Thursday, June 12, 2008

Question from Liz - The most "violent" of the Tudors

I was wondering who was the most "violent" of the Tudor monarchs? I know that Mary earned the nickname "Bloody Mary" but I know that Henry VIII put many people to death. I was wondering how many people were put to death during everyone's reign? I think that history has a negative view of Mary, but "The Queen's Fool" by Philippa Gregory presents another side of her. I was hoping that I could find statistics or contemporary opinions of each monarch's reign?



Elizabeth M. said...

I suppose you could cast a vote for Henry VII. He took on and defeated Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth in order to gain his crown. His son Arthur's proposed marriage to Catherine of Aragon met with a snag when her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella, worried about the stability of the Tudor regime, insisted on the execution of the Earl of Warwick. This young man, Edward Plantagenet, was the son of George, Duke of Clarence and Isabel neville, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker. His sister, Margaret, went down in history as Margaret Pole, later horribly butchered under the reign of henry VIII. Young Warwick was kept prisoner in the Tower of London from 1485 until his death in 1499. Ferdinand and Isabella were worried about his presence, whether in confinement or not, as a possible focal point for rebellion. Two other "claimants" to the throne, Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel, both posing as Richard Duke of York, one of the Princes In the Tower, had caused considerable trouble for Henry VI. Insisting that a possible pretender to the throne being eliminated to ensure the safety of their daughter was a request Henry VII readily complied to. Perkin Warbeck, also a prisoner in the Tower, was also executed after it was alleged he and Warwick were hatching an escape plan. It is said katherine of Aragon had feelings of guilt that she was the cause of Warwick's execution, especially after she became good friends with his sister, Margaret Pole.

PhD Historian said...

Any answer to this question is purely subjective, in my opinion. I think Elizabeth M. makes an interesting suggestion that few people consider, and she backs it up with a very reasonable argument. Henry VII WAS somewhat ruthless in securing his throne and did personally insist on the execution of a number of people (though Lambert Simnel was pardoned, not executed). But how does one define "violent monarch"? Capital punishment was used extensively for a very large number of criminal convictions, and all justice was the king's (or queen's) justice, with the monarch always free to pardon any offender. Hundreds of people died in each of the Tudor reigns as a result of the carrying out of justice.

I prefer to look at the question as Elizabeth M has and consider those persons executed at the direct (more or less) behest of the monarch. And in that light, Henry VIII "wins," hands down. His father, Henry VII, and his daughter, Elizabeth, confined their personal vengeance to those who had either raised or supported a rebellion of one kind or another. Henry VII and Elizabeth's victims had threatened the stability of the realm, something no monarch could or should tolerate. Their actions were justified, at least in the terms of their era.

Henry VIII's eldest daughter, Mary, is known as "Bloody Mary" largely because of the executions carried out in her reign and intended to restore and maintain the Roman Catholic Church in England. They number a couple of hundred persons, but I would argue that the majority of these were initiated and carried out by the church courts, and not at Mary's direct order (with the notable exception of the Edwardian bishops executed in the first year of her reign).

Henry VIII, on the other hand, had a large number of people executed for little more than their failure to bend to his personal will. Thomas More died for failing to acknowledge Henry VIII as head of the church, as did a significant number of other people. The Duke of Buckingham died simply for being suspected of desiring the crown, not for actually rebelling. Anne Boleyn died for failing to produce a living male child. And these just three examples among many.

Henry VII, Mary, and Elizabeth largely confined their vengeance to persons who had committed actual crimes. Henry VIII sought revenge against those whom he perceived had slighted him personally, often manufacturing evidence to justify his actions. I think Henry VIII deserves the title of "most violent Tudor monarch."

Elizabeth M. said...

