Tight Purse Strings

Tight Purse Strings

Henry VII was well-known for his miserliness. “The popular tradition respecting his avarice, which has descended to us, seems only too well founded. It is quite the characteristic of a usurer to have a fondness for gold. We are informed that whenever a gold coin entered the chest of Henry it never found its way out again” ( Bergenroth 69).

Don Pedro de Ayala, envoy to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, revealed that although Henry had many qualities that would have rendered him great, “he had but one characteristic which spoilt all the rest, his love of money” (Bergenroth 53).

It was claimed that when he was not with his council or in public he was “writing accounts of his expenses with his own hand” (Tremlett 95). “He also handled the cash himself. In his own handwriting, he itemised the moneys delivered in one day to … the treasurer of his chamber…all amounting to several thousands of pounds” (Hutchinson 41).

Ledger initialed by Henry VII from 1492       Accounts written in Henry’s handwriting

 ledger         account

The king collected money from taxation, plus the obligations and fines he placed on his subjects (rich and poor). Out of the “sixty-two families in the English peerage that survived the butchery of the War of the Roses, forty-seven were at the king’s mercy, either by living under attainder or forfeiting substantial sums to the crown to guarantee their good behavior” (Hutchinson 42). These recognisances were imposed and collected by the able administrators, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley. The activities of these two men were known throughout the Court as Don Pedro de Ayala reported to Ferdinand and Isabella that Henry’s servants had “a wonderful dexterity in getting hold of other people’s money” (Bergenroth 207).

Henry VII’s priorities were revealed in the power and prestige granted to these two trusted advisors. The policies they implemented, in the king’s name, generated as much hatred and distrust as they did revenue. Although not everyone felt that way, courtiers who profited from Henry VII’s fiscal policies did worry when Henry VIII came to the throne that he would reverse “his father’s tight-fistedness…” (Jones 222), most resented Henry VII and his administration. In fact, one of Henry VIII’s first acts as king was the arrest of these two men, “greate counsaylers to the late kyng, were attached and brought to the Tower, not to the litle rejoysyng of many persones, whiche by them wer greved, whiche, attachement was thought to bee procured by malice of theim, that with their aucthoritie, in the late kynges daies wer offended, or els to shifte the noyse, of the straight execucion of penall statutes in the late kynges daies, by punishement of those persones, and other promoters, for to satisfie and appeace the people” (Hall).

For a discussion of the land revenues and prerogative feudal rights which Henry VII took advantage of to generate income, see Stanley Bertram Chrimes’ Henry VII. It is enough here to understand that Henry VII found a source of revenue which he pursued “with a zeal and relentless application which earned him and his agents an unpopularity and a measure of odium which became marked towards the end of the reign…” (Chrimes 209). Although other sovereigns had used these methods, none had “taken such a close personal part in wielding the whips and scorpions of financial pressures to attain their ends” (Chrimes 214). No wonder Henry VII emerges in the pages of history as miserly and avaricious. A study of the Calendar of Close Rolls for 1500-1509 by K. B. McFarlane led him to declare that by the end of his reign Henry VII “governed by recognizance” (Chrimes 214). It has been estimated that Henry extorted (hard to use any other word) close to £495 million in present-day monetary values from his subjects (Hutchinson 43).

Henry “made rebellions, like wars, pay their own expenses, and even yield him a mine of treasure, which was a source, in its turn, of stability to the country, giving him more ample power to put down future outbreaks. For the great majority of insurgents he had no other punishment than fines…. Violation, even of laws which were antiquated, was visited with fines which went to the king’s coffers” (Gairdner 215).

Despite the general belief that Henry had amassed a large surplus early in his reign (Chrimes 217), the Spanish envoy, Don Pedro de Ayala, remarked, “The King of England is less rich than generally said. He likes to be thought very rich because such a belief is advantageous to him in many respects. The King himself said to me that it is his intention to keep his subjects low, because riches would only make them haughty…” (Hutchinson 41). The viewpoint that Henry’s miserliness was a political rather than an avaricious motive is taken up further by Polydore Vergil. Writing under the patronage of the Tudors, Vergil did not ignore the fact that Henry VII gained money in dubious ways although he does offer explanations.

…id quod argumentum non dubium erat eum, sicut ipse aiebat, studio coercendi ferocem populi inter factiones nutriti animum, non item cupiditate cogendae pecuniae, ea coepisse uti severitate, quemadmodum supra demonstravimus, quanquam saucii ista non tam severitatis quam avaritiae tela esse clamabant. Sane modestus princeps non emungebat suos fortunis immodice qui regnum rebus omnibus longe locupletissimum reddidit reliquitque, quod planum praeter caetera fecit immanis auri pariter atque argenti copia quae in annos singulos in insulam importata est a mercatoribus ultro citroque commeantibus, quos ille saepenumero pecunia ad tempus data gratuito iuvabat, ut mercatura ars una omnium cunctis aeque mortalibus cum commoda, tum necessaria, in suo regno copiosior esset.

