March 21, 1556 – Execution of Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer’s execution, from John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Today is the sad anniversary of the burning of Thomas Cranmer. His execution involved a surprise dramatic twist at the end that sealed him as an important Protestant martyr.

Anyone interested in the Tudor times knows Cranmer well. He was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533; he established the first doctrinal and liturgical structures of the reformed Church of England – and pronounced the invalidity of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He stayed close to Henry for the rest of that king’s life, helped steer the country towards further reforms under the Protestant Edward VI – but then was quickly jailed for treason and heresy once Catherine’s daughter, the staunchly Catholic Mary I, ascended to the throne.

He spent two years in prison, and was sentenced to death. This is where it gets tricky. On December 11, Cranmer was placed into the house of the Dean of Christ Church – and treated as an honored guest. A Dominican friar debated issues of papal supremacy and purgatory…and somehow persuaded Cranmer to recant. The recantations (there were four) were not strong enough to stay his sentence: on February 24, his execution was set for March 7. Two days after that writ was issued, Cranmer issued a full recantation – he repudiated all Lutheran theology, fully accepted papal supremacy and transubstantiation, and agreed that there was no salvation outside the Catholic church. He received absolution, and participated in the mass. Under Canon law, he should have been reprieved, but Mary decided she wanted to make an example of him and gave orders that the execution would proceed.

Then the Marian government got greedy. They asked him to recant one last time before his death – and brought him for this purpose to the University Church to make a public speech. He started with a prayer, then deviated from the script… and recanted his recantation (!). Here’s that part of it:

“Every man desireth, good people, at the time of their deaths, to give some good exhortation that others may remember after their deaths, and be the better thereby. So I beseech God grant me grace, that I may speak something at this my departing, whereby God may be glorified and you edified.

First, it is a heavy case to see, that many folks be so much doted upon the love of this false world, and so careful for it, that of the love of God, or the love of the world to come, they seem to care very little or nothing therefore. This shall be my first exhortation: That you set not overmuch by this false glosing world, but upon God and the world to come. And learn to know what this lesson meaneth, which St John teacheth, that the love of this world is hatred against God.

The second exhortation is, that next unto God, you obey your king and queen, willingly and gladly, without murmur and grudging. And not for fear of them only, but much more for the fear of God: Knowing, that they be God’s ministers, appointed by God to rule and govern you. And therefore whoso resisteth them, resisteth God’s ordinance.

The third exhortation is, that you love all together like brethren and sisters. For alas, pity it is to see, what contention and hatred one Christian man hath to another; not taking each other, as sisters and brothers; but rather as strangers and mortal enemies. But I pray you learn and bear well away this one lesson, To do good to all men as much as in you lieth, and to hurt no man, no more than you would hurt your own natural and loving brother or sister. For this you may be sure of, that whosoever hateth any person, and goeth about maliciously to hinder or hurt him, surely, and without all doubt, God is not with that man, although he think himself never so much in God’s favour.

The fourth exhortation shall be to them that have great substance and riches of this world, that they will well consider and weigh those sayings of the Scripture. One is of our Saviour Christ himself, who saith, It is hard for a rich man to enter into heaven; a sore saying, and yet spoke by him, that knew the truth. The second is of St John, whose saying is this, He that hath the substance of this world, and seeth his brother in necessity, and shutteth up his mercy from him, how can he say, he loveth God?  Much more might I speak of every part; but time sufficeth not. I do but put you in remembrance of things. Let all them that be rich, ponder well those sentences; for if ever they had any occasion to shew their charity, they have now at this present, the poor people being so many, and victuals so dear. For though I have been long in prison, yet I have heard of the great penury of the poor. Consider, that that which is given to the poor, is given to God; whom we have not otherwise present corporally with us, but in the poor.

And now forsomuch as I am come to the last end of my life, whereupon hangeth all my life passed, and my life to come, either to live with my Saviour Christ in heaven, in joy, or else to be in pain ever with wicked devils in hell; and I see before mine eyes presently either heaven ready to receive me, or hell ready to swallow me up; I shall therefore declare unto you my very faith, how I believe, without colour or dissimulation. For now is no time to dissemble, whatsoever I have written in times past.

First, I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, &c. and every article of the Catholic faith, every word and sentence taught by our Saviour Christ, his Apostles and Prophets, in the Old and New Testament.

