Saturday, June 21, 2008

Question from Sara - Who was Henry's heir between May 1536 and Oct. 1537

I do a lot of reading on the Tudors, and yesterday while I was reading "The Lady Elizabeth" by Alison Weir, there was a passage where Elizabeth told her father she wanted to be King and he got mad at her, and said that even though she was his heir, she wouldn't be King.

Now, this was after Anne Boleyn's execution, I think, and I wondered, after her mother's execution, was Elizabeth really the heir to the throne? Both her and Mary were named illegitimate and therefore unable to inherit the throne, and the only one left was Henry Fitzroy, who was also illegitimate.

So between the period of May 1536 to October 1537, who really was the heir? Elizabeth, despite her bastard status? Or did the Council just ignore the question and hope that Jane Seymour would have a child soon? I would appreciate any answers.

3 comments:

PhD Historian said...

Henry VIII's first daughter, Mary Tudor, was declared illegitimate and barred from the succession under the first Act for the Succession, passed by Parliament in March 1534. She remained barred from the succession until the third Act for the Succession was passed in 1544, and remained legally illegitimate until Parliament passed a legitimating act in late 1553.

Elizabeth was declared illegitimate in the summer of 1536 through passage of the second Act for the Succession, and was simultaneously barred from the succession. Like Mary, she remained barred until 1544 and passage of the third Act. And like Mary, she remained illegitimate under the terms of the second Act, though unlike her sister, Elizabeth did not seek a legitimating act from Parliament at the start of her own reign in 1558.

From the passage of the second Act in July 1536 until the birth of Jane Seymour's son Edward in early October 1537, Henry VIII had no legal direct lineal heir to the throne. Once Queen Jane's pregnancy was known, her unborn child would have been the de facto heir, however, though subject to successful delivery.

One might engage in counterfactual historical speculation and wonder, however, what might have happened had Henry died either before Jane became pregnant or before Edward was born. In the first circumstance, it is highly likely that a large faction would have supported Mary's right to the throne, as many still considered her the rightful heir, despite the Act for the Succession. There were also collateral heirs, mostly male, who might have been put forward by rival factions, especially young Edward Courtenay. In any event, there would almost certainly have been some degree of political unrest and perhaps a bit of civil warfare until one faction won out over the others.

Had Henry died after Jane was known to be pregnant, it is possible that a regency council may have been established under the Seymours, not unlike the council put in place after Henry's actual death in 1547. The crown would then have been held in an interregnum for whatever child Jane delivered, perhaps with Jane Seymour acting as Regent. A scenario very similar to that of a pregnant but widowed queen acting as Regent pending successful delivery of her child-heir was actually considered by Edward VI in his own Devise for the Succession (June 1553), though he allowed for any one of his female cousins (especially Francis Brandon Grey or any of her three daughters) to serve as Regent with an interregnal council should any of those women prove to be pregnant at the time of his death.

But because such circumstances would have been highly unusual and anxiety producing, it is again likely that political unrest and some level of civil warfare would have broken out as various factions sought access to and control over a vacant or infant crown. Successions in early modern England were always most stable when they passed to an adult male heir, or even a female adult heir.

kb said...

Don't forget that Margaret Douglas, daughter of Henry VIII's elder sister Margaret was sometime heir to the throne. And according to a few sources [ODNB] was considered heiress presumptive during the time in question. She was considered so close to the throne that her secret engagement to Thomas Howard was viewed by Henry 8 as Howard angling for the throne. in 1537, as a result of their engagement, she was held prisoner at the monastery of Syon until two days before Howard's death in the Tower (late 1537)

She was also considered heiress presumptive during Mary I's reign pending the much hoped for royal birth.

Margaret and Mary were four months apart in age and spent time together at court as well as at Mary's household Beaulieu in the early 1530s.

asher said...

Henry Fitzroy was also alive during this time; had Henry VIII somehow died during the brief period between the Act of Attainder against Anne Boleyn and the death of Fitzroy, he would have been the logical claimant.