Thursday, September 1, 2011

To Have a Son (Henry VIII and the Tudors)

Today we discuss one of history's most tragic dynasties: the Tudors. Dying off after only three generations and barely a century of rule, indeed, hardly constitutes a dynasty at all. Had not Mary and Elizabeth ruled, I'd go so far to say that the Tudors were simply a ruling house—an interregnum between the successful Plantagenets and the somewhat successful Stuarts. In any case, no 118 period in English history was more turbulent than the Tudors, though the War of the Roses preceded it and the English Civil War came soon after.

The dynasty began with hope and ended with a long defeat. But the major error the the dynasty was the failure to arrange successful marriages. From Henry VIII's failed six marriages to Edward VI's and Elizabeth I's lack of marriages, the Tudors failed in the marriage game miserably. Their only success was in the marriages of those who never themselves became rulers. The failure of the Tudors to establish successful marriages doomed the dynasty within the first generation. Thus, despite Henry VII's triumphant victory over Richard III at Bosworth Field, which heralded the end of England's medieval experience, England did not enter the new area with a secure dynasty.

The Lancastrian Inheritance
Henry Tudor, 2nd earl of Richmond (later King Henry VII) was the son of Edmund Tudor and Margaret Beaufort. Neither of these people had a claim to the English throne. The Tudors were an upstart Welsh family that only achieved fame through the affair and marriage of Owen Tudor to Catherine of Valois, the French widow of King Henry V. This placed their son, Edmund, in the curious position of having no claim to the English throne but being the legitimate half-brother of King Henry VI. His Lancastrian loyalty when the War of the Roses broke out was through this.
Henry VII Tudor, king of England
Meanwhile, the Beaufort family was equally from a strange background. The House of Lancaster descended from John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, the fourth son of King Edward III. His son, Henry IV, deposed King Richard II and claimed the throne for himself despite others having a stronger claim. The Beauforts were half-siblings of Henry IV through John of Gaunt's affair with Catherine Swynford, a Flemish Lady. Although the entire family was later declared legitimate, they were barred from inheriting the English throne due to their ancestry. Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, was the daughter of John Beaufort, duke of Somerset, the son of John Beaufort, the earl of Somerset. She was the only child of the eldest line of the Beauforts and, therefore, the most senior member of the House of Lancaster, although that claim was through an illegitimate line of descent.

Thus Henry VII officially had no claim to the throne against Richard III, who he deposed, especially considering that Richard III descended from the senior-most line of Edward III. Sure there were people with a better claim than Richard (Edward, earl of Warwick, was his nephew through an elder brother. Edward had a sister, Margaret, as well.), but Richard was the eldest among them if nothing else.
Elizabeth of York, queen consort of England
The Reign of Henry VII
Henry VII negotiated his succession by marrying the Yorkist heiress Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of King Edward IV. Officially, this was his only legitimate claim to the throne, but he downplayed her status throughout his reign. The marriage was loveless at best. It was arranged between Henry, Margaret, and Elizabeth Woodville, the girl's mother. It was fruitful, though. Henry and Elizabeth produced four surviving children, two sons and two daughters. His eldest, Arthur, died at the age of fifteen only six months after marrying Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. After Arthur died, Catherine insisted that the marriage was never consummated, a statement that justified her marriage to Henry, Arthur's brother, eight years later.
Catherine of Aragon, queen consort of England and Ireland
The marriage of Arthur to Catherine was part of a strategy to ally with Spain against French aggression. Meanwhile, Henry VII attempted to pacify the Scottish by marrying his eldest daughter to King James IV in 1503. James was killed in battle ten years later, leaving Margaret in charge of the young James V. Margaret abandoned her position as regent when she married Archibald Douglas, earl of Angus, the next year. With Archibald, Margaret produced a daughter, Margaret Douglas, who will enter into this story later.

Henry VII attempted to marry his younger daughter, Mary, off to many different individuals but died before she was even betrothed. In 1514, the fifth year of Henry VIII's reign, Mary was wedded to Louis XII of France as part of a peace settlement. He was thirty years her senior and died three months after the wedding. Mary returned to England and resumed her courtship by Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk. They married in secret in March 1515 and publicly, after paying a hefty fine, in May. Their marriage was more fruitful. The couple had two surviving daughters, Frances and Eleanor. Frances was married to Henry Grey, later duke of Suffolk. This family, too, will reenter the story later.

