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’
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The Eve of Mary Tudor’s Coronation

Mary I Tudor

On the 30th of September 1553, Mary Tudor emerged from the Tower to begin her procession through London. Her journey began at 3’o clock in the afternoon. She was greeted with cheers from the thousands of people lining to see their new monarch. With her were her sister and her stepmother, the Ladies Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves. The Queen’s messengers came out first, followed by trumpeters, esquires of the body, the new Knights of the Bath who’d been invested the day before, heralds, bannerets, members of the Royal Council, Garter knights, and the rest of the nobility. These numbered about five hundred. The nobles were dressed for the occasion, wearing gold and silver, and on their mounts too “which caused great admiration, not more by the richness of the substance than by the novelty and elegance of the device.”

The ambassadors were also dressed for the occasion, and lined up behind the nobles; each of them were accompanied by a lord of the Privy Council. (The French ambassador for example rode alongside Paget, the Imperial Ambassador was accompanied by Lord Clinton. Renard and others rode with Lord Cobham). Other foreigners included the merchants, the Italian ones for example wore “suits of black velvet lined, beautifully trimmed with many points of gold and garnished all around with embroidery of more than a palm in width.” Spanish cavaliers (four in total) followed “attired in cloaks of mulberry colored velvet lined with cloth of silver, with a very fine fringe of gold all about.” Then came the heraldic symbols being carried by her courtiers. The Earl of Sussex, the chief server, carried her hat and cloak then “two ancient knights with old-fashioned hats, powdered on their heads, disguised,” which recalled the people of their country’s old glory when they held Normandy and Guienne. The Chancellor, the Lord Mayor carried the golden scepter, and finally the Earl of Arundel who carried Mary’s sword.

And then came the person for whom they were all cheering and were eager to see, the Queen-to-be herself, Mary Tudor. Coming out in a chariot “open on all sides save for the canopy, entirely covered with gold and horses trapped with gold.”

Linda Porter in her biography of Mary, writes that “she was a small but unmistakably superb figure”. Mary wore a “Gown of purple velvet, furred with powdered ermines, having on her head a caul of cloth of tinsel, beset with pearl and stone, and above the same upon her head a round circlet of gold, beset so richly with precious stone that the value thereof was inestimable.”

Purple was the color of royalty. Mary was the first female King in English history. She knew the power of imagery, so she made sure that her coronation was something that people would always remember. And on the eve of her coronation she spared no expense. One of the things that must also be said about this rich display of imagery is how the queen wanted to present herself to the people. Women in power were still an oddity. Even though her maternal grandmother, the indomitable Isabella Trastamara, had been a Queen in her own right in Castile; England never had such experience. The closest thing to a Queen Regnant they had had been in Matilda FitzEmpress and that ended in disaster. For many years her image was carried through the mud and it wasn’t until she was relegated to the position of King’s mother, and religious matron that she finally got the respect from her English peers. Mary was threading on very dangerous grounds. She knew that if she rode on horseback, as many kings had done before her, she would open the door to more criticism. So she opted for a middle path. One where she would be relegated to the image of queen consort, wearing her hair loose to symbolize her virginity, and ride on litters or carriages, but also one where she would make it clear that she was sovereign of her reign and her authority could not be challenged. Opting for color purple reaffirmed this.

Ladies, Elizabeth Tudor and Anne of Cleves from
Ladies, Elizabeth Tudor and Anne of Cleves from “The Tudors”.

Behind the Queen were her ladies which included the Marchioness of Exeter, the Duchess of Norfolk, the Countess of Arundely, and among many others her sister and stepmother. They were granted a special place, and as members of the royal family (especially Elizabeth) they were treated with great respect. Elizabeth’s new clothes were courtesy of her sister, she had sent her a lot of gifts and gowns so she could pick and choose what she wanted. She and Anne of Cleves both wore cloth of silver that matched the silver trappings of their carriage. Mary had not seen her sister in a long time and she probably wanted to re-establish the bond the two sisters had shared when Bess was a kid, but time –as the motto that Mary would adopt- would reveal to the new Queen, that there was no going back.

As her progress passed through many streets, she was greeted with pageants, salutations (one where a girl dressed as a woman was held up by two men sitting up in a chair so she could greet the queen), and acrobatics.

“The procession paused at Fenchchurh Street to see a costly pageant presented by the Genoese merchants –a triumphal arch inscribed with verses celebrating Mary’s accession, flanked by four great giants. At Gracechurch corner the Hanseatic merchants had set up an artificial mount and a little fountain spouting wine; by some mechanism a man “flew down from the top of the pageant as she rode by.” The most elaborate and flattering of the representations was that of the Florentines, who saluted Mary as “liberator of her country,” and pointedly compared her to the Hebrew heroine Judith who by beheading the tyrant Holofernes delivered her people from the threat of slavery. Holorfernes they meant Dudley, whose beheaded was still a recent memory. Mary was also compared to Pallas Athena, and an inscription told how her fame was so great it reached the stars … At the conduit in Cornhill was “a very pretty pageant made very gorgeously” in which three little girls dressed as women took the parts of Grace, Virtue and Nature. Grace wore a crown and carried a scepter, and when Mary rode by all three children “kneeled down, and everyone of them sang certain verses of gratifying the queen.”” (Erickson)

Once she reached St. Paul’s churchyard, she was greeted with more spectacle. Sir John Heywood who had praised her in the past, sat under a vine and delivered an oration in Latin and English that celebrated her upcoming coronation. There were also a choir of men and boys that sang for her, and then a pageant where children carried burning tapers “made of most sweet perfumes.”

After these ended, Mary called all her councilors and addressed them in a solemn manner:

“Sinking on her knees before them, she spoke at length of her coming to the throne, of the duties of kings and queens, her intention to acquit herself of the task God had been pleased to lay on her to His greater glory and service, to the public good and all her subjects’ benefit. She had entrusted her affairs and person, she said, to them, and wished to adjure them to do their duty as they were bound by their oaths; and she appealed especially to her Lord High Chancellor [Gardiner[, reminding him that he had the right of administration of justice on his conscience. Her councilors were so deeply moved that not a single one refrained from tears. No one knew how to answer, amazed as they were by this humble and lowly discourse, so unlike anything ever heard before in England, and by the queen’s great goodness and integrity.”

Mary Tudor resplandescent

This was a great contrast to their previous masters who had been extremely strict and straight forward. Mary was all of these things, but she also knew how to put a show, having learned from experience and observing many great women in their position behave with dignity and grace (most notoriously her mother, and no doubt the stories she must’ve heard from her about her grandmother Isabella, and her late governess, the Countess of Salisbury). She had been preparing for this role all her life. As Leanda de Lisle writes in her latest biography on the Tudors, she was “a warrior queen, established by God, by blood and by law” and she wasn’t going to disappoint. While she appeared merciful on the outside, she would prove to be just as firm as her ancestors.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock

Mary I takes possession of the Tower of London

Mary I Tudor tudor rose

On the 28th of September 1553 Mary, her sister, her stepmother and her cousin Margaret Douglas, departed from St. James Palace to Whitehall where they boarded the royal barge to the Tower of London. Mary was accompanied by the Lord Mayor of London “and the aldermen and all the companies in their barges with streamers and trumpets, and waits, shawmes and regals, together with great volley shots of guns, until Her Grace came into the Tower, and some time after.'”

Hans Holbein's Portrait of Anne of Cleves
As previously discussed, many of those around her were women. Her closest family members no doubt enjoyed the attention, especially her sister and cousin the ladies Elizabeth Tudor and Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox who had often been referred by Mary’s father as the ‘natural’ daughter of Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland. But now with her cousin on the throne, she was going to receive a better treatment than that of the previous reign and slowly, she would become one of Mary’s most trusted ladies.

Elizabeth Tudor Lady Princess w

As for Elizabeth, her sister had bought clothes for her. In spite of her illegitimate state, which she still viewed her, she wanted everyone to know that she was her sister and most importantly the daughter of their late father and king, Henry VIII, and as such she would be placed above other ladies.

Two days later the sisters, cousin, and their stepmother would emerge for the pre-coronation celebrations and the following day Mary would be crowned Queen, becoming the first Queen of England.

Mary Tudor coronation engraving painting

There is a lot of opinions regarding whether Mary was just a puppet or a true politician in every sense of the word and the truth was that she was. In Porter’s words “The picture of Mary as a woman who had little grasp of what was going on, who could not work with her politicians is entirely false. From the very beginning, the queen had a clear idea of what she wanted to do and the utter determination to achieve it. She never, even when unwell, shrank from the business of government, and she knew that she must draw on the experience of the men who had tried to deprive her of her throne. Without thier expertise nothing could function.” Furthermore, she was outright mad when Scheyfve and Renard advised her not to trust the lady Elizabeth and banish her from court. They didn’t believe in any of Elizabeth’s excuses for not attending mass, but Mary never wavered in her judgment which proved bad in the end, but her firm opposition to them in this and other matters proves that she was her own person and determined not to be influenced by anyone.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson
  • Mary Tudor by David Loades

Women’s Roles in Mary (I) Tudor’s Coronation

Mary Tudor Women in coronation roles

“The coronation marked the high point of the sisters’ relationship during the reign” writes Linda Porter in her biography of Mary Tudor. And it wasn’t just for Elizabeth but for the other women as well.