This was a sure sign that, just as he himself said, he resorted to this severity for the sake of curbing the fierce spirits of a people brought up amidst factionalism, not out of a lust for money-making, as I have shown above, although those who were wounded in this way exclaimed these were the darts of greed, not severity. Indeed, this modest sovereign did not despoil his subjects of their fortunes immoderately, for he left behind him a kingdom most wealthy in all respects. This is made plain, among other things, by the immense amount of gold and silver annually brought into the island by merchants plying to and fro, whom he very frequently helped with interest-free loans, so that the flow of commerce, both useful and necessary for all men, would be more abundant in his realm.

Thomas Penn brings forth the idea that Henry VII’s obsession with money was not the actions “of a miser, but of a sophisticated financial mind…” (Penn 156). This is an interesting point of view and one that was not held by many others, although Josephine Ross does admire Henry and his policies. She commented that Henry “…was a born accountant, who loved to spend hours closeted with lists of figures signing every entry with his own hand, those accounts revealed some attractive aspects of his personality” (Ross 22). His financial records do show expenditures to charitable causes, music, a variety of entertainments, architecture, sporting events, and gambling (Ross, Penn, and Chrimes). According to Ross, “There was nothing miserly about Henry VII; he was intensely careful with money, but he recognized the importance of spending freely to keep up a regal image” (Ross 22). This incongruity between miserliness and extravagance is something which was held in common between Henry VII and his granddaughter, Elizabeth Regina.

Elizabeth had inherited “…the financial prudence of her grandfather” (Neale 294) and the depleted coffers of her father. “A sense of economy was inbred as well as inborn in Elizabeth” (Neale 296). Prior to her accession her income had been small even after she received her inheritance from her father and acquired Hatfield.  Elizabeth had learned to be careful with her monies. “Her financial affairs, which had been in a precarious state since her father’s death, assumed a more healthy aspect when she took over the book-keeping herself, maintaining meticulous records of her expenditure and personally signing each page of the accounts” (Somerset 28).

Even as Queen she was watchful and her “stringent economies effected soon after her accession…” plus her “prudent financial management” allowed her to escape true money worries while maintaining her Court (Somerset 281).  What she managed to achieve with the limited resources available is astounding.  It is “that financial sense of Elizabeth’s, her resolute, irritating parsimony that the secret of greatness lay” (Neale 101).

She was a penny-pincher, but she knew, like her grandfather, where and when to spend money for political reasons. “Balancing the books was to be her life-long preoccupation as Queen” and she understood there had to be revenue (Starkey 221).  Elizabeth realized that, as money got tighter, she had to extract money at any possible source beyond the ordinary income from taxes, rates, etc.

It is well-known that privateering brought in some revenue for the Crown but never as much as hoped. Elizabeth had exclaimed that “she had known from the very first that everyone would make a fortune out of the business except herself” (Strachey 112).

One revenue source came from the requirement that Bishops give 10% of their revenue to the Crown and at their appointment the equivalent of a year’s income.  Although it was claimed she did not exploit this, it was common knowledge that later in her reign, Elizabeth was able to tap into this income by moving her Bishops between dioceses (Somerset 86).  She believed, by using “this judicious redistribution of the national wealth she was preserving her kingdom’s stability” (Somerset 88).

When the economy started to slip, she responded by selling some property, appropriating new funds and further reducing government expenditure. Yet, like her grandfather, Elizabeth had virtuous reasons for her miserliness.  When England was at war late in her reign, she “practiced eternal vigilance over her own expenses, to the disgust of the greedy cormorants about her, everlastingly grumbling and gibing at her parsimony…” (Neale 346).

“Parsimony is not a popular virtue” (Neale 296).  Elizabeth instituted “stringent economies that were often unpopular, but these measures kept England solvent at a time when most European countries were virtually bankrupt” (Weir 225).  Keeping her debt to a minimum and balancing her expenditures with her ordinary income required her to never relax the tight purse strings. She performed wonders in keeping her creditors satisfied and shouldering most of the burden without “impairing the efficiency of government or casting the gloom of poverty over the Court, the splendor of which was the nation’s pride and the monarch’s dignity” (Neale 296).

To further complicate money issues was this paradox: Elizabeth was miserly for reasons of political capital and she was extravagant for the same purpose.  Although careful with her money, Elizabeth never stinted on outward show.  She knew that to attract the upper classes to her Court she had to impress the whole country with the visual aspects of power. Perception is reality. The queen wore costly gowns (she had over three thousand –a topic for a future blog) and owned a magnificent collection of jewelry knowing full-well the role she played. “Princes, you know, stand upon stages so that their actions are viewed and beheld of all men…” (Marcus, 189).

