Follow TV Tropes


Useful Notes / The House of Tudor

Go To
The Tudor Rose, the traditional heraldic symbol of the Tudor line and floral badge of England.
"'Cos we're Tudors, Britain's biggest feuders,
And just like barracudas, we kill with methods foul.
Tudors, each enemy a Judas!
At least we're not as rude as... Simon Cowell!"

The six monarchs of England between 1485 and 1603. Their dynasty is attributed as the beginning of the Renaissance in England. They enjoyed chopping off people's heads. Note: The name is not pronounced “Chew-der”, nor “Two-der”, but rather “Tue-der”.

Henry VII of England
Lived: 28 January 1457 –- 21 April 1509
Reigned: 22 August 1485 –- 21 April 1509
Parents: Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond and Lady Margaret Beaufort
Consort: Elizabeth of York
Nicknames: The Tight-Fisted Tudor, The Accountant note 

Actually a descendant of the secret marriage between Catherine of Valois (Henry V's widow) and Owen Tudor. The Tudors were originally a minor noble family from Wales, and played it to the hilt when amassing followers before Bosworth Field (Henry's personal standard at the battle was the Welsh red dragon) and subsequently (he spent a good bit of money trying to prove he was descended from King Arthur, and named his eldest son Arthur to cement the connection). Henry's claim to the throne was incredibly weak; his mother, Margaret Beaufort, was the granddaughter of an illegitimate grandson of Edward III who was explicitly disinherited. On the other hand, with every other claimant dead or imprisoned, the Lancastrians really weren't in a position to say much... or anything at all for that matter! From birth until his coronation he was the 2nd Earl of Richmond (and is thus often called "Richmond" in many histories, including Richard III), having been born the posthumous son of his father.note  This is the reason Richmond-upon-Thames in London is so named, as he built a palace there in his reign and named it for his (former) dignity. (It had previously been called Sheen.) He was an only child; his mother was 13 when he was born and the difficult labour probably rendered her sterile. By all accounts, he was a Momma's Boy, and Lady Margaret (who survived her son, albeit by less than a year) was the dominant lady at his court throughout his reign, even over his Queen.note  She was styled "My Lady the King's Mother," though with her son's permission she signed letters and documents as "Margaret R," signifying her position as honorary Queen Mother.

Became king after raising an army with help from the King of France and beating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field after one noble (Baron Stanley, perhaps not incidentally his stepfather, whom he made Earl of Derby for his trouble)note  didn't do anything and his brother Sir William Stanley changed sides, thus "officially" ending the Wars of the Roses. The thorn bush thing isn't true, along with Richard III being a hunchbacknote  or being really desperate for a horse – William Shakespeare has a lot to answer for.

As soon as he became King, Henry demanded that the Titulus Regius — which made Edward IV's marriage illegal and his children illegitimate — should be "void, adnulled, repelled, irrite [invalidated], and of noe force ne effecte" and that the original be destroyed, and that any copies should be either destroyed or returned to Parliament on pain of fine and imprisonment. A law report from his reign stated:

..."that the said Bill, Act and Record, be annulled and utterly destroyed, and that it be ordained by the same Authority, that the same Act and Record be taken out of the Roll of Parliament, and be cancelled and brent ['burned'], and be put in perpetual oblivion." Henry's orders were carried out so well that only one copy has ever been found — and it took more than a century for that copy to actually turn up! Talk about effective erasure!

Henry had to deal with a couple of pretenders to his throne along the way, but he strengthened his claim by marrying Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of King Edward IV, meaning that he secured his tie to the opposing family. The Tudor rose (depicted above) is emblematic of their marriage, being a joining of the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York; to this very day, it stands as the floral heraldic emblem of England. The Tudor line's famous tendency toward red hair was also introduced by her. Elizabeth was intelligent, attractive, pious, and beloved by the people. Theirs was probably a Perfectly Arranged Marriage, as Tudor historians seem to agree that she and Henry were genuinely attached to one another. note  Unusually for the time period (and especially when compared with his son), Henry is not known to have ever had any mistresses. Henry and Elizabeth had several children, the first being born just eight months after the wedding, and although Elizabeth didn't exert much political influencenote , Henry respected her deeply. When their eldest son died in his teens, Elizabeth and Henry comforted one another as their grief hit them both in different ways at different times. While Elizabeth encouraged Henry to have another child, the birth of said child would, unfortunately, end Elizabeth's life. Her death, which occurred on her 37th birthday, sent Henry into such deep mourning that he actually became gravely ill, allowing no one to come near him except for his own mother; this was so unusual for the austere King that the members of his court were alarmed. He was young enough to remarry and it would have been politically advantageous to do so, but he had no interest. Even when he finally did give his advisers permission to find him a new bride, his list of desired qualities was recognized as basically being a carbon copy of Elizabeth, which of course they knew they would never be able to find — indeed, the King remained a widower until the moment of his death, his late wife forever imprinted in his mind as a youthful and loving wife and mother, as well as a competent and supportive consort.

The deaths of his wife Elizabeth and their eldest son Arthur within a year of one another seem to have hit Henry hard, as after that, he became considerably harsher to his nobles—and the people in general—and died himself only a few years later. He was buried next to Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey in a chapel named for himself.

Nowadays, Henry is considered a steady and slightly dull set of hands at the helm of England. However, he only appears as such in comparison to his extravagant and exciting son; Henry VII was, in fact, an intelligent, suspicious, and steady king, which England needed after years of civil war. Nonetheless, there is a school of thought that Henry was more responsible for restarting the Wars of the Roses, as after he became King, there were several attempts by Yorkists with clearly better claims to the throne to depose him, leading to Henry wiping out the male line of York. Ironically, Sir William Stanley was executed for apparently being in league with one of the Pretenders.

He had a Pet the Dog moment when he gave one of the defeated pretenders a job in his kitchens instead of executing him. Lambert Simnel was a ten-year-old commoner who happened to bear a resemblance to the dead Yorkist princes and was set up as a puppet by rebel nobles; Henry recognized that a literal child was unlikely to have engineered any part of the plot and pardoned him.note  This gesture was even extended to the next pretender, Perkin Warbeck; but when Warbeck attempted to escape (presumably to restart another rebellion), he was quickly captured and confined at the Tower of London. He was later tortured and subsequently hanged.

Henry today is also known for being one of the few monarchs to leave his country's treasury fuller when he died than when he was crowned, thanks to his stringent taxation (later nicknamed "The Tight-Fisted Tudor"). He actually taxed his subjects for the knighting of his son Arthur, as was his right...but he did so after Arthur had actually died. Nevertheless, to presume that this wealth procured through austerity did not lead to any indulgence on his part (as well as the corruption of his ministers) would be, strictly speaking, not true. If anything, most of the means he used to enrich the treasury would be considered blatant extortion by modern-day standards and were considered extortion by many of his lords. In short, he was a "fine monarch" in the way that Singapore is a fine city.

On a related note: the vaguely (or actually very) extra-legal use of the Star Chamber to swiftly resolve... controversial... issues either extortion- or suppression-related massively ramped up under Henry's rule, to become a marked Tudor theme, if not a family trademark.

Incidentally (and not related in the least), he helped with a Trope Name: Morton's Fork was named for a bit of sharp practice under his watch. Well, his Chancellor's, at least. His financial methods and rule were so hated that just after Henry died, some of his ministers were executed due to their assisting him in extorting money from his subjects. But deep into his son's reign, some people openly began to pine for Henry VII to the point that Henry VIII made a painting to counter this sentiment.

Henry VIII of England
Lived: 28 June 1491 –- 28 January 1547
Reigned: 21 April 1509 –- 28 January 1547
Parents: King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York
Consorts: (1) Catherine of Aragon (1509—1533); (2) Anne Boleyn (1533—1536); (3) Jane Seymour (1536—1537); (4) Anne of Cleves (1540); (5) Catherine Howard (1540—1541); (6) Catherine Parr (1543—1547)
Nicknames: Bluff Harry or Bluff King Hal; Great Harry; Old Coppernose note 

The man with sixnote  wives. Every Briton can remember what happened to them — "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived" (and every pedant will reply, "annulled, annulled and beheaded, died, annulled, annulled and beheaded, survived"). Arguably the best-known monarch in history, yet he was not even born to the throne and is a fine upshot of the royal marital tradition of producing "an heir and a spare" — he was actually the "spare", but ended up in line to the throne after his older brother Arthur died... and he also married the guy's widow, Catherine of Aragon (Catalina de Aragón), a literal Spanish Princess, Aragon and Castile having been united by the marriage of her parents as part of the Spanish Catholic Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula from Moorish Spain. Marrying his brother's widow raised a few eyebrows, but it did carry with it several advantages. For one thing, it continued to link the new House of Tudor to the powerful House of Trastámara, granting the Tudors legitimacy; and since Catherine's sister Juana (heiress to the Spanish throne, as her parents had no living sons by that point) was married to Philip "the Handsome" Habsburg of Burgundy, son and heir of the Holy Roman Emperor, the three-way political alliance thus cemented was absolutely fantastic (and conveniently completely surrounded France). Second, it gave Henry a very desirable out from the international royal marital lottery. Unlike many royal spouses, Catherine and Henry were already well-acquainted and, even better, seemed to like one another. They were close in age, Catherine only being five years older than him, and intellectual matches; not only was she friends with the scholars Erasmus and Sir Thomas More, but she had served as ambassador to the English court for her father, making her the first female ambassador in European history. Moreover, unlike Henry, Catherine had been trained from childhood in how to effectively serve as a potential ruler and royal consort and therefore he was marrying someone who already knew her way around that whole monarch thing. Plus, there was the small matter of not having to return Catherine's dowry.

He was only 18 when he came to the throne. The public adored the young king and queen, who were both widely regarded as attractive and charismatic. Incidentally, while many folks know that Henry VIII was, like his contemporary namesake, Duke Henry of Sussex (Prince Harry) a redhead due to the famous portrait shown above, Catherine was as well despite the many portrayals of her in fiction as raven-haired or brunette. Henry engaged in some Wacky Fratboy Hijinx in his early years as King; he and some male buddies once burst into the Queen's bedchamber dressed as Robin Hood and his Merry Men. By most accounts, their marriage was largely happy for the first several years.

In the first nine years of their marriage, Catherine bore Henry three boys and three girls. Unfortunately, two were stillborn, three died in infancy, and only one, Mary, survived. more  Henry carried on his husbandly duty and waited, in vain, for further issue, his worry and impatience at his lack of an heir growing as the years passed. How much of the fertility problems were down to Catherine — whose family had a history of dying in childbirth or giving birth to children who died youngnote  and who had a habit of fasting while in prayer, while pregnant — is still hotly debated.

He was far more extravagant than his father. This was the man responsible for quite possibly the most extravagant diplomatic summit in history, the Field of the Cloth of Gold. There he proceeded to have a wrestling match with the King of France, Francis I. The French guy won; the English guy was displeased. His wife, meanwhile, had defeated a Scottish invasion in the north in which the Scottish king, the husband of Henry's sister Margaret, was killed. Needing to make peace with France, he arranged for his other living sister, Mary, to marry the king. This didn't quite go the way he planned. Henry and Mary had been very close as children, and when she begged him not to make her go through with the match, he knew how to get her to cooperate. He promised that once her much-older husband died (which he did, three months after the marriage), she could choose her second husband. But when the time came, Henry is alleged to have conveniently forgotten this promise, and sent one of his best friends, Charles Brandon, to collect his widowed sister - apparently unaware that Charles and Mary had secretly been in love for years. Charles had barely landed in France when he and Mary eloped, and this marriage being outside of Henry's permission, it was technically treason. Luckily for the couple, Henry was too fond of them to stay angry for very long, so he consented to a second wedding in his court and named them Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. He and Catherine named their daughter Mary after his sister, whom they both loved, and he and Charles remained Best Friends-in-Law for their entire lives.

Many historians have argued that Henry was a good king. He stood strong against the Pope, France, and Spain, maintaining the balance of power in the world, and he is credited with the establishment of a powerful English Navy (the conventional establishment date for the Royal Navy is 1546, the second-to-last year of Henry's reign). On the other hand, some detractors have asserted, the cost of his foreign wars impoverished England and brought about the debasement of the currency; the dissolution of the monasteries and hospitals, meanwhile, demolished the social safeguards from which the poor were accustomed to seek relief as well as the primary modes of social mobility at that time for commoners.

The other point his detractors make is that during his reign he had at least 10,000 people executed, including some of England's greatest thinkers such as Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More (not to imply the other deaths were any less tragic). Some historians put the number at closer to 70,000. His daughter, the so-called 'Bloody' Mary, gets a bad rap for killing around 300, so it only seems fair to flag this up.note 

Henry restored English control over most of Ireland in a series of rather bloody wars; prior to this point, English power in Ireland had been in decline for centuries and was purely nominal outside the cities. He had himself declared King of Ireland in 1542, a title English (and later British) monarchs would hold for four centuries, and still hold in part — the Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

He's most famous for starting the Church of England even though he didn't actually start the Church of England (that honour goes to his daughter, Elizabeth). Make sense? Not really, but it's what Whig historians in Victorian times believed, and like so much in British history, the popular belief is based on what the Victorians made up. What Henry really did was to separate the Catholic Church in England from the Roman Catholic Church, making himself Supreme Head in place of the Pope. Meanwhile the ceremonies, vestments, church hierarchy (with the obvious exception of the Pope), and liturgy remained essentially Catholic. He'd have cut off your head had you accused him of being Protestant. He loathed Protestantism. It's just that by creating a separate Church tied to the sovereign rather than to Rome, it didn't necessarily remain Catholic in future any more than the monarchs did.

A couple of centuries down the track, the throne ended up permanently in the hands of Protestants after Parliament barred Catholics and spouses of Catholics from the succession, meaning the established Anglican church is essentially Protestant. This ban remains in effect (although it was loosened in 2013: spouses of Catholics are no longer barred, but Catholics still can't take the throne), it would be an even bigger headache to conceptualize than the business about the monarch being the Supreme Governor of the (Anglican) Church of England everywhere but Scotland, where he/she is an ordinary member of the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland. This was not nearly enough, however, for the Puritans who would ultimately settle the New England colonies. They emphasized the importance of individual interpretations of the Bible and personal experiences with the divine. To them, Henry VIII was a King in Pope's clothing. Or a Pope in King's clothing. Either way, it involved "popes" and was therefore bad.

Anyway, Henry did separate England from Rome. Unlike what Whig history implies, he didn't do it specifically because of his desire for Anne Boleyn either. He did it because his only heir was Mary, a daughter, and Henry wanted at that point to make absolutely sure that she would never become Queen in her own right; after all, you couldn't possibly make a strong dynasty out of women rulers... (At this point, unlike other countries such as Spain, Hungary, and Egypt, no woman had ever ruled England in her own right — discounting the unfortunate 12th-century Matilda, granddaughter of William the Conqueror, who was usurped by her cousin Stephen, fought a great civil war against him, and never really got a chance to rule... though her descendants did.) Catherine, meanwhile, was entering menopause, so the window of time in which she could have given him a living son was closing. Barring Mary from the succession meant that he couldn't divorce Catherine like many an heirless king had done to a barren wife before; he needed an annulment, something far more serious that would have made Catherine a whore and Mary a bastard in the eyes of almost anyone who mattered. The only way to get an annulment was to apply to the Pope. Unfortunately for Henry, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Catherine's nephew, was at that very moment holding the Pope hostage.

You have to pity Pope Clement. On one hand, he couldn't annul the marriage since the man holding him hostage would have literally killed him for the insult to his aunt and cousin. On the other hand, he could hardly just say "no" to Henry, who was sovereign of one of Christendom's Great Powers (a second-rate one, but still). Thanks to siding with the losers (chiefly France) in the Italian Wars (the reason Charles was holding him hostage), the rise of Protestantism in Germany, and the encroaching Ottoman Empire in the east, Clement didn't have too many friends left other than England. So he temporized. He held hearings, he reserved judgments, and he delayed things again and again, probably praying that one of them would just go off and die before things came to a head. note 

His prayers went unanswered. For some years, Henry had been "courting" (modern historians are more likely to see it as "stalking") a young woman of his court named Anne Boleyn, the sister of Mary Boleyn/Carey, one of his mistresses. She was everything Catherine was not: fiery instead of placid, defiant instead of obedient, hot-headed instead of calm. She refused to sleep with Henry for years, saying that her chastity was worth more to her than her own life. Naturally, this made Henry even more eager to have her, both because she said no and because she was young enough to give him a son. By this time, her multiple pregnancies and stillbirths, as well as the stress of Henry's treatment of her (apart from anything else, he allowed her no access to their daughter, and the two weren't even permitted to write to one another), seems to have taken a toll on Catherine and led to premature menopause. Exactly what induced Anne to finally sleep with Henry has been debated for centuries (modern historians point to a possible secret marriage at Dover in November 1532, while the Victorians thought she was a scheming whore), but, suffice to say, she did and was soon pregnant. Henry was overjoyed and finally gave up trying to convince the Pope; he semi-secretly married (or remarried) Anne in January 1533, officially separated the English Church from Rome, made himself Supreme Head, and directed his new Archbishop of Canterbury to annul his marriage to Catherine. He was so intent that his son, his long-awaited, desperately-wanted heir, would be born legitimately that he was willing to destroy centuries of religious tradition to do so. note 

Anne gave birth to a girl.

Henry seems to have been overjoyed by Elizabeth’s birth; there’s no evidence whatsoever that he was angry or upset, and, in fact, we have letters written in Henry’s hand before her birth pleading with the midwives to put Anne’s life before that of the child even if the child was a boy. But then further into their marriage Anne miscarried at least two separate pregnancies, both boys, each in the second trimester, and after three years the qualities which had attracted Henry in the first place (especially her strong-minded wilfulness) began to repel him. It didn't help Anne's case that, unlike Catherine, she was apparently unpopular with the common folk who greatly sympathized with the former/'true' queen and blamed Anne for Henry breaking with Rome, her enemies at court actively hated her, she refused to tune out Henry's mistresses the way Catherine had done (who even Henry once referred to as Anne's "better" when lecturing her on lecturing him about his mistresses), and none of her relatives or friends were powerful enough/willing to support and protect her note or to kick up a fuss should anything obviously untoward happen to her.

What also didn't help, and modern historians now believe was a key factor, was Henry having a near-fatal jousting accident. Not only did the news of the event actually trigger one of Anne's miscarriages, but the accident caused two serious injuries for Henry. One was probable brain damage from his horse rolling over him (which altered his personality and made him erratic); the other was a severe leg injury that would cause him to endure constant pain for the rest of his life (which made him irritable and easily angered). This incident put an end to most of the athletic Henry's many physical activities, leading him to become the overweight figure we recognize today, which also contributed to his frequent mood swings. Conveniently, at about this time Catherine of Aragon died note  and so if Henry were to end his marriage to Anne, there would be no more pressure for him to go back to her. And if he now remarried someone else, all parties would consider the new marriage legitimate, as Catholics and those sympathetic to Catherine now considered him a widower.

Enter Jane Seymour. A staunch Roman Catholic, Jane was everything Anne was not — quiet, placid, feminine, delicate, and blonde. (Henry was like that: every wife he chose was, in some way, the stark opposite of her predecessor.) Jane also refused to have sex with Henry until marriage, which didn't take very long: within months of Anne's last miscarriage, her enemies had her charged with adultery, incest, and treason.note  She was convicted despite the evidence being a laughable tissue of lies, and Henry (by now getting into the swing of this Supreme Head thing) annulled their marriage, and she was executed. In one last act of "kindness" to his former wife, Anne was beheaded by a professional executioner from France, who used a sword and made it quick.note  Some historians suggest that Jane, rejecting gifts of money from Henry — she reportedly kissed the letter he wrote and sent it and the purse of money that came with it back to the King, who was enraptured at her actions — was more cunning than she outwardly portrayed herself to be, was playing the long game and, much like Anne, won.

Ten days later Henry married Jane. A year and a half later, Jane died after giving birth to Henry's only legitimate son to survive infancy, Edward VI. Common wisdom has it that "she had the good fortune to bear a male heir, and the good sense to die almost immediately afterward before the King could tire of her". That said, it’s unlikely that Jane saw her slow, agonizing death of puerperal infection and the loss of everything she was and everyone she knew at the age of 29 as ‘good fortune’ or ‘smart’. To her, her death must have been the worst possible outcome, and those who call her ‘smart’ to have died young in agony might wish to remember that.

Giving him the son he'd awaited for 27 years meant he was eternally grateful to Jane, and Henry was fond of referring to her as his first true wife. While his marriage to Catherine of Aragon lasted much longer, and his passion (or obsession) for Anne Boleyn was much more all-encompassing, Henry went out of his way later in life to honour Jane. When he commissioned a portrait of his dynasty, Jane appeared posthumously with him and their son, and he was later buried beside her at his own direction. At the same time, contemporary reports suggest that Henry was only mildly upset that Jane's death had disrupted his hunting plans, and he began his search for a fourth wife barely a few days after her funeral.

This search took longer than expected, and it was nearly three years before Henry married again. This was partly due to the fluctuating politics in Europe that left Henry and his government constantly uncertain about with whom they needed to be allied; and partly because the European marriage market, shockingly, was not that keen on a king who had gone through three wives in five years, with Anne Boleyn's fate standing out in particular. Apparently, when Mary of Guise — a French noblewoman who would later marry Henry's nephew James V of Scotland and give birth to Mary Queen of Scots — learned that Henry had told the French ambassador that he was big in person and had need of a big wife, she glibly replied, "I may be a big woman, but I have a very little neck." When Henry's ambassadors were plying his suit to her, Christina of Denmark supposedly said, "If I had two heads, one should be at the King of England's disposal." While these stories are likely apocryphal, Christina and her relatives at least made no secret of her aversion to marrying Henry, particularly since Catherine of Aragon was her great-aunt. When she posed for a portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger (whom Henry had sent to paint all the prospective candidates for wife Number Four) she wore mourning dress, and given that she had been widowed over two years prior, her choice of wardrobe was very telling - mourning dress is supposed to be worn for six months, then into purple for six months for "half-mourning", then out of mourning; the fact she wore mourning dress a whole year later than she needed to was one hell of a sign. The wooing of both ladies went nowhere, and several other marriage negotiations also fell through.

The "lucky" lady ended up being Anne of Cleves (German: Anna von Jülich-Kleve-Berg). Henry was introduced to her via one of the aforementioned Holbein portraits, now on display in The Louvre. Her father was the Duke of Cleves, an important mover and shaker in the emerging Protestant Schmalkaldic League who presumably judged having England in his back pocket would be worth whatever risk his daughter might face marrying Europe's most notorious serial monogamist. Her elder sister Sybelle, meanwhile, was married to the Elector of Saxony who led the League. After Catherine of Aragon, she was Henry's only wife who would be considered a "royal", as the daughter of a sovereign prince. Although he is said to have been enamored of her portrait, Henry found her so unattractive in person that the marriage was annulled six months later without it having been consummated. (History does not record what Anne thought of Henry, who by this time weighed about 350 pounds and had nasty pus-spewing abscesses on both legs.) The strange part was that she probably wasn't really that unattractive. While the English members of Henry's court felt compelled to say whatever the irascible king wanted to hear, none of the English courtiers who wrote about her after Henry's death mentioned her being anything but pleasant-looking and that Hans Holbein - known for painting realistic, rather than flattering, portraits - had, at most, made her nose slightly smaller. Charles de Marillac, the French Ambassador, opined that while Anne was no great beauty she was attractive, pleasant to be around, and dignified. At least one person she was the best-looking of all of Henry's queens. But she was also docile, tall, quite large-breasted, and largely trained in the domestic arts rather than activities that the royal court enjoyed like hunting, dancing, and singing, and Henry tended to like them feisty, tiny, boyish, keen on the outdoors and with a classically-trained intellect. Furthermore, Anne's heavy, conservative, and not exactly fashionable or flattering German clothing did her no favours, and combined with what one courtier described as a "serious" affect tended to make her appear older than her years. She also spoke very little English when she first arrived in the country, although she did learn it while in England. All the same, given that Henry insisted that Anne was not just unattractive, but repulsive enough to make consummation physically impossible, more than one historian has wondered if Henry had become impotent by this point and blamed Anne instead of his weight.

Henry's aversion to Anne, at least from a romantic and erotic standpoint, was also not helped by their disastrous first meeting. On New Year's Eve of 1539, Anne and her entourage arrived at Rochester in Kent, where they intended to rest overnight before riding on to Greenwich, where she would be formally received by the king. Henry, impatient to meet his (fourth) wife-to-be, decided to surprise her. Once they arrived at Rochester, the king and some buddies disguised themselves as peasants and entered an upstairs room where Anne and her ladies were watching a bull-baiting. Why did he do such a thing? Because, according to the chivalric tradition from which Henry was drawing, Anne was supposed to see through his disguise and recognize her "true love." Unfortunately, Anne was completely unfamiliar with this tradition, and only saw a stranger - and a foul-smelling one at that - being overly familiar with her, to the point of grabbing her and kissing her.

Henry left and changed into kingly raiment and Anne, recognizing her mistake, humbled herself before her betrothed and talked with him. Unfortunately, the damage had been done. Anne first ignoring him and then looking at him with shock and revulsion rather than swooning at the sight of him served as stark evidence that the obese, 40-something king was no longer the athletic young man who burst into Catherine of Aragon's bedchamber dressed as Robin Hood. Rather than taking a hard look at his lifestyle and life stage, however, Henry projected his insecurities onto her. She was ugly! She smelled bad! She probably wasn't a virgin! Anne, meanwhile, probably lived in terror of the thought of what might happen to her if she didn't successfully give the king another son.

In the end, Anne, who by now knew exactly what happened to Queens One and Two (and had her decision greatly simplified by the fact that she was provably as pure and virgin as the day she was married), signed the annulment papers at the King's first suggestion and thereby got a very generous settlement - including several castles, a metric fuck-tonne of money, and no one to tell her what to do with it - from a very relieved King Henry, which allowed her to outlive (and get richer than) the other five. But by the time of the annulment, Henry had realized that he genuinely liked Anne as a person even though he didn't want to be married to her; for the rest of his life he treated her as an honorary sister, and she was even referenced publicly as "the King's good sister". She got on incredibly well with both of his daughters, was provided with a household and allowance, and was invited to all the events at court. Henry was so thankful for her acquiescence that her title of "the King's good sister" came with lofty status, and it was understood that, apart from the King's wife and daughters, she outranked every other woman in the kingdom. Regardless of how pretty Anne of Cleves was, or whether she was pretty at all, in the end, it didn't matter all that much. Clearly, Anne was no fool. Good for her!

Anne of Cleves never remarried which, again, meant that she had control over her money and property. She was the last of Henry's six wives to die, ten years after Henry, though Catherine of Aragon had a longer lifespan. She was also the first of Henry's wives to lack strong religious convictions; born and baptized Catholic, she was raised in a Protestant environment and most of her close relatives became leading lights of the early Protestant movement, but she herself only converted to Anglicanism to marry Henry, and then converted back to Roman Catholicism when her former stepdaughter Mary took the throne.

So Henry moved on to Catherine Howard, a first cousin of Anne Boleyn. Catherine was one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting, and (go figure) everything Anne was not: tiny, boyish, spirited, frivolous, and auburn-haired. She was also in love with (and probably legally married to) another man, but that didn't matter: by that time, Henry wasn't taking no for an answer from anyone. After the marriage, Catherine, who was probably all of fifteen years old at this point, found a new boyfriend — Henry's closest body servant — and carried on with him behind the King's back.note  Bad idea. When Henry found out, he naturally had both the current and former boyfriends killed, then sat around for months whining about how all women are whores. Given Catherine's age and other events in her life note  there are historians who now suspect she may have been coerced into the relationship and quite possibly raped — and then beheaded for it.

Catherine Parr, who again was everything her predecessor was not (bookish, serene, twice-widowed, proper, obedient, quiet, and almost scary-smart), was the sixth and last wife. Unlike Henry, she actually was a Protestant. An intellectual, Catherine published two books on her religious philosophy, though she was explicitly careful to toe to her husband's Catholic line. Henry was so impressed by her that she was largely responsible for choosing the tutors for his younger children, Edward and Elizabeth — and she chose Protestants, quietly ensuring that the next Head of the Church of England would be one as well.

In mid-1546 she and Henry celebrated their third wedding anniversary, which doesn't seem like much of a milestone until you realize that she was only the second of Henry's wives to reach it. Although Henry provided for any children he might have with her in his Third Succession Act of 1544 (behind only his son Edward and ahead of both Mary and Elizabeth), it was clear by this point that he was incapable of fathering any more children - and perhaps she had fertility issues as well, as she'd had no children with her previous two husbands. Certainly the priority of having more sons - which had driven each of his previous marriages - was not a paramount concern with Catherine, who was in any event already over 30 when she married the king. (Only Anne Boleyn had been older, and then only if you accept her year of birth as 1501.) Catherine's chief duties as Queen were to be a companion to the King and a Good Stepmother to his children, and she excelled in both of these areas.

Catherine's religious leanings were clear, but she toed the King's line for the most part. However, the Catholic faction at court had, by this point, largely realized that the Queen was very influential in Henry's court, and hatched a plot to get rid of Catherine Parr. It was simple: tell the King that his wife, the balm of his old age, was a secret Protestant and, what's more, a disobedient and unruly wife who talked back to him. Catherine, who enjoyed lively debate with her husband (especially if it caused him to enact more Protestant-friendly policies), played right into it, basically. She was a Protestant and she was intelligent and talked back to Henry. And Henry was infuriated by this, now seeing ulterior motives in Catherine's erudition.

Luckily for Catherine, she (unlike Anne Boleyn or Catherine Howard) was able to save herself. She was made aware of the warrant for her arrest and had such a screaming fit that Henry sent his physician to her. It's hard to blame her; Anne and the other Catherine were beheaded for adultery, but Catherine Parr's crime was heresy, the sentence for which was to be burned at the stake — a much longer, more agonizing death sentence.

Catherine pulled herself together when the King came to check on her. When Henry tried to coerce her into a debate, she answered meekly, claiming that she, as his wife and subject, considered him her head and that any time she ever debated or disagreed with him on religion, she was either seeking his guidance to improve her understanding or else attempting to engage his mind and distract him from the various aches and pains caused by his aging, especially that old leg injury which had never healed. Henry was delighted to hear this, telling her that all was mended and "We are perfect friends again."

Henry didn't tell anyone about the reconciliation, however, and set it up so that, when his councilors came to arrest his wife, they were enjoying a picnic together. He took the man aside and screamed at him for being a knave and a scoundrel, and, when Catherine cheerfully offered to intercede for him, Henry told her not to bother.

Shortly after this, Henry VIII died. Taking a page out of his playbook, Catherine married her lover - Thomas Seymour, one of Queen Jane Seymour's brothers - a month after Henry died, becoming the most-married (x4) queen in English history. As much to her own surprise as anyone else's, she soon found herself pregnant for the first time, at the age of 35. Sadly, she would die in agony of childbed fever, shortly after her 36th birthday. Yeah, "lucky" Catherine.note 

In case you were wondering, the total count for Henry's wives goes:

Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived

It should be mentioned that modern medicine has brought some irony to cases where men such as Henry VIII find another woman when their wife produces only daughters, as the chromosome that determines sex is transmitted by the male. Also ironic is that the problems Henry kept having with his children being stillborn or dying in infancy may also have been his genes: some scientists suspect that Henry was positive for the Kell1 blood antigen, which can cause a disease that causes stillbirths or infant deaths if the mother had previously been exposed to the antigen (which in those days would have meant by becoming pregnant with a baby who had the antigen). This would explain why Anne Boleyn's later children by Henry died when Elizabeth was healthy (or at least, healthy enough to survive infancy). Mary being a third pregnancy throws a monkey wrench into this theory, but only so far; Kell is a more or less Mendelian dominant trait, so if Henry was heterozygous for the trait (which he almost certainly was), it is possible that Mary was Kell1-negative.note 

Even ignoring this, it is obvious from a cursory analysis of Henry VIII's well-known sexual history that he had reproductive health issues. Considering seven undisputed sexual relationships of Henry VIII (Catherine of Aragon, Bessie Blount, Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, Madge Shelton, Jane Seymour and Katherine Howard)note  four of the seven women became pregnant. note  Of these four women, there were 12 pregnancies. Of these 12 only 5 would be carried to full-term. Comparatively, Henry VII's father impregnated Elizabeth of York eight times (possibly nine), with most of those children being delivered full-term.

To heap on the irony, Henry's second daughter, Elizabeth I, whom he declared illegitimate after he had her mother beheaded, became Queen of England and is considered one of the greatest English monarchs. On the other hand, she did effectively end the Tudor dynasty (and Henry's direct legitimate line) by never marrying or having children, so it is unlikely that old Henry would have taken too much comfort in that.

Edward VI of England
Lived: 12 October 1537 –- 6 July 1553
Reigned: 28 January 1547 –- 6 July 1553
Parents: King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour
Consort: n/a (16 when he died)
Nickname The Boy King

Famous as a sickly boy-king whose early death made rather a mockery of his father's long and tempestuous campaign for a male heir, the reputation of Edward as a frail child has been recently debunked. He almost died of 'quartan fever' (relatively benign malaria) at age four but afterwards was healthy up to the age of 15. To be fair, though, he did then contract what was apparently 'consumption' (tuberculosis) and snuffed it without reaching his majority.

A bright kid and a staunch Protestant, he'd have become full monarch at 16 had he not died. Henry VIII hadn't appointed an individual Regent, but a Regency Council, which spent most of the time arguing with each other and plotting against each other. The nine-year-old king's realm was in fact largely ruled in this time by firstly his uncle Edward Seymour, Earl of Somerset, who set himself above the Council as 'Lord Protector'; then later, after Somerset's fall, by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and later Duke of Northumberland.

Despite his tender years, Edward did take an active interest in the affairs of the nation. During the reign, a lot of schools were set up and the Book of Common Prayer was devised; the English Reformation gathered pace as Edward solidified his father's break from the Roman Church, helping to form the structure of the lasting Church of England. A few years before his death, Edward also took an increased interest and participation in his council, learning and taking part in control of the country. If he had lived, the signs indicate that he would have been a capable, if rather religiously extreme, king.

The original Prince in the Prince and Pauper plot, BTW.

Lady Jane Grey / Jane of England
Lived: c. 1537 -– 12 February 1554
Reigned: 10 July 1553 –- 19 July 1553 (disputed)
Parents: Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk and Lady Frances Brandon
Consort: Lord Guildford Dudley
Nickname: The Nine Days' Queen

Before Edward's final illness, there were no doubts that he would eventually marry and father a large family of sons, rendering moot the Succession Act passed in Henry's lifetime (by which first Mary, then Elizabeth, would succeed Edward if he died without heirs of his own). When it became obvious that Edward wouldn't live long enough to secure the succession, the king sought to change the succession to eliminate any possibility of Catholic Mary returning the country to Rome, but he couldn't find a legal way to do so without disinheriting Elizabeth as well.note  No matter: his first will, written in his own hand some time before his death, left the succession to the eldest son of Lady Jane Grey, a cousin of Edward's (technically first cousin once removed; her maternal grandmother was Henry VIII's youngest and favorite sister, Mary Tudor) who had recently been married (much against her will) to Lord Guildford Dudley, son of the Duke of Northumberland, head of the Council of Regency and one of Edward's senior advisers. It wasn't long, though, before Edward realized that he wasn't even going to live long enough for Jane to have any children, so he amended his will to leave the throne directly to her.

It, of course, wasn't pure coincidence that the new heiress to the throne was married to the son of the head of the Regency Council. The marriage was so timely, in fact, that a theory arose among historians that Northumberland had effectively staged a coup and forced Edward to name his new daughter-in-law as heir; some historians even suggested that Northumberland poisoned Edward with an arsenic-based medicine that kept him alive but in agony until Edward made Jane his heir. As the Letters and Papers of Edward's reign show, however, the amendment of the Succession Act was mainly Edward's own idea, and Northumberland merely grasped the opportunity to marry his son to Jane and make a grab for even greater power.

Edward's death occurred in July of 1553, and Jane (again, unwillingly — notice a running trend here, folks?) was crowned Queen four days later. Her reign lasted nine days before a justifiably annoyed Mary I showed up with an army. Unfortunately for Northumberland, he'd failed in his attempt to secure the princess in person before proclaiming Jane as queen instead (well used to watching her own back, Mary had sprung into action on the first news of Edward’s death, and she was already on her way to seek support in East Anglia by the time Northumberland’s men arrived at her home), and he'd grossly underestimated Mary's popularity with the likes of conservatives, Catholics, and those who were loyal to the memory of her mother and believed Catherine had been treated unfairly. Catherine of Aragon being absolutely beloved by the English people as a whole, it was a big army. Heads rolled, right into a basket.

Jane's life was spared for the present; Mary wasn't stupid or irrational enough to believe that a fifteen-year-old bookworm had engineered a coup all by herself and understood that the plot was mainly carried out by Jane's father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland. Mary's original intent was to have Jane and her husband convicted of treason, imprisoned, and then quietly released once things had died down. With Northumberland, however, Mary used the tried and true method of monarchs for hundreds of years and, well, you probably get the idea — his head ended up in a basket.

Jane's father, however, the Duke of Suffolk, couldn't give up the possibility of his descendants being on the throne — so he and his followers staged another attempt to get her there, and this time, Mary's hand was forced. Her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (the one who was Catherine of Aragon's nephew), would not allow the marriage between Mary and his son to take place until Mary's throne was absolutely secure. Mary gave the go-ahead for Jane to be executed, with the caveat that she would be spared if she was found to be pregnant or renounced her faith and converted to Catholicism. Jane, a fanatical Protestant who spent part of her imprisonment writing a diatribe on the evils of the Pope, refused.

Poor kid was still a teenager, and hadn't even particularly wanted to be Queen — she was essentially the figurehead of a coup d'etat. She has gone down in history as an anomaly, only included on king-lists with an asterisk: the de facto monarch who 'ruled' for but a handful of days, never had any real power, and certainly was never crowned. Only rarely is she referred to as 'Queen Jane' or 'Jane I'; most sources call her simply Lady Jane Grey – the unfortunate adolescent who is remembered as England's queen-who-never-was.

There seems to be an assumption that Jane was rather weak and easily coerced into the events of 1553. While it's true that she didn't have any part in the plans to install her on the throne, it is foolish to consider her weak. She was a Tudor, after all. Northumberland's plan had been to have Guildford Dudley rule as king, but Jane refused to grant him that title, instead assigning him a duke — at one point, when threatened about it by her husband, Jane did the smart thing and fled to an even scarier woman: her mother.note  It was Jane who insisted that her father-in-law, the guy who got her into this mess and one of the best soldiers in the kingdom, be the one who got in front of the army and bring Mary in. When some of the council began changing sides and fleeing the Tower of London to go help Mary, Jane took control of the castle's keys personally. She was also incredibly intelligent, with schooling even better than that of her cousins Mary and Elizabeth. She spoke several languages, and was a skilled letter writer. Like Edward VI, the signs were there that she would have been a competent, if pious, monarch. Before the end, despite her reluctance about the whole thing, she had even begun to sign documents as "Jane the Quene" (spelling hers).

Her death has been mythologised somewhat, not helped by Paul Delaroche's painting The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, which depicts a blindfolded Jane dressed in white, struggling to find the block as she kneels down in a dark room. For a start, records say that she was dressed in black, and was executed outside, although was granted the rare honour of being beheaded in private and not in front of a public crowd. Historians will also often recite words that she said before she died, none of which are written about in the original text and instead come from an underground Protestant press a while after her death.

Mary I of England
Lived: 18 February 1516 -– 17 November 1558
Reigned: 19 July 1553 -– 17 November 1558
Parents: King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon
Consort: King Philip II of Spain
Nickname: Bloody Mary note 

It's not every monarch who has a drink named after her nickname. Then again, not every monarch gets the nickname "Bloody".

England's very first Queen Regnant, Mary I, was Henry VIII's daughter and his only surviving child by Catherine of Aragon. As a little girl, she was doted on by both of her parents, especially as time passed and she continued to be their only surviving child. She was declared Princess of Wales in all but actual title (and some of her contemporaries actually did refer to her as "the Lady Mary, Prince of Wales"), being given the colors of the Prince of Wales to use for her livery and allowed to use the official seal of Wales on her correspondence.note  As a girl, she was sent with her household to Ludlow, then the traditional seat of the Prince of Wales, to continue her education. Everything changed for Mary, however, when Anne Boleyn became queen. With her parents' marriage declared invalid, Mary was declared a bastard, struck from the succession, stripped of her title as "Princess", separated from her mother, and forced into her baby half-sister's service as a lady-in-waiting. When ordered to recognize Anne Boleyn as Queen of England and Elizabeth as Princess, Mary declared that she knew of no Queen but her mother, and no Princess but herself — though she was willing to call Elizabeth her sister, as she called Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Henry VIII's illegitimate son, her brother.

Dad and Anne Boleyn were not pleased by this. Exactly how much Anne resented Mary is unclear, but historians tend to agree that she was unpleasant at best to her stepdaughter. Luckily for Mary, Anne lost her head, and Mary's subsequent stepmothers were more sympathetic. After her mother's death, she caved and signed papers repudiating her parents' marriage, which restored good relations between herself and her father. Her father and Jane Seymour named her godmother to Prince Edward, and she was chief mourner at Jane Seymour's funeral. She was eventually restored to the succession, although she remained legally born out of wedlock and was styled "the Lady Mary, the King's daughter," rather than "Princess."note 

Like the rest of the Tudors, Mary was very intelligent and well-educated, but she never showed the same zeal for learning as Elizabeth or Edward. While she lacked the charisma that characterized her father and sister, she was capable of inspiring great loyalty in her subjects (before the... well, keep reading), and especially in her friends and servants. A very generous, motherly woman, Mary was often asked by friends to stand godmother to their children, and also acted as a substitute mother figure to her much-younger siblings. It was she who urged Henry VIII to bring Elizabeth back into favor after the fall of Anne Boleyn (and sent her own jewels to support Elizabeth financially in the aftermath of Anne's execution, when Henry VIII wouldn't give any money toward the child's upkeep), and her brother Edward once wrote her a letter saying he loved her better than anyone else.

Of course, all three siblings changed as they grew older.

As the daughter of Catherine of Aragon and granddaughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Mary I was Catholic in a big way. Prosecutions for heresy were resumed with great vigour during her reign; there were more burnt at the stake in the Marian period than in any other Tudor reign. (Henry tended to have his noble victims beheaded, while his less exalted victims were hanged until half-dead, cut down, castrated, and disemboweled while still alive. Thomas More handled the few executions by burning which had occurred in Henry's reign.) Mary herself was not personally ferocious, but she was, like her husband Philip, morbidly conscientious and absolutely convinced that the extirpation of Protestantism was a moral imperative. The logic employed was that, by burning Protestants and 'giving them a taste' of what awaited them in hell, they would be persuaded to recant in their final moments and die good Catholics, thereby ensuring their entry to heaven. It kind of backfired because many of those burned still refused to recant, despite the utter horror.note  This forbearance in the face of indescribable agony created a lot of martyrs and convinced many that Protestantism must really be something if people are willing to suffer for their faith. I mean, look what the Catholic Queen is doing.

As a child, Mary had been betrothed to her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the son of Catherine of Aragon's sister Juana and her husband, Philip. This match delighted her parents, as they both eagerly anticipated a grandson who would rule the majority of Roman Catholic Europe. This dream ended, however, when Charles withdrew from the betrothal in favor of another first cousin, Princess Isabella of Portugal. Charles' reneging seems to have blindsided and outraged Henry — as evidenced by his whole "annulling his first marriage" thing — although the fact that, at the time of the betrothal, Charles was 22 and Mary was six may have been a factor. Mary herself seemed to hold no grudge against Charles for it. She (naïvely) came to rely on Charles as a source of emotional support and advice, particularly when it came to politics. Notoriously guileless, Mary never seemed to realize that Charles ultimately blew with the wind — for example, during the siege of Rome while Henry VIII was attempting to have his first marriage annulled, Charles seemed to waffle over how big an insult to Catherine and Mary the annulment would actually be, and later was reportedly overjoyed to hear of Lady Jane Grey's accession. Meanwhile, Mary claimed to regard Charles V (her cousin and ex-betrothed, remember) almost as a father, and that her most prized possession was an early letter he'd written to her during their engagement.

Mary's husband would ultimately be Philip II (Felipe), King of Spain, Naples, and Jerusalem, the only son of Charles V.note  During their reign, England lost Calais, a port in northern France that was England's only territory in that country following the Hundred Years' War. There was a considerable age gap between them (she was 11 years his senior), and years of poor health and stress had taken a heavy toll on Mary. Mary seems to have been devoted to him; her remark upon seeing his portrait for the first time was to say that she was "half in love" with him already. Sadly, it is unlikely that the cold and self-contained Philip reciprocated her devotion. Mary was notably desperate for a baby; she seemed twice to have become pregnant, but with no result — the symptoms were possibly either psychosomatic or the result of an ovarian cyst, perhaps both. Had the pregnancy been real and killed Mary, Parliament passed an act to make Philip her successor, and in such an event, he would have likely taken Mary's half-sister Elizabeth as a subsequent wife, adding England to the Habsburgs' long list of territories. In any case, she had no child, and upon the death of the first undisputed Queen Regnant in English history, the throne promptly passed to the second...

Elizabeth I of England
Lived: 7 September 1533 –- 24 March 1603
Reigned: 17 November 1558 –- 24 March 1603
Parents: King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Consort: None (officially)
Nicknames: Good Queen Bess; The Virgin Queen; Gloriana

Elizabeth did not have a particularly nice pre-monarch life. She was declared illegitimate, almost executed by her own sister, and had a man 25 years her senior "engage in horseplay" with her when she was fourteen, although many modern historians prefer to call it exactly what it was: "sexual abuse". That man was Thomas Seymour, brother to Jane Seymour, and husband of Catherine Parr after Henry VIII died, who was also reputed to have had designs on Lady Jane Grey and Princess (later Queen) Mary. A certified charmer and distinguished ladies' man, he was also very ambitious, having intended to use all of his connections to all the aforementioned to gain money and power. He was pretty transparent in his envy of his eldest brother, Edward Seymour, Lord Protector (acting regent for the boy-king Edward, effectively in charge of the country), and not at all discreet in his attempts to plot a coup against him, even trying to buy the king’s favour by slipping him extra pocket money (no, seriously). Eventually, his ambitions led him to break into Hampton Court in an attempt to kidnap the king (again, seriously). Arrested in the Privy Garden, having woken and then slaughtered one of the King's pet spaniels, he was charged with 33 counts of high treason and, unsurprisingly, ended up between a block and a sharp axe. One wonders if the axe and block were friends by now? They certainly met enough!

Two aspects of her reign are of particular note.

Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary I of Scotland (not to be confused with Mary I Tudor of England, see above) became Queen at six days old, when her father died of what was probably cholera. She'd been betrothed, aged a mere seven months, to a six-year-old Edward of England before he became King Edward VI. When the Scots didn't go through with it, Henry VIII proceeded to engage in what historians call "The Rough Wooing". Namely, he attacked Scotland a few times. The Scots teamed up with their traditional buddies, the French, and Mary ended up marrying the man who was due to become Francois II of France. They grew up together in the French court and had what seems to have been a Perfectly Arranged Marriage; unfortunately, he died only a couple years into it. By all accounts, Mary was heartbroken.

Some years later she married an English nobleman, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Why? They were half-cousins; they were both grandchildren of Henry VIII's older sister Margaret. This gave them each substantial claims to the English throne if Good Queen Bess died childless. Marriage united and strengthened their claimsnote  and their son, James, did in fact succeed Elizabeth. But that was later; at the time, Elizabeth forbade the match. Or didn't — some historians believe that Elizabeth knew Darnley was such a prick that anyone who married him would tire of him and get rid of him, and that she knew exactly what she was doing when she sent him to Scotland with Robert Dudley and that everything that happened with him and Mary was planned to bring Mary down!

Mary fancied herself in love with Darnley, but the honeymoon didn't last. After a while, he began to suspect that she was having an affair with her court musician and secretary, an Italian called Rizzio. So he had Rizzio murdered. Right in front of her. While she was pregnant with Darnley's son.

Mary may have retaliated in a dangerous manner, depending on whom you ask: Lord Darnley's bedroom was blown up. He was found in the garden. In his nightshirt. Strangled. The chief suspect was a roguish Scottish noble called Lord Bothwell. A few months later, Bothwell married the widowed Mary.

To this day, it is unknown whether Mary married Bothwell because she wanted to or because he kidnapped and raped her and she might have felt she didn't have a choice. (Many historians believe the latter. This is supported by the fact that Mary miscarried twins in July 1567, and the apparent age of the fetuses was such that they were almost certainly conceived when Bothwell kidnapped her.) Whatever the case, the Scottish nobles blamed her for Darnley's death.note  Consequently, there was a battle. Bothwell ran off to Denmark, hoping for sanctuary but ended his days chained to a pillar in a dungeon — he'd forgotten about the time he'd jilted the Danish King's cousin at the altar. The Danes, sadly (for him), had not and took revenge quickly enough.

Mary was forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son, then went to England and threw herself on Elizabeth's "mercy" which, in this case, was almost non-existent; having been in the same situation herself - having to rely on the monarch for mercy - Elizabeth was taking no chances on someone being the threat to her that she had been (however unwillingly) to her half-sister. But Elizabeth was initially willing enough to shelter her cousin; some historians believe that she had genuine sympathy for Mary's plight, being twice widowed, forced away from her child, and unable to return either to her beloved homeland or to France where she had spent her happy childhood. Mary was kin, after all, and an anointed queen just like Elizabeth herself. So at first, she consented to the arrangement, and from 1568 to 1586, Mary lived in what amounted to fancy jail. She was treated more like a visiting royal than a prisoner; she had her own servants, books, good food, fresh air, and various luxuries, and was allowed to receive visitors. As she was kept in the custody of the Earl of Shrewsbury, one of Elizabeth's most loyal courtiers, Mary's "prisons" were his assorted castles and manors; she and his wife, Bess of Hardwicke, bonded over their mutual love of needlework and were friendly. Unfortunately...

Being a Catholic, she became a focus for Catholic opposition to Elizabeth (who had already been excommunicated by Pope Pius V). The plots were numerous, and increasingly dangerous, over the course of nearly twenty years. Eventually, the Babington Plot (which would have executed Elizabeth and replaced her with Mary) became the straw that broke the camel's back; after a trial on treason charges that may or may not have been true, Mary was beheaded. Because regicide looked rather bad back then (especially when it was your own cousin), Elizabeth allegedly arranged for the death warrant to be sent "accidentally". A softer view says that it actually was sent accidentally. Elizabeth blamed Sir William Cecil, who tended to say things that made Elizabeth unhappy, and a diplomat, William Davison. When the news of the execution reached Elizabeth she was extremely indignant, and her wrath was chiefly directed against Davison; Davison, she asserted, had disobeyed her instructions not to seal the warrant. However, this instruction did not arrive until 2 February 1587, and Cecil had already taken the initiative. The secretary was arrested and thrown into the Tower, but although he defended himself vigorously, he did not say anything about the Queen's wish to get rid of Mary by assassination. Charged before the Star Chamber with misprision and contempt, he was acquitted of evil intention but was sentenced to pay a fine of 10,000 marks and to imprisonment at the Queen's pleasure. Owing to the exertions of several influential men, he was released in September 1588, after the invasion crisis had passed; the Queen refused to employ him again in her service, but he kept his office and probably never paid the fine. At the end of the day, Cecil was usually right, and Elizabeth knew it.

Catholic historiography holds that Mary was framed by Elizabeth's spymaster, Francis Walsingham. There is some truth in this, but modern historians suspect that the Catholic powers on the Continent were also involved. After all, Mary was worse than worthless to them alive (who would support the overthrow of even a Protestant monarch for a flighty husband-killer?), but her death could be used to justify the Armada.

Contrary to Hollywood, Mary and Elizabeth never met in person. They did correspond a bit, but at no time were they ever in the same building.

When Mary was kicked off the Scottish throne, the heir to the English throne became her son, James VI, who like his mother had ascended to the throne of Scotland as an infant. Unlike his mother, James VI was a Protestant. Realising that he couldn't get a Catholic onto the English throne any other way, Philip II of Spain (yes, the man who was married to Mary I), also rather annoyed at English support for the United Netherlands (which were rebelling against him rather ferociously) and privateering (overt state-sponsored piracy) on his treasure ships, got a blessing from Pope Sixtus V and moved on to the second key aspect of the reign of Elizabeth I:

The Spanish Armada

The Spanish sent a fleet of ships, which they called the Great and Most Fortunate Navy (Grande y Felicí­sima Armada), to invade England. Well, they tried to invade. The English (aided by the Dutch Republic) burned many ships in port with fire ships and were generally rather good, tactically speaking, routing the Armada in the English Channel in one of the nation's most famous military victories. What was left of the fleet had to limp home the long way around the British Isles, where many of those involved died from drowning, starvation, or being killed by annoyed English people in Ireland. (And, for that matter, by some of the Irish people in Ireland, who decided that galleons full of weakened Spaniards with valuable loot represented a welcome break from the otherwise fairly miserable lot of Irish peasants under the Tudors.)

Years later, the Spanish tried landing troops in Ireland to aid Hugh O'Neill (Irish: Aodh Maer a Naoill) against Elizabeth. O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, was the leader of the Irish rebels during the Nine Years' War (1594-1603). Elizabethan Ireland was not a pleasant place, and Elizabeth's mixture of parsimony and aggression went down very badly with the native Irish. O'Neill was eventually brought to heel in 1603 after the bloodiest and most expensive war in Elizabeth's reign that had seen at least 100,000 Irish and 30,000 English killed, and England nearly bankrupted. Though O'Neill actually managed to outlast Elizabeth (she died before he surrendered, though he was not informed until after he signed the terms), he would be pressured to flee a few years later, leading to the Ulster Plantations. But we get ahead of ourselves...

In other matters, that whole "Virgin Queen" thing? Debatable. Good Queen Bess had at least two well-publicized affairs — the question is whether the hard-headed Elizabeth would have taken the risk of the damage an illegitimate royal pregnancy would have causednote . The first, long-lasting one was with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, her childhood companion. If she was ever in love with anyone, she was in love with him; he was certainly in love with her, and had been since she they met when she was eight and just an illegitimate child, so the rumours of him wanting her for the crown are somewhat unjustified (although he probably saw that as a juicy bonus too!). But alas, sadly for Elizabeth, he was married, until his first wife Amy died under dubious circumstances that made their marriage impossible.note  Leicester died shortly after the defeat of the Armada. Elizabeth mourned for a few months and then took up with the second Earl of Essex, also named Robert. He was, essentially, her boy-toy. She had reigned longer than he'd been alive. Incidentally, he was also Leicester's stepson through Leicester's second marriage. Unlike his stepfather, however, this Robert didn't know how to keep his mouth shut and got a big head. Bess was mildly displeased by this, so, like they did many times before, axe and head and block met again. As for political matches, it seems that she took her courtship with Francis (French: François), Duke of Anjou, at least somewhat seriously. Despite their age difference (Elizabeth was considerably older than her suitor) they seem to have been quite fond of one another. For a time Elizabeth even wore a frog-shaped earring Francis sent her, a likely reference to her nickname for him ("my little frog").

Elizabeth's status as the Virgin Queen served to inspire a cult of loyalty in her subjects, who often portrayed and imagined her as a goddess or the Virgin Mary. Elizabeth, in turn, referred to her subjects as "all her husbands." The "marriage question" also served as a handy, quick-and-dirty foreign policy tool — so long as the question remained open, so to speak. But was she really a virgin? Modern sensibilities tend to assume that any romantic involvement involves sex, and as far back as the Victorian era, historians laboured to find a reason why Elizabeth never married that went beyond "good politics". Some believed that Elizabeth's exposure to her father — and, more importantly, how her father treated his wives — might have scared her off marriagenote , while others suggested she had a reproductive defect of some kind. (The most fanciful even suggested that she was a man; never mind the numerous gynecological examinations she endured during marriage negotiations, or the fact that if Henry had had a son, the course of English history would've been entirely different; there is a legend that the real Elizabeth died in childhood and her guardians were too afraid to tell Henry and substituted a local boy who looked a bit like her and masqueraded as her for the rest of his life, but this is of course impossible given the aforementioned marriage examinations.) Some historians have speculated on Elizabeth's sexual orientation, despite her clear affection for and attraction to both Roberts Dudley and Devereux, as well as the fact that many royals throughout history who are today recognized as gay have done their royal duty and produced offspring for the good of the realm and the family.note  Modern historians who recognize Thomas Seymour's predations for what they were have posited that the abuse rendered her afraid of sex. All of that said, a case can easily be made that Elizabeth would have been a fool to engage in premarital sex if there was any chance of pregnancy, and would have been a fool to marry and give up all her power to a subject or a foreign prince.

As noted above, there was also a guy called Sir Francis Walsingham, who effectively got the whole British espionage system going (including 007, which is how John Dee, a prominent scholar and occultist, signed his letters). English drama flourished under her reign, particularly two gentlemen named William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Diplomatic ties were established with the Ottoman Empire, Barbary States, and Japan, all of which led to the expansion of trade. She also granted Sir Walter Raleigh a charter to explore and plant a colony north of Spanish Florida, which would come to be called "Virginia" (perhaps named after her).

In 1603, Elizabeth I died childless. In her will, she left the throne to the son of Mary, Queen of Scots — perhaps remarkably, considering everything, but then unlike his mother he was a Protestant. A messenger rode a chain of pre-placed fast horses to Scotland and told James VI that he was now James I of England. The House of Stuart, at least in England, had begun, and for the first time in history, the whole island of Great Britain and (at least nominally) all of the British Isles were ruled by a single person.

Despite rumours of her being named after Anne's mother, Elizabeth Boleyn, this is most likely complete and utter bollocks; the more probable suggestion is that Henry, who by many accounts adored his mother Elizabeth of York, honoured her with the name of his daughter. (Then again, since both of Elizabeth's grandmothers had the same first name, it works either way.)

Depictions in fiction (follow links above to depictions in fiction of Tudors with their own Useful Notes pages)

Fan Fiction

  • In Child of the Storm, Sinister has been keeping an eye on the Grey bloodline for a very long time owing to a habit of psychic powers popping up from time to time, and gives a brief rundown of the history to Harry - who's the second cousin of Jean Grey and her twin sister, Rachel Grey a.k.a. Maddie Pryor via his maternal grandmother. Lady Jane Grey is mentioned in passing, though was explicitly one of those who didn't have powers, and Sinister notes that Harry is (obviously) descended from a different branch of the famiily.
  • Mary Tudor and Lady Jane Grey both appear in a chapter of the Puella Magi Madoka Magica fanfic A History of Magic, both becoming Puella Magi and fighting each other days before Jane's execution. Jane's wish was to never stop believing in God (which got her executed) and Mary's was to bring England back to the Catholic faith (which only lasted five years). Notably, Elizabeth chose not to become a Puella Magi.
  • In the AU fic Handmaid, Anne Boleyn is chosen to be a 'handmaid' (basically, Henry and Katherine's surrogate) instead of Henry's second wife, changing the course of Tudor England history. Notable differences: Mary and Elizabeth never become queens of England; Edward is now illegitimate because Henry's dalliance with Jane Seymour was an affair during Anne's second pregnancy (which both Katherine and Anne ignored for their own reasons — Katherine was used to Henry's cheating, and Anne's love and affections were for Katherine); and the next king of England is Edmund, Elizabeth's twin brother, who eventually unites Great Britain decades early by marrying Mary, Queen of Scots.



  • Edward VI is the Prince in Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper.
  • The Hellequin Chronicles has a short story called Infamous Reign that starts towards the end of Richard III's reign, with the protagonist, Nate (already about 1000 years old by this point) getting involved with the Princes in the Tower. It turns out that Richard was innocent (Mordred was involved). At the end, Richard died at Bosworth and a displeased Nate did the traditional meet-and-greet to inform the newly crowned Henry VII where power really lay. However, he did warm up to Henry a little when he revealed Nerves of Steel and admitted that he was doing Richard an unpleasant but politically necessary disservice by slandering him as the murderer of the Princes in the Tower (who had since been deported to safety).
  • The Shardlake books by C.J. Sansom are set during the latter years of Henry VIII's reign — events such as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Royal Progress to the North, and the French invasion attempt of 1545 form a backdrop to the central stories. Sansom takes some liberties with history in an effort to avoid confusing the casual reader, but lists the changes and the reasons for them in author's notes, as well as providing a short bibliography of the reference texts he used.
  • The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory covers the Anne Boleyn period of Henry's reign from the perspective of Mary, Anne's sister.
    • Gregory's 'Tudor Court' series also covers Catherine of Aragon (The Constant Princess), Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard (The Boleyn Inheritance), Mary I (The Queen's Fool), Elizabeth I (The Virgin's Lover) and Mary Queen of Scots (The Other Queen). Henry VII is also a character in her novel The Red Queen, part of her series on the Wars of the Roses. Also by Gregory is The White Princess, about the life of Elizabeth of York.
  • The Young Royals series tells the stories of Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.
  • Laura Andersen's The Boleyn King trilogy is set in an Alternate History in which Anne Boleyn did not miscarry and gave birth to a healthy boy. Elizabeth I still becomes queen.
  • Historian Alison Weir has published several novels based on the Tudors. Innocent Traitor covers the life of Lady Jane Grey, also heavily featuring Mary Tudor and with several cameos by Elizabeth. The Lady Elizabeth is about Elizabeth's life from the death of Anne Boleyn to the death of Mary I, while its sequel, The Marriage Game, covers her reign as queen. More recently she has done the Six Tudor Queens, a series of novels about Henry VIII's wives, and The Last White Rose, about Elizabeth of York.
  • Hillary Mantel's Wolf Hall (and by extension, the miniseries adaptation) trilogy follows the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell in the Tudor court. In significant contrast to Gregory's and Weir's melodramatic focus on the personal lives of the characters involved, Mantel's saga is arguably more along the vein of cerebral political drama.
  • The Royal Diaries include fictional diaries written by Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.
  • The Doubled Edge series by Mercedes Lackey is a retelling of Queen Elizabeth I's life from her birth to her crowning, but with the Sidhe elves involved. The Seleighe (Bright Court) Elves are working for a future in which Elizabeth becomes queen, while the Unseleighe (Dark Court) Elves want one in which Mary is queen. Having Edward VI as king is the compromise choice with which both sides can content themselves.
  • Although not a character, Elizabeth I is mentioned a number of times in the The Cat Who... Series of mystery novels by Lilian Jackson Braun. Polly, the protagonist's librarian girlfriend, has a theory that Elizabeth is secretly the true author of all of Shakespeare's works, using a pseudonym.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Robert's Rebellion in the backstory is loosely based on Henry Tudor's war for the throne against Richard III, with Robert as Henry and Aerys II Targaryen as Richard. Amusingly, some commentators have observed that Robert actually had a significantly better claim to the throne than Henry did, being the legitimate great-grandson of Aegon V albeit through a female line.
  • The Lady Grace Mysteries is set during Elizabeth I's reign and features the queen as a major character, with the titular Lady Grace being appointed by Elizabeth to solve mysteries at the royal court. Other historical figures from the time period also appear.

Live-Action TV

  • The future Henry VII cameoed in the first episode of the first Blackadder series. In this Alternate Universe, he lost the Battle of Bosworth Field and went into hiding during Richard IV's reign. That same episode revealed he did eventually take the throne and erased most of Richard III's reign and all of Richard IV's reign from history, but we do not find out how until the final episode of the series. Edmund's friends accidentally poison the entire Yorkist line.
    • Blackadder II takes place during Elizabeth's reign, but that's covered in her trope page.
  • Elizabeth I (2005) details the latter half of Elizabeth's reign. Helen Mirren stars as the queen.
  • The Tudors sadly only focuses on the latter half of Henry VIII's reign, although you'd be hard pressed to guess that.
  • Gregory's novels above were adapted, in succession, as:
    • The White Queen (2013), starring Rebecca Ferguson as Elizabeth Woodville (based on The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker's Daughter). This one is technically focused on the Wars of the Roses and the House of Plantagenet, although it features the future Henry VII and Elizabeth of York as important characters, and explores how the House of Tudor came to power.
    • The White Princess (2017), starring Jodie Comer as Elizabeth of York and focusing the early years of the first Tudor king's reign (based on the novel of the same name).
    • The Spanish Princess (2019), starring Charlotte Hope as Catherine of Aragon (based on The Constant Princess and The King's Curse).
  • Becoming Elizabeth deals primarily with the succession dramas surrounding the children of Henry VIII: Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. The series begins on the eve of Edward VI's accession and portrays the Tudor courtiers hovering about the three heirs (including Lady Jane Grey) and pitting them against each other.
  • Reign is a heavily fictionalized account of the life of Mary Queen of Scots, particularly focusing on her first marriage. Elizabeth I appears in later seasons after the death of Mary's first husband.
  • Elizabeth is a periodically recurring character in Doctor Who, and is shown interacting with the First, Sixth, and Tenth Doctors. She actually married the Tenth Doctor.


  • William Shakespeare's Richard III technically ends exhibiting the rise of Henry VII. But with the lens of the story primarily on Richard III, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone actually watching.
  • A Man for All Seasons, a play about Sir Thomas More, a trusted adviser and mentor to Henry VIII. Henry himself appears in just one scene of the play, but he casts a long shadow over the rest of it.
  • Anne of the Thousand Days depicts Anne Boleyn's marriage to Henry VIII. The film adaptation starred Richard Burton and Geneviève Bujold.
  • Six is a musical production about the wives of Henry VIII, who stage a sort of competition to decide which of them had the worst life while married to him. The competition was staged and they agree that it's unfair for them to compare their trauma.
  • Canadian playwright Kate Hennig's "Queenmaker series" of The Last Wife, The Virgin Trial, and Mother's Daughter, which provide a contemporary feminist imagining of the lives of Katherine Parr, a pre-crowning Elizabeth I, and Mary I respectively.

Video Games

  • All the Tudor monarchs are playable in Europa Universalis IV.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! The Duelists of the Roses, taking place in a retelling of the War of the Roses, which featured Henry VII (represented by the main protagonist of Yu-Gi-Oh!, Yugi Muto—albeit with the appearance of his alter ego, Dark Yugi/Pharaoh Atem) and his Lancaster allies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the "role" of Elizabeth of York is portrayed by Anzu Mazaki/Téa Gardner.
  • Build-a-Lot: The Elizabethan Era is a time management city-building game set in various locations throughout England during the reign of Elizabeth. The player is a royal architect, sent by the Queen to visit assorted towns and bring them up to her exacting standards.
  • Secrets of Great Queens: Old Tower is a hidden object game in which the player is Lady Jane, a handmaiden of Elizabeth I, on a quest to clear the Queen's name before she's forced off of her throne. It includes a bonus chapter which involves finding evidence of Anne Boleyn's innocence.
  • Spirit of Revenge: Elizabeth's Secret has the player take the role of one of Elizabeth I's handmaidens, who teams up with Sir Francis Drake to aid the Queen in a secret mission.
  • The Tudors is a Hidden Object Game based on the live-action TV series. The player is one of Henry VIII's courtiers, and the King asks them to act as his spy on a series of covert missions in Europe.

Western Animation

  • Histeria! sings of the Tudors here, to the tune of "Greensleeves".note 

< Prior to these guys was the Plantagenet Dynasty

> After these guys, we're into the Stuart Dynasty