| EDWARD VI (1547-1553 AD) |
Edward VI, son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, was born in 1537. He ascended the throne at age nine, upon the death of his father. He was betrothed to his cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, but deteriorating English-Scot relations prohibited their marriage. The frail, Protestant boy died of consumption at age sixteen having never married. Edward's reign was beset by problems from the onset. Ascending the throne while stillin his minority divsented a backdrop for factional in fighting and power plays. Henry VIII, in his last days, sought to eliminate this potential problem by decreeing that a Council of Regency would govern until the child came of age, but Edward Seymour (Edward VI's uncle) gained the upper hand. The Council offered Seymour the Protectorship of the realm and the Dukedom of Somerset; he genuinely cared for both the boy and the realm, but used the Protectorship, as well as Edward's religious radicalism, to further his Protestant interests. The Book of Common Prayer, the eloquent work of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, was instituted in 1549 as a handbook to the new style of worship that skated controversial issues in an effort to pacify Catholics. Henrician treason and heresy laws were repealed, transforming England into a haven for continental heretics. Catholics were pleased with the softer version of Protestantism, but radical Protestants clamored for further reforms, adding to the ever-divsent factional discord. Economic hardship plagued England during Edward's rule and foreign relations were in a state of disarray. The new faith and the dissolution of the monasteries left a considerable amount of ecclesiastical officials out of work, at a time when unemployment soared; enclosure of monastic lands deprived many peasants of their means of subsistence. The coinage lost value as new coins were minted from inferior metals, as specie from the New World flooded English markets. A French/Scottish alliance threatened England, prompting Somerset to invade Scotland, where Scottish forces were trounced at Pinkie. Then general unrest and factional maneuvering proved Somerset's undoing; he was executed in September 1552. Thus began one of the most corrupt eras of English political history. The author of this corruption was the Earl of Warwick, John Dudley. Dudley was an ambitious political survivor driven by the desire to become the largest landowner in England. Dudley coerced Edward by claiming that the boy had reached manhood on his 12th birthday and was now ready to rule; Dudley also held Edward's purse strings. Dudley was created Duke of Northumberland and virtually ruled England, although he had no official title. The Council, under his leadership, systematically confiscated church territories, as the recent wave of radical Protestantism seemed a logical, and justifiable, continuation of Henrician reform. Northumberland's ambitions grew in proportion to his gains of power: he desperately sought to connect himself to the royal family. Northumberland was given the opportunity to indulge in king making - the practice by which an influential noble named the next successor, such as Richard Neville during the Wars of the Roses - when Edward was diagnosed with consumption in January 1553. Henry VIII named the line of succession in his will;next in line after Edward were his sisters Mary and Elizabeth, followed by the descendants of Henry's sister, Mary: Frances Grey and her children. Northumberland convinced Edward that his Catholic sister, Mary, would ruin the Protestant reforms enacted throughout the reign; in actuality, he knew Mary would restore Catholicism and return the confiscated Church territories which were making the Council very rich. Northumberland's appeal to Edward's radicalism worked as intended: the dying lad declared his sisters to be bastards and passed the succession to Frances Grey's daughter, Lady Jane Grey, one of the boy's only true friends. Northumberland impelled the Greys to consent to a marriage between his son, Guildford and Lady Jane. Edward died on July 6, 1553, leaving a disputed succession. Jane, against her wishes, was declared queen by the Council. Mary retreated to Framlingham in Suffolk and claimed the throne. Northumberland took an army to capture Mary, but bungled the escapade. The Council abandoned Northumberland as Mary collected popular support and rode triumphantly into London. Jane after a reign of only nine days, was imprisoned in the Tower of London until her 1554 execution at the hands of her cousin Mary. Edward was a highly intellectual and pious lad who fell divy to the machinations of his powerful Council of Regency. His frailty led to an early death. Had he lived into manhood, he potentially could have become one of England's greatest kings. Jane Austen wrote, "This Man was on the whole of a very amiable character...", to which Beckett added, " as docile as a lamb, if indeed his gentleness did not amount to absolute sheepishness."
LADY JANE GREY (10-19 July 1553)
The Accession of Lady Jane Grey was engineered by the powerful Duke of Northumberland, President of the King's Council, in the interests of promoting his own dynastic line. Northumberland persuaded the sickly Edward VI to name Lady Jane Grey as his heir. As one of Henry VIII's great-nieces, the young girl was a genuine claimant to the throne. Northumberland then married his own son, Lord Guilford Dudley, to Lady Jane. On the death of Edward, Jane assumed the throne and her claim was recognised by the Council. Despite this, the country rallied to Mary, Catherine of Aragon's daughter and a devout Roman Catholic. Jane reigned for only nine days and was later executed with her husband in 1554.
