The war between the fertile Stewarts and the barren Tudors was crucial to the history of the British Isles in the sixteenth century. The legendary struggle, most famously embodied by the relationship between Elizabeth I and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, was fuelled by three generations of powerful Tudor and Stewart monarchs. It was the marriage of Margaret Tudor, elder sister of Henry VIII, to James IV of Scotland in 1503 that gave the Tudors a claim to the English thronea claim which became the acknowledged ambition of Mary Queen of Scots and a major factor in her downfall.
Here is the story of divided families, of flamboyant kings and queens, cultured courts and tribal hatreds, blood feuds, rape and sexual license, of battles and violent deaths. It brings alive a neglected aspect of British historythe blood-spattered steps of two small countries on the northern fringes of Europe towards the union of their crowns. Beginning with the dramatic victories of two usurpers, Henry VII in England and James IV in Scotland, in the late fifteenth century, Linda Porter's Tudors Versus Stewarts sheds new light on Henry VIII, his daughter Elizabeth I and on his great-niece, Mary Queen of Scots, still seductive more than 400 years after her death.
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About the Author
Linda Porter has a Ph.D. in history from the University of York, England. She was the winner of the 2004 Biographers Club/Daily Mail prize in England and is the author of The Myth of "Bloody Mary", also available from St. Martin's Press. She is married with one daughter and lives near London.
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Tudors Versus Stewarts
The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots
By Linda Porter
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Linda Porter
All rights reserved.
'This pretty lad'
'We will unite the red rose and the white ... England hath long been mad and scarred herself.'
Henry VII in William Shakespeare's Richard III
On another day in August, seventy-six years earlier, Mary Stewart's great-grandfather was standing in a field in the heart of England. This may sound idyllic but the reality was not that of a pleasant pastoral scene. The noise of battle and the fear of death were all around him. He had good reason to wonder how much longer he might breathe the air of a country he had never yet been able to call home. The life he knew best was that of a wandering exile, often in flight, always penurious, harbouring schemes and consorting with unreliable malcontents. But there was one clear aim that underpinned his determination after all the uncertain years of living in foreign courts, surviving on the transitory goodwill of European rulers who reckoned his presence might give them a political edge in the realization of their own ambitions. He wanted the throne of England. His hopes were based on a distant and dubious claim, but the prolonged upheavals of the fifteenth century had presented others with unforeseen opportunities and he had gambled that such good fortune might also be his, in the right circumstances. Most people in England would probably never even have heard his name, such a rank outsider was he. Living so long across the water, the Breton and French tongues came more easily to him than English. But that scarcely mattered on 22 August 1485. As the fighting raged, his own safety seemed the first priority. There are signs that he was not entirely confident of success on the battlefield and with good reason. Supporters were fickle and uncommitted, his forces were outnumbered two to one and he had chosen survival over heroism by staying behind the vanguard of his troops and preparing an escape route if the day went against him. He could always try again.
But his enemy had seen a chance to put a decisive end to the fighting that rolled across the countryside of Leicestershire that summer's day. It was a battle in which the rebels were achieving a surprising degree of success, but although the larger force led by the king had been outmanoeuvred, it was by no means beaten. It was noted that the pretender was separated from his main force, with just his immediate bodyguard and a small number of horsemen and infantry to protect him. His vulnerability was obvious. In late medieval warfare, the death of a leader almost inevitably led to the capitulation of his forces. A direct onslaught, perhaps even hand-to-hand combat between the rivals, might settle things once and for all. As a tactic, it was not without risk, but the rewards – the removal of a continuing threat and the promise of stability in a strife-torn country – would be worth the gamble. Urged on by his advisers and doubtless following his own well-honed battle instincts, the king did not hesitate for long. A cavalry charge, led by the monarch himself, bore down on the small force of men gathered around the pretender's standard, a red dragon which proclaimed his Welsh ancestry. As the riders approached, the man in the field knew that his life hung in the balance. Henry Tudor, unlikely heir to the House of Lancaster, was about to come within a spear's length of Richard III, the Yorkist king he had pledged to overthrow. A matter of minutes would decide his fate.