Therefore, clothing, court ceremonial, entertainments, even furnishings were extravagant with the intent to show majesty and impress all who came to the Court.
Many costs of these items could be defrayed by what would become a large, unavoidable expense for the noblemen–a lavish gift for the queen.  She enjoyed receiving costly gifts throughout her reign.  A contemporary explained that “She was very rich in jewels, which had been given her by her subjects; for in times of progress there was no person that entertained her in his house but (besides his extraordinary charge in feasting her and her train) he bestowed a jewel upon her; a custom in former times begun by some of her especial favorites that (having in great measure tasted of her bounty) did give her only of her own; though otherwise that kind of giving was not so pleasing to gentlemen of meaner quality” (Robinson 192).  The Spanish envoy Count de Feria commented soon after her coronation that Elizabeth “is very fond of having things given to her” (Erickson 174).

Ship Pendant given to Elizabeth                Gloves given to Elizabeth
by Sir Francis Drake                                     by the University of Oxford
  ship pendant 001                                     gloves1

Elizabeth’s yearly progresses were another way to subsidize the living costs of Court. Being housed at others’ expense during her lengthy progresses was a sure way for her to be seen by her people, in all her majesty, and allow her to graciously accept the hospitality of many and not cost the Exchequer any money (Ridley 180).

As the decades progressed and expenses mounted, Elizabeth was less apt to reward her courtiers as in earlier days as she was led to “tightening up in the distribution of patronage” (Somerset 547).  She reduced government expenditure, rewarding her administrators so sparingly with titles, lands and monopolies, especially monopolies, that corruption was inevitable as nobles tried to find ways to generate funds.

Corruption became rampant and she scolded Parliamentary members by exclaiming “…if these fellows were well answered and paid with lawful coin, there would be fewer counterfeits among them” (Perry Word of a Prince 199).  She was genuinely surprised when courtiers seemed less than satisfied with the patronage that was handed out. She had learned “that neither gifts nor pensions were the foundation of loyalty” (Neale 101).

Through it all, the welfare of her people and her duty to them, was foremost in her mind.  Addressing her people late in her reign, the Queen said that “though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my crown: that I have reigned with your loves” (Marcus 337).

Works Cited

Bergenroth, G. A., and, Pascual De. Gayangos. Calendar of Letters,
Dispatches and State Papers, Relating to the Negotiations between England and Spain, Preserved in the Archives at Simancas and Elsewhere: Published by the Authority of the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury under theDirection of the Master of the Rolls. Henry VII 1485 – 1509. ed. Vol. 1. London:

Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1862. Google Books. Web. 26 Nov.

Chrimes, S. B. Henry VII. Berkeley: University of California, 1972. Google Books. Web. 31 Dec. 2012.

Erickson, Carolly. The First Elizabeth. New York: Summit Books. 1983. Print.

Gairdner, James. Henry the Seventh,. London: Macmillan, 1889. Google Books. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

Hall, Edward, and Charles Whibley. Henry VIII,. Vol. I. London: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 1904. Google Books. Web. 1 Dec. 2012.

Hutchinson, Robert. Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011. Google Books. Web. 02 Dec. 2012.

Jones, Michael K. and Malcolm G. Underwood.  The King’s Mother: Lady Margaret
Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Print.

Marcus, Leah S. et al., eds. Elizabeth I: The Collected Works. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Print.

Neale, J. E. Queen Elizabeth I. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957. Print.

Penn, Thomas.  Winter King; the Dawn of Tudor England.  New York: Penguin Books, 2012. Print.

Perry, Maria.  The Word of a Prince: A Life of Elizabeth from Contemporary
Documents.  Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1990.  Print.

Ridley, Jasper. Elizabeth I: The Shrewdness of Virtue.  New York: Fromm International Publishing Corporation, 1989.  Print.

Robinson, James Harvey. Readings in European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen with the Purpose of Illustrating the Progress of Culture in Western Europe since the German Invasions,. Vol. II. Boston: Ginn &, 1904. Google Books. Web. 19 Jan. 2013.

Ross, Josephine.  The Tudors, England’s Golden Age.  London: Artus, 1994.  Print. 

Somerset, Anne. Elizabeth I.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. Print.

Starkey, David, ed. Rivals in Power. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1990. Print.

Strachey, Lytton.  Elizabeth and Essex: A Tragic History.  New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1969. Print.

Tremlett, Giles.  Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen.  London: Faber and Faber, 2010. Print.

Weir, Alison.  The Life of Elizabeth I.  New York: Ballatine Books, 1998. Print.

Vergil, Polydore. Polydore Vergil, Anglica Historia (1555 Version). Ed. Dana F. Sutton.

Irvine: University of California, 2005. Polydore Vergil, Anglica Historia (1555             Version). The Philological Museum, 04 Aug. 2005. Web. 02 Jan. 2013.


Holding the Reins

Holding the Reins

Whether or not we can refer to Henry VII and Elizabeth Regina as workaholics or simply people who felt compelled to do the work at hand, both dedicated themselves to running the government. They not only reigned but they also governed.

Henry “ruled through a bureaucracy backed by the direct intervention of the monarch” (Morrill 314). “From first to last his policy was essentially his own; for though he knew well how to choose the ablest councilors, he asked or took their advice only to such an extent as he himself deemed expedient” (Gairdner 210). In 1498 Pedro de Ayala, a Spanish envoy, remarked that Henry was “subject to his Council, but has already shaken off some, and got rid of some part of this subjection” (Bergenroth 178).  It must be understood that at this time, through to the reign of Elizabeth I, that “however well served with councilors, the sovereign was in those days always his own Prime Minister” (Gairdner 210).

Bacon attributed the reign’s successful laws to Henry VII.  He reported that “in that part both of justice and policy … which is the making of good laws, he did excel” (Bacon 213).  It is known that Henry signed all Parliamentary actions “though he sometimes added to them provisos of his own” (Gairdner 212).

Signature of King Henry VII
H7 signature

Henry’s hands-on approach did not diminish even while his health declined: “the energy with which he attended to business seemed hardly diminished by his accumulated infirmities” (Gairdner 208).  “His eyesight began to fail when he was in his forties, which was a source of anxiety to him; he needed clear vision, literally as well as metaphorically, for the business of government, since so much of his time was spent poring over paperwork” (Ross 36).

“Workaholic and overburdened with state affairs” (Penn 51), Henry took several days to write this letter from Greenwich to his mother.  No year was given but it must have been written between 1503 and 1505. In the excerpt that follows, he mentions that his sight is not what it had once been and explains how long he had been working on the letter (Ellis 46).

h7 letter

Henry VII’s dedication was well-known as it was commented that “never a Prince was more wholly given to his affairs, nor in them more of himself” (Bacon 219) –except perhaps one, Elizabeth Regina.

Elizabeth worked tirelessly for the good of England doing the business of government. Perhaps it was Elizabeth’s difficult apprenticeship which prepared her for the “self-control necessary for government” (Dunn 164) or simply her selected life-style. “In her private way of living, she always preferred her necessary affairs and the dispatch of what concerned the government, before and above any pleasures, recreations and conversations” (Bohun 346).  Directly below is the passage from Edmund Bohun.

Bohun 346

We learned from John Nichols that in the December that she became Queen, Elizabeth sat in Council for 15 straight days (Nichols 33).  Granted it was necessary for Elizabeth to appoint her advisors and establish the transfer of power early in her reign, yet this would have been simultaneous with pageants and receptions.  This is an excellent example of her dedication to her duties; although she would not always meet with her council daily, throughout her reign she kept informed of the discussions.

Elizabeth took power at once without hesitation.  She and she alone ruled.  She was not going to hand over power and she was not going to let her councilors unite against her. Her proclamation soon after her accession, “I mean to direct all my actions by good advice and counsel,” was probably meant in good faith but she often did not take their advice.  “…There were numerous occasions when her Council begged her in unison to change course, but could not induce her to do so”  (Somerset 68).

Elizabeth “…had no intention of abandoning her authority to her advisers and letting them rule for and through her.  She meant to play the commanding role in her government…” (Erickson 172). Often she felt ruling the men of her Council “called for sharp tugs on the rein to remind them that she was mistress” (Neale 223).  Sympathetic contemporaries felt “none knew better the hardest art of all others, that is, of commanding men…” (Hayward 9) as seen on February 10, 1559, when Elizabeth gave her first speech to Parliament in response to its members’ request that she marry.  She let them know that, although she was not offended by their petition, she did think it a “very great presumption, being unfitting and altogether unmeet for you to require them that may command, or those to appoint whose parts are to desire, or such to bind and limit whose duties are to obey, or to take upon you to draw my love to your liking or frame my will to your fantasies” (Marcus 57).

When Parliament tried to pull a fast one on Elizabeth by slipping into an act on subsidies a provision that she marry; she caught it.  “After eight years of Cecil’s tuition Elizabeth, who scrutinized government papers with care, was not likely to be fooled” (Perry 199).   Written in her own hand as a draft of her speech to dissolve Parliament January 2, 1567 after this incident, she warned its members “never to tempt too far a prince’s patience” (Marcus 106) making sure though that the revised version, presented officially, had more force “yet beware however you prove your prince’s patience, as you have now done mine” (Marcus 108).

2nd parliament
Depiction of Elizabeth’s 2nd Parliament
12 January to 10 April 1563 (prorogued)
30 September 1566 to 2 January 1567 (dissolved)

Elizabeth and Henry VII both wanted to be involved in the day-to-day business of government.  One wonders if part of it was fear of losing control or concern for losing the throne.  Regardless, unlike Henry VIII who, according to the Venetian Ambassador, Lorenzo Orio in January of 1526, “leaves everything in charge of Cardinal Wolsey…” (Brown Rawdon) the reins of government were held in Henry VII and Elizabeth’s capable hands.  Elizabeth noted to King Henry IV of France  “my experience in government has made me so stubborn as to believe that I am not ignorant of what becomes a king” (Somerset 60).

 Works Cited

 Bacon, Francis, and J. Rawson Lumby. Bacon’s History of the Reign of King Henry VII,. Cambridge: University, 1902. Internet Archive. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.

Bergenroth, G. A., and, Pascual De. Gayangos. Calendar of Letters, Dispatches and State Papers, Relating to the Negotiations between England and Spain, Preserved in the Archives at Simancas and Elsewhere: Published by the Authority of the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Treasury under the Direction of the Master of the Rolls. Henry VII 1485 – 1509. ed. Vol. 1. London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1862. Google Books. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

Bohun, Edmund. The Character of Queen Elizabeth, Or, A Full and Clear Account of Her Policies and the Methods of Her Government Both in Church and State, Her Virtues and Defects Together with the Characters of Her Principal Ministers of State … London: Printed for Ric. Chiswell at the Rose and Crown in St. Paul’s Church-Yard(IS), 1693. Google Books. Web. 26 Jan. 2013.

Brown, Rawdon (editor). “Venice: January 1526, 1-15.” Calendar of State Papers Relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 3: 1520-1526 (1869): 517-525. British History Online. Web. 26 January 2013.

Dunn, Jane. Elizabeth and Mary. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. Print.

Ellis, Henry. Original Letters, Illustrative of English History: Including Numerous Royal Letters, from Autographs in the British Museum, and One or Two Other Collections. London: Harding, Triphook & Lepard, 1825. Google Books. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.

Gairdner, James. Henry the Seventh,. London: Macmillan, 1889. Google Books. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.

Hayward, John, and John Bruce. Annals of the First Four Years of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth. London: Printed for the Camden Society by J.B. Nichols and Son, 1840. Google Books. Web. 19 Jan. 2013.

Marcus, Leah S. et al., eds. Elizabeth I: The Collected Works. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. Print.

Morrill, John, ed.  The Oxford Illustrated History of Tudor & Stuart Britain.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.  Print.

Neale, J. E. Queen Elizabeth I. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957. Print.

Nichols, John. The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth. Among Which Are Interspersed Other Solemnities, Public Expenditures, and Remarkable Events during the Reign of That Illustrious Princess. Collected from Original MSS., Scarce Pamphlets, Corporation Records, Parochial Registers, &c., &c.: Illustrated with Historical Notes. New York: B. Franklin, 1823. Google Books. Web. 19 Jan. 2013.

Perry, Maria.  The Word of a Prince: A Life of Elizabeth from Contemporary Documents. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1990.  Print.

Ross, Josephine.  The Tudors, England’s Golden Age.  London: Artus, 1994.  Print. 

Somerset, Anne. Elizabeth I.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. Print.

In the Stars

In the Stars

Many believed Henry VII’s well-known interest in prophesy could have stemmed from his Welsh background as the Welsh “follow prophecies, affirming that they are true” (Tremlett 100) and have a “prophetic tradition” (Thornton 15). As discussed in a previous blog, King Henry VI, upon meeting the young Henry, Earl of Richmond, gave a prophecy that he would become king (Bacon, Vergil).

Henry VII did not have a formal Royal Astrologer but Gulielmus Parronus Placentinus, an Italian known in England as William Parron, came close.  Parron is credited, according to an expert at the British Library, with bringing to England the practice of creating astrological almanacs for the nation (Pickup).  Astrology almanacs were compilations of astrological data that was considered useful for physicians and other medical professionals as well as for the general public (Parker).  Evidence shows that Parron received payments from the king, possibly for an early almanac, as seen in the king’s account books from 6 March 1499: “To Master William Paromis an astronymyre £1” (Macalister 301). After making several successful prognostications, Parron presented to Henry, De astrorum succincte vi fatali, (The Fateful Meaning of the Stars) completed on 15 October 1499. In this work Parron ingratiated himself by giving justifications for Henry’s actions on many fronts especially his treatment of Perkin Warbeck and the Earl of Warwick saying that people born under bad stars must die before infecting the country.  A “satisfyingly closed logic, and it satisfied Henry’s conscience” (Penn 38).

Parron’s last known compilation for the Tudor family was a horoscope in late 1502 titled, Liber de Optimo fato Henrici Eboraci ducis et optimorum ipsius parentum, (The Book of the Excellent Fortunes of Henry Duke of York and his Parents). This was less than successful and perhaps why he disappears from official sources.  It is supposed he left England in disgrace after predicting that Queen Elizabeth, Henry VII’s wife, would live until she was 80.  She died shortly thereafter at the age of 37.  As an aside, he also foretold that Prince Henry, the future Henry VIII would have a happy marriage and many sons (Carlin, Penn, Tucker).

The following illustrations are from Parron’s 1502 horoscope and almanac including the cover page, his dedication page and the illustration of Henry VII –note the Tudor roses in the border.

Parron 1503 Almanac  Royal 12 B vi  1v  Royal 12 B vi  2r

Parron was not the only astrologer and scientist to whom Henry offered his patronage.  Dr. Janina Ramirez explained that “Henry VII saw himself as a patron of science and scholarship and in Tudor times astrology was held in high esteem” (Ridgway).  At court was Lewis of Caerleon, physician to Margaret Beaufort, who was valued for his “astronomical and astrological skills, and he received considerable remuneration and generous favours from the monarch” (Pahta 50).  Added to the list of astrologers were John Argentine who “assembled an extensive collection of astrological and astronomical treatises” and was “appointed physician and chaplain” to Prince Arthur, son of Henry VII (Pahta 50); and John Killingworth “perhaps the most important of fifteenth-century English astrologers” (Pahta 51).  Killingworth’s scientific manuscript of planetary data and prophecies was written for Henry VII in 1490.  Another example of Henry’s patronage was the sculptures on the ceilings at Merton College where Bishop Richard Fitzwilliam’s “astrological symbols were next to the royal arms of Henry VII, showing that Henry was ruling not just England but the cosmos. Astrology was the science of the day and was seen as important” (Ridgway).

The strong influence prophecy and astrology held over Henry VII did not diminish throughout the Tudor time-period and was as prominent with his granddaughter, Elizabeth Regina.   Enter John Dee, astrologer, astronomer, mathematician, alchemist, and rumored neocromancer who found time “to dabble in the mysteries of the occult” (Brimacombe 143).  He was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge; an acquaintance to Continental academics, Abraham Ortelius, Gemma Frisius—Court Astrologer to Charles V— and Geradus Mercator; and, a friend to influential people— Roger Ascham, Robert Dudley and Lord Pembroke.  In fact, Dudley and Pembroke introduced him to the 25-year old Elizabeth when she needed to set the date for her coronation.  This auspicious occasion could not just be any day. It would be the birth date of the Elizabethan Age and had to be considered carefully (Bassnett, Brimacombe, Somerset, Watkins).

John Dee      


John Dee would become an influential member of Elizabeth’s circle (he was a cousin to Blanche Parry, Elizabeth’s gentlewoman, and had been a member of the Duke of Northumberland’s household when Robert Dudley was a youth). By 1564 when he had returned from the Emperor’s Court, Dee was “appointed Royal Adviser in mystic secrets” (Bassnett 63), another way of saying Court Astrologer.  Elizabeth offered him apartments at Court (something most people vied for their entire lives) and he turned her down fearing it would interfere with his studies. Supposedly he “applied himself to his studies with such diligence that he allowed only four hours for sleep, and two for his meals and recreation”  (Nichols 414). He appreciated Elizabeth’s support and acknowledged it:  “Whereupon her Majestie had a little perusion of the same with me, and then in most heroicall and princely wise did comfort and encourage me in my studies philosophicall and mathematicall” (Dee Autobiographical 19).

“In the sixteenth century, the borderline between science and sorcery was often perilously narrow” (Brimacombe 144). The role of natural magic cannot be ignored in the rise of experimental science .  This reminds me of some experiments that science teachers demonstrated when I was in school.  The exploding volcano bordered on magic!  Some authors suspect “Sir Walter Ralegh and his circle of friends practiced sorcery at this infamous ‘School of the Night’ at his home at Sherborne in Dorset” (Brimacmbe 144) and others that it was a gathering to discuss all topics of learning especially religion (Marlowe Society). Dee was very much aware of the links between religious thoughts and the sciences “which fruite and gaine if I attaine unto, it shall encourage me hereafter, in such like sort to translate, and set abroad some other good authors, both pertaining to religion (as partly I have already done) and also pertaining to the Mathematicall Artes” (Dee Mathmatical iii).

Elizabeth, a highly educated, intelligent woman, frequently consulted Dee be it for explanations for comets, a toothache, diet and medicines, navigation (he is reported to have coined the term British Empire) and the dangers to be apprehended from a waxen image of her with a pin struck through its breast, which had been found in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.  Her faith in his abilities also earned him the role as a foreign spy “reporting, in code, to both the Queen and William Cecil on intrigues abroad.  His coded letters were signed using the numerals 007” (Watkins 39).

When Dee was in England, she visited him at his home in Mortlake, Surrey, where he was reputed to have one of the largest private libraries in Europe along with his famous laboratories (Brimacombe, Hibbert, Lipscomb, Watkins). Although it was suggested in some readings that Dee built an astrolabe for Elizabeth, the only evidence found was one made for her by the Flemish instrument maker Thomas Gemini.

Astrolabe known to belong to Elizabeth with enlargement of the inscription.

astrolobe     Astrolabe closeup

Today we would call the Elizabethans superstitious*, not understanding the seriousness in which they took elements of magic, the occult and alchemy.  In fact, I get the impression that many modern writers try to ‘excuse’ Elizabeth’s reliance on Dee by down-playing her interest or referring to her as impressionable. Elizabeth was in good company as there are letters that William Cecil wrote to Edward Kelley, Dee’s colleague for many years when they lived in Europe conducting experiments, to encourage him to return to England with his “powder that could transform base metals into gold” (Bassnett 63).  Even the Archbishop of Canterbury responded to Elizabeth’s fears of assassination and assured her that no harm would come to her so long as her “birth sign, Virgo, was in the ascendant” (Hibbert 72).

Ironically, despite Elizabeth’s beliefs and interests, when it was predicted in 1572 there would be a series of catastrophes after the appearance of a comet, it was reported that “with a courage answerable to the greatness of her state, she caused the window to be set open and cast out this word, jacta est alea, the dice are thrown” (Malcolm 355). Added to this account was the following when there were prophecies circulating about the countryside.  Elizabeth sent out a proclamation in which she “warns all not to be moved by murmurers and spreaders of rumours, the dissemination of which is to be punished as the spreading of sedition (Pollen 340).

Thus is another paradox of Elizabeth Regina:  her pragmatic response to threats to her realm and her embracing prophecies.  When in January 1603 John Dee cast her horoscope and warned her to “beware of Whitehall” (Sitwell 454) she moved to Richmond.  She did so seeing it as a realistic response.  Ironically, it was at Richmond that she died about two months later. Thus the tradition of the Tudors’ consultation with and acceptance of astrologer’s predictions was maintained.

*A consultation with an astrologer in the time of Queen Elizabeth was reported to last about “15 minutes and cost 2s. 6d” (Emerson 264).

Works Cited

Bacon, Francis, and J. Rawson Lumby. Bacon’s History of the Reign of King Henry VII,. Cambridge: University, 1902. Internet Archive. Web. 22 Jan. 2013.

Bassnett, Susan.  Elizabeth I: a Feminist Perspective.  Oxford: Berg Publishers, 1997. Print.

Brimacombe, Peter.  All the Queen’s Men: the World of Elizabeth I.  Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2000.  Print.

Carlin, Martha. “Parron, William.” Oxford DNB. Oxford University Press, Jan. 2013. Web. 02 Feb. 2013.

Dee, John. Autobiographical Tracts of Dr. John Dee … Ed. James Crossley. [Manchester]: Printed for the Chetham Society, 1851. Google Books. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.

Dee, John. Mathematicall Praeface to Elements of Geometrie of Euclid of Megara. [S.l.]: General, 13 Jul 2007. Project Gutenburg. Web. 31 Jan. 2013.

Emerson, Kathy L. The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England : from 1485-1649. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1996. Print.

Hibbert, Christopher.  The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I, Genius of the Golden Age.  New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1991.  Print.

Lipscomb, Suzannah.  A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England. London : Ebury Press, 2012. Print.

Macalister, J. Y. W., and Alfred W. Pollard, eds. New Series. The Library; a Quarterly Review of Bibliography and Library Lore, Etc. Dec. 1899-Oct. 1909. Vol. IV. London: Alexander Moring, 1913. Third Series. Internet Archive. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.

Malcolm, James Peller. Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London from the Roman Invasion to the Year 1700: Including the Origin of British Society, Customs and Manners, with a General Sketch of the State of Religion, Superstition, Dresses, and Amusements of the Citizens of London, during That Period: To Which Are Added, Illustrations of the Changes in Our Language, Literary Customs, and Gradual Improvement in Style and Versification, and Various Particulars concerning Public and Private Libraries. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1811. Google Books. Web. 3 Feb. 2013.

Marlowe Society. “The Free-Thinkers.”: Marlowe & The School of Night. The Marlowe Society, 2012. Web. 01 Feb. 2013.

