Monday, January 21, 2013

Question from Courtney - Mary planning a marriage for Elizabeth

I have a question that I hope hasn't been answered already - I did do a casual search, but got so many hits for "Elizabeth" I don't think I could have gotten through them all! Anyway, my question is this - during Mary's reign, why was Elizabeth not "forced" to marry someone of Mary and/or Philip's choosing? As the only heir, surely Mary would have had the right to match her sister with a man she considered appropriate. Why let Elizabeth have her way and remain unmarried? I'm aware that Mary wasn't anxious to see Elizabeth married for fear that it would build support for Elizabeth, but why not marry her to a Catholic? Especially if Elizabeth was pretending to convert to Catholicism, as I've read was the case? Thanks for any info!


PhD Historian said...

I am not an expert on Marian political policy (and any marriage for Elizabeth would definitely have been political), but I suspect the answer once again goes back to the status of women in England in the 16th century and the control husbands had over wives ... even royal wives.

Elizabeth was, as you note, Mary's heir presumptive to the Crown. Were Mary to die without issue, Elizabeth would become Queen ... and her husband would be King, just as Mary's husband Philip was titled King of England. Yes, Parliament had passed a virtually unique act limiting Philip's power and prohibiting him from ruling after Mary's death, but a similar act would have been necessary for Elizabeth's potential husband. Yet that raises a constitutional question: Can Parliament limit the powers of a king consort when that consort has yet to inherit? Would the act be valid under the new reign? (The act limiting Philip's power was passed only *after* Mary was queen ... an act for Elizabeth would have to be passed *before*.) And since the Treasons Act of 1534 had made it a treasonable offense to “will or desire by words or writing, or by craft imagine ... to be done or committed ... to the heirs apparent ... to deprive them of any of their dignity, title or name of their royal estates”, might an act "imagining" the limitation of some future monarch's power be itself treasonous?

Who could Elizabeth marry? Customarily, English royal princesses married outside the realm. Prior to Henry VII, most English princes did as well. But since a queen regnant’s male consort was, by 16th century custom and absent the limiting legislation mentioned above, assumed to be automatically a king regnant, that might allow England to pass into the hands of a foreign prince and foreign power. (Again, the act limiting Philip’s power even limited the ability of any of his heirs, other than those born of Mary Tudor, from inheriting within England. A similar act would have been necessary for Elizabeth’s putative husband.). Were Elizabeth to be married within the realm, Mary risked creating a new political faction that might pose a threat to her own regime. Recall that Elizabeth later imprisoned both Grey sisters for marrying without permission, acts that Elizabeth saw as a threat to her own crown. Likewise, James VI&I imprisoned William Seymour and Arbella Stuart when they married without permission in 1610, specifically because they were both next heirs after James’s three children.

Politically, Mary was very wise to keep Elizabeth unwed. Marrying her off, even to a seemingly loyal English Catholic ally, would have created far more problems than it would have solved.

kb said...

There were several plans for marrying the Princess Elizabeth off during Mary's reign. Philip was involved in some of them. His favorite candidate was Emmanuel Philibert, Prince of Piedmont, titular Duke of Savoy, and Philip's cousin and friend. He was a Catholic and a Spaniard. In 1554 he came to England as a suitor for Elizabeth. That did not work out, clearly and his suit was resurrected a couple of times. Mary threatened Elizabeth with a parliamentary declaration of her bastardy if she did not agree but Elizabeth refused, remained at Hatfield and even contemplated leaving England. Starkey discusses this in his book "Elizabeth: Apprenticeship". The marriage also fell apart because of a shift in foreign policy having to do with the French. As you may know after Mary's death Philip wanted to marry Elizabeth but was rejected in definite terms.

PhD Historian also brings up the point of succession. As long as there was any hope of Mary conceiving an heir, Elizabeth's fertility had to be controlled - either through abstinence, i.e. keeping her unmarried, or by marriage out of the country to some safely Catholic and Hapsburg friendly groom. If Elizabeth had married and remained within England and should she conceive, Mary's throne would have been in danger. As it was plots around Elizabeth unmarried caused enormous problems for Mary and between the sisters. Imagine if there was a healthy baby boy, from a Protestant mother of royal blood bouncing around the kingdom. That would have spelled disaster. PhD Historian has highlighted other cases of people of royal blood marrying without permission being imprisoned. The same would have been true under Mary but as Elizabeth spent much of the reign restricted through house arrest or imprisonment anyway the imagined consequences for her unauthorized marriage could easily have veered into the waters of treason.

Michelle said...

This may be a silly question, but could Mary and Phillip not have married Elizabeth to a loyal, Catholic English noble, perhaps one who they'd "prefer" to inherit the throne and become king regent over Elizabeth? Just thinking that if Edward was able to bypass his Catholic sister by naming the successor he wanted (Jane Grey), couldn't Mary have "bypassed" Elizabeth by marrying her to a suitable Catholic Englishman who would then be the real "successor"?

kb said...

Again, I think the idea of Elizabeth having a male child, especially one born within the kingdom to an English father would have so jeopardized the fragile stability Mary was trying to hold together that it would have been tantamount to her own regicide. In other words, an English heir of Elizabeth's body, regardless of the father's Catholicism, would have been a rallying point for the large disaffected population who were looking for a protestant savior. There were enough uprisings in Elizabeth's name as it was. Until Mary could secure the succession through heirs of her own body and get a firmer grip on the re-institution of Catholicism, Elizabeth was a threat. Even Margaret Douglas, Mary's preferred heir was a bit of a handful, but as she lacked sufficient popular goodwill she was less of threat.

I am having a hard time imagining an English Catholic nobleman who could have 'controlled' Elizabeth. Plus she was a dynastic pawn that the Hapsburgs were interested in controlling. The whole point of Mary's marriage to Philip was to bring England into the Hapsburg sphere. Squandering Elizabeth on an Englishman would have been somewhat of a foreign policy waste.

PhD Historian said...

You ask a good question Michelle. But as I noted in the earlier response above, and seconded by KB, ANY marriage for Elizabeth would have posed a problem for Mary. Even a marriage to a loyal Catholic, if that marriage produced a son while Mary remained childless, would have been dangerous for Mary. Factions might form and seek to speed Mary along and bring in a new regime headed by Elizabeth's son (the preference for male rather than female monarchy was exceptionally strong). And while it is true that Edward *attempted* to "bypass" Mary and Elizabeth and to choose a successor from further down the succession bloodline, it is important to note how quickly and completely that effort failed. Had Mary attempted to bypass Elizabeth, the effort would very likely have failed as well, since the English were very, very keen on proper bloodline inheritance. And frankly, it was unthinkable in the English political mind of the 16th century to pass the real power of rule to someone not born into the position. Monarchs of England are born, not elected/chosen. Choosing a husband for Elizabeth based on some idea that that husband might make a good king in place of Elizabeth as sole queen was just not an option.
(And as a pedantic aside, the term "king regent" does not exist. A "regent" exercises power in place of an underage, absent, or incapacitated monarch. See, for example, John of Bedford acting as senior regent for the child-king Henry VI in the 1420s, Katherine of Aragon and Katherine Parr acting as Regent during Henry VIII's absences on the continent in the 1520s and 1540s, or George Prince of Wales acting as Regent for the "mad" King George III early in the 19th century. Neither do the formal titles King Regnant and King Consort exist in English constitutional history. I simply used them for convenience, drawn from 'Queen Consort vs Queen Regnant', to differentiate between a king who actually rules [regnant] and one who is simply married to a ruling queen but who does not himself exercise any power [consort]. England has never had a king-consort, since Philip was styled fully King of England [i.e. regnant, but with limited power]. It's a confusing point, I know.)

Courtney said...

Thank you so much! You've verified some thoughts I had about the issues and brought up new points that hadn't occurred to me. Great info, and very helpful. Thanks again!!