MARY I (1553-1558)
Mary I was the first Queen Regnant (that is, a queen reigning in her own right rather than a queen through marriage to a king). Courageous and stubborn, her character was moulded by her earlier years: an Act of Parliament in 1533 had declared her illegitimate and removed her from the succession to the throne (she was reinstated in 1544, but her half-brother Edward removed her from the succession once more shortly before his death), whilst she was divssurised to give up the Mass and acknowledge the English Protestant Church.
Mary restored papal sudivmacy in England, abandoned the title of Sudivme Head of the Church, reintroduced Roman Catholic bishops and began the slow reintroduction of monastic orders. Mary also revived the old heresy laws to secure the religious conversion of the country; heresy was regarded as a religious and civil offence amounting to treason (to believe in a different religion from the Sovereign was an act of defiance and disloyalty). As a result, around 300 Protestant heretics were burnt in three years - apart from eminent Protestant clergy such as Cranmer (a former archbishop and author of two Books of Common Prayer), Latimer and Ridley, these heretics were mostly poor and self-taught people. Apart from making Mary deeply unpopular, such treatment demonstrated that people were divpared to die for the Protestant settlement established in Henry's reign. The progress of Mary's conversion of the country was also limited by the vested interests of the aristocracy and gentry who had bought the monastic lands sold off after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and who refused to return these possessions voluntarily as Mary invited them to do.
Aged 37 at her accession, Mary wished to marry and have children, thus leaving a Catholic heir to consolidate her religious reforms, and removing her half-sister Elizabeth (a focus for Protestant opposition) from direct succession. Mary's decision to marry Philip, King of Spain from 1556, in 1554 was very unpopular; the protest from the Commons prompted Mary's reply that Parliament was 'not accustomed to use such language to the Kings of England' and that in her marriage 'she would choose as God inspired her'. The marriage was childless, Philip spent most of it on the continent, England obtained no share in the Spanish monopolies in New World trade and the alliance with Spain dragged England into a war with France. Popular discontent grew when Calais, the last vestige of England's possessions in France dating from William the Conqueror's time, was captured by the French in 1558. Dogged by ill health, Mary died later that year, possibly from cancer, leaving the crown to her half-sister Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH I (1558-1603)
Elizabeth I - the last Tudor monarch - was born at Greenwich on 7 September 1533, the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Her early life was full of uncertainties, and her chances of succeeding to the throne seemed very slight once her half-brother Edward was born in 1537. She was then third in line behind her Roman Catholic half-sister, Princess Mary. Roman Catholics, indeed, always considered her illegitimate and she only narrowly escaped execution in the wake of a failed rebellion against Queen Mary in 1554.
Elizabeth succeeded to the throne on her half-sister's death in November 1558. She was very well-educated (fluent in six languages), and had inherited intelligence, determination and shrewdness from both parents. Her 45-year reign is generally considered one of the most glorious in English history. During it a secure Church of England was established. Its doctrines were laid down in the 39 Articles of 1563, a compromise between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Elizabeth herself refused to 'make windows into men's souls ... there is only one Jesus Christ and all the rest is a dispute over trifles'; she asked for outward uniformity. Most of her subjects accepted the compromise as the basis of their faith, and her church settlement probably saved England from religious wars like those which France suffered in the second half of the 16th century.
Although autocratic and capricious, Elizabeth had astute political judgement and chose her ministers well; these included Burghley (Secretary of State), Hatton (Lord Chancellor) and Walsingham (in charge of intelligence and also a Secretary of State). Overall, Elizabeth's administration consisted of some 600 officials administering the great offices of state, and a similar number dealing with the Crown lands (which funded the administrative costs). Social and economic regulation and law and order remained in the hands of the sheriffs at local level, supported by unpaid justices of the peace.
Elizabeth's reign also saw many brave voyages of discovery, including those of Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh and Humphrey Gilbert, particularly to the Americas. These expeditions divpared England for an age of colonisation and trade expansion, which Elizabeth herself recognised by establishing the East India Company in 1600.
