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The six monarchs of England between 1485 and 1603.

Henry VII (1485-1509)

Actually a descendant of the secret marriage between Catherine of Valois (Henry V's widow) and Owen Tudor. The Tudors were originally a minor noble family from Wales, and played the hell out of it when amassing followers before Bosworth Field (Henry's personal standard at the battle was the Welsh red dragon). Henry's claim was weak (he was descended from an illegitimate grandson of Edward III who was explicitly disinherited), but with every other claimant dead or imprisoned, the Lancastrians really weren't in a position to say much.

Became king after raising an army and beating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field after one noble changed sides, thus ending The Wars Of The Roses. The thorn bush thing isn't true, along with Richard III being a hunchback or being really desperate for a horse – William Shakespeare has a lot to answer for. Considered nowadays a rather a dull and steady pair of hands, Henry had to deal with a couple of pretenders to his throne along the way, but marrying a woman (Elizabeth of York) from the opposing family helped a lot. However Henry only appears as such in comparison to his extravagent and exciting son: Henry VII was an intelligent, suspicious and steady king, which England needed after years of civil war.

The deaths of Elizabeth, whom he may have married for political reasons but apparently genuinely cared for, and his eldest son Arthur seems to have hit Henry hard, as after that he became considerably harsher to his nobles, and died himself only a few years after. He was buried next to Elizabeth, an intelligent individual in her own right

Had a Pet the Dog moment when he gave one of the defeated pretenders (a commoner named Lambert Simnel who happened to bear a resemblance to one of the dead Yorkist princes, and had been a puppet by rebel nobles) a job in his kitchens instead of executing him. Known for being one of the few monarchs to leave his country's treasury fuller when he died than when he was crowned, thanks to his stringent taxation (later nicknamed "The Tight-fisted Tudor"). He actually taxed his subjects (as was his right) for the knighting of his son Arthur, after Arthur had actually died.

He was a fine monarch in the way that Singapore is a fine city.

Henry VIII (1509-1547)

The man with six[1] wives. Every Briton can remember what happened to them -- "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived" (and every pedant will reply, "annulled, annulled and beheaded, died, annulled and survived, annulled and beheaded, survived"). Arguably the best-known monarch in history, yet he was not even born to the throne and is a fine upshot of the royal marital tradition of producing "an heir and a spare" — he was actually the "spare", but ended up in line to the throne after his older brother Arthur died... and he also married the guy's widow, Catherine of Aragon (Catalina de Aragon), a literal Spanish Princess, Aragon and Castile having been united by the marriage of her parents. Marrying his brother's widow raised a few eyebrows, but it did carry with it several advantages. For one thing, it continued to link the new House of Tudor to the powerful House of Trastámara, granting the Tudors legitimacy. Second, it gave Henry a very desirable out from the international royal marital lottery. Unlike many royal spouses Catherine and Henry were already well-acquainted and, even better, seemed to like one another. They were close in age (Catherine only being five years older than him), intellectual matches (not only was she friends with the scholars Erasmus and Thomas Moore, but she had served as ambassador to the English court for her father, making her the first female ambassador in European history), were widely regarded as attractive and -- perhaps best of all -- Henry was marrying someone who already knew her way around that whole monarch thing. He was only 18 when he came to the throne and engaged in some Wacky Fratboy Hijinx in his early years as King (he and some male buddies once burst into the Queen's bedchamber dressed as Robin Hood and his Merry Men). A redhead, he does remind one of his contemporary namesake, Prince Henry of Wales (Prince Harry).

He was far more extravagant than his father. This was the man responsible for quite possibly the most extravagant diplomatic summit in history, the Field of the Cloth of Gold. There he proceeded to have a wrestling match with the King of France, Francis I. The French guy won.

Many historians have argued that Henry was a good king. He stood strong against the Pope, France, and Spain, maintaining the balance of power in the world, and he is credited with the establishment of a powerful British Navy. On the other hand, some detractors have asserted, the cost of his foreign wars impoverished England and brought about the debasement of the currency; the dissolution of the monasteries and hospitals, meanwhile, demolished the social safeguards from which the poor were accustomed to seek relief as well as the primary modes of social mobility at that time for commoners.

