Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Death of Lady Catherine Grey

Above: Portrait of Lady Catherine Grey and her son Edward Seymour.

Even by sixteenth-century standards, the demise of Lady Catherine Grey, countess of Hertford, was tragic. On 27 January 1568 (some sources suggest the 26th), the middle daughter of the disgraced Henry Grey, duke of Suffolk died at Cockfield Hall in Suffolk at the age of twenty-seven. There has been considerable speculation about the cause of the countess' untimely death. Some have suggested that she died of tuberculosis (then known as consumption), while others have speculated that she had starved herself to death. Whatever the cause, Lady Catherine's death was greeted by her cousin Elizabeth I with relief, perhaps even joy, for it removed a serious threat to Elizabeth's throne. 

In many respects, Catherine was a victim of her inheritance. Her mother was the daughter of Mary Tudor, queen of France, and niece of Henry VIII. Catherine was therefore Henry's grandniece and was probably named for his fifth wife, who married Henry in 1540 (Catherine Grey was born in August of that year). In 1553, at the age of only twelve, Catherine's world fell apart. Her elder sister Jane was nominated heir to the throne by their cousin Edward VI and, following his death in July, Jane was proclaimed Queen of England. Few accepted her accession, however, and Jane's regime collapsed when Mary Tudor successfully claimed the throne. Jane was imprisoned alongside her husband Guildford Dudley, who like her was probably no more than sixteen or seventeen years old. Queen Mary refused to order her cousin's execution despite considerable pressure from the Spanish envoys. However, following the outbreak of rebellion in early 1554 - motivated in large part by antipathy to the queen's proposed marriage to Philip of Spain and the anticipated restoration of the Catholic religion - Mary decided to have Jane and Guildford executed. Catherine's father Henry Grey followed Jane to the scaffold eleven days later, following his treasonous involvement in the rebellion.

Catherine, therefore, had suffered considerably by her early teenage years. Her father and sister had both died a shameful death, and she would have grown accustomed to her position as the member of a traitorous family. Popular history has portrayed Catherine's mother, Frances, as a tyrannical, cruel woman who bullied her daughters; however, there is no evidence of this, and it seems that both Catherine and her younger sister Mary were close to their mother. Frances died in 1559, a year after Elizabeth I came to the throne.

Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, Attributed to Hans Eworth (1515 - 1574).jpg
Above: Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford.

Elizabeth's accession complicated Catherine's life. According to Henry VIII's will, Catherine was Elizabeth's heir presumptive and, given the queen's unwillingness to marry and have children, Catherine stood a very real chance of becoming Queen. This fact was not lost on English Protestants, many of whom placed their hopes in Catherine and looked to her as their future monarch. Foreign rulers were also interested in Catherine, including Elizabeth I's former brother-in-law Philip of Spain. Rumours circulated that Philip was intending to have Catherine spirited abroad and married to his son. 

These rumours were regarded with fear and resentment by Queen Elizabeth. Some historians have speculated that she personally disliked Catherine. Undoubtedly she feared her as a potential claimant to her throne, and the queen would never have forgotten that her brother had disinherited both herself and her half-sister Mary in preference for the Grey claim. In 1561, Elizabeth found herself with an opportunity to prevent Catherine ever becoming queen. 

The following year, Catherine had secretly wed Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford. The couple were passionately in love, and their testimony graphically described their lovemaking in different palaces. However, unfortunately for the couple, the only witnesses to their marriage were either dead (Hertford's younger sister, Lady Jane) or disappeared (the priest who performed the service). This meant that the legality of the marriage could not be proved. Catherine, who was forced to confess that she was pregnant, was incarcerated in the Tower of London. Her father and sister had both died there only seven years earlier. Elizabeth also ordered the imprisonment of Hertford, and both he and his wife were rigorously interrogated. Their marriage was declared invalid and, when Catherine gave birth to a son, Edward, on 24 September, the child was declared a bastard. Elizabeth was determined that Catherine should not succeed her as queen. Her fear and loathing only increased when the countess gave birth to a second son, Thomas, in 1563.

Above: Cockfield Hall, where Catherine was imprisoned and later died.

Catherine remained imprisoned for the rest of her life. Elizabeth never forgave her, although her husband was later received at court. The queen's actions appear cruel and merciless to us today, but her actions are understandable when her fears are given attention. Elizabeth had been the subject of many plots in Mary I's reign; disaffected traitors had plotted to incarcerate, or even assassinate, their monarch and install Elizabeth as queen instead. Now, Elizabeth feared that the same threat would befall her. She reacted aggressively, as she was to react when Mary, Queen of Scots became a figurehead for Catholic disaffection among English subjects.

