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.
Advertisements

Queen Mary I bids her husband farewell

Mary I Tudor and Philip of Spain collage 1

On the 29th of August, 1555, Mary bid her husband farewell. After he departed by water from Greenwich to Dover where he stayed for a few more days until the weather cleared up in September, to travel to the Low  Countries. Mary had reluctantly agreed to her father-in-law and cousin Charles’ request to send Philip away, she had previously written to Charles expressing her fears that he would be gone for a long time. In this, she was not mistaken. Philip did not arrive until October of the following year, by then King of Spain and lord of the Netherlands after his father’s abdication. According to the Venetian Ambassador Michieli, Mary had insisted on accompanying Philip in a glorious ceremony through London three days prior and on the day of his departure:

Mary I and Philip of Spain coat of arms

“The Queen really on this occasion showed proper grief for a woman and a woman clothed as she was with royal state and dignity. There was no external manifestation of agitation, although it was evident she was in great trouble, and she chose to accompany the King through all the chambers and halls, as far as the head of the staircase: all the way she had a struggle to command herself and prevent any exhibition inconsistent with her high position from being perceptible to so many persons. But she was affected by the kissing of hands by the Spanish lords and especially at seeing the ladies taking leave of the King in tears, who, according to the custom of the country, kissed them one by one. On returning however to her apartments she lent on her elbows at a window overlooking the river, and there, not supposing herself any longer seen or observed by anyone, it was perceived that she gave free vent to her grief in floods of tears. She did not stir from the spot until she had seen the King embark and depart; looking till the last sight of him; he mounted on a raised and open part of the barge, so as to be better visible as long as he was in sight of the window, kept on raising his hat and making salutes with the most affectionate gestures.”

Michieli’s reports were exaggerated but they did convey a level of truth in expressing Mary’s anguish. Previously, Mary had written a letter to her father-in-law and cousin, Charles, expressing deep concern over Philip’s absence: “I firmly hope that the King’s absence will be brief … his presence in this kingdom has done much good and is of great importance for the good governance of this country.” 

Mary I full view portrait

Mary wanted her country to benefit from the opportunities Spain offered and expand foreign policy, but she also needed Philip by her side to give her a male heir. Philip’s absence and new position complicated things. Boader, his secretary, expressed that he would not return until she agreed to share power with him -Something that our Queen, for all her sentimentalism, was not prepared to do. She was Queen of her realm and just as Philip was going to rule Spain, she was going to be her country’s sole ruler.

This was the beginning of the end for Mary. She would not die deposed or unopposed. As the rest of her family, she’d die as she lived, fighting until her last breath to hold everything together, under no illusions of what awaited her supporters and how she’d be remembered.

PORTRAIT OF MARY TUDOR artist not known but in the style of Flicke, Painted onto wood, found at Anglesey Abbey

Always the pragmatist, but also a woman who was in need of allies and wished to make England one of the greatest nations in the world, as well as secure the Tudor Dynasty, Mary was aware that her union with Philip was becoming more unstable and if she didn’t give the appearance that things were okay then it would give her enemies another excuse to attack.

Sources:

  • Porter,  Linda. The First Queen of England: The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin’s Press 2008.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • Erickson, Carolly. Bloody Mary: The Life of Mary Tudor. Robson  Books. 2001.

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.

henry-vii-sovereign-spink_410

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.

Jane Grey, the early years: An Outstanding Prodigy & Evangelical leader in the making

6804,Lady Jane Dudley (née Grey),by Unknown artist

There is no question that Jane Grey was for all intent and purposes a prodigy, even for her times. Today we expect children to learn the basics. But back in the sixteenth century, things were different, especially for noblewomen, who were expected to make their families proud by finding a suitable husband who’d make a powerful ally. In the case of Jane Grey, being the eldest of her sisters, meant she had to meet most of society’s expectations. Having royal blood, and being related to the King through her mother, meant that she had to work harder than Katherine and Mary, and just as hard -if not more- than her bastardized cousins, Ladies, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor.

