Wednesday, April 27, 2011

History of England Part Six

Henry VIII died in 1547.  He had three legitimate children, two girls and a boy.  Not much to show for all those marriages and fights with the Pope.

His son was sickly and only reigned a few years.  Historians have almost nothing to say about him so he seems to have been a real zero.

Next up is Mary, the daughter from marriage number one.  Perhaps nursing a bit of a grudge from her shabby treatment Mary ruled with a very heavy hand.  Henry had banned Catholicism and started the Church of England.  Mary reversed this and had quite a number of heretics burned at the stake.  Remembered as “Bloody Mary” you may have unknowingly toasted her a time or two, although the origins of the name as it applies to hootch are the subject of some debate.  She was unhappy in life, love and work and died after only five years of turbulent rule.

This brought to the throne a certain Elizabeth, daughter of Ann Boleyn.  One of the most competent and beloved rulers of England she reigned from 1558 to 1603.

Elizabeth was not liked by the Catholic powers of Europe.  She was a woman.  She brought back the Church of England.  And in contrast to her father, who for reasons of state married almost anything in skirts, Elizabeth for reasons of state remained single.

The name of the new colony of Virginia reflects this presumptive status.

England was a relatively poor nation at the time, what with Spain in particular raking in the profits of the New World.  But she used what resources she had prudently, among other things covertly supporting rebels on land and privateers on sea to harass her enemies.

Eventually things came to a head over cousin Mary, and Spain decided to invade England and install a right thinking, Catholic ruler with the appropriate chromosomal makeup.

This Mary was Mary Queen of Scots. 

Henry VIII had a sister who was married off to the king of Scotland.  The grand daughter of this union, Mary, became Queen of Scotland at the age of one week.  She had an interesting life.  She was married for a while to the king of France.  When he died she came home to Scotland and married a man who was such a dud that she connived with a guy who arranged to have her house blown up with hubby in it.  After that she kept scheming away to the point that her son banned her and she had to flee Scotland and seek refuge with her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary Q of S was a staunch Catholic and continued to plot with Spanish agents to have Elizabeth deposed so she could take the English throne.  Eventually Liz had her beheaded.

As befits a queen, Mary showed up at her own execution dressed to the nines.  Legend has it that at her beheading two odd things happened.  The executioner by tradition is supposed to hold up the severed head and say “Thus perish all traitors!”.  Well, the poor guy, grabbed the stray noggin, lifted it up….and was only holding a wig!  Then a miniature dog that nobody had noticed ran out from under the voluminous red skirts of the deceased and started yapping.  While this is probably not the origins of micro canines as accessories for fashionistas it is certainly an early example.

Oh yes, the Spanish Armada.   Didn’t go well from the Spanish perspective.  The English were better sailors and had better guns.  They also had the wind in their favor.  Quite a few Spanish ships were sunk, the others driven off.  This not only ensured the continued reign of Good Queen Bess, it basically opened up access for England to the New World now that Spanish sea power could not keep them out.

The reign of Elizabeth was one of those golden eras for England.  They were a rising power busily establishing overseas colonies and trading posts that would be the foundation of future prosperity.  There was a minimum of dynastic discord.  And culturally you had Spenser and Shakespeare. 

When Elizabeth died in 1603 the crown went to pretty much the only living relative with a geneology that could be stretched to justify it….James, the son of Mary Queen of Scots.  So all that plotting on her part sort of worked out after all.

James was a bit of a sour puss, and was never popular.  Who could be after Elizabeth.  He is remembered largely for the King James bible which was commissioned during his reign.  Oh, and for being the target of the Gunpowder Plot where discontented folks supported by Spanish agents filled the cellar of Parliament with barrels of gunpowder and tried to blow up king and Commons all at once.

A guy named Guy Fawkes* was caught red handed and confessed under torture.  A general reaction to Catholic influence occurred and the Church went underground.

Guido doing something or other down in the basement

*His name might have actually been Guido Fawkes.  Or under torture he might have been making stuff up.  But Guido Fawkes Day would also have a nice ring to it…..

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