Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Trading on the Martyrdom of his Mammy: James VI and I and the Wooing of Britain's Catholics, by Linda Root


James Stuart at age 20 - Public domain art

King James VI of Scotland may have shed a tear in February of 1587 when his mother Marie Stuart, erstwhile Queen of Scots, was executed, but if he did so, he did it privately. He had expressed to his confidants that she had brought it on herself. For much of his life, he had ignored her letters, even after he was free of the supervision of her detractors.  It took prodding from the baroness of Ferniehirst, Lady Janet Scott to get him to read them and respond. And even then, there was little affection in the exchange.

Yet, fifteen years after her death, his government was speckled with former Marians, and his bride Anne of Denmark was privately attending the Mass.  He had written a book entitled the Basilikon Doron, ostensibly intended as a guide to monarchy for his son Henry, Duke of Rothesay in 1589.  It criticizes both extremes in the Scottish religious climate--Catholics and Puritans.  True to his own religious philosophy, he advised a middle road.  To the displeasure of the Scottish kirk, he was less than enthusiastic when it came to persecuting Catholics. He conserved his energies for persecuting witches.

Queen Anne of Denmark -Public Domain art

Not every aspect of his character is consisted with the James whose pamphlets regarded papistry as if it were the plague.  Although he was a theologian, he was not a reformer in the sense of John Knox. James, it seems, was a far more astute politician than he has been credited for as while he was looking to the South and savoring the English throne, he traded  on his mother's reputation in hopes it would deliver him a kingdom.  But he did it carefully, with a degree of caution uncommon in a Stewart.

Public Domain 19th century painting of the execution of Marie Stuart

Immediately following the queen's beheading, the king's cousin Lord Francis Stewart, heir to the dead queen's husband, publicly criticized his sovereign's reluctance to go to war to avenge his mother death.  Bothwell was so outspoken on the topic, James had  him warded in Edinburgh Castle to prevent him from raising an army of Border Reivers and marching south himself. (See, for example, Bothwell and the Witches by Geoffrey Godfrey, Robert Hale Ltd., 1975).

Yet, in the next decade, what had been widely regarded as a controversial state execution had become a martyrdom, and that changed the king's attitude toward his mother. Arguably it was not his mother's grisly death but the pending demise of the monarch to the south that prompted his posthumous affection for his mother.  How much of it was the sincere expression of a child who had suffered a tragic loveless youth and how much of it was masterful politics is a most intriguing question.

The death of the Queen of Scots did not send an immediate tidal wave of protest inundating the Christian world. (Mary Queen of Scots and French Public Opinion, 1542-1600, Alexander Wilkinson, Palgrave-MacMillan 2004). According to Wilkinson, whose arguments are supported by a great many references and some graphs, in Marie Stuart's beloved France there was little or no interest in the Queen of Scots once she sailed for Scotland in 1561.

Then came the publication of George Buchanan's  book Historie de Marie Royne d'Ecosse in 1571 and its translation into numerous languages including French in 1572. While the French version was published with a false Edinburg imprint, Wilkinson asserts it to be an enterprise of the English government, no doubt printed in London and shipped abroad to spread it venom to the wider audience.

George Buchanan - Public Domain Art
The 4th Duke of Norfolk

The purpose of all of this was to glean support for pending English intervention in the Scottish Douglas Wars by breaking the Lang Siege of Edinburgh Castle, and to raise foreign support  for the trial and execution of the Duke of  Norfolk, Marie Stuart's dangerous suitor, least the Norfolk execution appear to foreign powers as a move against Elizabeth's Catholics rather than a strategic lancing of a political boil.

Whatever the intent in publishing Buchanan's sensationalized account of Marie Stuart's reign at the precise time when England and France were negotiating a peace accord, its  short term effect was to make Marie Stuart unpopular on the Continent, exacerbated by the wholesale slaughter of Protestants in the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre. By 1579 the debate over Marie Stuart's fate had  died down and there was virtually nothing published about the Queen of Scots in France until her execution.

However, when news of what had occurred at Fotheringhay reached France, it was a public relations coup for the rising Holy League. Says Wilkinson, the martyrdom of Marie Stuart became very much a Leaguer cause in France. However,  to use the modern vernacular, the assassination of her Guise uncles the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine by Henri III knocked her off the frontpage, and there was very little interest in Marie Stuart in France thereafter other than in the literature and arts. However, even after the failed invasion of the Armada, in England there was a continuing phobia when it came to Catholics during the waning years of Elizabeth Tudor's reign.

By Quodvultdeus (Own work) Creative Commons
These were the years of intrigue and Jesuit infiltrations and hidey holes in great houses where secret Masses were held such as the priest hole opening from the Withdrawing Room at a house in Havington, England. While Elizabeth was not especially tolerant of her Catholic recusants,  most first offenders were fined. More severe penalties were reserved for repeat offenders and defiant Jesuits.  In the wake of the Armada, a poor economy and worse harvests made the Catholics in England convenient scapegoats for a monarch who had lost her lustre.

