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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July 6, 1553: Edward VI Dies, Northumberland Tries to Implement His ‘Device for the Succession’

"My Devise for the Succession" (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

“My Devise for the Succession” (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Edward VI was a tragic figure. King at nine, dead at sixteen – and had to execute two uncles in between. He was also staunchly Protestant, and after he fell ill in early 1553 he started to worry that the existing legal structure would pass the throne to his Catholic sister Mary if he died without issue. This made him decide to take matters into his own hands: He wrote a will, entitled My Devise for the Succession, to bypass both of his half-sisters and vest the crown in the hands of his cousin, the Lady Jane Grey.

Where did this idea come from? Most people accuse John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, of creating the scheme. In the “follow the money” tradition, Northumberland was certainly the person with the most to gain from the decision: he married his oldest son to Jane Grey. More recently though, David Starkey and others have argued that Northumberland was more of an opportunist than anything else, and simply capitalized on the logic of Edward VI’s decision. This is borne out by the fact that the Dudley-Grey marriage took place in May 1553, well after Edward started drafting his plans.

Indeed, Edward started writing the will at a time when he still expected he might leave adult children behind, though the bulk of the will was devoted to the alternative scenarios – including one that would leave England with a Council waiting for a monarch yet to be born (!). It was confusing and didn’t quite work, and more importantly needed to be ratified by Parliament in order to supersede the succession established by Henry VIII. In late June, Edward had the key members of the nobility swear to uphold his plans, and he also instructed that writs be prepared for a new Parliament which would meet on September 18. Unfortunately, that proved to be far too late for the boy looking to leave a legacy.

Still, Northumberland tried to implement the boy king’s plan. He hastily assembled an army and marched against Mary in East Anglia…but he had not prepared for Mary to act as resolutely as she did – or for quite so many people to declare for her. On July 20, he learned that his own Privy Council had proclaimed Mary queen, and his resistance dissolved. Northumberland himself declared for Mary, claiming that he had merely followed the instructions of his deceased King. That strategy did not work, nor did his return to Catholicism: Northumberland was executed on August 22, 1553 on Tower Hill.

 

My Devise for the Succession

  1. For lack of [male] issue of my body to the male issue coming from this female, as I have after declared. To the Lady Frances’ male heirs if she have any such issue before my death, to the Lady Jane and her male heirs, to the Lady Katherine’s male heirs, to the Lady Mary’s male heirs, To the male heirs of the daughters which she shall have hereafter. Then to the Lady Margaret’s male heirs. For lack of such issue, to the heirs male of the Lady Jane’s daughters. To the heirs male of the Lady Katherine’s daughters, and so forth until you come to the Lady Margaret’s daughters’ heirs males.
  2. If after my death the heirs male be entered into 18 years old, then he to have the whole rule and governance thereof.
  3. But if he be under 18, then his mother to be governess until he enters 18 years old. But to do nothing without the advice and agreement of 6 persons of a Council to be appointed by my last will to the number of 20.
  4. If the mother die before the heir enters into 18, the realm to be governed by the Council, provided that after he be 14 years all great matters of importance be opened to him.
  5. If I died without issue, and there were no heir male, then the Lady Frances to be governess. For lack of her, then her eldest daughters, and for lack of them the Lady Margaret to be governess after as is aforeaid, until some heir male be born, and then the mother of that child to be governess.
  6. And if during the rule of the governess there should die 4 of the Council, then shall she by her letters call an assembly of the Council within one month following and choose 4 more, wherein she shall have their voices. But after her death the 16 shall chose among themselves until they come to (18 erased) 14 years old, and then he by their advice shall chose them.

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February 28, 1556 – Burial of Stephen Gardiner at Winchester Cathedral

Stephen Gardiner by a 16th century artist (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Stephen Gardiner by a 16th century artist (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Stephen Gardiner was an important English cleric and politician during the reigns of Henry VIII and Mary I (his strongly Catholic leanings sent him to the Tower during the reign of the Protestant Edward VI…). He served as Bishop of Winchester from 1531-1555 (with two years “off” during his imprisonment).

Although he supported Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Gardiner spent the rest of Henry’s reign promoting Catholic interests. At Henry’s death, he was in a period of disfavor, so he was not named as an executor of the will or part of the regency council – which left the field more open for Edward Seymour to have him further marginalized. Of course, when Edward VI died and Mary I acceded the throne, Gardiner was restored to his bishopric and named Lord Chancellor. He was the one who placed the crown on Mary’s head at her coronation, as well as the cleric who performed her marriage to Philip II.

