On Monday we briefly discussed the rise of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who made his start as “favorite” of James I and then sought to ingratiate himself with the Prince of Wales in the King’s twilight years via a seven-month jaunt to Madrid. Today we’re going to take a closer look at his last years in the dawn of Charles I’s reign.
The “Spanish Match” as it has become known captures a bizarre and sophomoric jaunt from the future Charles I and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham through Spain and France as they hunted for the next queen of England. The King of Spain’s sister, Maria Anna, was their target, but though the potential alliance went nowhere, they did in fact stumble upon Charles’s future wife – Henrietta Maria of France. The episode’s significance stems from the political impetus behind it, while its now infamy comes from the sheer ridiculousness of the scheme.
It is never easy to follow a popular monarch, even more so when the reign was a lengthy one. Such was the case when James I succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603, for Elizabeth’s brand of queenship was one marked by instinctually understanding the mood and needs of her people. Indeed, nationalism was a byword for her reign. Not only did Elizabeth oversee a period of immense growth and prestige, but she did it while defining herself as first and foremost an English native. She is hardly the only monarch in British history to do so, but she is certainly one of the most successful.
James, on the other hand, had no similar hands of cards to deal. Male, foreign and decidedly less sophisticated, on the face of it, he couldn’t have been more different from his Tudor cousin. Yet, there are some notable similarities between the two – both came from rather infamous parents and both, based on birth and legal hurdles, had little business sitting on the English throne at first glance.
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.
The Stuarts’ relationship with Catholicism is fascinating, but not wholly surprising. The founder of the royal House in England was James I, who succeeded the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, in 1603. He originated in Scotland, the great-great-grandson of Henry VII and son of Elizabeth’s bested rival, Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary’s Catholicism – alongside her poor marital choices, gender and foreignness – lost her her crown and James’s Protestantism, even if sincere, was hardly a choice.
His faith ensured his place in the English succession, a point he reinforced by marrying the Protestant princess, Anne of Denmark, thus ensuring a Protestant heir. It spoke to anti-Catholic feeling in England – and Scotland, for that matter – but it’s worth noting the larger power balance in Europe. France and Spain, England’s true peers on the continental stage, remained Catholic. England was continually in and out of war with Spain, wounds which were very much wrapped up in the Reformation, from Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon, to the earnest desire of their daughter, Mary I, to marry King Philip II and deliver England back to Rome. Elizabeth I began her reign with tolerance, but as the decades wore on, she moved further and further away from appeasement, religion the source of nearly every plot and rebellion against her.
If you’re not familiar with the story of Arabella Stuart (or “Arbella Stewart,” if you are so inclined) that’s quite alright. During the majority of her lifetime, few outside of royal circles were even aware of her existence and, in my opinion, her status as a true rival claimant to the throne has been a bit overblown. Nevertheless, her relatively brief life played out just as England was passing from Tudor to Stuart hands and it draws on the dynastic sensitivities that came from a childless queen and a foreign-born king.
Anne of Denmark is one of the forgotten queens of England. And, to a certain extent, it makes sense. The reign of her husband, James I, is sandwiched between the more eventful and historically significant reigns of Elizabeth I and Charles I – he is perhaps best remembered now for the edition of the bible that bears his name, overlapping with Shakespeare and almost being blown up by Guy Fawkes. Or, perhaps, you have heard rumors that he might have been gay.
The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots on February 8, 1587 was a landmark moment in the reign of Elizabeth I and history has often given the English queen a bit of a side eye for her handling of it. Likely there would be more sympathy for Elizabeth’s position if Mary hadn’t, at face value, appeared so sympathetic – a beautiful woman, a mother, a widow, a deposed queen, a Catholic punished for her faith.
But Mary certainly isn’t without detractors. Though she ascended the Scottish throne as an infant after the premature death of her father, James V, she would only directly rule Scotland from within its confines for less than seven years. Raised in France as a Catholic, Scotland and its increasingly Protestant people were wholly foreign to her when she returned to it as an adult in 1561. Her rule was clumsy, her government fractured, her personal life scandalous and she continued to make herself a thorn in the side of England and her cousin, Elizabeth. What helped to solidify Mary’s legacy as a martyr-like figure is, in fact, her behavior during her execution.