That, and during his reign he had around 10,000 people executed, including some of England's greatest thinkers such as Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas Moore (not to imply the other deaths were any less tragic). His daughter, the so-called 'Bloody' Mary, gets a bad rap for killing around 300, so it only seems fair to flag this up.

Henry restored English control over most of Ireland in a series of rather bloody wars -- prior to this point English power in Ireland had been in decline for centuries and was purely nominal outside the cities. He had himself declared King of Ireland in 1542, a title English (and later British) monarchs would hold for four centuries, and still hold in part -- the Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

He's most famous for starting the Church of England even though he didn't actually start the Church of England (that honor goes to his daughter, Elizabeth). Make sense? Not really, but it's what Whig historians in Victorian times believed, and like so much in British history the popular belief is based on what the Victorians made up. What Henry really did was to separate the Catholic Church in England from the Roman Catholic Church, making himself Supreme Head in place of the Pope. Meanwhile the ceremonies, vestments, church hierarchy (with the obvious exception of the Pope), and liturgy remained essentially Catholic. He'd have cut off your head had you accused him of being Protestant. He loathed Protestantism.[2][3]

But Henry did separate England from Rome. Unlike what Whig history implies, he didn't do it specifically because of his desire for Anne Boleyn either. He did it because his only heir was Mary, a daughter, and Henry wanted at that point to make absolutely sure that she would never become Queen in her own right – after all, you couldn't possibly make a strong dynasty out of women rulers... (At this point, there had never been a Queen Regnant of England -- discounting the unfortunate 12th-century Matilda, granddaughter of William the Conqueror, who was usurped by her cousin Stephen, fought a great civil war against him, and never really got a chance to rule... though her descendants did.) This meant that he couldn't divorce Catherine like many an heirless king had done to a barren wife before; he needed an annulment, something far more serious that would have made Catherine a whore and Mary a bastard in the eyes of almost anyone who mattered. The only way to get an annulment was to apply to the Pope. Unfortunately for Henry the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Catherine's nephew, was at that very moment holding the Pope hostage.

You have to pity Pope Clement. On one hand he couldn't annul the marriage, since the man holding him hostage would have killed him for the insult to his aunt and cousin. On the other hand he could hardly just say "no" to a powerful king like Henry. Thanks to siding with the losers in the Parthian Wars (the reason Charles was holding him hostage), the rise of Protestantism in Germany, and the encroaching Ottoman Empire in the east Clement didn't have too many friends left other than England. So he temporized. He held hearings, he reserved judgments, he delayed things again and again, praying that one of them would just go off and die before things came to a head.

His prayers went unanswered. For some years, Henry had been "courting" (modern historians are more likely to see it as "stalking") a young woman of his court named Anne Boleyn. She was everything Catherine was not: fiery instead of placid, defiant instead of obedient, hot-headed instead of calm. She refused to sleep with Henry for years, saying that her chastity was worth more to her than her own life. Naturally this made Henry even more eager to have her, both because she said no and because she was young enough to give him a son. By this time multiple pregnancies and stillbirths, as well as the stress of Henry's treatment of her, seems to have taken a toll on Catherine and led to premature menopause. Exactly what induced Anne to finally sleep with Henry has been debated for centuries (modern historians think she finally gave in because she had no choice, while the Victorians thought she was a scheming whore), but suffice to say she did and was soon pregnant. Henry was overjoyed, and finally gave up trying to convince the Pope; he officially separated the English Church from Rome, made himself Supreme Head, and directed his new Archbishop of Canterbury to annul his marriage to Catherine. He was so intent that his son, his long-awaited, desperately-wanted heir, would be born legitimately that he was willing to destroy centuries of religious tradition to do so.

Anne gave birth to a girl.

This did not go over well with Henry, but even then he reasoned that if the first child (Elizabeth) was a healthy girl, the second would be a healthy boy. But then Anne miscarried two boys, each in the second trimester, and each was said to be deformed. Anne had also made enemies at court and (arguably worse) the qualities that had attracted Henry in the first place - her strong-minded wilfulness, especially - now repelled him.

