I presented this paper at the Princes Consort in History Conference,  Friday 16 December 2011,
Chancellor's Hall, Senate House, University of London, hosted by the Institute of Historical Studies.

2011 is the 150th anniversary of the death of Prince Albert and also the 90th birthday of Prince Philip,
Duke of Edinburgh.

In collaboration with the Society for Court Studies, the Institute of Historical Studies brought
together a range of international historians to look at the peculiar yet influential institution of the
male royal consort from Ferdinand of Castile through to the famous examples of the 18th century such
as Prince George of Denmark, and onto contemporary personalities in western Europe. Our interest
lies in studying how male partners of female monarchs have had and used power, how gender affected
their perceived role, what sort of court and political influence they were able to wield and attract, how
they often defined themselves in distinctive spheres of the arts or war, and more generally, the extent
to which they contributed to the changing ideal and reality of royal families and dynasties over the

It does not seem all that strange to us today that Prince George of Denmark served as an unofficial
male consort to his wife Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart monarchs in Britain, during the first
decade of the eighteenth century.  After all, for nearly sixty years we have grown accustomed to
Prince Philip of Greece, the Duke of Edinburgh, walking dutifully but not quite so comfortably
behind his wife Elizabeth II, a Queen who reigns serenely without any apparent need for a king by
her side, even though she has a husband whom she clearly loves and cherishes.  The Duke’s role is
singular, highly visible, and ultimately essential to the maintenance of the monarchy, but it
nonetheless remains an informal one, something akin to an American first lady, or gentleman,
should we Americans ever elect a woman as our president.
Philip’s role as an informal consort to a regnant queen is based upon precedents derived from the
career of his and his wife’s joint ancestor, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.  Prince Albert also
served as an informal male consort for seventeen of the twenty-one years he was married to Queen
Victoria, although he was formally created Prince Consort by letters patent in 1857, a status none of
the governments of her present majesty, going all the way back to Winston Churchill, has seen fit to
bestow upon the Duke of Edinburgh.  It is a fair assumption that both Prince Albert and Prince
Philip would have been much happier with a more formalized role, like say a king consortship, the
gendered equivalent to the status enjoyed by the wives of reigning British kings, who are anointed
and crowned as kings, and share their husband’s thrones.  In Albert’s case, it was the precedent of
Prince George of Denmark that Whig Prime Minister Viscount Melbourne gently deployed in order
to sway Victoria from her initial desire to have her husband share the royal dignity with her.  
I know what you all are thinking right now- but if you are expecting me to reveal to you now what
the precedent was that determined that Prince George of Denmark should not be a King of England
, well, there isn’t one.  In fact, if we look back in time from Queen Anne’s reign, and examine the
precedents surrounding the husbands of previous regnant queens, like Prince Philip, later King
Philip II of Spain, and Prince William of Orange, later King William III of England, then what
happened to Prince George of Denmark emerges as a rather striking break with precedent that, in
turn, hardened into a more enduring one that served to prevent both Prince Albert and Prince
Philip from sharing their wives thrones as king consorts.
As I have argued elsewhere, regnant queenship is in fact a form of kingship, which has made it
difficult, both in theory and in practice, to recognize the husbands of female kings also as kings.   
This problem first reared its ugly head during the reign of the mid- sixteenth century monarch
Mary I, England’s first regnant queen.  Because she had been successively statutorily bastardized
and then restored to the succession by her father, Henry VIII, Mary came to the throne at the age of
38 as an unmarried woman.  According to the developing political theory known as the “king’s two
bodies,” Mary had unmistakably inherited the eternal body politic of kingship in the same fashion
as her noble progenitors, the kings of England.  This resulted in a form of gender confusion, as the
term queen had previously only been used to describe consorts, the wives of kings, and not the
holder of the kingly office.  Nevertheless, Mary’s contemporaries could not figure out anything else
to call her but Queen.  For the first year of her reign, in fact, Mary was king and queen all at the
same time.  But that was her body politic; it was up to Mary’s flesh and blood body natural to
propagate the Tudor dynasty through the female line, and create a Catholic succession to secure her
endeavor to repeal the Henrician and Edwardian Reformations and reunite the English Church
with Rome.  For this she need a husband, and Philip was drafted primarily for this reason, although
the marriage also revived the old Anglo- Burgundian alliance that dated back to the Yorkist king
Edward IV, which made the marriage worth it to Philip’s father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.  
But negotiating the marriage was difficult, for the Queen and her negotiators were anxious not to
part with a shred of the royal prerogative.  In the final draft of the marriage contract, ratified as
statute in the parliamentary session of spring 1554, Philip was forbidden from undertaking any
kind of formal role in his wife’s government, nor was he given a farthing for the establishment of
his own royal household.  Despite these rather emasculating terms, the contract did bow to the
dictates of sixteenth century European patriarchy, as it gave Philip the courtesy title of King as well
as precedence over his wife in their official documents and pronouncements.  However, at the same
time parliament ratified another statute, an Act Concerning Regal Power, which clearly defined a
regnant queen as the same political substance as a king, rendering Philip’s kingship a rather
unstable and ill-defined public role.  When Mary died childless in 1558, Philip’s kingship
terminated, as Mary’s successor, Elizabeth I, sidestepped the issue of figuring out what the official
status and role of any of her prospective husbands might be, leaving Philip and Mary’s marriage
treaty as the sole statutory pronouncement and precedent regarding this issue.
The issue became salient once again more than a century later during the reign of the Stuart King
Charles II.  Charles had been unable to produce legitimate heirs with his queen Catherine of
Braganza, making his younger brother James, Duke of York, his heir presumptive.  York in turn
had two daughters, Mary and Anne, with his first wife Anne Hyde, and thus far no surviving issue
from his second wife, Mary of Modena.  Despite his private inclinations towards Catholicism, and
his clandestine dealings with King Louis XIV of France, Charles II found it expedient to find
protestant husbands for his nieces.  The elder, Mary, sobbed wildly as he marched down the aisle
with her first cousin, the Dutch Stadtholder Prince William of Orange in 1677.  Although he was not
impressive physically, William was a forceful, dynamic, and capable politician and military leader,
a leading figure in the government of the Dutch United Provinces, who spent most of his life trying
to rein in the expansionist policies of Louis XIV.  
He was, in fact, the polar opposite of his brother-in-law, Prince George of Denmark, a younger
brother of Danish King Christian V, who married Anne in 1683.  Quite unlike William of Orange,
who was obsessed with his and his wife’s prospective succession rights in England, Prince George,
who came to reside in England with Anne as Mary did for William in Holland,  never expressed
any interest in the idea of sharing his wife’s throne should she become queen one day.  As the
decade of the 1680s progressed, such a possibility became less and less remote, as it became clear
that the childless William and Mary would not be propagating a Protestant Orangeist line of
succession, which made Anne and George the dynastic saviors who would create a Protestant Stuart
succession through the female line.  Sadly, and despite seventeen pregnancies, none of George and
Anne’s children was able to survive the rigors of childbirth, infancy, and childhood.  Nevertheless,
over the course of the 1680s, Anne’s thoughts continued to wax dynastic, but unlike her sister, who
would not consider ascending the throne without her husband, Anne never gave any indication
that she might like to share her future throne with her husband.  
Nevertheless, George had an important role to play, whether he liked it or not, in the public and all-
male spheres of war and government.  Following Charles II’s death in 1685 and the accession of the
Catholic James II, the Stuart sisters Mary and Anne stood second and third in line to the English
and Scottish thrones.  But because they were women, they could not enjoy the kind of public roles,
offices, and honors that royal male heirs had always enjoyed.  So George played the role of proxy
for his wife, becoming a garter knight, obtaining his own military regiment, inspecting military
installations with Samuel Pepys, and relax with John Churchill, the future Duke of Marlborough,
whose wife Sarah was Anne best friend.
What was clear to everyone who knew him was that Prince George possessed serious liabilities as a
future consort to a ruling queen.  While he was personable and amiable around those who knew
him, in public he was notoriously if not pathologically shy.  He never overcame a rather thick
Danish accent, and he had no real ambitions or discernible talents of any sort; he liked to hang out,
play cards, drink wine, ale, and brandy, consume prodigious amounts of food, and gossip.  George
shared many of these same pursuits with his wife, and the couple gave every indication of having
enjoyed an affectionate and companionate relationship over the course of their twenty five year
marriage.  Quite unlike the rest of the men in the Stuart royal family, noted philanderers all, there
was never the slightest hint of any sexual infidelities on George’s part.  
In marked contrast to her husband’s utter lack of desire for power and influence in any form, Anne
was both motivated and vigilant concerning her own dynastic prospects.  Anne, in fact, was the
dominant partner in their marriage, a situation George never tried to challenge, which perhaps
explains the secret behind their two and a half decades of uninterrupted domestic bliss.  
In fact, it seems that the women who populated the Stuart court appreciated Prince George much
more than men did.  Anne esteemed her husband until the day he died, while Sarah Churchill, who
rarely had anything nice to say about anybody, had mostly only positive things to say about
George, especially concerning his fierce sense of loyalty to his friends and family.  But the men in
the Stuart royal family universally despised him, undoubtedly because his utter lack of either talent
or ambition.  Charles II once quipped that drunk or sober, George had nothing inside of him, and
that was about the nicest thing that any male member of the Stuart royal family had to say about
him.  James II had little use for his son-in law, and tolerated his presence at court grudgingly.  
Three years into his reign, in 1688, James disrupted the delicate power relations that existed
between himself and his daughters and sons in law, when his wife, Mary of Modena, had the
audacity to conceive and gave birth to a male child.  This blessed event forecast a Catholic
succession as it sidelined the succession hopes of William and Mary as well as Anne, who absented
herself from witnessing the birthing so she could later allege that her step-mother had given birth
to a dead child and substituted a warming pan baby, a rather ingenuous if not cynical ploy to deny
the infant Prince of Wales his succession rights, and justify a Protestant Succession to follow James
on the throne.  After the “Immortal Seven,” a group of prominent Protestants, invited William to
come over to England with a sizeable army to “help” King James resolve his disagreements with his
subjects, Prince George was with his father-in-law in Salisbury as the king’s army evaporated
before his very eyes.  George apparently had a habit of exclaiming “est il possible?” whenever he
heard something startling; when King James was informed that George had joined the exodus to
William that was hemorrhaging his army, he tartly replied, “what- est il possible gone too?  After
all, a good trooper would have been a greater loss.”  After James fled to France and exile, effectively
vacating his throne, a convention of estates considered what to do to resolve this unprecedented
constitutional situation.  
By the time Mary arrived in England to join her husband in January 1689, the Convention had
already decided to disinherit the Prince of Wales, but they were not exactly sure who was to succeed
to James II’s vacant throne.  As we have seen, the only relevant precedent was that of Philip and
Mary, which had no appeal for the Princess of Orange, who wished to share her throne with her
husband, and William, who privately demanded the sole exercise of the royal prerogative for the
remainder of his life.  In February 1689, the Convention invited William and Mary to take the
throne as joint monarchs, after they agreed to a number of limitations upon the royal prerogative as
listed in the Declaration of Right, which brought to a conclusion the series of events known
popularly as the Glorious Revolution.  
One notable non-participant in these proceedings was Prince George of Denmark.  His singular
position as Anne’s political proxy certainly should have afforded him access to those high level
meetings and debates that shaped the outline of the Revolution settlement, in which, for the second
time in early modern English history, England had a regnant queen and a king all at the same time.  
But George was not there, unable or unwilling to impress upon his contemporaries the obvious
analogy between William and himself, and obtain acceptance to ascend the throne jointly with his
wife, who was now William and Mary’s heiress presumptive.
