By Chet Yarbrough
The Children of Henry VIII
By Alison Weir
Narrated by Simon Prebble
Royalty, religion, and rule, like the three heads of Cerberus, protect 16th century England, after the death of Henry the VIII.
Cerberus defends royalty. Alison Weir tells the story of England’s royal succession. Weir explains that 3 children, from different mothers, succeed Henry the VIII. The youngest, and first in line, is King Edward VI. Young Edward is nine years old when King Henry dies.
King Henry identifies the order of succession in his will; first is King Edward, then Queen Mary, and finally Queen Elizabeth. King Henry designates King Edward VI as first successor because he is a male. However because he has not reached the age of majority, Edwards rule is subject to a guardianship that will govern the Empire until he reaches the age of 18. As fate (or poison) would have it, King Edward dies at 15.
John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and 1st Duke of Northumberland, convinces King Edward to change the order of succession in King Henry’s will. King Edward agrees because he is a devout Protestant and does not want Mary, a devout Roman Catholic, to become Queen of England when he dies.
The Earl of Warwick plays on King Edward’s fear of Mary’s ascension. He convinces King Edward to write a codicil to King Henry’s will.
The Earl connives to have his son marry Lady Jane Grey, a devout royal Protestant. With a rewritten succession decree Lady Grey becomes next in line for the throne. Lady Grey is only 15 years old which would leave the Earl of Warwick in control of the monarchy. The coup fails, the Earl is beheaded; and Lady Grey and the Duke’s son soon join the usurper’s fate.
The first head of Cerberus successfully protects England’s royalty. With the defeat of the Earl of Warwick’s coup, King Henry’s original order of succession is reinstated.
The second head of Cerberus bares its sharp teeth as a protector of religion. Queen Mary, being the daughter of Catherine of Aragon (a princess of Catholic’ Spain and King Henry’s first wife), is raised as a devout Roman Catholic. When King Henry broke from Rome to create the Church of England, he created a schism in the church. The schism exhibits in his progeny with his oldest child a Roman Catholic and his two younger children as Protestants.
Edward is a devout Protestant while Elizabeth is a more circumspect, Machiavellian’ Protestant. Both represent a large contingent of British subjects that despised the landed wealth, corruption, and influence of the Roman Catholic Church.
With Mary’s ascension, return of England to the Roman Catholicism becomes a primary objective of the Queen. Mary fervently believes her ascension is a mandate from God to shelter the empire’s religion under Rome’s umbrella.
Though Queen Mary begins her reign with compassion for those who opposed her, opposition to England’s return to Roman Catholicism reduces her reign to the sobriquet–“Bloody Mary”; i.e. Queen Mary’s religious beliefs lead to over 280 Protestant leader’s deaths by being burned at the stake.
Mary’s sister, Elizabeth, is imprisoned when implicated in a plot concocted by Thomas Wyatt, an English Protestant, to overthrow Mary and place Elizabeth on the throne.
No irrefutable evidence is found to convict Elizabeth in spite of Wyatt’s torture and eventual execution. Elizabeth survives.
Queen Mary’s zealous pursuit of Roman Catholicism alienates many English subjects. Her disdain for English Protestantism leads her to contemplate a marriage outside of English aristocracy. She turns to Spain’s Emperor (a devout Roman Catholic follower and supporter of Queen Mary’s deceased mother) for advice on a suitable royal husband.
This is the third head of a Cerberus’ protector, the majesty and power of rule. The Emperor of Spain suggests to Queen Mary his widowed son, Prince Phillip, as an ideal marriage partner.
The Prince is several years younger than Queen Mary but he is of royal blood and a possible successor to Emperor Charles. He offers experienced military, administrative, and conjugal opportunity for England’s future rule.
This third Cerberus’ head protects England from foreign rule. The Protestant’ faction of the United Kingdom opposes Queen Mary’s decision to marry Prince Phillip. However, the marriage is consummated. The extent of opposition is a Parliamentary’ decree that denies Phillip any power as King of England.
Mary’s desire for a Catholic king rests on her hope to become pregnant. Mary, at 38 years of age, is middle-aged by 16th century standards. Pregnancy is less likely and possibly life threatening at that age.
Mary fails to become pregnant. With two false alarms (a false pregnancy that lasts for 10 months and cessation of menstruation in her 40s), the hope for an English heir-to-the-throne is dashed. As history moves on, Prince Phillip returns home to help defeat France in their war with Spain. Phillip refuses to return to Queen Mary’s throne without being offered the right to rule, as King of England.
Ironically, King Phillip takes up arms against the Pope of Rome and is excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church. Mary is compelled to choose between the Church of Rome and her husband, King Phillip. Surprisingly, she chooses Phillip but remains a practicing Roman Catholic.
The third head of the protective Cerberus snarls at Mary’s rule. The issue of Queen Mary’s successor becomes a cause celebre. Queen Mary continues to vilify Elizabeth’s right of succession. Queen Mary believes Elizabeth has no blood connection to King Henry and, even if he did, King Henry had no legal right to annul his marriage to Queen Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon; which, at best in Mary’s mind, made Elizabeth a bastard. An irony of Queen Mary’s position is that her mother’s annulment by the church (at King Henry’s request) actually makes her as illegitimate as Elizabeth. Of course, that depends on which church England follows.
Queen Mary’s argument to deny Queen Elizabeth’s right to rule is weak. King Henry dictated the order of succession, and there is growing English’ support for Elizabeth’s Protestantism. Added to Queen Mary’s weakened English’ rule are two years of bad harvest. With food scarcity and her continued support of Spain’s war against France, Weir suggests the general population believes Queen Mary is bankrupting England.
Queen Elizabeth survives a multitude of accusations, threats, and imprisonments to finally succeed to the throne at 25 years of age when Queen Mary succumbs to pneumonia at 42. Elizabeth goes on to be ruler of England for nearly 40 years. She is considered by most to have been a highly successful monarch with excellent skill as statesman and ruler of an independent nation that shed the shackles of a Roman Papacy, and the seductive temptation of alliance with stronger nations.
Royalty, religion, and rule are watchwords for understanding the history of 16th century England. Weir does a nice job of explaining what happened in England after the death of King Henry the VIII.