In her isolation, Catherine succumbed to despair and depression. She never saw her husband and sons again, and her household voiced concerns that she would kill herself in her misery. Following her death in January 1568, she was buried at Yoxford, although her remains were subsequently interred at Salisbury Cathedral. Later, her husband Edward Seymour was buried alongside her. The Latin inscription celebrates the couple as 'Incomparable Consorts Who, experienced in the vicissitudes of changing fortune At length, in the concord which marked their lives, Here rest together'.

Although her subjects could understand Elizabeth I's actions, that did not mean that they all agreed with her. Evidence suggests that many believed that Catherine and Edward were legally married and their children were legitimate. In view of this, English Protestants continued to regard Catherine Grey as the rightful heir to Elizabeth's throne and, following Catherine's death, they argued that the throne should pass to her sons Edward and Thomas. The MP John Hales was imprisoned for writing a tract that proclaimed the marriage was legal. Those who did not wish to see Mary, Queen of Scots as queen of England argued that Catherine's son Edward should succeed Elizabeth following her death. Finally, in 1606, the marriage of Catherine and Edward was declared valid, in the reign of James I.

Friday, 15 January 2016

The Coronation of Elizabeth I

On 15 January 1559, Elizabeth Tudor was crowned Queen of England and Ireland at Westminster Abbey. The new queen was striking in her coronation robes, which drew attention to her famously pale skin, her flame-red hair and her sparkling dark eyes. Elizabeth had been wholeheartedly welcomed by her English subjects on her progress through the city of London. As had occurred at the coronation of Mary I, the public were enthusiastic about their queen, but Elizabeth was well aware that her subjects' affection for Mary had gradually been replaced with fear and hatred. She was determined not to make the same mistake as her sister. As yet, there was no sign that the public would grow disillusioned with Queen Elizabeth. The pageants welcomed the queen, and her gracious, considerate responses endeared her to the spectators, who were 'wonderfully ravished' at the sight of their new queen. 

The date of the coronation had been planned in advance, and had been selected because it was viewed as auspicious, a good omen for the new reign. The renowned scholar, mathematician, astrologer and astronomer John Dee had consulted an 'electional chart' and had determined that the date of 15 January was that on which Elizabeth should be crowned. Inside Westminster Abbey, where English monarchs were traditionally crowned, Elizabeth was proclaimed queen in each of the four corners of the abbey by Owen Oglethorpe, Bishop of Carlisle. At each corner, the congregation were asked if they would assent to Elizabeth being their queen, and responded with enthusiastic cries of "Yea! Yea!" Elizabeth made the traditional offerings at the altar, before a sermon took place. Dressed in cloth of gold, she was then anointed after the Lords Prayer had been read and she had taken an oath.

Bishop Oglethorpe had been the only English bishop to be prepared to officiate at Elizabeth's coronation, which was troubling for the new queen. It reminded her that there was much work to do to ensure that a favourable religious settlement was achieved. The previous reign had been marked by religious bloodshed, which Elizabeth had personally been appalled by. For now, however, she was determined to enjoy her coronation. Having been anointed, Queen Elizabeth sat in St Edward's Chair and was kissed by her Lords Spiritual and Temporal, who had knelt to her in homage. A mass took place before the queen kissed the Bible. Following the ceremony, the queen changed her dress and departed to Westminster Hall to enjoy her coronation banquet. Queen Elizabeth would reign until 1603 and she has been immortalised as one of Britain's most successful monarchs.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Elizabeth's Heir: Margaret Stanley, Countess of Derby

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Above: A portrait thought to be of Lady Margaret Stanley, countess of Derby or her mother Lady Eleanor Brandon.

In recent years there has been an explosion of interest in the Elizabethan succession and, in particular, the extraordinary lives of Lady Jane, Catherine and Mary Grey. These women were, according to the will of Henry VIII, to inherit the throne of England in the event that Elizabeth I died with no heirs. Lady Jane was executed in 1554 for her role in seizing the throne unlawfully from the rightful queen, Mary I. As is well known, the fearful Elizabeth reacted furiously to news of the clandestine marriages of Catherine and Mary, and punished them both accordingly. Both Grey sisters were imprisoned, and Catherine's two sons by Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, were declared illegitimate. Both sisters died fairly young, even by the standards of the time (Catherine was twenty-seven and Mary thirty-three). Their lives were undoubtedly highly tragic, but the public at large regarded the Greys as the rightful successors to Elizabeth, particularly in the wake of intensified concerns regarding Mary Queen of Scots.

