Henry VIII, the Reign,
Part 3 of 3
Cromwell’s downfall lent considerably more credence to the authority of the Privy Council. It next met on 10 August 1540 and was dominated by the Henry–Johnites, led by the future King Edward VI’s uncle, Edward Seymour.
Another royal progress to inspect the fortifications at Hull and an abortive meeting with the King of Scotland at York culminated in the young queen’s downfall. The sprightly teenager had committed adultery and was executed; sadly for her, she had merely been a temporary distraction from the improving fortunes of the Seymour strategy.
Within weeks of Catherine Howard’s execution, however, the Seymour enterprise was dealt a blow. The Henry–Johnites’ claim to governance came solely through the young Prince Edward. The bad news, from the Seymour perspective, arrived from Scotland. Mary of Guise was pregnant by James V of Scotland, who was the grandson of Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty. The child, a girl, was born on 8 December 1542. Six days later, her father died and she became Mary Queen of Scots.
With a French mother and the potential for a marriage to French royalty, Mary was a threat to the English monarchy. Indeed, she remained so until she was executed forty-four years later at the behest of Elizabeth I’s Privy Council.
Leading this present Privy Council, Seymour’s first move in his manoeuvring to prohibit a resurgence of French influence was to claim regal authority for England over Scotland, for which the Treaties of Greenwich were drawn up. The concept was to unite both kingdoms. The first treaty would create peace between the kingdom of England and the kingdom of Scotland. The second would ensure the marriage of the future Edward VI and Mary Queen of Scots. Mary would at first live in Scotland but in the company of an English nobleman and his wife, and then, when she reached the age of ten, she would be removed south to live in England. Later, when she was deemed old enough to marry, she would become Edward’s wife and so unite the two kingdoms.
The Scots returned from Greenwich to Scotland but in no time reneged on the agreement, and so Seymour began a war that became known as the Rough Wooing, an attempt, by force of arms, to coerce the Scots into honouring the treaties and so proceed with the marriage of Edward and Mary.
The war increased the threat of military intervention from France and the risk of Mary’s extrication there to create a marriage union with the French – as Seymour was attempting with the English royalty.
In anticipation of war, Edward Seymour’s brother, the swashbuckling Thomas, returned from abroad in early 1543. In his view, as the future king’s uncle, he was entitled to as much power and authority as his brother. In an enterprise to secure his place, this ‘man of much wit, and very little judgment’ seduced Katherine Parr, a young but thrice-married lady of the court with a Henry–Johnite ancestry. Fatefully, her third husband died weeks after Thomas’s arrival. Thus, he promised to marry Katherine upon the death of the aged king, but in the meantime he pimped her to Henry VIII. Katherine and Henry were married on 12 July 1543, and accordingly Katherine was installed to marshal the old monarch, on Seymour’s behalf, through his last years.
Thomas’s brother Edward meanwhile concentrated on military strategy against the Auld Alliance and a pact was concluded with Charles for a joint Anglo-Imperial invasion of France. Henry insisted on taking part on the pretext that he was reconquering the lost Angevin Empire, despite the physical disabilities he was experiencing.
According to Ambassador Chapuys, Henry by this time ‘had the worst legs in the world’, but nevertheless the king insisted on taking part in the war.
Seymour’s more realistic military aim was to defeat the Scottish threat by cutting off French aid. To achieve this, he set out to capture the port of Boulogne and to set up complete control, together with the English-held Calais, over the Strait of Dover. He succeeded in his aim on 13 September 1544.
Although the French launched a retaliatory attack the following summer (which famously resulted in the loss of the Mary Rose), Francis’s forces were repulsed. England kept an uneasy hold on Boulogne until late spring of 1546, and the Treaty of Ardres was signed on 5 June 1546. The treaty allowed England to keep Boulogne until 1554, by which time – so Seymour hoped – Mary Queen of Scots would be betrothed in a union to his nephew King Edward VI of England and living in a united kingdom of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
Before he could realise that ambition, however, Seymour had more to accomplish. He needed to facilitate the smooth transfer of power when Henry VIII died, which would require further strategic political manoeuvring.
A dry stamp was introduced in August 1546, which removed the necessity for the king to sign official documents.
As Henry’s health deteriorated, tensions ran high, and John Dudley was suspended from the Privy Council for punching Bishop Gardiner during a meeting.
The conservative faction, including Gardiner, was an obstacle to Seymour’s policy. Gardiner found himself tripped and then fell into a land dispute with Henry. He was consequently excluded from court and his access to the king was blocked. Father and son Thomas and Henry Howard were arrested in mid-December for treason and sent to the Tower. Henry Howard was executed in January.
The path was now clear and, when Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547, the core of the Privy Council (which Seymour had groomed from the ranks of the Henry–Johnites) ratified him as their leader and Lord Protector of the young king – contrary to the deceased king’s deathbed will.
Henry VIII, the Reign, was tumultuous, but few tears were shed for the malleable head of state’s passing. Had he lived, Henry Fitzroy would have succeeded to the throne moulded in the image of the Howards. However, Henry VIII’s surviving offspring were respectively their mothers’ children, products of the diverse politics that dictated the marriages into which the marionette king was cajoled. Edward VI was governed by the forefathers of Oliver Cromwell’s Puritanism, Mary reverted to the Roman Catholicism practised by her mother and Elizabeth then cultivated the middle way conceived from seeds sown by the influence of French kings's sister Marguerite d’Angoulême and Elizabeth’s mother, Anne de Boulogne.
But the surviving children are the subject of later reigns – yet to come.