Henry VIII and his Many Wives
In England, Henry VII passed leaving the throne to Henry VIII. The new Henry was young and rash. He married his brother's widow reluctantly and was haunted by fears that Catherine of Aragon had consummated her marriage to Arthur. Still, the couple produced one daughter, Mary, in 1516. Meanwhile, Henry began a long life of adultery and intrigue. Mary became little more than a political tool throughout his life, much to her and Catherine's dismay.
Henry VIII, king of England and Ireland
His first public affair was with Elizabeth Blount, the daughter of a knight. This affair proved fruitful in proving that Henry was, in fact, capable of producing a son. His illegitimate son, named Henry FitzRoy, was publicly recognized and created duke of Richmond and Somerset. He lived to the age of seventeen before dying of an unknown sickness.

Henry's affair with Mary Boleyn soon after received much more attention. Mary, too, was the daughter of a knight, though a more prestigious one. Henry and Mary's affair lasted for nearly a decade and may have produced up to two children, Catherine and Henry Carey, though both were never acknowledge and both accepted as children by William Carey, Mary's husband at the time. In any case, the most important aspect of Henry and Mary's affair was his introduction to Anne, Mary's sister, which singlehandedly destroyed the Tudor dynasty.
Anne Boleyn, queen consort of England and Ireland
Although a devout Catholic, Henry strongly sought an annulment from his wife, Catherine of Aragon, since she had failed to provide him with sons and he had ceased being attracted to her. The pope at the time, Clement VII, refused his requests leaving Henry with few options. Henry, therefore, broke ties with the Catholic Church, was excommunicated by the pope, divorced Catherine of Aragon, and married his long-time love interest. The couple married in January 1533 before receiving formal clearance of divorce from the new head of the Church of England, Thomas Cranmer. Anne was pregnant within days and when the baby was born in September of that year, it was a girl. For another two years the couple attempted to produce a son, but Henry had grown tired of Anne and her tricks and began an affair with another young courtier, Jane Seymour. Meanwhile, Catherine of Aragon died, leaving all taint of illegality behind him. Another stillbirth by Anne finalized Henry's plans to annul the marriage. He accused Anne of adultery and incest (with her brother) and treason. These charges required the death penalty. Anne was beheaded on 19 May 1536, leaving a daughter, Elizabeth.
Jane Seymour, queen consort of England and Ireland
Henry moved fast to marry Jane Seymour. Within months of their marriage, Jane conceived and nine months later a son was born and Jane was dead by childbed. The son, Edward, remained a sickly child his whole life and, although he outlived his father, he never got a chance to truly rule England.
Anne of Cleves, queen consort of England and Ireland
Henry was out another wife. He decided to arrange a marriage rather than pursue another courtier. He found himself attracted to a portrait of Anne of Cleves, a German princess, during his research. He had her sent to England and, when they met, he found her less-than-appealing. They were forced to wed but apparently Anne also lacked skills in the bedchamber as they never consummated their marriage. The marriage was annulled six months later with Anne being awarded a generous settlement.
Catherine Howard, queen consort of England and Ireland
Again he sought and found a wife in the beautiful Catherine Howard, an English noblewoman. Catherine came from a Catholic family and it is possible that her family manipulated her into catching the eye of Henry in order to restore a Catholic status to England. In any case, it failed. Catherine was pregnant by the time Henry's marriage to Anne was annulled. They were married within a week afterwards. Henry was no longer attractive, however, and the young Catherine became repulsed. She began an affair with another courtier. Through a two-year intrigue, it became known to Henry and he promptly brought charges of adultery and treason against his wife. He annulled his marriage with Catherine Howard in November 1541 and she was executed for a law passed ex post facto in February of the next year.
Catherine Parr, queen consort of England and Ireland
Henry waited a whole year before finding his final wife, Catherine Parr. Yet another noblewoman, he finally found someone with the ability to outlive him. Catherine never produced a child by the king but stayed with Henry to the end of his days and then silently passed into history, the last of Henry VIII's six wives.
Edward VI, king of England and Ireland

The Failure of the Tudor Dynasty
The last four monarchs of the Tudor dynasty all failed in their bid to continue the dynasty. Three were the surviving children of Henry VIII while the fourth was one of Henry VII's great-granddaughters. England fell to the regency of Edward VI which was headed first by his uncle, Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, but later by John Dudley, duke of Northumberland. During this time, the descendants of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII's younger sister, sought a dynastic union.  Mary's daughter, Frances, was too old to rule and already married, but her youngest daughter, Jane Grey, was just slightly older than Edward VI. The plan fell apart, however, when Edward Seymour was removed from the council and replaced with John Dudley. To make things worse, Edward VI was dying. John, seeing an opportunity, married his son, Guildford Dudley, to Jane, thereby placing his own son as, if nothing else, the head of a future English dynasty. Edward approved a writ disinheriting his sisters from the throne and soon after died in 1553. The stage was set for one of the shortest-lived royal coups in history.
Jane, queen of England and Ireland
Jane was proclaimed queen of England by the regency council but many quickly turned to Mary I, the eldest surviving daughter of Henry VIII. By the thirteenth day, Jane was arrested by Mary and placed in the Tower of London. She remained there for a year until her father with others staged the Wyatt Rebellion targeting Jane as their preferred royal candidate. With little other choice, Mary had her cousin beheaded, thereby stabilizing the English throne under her rule. The Suffolk claim to the English throne continued through first Jane's youngest sister and then through the line of her aunt, but never came to fruition. Fate had other plans for the English succession.
Mary I, queen of England and Ireland
Mary I ruled England for five years from 1553 until 1558. In that time Catholicism was resorted and Protestantism pushed out of the limelight. She was unwed and nearly 40-years-old at the time of her succession. She found a husband in her first cousin-once removed Prince Philip of Spain (king from 1556 to 1598). Philip, who was eleven years her junior, proved to be unloving, distant, and uninterested in his new wife. Philip, nonetheless, was crowned king of England & Ireland, the only king consort in the history of England. Even still, Philip returned to the continent and visited rarely. Her inability to conceive a child forced her to accept the inevitable and acknowledge Elizabeth as her heir. Mary died, Protestantism returned, and Philip found a "reasonable regret" that his wife had died.
Elizabeth I, queen of England and Ireland
Indeed, Philip actually saw opportunity. The younger and more attractive Elizabeth was approached soon after her coronation by a delegation from Spain seeking her hand for King Philip II. Elizabeth I rejected this request multiple times over the next few years and the relationship between England and Spain soured. Elizabeth eventually ceased seriously considering suitors entirely, leaving the entire Tudor succession in doubt.

The Solution
Legally, the line of Suffolk had the best claim to the throne after Elizabeth, but Elizabeth refused to validate that claim and even imprisoned the heiress when she wed another claimant from a parallel line without permission. The Catholic world supported Mary I, queen of Scots, the only child of James V, the son of Margaret Tudor. Mary solidified her claim by marrying Henry Stewart, the son of Margaret, the daughter of Margaret Tudor through her second marriage to Archibald Douglas. Thus Mary and Henry shared the first and second senior-most claim to the English throne. Scottish politics proved to be Mary's undoing when a Protestant consortium forced her to abdicate after she arranged the death of Henry Stewart. Her infant son, James VI, became king. Mary continued to pursue her claim to the English throne through intrigue while imprisoned in England. This frustrated Elizabeth I to the point that she had Mary executed. James VI, thereby, became the prime heir, a Protestant with a senior and double claim, and no ghosts in his past. Though the law of Henry VIII's denied his elder sister's line from inheriting the English throne, politics at the time of Elizabeth I's death in 1603 said otherwise. James's succession would bring about a new era in English politics, uniting England once and for all with its northern rival Scotland.
James VI & I, king of Scotland, England and Ireland
A long but interesting story of intrigue and plotting by the best known, but least dynastically important, English royal family. The Tudors act as a bridge between a two-hundred year span of dynasties that failed to leave a strong dynastic impact on English history. The Tudors passed their claims through an eldest daughter of the first monarch of the dynasty just as the Stuarts passed the claim through a younger daughter of the first monarch of the dynasty. It was not until the House of Hanover that things became straightforward again in English dynastic politics.


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