And now I come to the great thing that troubleth my conscience more than any other thing that ever I said or did in my life: and that is, the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth. Which here now I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and writ for fear of death, and to save my life, if it might be: and that is, all such bills, which I have written or signed with mine own hand, since my degradation; wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished. For if I may come to the fire, it shall be first burned. And as for the Pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy and antichrist, with all his false doctrine.

[Here they interrupted him to remind him of his recantation. He responded:]

“Alas, my lord I have been a man, that all my life loved plainness, and never dissembled till now against the truth; which I am most sorry for. For the sacrament, I believe as I had taught in my book against the bishop of Winchester.”

At this point, he was pushed off the stage (“And here he was suffered to speak no more”) and carried away to the stake…where he doubled down:

And [Cranmer] answered (shewing his hand) ‘This is the hand that wrote it, and therefore it shall suffer first punishment.’ Fire being now put to him, he stretched out his right hand, and thrust it into the flame, and held it there a good space, before the fire came to any other part of his body; where his hand was seen of every man sensibly burning, crying with a loud voice, ‘This hand hath offended.‘  As soon as the fire got up, he was very soon dead, never stirring or crying all the while.

Rest in peace.

SOURCE:  Todd, Henry John. The Life of Archbishop Cranmer, Vol II.

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February 17, 1547 – Edward Seymour Becomes Duke of Somerset

Edward Seymour, by an unknown artist (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons).

When Henry died on January 27, his will contemplated sixteen executors who would share power while his son was still a minor. Nice idea in principle, but even Henry found it impossible to impose his will after death. Somerset had been ready for this moment, and sprang into action.

The old King’s death was kept secret – according to the Spanish ambassador’s letters, “not even the slightest signs of such a thing were to be seen at Court, and even the usual ceremony of bearing in the royal dishes to the sound of trumpets was continued without interruption” – and all roads from London were closed until they had the new King with them and safely in the Tower. Meanwhile, Edward Seymour worked behind the scenes to seize power by get himself appointed Lord Protector – largely by figuring out the right bribes for the different Council members. And as long as rich offices were being handed out, why not one for the Lord Protector himself.

As W.K. Jordan puts it in his Edward VI: The Young King (quoting from Hargrave, Stow, and Edward VI himself),

The ceremony at the Tower, for all the haste in preparation, was elaborate and impressive. Before all the assembled nobility, Edward Seymour was first created a duke, being dressed in an ‘inner robe’ of honor, with the heralds preceding him, and the Garter next following. Then came the Earl of Shrewsbury carrying a verge (rod) of gold and Oxford carrying the duke’s cup and coronet of gold, while Arundel bore the sword. Escorted by the Duke of Suffolk and the Marquis of Dorset, Seymour offered his obedience to the child King sitting in the chair of state, and then knelt before him. Paget read the charter, while at the appropriate point Edward placed the duke’s mantle on Seymour, girt him with the sword, put the coronet on his head, gave him the verge of gold and pronounced him Duke of Somerset. Somerset then stood by the King while the others were ennobled.

(In case you were wondering, the Earl of Essex (William Parr) became the Marquis of Northampton, Viscount Lisle (John Dudley) became the Earl of Warwick, Lord Wriothesley became Earl of Southampton, Sir Thomas Seymour became Baron Seymour of Sudeley, Sir Richard Rich became Baron Rich of Leighs, Sir William Willoughby became Baron Willoughby of Parham, and Sir Edmund Sheffield became Baron Sheffield).

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January 18, 1486 – Henry VII Marries Elizabeth of York

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York by Sarah Malden (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York by Sarah Malden, Countess of Essex (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This is the anniversary of the marriage of Henry VII with Elizabeth of York – the union of the red rose of Lancaster with the white rose of York to create the Tudor Rose and finally end the Wars of the Roses.

Interestingly, the marriage occurred five months after Henry VII acceded to the throne – and after the man’s coronation. Henry VII needed to make a very important point to the world – that he ruled by his own right, not through his wife’s claim. After all, his claim – beyond the fact that he won the Battle of Bosworth – was somewhat tenuous (through illegitimate heirs etc.). By forcing people to fully recognize his legitimacy before his marriage, the union was transformed into a magnanimous gesture rather than a desperate grab. It was actually the right way to manipulate the optics of the situation.

