Monday, January 8, 2018

Reginald Pole and the Papal Conclave of 1550

Reginald Pole
Cardinal, Archbishop, & almost Pope
Reginald Pole is possibly best known for daring to reprimand King Henry VIII with his De Unitate, in which Pole strongly protested the Tudor king’s break from Rome. It was a brave stance to take and resulted in Henry tasking Cromwell with hiring assassins to rid him of the troublesome cardinal. Clearly, these efforts were unsuccessful, because in 1549, shortly following Henry’s death, Reginald was a favorite to fill the role of pope after the death of Pope Paul III.

Cardinal Pole may have had royal blood flowing through his veins (his mother was Margaret Pole, daughter of George of Clarence), but he believed firmly in attending to whatever work God intended for him rather than seeking out his own glory. At a time when papal positions were lobbied and bribed for, he declined to actively seek the highest office. Instead, Reginald refused to campaign even as Inquisitors worked to blacken his name and factions within Rome took advantage of his inaction. Despite his lack of ambition, Pole missed being elected by only one vote.

Pope Paul III had been elected in 1534 to lead the Counter Reformation. His predecessor, Clement VII, had struggled to cope with his role as nations fell away at an increasing rate from Rome, a catastrophe that none before him had been forced to manage. Clement was indecisive and ineffective, as evinced by the sacking of Rome during his tenure. Before Clement, Adrian VI, had hoped to reconcile with Martin Luther and his followers, but by the time Paul was elected it was deemed necessary to change tactics. Cardinal Pole believed strongly in discussion and reconciliation between reformists and Catholics, and it was this open-mindedness that led to charges of heresy against him.

However, in 1549, Pole was considered the natural choice to lead Rome. Bankers, who openly took wagers on the outcome of the sacred process, placed Pole’s chances of obtaining the papal tiara between 90-95%. When Pope Paul died on November 10, 1549, forty-nine cardinals attended the conclave, which lasted an arduous seventy-two days, to elect his successor. During this time, the cardinals resided in hastily built wooden cells that were set up in the Sistine Chapel and other halls of the Vatican.

Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Henry II of France were each determined to see their own man elected. Reginald Pole was the choice of neither. While not a first choice, Reginald was said to be acceptable to Charles V, who shared Pole’s interest in continuing discussions that could lead to compromise with German Lutherans. Accepted by Imperials and esteemed by his fellow cardinals, Pole’s chances seemed good. Alessandro Farnese, who would go on to participate in several more controversial papal conclaves, called for a public vote believing that a majority would select the highly respected Pole if votes were not secret.

Instead, a secret vote was held in the Pauline Chapel on December 3, 1549. When the first two votes brought Pole up just short of the number he needed, the Imperialists pressed to continue before additional French cardinals could arrive, but Pole refused to be a part of this. Confidence in him remained high enough that Papal vestments were tailored for him.

Giovanni del Monte
Pope Julius III
On the third vote, Reginald was expected to gain the required votes. When he again fell short, it was determined that Giovanni del Monte, who had been expected to vote for him, had chosen not to due to a minor breach in etiquette, and three others held back with him. By the end of the conclave, the other cardinals would learn that del Monte had a very different plan in mind.

Although Pole seemed the clear choice to many, others saw flaws with the potential of his papacy for a variety of reasons. First, Reginald was not Italian. He was a close blood relation of England’s Tudors, and this was not seen by everyone as a strength. Second, he was young. At age forty-five, he had the potential for a very long reign indeed. Finally, there were some who believed the charges of heresy against him and were afraid they would be electing a reformer to Saint Peter’s chair.

After weeks of political intrigue, bribes, and negotiations, the conclave elected Giovanni del Monte on February 8, 1550. He was considered a compromise candidate and no one’s ideal choice. Sixty-three years old at the time of his election, Pope Julius III lived only five more years. By the time of del Monte’s death, Reginald Pole was serving in England where he became Queen Mary I’s Archbishop of Canterbury in 1556, two years before his death.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Fate of Kings and Its Relevance to Our Times

I am excited to welcome Mark Stibbe to my blog today to introduce his new release, The Fate of Kings. Studying history is a passion of mine that I can see Mark shares. His novel may take place in the late 18th century, but it is easy to see how the themes are applicable to modern times. As President Harry S Truman once said, 'The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know.' Are you wondering how the era of William Pitt the Younger might give insight to the politics of today? Read on.

~ Samantha

Guest Post by Mark Stibbe

The setting of The Fate of Kings in many ways couldn’t be more topical. The story focuses upon a fictional Vicar, Thomas Pryce, who becomes enrolled in the nascent British Secret Service, formed in 1793. That year had many parallels with our own unsettling times.

In the winter of 1792, the parliament of William Pitt the Younger was faced with issues related to immigration and terror. Thousands of refugees were pouring into Britain, escaping from the guillotine in France. In December of that year, four thousand emigrés entered the country, appalled by the massacres and decapitations in the cities of their brutalised nation. Britain welcomed these men, women and children with open arms.

However, as it turned out, peoples’ arms were a little too open.

Pitt soon realised that among these legitimate fugitives were French agents and assassins, hell-bent on destroying the foundations of British society. He rushed through an Act of Parliament at the start of 1793 (the Alien Act), designed to filter the wheat from the chaff. He also set up the Alien Office under William Wickham. This created a network of urban magistrates tasked with identifying and interrogating suspected terrorists among the desperate fugitives. Pitt even had Habeas Corpus suspended for a while so these potential Terror-ists could be held longer and questioned more rigorously. This is interestingly what formally launched the British Secret Service.

The first of the Thomas Pryce adventures, The Fate of Kings, is set within this turbulent time. Pryce, the newly enrolled (fictional) Vicar of St Leonard’s Upper Deal, is ideally suited to become an agent. Not only does his life as a clergyman provide a perfect cover, his ability to speak French fluently makes him a most unusual and accomplished asset.

This doesn’t mean that Pryce and his spymaster William Wickham go to work in an unquestioning way. Pryce faces a faith-eroding dilemma during the first story. On Sundays, in his public role, he declares the Ten Commandments, including ‘Thou Shalt Do no Murder.’ In the week, in his private and secret role, he finds himself in predicaments where he must choose whether to kill French assassins, intent on great evil.

Wickham too wrestles with major ethical issues – issues to do with the freedoms that the British public has been used to, and the restrictions that now must be employed in the interests of national security, especially when the terror caused by massed decapitations threatens to reproduce the equivalent of the French Revolution in London and throughout Britain.

As in the 1790s, today we face the same kinds of dilemmas that caused such radical action on the part of Wickham and Pitt. We too must learn to balance mercy with discernment, compassionate action with political decisiveness. Just as Wickham had to root out ‘the spy in our midst’, so we now find ourselves forced to identify and restrain the terrorists in our midst.

The times may be different, but the issues remain strikingly similar.

And The Fate of Kings gives us a unique opportunity to learn from the past and set the course for the future.

Purchase The Fate of Kings 

Amazon US paperback or Kindle

Amazon UK paperback or Kindle

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Beaufort Dynasty?

Margaret Beaufort Coat of Arms
When Henry Tudor won the crown of England in 1485, he likely did not think he was beginning a new dynasty the way we cleanly divide the Plantagenets from the Tudors. In fact, one might wonder if he or his formidable mother might have named it a Beaufort dynasty were they to give it any label besides Lancastrian.

While Henry had inherited his Welsh surname from his father, Edmund Tudor, his claim to the English throne came through his mother, Margaret Beaufort. She was the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt through his children with Katherine Swynford who had been given the name Beaufort. During John of Gaunt's lifetime, his Beaufort children were raised up and even legitimized after he married their mother. In 1396-7, he obtained papal consent to the legitimization and convinced the king, his nephew Richard II, to recognize them by law. The Beaufort children were officially 'sprung from royal stock' and recognized as able to 'receive, hold, enjoy, and exercise, as fully, freely, and lawfully as if you were born in lawful wedlock' any 'honours, dignities, pre-eminencies, status, ranks, and offices, public and private, perpetual and temporal, feudal and noble.'

By the time Henry Tudor landed at Milford Haven, his mother was the sole remaining Beaufort heir, the male branches of the family having been rather thoroughly pruned during the Wars of the Roses. Henry claimed the crown through conquest, but his right to challenge the previous king was based upon the royal blood he inherited from his Beaufort mother.

The Beauforts had always been close to the crown - too close indeed for the York challengers to the Lancastrian throne (who incidentally also had some Beaufort blood through family matriarch Cecily Neville). After their legitimization, John of Gaunt saw his oldest Beaufort son created Earl of Somerset. However, Henry IV, though he was close to and depended heavily upon his Beaufort half-siblings, perceived that it was in his interest to limit their ability to rise. A clause was inserted into the original statute: 'excepta dignitate regali.' The Beauforts could receive, hold, and inherit titles, but not The Title. Was this amendment a legal addition to the law? At the time, it did not seem to matter. The Beaufort's loyally served their royal half-brother and his son after him, making no claim to the throne of their own though they did collect plenty of other titles and honors.

Then Henry VI was crowned as an infant after the death of his legendary father, Henry V. Then Henry VI lost everything his father had gained in France and eventually proved unable to rule a country desperately in need of a ruler. In a turn of events Henry IV could not have imagined when he stole the throne from his inept cousin, Henry VI's cousins sought to do the same.

By 1485, with royal and noble bloodlines decimated by war, Henry Tudor's Beaufort blood suddenly made his family tree one of the most prominent in the land.

