The King is Dead: Royal Death and Succession under the Tudors

Talk by David Starkey @ Whitley Bay Playhouse 11/05/2016

A couple of months ago I went to hear a talk by David Starkey on the Tudor succession at my local theatre. These are the notes I took on the day:-

Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540
Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540

Similar to today?

Cromwell similar to David Cameron?

Death of a monarch – die publicly, semi-public, public proclamation.

Every Tudor death of a monarch is kept secret.

Intrigues, political struggles – characteristic over regime with autocratic rulers.

Henry VIII’s death replicates that of Henry VII.

Elizabeth I’s death = change of dynasty. Robert Carey rides to Edinburgh to tell James VI of Scotland he is now James I of England.

One smooth succession – death of Mary I, throne goes to Elizabeth I. Mary believed she was pregnant even on her deathbed.

English relations with Scots not good historically – Elizabeth militarily prepared over religion.

Henry VIII’s death – divided factional politics, like today – parties divided within themselves.

27 January 1547 Henry VIII dies, frequently ill in the last 5 years of his life with an ulcerated leg, not syphilis – Henry VIII not sexual, tends to marry his mistresses.

Fall from horse 1536 = bone splinter embeds in the calf, deep-seated ulcer which rises and bursts, repeats, dies from septicemia.

Doesn’t affect the brain until the end – heightened temper.

December 1546 – swirl of politics as the Duke of Norfolk and Earl of Surrey are arrested.

23 December Surrey charged with treason – pretender, quartered his arms with the royal arms.

Christmas 1546 is peculiar – Katherine Parr at Greenwich, Henry VIII at Whitehall. Downing Street now is 50 yards from the bedchamber where Henry VIII died.

Writes his will signed dated and witnessed 30 December.

13 January 1547 Surrey tried, executed 6 days later. Norfolk supposed to due 27 January but Henry dies instead. 31 January Henry VIII’s death is proclaimed and parliament dissolved.

Norfolk was Catholic, Surrey more radical – proud of ancestry from Edward III.

Seems straightforward – Henry VIII’s will isn’t signed but dry stamped, perfectly legal.

Henry created the dry stamp – 1545 raised engraving of his own signature which is then filled in with ink. By 1546 used for all purposes.

Henry VIII’s will appears at the end of the January list for documents checked by the king.

Edward VI as Prince of Wales 1546.
Edward VI as Prince of Wales 1546.

Will still being changed through January – succession goes first to Edward VI, and in default of any heirs, to Mary I and then Elizabeth I.

1544 Act of Succession.

Disagree over religion = alters composition of the privy council – executors of Edward VI, aged 9 – minority government splits existing council in 2.

Determined political future of England.

Clause in will – as Henry VIII died it was claimed he hadn’t rewarded his servants fully. Empowered his secretary to give out lands and titles – enemies of winning council also get titles as it keeps people quiet.

Carefully organised minimal conspiracy – just does what’s needed.

Edward Seymour made Duke of Somerset, John Dudley made Earl of Warwick, William Paget made 1st Baron Paget.

What is the nature of the struggle?

Religion i.e. break with Rome, reign of Henry VIII most important.

Trial of Thomas More 1535 – act which condemned him was illegal, England part of larger whole. Superior court = Roman church i.e. Pope.

Henry VIII breaks with Rome against popular opinion. Prepares ground over 6 years.

Henry VIII was catholic – England remained catholic but with no Pope, Henry didn’t want anyone set above him.

No separation between church and state.

Title page of first English bible – God pokes out of a cloud, Henry largest on page.

Sees clergy as his servants, preaches a middle ground between catholic and protestant – balancing on a knife edge.

Only Henry knows the line, and draws advisors from both groups.

Fall of Cromwell = Catholics win – results in act of 6 articles.

Henry didn’t believe in priests, but did believe in transubstantiation (bread and wine into body and blood of Christ).

Katherine Howard = Catholic.

Katherine Parr = Protestant – regent 1544, nearly brought down by Wriothesley and Gardiner.

Death bed – fight for control of Edward VI and England.

David Starkey
David Starkey

Political structure – centralised government.

Whitehall (whole of current government area) – royal apartments on riverside. Horseguards parade is where tiltyard was. The treasury is where the cockpit was. Downing Street private apartments.

Greenwich, Windsor, Nonsuch, Hampton Court, Whitehall – only stays in 4 or 5 at the end and when Henry moved between them they were left fully furnished rather than moving furniture and tapestries between palaces as previously.

As Henry gets more ill he can’t hunt. People being deer to the king – palaces surrounded by parkland and linked by Thames.

Power sucked into London.

Henry VII created totally private rooms in palaces.

Tudors had the least claim to the English throne – better claim to the French throne through Catherine of Valois – stupidity of Richard III in killing the Princes in the Tower.

Others believe they can become king too – Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel.

Rooms get progressively more private. Only 6-18 people allowed in the most private rooms – easier to keep deaths quiet.

Groom of the Stool – Marquis of Northampton, Duke of Portland = in charge of the king’s money, controls access to the king, takes documents to be signed, controls the dry stamp.

October 1546 Anthony Denny becomes Groom of the Stool – close to Somerset, Warwick and Paget.

Privy council meets in room directly opposite Henry VIII’s bedchamber. Secretary has office next to king’s bedchamber.

William Paget central.

Royal doctors.

Priests / confessor at end of life – Tudors a mixture of heaven and hell.

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