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Writer of the month: The children of Henry VIII

John Guy tells the story of the family drama of England’s wealthiest and most powerful king. It is a tale of jealousy, mutual distrust and often bitter sibling rivalry, simmering beneath the magnificent pageantry and stormy politics of the Tudor court. Henry fathered four living children, each by a different mother. Possessed of quick wits and strong wills, their characters were defined partly by the educations they received, and partly by events over which they had no control. Henry’s children idolised their father, but they differed radically over how to perpetuate his legacy.

This talk was part of the Writer of the Month – a series of free talks, in which each month a high profile author shared their experiences of using original records in their writing.


In July 1544, Henry VIII asked his…surviving children to a dinner. He was 53. He was just about to sail for Boulogne to lead his army from the rear in battle against Francis I – in fact, he took Boulogne on that campaign. And naturally as he was about to leave the country, he settled the succession in conjunction with Parliament in the third Act of Succession.

…It was the final succession settlement of the reign. This provided that he would be succeeded in turn – and of course on the principle of what was then primogeniture – by his surviving children [shows an image]. First, Edward – the son of Jane Seymour; then by Mary – his daughter by Catherine of Aragon – who’s on the left; and then by his daughter, if all else failed, Elizabeth, on the right hand side…If you’re intrigued, the people in these little alcoves here on either side are the king’s fools.

This picture tells a story. In the first place, it’s a bit of a fiction. It’s a genuine picture, but it’s a bit of a fiction. Because of course, naturally Henry didn’t invite his wife to the dinner, only his children. And that wife couldn’t have been invited, because that wife is Jane Seymour, and when that painting was done she’d been dead for seven years.

Jane Seymour, of course, was Henry’s perfect queen, because within a few months of the wedding, she had done what Princess Diana was able to do to such great effect – to produce…a male heir, Edward. Unfortunately, she then died as the consequences of the childbirth, which of course in Henry’s eyes made her the perfect queen because she had done what she needed to do and then died [laughter] so she could commit no wrong.

In 1544, when that’s done, the Queen is actually Catherine Parr – who we will come to a little bit later. Catherine Parr was almost certainly the person who recommended the artist of this painting. Catherine Parr was a rather keen art collector and patron. She was unlike Henry who was just a consumer of art; she was an art connoisseur. But of course, in 1544, Holbein has been dead for a year, so this wasn’t going to be Hans Holbein the Younger. We don’t actually know who painted this. We know who painted some of the other pictures which Catherine commissioned, again we will come to that a little bit later.

Now, Henry settles the succession and this is the order [shows an image]. He had, of course, grave reservations about having a woman at all in the succession. And we know what his views are on female monarchy, because in 1531 during his first divorce campaign, in the preface to a tract called A Glass of the Truth – which was essentially a pamphlet justifying his divorce which he had printed – he actually says that the problem with a woman ruler is that they’ll need a husband. And that’s either going to be a subject, in which case that can cause faction within the realm, or it’s going to be a foreign prince, in which case England becomes the client of a foreign state. Neither of these is satisfactory. So he had grave reservations about this. And actually one of the reasons why it takes him so long to actually get his thoughts clear on the succession is precisely this problem.

But to be quite sure, as he believed that this was going to go the way that he wanted. After all, Henry’s trying to in effect to rule from the grave. He’s trying to actually fix the future for the dynasty. He actually says in the Act of Succession that the final conditions upon which all of these will be allowed to succeed will be laid down in his last will and testament. And this he actually does, just before he dies in 1547.

And what’s really interesting about that Henry’s will is in the archives here. You can actually download it for nothing. It’s one of the few documents you can download from DocumentsOnline entirely for free. If you can cope with the handwriting, it’s actually worth reading because it actually doesn’t say what most historians have conventionally says it says. And one of the things it does say that’s very little remarked on – but [is] actually rather important and we will keep referring to it in this talk – is that if Edward succeeded – as indeed he did – once he was 18, that’s fine. He’s of age. He can marry. If either of the women succeed, they can only marry with the assent and consent of as many of the councillors of regency whom he appoints to govern while Edward is not yet 18 – a councillor of regency is appointed by Henry in his last will. The girls have to get the consent of the members of that council, or as many as are still surviving, whether they live to be 100…

And so the cultural norm here – you need to pick up on this – is that essentially girls are perpetual minors. This is not an age of equal opportunities, even among princes. In fact only one person, to my knowledge, in Europe, believed that rank could trump gender in the 16th century and that was Torquato Tasso…In the 16th century, the male gender always trumps the female, however exalted the woman is.

Of course, Henry also had another son, and here he is [shows an image]. Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son that he had with one of his mistresses, Elizabeth or Bessie Blount. And Fitzroy was born in 1519. Fitzroy, from the beginning, was recognised as his son by Henry. [Thomas] Wolsey is given the job of supervising the arrangements for Bessie Blount’s accouchement – her lying-in. This boy is given an absolutely top education, the most expensive education that can possibly be found for him. His tutors include John Palsgrave (a friend of Thomas More), somebody who’d also been the French tutor of Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary, the one that married Louis XII of France.

He wasn’t a hugely dedicated student, I’m afraid. He had various run-ins with his tutors, particularly his second tutor, a Cambridge expert in Greek called Richard Crook. But we can actually tell that he refused to basically go to school. He refused to go into the classroom. He wanted to go hunting, he wanted to get a child’s suit of armour, he wanted to go hawking – all of those things. I’m afraid his tutors just had to write the equivalent of what in Cambridge [unknown 07.05] supervision reports…You just had to lie. He’s doing really well and etcetera etcetera, otherwise of course…they would get the blame for this.

