Saturday, 25 July 2015

Queen Mary I's Wedding to Philip II of Spain

July 25, 1554 was a monumental day for England's first queen regnant, Mary Tudor. On the feast of St. James at Winchester Cathedral, the English queen married her cousin Philip of Spain. At thirty-eight years of age, Queen Mary was no longer the radiant beauty of her youth. Her famously beautiful golden-red hair was now streaked with gray, while the first lines were beginning to mark her earnest face. Notwithstanding this, the queen was attired magnificently in 'rich apparel', including a golden robe and a gown of rich tissue embroidered upon purple satin (purple being the colour of royalty) set with pearls and lined with purple taffeta, and a kirtle of white satin embroidered with silver. Mary was accompanied by loyal members of the nobility. Her soon-to-be husband was also splendidly attired in gold. The earl of Derby carried the sword of state before her, while her train was borne by the marquess of Winchester. Notable attendees included the bishops of Winchester, London, Ely, Durham, Chichester and Lincoln.  

The wedding was attended by vast numbers of observers, who 'gave a great shout' of joy upon witnessing their sovereign's marriage. The queen's absence of close male relatives meant that she was given away by the marquess of Winchester and the earls of Derby, Bedford and Pembroke. Following a nuptial mass, Philip and Mary proceeded to the bishop's palace under the canopy of state. The couple spent several joyous days in Winchester following their summer wedding. They then departed for Windsor and then to London, in order for the capital's inhabitants to welcome their queen and new king. Several weeks later, it was confirmed that the queen was pregnant. This could rightly be viewed as the happiest period of Queen Mary's tumultuous life. Sadly for her, however, she did not prove to be with child, and her 'pregnancy' ended in humiliation in the late summer of 1555, when it was confirmed that the queen had instead suffered from 'long-standing menstrual problems and a great deal of wishful thinking' (Weikel). 

Although Mary had joyfully anticipated her wedding to Philip, it proved to be a volatile marriage that was marked by the queen's love and loyalty to her husband on her part and restlessness and exasperation on his part. It is questionable whether Philip ever loved his wife. Almost certainly ambition played a greater role in his decision to marry the queen of England. At her death in the winter of 1558, he remarked that he felt only minor regret. Their marriage was marked by frequent absences from one another, and tragically for both king and queen, their union was never to be blessed by the birth of an heir with which to inherit the crowns of England and Spain.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

16 July 1557: The Death of Anne of Cleves

Only weeks before her forty-second birthday, Anne of Cleves died at the manor of Chelsea on 16 July 1557. The second daughter of Duke William of Cleves, Anne had famously been queen of England for only six months, from January to July 1540. She had spent the remaining seventeen years of her life residing at one of her many properties, which included Richmond, Bletchingley and Hever Castle, the childhood home of her predecessor Anne Boleyn. Anne's final years were marked by obscurity, so much so that we cannot be sure of the cause of her death. 

In popular culture, Anne continues to be thought of as the 'Flanders mare', the ugliest of Henry VIII's wives. However, contemporary evidence indicates that she was a beautiful, charming and pleasant young woman, rather than a frumpy, unattractive and dull matron. Even the French ambassador, who wrote disparagingly of her costume and manners, reported that she possessed 'middling beauty' and was 'of very assured and resolute countenance'. She was reputed to be kind, sweet-natured and polite, qualities which were borne out by the care she showed towards her stepdaughter Elizabeth Tudor and the interest she took in her servants' lives. Indeed, so popular was Anne as queen that an ambassador at court spoke of the widespread regret felt among her subjects that they were to lose 'the sweetest, most gracious and kindest queen they ever had or would desire'.

Although nowadays Anne of Cleves is regarded as the luckiest of Henry's unfortunate queens, she might not have agreed with this verdict herself. It is clear that she regarded the annulment of her marriage with humiliation and shame, and on more than one occasion she attempted to persuade the king to consider remarrying her. In the wake of Katherine Howard's downfall, Anne and her brother, the duke of Cleves, unsuccessfully pressed Henry to remarry her. She greeted Henry's final marriage to Katherine Parr with disapproval, and became depressed when the king did not communicate with her. Henry continued to treat her kindly, and the two appear to have enjoyed a warm relationship following their failed marriage. He subsequently granted her three manors in Kent (Kemsing, Seal and Hever) and continued to assist her financially. She was welcomed at court in 1543 and 1546, but following her former husband's death she desired to return home to Cleves.

Anne continued to feature in important public ceremonies, including the coronation of her former stepdaughter Mary Tudor in the autumn of 1553. However, her later life was marked by hardship and conflict with the government. Edward VI's Privy Council confiscated several of her properties, and an unpleasant household dispute between her servants reached the attention of her powerful brother. It is also possible that her previously close relationship with Queen Mary was damaged by Anne's rumoured involvement in Wyatt's Rebellion in 1554. The Imperial ambassador alleged that Anne 'was of the plot and intrigued with the Duke of Cleves to obtain help for Elizabeth', and whether or not this was true, the former queen was never again invited to court after 1554. Alternatively, this may have been because of Anne's failing health. She spent the last stage of her life at the manor of Chelsea, the former residence of her successor Katherine Parr. She bequeathed her jewellery to her former stepdaughters Mary and Elizabeth. On 4 August Anne was buried at Westminster Abbey, the only consort of Henry VIII to be interred there. 

