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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Elizabeth of York on Henry's Great Matter

The Family of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York
I am frequently asked what I believe Elizabeth of York would have thought of her son's Great Matter, which welcomed the Reformation to England though that was far from Henry VIII's intent. As a woman who clung to her faith during turbulent times and who chose peace at great personal cost, how would Elizabeth have advised her son when he planned to rid himself of Katherine of Aragon? It is not a simple question, and, of course, I cannot answer it with certainty, but I can share my thoughts.

Elizabeth's opinions on events that occurred outside her lifetime can be difficult to guess because there are important issues that she did live through that remain mysteries. We do not know how she felt about Richard III or if she plotted to assist Henry Tudor in coming to power. We do not know how she felt about Perkin Warbeck or if she thought he might be her brother, Richard Duke of York. She kept her ideas about the controversies of the day close and submitted to her husband, Henry VII, as she saw as her duty.

The Family of Henry VIII
Henry VIII inherited the devotion to the Catholic faith that his parents shared. However, he also became a man who always expected to get what he wanted. When he formed the Church of England and broke with Rome, the faith that he created was Catholicism with himself as the Head of the Church in place of the pope. Protestants would continue to be punished for their heretical ideas until Henry's son, Edward VI, took the throne. What would Elizabeth have thought of this act?

On one hand, Elizabeth understood the importance of an heir. The disappearance of her brothers is what cleared the way for her to become queen with the first Tudor king at her side. She risked her own life to bear another child when Prince Arthur died, leaving Henry an only son. Elizabeth would have understood that it was a precarious position to leave the kingdom with a single young girl as heir. Elizabeth had never put forth her own right to the crown over her husband's. Would she have fought for the rights of Princess Mary?

Katherine of Aragon
Even though Elizabeth would have believed that her son would be better off with more children, she may have accepted the situation as God's will. After living through extraordinary times, Elizabeth was accustomed to leaning on her faith and accepting that worldly matters do not always turn out the way we think they should. I believe it would be difficult to convince her of the necessity of setting Katherine aside. It is very possible that Elizabeth would have been just as vehement that Katherine was Henry's true wife as Katherine was.

If Elizabeth could have been convinced that Henry really did require a more fertile wife, I still believe that she would have been horrified by his decision to break with Rome. The very idea would have been more shocking than we can imagine to almost any monarch who ruled before Henry VIII. The pope was God's representative on earth and the final authority in all matters. For Henry to set himself up as equal or above him would have been blasphemy to his mother. She may have been convinced to encourage Katherine to retire to a nunnery, but I do not believe Elizabeth of York would have ever supported her son's more extreme measures.

Would the Church of England have been formed if Elizabeth had still been alive? Would Henry have listened to his mother to any greater degree than he took the advice of anyone else who did not tell him what he wanted to hear? That may be speculation that is beyond me, but I can fairly confidently state that Elizabeth of York would have opposed her son's actions and at least attempted to steer him along a different path.

Elizabeth of York
I would like to think that Elizabeth would have seen possibilities for her granddaughter that had not existed for herself and that Henry would have been convinced that Princess Mary was a more than adequate heir, especially with the right husband at her side. Surely, the Reformation would have made it to England one way or another, but maybe the Dissolution of the Monasteries could have been erased. History might have missed out on Queen Elizabeth I, but maybe the reign of a happily married Queen Mary I would have been much more peaceful. Maybe Henry would have gone on to have a son after Katherine naturally departed this world instead of tearing the kingdom apart to make way for Anne Boleyn.

Or maybe Henry would have completely ignored his mother and done whatever he wanted anyway. But it is fun to think of the possibilities.

23 comments:

  1. Nice article, Samantha! Like you said, he probably wouldn't have listened, but I do agree that she wouldn't have approved. Not only for all the reasons you stated, but she and Catherine of Aragon were very close themself. But I don't think Henry would have gone so far as to punish her mother or anything.

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    1. Thank you, Kirsten. It was fun to hypothesize about it a bit. I have great respect for those who write alternate history because thinking of what-ifs makes my head spin!

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    2. If he killed anne,who he tore his kingdom apart for, who wouldn't he kill? Nobody was safe with Henry.

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    3. True, Helen. Maybe he would have simply sent his mother away as he did with poor Katherine.

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    4. Samantha i know this sounds awful but i honestly think he would have had EOY put to death had she spoken,up. Margaret Beaufort too.

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  2. I dread to think what his grandmother Margaret Beaufort would have made of it! - lol

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  3. Fantastic article! I agree with you. I think she would’ve been horrified but accepting, as she was taught to be.

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    1. Wasnt EOY basically a doormat?

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    2. "Doormat"?!? I prefer to think Elizabeth of York had a quiet strength and resilience that helped her get through a lot. A woman who chooses to be politically inactive is not a "doormat".

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    3. I agree, Kirsten. EoY lived in a very different time and she used what power she had in an unobtrusive way. Without her support, Henry Tudor would have had much greater difficulty being accepted by the English people.

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  4. Sorry I phrased my question poorly. I just was under the impression EOY did very little.

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    1. You didn't offend and sorry for the attitude. It's no problem. She did do a lot for her children, and did everything a Queen should do in terms of helping the poor. Sorry for snarkiness.

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    2. No worries thanks for clarifying.

      My favorite queen consort is eleanor of aquitaine.

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  6. Samantha do uou think Mary I would have done any of Elizabeth's accomplishments? I do think ib spite of Elizabeth's cruel side we are still better off for having had her rule England.

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    1. It's so difficult to say. Elizabeth was a clever politician, where Mary certainly was not. I do feel that she would have eventually stood up to Philip in the same way, despite being married to him.

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    2. Because when it came down to it, Mary was as passionate about her kingdom as Elizabeth was.

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