The Sun begins to set on Glorianna’s Reign

Elizabeth I close up

It is no secret that the last Tudor monarch detested the idea of naming a heir. She did not want whomever was next-in-line to plot in the same fashion as she did during her half-sister reign. In this, she was like her grandfather, the first Tudor monarch who imprisoned or exiled any potential claimant to his throne.

Elizabeth I Cole 4

But people couldn’t stop asking: Who would succeed her?

Towards the end of the reign, Elizabeth I tried to dismiss their worries and appear unperturbed by diverting people’s attention on her public image. The people did not have need to worry about the next regime when they already had a goddess watching over them and that goddess was Bess.

This is when we see a drastic change in Elizabeth I’s image. Not that she was not a fashion icon before. Monarchs were the ones who dictated their country’s fashions after all, but Elizabeth I went above and beyond by changing people’s perception of her through more flamboyant fashions and elaborate paintings.

She wore ostentatiously low-cut dresses in the Italian fashion, and wearing heavy make-up. While she was subject to the ridicule of her ladies-in-waiting, chamber-maids and male courtiers who snickered behind her back, some foreign diplomat, travelers and English commons were in awe of her. Elizabeth’s status as a single woman allowed her to elevate her status from Queen and head of the Anglican Church, to a heavenly maiden. To put it simply, she sought to emulate the virtues ascribed to the Virgin Mary. This is nothing out of the ordinary. Women of her status often identified themselves with saints and other holy women. In the case of royal women, Queens and Princess, they all sought to emulate the mother of Christ and often commissioned portraits that portrayed them as such, while others wrote their names beneath one of the pages of their illuminated prayer books, the one where she receives a message from the angel Gabriel that she will give birth to the savior, or the one where she holds baby Christ.
Anne Bboleyn and Henry VIII posthumous romantic painting

Elizabeth’s mother did this with Henry VIII, when he was still courting her. Anne inscribed her name beneath a page of her illuminated prayer book, where the angel Gabriel informs Mary that she will be mother of the future savior. The meaning behind her name and her promise to Henry beneath this image was clear: Marry me and I will give you a male heir to save your country from chaos. While Anne didn’t give Henry the male heir she had promised, Elizabeth saw her birth as a fulfillment of that promise. On her coronation, she had holy images of the biblical heroines, saints and the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ to remind the people that she was their savior and like the old Testament Deborah, she would be a defender of the faith.
As she got older however, it became harder for her to hide her deteriorating health. Even the commons were beginning to sense that the sun was setting and soon a new dynasty would come to reign over them.

In her biography on the Tudor Dynasty, Leanda de Lisle says the following:

Elizabeth feared the bond with her people was breaking. In June 1602 she was overheard complaining desperately to Robert Cecil about ‘the poverty of the state, the continuance of charge, the discontentment of all sorts of people’. She admitted to the French ambassador that she was weary of life, and wept over Essex’ death. He had been all she had left of the man she had loved as a young queen, yet he had betrayed her, and now he was being idolized, even despite the threat he had posed to her life. The last pageants held in Elizabeth’s honour that year venerated her as the ‘queen of love and beauty’, timeliness and unchanging; but as Elizabeth’s depression deepened, whispers about the succession became urgent once more.”

Despite that last part, Elizabeth refused to name a successor. After her death, it was said that Elizabeth did and that since she was unable to talk, she was asked to wave her finger in one direction or another, to signal whom she favored and she moved her finger in the direction of those supporting James. It is very unlikely that she favored James, given her discontentment with him in the last years of her reign, but what she wanted no longer mattered. Her councilors favored James and without the Queen drafting an official will, there was nobody to oppose them.
Elizabeth died on the 24th of March 1603. She was buried not long after and succeeded by her rival’s only surviving child, James VI of Scotland who became the First of England upon his coronation.
Elizabeth-I-Allegorical-PoElizabeth I rare old portrait

Following the people’s discontentment and the growing radical Protestant factions in England, people began to look back at the Tudor regime, especially at Elizabeth I’s reign, feeling nostalgic about those “good old days”. And before they knew it, the Tudor period and its last monarch became larger than life figures, separate from the real people who were feared, loved, despised, and whose actions caused great misfortune as well as good fortune for a select few. Like religious figures today, real and mythological, Elizabeth I and her predecessors have become legendary beings who are either ‘too good’ or ‘too bad’.
Sources:
  • Lisle, Leanda de. Tudor: Passion. Murder. Manipulation. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • Guy, John. Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years. Viking. 2016.
  • Hilton, Lisa. Elizabeth: The Renaissance Prince. Houghton Miffin Harcourt. 2015.
  • Norton, Elizabeth. The Boleyn Women: The Tudor Femme Fatales who Changed English History. Amberley Publishing. 2013.
  • Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I. Ballantine Books. 1999.
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Book Review: The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Dynasty by G.J. Meyer

The Tudors GJ Meyer 2

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because there is nothing more I love than an author who approaches these controversial subjects in an objective way. Unfortunately, we are all humans and prone to our ow biases and G.J. Meyer wasn’t the exception. His intention was to dispel myths about the Tudor era and he did it brilliantly when it came to Mary I, the six wives (who’ve come to define Henry VIII’s reign), Mary, Queen of Scots and other important figures to some extent; but when it came to the perennial figures we keep hearing about, it seemed like he was more concerned about deconstructing them rather than presenting them as figures of their time. I also noticed how -for someone who claims to be doing the opposite of what propagandist have done to elevate these figures to hero status- he seemed to take secondary sources into account as opposed to primary ones when it suited his narrative.

The Tudors GJ Meyer 1

Granted, Elizabeth I, Henry VIII and for many decades Henry VII as well, have been seen as icons. You just have to look at how the first two are portrayed in the media to confirm this, or how historians fawn over them; but instead of addressing where they are wrong, G.J. Meyer swings the pendulum to the other side.

I adore Elizabeth I but I’m not blinded to her faults. She broke promises and made vague ones, and she treated her cousins awfully; and just like her sister, she could be both cruel and merciful. Addressing this shouldn’t be difficult. You can say Henry VIII was inventive, one of the most learned princes in Christendom who enjoyed sports and engaging in theological debate. He’d be angry when people let him win, and loved to be challenged. But something happened and that something happened is something that G.J. Meyer briefly addresses but not as much as I would’ve liked. This something happened to be his absence of a male heir. The Tudor Dynasty was new and the wars of the roses was still fresh on everyone’s memory, not to mention that people were wary of a female king. Even in places where there had been queen regnants, people were still not entirely receptive to the idea of being governed by a woman.
Times were changing however. This was not the medieval age when people believed more firmly that they could never be governed by a woman because women were supposed to be submissive, and due to their delicate nature, they couldn’t rely on them to make hard decisions or lead men into dangerous war. There was also the question of childbirth. What if she died in childbirth? Who would head her son’s regency, and what if she married the crown prince or king of another powerful country? Would that turn their country into a colony of that realm?
These were serious questions that Humanists and other scholars were debating at the time that Henry VIII sought to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, not to mention that initially he sought a way to salvage her honor and their daughter’s status by proposing a settlement that would be agreeable to her. Some of her supporters even though that she should have given in and press Henry to keep his promise, as well as press the pope to do what he did for his sister, the Queen Dowager of Scotland, Margaret Tudor when she annulled her second marriage to Archibald Douglas. Her daughter should have been declared a bastard since under this arrangement, her parents were never legally married but thanks to the “good faith” clause, she remained legitimate.
But Katharine chose not to, and the rest as we know is history. There is another element to this story and that is Henry’s fatal injuries. He suffered a fall from his horse in the 1520s and another (more serious one) in 1536 and this, many historians agree, worsened his behavior.
The author also seemed to fall into the recent trend among many novelists which is to cast Richard III in a positive light, ignoring his obvious flaws and mismanagement, at the expense of Henry Tudor who comes off as the villain of this story. No one denies that Henry Tudor altered events, rewrote history to justify his reign. But this wasn’t exclusive to the Tudors, what could have been said is that what the Tudors did differently is that they did it so much more effectively with their methods being far more insidious.

As far as the Tudors go, they were complex individuals and history is not an exact science because no social science truly is. Nonetheless, this book tackled many important subjects and offered a new perspective on previously demonized or ignored figures.

If you are new to the Tudor age, this will be a good book to binge on that sheds light on the subject but I recommend that after you finish, you also read on other books that offer different perspectives so you can form a better opinion on this subject. If you are not new to this subject, this is still a good book to read for that same reason and the other reasons I previously pointed out.

Henry VII: The Man Behind the Legend

Henry VII portrait

Henry Tudor was still young when he became King of England. His reign heralded a new era for the British Isles, including their troublesome neighbor to the North. While he loved to gamble, drink (moderately), and joke, he was a cautious man -something his granddaughter and last monarch of his dynasty, Elizabeth I, inherited.

