The Fourth Step-Mother of Elizabeth, Katherine Parr

The Fourth Step-Mother of Elizabeth, Katherine Parr
As discussed in an earlier blog entry, Catherine Howard, Henry VIII passed a law that required all future queens of England to have chaste pasts or be willing to confess any ‘indiscretions.’  Obviously, this eliminated many candidates.  Who would be free from scandal or brave enough to tell Henry if she was not?

Enter Katherine Parr, the daughter of Thomas and Maud Parr.  Maud, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon, was a highly intelligent and well-educated woman.  Queen Catherine placed her in charge of the education of many of the youngsters at Court. Her children, especially Katherine, benefited greatly from the Court tutors and developed a life-long love of learning.  Maud was widowed at the age of 25 and never remarried.  She concentrated her efforts on establishing good matches for her children and protecting her son’s inheritance.  In 1529 when Katherine was 16 or 17, she was married to Edward Borough.  Edward was in his early twenties when he died in 1533.  It is often confused that she married his grandfather, another Edward, perpetuating the myth of her marrying aged widowers. This blogger wonders if the confusion came because she would have resided in a multi-generational household perhaps with the grandfather-in-law as the head.

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The Borough family manor, Gainsborough Old Hall.

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Gainsborough Old Hall

Maud Parr died the year after Katherine was widowed and it left the young woman basically independent.  Katherine arranged her own next marriage to John Neville, Lord Latimer of Snape Castle in Yorkshire, a man in his early forties.  The exact date is unknown but they married in 1534.  Lord Latimer had two children both of whom became very close to their young stepmother, especially the daughter, Margaret.  From the time of her marriage, Katherine had the responsibilities of the household.  Her responsibilities expanded to include the entire estate when Lord Latimer took an active role, on the side of the rebels, in the Pilgrimage of Grace.  As examples of her abilities, Katherine withheld a siege, protected the occupants of the household and managed, with the help of her brother William, to gain a pardon for Latimer.  King Henry did not hold it against Latimer and both Katherine and her husband were welcomed back to Court.

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Snape Castle

It was while at Court, with Latimer ailing and soon dying, that Henry became aware of the thirty-year-old Lady Latimer.  Described as attractive but not pretty, Katherine always dressed impeccably, had the translucent skin that was so praised in Tudor times, auburn colored hair and a dignified bearing.

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Katherine Parr by an unknown artist.  Displayed at Montacute House.

Thomas Wriothesley, Lord Chancellor, wrote to the Duke of Norfolk that there was “a woman, in my judgement, for certain virtue, wisdom and gentleness, most meet for his Highness.  And sure I am that his Majesty had never a wife more agreeable to his heart than she is.  The Lord grant them long life and much joy together” (Weir 498).  Praise indeed considering he later tried to have her arrested and executed.

Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish Ambassador, reported to Charles V that Katherine “is graceful and of cheerful countenance; and is praised for her virtue” (Hume 248).  He continued that she was not “so beautiful” and that there was “no hope of issue, seeing that she had none with her two former husbands” (Gairdner XVIII 954).  Charming and amiable, she was pleasant to nobles and servants alike.  Sensible and efficient, a good conversationalist, experienced with step-children, and having aided an ailing spouse, Katherine seemed ideal to become the sixth wife of Henry VIII.

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Miniature of Katherine by Lucas Horenbout, 1544

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Held in the possession of the National Portrait Gallery, this portrait had been mistakenly identified as Lady Jane Grey for many years.  Done in 1545 it is now credited to be Katherine Parr.

Interestingly, she was the only one of Henry’s wives who did not want to become his next bride. Historians believe this for a couple of reasons: she was intelligent enough to see the dangers involved; and she had developed an interest in Thomas Seymour, Lord High Admiral.  Once Henry proposed, Katherine accepted her fate and became determined to make the best of the situation.  Most commentators now believe she saw her chance to promote a more liberal religious agenda and the betterment of her family.  As was Henry’s custom, his bride’s family advanced along with her elevation.  Katherine’s brother, William Parr, was granted the Earldom of Essex in his own right.  Her sister Ann and brother-in-law Sir William Herbert gained positions at Court as did members of her extended family, the Throckmortons and her step-daughter Margaret Neville.