* * *
'He was a comely personage, a little above just stature, well and straight-limbed, but slender. His countenance was revered, and a little like a churchman, and as it was not strange or dark so neither was it winning or pleasing, but as the face of one well disposed. But it was to the disadvantage of the painter, for it was best when he spoke.' This description, although written more than a century after the death of Henry Tudor, captures what we know of him perfectly. A considered person, not given to great public displays of emotion, somewhat ascetic in appearance, not exactly handsome, but with an interesting and by no means unattractive face, the whole man only at his most appealing when he was animated. His portraits show that he did, indeed, have something of the churchman about him: a calm and also an inscrutability, a sense that you would never entirely know what he was thinking. It gave him an air of authority which must have been invaluable for a man who had never been part of any establishment, never so much as managed an estate or led men, in war or peace, and who had existed on the periphery of the English ruling class. He was of it but not part of it. His background and the dislocation of long years of civil strife had set him apart from those whom he might view as his peers. This distinctiveness marked him and would characterize his approach to the dangerous business of winning the throne. For Henry Tudor, nothing had been simple. His background was unusually complicated and the circumstances of his birth compellingly strange.
He was the grandson of Shakespeare's 'Fair Kate', Catherine de Valois, the wife of Henry V. This gave him royal French blood. On his father's side, however, the antecedents were much less illustrious, for Catherine, left a widow after her husband's early death in 1421, had, by the start of the next decade, married again. Her second marriage, to Owen Tudor, a Welshman in her household, was kept secret until she died in 1437. By that time, she had borne Owen four children and inadvertently complicated the politics of England during the long minority of Henry VI. The regency government for the young king was uneasy about the existence of half-brothers, especially ones linked to the French royal family at a time when England was in the process of losing its extensive empire in France. The two eldest sons of the unlikely alliance of a French queen and a Welsh squire, Edmund and Jasper Tudor, were removed from their father and brought up together at Barking Abbey in Essex. They did, though, find favour with King Henry VI, who seems to have been fond of his half-brothers, and as he began to make his own decisions, their fortunes rose. In 1452, shortly before England's descent into the beginnings of the Wars of the Roses, Edmund was made earl of Richmond and Jasper earl of Pembroke. The lands and prestige that went with these titles meant that the Tudors became persons of significance. Just one year later their position was further enhanced when they were granted joint wardship of the heiress of another great landed family with a doubtful past – Margaret Beaufort, the ten-year-old daughter of the late John, duke of Somerset, who had died in disgrace after a costly and disastrous expedition to France. But it was her surname, rather than her father's failure, that made Margaret important. Aside from her wealth, her desirability lay in the fact that she was the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt and had a potential claim to the throne of England herself. Not that this claim was without impediment, since the Beauforts were the offspring of John of Gaunt's initially adulterous liaison with Katherine Swynford. Though eventually regularized, the relationship cast a long shadow over fifteenth-century England, since this 'bastard' branch of John of Gaunt's line was not considered to have a rightful claim to the throne and Henry IV had expressly excluded his half-kindred from the succession.
Henry VI, a king not otherwise noted for his decisiveness, took a keen interest in the fortunes of his little cousin. Just a year after her birth he gave her wardship and marriage to his chief minister, the duke of Suffolk. This was probably intended to bolster Suffolk's wealth and status but as the duke's political fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worse in 1450, he saw an opportunity to salvage the prospects of his heir, seven-year-old John de la Pole, by marrying the boy to Margaret Beaufort, who was then six. Such marriages seem to us now to be both ludicrous and shocking, but they were common at the time and viewed as sensible business arrangements that could be, and indeed often were, revoked at a later date. This is exactly what happened to the first marriage of Lady Margaret. Summoned to court with her mother on Valentine's Day 1453, Margaret now faced the considerable ordeal of making public her decision, since the law required she must do so in front of witnesses, including a bishop. There was no lovers' romance for her.
The initiative for this public dissolution of her marriage contract with Suffolk's son was not, however, Margaret's. At nine years old, she was directed by others. The king was bringing pressure on her to choose his half-brother, Edmund Tudor, over John de la Pole. She later remembered that Henry 'did make means for Edmund, his brother, then the earl of Richmond'. Uncertain what to do, but no doubt mindful of the king's own preferences, Margaret agonized over her decision. It was then suggested that she pray overnight to St Nicholas, who would guide her choice. By the morning her mind was made up. She would put aside the boy she scarcely knew for a much older man who was also a stranger. Thus she had made her own choice (or so she thought) and also pleased the king. But there were much greater political and dynastic considerations involved, for Henry, though married for some years, had no children and was faced with growing discontent among his fractious nobility. It is possible that, without an heir himself, Henry intended to nominate his brother Edmund in Margaret Beaufort's right.