Jane Grey HBC black and white 1

But Jane Grey exceeded everyone’s expectations, especially her father whose continual indulgence made her appreciate him more than her mother who was stricter. When her thirst for knowledge became evident, she became a ward in the Parr household. Queen Dowager Kathryn Parr had recently remarried, for the fourth and last time to her true love, Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron Sudeley. The couple’s manor, Sudeley Castle, became a safe haven for many intellectual curious girls like Jane. Among them was Jane’s cousin, and Kathryn’s favorite royal stepdaughter, lady Elizabeth Tudor. Elizabeth Tudor was nearly Jane’s equal, but after she fell from grace, Jane took her place in Kathryn’s heart.

Jane lamented the Queen Dowager’s death, and after she was returned to her parents, she berated them and begged them to send her back. She wrote how unfair they were treating her. Several historians and novelists have taken this as ‘proof’ that Jane Grey’s mother was a wicked woman and her husband, an indolent fool, or her partner-in-crime who saw their daughter as nothing more than tool in their quest to gain more power. As easy as it is to turn this into a dualistic tale of good and evil, heroes and villains and so on; the truth is that her parents were neither of these things.
Lord Henry Grey, Marques of Dorset and (after the fall of Somerset) Duke of Suffolk, and Frances Brandon, were self-serving aristocrats. This is not unusual given that a family’s number one interest was in promoting their children to other courtiers in the hopes that they would marry into equally or more powerful families to further their riches. Family mattered more than everything else, and this is where religion comes into play as well because it was believed that the best way to raise successful wives and lords, was to instill the fear of god in them. As a result, Jane’s intelligence became highly by Reformers in England and abroad.

Jane Grey black and white 3

Soon after, she became one of the leading figures in the Evangelical movement. In 1552, shortly after Somerset’s execution, her family gained more prominence. Renown Protestant figures like the pastor Michael Angelo Florio whose congregation looked after Protestant exiles, praised her and held her as an example for other Protestant women to follow. He wasn’t the only one, older women like William Cecil’s wife, Mildred Cooke, thought the same. In a letter she wrote in Greek, she compared the adolescent girl to the fourth century bishop of Caesare, Basil the Great, and gave her a copy of one of his many works. Her former tutor Bullinger introduced her to the works of Theodore Bublinger who had translated the Koran -this has led some historians to believe that she might have also been taught Arabic. As her popularity among scholars grew, Jane’s self importance also grew and so did her arrogance. Her father, by this time Duke of Suffolk, together with the Marquis of Northampton (William Parr -Katherine Parr’s brother), and John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, supported the King in his reissue of the prayer book which completely outlawed the mass and introduced more radical reforms inspired by Swiss and German reformers such as Bullinger and Ulm. There were few opponents in Edward’s council to these new reforms, but among them was Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury who had been a good friend of the “Good Duke” (Edward Seymour) and believed these reforms were too radical and too soon to be implemented. Also in this year, Henry began to make plans for his eldest daughter and heir’s betrothal. Jane was not he first bride her father in law had in mind for Guildford. Margaret Clifford, another descendant of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon was his first choice but her father said no since Guildford was only a fourth son and in spite of his pleas and the king’s, the earl’s mind remained unchanged. As the king’s health got worse the following year, he gave his blessing to Northumberland and Suffolk to wed their four teenage offspring. In a triple marriage ceremony in May 25 1553, Jane was married to Guildford, Katherine to Lord Herbert, and Catherine Dudley to Lord Hastings. With the pieces set, it was only a matter of time before Edward’s passing led to their final move.

Sources:

  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public. 2013.
  • –. The Sisters who would be Queen. Harper. 2009.
  • Ives, Eric. Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • Porter, Linda. The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin Press. 2008.
  • Borman, Tracy. The Private Lives of the Tudors. Grove Press. 2016.

