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The marriage of Tudor England and Habsburg Spain

The co-monarchy of Mary I and Philip II put England at the heart of early modern Europe. This positive reassessment of their joint reign counters a series of parochial, misogynist and anti-Catholic assumptions, correcting the many myths that have grown up around the marriage and explaining the reasons for its persistent marginalisation in the historiography of Tudor England. Using new archival discoveries and original sources it argues for Mary as a great Catholic queen, while fleshing out Philip’s important contributions as king of England. It demonstrates the success and many positive achievements of this glittering dynastic union in everything from culture, music and art to cartography, commerce and exploration. Philip and Mary’s negative reputation derives from a particular version of English identity and reflects confessional differences in early modern English history. The acceptability of Mary’s foreign marriage will continue to reflect the evolving relationship between Britain and Europe, and its cultural politics. Moving from the commercial and strategic interests served by Anglo-Spanish alliances, it analyses the negotiations and marriage contract, Mary’s government, the Act for the Queen’s Regal Power, the Wyatt rebellion, the co-monarchy, gynophobic polemic, court culture and ceremony, bilingual lexicography, portraiture and print, and the historical (mis)fortunes of this glittering dynastic match.

Alexander Samson

Unpicking the long association of Mary and her marriage with abrogation of English sovereignty, which historians have argued followed the reintroduction of papal jurisdiction, this chapter counters by showing how England’s imperial status was assured and extended by the marriage. It looks at the way the marriage contract’s terms and restrictions responded to anxieties about a regnant queen, analysing the law tenant by courtesy, contemporary legal commentary and the echoes of Ferdinand and Isabella’s contract. Mary made her decision in the face of widespread opposition amongst her household, the Privy Council and parliament. Finally, it counters the notion of Philip’s or Spanish unwillingness or hesitation, demonstrating their impossible financial position and reading Philip’s ad cautelam instrument as an understandable precaution.

in Mary and Philip
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London, 18 August 1554
Alexander Samson

Philip and Mary’s entry into London on 18th August reflects the complexity of their reign. Organised by a group of aldermen, including Richard Grafton, Protestant printer of the Great Bible, and John Heywood, Catholic poet and dramatist, it registered the multivocal responses of a city having a plurality of faiths that cut across and were intertwined with commercial and political interests. An anecdote from John Foxe about London’s reception of their new king is shown to be part of a more ambivalent iconography that responded to commercial imperatives while flattering the king with an image in which the crown is delivered into his hands by a figure representing both Mary the queen and the queen of heaven.

in Mary and Philip
Alexander Samson

This chapter analyses Philip’s journey and arrival in England, early public appearances and the wedding in Winchester. He cultivated an identification with his new kingdom, and his English subjects soon claimed him as English not Spanish. The clothes the royal couple wore, their symbolic use of the Cathedral, the wording of their vows and order of the ceremony, and their positioning next to each other encoded the differences and tensions between English and Spanish aspirations for the marriage, in light of the ‘problem’ of female rule. It examines the tensions between Philip’s Spanish and English households, born of jealousy and the desire for intimacy, and how through polyvalent signalling he sought to appeal to Habsburg aspirations while appeasing indigenous sensibilities.

in Mary and Philip
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Alexander Samson
in Mary and Philip
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Alexander Samson

The introduction examines the historiography of the Marian period and in particular the Spanish marriage, challenging negative assumptions about England’s first regnant queen and the denigration of her marriage to Philip II. It proposes a positive vision of Mary I’s co-monarchy and argues that anti-Catholic prejudice, notably in the Black Legend, has overshadowed this critical period in England’s political, cultural and constitutional development, obscuring the positive contribution made by England’s Spanish king. It traces the persistence of these negative stereotypes in popular culture and highlights this as a determining moment in our disciplinary division of history into ‘British’ and ‘European’. It concludes with a review of the glimmerings of this new vision in revisionist historiography over the last decade.

in Mary and Philip
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Alexander Samson

Opening with the commercial ties between England and Spain, this chapter underlines the Habsburgs’ awareness of England’s strategic importance in securing the maritime link between Spain and the Low Countries. This triangular trade was key to containing France and maintaining hegemony. Mary was seriously discussed on at least three occasions as a potential Habsburg bride. In this context, xenophobia and foreign usurpation were repeatedly invoked in the face of a likely female accession. Ultimately Mary’s rise to power was built on her riches and crucial support within the Privy Council as well as personal popularity. Witness confusion at her coronation reflected the uncertainties produced by her unprecedented status as England’s first regnant queen.

in Mary and Philip
Alexander Samson

Wyatt’s revolt in 1554 crystallises the web of interconnected patriotic and religious motivations enveloping mid-Tudor subjects. Mary faced an outpouring of polemic as convinced evangelicals went into exile. The speed, topicality and volume of these publications presented new challenges to rulers across early modern Europe. The queen’s image was contested very publicly. Metaphors of her as the Virgin Mary or mother of the people were countered by biblical anti-heroines like Athalia and vitriolic images of sexual betrayal, with Philip and the Spanish cast as rapists. Despite the Act for the Queen’s Regal Power, passed after the revolt, assuring the property rights of holders both Catholic and Protestant of ex-monastic property, this link between property, sovereignty and gender haunted the reign.

in Mary and Philip
Alexander Samson

Historians have struggled to understand the co-monarchy of Mary and Philip and how it functioned in practice, too often attributing commonplace misogyny to agents all too aware of the competing axes of gender and power. Assumptions about Mary’s lack of concrete engagement in ruling have left the impression of the co-monarchy as a vacuum, where in fact she was engaged and assiduous, imposing her will in the face of opposition at times from councillors or her co-ruler. Having analysed the political success of their rule, the argument turns to the cultural exchanges and influences of the union, including the first Spanish-English language-teaching manual, portraits and other forms of image-making that projected their co-monarchy on the international stage.

in Mary and Philip
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Alexander Samson

The book has argued for greater recognition of the joint reign’s importance from a constitutional, cultural, political and historical perspective, building on recent revisionist history and examining some of the reasons why it still comes as a surprise that England had a Spanish king in the mid-Tudor period. The fluidity and complexity of religious faith in the period has been flattened out by sectarian readings of the reign while its political arrangements have been simplified through the lens of nationalist history. The Anglo-Spanish court, far from lacking purpose, produced a ferment of creativity and innovation from cartography to theology, exploration and enterprise, music and art, literature and political thought.

in Mary and Philip