He did not, however, do so and in fact his wife, Margaret of Anjou, was already pregnant, though at too early a stage for it to have been known at the time Margaret Beaufort and her mother came to court. The visit made a great impression on the child, who was enchanted by the magnificence of the spectacle, the opulent jewels and dresses of the queen and her ladies, and the warmth of the welcome from the king, whom she seems to have genuinely revered and liked. He also brought home to her the importance of her position and instilled in her a sense of who she was. There was no resentment of the role he had played in severing her from her child-husband. Perhaps she remembered him afterwards with fondness because of his attention to her and the contrast with the dark times that followed for England. Only a few months later, Henry suffered a severe mental collapse and the country slid towards civil war.
Despite her proximity to the throne and the attractions of her wealth, Margaret grew up in a happy environment, among the children of her mother's first marriage, the St John family, to whom she would remain close. But her childhood ended prematurely when Edmund Tudor married her as soon as she was twelve years old, in May 1455. This was the legal age of marriage for females and Edmund clearly saw no reason for delay, though another year was to elapse before Margaret conceived. This may have had more to do with the point at which his very young bride reached puberty than any early abstention on Edmund's part from marital relations. He was clearly keen to make his wife pregnant as soon as possible, so that he could secure a permanent interest in her estates through their offspring. It was not uncommon for girls of noble birth to be married at a very young age and to go to live with their frequently much older husbands (Edmund, then in his mid-twenties, was actually a younger spouse than was often the case in such marriages) but it was very unusual for such wives to bear children before their mid-teens.
Margaret had moved with Edmund Tudor to south Wales a few months after their wedding, where he was essentially acting as the king's lieutenant. It was a traditionally restless area, resistant to rule from London even before the outbreak of more widespread strife in Henry VI's realm in the 1450s. Local grievances and the fact that the Tudor brothers had briefly flirted with the Yorkists before reverting to full support of their half-brother made Edmund a target for the disaffected. Margaret was not with him at Carmarthen Castle in the summer of 1456 when he was attacked by two thousand troops under the leadership of the duke of York's men, Sir William Herbert and Sir Walter Devereux, and captured. Briefly imprisoned in the castle, Edmund was released but fell ill, probably with the plague, and never recovered. By the beginning of November he was dead, leaving Margaret, who was six months pregnant, a widow at the age of thirteen. His insensitivity and callousness in impregnating her at such a tender age have often been criticized but we know nothing of their relationship. It is unlikely that affection played much part in it and Edmund clearly felt that the risks to his wife's health, and that of any child she might bear, made it worthwhile ignoring convention. He obviously had not calculated on dying himself.
This may seem like a sort of rough justice but it left Margaret in danger. With winter setting in and the political situation in Wales so uncertain, she could not return to her mother in England. Her own safety and that of her unborn child were at stake. She needed to be somewhere secure and as free as possible from the threat of disease. It was now that Jasper Tudor, her brother-in-law, a man who would play a vital role in her future, came to the rescue. Margaret took refuge with him in Pembroke Castle and it was there, on 28 January 1457, that her child was born. He was named Henry, presumably as a sign of his Lancastrian birthright. His mother was still four months short of her fourteenth birthday.
It had been an extremely difficult birth which imperilled the lives of both mother and child. Margaret was small for her age and should never have conceived so early. The price she paid was that she was subsequently unable to have children. Yet the bond with the son born when she was scarcely more than a child herself was strong and unshakeable. She was committed to supporting him from the moment of his birth. Margaret Beaufort would grow into a clever and ambitious woman, able to manipulate, to adapt and, above all, to bide her time. Henry VI had made her conscious of who she was. It was an awareness that she was determined to inculcate in her son, no matter what vicissitudes might befall them both.
* * *
If she had been unlucky in her husband, Margaret Beaufort was fortunate in his brother. Jasper Tudor, by now completely committed to the Lancastrian cause, took an active interest in the well-being of Edmund's widow and her child. Later, he would share exile, hardship and uncertainty with his nephew, acting as mentor at a crucial stage in Henry Tudor's life. The ties that bound them were strong. But his immediate concern, once it was clear that Margaret had survived her ordeal, was to help her find a new husband. Single himself, he could offer her neither the domestic peace nor personal security that could be hoped for in a new marriage. And they both knew that Pembroke Castle, despite Jasper's attempts to increase its comforts, was still more of a fortress than a home. It was not an appropriate place for Margaret and her baby to remain permanently. By March 1457, Margaret was with Jasper in eastern Wales, at a manor belonging to the duke of Buckingham, one of the few nobles in the realm who could rival the duke of York in power. There, apparently with her full support, a marriage was arranged with Buckingham's second son, Henry Stafford. The precise timing of this, the third marriage in Margaret's young life, is not known, but it was probably at the beginning of 1458.
