In This Chapter
● Feuding with France and losing Calais
● Fighting flu and famine
● Keeping up Catholicism
● Lining up Elizabeth
● Bidding Mary adieu, and crowning Elizabeth
The last year of Mary I’s reign was grim, both for her and the country.
The queen had her second phantom pregnancy, after which Philip never came back; the last English stronghold in France fell; and, above all, Elizabeth and the spectre of Protestantism waited in the wings.
Going to War with France
In Chapter 10 we explain that Philip was gung-ho for a war against the French. But the king hadn’t expected that it would be so difficult to get England in on his war with Henri II. He said as much to the bishop of Arras, his chief minister on the Low Countries.
Then, help came from an unexpected source.
Revolting with Stafford
Some noble families just won’t lie down. The dukes of Buckingham had been right there at the top of the power tree since Richard Ill’s reign (see Chapter 2) and they were still pushing their luck now.
Thomas Stafford was the grandson of the last duke of Buckingham and related to Reginald Pole: cardinal, archbishop of Canterbury and papal head man (Chapter 10 has more on Pole). Stafford had been involved in Wyatt’s Rebellion (flip to Chapter 9) and had high-tailed it to France where he spent most of his time annoying people. He believed he had a claim to the English throne, and early in 1557 he decided to try his luck.
Henri II offered help at first, then thought better of it. Even so, Stafford hired two ships, got a ragbag force together and landed at Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast (it’s a tourist resort today - check it out). Amazingly, Stafford took the feebly defended castle and issued a proclamation that said:
● Mary wasn’t the rightful monarch because she’d given the crown away to a foreigner (Philip).
● Stafford was the ‘protector of the realm’ - a vague phrase, but one degree down from claiming the throne and it had echoes of Somerset who’d ruled on behalf of the young Edward VI (see Chapter 7).
Stafford was soon rounded up by the troops of the earl of Westmoreland and the rebellion was over. The ‘protector of the realm’ was executed.
What’s all this got to do with Philip’s war? Well, the Privy Council blew the rebellion up out of all proportion and claimed heavy French involvement. So Mary declared war on France on 7 June 1557. Taxpayers, relax - Philip’s paying!
Fighting the French - again!
Philip needed to get moving on his attack before winter set in.
Before real modern warfare the campaigning season was May to September. There weren’t many good roads in Europe and they quickly turned to bogs when it rained. Cannon were heavy and the largest of them could only fire a few times a day because they over-heated and the barrels clogged with powder that some poor soldier had to scrape out. Fighting in the winter was nobody’s idea of a good time.
Philip got to Calais on 5 July with 7,000 men under the earl of Pembroke. His commanders were good men - Robert, Ambrose and Henry Dudley (the three sons of the late duke of Northumberland [Warwick] - see Chapters 7 and 9), Peter Carew, Nicholas Throgmorton and William Courtenay. Do these names sound familiar? They did to the Venetian ambassador, who realised that all Mary’s troublemakers were at the front. Her loyal supporters stayed at home.
Philip attacked and took the border town of St Quentin (see Chapter 15 for a map of the Low Countries), but Pembroke’s English troops had to make sure that Calais was safe from attack first; so they got there late. Philip was less than pleased and sent them home rather than pay for their winter quartering. As it was, the campaign had so far cost him £48,000, an enormous sum for one small town.
Warring in winter: the fall of Calais
By the end of November Philip’s army was in winter quarters at Hainault in the southern Netherlands and the English Government was saving money by cutting back troops defending Calais (will they never learn?).
Psychologically, Calais was important. At one time half of France had belonged to England, but most of that had been lost by the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453 (you can find out about this era in British History For Dummies by Sean Lang, published by Wiley). Check out Mary’s coat of arms - it has the fleur-de-lys of France on it. So does Elizabeth’s - and she didn’t own any of France at all.
The duke of Guise (the most powerful man in France after the king) had been thrashed in battle by Philip’s man Alba (see Chapter 10 for more on him) and he was looking for a quick, morale-boosting comeback.
Calais’ defences weren’t what they should have been and Guise’s spies told him now was the time to strike. Philip’s spies were telling him the same thing but the Calais governor, Lord Wentworth, and the Council in London weren’t listening - until it was too late.
On 1 January 1558 Guise and the French struck, literally skating over the frozen marshes that in warmer weather saved Calais from attack. Guise grabbed the fort of Ruysbank, which protected the harbour, so the English fleet, sent out at the last minute under command of the earl of Rutland, couldn’t get in. On 7 January the French guns smashed through the castle walls and the town fell. English civilians ran and Wentworth surrendered with 2,000 of his men.
