Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Excommunication of Elizabeth I

On this day in Tudor History 1570, Pope Pius V issued his papal bull, Regnans in Excelsis. The document excommunicated Elizabeth and all those who remained loyal to her. Additionally, the document called for a Catholic uprising to depose Elizabeth in favor of her cousin and devout Catholic, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots.The bull was issued after it became clear that Elizabeth had no intention of marrying into the powerful Catholic Hapsburg family and she began to assert her power as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
Despite being an attempt to return England and her Queen to Catholicism, the bull actually had the unintended consequences of increasing the harshness of recusancy laws against those still practicing Catholicism in England. These consequences included the trial, and even execution, of some Catholic priests, the issuance of deep fines against those who refused to attend services in the Church of England and the withholding of public office from Catholics. This backlash created a deeply marginalization of Catholics that would continue into the reign of the Hanoverians.

Read of the Week

I'll confess, I did not read this book this week. Nor even this month...I have whittling away at the mass amount of content in GW Bernard's The King's Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church for a few months. The book is monumental; it is over 800 pages and has hundreds of footnotes. Unfortunately, besides it's stature its not an impressive book. The author charges straight into Henry VIII's divorce assuming that the reader knows all of the major players and background information leading up to the break from Papal authority. Bernard tears apart other historians and their theories in a way that reeks of historical unprofessionalism. His writing is pretentious and wordy; Bernard assumes that he is the most knowledgeable person on the subject of Henry's reforms. He attempts to dispel the widely accepted historical ideals that Anglican reforms were a product of Henry and his advisors' belief systems, that there were court factions attempting to control religious policy and that Anne Boleyn influenced Henry's ideas about religion. Bernard attempts to do this by exploring primary source documents and reading 'what they actually say' His mistake with this methodology is that he fails to take into account sarcasm, duress, self preservation or any other normal human emotion/reaction. He interprets primary sources at face value without considering contextual evidence such as location, place in the power structure and most importantly the position of Henry's opinion at that particular moment. The King's Reformation is a tough read, but it is admirable that the author attempted such a huge undertaking. I would not recommend this book for anyone who is not deeply familiar with Tudor history and has formulated their own opinions regarding the events of Henry's reformation as the author scarcely tries to hide his objective view points and biases, allowing them to color every page.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

On This Day in Tudor History

On this day in Tudor history 1516 the future Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, was born at Greenwich. By this point Henry and Katherine had been married for nearly seven years and he was disappointed at the birth of a daughter after the stillbirths and neonatal deaths of Katherine's elder children including two sons. Despite this disappointment he expressed hope when he said, "We are both young; if it was a daughter this time by the grace of God sons will soon follow..."* Mary would be declared a bastard upon the divorce of her parents and would suffer a great deal under the pressure to conform to the Church of England and accept her father's every changing opinions and doctrines. Mary would ascend the throne upon the death of her brother, Edward VI, and be remember in history as Mary, Bloody Mary.

*This tract taken from Henry VIII: A King and His Court by Alison Weir

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Executions of Katharine Howard and Jane Boleyn

Yesterday marked the anniversary of Katharine Howard and Jane Boleyn's execution. I received several emails asking me about the nature of their death and what actually happened that day on the scaffold. First off, we must have a basic understanding of the charges against the women, you can read about them here. There is a lot of debate amongst historians about Katharine's scaffold speech; The Chronicle of Henry VIII, a primary source records her last words as:

"Brothers, by the journey upon which I am bound I have not wronged the King, but it is true that long before the King took me I loved Culpeper, and I wish to God I had done as wished me, for at the time the King wanted to take me he urged me to say that I was pledged to him. I f I had done as he advised me I should not die this death, nor would he. I would rather have him for a husband than be mistress of the world, but sin blinded me and greed of grandeur, and since mine is the fault, mine also is the suffering, and my great sorrow is that Culpeper should have to die through me..."*
The Chronicle is moving and shows Katharine as much more brave and accountable for her actions that most  accounts do; there are however, doubts about it authenticity. The author continues to say that following Katharine's beheading Thomas Culpeper met the axe man; this is incorrect as Culpeper had been executed in December, over two months before Katharine. There is a first hand account of the executions by a London resident Sir Ottwell Johnson, which does not mention Katharine's alleged shocking speech, which is surely would have. His account says:
 "I see the Queen and the Lady Rochford suffer within the Tower, the day following, whose souls, I doubt not, be with God, for the made the most Godly and Christian end, that ever was hear tell of (I think) since the world's creation uttering their lively faith in the blood of Christ only, and with goodly words and steadfast countenances they desired for all Christian people to take regard unto their worthy and just punishment with death for their offences, and against God heinously from their youth upward, in breaking all his commandments, and also against the King's royal Majesty very dangerously: wherefore they being justly condemned (as they said) by the laws of the Realm and Parliament, to die, required the people to take example of them, for amendment of their ungodly lives, and gladly to obey the King in all things, for whose preservation they did heartily pray; and wiled all people so to do: commending their souls to God, and earnestly calling for mercy upon him: whom I beseech to give us grace, with such faith, hope and charity at our departing of this miserable world, to come to the fruition of his God head in joy everlasting. Amen."*
Retha Warnicke, Alison Weir and other revisionist historians believe that Jane had something to do with Anne and her brother George's fall from grace in 1536 and went to the block praying for forgiveness saying, "God has permitted me to suffer this shameful doom as punishment for having contributed to my husband's death. I falsely accused him of living, in an incestuous manner, his sister, Queen Anne. For this I deserve to die. But I am guilty of no other crime..."** Several historians have worked to restore the image of Jane Boleyn which I spoke about here.
In my opinion, it is safe to say that Katharine and Jane probably made no grand gestures or speeches, but went to the scaffold with quiet dignity professing their sins and claiming that they deserved their punishments.
Katharine and Jane were both laid to rest at the Tower of London in St. Peter ad Vincula near Anne Boleyn and much like Anne their memories have been smeared and damaged due to Hollywood and literary interpretations. It is vital that we investigate these historical events from a primary source perspective and draw our own conclusions.
*Quotes taken from The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
**Quote takes from The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

On This Day in Tudor History

On this day in Tudor history1520 Mary Boleyn, sister to the infamous Anne, married William Carey, an esquire of the body to Henry VIII, at Greenwich. The marriage was one of political matchmaking; William Carey was rising quickly in favor at court and he had noble blood through his grandmother's lineage. We do not have a lot of details about the marriage itself, but controversy would soon surround it. Just two short years later, Mary would strike up a romance with the King. This relationship has become fodder for historical fiction novels including The Other Boleyn Girl as historians and other interested scholars have debated about the paternity of Mary's children, Katherine(1524) and Henry Carey (1526) read my thoughts on their lineage here. Mary has been vilified by some historians, referred to as the Great Prostitute or English mare whom all men "enjoyed to ride" by authors and films. It is a reputation that is perhaps undeserved and perhaps served the purpose of undermining Anne's, and later Elizabeth's, influence. Read my article on the subject The Mary Mythology to draw your own conclusions about the most mysterious member of the Boleyn family.