Punishments for the Pretenders

In fifteenth century England, following the War of the Roses, two “pretenders” challenged the newly-crowned Henry VII for the English throne: Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. These men posed as Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick, and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, respectively. Both Edward and Richard were legitimate heirs to the crown, whose power intrigued Simnel and Warbeck.[1] Ian Arthurson notes that it is not clear what happened later in their lives, but we do know that Simnel and Warbeck were not treated as brutally as other traitors by the Tudor dynasty. The men were initially made servants, and then continued on to have their own careers. Thus, the questions remains: Why, after having pretended to be of royal blood and challenging Henry VII, were Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck not put to death? Pretending to be legitimate heirs to the royal crown would appear a form of treason. So, why were they only made into servants and not put to death for their wrongdoings? Continue reading

Jacobean Court Perspectives on New World Colonization: 1603 – 1625

Roanoke Map
Map depicting the coast of present-day North Carolina and Roanoke island, drawn by John White, c. 1585.

To say that the English settlement of the New World was an easy task would be to severely understate the difficulties they met, if not outright fallacious. Starting under Elizabeth, the English experienced the failure of Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony at Roanoke in 1587 and the abandonment of Bartholomew Gosnold’s fort and trading post at Cuttyhunk Island (Massachusetts) in 1602. Granted, the English were successful over time at their Jamestown settlement in Virginia starting under James VI and I’s rule, but the ensuing century is merely a tale of abandonment, consolidation, and abysmal failure for English colonization of the North American continent. Continue reading

15/35, Needed More Restriction

A king is, in theory, the figurehead for the kingdom he rules over. In him, outsiders can see the values the country he resides in and upholds. During times of conflict, he is a man who does not dwell in the safety of his castle, rather he fights with his knights on the front lines. In peace, he is a man of the people, always open to their suggestions and willing to negotiate, never resorting to using force or fear in order to control them. The king is righteous, justice incarnate, and a God-fearing warrior. He does not command respect; rather, he earns it.[1] These values were championed by Thomas More in his definition of a good king, though they would lead to his demise as Henry VIII reshaped those very definitions to suit his own goals. Continue reading

A Tudor and His Navy

The Mary Rose as depicted in the Anthony Roll, c. 1545.
The Mary Rose as depicted in the Anthony Roll, c. 1545.

As a unified state completely surrounded by water, England needed a strong navy in order to protect against attacks and invasions. Henry VII established the Royal Navy. His son, Henry VIII, continued to strengthen the navy, adding more ships and equipping them with advanced artillery. A strengthened royal navy was borne out of the diplomatic situation brought on by Henry VIII’s separation from Rome. Because of the diplomatic conflicts, and the need to strengthen the navy and its ships, Henry VIII’s reign revolutionized the Royal Navy with style and power. Continue reading

The Downfall of Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1533-1536.
Anne Boleyn by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1533-1536.

Anne Boleyn is remembered as Henry VIII’s second wife after his infamous annulment from his first, Katherine of Aragon. In addition, she is known for her shocking and grisly execution. Some believe that the main factor for this was her failure to produce a male heir. Yet evidence suggests that Henry was not intent on eliminating her even after her miscarriage in 1536. A few years prior to this, Henry famously rejected papal authority and split from the Catholic Church in Rome. This was a result of the pope’s refusal to annul Henry’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon. By 1527, Katherine was too old to bear a child, and Henry had become enamored with Anne, who was one of Katherine’s ladies-in-waiting. Historians describe Anne as being confident, sophisticated, and charming.[1] Henry was clearly attracted to her, as he sent her numerous love letters throughout 1527 and 1528, despite his dislike of writing. However, Henry did not immediately see Anne as a prospective wife and instead wanted her as his mistress.[2] Yet Anne aspired to become queen, and rejected Henry’s advances until he proposed marriage. Thus, as Peter Marshall writes, “her determination not to become a royal mistress and to hold out for the prize of being queen was an important element in pushing forward the divorce campaign”.[3] Anne remained emboldened during time as queen consort. She had a crucial role in the Henrician Reformation, and was to prove a powerful patron of English reformers.[4] Her involvement in one particular reform, the dissolution of monasteries, would contribute to her downfall. Anne Boleyn was executed because she participated too much in state matters. In Tudor society, this was not the role of a queen consort. Anne wanted to be more than a wife to Henry; she wanted to be his advisor. For Henry and his chancellors, this was too much. Continue reading

More than Financial Gains? The Religious Reasons behind the Dissolution of Monasteries

Like most English monarchs, King Henry VIII held a great interest in his finances: more money meant more power. In comparison to his father who made £133,000 annually, Henry VIII received a rather low annual income of £80-90,000.[1] With a need for more money, Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, sought out a viable plan: to shut down all of the monasteries of England and Wales. With the establishment of the Court of Augmentations in 1536, all monastic properties including the money earned were transferred to it.[2] In total, the amount collected was reported to have been more than £130,000 a year.[3] The dissolution of the monasteries made Henry, as well as select members of the Privy Chamber, richer than ever, and Henry’s newfound wealth in theory gained for him more financial security for a war with France. Judging from the immense monetary gain, one would assume that the principal reason for the dissolution of the monasteries was financial, but some historians believe otherwise. Henry VIII may not have been the most devout leader, but a deeper look at the conditions of the monasteries could have provided enough religious reasons for their dissolution. Continue reading

“Qui tacet consentire videtur”: Sir Thomas More, the Act of Supremacy, and the Defining Trial of Tudor England

The day the ax fell on the neck of Sir Thomas More, July 6, 1535, was the day that the approach to the practice of law and the enumerated powers of the English monarch were forever changed and consummated. More, who had served as Lord Chancellor of England from 1529 through 1532 for Henry VIII, was charged with treason upon refusing to assent to the Act of Supremacy. His legal battle between 1534-35 is marked with brilliant moments of legal nuance that More had long employed as a lawyer, yet it proved insufficient to save his life. Sources, both among More’s contemporaries and those of today, look to More as a hallowed being: a saint and martyr in the Roman Catholic Church, a historical precursor to the modern concept of the conscientious objector, and a man dedicated to a sense of civil servitude that is intrinsically intertwined with one’s own conscience. While each of these claims are justified in their own right, it still begs the question as to whether or not what happened to More was just; whether his imprisonment, trial, and execution were all legal processes and extensions under the law of Tudor England? It is easier for the contemporary corpora of thought to condemn the actions of Henry’s government, yet legal procedure during the sixteenth century and the powers of the monarch and Parliament that condemned More were in a state of flux. Was Sir Thomas More, scholar and martyr, proven to be justifiably wrong? Continue reading