Why was Henry VIII a tyrant?

Put on your theory cap, as we explore the reasons why Henry VIII might have been a tyrant.

It’s a question as old as time – ‘Why was Henry VIII such a dick?!’ 

Well, we’re looking to find out! Join us for an exploration into how new neurological research could explain why Henry VIII was a tyrant (and massive dick)

Click here for the video on our YouTube Channel

IMG_1173

 

The Trial and Execution of Mary Queen of Scots

By 1586 Mary Queen of Scots had been imprisoned by her cousin, Elizabeth I for almost two decades.

She’d lost her throne in 1657, having been forced to abdicate in favour of her baby. Then after fleeing Scotland for safety in England she’d been (at least in her mind) royally screwed over. Instead of helping Mary regain the Scottish throne, Elizabeth had her locked up.

Mary was a serious threat to Elizabeth’s rule. Viewed by Catholics as the true catholic ruler of England, there was many a plot to bump off Elizabeth and put Mary on the throne.

Thus, Mary was imprisoned. Spending year after year being dragged around England to be locked up in its various castles.

So you can see why, approaching her 20th year of imprisonment, Mary eagerly took part in plot to assassinate Elizabeth.

Enter, The Babington Plot. Put together by young nobleman, Anthony Babington and priest, John Ballard (along with other conspirators) the plot was an incredibly convoluted scheme to:

  • Start a Spanish invasion
  • Kill Elizabeth I
  • Put Mary on the throne
  • Return England to Catholicism

Whilst locked away, Mary advised the plotters, both in terms of strategy and how to ensure she’d win the English throne. And naturally as the ‘rightful’ ruler of England Mary would be the one to sign off on the plot starting. Which she did, in July 1586.

Unfortunately for Mary, the plot had been infiltrated and Elizabeth I’s own spy master, Sir Francis Walsingham had been using the letters to entrap Mary and get her to call for Elizabeth’s murder. Which by signing off for the plot to go ahead, she’d done.

Everyone involved with The Babington Plot, including Mary, was duly arrested.

The Babington Plot postscript and its secret cypher

In September 1586 the first of the conspirators were executed, including ringleaders John Ballard and Anthony Babington. Onlookers said that by the time he arrived at the execution site, John Ballards limbs were barely in their sockets, as a result of the torture he’d undergone.

One at a time, the men were hung drawn and quartered. Forced to watch their fellows dismemberment before their own death. The executions were so brutal that a public outcry meant the other conspirators were just ‘hung until they were quite dead’ before being dismembered.

With that bloodbath over, the attention turned to Mary. What could be done with the traitorous Queen?

The idea of executing a Queen was very possible. After all, Elizabeth’s own mother, Anne Boleyn had been beheaded. But this wasn’t a outcome that Mary entertained.

In her mind she had been anointed by god to reign. That was something holy and untouchable. There was no law in the land that could hold jurisdiction over her, the only judgement she was accountable to was God’s.

However it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t God’s holy anointed Mary going on trial for treason, but (as the royal warrant for the trial put it) Mary, a mere woman who was:

‘Pretending title to this crown of this realm of England’

Mary’s trial hearing started on 14 October 1586. Though it operated as less of a trial and more of a really long argument between Mary and those convicting her.

To say Mary would have made an excellent lawyer would be an understatement. She rallied hard, with a stream of well thought out and articulated arguments. Always ready with something to fight the prosecutions threats and refusals to acknowledge her words.

Mary’s arguments included:

  • That she wasn’t an English subject and therefore couldn’t be held as an English traitor
  • She’d been denied legal counsel or the right to view evidence being bought against her
  • Did she mention, she was a Queen. Anointed by God. It would literally be a sin to kill her.

After Mary’s hearing was finished, the trial was adjourned to The Star Chamber, leaving Mary at Forgeringay Castle. Then on 25 October, the trial was completed…without anyone telling Mary.

The trials commissioners found Mary guilty of treason. And together with Parliament they urged Elizabeth to execute Mary as quickly as humanly possible.

BUT Elizabeth didn’t want to execute Mary.

Though there’d been a lot of bad blood between the pair of Queens, there had also been a kind of respect. They were so similar in so many ways. Cousins thrust into positions of power considered above their gender. No matter how begrudging, there was a bond there.

After Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley died in an incredibly suspicious explosion, Elizabeth wrote to Mary, urging her to distance herself from the scandalous tragedy, as:

‘I treat you as my daughter, and assure you that if I had one, I could wish for her nothing better than I desire for you.”

But even more than the bond Elizabeth shared with Mary, she didn’t want to execute her because it set a deadly precedent. To lawfully kill a sovereign.

Elizabeth had hoped she’d be able to pardon her cousin. That Mary would beg for forgiveness. But none of that happened.

As pressure mounted from her councillors and parliament, Elizabeth had no choices left. On 1 February 1587 she signed Mary’s death warrant.

Elizabeth’s signature of Mary’s death warrant

With the warrant signed, Elizabeth’s councillors decided to carry out the execution immediately – without telling Elizabeth.

On the evening of 7 February, Mary was visited at her prison of Fotheringhay Castle and told she was to die the next morning.

Her last hours were spent both in prayer and sorting out her affairs. Sleeping would be near impossible, thanks to the incessant loud hammering as the execution scaffold was hastily erected.

Early on the morning of 8 February, Mary serenely entered the castles great hall to face the scaffold. And after that everything turned into a shit show.

Mary bids her servants farewell in a 19th century re-imagining (which explains the sheer drama here)

To kick things off, Mary was curtly informed that she was to go to her death alone. This was a shock.

Traditionally women of Mary’s status were allowed their ladies around them on the scaffold. They not only gave one last herald of the condemneds status. But, perhaps more importantly, the women provided comfort before the ax fell and then shielded the broken body. Offering dignity in death by not subjecting the woman to being stripped by men for burial.

To be rejected this right at the last minute was a huge blow.

Though she maintained a calm exterior, Mary begged to be allowed her ladies. She was rejected, but refused to give up. Pleading for this, her final right.

Eventually the councillors gave in. On condition that Mary’s ladies didn’t loudly weep, wail, or generally erupt into female hysteria.

And so Mary climbed the stairs of the scaffold, her ladies in tow.

As Mary waited for the death sentence to be read out, a man burst forth from the crowd. Dr Fletcher, The Protestant Dean of Peterborough proclaimed that it wasn’t too late for Mary to save her soul and convert from Catholicism to the Protestant faith.

Mary ignored his loud protestations and prayers, until eventually breaking and saying:

‘Mr. Dean, trouble not yourself any more, for I am settled and resolved in this my religion, and am purposed therein to die.’

In response, the Dean fell to his knees on the scaffolds stairs and started loudly praying at her. Mary politely turned away and began her own prayers.

Despite the Deans complete inability to read a room, Mary finished her prayers. With this over she stood, readying herself for this final act of ceremony.

She paid the executioner, forgiving him in advance for what he was about to do. Then Mary’s ladies helped her remove her black gown. Revealing a red petticoat with deep crimson sleeves.

This colour wasn’t a a random choice, but the red of catholic martyrdom. Mary was making a clear statement – she was anointed by God, to kill her was a sin and in death she would become a holy martyr.

The execution of Mary Queen of Scots, artist unknown

The wordless statement from Mary’s blood red petticoat rang throughout the great hall. Even as Mary was blindfolded, laid her head on the block and stretched her arms wide to signal the executioners axe.

The first blow hit the back of her head.

Accounts vary on if Mary cried out from the pain or remained silent. However as this was a chop wound (a mix of sharp force and blunt force trauma) its most likely that Mary felt excruciating pain for a few seconds, before losing consciousness.

The axes second blow hit her neck, severing it almost entirely. With one third chop needed to separate Mary’s head from her body.

The executioner then picked Mary’s head up by the hair, held it forth to the crowd and proclaimed

‘God save the Queen’

At which point, he lost grip on the head as Mary’s wig fell off, revealing her greying hair (something people were shocked about, despite the fact she was 44 and they’d just witnessed her bloody execution)

And with that macabre farce, the story of Mary Queen of Scots came to an end.