If you believe rumors of Edmund Beaufort being the true father of Edmund Tudor, the argument for the Beaufort dynasty increases exponentially. When Katherine Valois became a young widow upon the death of her husband, Henry V, the infant king's council was quick to realize that anyone who married her would gain astounding power. Therefore, a fledgling romance with Edmund Beaufort was halted by sending Edmund to serve in France. Katherine soon married Owen Tudor instead, but rumors persist to this day that Edmund, not Owen, was the father of Edmund Tudor, Katherine's eldest son after King Henry.

While this makes a great case for renaming the Tudors as Beauforts, it takes more than a little hope and imagination to believe that Edmund Tudor was recognized by all of the highest ranking men of the land as a Tudor and never believed to be a Beaufort if he really was one (unlike Henry VI's son who some did claim to be a Beaufort bastard rather than royal prince). Surely, someone - for example Margaret Beaufort's acquisitive mother - would have pointed out that Edmund was of Beaufort stock if there was any reason to think that he was.

Henry's mother was justifiably proud of her Beaufort heritage and her son's relationship to King Henry VI through her Tudor husband, who was his half-brother. Margaret was a staunch Lancastrian, striving for years to see Henry receive his birthright from York kings who left him in exile, so she likely would have considered his reign a return to the Lancastrian branch of the Plantagenet royal family. It did not take long, however, for the name Tudor to go down in history.

Additional Reading:
Margaret Beaufort: Mother of the Tudor Dynasty by Elizabeth Norton
The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown by Nathen Amin

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Reformation Day!

Today is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. Alright, maybe Luther didn't really do that, but one thing is certain. When Martin Luther questioned the practices of the Catholic Church in his 'Disputation on the Power of Indulgences,' he started a movement that became far more than he bargained for.

If you have been following my blog, you probably already know that I am Lutheran, so experiencing an anniversary like this is a once in a lifetime event. My family and I traveled to Wittenberg over the summer to see the very places Martin Luther lived, preached, and stirred up trouble! You can take your own virtual trip to Wittenberg here.

I am also at EHFA today blogging about Martin Luther and his interactions with Henry VIII.

Happy Reformation Day!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Henry Tudor's Claim to England's Throne

Portrait of young Henry Tudor
by Musee Calvet
It is often said that Henry Tudor did not have a strong claim to the throne when he took it in 1485. However, he was quick to publicize his three-prong claim in the hopes that people not convinced by one reason would willingly accept another. With many of the branches of the Plantagenet family tree rather thoroughly pruned during the decades of the Wars of the Roses, it is somewhat surprising just how good Henry's claim was.

Tudor's strongest claim was through conquest. Regardless of the semi-royal bloodline that we will discuss next, Henry Tudor marched into England and killed its king. Richard III had left behind his heir, John de la Pole, and a few other nephews and the like, but it doesn't really matter because he was defeated on the field. While we sometimes minimize this claim, people of the time did not. John de la Pole did not fight Tudor (at least not at first), but served him, as did most noble sons of the era who could match their king's pedigree with family trees reaching back to Edward III.

Yet, Henry could also trace his ancestry back to the legendary king, and this was the second prong of his claim. Henry's mother, Margaret, was the heiress of the Beaufort line descended from John of Gaunt, which was legitimized in 1399. The Beauforts had suffered heavy losses during the Wars of the Roses in support of the Lancastrian king, Henry VI. Debate over which Plantagenet branch held a superior claim to the throne had begun as soon as Henry Bolingbroke took the crown from his cousin, Richard II. Unknowingly, Henry IV set the precedent that the crown could be taken by whichever family member was most able, rather than the one who inherited it, and his descendants suffered for it. Confusion over whether a female line should be considered and reluctance to crown children with greater claims than capable adults added fuel to the debate long before Tudor made his claim, causing bloodline alone to be a shaky foundation.

Henry VI
In addition to his mother being the great granddaughter of John of Gaunt, Henry's father was half-brother to the king, Henry VI. Edmund Tudor's blood was decidedly not royal, but his father had married Catherine Valois after the death of her first husband, Henry V. While Catherine could not pass on any right to inherit England's crown to the children of her second marriage, it could not hurt that Henry could call the Lancastrian king his uncle.

Henry Tudor understood that others could match his pedigree, so he planned to take a wife whose status was unquestioned and whose popularity was well-known. When he married Elizabeth of York, Tudor had already established that he took his position in his own right. However, uniting England under the joint heirs of Lancaster and York was a brilliant political move. Those who did not believe in Tudor's claim were likely to support him for the sake of his wife. The union went far toward securing peace and acquiescence to Tudor rule. By timing the wedding when he did (after his own coronation), Tudor ensured that Elizabeth strengthened his claim rather than making it her own.

The fact of the matter is that anyone who might have made a grasp for the throne of England by 1485 had just as questionable of a claim as Henry Tudor. That is precisely how the Wars of the Roses began in the first place with York proposing that their line was superior to that of the sitting Lancastrian king. With so many noble sons dying on the field and disagreements on just which Plantagenet heirs had superior claims for almost a century before Tudor's victory, a claim of bloodline alone was simply not sufficient to bring about peace.