The Ladies of Tudor, Part 2

A throne is dependent on the generations that come after the present ruler to keep it going in the same family line, otherwise, it switches to the next suitable lineage.  The worry of who would succeed him plagued Henry VIII for the entirety of his life as king.  A strong succession depended on the production of a male heir. Over the course of six wives, many of his progeny were stillborn or suffered from crib death, his desired sons included among them.   His only children to live to make a record of years were: Mary Tudor(Mary I), Henry FitzRoy, Elizabeth Tudor (Elizabeth I), and Edward Tudor (Edward VI).  History may have been different had FitzRoy lived beyond the age of seventeen and Henry been able to claim him as a successor as popular speculation suggests he would, or even had Edward VI lived beyond the meager age of fifteen.  With the sons gone, however, the way was effectively cleared for each girl in the succession to claim her birthright. To Henry, this was never an option. The idea of leaving the throne in the hands of a woman as queen in her own right was not done.

On his deathbed, Edward VI sought to over ride the present succession with a will that passed the throne to his cousin Lady Jane Grey and deny his sisters all together.  It mattered precious little. Lady Jane was only Queen for a mere nine days before she was imprisoned in the Tower of London, with Mary taking her place as Mary I, with Elizabeth I following.  It was ironic perhaps that they came to power where none had thought they would, yet when they arrived they were the hope of those that wished for certain things to come of each reign.   In the Ladies of Tudor, Part 2, we take a look at the daughters of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn.  Like their mothers before them, they too, rocked the throne recieved.

Lady Mary Tudor, Mary I
Truth, The Daughter of Time (Veritas Temporis Filia)

How She Rocked the Throne:  
She was born to every comfort and privilege a princess could be afforded for her time at her coming February 18 1516 . She was well cared for, possessed of her own household as Princess of Wales (centered at Ludlow Castle) in 1525, and well loved by her mother. By the time she was nine years of age it was evident her mother would have no more children. Despite the fact that Mary was declared a beautiful child, intelligent (she was educated in Latin, Greek, music, and dance among other things), and beloved of King Henry, by not being a boy the succession was still in danger.

As her life progressed, Mary witnessed herself go from the most high to the most low.  She was forbidden from contacting her mother on the pretense that Katherine would spoil Mary’s mind against her father, or the pair would institute some plot against him.  By 1533, she would be declared a bastard after the English withdrawal from Rome, forced to be called Lady instead of Princess, and for a time was reduced to be a waiting on her sister Elizabeth during her time in Mary’s former place as princess. Though the King’s next wife would help to reconcile father and daughter, Mary would never be called princess again.

Reconciliation with her father no doubt came at a price to her peace of mind. She had to submit to her father’s demands:  she was a bastard, the marriage to her mother had never been valid, and that he was head of the Church of England.  All of her life she remained a resolute Catholic, however, and was known for her spiritual life. Henry never saw to a lasting marriage contract for his daughter so she married very late in life, in her late thirties, to Prince Philip of Spain.

Mary was the true daughter of both of her parents. It can be argued that by the time she ascended to the throne as Queen, a life time of watching England fall away from what she had known as a child was what she intended to correct. Edward VI’s religious laws were abolished in her first parliment October 1553, as well as validated the marriage of her parents.  The Heresy Acts were restored in 1554, and by February 1555 the Marian Persecutions were under way. From 1555-1558 some nearly 300 individuals met their end, most of them by burning at the stake. This harsh policy coupled with the unpopular marriage to the Spanish prince did not endear her to her subjects. By her death in 1558, no heirs were produced, and she died in pain from potential cancer of the uterus.

Portrayed here by:  Sarah  Bolger (The Tudors) & Kathy Burke (Elizabeth). One of the fascinating things about The Tudors television series was that we were privy to seeing the growth of Mary from girl to woman. Where more work concerns her five year reign as Queen and the historical nickname of ‘Bloody Mary’, few look to explore the complex things surrounding Mary that led her to be the woman she was. Sarah Bolger portrays a Mary that is appropriate for the life stages she visits: abandoned young woman, pained in the heart, determined, intelligent, brave, and kind.  As she futher ages we see a woman try to find her expressions of obedience while still being an icon for those of the Catholic faith.  Her dark edges begin to emerge as each year passes and she becomes more involved with those who seek to undo what they believe is heresy. It is rare to see Mary portrayed with this level of sensitivity.  I would have liked to see Mary go on, for even though her reign was only five years, she lived during the short years of Edward VI, and the nine days of Lady Jane Grey.  Kathy Burke had a short time on the screen in Elizabeth, but her handling of Mary’s later years from her joy at a potential pregnancy to the revelation of sickness show a Mary who mirrors the haunting paranoia, depression, and angst her father kept close to him for many years.

Lady Elizabeth Tudor, Elizabeth I
Motto: Always the Same (Semper Eadem)
How She Rocked her Throne: Elizabeth was desired to be instead Edward, the much wanted boy of her father King Henry.  Instead, when Anne Boleyn gave birth to a girl in the Chamber of Virgins at Greenwhich Palace on September 7, 1533, it no doubt was the beginning of the end that came before Elizabeth was three years of age.  By 1536 May, her mother was beheaded on Tower Green and she, like her sister before her, was declared a bastard. It could be interesting to speculate her father’s sincere disappoint could also be compounded by the fact he had Anne Boleyn crowned with St. Edward’s crown so that her coronation would leave no room to dispute the legitimacy of the coming “son.” Worthy of note is that no other of his queens after Boleyn recieved the same treatment. Henry’s second wife, Queen Jane died before she could be coronated after delivering the sought after heir.

Throughout her life she became one of the most educated women of her generation, proficient in English, Italian, Latin, French, and Greek.  She was thirteen when her father died, and survived both the reigns of her brother Edward and her sister Mary. One of the mottos she had ,video et taceo (I see and say nothing), must have been learned during the turbulence of her youth. It was said that the death of Katherine Howard greatly affected her, and she said she’d never marry. It was something she kept to. Another influence in this decision could have been the sexual harrasment she experienced at the hands of Thomas Seymour. Called ‘games’ these would include coming in to her room at night to put hands on her, and slapping her on the buttox.  Catherine Parr, the King’s last wife and the wife then of Seymour, would join in the games of tickling and pinching, only expelling Elizabeth from the household after she found her with her husband in an embrace.  History now knows Seymour had plans of marrying Elizabeth to put himself closer to the throne.

Queen Elizabeth I would reign for forty-four years, and bring about an era to her country known as the Elizabethan period where writers the likes of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare achieved dramatic fame alongside the likes of seafaring Sir Francis Drake.  In her was realized the want of her father for a strong heir. Though she hadn’t been born a boy, she secured the legacy of her father for four decades before her death.

Portrayed here by:  Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth) and a BBC documentary on the reign of Elizabeth I (actress unknown).  Cate reprised this role twice for both the formative and later years of the reign (Elizabeth, Elizabeth the Golden Age) wherein she travels through both films with a youthfulness, curiosity, intelligence, and strength that compliment the historic writings.  Interestingly enough, the portrayal of Elizabeth the woman has been attacked as history paints:  She  had lovers (such as Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester) and was physical, or had them at a distance.  The myth of her being the Virgin Queen  kept her rooted in the minds of England long after she’d died.  The role of Elizabeth in the Tudors series is played by a string of girls to represent her various age, but it is when Elizabeth becomes vocal that we see Laoise Murray give us the rare glimpse of Elizabeth as a child.  She has spirit, sweetness, and expressions that will carry her far in the realm of acting should she pursue it.  It is a pity that Hirst has no desire for a Tudor’s sequel, for I feel to include Murray would be to watch a true, organic portrayal of a historic young woman as she, herself becomes a woman.

Fun Facts: Now that the series The Tudors is over, what will Michael Hirst do?  Follow here to the Mary Rose 500 Appeal main site, which is centered around the museum that house the ship of the same name. An interview was conducted on 3/25/11 where among other things he discusses his upcoming projects.  A series on Viking, and Napoleon?  If you are interested go take a listen!

The Mary Rose was a warship that was a favorite of Henry VIII, and one of the first to fire broadside. She was built between 1509-1511, and after her career sank in 1545 after an encounter with the French Fleet.  Enjoy turning your attention to the fascinating naval history of this period!


2 thoughts on “The Ladies of Tudor, Part 2

  1. Another wonderful article on my favorite area of history. Even during school I spent much time finding enjoyment on reading about them. Of course, I am equally disappointed that the series had to end following the end of Henry’s reign. I positively loved Sarah Bolger’s portrayal of Mary. A display of powerful emotion and strength in each scene. Equally Laoise Murray showed the intelligence and serious nature of a young Elizabeth. Both of these girls had been through much, had a heavy weight put on their shoulders, in their lives even before their Father’s passing. I would have liked to see more of Mary and Elizabeth, and even little Edward, as they grew.

    1. I can’t agree more. Michael Hirst feels having done Elizabeth he’s already covered this period between a show and a movie, but there was still so much left to do! The fact that he grew both Mary and Elizabeth in their youth begs to continue! Edward’s few years as King,The Nine Days Queen that was Lady Jane Gray, Mary’s ascention to the throne and her struggle to produce an heir, and Elizabeth’s rise to power deserve at least some sort of mini-series! Though Hirst’s upcoming projects on Vikings and Napolean has me intrigued!

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