Mean Royals: The Spanish Princess vs the Tudor Matriarch & Grand-Matriarch – Did Such a Rivalry Exist?

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Was Katharine of Aragon’s relationship with her mother and grandmother-in-law, Elizabeth of York and Margaret Beaufort respectively, tense and fraught with discord as shown in The Spanish Princess? The miniseries, a sequel to The White Queen and The White Princess hasn’t aired yet but the latest trailers has given us a taste of what we can expect.

Like its aforementioned predecessors, the miniseries will be using the common trope of other female lead costume dramas: Women vs women.

This is a trope that has been played to dead. And it is not bad, when well done. But that is the problem here. Did it really happen and if it didn’t, how will it play out?

Should we care?
No. If accuracy isn’t what you are looking for. If all you care is about storytelling, this shouldn’t bother you one bit. But if you are a historical purist, then I suggest you turn off the TV and switch to another channel.

As previously stated, the Mean Girls trope has been played to dead. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Contrary to popular belief though, it wasn’t that common.

Women did fight each other for wealth and position, but these fights didn’t as long as they are depicted in these costume dramas. In fact, more often than not, women who started off as enemies, became allies if not friends in the end.

This was no different for Katharine of Aragon. Forget her rivalry with Anne Boleyn, let’s go further back to the start of the sixteenth century, when she landed on Plymouth, England.

Everyone who saw her was enchanted by her, this includes Elizabeth of York. Little is said about Margaret Beaufort’s opinion of her. Given the written records and what’s known about these figures thus far, there is no reason to think that she disliked her.

If anything, Margaret’s attitude towards Katharine had more to do with prioritizing her son and his dynasty’s interests first above her personal opinions. Unlike Elizabeth of York, Margaret was politically active. Following the death of her eldest grandchild, she would advised Henry VII and gone along with his final decision.

Margaret’s hold over her family is well known and much has been written about it, but Margaret’s actions were no different than other older grand-matriarchs. Elizabeth of York on the other hand, chose to take on a passive role. In this, she excelled tremendously, earning the love and admiration of the English people.

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Lambeth Palace

Elizabeth was intrigued by her future daughter-in-law. There’s no proof of animosity between them. Days before her London entourage, she had stayed at Lambeth Palace. The day when her procession began, the King and Queen had sent their youngest son, Henry, Duke of York to accompany her. They had even offered her a carriage, which she politely reclined, opting for a humble mount instead.

Katharine displayed tremendous gratitude for all the work and effort that had been put into the celebrations, something that wasn’t lost on the royal family and her future subjects. When the ceremonies came to an end, she retired to the Bishop of London’s home at St. Paul’s (where she would be married to Arthur two days later on Sunday, November 14th). In her dual biography on Katharine and her older sister, Juana (I) of Castile, Julia Fox, notes:

“The royal family were delighted with everything and everyone. Queen Elizabeth had caught her first glimpse of Katherine, and the princess was due to visit her the next day.” (Fox)

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Interior of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Arthur’s letters to Katharine had been passionate. This is a key factor that nearly all historians note in their multiple biographies on these notable historical figures. Neither Margaret Beaufort nor Elizabeth of York felt threatened by Katharine’s grace and humility. If anything, these virtues brought them relief.

England had endured a terrible period of dynastic civil war. The repercussions of these royal affairs served as a bitter reminder of what happened when women’s voices rang louder than those of the king’s trusted men. Women played an integral during the wars of the roses. Active or not, they became the object of controversy -real or created- and these controversies were used as weapons against their husbands and sons. After all this chaos, the people expected consorts who took more of a backstage role than a public one. Elizabeth of York had become that and more, to the point of becoming a quasi-religious icon immediately after her death.

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Katharine’s soft and apparent humble demeanor, mirrored those of Elizabeth of York, whom Katharine hoped to emulate in her coming years as Queen of England.

For her part, Elizabeth of York had communicated to Katharine’s mother, that both she and her husband were pleased with her daughter. Elizabeth’s correspondence to Isabella had begun some years before. Knowing that Katharine would have to communicate in something other than English with her son, she advised the Queen of Castile to take advantage of Margaret Habsburg, who’d recently married Katharine’s brother, Prince Juan of Asturias. Margaret like Katharine, was highly educated. One of the languages she had come to master was French. While Katharine and Arthur could continue to write to each other in Latin, Elizabeth felt it better if she started to learn and practice French too, since it was language that was still highly popular among the English upper class.
Isabella took Elizabeth’s advice to heart. When Katharine came to England, she committed herself to learning England and slowly but surely, becoming indistinguishable from any of the English ladies at court.

Katharine did succeed, but her success did not come until much later when she was Henry VIII’s queen. During these trying years of battling for dominance, standing her ground against Tudor legal forces and foreign interests that underestimated her intellectual capacity and perseverance, Katharine remained the Spanish Princess. The unfortunate widow whose virginity was often debated and contested, which also placed into doubt her eligibility as the next King of England’s future bride. The future seemed bleak for Katharine. Rather than being discouraged by these seemingly impossible odds, Katharine remained adamant. Her first motto as Princess of Wales had been “not for my crown.” She continued to push, finding other outlets to survive and remain in England, until she got what she wanted.

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Elizabeth of York had promised she’d look over her daughter-in-law and be there to guide her through the difficult adjustment into her new country. Following her son’s funeral, Elizabeth did what she could to provide the widowed Spanish Princess with moral support. It is not known what was her opinion of Katharine’s resolute affirmation of her virginity and her parents, especially her mother, pushing for a renewal of the Anglo-Spanish alliance by marrying her to the remaining crown prince, Henry (now) Prince of Wales. Elizabeth’s choice to take on a more conciliatory role as Queen Consort would have made her opinion -if she voiced it- irrelevant. Henry VII had the final say in this matter. Margaret Beaufort’s involvement in this matter seems to have been very minimal. Whatever Henry VII decided, it was for the good of the realm and she, like all his subjects, would follow his lead.

