I have read a lot of Alison Weir’s books, as with every book, every author there will always be things I disagree, that is a thing of mine but what I loved about reading this book and it had to do with the timing that I was reading it, is that I read it following Higgibontham’s The Woodvilles which was absolutely great. So I remembered a lot of details and could compare and contrast and do many notes on both books.
Of course every author has his or her own style. Weir here takes on only one person, Elizabeth Woodville (or Wydeville -as Weir decides to use the last name in this form as Elizabeth signed it as)’s daughter, Elizabeth of York.
Elizabeth of York has gone to history as the docile, extremely sweet, beautiful, vulnerable, almost no personality, submissive wife, the woman that Henry VIII (her surviving son)admired and was very close to. Weir makes the point as Starkey in his documentary series, that their signatures were very much alike. Also, unlike his older brother, Prince Arthur, he grew closer to his mother, her visits to her younger children were more accessible.
What emerges from this biography are many details, an Elizabeth that could have schemed (Weir assumes she could have brokered based on the famous copy of the letter to John Howard, which there is no certainty there was an original, but the possibility remains) to marry Richard, or as she and Higginbotham both say, she could have meant something else -i.e. -her situation as a young woman worried she might never marry and she wanted to improve her mother and sisters’ situation. The Woodvilles under Richard, were on a precarious situation and the fact the letter has some things in blank, it is open to speculation as to what Elizabeth really meant.
From the great details of late medieval and early modern England’s church and secular traditions regarding childbirth, baptisms, coronations, feasts, accounts, royal households, protocols and much more, this book needs to be read carefully as there are many details that need to be paid attention but it’s worth the read.
Some things I didn’t agree like the Woodvilles being on a tight leash under Henry VII’s reign, this was not so, in fact one thing that was failed to mention was that like his late brother Anthony Woodville, Sir Edward Woodville was a deeply devoted and pious man who even went on to aid Ferdinand and Isabella on their crusade against the Moors and he also had this sense of honor that his late brother previously held. But in spite of this, there is so much in this book that I recommend.
“The real Elizabeth remains inaccessible through the lack of surviving records”. Yet Amy Licence brought her back to life digging through contemporary date and relying on archeological evidence and knowledge of the time, instead of falling trap (like some writers often do) of later century (or centuries) “sources” (two George Bucks, Sir Francis Bacon among others). Even contemporary sources are analyzed carefully as she tries to peacdd together this queen’s life and separate fact from fiction and ask the important questions and give plausible answers behind each one. EOY was a woman who was pious and ambitious, who knew her duty and knew that the best way to fulfill the obligations that were expected of her was through marriage.
While Elizabeth’s role in queenship is often forgotten we forget that she emulated the virtues of medieval queenship and her sanctified image -sanctified thanks to the beautiful imagery at her funeral and afterwards when Henry was laid to rest next to her (six years after her death) in 1509- lasts into posterity. When Henry VIII came into the throne, the ideal of the “perfect queen” no doubt was influenced by his mother, her death had shocked him and he said it was one of the most painful events in his life and how he viewed queenship was due in parts to the role his mother played to and excelled at.
On the 25th of November 1487, over a year after her marriage to Henry VII, Elizabeth of York was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. Her ceremony superseded that of her husband’s. It began two days before on Friday, the twenty third when she and a select number of ladies and courtiers traveled by barge to the Tower of London. Elizabeth received a great reception and was greeted by almost every Londoner who had come out to see their beloved princess. Her father was greatly remembered after his many victories and regaining the throne, following the Lancastrian Readeption; not to mention that the Commons also remembered her mother’s passive response during that time. She hadn’t asked them to rise up in arms, or disobey their new overlords. Instead, she sought sanctuary at the Abbey and lived off the charity of the Abbot and others nearby.
Furthermore, Elizabeth was widely loved in the North as the eldest Princess of York. And her marriage to Henry symbolized the union of the two warring branches of the Plantagenet House from which they both descended: Lancaster & York. It was important that Henry gave his wife a ceremony to be remembered in years to come. Image was everything and the Tudor Dynasty was new, and it needed this kind of splendor and rhetoric to convince the people of its legitimacy in order to survive.
One of the many symbols that would have graced the palaces and the Tower would be the Tudor rose, a white rose in the middle of the red. The white symbolized the House of York. The red stood for Lancaster. Roses were very popular symbols during the middle ages. They symbolized the Virgin Mary, in the case of the red rose as Leanda de Lisle explains:
“The simple five-petal design of the heraldic rose was inspired by the wild dog rose that grows in English hedgerows. As a symbol it had a long association with the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes called the ‘Mystical Rose of Heaven.’ But although the King’s grandfather, Henry IV, had once used red roses to decorate his pavilion at a joust, their use as a Lancastrian royal badge was not widespread before the advent of the Tudors.”
