Time was when you had a disagreement with another person, it was settled in ways very different from today.
For example, there used to be dueling. In the case of the unfortunate Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, there was caning. And to this day, assassination has been the last resort of the scoundrel to settle differences.
However, there was also a time when, if you were in power, you could simply have your opponents arrested. Kings and queens of England were particularly good at this tactic and today’s anniversary from the RedState Department of History details not just one but two instances where this happened.
I’m sure you know most of the story — after Henry took his brother Arthur‘s widow, Catherine of Aragon, in marriage, the couple was unable to produce a male heir and as such, Henry sought to have the marriage annulled. Pope Clement VII’s refusal to grant an annulment eventually led to Henry asserting authority over the clergy in England, leading to the creation of the Church of England.
Of course, another reason for Henry’s intransigence with the Pope was the fact that he had fallen for Boleyn, the daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard.
The two were married only five days after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, had declared Henry’s marriage to Catherine null and void. To say the marriage didn’t do well would be an understatement.
Anne was also unable to produce a male heir, at a time when there was no mechanism in place in England for a woman to rule the country. They did have a daughter, though, named Elizabeth.
However, only three years after their wedding, Anne was in the Tower of London. After miscarrying a child in 1536 which would have been a son, Henry was now more interested in Jane Seymour, who would eventually become his third wife. Anne was arrested on charges of high treason, adultery and incest, and was convicted after a trial that by today’s standards would have been an incredible farce.
So it was that on this day in 1536, Anne’s sentence was carried out in the Tower. After her arrest, she is believed to have written an extraordinary letter to her husband from the Tower, on May 6, though its authenticity has been questioned:
“Try me, good king, but let me have a lawful trial, and let not my sworn enemies sit as my accusers and judges; yea let me receive an open trial, for my truth shall fear no open flame; then shall you see either my innocence cleared, your suspicion and conscience satisfied, the ignominy and slander of the world stopped, or my guilt openly declared…but if you have already determined of me, and that not only my death, but an infamous slander must bring you the enjoying of your desired happiness; then I desire of God, that he will pardon your great sin therein, and likewise mine enemies, the instruments thereof, and that he will not call you to a strict account of your unprincely and cruel usage of me, at his general judgment-seat, where both you and myself must shortly appear, and in whose judgment I doubt not (whatsoever the world may think of me) mine innocence shall be openly known, and sufficiently cleared.”
Clearly unmoved, Henry ordered Anne’s execution. Seymour died from complications associated with childbirth and Henry would marry three more times before his own death — to Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr, who would survive him.
It was perhaps odd, but surely not unusual in that day and age, for Henry and Anne’s daughter — who of course became Queen Elizabeth I — to look over her shoulder for her own safety. It was a time of barely concealed hostility between the Catholic Church in Rome and Elizabeth’s government.
Elizabeth’s first cousin was Mary Stuart, known to history as Mary, Queen of Scots. After abdicating the throne of Scotland in 1567, she traveled to England, reportedly assuming Elizabeth would help her regain her throne. Of course, Elizabeth reacted exactly the opposite way, having Mary arrested on this day in 1568 for alleged conspiracy.
Soon afterward, an undeclared war between the English throne and the Catholic Church was in full flower. This was due in part to an extraordinary communication from Pope Pius V in 1570. Regnans in Excelsis went so far as to release Elizabeth’s subjects from their loyalty to her under pain of excommunication. It read in part:
“We charge and command all and singular the nobles, subjects, peoples and others afore said that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the like sentence of excommunication.”
Until that time, Elizabeth had not actively oppressed Roman Catholicism but the issuance of Regnans in Excelsis changed that. While the vast majority of English Catholics ignored the notice, other Roman Catholics were actively suppressed as potential enemies of the state. This made the news of the following year even more alarming.
The Ridolfi Plot of 1571 was a plan by Florentine banker Roberto Ridolfi to assassinate Elizabeth and have her replaced with Mary. The imprisoned Mary Stuart gave her assent to the plot, which also called for her to marry another of Elizabeth’s cousins, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. When Norfolk’s involvement was discovered, he was both tried and executed on the same day — June 2, 1572.
But Elizabeth had a harder time ordering the death of Mary. The two women never met face to face yet their histories are intertwined with each other. It wasn’t until 1586, when Mary’s involvement in the Babington Plot became known, that she was finally tried. This was another plot to assassinate the Queen, and Elizabeth could not abide this.
Despite her protestations that as a queen she was not accountable to any earthly court, Mary did not receive legal counsel and was not allowed to review the evidence against her. She also argued that since she was not an English subject she could not commit treason. Nevertheless, she was convicted and beheaded on February 8, 1587 — nearly nineteen years after her arrest.
So it was that the Tudor dynasty found ways to eliminate its opponents, real and perceived — through the bloodthirstiest of means.
Enjoy today’s open thread!