[Shows an image]. But you can actually see…One of the really interesting things about this is that you can see here the first thank you letter that he wrote to Dad, when he was seven, for a New Year’s gift. In the 16th century, you didn’t get Christmas presents, you exchanged gifts at New Year. And he got a gift at New Year from Dad and he writes this letter.

Now you can see that this [is] actually rather readable for the 16th century. This is the latest and most fashionable…It’s a young child’s attempt at it, but it’s an attempt at the most sophisticated, and the latest and most fashionable Italian form of handwriting known as the Italic script. And this actually tells us, almost at a glance, that… Very few people can teach that. Palsgrave could, Thomas More could (this is what his daughters learnt), Crook could. There’s this battle to make sure that this boy is brought up in the most sophisticated and the latest fashionable school by the best possible tutors.

Of course, there’s a big argument even about his handwriting. You quite understand that in the 16th century, it was not considered to be the thing for noblemen or gentlemen to be too learned. The equivalent of hunting, shooting and fishing, those are the values which are most prized by the aristocracy in the 16th century. Very few nobles – Lord Morley is one – were wanting to be educated and were hugely literate. Henry VIII, because he becomes the heir to the throne after his brother Arthur’s death, is given a top education. By the way, that’s also indicative, because he didn’t get a top education until he became heir to the throne – and that’s another thing that we’ll keep encountering in this lecture. To get the top education, you’ve got to be in the succession. And of course the punchline is that this boy from the beginning, Henry had a gleam in his eye to make him his heir.

Bastardry was not a problem in the succession of the 16th century, because you could acquire the throne in two different ways – forgetting battles of course (Henry VII got it in battle). But you could acquire the throne in two different ways. One was by inheritance, and for that you obviously had to be legitimate. But the other one is by designation. A sitting king could designate somebody to be his heir, and of course for Henry there would have to be designation.

These little details actually matter. For Henry there was going to have to be designation anyway, because of course if you had daughters, daughters did not…It was not winner took all. It was not the eldest that took all if it was daughters. If it was sons, yes. But daughters, it was the equivalent of a shared inheritance…It was the King Lear situation where it was shared out equally amongst all of them – and therefore to avoid that situation Henry was going to… If he was going to have Mary and then Elizabeth, he would have to do designation in a will anyway.

So it was perfectly feasible for Fitzroy to be designated as his successor – and indeed in 1525, Fitzroy astonishingly is made Duke of Richmond, Duke of Somerset and Earl of Nottingham. And of course Somerset and Richmond are royal titles. Henry VII – before he won the throne – had been the Earl of Richmond. This is the ticket to the jackpot.

And it was uncontroversial. Thomas More read the Letters Patent at the ceremony when this boy was invested to these titles – because of course it was More’s belief that whoever got the throne, that was a matter for parliament. When he quarrelled with Henry VIII, it was about religion, it was about the royal supremacy – could the king be Supreme Head of the Church [of England]? But when More had that conversation in the Tower with Richard Rich, the one that got him. In that conversation, when Rich said to Thomas More, ‘Can a king be declared by Parliament and a king [be] unseated by Parliament?’ and More said, ‘Absolutely, because that’s a matter within Parliament’s competence’. So there was no real problem about this.

The problem about obtaining the throne if you were a bastard was that it didn’t work if…one of your parents – particularly your father – was living at the time in an incestuous relationship. because that’s what Canon law said. Yes, bizarre as this may sound, but trust me, this is how it is.

[Shows an image]. Now this woman of course changed everything – because when Henry met this woman, Anne Boleyn, in 1526, by 1527 he was determined that he was going to marry her. She was the love of his life. You can’t get away from this, and it’s been said before but it’s absolutely true.

The problem was that in order to advance his divorce, from Katherine of Aragon, at Rome, [an] essential part of Henry’s case was that his marriage to Katherine of Aragon – who was of course Henry’s elder brother Arthur’s widow – was not just that it was unlawful because Leviticus said so, but that it was unnatural and incestuous. It was essentially a sexual crime that was so heinous that the Pope had to do something about it.

And that argument…When Katherine of Aragon first heard that Fitzroy, basically his chances of the succession were sunk, of course she was exultant. When she found out the reason, she got a punch in the face, because of course now this showed that Henry really was serious about marrying Anne Boleyn.

Anne, of course, when she does marry Henry, she finds that naturally he’s not just got Fitzroy around then – Fitzroy is still a significant figure. She finds of course that he’s got his daughter Mary. And however sentimental one might feel about this great romance and about Anne Boleyn, this woman was a tiger when it came to protecting the interests of her own family and she was bloody to both Mary and to Fitzroy.

Mary, in particular – why? Because what Anne can produce – she has a number of stillbirths [and] miscarriages – …is the princess Elizabeth in September 1533. Henry is pleased. But not that pleased. She gets the proper christening. She gets the full works of the state christening at Greenwich Palace, but the tournament afterwards is cancelled. Only boys have that honour.

But of course in order to protect her daughter’s interests, she turns on Mary. And – apart from various references which you can find which may or may not be true in the State Papers and the dispatches of the Spanish Armada that she actually wanted to poison Mary that you can take or leave – she fixed it so that the young Mary, who is then 17, is stuck like a cuckoo in the nest into the princess Elizabeth’s nursery as number two.

Remember that the interesting thing about that first image that I put up of essentially the family group – except it’s the wrong queen – is that again it creates…It’s a little bit like happy families. The royal children were with their parents as a group – as far as I know – at least twice, but probably not more than three times, in Henry’s entire reign. They did not live with their parents. They were brought up in separate nurseries, which would be at different palaces – usually a few miles, but sometimes the parents could be much further away.