A 1791 deception of Mary Queen of Scots burial

This was interesting! Where can I find out more? Choosing just one book on Mary Queen of Scots is impossible, so here are some of my favourites:

Why Jane Seymour was actually one wily bitch

The third of Henry VIII’s wives, Jane Seymour, is mainly remembered as the one that Henry liked the most (which is kind of damning, with faint praise) and erm… that’s kind of it.

She’s sort of seen as the wet flannel of his wives. Nice and mainly inoffensive, but… well, she had a reputation as boring.

BUT that couldn’t be more wrong, you see:

Jane Seymour was a wily mother fucker. And I mean that in the best way possible!

Jane Seymour, as painted by Hans Holbein.jpg
Prepare to have all your perceptions of Jane smashed!

So before we get cracking, lets have a quick recap on the life of Jane Seymour (if you want to skip this bit, just scroll down till the break and we’ll see you there! 👋)

Most likely born in 1508, Jane was one of several children born to high up Tudor Courtiers, Margery Wentworth and Sir John Seymour.

Jane’s main role in life was to marry well and pop out a ton of kids (preferably boys). So she was educated to be a wife, with little emphasis on academia, and LOTS of needlework. With her cross stitch mastered, Jane was sent to serve Henry VIII’s 1st wife, Catherine of Aragon, and more crucially – snatch a rich husband.

Jane arrived at court in a huge time of upheaval. In just a couple of years she saw Henry VIII change the country’s religion, divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn (who she then served).

BUT by 1536 Henry was falling out of love with Anne and had his sights set on getting off with the woman who was the exact opposite of his wife – that woman was of course, Jane.

So, with Anne proving to be pretty problematic, Henry decided to cut both his losses and Anne’s head (this is, of course, very simplified!)

The day after Anne’s execution, Jane was engaged to Henry and the pair were married 10 days later (so many red flags). Within a year, Jane was pregnant and soon giving Henry the thing he most wanted, a son.

And that’s where the story ends. Jane died on 24th October 1537, following drawn out complications she experienced in labour.

Ok, got all that? Yes? Awesome!

Let’s get down to business and look at just why Jane was in fact not a cute little wifey BUT a calculating master manipulator.

Jane Seymour gif.gif
Beware those in pink because on Wednesdays they will come for you!

Ok first things first, let’s get this out the way:

Did Jane Seymour profit off of the death of Anne Boleyn?

Short answer: Yes
Long answer: Yes… but it’s not that black and white!

Here’s the thing, Anne Boleyn was doomed. Her downfall plotted from all sides, it was inevitable that she would be dethroned and disposed of.

And you know what a Queen down means? A WHOLE TON OF POWER UP FOR GRABS!

With the possibility of marrying the king (or at least becoming his mistress) the game was well and truly on – enter The Seymours.

The family had been on the rise for a while, but with Anne’s downfall, it looked like this could be the Seymours’ chance to cash in on some serious power and influence; especially because Henry had already set his sights on his next love:
Jane Seymour (handy that!)

And so, Jane had her family on side to advise, guide and generally ensure she (and more importantly, they) could milk the situation for all it was worth!

Anne Boleyn gif.gif
Sorry Anne, this situation does include your death…

Jane utilised the demise of Anne Boleyn to her favour – by becoming the exact opposite of Anne.

Anne was outspoken, bold and the focus of any room, so Jane made sure that at all times, she came off as meek, mild and shy.

That’s not to say Jane didn’t follow in any of Anne’s footsteps. In fact she actually used same the play as Anne had in her early days with Henry. Rebuffing his initial romances, hooking him with the thrill of the chase and what he, the man who could have everything, couldn’t have.

But where as Anne had won Henry by turning down his initial romances with a mix of flirtation, sweetness and ambition, Jane went for all doe eyed Bambi innocence.

In fact, according to historian Antonia Fraser, Jane explained that she couldn’t possibly accept the kings gifts, for she had:

‘nothing in the world but her honour, which for a thousand deaths she would not wound… If the King deigned to make her a present of money, she prayed that it might be when she made an honourable marriage’

This was a seriously smart and calculated move!

Just as Anne Boleyn was entering her downfall, rumours of her alleged infidelities we’re spreading like wildfire. The other topic of hot court gossip? How has Jane Seymour remained a devout virgin in such a den of sexual sin? She must be an incredibly upstanding virtuous woman.

