Thursday, 22 December 2011

Review of Harry Kelsey's Philip of Spain, King of England: The Forgotten Sovereign (2011)

Harry Kelsey, Philip of Spain, King of England: The Forgotten Sovereign (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2011), 288pp. £18.99.

There have been several calls for a study of Philip of Spain’s time as King of England over recent years. This is hardly surprising. Present-day scholarship of Mary’s reign is continuously growing, drawing attention to remaining overlooked areas. Interest in queenship, especially during the Tudor period, has increased. Yet examinations of Mary’s status as England’s first crowned queen regnant can only progress so far without a comprehensive study of her consort. Research into the Marian Church is also somewhat affected by the lack of work on Philip. We have come to recognise the influence some within Philip’s retinue exerted. The decision to return to Rome under Mary was certainly not the policy of these men alone, nor were they chiefly responsible for the measures implemented by the queen and her government, but the case of Friar Bartolomé Carranza alone indicates the significant role some played.1 An oversight of a more important figure – Mary’s own husband – is nonsensical. Finally, Philip was England’s first king-consort. Matilda in the twelfth-century and Jane Grey/Dudley in 1553 both were married at the time they made a bid for the throne but neither were crowned and Jane, acknowledged as queen at one point, never conferred upon her husband the title of ‘king’. Philip, on the other hand, married Mary around year after she became queen, was acknowledged as her lawful husband and thus king by all. Yet he was also refused a coronation, faced numerous limitations on his powers and had a complex relationship with his new subjects the English that continued long after Mary’s death. This is interesting stuff and should be examined in its own right.

So Philip Kelsey’s study, Philip of Spain, King of England: The Forgotten Sovereign, should be a welcomed addition to the numerous works already published on Mary’s reign. Anna Whitelock’s review on the dust-jacket promises the book to be ‘a timely attempt to place him [Philip] centre stage’. Sadly I was unable to agree.

This is not an in-depth study of Philip’s role as King of England. The book is 162 pages long (of main text) and though book-lengths aren’t everything this is clearly a rather fast-paced observation. Often the basics are covered with little attempt to divulge further. An example of this can be found in Kelsey’s account of Mary and Philip’s wedding. It amounts to just four pages and is concerned chiefly with providing a literal description, from who said what to who stood where. Kelsey does not elaborate upon the fact that contemporary accounts state Mary was placed on the right and Philip on the left during the service – a reversal of the typical positions for bride and groom – and that Mary sat on a larger throne. As Alexander Samson put it, ‘the positioning of Philip and Mary in the church was designed to underline Mary’s continuous precedence over Philip as English sovereign, even in the context of her marriage to him, by placing her in the space traditionally reserved for a king and Philip in that of a queen consort’.2 Nonetheless there were similarities in their dress leading to the theory that ‘a kind of equality between them in terms of power’ was being suggesting here.3 None of this is discussed by Kelsey. He does mention in a footnote that ‘the various descriptions of the ceremony differ considerably. I have relied largely on Figueroa, who wrote his report the next day, while events were fresh in his mind’ (fn 12, p. 188). But he does not discuss why such contradictions existed; why English chroniclers suggesting one thing, and Spanish observers claimed another.

Kelsey’s rather constrained examination of issues regarding female rule at that time is evident throughout this book. Of Mary’s speech at the Guildhall, London in 1554, he provides the rudiments, namely Mary’s arguments that prospective husband Philip would be able to defend England against its foreign enemies (pp. 68-9). What he does not mention is arguably the most famous aspect of the speech – when Mary referred to herself as ‘wedded to the realm’, with her coronation ring being her ‘spousal ring’ signifying the enduring bond between herself and the people. Mary’s own perceptions about her upcoming marriage and the impact it would have upon her powers and relationship with her subjects is overlooked. References to studies on queenship are thin on the ground. The only two of significance used are Glyn Redworth, ‘‘Matters Impertinent to Women’: Male and Female Monarchy under Philip and Mary’, English Historical Review, 112, 447 (1997), pp. 597-613 and Judith Richards, ‘Mary Tudor as ‘Sole Queen’? Gendering Tudor Monarchy’, Historical Journal, 40 (1997), pp. 895-924.

This leads to a major issue of the book. When exactly was it written? It was published only last month (November 2011), though reads as if it was completed around five or so years ago. The bibliography only confirms this. The most up-to-date studies I could find there were Eamon Duffy and David Loades (eds.), The Church of Mary Tudor (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006) and Elizabeth Svoboda, ‘All the Signs of Pregnancy Except One: A Baby’, New York Times, 5 December 2006 (an article concerning pseudocyesis – ‘phantom pregnancy’ – a condition that Mary may have experienced twice). If this was completed around, let’s say 2006-8, then Kelsey may be forgiven for his overlooking recent works. I acknowledge that the gap in writing to publication may be out of Kelsey’s hands but surely concerns were raised about the status of the book in the wake of a spate of works into Mary and her reign? And, if we accept it was written just past the mid-2000s this still doesn’t explain why Kelsey ignored several studies, some dating to the 1990s, that are of vital importance to any historian writing on Philip as King of England. I am thinking mainly here of the research of Alexander Samson. Samson’s PhD thesis, ‘The Marriage of Philip of Habsburg and Mary Tudor and Anti-Spanish Sentiment in England’ (University of London, 1999) is undoubtedly useful, especially Samson’s diligent consultation of both Spanish and English sources. If Kelsey had issues in obtaining the thesis, this does not excuse the oversight of Samson’s article, ‘Changing Places: the Marriage and Royal Entry of Philip, Prince of Austria, and Mary Tudor, July-August 1554’, The Sixteenth Century Journal, 36, 3 (2005), pp. 761-84. There was also no reference to David Loades’s work on ‘Philip II as King of England’, nor to a collection of articles on Friar Bartolomé Carranza’s role in the Marian Church which provides evidence of Spanish influence in the English church naturally initiated by Philip’s marriage to Mary.4 Why ignore research with obvious relevance to your own study?

There were some other issues I had with particular details in the book. Apologises if this all sounds too pedantic...

Kelsey implies Mary was unused to government. After all, she had never been raised to be monarch; Henry VIII’s desire to produce a son and secure a male succession is well known. But Kelsey goes too far in asserting that Mary ‘was never allowed to participate in government or to learn the intricacies of court politics’ (p. 27). Mary may have not been granted political office during her father’s lifetime, but at a young age had been created as the de facto princess of Wales and made head of a vice-regal household sent to the Welsh Marches. Yes, Mary was young and not expected to govern independently, but the Crown was still to be represented through her person and Mary was to engage in a ceremonial and symbolic role. Ultimately it was a role, however confined that may be and, ironically, it was a greater experience in matters of government than her siblings received during their father’s lifetime. I also find it incredibly hard to assert that Mary was unused to the intricacies, and intrigues, of the court. An argument for Mary striving to keep in her father’s good graces unattached to any particular faction at court can be made for 1536 onwards, but the idea she was completely unused to the whole concept of court politics (which was in essence court life) makes little sense. Mary maintained a complex network of affiliates, with court reformers and conservatives alike, and was able to call upon the assistance of many of these individuals during her bid for the throne in July 1553. But simple, she was a witness and member of the Henrician court. She may have been barred from it during her years of disgrace (c.1533-6), but the 1540s was a different story. Kelsey even contradicts himself on this point. He later writes that ‘some historians now argue that Mary deliberately created much of her reputation as an ineffective ruler in order to achieve the goals she wanted, as well as to deflect attention from herself and blame others for the more intractable problems that plagued her government’ (p. 124). Admittedly I do not think this interesting argument is a credible one, but whether we wish to believe it or not it must be acknowledged that this strategy is highly calculating and impractical to carry though by someone unfamiliar to participation in government and ‘the intricacies of court politics’. Kelsey toys with the idea that Mary was astute and manipulative and in doing so makes her appear a far more impressive political player than he implies her education allowed her to be.

