Friday, July 5, 2013

Royal Tudor Politics: Henry, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth

Henry VIII and his modern day counterpart from HBO's The Tudors

Continuing a series of  posts inspired by background research for my Connecticut Vampire series, first volume scheduled for release early fall 2013...

It is easy to be overly simplistic when it comes to analyzing royal politics in the Tudor era. Yes, perhaps King Henry VIII had so many wives because he was a misogynist bastard.
Yes, perhaps King Henry had so many wives because he needed a male heir to reign after him.
Both statements have some historical merit but as with all politics, the truth lies far deeper.

King Henry had heard from his own father’s lips how the civil war (the "War of the Roses") had shattered the peace of England for decades. He realized, that to succeed himself, he needed a stable monarch; a male heir.  England had never had a lone queen, and when his first two children to survive infancy turned out to be female, he began to panic. With the benefit of hindsight we see that Henry had foundation in all his fears, yet in an effort to avert civil war, he’d inadvertently provided the necessary conditions for another to begin. In his quest for a male heir and the religious changes he’d been ‘forced’ into, Henry had split the country in two. Half of the English people hankered after the old comforts of Catholicism, half reveled in the new freedoms of Protestantism.

Even after his death, fate dealt Henry VIII a cruel twist.  His male heir Edward never survived to his eighteenth birthday and his full coronation. He only ruled for a sickly four years, used by the regent nobles as a piece on a chess board. On Edward’s dying bed, the boy was persuaded to declare a cousin, Protestant Lady Jane Grey, to be his heir. The ambitious move disinherited both Catholic Mary and 'illegitimate' Elizabeth, his elder sisters , but Jane and her backers couldn't muster the support to keep her dubious claim to the throne viable. Lady Jane is known as "the Nine Days Queen" due to the brevity of her reign in July of 1553 and she was executed less than a year later at the tender age of 17.
Lady Jane Grey was played by Helena Bonham Carter in the 1986 film Lady Jane

When Queen Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, ascended the throne she was supported by the biggest military faction, and the biggest proportion of nobles. She was already a Princess, cruelly treated by both Henry and his son Edward; the Catholic half of England embraced her, and she came to power bloodlessly. It was now time for "Bloody Mary" to prove as ruthless and stubborn as her father.

Mary wanted to turn England back to a Catholic nation, and required a Catholic heir, so she married King Phillip of Spain. Mary also wanted rid of pesky Protestant ministers, so she arrested them, and had them burnt at the stake; not the nicest way to go, trust me.

So the pendulum swings and popular opinion swung too. Queen Mary died without issue, and Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, was proclaimed Queen of England. She would turn the country Protestant again. Despite many plots and actions against her, Elizabeth reined for forty-five years.  It seems that in this daughter that he considered illegitimate, Henry had found the strong 'male' heir to bring stability to his country. If only he’d realized it earlier, so many lives would have been saved, and history could have been changed completely.

Cate Blanchett ~ a magnificent turn as Queen Elizabeth
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