Dorne and Burgundy: Unbent, unbound, unbroken and hell bent on revenge

Margaret of York Ellaria Doran
Revenge is a dish best served cold, but for some people, it sets them off on a more dangerous path where they end up deceiving themselves to justify their actions. That is how I perceive Ellaria/Doran’s actions in the TV show, books and their historical counterpart, Margaret of York.
Dorne has similarities with other influential kingdoms in Western Europe from the middle ages and early modern era, but for the current events in game of thrones/ a song of ice and fire, it has taken on the role of Burgundy during the early Tudor era.
Margaret of York couldn’t accept her brother died in battle. He gambled, he lost and -I am sorry for Oberyn fans (I love him too but let’s be fair)- the same is said for the Red Viper.
Oberyn’s death was horrible, but he lost fair and square. Sorry for his widow (or lover, whatever you want to call her) and his daughters, but that’s life, especially in game of thrones.
But Ellaria can’t come to terms with it and what does she do? She goes down on a dangerous path where she is willing to make alliances with former enemies (the Tyrells and the Martells have always hated each other) and support people she doesn’t fully trust just so she can see the Lannisters burn.
She is determined to have her revenge through any means necessary -even if it means killing her family.
Like Game of Thrones’ Ellaria, Margaret was a ruthless woman. This is a strong comparison to Margaret of York, Duchess Dowager of Burgundy who became in charge of the duchy after her husband died and her stepdaughter became the new ruler. Mary of Burgundy grew very close to her stepmother and recognized her intellect early on -like her father. She trusted her stepmother to take care of business, doing her best to learn from her and as time went on, the two ensured the duchy’s independence and protection from France.
Though she never killed anyone, she did finance many plots led by Yorkist sympathizers to dethrone Henry VII, even though he was married to her niece and already had children with her.

Margaret had seen the ascension of her dynasty and heard of its fall. Like most in her family, she had high hopes for the future, she took Richard III’s death pretty heard. It didn’t matter if the people claiming to be her nephews were real or not, all that mattered was that Henry was out of that throne and if possible, his family pushed to the end of the food chain.

We can only imagine what would’ve become of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York’s offspring, if the last pretender, Perkin Warbeck, had succeeded. Would Margaret have gone along, as well as her supporters, that he was Richard of Shrewsbury for long before it came to bite her in the ass? Would she have disposed of him (not necessarily kill him but cast him aside after she ‘discovered’ the truth and pulled ‘I didn’t know I had been deceived so I have to do what is right and support someone else who descends from Richard, Duke of York to take on the mantle of King’)? It is possible that she would have because a woman as cunning and meticulous as Margaret would have wanted to cover all her bases. There were others supporting these pretenders who were also descendants of the Duke of York via her older sisters. The throne would have likely passed on to them.
But again, what about Henry and Elizabeth’s children? Would they have gone on to suffer a similar fate like the Princes in the tower? Or would they have been placed under protective custody like their cousin, the Earl of Warwick, during their father’s reign?
It is possible that the latter would come true for the boys while the girls would be raised in separate households with their paternal relatives.

Ellaria stabs Doran

In the show, Ellaria is murderous and not the careful planner that Doran is since Doran has become useless. She kills Doran, rules in her stepdaughters and daughters’ names, and sets the former to do her dirty work against her nephew, Prince Trystanne. While Margaret of York never went this far, she was willing to act against her own family to restore the Yorkist dynasty on the throne. It didn’t matter that Henry VII had married her niece or that they had children. She wanted him gone and supported an impostor and pretender to achieve her means. Both attempts failed but she never stopped plotting against him until her nobles basically went ‘enough is enough’ and she realized she had a good run acting as the all powerful mastermind but her time was up and if she continued to act like this, she was going to lose everything so she backed down.
Perkin confessed that he wasn’t the youngest prince in the tower, and later he and Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick (whom the first rebellion Margaret supported, where Lambert Simnel claimed to be him) were sentenced to die. Both were hung and that was that.

“Elia Martell, raped and murdered and you did nothing. Oberyn Martell and you did nothing. You are not a Dornish man. You are not a Prince … Weak men will never rule Dorne again.” -Ellaria to Prince Doran Martell, ruler of Dorne after she stabs him.

Clearly, the show has taken many liberties but the storyline with Dorne remains the same, except that instead of supporting Young Griff (since they’ve written him out of the show), they are supporting Dany and whoever else that shares their agenda. Like Margaret of York, as long as Ellaria calls the shots, Dorne will continue to plot against the throne until someone comes and says enough is enough making her back down or someone else to take her place. As for the books, if Young Griff doesn’t win, it will be the end of Dorne. Not now or in a few years, but that principality’s days are numbered. It is sad since Dorne has many good tales of warrior princes and princesses, and conniving politicians who bested the Targaryens, not one but many times and even killed a dragon! But their last rulers’ gamble has not paid off.

Princess Arianne Martell
Fan rendition of Princess Arianne Martell, firstborn and heir of Prince Doran.

Prine Doran tells Arianne in a sorrowful voice that he never hated her but wishes she would be cunning like him and knew how to win the people over like Ellaria with her smile and her cousin Tyene with her fake sweetness and apparent religious devotion. His tone changes as he remembers his siblings and tells Arianne that his first plan to put Viserys on the throne failed, and had it not, she would have been his Queen and manipulated events around her, so their final champion would have become King and restored Dorne to its former glory.

Perkin_Warbeck
Perkin Warbeck, a man who acted, walked and talked like a prince. Surely he must’ve been what he claimed? One of the lost princes in the tower, right? Not quite.

Throughout the entire series, it is not clear whether the Martells truly believe that Aegon, the supposed prince who escaped the Lannister and Baratheon purge is the real deal or he’s fake. Given that Martin has been inspired by medieval and early modern history, it’s safe to say that his Aegon is his version of Perkin Warbeck which like the real one, is often alluded to being fake.

Young Griff
Young Griff, the alias that Aegon Targaryen goes by to avoid arousing suspicion. He acts, walks and talks like a Prince so he must be a Prince, right? Unless we remember Dany’s vision about the mummer’s dragon and how suspicious his story sounds.

In ‘A Clash of Kings’, when Daenerys goes into the house of the undying she is given a warning through her visions and before that by the Quaithe, who tell her that she will be betrayed three times, and she will be approached by cunning men. She should not trust either of them, and one of the men she is warned against is Varys and his pretender. She sees a vision of the mummer’s dragon, a young man acclaimed by the people whose strings are being pulled by a deceptive figure.
Martin has created his own version of Perkin Warbeck and just like his historical counterpart, no intelligent person believes his BS.
Aegon was rescued from the Mountain by some loyal servant who exchanged him with a servant’s baby (which nobody happened to notice) and has been in hiding all these years. And then, when the world is going to hell, he comes out of hiding to reclaim the throne and set things right.

Yeah … not buying it.

 

The first person to point this out is Tyrion Lannister who realizes who he is but doesn’t believe Young Griff (fake Aegon’s alias) story but knows that he does. Unlike Perkin though, Young Griff was raised from birth to be the perfect prince. He was taught how to sing and dance, act like a prince and that kingship was a responsibility and not a right. Naturally the poor young man believes what he has been fed all these years.

Similarly, Perkin was taught everything from philosophy, etiquette, and given new clothes that deceived many people and made them believe that he was one of the lost princes in the tower, youngest son of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, and rightful king of England. But if there is one thing that history has taught us, is that things seldom go as planned.

Doran is eager to see his ‘nephew’ on the throne, but the last book gave clues that he might not be entirely sold on the idea that he is his nephew. It could be that like Margaret of York, he and Ellaria want to see their enemies suffer so badly, that they don’t care about who they are supporting anymore.

Meg of York GOT Ellaria

My advice to Doran and Ellaria is to hold on to their seats and be prepared to be disappointed (again) because not only did the Perkin Warbeck fiasco fail, it forced Margaret to withdraw her support and forget about the whole shameful ordeal lest she wanted to lose her hold over the duchy and it strengthened the Tudor Dynasty.
This is lamentable because Dorne has a rich history and I for one would love to see some of it being shown in the upcoming spin-offs, but as for now, it seems that their days are numbered. If Aegon doesn’t get to be King, then Dorne will lose whatever independence it has left.  Its customs, riches, and authority will wither away in time until it becomes one of many other realms ruled by the Crown. If Ellaria has some common sense left, she will stop plotting now and tend to make Dorne, to make her principality great again before one of Oberyn’s daughters inherits a crippled state.

Sources:

  • Martin, George R.R. A Song of Ice and Fire (1-5). Bantman. 2012.
  • Martin, George, et. al. World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros. Bantam. 2014.
  • Henry VIII: Mind of a Tyrant presented by David Starkey, directed by David Sington, BBC, 2009.
  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public. 2013.
  • Chrimes, S.B. Henry VII. Yale University Press. 1999.
  • Jones, Dan. The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors. Penguin. 2014.
  • Weiss, Daniel Brett and Benioff, David, creators. Game of Thrones. HBO. 2011-?
  • Gristwood, Sarah. Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses. Harper Collins. 2012.