Women played a prominent role in Mary’s reign, especially during her coronation where the presence of her closest female relatives, emphasized on her intentions to display a dynastic unity. The preparations began on the 27th when she made her formal entry into London, the following day she took possession of the Tower. Two days later, on the eve of her coronation, she emerged from the Tower to go to the palace of Westminster. This last procession was one of the greatest spectacles that Londoners had witnessed. Image was everything in Tudor times; a King had to outmatch any of his predecessor’s ceremony. Being the first female King, Mary had to make a greater effort to outdo her predecessors.

Stephen Gardiner

With a magnificent display of heraldic imagery, the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Oxford followed, carrying the sword, with the Lord Mayor carrying the scepter of gold. Other ancient artifacts were carried out by the Earl of Sussex, and Bishop Stephen Gardiner which were representative of England’s past glory in France.

Mary herself, rode on a golden litter, dressed in a “mantle and kirtle of cloth of gold” and with “circlet of gold set with rich stones and pearls” on her head. Around her four ladies rode on horseback: the Marchioness of Exeter, the Duchess of Norfolk, the Countess of Arundel and Sir William Paulet’s wife, Elizabeth Capel. Then came Ladies Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves were not far behind her, dressed magnificently in silver to match the trappings of their carriage.

Elizabeth was ecstatic to be part of these celebrations as were her stepmother and her cousin, Anne and Margaret. It didn’t take her long to win the hearts and minds of the English people who enjoyed seeing their queen-to-be’s younger sister smile and wave at them. It was a great contrast to her sister Mary. While she understood the importance of these displays, like her paternal grandfather she preferred to tend to matters of state then waste her time in these festivities.

Anna Whiltelock and Judith M. Richards point out something important during these celebrations and that is that Mary rode in a litter with her hair loose and a golden circlet as you would expect from a Queen Consort not a female King. She didn’t carry the sword or rode on horseback like her predecessors. This is not a sign that she intended to be a submissive queen, but rather it was a strategic move to quiet her detractors who were ardently against the idea of female rule. As Claire Ridgway wrote in the Anne Boleyn Collection, Mary was responsible for gendering the monarchy and being the first to strike a balance between her role as a woman and as a King. Leanda de Lisle in her latest book, talks how Mary was a great precursor of Elizabeth when she rode to London for the first time (following Jane Grey’s surrender), taking charge of her own destiny and later inspecting her troops before she spoke to them the year after that, when they faced Wyatt’s rebels. By presenting herself as a protector, as a mother, while at the same time being firm and strict, Mary was able to silence her detractors and squash down the fears of many men who feared that she would turn their world upside down.

Elizabeth, not surprisingly having learned from her example and her mistakes, would go on to do the exact same thing during her coronation when she was represented as a defender of the faith, and upholder of moral values and justice and a mother to her people.

Mary Tudor coronation engraving painting

The following day, on the first of October, Mary was crowned Queen of England. Women continued to play an important part in her reign, especially her sister, cousin and stepmother. The latter would be buried at Westminster (the only one of her father’s wives to be buried there) and given honors worthy of a royal. As for Elizabeth, she would be suspected by her sister and her councilors for her alleged involved in the Wyatt Rebellion and many other plots to overthrow her sister. This would create a rift between the sisters and their cousin, Margaret Douglas that would culminate when whispers began of Mary changing the succession in favor of their cousin. (Though this never came to be). During Elizabeth I’s reign, Margaret would take Elizabeth’s position, being blamed for her imprisonment during her sister’s reign, and placed under house arrest for conspiring in marrying her eldest son (Lord Darnley) to the Queen of Scots.

Working with the first queen regnant, these women felt more important since they were closer to court politics than ever before, and those who proved their loyalty to the Queen were amply rewarded. At the same time though, Mary was a Tudor through and through and like her predecessors, she wasn’t going to tolerate anyone with a different opinion from her own.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Mary Tudor as ‘Sole Queen’? Gendering Tudor Monarchy, Historical Journal by Judith M. Richards
  • Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s MostS Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle

The Last Tudor King is laid to rest at Westminster Abbey

Edward collage1

On the 8th of August 1553, Edward VI was laid to rest at Westminster Abbey beneath a white marble vault in the Lady Chapel. The night before, a procession was led with “great company” of men and children, including Henry VIII’s bedesmen from the Greyfriar’s Church and Edward’s servants who wore black. Among the many symbols displayed ere the traditional Tudor symbols: The Welsh dragon, the greyhound, his father’s lion and of course, the Tudor rose which represented the union of the two warring houses of Lancaster and York. A symbol which would be shown on every Tudor’s coronation and funeral. Behind them came the coffin “covered by a canopy of blue velvet upon a chariot decorated with cloth of gold pulled by seven horses.” (Skidmore) Edward VI’s effigy was sculpted by Nichollas Bellin, and in it he wore the garter collar and bore the standards of the Tudor rose and the Seymour insignia.

