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 for more details.

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25 thoughts on “Lucy Worsley’s Fit to Rule Programme”
  1. “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.”

    No you didn’t mishear. That is what she said!

  2. Wish we could get programs like these on BBC America. Most of what we do get…car shows, movies, etc….I’m not interested in. Maybe the World History channel will have this in the future.

    Jeane Westin

    1. I think you used to get Channel 4’s ‘Time Team’, which, sadly, is no more, However, Tony Robinson is doing a series of History Walks and this is what the blurb says about tonight’s programme,

      “Tony Robinson has quite a lengthy walk ahead of him as it takes four days of vigorous hiking to get from Penshurst in the Weald to Lewes on the South Downs. He’s visiting places with a connection to Henry VIII. Some are magnificent manor houses, but others are less well-known sites where both the Tudor iron industry and beer brewing industry once flourished.
      It’s a pleasantly sunny trip through gorgeous rolling countryside, although Robinson does get a shock in the Ashdown Forest. He’s told adders often hide in the undergrowth. Sometimes there are even black adders.”

      Last week he was on the south coast revisiting places, and people, involved in the preparations for the D-Day Landings; it was a lovely programme and we certainly need more of the same.

  3. I think Elizabeth might have learned from her father’s marital misadventures, too, not just Mary’s mistakes. This is more or less a summary of Karen Lindsay’s evaluation at the end of Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.

    Katharine of Aragon – Proud Spanish Infanta, very worthy of being Queen. Failed to produce a son that lived to adulthood. Abandoned for a younger woman, and treated shamefully.

    Anne Boleyn – The younger woman, married for the hope of her fertility and the promise of a son. Powerful and influential, but failed in the promise of the birth of a son. Executed as a traitor and adulteress under false pretenses, while Henry courted another, more pliable wife.

    Jane Seymour – Another younger woman, married for the hope of her fertility. Succeeded grandly with the birth of a son, but died shortly thereafter. Not allowed to have ANY influence over the country.

    Anne of Cleves – Married as a way to cement a foreign alliance. Divorced six months later without any influence over the country. However, since she agreed so readily to a divorce, due to her “dubious” marital state, she was given a GENEROUS settlement, and was allowed to live as she saw fit.

    Kathryn Howard – Pretty little “plaything” for a middle aged King. However, she had a questionable past that caught up with her, accusations against her of an affair with one of Henry’s close friends. Executed for adultery.

    Katherine Parr – An influential, loving presence in Elizabeth’s life, her marriage to Henry was her third and most dangerous. Widowed following Henry’s death, she was able to marry the true love of her life, who proceeded to betray her by trying to seduce the young and vulnerable Elizabeth. Died of childbed fever.

    Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain laid her low – an unpopular foreigner who could have influence over the country, “Spanishising” the country, instead of leaving it uniquely English, and dragging England into foreign wars against the best interests of England.

    Even Jane Grey showed the perils of marriage, since she was unwillingly married to Guildford Dudley, and the victim of dynastic manipulation, rather than a true and loving wife.

    All of these things combined in Elizabeth’s mind, and she probably recoiled from even the pretense of marriage. She loved Robert Dudley, even though he was married at the time when she became Queen, a “platonic” love, with Elizabeth fighting her own female nature tooth and nail, using the excuse of Robert’s marriage to keep him just at arm’s length. Her reaction upon hearing of Dudley’s death is proof that he was more than just a handsome face to her.

    1. In the 16th Century men ruled. A Queen, even Elizabeth, would have had to be subservient to the husband. Elizabeth saw how women were treated. Virgin Queen was her only ‘go to’. Remember her mother Anne

      1. Can I just ask here, because I’m not sure, would the Queen not have to agree for her husband to be given the crown matrimomial, he just didn’t automatically get it, because Philip of Spain didn’t rule over Mary, if this is the case I can’t see that Elizabeth would have to be subservial to her husband, because of her rank.

        I feel Elizabeth loved only one man, she couldn’t have him, and the mysterious circumstances of his wife’s death completely put an end to that ever happening.
        She saw Elizabeth so many bad/unhappy marriages, heartbreak and suffering, usually by the woman that she was one of the clever ones who did learn by others mistakes, and decided not to make the same ones. Good on her…though it must have been such a difficult decision to make to suppress her natual female emotions, it’s no wonder she could be difficult at times.