Or (in the case of the white rose) the five wounds inflicted on Jesus Christ when he was nailed to the cross. After Edward IV’s victories, the white rose became one of his personal symbols. It was soon associated with his House, and although there is record of some using the red rose as a form of opposition to the Yorkist House, it was not the official symbol of said house. Nonetheless, it became popular that Henry took it as a symbol for Lancaster and because it was also easy and very iconic, used it to create this new symbol for his dynasty. One which would also give the people a new narrative in which the war was over thanks to him, who had come to save the day and whose marriage had stopped the bloodshed.
Besides this, according to John Leland’s “Collectanea” (which is based on old notes he’d taken from monks’ books that included important events such as coronations), “the mayor, sheriffs, aldermen and many out of every craft attended [the Queen] in a flotilla of boats freshly furnished with banners and streamers of silk richly beseen with the arms and badges of their crafts” and rowed by liveried oarsmen. Alongside Elizabeth’s barges were others “garnished and appareled, surpassing all others”, containing the model of the “great red dragon” –which was none other than Cadwaladr, the same red dragon that he took as his personal standard during the Battle of Bosworth and that was no part of the royal arms- that “spouted flames of fire into the Thames.” Everything else from “music of trumpets, clarions, and other minstrelsy” formed part of the entertainment that accompanied the Queen on her road to the Tower of London which had housed so many of her predecessors, and was the traditional destination before their coronation.
The following day, on the twenty-fourth, she made her state entry into London. Dressed splendidly, wearing a kirtle “of white cloth of gold of damask, and a mantle of the same suit furred with ermine, fastened before her breast with a great lacel curiously wrought of gold and slik and rich knots of gold at the end, tasseled.” Her hair was set loose with only a “caul of pipes over it.” This, biographer and novelist Alison Weir explains, consisted of a coif “cross-barred with a network gold cords, a fashion popular in France and Italy.”
Emerging from the Tower, with her sister [Cecily] carrying her train, she climbed into a litter richly hung with white cloth of gold damask. Eight horses pulled the litter and new Knights of the Bath carried a large canopy above her. As before, Elizabeth toured the city of London, only this time on land. Crowds showed the same enthusiasm as seeing their queen-to-be and beloved Princess, as the day before. And that joy would be doubled the day after when she was finally crowned.
The day was no mere coincidence as it fell on St. Catherine’s day who as Elizabeth had been a King’s daughter, and was widely revered for her intellectualism and her piety. It is known that Elizabeth was educated as expected of a lady of her station, with a love for chivalry and a strong piety which no doubt was instilled by her mother and her paternal grandmother, the Duchess of York –Cecily Neville aka “Queen by Rights”. According to Tudor chronicler, Edward Hall –writing in the sixteenth century- Henry did this as proof of his “perfect love and sincere affection” for his consort.
“Elizabeth went to her coronation on sumptuously attired in a kirtle, gown, and mantle of purple velvet,furred with ermine bands, and the same circlet of gold garnished with pearls and precious stones that she had worn the day before. This circlet was probably a gift from Henry; from the late fourteenth century at least, it had been customary for the crown worn by a queen in her coronation procession to be given to her by the King.” (Weir)
With her sister carrying her train once more, Elizabeth traveled to the Abbey dressed in a mantle of purple velvet, furred with ermine brands. And as was customary for queens on their coronation, her hair was loose with only a circlet of gold with pearls and other precious stones on it. Above her was a canopy that followed her all the way to the church. With her, were also her aunts the Duchesses of Bedford and Suffolk, and her cousin Margaret Pole. Notably missing was her mother, the Queen Dowager. Some historians take this as evidence that Henry suspected her involvement in the Lambert Simnel rebellion, others –like biographer and novelist, Susan Higginbotham- take a middle approach and point out her eldest son’s (the Marquis of Dorset, Thomas Grey) arrest which “soured her relations with the King.”
Elizabeth was anointed twice on the breast and head, then had the ring placed on her fourth finger, followed by a golden crown on her head, a scepter and rod of gold on each hand. Following this event, she and her party traveled to Westminster Hall where a great banquet awaited her.
“An observing herald recorded the arrangements and menu of the occasion. First, onlookers were cleared away by horseback riders, to make way for the guests: lords, bishops and abbots; barons, knights and nobles, beside London’s mayor, aldermen, merchants and distinguished citizens, were seated either side of the dais on which Elizabeth would be served, flanked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, her aunt the Duchess of Bedford and paternal grandmother Cecily Neville. Another two noblewomen sat under the table at her feet the whole time to assist her discreetly.” (Licence)
Following tradition, like her father during her mother’s coronation, her husband was not visibly present for hers. He and his mother, the Countess of Richmond, watched the event from a private spot.
As for the courses: Dishes such as hart, pheasant, capons, lamprey, crane, pike, carp, perch and custard were served *“followed by an elaborate ‘subtlety’, decorative dish that was as much a feast for the eyes as it was for the mouth.” Furthermore, the seating arrangements were as followed: Her maternal grandmother, Katherine Woodville, the Dowager Duchess of Buckingham and Bedford was seated at her left hand with her uncle’s widow, the Countess Dowager of Rivers and the Countess of Oxford kneeling at either side of her. The new Queen of England would have also been entertained by music and ballads made for this occasion.
Elizabeth of York remains an elusive character. Some historians and novelists have taken her actions during the Ricardian regime out of context to convey a sinister and manipulative aspect that is neglected by their predecessors; but by doing this they are doing the same mistake. You can’t judge Elizabeth of York by modern standards. She was a woman of her times, and one who was born a Princess. She believed it wasn’t only her right, but her divine right to marry someone of her same station or above her. In case of the latter, this depended largely on what would benefit her family. During her uncle Richard III’s reign, after he vowed that he wouldn’t harm her, her mother and her sisters, she and Cecily were invited to court where they attended Anne Neville. Some have taken her actions during that Christmas, when she and her aunt wore similar clothing as proof of her scheming –so like her mother- to snatch Richard from Anne so she could be Queen and her family would be back in favor. But this narrative follows the same myths regarding her mother and the rest of her maternal family –the Woodvilles- that they were power-grasping and didn’t think things through. Elizabeth’s actions as that of her maternal family might seem so to us at first, but in an era of uncertainty, it was very common for people, especially the high-born, to change allegiances. Elizabeth and her mother had already risked too much, and who knew how long Richard would last in power? There was no guarantee that Henry Tudor (then) Earl of Richmond would come back to defeat Richard. The odds were not in his favor; Elizabeth and her family had to do what was best for them. There is no evidence however that Elizabeth lusted after her uncle or vice-verse. Richard III was already planning a dual marriage for the both of them to Portuguese royals so whatever you might have seen on TV or read in fiction, take that out of your minds.
Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry had the advantage that the two had come to know during that five month interim, from late August to January.
Elizabeth of York’s affected Henry. After he died in 1509, he was buried alongside her. Elizabeth of York remained a model for perfect queenship, a model which her son would judge all of his queens.
Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen by Amy Licence
Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and her World by Alison Weir
The Woodvilles: The Wars of the Roses and England’s Most Infamous Family by Susan Higginbotham*
Tudor: Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
On the 17th of November 1558, Queen Mary I passed away at St. James Palace. She was forty two. Immediately, her coronation ring was taken to Elizabeth I who upon receiving quoted from one of the psalms declaring, quite coincidentally under an oak tree as one of her namesakes supposedly had been under when Edward IV found her, that “this is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Elizabeth was the new queen, she would go on to become the longest reigning monarch of the Tudor dynasty, and with her the reign of her sister would become less and less important and remembered only for the persecutions.
But before everyone is quick to judge, and the expense of being preachy, we must remember the times she lived in. Her actions should not –by any means- be condoned, but neither should the acts of her predecessors and successors be justified or overlooked because of their success. In her short reign, Mary managed to institute a new coinage, refounded universities, as well as instituted a curriculum that was inspired by the Humanist ideals she’d grown up with, and took a page from her brother’s book of common prayer where religious books were concerned. However, as more Protestants rose up against her, and condemned her for her religious inclination as well as her decision to marry a foreign (Catholic) Prince, her policies which once promised would respect everyone’s faith (as long they practiced it in “quiet charity”) became the opposite.
When the Lady Elizabeth had heard of her sister’s failing health by her sister’s servants and Count de Feria, she was very hostile towards them. Although she appreciated her sister making a codicil to her will acknowledging that she would respect her father’s will, guaranteeing Elizabeth’s place in history as England’s next Queen; she remarked to the Count that regardless of what her brother-in-law had done for her, she would not be in any way grateful to him since she had done nothing wrong. Many decades after her death, Jane Dormer would recall that meeting, claiming that she had also been sent there to deliver some of Mary’s jewels to her. Whether she did or did not, it is possible that Mary sought to reconcile herself with her sister. After all, when Mary had reclaimed the crown, she did so, stating that it wasn’t only her right but her sister’s as well.
Close to death, Mary asked to hear mass before midnight, then at night of the next morning she slipped away.
“So peaceful was her passing” Linda Porter writes “that those around her did not realize, at first, that she was gone.” Mary had endured a lot in her life, and she persevered. Yet, just as in life, she was never to know peace. Shortly after she died, the news was delivered to her friend and distant cousin, Reginald Pole who also lay dying. When he heard the news “though his spirit was great, the blow nevertheless having entered his flesh, brought on paroxysm earlier, and with more intense cold.”
“She like himself, “had been harassed during many years for one and the same cause, and afterwards, when it pleased God to raise her to the throne, he had greatly participated in all her other troubles entailed by that elevation.” Just twelve hours after Mary’s passing, he too died, unreconciled with and condemned by the pope.” (Whitelock)
Mary I and Reginald Pole tried something similar her maternal grandmother had done in Castile which was root out corruption in the Church, this as we can imagine probably wasn’t very popular with some clerics. But the pope’s discontent largely has to do with England’s religious landscape. England would never be a Catholic kingdom. Almost a decade later when their cousin, Margaret Douglas, conspired to have her eldest son married to the Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I’s men spread rumors that she tried to have Mary alter their father’s will so she would be name her heir in place of Elizabeth. In another effort to further slander her name, she was also accused as being the main culprit behind the sister’s rivalry.
“Within hours of Mary’s death, the preparation of her body began. Her heart and bowels were removed, her belly opened and filled with preservative herbs and spices.” (Whitelock)
She remained at St James for almost a month until her funeral in mid-December. Elizabeth spared no expense for the funeral. A beautiful eulogy was written for Mary titled ‘The Epitaph upon the death of our late virtuous Quene Marie deceased’which read the following:
“How many noble men restored and other states also Well showed her princely liberal heart, which gave both friend and foe. As princely was her birth, so princely was her life, Constant, courtise, modest and mild; a chaste and chosen wife. Oh mirror of all womanhood! Oh Queen of virtues pure! Oh constant Marie! Filled with grace no age can thee obscure.”
This however was altered, as ordered by Elizabeth, to include the new Tudor Queen and create a starch contrast between the sisters, where Mary is praised but so is Elizabeth who it is implied will be a greater monarch than her predecessor.
“Marie now dead, Elizabeth lives,
our just and lawful Queen In whom her sister’s virtues rare, abundantly are seen. Obey our Queen as we are bound,
pray God her to preserve And send her grace lie long and fruit, and subjects truth to serve.”
This wasn’t the only thing that was changed. John White, Bishop of Winchester delivered the funeral sermon praising Mary’s virtues, saying that “she was a king’s daughter, she was a King’s sister, she was King’s wife. She was a Queen and by the same title a King also” concluding with wishing Elizabeth a prosperous reign “in peace and tranquility if it be God’s will.” That last sentence sealed his fate and he was placed under house arrest.
Elizabeth I’s successor went a step further and ordered a great effigy for the Tudor Queen, and also ordered that two sisters be put together. Mary I’s tomb was once marked, and although it still is, only one of the two sisters is remembered in this great monument and that is Elizabeth.
Perhaps it is the romantic in all of us that wish that these two troubled sisters found peace in the afterlife, but given their loss and struggle, especially Mary’s whose reign is still obscured and seen through one lens, it is impossible that they ever will. History is written by the victors, they say and that couldn’t be truer. Mary’s achievement which were continued (albeit some of these improved) by her sister, are nearly forgotten.
The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock
On the 12th of November 1501, Katherine of Aragon arrived to the city of London. She had met her future brother in law, Henry Tudor Duke of York, days prior. He and his party escorted the Infanta to the city. The roads were sanded and graveled to prevent horses from sliding and everywhere she turned there was a new pageant. The city was joyous to see their new princess. The Spanish Infanta was everything they hoped for in a consort. She was shy, humble with her eyes cast downward, looking away whenever she was paid a compliment but most of all she was beautiful with red-golden hair, fair skin and blue eyes. “But appearances” as historian Julia Fox points out in her dual biography on her and her sister, “can be deceiving”.
Katherine had her mother’s warrior spirit. The Lord Mayor, Sir John Shaa was in charge of the celebrations. According to the ‘Receyt of the Ladie Catheryne’, Katherine wore her hair loose “down to her back through a specially designed gap in her headdress” which consisted of a wide-brimmed hat that looked like a cardinal hat that was “held in place by a golden lace.”
There were twelve pageants in total and the first she came across was the one on the bridge where she and Arthur were marvelously represented by actors that also celebrated their future marriage. Laden with symbols, she would have recognized the Tudor rose, the Beaufort portcullises, the Welsh red dragon of King Cadwalldr that Henry VII had used as his main standard when he fought Richard III at Bosworth field (and was now part of the royal coat of arms), and last but not least the ostrich feathers which represented the Prince of Wales.
The other pageants consisted of historical and celestial figures which approached the Spanish Princess to talk of the joys of marriage. One of these was Saint Ursula who was a British saint and who had accompanied thousands of young girls on a pilgrimage to Rome. She was the epitome of virtue and piety as they hoped Katherine would be. Then there was her namesake, St. Catherine, who had also been a princess in addition to being a church scholar and highly revered. She told the Infanta that she would have two husbands, a celestial one in God and an earthly one in Prince Arthur. (Ironically, Katherine would have two husbands). The next one paid homage to her native ancestor, the revered King of Castile, Alfonso the Tenth better known as “El Sabio” (the wise) who stood next to the biblical figures of Raphael and Job and the philosopher Boethius. The Castilian King told her that a “princess young and tender” was fated to come to England to “marry a noble prince” and that from her many kings would follow.
When her party reached Cheapside for the fourth display, she saw an actor playing Arthur. This amused her as she saw him standing in between the pillars decorated with red and white roses that symbolized the dynastic conflict between the Houses of York and Lancaster. The penultimate pageant was the most important as its great structure depicted the Temple of God with heavenly figures giving their approval to the marriage and comparing the king and founder of the Tudor dynasty to God himself.
“The actors declaimed that while God has bestowed matrimony as a sign of the union between Himself and human beings, Henry had bestowed matrimony on Katherine and Arthur to bring peace and prosperity to the realm.” (Fox)
Last but not least, the final pageant was set up in the churchyard of Saint Paul where three golden thrones were erected representing Katherine and Arthur with Honor in the middle.
Although she couldn’t see them, the King and Queen and her betrothed were nearby, watching everything unfold.
When the ceremonies ended she received gifts from the Lord Mayor and the Archbishop of Canterbury and made offerings to St. Erkenwalkd then retired to the Bishop’s Palace. The following day she would meet her mother and grandmother in law and entertain them at Baynard Castle and the day after that, she would marry Arthur becoming Princess of Wales.
Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana I, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox
Tudor. Passion, Manipulation and Murder by Leanda de Lisle
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
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.
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.
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.
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
On the 18th of October 1541, Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, died at Methven Castle, Scotland. She was married thrice, first King James IV of Scotland, then Archibald Douglas the Earl of Angus, and lastly to Henry Stewart, Lord Methven. She had children from her first two marriages: James V and Margaret Douglas. Their offspring, Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley’s union produced James VI of Scotland who became King of England after Elizabeth I died without leaving any issue.
Being her parents’ eldest daughter, meant that she was going to expect a grand marriage and given that England desperately needed an alliance (following the Perkin Warbeck fiasco whom the Scottish King had backed) it wasn’t surprising who was picked for her. When she arrived to Scotland in 1503 and met her future husband for the first time, they hit it off immediately. The two danced, partied and spent several nights talking about the upcoming wedding ceremony. Margaret urged him to cut his beard, and James agreed. As with her brother’s wife, Katherine of Aragon, Margaret suffered many miscarriages until she finally gave birth to two healthy boys. Of these two, only one reached adulthood and became King after his father’s tragic death in the battle of Flodden in 1513.
Margaret Tudor has been criticized for her decision to marry the Earl of Angus, citing that it made her lose the Regency which her husband had left her with (with the condition that she didn’t marry), and it nearly brought a civil war with her constant fighting with her son’s new regent, the Duke of Albany. Although all of this is true, for Margaret marrying Angus had nothing to do with lust and much less with love. A pragmatic woman like her father and namesake, she wanted someone from a powerful family who could help her rule in her son’s name, and offer her military support in case the other lords turned against her. When she realized the mistake she’d made, she looked for other options. And although her brother was initially supportive of her, when he heard that Margaret had annulled her marriage to Angus, he was furious and heavily criticized her, telling her that she had made a mockery of the sanctity of marriage. This is really ironic considering what he did less than two decades after he had his marriage annulled to Katherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn, and not long after that, annulled his second marriage so he could marry again.
While Margaret wasn’t highly influential in her son’s reign, she was very close to his second wife, Mary of Guise, and comforted her when she lost both of her sons (from her first marriage) in May of that year.
She was buried in St. John’s Abbey in Perth where most of the Scottish monarcha are buried and two decades later, at the height of religious unrest, the Calvinist stormed in the Abbey, desecrated her grave and burned her skeleton. “Her ashes were contemptuously scattered” Porter writes in her biography on Tudors and Stewarts, and therefore “like her first husband, she has no monument.” But her legacy got to live on through both of her offspring when their descendant became King of England, and since then, every monarch that sits on the English throne can trace their ancestry back to her.
Tudors vs Stewarts: The fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
Thistle and the Rose by Hester W. Chapman
Passion. Murder. Manipulation: The story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
Rejoice all around for a son has finally been born! This was the sentiment all around the country when they heard that Henry’s third queen, Jane Seymour, had given birth to a baby boy. Jane had gone into labor three days before, on the ninth and on the eleventh St Paul held solemn procession to pray for a safe delivery. Hours later, at two o’clock in the morning, on St. Edward’s day, a boy was born at Hampton Court Palace. He was named after his patron saint, and possibly after his Yorkist ancestor Edward IV, and his parents’ common ancestor, Edward III.
“Henry VIII would look back on Jane Seymour as the wife whom he had ben uniquely happy; forgetting perhaps those early years with Catherine of Aragon, the charming young Spanish Princess so eager to please.” (Fraser)
Indeed, Henry’s dreams of securing the Tudor dynasty via a son had been fulfilled (through Jane) but they came at a high cost and his wife would pay the price less than two weeks later when she lay on her deathbed. There is the apocryphal posthumous tale of Jane dying because Henry told her doctors to cut her open when he was forced to make a decision between his wife and son’s lives. In the Tudors they allude to this, but this tale is false. The Death of Queen Jane which is a collection of ballads done three hundred years after her death, take romantic license on this.
“He gave her rich caudle
But the death-sleep slept she
Then her right side was opened
And the babe was set free …”
Jane Seymour didn’t die because of a badly perform caesarean section. “Such procedures” historian Amy Licence explains, were uncommon in England at the time, and when they did come into practice, there were only for extreme cases when doctors had to remove “living fetuses from dead or dying mothers”. Furthermore, Henry was away at the time and he didn’t come until he heard she’d given birth to a healthy boy.
As soon as the news spread throughout the city, Te Deums were sung, church bells rang, and bonfires were lit. “Eager to impress”, Skidmore writes in his biography on Edward VI, “German merchants at Steel Yard distributed a hogshead of wine and two barrels of beer to the poor.” And they weren’t the only ones, the entire city was going crazy. At last, what Henry had torn his country apart for, was here. A son. A male heir to secure the Tudor dynasty. The guards at the Tower of London fired off over two thousand rounds of canon fire, and as soon as Jane recovered, she wrote to the country, announcing the birth of her son:
“Right trusty and well-beloved, we greet you well, and for as much as by the inestimable goodness and grace of Almighty God, we be delivered and brought in childbed of a prince, conceived in most lawful matrimony between my lord the King’s Majesty and us, doubting not but that for the love and affection which you bear unto us and to the commonwealth of this realm, the knowledge thereof should be joyous and glad tiding unto you, we have thought good to certify you of the same. To the intent you might not only render unto God condign thanks and prayers for so great a benefit but also continually pray for the long continuance and preservation of the same here in this life to the honor of God, joy and pleasure of my lord the King and us, and the universal wealth, quiet and tranquility of this whole realm.”
The tournament celebrating the Prince’s birth went on in full vigor, and the word ‘Prince’ unlike before with her predecessor, wasn’t altered, and Jane’s letter was copied and distributed throughout the country bearing her signature and the royal seal which had the arms of France and England next to hers.
The baby was christened right away three days later in which his eldest sisters participated, with Mary acting as one of his godparents. Jane, as custom dictated, wasn’t present for the christening and had to wait to see her son until it was over, carried over by the lady Mary. Three days after that, on the eighteenth, he was proclaimed Prince of Wales, created Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Carnarvon. The Seymour family was thoroughly rewarded, with his uncle and namesake, being elevated to an Earl and his younger brother, Thomas, was knighted.
It was all well in paradise for Jane’s family, or at least it would have been if Jane hadn’t died. We can’t say for sure what would have happened if she had lived, but it is safe to assume that she would have become very influential. In her biography on Jane Seymour, Elizabeth Norton makes the case point, that there were times where Jane exhibited traits of rebelliousness found in her predecessors, but she was a woman who knew how to play the game of politics really well (having served under them) so she stayed silent most of the times, because she knew that at this stage, Henry was not a man you wanted to cross. He was no longer the Sir Loyal Heart that her first mistress Katherine of Aragon had married, or the man who acted as a besotted teenager when chased Anne Boleyn. Henry wanted a son, he needed an heir to secure the Tudor Dynasty. Now more than ever since he’d broken away from Rome.
But in dying, she adds, her legacy had an “entirely unexpected” turn of events, becoming the model of the ideal woman, just as her late mother-in-law had been. Perhaps it is true what they say ‘It’s always the quiet ones’. Silence, can speak louder than words. For Jane it certainly did, and since the birth of her son, she’s become the object of ridicule, admiration, and speculation.
The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love by Elizabeth Norton
Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore
On the 7th of October 1515 Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland and Countess of Angus ‘was delivered and brought in bed of a fair young lady’ she called Margaret after herself and her grandmother. Lady Margaret Douglas was christened on the following day ‘with such convenient provisions as either could or might be had in this barren and wild country’. This referred to Margaret’s hasty departure, running away from her son’s Regent, the Duke of Albany whom she and her husband were at bad terms. She had left Linlithgow where she was supposed to start confinement for Tantallon Castle which was the Douglas stronghold. She didn’t stay there for long and ended up in England where she gave birth at Harbottle Castle. Lord Dacre gave the news to Henry.
Margaret Douglas would become a vital figure in Tudor politics, from being a best friend to her cousin, Queen Mary I, and being considered at one point her heir, and then conspiring during her second cousin, Queen Elizabeth, to marry her eldest son (Darnley) to their distant cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots; to working arduously to ensure the safety of her grandson James VI of Scotland and future I of England.
The Lennox jewel as it is known shows her dedication to her family, as well as her dynastic ambitions. Out of all the Tudor girls, it was Lady Margaret Douglas, future Countess of Lennox through her marriage to Matthew Stewart, who took the most after her namesake Margaret Beaufort.
Margaret Beaufort tried very hard to ensure her son’s lands and title would be restored, and when that failed and the princes disappeared, she began conspiring to crown her son King. After the battle of Bosworth, she became one of the most powerful women in England and suo juror becoming Countess of Richmond in her own right. She sponsored scholars, founded colleges and after her death, her chaplain (John Fisher) gave a beautiful eulogy where he commended her courage and determination, and also her scholarship.
Similarly, Margaret Douglas, held strong ambitions for her family. She was very learned as many high-born ladies at the time, and she wanted the best for her family, especially her eldest son and jewel, Henry Stewart. While Elizabeth I made no plans to leave an heir, she told Mary’s ambassadors that she would consider her naming her, her heir, if she married someone she would approve. Mary, Queen of Scots waited but eventually she got impatient and took the first offer that came to her. Lord Darnely was a distant cousin, both descended from Henry VII through his eldest daughter and he was English and reputedly Protestant, which would endear her to her detractors. Unfortunately for both, the marriage went downhill pretty fast and after his murder (for which Mary always claimed she had no part of), his mother turned against her and focused her attentions on their son, James who became King shortly after his mother was forced to abdicate.
After his first regent died, Margaret’s husband became his protector and when he was killed, Margaret became depressed but no less determined to ensure his safety. The Lennox Jewel shows her grandson being crowned and blessed by the heavens, much like Margaret Beaufort wanted the Tudor dynasty to be portrayed: as a dynasty blessed by God.
In the end, after she had made her peace with everyone and became convinced that Mary had nothing to do with her son’s murder, she ingratiated herself to Elizabeth’s councilors, primarily Lord Burghley and after falling ill in 1578 after a dinner she had with Robert Dudley, she made her last arrangements for her funeral. Like her namesake, she was buried with full honors, and the funeral was not one of a noble but as a princess and her efforts also paid off when nearly three decades later, after her cousin died, James VI became the I of England.
Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Dynasty by Leanda de Lisle
On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
On Sunday, the 1st of October, Mary Tudor was crowned Queen of England at Westminster Abbey. She was the first female King in English history. Her day began early when she departed from the Tower of London, she was accompanied by her ladies and other nobles. As before, there were elements that were identified with the coronation for queen consorts, but also others that were of Kings. Instead of riding a litter as queen consorts had done, she chose to walk barefoot to the Abbey. She dressed splendidly for the occasion, wearing “parliament robes of crimson velvet under a rich canopy borne by the five barons of the cinque ports” in addition to having her hair loose with a circlet of gold around her head.
Following her were her ladies and gentlemen (by two) which included knights, aldermen, the French and Latin secretaries, councilors, the knights of the Garter, and those carrying the three swords which represented Spiritual and Temporal Justice, and Mercy. The sword of state was carried by Edward Courtenay (who’d recently been ennobled as the Earl of Devonshire), the Duke of Norfolk carried the crown, the Marques of Winchester carried the orb, and finally the Earl of Arundel carried the scepter. Mary’s train was carried by the Duchess of Norfolk who was assisted by Sir John Gage. Behind her were her sister and stepmother, the ladies Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves.
When she reached the Abbey, she would not have been surprised to find it decorated with heraldic symbols and popular Tudor images. The pulpit was covered in rest worsted, with the porch of Westminster Hall decorated with blue cloth. In addition, there was the royal chair which was covered in damask gold with the three lions and the fleur-de-lis representing the crowns of England and France –the latter which England still lay claim too and enabled Mary to add to her title of Queen of France as well.
Stephen Gardiner then turned to the crowds and gave the following announcement: “Sirs, here present is Mary, rightful and undoubted inheritrix by the laws of God and man the crown and royal dignity of this real of England, France, Ireland, where upon you shall understand that this day is appointed by all the Peers of this land for the consecration, inunction and coronation of the said most excellent Princess Mary; will you serve at this time, and give your wills and assent to the same consecration, inunction, and coronation?”
To which everyone shouted “joyfully Yea, yea,” followed by “God save Queen Mary!”
Mary then made an offering to the altar and following with ancient tradition, she prostrated herself before it on cushions while prayers were being said for her. Then she rose and listened to the sermon from the Bishop of Chichester which had to do with obeisance to kings.
Then came the moment of truth. The moment that Mary had anxiously been waiting –and preparing- for all her life. The actual coronation. Still lying before the altar, she took the sacrament and said her oaths, and listened to the rest of the prayers. Then she went behind a screen at the left of the altar to make her first change of clothing. She was helped by some of her ladies. After she emerged she was anointed with the holy oils (by Gardiner) on her breasts, shoulders and forehead.
“Because so much depended on her anointing Mary had taken special care to ensure the validity of the ritual. She feared that the oils to be found in England were tainted as a result of the ecclesiastical censures brought against the nation by the pope many years earlier.” (Erickson)
This is true. Mary went above and beyond to make sure everything was perfect. So the oils were brought from Flanders. Judith M. Richards in her journal article about “Gendering the Tudor Monarchy” about Mary Tudor, discusses a lot of the issues regarding the first Queen of England’s coronation. Mary wanted to present herself as more than just a King, she wanted people to perceive her as both a woman and a king. Elizabeth would follow this model many years later when she addressed the troops at Tilbury in 1588 when she was at war with Spain. England never had a queen, and the concept of a female monarch was still very alien to many, even those that accepted Mary. So she had to thread very carefully. And one way she could be accepted without eliciting much criticism was by presenting herself as the paragon of virtue and morality (wearing her hair down and with a circlet as queen consorts traditionally wore) while at the same time, showing herself as ordained by god like monarchs before her. So here was a woman who was took the role of mother and guardian of her country, but also as an enforcer. And she made sure that people remembered this glorious day by having pamphlets be printed and distributed across Europe. (Not for nothing, her sister would take on the same roles, when on the eve of her coronation she would be compared to biblical figures like Esther and Deborah who were famous for upholding the moral values and preserving their people’s faith).
With a canopy being held over her head, she was given privacy to change back into her velvet robes. She then sat on the royal chair and was given the spurs and swords, had the ring placed on her finger then had the crown of Edward the Confessor placed on her head, followed by the Imperial crown and then another crown that was especially made for her.
Her subjects, including Gardiner and some of the courtiers that had carried the canopy and the heraldic symbols for her, knelt before their new monarch and swore their allegiance to her. With the ceremony at an end the Te Deums being sung, Mary made her final offering to the Abbey (still carrying the orb and the two scepters of king and queen in her two hands) before departing for the state dinner that awaited her at Westminster Hall.
Feeling triumphant, Mary didn’t let the exhaustion win her over. Her sister and her stepmother were her guests of honor, seated next to her, basking in the attention and enjoying the spectacle that was being played out before them. There were some (like Renard) who didn’t like the Queen trusting Elizabeth with such honors, but Mary didn’t pay any attention to them. She was after all the daughter of a King and now the sister to the Queen, and she and her stepmother were awarded the highest positions that any man or woman could wish for. No other lady sat next to the queen or rode in a chariot that outranked the others. But there was a big difference between the sisters that Mary wouldn’t find out (or admit to it) until much later when the two became bitter rivals. For now though, she had no cause to worry. This was her moment and as far as she was concerned, it was meant to last.
The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson
Mary Tudor by David Loades
Gendering the Tudor Monarchy: Mary Tudor as ‘sole queene’ by Judith M. Richards/Journal article