Relieved that she was now able to influence her affairs with some dignity, Margaret approached her life with Henry Stafford with renewed confidence. Theirs appears to have been a happy relationship, made easier by a financial settlement from Stafford's father when he died in 1460 and by Margaret's sizeable income from her own estates. The couple were wealthy enough to live in considerable style, though there is little information on their whereabouts in the years immediately after their marriage, or whether the infant Henry Tudor always stayed with them. Given the concern of both his mother and new stepfather to protect his interests, it is probable that Margaret did not want him too far distant, though his day-to-day routine would have been the responsibility of his nursery staff. The stability of Henry's early childhood was not, however, to last long. By the time he was four years old, he had been removed from his mother's care.
The year 1461 saw the fortunes and allegiances of Henry's uncle and stepfather diverge, in ways that had a direct impact on the child himself. Both Jasper Tudor and Henry Stafford had maintained their support for Henry VI but they had picked the losing side. In February 1461, Jasper and his father, Owen Tudor, widower of Catherine of Valois, confronted a Yorkist force at Mortimer's Cross in Herefordshire. They were vanquished and Owen summarily executed. Jasper, his hatred of the Yorkists even stronger now, escaped back into south Wales, where he vowed to avenge his father 'with the might of Our Lord and the assistance of ... our kinsmen and friends, within short time'. The threat, though heartfelt, could not be realized. Yorkist power was firmly established within months. Jasper, skilled in the arts of disguise and evading capture, fled into exile, first in Scotland and then in France. So began his long life as a fugitive in the courts of France (where he was well received as a blood relative by Louis XI) and Brittany, constantly striving for the restoration of the House of Lancaster, for the recovery of his own lands in Wales and, as time went by, the rights of his nephew, Henry Tudor. Jasper's misfortune, his life as a 'diplomatic beggar', as it has been called, would not, ultimately, be in vain. He could not have foreseen, in 1461, that all the Lancastrian hopes might one day rest on Margaret Beaufort's son.
Excerpted from Tudors Versus Stewarts by Linda Porter. Copyright © 2013 Linda Porter. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
Conventions and Conversions,
Part One: Ill-Gotten Thrones, 1485–1488,
One – 'This pretty lad',
Two – The Field of Stirling,
Part Two: The Road to Flodden Field, 1488–1513,
Three – Uneasy Crowns,
Four – The Impostor,
Five – A Summer Wedding,
Six – Brothers in Arms,
Part Three: Half a Tudor, 1513–1542,
Seven – Queen and Country,
Eight – The Young King,
Nine – Uncle and Nephew,
Ten – Solway Moss,
Part Four: 'the Most Perfect Child', 1542–1568,
Eleven – 'Rough Wooings' and Reformation,
Twelve – Daughter of France,
Thirteen – The Return of the Queen,
Fourteen – Downfall,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is one of the best books that havd come out this year. Linda Porter includes everything from the politics to the violent backgrounds and religious factors that molded each character and also interest facts about, in this case for me since I had not read a lot on the Stuarts, on James IV, James V and Mary Queen of Scots. She was the Tudor era Tomboy and not Elizabeth and like her grandfather James IV, she was an expert needlewoman. James V was the less educated of all these three Stuart monarchs but this was not his fault when hsi mother's second husband, Angus and yman others had kidnapped him or tried to use him against her or for her so their families could become powerful. He spent stmo of hks life seeing his country torn apart by factions and lived a nomadic life, moved palace from palace. But he became one of the best kings in this period and it is only unfortunate that he died of illness following Solway Moss. Like his father, he spent a lit no building palaces, expanding his old ones, remodeling them and mkre than any other king during this tine, he had an intimate connection with his people as he would constantly go on progresses and stop to greet the commons. Under him a lot of artists and acholars found patronage and Scotland became well known as a center of culture. The great pioneer was his father who was a lover of chivalry and intellectual works and poems (which he often used to impress James V mother, Margaret Tudor) but James V expanded on that. The author doesn't forget the Tudors. There is equal amount spent on them as on their rivals, the Stuarts and explains the origins of their complicated relationship with their Northern neighbor, and how each Tudor handled that relationship.