Henry VIII is remembered for some horrible atrocities, like the botched beheading of the elderly Margaret Pole. But there was also Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, whom Henry ordered executed in 1521 on dubious charges. Supposedly, the Duke made utterances about Henry's possible death--forecasting the King's death was considered treason. But the real motive in his execution was probably the fact that he was Henry's first cousin once removed, a son of Katherine Wydeville, sister to henry's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth Wydeville. He was later to execute Henry Courtenay, Marquess of Exeter, another first cousin (his mother being Katherine Plantagenet, sister of Henry's mother Elizabeth of York). Again, the charges were dubious, and Courtenay's only real crime was his Plantagenet blood. He kept Courtenay's young son imprisoned in the Tower for years, and the young man was only freed by Queen Mary. When Henry ordered the execution of old Margaret Pole, he effectively neutralized any familial threats to his throne, and did so in a ruthless manner.
As a person absolutely fascinated by Anne Boleyn, I will also add that in my opinion, her execution amounted to judicial murder on Henry's part.

Sara said...

Also, I think you could look at the actual personalities of the person to see how "violent" they were. While Mary killed many people, she was generally kind-hearted, while Henry VIII could be very angry and lash out at people, especially in later years, and this is also why he was responsible for so many deaths without any good reason.

Elizabeth M. said...

Sara, that is a very good point. Queen Mary was supposed to be a kind-hearted woman, and the burnings of the Protestants were on her part not done out of personal maliciousness, but because she truly believed in the belief in the doctrine of the Catholic church at the time that burning was the way to deal with heretics. She was reluctant to execute lady Jane Grey, and only did so when she had no choice. Had she executed Jane's father after Dudley's ill-fated power grab, Wyatt's later rebellion would have lost some umph without him.
Similarly, Queen Elizabeth disliked executing people, her personal mental anguish at having to sign the death warrants of the fourth Duke of Norfolk and Mary, Queen of Scots so attests.

Eternal said...

Henry VIII for sure. Between his wars and atrocities, not to mention a couple of unlucky wives, he caused directly or triggered many many deaths due to his divorce and the subsequent religious wars. And the religious question still was causing issues 150 years later under William and Mary's rule, in England and in Ireland.

Michelle said...

I think that King Henry VIII was probably the most violent of Elizabeth I, King Henry VII, and Mary. Henry VII had many people killed out of personal gain, and not for the better of England, while the other three rulers had people killed for what they believed would better England and their rule of the country.

Brenda Zolli said...

I have been reading a lot about the Tudors. I think Mary is much maligned. She went from being a well educated, lively and engaging princess in her youth, with expectations of being queen, to an abandoned child of 15, stripped of her title and separated from her mother , with whom she was close. She was forced to put up with a malicious stepmother and many indignities
Yes there were over 200 deaths during her short reign, and ghastly ones at that, but her father is said to have put 72,000 people to death during his reign. ( I read this was chronicled by someone called Raphael Holinshed.
It may be an exaggerated number, but it was still in the thousands. Funny we refer to Mary as 'Bloody' but her father as ' Bluff King Hal'
There is very little written about the effect on the ordinary citizens on the loss of the church that was such an elemental part of their lives.They lost the familiar way of worship, the certainties inherent in the Catholic church's teaching on the eternal verities of life and death, the festivals and church feast days that provided some pleasure in what must have been a hard life on the most part. The loss of the monks and the closure of the large monasteries also meant that the sick, lepers and the dying had no one to care for them.
Mary was a sad figure in the midst of all this.

Anonymous said...

Brenda, you are right. By the way, Holinshed's history is what is called a "primary document," something written just after the events of the time, for those of you who don't know. This means, while it may have some prejudice, it is generally pretty accurate. And yes, Mary was treated very badly as a child, though Elizabeth was too. Imagine going from heir to the throne to bastard by the stroke of a pen!

I have always thought it small wonder that Elizabeth chose not to marry.

I believe Mary got the title "Bloody" because from the 1600s afterwards, the government chose to give her the title and to call her that from the pulpit. Elizabeth could be just as harsh, executing Catholics and priests. as traitors--hanging, drawing, and quartering. She is called "Good Queen Bess" because the Stuarts who followed were so awful.