Of all the rather memorable personalities and (borderline) incestuous pairings during the Wars of the Roses, the one that I find the strangest is without a doubt Jasper Tudor and Katherine Woodville. They literally make zero sense to the point that I honestly sometimes forget about them. And yet! They existed.
I’ve been putting off writing this post because it’s a big one, but I have a feeling November and December are going to be busy months so if not now then when? Even so, we might return to Darnley’s murder and get more into the weeds of various theories later on. Today we’re going to take a look at the marriage of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland and her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Mary, rather famously, spent the middle of the 16th century engaged in a venomous rivalry with her cousin, Elizabeth I, which ended in her execution in 1587. Before that, however, her second marriage resulted in Darnley’s suspicious death and her forced abdication in favor of their son, James. And James, of course, would eventually succeed Elizabeth on the English throne, uniting England and Scotland under one rule.
On April 12, 1533, Anne Boleyn appeared before Henry VIII’s court for the first time as queen. She was four months pregnant after a calculated gamble she and Henry took the previous autumn to secretly marry and consummate their relationship. For Henry this meant a frantic winter and early spring finalizing his divorce from Katherine of Aragon and solidifying the legality of his second marriage. For Anne, the quick conception was nothing short of a complete victory. Henry moved heaven and earth to make Anne his wife – her half of the deal was to deliver the son and heir he so desperately wanted.
Last week we addressed the question of when Henry VIII’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn began, but today we jump forward seven years to the final stages of Anne’s preparation for marriage – in other words, how exactly Henry made her queen. The evolution of their relationship – from Henry wanting her as a mistress, then a wife – held within it the destruction of the Tudor family. By 1532, Katherine of Aragon had been physically removed from court, out of sight, if not out of mind. Princess Mary, loyal to her mother and her birthright over her father’s “happiness,” found herself firmly out of favor for refusing to accept Anne.
There was one thing that Henry VIII and his siblings had in common: marrying whoever they wanted. Certainly we know how Henry went about this, but less known is the extent to which his sisters did. After James IV of Scotland died in 1513, Margaret went on to marry twice by her own choice. Today, however, we’re going to take a look at their younger sister, Princess Mary, who did her duty by the king of France and then went the Tudor way.
Back in May we covered Anne Boleyn’s trial and execution, so it seems only right we cover happier times in her life, or at least the rise that made her so famous. Today we’re going to address the question of when she first caught Henry VIII’s eye and what exactly those early months and years looked like. With the benefit of hindsight we so quickly jump from Anne arriving at Henry’s court to the political battles of the divorce, but there was a lull in-between that helped dictate where the ugly mess ended up. The “when” is important, too, because it speaks to what everyone’s motivation was – Anne’s, Henry’s and the councilors at the center of court.
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.
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.
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.
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.