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William Parr in a sketch by Hans Holbein.

As Queen, Katherine used her influence to encourage the King to bring to Court his children from their respective households.  She felt they should be there, beyond the wedding celebrations, and see their father more.  Henry gave his approval and Katherine wrote them all to come.  Agnes Strickland assures that Katherine, who knew Princess Mary well, was also “acquainted with Elizabeth before she became queen, and greatly admired her wit and manners” (Strickland Volume 4 14).

A letter from 10-year-old Elizabeth survives in which she wrote, flowing with gratitude, to acknowledge what Katherine had done.

“Madame, The affection that you have testified in wishing that I should be suffered to be with you in the Court, and requesting this of the King my father, with so much earnestness, is a proof of your goodness.  
So great a mark of your tenderness for me obliges me to examine myself a little, to see if I can find anything in me that can merit it, but I can find nothing but a great zeal and devotion to the service of your Majesty.  But as that zeal has not been called into action so as to manifest itself, I see well tha tit is only the greatness of soul in your Majesty which makes you do me this honour, and this redoubles my zeal towards your Majesty.  I can assure you also that my conduct will be such that you shall never have cause to complain of hainv done me the honour of calling me to you; at least, I will make it my constant care that I do nothing but with a design to show always my obedience and respect.  I await with  much iimpatience the orders of the King my father for the accomplishment of the happiness for which I sigh, and I remain with much submission, your Majesty’s very dear Elizabeth” (Queen Elizabeth I 21-22).

There is an interesting interlude in the chronology of Elizabeth’s life between the summers of 1543 and 1544.  Most historians (Linda Porter is an exception) believe Elizabeth offended her father in some way and was banished to Ashridge near the Hertfordshire-Buckinghamshire border—near Berkhamsted where the Queen held the lordship of the manor. Because Katherine kept in contact with Elizabeth and she sent her other step-daughter, Margaret Neville, to act “as liaison between her step-mother and step-sister” it appears as if the youngster had not offended her (James 172-173).  Elizabeth, obviously, had no ill-feelings as she wrote to Katherine that “Inimical Fourtune …has deprived me for a whole year of your most illustrious presence….”  Elizabeth conveyed to Katherine her belief that she was “not only bound to serve but also to revere you with daughterly love …”(Marcus 5).

Henry was abroad, Katherine was Regent and Elizabeth was persistent.  By petitioning her step-mother to speak to her father, who was on military campaign, Elizabeth was able to end “this my exile” (Marcus 5). Katherine successfully convinced the King to allow Elizabeth to join her at Hampton Court in late July of 1544 cementing her step-daughter’s affection.  Elizabeth seemed secure in Katherine’s affection although she never took it for granted as she wrote “I know that I have your love and that you have not forgotten me for if your grace had not a good opinion of me you would not have offered friendship to me that way” (James 136).

exile letter 001

Fragment of the letter to Katherine from 10-year-old Elizabeth.  Written in Italian.  On line five you can make out the reference to her exile [mio exilio].

The regard Elizabeth had for Katherine was also shown in the New Year’s Day gift that she presented to her in December of 1544.  Elizabeth translated, in italic script, Marguerite of Navarre’s Le Miroir de l’ame pecheresse [The Mirror of a Sinful Soul].  The gift itself was a tribute to her spiritual leanings, her education and her affection.  The dedication was “To our most noble and virtuous Queen Katherine, Elizabeth, her humble daughter, wisheth perpetual felicity and everlasting joy.” In the accompanying letter Elizabeth hoped that Katherine would “rub out, polish, and mend (or else cause to mend) the words (or rather the order of my writing), the which I know in many places to be rude and nothing done as it should be” (Marcus 6-7).  This shows the trust Elizabeth had for Katherine as a loving mentor and the respect she had for Katherine’s intellectual abilities.

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Elizabeth’s translation of The Mirror of the Sinful Soul with a cover of embroidery she worked herself.  Notice Katherine’s initials in the center.

The next year, Elizabeth translated Katherine’s book, Prayers or Meditations, into French, Italian and Latin for her father (James 137).  One would suspect that Elizabeth would not want to upset Henry nor jeopardize Katherine by presenting to him materials that would be contrary to his religious beliefs.
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Gift to Henry VIII from Elizabeth.  A translation of the work, Prayers or Meditations, by Katherine Parr in multiple languages and covered in embroidery by Elizabeth. 

When Henry had gone to France in July 1544, he appointed Katherine his Regent. This certainly was an expression of his respect and affection for her.  Lord Chancellor Wriothesley, Archbishop Cranmer, Lord Hertford, Dr. Thomas Thirlby and William Petre were her advisors.  Not a woman to be gainstayed, in September 1544, Katherine, dealing with her Regency Council, let it be known that exasperation had set in and she was “wearied with their continual clamor” (Gairdner XIX 231).

Thomas Wriothesley, despite his earlier praise for Katherine, grew to distrust her as he was concerned about the liberal religious views she held and strong personality.  Early in 1544 Katherine had written in the Tenth Psalm of her text Psalms or Prayers taken out of the Holy Scripture this thought-provoking sentence “I am so vexed that I am utterly weary; help me against them that lie in wait for me” (Parr 318).  This has been tagged as a response to the Catholic attempts to discredit her, led by Wriothesley and Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, because of her evangelical leanings.

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Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, Lord Chancellor

The unease of these two men reached a peak in the summer of 1546 and led to their attempt to arrest Katherine.  They convinced Henry that she harbored radical leanings and fueled his irritation of the recent views Katherine had expressed. Wriothesley lined up the arrest warrant, gathered forty yeomen of the guard and descended upon Katherine while she was in the Whitehall gardens with Henry.

Little did Wriothesley know, Katherine had been warned and had hastened to Henry to apologize for seeming to overstep her boundaries.  She assured the King that she had debated him to distract him from the pain in his leg and to take instruction from him on the proper theological discourse, not to lecture him. Katherine supposedly said that she felt it “preposterous for a woman to instruct her lord” (Strickland III 246). Henry was certainly ready to believe her.  Upon the conclusion of Katherine’s assurances, Henry replied, “And is it so, sweetheart?  Then we are perfect friends” (Strickland III 246).

When Wriothesley came to arrest her, Henry gave him a dressing down and sent him off.  Obviously, this was a very close call for Katherine and she never again conveyed any views counter to the Establishment.

One area which Katherine thwarted convention was in her encouragement of Elizabeth’s education.  The resulting life-long influence cannot be undervalued.  For over four years, although they did not live together that entire time, a close bond was formed. This intelligent and capable woman encouraged and loved this exceptional child.  By taking charge of Elizabeth’s education, both book learning and practical application (Elizabeth witnessed Katherine’s Regency), Katherine influenced the reign of her step-daughter.

Elizabeth received an excellent education.  She was educated alongside her brother for many years until it was decided by Katherine to employ a tutor solely for the princess. This would have been an exception rather than the rule in 16th century England although there were many highly educated women of the previous generation:  Anne Boleyn, Mary More and, of course, Katherine Parr.  Katherine’s deep and genuine love of learning makes her so admirable as an interesting, remarkable woman.

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Copy of Katherine’s text, Lamentations of a Sinner, published in 1547 with her signature.
signature

As Maud Parr’s daughter, a woman who had set up a school at Court and bequeathed money in her will for education, Katherine’s taste for learning was formed young and continued throughout her life.  Margaret Neville, her step-daugher, said in the spring of 1545 “I am never able to render to her grace sufficient thanks for the goodly education and tender love and bountiful goodness which I have evermore found in her highness….”  Prince Edward pretty much said the same thing in 1546.  He thanked Katherine for her “tender and loving letters” and for the “encouragement to go forward in such things wherein your grace beareth me on hand that I am already entered” (James 141).  And Elizabeth praised Katherine for her “fervent zeal your Highness hath towards all godly learning” (Wood 178).

The educations of Edward and Elizabeth were certainly guided by Katherine Parr. Many of their tutors were committed Protestants and humanists.  The tutors’ willingness to educate the princess in the exacting disciplines was telling.  With Katherine also in charge of Jane Grey’s education, her patronage and direction helped formulate two of the sharpest minds of the era—both belonging to females.  Of note is a rare difference of opinion between Katherine and her step-daughter.  In early 1548, Elizabeth’s tutor, William Grindal died.  Katherine wanted to replace him with Francis Goldsmith but Elizabeth wanted Roger Ascham, a fellow from St. John’s College in Cambridge who was well-acquainted with Katherine (James 322).  Writing to Edward’s tutor, Sir John Cheke, Ascham expressed his “uneasy at being the cause of disagreement between the queen and her stepdaughter on such an important matter, actually counseled Elizabeth to accept Goldsmith” (Porter 306). It probably did not take much persuasion, as Ascham became the royal tutor.

roger asham                  dowmmnload

Roger Ascham                                            Sir John Cheke

Elizabeth is a product of Katherine Parr.  The future Queen Regina’s education, religious beliefs, and open-mindedness stem from the guidance of her step-mother. Her devotion was reflected in 1582, when Thomas Bentley’s work, The Monument of Matrons, depicted Katherine Parr as one of the virtuous Queens of history (Fraser 405). Elizabeth’s actions of not forgetting the woman who had permitted her to see the possibilities of rule and to establish England as a cultural center, was certainly a tribute.

The relationship of Elizabeth and Katherine cannot be revealed without the discussion of Thomas Seymour.  This blogger does not want to expend too much time on this topic for all its relevance because of its worthiness of an entire entry on its own.  Thomas Seymour, as brother-in-law to King Henry VIII and uncle to the future king, held prominent positions at Court.  He was there during the times that Katherine Parr was and they began a romance before Henry VIII turned his attention to her.  Upon Henry’s death in January of 1547, the sensible Katherine allowed Seymour to talk her into marriage well before the conventional time-frame of mourning was over.  Katherine had married him for love and as a last chance of happiness.

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Thomas Seymour, Lord High Admiral

Little did Katherine know that Seymour had had designs on Elizabeth as a possible wife.  He never quite seemed to relinquish the idea and for her own safety, Elizabeth was removed from her step-mother’s household at Chelsea in 1548 to the care of Anthony Denny and his wife at Cheshunt.  Katherine was pregnant and Seymour could not keep in check his, shall it be said, emotional immaturity and grandiose aspirations.

The story leads to Sudeley Castle where Katherine gave birth to a baby girl, Mary, and died days later of puerperal fever.  She is buried in the chapel in the Castle grounds.

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Sudeley Castle

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Katherine Parr was interred in St. Mary’s Chapel on the grounds of Sudeley under this tomb in the 1800s.

When Elizabeth left Chelsea for her own residence of Cheston, Katherine, according to Gregorio Leti, told her “God has given you great qualities.  Cultivate them always, and labour to improve them, for I believe you are destined by Heaven to be Queen of England” (Strickland 26).

References

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

Fraser, Antonia.  The Wives of Henry VIII.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. Print.

Gairdner, James, ed. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII. Vol. 19. London: Longman, Green, Longman & Roberts, 1888. Google Books. Web. 4 May 2013..

Haselkorn, Anne M., and Betty Travitsky. The Renaissance Englishwoman in Print: Counterbalancing the Canon. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1990. Google Books. Web. 27 May 2013.

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

Hume, Martin A. Sharp. Chronicle of King Henry the Eighth of England: Being a Contemporary Record of Some of the Principal Events of the Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, Written in Spanish by an Unknown Hand ; Translated, with Notes and Introduction, by Martin A. Sharp Hume. London: George Belland Sons, 1889. Internet Archive. Web. 4 May 2013.

James, Susan. Catherine Parr:  Henry VIII’s Last Love. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing. 2008. Print.

James, Susan.  Kateryn Parr:  The Making of a Queen. Brookfield, USA: Ashgate, 1999. Print.

Lindsey, Karen.  Divorced, Beheaded, Survived:  A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII.  Reading, Massachusetts:  Addison-WESLEY Publishing Company, 1995. Print.

Loades, David. The Chronicles of the Tudor Queens.  Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 2002. Print.