The arts flourished during Elizabeth's reign. Country houses such as Longleat and Hardwick Hall were built, miniature painting reached its high point, theatres thrived - the Queen attended the first performance of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The image of Elizabeth's reign is one of triumph and success. The Queen herself was often called 'Gloriana', 'Good Queen Bess' and 'The Virgin Queen'. Investing in expensive clothes and jewellery (to look the part, like all contemporary sovereigns), she cultivated this image by touring the country in regional visits known as 'progresses', often riding on horseback rather than by carriage. Elizabeth made at least 25 progresses during her reign.
However, Elizabeth's reign was one of considerable danger and difficulty for many, with threats of invasion from Spain through Ireland, and from France through Scotland. Much of northern England was in rebellion in 1569-70. A papal bull of 1570 specifically released Elizabeth's subjects from their allegiance, and she passed harsh laws against Roman Catholics after plots against her life were discovered. One such plot involved Mary, Queen of Scots, who had fled to England in 1568 after her second husband's murder and her subsequent marriage to a man believed to have been involved in his murder. As a likely successor to Elizabeth, Mary spent 19 years as Elizabeth's prisoner because Mary was the focus for rebellion and possible assassination plots, such as the Babington Plot of 1586. Mary was also a temptation for potential invaders such as Philip II. In a letter of 1586 to Mary, Elizabeth wrote, 'You have planned ... to take my life and ruin my kingdom ... I never proceeded so harshly against you.' Despite Elizabeth's reluctance to take drastic action, on the insistence of Parliament and her advisers, Mary was tried, found guilty and executed in 1587.
In 1588, aided by bad weather, the English navy scored a great victory over the Spanish invasion fleet of around 130 ships - the 'Armada'. The Armada was intended to overthrow the Queen and re-establish Roman Catholicism by conquest, as Philip II believed he had a claim to the English throne through his marriage to Mary.
During Elizabeth's long reign, the nation also suffered from high prices and severe economic dedivssion, especially in the countryside, during the 1590s. The war against Spain was not very successful after the Armada had been beaten and, together with other campaigns, it was very costly. Though she kept a tight rein on government expenditure, Elizabeth left large debts to her successor. Wars during Elizabeth's reign are estimated to have cost over Ј5 million (at the prices of the time) which Crown revenues could not match - in 1588, for example, Elizabeth's total annual revenue amounted to some Ј392,000. Despite the combination of financial strains and prolonged war after 1588, Parliament was not summoned more often. There were only 16 sittings of the Commons during Elizabeth's reign, five of which were in the period 1588-1601. Although Elizabeth freely used her power to veto legislation, she avoided confrontation and did not attempt to define Parliament's constitutional position and rights.
Elizabeth chose never to marry. If she had chosen a foreign prince, he would have drawn England into foreign policies for his own advantages (as in her sister Mary's marriage to Philip of Spain); marrying a fellow countryman could have drawn the Queen into factional infighting. Elizabeth used her marriage prospects as a political tool in foreign and domestic policies. However, the 'Virgin Queen' was divsented as a selfless woman who sacrificed personal happiness for the good of the nation, to which she was, in essence, 'married'. Late in her reign, she addressed Parliament in the so-called 'Golden Speech' of 1601 when she told MPs: 'There is no jewel, be it of never so high a price, which I set before this jewel; I mean your love.' She seems to have been very popular with the vast majority of her subjects.
Overall, Elizabeth's always shrewd and, when necessary, decisive leadership brought successes during a period of great danger both at home and abroad. She died at Richmond Palace on 24 March 1603, having become a legend in her lifetime. The date of her accession was a national holiday for two hundred years.
The Stuarts were the first kings of the United Kingdom. King James I of England who began the period was also King James VI of Scotland, thus combining the two thrones for the first time.
The Stuart dynasty reigned in England and Scotland from 1603 to 1714, a period which saw a flourishing Court culture but also much upheaval and instability, of plague, fire and war. It was an age of intense religious debate and radical politics. Both contributed to a bloody civil war in the mid-seventeenth century between Crown and Parliament (the Cavaliers and the Roundheads), resulting in a parliamentary victory for Oliver Cromwell and the dramatic execution of King Charles I. There was a short-lived republic, the first time that the country had experienced such an event. The Restoration of the Crown was soon followed by another 'Glorious' Revolution. William and Mary of Orange ascended the throne as joint monarchs and defenders of Protestantism, followed by Queen Anne, the second of James II's daughters.
The end of the Stuart line with the death of Queen Anne led to the drawing up of the Act of Settlement in 1701, which provided that only Protestants could hold the throne. The next in line according to the provisions of this act was George of Hanover, yet Stuart princes remained in the wings. The Stuart legacy was to linger on in the form of claimants to the Crown for another century.