Coming back to the novels this miniseries is based on, from the moment Katharine of Aragon meets Margaret Pole, the two hit it off. This is historically accurate. The two women became best friends, with Margaret reaping the benefits of this friendship right after Katharine weds Henry VIII and is jointly crowned with him. The earldom of Salisbury that had been in her family was restored to her, becoming one of the few female title holders (femme sole) up until that point. But there is a dark history to Katharine and Arthur’s union, a condition which the miniseries will undoubtedly touch upon.

After Katharine and Margaret Pole become fast friends in The Constant Princess, she asks Margaret if she doesn’t blame her for her brother’s execution. Margaret brushes it off as one of many tragic moments in her life, and a reality that royals have to live with.

Is the miniseries going to have Elizabeth of York blame Katharine for what happened to her brother and cousin? The White Queen and The White Princess (based on the novels of the same name) follow the school of thought that Perkin Warbeck was who he claimed he was, the youngest of the lost princes in the tower, Richard of Shrewsbury, better known as Richard, Duke of York. “The White Princess” takes a lot of historical liberties (more so than its predecessor, also deviating from its source material), having Elizabeth of York being one of the plotters behind her brother and cousin’s downfall. Yet, to excuse her actions, she might reason that she was forced into these drastic measures because of Katharine of Aragon’s parents, the Catholic Kings who in real life DID pressure Elizabeth’s husband to secure his throne or else, their alliance was off.

Meg Beaufort

Notable biographer Sarah Gristwood, takes on a different approach from past historians, inferring in her multiple biography on the women of the wars of the roses, “Blood Sisters”, that Margaret never got along with Katharine and held back a gleeful smile when her granddaughter-in-law’s longed for triumph, was nearly ruined by pouring rain. Katharine had come to substitute her as her remaining grandson, Henry VIII, now an adult and the new King of England, trusted adviser.
The Spanish Princess, based off Philippa Gregory’s two novels The Constant Princess & The King’s Curse which protagonists are Katharine of Aragon and Margaret Pole respectively. Judging solely by the miniseries’ trailers, it looks like The Spanish Princess is taking this perspective. In the last chapters of “The Constant Princess”, Margaret Beaufort nearly explodes when Henry VIII begins to listen less and less to her and more to his charming new bride. The miniseries will no doubt recreate this season with Margaret realizing -as Sir Thomas More, Lord Mountjoy and countless others during her joint coronation with Henry VIII- that Katharine of Aragon is not just any Princess, but a woman who was born to be Queen.

In the trailer, Elizabeth reminds Henry VII of the importance of this alliance. “Spain and England unite against our enemies so our son is protected on his throne.”
It’s unknown whether she says this BEFORE or AFTER Arthur dies, and whether or not she is talking about Arthur or Harry. Judging solely from her tone of voice, this conversation could take place after Arthur’s death, when she starts to view Katharine more as a threat and a bitter reminder of the sacrifice they had to make to ensure this alliance. The next line is spoken by her husband in what can only be assumed is an earlier moment in the series, where he warns his Queen that until “that girl arrives, we are lost.”

“Elizabeth of York was glad that after so many delays, the Princess from Spain had finally reached England. In a month’s time, she and Arthur would be wed, and within a year –God willing- she would be a mother. But the Queen’s happiness had come at a price. Before his daughter could come to England, King Ferdinand had demanded the death of the hapless Earl of Warwick. The Young man, though he was a prisoner, was a continuing threat to the security of England, he believed. Until he was properly dealt with, Ferdinand declared, he would not allow his precious daughter to leave Spain. Henry VII complied. To secure the alliance, Warwick and Perkin Warbeck were put to death in 1499.” (Hui)

Taking all of this into account, it’s not far-fetched to say, that part of Elizabeth’s anger towards Katharine will stem from the the losses she and Henry had to endure and the heavy toll they had to pay for the sake of the Anglo-Spanish alliance. Elizabeth’s response to her cousin, Margaret Pole, when Margaret asks what will happen to the widowed Spanish Princess, may be confirmation of this.

Regardless of the historical liberties and deviation from the source material, this miniseries is set to have many historical buffs talking. Hopefully, it will make more people interested in finding out about the real people behind this costume drama, especially Katharine of Aragon, whose beginnings are often overshadowed by her tragic end.

Sources:

  • Penn, Thomas. Winter King and the Dawn of Tudor England. Simon & Schuster. 2012.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Fox, Julia. Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile. Ballantine. 2011.
  • Williams, Patrick. Katharine of Aragon: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s First Unfortunate Wife. Amberley. 2013.
  • Hui, Roland. The Turbulent Crown: The Story of the Tudor Queens. MadeGlobal. 2017.
  • Gristwood, Sarah. Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses. Harper. Collins. 2013.
  • Licence, Amy. Catherine of Aragon: An Intimate Life of Henry VIII’s True Wife. Amberley. 2017.
  • –. The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII. Amberley. 2014.
  • –. Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen. Amberley. 2013.
  • –. Red Roses: From Blanche of Gaunt to Margaret Beaufort. History Press. 2016.
  • Gregory, Philippa. The Constant Princess. Harper Collins. 2005.
  • –. The King’s Curse. Simon & Schuster. 2014.

Henry VII and King Arthur: Unifying and Divisive Figures

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Henry VII, King of England, Lord of Ireland and first monarch of the Tudor Dynasty was a fan of medieval romances. Like most men of the era, he wanted to be seen as the embodiment of the chivalric virtues that his heroes displayed in these tales, primarily King Arthur.

At the time of his birth, a prophecy was made. Its origins lay with an older prophecy that foretold the coming of a king who would unite Britain under his banner and bring order to chaos.

Avid readers of fantasy probably know where this is going. Almost every fantasy writer has used this device. Their protagonists have no idea until they do.  They set out on a dangerous journey where they face every major obstacle known to man, until they fulfill their destiny.  Unlike modern fantasies where the hero almost always wins at the end, medieval romances paralleled Greek tragedies.

The heroes complete their tasks, but it comes at a great cost. Such is Mallory’s take on the Arthurian legend. Prior to its publication, the legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table was made up of fragments. Storytellers tried to put their own spin on the legend by focusing on one or two characters (at the most). If such a man existed, he must have originated from Wales., where the tale was born. Like many popular folk tales and legends, the conquerors added their own spin to it. After England became united, the tale was absorbed into English lore and Arthur became more than just a Welsh folk tale, but an English hero.

Published fourteen years after his death, Le Morte deArthur remains to this day the definitive account of King Arthur’s reign and the template for many fantasy authors who have continued to add more to this Welsh-Anglicized myth.

Written during the wars of the roses, some scholars believe that it was a political critique meant to reflect the general sentiment towards both warring Houses, Lancaster and York; the disillusionment from the nobles regarding Edward IV’s union with the fair Elizabeth Woodville, widow of Sir John Grey of Groby, and rewarding her family by marrying them to the high aristocracy; and lastly, the author’s own regarding both Houses.

Henry Tudor was fourteen at the time of the author’s death. He would have cared very little about one more former Lancastrian’s death, except for a passing sorrow given that he had fought on their side during the Lancastrian Readeption. Sir Thomas Mallory’s claim to fame came with this mammoth novel. When it was published, the House of York was in shambles.

What was once seen as England’s greatest hope had now become a source of dread. People looked for an alternative and they found one in the form of Henry Tudor, the exiled Earl of Richmond.

Forced to flee England with his uncle following the defeat of his cousin’s armies and his uncle’s death, Henry and Jasper landed in Brittany where they remained for thirteen years before spending their last year of exile in France.

Henry VII King Arthur

THE PRINCE WHO WAS PROMISED

Seeing a window of opportunity with the disappearance of the princes in the Tower, Henry changed his tune from fighting in their name, to fighting in his name. On Christmas of 1483, at Vannes Cathedral (other sources say Rennes), he swore that he would smite the usurper and marry his fair niece, Elizabeth of York, thus uniting both houses and putting an end to the terrible war.

Henry cast himself in the role of the knight in shining armor, the chosen one who had been chosen by God to rule over their realm. Drawing from other Welsh myths and legends, he had the red dragon that represented Cadwaladr on his main standard.

When he was born, Welsh bards sang songs about him. His father, uncle, and grandfather were beloved in Wales, and they saw Owen Tudor’s descendant as part of a prophecy which foretold the return of King Arthur and of another legendary King, which would rule over all the British Isles.

Henry capitalized on people’s superstitions to build his growing legend. He was the exile who crossed the narrow sea; the heir to a once great House, who had come with a ragtag team of soldiers, fledglings, and mercenaries, to fight a greater army led by a tyrant.

These elements were common in every medieval romance. Henry Tudor claimed descent from King Arthur. He was not the first nor the last to do this. His father-in-law, Elizabeth of York’s father, had done this as well. Out of all of them however, it was Henry who pushed the envelope further by portraying his reign as one of peace, unity, law, and order.

Mallory’s version of King Arthur is far from perfect. He remains a flawed character, with Camelot ending up as nothing more than a fair reminder that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The entire story is bittersweet. And therein lies another sad comparison, one that Henry probably thought he could avoid.

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Henry’s device -which became a national symbol of England and a representation of his dynasty- known as the ‘Tudor Rose’ told an alternative tale of the wars of the roses. As with Arthur who had proven his worth by taking the sword out of the stone, having Excalibur granted to him by the lady of the lake, and other magical tokens; Henry Tudor proved himself in the battlefield. He beat Richard, defeated the rebels, and every pretender that came his way. He was the first English King in hundreds of years to sign a peace with Scotland, remaining on good terms with his ancestral rival and neighbor until his death. Henry also financed the first maritime voyages to the new world. Though not successful like those sponsored by the Queen of Castile and King of Aragon, the Catholic Kings (Isabella I and Ferdinand II), they opened the door for future explorers.
Seeing how well the first Yorkist King’s economic policies had worked, he kept some of them, albeit making them better. Like him, he recognized he had to keep the nobles under a tight leash. Instead of marrying them to his wife’s family, he took their private liveries away. Private liveries gave them the right to a private army. Without one, they posed no serious threat.

Henry VII tomb and Arthur's death

THE END OF CAMELOT

But not all was well in paradise. Like his legendary hero, Henry lost most of his loved ones. His uncle Jasper, his firstborn, and his beloved wife and their infant daughter. This last loss broke him. He became a recluse, and like King Arthur, another bitter reminder of what once was and what could have yet might have been.

Survived by his mother, Henry passed away on April 1509. The last book of Le Morte dArthur has Arthur his illegitimate son to the death. Mordred is slain but Arthur is mortally wounded. Seeing the splatter of brains and other body parts, he weeps and laments his reign. One of his men takes him to a barge where he is watched over by three magical queens who take him to the land of Avalon, where he will rest for eternity. The novel ends with a promise. One day Arthur will rise from the grave and come in the form of a just man to make things right again.

Many English Kings did not see the tale of King Arthur as a cautionary tale. They saw Arthur as their role model. Due to his paternal family’s ties to Wales and his peculiar journeys, Henry believed he had more in common with him, and was worthier than his predecessors to take up his mantle.
Henry was right, the year the novel was printed, was the year his reign began. But rather than having celebrated the similarities, he should have been wary of them.

Henry VII’s crown was inherited by his remaining son, Henry VIII. Unlike the terrible state England had been left in by Arthur’s death, Tudor England did not have to worry about that because in our version of the tale, Merlin was still around to help the next generation before he too passed away. In this version, Merlin was not a wise old man but a woman. Henry VII’s mother ensured that her son had a peaceful transition of power. When he reached his age of majority, she retired and passed away quickly.

The age of Camelot had come to an end. Camelot had become a land of nightmares. After the Tudor dynasty died out and the crown was inherited by a Junior branch (that descended from his eldest daughter) chroniclers took a different view of Henry VII’s reign. Henry VII’s last years in power came to define him, with him being portrayed as the miser-king, a dastardly figure whose mother was equally terrible.

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ONCE AND FUTURE KINGS

Like all the Tudors, Henry VII is a fascinating figure. Le Morte dArthur gives us an Arthur we can all root for and empathize with. He is flawed, and it is those flaws that make him relatable because he is human. Similarly, it is (ironically) thanks to all the bashing that Henry VII has received that has made him one of the more relatable monarchs of his dynasty.

They remain the once and future kings. Nobodies who beat the odds to become England’s celebrated figures, but who ultimately were helpless in the face of personal tragedy. Their dream of a perfect kingdom was inherited by their descendants but died with them. Ultimately though, despite his best efforts, his story took a tragic turn. Unlike his hero, he did not die at the hands of his son, nor see his kingdom descend into chaos. He had his Merlin (in the form of Margaret Beaufort) to thank for that; but he did lose many of his loved ones.Over a century later when the geo-political landscape of the British Isles changed, so did his appeal among chroniclers. Chroniclers began to see him in a negative light, painting him and his mother as a stain in English history and shifting the pendulum to the other side when it came to his rivals (primarily Richard).
In a way, this parallels with Arthur’s demise at the hands of his son, Mordred. At the end Mallory’s novel, Arthur regretfully tells two of his knights after he kills Mordred, that his glory has been snatched from him. Though Henry died of natural causes, recent efforts to vilify his name can be seen as a way of destroying his legacy.

Ironically though, novelists and chroniclers’ efforts to make him into a villain, only serve to make him more appealing. Who wants to be interested in a perfect character? Someone who has no flaws and you can’t relate to when you have a man who beat the odds and became King of England?

Subsequent Kings and Queens would delight themselves with tales of King Arthur and his knights of the round table but they were far wiser in how they approached this tale. Instead of seeing Arthur as a role model, they regarded him as a cautionary tale; the perfect example of what happens when someone lets himself be overpowered by his vices.

Sources:

  • de Lisle, Leanda. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public Affairs. 2013.
  • Penn, Thomas. Winter King and the Dawn of Tudor England. Simon & Schuster. 2012.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • 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.
  • Mallory, Thomas. Le Morte dArthur. 1485.

Book Review: How to be a Tudor by Ruth Goodman

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Ruth Goodman weaves a wonderful tale of kings, queens, peasants, artisans, and other groups from the late fifteenth, sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, illustrating how people’s views on sex, religion, childbirth, education and other customs varied, depending on the region they lived and -for those in the middle and at the bottom- how different regimes affected their lifestyle.
As such, issues such as work, immigration, cleanliness, food and clothing are also addressed.

One thing that Ruth Goodman also excels at is tearing down through the myths that people still buy into when they think of the Tudor era. And we can hardly blame fans who do because there isn’t a lot of focus on important factors that dominated people’s lives such as identity, religion, social status, and region.

This is a must have for every history enthusiast and aspiring historian. You won’t be disappointed.

Richly descriptive, beautifully written and highly entertaining, Ruth Goodman does what you’d expect a good historian and someone who’s clearly passionate about her work would do. She relies on primary sources and archaeological evidence and when she has to fill in the blanks, she fills in the blanks based on what she knows, but ultimately she makes it clear that it is up to the reader to decide what he or she believes is the likeliest possibility of the subject she just addressed.
It really feels like you’ve hopped into the DeLorean and gone back in time!

Book Review: Katherine the Queen by Linda Porter

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This is an exceptional biography that does justice to the sixth and last consort of Henry VIII. For centuries, Katherine Parr was seen in an auxiliary role. The nurse, the one that survived because she was tactful where two of her predecessors were not, and finally, the surrogate mother.
Out of these three, there is truth to the last two.
The real  Katherine Parr was a reformer. She had an active role in the English Reformation. While Anne Boleyn is credited with being the first royal consort to embrace Protestantism -and she certainly does deserve some of that credit- the truth is that it was Katherine Parr who was England’s first full fledged Protestant queen.
Where Anne believed that religious reformers should thread carefully and still embraced some of her forefathers’ traditions, Katherine Parr wanted to do away with almost every aspect of the old world.
In her view, women were the Protestant Reformation greatest asset. Women were supposed to be -according to the bible- virtuous. For this very same reason, Katherine encouraged her young charges to live up to the highest standard. Among her charges were the ill-fated Jane Grey and the future Gloriana, Elizabeth Tudor.
Linda Porter understands the period and her audience, including those who are new to this era. For this reason, she decides to cut straight to the chase and exclude details that might make newcomers lose interest.In spite of this, she weaves every thread to form a rich tapestry that presents us with a remarkable woman. Out of all of the Tudor consorts, she and Henry VIII’s first wife, Katharine of Aragon whom her mother -lady Maud Parr- served and whom she was named after) were the only queens to be appointed regents in their husband’s absence. Henry VIII saw in Katherine a nobility of spirit and intellect. When he left the country to seek glory in France, he entrusted the well-being of his nation and offspring into her hands. Though he had also left competent men who’d guide her through her new duties, the sole weight of England rested on her shoulders.
Katherine proved to be more than capable.
After having a brief brush with death, she spent her last years building a friendship with many members at court.
Porter is also quick to point out that while she did not want to take any credit for the English reformation, she was one of the de-facto leaders of this religious movement. Her last book, published months one year after Henry VIII died, helped shape Anglican thought.
Aside of her strict moral code, this biography also sheds light on her social life. Katherine fulfilled the other important functions of a consort by being an exceptional hostess. She loved to dance, hear her husband’s minstrels, and dress in rich gowns that would reflect well on the crown.
Porter is not afraid to touch on the controversy surrounding her youngest royal stepdaughter and ward, lady Elizabeth Tudor and her fourth and last husband, Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron of Sudeley.
Since most of our knowledge of that incident comes from sources that were written much later; she tries to be as factual as possible, delivering the most likely scenarios and the reason behind Katherine Parr reacting the way she did.

Lastly, this is one of the few books that paints a more complete picture of her noble ancestry. Out of all the four non-royals that Henry VIII married, her lineage was the most distinguished.
As previous stated, Linda Porter is not afraid of including the darker aspects of her life. In a perfect world, in a perfect time, she would have had it all. A learned and courteous woman, who was recognized for her intellect and her active role in the religious reformation, living happily ever after with a husband who loved and appreciated her with a child that will take after her mother.
 Nevertheless Katherine’s legacy lives through her writings and what she taught through her actions and her self to Elizabeth.

Book Review: Elizabeth: The Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton

Elizabeth i by lisa hilton

An objective, well written biography that explores the lesser known aspects of Elizabeth’s life, from her education, her relationship with her father, siblings and her eventual rivalry with Mary I and Mary, Queen of Scots, to the last years of her reign, and people’s perception of her during and in the aftermath of her death.
Elizabeth I is glorified in English history as the greatest monarch that ever lived. Not only that, but she has accolade of fans who -in their attempt to defend her- end up doing her the same disservice her rivals did back in the day. By putting her in a pedestal, she stops being a human being -an opportunistic, politically savvy, strong woman who was also a flawed individual, but didn’t let her demons get in the way of making her country great- and instead becomes a caricature.


Lisa Hilton also dispels myths about her rivals and family members, primarily her mother (Anne Boleyn), her half-sister (Mary I), her rival (Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots), and lastly, her last stepmother, Kathryn Parr. 


What emerges is a woman who was deeply scarred by her experience but, as previously stated, learned from them, and used her femininity as her shield against her enemies before she became Queen. When she was Queen, she was stern while also cautious to a fault, affirming nothing and denying nothing. She played both sides and like most female rulers, she regarded herself as half-divine, her power justified by her intellectual and political prowess. But Lisa Hilton notes that the Virgin Queen would not have been as successful had it not been for her councilors. She often clashed with the more radical Protestant faction. They wanted a republic, one modeled after the classical Greek and Roman Republics, and were emboldened by the Netherlands and their Northern neighbors, the Scots. Of the latter, the Netherlands were more successful, and it was largely in part to Elizabeth. But as with many politicians today, supporting one’s cause, doesn’t mean you agree with them.
As a pragmatist, Elizabeth was in need of allies and if the Catholic countries would continue to conspire against her, she would do the same and look elsewhere. The end result is a contradictory tale. Elizabeth applauded her father’s establishment and the supremacy of the Church of England because it placed the monarch above the law, on the other hand, she despised other Protestant doctrines that downplayed the monarch’s power and wished to return to the times of a classical republic. Elizabeth supported them because she needed them, but deep down she despised what they were doing and whenever some of her countrymen got similar ideas, she struck back.


This is a biography history buffs (especially those who are sick and tired of generalizations of their favorite Tudor monarchs) will absolutely love. If you are new to the Tudor era, worry not, this book is easy to follow, highly descriptive and engaging from start to finish.

Richard III’s Thunderous Proclamation against Henry Tudor

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On the 7th of December 1484, Richard III issued a thunderous proclamation against Henry Tudor (then) Earl of Richmond. Richard had sworn to protect his nieces and welcomed the eldest two (the once Princesses, now Ladies) Elizabeth and Cecily of York to court. Henry Tudor had been a nuisance to Richard ever since the Christmas of ’83 when he pledged to take the crown and marry Elizabeth of York, thus uniting both Houses. But for the first time during his reign, after the death of his son, Prince Edward of Wales, Henry had become a serious threat.
Those who criticize Elizabeth Woodville and her eldest daughters for accepting Richard III’s offer of peace, ignore the fact that when he did this, his son was still alive and as far as everyone knew, his reign could go on for many years. The death of his son changed all of this. With no heir and a sickly wife, the threat of Henry Tudor became greater. He had with him not only staunch Lancastrians but Edwardian Yorkists as well supporting his claim.

Henry VII White Queen
The proclamation not only attacked Henry but his allies, including Peter Courtenay (Bishop of Exeter), Jasper Tudor (Henry’s uncle), the notable Lancastrian loyalist John, Earl of Oxford (who was one of the greatest strategists of the age and ally Henry could count on), Thomas Grey (Marquis of Dorset), Sir Edward Woodville, and others as well, stating that
rebels and traitors disabled and attainted by authority of the high Court of parliament” also being accused of being “open murderers, adulterers, and extortioners contrary to truth, honour and nature” in addition to abusing “and blind the commons of this said realm of the said rebels and traitors have chosen to be their Captain one Henry late calling himself Earl of Richmond which of his ambitious and insatiable covetousness stirred and excited by the confederacy of the King’s said rebels and traitors encroacheth upon him the name and title of the Royal estate of this Realm of England. Whereunto he hath no manner, interest, righ or colour as every man well knoweth. And to the intent to achieve the same by the aid, support and assistance of the king’s said ancient enemies and of this his Council of France to give up and release in perpetuity all the title and claim that Kings of England have had and ought to have to the Crown and Realm of France.”

This last part is extremely serious because not only was Richard calling Henry ever nasty name in the book, but he was also accusing him of making a secret deal with the French of giving up England’s claim to the “the crown and realm of France” in order to have that country’s support.
The solution to Henry’s “insatiable covetousness” was supporting Richard who as “our sovereign lord” was a “well-willed, diligent, and courageous prince” who would put “his most royal person to all labour and pain necessary for the resistance and subduing of his enemies.”

Henry VII Richard III bosworth collage

Richard and Henry’s armies would meet the following year, not long after his wife’s death in that same year. The end result would be Richard dying battle and Henry becoming King of England, fulfilling his promise of marrying Elizabeth of York whose parents’ marriage was once again validated.

Cersei I vs Daenerys s7 1

This is why history will always be a major triumph over every fantasy and sci-fi it inspires. It is way more violent and filled with more surprises than fiction can ever come up with. It shows us that the impossible can often become possible, and that as Varys told Tyrion in “Game of Thrones” a small man can cast a “very large shadow”. In the show’s seventh season, Cersei took on the role of Richard III when she issued a thunderous proclamation of her own against Daenerys Targaryen. Like Henry, she was exiled across the narrow sea and come to reclaim the Iron throne, but unlike the Welsh dragon, it is unknown whether she will ever achieve her goal given that the show and the books are amalgams of different eras. Nevertheless, it shows how the past continues to be relevant and serve as a major inspiration.
But whereas Cersei was posh and delicate before the lords, Richard III did not mince his words. As it was pointed out, he didn’t pull back any punches and continued to attack Henry’s character, reminding everyone that the last time someone had a Lancastrian king, England had lost all of its prized possessions in France, and that aside of that, Henry descended from a lowly branch of that house that albeit being legitimized, in the eyes of many, it was seen as a bastard branch of the Plantagenet dynasty.

Sources:

  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Penn, Thomas. Winter King and the Dawn of Tudor England. Simon & Schuster. 2012.
  • 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.
  • Porter, Linda. Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots. Martin’s Press. 2014.

Wheel of Fortune: The Coronation of Henry VII – From King to Villain

Henry VII first Tudor king from manuscript

On the 30th of October 1485, the Tudor Dynasty officially began. Henry Tudor, the former Earl of Richmond, son of the first Earl of Richmond, Edmund Tudor and Lady Margaret Beaufort (now Stanley), was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey. His coronation progress began on the  28th when he took possession of the tower. On the 29th where he processed to Westminster. Dressed for the occasion, he was followed by his prime courtiers, men who had fought with him at Bosworth and others who had recently sworn their loyalty to him.

“Heralds, sergeants-at-arms, trumpeters, esquires, the mayor, aldermen, and nobles, preceded the king dressed in their rich liveries, amongst them

Henry VII road to coronation the-white-princess-jacob-collins-levy

Drawing from the royal chronicle and other observers, historian Dan Jones, describes how England’s new king displayed his power in one of the grandest events of the fifteenth century.

Accounts of the coronation were drawn up by Sir Robert Willoughby, and they spoke of a flurry of activity among the goldsmith, cloth merchants, embroiders, silkwomen, tailors, laborers, boatmen and saddlers of London. Instruction went out for yards of velvet and silk in royal purple, crimson and black, which were then run up into beautiful jackets, hose, hats, robes, wall hangings, cushions and curtains. Henry’s henchmen were ordered hats plumed with ostrich feathers, boots made from fine Spanish leather and striking costumes of black and crimson” -Wars of the Roses: The End of the Plantagenets and Rise of the Tudors

Henry was a quarter Welsh -something that like his granddaughter, Mary I’s Spanish ancestry, has been used against him. But if we look at the royal bloodlines of other kings and queens, we find that all of them had different nationalities. There was no such thing as pure-English. Even Elizabeth of York and her siblings whose parents were both English were not pure-English. Elizabeth Woodville’s mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg was French. Most of the English premier noblemen owed their fortunes to their Norman ancestors. They came to England with the Conqueror, William, Duke of Normandy, who (like Henry Tudor) challenged the English King for his crown and defeated him at battle.
And even the Anglo-Saxons were not native to England. Before them, there were the Celts and other tribes who they themselves

Yet, the concept is one that remains very popular and as centuries passed, and the geo-political situation of the British Isles continue to change, the pendulum swung in the other direction.  Henry was an usurper, a foreigner and a rogue whereas Richard, an angelic King, was a just man who had been unfairly robbed of his divine right.

Jane Austen on Henry VII collage 1

Jane Austen is a perfect example of this new geo-political landscape. Before she became a published author, Jane wrote during her teenage years that Henry was “as great a villain as ever lived” who “made a great fuss about getting the crown and having killed the king at the battle of Bosworth.” Jane went on to add that the only good thing that came out of Henry VII (and his dynasty for that matter) was his eldest daughter whose descendants united both crowns, and Henry VIII whose reign saw the creation of the Anglican Church. Jane had plenty of bad things to say about Henry VIII too but thought he wasn’t “quite so bad as his daughter Elizabeth.”

Fast forward to a few decades later to the Victorian era and you see an increase in popularity for Richard III. This is not surprising. England’s national identity was more important than ever. Xenophobia was in the air and with the English queen being half-German married to her cousin who was German, it became more important than build on that national identity. As a result, countless writers began to rely on secondary sources that distorted most first-hand accounts, painting a picture about the Tudors -namely Henry VII and his mother, Margaret Beaufort- that was far removed from reality.

As the pendulum continued to swing in Richard’s direction, the real Henry faded into obscurity. What Shakespeare, Vergil, and countless others had done to Richard during the Tudor regime, now these chroniclers were doing the same to them. It looked as if karma had its due but in truth, it was nothing more than reactionary writing.

At the time that Henry VII became King of England, the country was in chaos. Everyone was holding their breath, eager to see their new king walking down the streets of London, hoping -begging the almighty- that his reign would last and usher in an era of peace and economic prosperity.

Henry VII achieved the former during the last years of his reign, though the chronicles would have everyone believed that he put an end to the wars of the roses the minute he defeated Richard’s forces. The latter was also achieved but it came at a high price. By the time of Henry VII’s death, the crown’s coffers were full but his subjects’ adoration for him had become almost non-existent. Henry levied excessive taxes on the rich and poor alike, and while he survived every rebellion against him, people’s animosity for him continued. Henry’s attitude is largely owed to his reasonable paranoia. Living fourteen years of exile had taught him that he would never be safe unless he rooted out all his enemies.
Few people comprehended this; those that did had died except for his mother whom he continued to rely on for emotional support.

Margaret Beaufort was an indomitable woman, someone who had more experience at court than Henry did. But he quickly learned how to navigate that world thanks to his stay at the Breton and French courts during his exile.

When Henry VII returned to his royal quarters that October 29th, he prepared himself for the big day ahead of him on the morrow where all of his hardships and endeavors would finally pay off.

Besides his uncle Jasper Tudor, his stepfather, Sir Thomas Stanley and his brother, William Stanley, other men who had fought alongside him at Bosworth were also there.

The ceremony was performed by John Shirwood, Bishop of Durham, Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, Courtenay, Bishop of Exeter, and John Morton, Bishop of Ely. The archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Catholic Church in England, did not play a prominent role but it still fell unto him to anoint the new king and place the crown upon his head.

The White Princess 2017

Everything else also went according to protocol. After Henry had the holy oils placed on him and he was changed into parliamentary robes, the archbishop put the crown of St. Edward the Confessor on his head then turned to his ministry asking the crowd if they accepted their new monarch. Everyone chanted in unison “Yea, yea!”

Henry, Seventh of that name, never felt more jubilant. So did his mother, although her confessor John Fisher said that her tears were more from fear than of joy. Having lived through three kings, Margaret was afraid that her son would share the same fate.

If Henry was aware of this, he did not show it. Determined to enjoy his triumph, he returned to the Tower of London for the coronation banquet. His uncle Jasper took precedence over other nobles, riding ahead of them, a little far behind his nephew.
Once at the banquet, Henry and his honored guests enjoyed a variety of courses. After the first course, the king’s champion Sir Robert Dynmock came in, issuing the customary challenge, demanding who would challenge the King’s authority. There were more performances to be found that day, among them the iconic representation of the royal arms of England and France along with those of their new king emphasized his Welsh ancestry. But more prominent among them was the Tudor rose. Henry Tudor was a religious man, and as those that came before him, he chose a rose because of its religious significance. The red rose was a symbol of Christ’s passion, while the five petals corresponded to the  five wounds Christ had suffered on the cross. Roses were ones of the most notable symbols on the Abbey, and on the courtier’s clothing.

Highlights Britain's Biggest Fibs ep 1 collage 1
“Henry VII’s marriage to Elizabeth would stir attention away from this …” Dr. Lucy Worsley explains, pointing to the the roll that describes the lineage of Lancastrian and Yorkist Kings, and their ancestors, the Plantagenets as well as the Anglo-Saxon kings and queens before them. The scroll belonged to the de la Pole family who had Yorkist blood via one of Edward IV’s sisters. For obvious reasons they didn’t like Henry and were in cohort with Margaret of York, Duchess Dowager of Burgundy and others, to depose Henry VII. Henry VII did descend from a “servant grandfather” as Dr. Worsley put it, but he did have Lancastrian blood via his mother, Margaret Beaufort. The Beauforts got their last name after one of the castles that belonged to their forefather, John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster. Because the Beauforts had been conceived and born before John of Gaunt married their mother, they were considered illegitimate. But they were legitimized by Richard II. After Richard II was deposed however, their half-brother, Henry IV (the first Lancaster monarch) added another clause that excluded them from the line of succession.

The white rose had become representative of the House of York as the red became representative of their opponents, the House of Lancaster which Henry was meant to embody. Henry had sworn to marry the beautiful Elizabeth of York after he became king, but with so many Yorkist heirs still abounding, he hesitated to marry her straight away. Instead, their union was postponed until January of the following year.

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 which was embodied in the Tudor rose. 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 the English hedgerows. As a symbol it had a long associated with the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes called the Mystical Rose of Heaven. But 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.”

Henry VII older looking posthumous portrait

In the five hundred and eighteen years after his death, he remains a controversial figure. People associate him with the image that came in the last years of his reign -that of the miser and the Winter King, and of course the one that’s the product of secondary sources and latest novels: the true culprit behind the princes in the tower’s disappearance or an enabler who used his mother and her husband to dispose of them. This has a lot to do with how we think of Henry, a man who spend hours sitting behind his desk, overseeing every state affair and paying more attention to what was going on his kingdom than squandering his time and money on women and other vices that destroyed the reputations of previous kings.
Henry’s life story however is just as interesting as all of these other monarchs. And the fact of the matter is that regarding the princes’ disappearance, is something we will never know. But just as Richard’s defenders say that you cannot condemn him based on little evidence, you can use the same argument for Henry and his mother. There are ‘perhaps’ ‘could haves’ but never any certainties. Just as kings were known to be pious, they were also known to be cruel and Richard was no different. The facts don’t lie, to secure his power, he executed Lord Rivers (Elizabeth Woodville’s brother), Richard Woodville (hers on), and Hastings and imprisoned others that he considered were also a threat. His brother and father had been brutally killed when he was very young, and being exposed to violence at a very young era, no doubt, had an effect on him. The same can be said for Henry Tudor who saw from an early age the destruction of his mother’s house, the Beauforts, and his uncle’s, the Lancastrian. And when he became a target of Edward IV (who feared he would be perceived as the new hope for the lase Lancastrians) he and his uncle Jasper fled the country.

This alone makes him one of the most fascinating figures in European medieval history.

Henry VII red rose intertwined with shadow of the tower
“The reality of Henry Tudor’s ascent to the throne –his narrow escapes from death, his failures and anxieties, complete with constant uncertainty of his situation, and the compromises that he had been forced to make, including the support from France and hiss former Yorkist enemies in gaining the crown- was a far less welcome tale. It remains nonetheless nonetheless just as remarkable; against all the odds, at Bosworth Henry achieved victory that he should have not on” (Skidmore)

As the royal procession reached Westminster Abbey on that fateful day, people could see the massive wax tapers weighing over twelve hundred pounds. As his coffin was lowered down to be placed next to his wife, the choir sang ‘Libera me’: “Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal on that fearful day … When thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.”

Despite his miserly attitude after the death of his son and wife, he kept corresponding with his eldest daughter whose affection for her was clearly evident as he consoled her in one of their first letters when she told him that she was feeling homesick. On his deathbed, Henry had made provisions so 10,000 masses would be said to aid his soul’s journey into the afterlife, and the other half to religious gifts and charities. When his son ascended to the throne he posed an important question which perhaps still resonates today when we hear debates about which Tudor King (of the first two) mattered most. In the Dynasty portrait made in the last decade of his reign, Henry VIII has Holbein put him and his father on their right with their respective and favored wives, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour on the left. Separating them is this huge monument where it reads:

Tudor Dynasty portrait

“The former often overcame his enemies and the fires of his country and finally gave peace to its citizens but the son, born indeed for greater tasks, drives the unworthy from the altars and brings in men of integrity. The presumption of popes has yielded to unerring virtue and with Henry VIII bearing, the scepter in his hand, religion has been restored.”

The message is clear, ‘my dad was great but I am greater.’

There is no doubt that Henry VIII did change the course of English history by separating from the Roman Catholic Church and commissioning a translation of the bible into English by Miles Coverdale; but his father was just as great if not more because he triumphed against all odds and unlike so many kings before him, he died in his bed with his mother ensuring a peaceful transition of power for his son, Henry VIII.

Unfortunately, unlike good wine, time has not been kind to Henry VII. While there have been some historians who want to restore the good old monarch’s reputations, it seems nearly impossible at this point when fiction has substituted the historical records.
Nevertheless, his legacy remains. The powerful symbols he’d use to rewrite history were once again evoked during his granddaughter, Elizabeth I’s reign. Henry’s triumph had taught his descendants that while brute force was necessary to subdue their enemies, their strongest tool was in how they presented themselves to the public. This way, they became immortal, and despite the bad press that Henry has received, he remains a legend and (still) a hero to some.

Sources:

The Ballad of Jane Seymour. Honoring her “sacrifice”.

Jane Seymour part of the Dynasty portrait

The ballad “The Death of Queen Jane” is an English ballad that describes the events surrounding Jane Seymour’s death, while romanticizing her union with Henry VIII. The following is an epitaph that both glorifies and laments her, painting her as the sacrificial lamb who gave her life for a noble cause -giving Henry his longed for legitimate male heir to succeed him after his death.

“Queen jane in labour full six weeks and more,
And the women were weary, and fain would give oer:
‘O women, O women, as women ye be,
Rip open my two sides, and save my baby!’
O royal Queen Jane, that thing may not be;
We’ll send for King Henry to come unto thee’
King Henry came to her, and sate on her bed:
‘What wails my dear lady, her eyes look so red?’
… ‘O royal Queen Jane, that thing will not do;
If I lose your fair body, I’ll lose your baby too’
She wept and she wailed, and she wrung her hands sore;
O the flower of England must flourish no more!
She wept and she wailed till she fell in a swoond,
They opened her two sides, and the baby was found.
The baby was christened with joy and much mirth,
Whilst poor Queen Jane’s body lay cold under earth;
There was ringing and singing and mourning all day,
The princess Elizabeth went weeping away.
The trumpets in mourning so sadly did sound,
And the pikes and the muskets did trail on the ground.”

Jane Seymour gave birth to Prince Edward, later King Edward IV of England and Ireland, on the 12th of October 1537. As it was customary, she and Henry didn’t attend the christening. After the baptism ceremony was over, the two of them received him in the Queen’s chamber. Jane became sick days later. Two days before she died she seemed better, but it soon became evident she wasn’t and on the twenty fourth, twelve days after her son was born, she died.
Henry ordered masses to be said in her honor. During her lifetime, she wasn’t politically vocal as her predecessor. She transformed herself into the perfect domestic wife, the kind of woman that Henry admired and most of his wives wanted to live up.
In her biography “Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII”, historian Amy Licence, states that Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York, became a role model for these women. After seeing what had happened to her late mistresses, Jane was wise enough to become her late mother-in-law’s mirror image. Had she lived though, historian Elizabeth Norton in her biography of Jane, states that it is highly likely, that another side of Jane would have emerged -one that she would’ve been free to use given that she had succeeded where her predecessors hadn’t
Jane was buried on Windsor. Henry died eleven years later. He planned a big monument for the two of them that was never completed.

Additional sources:

  • Norton, Elizabeth. Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s true love. Amberley. 2009.
  • Loades, David. Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s favorite wife: Amberley. 2013.
  • ” “. The Seymours of Wolf Hall: A Tudor Family Story. Amberley. 2014.
  • Seymour, William. Ordeal by Ambition: An English Family in the Shadow of the Tudors. Sidwick & Jackson. 1972.

The Best Portrayals of Jane Seymour in Fiction.

Jane Seymour in fiction collage 1

Some of the best portrayals of Jane Seymour for are in the BBC’s “Six Wives of Henry VIII” and in “The Tudors” where she was played by two different actresses. The first shows her as someone who tries to make the best of a bad situation and as Amy Licence brilliantly pointed out in her book “the Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII” what women could truly say ‘no’ to Henry VIII?

We also forget that this was a different point in time, and women did not have the same freedom of choice as they today in free societies. Women were nonetheless assertive. In her biography on the Woodvilles, Susan Higginbotham, wittily ends her first chapter by loosely quoting Jane Austen, stating that a king -especially a new one- was in dire need of a wife to preserve his dynasty.

Jane Seymour part of the Dynasty portrait

The Tudor Dynasty was still relatively new and Henry needed to secure it by any means necessary. He went to great lengths to marry Anne Boleyn and then to rid himself off her, marrying Jane Seymour over a month after her predecessor’s execution. Retha Warnicke decided to focus on this on her biography on the Queens of England when she addressed Jane Seymour, implying she walked all over her dead rival before her body was cold. Retha Warnicke’s influence continues to be felt among many Tudor fans and in pop culture that continues to borrow from her writings.


The Tudors did a good job showing a well-rounded Jane Seymour, who was neither hero or villain. Anita Briem showed her ambitious side, knowing that this was a dangerous game that she was being used as a pawn by her brother elevate her family, but one that she could also benefit from greatly if she went along with it. Anabelle Wallis showed her kinder side, without overlooking flaws.

Jane Seymour Henry viii and his six wives 1The Six Wives of Henry VIII decades before that on the BBC was the first popular depiction to humanize her, tearing through the caricatures of the innocent plain Jane and the evil homewrecker that continue to abound in fiction.

Worth mentioning although it is not fictional is the portrayal from Lucy Worsley’s documentary series “Six Wives of Henry VIII” (“Secrets of the Six Wives” in PBS); it didn’t shy away from showing good and bad aspects of her character and of her situation.

 

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 an 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.