This is due to his difficult upbringing. He became fatherless before he as born with his mother giving birth to him at the tender age of thirteen -something that wasn’t completely unusual, but advised against when a woman was not fully developed and her husband was older than her- leaving her unable to have any more children. He was quickly christened and handed over to his uncle. His mother visited him as often she could or was allowed to by her new male guardian, her second husband, Henry Stafford.

By the time that Edward IV became King, Henry became a ward of the notable Herbert family. The Herberts were up and comers in the English court with noble Welsh roots like the Tudors, but unlike them they happened to back a winning horse. In his biography of Henry VII, S.B. Chrimes, notes that it is highly possible that the new Earl of Pembroke (a title that once belonged to Henry’s uncle, Jasper Tudor) planned to marry him to his daughter and heiress.

Novelist Barbara Kyle wrote a brilliant article on this topic and how lucrative the wardship business was. What we would denounce as a sex crime or kidnapping or stepping over a parents’ rights, it was non-existent back then. It was very common for men to marry their female wards, especially if they were orphans and rich heiresses. Such was the case for men as well. Henry became a ward of William Herbert and his wife Anne, after the start of the Yorkist regime.

Henry’s time with the Herberts was idyllic but after Lord William was executed during the fiasco of Warwick’s rebellion, Henry temporarily went to his mother. Things seemed fine for the two when the dullard king, Henry VI, was reinstated as king of England in a period known as the “Lancastrian Readeption.” Unfortunately, this did not last and I say unfortunately because while many soon realized that the king was beyond redemption and had become a shadow of his former self, for the Beauforts and Tudors, including Henry, this was a major setback.

The first time that Edward IV had become king, he had presented himself as a noble, just and merciful leader but the time for pleasantries was over. He was done giving second chances. Following Warwick’s defeat at the battle of Barnet and the Henry VI’s son and his wife’s army at the battle of Tewkesbury, the Lancastrian royal and male Beaufort lines were wiped out.

All seemed well except for one thing … There was one young boy who could still posed a threat to the Yorkis regime. If left alive, he could grow up to become a figurehead, rallying men to his cause to usurp Edward or his descendants’ throne in the same manner as Edward and their ancestor, the first Norman king, William the Conqueror, had done.

Edward IV acted immediately and sent armies to get Jasper and Henry who had fled to Wales. They managed to hold them off for two months. But eventually Jasper realized that they wouldn’t for much longer. He and his nephew headed to France but powerful winds threw them off course, with them landing on Brittany instead.

The Duke of Brittany became Henry’s mentor and ironically, his protector. Initially, Francis II did not have Henry’s best interests at heart, he saw him and his uncle as two piggy banks he could cash in, demanding Edward IV grant him special favors or pay handsomely so he could have his prized possessions back. But time has a way of changing people and perhaps it was Henry’s character, something he saw in the boy, that made the Duke change his mind.

It’s too bad that wasn’t passed unto his courtiers. Intrigued by the youth’s clever wit and will to survive, they had to think about their duchy first. If Edward IV looked to France, then that could mean two powerful kingdoms against them and the last thing that Brittany wanted was to lose what was left of their sovereignty. Francis II’s advisers convinced him to hand him over.

It all seemed too easy. A young man about to be handed over to the Yorkist king who’d lock him up, place him under house arrest or marry him to a family deeply loyal to him, successfully neutralizing the last Lancastrian threat. But since when do things go according plan?

They didn’t factor in Henry’s acting skills or his quick thinking. As Henry was being led away from the Breton court, he probably pondered on these possibilities and before they made him board their ship, he feigned sickness and as quick as their backs were turned, he ran off to the nearest church and claimed sanctuary.

Henry lived to fight another day. This experience shaped Henry into the king he’d later become -a ruler who was suspicious of even his own shadow and left nothing to chance.

Henry Tudor TWQ.jpg

In her biography of the Tudors and Stewarts (Tudors vs Stewarts), Linda Porter says the following of the young man who had returned to England to claim the English throne after fourteen years of exile:

“At twenty-eight Henry Tudor was no longer a pretty land. In looks he was still personable, but an itinerant and uncertain youth had shaped a cautious personality. He was not a man who took anything for granted. The immense challenged of ruling the larger of the two realms that formed the island of Britain lay ahead of him. He had come by his crown in blood and battle.”

It is not hard to see why he had become this way, and why he looked more rugged than any youth.

Like him or hate him, Henry VII’s reign was a major game changer for the modern world. Prior to his reign, nobles could still muster armies at will, with kings struggling to keep control over them, leading to endless strife. Henry eliminated the last embers of a broken system that was also being abandoned in other parts of Europe. This system was feudalism and Henry recognized how useless it was becoming, and amending it would be like beating a dead horse.

Humanism the illustrated man

There was also a new religious revival that was being experienced throughout Europe that put man at the center of everything. While Henry was not an enthusiast of this current like his contemporaries, Ferdinand II of Aragon, Isabella I of Castile, and his successors were (especially his son and granddaughters), he recognized that the times were changing and that if he was going to have a successful reign, England had to keep up.

He and his mother encouraged many religious thinkers, and after hearing of many sea-faring voyages that promised new discoveries, he founded some of them. This naval exploration would experience a revival during his granddaughter, Elizabeth I’s reign, who sponsored many of these voyages to compete and out-rival her Catholic enemies.

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The sovereign had never been at the center of everything as when the Tudors became the new ruling House. This goes hand in hand with the new current of man being placed at the center of everything. Man is divine, man is the conduit between heaven and earth, and likewise, the king is more sacred than his subjects. Coins from his reign, show Henry, seated in the throne, holding the orb and scepter, wearing the crown of the confessor. He was the first English King to do this.

Tudor chronicler, Polydore Vergil, wrote the following of the first Tudor monarch in his mammoth work ‘Anglia Historia‘, a series of books chronicling the history of England:

“His body was slender but well built and strong; his height above the average. His appearance was remarkably attractive and his face was cheerful, especially when speaking; his eyes were small and blue, his teeth few, poor and blackish; his hair was thin and white; his complexion sallow. His spirit was distinguished, wise and prudent; his mind was brave and resolute and never, even at moments of the greatest danger, deserted him. He had a most pertinacious memory. Withal he was not devoid of scholarship. In government he was shrewd and prudent, so that no one dared to get the better of him through deceit or guile. He was gracious and kind and was as attentive to his visitors as he was easy of access. His hospitality was splendidly generous; he was fond of having foreigners at his court and he freely conferred favours of them. But those of his subjects who were indebted to him and who did not pay him due honour or who were generous only with promises, he treated with harsh severity. He well knew how to maintain his royal majesty and all which appertains to kingship at every time and in every place. He was most fortunate in war, although he was constitutionally more inclined to peace than to war. He cherished justice above all things; as a result he vigorously punished violence, manslaughter and every other kind of wickedness whatsoever. Consequently he was greatly regretted on that account by all his subjects, who had been able to conduct their lives peaceably, far removed from the assaults and evil doing of scoundrels. He was the most ardent supporter of our faith, and daily participated with great piety in religious services. To those whom he considered to be worthy priests, he often secretly gave alms so that they should pray for his salvation. He was particularly fond of those Franciscan friars whom they call Observants, for whom he founded many convents, so that with his help their rule should continually flourish in his kingdom, but all these virtues were obscured latterly only by avarice, from which…he suffered. This avarice is surely a bad enough vice in a private individual, whom it forever torments; in a monarch indeed it may be considered the worst vice, since it is harmful to everyone, and distorts those qualities of trustfulness, justice and integrity by which the state must be governed.”

It would be good to end this on a happy note but Henry’s life as his early struggles was anything but happy or peaceful. He faced many rebellions, dealt with one impostor and a pretender, and other personal struggles that worn him down, including the loss of his uncle, eldest son, wife and newborn daughter.

Almost everyone who had joined Henry in exile and marched with him to Bosworth, had died. The man who became like a father to him, his paternal uncle, died before the century was over. And then he lost his son, a young, handsome boy whom he had named after the mythical Welsh (and Anglicized) king who united all of the British Isles to fight the Saxon army, King Arthur. He represented his vision for the future, a future where the Tudor dynasty reigned supreme. When he lost Henry, his vision died with him.

Bernard Andre commented that the King was absolutely distraught. He and Elizabeth took comfort in each other’s presence, with his wife assuring him that they were still young and could still have more children. And while this is true, Elizabeth was young, the birth of her new daughter was too much for her. She died on her thirty seventh birthday with her newborn, princess Katherine, dying a day letter.

Henry was outlived by his daughters, Queen Margaret who had married James IV of Scotland in the North and whose descendants would rule England (and continue to rule England) after the death of the last Tudor monarch, his youngest, Princess Mary (whose descendants would be beset by tragedy), and his only surviving son, Henry VIII and of course, the woman who had always worked hard to ensure his survival, even from afar, his mother, Margaret Beaufort.

