In Scotland Mary’s grasp on her kingdom begins to wobble. In 1566, Elizabeth’s parliament also gives her serious grief, drawing an increasingly waspish response.
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Marriage and succession, as you can see, was an early Elizabethan obsession, a real brain teaser. And it was complicated by the existence of parallel lives, rival queens. While Elizabeth was trying to stop everyone talking about her personal business – and probably feeling reasonably strongly against the idea of marriage – her thoroughly attractive and successful neighbour was determined to find herself a husband. By the way, we are going to be talking quite a bit about Mary QoS this week. If you want to know about Mary’s life in more detail it just so happens we have reached Mary in the History of Scotland, available to members, and there is a suite of 5 episodes on her life. So maybe this is the moment when you decide to take the plunge and sign up for membership. If it is – then hie thee to the history of England.co.uk or indeed to new sister site the history of Scotland.co.uk, which is there just to make the point that Scotland is not part of England, should anyone need reminding.
Finding a husband was not purely a matter for Mary, as it happens but also for Elizabeth, or at least the English felt they should be consulted. Which feels all wrong, but in the diplomatic to and fro, in the continuing discussion about ratifying the Treaty of Edinburgh, about Mary’s rights to the succession, England had leverage. If she wanted to be recognised as Elizabeth’s heir, she really had to make sure that her choice of husband was acceptable. Mary resented having to consult the English, considering it suggested an inferior status she denied. For the moment she went along with it. But there was chafing. Chafing worse than after a long walk in wet trousers.
Part of the reason for said chafing was the labyrinthine, byzantine, impenetrable diplomacy of Elizabeth. Patiently, Mary asked Elizabeth well then, OK then, if you want me to marry your choice – who is your choice? In reply there was for a long while merely the crackle of static. When the radio sparked into life the answer made Mary’s jaw hit the floor and her fury hit the roof. The answer was Dudley. Well, I never did. First of all this was suggesting Mary marry her cousin’s cast off. Secondly, Dudley’s family was hardly the grandest as we’ve heard, and a record of 2 traitors in the last 3 generations was pretty unbeatable. Dudley, by the way was generally a Mary supporter; whereas Cecil was dead set against Mary being Elizabeth’s heir, Dudley was in favour. But he did not want to marry her. Not that he had a choice, if Elizabeth told him to marry Mary, he would have to do his duty. Mary stuck with the diplomatic discussions – but she also started looking on her own account, fed up with this business of waiting on the English. And anyway, she needn’t have worried about Dudders – Elizabeth rather unsurprisingly changed her mind. She’d had this sort of half conscious image of a menage a trois, with Mary and Dudley living in London, and the 3 of them hanging out together. She then realised this was never going to happen, and that she didn’t want to let her paramour out of her site. So Dudley was whipped off the table.
Sadly, Mary was struggling to find herself an international husband; the Guise family tried to help to some degree, but Catherine de Medici relentlessly blocked any such idea. But then, into town rode Matthew Stewart, the Earl of Lennox, and his son, Henry, Lord Darnley.
Lennox had been skulking in England after supporting the losing side in the rough wooing. Since many years had now passed, he fancied setting up shop again in his homelands and asked Elizabeth leave to um, leave; and asked Mary for leave to arrive. Both said, sure. Cecil and Elizabeth would later stab themselves with small pins for doing this, and I will explain why in just a sec if you’ll hang on a moment. Well, Mary was smitten with Lennox’s son Darnley, and she has been roundly criticised as a result with the tag of romantic emotional fool, given how Darnley turned out. But hang on just a moment; Darnley was clever enough to hide his dastardly character for a while at least; and he was indeed a bit of a catch physically, a rather beautiful youth with apparently girlishly good looks. But most importantly to Mary, he was also a good catch in the dynastic game. Darnley came fitted with English royal blood through his mum Margaret Douglas, the daughter of Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland. And so any children from a marriage between Mary and Darnley would have an even more supersonic claim to the English throne, should Elizabeth turn out to die sprogless. And if evidence is needed that Mary had won a trick, think of Cecil and Elizabeth and those small pins.
However, in most ways, Darnley turned out to be a stinker. He was arrogant, and managed to wind up most of the lords of the council. He was constantly drunk. As far as Mary was concerned as soon as he was married he started throwing his weight around, demanding to be made her equal, and indeed demanding that as a man, he should be the most important of the two, and all should defer to him. So here we have evidence of what worried Elizabeth about marriage; that as soon as she married, she would lose her independence. As it happens, Mary proved pretty ruthless with Darnley – refusing to award him the crown matrimonial as it was called, making them equal king and queen. But Darnley’s Catholicism, his anti English attitude contributed to isolation for the likes of Moray and Argyll, so much so that in 1556 they rebelled. Well, Mary called a muster, strapped on her pistols and steel cap and set off after them, in what became known as the Chaseabout Raid. The result was ignominious defeat for Moray, and he fled to England. Mary seemed on top of the world, unassailable; in fact as we’ll see, all she’d done is climb to the top of the Helter Skelter. Instability, which Mary had done so well to manage, had though her marriage and Darnley’s actions, re-entered Scottish politics.
Meanwhile Moray arrived at the English court. Maybe he was expecting soft kisses, sympathy and a hot toddy, if so the queen was to disappoint him. As far as Elizabeth was concerned, rebellion against an annointed monarch was very different to rebellion against a Regent, as in Mary of Guise. She roasted Moray over the open fire of her tongue. However, that is not to say Moray was banished; Moray was still a friend to the English and Cecil knew it; he was allowed to stay.
Maybe then the success of the Chaseabout Raid went to Mary’s head. Because in 1566, she did make a mistake – along with Darnley she appeared to begin to abandon the policy of religious toleration and conciliation she’d followed so carefully since her return, and started to favour Catholicism. It was not much, just her own personal behaviour and favour; but along with Darnley’s hideous behaviour and Moray’s ejection, it fed factionalism and fear of a Catholic revival and protestant persecution. And to add to it, she revived her imperial ambitions. In the full glare of a public banquet she declared that
There was no other queen of England but herself
From England came the sound of egg laying. Cecil’s fears were confirmed.
In all of what happens it is also necessary to include in the concoction the spice of the desire for power of the lords around Mary – Argyll, Maitland, Bothwell – these were ambitious and ruthless men. Although Mary had initially managed them with great success, she faced the same attitude that Darnley displayed – women, even monarchs, were to be subject to the advice and guidance of men. It’s not possible to know quite how much this drove the lords’ actions, Mary used the dignity and language of majesty reasonably well, and as long as she followed the lords advice and managed factions, the issue of gender was put to one side. When she made a misstep, the inherent factionalism and prejudices emerged, and the tower of state became a bunch of Jenga blocks.
And so we get the remarkable coup mixed up with the murder of the queen’s well dressed and musical personal secretary, David Rizzio. A faction of Scottish lords – Morton, Maitland and Moray from a distance among them – tweaked Darnley’s vanity, stirring his jealousy that maybe Rizzio was more than just a secretary, maybe there are pecadillos going on here, and anyway, look she’s refused your right to be driving the bus of state as the man of the house – who’s wearing the trousers here? So Darnley joined a plot to bring Mary into line. He and a posse of men burst into the queen’s apartments and stabbed Rizzio to death in front of her. It’s a vicious and extraordinary act.
And yet within weeks, Mary had turned it all around again; she persuaded Darnley to betray his fellow conspirators, flee with her to Dunbar. There she joined with her supporters Bothwell and re-instated the Huntly family who had raised an army. Mary entered Edinburgh in triumph, she held Morton responsible as the principal of the rebellion, and he fled.
Once again, Mary appeared supreme, and the birth of a son, James, seemed to underline her triumph. However. The edifice that supported her was increasingly shaky. Who could she trust now? She was forced to rehabilitate the rebels of the Chaseabout Raid, Moray and Argyll, emphasising her weakness. She recognised her own vulnerability, and rowed back from her support for Catholicism and imperial ambition. But the genie of factionalism, was out of the bottle – Darnley was a marked man for his betrayal of the rebels. And Mary’s prestige had suffered – she appeared an unassailable model of majesty no longer.
The image of Mary QoS dangling a healthy heir on her knee could not but make questions of the succession more urgent at Elizabeth’s third parliament of 1566 to 7. And rightly or wrongly, I thought it might be a good moment, in the interests of variety, to slip in a bit about parliament here just so you know where the development of the mother of all parliaments has got to.
So, as I hope you know, England’s parliament was firmly and slightly unusually bicameral, which is a great word which I have always assumed meant there are two bits. As opposed to bifurcated, which I think goes into two, and is a word occasionally on my mind due to a biological fact about a male Wallaby’s wedding tackle with which a friend of mine used to regale us in pubs in our youth. Good times. Anyway, we were talking bicameral, not bifurcated, two bits, commons and lords. Most other equivalent organisations in other countries were based on the concept of estates – nobility, church, towns; in Scotland those 3 estates sat in one house. In England, the qualification for attending the commons of parliament was that you were a knight to represent the shire, or elected by your borough; and for voting the qualification was an income of 40s or more, that’s two quid. Which means that with inflation, the number of voters increased constantly in the 16th century.
Now, we don’t use the dirty D word here – democracy that is. First of all, these qualifications meant that Parliament as a whole directly represented a small part of the population; it was a commonly held belief that decision makers should only be drawn from folks who had a ‘stake in the country’ in inverted commas – they were property holders. However, they would argue that they represented the interests of all there country; and d’you know you can be cynical and all and talk about vested interests, but the Elizabethan age will see, for example, the development of Europe’s first state funded poor relief system, so, moderate your cynicism. However, there’s no doubt that it is the propertied who held all the power, and put their interests first, and did what they thought was best for the rest of us – whether or not the rest of us agreed. But in here of course is that very critical and very poorly understood principle – of representation. During the fascinating constitutional process that was Brexit there was a poll, wherein people were asked if MPs should do exactly what their constituents wanted them to do, or represent their best interests according to the MPs best beliefs. Only 17% selected the correct answer, which is of course that MPs are there to represent their constituents best interest. After all, I don’t know about you, but I change my mind constantly on exactly what I want my MP to do, so is the other approach even possible? There are interesting debates about direct democracy now as I think it’s called, but I believe there are just two states who have actually got close – one of them being Switzerland I believe. The rest do the representative approach.
Anyway I digress into modern politics, a grievous crime, in the words of Shogun, I cannot live with this shame. Well maybe I can. Anyway, the 16th century process is very alien to us. It’s been pointed out that the process of appointing new MPs for each parliament should be described not as an election system, but as a selection process. Basically very few MP seats were contested. The great men of the area, the peers and town oligarchs, got together over some roast beef, horse radish and wine and had a chat about whose turn it was to represent the town or county this time around. The tenants were then informed on who to vote for, and usually though not exclusively, they obliged, on the buttered side of the bread principle. I feel I have told you this before, but it’s worth repeating. Afterall repetition is the mother of education. That and a good clip round the earhole. I jest obviously. I accept the days of gum bleeding teaching are thankfully in the past.
Anywho…numbers that’s right, numbers. Society first. The number of noble families is really very titchy. Titled nobility amounted to a group of 57 men. Elizabeth didn’t add very many to that count, she was worried about increasing numbers. In 1564 she made Robert Dudley earl of Leicester, and in 1571 Cecil became baron Burghley, but that’s about it; there’s one duke, the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard. By the way, I have just slipped in there that Robert Dudley was created earl of Leicester. So lets start calling Dudley Leicester shall we? I’ll remind you at some point. Of gentry families, in 1524 there were about 200 knightly families and 4-5,000 esquires and gentlemen. You will remember, of course, that late Tudor England was a thoroughly miserable period if you were a wage labourer – increasing population so more competition for work, wages rising slowly if at all, real value of wages eroded by inflation. But if you owned land – well it was bonanza time. So by 1600 there were about 500 knightly families, and 16,000 esquires and gentlemen. Given that 40s was worth less in 1600 than it was in 1500, the number of qualifying voters also grew, from a total population of around 4m by 1600.
Parliament of course was not a permanent institution – in that it met when the monarch decided it should meet, and for as long as she wanted it. In Elizabeth’s 44 year long reign, she held 10 parliaments. Parliament had a few key functions. It had become the only law making body, and statute law was supreme – monarchs could issue proclamations, but they lacked the authority of statute law. New legislation was introduced into parliament by any old member, or indeed by one of the PC; but the link to the old tradition was still strong – that a major stream of new legislation was from the petitions of individual members to their monarch. Hence, I assume but do not know, the surviving tradition of private member’s bills. Parliament was also the supreme legal authority. Above all, it authorised taxation; but it by no means just turned up, said fine and how much? The dependence of the monarch on parliament to vote lay subsidies gave parliament an important lever to ask for favours. Those are parliaments formal roles; these days of course, parliament is where politics happens too, and there has been something of an ongoing war of words about whether or not parliament had such a role in Elizabethan times; did they have any clout to influence policy or was that solely in the court and PC and we have previously discussed? G R Elton thought not – and parliaments are judged by many on the basis of their legislative record. But this sells parliament short. It frequently provided a forum whereby the gentry and burgesses of the House of Commons, could make their views known which they did to the queen’s irritation about marriage, and with some success later in the reign about monopolies. And, argument and disagreement took place in debate, and furthermore the Gen Pub took an interest in the debates; speeches were often printed, especially the queen’s, and read aloud in pubs and taverns; Parliament was part of the growth in Elizabethan times of a public space, public discussion about issues of the day by the Great English Public. And then the importance of parliament was emphasised by the amount of money and effort guilds put into lobbying parliament to get the bill they wanted passed, or indeed to prevent bills getting through. And the final piece of evidence to demonstrate that parliament, although occasional, played a central part in the body politic was that Cecil planned, influenced and steered its proceedings in every session. Cecil knew both Parliament’s usefulness, and also that it could cause trouble.
As far as finance was concerned, the monarch was expected to live on customs dues, and on income from crown lands; only when balloons went up, foreign wars or defence, did parliament feel it should vote for special subsidies. In fact, this principle had been eroded in the mid Tudor years, with subsidies voted for reasons not military; but Elizabeth rather rowed back from that, and the idea that the crown’s budget should include defence and be increased every year in line with inflation was not pursued. It is one of the deep ironies of English history that it would take the civil war to really increase government income dramatically, one of the major net results of that struggle for freedom. In the early years of Elizabeth’s reign, though, the record on finance was very positive. The coinage was withdrawn and re-issued to re-establish the quality of the coin, rather than to make a bunch of cash by a debasement. Elizabeth’s income came from a number of sources; the sale of crown land yielded over £250,000 to 1574 which is what £17,000 a year which is something I suppose though not much more than you could get for a goodly hill of beans. Income from Crown lands gave about £67,000 a year, and customs revenues between £70 and £85,000 a year. So that’s around £169,000 in a good year. Then there were subsidies; parliament generally gave when asked, and to 1571, averaged about £58,000 a year, to which we add clerical subsidies at £35,000 a year. So with taxation, gross income of about £260,000 a year. Meanwhile control was kept over spending – salaries were restricted, household expenses kept to £40,000 a year. Elizabeth spent about one tenth of what her father had on buildings, and built no new palaces.
The net result was that Mary’s deficit of £300,000 was turned into a surplus of £270,000 by 1563. Helped by the talents of Sir Thomas Gresham of playing the money markets; He was the son of the chap whose name is attached to Gresham’s law that bad money drives out good. He also founded the Royal exchange. I must do more on the lad sometime, a new book had just been published on his by the redoubtable John Guy. So watch this space. Then along came war and wiped Elizabeth and cecil’s success and then some – the little Le Havre holiday jaunt, just a few months long, cost £750,000. Later in the reign, Elizabeth and Cecil’s record was not so good; essentially they allowed the taxation system ro decay somewhat, so assessments stayed at old numbers, avoidance went on like billy-o, and the yield of subsidies gently reduced. But more of that later.
Anyway back to parliament. In 1566, Elizabeth called a parliament near the end of the year. The standard format was that the queen would open her parliament, and close it, with a speech to the assembled Lords and Commons in the spacious White Chamber at Westminster. Then the commons would file out, leaving the lords to the comfort and grandeur of the White Chamber…while they went to St Stephens chapel, there to push and shove. The chapel was smaller than the White Chamber, and despite that while the Lords was less than 100 in number, there were over 420 members of the HoC. So there were elbows, pushing and shoving, rules forbidding spurs and swords so that everyone could squeeze in. Meanwhile hierarchy still had its place – the speaker had a raised chair where the altar used to be, and the members of the Privy Council sat to his right. The cramped conditions made the commons like a cockpit. Once upon a time, the HoC had used the chapter house, where everyone sat in an arc around the speaker, which sounds considerably more civilised, but it became too small. In St Stephens chapel, people looked at each other – far more encouraging of banter. However, it sounds as though it was a good deal better behaved than the current version, which as you will know is like a playground at PMQs. In Elizabeth’s parliament the rules of procedure were becoming established; you addressed the speaker not other MPs, no members were to be named, no one was to interrupt. One observer remarked on the good order in the lower house, where he claimed there was
‘marvelous good order used in the lower house…with the greatest modestie and temperance of speech’
Lets see if the Grorniad reports the next PMQs in the same way next week. Even so in Elizabeth’s reign you might guess that the rules were often broken; another chronicler noted lots of noises made during an unpopular speech, and that a bill from the Lords was ‘cryed away’.
While the Commons shuffled & squirmed in their cramped conditions, the lords sat in sumptuous comfort in the White Chamber, the walls hung with tapestries, and further decorated by the gorgeous dress of the lay representatives. There’s a contemporary picture of the queen presiding over a session which I have popped onto the website; the queen sits at the head under her canopy of state, with lines of lords in their ermine stretching away in two facing rows, and then the scribes and lord Chancellor and legal lot on their nice comfy wool sacks. The queen might often take part in debates before bills were approved in the Lords, and sat in state at the closing of parliament to receive the Speaker’s oration. But then as now, parliament had a large element of theatre and drama, of speeches before and after the nomination of the Speaker, the variety of speeches, delegations from other houses, divisions for votes. And there was a consciousness that the MPs were part of a process with deep historical roots with their ancestors – in consultative assemblies of Anglo Saxon times and Medieval assemblies and the Magnum Consilium. Parliament played a vibrant role in state formation, and you might even argue that it was copied in different local forums up and down the country – in the councils, wards and parishes, in the stannery courts. In Swallowfield the parish met together to draw up a set of articles about the rules of how they would govern their community, in what I think I am right in saying has been described as the monarchical republic of Swallowfield. The articles were there
To the end that we may better & more quietly live together in good love and amity to the praise of God, and for the better serving of her majesty when we meet together
Which might be used just as well for a well run and successful meeting of parliament.
The parliamentary session which took place from the end of September 1566 to January 1567 was in fact an extension of the 1563 parliament, and is principally notable for an unusual spat between queen and parliament. That is not to say that nothing else was achieved in it; by and large Elizabeth’s parliaments would make bees look idle with the quantity of bills enacted; in Edward VI’s reign the average parliamentary session produced 93 bills, in Mary’s reign 48, and in Elizabeth’s reign it was 123. These bills were of all kinds and most of them were uncontentious and not the stuff of the forward march of great constitutional issues. 2/5th s of them were private bills, such as the denization of one ‘John Stafford, born beyond the Seas’, others were focussed on regulatory matters, such as the construction and size of barrels, or penal matters such as the prevention of fraudulent gifts in Bankrupts. You can see the official reports on British History online if you wish, it is a little bit of a hoot. Seriously, not as much of a hoot as watching a Test match or downing a pint alongside a bag of Worcestershire sauce crisps, but it’s a little bit of a hoot, a hoot of moderate proportions. A hoot suitable for the English temperament.
By and large parliament in the 16th century was the transacting of business – as just noted, it acted more rarely as a political forum. And most of the 1566 session went that way. Except for a spectacular spat about the contention of the moment, egged on by the arrival of Prince James in Scotland – you guessed it, the queen’s marriage and succession.
In 1563 the Commons had tabled a petition which went down like a led balloon. In 1566 the issue resurfaced, and time was allocated for debate. A delegation solemnly petitioned the queen for her to marry, and name her successor. Elizabeth tartly replied that she’d already talked about this last time, and she’d expected thanks rather than more demands; on the succession she replied again that it was dangerous to make a decision at this time so…you know, not, really. When the response was read out to the HoC in St Stephens chapel, there was unhappy silence. Debate started again, and the queen tried to get them to shush, sending legal advice that once she’d answered the question, no more time could be allocated for debate – but parliament would not be fobbed off – to both Commons and Lords this was a crucial issue. As far as parliament was concerned it was a public issue, relating to national security; to Elizabeth it was a private issue. In a brave and very unusual move, one of the members, Peter Wentworth, challenged the legal advice and claimed that freedom to debate whatever they chose was a parliamentary right, which got Elizabeth proper blazing into right mardi bum mode. She berated the delegation for insolence; she threw a tantrum at court and on 27th October banned the Earls of Pembroke and Leicester from her Presence Chamber. Hands up those of you who remembered that the Earl of Leicester and Robert Dudley are one and the same? Gold star if you did. She called the Duke of Norfolk a traitor, and publicly embarrassed the Earl of Northampton by quizzing him how come he was getting married while his wife was alive? And she harangued the privy council. It was something of a strop.
Parliament tried again. It had one more card to play; to try to force the queen to their will by using the Subsidy bill. This was not a tactic that was normally used and had only been used in the most exceptional circumstances, and there was no way that anyone who would be brave enough to say explicitly look, queen, you can’t have your cash until you’ve put a ring on it, OK? But the subsidy bill contained the words
For the most comfortable assurances and promise by you majesty made and declared unto us, that for our weal and surety your majesty would marry as soon as God should give you opportunity to accomplish the same, whereof we have received infinite comfort
I think that’s called an assumptive close in selling profession. But the queen would not be ruled – despite the same assurances that she’d marry, no one was named, and no successor named. In her closing speech, Elizabeth vented a little, saying very pointedly that the
Prince’s opinion and good will ought in good order to have been felt in other sort than in so public a place 
She complained of having heard
So lip laboured subjects mouths.
Elizabeth was at a high grump level. She might have been even grumpier had she known fully who was behind the petitions and the attempt to link the subsidy to the question of marriage. That person was her loyal subject and servant – William Cecil. Cecil was truly conflicted between his dedication to serving the queen with complete loyalty; and his conviction that in this matter she was wrong. But in this case, he worked through other members of parliament and sat behind the scenes, never appearing as the principal. An eminence gris. On this occasion he avoided banishment.
Ok, that’s all for this week then folks. Although I will leave you with a little more news from Scotland before we go, just to set you up for the next episode. In the early hours of 10th February 1567, at a place in Edinburgh called Kirk O’Field, the night was ripped apart by the sound of a massive explosion, followed by the noise of falling debris and stones from a house. A storm had broken that would make the murder of David Rizzio in front of queen Mary look like afternoon tea with de-crusted cucumber sandwiches. You might have heard of it.
 Dean,D Parliament in in Doran and Jones ‘The Elizabeth World’ p 128
 Simonds d’Ewes, ‘Journal of the House of Commons: October 1566’, in The Journals of All the Parliaments During the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (Shannon, Ire, 1682), pp. 120-127. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/jrnl-parliament-eliz1/pp120-127 [accessed 19 June 2020
 Alford S: Burghley p135