So Mary is basically having been at court, she’s now shipped off to be the cuckoo in the nest of the young baby princess Elizabeth. And this is where the enmity that Mary has for Elizabeth (I) comes to the fore – because of course you’ve got children, they all want to sit in the front seat when they’re whatever age it is… Mary, Elizabeth; little toddler, this much older…By this time, she’s almost 19 is Mary. They’re squabbling about who’s sitting in the front seat in the royal barge. Mary won’t ride in the same horse litter as Elizabeth, and she insists on going in front. She is absolutely bloody to her half-sister. And this is the beginning of a dynamic which really lasts throughout all their lives.

Now for Fitzroy, Anne is subtler. She basically knows that the way to do it is to marry him off to a relative non-entity. Not quite a non-entity, but somebody pretty safe, because the danger is that Fitzroy is going to marry a foreign princess – a French princess or something like that, in which case who knows. Henry might get this business of the marriage sorted out and no longer would be living in an incestuous relationship dot dot dot.

So Anne contrives that Fitzroy is married to Mary Howard, who is the daughter of her uncle in the Howard family. Keeping it all in the family, keeping Fitzroy firmly under the thumb of her circle. But of course when Anne has her last miscarriage with [a] 15 week old male foetus, Henry decides that his wedding to her is damned by God as well. Henry had this remarkable ability to adapt God in his conscience to exactly what he wanted to happen, and so she is… And of course, the fact that he loved her so much at the beginning, of course this just turns to this poisonous hate right at the end of the relationship.

Fitzroy, I’m afraid, dies within a couple of months of Anne Boleyn getting chopped. So Fitzroy’s written out of the… One of the might-have-beens of history is what would have happened if Fitzroy had lived.

[Shows an image]. Now Catherine Parr – whom we first met as the woman not in the first picture – was actually queen at the time, that was done in 1544. And here she is in what’s now recognised to be an authentic image by Master John, a German painter – one of the people that she collected. She had six or seven painters who were in…her circle. It’s rather a good image. She’s gone down in history – certainly in the secondary printed sources – as a bit of a bluestocking. Actually, this is nonsense. She was 32. She was incredibly good looking. She was a stunner for the time. She was clearly still fertile, she had not passed the menopause. It’s extremely unlikely that Henry would ever have picked her if he thought that she was past the menopause and wasn’t a bit of a looker. That wasn’t his way. Also, he still wanted more male sons. He got Edward by then, but he still wanted more sons.

She is learned. She is advanced in religion. She is somebody who the expert historians call an Evangelical, which is a halfway house between Catholicism without the Pope and Protestantism. And Evangelicals basically want a much more personal religion based on the Gospel, a much less nuance of detailed theology…The Reformation is a trajectory – it’s a moving target – and they’re in that middling position.

She knows to keep her religious opinions – indeed all her opinions – to herself. Jane Seymour had got this best. Remember, Anne Boleyn talked too much. Anne Boleyn was a great talker. She knew how to behave as a mistress, but not as a wife. For Henry, women kept their place – even queens took…It was fine for Anne to answer him back when he was courting her, but not after they were married. Jane Seymour probably gets this best – she makes her motto ‘bound to obey and serve’.

But Catherine Parr knows to keep her opinions to herself. In fact, she is quite active in building a circle of reformed Evangelicals like herself – men who actually do rather a lot later on after Henry’s reign to advance the Protestant Reformation in England, but that’s a different story.

Now, the thing is that she’s 32 and the Princess Mary is 28. And those two, even though their religions are really quite different – because Mary has been brought up as a staunch Catholic – these two rather hit it off and they go shopping together. They love clothes – Catherine Parr bought 250 pairs of shoes in two years. Mary was keen on all of that, but she also loved Spanish leather gloves and she…imported those by the box load.

[Shows an image] Here we go – this is the Princess Mary by the same artist. Except, of course, that she’s not the Princess Mary, she’s now the Lady Mary – because when Henry first changed the succession at the time of marrying Anne Boleyn, he stripped Mary of her title of princess. He also made her recognise his authority as Supreme Head of the Church, which was a regret that she took to her grave that she had signed and consented to that.

But she’s the Lady Mary – and of course after the fall of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth too was stripped of her title. You see all those images of her, of the reproductions of a painting that I will show you a little bit later – it’s always called the Princess Mary. She was not the Princess Mary then, she was the Lady Mary. They were both very exercised about this and they both thought that they should be restored to the title of princess – but not the other of course.

But this is Mary. And actually that’s one of her, not exactly shopping lists, but that’s one of her tailors’ accounts. And you can see that in the…If I walk away from this, you won’t be able to hear, so…My copy of this is very, very small, but…The first entry on the top line is item for making a French gown of crimson cloth of silver, and the next is for ten yards of frieze. This was top stuff. This was really expensive, this was really, I mean, forget Dior, this is…Well, there were really only two or three people in the whole of Tudor England wearing these sort of things – one is Catherine Parr, one is Mary, and the other one is to a lesser extent Henry VIII’s niece Margaret Douglas – the daughter of his eldest sister Margaret [Tudor] – who marries the Earl of Lennox.

And actually one of the really interesting things about…If you’re interested in costume history, this is your place. There’s more here than any one person can cope with at any one time. About two years ago, Sotheby’s asked me to do a bit of research, consultancy about a picture, and one of the keys to this was the costume and it was of Mary Tudor’s reign. All Mary Tudor’s, when she’s queen – she loved clothes – all her tailors’ accounts and requisitions, every six months, are there on huge sheets of parchment. Absolutely astonishing…The detail of it all is amazing.

So that’s really one of the ways in which…You see normally for this sort of stuff you use State Papers, which you have to be able to read because the printed Calendars are usually very inadequate. But this is not quite virgin territory. These are in the accounts…If you want the detail, everything’s got to be paid for. The Tudors are awfully good at keeping accounts, and so the accounts are so often the way in.

Mary did not have the sort of totally posh education that Fitzroy had, and that was another bone of contention. In the first place, Fitzroy had got his tutor when he was six – which a boy did if he was in the succession to the throne – and he got top tutors. Again, that tells you something. She didn’t get a tutor until she was nine – and she did get Juan Luis Vives, and yes, you’re going to tell me that he was a great Spanish humanist and he was a great friend of Thomas More, as indeed he was. And he wrote a book in favour of women’s education – except when you read it, it’s about the most reactionary statement on the merits of women’s education you could possibly find, because women in Vives’ book were only to read pious books and works on religion. They weren’t to read anything that was worth reading. They could read certain bits of Cicero, but they couldn’t read dodgy books like Tacitus or Suetonius or anything like that. And basically it’s not quite…

Even Erasmus of Rotterdam had to be converted to women’s education. Early in his life, Erasmus of Rotterdam said, ‘Well, for women it’s staff and spindle – that’s for them. And religion and prayer – maybe a few prayers, but not actually proper books.’ It was Thomas More, who…But even Thomas More, when Margaret Roper – his daughter’s married name… When Margaret More – who was a brilliant, brilliant student. Latin, Greek, wonderful. She could correct mistakes in Erasmus by the time she was 18. When she wants to write a book, her father just went, ‘uh, you can’t do that, a girl can’t do that. It’s impossible. You’ll bring the whole thing into discredit’. So some of these women were pushing at margins but I suspect not Mary.

[Shows an image] Now Elizabeth, who we last met as little more than a toddler squabbling with her half-sister over who had the front seat in the front of the barge. This is an authentic image. You can take your pick as to when it was painted. The dating of this is hugely complicated…She’s somewhere between 13 and 17…In the book [] – for complicated reasons – I opt for a later date than an earlier date, but there are reasons why.

The problem is that the picture is mentioned in Henry VIII’s inventory of goods, but the problem is that Henry’s inventory of goods wasn’t just made in a second. It was still being compiled at least three years, and possibly up to six years, after his death. So that’s your first problem. And it’s also the second-to-last entry.

The other problem is that there’s a letter that Elizabeth – who got on best of all with her half-brother Edward, in Edward’s reign, and because of course…as they grew up, their religious opinions were more aligned. Elizabeth came to see Edward at court in 1551, just after Christmas, and they went to a bear baiting together and they obviously had a good time. And afterwards Elizabeth sent him a letter saying, ‘I’m sending you my picture and I hope you like it’. And the trick about paintings…Elizabeth knew about paintings…She knew the theory of Renaissance art – that you don’t just see the outward image, you look into the person and see the soul through the image. It’s not just a photograph, it’s actually an interpretation of the mind and soul of the person.

And this letter is dated from Hatfield – which was where one of the houses [was] that she had …this 15th day of May. Well, the detail is all in Tudor history, the detail is all the letters here in the archives – detail is all…Elizabeth was only in Hatfield on the 15th of May in 1551. So if that picture goes with that letter, she’s 17…If the letter refers to a different picture – which it’s possible – then [it’s] anybody’s guess as to when that was done. But 1547 doesn’t do it, because Edward’s inventory was still being compiled for up to three [to] six years after his death.

Elizabeth, her education in a way is a sort of key to the story. Henry doesn’t even think of giving her a tutor. Why? Because he’s not really seriously thinking of her in the succession. But in her nursery – and later at the houses that she’s allowed to live in, like Hunsdon Ashridge…in the old palace at Hatfield of course – the woman who becomes very important in her household and later becomes her chief gentlewoman is a woman called Katherine Champernowne, who is the sister-in-law of Anthony Denny, Henry the VIII’s chief gentleman of the Privy chamber. And Katherine Champernowne – you will know better, she called herself Kat – is Kat Ashley…It can be Ashley or Astley, whichever you want – it was interchangeable in the 16th century. I’ve gone for Ashley. But this is…

Kat Ashley was teaching her off her own bat to read and write. But Kat Ashley – without probably consulting Denny, but you know Henry wasn’t interested – clearly brought in somebody to teach her, because when that first picture that we saw in 1544 was done, a few days before that Elizabeth wrote a letter to Catherine Parr in fluent Italian. Now admittedly, she just copied it from a template, but it’s nicely written and it’s in Italian.

…If you buy this book, you will see that at the very last minute I discovered who her first tutor was – a man called John Picton. And I managed to get it in the index, but there’s no reference because you couldn’t re-number the footnotes once the thing had gone into page proof. But John Picton, if you’re interested, the source for this is in the Bedingfield papers.

And John Picton or Pictoun he clearly…He’s in there before William Grindal. Now William Grindal comes into the story, but again Elizabeth is relatively old before she gets a tutor. Later, after William Grindal dies, she gets Roger Ascham. But Elizabeth is only getting a top education when she’s actually in the succession, do you see what I mean? If she’s not in the succession…they’re basically, ‘Don’t worry about her, no point wasting money on tutors’, et cetera. It’s a very interesting part of the story.

But after Henry’s death, Elizabeth is right in the firing line – really inadvertently. Because of course when Catherine Parr married Henry, she was of course already in love with Sir Thomas Seymour. Sir Thomas Seymour, the younger brother of Jane Seymour – whose elder brother was the Earl of Hertford, Edward Seymour…Earl of Hertford, later the Duke of Somerset, later made Lord Protector in Edward VI’s reign. And Thomas Seymour, he was somebody who was not…They were not brought up within the constraints of the sort of code of etiquette which we have today. This guy was a bit like Sir Walter Raleigh – or the second Earl of Essex. He was dashing, he was an adventurer. He was a risk taker in a big way.

But Catherine Parr was in love with him – and with what Mary, Henry’s elder daughter, believed to be indecent haste, he resumed his relationship with Catherine Parr, who was given the manor of Chelsea…The manor of Chelsea is not where Thomas More’s house was, Thomas More’s house was next door. The manor of Chelsea – Anne of Cleves had been pensioned off there for a while – and also the manor of Hanworth in Middlesex, which was Anne Boleyn’s favourite manor. She was given those two to live in. But from a very few days after Henry VIII’s death, Catherine Parr was letting this bloke in through the front door of her house at Chelsea, and…they basically went straight upstairs together. So this was a bit of a scandal.

But of course Thomas Seymour was ambitious. When Henry died, he left this Regency Council (as I mentioned at the beginning) of 16 people – and that had no number one. It was literally meant to be a conciliar board. It was a committee, who was supposed to operate consensually.

Now of course in the past, Henry VI had either had some sort of mental breakdown – the latest mad theory is porphyria – but some sort of mental breakdown, depression or possibly bipolar disorder. A Lord Protector had been appointed…Well of course it was hugely contentious, because Richard, Duke of York, had tried to get it and that was in a way the beginning of the Wars of the Roses. But it was absolutely conventional that you had a Lord Protector and also a Governor of the King’s Person, ie a guardian. And those offices could be the same person or they could be split.

Now of course Henry is dead. There are these 16 people – ambition, politicking, backstairs intrigue. Hertford is able to pull off a sort of mini internal coup, and get himself appointed both Lord Protector and Governor of Edward’s Person.

Now that wasn’t such a terrible idea. After all, somebody had to take charge. If you’re a nobleman, or you’re somebody on this committee of 16, you’re busy, you’ve got other things to do. Do you really want to be having to go in and do government work every day? You might not. So the idea of having a Lord Protector wasn’t a stupid idea. The problem was that Somerset…almost believes that he’s a king…He behaves like a Viceroy and he doesn’t consult the other colleagues, so that gets him into a bit of hot water. But he’s also besieged from the very beginning by this younger brother, because the younger brother, Thomas, wanted to be Governor of the King’s Person. He thought that it was okay for Somerset to be Protector, but he wanted recognition as Governor of the King’s Person – and he doesn’t get it.

So he sets about subverting his brother by every way he can, and one of those ways is he manages to get…You know, this is amazing. You know that [in] all the royal palaces…there were locks on all the doors – otherwise stuff would just go out on the back of a lorry. And there were two locks on all the doors. But there was another sort of key that…Just one key opened the lock, and the king had that – Henry VIII had that. It was really called the golden key. It opened every door in the palace. So Sir Thomas Seymour manages to get a duplicate of this magic key, and he sneaks in and he basically gives the young Edward, nine years old, extra pocket money out of his back pocket to buy things – and so he strikes up quite a rapport with Edward. But of course he marries Catherine Parr, and he also…He’s not Governor of Edward’s person. He also, because Catherine Parr is the step-mother of the Lady Elizabeth, he gets Elizabeth put in their household.

Now that would probably be enough, but it’s not enough for Seymour. Because within really a few weeks of getting Elizabeth at Chelsea and Hanworth, he is making up to her – and this is vividly described in the documents which are actually now at Hatfield House. They’re not actually here. There are bits and pieces here, in the interrogation of the various people afterwards, but the main sources are at Hatfield House. He was making up to her, he was going into her bedroom early in the morning, he was pulling the curtains apart, he was getting on the bed tickling her. There’s cause for really a terrible scandal.

Of course, David Starkey calls this child abuse – Elizabeth then is 14 – but actually I think by contemporary values the most scandalous thing about this was that Seymour was of course already married. If he’d not been married, it might not have been so terrible to have made up to. But clearly he’s looking to the future. If Catherine Parr pops her clogs in childbirth, then he’s making up to Elizabeth.

But the effect of this is that Elizabeth is sent away. Elizabeth is sent away to…Well, first of all to Cheshunt, and after that…[Cheshunt] which is Sir Anthony Denny’s house, which of course…Denny remember is the brother-in-law of Kat Ashley. And she’s sent away to Hatfield, and this is the letter that she writes the moment that she gets there:

‘Truly I was replete with sorrow to depart from your highness, especially since you are undoubtful of health. And albeit I answered little, I weighed it more deeper when you said you would warn me of all evils that you should hear of me.’

Basically Catherine and Elizabeth have said goodbye at the gates of Chelsea Manor. Catherine’s basically read the Riot Act to her about her behaviour, or at least the potential of the sex scandal here – remember there’s nothing more lethal in Tudor politics, as indeed in modern politics, than a racy sex scandal. And Elizabeth has clearly said nothing. But on the way back, she’s thought about this and she realises that Catherine has offered to keep her posted basically and to help her to get herself out of this.

It is a very, very narrow squeak for Elizabeth, [a] very narrow squeak…It’s a steering experience. Actually, it thrusts her into adulthood. This is where she learns not only just what men are like, but what politics are like, because of course the assumption is that she’s pregnant by Thomas Seymour – the rumour is racing around that she’s pregnant by Thomas Seymour. She has to write a letter to Protector Somerset, basically refuting this – but people are not sure about it. And of course, remember that Henry had said that she wasn’t allowed to marry without the consent of the council. She would be out of the succession if she was caught out in anything like that.

But of course for us this letter is a double whammy. One just loves this when you hit them in the archives, because just look at that hand [shows an image]. That is a perfect Italian Renaissance hand. It’s in English, but this shows that Elizabeth had the most expensive education by the best possible tutors that money could buy. Of course by now, she’s considered to be a possible contender, should either of her elder siblings die.

Edward, of course, I have to say about Edward: think of Henry VIII without the subtlety. This boy is made king at nine years old. Somerset does treat him like a minor…Because of the scandal over Thomas Seymour and Elizabeth, Somerset’s enemies on the Privy Council bring him down in 1549 and a new regime comes in, in a sort of really, a palace putsch. And this new regime is presided over by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, who makes himself Duke of Northumberland.

He runs a much tighter and a much more effective ship, because…he’s a military man – he’s made his name actually as a naval commander. But he is smart because he realises that this boy is going to grow up one day, and he’s going to have to work with him if he survives. So he…takes him seriously. He trains him as a future king. Stephen Alford at Cambridge has called this training for operational kingship. He treats him as a sort of grown up adult, somebody who…Of course, naturally Edward is being manipulated to a great extent, but basically Edward thinks that he’s really being constructively brought up, not just to study, but as ‘an operational king’.

And by the way, we know so much about… In a book like this…you could write a whole 400 page book about Edward’s education. There is so much evidence for this. It’s absolutely stunning. And of course you can just imagine the academics have, because of course academics are interested in books and learning and they think, ‘oh, this is wonderful. Here is a boy who was studious and was doing this that and the other’. I have to tell you that all Edward wanted to do was to hunt, go out in armour, this sort of thing. Edward was not a…he was made to do it. He was actually beaten into it. Don’t think that there was a whipping boy in Edward’s reign. Edward got a thrashing from one of his tutors on one famous occasion.

But on the last day of Edward’s formal education, when he’s 15, he writes in his diary, ‘Thank God, thank God I’m out of here’ [laughter]. It was his last Greek exercise and he goes off on a royal progress at 15. He beetles off, straight down to the South Coast, inspects all the fortifications, draws up plans for the complete rebuilding of the fortifications at Portsmouth on both side[s] of the river at astronomical cost and sends them off…This is what he wants to do. [shows an image] You can see he knows how to dress and he likes expensive clothes…That picture is very, very faded, but you can still see that those are incredibly expensive clothes. And of course he’s also into the cult of personality as Henry was.

Edward…if you believe the documents, also shares his father’s cruelty, because there’s a report of him…He kept his favourite falcon in his bedroom, but one day he’s fed up with his councillors. He’s frustrated by not being allowed to do the things he wants, and he takes this falcon and he plucks it alive in front of his councillors – tears it into four pieces and says that, ‘That’s how I’m going to treat you when I come of age and come into my inheritance’. Again, is this as the Italians say ben trovato or ‘is it rea’l? You choose.

Of course, the thing that we know about Edward is that he was also brought up as a Protestant. And the two guys responsible…This is [shows an image]…there is no portrait of John Cheke, Edward’s principal schoolmaster. John Cheke was a friend of William Cecil. He’d been educated at St John’s College, Cambridge. He was into all the latest things in the Italian Renaissance, but he was also a Protestant. Cranmer has undergone a Protestant conversion to the Swiss memorialist view of theology by the middle of Edward’s reign. These two…are the people going to Edward most of the time and influencing his mind. And it’s in Edward’s reign that the Second Prayer Book [and] the second Act of Uniformity take England firmly into the Protestant camp. Henry VIII, you’ll remember, got rid of the Pope, but Henry was not a Protestant. The one thing that Henry was not was a Protestant. Edward changes all of that. And of course even as a nine year old boy he’s styled Supreme Head of the Church. And he believes he is.

So that remarkable transformation has taken place. Now of course, as a result of that, when… Edward is again a great myth. Edward is not a sickly child. He’s absolutely fine, until he gets measles in the spring of 1552. Measles is not great. It messes up your immune system. He survives the measles – no scars – but his immune system is affected and the problem is he catches something nasty the following year, just after Christmas and the New Year of 1553. Most of the books say it’s tuberculosis. There’s absolutely no evidence for that. It could be that. It’s much more likely to have been bronchial pneumonia leading to something that the physicians call pleural empyema – which is basically a huge corruption of the area around the lungs and outside the lungs and you basically just… All the symptoms match this. Your skin just collapses, and you spit up black sputum, and everything just falls to pieces. Your kidneys fail, you get jaundice, you go yellow, all of this. The physicians actually remark that he died
of exactly the same thing that Fitzroy had died of in 1536, which again is quite interesting.

But Edward…now think about this. Mary, in Edward’s reign, has done everything that she can to subvert this swing towards Protestantism. In her house, indeed all of her houses – remember Mary has about 20 houses, because she’s a king’s daughter – she invites anybody who wants to, passers-by, anybody off the highway, to hear mass in all of these houses, all at the same time, even though she’s not there, as a way of subverting this settlement. The Emperor Charles V, her cousin…says, ‘Stop doing it, you’re a silly girl. This is petulant. You’ve been given a license to hear mass in your own chapel to satisfy your conscious. Settle for that, don’t cause all this trouble.’ But she takes no notice.

Edward doesn’t want her to succeed, but he also doesn’t want Elizabeth to succeed, because well she was…Henry had made her illegitimate and she’s never been re-legitimised. He also doesn’t think she’s the right sort of Protestant, because of course Elizabeth is the sort of Protestant that Catherine Parr was. The sort of Evangelical…the halfway house, yes, but not the Full Monty. And so she is to be excluded, so Edward sets out about excluding his two half-sisters from the throne.

[Shows an image] And that is his first draft in his own handwriting – My devise for the Succession. And this is complicated, but we’ll just skip it over…Where does he look to? He looks to the line of his Aunt Mary, who’d been queen of France, whose daughter was Lady Frances Brandon who’d married Henry Grey, who by this time was Duke of Suffolk. And they had sons that died, but they had three living daughters – Lady Jane Grey, Lady Catherine Grey and Lady Mary Grey.

Now, what Edward decides is…you see, he was just as much the male chauvinist as Dad. He never wanted, or intended, to leave the throne to a woman. You can actually unpick this draft. If we have this as a close-up, you would see that in fact the first version of this – which is the bit not affected by the crossings out – he decided to skip over Frances Brandon for some reason. I think, because she was a woman. And he decided that he would leave the throne to the male heirs of Lady Jane Grey; failing whom, the male heirs of Catherine Grey; failing whom, the male heirs of Mary Grey.

And that’s his first version, because he’s sick, but he’s not that sick – he’s not within sight of death. And then suddenly, he’s in sight of death, and everything changes. Now, of course, the Earl of Northumberland…you can argue about this. Historians have argued about…I mean, there’s a great war of the experts about this as some people think this was…all Edward’s plan, some people think it’s Northumberland’s on the make from the beginning. I don’t. I think it’s Edward’s plan from the beginning, but Northumberland sees the opportunity – because once Edward starts to think this way, he marries his fourth son, his 19 year old son Guildford Dudley, to the Lady Jane Grey at the end of May.

And you’re all going to say to me, ‘Yeah, but why marry his fourth son? Why not marry his…?’ Because the answer is all the others were married. The only one that’s free is the 19 year old Guildford Dudley, and Guildford Dudley is in Edward’s eyes a sort of hero figure. On his sickbed, when he hears of this marriage, Edward says, ‘This guy’s destined to be a celebrity. He’s destined for the finest things. He’s a man for whom I have the highest possible opinion.’ And although…what I’m going to say now is an interpretation of the events – it’s not something in the documents – my money is on Edward thinking that he was settling the succession in favour of ‘King Guildford’ and Lady Jane.

And Edward dies. Of course, the Jane Grey thing, it doesn’t stick because they haven’t had time to do all the homework. Was it legal? You can ask me in the questions afterwards. But…this is a fascinating episode, because it’s the first time in English history that a ruler has been in or out of the succession as the basis of a religious test; in or out on purely ideological grounds, rather than heredity. The [Protestant] Reformation makes a huge difference to how people start to think about the succession.

But Mary does get the throne. [Shows an image] Here’s another picture that’s a fiction. She’s with her husband. She was…pro-Spanish, she was pro-Catholic. The first thing she did…she couldn’t marry her cousin Charles V, because he was too old and he was fed up and he retired to the Monastery of Yuste abdicated with his art collection. So she marries Philip.

The picture is by Hans Eworth. It’s dated 1558. It’s impossible. The last time Philip was in the country was July 1557. It’s painted…it represents a room facing the river on the Palace of Whitehall. If you look at this…you perhaps can’t see from here, but if you look through that window, you will not see that view from any window on the site of the Palace of the Whitehall, so again it’s a fictional view. But nonetheless they’re reasonably accurate – whoever did this had seen both…Well, Eworth had seen both Philip, and Mary.

Mary thought it was going to be her dream marriage. It wasn’t. Of course, she was unable to get pregnant – but she thought she was pregnant. She had a pseudo-pregnancy. You can debate the reasons. A medical expert at St Thomas’s that I did a film with years ago said that she had a prolactinoma – which is a tumour of the pituitary gland – which would create all the symptoms that she had of false pregnancy – lactation…vision affected leading to blindness, migraines, the works. It fits, but who knows – without a body you can’t really make a diagnosis. But of course, the moment that she doesn’t have this child – Philip…she’s no good to him. And from the moment that she doesn’t have a child, Philip starts protecting Elizabeth, because she’s the next one and he might marry her. In fact, he has a different plan later, but at first that’s the reason.

Because of course, Mary still hates Elizabeth. And from the very beginning, Elizabeth had actually been rather good…They didn’t like each other, but they were loyal to their father’s legacy. And during the Jane Grey thing, Elizabeth did help Mary to get the throne. Her reward for that was to be sent for and told she basically had to worship as a Catholic or else. And she sort of said she would.

Elizabeth was canny – she was a Nicodemite…If she was forced to conform…Nicodemus, because in St John’s Gospel, Nicodemus goes to see Jesus by night because he doesn’t want to be seen. So in the end she does conform to the mass. But to cut a long story short, Elizabeth…says Mary implicated in Wyatt’s rebellion – the rebellion that followed the failure of the Jane Grey coup. Sir Thomas Wyatt, in alliance with Jane Grey’s father, Henry Grey, and some other people, they attempt a coup in favour of Elizabeth at the beginning of Mary’s reign. It fails. That’s how Jane Grey gets executed, because Mary decides that Jane Grey’s too dangerous and so she’s executed. For all those reasons, Mary decides that Elizabeth is to be interrogated.

She’s sent to the Tower for two months. She’s absolutely in fear of her life. She is then sent to basically house arrest at Woodstock for the next eleven months. She is then summoned to Hampton Court, and everybody thinks that this is because…she is summoned to Hampton Court just when Mary says that she’s pregnant with her first pseudo-pregnancy. And everybody thinks this is because Elizabeth had sent for John Dee to cast horoscopes – for Mary, for Philip, for their destinies, for herself.

Actually, that isn’t the reason. If you look here in the Acts of the Privy Council, you’ll discover that Mary didn’t find out about the horoscopes until two weeks after Elizabeth had been sent for to go to Hampton Court. Elizabeth was sent for so that Mary…she was kept in a small room – apart from the main royal apartments – for a few days. And then she was brought late at night by one of Mary’s gentlewomen up to see Mary in her private room. And Mary basically tells her, ‘Great, I’m pregnant, you’re out.’ She has summoned her to gloat.

The trouble is it all backfires. The minute the pregnancy is revealed to be a pseudo-pregnancy, Philip is back off to Brussels – he has no more time for Mary. This is a low point in their relationship. If you think they had a happy marriage, just think of Mary back at Whitehall afterwards scratching Philip’s picture with her fingernails and then chucking it out of the room.

That could never have been a successful reign – in the sense that if the king and queen don’t get on…And Philip was not just a consort, he was King of England. The man who sent the Spanish Armada against England in 1558 in this period was King of England. People say, ‘How did he know what to do when the Armada arrived?’ Of course he knew, he’d been in the Tower loads of times. He knew everything about defences. He brought England into the war against France in 1557. He was in charge of the army. Of course he knew!

But so Mary is…She brings Elizabeth in to gloat, but of course it doesn’t work. And then there’s another rebellion – the so-called Ashton-Dudley Plot. It’s another small coup, but again it’s to put Elizabeth on the throne. Did Elizabeth know about any of this? She said, ‘Of course I don’t’ – bit like Peter Mandelson when there’s a leak that appears in the papers…or indeed William Cecil, when he was leaking things that Elizabeth didn’t want to be published, but…he wanted to get out; or Thomas Cromwell , when he did the same to Henry VIII. This was a very sophisticated age. Did Elizabeth know? She knew not to know. Her people close to her, they knew.

But Elizabeth is once more in trouble, but Philip gets her off. Why? Because when Mary sent for her to gloat – and she is being basically given the third degree by her sister in that private room – late that night, Philip, like Polonius, is hiding behind the arras. And he sees this girl and he says, ‘Right-oh, I can do business with her. Maybe I’ll marry her, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll put one of my sidekicks – as indeed becomes the plan, Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, but basically I can do business with this woman.’ And he protects her. He enrages his wife for the rest of the reign protecting Elizabeth’s claim to the succession. And Mary tries once more, like Edward, to exclude her half-sister in favour of her great friend Margaret Douglas – who’d married the Earl of Lennox who we met before – but it doesn’t work. And Elizabeth does become queen.

[Shows an image] That is another fake – Elizabeth in her coronation robes. Yes, she wore coronation robes. They looked just like that. We know this, because they’re fully described in Lord Chamberlain’s records – again, in LC 2, they’re described here. She looked like that… That painting is posthumous. The earliest it could have been done is 1601. It’s probably done after her death. It wasn’t customary to do a coronation portrait. This is the first one and it’s done after Elizabeth’s death. …If you’re an expert in art history, you’ll know there is an earlier illuminated manuscript which has a miniature which looks rather similar – but it’s probably about 1577.

And we also know – but not from the painting, but from the manuscripts here in the Lord Chamberlain’s records – that these were Mary’s coronation robes, altered so that the bodice is tighter and frankly looks sexier. That’s why that was done – and also the sleeves were made more elaborate. But this is Mary’s coronation robe, translated as they put it – that means altered, translated means altered.

Was this for reasons of expense? Of course it wasn’t. They spent a fortune on Elizabeth’s coronation – no expense was spared. She got her own back. She wore her half-sister’s coronation robes to gloat. ‘I’ve got there now’. Of course – having become queen – she faced exactly the same problem that Henry had predicted in the Glass of Truth. Should she marry, should she not? Should she marry a subject? That was the problem with Dudley. He was already married and he was a subject.

What I just want to leave with you with is: was that what Elizabeth really looked like? Of course it wasn’t. That’s what she looked like in 1560 [shows an image]. That’s a very, very rare image of Elizabeth as she really looked like, before her image was controlled by the equivalent of Saatchi and Saatchi in 1563 [laughter]. That’s what she looked like. How do we know for sure she was already queen? Do you see this hatched background? The paint’s faded – it’s the cloth of the state, it’s the cloth that was behind the throne. And how do I know that? Because in a later version of a painting of the family of Henry VIII, which Elizabeth had done in 1572 and gave as a gift to Sir Francis Walsingham [shows an image] – can you see it there? So that’s how we know what Elizabeth looked like.

But of course, the story of Elizabeth’s reign is precisely the story of the dilemma that Henry had foreseen in that preface to the Glass of Truth: should she marry, should she not. What would’ve happened if you’d married a husband? What happened to Mary, Queen of Scots, when she married Lord Darnley? What happened to Jane Grey when she became Queen and she was in the Tower – because that was the safest place to be when she became…she was in the royal apartments of the Tower. What happens? This guy, Guildford Dudley, he comes to her and he says, ‘Great, now I’m king’. And…she says, ‘No you’re not. The most I’m going to do is make you a duke.‘ We know this from a manuscript not here, but in the Escorial just outside Madrid. ‘The most I’m going to do is make you a duke.’ ‘Right’, he says, ‘I’m going on a sex strike.’ Okay, uh-huh, uh-huh, is what we think – no sex, no succession, no heir. And the Earls of Pembroke and Arundell have to intervene to calm this…

That’s one of the great might-have-beens in history. If you were a woman monarch in the 16th century – if you were indeed a daughter of Henry VIII – you were damned if you did and you were damned if you didn’t.

Thank you very much [applause].

Transcribed as part of a volunteer project by Emily Duis, March 2015