His reign is also a transitory period, representing the end of an era and a dawn of a new one, that space between the end of the medieval period and the beginning of the modern world.

Henry was buried at the lady Chapel next to his wife, Elizabeth of York. Their two effigies are a testament of their undying love, and his personal sacrifices.

Sources:

  • Porter, Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • Skidmore, Chris. The Rise of the Tudors: The Family that Changed English History. Martin’s Press. 2014.
  • de Lisle, Leanda. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Barbara Kyle’s ‘For Sale: Rich Orphans’

Queen Elizabeth I’s Treatment of Veterans

Elizabeth I Veteran affairs

Queen Elizabeth I has gone down in history as one of the world’s greatest monarch. And she certainly is, but as with every monarch, there is a dark aspect to her reign that’s often neglected by novelists and some historians.

Elizabeth Struggle for the throne

In his critically acclaimed biography on Elizabeth I, Dr. David Starkey, praises her good administration while also critiquing it when it comes to handling Irish affairs, and looking after her Veterans, which is one of many aspects, that is representative of the last years of her reign. As he writes below, her desire to be loved nearly undermined her, but her eloquence, being cautionary to a fault in matters of religions and her determination are what saved her and enabled her to become England’s most successful monarch.
“Like Mary, Elizabeth had begun well. But would she be any better in the long run? At first sight the signs were not all that good … from the point of view of practical government, was the distinction between the Queen’s two wills: her private will and her public will. Her private will was what she actually wanted to do. Her public will was what, after taking due counsel and advise, she ought to do. Elizabeth promised to respect this distinction … But doing what we ought rather than what we want comes easily to none of us … The Elizabeth Church, as we have seen, was a Goldilocks settlement: neither too hot nor too cold. As such, it pleased neither the orthodox Roman Catholics, for whom it went far too far, nor the hotter sort of  Protestants, later known as Puritans, for whom it did not go nearly far enough. Indeed, among the elite, it probably only pleased Elizabeth … For her policy was founded on a careful combination of principle and expedience. After her own experiences under Mary, she was not, she insisted, in the business of forcing men’s consciences. That alone made her reluctant to seek the death penalty. But she was also reluctant to make martyrs per se … To do nothing ‘to the loss of any of her dominions’. That was the promise, and Elizabeth stuck by it. It was the source of the best and worst in her reign. If accounts for the terrible punishment she inflicted on the north in the wake of the rebellion of 1569 and her still more savage vengeance on the Irish rebels at the end of her reign … her determination to preserve what was hers also turned her into a great war leader against Spain. She was not a general in the field nor an admiral at sea, of course, though she did wear a pretty pretend breastplate at Tilbury in 1588. Instead, more importantly, she was a mistress of language, thinking, in her speech at Tilbury, ‘full scorn that Parma or Spain or any prince of Europe should dare invade the borders of my realm.'”

Although Elizabeth’s navy succeeded against the Spanish Armada -thanks in part to their smaller size as opposed to their enemies’ larger vessels which made them slower, and the weather which helped the English sink them faster- victory came at a high cost.

Elizabeth I Glenda Jackson 2

The wages she had promised her soldiers never came ad as you can expect from men who had risked their lives, in service of their country, they took the streets to peacefully protest. A small amount organized larger riots, believing that it was the only recourse available to them, to get their queen to listen to their demands. But Elizabeth had no intention of submitting herself to the pleas of the mob -even if those mobs were her loyal subjects.

Henry Carey, Lord Hudson, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and a handful of other courtiers sought ways to help the soldiers make ends meet and lessen the Queen and her advisors’ anger towards them.

The day that the veterans rioted alongside a rabble of young unemployed men, the mayor of London, Sir William Webb, saved the day by ordering the arrest of the ringleaders (much to the dismay of the protestors). This could have gone much worse, with the troops using full force against the entire group, causing more disgruntled veterans to join other fringe groups after feeling more betrayed by their sovereign.

“Writing to Burghley next day, he argued for leniency, claiming that the spark had been an apprentice’s wrongful arrest. Debt collectors had burst into the man’s lodgings with daggers drawn and dragged him off to the Marshalsea in front of his terrified landlady, who stood clutching a baby in her arms. The rioters had planned to storm the prison and free the inmates. Webb believed the best way to calm the situation was to rectify the injustice done to the young man as quickly as possible.” (Guy)

But Sir William Webb’s pleas went unheard. These men had rebelled against the crown -even worse, they dared to demand. Something that no subject should ever do against an anointed monarch, and more importantly their spiritual governor, God’s representative on Earth according to the Anglican Church.

While this seems deeply unreasonable to us, and a treacherous act on Elizabeth’s part, it is not. As Ian Mortimer points below:
“… there are only five thousand men in the army. The remainder is dead-pay, which goes straight into the captain’s pockets. You might think that this is even worse than bribery and nepotism. Neverhteless, in 1562 it becomes official government practice when it is proposed that for every ninety-five soldiers provided, the government will pay for one hundred.”

The privy council agreed to this, and even before this became standard practice, we must not forget that the era preceding the renaissance wasn’t exactly fair either when it came to soldiers’ wages. Elizabeth I’s grandfather, Henry VII, eliminated private liveries which meant that every noble family in England could no longer raise an army from their tenants. This effectively helped Henry keep the realm under his control and prevent pretenders like Perkin Warbeck and Cornish rebels from being successful.
In the medieval age, soldiers were expected to fight for their sovereign or their lord. If they did not, they were severely punished, or branded cowards. It was their duty.  The Renaissance had changed many things, but the sole duty of any man to serve his lord and master without question remained.
Nevertheless, after Elizabeth I had done an outstanding job marketing herself as England’s savior and the only one who stood against the might of the terrible armies of Spain and its Catholic allies -aka, foreign invaders who sought to strip England from its lawful sovereignty- the common soldier felt betrayed. After everything they had done, they were just expected to go back home and start again. Find some new trade, or job that would save them from begging in the streets (which was punished by branding or whipping in major cities like London).

Her cousin continued to try his best, attempting to convince the Virgin Queen by appealing to her emotional side, telling her of the horrors these men had to face while being confined in small spaces, not knowing whether their ships would sink, or they’d die by other means.

“The infection is grown very great and in many ships, and now very dangerous, and those that come in fresh are sooner infected. They sicken the one day and die the next.” (Hilton)

Elizabeth I Glenda Jackson 5

Elizabeth remained unmoved. When the protestors walked barefooted through the streets of London that day, expecting this exaggerated display of misery would get their message across, arrests were made. As it has been established, the mayor of London did his best to lessen their punishment by drawing focus on the leaders. Cecil and the Queen however thought that a better way to stamp out the cells of future rebellion, was by stomping on most of them, letting the rest know what happened to those who rebelled against the crown.

Social hierarchy was not something that could be easily cast aside. Since Edward III had passed the sumptuary laws, that dictated what men and women could and could not wear, there was a stronger emphasis on maintaining the social order. These laws were the result of the black plague or the black death which killed many people, including one of Edward III’s daughters when she was on route to Spain. People became disgusted and in the same fashion that their descendants would centuries later, they would let that hate fester, making it possible for the rising middle class and heretic preachers to convince them to join their cause, and break their wheel of their oppression. This resulted in the Peasant’s Revolts during Edward III’s successor’s reign, his grandson Richard II. Richard II was only a teenager but he was old enough to understand that if he didn’t do something quickly, the violence would keep escalating until there would be no monarchy left. So when the leaders of this rabble led their guard down, Richard II acted quickly. He ordered them to be put to dead and to the rest, he told them smugly that “vileins” (peasants) they were and peasants they would remain.
Oddly enough, Richard II is one of those pitiful figures in history who was too young to know what he was doing, becoming a despot in his later years. Yet for someone who Elizabeth who believed in the supremacy of Kings, he was someone she could idolize and lament -a man who had been the victim of lesser men.
Naturally, Elizabeth I, taking these lessons to heart, wasn’t going to let these rabble-rousers upset the social balance in her country, and she sure wasn’t going to go the way that Richard II went, by giving into their demands.

The end result is a sad state of affairs where Elizabeth I was more successful than Richard II, sending a message across the British Isles, that no matter how much she may sympathize with their cause, or how popular it was among their peers, she wouldn’t be moved. She would remain resolute, presenting herself as their ruler, her country’s spouse and her subject’s mother and like any good mother, she would not be afraid to exact punishment on her children if they were being too loud.

William Cecil 2

 Every vigilant, her principal adviser, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, imposed martial law.
“All soldiers, mariners and vagrant persons” who were found wandering around the countryside or spoke about their missing wages would be apprehended at once.

A soldier’s duty was to his ruler. He was there to protect the realm and his sovereign, not to seek riches or popular acclaim. Again, this may seem like a slap in the face to all those brave men, but in the context of the sixteenth century, and given Elizabeth I’s belief in royal supremacy, it makes sense.

Elizabeth I Anne Marie Duff 3

And there is also another reason, one that is not fully acknowledge: Debt. Elizabeth had curried favor with many foreign Protestants -many of whom she did not agree since they supported a Republican government instead of a royal supremacy. Nevertheless, they kept her enemies distracted and weakened. This meant that a lot of money had been spent on covert missions. Some of which ended in failure. Then there is also the mater of her favorites and the new aristocrats. To keep them happy and in her pocket, she had lowered their taxes and granted them many manors, and exemptions that she wouldn’t have done for anyone else. All of this drained the royal coffers and while she attempted to remedy this by issuing a series of laws that meant to give some form of aid to the lower classes -while also raising taxes to continue to pay for covert operations and the ongoing war with Spain- it still wasn’t enough.

Debt collectors became more hated than ever. These veterans and unemployed men began to blame many of the queen’s evil councilors -in the same fashion that many rebels did in the past when they were displeased with their king’s actions- and the increasing number of foreigners coming into the country. Elizabeth I’s enthusiasm to admit more refugees didn’t help. These migrants helped boost the economy. Many of them were professionals and skilled workers who aimed their best to please their new overlords, but their adherence to their customs and their native tongue upset many Londoners.

But, as her motto, Elizabeth I’s subjects learned to adapt to their never-changing situation, remaining always the same. The pen and the sword proved mightier than their pleas.

Sources:

  • Guy, John. Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years. Viking. 2016.
  • –. The Tudors. Sterling. 2010
  • Mortimer, Ian. Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England. Viking. 2013.
  • Hilton, Lisa. Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince. Houghton Mifflin. 2015.
  • Starkey, David. Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne. Harper. 2001.
  • Jones, Dan. The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens who made England.
  • Picard, Liza. Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London. St. Martin’s Griffin. 2003.

Book Review of ‘The Most Happy’ by Helen R. Davis

Anne Boleyn helen davis 2

The Most Happy is an alternative history, in short it asks the important question of ‘what if?’ What would have happened if Anne Boleyn had not been executed and she would have had more than one child. All this and more is explored in this book.

While historical fiction seeks to fill in the gaps in the historical records and to make the story more enticing to its target audience, alternative history delves further by rewriting it. And while it may seem as the two have nothing in common, I beg to differ and I suspect you will too once you read the book.

Novelists take this genre seriously, and it wasn’t surprising to find many things from this era come alive in Davis’ book.  I remember when I read her other book, that is also alternative history, Cleopatra Unconquered and felt like I was transported to Ancient Egypt. That is the feeling I got when I read ‘The Most Happy’. From start to finish, the intrigues that history buffs are used to reading about the Tudor court, don’t stop. This book perfectly captures the dangerous time period that Anne Boleyn lived in, and how high the stakes were, not just for her, but for her enemies as well.

This was a period of great change. The Renaissance was not all that different from the medieval era, but there were many aspects of it that were still the same, one of it being the violence and fanaticism (now emboldened with the religious wars); throw in a dynasty that is not well-established and a queen whose religious affiliation is not with Rome -and is not recognized by the Vatican as such- and you have almost absolutely chaos. And I say almost because the protagonist doesn’t come off as a victim or a villain, but rather as a strong, intelligent woman who is determined to make things work.

Anne grows in her new role as Queen and mother to England’s future king. She is not afraid to take charge, or shy away from enforcing the rule of law when needed. She’s also proud, and can be vindictive but this behavior can be understood given the circumstances of her situation.

Fans of Tudor History and Historical fiction who are worried with how the iconic Tudor queen is portrayed in the media will love this novel. This is the one that has come the closest to capturing Anne Boleyn’s spirit in the past decade without the author shying away from her flaws or sugar-coating the complexities of this period. If this is your first time trying alternative history, you won’t be disappointed.

Dead Men tell no Tales: The black legend of Henry VIII

It is easy to see why people have a hard time differentiating from the jolly old monarch, bluff king Hal/good king Hall, or the murderous, lecherous psychopath that came centuries later, to the real Henry VIII, who was as complex as everyone else during this era.
I have been guilty of viewing him through a twenty first century lens.
This is not going to be some excuse-making post about him, Henry VIII did a lot of things that were atrocious but when you want to have a serious discussion about him, you have to look at his reign in the proper context and the proper context is looking at it from a 16th century standpoint.
Henry VIII was no saint but neither was he a mustache-twirling villain, what he was, was a Humanist Prince whom everyone started to adore, ignoring the people he executed because they happened to be people they hated (Empson and Dudley) until one day he overstepped his boundaries, broke away from the church, threatened the livelihood of farmers and traders who relied on the monastic system that people went ‘okay this is going too far.’ The fat that he also wanted to annul his marriage to his wife of many years who was beloved by the English people, also played a part in people rising up against him. But even as they rebelled, they always made sure to point out that it wasn’t against him directly but their ministers.

The Forgotten Monarch:

Henry VIII young and old
Henry VIII as a young man (left) and later in his reign (right).

It is easy to see why Henry VIII is seen as a villain. From a twenty-first century standpoint he does seem amoral, but we forget that the past is a different country and the Tudor era can’t easily be divided into good and evil. History is not a morality tale and if we want to have a serious discussion about the infamous monarch, we have to get to the heart of the story and see how the black legend of lecherous, murdering bluff king hall came to be.

 In the following paragraph from The Wives of Henry VIII, Antonia Fraser says the following about Henry regarding the judicial arrest and later murder of Anne Boleyn:

“It is true that the workings of the King’s conscience followed the dictates of his heart amazingly conveniently. But this did not mean that he did not have a conscience. On the contrary, it was a likely and important part of his nature. The coincidence between passion and conscience was more apparent to outsiders than it was to him, a useful capacity for her self deception being another of his attributes … This is not to absolve Henry VIII of guilt concerning his second wife’s destruction, let alone the deaths of the innocent courtiers, some of them his close friends. On a rational level, the sovereign who agreed on 24 April to sign the commission of investigation into unknown treasonable conspiracies must have had a fair idea of what was going on. And even if that signing could be regarded as a purely routine administrative matter, the King went on a few days later to sign the documents necessary for summoning parliament … It is merely to observe that Henry VIII found it easy enough to absolve himself.”

Fraser and several other historians have pointed out, Henry wasn’t a dastardly being.

Deep down, to quote historian Robert Hutchinson, “he believed that what he wanted was what God wanted.” And it will be easy to point out his hypocrisy, but before doing that, his religiosity must be addressed.

“Most people have seen the famous painting of the bloated, middle-aged King, standing with his fists anchored pugnaciously to his hips, wearing sumptuous cloths covered in embroidery and jewels. The force of his personality can still be felt, even more a two-dimensional depiction in oil … His appearance thoroughly matches his reputation as a brutal thug who murdered women when he tired of them … Henry is popularly remembered as a fat, covetous, and womanizing lout, but this image is less than half the story.  The aged King, with his cruel disdain for others and his harsh authoritarianism, is very different from his younger self.  When Henry ascended to the throne, he strove to bring harmony and chivalry to his court; he was not to contentious and brutal man he was to become …  As a young man, Henry was a handsome, genial, and a rational ruler. The youthful King was described, in the private letters of more than one foreign ambassador or other court contemporary, as having incredible physical beauty. His hair was red, he had very fair skin, and his face was as lovely as that of “a pretty woman” (Scarisbrick, 1970:13) … In addition to his physical accomplishments, the King had a brilliant mind. Henry’s intellect impressed many of the most famous thinkers of his day.”

In her book, Blood Will Tell, medical historian Kyra Cornelius Kramer illustrates Henry’s youth and background before she talks about the possible illnesses that affected him.
She also spends a good deal dispelling myths surrounding Henry, starting with the notion that he was a lecher whose mood changes were the result of venereal diseases from countless sex partners.

“Had it been suspected that Henry had syphilis, word of his condition would doubtlessly have circulated in European courts. The fact that he was the English monarch would not have stopped the doctors from reporting his disease, any more than it stopped royal physicians from making the King of France’s condition common knowledge.”

In her book, Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, women’s historian Amy Licence, contests this notion, saying that there might be a bit of truth in legends, although she also maintains that in comparison to other kings, Henry was far more discreet and a prude.

Young Henry: The Man that Time Forgot

Henry VIII young
Henry VIII by the Venetian Ambassador who was impressed with the young King’s physique and pursuit of knowledge: “The handsomest potentate Ii ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with n extremely fine call to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright, with auburn hair combed straight and short, in the French fashion, and a round face so very beautiful, that it would become a pretty woman.”

Henry VIII grew up in a strict environment. It was all fun and games until his brother died and his father, worrying about his last remaining male heir, was forced to do some adjustments to his schooling and outdoor activities. Basically, he wasn’t allowed to go out much. His father enjoyed playing cards, joking with friends when he was abroad and watching jousting tournaments. Naturally, his son wanted to do all that and more but his father didn’t let him. Henry was allowed to have friends but he wasn’t allowed to engage in any sort of sports that might hurt him.
In the twelfth century, Louis VI of the Capetian Dynasty, aka Louis “the Fat”, of France lost his eldest son due to horse riding. And jousting was far more dangerous, especially for a young boy, so that was out of the question.

Courtiers thought that Henry would grow up to be someone they could easily control but he surprised them when he told them he’d choose his bride, concocting a sentimental lie how it was what his father asked of him before he died. Rescuing Katharine of Aragon from near penury, Henry VIII saw himself as Sir Lancelot to her Guinevere. At times the two engaged in elaborate masques where they would each play different roles, with Katharine as the damsel in distress and Henry as her knight in shining armor. In her documentary series, the Secrets of the Six Wives (Six Wives in the UK), Lucy Worsley spent the first half hour of the first episode showing how deeply in love Henry and Katharine were and that they were equal in looks, stubbornness, and their educational backgrounds.

I am not going to spend to be discussing Katharine’s background, I have done that already in other posts which I’ve linked down below. I will say that when it comes to Henry, his background is often ignored to the point that all people can think of -when they think of Henry- is this disgusting gluttonous lecherous idiot. That was not always the case and this perception is a perfect example of how the shifting religious landscape affected people’s views on a man who was once hailed by the Venetian ambassador as the true embodiment of Humanist principle.

The origins of the Black Legend & the truth about his childhood

In his biography on Henry VIII, the late David Loades had this to say on the Good King Hal:

Pro … defensione was the first round in the creation of that ‘black legend’ of Henry VIII which thereafter dominated all those records of English events which emanated either from Catholic Europe or from the English Catholic community. One of the most vitriolic was Nicholas Sander’s De origine ac progressu schismaticis Anglicani published at Cologne in 1585, which attributed Henry’s actions in the 1530s entirely to unbridled lust, both for Anne Boleyn and also for the wealth of the Church. This was a line also taken by Robert Parsons in his treatise of three conversions … which was issued at St Omer in 1603. Modern historians in the Catholic tradition have been far more judicious, not only because polemic no longer serves a useful purpose, but because the debate has broadened to embrace the King’s whole style of government. Cardinal Gasquet in 1888, while not abandoning the lust and greed interpretation, was more concerned to set the events in context and to admit that there might have been some justification for the King’s extreme reactions. In the twentieth century Philip Hughes, while pointing out that Henry had a tendency to alter the law to suit his own convenience, also proposed that there was much amiss with the late medieval Church, and particularly the monasteries, which invited the King’s intervention. This concession has been repudiated by more recent scholars, notably Jack Scarisbrick and Eamon Duffy, who have argued that the Church was in rude health and that Henry’s success was primarily the result of his exercise of crude force. It was by executing dissenters on both sides of the confessional divide that the King enforced his will, using fear and intimidation as his principal weapons. Meanwhile, for historians of a Protestant persuasion the reformation was a change waiting to happen. Without denying the importance of the King’s actions, they proposed a model of a Church corrupted from within by superstition and idolatry, a tottering edifice awaiting a decisive push. Unfortunately Henry’s push had been anything but decisive, as they admitted.
John Foxe, standing at the head of his tradition, was frankly puzzled by Henry, who seemed to blow both hot and cold on the reformers -often at the same time.”

David Loades’ assessment on the second Tudor monarch, is probably the fairest.

EOY and Henry VIII signatures
“Henry’s handwriting has always been a bit of a mystery. The ‘Y’s with that little back loop. The ‘R’s look much like ‘z’ in modern handwriting and the ‘H’s are quite unlike the handwriting of Henry’s known teachers. On the other hand, it is rather like this.’ David Starkey motions to show a book listing other primary sources that contains a letter written by none other than Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York. ‘And this is one of the very few surviving specimens of the handwriting of Henry’s mother. ‘This book is mine. Elizabeth, the King’s daughter.’ It says. It is only eight words and thirty-nine letters. And yet it is characteristic enough in weight, rhythm and letter forms to prove conclusive (I think) that Elizabeth herself was the first teacher of her daughters and her second son, Henry. It’s a charming picture, Henry the little prince and a loving family.” He described this as unusual “for sixteenth century monarchs.” And it certainly is but I think that has to do with the simple fact that he was the second son, the “spare”. Given that Arthur was destined to be King and going to receive a top-notch education, Elizabeth of York probably felt her other children, including Henry, could be more carefree. It must have felt terrible for the young boy when he lost his mother and his father (with good reason) became paranoid. Henry VII felt he had to protect him at all cost and until his father died, there was little indication of what Henry wanted. What Henry VII said, his son did. When he became King, he realized the enormous power that he had and how quickly he could win the people over by showing them that he was the opposite of his father. Like his mother, he was amicable, surrounding himself with people of low and high stature. And like his maternal grandfather, he was eager to be loved.

In his documentary on Henry VIII, as well as in his biography on him, David Starkey stated that Henry had a deep connection with his mother. To prove his point, he showed viewers to copies, one of his mother and the other of Henry. The handwriting is similar and given that he was the spare, it makes sense why he and Elizabeth became close. Further proof of this lies in Henry’s words. He said to one of his colleagues that his mother’s death was one of the hardest moments of his life, and something he had never gotten over with.

But Henry’s idyllic childhood didn’t last. As previously stated, it ended when his brother died and his father became overprotective of him. In her recent biography on the Tudors, The Private Lives of the Tudors, Tracy Borman says that Henry VIII’s descent into madness can be traced back to his childhood. By the time he became King, he had grown into a “highly strung, impulsive and vain young man with a terrifying and unpredictable temper. Those who served him would soon learn how swiftly his favour could be lost.” She is referring to Empson and Dudley, his father’s dreaded tax-collectors whom he put in prison as soon as he came to the throne and less than a year later, had them executed. Some historians take this as proof that Henry was bloodthirsty from the beginning and people only turned against him when he attacked their privilege and their beloved church.

Henry VIII: The Politician & Trying to Solve the Puzzle

Henry VIII full body red and grey classic portrait
An older Henry VIII at the end of his reign. By this time, he had become obese, the ulcer in his leg had worsened and it is possible he was suffering from other illnesses. His over-eating and desire for glory, as well as his position as head of his church, wishing to secure his legacy, didn’t help. Yet, aware of the power of words and images, he made sure that he’d become immortal through them, especially with the latter. His pose is perfect and can be seen in other paintings where his expansive clothes help cover up his weight and give the impression that he is all-powerful. Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Certainly, Henry VIII was a good masker, but what monarch wasn’t a good liar. In his infamous book, The Prince, Machiavelli posed the question if it is better for a prince to be loved or feared. Machiavelli, like Henry VIII, gets taken out of context. He didn’t favor the monarchy and his other text on a Republican government better illustrates where he stood politically. Nevertheless, eager to win back the favor his masters, The Prince was a step-by-step manual on how to be an effective ruler. Machiavelli held that it was better for a monarch to be feared -since a good ruler had to be aware that he could never please everyone. But relying on fear alone, just as on love, didn’t work because eventually the people would rise up in anger and everything the ruler built -whether good or bad- could go down the drain. Therefore, he added another element to the equation: respect. Winning the people over was a good technique and for that a ruler had to be affable and seen as just -even when he wasn’t.
Henry was good at this.  And not just because he was an evil mastermind who relished in people’s suffering but because he truly believed that what he was doing, was in everyone’s best interest.

Call it delusion, or self-con, but that is how Henry’s mind worked -and how most monarchs’ minds worked, especially the ones the ones that are widely revered.

Of course, as Henry VIII’s behavior became erratic as he got older. If Kyra’s theory that he suffered from Kell Blood Positive syndrome, as well as Suzannah Lipscomb in her book, 1536, where she said that the fall from his joust in that year caused him head trauma that altered his personality, are true then this along with his leg ulcer, and his urgency to father another male heir to secure the Tudor Dynasty, can explain this.

Even though victors get to rewrite history -and Henry did rewrite many things about his reign- sometimes writers decide that the truth is not interesting enough and they spice things up. This is what has happened to Henry. Amidst the myths and legends, the real one gets pushed into the background in favor of a caricature.
It is true, dead men tell no tales, but facts do and even when firsthand accounts are bias, they paint a clearer picture of who this man was and what fueled his actions. While the puzzle will never be solve, the deeper we dig, the closer we come to discovering who the real Henry VIII was.

Sources:

  • Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of England’s Greatest Dynasty. Hodder & Stoughton. 2016.
  • Kramer, Kyra Cornelius. Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation of the Tyranny of Henry VIII. Ash Wood Press. 2012.
  • Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant presented by David Starkey, directed by David Sington, BBC, 2009.
  • Loades, David. Henry VIII. 2011.
  • “Divorced.” Six Wives with Lucy Worsley, written by Chloe Moss, directed by Russell England, BBC, 2016.
  • Katharine of Aragon’s education
  • Katherine and Henry VIII’s marriage & their joint coronation

 

Daughter of the Renaissance: The Education of a Christian Princess and future Queen Regnant of England.

Mary I signature Tudor

The myth of Bloody Mary is one of the most enduring myths in history, with some historians and pop culture fans still seeing her as one of the vilest monarchs in history. But is Mary I deserving of this nickname?

The short answer is no. Mary’s actions and views, while despicable to us, reflect her time-period. On top of that, they also reflect the deadly inheritance she received as being a member of a ruling House who wasn’t yet fully established.

The Tudors’ right to the throne was contested by many. And while her paternal grandfather squashed every rebellion and defeated both pretenders, there were still many threats abroad and within her realm. It didn’t help that the wars of the religion had made her position more unstable, and thus, heightened these threats.

Along with this myth comes the assumption that Mary was ignorant. For those of you who are still adhere to this notion, I am sorry to disappoint you but that is simply not true.

Mary Tudor child

“She had clearly an early aptitude for music and dancing and grew to be highly accomplished in both. At the age of four she could play the virginals and she later learned the lute and the regal. Playing these instruments as she grew up, and the comments on her ability seem to have been more than the studied politeness of official observers. Dancing was also a vital accomplishment for royal ladies, and Mary’s enjoyment of it began early. She learned to dance at least as well as any lady at her father’s court. After Henry’s death, her brother Edward VI would criticize Mary for her unseemly devotion to his pastime at which she excelled.
Mary also became an accomplished linguist and had evidently learned some French by 1520, when she so impressed the French lords sent to inspect her. Again this may have been, like the musicianship, a skill inherited from her father, who used it to communicate with the emperor’s French-speaking diplomats throughout his reign. There would have been no need for such a young child to converse at any length, only to demonstrate that she could exchange pleasantries and formal greetings. As an adult she relied on her French for communication with the imperial ambassadors at a time when they were almost her sole support and, later for speaking to her husband. She may have picked up some Spanish from those around her mother, overhearing the conversations of Katherine with people like her confessor and her ladies-in-waiting, but the numbers of those who had, long ago, accompanied Katherine from Spain were dwindling, and the queen did not regularly use her native tongue anymore except with her priests. Mary could, though, read Spanish; in the 1530s, when their worlds changed so dramatically and Katherine needed to be very careful in her letters to her daughter, she wrote to Mary in Spanish. The princess, however, does not seem to have spoken it well, and she did not used it in public.” (Linda Porter, Myth of Bloody Mary)

Mary was a daughter of the Renaissance just as her half-sister was a product of the Reformation. Like her, she tried a middle approach at the beginning of her reign when she issued a proclamation on the 8th of August 1553, in which she stated that everyone was free to practice as they wished, so long as they did it in private. Wyatt’s rebellion however convinced her that was no longer possible. After the executions of Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley, and her father, Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk and Marquis of Dorset, and her marriage to Philip of Spain (then Prince of Asturias, King of Sicily and Naples), she doubled down on the Protestants.

While the Protestant faction continued to call others to war, Mary I remained invested in re-funding and founding universities that would once again promote the liberal arts and other forms of Humanist thinking.

Linda Porter and Anna Whitelock have written outstanding biographies on her where they deconstruct the many myths surrounding this controversial figure. Anna Whitelock highlights the challenges she faced being the first female ruler of a country who was still unready for a female monarch given that they believed it would end in anarchy. The events of Matilda vs Stephen and the wars of the roses were still fresh on their minds.

Mary ordered the old Humanist curriculum to be reinstated in the universities and like her maternal grandmother, she sought to root out of corruption from the Catholic Church. Using some of the language found in the book of common prayer, she encouraged several Catholic leaders to write religious texts in the hopes that this would make England a Catholic kingdom again. This started with a proclamation she issued in March of 1554, where her stance towards uneducated and incompetent church officials became clear:

“… to deprive or declare derived, and remove according to their learning and discretion, all such persons from their benefices or ecclesiastical promotions, who contrary to the … laudable custom of the church, have married and used women as their wives.”

Mary I and Philip II

Edward VI’s previous statutes had caused division between all academic circles, Mary intended to remedy this by issuing new ordinances and supporting the institutions financially. The dean of Oxford thanked for the endowments she made on this and other institutions of higher learning, as well as founding several under her husband’s name.

Mary’s policies made some of religious officials uneasy. She wanted to be another Isabella, who although despising her unofficial position as head of the Anglican church, meant to have complete control over the church by reforming it from within and appointing leaders who were like-minded as her. Mary might have also seen this as a good strategy against the growing number of Reformists in England. While some Reformists had supported and England still had a large population of Catholics; Protestantism wasn’t going to go away easily. She figured the best way to combat an idea was by giving the people a better idea.

Mary’s interest in education didn’t distract her from her usual pastimes which included gambling, various forms of music, poetry, and art. Humanism played man at the center of everything, and besides higher learning, it was often tied with art, music, and poetry. And being true to this creed, Mary’s court was filled with music, dancing, art, and just about everything that Mary was used to.

Mary I blue background

Today, some of her accomplishments remain overshadowed by the violent aspects of her reign in her final years, and the sorrow she faced following Philip’s departure, and finding out she wasn’t pregnant but was yet again the victim of another phantom pregnancy. Mary I died on November 1558 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, in the Lady Chapel the following month. It didn’t take long for her accomplishments and policies to be forgotten and attributed to her sister. Besides Whitelock and Porter, other historians and biographers have done their part in rehabilitate her by separating fact from fiction, destroying the myth of Bloody Mary, while still being critical of her.

Sources:

  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public. 2013.
  • Duffy, Eamon. Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor. Yale. 2009.
  • Loades, David. Mary Tudor. Amberly. 2011.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • Erickson, Carolly. Bloody Mary:  The Life of Mary Tudor. Robson Books. 2001.
  • Edwards, John. Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen. Yale. 2011.
  • Porter, Linda. The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin Press. 2008.

 

A Nice Change of Scenery: Margaret Pole in The White Princess

Margaret Pole TWQ Tudors WH

While The White Queen has taken many liberties and has been advertised as an accurate portrayal of fifteenth century courts, it has done a good job bringing attention to Margaret’s story –something that other shows have failed to do. The Tudors and Wolf Hall tried but were unsuccessful. The first only focused on a minor part of her later story and the latter depicted her as an active conspirator, making it seem as if she deserved her later fate.

Meg Pole being separated from Edward

There is a scene where she is with her brother and he is suddenly being taken away by Henry VII’s solders. The scene is absolutely heart-wrenching and it was done in such a way that you really feel for the poor girl.

Margaret is one of the most tragic figures of the wars of the roses and the Tudor era. She survived her father’s downfall and afterwards the fall of the fall of the York dynasty. The same cannot be said for her little brother, Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. After Richard III usurped the throne, the throne should have passed to him instead but due to their father having been executed as a traitor, he and Margaret were excluded from the line of succession.

Following Richard III’s defeat at the battle of Bosworth, Henry began the proceedings to overturn parliament’s ruling regarding his future bride and her remaining royal siblings. Richard III’s claim rested on the invalidity of Elizabeth and her sisters, which rested on the argument that Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV were never truly married because he had previously been pre-contracted to another noblewoman. Shaky as it may seem, given that the two people involved were dead and the Woodvilles were unpopular among many aristocrats, this stuck. But now that he was gone, it was time for Henry to validate his own claim and the only way he was going to do that was by saying it stemmed by right of conquest, his mother’s Lancastrian ancestry, and his union with Elizabeth.

While he didn’t marry Margaret’s cousin right away, he was quick to secure the last legitimate male Plantagenet. At only ten years old, Edward was moved to the Tower of London where he lasted until 1499. By that time he was described as simple and for lack of another better word, insane. He was easily tricked into conspiring with the pretender, Perkin Warbeck, and before long the two were charged with treason and hung.

Margaret Pole was twenty four at the time, having been born two years before him. We do not know what was going through Margaret’s head at the time, but given everything she suffered, we can only imagine that it must have been a terrible –but not so unusual- ordeal for her.

In The White Queen, there is a scene where she is with her husband, shortly after the two are married and she tells him that rejects her last name ‘Plantagenet’ because it has brought her nothing but sadness. Philippa Gregory’s last book in the cousins’ war series is titled The King’s Curse and it deals with events from the first two Tudor monarchs’ reigns from Margaret’s point of view. For those of you who haven’t read the book, I recommend it. It has some memorable scenes, some that were very touching and others that seemed repetitive. While it focuses on Melusina’s curse, an invention of Philippa Gregory to account for Prince Arthur and many other Tudor princes’ deaths, the book’s title can also be seen as an apt description for Margaret, a woman whose life must have seemed like a curse.

Margaret Pole Portrait
By an unknown artist, this sitter is believed to be Margaret Pole due to her clothing and jewelry.

A portrait by an unknown artist that has been identified as Margaret Pole shows that she never forgot about her roots and personal tragedies. She wears a bracelet with a butt malmsey hanging from it, a clear reference to her father who was executed during her uncle, Edward IV’s reign, for treason.

The eldest daughter of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville, eldest daughter of Richard Neville “the Kingmaker”, Earl of Warwick and Salisbury among other titles, and Anne Beauchamp; sought to survive by seeking favor with the royal family, especially the future queen of England, the Spanish Infanta, Katherine of Aragon.

COA and Meg Pole historical and fictional portrayals
Catherine of Aragon in the Spanish series Isabel (left), Margaret Pole in The White Princess (right).

It was this friendship that earned her the title of Countess of Salisbury. This was a big deal since not many women were title holders in their own right. As suo jure, Margaret became one of the richest landowners and influential courtiers in England. She also became Princess Mary, Katherine and Henry VIII’s only surviving child, governess and the two forged a strong friendship that would last a lifetime.

But not all was well in paradise. In spite of her friendship with the Queen, and the Queen’s patronage of Humanists and popularity with the people, her influence with the King was waning and following her last miscarriage, Henry’s eye began to wander again and it wasn’t only before it was set on her lady-in-waiting and former mistress’ sister, Anne Boleyn. After his marriage to Katherine was annulled, his daughter was bastardized and his union with Anne as well as her pregnancy became public, Margaret’s life was turned upside down. She chose to stay loyal to her best friend and former charge and unfortunately, this along with her royal blood and her son Reginald’s outburst against the King, became her undoing.

A book that I highly recommend that gives a hauntingly beautiful description of Margaret Pole’s ordeals is Dan Jones’ Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Here is a small snippet from it:

“At seven o’clock in the morning on Friday, May 27, 1541, within the precincts of the Tower of London, an old woman walked out into the light of a spring day. Her name was Margaret Pole. By birth, blood and lineage she was one of the noblest women in England … Margaret’s life had long been exciting. For twenty-five years she had been the countess of Salisbury, one of only two women of her time to have held a peerage in her own right. She had until recently been one of the five wealthiest aristocrats of her generation, with lands in seventeen different counties. Now, at sixty-seven –ancient by Tudor standards- she appeared so advanced in age that intelligent observers took her to be eighty or ninety.
Like many inhabitants of the Tower of London, Margaret Pole was a prisoner. Two years previously she had been stripped of her lands and titles by an act of parliament which accused her of having “committed and perpetrated diverse and sundry other detestable and abominable treasons” against her cousin, King Henry VIII. What these treasons were was never fully evinced, because in truth Margaret’s offenses against the crown were more general than particular … As she walked out into the cool morning air, Margaret Pole could therefore have reflected that, although she was due to beheaded that morning, she would at least die wearing new shoes.” ~Dan Jones, The Wars of the  Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors

The Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys who’d become very attached to the late Queen, Katherine of Aragon and her daughter, the lady Mary, wrote that Margaret was confused about her sentence. She wasn’t sure what her crime was, or how was it possible that she was easily convicted when there was hardly any evidence of an alleged treason. During these hard times, Henry VIII’s queen, teenager Kitty Howard and ironically Anne Boleyn’s cousin, sought to make her stay at the tower more comfortable by appealing on her behalf to her husband and sending her tailor so he could take her measurements and Kitty could order new clothes for the Countess. She also convinced Henry to send her new shoes. But in the end, nothing could save her from the same inescapable faith of her father and brother.

“At first when the sentence of death was made known to her; she found the thing very strange, not knowing of what crime she was accused, nor what she had been sentenced; but at last, perceiving that there was no remedy; and that die she must … walked towards the midst of space from the Tower, where there was no scaffold erected nor anything except a small block. Arrived there, after commending her soul to her Creator, she asked those present to pray for the King, the Queen, the Prince and the Princess, to all of whom she wished to be particularly commended, and more especially to the latter, whose godmother she had been. She sent her blessings to her, and begged also for hers …”

Chapuys added after her bloody execution had been carried out, that he wished that “God in his high grace pardon her soul”. Her execution was carried out by an inexperienced and rough youth who hacked her to pieces. An apocryphal account has her running away from her executioner, pleading for help only for him to chase her down and butcher her. Margaret had no reason to run away. Her speech is an indicator that she was ready to die and like so many present, she had no idea that her fate would be so gruesome. Like almost every other secondary source, especially one written centuries later, it should not be taken seriously.

If you want to read a full length-biography of her, I recommend the one by Susan Higginbotham who has also written one on the Woodvilles and plenty of historical fiction. Her book really brings to light the woman, the courtier, the mother and most of all, the survivor. I highly recommend it.

Like Anne Boleyn and so many others, sensing the end, Margaret Pole began to contemplate her own mortality and when she finally made peace with her fate, it is believed that she etched this poem on the stone walls of her cell:

“For traitors on the block should die;
I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so,
Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see;
Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!”

It is a sad end for a woman who had prided herself in being a survivor for most of her life. Two years before, her son and his alleged co-conspirators were executed. It must have been a terrible experience for her and at one point she must have thought she was cursed or that she would never be free of family tragedy. As previously stated, Margaret had lost her mother in childbirth, her father was found guilty of treason and executed by being drowned in a butt of malmsey and to top it all off, after Henry VII became King, her little brother was moved to the tower of London and fourteen years later executed. Margaret must have felt like she had avoided such fates by currying favor with the monarchy through the Spanish Princess, Katherine of Aragon but after Henry split from Rome,and Reginald’s words against him, Margaret’s family once again became a target and the rest as they say … is history. She begins her journey in The White Princess as a young woman who has no choice but to follow those in power and curry favor with them to stay alive and as a result, she becomes the most interesting and complex character in the show.

Sources:

  • Ridgway, Claire. “The Execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury.” The Anne Boleyn Files, 17 May, 2010, https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-execution-of-margaret-pole-countess-of-salisbury/5592/
  • Gregory, Philippa. The White Princess. Touchstone. 2013.
  • —. The King’s Curse. Touchstone. 2015.
  • Jones, Dan. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Penguin. 2014.
  • Higginbotham, Susan. Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower. Amberly. 2016.
  • Mackay, Lauren. Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys. Amberly. 2014.

The Sweating Sickness & Greyscale

Sweating sickness GOT

There is great book by Claire Ridgway that I recommend if you are new to the Tudor era or just new to some of the diseases that were plaguing the population during that time. The sweating sickness is by far one of the greatest mysteries of the Tudor era because no one knows exactly how it originated, although many scientists and medical historians have a good idea given some of the contemporary records.

“A remarkable form of disease, not known in England before, attracted attention at the very beginning of the reign of Henry VII.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

“It was referred to by many different names, including the Sweat, the Sudor Anglicus or English Sweat, the Swat, Stup-Gallant, Stoupe Knave and Know thy Master, Sweating Sickness and the New Acquainance.”(Ridgway, Sweating Sickness in a Nutshell)

Claire Ridgway makes the distinction that she is not a doctor but has done a great deal of research on this topic (and she has also made a video on this topic which is a shorter version of the book) and has come to several conclusions, the main one being that this disease could have been the result of several things, including lack of hygiene in universities, homes and other places.

“Erasmus, in a letter to Francis, physician to the Cardinal of York, wrote of how English houses were not constructed to make a through-draft possible and that their rush floors were unhygienic because sometimes they were not renewed for around twenty years and so they allowed “spittle, vomit, dog’s urine and men’s too, dregs of beer and cast-off bits of fish, and other unspeakable kinds of filth” to fester.  Oothers blamed the damp, foggy English climate and Caius mentioned flooding: “rot in the groundes after great flouddes, in carions, & in dead men”, but these factors are unlikely to have caused such an epidemic.” (Ridgway, Sweating Sickness in a Nutshell)

She goes on to elaborate on other possible factors such as this being a new strain of influenza or a combination of various factors that made it possible for this to spread so fast and kill so effectively.

Henry VII BUST

One thing she does dispel is that this was NOT brought over by Henry’s soldiers. This is something that is still perpetuated in some novels and while it makes for entertaining read, it is simply false. There are records of the disease before Henry and his army of mercenaries, disaffected Edwardian Yorkists and staunch Lancastrians landed on Milford Haven. In fact, one such account that she gives more details about in her book reads as follows:

“The disease was obviously known in England before the Battle of Bosworth because, according to the Croyland Chronicle, when Richard III called on Thomas Stanley to travel from his home in Lancashire to Nottingham, after news of Henry Tudor’s landing had broken, Stanley “made an excuse that he was suffering from an attack of the sweating sickness, and could not possibly come”. It appears therefore, that Henry Tudor and his forces cannot be blamed for its introduction.”