Agnes Strickland describes the event as follows:

Their wedding day was, in the words of Bernard Andreas, ‘celebrated with all religious and glorious magnificence at court, and by their people with bonfires, dancing, songs and banquets, throughout all London.’ Cardinal Bourchier, who was at the same time a descendant of the royal house of Plantagenet and a prince of the church, was the officiating prelate at the marriage. ‘His hand,’ according to the quaint phraseology of Fuller, who records the circumstance, ‘held that sweet posie, wherein the white and red roses were first tied together.’”

It was said the marriage was a happy one – enough that Henry VII had a reputation for fidelity – a rare attribute for a king. She got pregnant right away, giving birth to Arthur Tudor on September 20, 1486. At that point her husband was thrilled to have her crowned: on November 25, 1487 she was anointed Queen of England. Everything was golden at that point, and it would remain that way for quite some time….

Still, I always wonder how Elizabeth felt about marrying Henry. I mean, she was raised as a princess, so she would have expected a marriage based on politics. But how did she really feel about her overbearing mother-in-law? And there were several instances of men claiming to be her long-lost brothers…did she ever question -even for a moment – whether they were? What must that have feel like? I need to go lose myself in some good books…feel free to suggest your favorites!

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November 25, 1487 – Elizabeth of York Crowned

Elizabeth of York by an unknown artist, scanned from The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Elizabeth of York was crowned a little more than two years after her husband, Henry VII. Although she was widely regarded as the Yorkist heir to the throne, Henry did not want to condition his legitimacy on her claim so he insisted on being crowned himself before their marriage – and then Elizabeth’s coronation had to wait  because she  was pregnant with their first child (Prince Arthur was born on September 20, 1486).

On the 24th, she rode through London to Westminster. The crowd was immense as it was her first public appearance since her marriage, and everyone was anxious to behold her. Apparently, she did not disappoint. As Agnes Strickland puts it in her wonderful Lives of the Queens of England,

[S]he had not completed her twenty-second year, her figure was, like that of her majestic father, tall and elegant, her complexion brilliantly fair and her serene eyes and perfect features were now lighted up with the lovely expression maternity ever gives to a young woman whose disposition is truly estimable. The royal apparel, in which her loving subjects were so anxious to see her arrayed, consisted of a kirtle of white cloth of gold, damasked and a mantle of the same, furred with ermine, fastened on the breast with a great lace or cordon, curiously wrought of gold and silk, finished with rich knobs of gold and tassels. ‘On her fair yellow hair, hanging at length down her back, she wore a caul of pipes and a circle of gold, richly adorned with gems.’”

Then, on the day itself, she was even more majestic – and provoked a near-riot:

“The next day she was attired in a kirtle of purple velvet, furred with ermine bands in front. On her  hair she wore a circlet of gold, set with large pearls and colored gems. She entered Westminster Hall with her attendants, and waited under a canopy of state till she proceeded to the abbey. The way thither was carpeted with striped cloth, which sort of covering had been, from time immemorial, the perquisite of the common people. But the multitude in this case crowded so eagerly to cut off pieces of the cloth, ere the queen had well passed, that before she entered the abbey several of them were trampled to death, and the procession of the queen’s ladies “broken and distroubled.”

Elizabeth’s mom, Elizabeth Woodville, was not present – she was suspected of having been involved in the 1487 Yorkist rebellion that claimed that Lambert Simnel was the true king of England and was sent to remote Bermondsey Abbey where she took up a quiet, contemplative life. Elizabeth’s step-brother Thomas Grey, Earl of Huntingdon and Marquess of Dorset, had been caught up in that same rebellion and sent to the Tower, but was liberated and allowed to assist the coronation. Part of the reconciliation, after all!

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November 2, 1541…Henry Learns of Catherine’s “Dissolute Living”

Catherine Howard - Portrait Miniature by Hans Holbein

Catherine Howard – Portrait Miniature by Hans Holbein (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This was the beginning of the end for Catherine Howard. All Souls’ Day, the day that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer left a letter on Henry’s seat in Hampton Court’s Chapel Royal detailing information he “had not the heart” to tell him directly.

Let’s back up. About two weeks ago, a man named John Lascelles came to Cranmer with explosive information. John had a sister, Mary Lascelles Hall, who was in the household of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk at the same time as Catherine. John had decided that Mary should use her old connection to secure a post at court as so many others seemed to be doing. Mary refused. John pushed the matter – after all, this was quite an opportunity, not one to pass up. Mary explained that Catherine was “light, both in living and conditions” and gave some of the details. Lascelles, coincidentally, was a noted reformer – one who had formerly worked in Thomas Cromwell’s household. Lascelles understood that this could crush the more conservative faction at court, and went right to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer, aided by Edward Seymour, interviewed Mary Hall and confirmed that Catherine had sexual relations with two men before her marriage: her music teacher Henry Mannox and the Dowager Duchess’ secretary Francis Dereham. The affair with Dereham was the more serious –it was a clear precontract that invalidated her marriage to the King (indeed, it was more of a precontract than existed to support any of the King’s three previous annulments).

Had the matter stopped there, it would have ended Catherine Howard’s reign – but would not have killed her (as the Dowager Duchess put it when she heard what had happened while Catherine had been in her charge, “If there be no offence since the marriage, she cannot die for what was done before”). Unfortunately for Catherine, she had appointed Dereham as her personal secretary, which led to the suspicion that she was planning to resume the affair. This prompted Cranmer to look for signs of adultery – which he found all too quickly. Rumors of an affair between Catherine and one of the King’s favorite gentlemen, Thomas Culpeper, were supported by a letter in Catherine’s own hand. Two quotes sealed her fate: “Come to me when my Lady Rochford is here for then I shall be best at leisure to be at your commandment” and “Yours as long as life endures.”

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October 2, 1536 – The Lincolnshire Rising

Pilgrimage of Grace, by an unknown 19th Century illustrator (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The Pilgrimage of Grace, by an unknown 19th Century illustrator (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The Lincolnshire Rising was a sudden protest of the suppression of the monasteries. Shortly after the closure of Louth Abbey, the local villagers were at evensong at St. James Church in Louth and…well… next thing you know they were revolting and the unrest quickly spread to neighboring towns. Their numbers and organization grew until some 40,000 protesters marched on Lincoln and occupied Lincoln Cathedral.  The King quickly sent threatening orders for the rebels to disperse, which they by and large did. By October 14 the leaders had been captured and hung. It all seemed over…

Until it wasn’t.

While the Lincolnshire Uprising was failing, the rest of the North was mobilizing into the Pilgrimage of Grace, which has been called the “most serious of all Tudor rebellions.”  The Pilgrims wanted the breach with Rome to be repaired, they wanted the abbeys to be restored – and they wanted Thomas Cromwell gone (Cromwell was blamed for the changes). This kind of questioning of policies drove Henry into a rage. On October 19, he would send off two letters. First, to the Duke of Suffolk detailing the lesson he wanted them to be taught:

After this, if it appear to you by due proof that the rebels have since their retires from Lincoln attempted any new rebellion, you shall, with your forces run upon them and with all extremity “destroy, burn, and kill man, woman, and child the terrible example of all others, and specially the town of Louth because to this rebellion took his beginning in the same.”

Second, to the rebels themselves:

I have never heard that princes’ counsellors and prelates should be appointed by ignorant common people nor that they were meet persons to choose them. “How presumptuous then are ye, the rude commons of one shire, and that one of the most brute and beastly of the whole realm and of least experience, to find fault with your prince for the electing of his counsellors and prelates?” Thus you take upon yourself to rule your prince.

As to the suppression of religious houses we would have you know it is granted to us by Parliament and not set forth by the mere will of any counsellor. It has not diminished the service of God, for none were suppressed but where most abominable living was used, as appears by their own confessions signed by their own hands in the time of our visitations. Yet many were allowed to stand, more than we by the act needed; and if they amend not their living we fear we have much to answer for.

As to the relief of poor people, we wonder you are not ashamed to affirm that they have been a great relief, when many or most have not more than four or five religious persons in them and divers but one; who spent the goods of their house in nourishing vice.

As to the Act of Uses we wonder at your madness in trying to make us break the laws agreed to by the nobles, knights, and gentlemen of this realm, whom the same chiefly toucheth. Also the grounds of those uses were false and usurped upon the prince.

