Henry VII is a rather obscure figure, and is probably the Tudor I know the least about. In my opinion, Henry VII is most remembered for ending the Wars of the Roses and birthing the Tudor dynasty. However, he was quite a remarkable man; he put down countless rebellions (Lambert Simnel, Perkin Warbeck and the White Rose to name a few) and held the throne for twenty-four years. What isn’t so admirable about Henry VII is that he didn’t give much fatherly attention to his children, Arthur, Margaret, Henry and Mary, but suffocated them with rules. I know this was almost usual but even by monarchs’ standards, Henry VII was cold. Henry VII’s actions regarding Arthur Tudor and Katherine of Aragon led directly to Henry VIII’s Great Matter and the Break with Rome. If Henry VII had allowed Katherine to return home after Arthur’s death, Henry VIII might never have married her, and it’s possible that England would have remained faithful to Rome. That is the main interest of Henry VII’s reign – the what ifs.
When you ask someone to tell you about Henry VIII, it’s always six wives; divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. I suppose that makes Henry VIII quite extraordinary as even by modern standards six wives is an awful lot. But Henry VIII did so much more than executing and divorcing wives. Henry was desperate for an heir and so because of Henry VIII, England ended its obedience to Rome and embraced the new religion. He also left behind a massive architectural legacy in the renovations at Whitehall, Greenwich and the palace he built at Nonsuch (of which unfortunately only ruins remain in Nonsuch Park). Henry’s wives each made an impact on England in their own way; from the diplomatic pawns (Katherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves), to the fallen women (Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard), to the carer (Katherine Parr), to the mother of the heir (Jane Seymour). His three children, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, changed the history of England forever. Henry VIII’s reign was the foundation for the remainder of the sixteenth century.
Edward VI was the longed-for son of Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour and the reason for Henry VIII’s Great Matter, the Break with Rome and the execution of second wife Anne Boleyn. Historical sources tell us that Edward was cold, and was manipulated by his uncle, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and Duke of Somerset, and then John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Edward VI approved the executions of both of his uncles, Edward and Thomas Seymour, for treason. The main factor of Edward’s reign was manipulation, and he was manipulated into changing his will in favour of his Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey, in order to avoid the Catholic succession of his half-sister, Mary. He couldn’t cut Mary out of the will without cutting Elizabeth out, too, hence the succession of Jane Grey. It’s this manipulation that makes Edward’s reign unique as every other Tudor monarch was old enough to make their own decisions. Edward’s short reign was the culmination of Henry VIII’s reign, and it was a disappointment.
Lady Jane Grey
Jane Grey’s reign is the shortest in English history – it lasted just nine days. Jane was the daughter of Francis Brandon and Henry Grey Marquess of Dorset. Francis Brandon was the daughter of Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk and best friend of Henry VIII, and Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister and the Dowager Queen of France. Therefore, Lady Jane Grey was a great-niece of Henry VIII. Jane’s reign is unique because she was forced into it; it wasn’t her choice – she was manipulated into it by her parents and her father-in-law, John Dudley Duke of Buckingham, Edward VI’s Protector who persuaded him to change his will in favour of Jane Grey. Jane’s Protestant leanings were so important in the succession after Edward’s death and it was the main reason why she was pushed onto the throne. Partly what is so interesting about Jane’s story is the lenient treatment of Mary I once she gained the throne, only executing her when it stood in the way of the marriage she was so desperate for.
Mary I (aka Bloody Mary) was the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. She became embittered due to her treatment at the hands of her father and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, and the treatment of her mother during the Great Matter. Mary was Catholic and renewed England’s faith with Rome – hence the burnings of Protestants and other heretics. Mary got the nickname Bloody Mary because she executed thousands during her reign. But Henry VIII executed more people in his thirty-eight year reign than Mary did in her eight year reign, but Mary’s was a larger ratio on average per year. Mary I’s reign was the end of the Tudor religious confusion as Elizabeth made it stable. Mary was committed to Catholicism and killed her cousin, and considered killing her half-sister. Also, her obsession with her husband, Philip II of Spain, is interesting, as Mary was determined to rule England, but nearly threw it all away in her desperation to have a child. She was more like her father than she thought.
Elizabeth, alongside Henry VIII, is the most famous Tudor monarch and the most famous female monarch ever. What excites historians about Elizabeth’s reign is that it was a Golden Age, so what changed from the first half of the sixteenth-century? England was finally stable after years of confusion and this allowed the arts and politics to flourish. Elizabeth’s views against marriage also interest historians greatly. The fate of her mother, Anne Boleyn, obviously influenced her opinions, as did the fate of her second cousin and Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Katherine Howard, and the death in childbirth of Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour. Elizabeth was married to England, and wasn’t willing to risk it for anything, even at the risk of civil war after her death. This was a real chance without an heir to succeed her, as childbirth was exceedingly dangerous. Elizabeth is the only monarch ever to not attempt to beget an heir, the complete opposite of her father, and this is what is so fascinating, and remains so to this day.