The Union of Tudor & Stuart

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By the “union of Tudor and Stuart” I don’t mean that of England and Scotland, but rather the marriage that facilitated the eventual consolidation of power in James I in 1603 and the later formation of the concept of “Britain.” All of that was a long time in the making and it stemmed from the union of King James IV of Scotland and England’s Princess Margaret Tudor in 1503.

The alliance came together in the Treaty of Perpetual Peace signed on January 24, 1502 at Richmond Palace. The treaty was the first between the two countries in roughly 170 years and it ended what had become nearly two centuries of warfare – that said, it was England and Scotland, so even that two centuries needs to be put in the context of several more of bloody battles over sovereignty.

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His Rose Without a Thorn: Henry VIII & Katherine Howard

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In February I wrote a post laying out the case for why some believe Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, might not have been guilty of every charge leveled at her in 1542. It included detail on her upbringing, her inclusion in Anne of Cleves’s household and her relationships with the men with whom she was believed to have had relationships with, save one. Notably lacking in the post was any real information on the actual royal marriage that brought Katherine infamy.

Perhaps that’s because I find it a bit repugnant – it’s hard to lend much earnest analysis to a marriage between an old man (by Tudor standards, at least) and a teenage girl. And while not uncommon back in the day, there’s a bit of difference between a foreign alliance and one in which a man like Henry VIII took a girl younger than his eldest daughter, with no education or life experience, and put a crown on her head.

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The Catholic Alliance: Mary I & Philip II

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Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard may have lost their heads to Henry VIII, but a part of me has always had the most sympathy for his daughter, Mary I. After all, she truly didn’t have a say in her association with the Tudors and it’s a particular kind of heartbreaking that her adversary was her father.

The question comes up now and again as to when England would have broken from Catholicism had Henry VIII not forced the issue in the 1530s and the answer usually landed on is that while it might have been delayed, the Reformation would still have swept the country in the 16th century. But it’s a tricky scenario to tackle, because it’s impossible to separate out the English brand of religious reform from Henry’s marital history, if for no other reason than it dictated both the succession and those with political power. Without Anne Boleyn it’s hard to accept Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer would have held the same sway, and without Anne there is no Elizabeth I and possibly no Edward VI.

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Mary, Queen of Scots at the French Court

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So much of Mary, Queen of Scots’ later life was operatic that it’s easy to gloss over her formative years. Her violent death, her rivalry with Elizabeth I, her disastrous second and third marriages, the possibility she was involved in a murder – all of this tends to drown out the rest. But much like Eleanor of Aquitaine, the “less” dramatic early years actually involved being the queen of France and Mary’s long-term residency at the French court uniquely positioned her as both a Stuart and Scottish monarch.

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The Flanders Mare: Anne of Cleves

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Poor Anne of Cleves, relegated to history as “the ugly one.” Her marriage to Henry VIII is now viewed as a short blip in-between the domestic dramas of Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour and the scandal of Katherine Howard’s (presumed) adultery and execution. In fact, this fourth marriage of the King’s was important for what it signified – a foreign alliance arranged in the midst of frightening religious factionalism in the English government. The demise of their union – it would last roughly six months – also saw the downfall of the infamous Thomas Cromwell, risen up by the Boleyn family a decade before.

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The Tudor Myth

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Let’s start at the beginning: What is the “Tudor Myth”? Essentially, it’s a school of thought that the study of the Tudors and their immediate predecessors has been warped by Tudor propaganda. At its root, it’s a more specific way of saying, “History is written by winners.” The two Tudors considered most guilty of this whitewashing, if you will, are Elizabeth I and her grandfather, Henry VII, albeit for slightly different reasons.

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His “Favorite” Wife: Jane Seymour

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Today in 1536 Henry VIII married Jane Seymour. It was the third wedding ceremony in which he stood as bridegroom, and yet if you had asked him he would have told you she was his first true wife. His first two wives, Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, had been false – Katherine, the widow of his brother who lied about her virginity and Anne, an adulterous traitor who might also have been a witch. Thus it was that at the age of 45 Henry was finally legally wed in a “true” union.

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The Death of Anne Boleyn

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If Anne Boleyn is known for one thing it is being one Henry VIII’s beheaded wives. Indeed, the rhyme goes: Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. Her death has become so synonymous with her reputation that it’s difficult to comprehend how shocking it was when the whole tragedy unfolded in 1536.

Kings didn’t execute their queens, not even when infidelity was suspected. Certainly a queen had never been tried in a court of law, found guilty of treason and executed in English history. But for that matter, Anne was many “firsts” for the English – the first queen to oust her predecessor via divorce, the first queen whose rise was tied to religious reformation, the first queen whose sister was widely believed to have been the king’s mistress.

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The Guilt of Anne Boleyn

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Today in 1536 Anne Boleyn, Queen of England and second wife of Henry VIII, was charged with adultery, incest and high treason. Four days later she was beheaded at the Tower of London. During her life, Anne was a creature of fascination – a woman that seemingly appeared out of nowhere and inspired the King of England to turn Western Europe upside down. In death, she has continued to nag historians by posing as many questions as answers – did she love Henry? Was she motivated by ambition? Was she as chaste as she claimed? What were her methods for keeping him interested? Why couldn’t she deliver a son? Was she guilty? Who was the cause of her downfall?

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The Phantom Pregnancies of Mary I

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Mary I’s brief reign is best remembered for the burning of Protestants, acts which earned her the lasting moniker, “Bloody Mary.” But her five years on the throne were also marked by personal, as well as public, loss. When Mary claimed her throne in 1553 and put down the rebellion of Lady Jane Grey and the Dudley family, she quickly moved forward with marriage. She was 37, her childbearing years were numbered and it was her primary duty to not only re-connect England to Rome, but ensure a Catholic succession.

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