Throughout history, the Tudors have basked under what would these days be called "good press".
With the matchless minds of Sir Thomas More,
William Shakespeare - Playwright,
Sir Francis Bacon and others virtually at their beck and call and influencing many far later commentators, the wheels of their public relations machines, insidiously pervasive at all levels of late medieval English life, continues to roll to this day. This Entry is an attempt to look beyond the smoke and mirrors set up by arguably the dynasty's most lustrous luminary -
King Henry VII's 'illegitimate' daughter, Elizabeth.
It could be said that, like her father, Elizabeth was never to intended to accede to the throne. On Henry's death in early 1547, two other claimants to the English crown preceded her. But the tyrant's sought-after male heir,
(Edward ), was a weak, sickly child; after a whirlwind reign of religious intolerance - engineered throughout by the minor's regents - and rebellion, he died of tuberculosis at age 15
Attempting to exclude the late king's half-sisters, the luckless Lady Jane Grey, related to the regent Duke of Northumberland, was placed on the throne for exactly nine days! Her name-only reign was succeeded in 1553 by that of Mary Tudor (not
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots), as bigoted as her step-brother but firmly in the opposing camp. A round of 300 Protestant burnings during her reign gave endowed her with eternal infamy as
Mary's reign, began with widespread popular support, Mary faced the same problem as her father before her and Elizabeth after :the succession. Henry VIII's will still allowed the more-vacillating Elizabeth to accede; to prevent this, Mary cannily settled on potentially the most powerful monarch in the world for husband, the future Phillip II of Spain, who, for good measure, was also the son of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.
To Phillip, the marriage of July 1554 was an entirely political affair - he said to be involved in the 'Enterprise of England', charged solely with bringing the nation back into the Catholic fold one way or another - and it was hugely unpopular with the English. It was at this time that Elizabeth starts making appearances on the national stage.
Involved in a Kentish rebellion, she was first imprisoned in the Tower then placed under house arrest at Woodstock. Mary then suffered the first of two 'phantom pregnancies - it has been suggested that she had a pituitary cancer. With a characteristic eye to the future, Phillip talked his wife into releasing Elizabeth. In 1558, childless, Mary died aged 42.
One of Elizabeth's first concerns was to smooth the various religious feathers that had been 'ruffled' since the break with Rome - she was anointed by the Catholic Bishop of Carlisle. The Reformation Acts (embodied in the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity, both of 1559.
As a result of the Act of Supremacy numerous bishops were ousted, a hundred Oxford dons were removed, as were a number of notables unwilling to take the oath. The Act of Uniformity initially met stiff opposition from the House of Lords, containing a it did harsh anti-Catholic clause and regular abuse of the Pope in litanies.It was later reworked to allow for these objections.
In addition to making the the monarch the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the Elizabethan Reformation did manage to harden one facet of Henry's original and relatively mild anti-Catholicism. She forbade the use of Catholic of images, and icons to the extent of authorising the wholesale destruction o roods (a sculpture or painting of the cross with Christ hanging on it), vestments, stone altars, dooms, statues and other ornaments.
In government, she enforced agreement and reduced factionalism simply by replacing Roman Catholic Privy Councilors
In life as in government, Elizabeth lived by one maxim: "I see, and say nothing." This, to her counselors and detractors, parlayed into indecision initially blessed with a lucky streak. Short-tempered and willful, she faced the problems common to rulers of her era with a doggedly erratic but charismatic performances.
With no shortage of suitors (like former in-law Phillip II, for example), she played politics with affections adroitly, playing one power against another. Her private life, however, was something of a catastrophe. An infatuation with childhood sweetheart Robert Dudley dimmed to a fond friendship (especially when Dudley's wife was found dead in suspicious circumstances) and, in later life, the antics of the flighty Earl of Essex forced her to execute him in 1601.
Her fame forever rests on the time Phillip II tired of these shenanigans and launched his Armada. Prior to this, Elizabeth had been involved in military misadventures in Ireland, France and the Netherlands (the last against Phillip), all badly-planned and -resourced.
In 1588, Lady Luck again came to her rescue and, combined with the superb seamanship and tactics of her admirals like Raleigh and Hawkins, the Channel and North Sea storms left Elizabeth with what many still see as on of the greatest of British naval triumphs.(cf. the Japanese "kamikaze: lit. 'divine wind' referring to the storm that destroyed the invading Mongol fleet in the thirteenth century,")
After the Armada, Fortune deserted. The 15 years to her death in 1603 was marked by inflation, increasing tax burdens and continuing conflicts with Ireland and Spain. Repression of Catholics, always present, was intensified and a police state machinery many modern dictators would be happy to own was authorised. In an effort to delude others (if not herself) of continuing prosperity and stability, propaganda and paid informers (Shakespeare's father being a victim of the latter lifeforms) was rife.
In one life's greatest ironies, this point, the lowest of ebbs in Elizabeth's long tenure on the throne, saw the appearance of The Great Lights, responsible for much of the effulgence associated with the Elizabethan era, at their most radiant. From the 1590s, the likes of Shakespeare Spenser,
Christopher Marlowe and
Thomas Tallis all wrote their most memorable works.
"The notion of a great Elizabethan age depends largely on the builders, dramatists, poets, and musicians who were active during Elizabeth's reign. They owed little directly to the queen, who was never a major patron of the arts."
The death of William Cecil in 1598 began a downward spiral culminating in a "settled and unremovable melancholy" on the death of her cousin, the Countess of Nottingham. She died on March 24, 1603 at Richmond and, thanks to Robert Cecil's secret planning, was speedily succeeded by James VI pf Scotland. The immediate results were the end of Spanish hostilities and lower taxes.