Like that, Jane secured her place as Henry’s dream girl.

henry and Jane from the Tudors, gif
awww young tyrannical love

BUT being Henry VIII’s dream girl wasn’t a walk in the park, after all this was a man with a body count…

Which brings us to our next point on what makes Jane so ingenious:

She didn’t lose her head!

You see, Jane has the special role in Henry’s wives, as the only one, who was never in danger in getting executed.

Katherine of Aragon was threatened with death and eventually exiled, Anne Boleyn is beheaded, Anne of Cleves divorces Henry in part to ensure she doesn’t end up missing a key part of her anatomy, Catherine Howard is beheaded AND Katherine Parr just narrowly avoids execution.

But Jane? Well Jane somehow managed to maintain her golden girl status.

And you best believe that’s a badge well earned!

What we often forget about Jane is that she had one full year with Henry before becoming pregnant, with what is now often considered her golden ticket, a boy, Edward.

That’s one year with a man who was by now a full on tyrant, with violent mood swings galore and one recently decapitated wife under his belt (not to mention the abused exiled one),

To be blunt, daily life as Henry’s wife was akin to a tightrope walk over shark infested waters.

Henry VIII by Hans Holbein.jpg
Henry VIII, King of England and red flags

So how did Jane survive? Well, she played the game.

Like we’ve already covered, Jane courted Henry by playing up to idea of the docile little wife he wanted. And when she was actually his wife, Jane made sure to keep the act up!

She gave herself the Royal motto:
‘Bound to obey and serve’

Now that isn’t to say that Jane didn’t also want to use her new power to fight for what she thought was right. Just months after her marriage she begged Henry to restore the Abbeys he had destroyed years earlier.

In response, Henry reminded Jane of what happened to the last wife that disagreed with him…

After that it seems Jane made a concerted effort to study Henry’s moods, eventually having them down to a fine art.

This meant that unlike her predecessors, Jane knew when to push and more importantly, when to stop pushing.

henry-viii-holbein-full-lenth-portrait.jpg
Because handling Henry VIII is more than similar to handling a pissy toddler

Jane’s ability to handle Henry meant that she was able to:

Bring a Queen back to court

Even before Jane and Henry were married, she was (allegedly) fighting to bring Henry’s estranged daughter, Mary, back to court.

With Spanish ambassador, Chapuys writing:
‘I hear that, even before the arrest of the Concubine [Anne Boleyn] The King, speaking with mistress Jane of their future marriage, the latter suggested that the Princess should be replaced in her former position; and the King told her she was a fool, and ought to solicit the advancement of the children they would have between them, and not any others’

But Jane wasn’t letting this one go. 

She’d known Mary, from her time serving Mary’s Mum, Catherine of Aragon. And had watched on as Mary was cast aside and disinherited – Jane wasn’t going to let this shit continue!

So she continued quietly plugging away, getting the issue on the table under the radar. Until finally Henry agreed, if (and it’s a big IF) Mary would agree his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had been invalid. 

seriously Henry could you not be the worst for like one second.gif
Seriously Henry, could you just try and not be the worst for 1 second

The idea of signing a document declaring her parents marriage invalid broke Mary’s heart. After all, her mother had spent years fighting for that marriages validity; losing so much in that battle.

Yet, signing was Mary’s only hope at ever being able to regain her power.

So, she did, but she did so partly because she knew she now had a strong ally – Jane.

Mary knew that Jane had more than her back; she was one of the only people who was able to control and sway Henry. That’s one powerful person to have on side!

This is in turn led to Henry allowing his other daughter, Elizabeth (Anne’s daughter) back into his life. With the little princess invited back to court for Christmas in 1536.

That’s two Queens brought back into the folds of power, a feat Jane achieved in just 6 months, thanks to her skill at manipulating Henry without him even realising.

And that’s what makes Jane’s death even sadder.

She had such a short time on the throne, yet this master at the long game proved she could have achieved so much, if she had just had time on her side.

So, don’t overlook Jane. Sure she’s quiet, but remember it’s the quiet ones you have to watch.
jane Seymour Portrait

This was interesting where can  find out more? Sadly there aren’t many books on Jane but I’d suggest Elizabeth Norton’s book on her.