Enter Jane Seymour. A staunch Roman Catholic, Jane was everything Anne was not - quiet, placid, feminine, delicate. (Henry was like that: every wife he chose was the stark opposite of her predecessor.) Jane also refused to have sex with Henry until marriage, which didn't take very long: within weeks of Anne's last miscarriage her enemies charged her with adultery, incest, and witchcraft. She was convicted, Henry (by now getting into the swing of this Supreme Head thing) annulled their marriage, and she was executed.

Ten days later Henry married Jane. A year and a half later Jane died after giving birth to Henry's only legitimate son, Edward VI. Common wisdom has it that "she had the good fortune to bear a male heir, and the good sense to die almost immediately afterward, before the King could tire of her". Which isn't to say she never pissed him off, especially after she tried to dissuade him from closing down the monasteries and taking their lands and goods, or insisting he reinstate Mary to the succession and welcome her back to court. He angrily reminded her of what had happened to Anne, and warned her that it could happen to her too.

Giving him the son he'd waited 27 years for[4] meant he forgave Jane a lot, however, and Henry was fond of referring to her as his first true wife. While his marriage to Catherine of Aragon lasted much longer and his passion for Anne Boleyn was much more all-encompassing, Henry went out of his way later in life to honor Jane. When he commissioned a portrait of his dynasty, Jane appeared posthumously with him and their son, and he wanted to be buried with her.

Henry was introduced to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves (German: Anna von Jülich-Kleve-Berg), via a lovely Holbein portrait that now can be seen in The Louvre. Henry found her so unattractive in person that the marriage was annulled six months later without it having been consummated. (History does not record what Anne thought of Henry, who by this time weighed about 350 pounds and had a nasty-smelling running ulcer on his leg.) The strange part was that she wasn't really that unattractive - at least, none of the English courtiers who wrote about her after Henry's death mentioned her being anything but remarkably pleasant-looking. At least one said she was the best-looking of all of Henry's queens. But she was docile, dark-haired, tall, and quite large-breasted, and Henry liked them feisty, blonde, tiny, and boyish. More than one historian has wondered if Henry became impotent at this point and blamed Anne instead of his weight. In the end, Anne, who presumably had by now read up on what happened to Queens One and Two, signed the annulment papers at the King's first suggestion, and thereby got a very generous settlement from a very relieved King Henry, which allowed her to outlive (and get richer than) the other five. Henry treated her as an honorary sister; she got on incredibly well with both of his daughters, and was invited to all the events at court. Clearly, Anne was no fool.

So Henry moved onto Catherine Howard, one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting, who was everything Anne was not: tiny, boyish, spirited, frivolous, and blonde. She was also in love with another man, but that didn't matter: by that time, Henry wasn't taking no for an answer from anyone. So she married him, but she still saw her boyfriend behind his back. Bad idea. When Henry found out he naturally had both of them (plus a former boyfriend) killed, then sat around for months whining about how all women are whores.

Catherine Parr, who again was everything her predecessor was not (bookish, serene, twice-widowed, proper, obedient, quiet, and almost scary-smart) was the sixth and last wife. Henry died before she did. Lucky Catherine. Taking her a page out of his playbook, she married her lover a month after Henry died, becoming the most-married (x4) queen in English history, then a year later died in agony of childbed fever. Yeah, "lucky" Catherine.

In case you were wondering, the total count for Henry's wives goes:

Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived

Oh, needs to be mentioned that modern medicine has brought some irony to cases where men find another woman when their wife produces only daughters, as the chromosome that determines sex is transmitted by the male. As well as the fact that his second daughter, Elizabeth I, whom he declared illegitimate after he had her mother beheaded, became Queen of England and is considered one of the greatest English monarchs. On the other hand she did effectively end the Tudor dynasty (and Henry's direct legitimate line) so it is unlikely old Henry would have taken too much comfort in that.

Edward VI (1547-1553)

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Famous as a sickly boy-king whose early death made rather a mockery of his father's long and tempestuous campaign for a male heir, the reputation of Edward as a frail child has been recently debunked. He almost died of 'quartan fever' (a relatively benign malaria) aged four, but afterwards was healthy up to the age of 15. To be fair, though, he did then contract what was apparently 'consumption' (tuberculosis) and snuffed it without reaching his majority.

A bright kid and a staunch Protestant, he'd have become full monarch at 16 had he not died. Henry VIII hadn't appointed an individual Regent, but a Regency Council, which spent most of the time arguing with each other and plotting against each other. The nine-year-old king's realm was in fact largely ruled in this time by firstly his uncle Edward Seymour, Earl of Somerset, who set himself above the Council as 'Lord Protector'; then later, after Somerset's fall, by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and later Duke of Northumberland.

Despite his tender years, Edward did take an active interest in the affairs of the nation. During the reign, a lot of schools were set up and the Book of Common Prayer was devised; the English Reformation gathered pace as Edward solidified his father's break from the Roman Church, helping to form the structure of the lasting Church of England. A few years before his death Edward also took an increased interest and participation in his council, learning and taking part in control of the country. If he had lived, the signs indicate that he would have been a capable, if rather religiously extreme, king

The original Prince in the Prince and Pauper plot, BTW.

Lady Jane Grey (1553)

When it became obvious the young Edward VI was not long for this world, Northumberland and the Regency Council realised they were in big trouble. The King's elder half-sister and obvious heir, Mary, was Catholic. They were not, and they had put a lot of work into turning England into a good Protestant country. So, with fervent Protestant Edward's glad co-operation (as has become more accepted a viewpoint in recent years, before which he was largely considered a mere pawn) they proceeded to fudge the rules of monarchical succession, confirm both Mary and Elizabeth's illegitimacy (thanks to Henry VIII's annulments of his marriages to their respective mothers) and alter the Act of Succession to make an obscure noble Queen instead -- the dying Edward chose and/or was 'persuaded' to decree in his will that he desired his first cousin once-removed, Jane Grey, to follow him. A granddaughter of Henry VIII's youngest sister, also aged just 16, she just happened to have been engaged and married off (two months before Edward's death) to the equally-young Guildford Dudley -- son of none other than the Duke of Northumberland.

It lasted nine days before an annoyed Mary I showed up with an army. Unfortunately for Northumberland, he'd neglected to secure the princess in person before proclaiming Jane as Queen instead, and he'd grossly underestimated Mary's popularity with the likes of conservatives, Catholics and those who were loyal to the memory of her mother and believed Catherine had been treated unfairly. It was a big army. Heads rolled, right into a basket.

Jane's life was spared for the present; Mary wasn't stupid or irrational enough to believe a fifteen-year-old bookworm engineered a coup all by herself, and understood that the plot was mainly carried out by Jane's father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland. Mary's original intent was to have Jane and her husband convicted of treason, imprisoned, and then quietly released once things had died down. Northumberland, however, was simply executed.

Jane's father, however, the Duke of Suffolk, couldn't give up the possibility of her being on the throne -- so they staged another attempt to get her there, and this time, Mary's hand was forced. Her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (the one who was Catherine of Aragon's nephew), would not allow the marriage between Mary and his son to take place until Mary's throne was absolutely secure. Mary gave the go-ahead for Jane to be executed, with the caveat that she would be spared if she was found to be pregnant or renounced her faith and converted to Catholicism. Jane, a fanatical Protestant who spent part of her imprisonment writing a diatribe on the evils of the Pope, refused.

Poor kid, she was still a teenager, and hadn't even particularly wanted to be Queen -- she was essentially the figurehead of a coup d'etat. She has gone down in history as an anomaly, only included on king-lists with an asterisk: the de facto monarch who 'ruled' for but a handful of days, never had any real power and certainly was never crowned. Only rarely is she referred to as 'Queen Jane'; most sources call her simply Lady Jane Grey – the unfortunate adolescent who is remembered as England's queen-who-never-was.

Mary I and Philip (1553-1558)

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It's not every monarch who has a drink named after her nickname. Then again, not every monarch gets the nickname "Bloody".

England's very first Queen Regnant, Mary I was Henry VIII's daughter and his only surviving child by Catherine of Aragon. As a little girl, she was doted on by her parents, but that changed when Anne Boleyn became queen. With her parents' marriage declared invalid, Mary was declared a bastard, struck from the succession, stripped of her title as "Princess", separated from her mother, and forced into her baby half-sister's service as a lady-in-waiting. When ordered to recognize Anne Boleyn as Queen of England and Elizabeth as Princess, Mary declared that she knew of no Queen but her mother, and no Princess but herself -- she might, however, call Elizabeth her sister, as she called Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Henry VIII's illegitimate son, her brother.

Dad and Anne Boleyn were not pleased by this. Luckily for Mary, Anne lost her head, and Mary's subsequent stepmothers were more sympathetic. After her mother's death, she caved, and signed papers repudiating her parents' marriage, which restored good relations between herself and her father. Her father and Jane Seymour named her godmother to Prince Edward, and she was chief mourner at Jane Seymour's funeral. She was eventually restored to the succession, although she remained legally born out of wedlock and was styled "the Lady Mary," rather than "Princess."

Like the rest of the Tudors, Mary was very intelligent and well-educated, but she never showed the same zeal for learning as Elizabeth or Edward. While she lacked the charisma that characterized her father and sister, she was capable of inspiring great loyalty in her subjects (before the... well, keep reading), and especially in her friends and servants. A very generous, motherly woman, Mary was often asked by friends to stand godmother to their children, and also acted as a substitute mother figure to her much-younger siblings. It was she who urged Henry VIII to bring Elizabeth back into favor after the fall of Anne Boleyn, and her brother Edward once wrote her a letter saying he loved her better than anyone else.

Of course, all three siblings changed as they grew older.

As daughter of Catherine of Aragon and granddaughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Mary I was Catholic in a big way. Prosecutions for heresy were resumed with great vigour during her reign; there were more burnt at the stake in the Marian period than in any other Tudor reign. Mary herself was not personally ferocious, but she was, like her husband Philip, morbidly conscientious and absolutely convinced that the extirpation of Protestantism was a moral imperative.

As a child Mary had been betrothed to her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. This match delighted her parents, as they both eagerly anticipated a grandson who would rule the majority of Roman Catholic Europe. This dream ended, however, when Charles withdrew from the betrothal in favor of one of the Princesses of Portugal. Charles' reneging seems to have blindsided and outraged Henry -- as evidenced by his whole "annulling his first marriage" thing -- although the fact that at the time of the betrothal Charles was in his 20s and Mary was six may have been a factor. Mary's husband would ultimately be Philip II (Felipe), King of Spain and the son of her cousin/ex-fiance Charles V. There was a considerable age gap between them (she was 11 years his senior) and years of poor health and stress had taken a heavy toll on Mary. Mary seems to have been devoted to him, but it is unlikely that the cold and self-contained Philip reciprocated her devotion. Mary was notably desperate for a baby; she seemed twice to have become pregnant, but with no result -- the symptoms were possibly either psychosomatic or the result of an ovarian cyst -- perhaps both. In any case, she had no child, and upon the death of the first undisputed Queen Regnant in English history the throne promptly passed to the second...

Elizabeth I (1558-1603)

She'd had a not particularly nice pre-monarch life. She was declared illegitimate, almost executed by her own sister, and had a man 25 years her senior engage in horseplay with her when she was 15.

Two aspects of her reign are of particular note. The first is the whole Mary, Queen of Scots thing.

Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary I of Scotland (not to be confused with Mary I Tudor of England, see above) became Queen at six days old, when her father died of what was probably cholera. She'd been betrothed, aged a mere seven months, to a six-year-old Edward of England before he became King Edward VI. When the Scots didn't go through with it, Henry VIII proceeded to engage in what historians call "The Rough Wooing". Namely, he attacked Scotland a few times. The Scots teamed up with their traditional buddies, the French, and Mary ended up marrying the man who was due to become Francois II of France. He died.

She then married an English Noble, Lord Darnley. Why? They were half-cousins; they were both grandchildren of Henry VIII's sister Margaret. This gave them each substantial claims to the English throne, if Good Queen Bess died childless. Marriage united and strengthened their claims; their son, James, did in fact succeed Elizabeth. But that was later; at the time, Elizabeth forbade the match.

Mary fancied herself in love with Darnley, but the honeymoon didn't last. After a while, he began to suspect that she was having an affair with her court musician and secretary, an Italian called Rizzio. So he had Rizzio murdered. Right in front of her. While she was pregnant with Darnley's son.

Later, Lord Darnley's bedroom was blown up. He was found in the garden, in his nightshirt -- strangled. The chief suspect was a roguish Scottish noble called Lord Bothwell.

So of course, Mary (who seems to have had a knack for poor life choices) married Bothwell with almost indecent haste. The rest of the Scottish nobles objected. Rather strongly. There was a battle. Bothwell ran off to Denmark, hoping for sanctuary but ending his days chained to a pillar in a dungeon - he'd forgotten about the time he'd jilted the Danish King's daughter at the altar.

Mary was forced to abdicate and went to England.

Being a Catholic, she became a focus for Catholic opposition to Elizabeth (who had already been excommunicated by Pope Pius V). Eventually, Elizabeth had enough and after a trial on treason charges that may or may not have been true, Mary was beheaded. Because regicide looked rather bad back then (especially when it was your own cousin), Elizabeth allegedly arranged for the death warrant to be sent "accidentally". A softer view says that it was actually sent accidentally. Elizabeth blamed Sir William Cecil, who tended to say things that made Elizabeth unhappy. Unfortunately for her, Cecil was usually right, and she knew it.

Contrary to Hollywood, Mary and Elizabeth never met in person.

When Mary had been kicked off the Scottish throne, the heir to the English throne became her son, James VI, who had also ascended to the throne as an infant. James VI was a Protestant. Realising that he couldn't get a Catholic onto the English throne any other way, Philip II of Spain (yes, the man who was married to Mary I), also rather annoyed at English support for the United Netherlands and privateering (overt state-sponsored piracy) on his treasure ships, got a blessing from Pope Sixtus V and moved onto the second key aspect of the reign of Elizabeth I:

The Spanish Armada

The Spanish sent a fleet of ships, which they called the Great and Most Fortunate Navy (Grande y Felicí­sima Armada), to invade England. Well, they tried to invade. The English (aided by the Dutch Republic) burned many ships in port with fire ships and were generally rather good, tactically speaking, routing the Armada in the English Channel in one of the nation's most famous military victories. What was left of the fleet had to limp home the long way round the British Isles, where many of those involved died from drowning, starvation or being killed by annoyed English people in Ireland. And for that matter by some of the Irish people in Ireland, who decided that galleons full of weakened Spaniards with valuable loot represented a welcome break from the otherwise fairly miserable lot of Irish peasants under the Tudors.

Years later, the Spanish tried landing troops in Ireland to aid Hugh O'Neill (Irish: Aodh Maer a Naoill) against Elizabeth. O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, was the leader of the Irish rebels during the Nine Years War (1594-1603). Elizabethan Ireland was not a pleasant place, and Elizabeth's mixture of parsimony and aggression went down very badly with the native Irish. O'Neill was eventually brought to heel in 1603 after the bloodiest and most expensive war in Elizabeth's reign that had seen at least 100,000 Irish and 30,000 English killed, and England nearly bankrupted. Though O'Neill actually managed to outlast Elizabeth (she died before he surrendered, though he was not informed until after he signed the terms) he would be pressured to flee a few years later, leading to the Ulster Plantations. But we get ahead of ourselves...

In other matters, that whole "Virgin Queen" thing? Debatable. Good Queen Bess had at least two well-publicized affairs - the question is whether the hard-headed Elizabeth would have taken the risk of the damage an illegitimate royal pregnancy would have caused. The first, long-lasting one was with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, her childhood companion. If she was in love with anyone, she was in love with him. Then Leicester dropped dead shortly after the defeat of the Armada. Elizabeth bawled for a few months, and then took up with the second Earl of Essex, also named Robert. He was, essentially, her boy-toy. She had reigned longer than he'd been alive. Incidentally, he was also Leicester's stepson. Unlike his stepfather, however, he didn't know how to keep his mouth shut and got a big head. Bess was mildly displeased by this, so she lopped it off. As for political matches it seems that she took her courtship with Francis (French: François), Duke of Anjou, at least somewhat seriously. Despite their age difference (Elizabeth was considerably older than her suitor) they seemed quite fond of one another. For a time Elizabeth even wore a frog shaped earring Francis sent her, a likely reference to her nickname for him ("my little frog").

Modern sensibilities tend to assume that any romantic involvement involves sex, but the 16th century was a different time and culture, and many historians still believe Elizabeth could well have died a virgin as is historically claimed. Another theory states that the aforementioned "horseplay" may have put her off sex. Either way, Elizabeth's status as the "impenetrable" "Virgin Queen" served to inspire a cult of loyalty in her subjects, who often portrayed and imagined her as a goddess or the Virgin Mary. Elizabeth, in turn, referred to her subjects as "all her husbands." The "marriage question" also served as a handy, quick-and-dirty foreign policy tool -- so long as the question remained open, so to speak.

What else . . . there was also a guy called Sir Francis Walsingham, who effectively got the whole British espionage system going. English drama flourished under her reign, particularly two gentlemen named William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Diplomatic ties were established with the Ottoman Empire, Barbary States and Japan which led to the expansion of trade. She also granted Sir Walter Raleigh a charter to explore and plant a colony north of Spanish Florida, which would come to be called "Virginia" (perhaps named after her).

In 1603, Elizabeth I died childless. In her will, she left the throne to the son of Mary, Queen of Scots -- perhaps remarkably, considering everything, but then unlike his mother he was a Protestant. A messenger rode a chain of pre-placed fast horses to Scotland and told James VI that he was now James I of England. The House of Stuart, at least in England, had begun, and for the first time in history, the whole island of Great Britain and (at least nominally) all of the British Isles were ruled by a single person.


Depictions in fiction

  • Lady Jane starring Helena Bonham Carter as the unfortunate girl and Cary Elwes as Guildford Dudley.
  • Histeria! sings of the Tudors here, to the tune of "Greensleeves". Beware, this song will stick with you.
  • Henry VIII
  • The Tudors sadly only focuses on the latter half of Henry VIII's reign, although, you'd be hard pressed to guess that.
  • Anne of the Thousand Days depicts Anne Boleyn's marriage to Henry VIII starring Richard Burton and Genevieve Bujold.
  • Elizabeth and Elizabeth I
  • The Other Boleyn Girl covers the Anne Boleyn period of Henry's reign from the perspective of Mary, Anne's sister.
  • The Shardlake books by C.J. Sansom are set during the latter years of Henry VIII's reign, - events such as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Royal Progress to the North, and the French invasion attempt of 1545 form a backdrop to the central stories. Sansom takes some liberties with history in an effort to avoid confusing the casual reader, but lists the changes and the reasons for them in author's notes, as well as providing a short bibliography of the reference texts he used.

Notes

  1. If we want to be really technical, the correct number is actually two, or three (if you are Catholic). Wives number 1 (for Anglicans only), 2, 4, and 5 were annulled, which retroactively voids the marriage (the legal equivalent of claiming that the pair never got married in the first place).
  2. It's just that by creating a separate Church tied to the sovereign rather than to Rome, it didn't necessarily remain Catholic in future any more than the monarchs did. A couple of centuries down the track, the throne ended up permanently in the hands of Protestants after Queen Anne barred Catholics from the succession, meaning the established Anglican church is essentially Protestant. This ban remained in effect until 2011.
  3. This wasn't nearly enough, however, for the Puritans who would ultimately settle the New England colonies. They emphasized the importance of individual interpretations of the Bible and personal experiences with the divine. To them, Henry VIII was a King in Pope's clothing.
  4. – yes, contrary to what you might glean from watching The Tudors, most of the memorable (notorious) events from Henry's reign are compressed into its latter part, by the start of which he was already middle-aged by standards of the day. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is probably a decade too young to be playing Henry even when he marries Anne Boleyn, wife 2 of 6, at which point the real king had already reigned for over 23 years and lived for 42 – he was to die aged 55. His marriage to Catherine of Aragon lasted about twice as long as the subsequent five did put together.
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