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

McCaffrey  MacCaffrey, Wallace. Elizabeth I. London: E. Arnold. 1993. Print.

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

Parr, Katherine, and Janel Mueller. Katherine Parr: Complete Works and Correspondence. Chicago, IL [etc.: University of Chicago, 2011. Google Books. Web. 23 May 2013.

Porter, Linda.  Katherine the Queen:  The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr.  London:  McMillian, 2010. Print.

Pryor, Felix.  Elizabeth I, Her Life in Letters.  Berkeley, California: University of           California Press, 2003.  Print.

Queen Elizabeth I, Frank Mumby, and R. S. Rait. The Girlhood of Queen Elizabeth: A Narrative in Contemporary Letters. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1909. Google Books. Web. 9 May 2013.

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

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

Starkey, David.  Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII.  London:  Chatto & Windus, 2003.  Print.

Strickland, Agnes, and Elisabeth Strickland. Lives of the Queens of England, from the Norman Conquest. Vol. III. London: Colburn & Co. Publishers, 1851. Google Books. Web. 7 May 2013.

Strickland, Agnes, and Elisabeth Strickland. Lives of the Queens of England, from the Norman Conquest. Vol. IV. London: Longmans, Green, 1857. Google Books. Web. 2 May 2013.

Strickland, Agnes, and Elisabeth Strickland. Lives of the Queens of England, from the Norman Conquest; with Anecdotes of Their Courts, Now First Published from Official Records and Other Authentic Documents, Private as Well as Public. Vol. VI. London: Henry Colburn, 1844. Google Books. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

Tytler, Sarah.  Tudor Queens and Princesses.  New York:  Barnes and Noble, 1993. Print.

Weir, Alison. The Children of Henry VII.  New York:  Ballantine Books, 1996. Print

Weir, Alison.  The Six Wives of Henry VIII.  New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991. Print.

Wood, Mary Anne Everett. Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain: From the Commencement of the Twelfth Century to the Close of the Reign of Queen Mary : Edited, Chiefly from the Originals in the State Paper Office, the Tower of London, the British Museum and Other State Archives. Vol. II. London: Henry. Colburn, 1846. Google Books. Web. 12 May 2013.

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Heir Unapparent

Heir Unapparent
Looked at with a cursory glance, the roads to succession for the heirs to Henry VII and Elizabeth I was without challenge and smooth.  Looked at with greater scrutiny, those roads to succession were troubled with opposition and rough.  Although many other royal houses had issues, the House of Tudor developed unique situations.

The Oxford Dictionary lists the earliest use of the identification of the House of Tudor as the “Tudor Dynasty” to 1779 with it becoming much more prevalent around 1906. According to C. S. L. Davis, the name “Tudor” was not widely used in the sixteenth century. Davis continued to explain that the contemporary publications did not use the surname until 1584, speculating that the monarchs wanted to distance themselves as descendents from non-royal, actually lowly-born, origins.

Until the Yorkist view of legitimacy based on primogeniture, the law of succession was not clear.  The dynastic struggles of the War of the Roses had continued the beliefs that the ruling king was such by divine right (having won the victory to place him there) and was cemented through the oaths of allegiance.  Obviously, legitimacy was not in Henry VII’s favor but it is a doctrine which he embraced once he became king  (Elton 18-19).  Henry had the succession registered in Parliament.  His purpose was to get his dynasty clearly declared.  He had parliament issue forth “that the inheritance of the crown of England, with every right and possession belonging to it, should remain and abide with our now sovereign lord king Henry and his heirs” (Elton 19-20).

Upon his death, Henry VII’s throne did not move automatically to his son.  Power brokers concealed his death for two days while they consolidated their positions.  Henry VIII was proclaimed, but not given full sovereignty under the guise of his being shy of 18 years of age.  Despite this, it cannot be denied that it was a smooth transition with no elaborate power plays.  Henry VII may have thought this impossible at various stages of his reign.

Edward Hall claimed in the title of his history, “The Union of the two Noble and Illustrious Families,” that the children born to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York brought this about.  There were claimants to the throne that had to be dealt with in various degrees of severity.  The remaining daughters of Edward IV were married to supporters. John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, was a nephew of Edward IV and had been nominated as successor by Richard III.  His oath of allegiance to Henry VII mitigated his claim.  Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick, was handled less gently by being thrown in jail to dilute his dynastic claims.  Henry realized “There had to be an end to dynastic war before any dynasty could set about rebuilding the kingdom” (Elton 10).

john pole heraldry                                        edward warwick heraldry
Heraldry of John de la Pole,                Heraldry of Edward Plantagenet,
Earl of Lincoln                                            Earl of Warwick

Also early in his reign Henry VII faced dangers to his less-than-stable throne in with not one but two pretenders as Duke of York.  The first, Lambert Simnel, was quickly dealt with while the second, Perkin Warbeck, gained substantial support.  William Stanley, brother to his own step-father, deserted the Tudor cause to support Warbeck as did the Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, Margaret of York.  Her support proved so threatening that Henry was compelled to exclaim, “That stupid brazen woman hates my own family with such bitterness … she remains bent on destroying myself and my children” (Hutchinson 17).

lambertsimnel                 Perkin warbeck

   Lambert Simnel                                       Perkin Warbeck

Once the rebellions were stopped, Henry declared his second son Henry as Duke of York in order to claim the title and cement the succession of Lancaster and York. Preserving the Tudor succession continued to be in the forefront of Henry’s mind.  Henry wanted to leave no inheritance pretenders to endanger his son’s position on the throne of England” (Ross 36).  At the end of his reign he could know that the “threats of the dynasty had faded away; he could pass on a safe inheritance to his son” (Morrill 314).   Although the throne was passed to the second son rather than the eldest (due to the early death of Prince Arthur) Henry VIII was the first sovereign in many years to inherit rather than win it by conquest. The crown that Henry VIII inherited was as strong as the one that James VI succeeded to from Elizabeth Regina.

Astoundingly it could be argued that the greatest issues of Elizabeth Regina’s reign, from Parliament’s perspective, were her marriage and the succession.  Once Elizabeth passed the childbearing age, the question of her marriage took care of itself; and, obviously, affected the matter of the succession.

William Cecil tried to convince her that if she did not have children she would be in danger as people of “devilish means might be tempted to desire her end” as they tried to gain the throne and “she would have perpetual torment in life” (Froude 127).

Elizabeth’s perception was that settling the succession would not necessarily bring safety and stability.  “I know that my people have no other cause for regret than that they know me to be but mortal, and therefore they have no certainty of a successor born of me to reign over them”  (Sitwell 269).  Debate would begin immediately, those slighted would be angry and it could still create a struggle for power upon her death. So, with her skill in statecraft, Elizabeth maintained her silence understanding the wisdom of this better than her advisors or her people.

Although in 1559 at her first Parliament Elizabeth assured the members that “the realm shall not remain destitute of an heir” she had no intention of clarifying who that person would be (Perry 100).  She learned during her sister Mary’s reign that a monarch’s heir presumptive automatically becomes the center of dissent.  “I have good experience of myself in my sister’s time, how desirous men were that I should be in place, and earnest to set me up.  And if I would have consented, I know what enterprises would have been attempted to bring it to pass” (Marcus 66).  Every person who had declared for her would have expected rewards when she became queen.  They surely would have been disappointed in what had been meted out and would look around for someone else to put in place who would better reward them.  “No prince’s revenues be so great that they are able to satisfy the insatiable cupidity of men” (Marcus 66).

Throughout her reign, various contenders took their turn leading the short list of possible heirs.  Early on Katherine Grey held the prime spot.  It was well-known that Elizabeth did not care for Katherine and when Katherine married in secret to Somerset’s heir, Elizabeth had no compunction about tossing her in the Tower.  Katherine gave birth to two sons while confined who, despite their lineage, were never true contenders for the throne.  Included in the list early in her reign would be Henry, Lord Hastings and Mary, Queen of Scots, who styled herself as Queen of England much to Elizabeth’s dismay, and never could be discredited as a true heir.  Mary’s role will be discussed later.

Katherine Grey      henry hastings

  Lady Katherine Grey                 Henry, Lord Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon

As Elizabeth grew older the attention focused on the following claimants: Lady Arbella Stuart; Isabella, the Infanta of Spain; Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex; and, James VI of Scotland. She never could escape the political pressures to name an heir although she assured Sir William Maitland, Lord Lethington, a Scottish politician that “When I am dead, they shall succeed that have most right” (Neale 110).

Arbella Stuart                 isabella infanta of spain
 Lady Arbella Stuart                Isabella Clara Eugenia, Infanta of Spain

earl of essex

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

King James VI of Scotland
 King James VI of Scotland

Small pox, that feared scourge of the 16th century became even more so when Elizabeth contracted it.  She survived with minimal effects, but the fear instilled in her ministers of the possibility of her dying without an heir did not fade as quickly as her symptoms.  During the 1563 Parliament petitions from both the House and the Lords were presented to her begging her to marry and to name an heir.

The House of Commons saw “the unspeakable miseries of civil wars, the perilous intermeddlings of foreign princes with seditious, ambitious and factious subjects at home, the waste of noble houses, the slaughter of people, subversion of towns … unsurety of all men’s possessions, lives and estates:  if the sovereign were to die without a known heir, and pointed out that “from the Conquest to this present day the realm was never left as now it is without a certain heir, living and known” (Plowden  Marriage with my Kingdom 130).

Elizabeth certainly gave a refined response on January 28, 1563. This short speech gave no concrete answer regarding the succession although she assured her listeners that she understood the gravity of the situation while letting them know that it was her concern for “I know that this matter toucheth me much nearer than it doth you all” (Marcus 71).  She told them that it needed consideration, that she would let them know later and ‘so I assure you all that, though after my death you may have many stepdames, yet shall you never have a more natural mother than I mean to be unto you all” (Marcus 72).

The Lords sent an equally bloodcurdling petition about what would happen when Elizabeth died as they all knew that “upon the death of a prince, the law dieth” (Plowden Marriage with my Kingdom 131).  Elizabeth’s response to the Lords was read out by Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper on April 10, 1563.  As with the Commons she recognized that the succession was a grave matter and she would give it close attention.  It was another brilliant example of an “answer, answerless” (Seaward).

1563

1563

Draft of Elizabeth Regina’s Speech Given to Parliament in April 1563

Elizabeth was not pleased when in 1566 members of Parliament brought up her marriage and the succession again.  She told them they could not discuss it and they replied that they had a right to do so.  Once more they received an adamant ‘no’ and a comment that “it is monstrous that the feet should direct the head” (Marcus 98).

Wrapped up very eloquently and fancily, Elizabeth replied to both the Commons and the Lords and, although the style of each response differed, the message was clear: when it was convenient for her to determine a successor she would and not before.

Elizabeth assured the members that she would marry when it was convenient and they were not to be concerned about that.  She explained: “I will never break the word of a prince spoken in public place for my honor sake” (Marcus 95).  As for the succession in no uncertain terms she reminded them that it was her decision and hers alone.  Parliament had no business even discussing it and if the issue was debated it would be useless as “some would speak for their master, some for their mistress and every man for his friend…” (Marcus 97). One can imagine how incensed Elizabeth was as she had spoken that the Parliamentarians did not understand nor concern themselves with the peril she placed herself in by naming an heir.  She believed “nothing was said for my safety, but only for themselves” (Marcus 96).

Next she derisively questioned if the named heirs would be able to go above their own personal interests for the good of the country.  Would they “be of such uprightness and so divine as in them shall be divinity itself.  …they would have such piety in them that they would not seek where they are the second to be the first, and where the third to be the second, and so forth” (Marcus 96). She made it clear that “at this present, it is not convenient, nor never shall be without some peril unto you and certain danger unto me” to name a successor so she would not (Marcus 97).

These admonishments did not silence the members and she had to threaten any Parliamentarian who brought up the issue of the succession with examination by the Privy Council and possible punishment which in turn led Paul Wentworth, on behalf of the House, to assert the right of freedom of speech.

This power struggle did not end there.  Guzman de Silva, the Spanish ambassador whom she liked, learned about Parliament’s attempt to blackmail Elizabeth into naming a successor by placing in the preamble of the subsidy bill the necessity of the Queen to name her heir.  Elizabeth caught this request while reading the draft of the subsidy bill and let it be known via annotations to the document, that she would not have her word questioned by being put into law form.  “Shall my princely consent be turned to strengthen my words that be not themselves substantives?  Say no more at this time; but if these fellows were well answered, and paid with lawful coin, there would be fewer counterfeits among them”  (Mueller 40).

guzman de silva
Guzman de Silva, Spanish Ambassador

In her speech to dissolve Parliament on January 2, 1567, she let the members have it again about the inappropriateness of bringing up the succession question as it was a concern only for her.  She did not cloak her pique with Parliament.  She had replied that “not one of them that ever was a second person, as I have been, and have tasted of the practices against my sister… I stood in danger of my life, my sister was incensed against me. …and I was sought in divers ways.  And so shall never be my successor” (Marcus 96).

1566

1566

Draft of Elizabeth Regina’s Speech Given to Parliament on January 2, 1567

Mary, Queen of Scots plays a dominate role in the succession question under Elizabeth.  At first it was as a thorn in the side of the English Queen because Mary, even when she was the Dauphine of France, styled herself “as heiress-presumptive to the English throne” (Fraser 118). Elizabeth was trying to establish herself as sovereign and Anglicanism as the Church and did not relish such threats to her country’s stability.   Later, Mary conspired to overthrow Elizabeth and take over the crown of England—leading to her execution.

mary as dauphine
Mary, Queen of Scots as Dauphine of France

In between times, where does Mary fit?  Many believed Mary was Elizabeth’s true choice as heir.  It was reported by Sir William Maitland that Elizabeth compared the contenders to her throne alongside Mary.  “You know them all, alas; what power or force has any of them, poor souls? It is true that some of them has made declaration to the world that they are more worthy of it than either she or I…” (Dunn 189).  Yes, indeed.  Elizabeth felt the succession question greatly, was concerned about the pool of contenders, and feared naming any one of them.

william maitland
William Maitland, Lord Lethington

Maitland was certainly given every reason to believe that his Queen could obtain the throne of England as Elizabeth felt Mary had a legitimate right to it (even if she was angry at Mary for her self-declaration as heir and her use of Elizabeth’s arms in her heraldry) but she did couch her consideration in a warning. “For so long as I live there shall be no other queen in England but I, and failing thereof she cannot allege that ever I did anything which may hurt the right she may pretend” (Marcus 62).

Mary’s rights seemed to be overshadowed by all the reasons why she should not be heir:  She was Catholic; Henry VIII’s will had excluded that branch of the family; and Scottish relations could deteriorate if the independent minded Scots felt threatened.

Yet, the greatest deterrent to actually naming Mary would be that as long as she thought she was in the running, she had to toe the line.  Once declared, it would be harder for Elizabeth to control her.  Elizabeth was convinced “it is hard to bind princes by any security where hope is offered of a kingdom” (Marcus 67). The risks of naming a successor were too great. Once Elizabeth gave the succession to someone, it was theirs.  They had a right to keep it and it could not be taken back.  One must see why the granting of it must be weighed so carefully.

The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots does not make this a moot point as the logical successor became Mary’s son, the Protestant James VI. For many years, Elizabeth maintained a correspondence with James which are available and well-worth checking out –one source, Letters of Queen Elizabeth and King James VI of Scotland: Some of Them Printed from Originals… edited by John Bruce.   Historians have interpreted these letters to be in the line of a mentor and mentee.  Obviously, her intentions were for him to succeed although she never would declare that because “to have done otherwise would have been to invite all rivals and enemies to set about forestalling his succession, thus jeopardizing both his rights and her domestic peace” (Neale 403).

Elizabeth astuteness understood the reality as she asserted “I know the inconsistency of the people of England, how they ever mislike the present government and has their eyes fixed upon that person that is next to succeed; and naturally men be so disposed:  ‘Plures adorant solem orientem quam occidentem’ [More do adore the rising than the setting sun]” (Dunn 187 or Marcus 66).

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