“At his burying was the greatest moan made for him of his death as ever was heard or seen.”

In spite of his troubled reign, due to his young age, Londoners mourned him deeply.  And as a king, he showed a level of firmness and coldness that reminded people of their first two Tudor monarchs.

His sister (the yet to be crowned Mary I) feared a Protestant funeral would make her look weak in the eyes of the Lutherans who she said “would only become more audacious, and would proclaim that she had not dared to do her own will”. Renard and others in her council advised caution and told her of the seditious talk that had been circulating among Protestant circles in the capital, adding that giving him a Catholic funeral would make her subjects “waver in their loyal affections” for her. In the end Mary agreed to a compromise and five days after her triumphant entrance into London, she ordered her brother’s burial. His body was moved from Whitehall where it had been residing for almost a month to Westminster where he was buried following Protestant liturgy. The Mass was presided by the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer with the Marquess of Winchester acting as his chief mourner. Meanwhile Mary held a separate requiem (Catholic) Mass for his soul at St. Peter’s chapel in the tower of London presided by George Day, Bishop of Chichester which according to one observer was considered a great insult to his memory and “prepared the way for papistry just like an advance raiding party.”

Sources:

  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore
  • On this day in Tudor history by Claire Ridgway

Mary & Elizabeth: The Tudor Sisters Make Their Way Into London

Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Tudor in the Tudors

From August 2nd to 3rd of 1553, Mary and Elizabeth made their way to London. Mary’s triumph had been guaranteed by her connections in East Anglian and her courage that sustained her during this difficult time. One common myth is that Charles V supported her and this is not true. Charles V was telling his ambassadors to do their best to convince his cousin to yield to the new regime and ingratiate themselves to Dudley so they could convince him of an Imperial Alliance instead of a French one that he was leaning towards. After Scheyfve and Renard heard that half the country was rallying to her, they told her cousin to switch his alliance to her. Mary’s victories is one of the most unlikely –a bloodless victory that allowed her to become the first female king in England.

Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Tudor

On the second of August, the two sisters were reunited. Mary had asked her sister to join her days before but she never replied. Days before her sister’s triumph, Elizabeth moved from Somerset to Wanstead where she met her sister. Despite their happy reunion, the Imperial Ambassador Simon de Renard had the mission to drive the sisters apart and foster doubt in the future Queen, but Mary was determined to keep her sister with her. They hadn’t seen each other in over a year, and Mary took the opportunity to bestow her sister with gifts, jewelry, dressed and much more.

The following day on the third, the sisters entered the capital, greeted by large crowds of people. Their procession began at seven o’clock at evening. Accompanied by an army of 10,000 men and a great retinue that included her sister, she was acclaimed by the common citizenry. According to the Wriothelesley Chronicle:

“Her gown of purple velvet in the French fashion, with sleeves of the same, her kirtle purple satin all thick set with goldsmith’s work and great pearls, with her foresleeves of the same set with rich stones, with a rich bodice of gold, pearls, and stones about her neck, and a rich array of stones and great pearls on her hood, her palfrey that she rode on richly trapped with gold embroidered to the horse feet.”

And the Imperial Ambassador added “Her look, her manner, her gestures, her countenance were such that in no event could they have been improved.”

Mary Tudor I Elizabeth

Mary was welcomed by the Lord Mayor at Aldgate who presented her with the scepter office, and after thanking him she returned it and entered the city followed by her sister, Sir Anthony Browne, the Duchess of Norfolk, the Marquis of Exeter and many others. Following protocol, one of the highest ranking nobles held the sword of sate. She and her party passed St. Butolph’s Church where they were greeted by a choir of children from Christ’s Hospital, then rode through Leadenhall, Gracechurch and Fenchurch St. down Mark Lane to the Tower of London. Streets had been wiped clean and the houses were decorated with tapestries while the spectators overcrowded the roofs and streets, struggling to see their new queen. Such was the “joy of the people” wrote the Imperial Ambassadors “that it was hardly credible … Like great thunder” cannonfire sounded from every battlement “that it had been like an earthquake”. At the Tower, the lord mayor took his leave and she was greeted by the lord constable of the Tower, Sir John Bridges. The Duke of Norfolk, Edward Courtenay whose father had been executed in her father’s reign (along with his co-’conspirators’ Margaret Pole and her son), Stephen Gardiner, and Cuthbert Tunstall, greeted the new Queen and Mary with a sense of humor reminiscent of her grandfather declared “Ye are my prisoners” earning popular acclaim then raised them up and freed them.

“The people are full of hope” and they believed, the ambassadors added “that her reign will be a godly, righteous and just one, and help establish her firmly on the throne.”

Sources:

  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

Struggling to be Neutral in a Tudor Squabble for the Protectorate

“Because the trouble between us and the Duke of Somerset may have been diversely reported to you, we should explain how the matter is now come to some extremity. We have long perceived his pride and ambition and have failed to stay him within reasonable limits.” -October 9, 1549 to the Tudor sisters Mary and Elizabeth.

Mary I historical

Mary had been one of the many who had been asked to aid in Northumberland’s plot to overthrow the Protectorate under Somerset. Mary refused. Why? Wouldn’t it had been better if she curried favor with Dudley from the start? Things would’ve worked far easier for her if she did, she wouldn’t have to fight her way to the throne like her grandfather (Henry Tudor) did, and she would’ve had most of the Protestant elite with her.

John Dudley


In theory yes.


But this goes back to the myth of the innocent little boy manipulated by the ‘evil’ Duke of Northumberland who couldn’t stand on his own two feet to oppose him.
Northumberland and Mary didn’t just have different religious views, they had different preferences in terms of foreign policy. Dudley favored the French over the Spanish Hapsburgs.
And yes, religion played a role but if you want to go there, I suggest you read more books on the subject because the politics were far more complicated than you think. Mary wasn’t stupid either, she knew where Dudley stood in terms of religion, foreign policy, and everything else. She wasn’t going to fair better under him and she told the more naive Francois Van der Defelt this who was not as familiar with English politics as his predecessor -Eustace Chapuys- had been. And there was some familiarity between them. Mary had fond memories of his late sister, her father’s third wife and Edward VI’s mother, Jane Seymour, and she was just as fond of his wife who, far from the shrew in the television series “The Tudors” was nowhere near as scandalous and the terrible remarks spoken about her reflects the misogyny about the era and the view of strong women. When she became Queen, while she never fully agreed with her husband’s policies, she released Anne Seymour nee Stanhope from the Tower and restored some of her lands.

Mary and ass Elizabeth The Tudors1
Elizabeth like Mary had abstained herself from participating in the Duke of Somerset’s overthrow. She knew the Duke still had friends in court, and who knew if he could be overthrown for good or if he, as he threatened, could mobilize the people against his enemies.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour
  • Mary Tudor by Anna Whitelock

Cousins at War: The Lady Mary’s Final Victory

Mary i and Jane

From the 18th to 20th of July 1553, the odds fully turned in Mary’s favor when an important ally found his way into her camp. The 16th Earl of Oxford, John de Vere was a complex man. He was a Protestant and a great military leader, whose experience no doubt, gave Mary the boost she needed to issue her proclamation where it goes as follows: “By the Queen. Know ye all good people that the most excellent Princess Mary, eldest daughter of King Henry VIII and sister to King Edward VI, your late sovereign Lord, is now by the grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, defender of the Faith and very true owner of the Crown and government of the realm of England and Ireland and all things thereto justly belonging, and to her and no other ye owe to be her true Liege, men…” Then she denounced Jane Grey’s usurpation, pinning all the blame on her father-in-law instead of her cousin, and declared herself the rightful queen. “… Most false traitor, John, Duke of Northumberland and his accomplices who, upon most shameful grounds, minding to make his won son King by marriage of a new found lady’s title, or rather to be king himself, hath most traitorously by long continued treason sought, and seek the destruction of her royal person, the nobility and common weal of this realm…” This is not surprising given that Mary knew the power of propaganda and she knew that a House divided, as during the Wars of the Roses with the case of the House of York, made everyone in her family look weak. And if people knew the nuts and bolts behind the usurpation, they wouldn’t blame the Duke, but instead look at Mary’s family. This would look very bad for the Tudor Dynasty. If a monarch couldn’t control her own brood, then how could she rule over a country? And it was much easier to use “bad councilors” as scapegoats rather than holding the royals accountable for their actions. Mary’s father had done it many times. Whenever he did a bad decision, someone else was blamed, be it his spouse, his in-laws, or his councilors.

Mary I Signature

The proclamation ended with a rallying cry calling all the “good people” to join “her said armies yet being in Suffolk, making your prayers to God for her success … upon the said causes she utterly defied the said Duke for her most errant traitor to God and to this realm” then she signed it as “Mary, the Quene”.

When Jane heard what happened, she was out for blood. She ordered her troops to march against the rebels in Buckinghamshire, naming William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, one of the two commanders. She gave him specific instructions to deliver “punishment or execution as they deserve.” The message was clear. Her cousin the Lady Mary Tudor might be older, more experienced and have the support of almost all the commons in the realm, but Jane Grey was no passive teenager. She was not going to give up so easily, and until her cause was fully lost, she was going to keep acting as she had done for over a week. Nobody who saw Jane, saw a timid girl, but a strong teenager who continued to carry out her duties as the unofficial queen. On the morning of the 19th, a Christening ceremony at Tower Hill where Lady Jane had been asked to stand in as godmother by one of her servants, a man named Edward Underhill. Her goddaughter was named after her husband, Guildford. Jane was too busy to attend so she sent her mother’s cousin, the Lady Throckmorton, instead. Other proxies were sent for her father and other family members, including William Herbert who excused himself from the ceremony, claiming he had to meet the French Ambassador to convince him of sending troops to fight off Mary’s common forces. In reality, William Herbert was pondering on his own future and where he would fit in all of this conspiracy if Mary won. How would she deal with the traitors? The Marquis had felt an air of unease the day before when he heard the news of Mary’s proclamation and the Earl’s defection. Although he had been given specific instructions to deal with the rebels, the Marquis chose not to comply. He and a number of other councilors gathered at Baynard’s Castle where they discussed a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Nobody wanted another civil war like the one that had split the country in two over one hundred years ago. The men gathered their things and rode to Cheapside where they declared Mary Tudor the lawful Queen and read her proclamation. The crowd went “mad with joy” the Imperial Ambassador reported. “From a distance the earth must have looked like Mount Etna.”

Jane Grey juxtaposed

Jane and her family also knew that everything was over. That same day, the council’s soldiers headed to the Tower to arrest the Duke of Suffolk. Jane’s father had heard of the council’s betrayal and rushed to tell his daughter the news. Jane did not lose her composure. Using the same irony she’d used against one of Mary’s maids when she mocked her Mass, she told her father that she was blameless and she only took the crown because he gave convincing arguments to her. If he hadn’t, she would have never done it. Her father was forced to take down the canopy of state, and other symbols that were representative of her reign, and agreed to the Council’s demands. Jane had gone from a guest at the Tower, awaiting her coronation, to a prisoner.

John Dudley

News of Mary’s victory reached Northumberland and his men that night. He felt angry and betrayed. He had suspected of the council’s betrayal since they asked him to go away to lead a small force against Mary. But he had not expected things would fall down so quickly. Realizing he was lost, and that he was going to be –not only Mary’s scapegoat- but the Greys’ scapegoat as well, he began to cry and sent someone to the new Queen, in the hopes that she would take pity on him. He told the vice-chancellor of Cambridge that their new monarch was a “merciful woman” and read her proclamation the following day, declaring her the rightful Queen. It was over. Mary had won. She was informed of her victory on the 20th. Mary, as her supporters, were overjoyed. She rode on a white horse, and made an inspection of her troops at four o’clock in the afternoon.

“An inspiring sight awaited her. The standards were unfurled, the military colors were set up and battle lines divided into two, under Wentworth and Susssex. For the first time as Queen, Mary saw her forces arrayed…” (Porter)

And like her maternal grandmother before her, she showed herself fearless, giving an inspirational speech “with an exceptional kindness and with an approach so wonderfully relaxed as can scarcely be described” that won everyone’s affections. After she finished with her inspection, she ordered a large detachment of cavalry to stream forth. The Lady Mary was delighted to hear the sounds of cavalry, and the cries of her men who did not stop cheering for their new Queen. She demonstrated an exceptional charisma, and she was ready to fight if needed be. Thankfully, it had not come to that. Lord Paget and the Earl of Arundel had come to tell her of the latest events, adding that the Duke of Northumberland had also surrendered. Bonfires were lit, people cried out to the sky, “men ran hither and thither, bonnets flew into the air, shouts rose higher than the stars, and all the bells were set a-pealing” wrote an anonymous Italian staying in London at the time, echoing the Imperial Ambassador’s words that the earth seemed to be shaking with joy.

Mary I signature Tudor

This was something unprecedented. Mary had won the throne without shedding one drop of blood. To her it must have felt like déjà vu. Her grandfather Henry Tudor, then Earl of Richmond, had won the crown through bloodshed, and he owed it largely in part to the military expertise of the 13th Earl of Oxford, another John de Vere who had always been a staunch Lancastrian and upon knowing that the royal Lancastrians were dead, he ran to Brittany to join Henry Tudor (who was considered by many, the last Lancastrian scion). While there were other factors that contributed to her grandfather’s victory, the Earl’s military expertise can’t be denied. He was there with Henry, helping him rally more men to his cause and after he won, his title was restored. Mary’s ally was Protestant unlike her, but despite this, he joined her because as his predecessor, he viewed her as the legitimate successor to Edward VI. And it was his decision to join her that became a turning point in this conflict. Mary having an army of commons was one thing, but soldiers mutinying, and an Earl who was well known for his military expertise joining her, was another. Mary thanked God, owing her victory to Him, saying that she “wanted the realm cleansed of divisive parties” and thanks to Him, she had done so. Mary’s struggles were far from over though, and so were Jane’s. The two cousins would still be pit against each other, and as Mary’s reign faced many rebellions, it became clearer that only one  of them could live.

Sources:

  • The Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle

Mary Tudor and Jane Grey: The Battle for the Crown

Jane and Mary

Between the 12th and 15th of July 1553, things in the Mary Tudor and Jane Grey camp were getting tenser. On the 12th, Jane issued a proclamation, calling everyone to fight for their rightful queen by giving them an incentive of twelve pence a day. For her part, Mary was sending messaged to the important barons in East Anglia who remained undecided. Most of these men were Protestant and they did not wish to be on the wrong side of things. Some of them had sided with Jane. As with their great ancestor, Henry Tudor, they were determined to fight to the bitter end.

The Lady Jane

Because of the high stakes, Jane to delay her coronation for another three weeks. At the same time that Jane was doing this, Mary was issuing her own proclamations, declaring herself the one and true Queen in Norfolk and Suffolk. Her tenants carried her message throughout the countryside, calling the lesser lords to side with her but many, like the nobles during the time of her great-grandfather –Henry, Earl of Richmond’s- invasion, did not wish to risk everything. What if Mary lost? Mary was without foreign support. Her cousin did not believe she could win. Henry Tudor, the Earl of Richmond had won thanks to French support and foreign mercenaries. What did Mary have besides the commons? And what if the commons were not enough? The Emperor was not going to risk a good opportunity to turn the Duke of Northumberland, whom he believed would control Jane once she was crowned, away from a French alliance. But Mary was resolute.

Mary I historical

“The miserable indecisive princess who could not quite bring herself to cut her ties with England in 1550 was nowhere to be seen. Instead, she had rediscovered the implacable girl who resisted, for three years, a king’s determination to make her deny who she was … Mary was not the sort of woman who sat in the background where matters of such importance were concerned.” (Porter)

She continued to send missives throughout East Anglia, and soon as she advanced further south, throughout the country, demanding people’s loyalty and signing her letters with ‘Mary the Quene’. In Mary, the people remembered her beloved mother, who had been so popular with the commons. They remembered the girl, as Porter pointed out, who rebelled against her father, and stayed true to her beliefs until she was forced to sign an admission that saved her from a certain death. By the time she became mistress of her own household, the kindness for which her mother had been known, had been shown to her tenants as well. She knew their names, she interacted with them at a personal level, and was godmother to most of their children. This relationship earned her a degree of success –on where she could take the crown without bloodshed. Something that was unheard of at the time.

John Dudley

Meanwhile, Jane, her father-in-law, her father and their supporters were busy making sure they were prepared for when Mary’s army came. Foreigners were so certain of Jane’s success that some, like the French Ambassador, were beginning to refer to her husband as “the new King” in their letters. The papal envoy, Giovanni Francesco, however, shows that Jane had no desire to make her husband King and that they quarreled as a result of this. After she agreed to his wishes, she changed her mind again and called the Earls of Arundel and Pembroke that she felt better if her husband were “a duke, but not a King.” Jane was showing (probably to the frustration of her would-be-controllers) that she was her own person, and that as her cousin Mary Tudor, there would be no other ruler in England but her. It could also be that the envoy might have been exaggerating things, showing the Protestant side as a house divided in contrast to Mary’s side where everyone was united. It did not help matters that there were already some rumors that the Duke of Northumberland (Jane’s father-in-law) was looking for an alternative route –in case Jane’s regime did not work- in where he would substitute Jane with another teenager, Mary, Queen of Scots. It was no secret that Dudley had always sided with the French and had actively spoken against Edward Seymour’s savage incursions into their Northern neighbor’s Southern border. After he heard that Mary of Guise had become a widow and her daughter an orphan and the new Queen of Scots, he had spoken against his (then) King, Henry VIII’s proclamation to lead a campaign to kidnap the infant queen of Scots; Dudley vehemently opposed it. The Imperial Ambassadors, pressing Dudley to side with the Emperor instead, were getting frustrated and it is very possible that they added more fuel to the rumors as Dudley showed very little interest in an Anglo-Imperial alliance. It could be during this time that they began to look more positively on Mary’s candidacy.

Suspecting that the Council might be of the same mind after they advised him to leave the city to defend the country (in case Mary thought of an escape), John Dudley gave a passionate speech on the thirteenth reminding them of “the holy oath of allegiance made freely by you to this virtuous lady the Queen’s highness” whose crown they helped her win. His message was clear ‘If I go down, you go down with me’. He ended it with a last reminder that if Jane failed, their religion failed and as a consequence, God’s vengeance would wash down on them. He then went to see his daughter-in-law who trusted him completely with the task ahead and “beseeched him to use his diligence” against Mary. Dudley promised that he would do all that he could.

Mary I and Jane Grey Nine day

The following day, on the 14th, he left London with the “the fairest band of gentlemen” and a “fearsome” artillery train. He was confident that he could still win; but at Mary had gained another ally. Lord Wentworth flocked to her side “clad in splendid armor” and he was not along, accompanied “by a not inconsiderable military force”. More counties started joining her, including some of the Protestant elite which had previously sided with Jane.

John Dudley and William Parr, the Marques of Northampton, met with other veterans at Durham House on the 15th where they planned their offensive against the Lady Mary. In London, Jane faced problems of a different sort, when she received dire news that fifteen of her ships guarding the Eastern Coast had mutinied. Unpaid and forced to work under deplorable conditions, they chose to abandon Jane to side with Mary.
Once again, history would prove that the most unlikely of contender, would win the English throne.

Sources:

  • Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Mary Tudor by Anna Whitelock

Mary Tudor and Jane Grey: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Mary I and Jane Grey

On the 11th of July 1553, the country was split in two over the issue of Mary Tudor and Jane Grey. People were undecided as who to support. One part of the country was rallying to Mary -those in East Anglia who knew her very well- and another one with Jane and were doing everything in their power to ensure the coup was successful. The Privy Council sent back Mary’s messenger with an uncompromising rebuke informing her that it was Jane who was the rightful queen, not her and by rebelling against her rightful sovereign, she was committing treason. But Mary was not going to be easily deterred. She was the daughter of Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, she had been next in line after her brother Edward VI. If the Council was not going to respect her father’s will, then she was going to make them.

Mary Tudor played by Sarah Bolger in
Mary Tudor played by Sarah Bolger in “The Tudors” s.4

As tensions began to mount, Jane issued a proclamation in which she warned people of the severe punishments her reign would inflict on those who dared to oppose her and to show that she meant business, the boy who had cried her cousin’s name the day before, had his ears cut off.

Jane Grey played by Helena Bonham Carter in the movie
Jane Grey played by Helena Bonham Carter in the movie “Lady Jane”. The movie perpetuated the Victorian myth of the passive Jane opposite her evil parents, especially her ruthless mother Frances.

This shows Jane as an active participant in the coup, willing to do everything that was required of her to defend her family and her position. Jane might not have wanted the crown but now that she was close to becoming the first Queen of England, she saw it as her duty to defend it with everything she got. To her this was more than just ambition. As with Mary, she saw herself as a religious crusader and she viewed Mary’s religion as evil and contrary to what she had been taught. When she had been a few years younger, she and her mother Frances visited their cousin Mary and she mocked one of her servants for praying before the altar asking how could they believe that God lived in the bread “when the baker made it?”

The real Lady Mary Tudor
The real Lady Mary Tudor

Not surprisingly, Mary Tudor is also seen in a narrow light, thanks in part to the Book of Martyrs and Hollywood movies where she is portrayed as the opposite of Jane and her sister Elizabeth. Mary was as Jane, a woman of her times. And a very proud woman whose lineage told her that it was her, and not Jane who was the rightful Queen. She had prepared her entire life to fight for what she considered was rightfully hers and by all means it was since her father had restored her and her sister to the line of succession, falling right behind their brother Edward. When the Privy Council passed her over in favor of the Grey sisters, Mary decided that she was not going to wait any longer. She was the first one to inform the country that her brother was dead and they wanted to crown Jane Queen instead of her, and she began to calling all her allies and the common people to come and fight for her.

The real Lady Jane
The real Lady Jane

Although Jane signed many proclamations with Jane the Quene; it was clear that she and the Council were in for a hell of a fight. Mary, against all odds, was gaining lots of supporters. Her cousin had abandoned her, he had his own affairs to look out for and he did not believe that his cousin could win without any significant support. As far as he knew, Mary Tudor’s quest for the crown was a thing of the past. So you can imagine his surprise, and the Council’s surprise when they received information of the“innumerable companies of the common people” that were coming to support her from Norfolk and Suffolk. And that had been in only five days. Who knew how more supporters she would gain in the following days?

Jane however, put on a brave face. She was not going to be cowed by Mary’s common force. She called on the people to fight the next day on the 12th, offering them ten pence a day if they joined her.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Eric Ives
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter