one story, on the day before her death, the Privy Council seeing that she was unable to speak, suggested that she raised her finger to the successor she’d like. Supposedly, she raised her head when they mentioned James, giving her approval to her late enemy’s son. Others who were present, said that she never moved.

It didn’t matter in the end. Everyone was set on James and probably Elizabeth knew it, and that could have been the reason she refused to move, knowing that as the sun was setting on the Tudor dynasty, nothing she did, would have changed her soon-to-be former subjects’ minds.

Elizabeth-I-Allegorical-Po

“This morning Her Majesty departed from this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from a tree … Dr. Parry told me he was present, and sent his prayers before her soul; and I doubt not but she is amongst the royal saints in heaven in eternal joys.” –John Manningham

She died on the next day, between two and three o’clock in the morning.

Eight hours later, her cousin, Sir Robert Carey with whom she had an audience days before, was given the order to go North to Scotland to carry the ring his sister had taken from the Queen’s finger and deliver it to James as confirmation of his new future as King of England.

It was the end of the Tudor Dynasty and the beginning of the Stuart Dynasty.

Some historians today dispute the image of Elizabeth as Glorianna, and while their reasons are well-founded, no one can deny that Elizabeth I was unique in many ways, and that as her sister; she fixed the coinage that had been debased during their father’s and brother’s reigns. And while her “idiosyncratic attitude to marriage left her equally isolated … she was saved, once again, by divided counsel” writes Starkey. Therefore, after nearly forty five years of rule, Starkey adds, “she handed over to her Stuart successor something that was recognizable as the inheritance of Henry VIII”. And yet she continues to divide public opinion. Some want to portray her in a negative light, overturning previous propaganda, and this is equally bad because it is doing the same, only in another extreme. In reality, Elizabeth was as Leanda de Lisle, Tudor biographer, writes in her latest book, neither heroine nor villain. Both she and her sister, ruling England, a country which had a negative perception of female rule, were both “rulers of their time”. Both had to take on the role of mother. Mary had shown herself as a mother to her children in her speech during the Wyatt Rebellion. Elizabeth I had done the same, and gone a step further by presenting herself as the defendress of the faith, as a new Deborah, defending the precepts of the holy tenant, a reluctant warrior who would be mother and protector to her people. It was an image that put everyone at ease, and by doing little to change the social order, she earned the acceptance of most of her subjects. Truly, as Claire Ridgway says in her book “On this day in Tudor History”:

“Elizabeth I’s death was the end of an era in so many ways: the end of England’s “Golden Age”, the end of a long reign and the end of the Tudor dynasty.”

After people grew tired of James’ extravaganza, they began to look back and think differently of their late queen. And so, the legend of Glorianna began, a legend that has endured since then.

Elizabeth I tomb

Elizabeth is buried at Westminster Abbey, on top of her half’s sister, in a magnificent tomb which has the next inscription:  “Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection.”

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor Age by Jasper Ridley
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle.
  • Anne Boleyn Collection by Claire Ridgway
  • Sisters who would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle.