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Useful Notes / The House of Tudor

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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.

Henry VII of England
Lived: 28 January 1457 –- 21 April 1509 Reigned: 22 August 1485 –- 21 April 1509 Consort: Princess Elizabeth of York

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 was weak (his mother, Margaret Beaufort, was the granddaughter of an illegitimate grandson of Edward III who was explicitly disinherited), but 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!)


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.


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. 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 anothernote . 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, it was Elizabeth who comforted her husband and encouraged him to have another child - said child would, unfortunately, end Elizabeth's life, after which Henry went 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 recognised as basically being a carbon copy of Elizabeth, which of course they knew they would never be able to find.

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.

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.

Had a Pet the Dog moment when he gave one of the defeated pretenders (a commoner named Lambert Simnel who happened to bear a resemblance to one of the dead Yorkist princes, and had been a puppet by rebel nobles) a job in his kitchens instead of executing 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 (as was his right) for the knighting of his son Arthur, 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 any, 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.

However there is a school of thought 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.

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.

He was a fine monarch in the way that Singapore is a fine city. 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 them assisting him in extorting money from his subjects.

Henry VIII of England
Lived: 28 June 1491 –- 28 January 1547 Reigned: 21 April 1509 –- 28 January 1547 Consort: (1) Princess Catherine of Aragon (1509—1533) (2) Anne Boleyn (1533—1536) (3) Jane Seymour (1536—1537) (4) Lady Anne of Cleves (1540) (5) Catherine Howard (1540—1541) (6) Catherine Parr (1543—1547)

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 and survived, 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 Penninsula 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), 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), were widely regarded as attractive and — perhaps best of all — Henry was marrying someone who already knew her way around that whole monarch thing. He was only 18 when he came to the throne and 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). A redhead, he does remind one of his contemporary namesake, Prince Henry of Wales (Prince Harry). Plus, there was the small matter of not then having to return Catherine's dowry.

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.

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.

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 British Navy. 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.

That, and 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 honor 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.

Anyways, 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, there had never been a Queen Regnant of England — 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.) This 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 killed him for the insult to his aunt and cousin. On the other hand he could hardly just say "no" to a powerful king like Henry. Thanks to siding with the losers 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, he delayed things again and again, praying that one of them would just go off and die before things came to a head.

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. 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 multiple pregnancies and stillbirths, as well as the stress of Henry's treatment of her, 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.

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 Anne miscarried two boys, each in the second trimester, and after three years the qualities which had attracted Henry in the first place - her strong-minded wilfulness, especially - began to repel him. It didn’t help that unlike Katherine she had no powerful friends either outside the realm or inside.

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 with a professional executioner from France who used a sword and made it "quick".

Ten days later Henry married Jane. A year and a half later Jane died after giving birth to Henry's only legitimate son, 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 waited 27 years for meant he forgave Jane a lot, however, 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 honor Jane. When he commissioned a portrait of his dynasty, Jane appeared posthumously with him and their son, and he was later buried with her at his own direction.

Henry was introduced to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves (German: Anna von Jülich-Kleve-Berg), via a lovely Holbein portrait that now can be seen in The Louvre. 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 wasn't really that unattractive - at least, none of the English courtiers who wrote about her after Henry's death mentioned her being anything but remarkably pleasant-looking. At least one said she was the best-looking of all of Henry's queens. But she was docile, tall, quite large-breasted, and largely trained in the domestic arts, and Henry tended to like them feisty, tiny, boyish, and with a classically-trained intellect. More than one historian has wondered if Henry became impotent at this point and blamed Anne instead of his weight. In the end, Anne, who presumably had by now read up on 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 from a very relieved King Henry, which allowed her to outlive (and get richer than) the other five. Henry, who didn't actually dislike her as a person, treated her as an honorary sister; she got on incredibly well with both of his daughters, and was invited to all the events at court. Clearly, Anne was no fool - good for her!

So Henry moved onto Catherine Howard, one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting, who was (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, unlike Anne of Cleves, probably was a fool and 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 backnote . 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.

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.

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 king's wife was very influential on the king 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. 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, Henry VIII died. Taking her a page out of his playbook, she married her lover a month after Henry died, becoming the most-married (x4) queen in English history, then a year later died in agony of childbed fever. Yeah, "lucky" Catherine.

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 

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) so it is unlikely 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

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' (a relatively benign malaria) aged 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)

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 (where 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 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, until Edward realized that he wasn't 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) 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 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. 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 a fifteen-year-old bookworm 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. Northumberland, however, was simply executed.

Jane's father, however, the Duke of Suffolk, couldn't give up the possibility of her being on the throne — so they 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, she 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'; 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 a consideration 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. 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 better than 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.

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 Consort: King Philip II of Spain

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 her parents, but that changed 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 — she might, however, 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. 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," 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 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 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 burnings that 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 here is 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 were 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 (naively) 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 on was reportedly overjoyed to hear of Lady Jane Grey's accession. Meanwhile, Mary claimed to regard Charles V (her cousin and ex-fiance, 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, but 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

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,note  although many modern historians prefer to call it "sexual abuse".

Two aspects of her reign are of particular note. The first is the whole Mary, Queen of Scots thing.

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. He died.

She then married an English nobleman, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Why? They were half-cousins; they were both grandchildren of Henry VIII's sister Margaret. This gave them each substantial claims to the English throne, if Good Queen Bess died childless. Marriage united and strengthened their claims; their son, James, did in fact succeed Elizabeth. But that was later; at the time, Elizabeth forbade the matchnote .

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.

Later, 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. Then, he married widowed Mary.

To this day, it is unknown whether Mary married Bothwell because she wanted to or because he raped her and she might have felt she didn't have a choice. Whatever the case, the Scottish nobles blamed her for Darnley's deathnote . Consequently, there was a battle. Bothwell ran off to Denmark, hoping for sanctuary but ending his days chained to a pillar in a dungeon - he'd forgotten about the time he'd jilted the Danish King's daughter at the altar.

Mary was forced to abdicate and went to England and threw herself on Elizabeth's "mercy".

Being a Catholic, she became a focus for Catholic opposition to Elizabeth (who had already been excommunicated by Pope Pius V). Eventually, Elizabeth had enough and 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 was actually sent accidentally. Elizabeth blamed Sir William Cecil, who tended to say things that made Elizabeth unhappy, and a dimplot, William Davisonnote . Unfortunately for her, Cecil was usually right, and she 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.

When Mary had been kicked off the Scottish throne, the heir to the English throne became her son, James VI, who had also ascended to the throne as an infant. 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 onto 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 round 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 in love with anyone, she was in love with him (but he was married, until his wife died under dubious circumstances that made their marriage impossible). Then Leicester dropped dead shortly after the defeat of the Armada. Elizabeth bawled 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. Unlike his stepfather, however, he didn't know how to keep his mouth shut and got a big head. Bess was mildly displeased by this, so she lopped it off. 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 seemed 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 marriage, 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.) 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 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 bollocks; the more probable suggestion is that Henry honoured his mother, Elizabeth of York, with the name of his daughter.

Depictions in fiction

  • Lady Jane starring Helena Bonham-Carter as the unfortunate girl and Cary Elwes as Guildford Dudley.
  • Histeria! sings of the Tudors here, to the tune of "Greensleeves".note  Beware, this song will stick with you.
  • 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.
    • His last "English history play" is entitled Henry VIII. It's probably the cleanest, most white-washed version of Henry VIII's marital conflicts you could find.
  • The Tudors sadly only focuses on the latter half of Henry VIII's reign, although you'd be hard pressed to guess that.
  • Anne of the Thousand Days depicts Anne Boleyn's marriage to Henry VIII starring Richard Burton and Geneviève Bujold.
  • Elizabeth, Elizabeth I (2005), and Elizabeth: The Golden Years
  • The Philippa Gregory novel The Other Boleyn Girl 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, which inspired the television miniseries of the same name.
  • 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 Young Royals series tells the stories of Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.
  • 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.
  • Laura Andersen's The Boleyn King trilogy is set in an Alternate History where Anne Boleyn did not miscarry and gave birth to a healthy boy. Elizabeth I still becomes queen.
  • Anonymous
  • Mary Tudor and Lady Jane Grey both appeared 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.
  • Hillary Mantel's Wolf Hall trilogy follows the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell in the Tudor court.
  • 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. She is currently publishing the Six Tudor Queens series, with a novel for each of Henry VIII's wives. So far, Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen and Anne Boleyn, A King's Obsession, have been published.
  • The Royal Diaries series of young adult novels include fictional diaries written by Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.
  • As indicated above, Edward VI is the Prince in The Prince and the Pauper.
  • 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.
  • 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 that both sides can live with.
  • All the Tudor monarchs are playable in Europa Universalis IV.


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