One argument I have not seen espoused contrasting the religious policies of the two kingdoms during the 1590s comes from my own history in the Episcopal Church. The parish church I attended in a suburb of San Diego was what we called 'High Anglican'. The congregation railed against the new prayer book and rather than adopt it, it's use was optional but subtly discouraged. When American Roman Catholic services were reformed during the later part of the 20th century to eliminate much of the Latin in the Litanies, one could attend a Mass at Saint John's in Chula Vista where I was a member, and another at Our Lady of Guadalupe Hidalgo in Otay that same day and hardly notice the difference. In my hypothesis, at least insofar as the common folk were concerned, my illustration is what likely happened in England--other than the folks distributing and receiving the benefices, most  English hardly noticed. The result of Henrician Reform was largely financial, at least until Puritanism threatened.

Knox admonishing the Queen of Scots, Public Domain Art
This was not the case across the Border to the north during the early years of the Scottish Reformation. John Knox's approved religious service was nothing at all like Cardinal David Beaton's mass.  Knox, you may recall, railed at the baptism service of the infant king and the Scottish kirk chastised Elizabeth's proxy Princess Jean Stewart, Countess of Argyll, for acting as her proxy.  Infant baptisms were considered vestiges of papistry. So were other things like dancing and Christmas. When Marie Stuart married her third husband Lord James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, there was a wedding breakfast but no masques and no ball.

No matter on which side of the religious issue they found themselves, the common folk of Scotland did notice. And this polarity in Scotland put James VI in a very uncomfortable position. The truly amazing thing is how very well he toed the line. One way he did that was by cashing in on the mystique surrounding Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots, the mother whose letters he refused to answer, and by salting his government with former Marians on the one hand while lifting his bejeweled hand to write anti Catholic propaganda with the other. And make no mistake, in most cases he was writing for a very specific audience--the English Privy Council.

 In researching my novels in the Midwife's Secret Series, The Mystery of the Hidden Prince, The Other Daughter and the forthcoming 1603: The Queen's Revenge, I was forced to abandon several preconceived notions  I had held for years, one of which was that Elizabeth Tudor kept her ministers in a nail-biting panic while she lay on pillows on the floor for fear of dying in her bed,  without offering a clue as to who was to be her heir.

The truth is that for all practical purposes,the English succession had been settled long before the date of her death. Ever since the execution of the overreaching Earl of Essex who had accused Cecil of favoring a succession by the Spanish Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, Robert Cecil had been very careful to stay in step with his colleagues who favored  James. Most of the policy makers at Westminster had come to agree with Knox insofar as The Monstrous Regiment of Women was concerned.  At the end of Elizabeth's life, dealing with Gloriana had grown  tedious. The acknowledgement of James VI of Scotland as her heir was a formality and the story of her deathbed gesture is more than likely balderdash.  Cecil had William Carey prepped to ride to Holyrood as soon as Elizabeth Tudor had the decency to die.

However, the Privy Council was not the sum total of the English hierarchy, and the acceptance of James by the English had a good deal to do with his attitude toward religion. Suddenly  he had nothing but praise for his dear departed mother, and he manifested this attitude by elevating Marians like Alexander Seton to high places in the government while pardoning the worst of the aristocratic Catholic dissident lords such as Huntly, Errol and Maxwell. He did not pardon his cousin Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, because Bothwell was  still plotting with the Spanish to depose him.

James justified the appointments of suspected Catholics to high places in his government as a gesture of good will, but what he was really seeking was a guarantee that English Catholics would accept him as their king. He had bought into his mother's argument that the English crown was his by Divine Right. However, he was careful how he defined the Divinity conferring the right.

He began making concessions to Scottish Catholics not because he felt it was the right thing to do, but because he was playing to an audience across the Border to the South  Especially in the north, England had a large population of Closet Catholics who were watching. And to make certain he did not lean too far in a precarious direction, he continued catering to those who feared a return to the auld religion by flaunting his Protestantism in his writing. Concurrently he was moving Scotland toward an episcopal model for the Scottish kirk.  It was a good deal like walking a tightrope.

 Like his mother Marie Stuart, he engaged in a prodigious correspondence, writing to not only Philip III and Henry IV, but also to the Pope. The truth is emerging showing James I of England to have been unusually popular in Europe. Modern histories are beginning to present James as a very crafty fellow who believed he had been ordained by God to unite the British people by first uniting the crowns  and moving slowly to a religious accommodation that extended some rights to those Catholics who were willing to be subtle about it. And he did it in an atmosphere of peaceful relations with his European contemporaries.

He portrayed his mother as a political victim rather than a religious martyr, so as not to offend the English or the Scottish Kirk.  His plan to have her re-interred at Westminster in the Henry VII Chapel was a brilliant move to emphasize that she, too, was a Tudor through her grandmother Queen Margaret. By keeping counsel with opposing factions, even the one as far away as Rome, he managed to capture the English throne without any serious opposition.

Most English Catholics were enthusiastic during the early days of his rule. He had made religious concessions to Scottish Catholics. His grand design was to unify the countries of England and Scotland. In the spirit of the letter he had written in 1599 to Prince Henry,  he sought  a religious accommodation that would extend a degree of tolerance to both Catholics and Puritans in both England and Scotland. How  extra copies appeared in the hands of foreign kings remains a thinly veiled mystery. And if a group of Catholic fanatics had not tried to blow him up, his plan might have worked.


James I of England- Heraldic Badge
a joining of the Thistle and the Tudor Rose

(By Sodacan  (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)


Linda Root is the author of the historical novels of the Queen of Scots Suite found on Amazon and Amazon Kindle.The Queen of Scots Suite by Linda Root

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