|Henry VII Tudor|
I'm sorry about these breaks when I just can’t get to the blog but I have had company the last few days and to be honest I was having such a good time that I didn’t even pay attention to the blog much less sit down and do the research for the next entry. And there is so much I want to get into—the proposed canonizations of John Paul II and John XXIII, the recent “Fortnight for Freedom” and the agenda that drives this charade, some of Pope Francis’ recent comments about the Church and where we need to go—but I am going to stay with the Anglican story for at least three or four more entries.We left off with England being in a period of political fragility as Henry VII Tudor tries to bring order out of the chaos of the Wars of the Roses and securely establish his new dynasty as legitimate heirs to both the Lancastrian (Henry’ own faction) and Yorkist (his wife Elizabeth’s family cause) titles to the Crown. Henry was not the most rightful heir—several others had stronger claims by strict right of succession—but he was the most powerful and certainly the most capable. In fact he, and his heir (also Henry, Henry VIII) was able to break the feudal power of the nobles and build a strong central national government established on the monarchy. Thus the Tudors would create the English State out of the various baronies and fiefdoms of Medieval England. This was the same time that Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon were creating Spain out of their diverse holdings and that the French monarchy was centralizing their power under the Valois dynasty. Other “nations” such as Germany or Italy would remain broken up in dozens, or even scores, of dukedoms, principalities, prince-bishoprics, and other entities for three or more centuries.
Let me make one comment about the British monarchy before we proceed further. We think that a King holds the Crown because he, as first-born (or at least as oldest surviving) male heir has inherited it from his father, the previous King. Such is the illusion. In fact, the Crown of England is and always has been elective. That is to say that the Crown belongs to whomever is recognized as having the right to wear it. Who does that recognizing can be a bit tricky and that weighed heavy on the Tudor consciousness.
Let me explain what we cannot say that, strictly speaking, the Crown is hereditary. We all know that Prince Charles will inevitably succeed his mother, Queen Elizabeth, to the Throne. The Queen succeeded her Father, King George VI. But that is an illusion—not the fact. This principle of the Crown being held as a gift of Parliament was firmly proven in 1688 when Parliament deposed James II in favor his son-in-law and daughter, William and Mary. James fought it but Parliament’s choice prevailed in the Glorious Revolution.
Here is a more recent example. When the government ministers decided in 1936 that Edward VIII could not be King if he married the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, Edward was given no choice but to resign the Crown and his brother Albert (known publicly as George)—the Father of the current Queen—replaced him. Edward was shocked that he had to resign the crown but the government gave him no choice. Had he not voluntarily resigned, a bill to depose him would have been introduced in Parliament and passed. Even then there was talk of passing over George for his brother, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, because of George’s difficulty in public speaking. Parliament was free to make the choice. (Incidentally, the untold story is that the Government waned Edward out not because of his marriage to a divorced woman—Prince Charles will get away with that—but because Edward was quite favorable to German National Socialism and Chancellor Hitler and men like Churchill, seeing the inevitably of war, needed to make sure they had a trustworthy king.)
As we will see, Henry VIII had Parliament enact various acts of succession to guarantee the access of his children to the Crown, an access the right to which was very muddled due to his complex marriage situations (as we shall also shortly see). Even so, at the death of Henry’s childless son, Edward VI, there was an attempt to have Parliament recognize not Henry’s daughters—Mary and Elizabeth—but a grand-niece of Henry, Lady Jane Grey. It was unsuccessful—the Royal Council gave their ascent but Parliament never did. (The Council did so—in part, at least—to prevent the Catholic Mary from becoming Queen and restoring Catholicism. Lady Jane was championed by the extreme Protestant cause, a sort of sixteenth-century Tea Party faction.)
Going back further, in Anglo-Saxon England, the Witenagemot—the assembly of nobles and prelates—elected the King from among the nobility. Even after the Conquest, several kings were chosen by election. By the rules of primogeniture, Richard the Lionhearted should have been succeeded by Arthur of Brittany, the son of his deceased brother, Geoffrey Plantagenet. Arthur was only twelve at the time, however, and the nobility of England felt that they could not afford to have a minor on the throne and so chose Richard’s younger brother, John. Arthur could hardly have been less bad a king than John, of course, but that is not the point. The point is that consent of the nobility—and later Parliament—trumps the rules of primogeniture. In 1399 Parliament deposed Richard II and chose Henry Bolingbroke—Henry IV—as King even though the next in line to the throne was the five year old Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March. The argument was again made, that England could not afford to have a child on the throne at such a critical time. In fact it was the success of Bolingbroke’s rebellion against the wimpish Richard that won support for this taking the Crown. While today the Crown is legally in the gift of Parliament, that was a constitutional development that had not been solidified by the time of Henry VII and the establishment of the Tudor Dynasty.
All this is to say that the succession to the crown was never taken for granted. It had been usurped too often—sometimes by violence, sometimes by law, sometimes by a combination of both—and Henry Tudor needed to cement the succession. He had two sons who lived to adulthood, Arthur and Henry. Arthur was the older brother, Henry the younger. A third brother, Edmund, died in infancy. Two sisters, Elizabeth and Katherine also died in infancy. Two sisters lived into adulthood, one marrying the King of Scotland; the other marrying the King of France.
There are claims that Arthur was a frail child while his brother Henry was strong and buff. Arthur’s frailty is probably exaggerated. Henry’s strength is not. While Henry would make the greater King, there was no reason to suspect that Arthur would not have a normal adulthood and be a capable ruler. Their father, Henry VII, himself was not the athlete that Henry the son was, but he was a most capable king. In any event, having “an heir and a spare” gave Henry VII the peace of mind that his dynasty would continue. Arthur was educated for kingship; Henry was prepared for a career in the Church where he would be named Archbishop of York. Would that not have changed the course of things?