Sunday, March 22, 2009

Question from Nikki - Mary's decision to let Elizabeth succeed her

Forgive me for not knowing this, but why did Mary decide to let Elizabeth succeed her? Wouldn't she have been too worried about her religious beliefs? Seems like Mary would've worked too hard to restore Catholicism to just let it die out again. Did Mary go back to Henry's will and the 3rd Succession Act?

(I take my Tudor's one step at a time. I'm still on Henry's wives...then I can move on to Edward, Mary and Elizabeth!)


kb said...

Interesting question. It presumes Mary's will was strong enough to carry the country even as she was dying. Who else would she have chosen? The ranks of potential heirs were thinning out. The Catholic ranks were exceptionally thin.

Margaret Clifford Stanley Lady Strange? Her claim was junior to that of the Grey sisters. She didn't have much of a power base.

Margaret Douglas Countess of Lennox had been eliminated by Henry VIII although she was considered heir apparent several times - especially in her own mind.

Henry Hastings 3rd Earl of Huntingdon was not a Tudor and was definitely not Catholic although male.

The Grey sisters would have been disastrous politically given that Mary had to overcome their elder sister's supporters to take her throne in the first place. And besides Catherine Grey's religious tendencies were convenient rather than committed.

It seems to me that Mary's only sound choice, the choice least likely to plunge the country into if not civil war at least civil unrest was Elizabeth. And I suspect Mary was enough of a politician to know this and enough of a Catholic to pray for the best.

djd said...

Also, Henry's will specified that Elizabeth was to inherit the throne after Mary. The people of England would never have accepted anyone else, similarly to when Jane Grey tried to usurp from Mary. Could monarchs change the act of succession at their will?

Elizabeth M. said...

Her logical choice, from a Catholic point of view, would have been Mary, Queen of Scots. Was it because Mary Stuart was betrothed to the French dauphin that she was named Mary Tudor's heir, since France was the traditional enemy of Spain? Or was it because of the stipulation that "foreign-born" candidates--those from Scotland--could not rule in England? Or did Mary simply comply with the will of her father, which stated if she died without issue, the crown went to Elizabeth? I have always wondered what reason was Mary Stuart was passed over.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like it fell upon Henry's will. It would sound weird to me if it was for a reason other than that. Mary knew that Elizabeth didn't want to continue Catholicism, so I am sure she saw that as a threat. As djd pointed out, maybe Mary realized there could be an uproar over naming someone other than Elizabeth. Good point, Elizabeth, about passing over Mary QoS. Hadn't thought of that!

Anonymous said...

I can't lay my hands on a source at the moment to quote, but I've always heard that Mary's husband, Philip of Spain, urged her to declare Elizabeth as her heir because he didn't want Mary of Scotland on the throne due to her connection with France. Also he thought Elizabeth would be more malleable. (Little did he know!)

Anonymous said...

DJD has it exactly right: The question was not Mary's to decide. The entire issue turned on the Third Act for the Succession and the last will and testament of Henry VIII, without reference to religion. Those two documents, one of which carried the power of Parliament and thus the presumed "voice of the people," clearly specified the order of succession, with Elizabeth to inherit after Mary, among the children of Henry VIII, without taking into account the religious beliefs of any of those heirs.

Edward VI had attempted to alter the succession established by the Act of 1544 and by his father's will, and he did so for purely religious reasons, but the attempt failed completely. The nobility and the general population favored the order of succession that Henry and Parliament had set out. I cannot imagine that any attempt to alter the succession upon Mary's death in 1558, just 5 years after Edward's attempt, would have been any more successful than it had been in 1553.

Over the entire course of the 16th and 17th centuries, it became very clear that the monarch did not have the power to alter the succession, but only to confirm the existing direct line. The succession was seen by most people as divinely ordered ... pre-determined and ordained by God and manifested by birth order. Henry VIII and the Third Act for the Succession did not alter the divine order, at least not in the first generation ... it simply confirmed Mary and Elizabeth's pre-existing position in that order as Henry's first-generation heirs after Edward.

The Third Act for the Succession and Henry's will did attempt to alter the divine order after the first generation by eliminating the heirs of Henry's sister Margaret Tudor Stuart Douglas. Under the terms of the Third Act, James VI&I should never have become King of England. That honor should have gone to the descendants of Henry VIII's sister, Mary Tudor Brandon ... namely, to Edward Seymour, son of Katherine Grey Seymour. But what some saw as the divine order triumphed and James VI of Scotland, descendant of Henry VII through his daughter Margaret, became the eventual heir to his great-great-uncle and to Elizabeth's own father, Henry VIII. Even Elizabeth could nto be persuaded, despite courtiers and politicians trying for years to do so, to alter the succession by naming an English-born heir rather than passively allowing James to inherit.

Anonymous said...

And if I may add just one more thought: Mary was quite devout and a firm believer in the existence of a divine plan. I cannot imagine that a woman of such deeply held faith would have presumed to question what she saw as God's plan by removing her half-sister from the succession, however much it may have pained her to realize the possiblity of England again becoming officially Protestant.

There was a large body of literature circulating in the period regarding a people's right to remove monarchs who did not share the people's beliefs. The consensus of opinion from both Catholic and Protestant theologians was that a subject people should accept whatever ruler God placed over them, humbly aware that it was all part of the divine plan and not theirs to question. Mary likely accepted Elizabeth as her heir while comforting herself that "God had his reasons," and his reasons are often mysterious and unknowable. To challenge the divine plan would have been equivalent to challenging God, something Catholics in particular were loathe to do. As a good Catholic, Mary simply went along with the divine plan.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, PhD Historian!