If you want an in depth look at all the wives, than I will always suggest checking out, Alison Wiers, Six Wives 

 

 

The Ultimate Guide To Tudor Swag

Who doesn’t love a little bit of nerd based consumerism? Nobody, that’s who. And there is no better time to be a history nerd than right now, mainly because the internet exists and all sorts of novelty essential historic goodies are at your fingertips.

In celebration of that wondrous fact I bring you the very best in Tudor swag, to help you adorn every facet of your life with your only slightly unhealthy Anne Boleyn obsession (other wives are available) 

FYI: Nothing in this article is an ad/sponsored; all just my personal opinions 

  1. Six Wives Mug, Cole of London, £12 (or £60 for all 6) 

Anne of Cleves MugGod knows I love a brew, but only one thing makes a cup of tea perfect: a historic mug.

These mugs come with not only a seriously cool six wives illustration (By artist, Sarah Cole) but also information on each wife’s tumultuous marriage AND what happened to her post-Henry (obvs, sadly Anne B, Jane, and Catherine H don’t get this…)

And the mugs are bone china, which makes tea taste even better (Fact!)

 

Now we all knew this one was coming:
2. Anne Boleyn necklace, £50, HRP 

Anne Boleyn NecklaceThat’s right your very own B necklace. Staple of all good Anne Boleyn portraits and period drama costumes

Anne Boleyn gif .gif
Peep that necklace though

You gotta give it to Anne, she was rocking a statement necklace waaaay before it was essential to every good accessory addict’s wardrobe. Truly, Anne is an iconic fashion icon (Seriously, never forget; girl bought back the French hood!)

Bonus: If your first or last name starts with a B, you’re really getting a double deal here: initial necklace AND Anne Boleyn tribute.

 

3, Elizabeth and Mary bookmarks, Etsy, William and Jane Design £1.73

Mary and Elizabeth bookmarkWhat better way to mark your place in the latest Tudor popcorn read, than with your own Queen bookmark?

Each bookmark comes with a quote pertaining to Elizabeth or Mary. As well as an adorable illustration and fun tassel (Perfect for absently minded fiddling during more dull chapters)

They can be bought as a pair or separately. Although, thinking of their history, keeping these two apart might not be such a bad thing…

 

4. Six wives Christmas ornaments, £12.99 for one or £50 for all six + Henry 

six wives christmas decorations .jpgChristmas just isn’t Christmas without a six wives decoration. They’re traditional (Well, at least I just declared them traditional)

You can either buy each wife individually or as a set, which also includes Henry VIII. Meaning you can create a whole festive scene with the six wives…and leave Henry relegated to the back of the tree, where he may accidentally fall on the floor. Oops.

Henry Vlll decoration
Fuck it, just leave him in the box

Fun fact: The company that makes these decorations, also makes other history themed Christmas decorations (Including a suffragette) so you can create a whole historic festive theme if you so desire.

 

 

5. Mary Queen of Scots charm bracelet, Etsy, Tudor Dynasty Jewels, £22.12

Mary charm braceletI’m a little bit in love with this charm bracelet, partly because so much thought has clearly gone into it.

Each charm represents a key part of Mary’s life, so there’s a Fleur de Lis for her time at French court, a thistle for Scotland and a dinky axe for, well, obvious reasons.

The shop also sells charm bracelets for other rulers of the era, including Elizabeth. Each of Henry VIII’s wives and even Richard III.

 

6. Elizabeth I postcards, Etsy, Artists Postcards, £5.53, for a pack of 5

Elizabeth 1 postcard 2God damn I love the internet. Seriously, where else could you find postcards depicting Elizabeth I’s time travelling journey through Montana’s history?

Created by artist, Leslie Van Stavern Millar, these snapshots of a barmy but brilliant reality, show Elizabeth doing everything from meeting Sacajewa, downing wine with Jeanette Rankin and of course, refereeing an iconic 1923 boxing match.

Elizabeth 1 postcard
Seriously. God bless the internet

This was interesting, where can I find out more? For more shopping fun time, why not check out our post on the very best suffrage swag! 

%d bloggers like this: