Blog, Wolf Hall

Mike Answers Your Wolf Hall Questions

Hello Mike,

Please disregard if this has already been dealt with. I found myself wondering why Henry didn’t at some point put his son, Richmond, into the line of succession.

It seems the succession was (and still is) something you could play around with if you were the monarch. He had acknowledged him as his son and given him titles, though he didn’t seem to have much use for him.

Rather than go through all the wrestling with relations with the Popes and Katherine and Katherine’s alliances and the Popes’ and Henry’s fear of angering Katherine’s alliances, why not say this is my son and he will be king unless I have a legitimate son sometime. It does seem as if adultery was far more common and less frowned-on than divorce.

This wouldn’t have done the job, of course, because Richmond died before Henry did but in the crucial days of Wolf Hall Henry didn’t foresee that.

Thanks again for the fascinating series of discussions.

Oh, I am so glad you asked this question!

This passage, from “Entirely Beloved Cromwell,” gets us there:

‘Suppose he dies?’ Norfolk demands. ‘Supposing a fever carries him away or he comes off his horse and breaks his neck? Then what? His bastard, Richmond?…Can he reign? Ask yourselves this. How did the Tudors get the crown? By title? No. By force? Exactly. By God’s grace they won the battle. The old king, he had such a fist as you will go many a mile to meet, he had great books into which he entered his grudges and he forgave, when? Never! That’s how one rules, masters. The old king bred, and by the help of Heaven he bred sons. But when Arthur died, there were swords sharpened in Europe, and they were sharpened to carve up this kingdom. Henry that is now, he was a child, nine years old. If the old king had not staggered on a few more years, the wars would have been to fight all over again. A child cannot hold England. And a bastard child? God give me strength! And it’s November again!’

Wolf Hall, Part 3, Chapter 2: “Entirely Beloved Cromwell”

It really can’t be overstated how shaky the Tudor dynasty was in Henry VIII’s reign. The crown didn’t pass to Henry VII because of a bloodline of kings He grabbed the crown through battle, which maybe didn’t sit well with other families who actually had blood arguments to make over the rights of succession. So when Henry VIII’s he’s only the second Tudor to hold the throne, and the first Tudor to inherit a monarchy rather than take it in battle.

So, attempting to put Henry Fitzroy — Richmond, the king’s bastard — in the line of succession and then Richmond ascending? Civil war would have immediately broken out. Henry more than anything needs a male heir. His daughters, even before he threw them out of the line of succession, were only second-best options, because England had never been ruled by a woman (except for how women actually did a lot more ruling, only they never got credit), and even a female Tudor queen would not have been seen as a strong defender of the Tudor line. (One of the reasons Elizabeth I didn’t marry, besides the fact that she’s played by Cate Blanchett in those movies and seems very intense, is that she didn’t want to have to share and then lose by minutes her claim to the throne to her husband.)

(I literally do not understand why anyone would want to be a monarch, by the way. Everyone wants you to die. Everything about your existence is rounded by prescription and proscription. Let me be a peasant who dies at 35 if I have to be time-traveled to the 16th century.)

And because it takes me very little prompting to talk about Shakespeare’s Macbeth: the historical Macbeth and the theatrical Macbeth are, of course, very different. Shakespeare, writing propaganda for James I (who also wasn’t super secure on his throne after the death of Elizabeth I, because of the mess she left by not estate planning), depicts that kings are kings by the grace of God and not because of any prowess in battle. He portrays Macbeth’s murder of Duncan as an event that actually destroys the very nature of time and reality, destabilizing the world itself. But historically: that’s just how the Scots chose kings sometimes. There wasn’t this idea of Divine Rights of Kings for Scotland; or, at least, it was one of the options for monarchical succession. However, “historically” doesn’t help James I at all — he doesn’t want, or can afford, a civil war — and underscoring the idea that kings are selected by God via blood is one way to try to show divine interference as a sign of favor.

I mention Macbeth because Shakespeare would be writing from within a collective memory of the shaky claim of Henry VII, the disastrous years with Henry VIII, and then Edward, Bloody Mary, the Virgin Queen, and now James I, who…may have commissioned the King James Bible to impress a boyfriend. Stability is something James I absolutely needed.

ANYWAY. I have now gone widely off-topic. But I hope this email answered your question.

1 thought on “Mike Answers Your Wolf Hall Questions”

  1. People yammer on about the two princes in the Tower supposedly (nobody really knows) killed by Richard III—but Henry VIII methodically got rid of all the Plantagenets he could…


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