Alliances & Marriage Treaty: Charles V’s visit to England (1522), Part II

Henry VIII Charles V KOA Mary Charles visit to England

On the 11th of June Charles and Henry VIII traveled to Windsor Castle. They stayed there for nine nights until they departed on the 21st, setting for Farnham.

The first four days on Windsor were uneventful. On the 16th things became more interesting when the two monarchs discussed the terms of the treaty between Spain, the Holy Roman Empire and England. Although this meeting was merely a formality since the treaty was published that same day.

Mary Tudor and Charles V portraits
Mary Tudor as a child wearing a brooch/insignia that says Emperor, symbolizing her betrothal to Charles (pictured on the right).

On the 19th, Henry and Charles got straight to business, and discussed another matter and signed another treaty.

“This one was to remain secret” Patrick William wrote in his biography on Katharine of Aragon, “for it committed them to the marriage of Charles to Princess Mary within eight years.”

In her biography on Mary I, Linda Porter explains that this marriage treaty stipulated that in the event that Katharine and Henry had no sons by the time this marriage came to be, the couple’s eldest son would inherit Henry VIII’s crowns, thus becoming King of England, lord of Ireland and King of France (in theory). In turn their second son, or daughter (if they couldn’t have any more sons) would inherit Spain and selected territories Charles ruled over.
Thirdly, since Mary and Charles were related in the second degree of affinity, the two monarchs would ask the pope for a special dispensation. And lastly, the matter of her dowry was settled and Charles promised that he would stay true to his betrothed and honor every part of the treaty.

Thomas Wolsey
Cardinal and Archbishop of York, Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII’s right hand man at the time Charles’ visited England.

On the 20th, Cardinal and Archbishop of York, Thomas Wolsey, convened a legatine court and asked the two monarchs to reaffirm their agreements with one another over the marriage treaty. The event had many important witnesses, among them Henry, Count of Nassau, Imperial Chancellor Gattinara, Pedro Ruiz de la Mota, Bishop of Palancia, Thomas Ruthall, Bishop of Durham, the Earls of Shrewsbury and Worcester, George Talbot and  Charles Percy, Cuthbert Tunstall, the Bishop of  London, and Sir Thomas Boleyn.

There is no need for spoilers beyond this point because we all know how this turned out. Henry VIII didn’t want to pay the full dowry after he felt betrayed by Charles V during their joint enterprise against France, and Charles V used this excuse to break the marriage treaty and marry his other first cousin, someone whom he didn’t have to wait for her to grow up because they were almost the same age, the Portuguese Infanta, Isabel of House Avis.

We do not know how Mary felt. Given that she was a child at the time the marriage broke, and her father felt betrayed yet again by her maternal family, she probably didn’t brood too much of it (if she did at all) and instead focused on her studies. Her mother would have been another case entirely as Katharine would have wanted both nations to be tied together against what she perceived to be their natural enemy, France. Had things gone differently, Mary’s situation would have been like Matilda, although probably less bellicose. As it happened, Mary would go on to be betrothed to countless more kings and princes and then when she was a bastard, minor royals in an effort to cement an alliance, but due to her gender, her lineage and her religious affiliation nothing would come out of it.

In the meantime, both parties were happy celebrating their alliance and the future marriage between Charles and Mary. Just as his daughter had previously showed off her artistic talents to their Spanish guests, Henry VIII did the same when he wrote to Charles an elaborate letter where he expressed deep gratitude for his arrival, and the amicability he’d showed to his ministers, including Cardinal Wolsey.

Sources:

  • Porter, Linda. The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin Press. 2008.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • Williams, Patrick. Katharine of Aragon: The Tragic Story of Henry VIII’s First Unfortunate Wife. Amberley. 2013.
  • Fox, Julia. Sister Queens: The Noble Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of  Castile. Ballantine Books. 2012.
  • Weir, Alison. Henry VIII: The King and his Court. Ballantine Books. 2001.

 

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

 

The Death of Queen Dowager Elizabeth Woodville

Elizabeth Woodville portrait

On the 8th of June 1492, Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Dowager of England and mother of Elizabeth of York, the first Tudor Consort, died at Bermondsey Abbey. She had retired to be at peace with her thoughts and true to her religiosity, she asked for a moderate funeral.

Bermondsey_Abbey
Illustration of Bermondsey Abbey.