Shocked and surprised, the Council now ordered Rutland to save the very last English stronghold, Guisnes, but that surrendered on 21 January and the English fleet was badly damaged by storms in the North Sea. The Council decided to cut their losses and call the whole thing off.
Following the fall
Mary was devastated by the fall of Calais. ‘When I am dead and opened,’ she wrote, ‘they shall find Calais engraved in my heart.’
Recriminations flew thick and fast:
● It was Wentworth’s fault because he was a secret heretic and was part of the Protestant plot.
● It was the Government’s fault; Calais hadn’t been properly defended for years.
● It was Philip’s fault, because his half-hearted ‘rescue’ of Calais with only 200 harquebusiers (musketeers) was too little, too late.
Simmering in Scotland
War with France usually meant war with Scotland because of the Auld Alliance (see Chapters 4 and 7). This time it didn't happen. Philip was careful not to declare war on Scotland as well as France and the Scots/French nobles weren't too keen to invade England. The regent in Scotland, Mary of Guise (her daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, was still only 15) was all for war, but nobody else wanted to know.
In a slightly bizarre situation, the continuing peace was announced at Carlisle and Dumfries on 18 July. Scotland simmered with discontent (when didn't it?) over the arrogance and wealth of England and the Council tried to persuade Philip to declare war. The truth was that Scotland was useful to Philip for his Flemish merchants, so he wasn't prepared to risk a war. The expected attack across the border from Scotland never happened.
In fact, the Council hadn’t spent enough money on fortifications and Wentworth’s garrison was seriously under-manned. That said, Guise had caught the English napping and the English had paid the price. Philip was all for launching a counterattack the following summer, but the Council wasn’t keen, claiming lack of cash.
Philip’s spring offensive would have cost £170,000 over five months. Add to this the £150,000 needed to keep existing garrisons, plus £200,000 necessary for a sea defence, and the total price tag was a staggering £520,000. This would mean new taxes; new taxes would mean revolt.
Mary and Philip were furious that the Council wouldn’t back them in another attack. All the queen could do was appoint Lord Clinton as lord admiral (the top naval man) in February, but the amphibious operation he tried to launch in Brittany in the summer fizzled out.
Feeling the fallout
The fall of Calais was a psychological blow that Mary’s Government never recovered from.
Parliament met on 20 January 1558 just before Guisnes fell and the Council asked members to vote for an increase in direct taxation - a traditional subsidy to be collected over two years. The money was needed:
● To build up the fleet (ships were expensive and had to be refitted regularly because of wear and tear)
● To pay for a garrison at Berwick on the Scots’ border (check out the Elizabethan fortifications next time you’re there)
● To raise an army in case of a Scots’ invasion
Direct taxation was slow to boost the coffers, so by the end of June the Council pushed through two defence bills that:
● Streamlined the method of recruiting men to stop corruption
● Told Households to provide armour and weapons to equip a militia
Increasingly, the gentry, as opposed to the nobility, took over control of local troops.
Getting the jitters
The Council thought that, come the good weather in the spring, France would invade.
When the French had last tried to invade, only 13 years earlier, fierce fighting had followed on the Isle of Wight and the Mary Rose, the pride of Henry VIII’s fleet, had sunk (refer to Chapter 3).
Lords lieutenant of counties paraded their militias and got them busy with battlefield drill and musket practice (although a lot of the soldiers were still relying on bows and arrows).
The marquis of Winchester was empowered to use martial law against ‘rebels, traitors and other offenders’. These powers already existed but were only used occasionally against deserters from the navy. Suddenly, Big Brother had come to England and panic reigned in Whitehall.
Catching a Cold: The Flu Epidemic
The harvests of 1555 and 1556 had been dreadful, with food shortages and starvation. Twice as many people died from disease in 1558 than the year before. Nobody knew what the ‘strange diseases’ were and so no cure existed.
In some places (but not everywhere) the poor were hit harder than the rich. No age group was safe but the elderly suffered very badly. County militias had to be disbanded, and some workshops were closed down. If the flu didn’t kill you, it left you weak and vulnerable, and the last thing you could handle was dragging a plough across the furrow or cutting down timber on the lord’s estate. The economy was hit hard through lost work days.