After the deaths of Jane, Catherine and Mary, and the bastardisation of Catherine's sons, Elizabeth I's heir was, according to Henry VIII's will, Margaret Stanley, countess of Derby. The countess has received far less attention, both from academic historians and popular writers, regarding her role as a claimant to the English throne. However, Margaret's life was every bit as tragic, as tumultuous and as unpredictable as that of her Grey cousins. 

Above: Margaret's cousins: Jane, Catherine and Mary Grey (left to right).

Margaret was the daughter of Lady Eleanor Brandon, who was in turn the youngest daughter of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk. Eleanor was Henry VIII's niece and granddaughter of Henry VII. Her daughter Margaret, therefore, was Henry VIII's great-niece. She was born in 1540, the same year her cousin Catherine Grey was born. Her mother had married Henry Clifford, earl of Cumberland. He came from a respected northern family and the union between Brandon and Clifford meant that Margaret Stanley grew up amidst considerable luxury and wealth. Until her mother gave birth to a son, she was heiress to the Cumberland title. Eleanor did give birth to two sons, Henry and Charles, but both died in childhood.

Above: Margaret Stanley's grandparents, Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk. 

From an early age, Margaret was educated to view herself as a most important lady. She would have been proud of her position as Henry VIII's great-niece. Her cousins Jane, Catherine and Mary Grey were erudite, educated and opinionated young women, and like them Margaret was aware of her important position within the Tudor dynasty. There is no surviving evidence that her parents provided her with as remarkable an education as that enjoyed by her cousins, but undoubtedly she would have been brought up with skills regarded as fundamental in Tudor gentlewomen: needlework; embroidery; dancing; music; hunting; good manners; reading; and writing. 

When Margaret was seven years old, her mother died. That was a tumultuous year, given that Henry VIII also died at the age of fifty-five. Margaret first came to play an important role in political events in 1552, when the Duke of Northumberland proposed that the twelve-year-old marry his youngest son Guildford. The marriage came to nothing, and Guildford instead married Margaret's sixteen-year-old cousin Jane Grey. There were later rumours voiced at court that Margaret was to marry instead Northumberland's brother Andrew, but again the match came to nothing, perhaps because Margaret's father had voiced opposition. 

The year 1553 was a turning point for Margaret and her family. The young Edward VI had died while still a teenager. The determined king had refused to countenance the possibility of either of his sisters succeeding him, because he believed that both were illegitimate. Instead, he willed the crown to go to the heirs of Lady Jane Grey. Because Lady Jane had not yet given birth to children, she herself became queen upon his death. Margaret's cousin was now first lady in the land. However, she was dethroned and executed seven months later by Mary I. 

How Margaret felt about her cousin's brutal execution is unknown, but it is possible that she did not give much thought to it. Five days earlier, the fourteen-year-old had married Henry Stanley, earl of Derby. It was a highly significant marriage. Stanley, who was nine years Margaret's senior, was a kinsman of Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Katherine Howard (his maternal grandfather was Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk). The marriage took place at Whitehall and was attended by Queen Mary. The couple seem to have experienced a volatile marriage, for the countess later confirmed that there were 'breaches and reconciliations' between herself and Stanley. They had four children together: Edward, Ferdinando, William, and Francis.

Above: Henry Stanley, earl of Derby, husband of Margaret Clifford.

How Margaret regarded her dynastic position during the reigns of Mary I and Elizabeth I cannot be known with certainty, but she was surely aware that she had a strong claim to the throne if her cousins Mary and Elizabeth died without heirs. During these years, the countess occupied an important place at court, although she spent much of her time on her estates in childbirth. In the early 1560s, however, Margaret's life was changed forever. 

Her cousin Catherine Grey clandestinely married Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, in late 1560. Hertford was of royal blood (he was the nephew of Queen Jane Seymour and son of the Lord Protector). Catherine subsequently fell pregnant, and was forced to inform Elizabeth I of what had happened. The queen was understandably furious: not only were her councillors pressuring her to name a successor in the event that she did not marry and provide an heir herself, but she seems to have personally disliked and feared Catherine. Elizabeth was well aware that Catherine was regarded by English Protestants (and some Catholics) as her heir, and in falling pregnant Catherine had strengthened her claim. The irate queen ordered her cousin's imprisonment in the Tower of London, and her husband was recalled from Europe and incarcerated there as well. The stricken Catherine, who was only twenty-one, gave birth to their first son Edward at the Tower in the autumn of 1561.

Elizabeth never forgave Catherine. She almost certainly remembered the treachery of the Greys in the reign of Mary I, and she remembered that she had been a figurehead for rebellion during her sister's reign. Elizabeth viewed her Grey cousins with suspicion and fear, and was determined to prevent their succession in the wake of her death. Catherine remained under house arrest at a succession of different houses until her untimely death in January 1568 at the age of twenty-seven, leaving two young sons and a bereaved husband. Only a few years previously, Catherine's younger sister Mary had also been incarcerated for her clandestine marriage to Thomas Keyes, a Sergeant Porter. With her disgrace and death in 1578, Margaret Stanley's dynastic importance increased tenfold. 

According to Henry VIII's will, Margaret Stanley was her cousin Elizabeth's heir. Despite the urgent entreaties of her Privy Councillors and her own passionate love for Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, Elizabeth refused to marry. Historians have endlessly debated about the reasons behind her decision. Undoubtedly these reasons were political, psychological and personal. Regardless, Elizabeth's decision not to marry caused considerable uncertainty in England about who would succeed upon her death. Margaret's great-uncle, King Henry, had nominated her as her cousin's heir, and it is entirely likely that, by the late 1570s, the countess had began to view herself as a possible future Queen of England.

Above: Mary Queen of Scots, Lady Margaret Stanley's kinswoman and potential rival claimant. Some historians have suggested that Queen Elizabeth always preferred the claim of the Scottish queen to the claim of the descendants of Mary duchess of Suffolk.

However, any potential ambitions for the crown that Lady Margaret had were to remain unfulfilled. The countess landed herself in deep trouble and caused her own ruin through her rash actions. In 1579, just a year after the death of her cousin and potential rival Lady Mary Grey, Margaret was accused of sorcery and arrested. She had allegedly used sorcery to predict how long Elizabeth would live, and there were even rumours that she had plotted to poison her cousin. Furthermore, she had allegedly spoken out about the queen's proposed marriage to the Duke of Alencon because it threatened her own position as Elizabeth's heir. Like her cousins Catherine and Mary Grey, the countess was punished with house arrest. Her fellow accused William Randall, whom the countess claimed was her physician, was executed. No charges were brought against Margaret, but she was banished from court. She wrote highly emotional letters to Elizabeth, claiming that she was in a 'black dungeon of sorrow and despair'. If she hoped for forgiveness and a return to royal favour, she was to be sorely disappointed.

In 1596, Lady Margaret died at the age of about fifty-six. Her sons Edward and Francis had died in childhood, and her second son Ferdinando, who had inherited the earldom of Derby, had died two years earlier. Ferdinando's son, Lady Anne Stanley, was Margaret's heiress presumptive upon the countess's death. The will of Henry VIII stipulated that Anne Stanley was Elizabeth's heir following the death of her grandmother Margaret, but the queen preferred the claim of Mary Queen of Scots' son James VI, and upon her death in 1603 James duly became King James I of England.

Much of the life of Margaret Stanley, countess of Derby, remains shadowy and elusive. It is not difficult to understand why historians have focused their attention on her Grey cousins, because greater evidence survives for their lives, and their status as claimants to the throne was more viable than Margaret's claim. It is usually forgotten that, upon the death of Mary Grey in 1578, Margaret Stanley was heir to the throne according to the will of Henry VIII. Her disgrace in 1579 seems to indicate that she was a highly ambitious woman who was determined to enforce her claim as Elizabeth's heir. Realising that her cousin would never marry and give birth to heirs, Margaret seems to have hoped and dreamed that she would one day become Queen herself. It was not to be. The disgraced countess never recovered her place at court, for she had invited the suspicion and hostility of Queen Elizabeth, who was never particularly warm towards the descendants of Mary, duchess of Suffolk at the best of times. The queen's antipathy to her Brandon kin was demonstrated in her decision to appoint Mary Queen of Scots' son James her successor upon her death, rather than Margaret Stanley's granddaughter Anne Stanley, despite the fact that Anne was, according to Henry VIII's will, the rightful heir.