Some historians and novelists speculate as to why she decided to retire to an Abbey, with the former making assumptions that it was due to her son’s cruelty or his mother’s jealousy, while the latter say that it had to do with her possible involvement in the Lambert Simnel rebellion. Lambert Simnel was an impostor who pretended to be the captive Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. His rebellion failed and he was relegated to the kitchens with many of the main plotters dying in the field.

Elizabeth’s role in this plot has long been debated and while there is a possibility of her involvement, the more likely explanation (while simple) is probably the correct one. As I’ve mentioned, it had to do with her religiosity -which was a key component of her life.

 

EW Twq and twp
Elizabeth Woodville played by Rebecca Ferguson & Essie Davis respective in the White Queen and the White Princess, which are based on Philippa Gregory’s books of the same name. The series present a ruthless, ambitious, self-righteous and at times, murderous version of the first Yorkist Consort in an effort to make her more appealing to modern audiences.

Elizabeth was discreet, strict with her ladies (when she was queen), and moderate in her spending which is a big contrast to her predecessor -Marguerite of Anjou who often exceeded her royal income- and on top of that, she was very observant of religious doctrine. Her brother, Anthony Woodville, expressed an interest in joining the Catholic Kings in their crusade against the Moors and one of her surviving brothers, following the end of Richard III’s reign and the start of her son-in-law Henry Tudor’s, went ahead and did that.

That religiosity was inherited by her daughters, most notably her eldest and youngest, Elizabeth and Bridget of York. The latter became a nun at the Dartford Priory and it is possible that this was her intended fate since she was a child. After Elizabeth died, Bridget asked permission to leave so she could attend her mother’s funeral.

Her wishes were honored and Elizabeth’s funeral was a modest one. She was interred in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor, next to her second husband, Edward IV. Fun fact, this is the place where her grandson, Henry VIII and granddaughter-in-law, Jane Seymour, were also interred, and so were some of her later descendants, including Anne I of the United Kingdom and one of her infant offspring.

EW hollow crown wars of the roses
Keeley Hawes as Elizabeth Woodville in the Hollow Crown: Wars of the roses based off Shakespeare’s history plays “Henry VI parts 1 and 2” and “Richard III”. Unlike recent portrayals of her in popular media, Shakespeare offered a more sympathetic portrayal of her where she uses her soft power, via her love and domesticity, to gain the upper hand, while still delving into the dark side and launching curses at her enemy (Richard) at the end.

The best way to honor Elizabeth Woodville is by remembering who she was. Besides being a religious matron, devoted mother and wife, she was also a survivor of one of the most turbulent periods in English history.

She was the first Yorkist, married to Edward IV and Sir John Grey before him. Her eldest daughter Elizabeth of York married Henry VII in 1486. Less than nine months later she gave birth to Prince Arthur. On his christening, her family held a special place, ahead of other nobles. Elizabeth Woodville stood as the infant’s godmother, presenting her grandson with a “rich up of gold”.

As previously mentioned, Elizabeth was highly religious. During her time as Queen, Elizabeth Woodville would make special pilgrimages to churches, and stop whenever she could to make a special offering. Her humility during the Lancastrian Readeption earned her the common people’s approval. Queens were supposed to be passive and religious, Elizabeth fit this model very well unlike her predecessor, the Lancastrian Queen, Marguerite of Anjou who was every bit of independent as her female relatives. During her first time in sanctuary, she gave birth to her firstborn royal son, Prince Edward. Baptized in a humble ceremony, she received bread and other provisions from the people who soon heard of her plight. During the reign of Richard III, Elizabeth and her daughters came out of sanctuary after he promised he wouldn’t harm them. To this day historians can’t make up their minds as to what happened to her sons, the princes in the tower. Probably they never will. One thing is for certain though. There was more to Elizabeth Woodville than met the eye. As a consort she fulfilled her duties and obligations by giving the King two male heirs and adhering to the gender norms of the day.

Sources:

  • Higginbotham, Susan. The Woodvilles:  The Wars of the Roses and England’s most infamous family. History Press. 2013.
  • Licence,  Amy. Elizabeth of York: The Forgotten Tudor Queen. Amberley. 2013.
  • Okerlund, Arlene. Elizabeth Wydeville: The Slandered Queen. Tempus. 2005.