The Reformation and Wars of Religion--3

The Last Tudors: Edward VI, "Bloody" Mary, Elizabeth

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Young Edward VI (1547-1553) succeeded his father Henry VIII in 1547. During his reign, the Protestant forces ( Seymours, Dudleys, Greys) dominated the Council of the boy-king, did everything in their power to solidify Protestantism, and to prevent a Catholic Restoration under Mary Tudor, Edward's heir should he die childless. These Protestant leaders authorized the publication in English rather than Latin of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Meanwhile, the wars of religion raged on the continent as the forces of Spain, HRE, the Papacy, and the Jesuits were committed to the destruction of Protestantism, in England or elsewhere.

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If you are a Mark Twain fan, young Edward was the "prince" in Twain's The Prince and the Pauper.

Edward VI was a devout Protestant, fearing as did his uncles a Catholic Restoration. He supported the reforms of Archbishop Cranmer that moved the Church of England farther from its Catholic parent. Never strong and in increasingly frail health, he worried about the Act of Succession's specification of Mary as heiress-presumptive. While Edward worried, the members of his Council squabbled and tried to position themselves for the future. Tom Seymour, for example, tried to kidnap and marry Princess Elizabeth. Ned Seymour acted in a dictatorial, high-handed manner towards the King who, by the age of fifteen, chaffed at the bit of his uncle's authoritarianism. The Dudleys and the Greys, equally ambitious, acted with more restraint and diplomacy, at least in the presence of the King. They engineered the executions of the Seymour brothers on charges of treason, and bullied the dying King in 1553, to allow a marriage between Dudley's son, Guildford, and Grey's daughter, Jane. The icing on the cake of their plan was to convince the King, literally on his deathbed, to decree Jane Grey as his successor, bypassing both Mary and Elizabeth (who preceded her in the Act of Succession.) Edward died in 1553.

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Was Lady Jane Grey Queen of England? Was Mary Tudor Queen of England? Edward VI's deathbed proclamation named Jane, with presumably the real rulers to be John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, and Henry Grey, the Duke of Suffolk. However, the Act of Succession, passed by Parliament, signed by the old king, Henry VIII, named Mary. For nine days Jane and her supporters held London. Dudley raised an army to defeat the forces of Mary then converging on London. On the ninth day, the royal Council recognized Mary; when Jane's father, Henry Grey, the Duke of Suffolk, realized that their coup had failed, he offered his allegiance to Mary as well.

During those nine days, the nation--led by the lawful queen, according to English law--rallied behind Mary Tudor. In her entourage and supporting her claim were Grey-Dudley rivals and enemies as well as Anne of Cleves and Princess Elizabeth. The role of Elizabeth here is worth considering. If Mary succeeded to the throne, married, had a child, Elizabeth would never be queen. Furthermore, everyone, including Elizabeth, knew that Mary planned a Catholic marriage and a Catholic restoration. Mary, however, was already thirty-seven and unmarried. Elizabeth put her faith in the law and luck. While she and Mary were personally never close, and Mary blamed Elizabeth (and her mother) for all of her own troubles, nevertheless, Elizabeth could only be queen if Mary lived and produced no heirs. On the other hand, if Jane was crowned, and if Jane and Guildford had children, Elizabeth would never fulfill her destiny, that is, be queen! Elizabeth supported Mary.

The portrait to the right is conventionally believed to be Jane Grey, although some art historians maintain that it is in fact Katherine Parr. The painting, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London, was recently re-named Katherine Parr after generations as Jane Grey--the jury is still out. Traditionalists believe it is Jane Grey.

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A charming 1980s movie starring a very young Helena Bonham Carter, Lady Jane,
presents her and Guildford in a positive light, victimized by their ambitious parents.

London and most of England had little stomach for Mary's militant Catholicism, but she was the rightful queen. Although she forthwith had Dudley-Northumberland tried and executed on charges of treason, she showed mercy for Grey-Suffolk and the unfortunate Jane and Guildford. Mary (1553-1558) did not want to shed royal blood; and she definitely did not want to be "Bloody Mary." Mary's story is even more tragic than that of Jane Grey, and on some levels the two were similar: both were pawns of powerful parents and forces beyond their control; both were religiously devout to the point of fanaticism, though on opposite sides of the Protestant/Catholic divide. As a young woman after the annulment of her parents' marriage, Mary was proclaimed a bastard under English law; her chances for a great marriage (perhaps to Charles V?) withered. Anne Boleyn treated her badly, for which Mary never forgave Elizabeth. Mary had waited a long time for her throne: at the age of thirty-seven, she intended to have her way, though she truly tried, at least at first, to be merciful. Jane Grey, indeed, counted on the queen's "goodness and clemency." Mary believed that England welcomed not only her right to the throne but her faith; in the latter, she was wrong.

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First on Mary's agenda was a Catholic marriage into the powerful Catholic dynasty, the Hapsburgs. In 1553, the Counter-Reformation was accelerating its activities all over Protestant Europe. Mary was eager to bring it, a Catholic husband, and the Jesuits to England. She was determined to marry Philip of Spain, son of Charles V, leader of the Counter Reformation, and eleven years her junior. In 1554, as the marriage negotiations proceeded, Sir Thomas Wyatt, led a rebellion against the "Spanish Marriage." His troops marched on London but were defeated. The significance of Wyatt's Rebellion was enormous: for the rest of Mary's reign: she saw all political issues in religious terms; those who were against her reign were also against her faith, and vice versa. She cast a jaundiced eye on her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth, the remaining Dudley brothers, and Jane Grey languishing in the Tower. While she shrank from shedding the blood of her half-sister, Mary approved the sentencing of four remaining Dudley brothers and Jane. She spared Robert Dudley. Jane Grey went to the block in February, 1554, becoming a Protestant martyr, and earning for Mary the nickname, Bloody Mary. However, it is important to note that Mary did not execute Jane for her faith but for her politics, that is, her threat to the throne. The marriage between Mary, now 39 to Philip's 28 took place and was consummated.

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During her short reign, Mary did all in her power to restore the True Faith, punish its enemies, eradicate Protestantism, and secure a Catholic dynasty. In all of these, she failed. Indeed, the last act in her tragic life was to realize that her pregnancy was false, that it was, instead, ovarian cancer; under English law, Elizabeth would succeed her. Faced with the decision of calling Parliament and trying to convince them to bypass Elizabeth in favor of Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scots, or acknowledging Elizabeth's right to the throne, Mary chose the law and Elizabeth. She died in 1558. Elizabeth succeeded her and presided over the Elizabethan Age until her own death in 1603.

Elizabeth was England's greatest monarch; she gave her name to an era; her grateful people called her Gloriana. She brought order-peace-unity-prosperity-stability to a land that had been rocked for a decade by religious and political strife. She worked with Parliament to effect a compromise religious settlement; she preserved Protestantism in England; she defeated Spain's "Invincible Armada" and broke forever its domination of/monopoly of the seas. She presided over a glittering court, supported the arts (Shakespeare began his career during her reign); she began, though did not live to see its fulfillment, England's colonial expansion; her privateer, Sir Francis Drake, was the first to circumnavigate the globe. "The Virgin Queen," Elizabeth, never married and left in Parliament's hands the choice of her successor. She was a fantastic woman for her own or any time. As she confided to one of her ministers, "I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a prince."


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Among Elizabeth's first acts was to convoke Parliament and address the religious crisis that surrounded her accession to power, coming as it did after five years of militantly Catholic Mary, preceded by five years of militantly Protestant Edward. Parliament and Elizabeth worked out the Elizabethan Settlement, a compromise not unlike the Peace of Augsburg (1555) or the later (1598) Edict of Nantes:

1. The Act of Supremacy established in law the Crown's headship over the Church of England;

2. The Act of Uniformity required weekly church attendance and a single order of worship and ritual throughout the land;

3. The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Faith provided such a broad statement of belief that all but the most fanatically religious could support Elizabeth and attend her church.

Like Henri IV, she was a politique who did not want to "peer into the conscience" of men. Obey the law, pay your taxes, believe what you believe in your heart.

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Perhaps Elizabeth's greatest moment and highest achievement came with the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. This English naval victory/Spanish defeat essentially ended both the Spanish domination of the seas of the world and the Counter Reformation. The portrait to your right is known as The Armada Portrait and was painted in Elizabeth's honor. In the upper left hand corner of the painting you can see the ships, replicated in the background images on this page. An older Philip II is pictured to your left.

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image source < > --Eliz armada portrait


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