The outbreak kept Philip away, even when he heard that Mary was seriously ill - he probably thought she had the flu and couldn’t take the chance of catching it himself. Nobody was immune - Cardinal Pole died from it in November 1558.
Defending the Faith
Throughout history when disasters or epidemics happened, simple (and not so simple) people thought it was the work of the devil or the wrath of God. The poor harvests, the economic depression (see Chapter 10), the lost war and the flu epidemic of the last two years just reinforced these ideas in people’s minds.
The Church’s leaders and university types didn’t argue have much to say, but others did:
● Some, like the hosier (tights-maker) Miles Huggarde, thought the flu was the result of plots against the queen and people moaning about her godly work.
● The Protestants, of course, believed that Mary’s return to the old faith had led to God’s anger. Exiles Edmund Grindal and John Foxe, who were writing their martyrology, kept up a steady barrage of criticism against the queen, Philip and the Council, all of whom were tarred with the same (papist) brush.
Few people criticised the queen directly but Philip was fair game. Never popular, by the summer of 1558 he might as well have been the devil himself.
Trying to make Catholicism acceptable wasn’t easy in the face of a foreign king, a failed war and flu. Here’s an outline of the Church at this time:
● The Church stressed the importance of the mass and Thomas Watson, bishop of Lincoln, wrote books to guide ordinary people through the complicated rituals of the mass (which had fallen into disuse under Edward VI - see Chapter 7).
● The English Bible (see Chapter 6) wasn’t recalled, even though it had been written by heretics, because Mary - and even Cardinal Pole - quite liked it. Rabid Catholics like Bishop James Turberville of Exeter grabbed copies and burned them. Presumably, this was less traumatic than burning people!
● The pastoral care that the Catholic Church offered was old-fashioned by Protestant standards, fussing about sacraments and ceremonies; ceremonies were good for discipline.
● The Church wasn’t generally too keen on sermons, because in the wrong hands they gave people wrong ideas.
● The Church didn’t restore the shrines.
● Nobody made a pilgrimage in Mary’s reign. Though you expect have expected Mary to go, what with the old Virgin’s shrine at Walsingham in Norfolk and a lot to pray for, she didn’t.
● No real return to the monasteries occured. The only great abbey set up was at Westminster and very few novices (trainee monks) were recruited.
Henry VIII’s will named three heirs to his kingdom. If Edward VI died childless, the throne should pass to Mary; if Mary died childless, it should go to Elizabeth. It was a sort of Doomsday scenario and nobody at the time of Henry’s death thought Elizabeth would be queen, but by 1558 there seemed no other alternative.
Mary was opposed to Elizabeth because:
● She couldn’t forget that Elizabeth was the hated Anne Boleyn’s daughter and she believed (wrongly) that Anne was a heretic (her sixth finger and spooky witchcraft rumours didn’t help - see Chapter 4).
● She thought that Elizabeth was only pretending to have gone back to the old faith - she was obviously a Protestant.
● The law said Elizabeth was a bastard and Mary didn’t even like to think of them as half-sisters. In her more snide moments, she commented loudly on how much Elizabeth looked like Mark Smeaton, the music teacher who’d been executed for having an affair with Anne Boleyn (see Chapter 5).
Mary had a love-hate relationship with Elizabeth, seeing her as a sort of daughter on the one hand and a deadly rival on the other. The only film with Mary in anything like an important role is Cathy Burke’s portrayal in Elizabeth. Check out the scene when she tries to persuade Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) to go over to Rome; her mood swings say it all.
Locking up a rival
In Chapter 9 we explain that following a rebellion in England led by Thomas Wyatt, Mary had her sister sent to the Tower. As Charles V’s man in England, looking out for Philip’s interests, the ambassador Simon Renard was delighted when it looked for a while as though Elizabeth was involved in Wyatt’s Rebellion. Renard did his best to have the princess executed and was livid when the ‘evidence’ against her wouldn’t stand up.
The story goes that Elizabeth refused to enter the Tower by water because that meant passing under the archway called Traitor’s Gate (check it out when you’re there next) and she was no traitor.
The cringing letter Elizabeth wrote to Mary from the Tower has survived.
She denied any involvement with Wyatt and said there’d never been a more devoted sister. The frequent scribbling out, however, reveals a scared woman desperately searching for the right phrase.
Despite urgings from various members of the Council like Paget, Mary refused to have her sister killed. Instead, she released her from the Tower in 1554 and put her under house arrest at Woodstock in Oxfordshire.
Mary and Elizabeth met face to face at some point in 1554 and Elizabeth sobbed and swore loyalty to Mary, but the queen wouldn’t let her go. Mary’s attitude to her half-sister bordered on the schizophrenic - she hated and loved her at the same time.
Lord Chancellor Gardiner’s idea was to have Elizabeth barred from ever being queen by scrapping Henry VIII’s last Succession Act. Because this would mean bastardising Mary too, the whole thing was quietly dropped.
Searching for a suitable suitor
The laws of England - and most of Europe - were that when a woman married, her property became her husband’s. The generally held view - going all the way back to Adam and Eve - was that women were inferior to men and wives were expected to do as they were told.
So the solution, in the case of Elizabeth, was simple - find her a good man and the Elizabeth problem would go away. Philip took on the job of matchmaker himself. He decided that the lucky groom would need to be:
● Be a good Catholic
● Be a crony of Philip’s or at least loyal to his family
● Have the time and energy to keep Elizabeth in check (for her famous temper, see Chapter 12).
The obvious choice was Emmanuel Philibert, the duke of Savoy (see Map of Europe in Chapter 9).
Philibert had actually lost his land to the French and he’d been brought up at Charles V’s Court. He was a competent soldier and was prepared to move to England to live with Elizabeth (although Philip probably had ideas of shipping her overseas at the earliest opportunity).
Philip’s problem was that he had to convince two women:
● Elizabeth was clever and shrewd. She knew exactly what was going on, and in fact for the rest of her life she never lost her own power to a man (despite huge pressure).
● Mary was surprisingly snobby. She had no qualms about marrying Elizabeth off, but the girl was the bastard (as far as Mary was concerned) of Anne Boleyn and Mark Smeaton, so a duke was far too high ranked for her.
When Philip came back to England in the spring of 1557 he brought with him the duchesses of Parma and Lorraine, two pretty feisty ladies from his Spanish Court. They worked on Elizabeth - and probably Mary too - but got nowhere.
We know that Philip issued instructions after the Dudley conspiracy (see Chapter 10 for details) that Elizabeth was to be left alone, so maybe Mary’s paranoia was particularly bad then and Elizabeth needed protection. Philip could have whisked Elizabeth back to the Low Countries or Spain, but the Council had said no and Philip needed the Council’s backing for the French war.
So Elizabeth stayed put, biding her time and keeping everybody guessing. Philip tried to push the Savoy marriage again in 1558, but it was still no go.
By now, Mary had suffered her second phantom pregnancy (see Chapter 10 for details of the babies that never were), and so in October 1558 she added a new clause to her will. If she produced no ‘heirs of her body’ the crown would pass ‘by the laws of England’. She still couldn’t bring herself to name Elizabeth.
Naming Elizabeth as successor
Mary was paranoid in the last months of her life. Two phantom pregnancies, a half-hearted comeback of Catholicism, the smell of burning flesh over Smithfield (Chapter 10 gives the grisly details of the burnings) - it wasn’t much of a legacy to leave.
Elizabeth was a born plotter. Much later in her life (see Chapter 16) she gave her increasingly frustrated Parliaments ‘answers answerless’. She was highly intelligent, secretive and enigmatic; nobody quite knew how to play her. Even with Wyatt’s Rebellion (see Chapter 9) it wasn’t clear what her involvement was and no jury was prepared to convict her.
By the summer of 1558 it was clear that Mary was seriously ill and Philip sent a close adviser, the count of Feria, to talk to Elizabeth at Hatfield House, north of London (check the place out next time you’re in Hertfordshire). No records of what went on exist, but it’s likely the pair talked of what would happen when Mary died.
Now Philip faced a dilemma. He knew by October that Mary was probably dying and many in England thought he should do the decent thing and be with her. He had two problems though:
● If Mary had flu, he might catch it.
● If he was in England when Mary died, he’d have to claim succession, which he wasn’t ready for and which would turn pretty nasty.
So Philip sent the long-suffering Feria instead. The count saw Mary early in November. She recognised him, but couldn’t read the letters he’d brought from Philip.
Everybody seemed to be holding their breath, wondering what would happen. Heretics due to be burned were held in prison. But by the time of Elizabeth’s next meeting with Feria, everything had changed. Elizabeth was more confident, less reliant on Philip. When Mary was gone, she knew the Council and the people would back her. As for the Church . . . well, that remained to be seen.
It was probably now that Mary named Elizabeth as her successor. She asked that her debts be paid and the Church she loved so dearly should be kept intact. Her request received no reply.
