Sunday, 21 August 2011

A Mother and Husband to the Realm? How Mary’s Speech as Queen Helped Elizabeth I

Yesterday I came across an article by Cristy Beemer published only a month ago on ‘The Female Monarchy: Rhetorical Strategy of Early Modern Rule’ (Rhetoric Review, 30, 8, pp. 258-74). The article explores the manner in which Mary and Elizabeth, England’s first queen regnants, presented themselves to a kingdom accustomed only to male rulers. Beemer identified Mary and Elizabeth’s tendencies to employ ‘the figures of the spouse, the mother, and the maiden to embody conventional roles for women in Tudor society’ (p. 259) though naturally these two occupied very remarkable roles for women of that age. Unlike other ‘mothers’ and ‘maidens’ they were not answerable to a male figure. Like their fellow Tudor monarchs, they expected to be recognised as the superior authority in the realm. Their bodies, Beemer argues, naturally invoked traditional gendered roles but at the same time their speech denied such roles. In other words, Mary and Elizabeth did not adopt submissive language but rather formulated speech that demonstrated their authority, their independence as rulers – their right to govern as powerfully and freely as their male predecessors.

But it is Beemer’s specific focus on Mary’s speech that I wanted to draw attention to. Like several recent historians, namely Judith Richards, Beemer argues that Elizabeth had a lot to thank her sister for as Mary of course governed first, challenged preconceived notions of female rule first, tested the waters so to speak, and made mistakes which proved equally valuable for Elizabeth. It is Mary’s speech before the Guildhall in 1554 that Beemer focuses on specifically. In 1554 the rebels of Wyatt’s uprising (primarily a protest against Mary’s prospective marriage to Philip of Spain) marched towards the city of London and the authorities were anxious that they would receive a warm reception once they got there or at least could not be held outside the city. Mary, who was advised to leave the capital, decided to stay and give a rousing speech at the Guildhall, which won her acclaim and plenty of support. During the speech, Mary declared that she was,

‘...wedded to the realm and laws of the same (the spousal ring whereof I have on my finger, which never hitherto was, nor hereafter shall be left off), you promised allegiance and obedience to me’ (p. 263).

Beemer points out that Mary very deliberately avoided calling herself a ‘wife’. She is ‘wedded’ to her kingdom but she employs the word ‘spouse’. She does not cast herself in the submissive role of a wife who was expected to obey her husband duly. Thus Mary gives her subjects no reason to believe they hold the power to command her; ‘Mary takes on the role as the person to whom obedience is sworn’ (p. 264). Beemer concludes ‘in one of the first examples of the strategy of gender play that female monarchs used to establish ethos, Mary will not be a wife to England, but rather, a husband’ (ibid).

In the same speech Mary went on to refer to herself as a ‘prince and governor’ instead of just using the term ‘queen’. Beemer points out (and I never noticed this before), that the Oxford English Dictionary attributes the first reference to a female sovereign as ‘prince’ to Geste’s 1560 sermon where he is referencing to Elizabeth I.* But Mary endorsed this term as early as 1554 (Beemer does point out rightly that the Guildhall speech was first recorded after Mary’s death but if accurate, and there is wide consensus that the speech is correct, it was still said by Mary six years before Geste used the term). Elizabeth described herself as ‘prince’ on numerous occasions. She was obviously supporting existing terminology advanced earlier by Mary who was keen to emphasise her similarity to male counterparts.

As everyone knows, Mary went on to marry and hoped the union would produce children, namely that longed for Catholic Tudor-Habsburg heir. How did a pregnant queen, or one who hoped of bearing heirs in the immediate future, continue with her image as a ruler whose power and rights matched a king’s? Beemer points out again that Mary continued this dual role; she emphasised her female body, namely her ability to produce children but in the same breath she explained that she hoped to continue the dynastic line like ‘my progenitors have done before’ (p. 265). Beemer explains that ‘Mary’s careful choice of the word progenitors is rhetorically savvy. Unlike the neutral gender marking of the Latin origin of prince, princeps, the term progenitors is gendered masculine in the Latin. Like the male princes before her, Mary’s ruling progenitors are exclusively male. Evoking a history of men, the discussion of succession is changed. Mary places her fertility on a level playing field with the men who came before her; the issue is one of succession only and not complicated by her gender. Although her female body signifies difference, her single status is no more problematic than any of the single men who ruled before her.’ (Ibid). The rest of the article chiefly concerns Elizabeth ‘mirroring’ her sister. And if we credit Beemer’s arguments, she was a useful model of queenship to follow.

Beemer’s article is well worth reading and I probably haven’t done it enough justice here. She is not the first, nor probably the last historian to draw attention to the legacy Mary left to Elizabeth, an inheritance which has forever been seen in a negative fashion (loss of Calais, religious turmoil, etc), but which was more fruitful than many have liked to admit.

Full article: Cristy Beemer, ‘The Female Monarchy: Rhetorical Strategy of Early Modern Rule’, Rhetoric Review, 30, 8 (2011), pp. 258-74.

* For those who don’t have a subscription to the OxfordED, here is the relevant entry:

Applied to a female sovereign. Obs.

1560 Geste Serm. in H. G. Dugdale Life (1840) App. i. 191 Let us low our prince [sc. Q. Eliz.],‥nothing thinking sayeng or doyng that may turne to hyr dyshonor, prayeng all way for hyr long and prosperus reigne.

Monday, 8 August 2011

New books, talks & an exhibition

Unfortunately I have to start this post with bad news. As reported yesterday in the Telegraph, hundreds of documents have been ‘mislaid’ in The National Archives. Worse, from our perspective, they include documents relating to the sixteenth-century. The article only comments on the loss of works from the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, but this may be the usual offhand way of saying Tudor dynasty as a whole (if they put ‘and the court of Mary I’, they are unlikely to elicit the same outrage from the average reader than stating we have lost records from Henry and Elizabeth’s reigns. Sigh). How many documents of Mary’s reign have also been lost is yet to be seen.

On to more pleasant matters; there are several upcoming books of interest. John Edward’s biography of Mary is due out the end of this month (more info here). Several studies of Mary’s kin are in the works. They include:

Patrick Williams, Catherine of Aragon: A Life (Amberley Publishing). Confusingly two dates have been supplied for this – one being the 15th of this month, the other June 2012. This ‘monumental new biography’ claims to be ‘the first to make full use of the Spanish Royal Archives’. Hopefully it will be akin to Eric Ives’s masterly study of Anne Boleyn.

At last we have a full scale study of Mary’s husband’s time as, well, her husband. Harry Kelsey’s Philip of Spain, King of England: The Forgotten Sovereign (I.B. Tauris), is out on 30/11/2011. The synopsis:

‘The Spanish Armada conjures up images of age-old rivalries, bravery and treachery. However the same Spanish monarch who sent the Armada to invade England in 1588 was, just a few years previously, the King of England and husband of Mary Tudor. This important new book sheds new light on Philip II of Spain, England's forgotten sovereign. Previous accounts of Mary's brief reign have focused on the martyrdom of Protestant dissenters, the loss of English territory, as well as Mary's infamous personality, meaning that her husband Philip has remained in the shadows. In this book, Harry Kelsey uncovers Philip's life - from his childhood and education in Spain, to his marriage to Mary and the political manoeuvrings involved in the marriage contract, to the tumultuous aftermath of Mary's death which ultimately led to hostile relations between Queen Elizabeth and Philip, culminating in the Armada. Focusing especially on the period of Philip's marriage to Mary, Kelsey shows that Philip was, in fact, an active King of England and took a keen interest in the rule of his wife's kingdom. Casting fresh light on both Mary and Philip, as well as European history more generally, this book will be essential reading for anyone interested in the Tudor era.’

Kelsey is not the only one to focus on this issue. For some years now Glyn Redworth has been researching Philip’s time as King of England. I’m always checking his Manchester University page to see whether he has a study on this coming out, but as yet no word. Back in late 2009 he mentioned he was writing an account of ‘The Short Reign of King Philip the Brief of England (Philip I, 1554-1558’) –‘Philip the brief’, love it! He is doing a talk on this matter for a conference on prince consorts at the IHR this December. I’m very tempted to attend despite this talk being the only one of interest to me in the whole programme. If you are interested in this conference, the programme and registration details will be confirmed on 1st Sept.

A study of Mary’s aunt and namesake, Mary Tudor (youngest daughter of Henry VII; consort of Louis XII of France and the grandmother of Lady Jane Grey) is currently being written by Jennifer Kewley Draskau. The biography entitled, The Tudor Rose: Princess Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s Sister, will be published by The History Press Ltd in May 2013.

Kelly Hart has got books on two Tudor women connected to Mary out (one due next year). One is on Katherine Brandon, duchess of Suffolk. Despite going into exile during Mary’s reign, the duchess and Mary were on good terms for a number of years (as Mary’s expense records attest; plenty of trips to see the duchess for some serious gambling. Tut tut!). The study will focus on the rather overblown (in my opinion) one-time rumour that Henry VIII considered ditching sixth wife Katherine Parr and making the duchess his next missus. There already exists a superb study of the duchess and her religious affiliations by Melissa Franklin-Harkrider, so I’m not sure this new book will make much of an impact.
Hart’s other biography will be on Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife and Mary’s stepmother. Mary and Jane were of course on good terms, and I imagine the nature of their relationship will be explored fully. Apparently the book is out in March.

The ever productive David Loades has yet another book out soon. This time it is a new overview of the Tudor dynasty. Lets hope his section on Mary pays careful consideration to the works on her reign that have been published in recent years. Loades’s book, The Tudors: History of a Dynasty (Continuum Publishing Corporation) is out in March.

Finally the exhibition, Making History: Antiquaries in Britain, which celebrates the achievements of the Society of Antiquaries of London, will be coming to the US. The exhibition will first be held at the McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College, from 4 September 2011 to 11 December, then will move to the Yale Centre for British Art from 2 February 2012 to 27 May. Why do I mention this? Well amongst the many fascinating gems on display, is one of the most important and famous portraits of Mary (by Hans Eworth):

So make sure you see it!