Anne was praised by Thomas Becon for her 'accustomed gentleness', while the chronicler Holinshed described her as 'a ladie of right commendable regards, courteous, gentle, a good housekeeper and verie bountifull to hir seruants'. Although she spent most of her life following the annulment of her marriage as a private person, she would have preferred to be remembered as queen of England, however briefly she occupied that position. 

Sunday, 12 July 2015

12 July 1543: Henry VIII Marries Katherine Parr

On 12 July 1543 at Hampton Court Palace, King Henry VIII of England married for the sixth and final time. His bride was thirty-one year old Katherine Parr, the eldest daughter of Thomas and Maud Parr. Unlike Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour or Katherine Howard, Katherine Parr had not spent time in royal service, although both her siblings had operated in court circles for a number of years. Known as the most married queen of England, Katherine was marrying for the third time.

Although she was not rated for her beauty, Katherine's intelligence, charisma, and deep-rooted passion for the Protestant religion were to become well known at court. She reigned until January 1547, when her mercurial husband died aged fifty-five. Katherine was not the dull, dowdy figure of Victorian historiography. She was not only a devout Protestant but an author, a literary patron, a lover of fashion and a patron of the arts. She enjoyed warm relationships with her three stepchildren and was particularly influential on her stepdaughter Elizabeth.

I recently wrote an article exploring whether Katherine Parr could be said to have espoused feminist ideas in her written works. Of course, it is anachronistic to interpret these opinions as feminist, but Katherine certainly believed with some conviction that women, as well as men, could play indispensable roles in advancing the Protestant faith. You can read the article here

Monday, 6 July 2015

6 July 1553: The Death of Edward VI

Above: King Edward VI of England.

July was usually a joyous month in early modern England. Before the advent of the Protestant Reformation, communities across the country participated in joyous summer pastimes that included village ales and games on the green. Edward VI's Reformation, of course, had swept away remnants of England's Catholic past. Yet, to those who remained superstitious, if the weather was anything to go by the early days of July 1553 were not fortuitous. Unseasonably chilly weather augured ill for the welfare of a kingdom that was already precarious. Those in the capital would have been privy to vague reports circulating of King Edward VI's alarmingly 'thin and wasted' condition. Although modern historians have convincingly dismissed the traditional view of Edward as an individual that was sickly from birth, forever close to death, it cannot be denied that the last year of the teenage king's life was agonising and painful. 

Early in the year, the king had fallen ill with a fever and cough that worsened with the passing of time. The imperial ambassador reported: 'He suffers a good deal when the fever is upon him, especially from a difficulty in drawing his breath, which is due to the compression of the organs on the right side'. Although the king's health briefly improved in April, by June his doctors were openly voicing doubts that he would ever recover from what they called 'a suppurating tumour'. Edward's legs became so swollen that he had to lie on his back. He allegedly informed his tutor John Cheke: "I am glad to die".

The end, when it came, came suddenly. Between eight and nine pm on the evening of 6 July at Greenwich Palace, the fifteen-year-old king's fragile life drew to a close. The martyrologist John Foxe later stated that Edward died in the arms of his Chief Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, Sir Henry Sidney, to whom he whispered: "I am faint, Lord have mercy upon me, and take my spirit". Historians have debated what it was that the teenage king died of. The Venetian ambassador had opined that Edward's cause of death was tuberculosis, a view which historians have generally agreed with, although Loach suspects that he may have died of acute bronchopneumonia, which led to a 'suppurating pulmonary infection'. 

Above: Lady Jane Grey (left) and Mary Tudor (right).

Several months earlier, in his "Devise for the Succession", Edward had stipulated that the crown was to pass to the male heirs of Lady Jane Grey, his cousin. As his health increasingly took a turn for the worse, and it remained apparent that Jane would not bear a son anytime soon, Edward altered the wording so that Jane herself could succeed him as queen following his death. Consequently, she was proclaimed queen in the aftermath of Edward's death. Four days after her cousin's passing, she travelled to the Tower of London in preparation for her coronation. It never occurred. Supported by the majority of the former king's subjects, Mary Tudor successfully took the crown and declared herself queen. On 19 July Mary was proclaimed queen by the Privy Council, and she was eventually crowned in October of that year.

Edward VI was king of England for only six years. Given his age upon succeeding to the throne, power was concentrated in the hands of the Privy Council and, more specifically, Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford and later duke of Somerset. Upon Somerset's fall from grace, the earl of Warwick (later duke of Northumberland) wrested control of the Council and was virtual ruler of the country until Edward's untimely death. Historians have debated whether it was Edward or Northumberland who masterminded the "Devise for the Succession", but more recently, it has compellingly been demonstrated that it was the determined king who commanded that his cousin Jane, rather than his sister Mary, should inherit the crown upon his death. In the end his wishes proved of no avail. Mary became queen and the teenaged Jane was executed alongside her husband in February 1554. Edward's reign is best known for the intensity of the Protestant Reformation. Had he lived longer, and wielded power himself rather than being controlled by the likes of Somerset and Northumberland (as he would have done in time), then Edward's reign might be remembered very differently. Instead, he remains one of the more shadowy of the Tudors, a boy king who died before his sixteenth birthday.