Preparing for power
Count Feria is very useful for the history of these weeks because he wrote a thumbnail sketch of Elizabeth:
● She was vain and clever, taught by her father to get her own way.
● Her ladies-in-waiting were all Protestant, so Feria assumed (rightly) that she’d choose male advisers of the same persuasion when she became queen.
● She had a huge backing in the country at large. To quote the count: ‘There is not a heretic or a traitor in the kingdom who would not rise up from the grave to support her.’
● She was seriously annoyed about the way Mary had treated her, whisking her from one prison to another.
Feria let Elizabeth know that Philip had told his pension-holders to back her. This was supposed to make Elizabeth grateful, but it didn’t work - Elizabeth wasn’t sure anybody should be receiving cash hand-outs from a foreign king (thanks, sister-in-law).
So the smooth count and the soon-to-be-queen talked money, marriage and foreign affairs:
● Elizabeth wanted to know whether Mary had been funding Philip. Feria told her no; it was the other way round.
● Elizabeth reminded Feria that Parliament had a right to know what Philip’s money was being spent on.
● Elizabeth showed her dry sense of humour by telling Feria about the advances of the duke of Savoy and that being married to a foreigner had caused Mary a lot of grief. Now that the marriage was linked to the royal succession, it was altogether a more serious - and sensitive - subject.
● Feria told Elizabeth that Philip would fight on against the French until they gave Calais back. Elizabeth told him she’d behead anyone who thought otherwise.
● Elizabeth (who may only have been half joking) said she worried about the English hatred of foreigners. Becase Feria was about to marry Elizabeth’s friend, Mary’s lady-in-waiting Jane Dormer the following month, he already regarded himself as an honorary Englishman. In fact, he found English habits barbarous and their politics appalling.
Claiming the Crown
Mary died on the morning of 17 November at St James’s Palace in London, possibly of cancer. She’d been drifting in and out of consciousness for days and wasn’t in pain. She told her ladies in the last hours that she’d had dreams of little children playing with angels.
The story goes that Elizabeth was walking in the knot gardens of Hatfield when she was brought the news of Mary’s death. She took a deep breath and thanked God for a happy conclusion. The lord chancellor, Nicholas Heath, proclaimed Elizabeth as queen and Parliament was dissolved.
The other Mary
Practically speaking, the only rival who could have rained on Elizabeth's parade was Mary, Queen of Scots, her cousin once removed. Elizabeth was the country's rightful queen under the will of Henry VIII, but Mary of Scots, now 16, did have a claim. She was the granddaughter of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII's elder sister, but because her father was the Scots king James V, she was an 'alien'. That's why Henry hadn't included her in his will.
When Mary Tudor died, Mary of Scots was in France, about to marry the dauphin and eventually become queen of France as well as Scotland. It was this French connection that made Mary unacceptable to Philip. The last thing he wanted was a Guise empire stretching from the Pyrenees to Scotland.
But although she wasn't to be queen of England, for the next 20 years Mary of Scotland was to be a thorn in Elizabeth's side.
It was the smoothest handover of power in 50 years. Elizabeth’s backers had got men together, ready to face opposition from Catholics, Philip, anybody, but no one argued and the Elizabeth’s men quietly put their weapons away.
What was the state of play in 1558?
● Pope Paul was hopeful. He’d lost faith in Mary because the Catholic comeback had stalled. He couldn’t stand Cardinal Pole and the pair’s deaths on the same day delighted him. Maybe Elizabeth would see sense and continue Mary’s work. Oh dear - Part IV illustrates how naive his hope was!
● Philip needed England in his war against France, but Elizabeth was as devious as he was. Only time would tell how it would all work out (see Chapter 12).
● The bishops were uneasy. They received Elizabeth loyally (although some refused to go to her coronation) and they urged her not to make sudden, rash decisions but to check with the pope first.
● The Protestants hoped their time had come. Rumours of the new queen’s religious leanings were too many not to be true. They expected a field day.
At Mary’s funeral on 14 December 1558, Bishop John White of Winchester warned the congregation about the threat to religion. ‘The wolves,’ he said, ‘be coming out of Geneva and other places . . . and have sent their books before them, full of pestilent doctrines, blasphemy and heresy to infect the people.’
He must have hoped, as many Catholics did, that the queen would marry a champion of the old faith who’d channel her in the right direction.
But nobody was ready for Elizabeth, as you can see in Chapters 12 to 18.