Lucy Worsley’s Fit to Rule Programme

Posted By on April 12, 2013

Lucy WorsleyI mentioned this BBC TV series on The Anne Boleyn Files Facebook page the other day and wanted to feedback on it. The first programme in the series was called Tudors to Stuarts: From Gods to Men, so was perfect viewing for Tudor fans. I made notes on the Tudor part of the programme and here they are…

Henry VIII

Henry VIII had great power, but was under intolerable pressure in that he had to produce an heir. Worsley pointed out that the fate of the realm rested on him. As a result, the King was always under intense scrutiny, to check his health. Worsley showed viewers a “piss pot” that was found buried in the privy garden of Hampton Court Palace, just outside what would have been Henry’s private apartments. Henry would have used such a pot to urinate in and then his urine would have been decanted into a “urinal”, held up to the light and analysed by his physicians. The King was closely monitored because his health was linked to the state of the realm.

In the famous painting of Henry, you cannot help but notice his rather prominent codpiece and Worsley pointed out that this was “the seat” of royal power. Henry was only the second monarch of the Tudor line, the new dynasty which had started with the Battle of Bosworth. He had to carry on the line and secure the dynasty. The notebook of John Argentine, royal physician, included remedies listed under “coitus” for strengthening sperm or to help with problems with ‘getting it up’. The ingredients included goats’ testicles and marjoram formed into an apple and then eaten.

Worsley went on to say that it was inadequacies in the royal bed chamber which led to the break with Rome. To try and provide England with an heir, Henry felt that he had to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. I loved Worsley’s point that it is “an intensely personal story” about a man who was desperate for a son and a woman who couldn’t provide one. What many people don’t consider when they look at the break with Rome and what Henry did to Catherine and Anne, is that Henry HAD to have a son. It was his duty to continue the line, the succession was the most important thing in providing the country with stability. We just don’t understand what pressure he was under. I’m not condoning any of his actions but we do need to try and understand Henry. He was desperate to fulfil what was expected of him. Of course, he “paid an extraordinary high price” for his heir, Edward VI, and Worsley talked about how Henry had wept when he held Edward for the first time. It was a very human moment and Henry must have been very relieved.

Henry died convinced that he had done his duty, that he had secured the Tudor dynasty and that everything he had done was worth it. He wasn’t to know that his son would die young.

Edward VI

Worsley quoted the Bible saying “Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child” and his youth (he was only nine when he became King) certainly made Edward vulnerable to manipulation. Worsley discussed how Edward’s uncle, Edward Seymour, became Lord Protector and, therefore, de facto king. She went on to talk about Edward’s education and Edward as a person. He was, Worsley said, the most educated king of a generation and his kingship was based not on physical strength and glory on the battlefield, but on intellect. By the time he was twelve years of age, Edward had become convinced that Seymour was abusing his position. Edward’s diary entries talk of Seymour’s “vain glory”, his rashness and the way that he was “enriching himself”. When Edward recorded Seymour’s execution, it was in just one sentence and strikes the modern reader as very cold. Edward had been transformed into a King who was “fit to rule” and his treatment of his uncle showed, according to Worsley, “fanatical zeal”.

Edward’s reign was one of religious change. This brought him into conflict with his half-sister, Mary. Even though they were very close, Edward put his faith first and argued with Mary about her household continuing to hear mass. He warned her that although he had natural affection for her, she must not do anything to diminish it. It sounds very threatening.

Edward died in 1553 of what is thought to have been tuberculosis. When he knew he was dying, he once again put his faith before his family and the dynasty and chose Lady Jane Grey as his successor.

Mary I

Lady Jane Grey is known as the Nine Day Queen because of her very short reign, although her reign actually lasted thirteen days. Mary I was successful in ousting her and taking the throne, and at her coronation was crowned both King and Queen, having two sceptres. Mary was determined to right the wrongs endured by her mother and join England back to Rome. Her spiritual mission, however, depended on “the fruit of her womb”. She had to marry and give the country an heir, a Catholic heir, so she married Philip of Spain. He was not a popular choice, being Spanish, and there was the problem that he was a man and therefore would have authority over Mary and therefore over England. Parliament ended up passing an act to say that the Queen was just as powerful as the King and that if Mary died her issue would succeed her, not Philip. I must have misheard the next bit because in my notes it says that at their coronation Philip was on the left, in the place normally taken by the Queen, as Mary’s consort, but Mary’s coronation was before they married.

Mary’s duty was to reproduce but she was thirty-eight so time was against her. However, there was good news because shortly after her marriage doctors confirmed that the Queen was pregnant. Mary’s belly grew and she entered confinement. According to Worsley, Mary’s doctors would never have examined her properly and would just have gone on the information she gave them and observations regarding the shape of her belly. Confinement took her away from political life, but she stuck to her programme of religious reform and leading Protestants like John Rogers were burned to death. The burnings were on an unprecedented scale, with 300 Protestants being burned in just four years. They provoked outrage amongst Mary’s subjects.

While in confinement, Mary wrote letters announcing the birth of her baby and stood at the window, proudly showing off her great belly. But the baby never came. It is not known whether it was a phantom pregnancy, a false conception, a tumour or some kind of swelling, but whatever it was it humiliated Mary. Her body was seen as the body of the nation, her health was linked to that of the country and something had gone wrong, perhaps a misalliance between husband and wife. Mary died after just five years on the throne and her dream of returning England to Rome died with her because she left the crown to her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth. Worsley spoke of Mary being one of history’s “losers” in that she and her reign have been eclipsed by Elizabeth. You only have to look at their shared tomb at Westminster Abbey to see that. It’s all about Elizabeth and has an effigy of Elizabeth. Mary and her tenacity and courage seem to have been forgotten, and today she is one of history’s most unpopular monarchs.

Elizabeth I

Worsley wondered if Elizabeth had learned from Mary’s mistakes and therefore decided not to marry. She declared that she was married to her kingdom and refused to share power with anyone, proving that she was indeed “fit to rule.” Worsley spoke of Elizabeth side-stepping her royal duty and being the last of the Tudor line.

Worsley went on to discuss the Stuart Kings but I’ll end there because I wanted to focus on the Tudors. It was an excellent programme.

The next episode, Bad Blood: Stuarts to Hanoverians, is due to be aired on BBC2 at 9pm on Monday – see http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rxzft/episodes/guide for more details.

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