As to the fifteenth, do you think us so faint hearted that ye of one shire, were ye a great many more, could compel us to remit the same, when the payments yet to come will not meet a tenth of the charges we must sustain for your protection?

As to First Fruits, it is a thing granted by Parliament also. We know also that ye our commons have much complained in time past that most of the goods and lands of the realm were in the spiritual men’s hands; yet, now pretending to be loyal subjects, you cannot endure that your prince should have part thereof.

We charge you to withdraw to your houses and make no more assemblies, but deliver up the provokers of this mischief to our lieutenant’s hands and submit yourselves to condign punishment, else we will not suffer this injury unavenged. We pray God give you grace to do your duties and rather deliver to our lieutenant 100 persons than by your obstinacy endanger yourselves, your wives, children, lands, goods, and chattels, besides the indignation of God.

I kept the full text of this second letter in – even some five hundred years later you can feel yourself being cowed by his anger and threats. I can only imagine what the Pilgrims must have felt on reading this (even without knowing about the letter to Suffolk)!

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September 17, 1537 – Anne Bassett Sworn to Jane Seymour’s Service

Monumental brass portrait of Lady Lisle (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Monumental brass portrait of Lady Lisle – there are no portraits of Anne…(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Poor Anne. For years, her mother tries to get her a position at court and finally succeeds. Anne arrives, is sworn to Jane Seymour’s service the day after Jane takes to her chamber…and then loses her position when Jane dies a month later. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story is a good one…

Anne Bassett was the daughter of Sir John Bassett and Honor Grenville. Sir John died young, and Honor remarried – Arthur Plantagenet, First Viscount Lisle. Did you catch the name Plantagenet? Yep. Arthur was the son of Edward IV…but an illegitimate son who therefore posed no threat to Henry VIII. Lord Lisle was Lord Deputy of Calais, and Lord and Lady Lisle corresponded with the court a great deal (their letters tend to be good ones in Letters and Papers – to  just skip to those there is actually a compilation, the Lisle Letters). Anyway. There is a long trail of Lady Lisle trying unsuccessfully to get her daughters Anne and Elizabeth placed into Anne Boleyn’s household (and arguably others) but was unsuccessful until she finally sent quail to a pregnant Jane Seymour “which her Grace loveth very well, and longeth not a little for.” In gratitude, Jane said she would take one of the girls into her service (whichever was “more sober, sad, wise and discreet”) and would place the other in the household of the Duchess of Suffolk. So Anne and Elizabeth made the trip over to meet the Queen, each with two changes of clothes to make sure they would be dressed properly. Anne was chosen, sworn in…then out of a job a month later after Jane died.

But Anne did stay at court, and there were always rumors about her.  Some say she became Henry’s mistress around 1538-1539 – which would have made her position as a maid of honor to Anne of Cleves just a little awkward. Some thought she might become the King’s wife after the execution of Catherine Howard (the Duchess of Suffolk was another rumored contender for the spot!). But she stayed safe, and became a maid of honor to Mary I in 1553 then in 1554 married Sir Walter Hungerford. They had two children quickly and then she unfortunately died (some time before 1558 when Walter remarried) (Anne Dormer, if you want to know).

But on this day the future looked limitless. Let’s stop there…

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September 1, 1532 – Anne Boleyn Created Marquess of Pembroke

Anne Boleyn's ennoblement, as immortalized by Showtimes' The Tudors (Natalie Dormer as Anne, Jonathan Rhys-Meyer right behind her as Henry)

Anne Boleyn’s ennoblement, as immortalized by Showtimes’ The Tudors (Natalie Dormer as Anne, Jonathan Rhys Meyers right behind her as Henry)

This was a huge step. Anne was granted a hereditary peerage in her own right – the first time this had ever been done in England. And what a peerage! Pembroke was the title borne a century earlier by Henry’s great-uncle Jasper Tudor.  Whatever happened to or with Henry, Anne was semi-royal.

The ennoblement occurred right before Anne was about to accompany Henry on a trip to France to drum up support for the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The title was a way of enhancing Anne’s status for the meeting – a step that was soon followed by Anne’s taking over the crown jewels which Catherine was forced to surrender.

The real question is whether this was a reward for Anne finally ceding her virginity to Henry – or the assurance she needed before she would do so. The wording of Anne’s patent vested succession to the title in her “heirs male” – omitting the standard “lawfully begotten.” That strongly suggests that they were contemplating such a possibility. Either way, the question was mooted a couple of weeks later – it was clear that Anne and Henry were sleeping together in France – they had interconnecting bed chambers they spent most of their time in, the Venetian ambassador was claiming they had married in secret…that kind of stuff. Whether the relationship started there is irrelevant to all but the romantics among us, who like to imagine that the lovers were transported after the triumph of the meeting with Francis and threw caution to the wind in the certainty that they would soon be lawfully married…

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August 17, 1510 – Henry VIII Executes Empson and Dudley

Henry VII with Empson and Dudley (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Close your eyes (metaphorically, you still have to read this…). I’m going to give you a fact pattern, you tell me who’s involved.

Picture someone close to Henry VIII, a person his entire country hates. Henry sacrifices them to his people – heaping terrible accusations upon them and charging them with treason based on suspicious and spurious facts. Their death satisfies the people’s blood lust and strengthens Henry’s position without him having to change anything in his policies. Who am I talking about?

Did you guess Anne Boleyn? Most people would. Most people think Henry got cruel and vindictive later in life, but in fact it was there all along.

Two days after his coronation, Henry made a huge move that secured his popularity: he took two of the most powerful men from his father’s Privy Council, the men who had come to represent the heavy taxes imposed under Henry VII, and charged them with treason. Not even actual treason, just “constructive treason” – and based on made up facts. Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley became symbols of everything that was wrong with the kingdom, and their executions “fixed” all that even though tax rates stayed the same.

Two years after their deaths, an Act of Parliament restored their lands to their families. Empson’s heirs lived quiet lives, while Dudley’s returned to court. John Dudley rose gradually under Henry, faster under Edward VI – becoming the boy king’s Lord President of the Council. Unfortunately, he couldn’t handle giving up his power when Edward died: he tried to force Lady Jane Grey onto the throne (right after having her marry his son) but failed and was beheaded by Mary I. His own son fared a little better: Robert Dudley became Elizabeth’s favorite, though she refused to marry him, and lived to a ripe old age.

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July 29, 1565 – Mary of Scotland Marries Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

Mary and Darnley circa 1565 (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary and Darnley, painting circa 1565 now at Hardwick Hall (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary and Henry were actually cousins – they shared a grandmother in Margaret Tudor – and they both had strong claims to the throne of England.

Mary had the stronger claim since her father, James V of Scotland, was Margaret’s first-born son. Darnley’s claim arose through Margaret’s second marriage, and was through a daughter (also named Margaret), so his claim was lesser than Mary’s.  But because Margaret was Henry’s older sister, both their claims were stronger than anyone else’s, including the Greys who claimed through the younger Mary Tudor.

Both Mary and Darnley were Catholic – which made them even more of a real threat to Elizabeth’s throne as it offered a dynastic alternative to a Protestant rule. The fact that Darnley was free to marry Mary of Scotland proves Elizabeth’s strong belief in justice and the letter of the law: Darnley had been imprisoned after his parents, the semi-regal Lennox family, went crazy in 1562, trying to seize power wherever they could find it – Scotland or England (they also had strong ties to France), but Elizabeth released him when nothing could be proved against him. (Henry VIII would have executed them just for the risk they posed!)

Quick context from Wikipedia about Darnley’s parents: “Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox, was third in line to the Scottish throne, and his wife Margaret Douglas was niece to Henry VIII and granddaughter of Henry VII.[7]

Was this marriage or wasn’t it another instance of Mary baiting Elizabeth? After all, Mary married the man who could help her steal the English throne. To dissuade her from this choice, Elizabeth had offered the widowed Queen of Scots her own favorite, Robert Dudley, as husband. The Six Wives of Henry VIII does an amazing job giving us this story, showing us an Elizabeth foiled in her plan to protect her throne and make her beloved a King at the same time. “How could she marry Darnley, I offered her Leicester.”

Either way, marriage to Darnley launched the downhill trajectory of her life. The union didn’t end well, though it did produce the perfect heir to the English and Scottish Thrones in James VI/James I of England. So let us stop there and raise a glass to toast the consequences of today’s marriage – the peaceful unification of Scotland and England. (I’m not going to mention the possible ramifications of Brexit here…that’s for another post.)

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