Tuesday, 22 February 2011

“It ain't necessarily so" (2)

“It ain’t necessarily so…” has also been on my mind as I have been revisiting two bits of English and Scottish history.

Perhaps I was taught badly, or maybe I was a poor student  (most likely a bit of both), but I now realise that I’ve had a very incomplete and inaccurate understanding of the rise of James VI of Scotland to become James I of England, and of the “Glorious Revolution” which led to the accession of William and Mary as joint monarchs.

I remembered those bits of history as if they were almost seamless and inevitable transitions in the English/Scottish monarchies. ‘Twas far from so!

The three immediate successors of Henry VIII  (Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I ) each died without heirs.  Henry VIII had willed that a member of the Scottish Royal House of Stuart could never inherit the throne, and English law stated that the Monarch should be a native.

Elizabeth I steadfastly refused to name a successor. There was a certain wisdom to this, for it ensured that no “faction” could grow around any one this named,  But her decision led to an enormous trade in intrigues and alliances between and amongst those who had a vested interest in securing the favour of the next Monarch.

James VI of Scotland was not the only option. 

A Catholic, Spanish leaning minority favored the Infanta Isabella of Spain and Portugal.  She was descended from John of Gaunt. 

Others “supported”  Arbella Stuart (a great, great grand daughter of Henry VII), scheming to have her married to Edward Seymour who was a descendant of King Edward III.

Meanwhile north of the border, James VI of Scotland  (son of Mary Queen of Scots) waited, schemed, plotted and planned for his chance at the English Throne, even in the face of the knowledge that Henry VIII’s will and English law should have prevented his “candidacy”.

There was no popular desire for a Spanish/Portugese Monarch, let alone another woman.  (By the end of her reign Elizabeth was heartily disliked and greatly unpopular.)

Arbella Stuart stood not a chance.  The proposed marriage to Edward Seymour never “got off the ground”, and this poor young woman (so dreadfully abused by her grand mother, the (in)famous “Bess of Hardwick), may well have been mentally ill.

James had long desired the English Throne. 

In 1602/03 in a letter to the Englishman Sir Robert Cecil he wrote (regarding the comparative merits of the Scottish and English thrones) “ ….. alas it is far more barbarous and stiff-necked people that I rule over. St George (England)  surely rides upon a towardly riding horse, where I am daily struggling to control a wild unruly colt”.

In the end James was the only viable choice. Queen Elizabeth’s Council members created a fiction that she had indicated her preference for James whilst on her death bed.  

With that in mind, James was offered the English Crown, and he accepted it.  His progress from Edinburgh to London lasted from 5th April through 7th May in 1603.  He made many promises en route, many of which he promptly broke.  He became wildly unpopular within weeks of arriving in London due to his promotion of many relatively impoverished Scots to much coveted offices.

A popular rhyme put it this way:

Hark! Hark!
The dogs do bark
The beggars have come to town.

Some in rags,
And some in tags,
And some in velvet gowns.

James I and VI was the King James who commissioned the Authorised, or King James translation of the bible.  

He was also the King who scandalised the Royal court by the promotion of handsome young men as his favourites (nod, nod, wink, wink -  say no more!)

“Intrigue, secrecy, lobbying, back-stabbing, feuding and conspiracy”.  So the San Antonio Express-News wrote of the book from which I have derived my new learnings.

It is “After Elizabeth, the rise of James of Scotland, and the struggle for the throne of England”. The book was written by Leanda de Lisle in 2005 , and was published by Ballantine Books in 2007.

In reading this book I have again come to the conclusion that “it ain’t necessarily so”, i.e. the way in which I was taught history.

In a day or two I will return to that theme when I will write about the accession of William of Orange and his wife Mary to the thrones of England and Scotland.

In the meantime, as I read “the news” it will be with this in mind.  “It ain’t necessarily so”.

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