Because of his position of prominence during Mary’s reign, it is often assumed that he was largely responsible for the policies that earned her the nickname “Bloody Mary,” though some people defend him by arguing that no one was punished for heresy in his own diocese until after he died. I have to admit, I’m in the “don’t like him much” camp because of the way he tried to bring down Cranmer and Katherine Parr during Henry’s reign (he actually got Henry to sign a warrant to have her questioned, but she found out about it and had the chance to explain herself to Henry before the arrest could take place…)

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February 1, 1554 – Mary I Speech at Guildhall Opposing Wyatt’s Rebellion

Mary I by Antonis Mor, 1554 (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

After assuming the throne in 1553, Mary I did what would have been expected from any queen: she searched for a husband so that she could produce an heir. Unfortunately for Mary, she chose Philip of Spain – which infuriated many in her country and led to an uprising. Led by Sir Thomas Wyatt (the son of the poet who wrote verse to Anne Boleyn) and several others, the rebels wanted to prevent the marriage to a foreign power…and place the Protestant Elizabeth on the throne. When news came that Wyatt’s troops were preparing to storm the city, Mary spoke to her people at Guildhall, exhorting them to bravely support her. It was a brilliant speech, one that led twenty thousand men to swarm to her side. Many believe that Elizabeth used it as the basis for her Armada speech…but that’s a story for another day.

Here is the text of that speech:

I am come in mine own person to tell you what you already see and know; I mean the traitorous and seditious assembling of the Kentish rebels against us and you. Their pretense (as they say) is to resist a marriage between us and the prince of Spain; of all of their plots and evil-contrived articles you have been informed. Since then, our council have resorted to the rebels, demanding the cause of their continued emprise. By their answers, the marriage is found to be the least of their quarrel; for, swerving from their former demands, they now arrogantly require the governance of our person, the keeping of our town, and the placing of our councilors. What I am, loving subjects, ye right well know – your queen, to whom, at my coronation, ye promised allegiance and obedience. I was then wedded to the realm, and to the laws of the same, the spousal ring whereof I wear here on my finger, and it never has and never shall be left off. That I am the rightful and true inheritor of the English crown I not only take all of Christendom to witness, but also your acts of Parliament confirming the same. My father (as ye all know) possessed the same regal estate; to him ye were always loving subjects. Therefore I doubt not, ye will show yourselves so to me, his daughter; not suffering any rebel, especially so presumptuous a one as this Wyatt, to usurp the government of our person.

And this I say on the word of a prince. I cannot tell how naturally a mother loveth her children, for I never had any; but if subjects may be loved as a mother doth her child, then assure yourselves that I, your sovereign lady and queen, do as earnestly love and favor you. I cannot but think that you love me in return; and thus, bound in concord, we shall be able, I doubt not, to give these rebels a speedy overthrow.

Now, concerning my intended marriage; I am neither so desirous of wedding, nor so precisely wedded to my will, that I needs must have a husband. Hitherto I have lived a virgin, and I doubt not, with God’s grace, to live so still. But if, as my ancestors have done, it might please God that I should leave you a successor to be your governor, I trust you would rejoice thereat; also, I know it would be to your comfort. Yet, if I thought this marriage would endanger any of you, my loving subjects, or the royal estate of this English realm, I would never consent thereto, or marry while I loved. On the word of a queen I assure you, that if the marriage appear not before the high court of parliament, the nobility, and commons for the singular benefit of the whole realm, then I will abstain – not only from this, but from every other.

Wherefore, good subjects, pluck up your hearts! Like true men, stand fast with your lawful sovereign against these rebels, and fear them not – for I do not, I assure you. I leave with you my lord Howard and my lord treasurer [Winchester], to assist my lord mayor in the safeguard of the city from spoil and sack, which is the only aim of the rebellious crew.

SOURCES:

Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, Volume VI (quoting from Holinshed’s Chronicles)

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November 26, 1533 – Henry FitzRoy Marries Mary Howard

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, by Hans Holbein (public domain via Wikipedia Commons)

Henry FitzRoy was the illegitimate son of Henry VIII and Elizabeth Blount. Mary Howard was the second daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk and Anne Boleyn’s cousin. The marriage was an enormous coup for the Howard family.

There had been talk, when Henry VIII first began to consider divorcing Catherine of Aragon, to have FitzRoy marry his daughter Mary and thereby assure the future of the Tudor line. The Pope pushed for this solution as the perfect solution to Henry’s Great Matter, and offered to issue the required dispensation. It might even have worked, except that the King was in love with Anne Boleyn…

By November 1533, Anne Boleyn had become Queen of England. She had given birth to her daughter Elizabeth and a son was expected next. The marriage between the fifteen year old FitzRoy and the fourteen year old Mary Howard was a triumph for the Howard family, cementing their position as the premier English family. It also gave assurance that, one way or another, Howard blood would join in the royal line after Henry…

Unfortunately for the young couple, they were not allowed to consummate the marriage. The King was afraid that too much sexual activity had hastened his older brother Arthur’s death (remember – it was at the base of his annulment from Catherine that the two had consummated that marriage) and didn’t want to chance his own son. Thus, when FizRoy died of consumption in 1536 right after turning 17, Mary was not entitled to many of the lands she should have expected as the widow – because without the consummation, the marriage was not a true marriage (a trick Henry was to use again to rid himself of Anne of Cleves)(!).

But that is a story for later. For today, let us toast happiness to the newlyweds and to the still-triumphant Anne Boleyn….

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November 17, 1558 – Death of Mary I

Mary I, painted by Antonis Mor in 1554 (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

November 17, 1558 marked the sad end of Mary I, first Queen Regnant of England (except for Matilda, whose reign was disputed and who was arguably the reason that Henry VIII was so terrified of leaving his kingdom to a daughter…).

Mary died at Saint James Palace. Sir Nicholas Throckmorton removed Mary’s betrothal ring from her finger and brought it to Elizabeth at Hatfield to prove that the succession had truly taken place. The legend is that Elizabeth was sitting under an old oak tree when Throckmorton found her. After he placed the ring in her hand, she sank to her knees and quoted from Psalm 118: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Much of the country agreed. Mary was not a popular monarch. She had a vested interest in returning England to Catholicism – it was, after all, the creation of the Church of England that allowed her mother to be set aside. So, following in her father’s footsteps, she burned Protestants to persuade the people to return to Rome. She also married Philip II of Spain, allying England with a power that was actually then at war with France – and threatening the end that had so terrified Henry VIII: that England would become a province of one of the European powers.

But the truth was, Mary was more of a victim than almost anyone. She was only twelve when her father began the proceedings that would end with her bastardization, she had to watch a succession of stepmothers, some of which she loved and some of which she hated. She had to endure a younger brother threatening her religion and her very existence. And even after she acceded to the throne, she suffered two false pregnancies and the sinking feeling that the world secretly wanted her dead so her younger sister could inherit the throne. When you think of the misery endured by her mother, it’s hard not to sit and wonder whether she was subject to some kind of familial curse, like the Kennedys of today who have lost bright stars from several successive generations…

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September 19, 1580 – Death of Catherine Willoughby

Catherine Willoughby, drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger

Catherine Willoughby, drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger

Catherine Willoughby has always been fascinating to me, and today is a fitting day to raise a glass in her memory and talk about her life. A few salient points:

  • She was the daughter of Maria de Salinas, Catherine of Aragon’s most devoted lady in waiting, but became so associated with the reform movement that she had to flee England when Mary I came to the throne. (When she was in Katherine Parr’s household, she actually named her spaniel “Gardiner” so that she could amuse the rest of them by calling it to heel)
  • She became the ward of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, when she was nine – and his wife when she turned fourteen (he was forty-nine at the time…).
  • It would seem that Henry was attracted to her for years. There was even a rumor right after Brandon died in 1545 that Henry was considering divorcing Katherine Parr to marry her. It was said that the impetus was that Katherine was barren since she had never had children, while Catherine was fertile, having already borne two sons. It never came to pass.
  • After Thomas Seymour’s execution, Catherine was given the wardship of the infant Mary, his daughter with Katherine Parr – despite clearly not wanting it. The child brought no financial benefit since Katherine Parr had left her entire estate to Thomas Seymour, and his estate had been forfeited to the state when he was convicted of treason. At the same time, as the daughter of a former Queen she required certain expensive formalities. Catherine wrote to Secretary of State William Cecil asking for funds to cover those costs. It is not clear whether they were granted, but the issue disappeared since the baby died around her second birthday.

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to Jane the Quene (tentatively entitled The Path to Somerset) so I’ve been reading up on Catherine and the events of the second three-queen set of Henry’s life (the final book in the trilogy will The Boy King, covering Edward’s accession to his death – I’m not quite up to that yet). I’m still working out how much of my fascination to indulge, and how much of it will be distracting to the story…Anyone who would like to weigh in, I’d love to hear from you!

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August 2, 1524 – Wolsey Proposes an Alliance to Margaret of Scotland

August 2, 1524 - Wolsey seeks to solve the succession issue by proposing an Alliance to Margaret of Scotland. Read more on www.janetwertman.com

Cardinal Wolsey at Christ Church, by Sampson Strong

Back in 1524, Thomas Wolsey was still running Henry VIII’s political show and Margaret of Scotland, Henry VIII’s sister, was acting as regent for her not quite teenaged son, James V. Because of her background, she was naturally sympathetic to England – which put her at odds with most of the Scottish noblemen.

Wolsey wrote to Margaret proposing an amazing opportunity: a marriage between James and Mary that would potentially unite the two countries under a single set of rulers. It was an important plan for the future, essentially a solution to the problem that Henry’s then-wife, Catherine of Aragon, was believed to be beyond childbearing age (her last pregnancy, which ended in miscarriage, was in 1518): this new alliance would provide an existing heir with Tudor blood. It would also change the nature of the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland, which had long presented a security issue to England. Which was of course part of the problem…most Scottish noblemen clung to that alliance as they were highly distrustful of England and its motives. But still Wolsey tried.

[The text is from Letters and Papers, so it is in the format that preserves only some of the original text and summarizes other parts of it]

Perceives by her letters, dated Edinburgh, 31st July, how prudently and virtuously she has acquitted herself in the erection of her son, which has preserved his life from extreme danger. This is much to the King’s comfort, after the charges he has sustained in opposition to Albany. As to her proposal for a marriage by which England “should be sicker of Scotland,” has no doubt such a peace may be had as never was had with Scotland. The King means to proceed as a loving father towards his good son, quite differently from what other kings of England have done, and Scotland will be sure to find more comfort at Henry’s hands than they ever had of France. If the Scots proceed lovingly and nobly with him, it may be that such a marriage may be had for James as never king of Scots had the like. Begs her, therefore, to follow the counsel of the King and my lord of Norfolk, and not allow herself to be beguiled by an untrue persuasion. Norfolk is commissioned to conclude a truce, and whenever the Scots will send ambassadors they shall have a most favorable reception. If difficulties be raised about this, Scotland will never have such another opportunity again.

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June 13, 1536: Mary’s Letter to Cromwell Enclosing Her Formal Submission to Henry VIII

 

June 13, 1536 - The Lady Mary writes to Cromwell enclosing her submission to Henry VIII. Read the letter at www.janetwertman.com

Mary’s Submission to her Father

 

On June  13, 1536, the Lady Mary finally  submitted to her father, formally accepting the invalidity of her mother’s marriage to the King and her own illegitimacy, as well as the authority of the English Church. She had tried to avoid this – she sent a letter congratulating her father on his marriage to “Queen Jane” but that angered him because it wasn’t nearly explicit enough. Thomas Cromwell fixed things by drafting and sending  her a “sample” letter – she  copied it verbatim just to be sure it would be acceptable. This is the letter she wrote to Cromwell explaining what she’d done and thanking him for his guidance. Interestingly, it is dated the day before her formal submission to  her father.

Good Master Secretary: 

I do thank you, with all my heart, for the great pain and suit that you have had for me, for the which I think myself very bound to you. And whereas I do perceive by your letter that you do mislike my exception in my letter to the King’s Grace, I assure you I did not mean it as you do take it. For I do not mistrust that the King’s goodness will move me to any thing which should offend God and my conscience, but what I did write was only by the reason of continual custom, for I have always been used, both in writing and in speaking, to except God in all things.

Nevertheless, because you have exhorted me to write to His Grace again, and I cannot devise what I should write more but your own last copy, without adding or misleading, therefore I do send you, by this bearer my servant, the same, word for word; and it is unsealed, because I cannot endure to write another copy: for the pain in my head and teeth hath troubled me so sore these two or three days, and doth yet so continue, that I have very small rest day or night. Wherefore I trust in your goodness that you will accept this, and find such means, by your wisdom, that the King’s Grace may do the same; which thing I desire you, in the honor of God, to procure, as my very trust is in you. For I know none to make suit unto nor ask counsel of, but only you; whom I commit to God, desiring him to help you in all your business.

From Hundson, the 13th day of June. Your assured, bounded, loving friend during my life,

Mary

 

FOR FURTHER READING:

Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, June 1536

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March 16, 1554 – Elizabeth’s Letter to Mary I (the “Tide Letter”)

Tide Letter - Page Two

Tide Letter – Page Two

Elizabeth wrote this letter after being informed that she would be taken to the Tower. Sir Thomas Wyatt (son of the poet who wrote verse about Anne Boleyn) had rebelled against Mary I following the announcement of her plan to marry Philip of Spain. Elizabeth had been implicated in the plot. It was called the “Tide Letter” because by the time Elizabeth finished writing it, the tide on the Thames had turned and they could no longer leave that day.

Elizabeth was amazing in the way she took every advantage that she could. It is said that when she arrived  at the Tower, she refused to go in. When Kat Ashley shared her fear, she turned to her to comfort her and quoted Bible verses. Everything was done with an eye to how her actions would be viewed. This was a lesson she had learned from her mother’s end, from Catherine Howard’s, from Thomas Seymour’s.

One of the most striking things about the letter is the way Elizabeth drew lines after her signature – apparently to prevent anyone from adding anything to it. It was a wise move: one of the pieces of evidence against  her  was a forged letter from her to Henry II of France endorsing Wyatt’s rebellion.

The letter should be read slowly, as if you can hear the words being said (it also helps in trying to understand sixteenth century English!). It is truly an amazingly powerful piece, one that really shows Elizabeth’s brilliance.

       If any ever did try this old saying that a king’s word was more than another man’s oath, I most humbly beseech your Majesty to verify it in me, and to remember your last promise and my last demand that I be not condemned without answer, which it seems that I now am; for that without cause proved, I am by your council from you commanded to go unto the Tower, a place more wonted for a false traitor than a true subject, which though I know I deserve it not, yet in the face of all this realm appears that it is proved. I pray God I may the shamefullest death that ever any died, if I may mean any such harm and to this present power. I protest before God (who shall judge my truth, whatsoever malice shall devise), that I never practised, counselled, nor consented to any thing that might be prejudicial to your person in any way, or dangerous to the state by any means. And therefore I humbly beseech your Majesty to let me answer afore yourself, and not suffer me to trust to your Councillors, yea, and that afore I go to the Tower (if it be possible); if not afore I be further condemned. Howbeit, I trust assuredly your Highness would give me leave to do it afore I be thus shamefully cried out on, as I now shall be; yea, and that without cause. Let conscience move your Highness to take some better way than to let me be condemned in men’s sight afore my desert I known. Also I most humbly beseech your highness to pardon this my boldness, which innocency procures me to do, together with hope of your natural kindness, which I trust will not see me cast away without desert, which what it is I would desire no more of God but that you truly knew, but which thing I think and believe you shall never by report know, unless by yourself you hear. I have heard in my time of many cast away for want of coming to the presence of their Prince; and in late days I heard my Lord of Somerset say that if his brother had been suffered to speak with him he had never suffered; but the persuasions were made to him so great that he was brought in belief that he could not live safely if the Admiral lived, and that made him give his consent to his death. Though these persons are not to be compared to your Majesty, yet I pray God that evil persuasions persuade not one sister against the other, and all for that they have heard false report, and not harkened to the truth. Now therefore, once again, with humbleness of my heart, because I am not suffered to bow the knees of my body, I humbly crave to speak with your Highness, which I would not be so bold as to desire if I knew not myself most clear, as I know myself most true. And as for the traitor Wyatt, he might peradventure write me a letter, but on my faith I never received any from him. And as for the copy of the letter sent to the French King, I pray God confound me eternally if I ever sent him word, message, token, or letter, by any means, and to this my truth I will stand to my death.
       I humbly crave but only one word of answer from yourself

     Your Highness’s most faithful subject, that hath been from the beginning, and will be to my end,

Elizabeth              

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