Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Question from Chantal - Elizabeth's legitimacy, etc.

I am a sophmore in highschool, and I am writing a research paper on the rivarly for the throne of England between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.
My questions are: Was the annulment of the marriage between Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon legitimate?
Was Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn legitimate?
Was Elizabeth's claim to the throne legitimate?


PhD Historian said...

Rather than answer your question for you, I'm going to give you some suggestions about how you might research the questions and form your own opinion. First, you might want to be certain that you fully understand the meaning of "legitimate" in this context (check a good dictionary if you need to). Then do a little background reading to discover for yourself what English law had to say on each issue at the time it occurred. A very great deal has been written about each of your questions, so a little reading - even in your class textbooks - should very quickly help you decide for yourself what the answer to each question might be ... and to argue in your research paper WHY you have answered as you did. What happened in Parliament around the time of Henry VIII's annulment and re-marriage to Anne Boleyn? What old laws were voided and what new laws passed? How did those changes affect Henry's plans? Was Henry obeying the laws in place at the time he did what he did? What laws were passed before Henry's death regarding the succession to the throne in the future? Was Elizabeth's claim to the throne consistent with those laws, or did it violate them in some way?
Hope this helps.

kb said...

I am also impressed with your focus on legitimacy. All three of your questions focus on this very abstract and changeable concept.

Legitimacy is a characteristic of power, which in turn is only possible when the group acknowledges that power. In other words, legitimacy, despite being about 'lawfulness' is mostly about acceptance by others.

SO, you also might want to think about re-phrasing your questions; Was the annulment of the marriage between Henry VIII ad Katherine of Aragon accepted? By whom? By most?

Was Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn accepted?

Was Elizabeth's claim to the throne accepted?

You might want to look at how Mary I felt about her legitimacy. This is from an essay to be published later this year that touches on this subject.

Once on the throne, Mary and Elizabeth were widely acknowledged as legitimate rulers, despite their father’s changeable attitude towards their birth-legitimacy, through the right of succession. In addition, Mary emphasized her legitimacy with the Act Concerning Regal Power passed at the start of her reign in 1554. Having never doubted the legitimacy of her own birth, despite her parents’ wrangling over the ‘King’s Great Matter’, she made sure Parliament acknowledged her legitimacy to rule by affirming that she had all the powers of a king – even though she was a woman. Elizabeth I, succeeding her sister, did not feel the need for an additional gender-specific act.

If you're feeling adventurous you could look at Mortimer Levine's "Tudor Dynastic Problems, 1460-1571" (1971). He has chapters on Mary and Elizabeth and the succession issues surrounding both. This might be a challenging text but it's fairly well respected.

Good luck with your project and let us know what you think after you've done some more research. To this day historians are arguing these questions.

Foose said...

You could also look at the way that accusations of bastardy had shaped the English succession and facilitated the emergence of the Tudors, perhaps making Henry VIII extra-conscious of the need to have a valid heir from a valid marriage -- and to define it through legal instruments other than canon law. Henry's mother and her siblings were all bastardized by Richard III because of an alleged impediment to their parents' marriage, but were later relegitimized; Richard III also accused his brother Edward IV of being a bastard in order to bolster his own claim to the throne; Margaret of Anjou's son Edward was widely alleged to be a bastard; and the ambiguous status of the Beauforts (bastards legitimized, but ineligible to succeed to the throne, but there was a case for their eligibility as well) exercised a number of minds.

I honestly think Henry was influenced to a certain degree by his mother's situation -- bastardized because her parent's marriage was alleged to be invalid. His daughter Mary's position as heir, already weak because of her sex, might also be challenged by the fact of her mother's previous marriage; if the French envoys did question her legitimacy, as some sources allege they did, it might have set off great alarm-bells in Henry's head.

Her grandmother's life-story might have influenced Mary in her stubbornness, too; she might have thought that if she held out long enough her legitimacy, too, would eventually be restored.

Anonymous said...

The answers are probably no, no and no, but because Henry was the King, and because he 'broke with Rome', he was allowed to do what he wanted, whether it was legal or not. This meant that his marriage to Anne Boleyn was invaild and therefore made Elizabeth a bastard, but that didn't matter because in Henry's world it was legal, so very few people questionned it. If you want to know more, you should read or see 'The Other Boleyn Girl', which is about the end of Catherine's marriage and the beginning of Anne's.

Anonymous said...

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