Nichols, John. The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth. Among Which Are Interspersed Other Solemnities, Public Expenditures, and Remarkable Events during the Reign of That Illustrious Princess. Collected from Original MSS., Scarce Pamphlets, Corporation Records, Parochial Registers, &c., &c.: Illustrated with Historical Notes. New York: B. Franklin, 1823. Google Books. Web. 19 Jan. 2013.

Pahta, Päivi, and Andreas H. Jucker. Communicating Early English Manuscripts. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Google Books. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.

Parker, Derek. “Skyscript: The Rise and Fall of the Astrological Almanac by Derek Parker. The Traditional Astrologer Magazine, Dec. 2004. Web. 04 Feb. 2013.

Penn, Thomas.  Winter King; the Dawn of Tudor England.  New York: Penguin Books, 2012. Print.

Pickup, Oliver. “It’s Nostra-dumbass! Astrologer Predicted Henry VIII Would Marry Well and Take Care of the Church.” Mail Online. Daily Mail, 26 Aug. 2011. Web. 03 Feb. 2013.

Pollen, John Hungerford. The English Catholics in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth: A Study of Their Politics, Civil Life, and Government : From the Fall of the Old Church to the Advent of the Counter-Reformation. London: Longmans, Green, 1920. Internet Archive. Web. 30 Jan. 2013.

Ridgway, Claire. “Illuminations: The Private Lives of Kings – Libraries Gave Us Power.” The Anne Boleyn Files RSS. N.p., 24 Jan. 2012. Web. 05 Feb. 2013.

Sitwell, Edith.  The Queens and the Hive.  Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1966. Print.

Somerset, Anne. Elizabeth I.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. Print.

Thornton, Tim. Prophecy, Politics and the People in Early Modern England. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2006. Google Books. Web. 2 Feb. 2013.

Tremlett, Giles.  Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen.  London: Faber and             Faber, 2010. Print.

Tucker, M. J. “Life at Henry VII’s Court.” History Today. History Today.com, n.d. Web. 4 Feb. 2013.

Vergil, Polydore. “Full Text of “Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History,             Comprising the Reigns of Henry VI., Edward IV., and Richard III. from an Early            Translation, Preserved among the Mss. of the Old Royal Library in the British             Museum”” Full Text of “Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History,             Comprising the Reigns of Henry VI., Edward IV., and Richard III. from an Early             Translation, Preserved among the Mss. of the Old Royal Library in the British             Museum” Internet Archive, n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2012.

Watkins, Susan, and Mark Fiennes. The Public and Private Worlds of Elizabeth I. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson, 1998. Print.

An Adventurer’s Spirit

An Adventurer’s Spirit

Henry VII and Elizabeth I shared an interest in maritime explorers and financially supporting them.  John Cabot and his son, Sebastian, were actively sponsored by Henry VII.  Their voyage located Newfoundland for England in 1497 and paved the way for settlements.  John Cabot was lost at sea. The exact dates are unverified but most agree it was around 1500.  Sebastian followed his example with an expedition to North America in the final years of Henry VII’s reign.

Although Henry VIII appointed Sebastian Cabot as cartographer at Greenwich, he was reluctant to sponsor voyages so Sebastian moved on to Spain and set sail under the Spanish flag.

Cartography by Sebastian Cabot

  sebast cabot map     sebatian cabot mapb              

Elizabeth, as is well-known, subsidized trips made by Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, Martin Frobisher, John Davis and Humphrey Gilbert.  Not all were successful. However failure did not deter multiple voyages from the same adventurers.

        Sir Francis Drake                                  Sir Walter Raleigh Drake            Ralegh 

While puzzling over why Henry VII and Elizabeth I, both known to be miserly, would support explorers through investments and patents, I came up with the traditional reasons.  They did it to stimulate England’s economy, to rival Spain in land acquisition and to create a niche as a leading power in Europe.

But, I wasn’t satisfied.  If those were the only reasons, why didn’t Henry VIII actively sponsor exploration?  There had to be more and I believe it is this: Henry VII and his granddaughter shared personality traits with explorers.

 Martin Frobisher                                            Humphrey Gilbert       Frobisher              gilbert humphrey

Henry and Elizabeth proved time and time again (even before they took over their respective thrones) that they had courage in abundance, adventurous spirits and confidence to overcome obstacles.  Throw in natural curiosity and ‘gambling’ natures and one can see the multiple facets of their kindred spirits with the explorers.

Henry VII and Elizabeth ensured their place in history by sponsoring these men and allying themselves to the explorers’ outcomes.   Although the consequences may not have been immediately evident, it would emerge that the voyages expanded England’s knowledge of the world; cemented England’s presence on the North American continent and the high seas of the Atlantic; realized England’s role in the valuable fishing industry and established England’s wealth based on the commodities and mineral deposits of the claimed lands.