A Tudor Primer

Let’s face it. We Americans have been regaled with stories of our forefathers since we were old enough to spit peas. George and his cherry tree, Honest Abe, and Trust Buster Teddy—but what do we know about our friend and once foe: England? Except for cursory mentions in history classes, a lot of us don’t know—much less care about—England during this period.

This primer is for the uninitiated, the folks who can’t get excited about watching Wolf Hall or reruns of The Tudors. They are missing out on some romping good stories! I’ve compiled a short compendium of quick and dirty facts written to inform and hopefully entice them to give Tudor stories a go.

  • The Tudor dynasty lasted only a little over a hundred years and spanned the entire 16th century. Star monarchs include: Henry VIII, Bloody Mary, and the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I.
  • The Tudor monarchs ushered in the modern age and the birth of the British Empire. England was no longer just a dreary little island that raised sheep for wool.

Henry VIII’s Greatest Hits

  • He had six wives—divorced two, beheaded two … it’s complicated.
  • Parliament and the Royal Navy began under Henry.
  • He broke away from the power of the Vatican and made himself pope of his own church. This reordering of religion is known as the Reformation.
  • While he was at it, he closed over 800 monasteries and sold off the land and valuables, lining his coffers. This is known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
  • He was an even-tempered king until his horse fell on him in a 1536 jousting accident.
  • Henry would go down in history for executing the most people—over 70,000.

Queen Mary I’s Greatest Hits

  • When her father Henry sought to divorce her mother Catherine of Aragon, Mary was removed from court for nine years and treated as a bastard child.
  • Was not allowed to see her mother, even when Catherine was dying.
  • Was forced to declare her mother’s marriage to Henry was incestuous and that her father was the Supreme Head of the Church of England.
  • Was the first ruling Queen of England.
  • Reversed her father’s position on religion. Reinstated heresy laws and burned some 300 Protestants at the stake.

Queen Elizabeth I’s Greatest Hits

  • Was the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.
  • Succeeded Queen Mary upon her half-sister’s death.
  • Never married.
  • Reversed her sister’s proclamation on religion … again, it’s complicated.
  • Was a patron to the arts. Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare benefited.
  • Began an extensive spy network—the beginning of the Secret Service and James Bond?
  • She expanded England’s reach in the New World with explorers Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh.
  • Piracy and privateering filled Elizabeth’s coffers.
  • Her navy defeated the Spanish Royal Armada—quite the plum.
  • Loved fashion and owned over 2000 gowns.
  • Ruled for 44 years.

Of course, I am leaving out important points to keep this list brief. My primer is only meant to tantalize. Mysteries from the Tudor and Elizabethan periods are some of the most entertaining around (of course, I’m partial). But when was the last time we had a leader joust, establish a state religion, or become ruler at the age of seventeen? See all the great stories you could be missing?

Read an excerpt from Mary Lawrence’s Tudor-era mystery Death at St. Vedast!

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