        1. Jane Grey’s husband Guildford Dudley seems to have expected the crown matrimonial to be his automatically, and was shocked when Jane said Not So Fast. Philip was given a secondary kingly title by his father to make him Mary’s equal in rank before the marriage, Philip’s father Charles having inherited a serious collection of titles from his father (Holy Roman Empire), mother (Spain from Ferdinand and Isabella), and grandmother (Duchy of Burgundy). I’m sure this is an incomplete list, too.

          The next married queen was Mary II, jointly crowned with her husband and first cousin William III, so this isn’t an issue. Queen Anne’s husband, George of Denmark, doesn’t seem to have been given any English title other than Duke of Cumberland. Queen Victoria wanted to make Albert king consort, but the British government refused to introduce a bill allowing it.

        2. Dawn 1st, I would have loved to see Q’ Elizabeth marry Dudley she loved him so much,but also she said like her father said,I don’t see why a women need marry at all ,and vis versafrom Henry V111. However Lord Burley pointed that out Dudly was already married SHOCK !!I really don’t think she trusted the males,but one Wallsingham her most trusted of all. THX Baroness x

  4. Elizabeth was a very complex woman. She had seen men use women all of her life, and I think she decided that she “just couldn’t have it all”. She could rule in her own right, as Queen, but I don’t think she ever thought about what would happen after she died…she never named an heir, and she was very angry about the marriages of her cousins, including Mary (Queen of Scots) to Lord Darnley. She also was conscious that she was ruling by right of the will of Henry VIII. Did she ever declare herself legitimate??? I believe her sister Mary had herself declared legitimate.

  5. Oh, I wish we got that in the US…sounds wonderful! THank you so much for sharing the info with us. Happy Spring!

  6. Regarding Edward, Henry’s son. The most recent information as to his cause of death is NOT tuberculosis, as he didn’t exhibit the telltale symptoms, but rather, an upper respiratory infection that became a lung infection, which leaded to sepsis. He had none of the symptoms of consumption like his half brother did.

  7. Thank you for writing about this BBC telecast. Hopefully, here in the USA, it will be telecast on BBC America in the very near future.

    I am addicted to “anything Tudor” and do so enjoy Claire’s input, along with all the Tudor lovers all over the world!

  8. Everyone, if you want to see this, it is on YouTube as I just coincidentally came across it before checking this blog for posts. It’s really very good, and there are other Dr Lucy shows on YouTube as well, particularly look for her under the historicroyalpalaces channel for short tidbits, and her other shows HHH (housewives, heroines and harlots, a woman’s history of the restoration era) and history of the home in four parts; living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. They’re brilliant and she’s really good fun. God I’d love to have her job! Most of her shows touch on the Tudor period at least.

      1. It was good to see the coverage of Mary I’s reign and the positive aspects highlighted by Dr. Worsley.

        Mary used her popular support to overturn her brother’s attempts to tinker with the succession and acted decisively to claim the throne. Even the marriage to Philip might not have been such a disaster if she had managed to produce an heir, as both she and Parliament ensured that his powers were curtailed. Dr. Worsley also largely dismissed the idea that the Queen’s pregnancy was a ‘phantom’ and emphasised that it was very likely to have had a physical cause, such as a cancerous tumour

        Mary was also wise enough not to repeat Edward’s mistake by naming her sister Elizabeth as her heir rather than seeking a Catholic alternative. It would probably have been very difficult for Elizabeth to become Queen if Mary had not paved the way and established the principle of female rule.

  9. A couple of us were discussing this programme at the Mary Rose Museum, where I volunteer as a guide. We felt that it glossed over Elizabeth entirely. They could have focussed on Elizabeth’s illness with smallpox, which damaged her face and made her wear heavy white lead make up

      1. I think it was because it was abouit succession and the relevence of health to the future of that particular royal house. This was less relevant with Elizabeth for obvious reasons. I also think it was a shame not to have more on her as IMHO she is our greatest monarch.
        I enjoyed the programme although I am not sure about the presenter. It was also a nice change to see Henry VIII in a more positive light than the usual serial killing adulterer. There was more to him than modern depictions would have us believe.

  10. I watched the programbut it didn’t live up to my expectations, I thought it could have gone into more scientific topics, like its summary had suggested, and that that would have maade it more interesting.

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