Sweating sickness death lament

The Luminarium project website has an article on this subject that is straight from the Encyclopedia Britannica, third edition that dates back to 1910, leaving it clear that the disease hadn’t been brought to England by Henry’s soldiers but that it was already native to England.

Sweating sickness dance of death
“It was known indeed a few days after the landing of Henry at Milford Haven on the 7th of August 1485, as there is clear evidence of its being spoken of before the battle of Bosworth on the 22nd of August. Soon after the arrival of Henry in London on the 28th of August it broke out in the capital, and caused great mortality. This alarming malady soon became known as the sweating-sickness.”

The symptoms according to Thomas Forrestier, a French physician, who lived in London and wrote a treatise on the disease, were the following:

  1. “A great sweating and stinking.”
  2. Redness of the face and body.
  3. Unquenchable thirst
  4. Headaches
  5. High fever
  6. Breathlessness

English physician John Caius was more detailed in his description of the disease, adding that the muscular pain would be accompanied by redness, abdominal pain, cardiac palpitations and dizziness.

Jorah greyscale

Game of Thrones, being partly based on the wars of the roses and the era after it, has sided with many novelists by having Ser Jorah on the show and Young Griffin’s (fake Aegon –sorry guys but I don’t think he is the real deal) guardian in the books be the ones that bring a horrible disease back to Westeros.

The show and books could surprise us by having these two characters finding some sort of miracle cure that stops it from spreading –sort of like what happened to Shireen- but it is unlikely. And it might be that the Stonemen’s disease or Greyscale, be Martin’s version of the sweating sickness in Westeros.

This would certainly make things difficult for Dany. The sweating sickness certainly did for Henry as it prevented him from going to certain places, or traveling alongside his wife years afterward. The sweating sickness was more deadly on England, killing many people and making no distinction between rich and poor.

Henry VII’s surviving son and heir, Henry VIII, could have come this close never to marrying Anne Boleyn because she happened to be one of the victims of this sickness. Thankfully for her and her family, she recovered. Other members of the nobility and the royal family weren’t so lucky. Take the Brandons for example. Charles Brandon’s last wife, Catherine Willoughby gave him two sons who survived infancy but didn’t live beyond that. During the reign of Edward VI they died, leaving the poor Duchess devastated.

The sweating sickness would go on to hit again with the last recorded incident in 1652 in Leipzig. This new variant of the disease would also be seen in other parts of the globe such as in France, Spain in Holland during the nineteenth century.

There were many attempts to cure it or control it with Henry VIII, who like his paternal grandmother, had a fascination with the natural world, keeping a detailed journal where he came up with several tonics and remedies to combat this disease.

game-of-thrones Shireen side face

In Game of Thrones we aren’t given a full explanation as to how Shireen’s father managed to stop the disease from spreading. Season five just reveals that Stannis hired every physician and magician from across the known world to come to Dragonstone so they could stop the disease from taking over and transforming her into one of the hideous creatures we saw that reside in Old Valyria. Like lepers in the ancient and medieval world, Stannis was advised to send his daughter away to live the rest of her life among the other people infected but he chose not to because he was convinced that she could be saved. It could have been a combination of his obstinacy (because Stannis is a proud man) and his love for his daughter that prevented him from making a poor decision that would see his only heir being sent to live the rest of her days as an animal. (Unfortunately, he would go on to make a worse mistake when he listened to Melisandre, and sacrificed her, believing that Shireen’s death would bring him victory.)
Daenerys sends Jorah away to find a cure. Some fans believe that Jorah will find himself back to the Quaithe, the mysterious masked figure viewers were introduced to in season 2 and whom book readers have long speculated about since we were introduced to her in ‘A Clash of Kings’. The first trailer for season 7 shows us as a disgusting looking arm with ridges, dried up blood and stone looking skin which leads us to believe it is Jorah and that maybe (like Shireen) he has found a way to stop the disease from spreading or that he hasn’t and like the rumors surrounding Henry’s men bringing the sweating sickness to England, he will bring a deadlier strain of the disease to Westeros, causing more deaths and more additions to the army of the undead.

Sources:

  • Ridgway, Claire. The Sweating Sickness: In a Nushell. Made Global. 2014.
  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor: Passion. Murder. Manipulation: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • “What was sweating sickness?” YouTube, uploaded by The Anne Boleyn Files, 5 May 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwSjvIixzP8
  • “English Sweating Sickness.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 11th, 1910

The Death of Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I collage

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 four years and was the longest reigning Tudor monarch, and third longest ruling Queen monarch in English history.
Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Born on September 7th 1533, she was bastardized three years later following her parents’ annulment and her mother’s execution.

Anne Boleyn with child

It isn’t known whether Elizabeth had any recollection of her mother.

Probably she didn’t given that she was very young at the time. But she spent a lot of time with people who did, most of whom belonged to her maternal family. During her coronation she included the personal emblems of her ancestors, including her mother’s during her coronation (the royal falcon); this small gesture along with the ring bearing Anne’s picture shows Elizabeth’s desire to know about the woman who gave birth to her.

Out of all the English monarchs, Elizabeth was unique in the sense that she never married. She refused to be tied to any nation or any house. This can be due to the emotional trauma she experienced at a such young age when she was demoted from Princess to mere “Lady”, and subsequently saw wife after wife being replaced by her father on mere whim. But there is also the pragmatic aspect that some historians deny and that is that Elizabeth had seen the troubles that a foreign marriage had brought to her half-sister, Mary I. England was not used to having female Kings, and the concept of one would mean she would have to marry someone equal to her, and for that to happen she would have to look elsewhere, beyond her English borders. This would also mean she would have to negotiate some sort of agreement where her husband would have to agree to keep himself and his councilors separate from English affairs; and the possibility of death during childbirth. England had a bad history with boy-kings. The last time, it resulted in the wars of the roses and that was something that was still fresh on the minds of many people.

Elizabeth I armada

“Her determination to preserve what was hers also turned her into a great war leader against Spain. She was not a general in the field nor an admiral … Instead, and more importantly, she was a mistress of language, thinking, in her speech at Tilbury, ‘full of scorn that Parma or Spain or any prince of Europe should dare invade the borders of my realm.’” -David Starkey

Therefore, by refusing any marriage offer –while coyly entertaining every ambassador, making all sorts of promises that she would consider- she abstained herself from such troubles and was able to be her own mistress.

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

News of the Queen’s death spread like wildfire, also reaching her councilors’ preferred successor, James VI of Scotland. Weeks before on March 9th, Robert Cecil, son of her late and 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 about her business, walking back and forth in her chambers, pondering on the future that awaited her country once she was gone.
Less than a week later, her condition worsened and she was no longer able to move as freely. Then 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. Sir Robert tried to cheer her up but to no avail. Elizabeth, as the rest, knew that her days were numbered and she wouldn’t live for another week.

On Tuesday, the twenty second she was brought to her bed where she stayed until her death. Her councilors visited her, insisting that she dictate her will so she could leave a successor but she refused. Like before, Elizabeth was always hesitant when it came to the issue of an heir. So many had competed for that position and so many were now gone.
Katherine Grey had married without permission and died nearly half mad in 1568, and ten years later her younger sister Mary Grey -who wasn’t allowed to see her husband because Elizabeth feared she could also produce children and rival claimants- and lastly, Mary, Queen of Scots who lost her head in 1587.
The favorite on everyone’s mind was James VI and one simple word from their queen’s mouth would give his claim even more validity but the Queen, probably not caring or in agony, remained adamant in her position. A story later circulated that Elizabeth I had indeed named James by way of her fingers when the council asked her to move her finger a certain way to mean that James was her successor and she did, but this cannot be corroborated and it is likely false.

Elizabeth I allegory
“Elizabeth was not, primarily, an exceptional woman; she was an exceptional ruler.” -Biographer Lisa Hilton

The death of Elizabeth I marked the end of an era. A bloody, tumultuous era packed with religious and social change. She was not a staunch Protestant but she did push for Protestant reformer on the Church, primarily on the Book of Common prayer, and neither was she a Catholic –though one Pope expressed admiration for her, claiming that if she wasn’t a Protestant, he would support her instead of Philip II of Spain. Elizabeth was a moderate and she took a moderate approach. That is the type of monarch she was. Her laws were just as fierce, if not fiercer in some aspects, than her father’s, grandfather’s and siblings.

Eworth_Elizabeth_I_and_the_Three_Goddesses_1569

The way in which she used her image says a lot about her. In one painting she is standing next to the goddess but if one looks closely it is the goddesses who are standing next to her, leading her to her destiny. Elizabeth was in popular eyes not just an anointed sovereign, but the head of all spiritual and earthly matters.

Elizabeth I Queen tomb

 

Elizabeth I was highly honored by her successor who built a beautiful monument, at the cost of overlooking her predecessor who was placed beneath her. The two sisters lie together with Elizabeth’s effigy being the only one visible and a plaque that reads: “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
  • Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Life of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir