The Rise of “Bloody Mary”

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It’s easy to feel sympathy for Katherine of Aragon and her daughter, Mary I, when you know how they fared during Henry VIII’s reign – and I do. Katherine, the loyal and loving wife, was discarded after 24 years of marriage and left to die alone, separated from her only child. And Mary, the helpless daughter, saw a half-sister supplant her at age 17, had her mother die at age 20 and was then forced to watch five stepmothers pass through thanks to divorce and execution.

The tricky part about the casting Katherine and Mary as “good” where, say, Anne Boleyn was “bad” is that it dehumanizes women who were in fact very human and people utterly reflective of their times. Anne was a champion for the English Reformation, learned and incredibly powerful – yet by her own admission she showed cruelty to her husband’s adolescent daughter. Katherine was the abandoned first wife, but one whose religious extremism allowed her to think the expulsion of Muslim and Jewish populations was for the greater good. And finally Mary, who was absolutely victimized – in a truly horrifying way – by her father, went on to oversee the persecution and death of hundreds of Protestants during her reign.

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The [Secretive] Death of Henry VIII

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Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547, some 37 years after he ascended the throne at just 17. It would be another three days before England was made aware. From within the halls of his court at Westminster, Henry’s death remained a closely guarded secret even as food was dutifully carried in to his private chambers at meal times with all expected fanfare.

Henry’s death ushered in the reign of his nine-year-old son, Edward VI, whose age necessitated a minority government the strength of which was premised on the loyalty of Tudor courtiers – the same men who had spent over a decade working for a king who increasingly resembled a tyrant.

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After Mary: Charles Brandon & Katherine Willoughby

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We’ve covered before how Henry VIII’s younger and favorite sister, Princess Mary, married his best friend, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, shortly after the death of her first husband, King Louis XII of France, without her brother’s permission. Henry was livid, but was eventually brought around after levying a hefty fine on the couple. The marriage was cut short by Mary’s premature death in 1533 at the age of 37, and just three months later, Charles married again, this time to his adolescent ward, Katherine Willoughby.

Katherine could very well have faded into oblivion – after all, Charles’s two wives prior to Mary certainly have. Instead, Katherine is a fascinating figure from the Tudor court. Like Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, her name was put forth as a possible seventh wife for Henry, she had strong opinions on the reformation and her longevity positioned her as consistently relevant well into the reign of Elizabeth I.

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Elizabeth & Robin

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Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. It felt appropriate to mark the holiday here with a post on one of the most famous – if debatable – love stories from royal history: Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Fans of the 1998 film and/or readers of any of dozens of historical novels on the subject may well have a sense for the general trajectory, but while the real story is certainly bittersweet, it is decidedly less neat and tidy.

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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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Lady Jane Grey, the 9-Days Queen

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ICYMI, England once had a queen for only nine days in the summer of 1553. Slipped between Edward VI and Mary I, Jane’s brief reign speaks to the gender, religious and dynastic issues the Tudors faced from the last years of Henry VIII to the first years of Elizabeth I. Her actions were at the direction of others and her intentions likely quite benign; still a teenager when she died, it’s not difficult to grasp why she has captured the public’s imagination and sympathy since her execution on February 12, 1554.

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January 15: The Coronation of Elizabeth I

Today, on January 15, in 1559, Elizabeth I was crowned queen of England at Westminster Abbey in London. To commemorate the event, History Today has re-published an article from A.L. Rowse first released in May 1953 in honor of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It’s worth a read.

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The coronation of Elizabeth I, at the age of 25, was pivotal in the history of England. Not only was her reign one of the country’s most successful, but it also oversaw the segue of England from the uncertain days of the early Reformation to the religious sentiment that the Stuarts oversaw in the 17th century. Coming on the heels of the reign of her half-sister, Mary I, which had made martyrs of an estimated 300 Protestants and brought England back into the fold of the Catholic Church, religious sensitivity was at an all-time high and those of the Reformed faith were eager to do away with Catholicism altogether.

But Elizabeth’s crowning was also a personal victory, which could easily have gone sideways any number of times, from when she was declared illegitimate by her father at the age of two-and-a-half to when Mary I imprisoned her in the Tower of London for her supposed participation in Wyatt’s Rebellion of 1554. At various points in her formative years, it seemed that Elizabeth had everything working against her – her mother, Anne Boleyn, had been publicly hated, divorced and executed; she spent several years labeled the bastard daughter of Henry VIII; and even when she was included back into the line of succession, she came after her younger brother, the future Edward VI, and Mary I, both of whom it could be reasonably expected would marry and produce heirs.

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