Kelsey notes that Henry VIII made the infant princess Elizabeth ‘Princess of Wales, reducing Mary to the status of lady-in-waiting’ (p. 29). Mary never occupied such a role; the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys gave raise to fears she would be made to be some servant to Elizabeth but this irrational accusation turned out to be false. Additionally Elizabeth was never officially created princess of Wales. Kelsey dates the third Act of Succession (that re-included Mary and Elizabeth into the line of succession) to 1543 when it was ratified in 1544 (p. 33). Philip’s fourth wife is named as his ‘cousin’ Anne of Austria, though she was his niece (p. 139). Kelsey mentions that Bishop Stephen Gardiner wanted Mary to marry an English candidate, including Cardinal Reginald Pole but this was not possible for by her accession Pole had received Holy Orders (p. 53). This seems highly unlikely. Gardiner’s support for Pole as archbishop of Canterbury at this time was begrudgingly given at best. Gardiner clearly favoured Edward Courtenay, earl of Devon as Mary’s prospective husband, not Pole. As one of Gardiner’s biographers put it, Gardiner was ultimately prepared to see Pole as the next archbishop for this ‘would have the added advantage of ensuring that he could not rival Courtenay as the indigenous candidate for Mary’s hand’.5 On the issue of Philip’s status upon his marriage to Mary, Kelsey notes that Charles V gave his son the kingdom of Naples and dukedom of Milan as wedding gifts (p. 77). Yet in a separate footnote, Kelsey mentions that around the same time Philip asked a herald not to mention his status as duke of Milan for he had been given it back in the early 1540s so it was ‘old stuff’ (fn 15, p. 189). He also mentions earlier on that Charles had named Philip the duke back in 1546 (p. 27). An explanation of the rather complicated history surrounding Philip’s investiture as duke of Milan is not provided for the reader. Philip had been invested with the title in 1541 and 1546 though Charles had not relinquished control over the duchy. It was transferred again to Philip in 1554 at the time of his marriage, though it was a title he regarded as having been his for some years.6 Finally, Kelsey mentions the possibility that Elizabeth I ‘suffered from Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome’, a condition whereby ‘a male child has the external features of a female but with shallow vagina and undeveloped ovaries’. Evidence for this, we are told, ‘is contradictory’ (p. 156). ‘Contradictory’ is too diplomatic a term; I would just go with ‘absurd’.

So far I have dwelled on the negatives, and in truth I believe they overwhelm the qualities of the book. However I take to heart the advice that if you do not have anything nice to say (or write) then say nothing at all! This isn’t all bad. Kelsey’s writing style is good; the reader is not faced with numerous grammatical mistakes or my pet hate – a string of very short paragraphs. Though I have issues with what he references, he does reference frequently so there is no chasing around for sources. There is a good selection of manuscripts used though often Kelsey cites from nineteenth-century transcripts like the State Papers, Foreign and Domestic, etc series. Kelsey gives due consideration to Philip’s personality and upbringing, and his romantic escapades. He cannot be accused of being either blind to Philip’s faults or neglectful of his qualities as many previous historians have been. I was especially interested in Kelsey’s observation of previous treaties between England and Spain, namely the 1542 one which promised aid to in times of conflict. Kelsey shows how this was raised during Mary and Philip’s marriage when the Spanish sought assistance in their war with the French. It is often implied that England entered war with France, and subsequently lost Calais, through the Spanish marriage alone, but the precedent for assistance between the Habsburgs and Tudors is emphasised here (pp. 118 and 129). The book does include illustrations though they are not of exceptional quality and are predominantly much later (including nineteenth-century) images. The maps are useful, but Kelsey fails to incorporate the illustrations into the text. They standalone which some may find absolutely fine, but I think if pictures are included there should be some purpose to them and not used in a decorative-like manner.

In 1570, some 12 years after Mary’s death, Philip claimed that he could give Pope Pius V ‘better information and advice on that kingdom [England], and on its affairs and people, than anyone else’.7 Clearly Philip believed he had not come away from the whole experience empty handed. His relationship with the English was at best complex but he took his role as King of England seriously and, as the quote suggests, believed himself to be an authority on that realm. This book has not proved to be a definitive or substantial account of Philip’s time as King of England. It covers briefly his involvement in the Marian Church and his influence over the direction of foreign policy, but there is no discussion of his improvements of the English navy (which of course backed fired on him in the end!), nor on his interest in another part of Mary’s realm – Ireland. It also suffers from a lack of discussion of recent works. As a result it seems distinct from current scholarship, in sharp contrast with John Edwards’ excellent Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011), which paid due consideration to Philip’s role, used an array of Spanish sources and up-to-date studies. As a result I would recommend Edwards’ biography of Mary over this book when it comes to the issue of Philip’s time as king-consort. More needs to be done though on the Habsburg who became England’s king. Popular knowledge of Philip’s later and troublesome relationship with the English and former sister-in-law Elizabeth I is well known. It is time to shed more light on the origins of that relationship, which was not as fruitless as the events of the 1580s would have us believe.

1 John Edwards and Ronald Truman (eds.), Reforming Catholicism in the England of Mary Tudor: The Achievments of Friar Bartolomé Carranza (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005).
2 Alexander Samson, ‘Changing Places: The Marriage and Royal Entry of Philip, Prince of Austria, and Mary Tudor, July-August 1554’, The Sixteenth Century Journal, 36, 3 (2005), p. 763.
3 Ibid, p. 765.
4 David Loades, ‘Philip II as King of England’, in C. Cross, D. M. Loades and J. J. Scarisbrick (eds.), Law and Government under the Tudors: Essays Presented to Geoffrey Elton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 177-94. For the articles on Carranza see fn 1. Kelsey also ignores John Edwards’ work on Spanish influence in Marian England including Edwards, ‘A Spanish Inquisition? The repression of Protestantism under Mary Tudor’, Reformation and Renaissance Review, iv (2000), pp. 62-74.
5 Glyn Redworth, In Defence of the Church Catholic: The life of Stephen Gardiner (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), pp. 306-7. We also have to consider that Pole had no intention to marry Mary in 1553 nor was she interested in him.
6 M. J. Rodríguez-Salgado, The Changing Face of Empire: Charles V, Philip II and Habsburg Authority, 1551-1559 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp.103-6.
7 Philip II to Don Guerau de Spes, 30 June 1570, cited from Geoffrey Parker, ‘The Place of Tudor England in the Messianic Vision of Philip II of Spain’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 12 (2002), p. 185.

And on a completely unrelated note - Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!


  1. Great review! I was disappointed in this book too, although I'm not familiar enough with research of Philip to notice some of the shortcomings you pointed out. That business about Elizabeth threw me for a loop, though.

  2. Thank you! Given the level of interest in Mary and her reign in recent years, hopeful we will not have to wait long for a decent biography of Philip as King of England. I know Glyn Redworth has been working on this for some time, though sadly he doesn’t appear to be planning to publish something anytime soon. There is also a PhD student in the UK looking at this particular subject, so there is hope!

  3. I haven't read the above mentioned biography, but I recently used a very fine one on Philip for my own research.
    'Philip of Spain' by Henry Kamen, Yale University Press, 1997. It's a very readable, nuanced portrait of Philip.

  4. Philip relationship with Elizabeth is something indeed very curious and that should more deeply studied. They had met each other in 1554 and everything that I read, including Philip's letters and Feria's reports, led us to believe that they had quite an amiable relationship which was of course influenced by political intrigue but on a personal level they seemed to like each other and they could see, politically speaking, the utility of the other. It seems that historians don't want to deepen their relationship too much for fear of falling into some sort of historical novel or something of the sort. But as the letter that Philip sends to Elizabeth written by his own hand, and that G.Parker produces in his latest book tells us there is still much more to know about this strange relationship.

    I enjoyed the review and I was expecting something more from this book.