Instead, John Churchill represented Anne’s interests during the Convention.  But Anne was never
happy with her place in the Stuart succession, and relations between Anne and William and Mary
soon soured, to the point that in 1691 Anne and Mary stopped speaking to each other over Anne’s
refusal to dismiss Sarah Churchill from her household, a situation that remained unresolved upon
Mary’s untimely death in December of 1694.  To William and Mary, Anne was a troublesome
female Clarence accompanied by a Falstaff with a thick Danish accent.  Nevertheless, she remained
their heir, and George continued to serve as Anne’s proxy, created Duke of Cumberland, attending
William’s Privy Council, and later serving on the Council of Nine, which assisted Mary in ruling
the kingdom while William was periodically fighting the Nine Years War on the continent.  These
appointments indirectly acknowledged Anne’s position as heir, but they were also made under the
assumption that George would just sit there, keep his mouth shut, and not do anything to
embarrass himself, although William and Mary well knew that George would return home and give
a full report of the proceedings, chapter and verse, to his wife.  
Indeed, the enmity between William and Mary and Anne provided an additional dimension to
George’s role as proxy, as he served as his wife’s whipping boy.  William was particularly brutal to
George, refusing to allow him to ride in his coach during the 1690 Irish campaign, and forbidding
him to volunteer for service in the navy the following year.  William’s antipathy was undoubtedly
based upon George utter lack of talent or motivation, and, unable to attack Anne directly, his fury
fell upon George, who nevertheless did his best to try to heal the breaches within the Stuart royal
But the need for George to play the role of political proxy evaporated after William died after being
thrown from his horse, in March 1702. It remains a great irony that until the moment they ascend
the throne, regnant queens were unable to perform any public roles or hold formal offices or
appointments reflective of their status as heirs.  As we have seen, George performed such roles and
enjoyed such appointments on behalf of his wife, but when Anne’s sunshine day finally arrived,
she ascended her throne alone.  It is not perfectly clear how or why this happened, so this is what I
have conjectured.  The previous year, following the tragic death of the eleven year old Duke of
Gloucester, Anne and George’s only child to survive infancy, Parliament felt compelled to reinforce
certain provisions of the Bill of Rights in the Act of Settlement, which settled the crown on the
House of Hanover, Protestant descendants of James I, to forestall any attempt by the Catholic prince
of Wales to succeed to the English and Scottish thrones.  As the Act reiterated Anne’s position as
William’s heir, it also remained silent upon the issue of what status George of Denmark would
enjoy upon his wife’s accession.  Obviously, one of the few points that William and Anne probably
saw eye to eye on was that George should not be king, and it had obviously been worked out
before hand that George would be on the sidelines as Anne ascended her throne alone.
But even though Anne had inherited the kingly office, she did so as a woman who was also a wife.  
As she endeavored to create the perception that she was a good queen, she was also concerned that
her subjected perceived her as a good wife.  Good wives are always generous to their spouses, so in
lieu of a shared crown, Anne heaped a number of honorific offices upon her husband to atone for
the fact George no longer shared her status, but was, as George himself declared, merely her
majesty’s subject.  The tragedy here is that the only discernible interest George ever displayed was
for military affairs, but by the time he became Lord High Admiral and Generalissimo of all English
landed forces, he was too old and sick to play any kind of role in the War of the Spanish
Succession, which had just commenced.  But even these creations could not completely silence
contemporary comment concerning the disparity in status between Anne and her husband, which
constituted an exceptional detour from contemporary rules and expectations regarding marital
status.  In fact, during Anne’s first parliament, an anonymous pamphlet circulated urging
parliament to make George a King Consort for just these reasons, and apparently, there were some
closed door discussions between the Queen and her ministers regarding taking such a step.  But the
idea never made it to the floor of Parliament for discussion, for ultimately Anne decided that
George should not share her throne with her.  But Anne still wanted her subjects to know how
much she esteemed her husband, lobbying successfully for an £100,00 annuity for George in case
he outlived her, because, as Bishop Gilbert Burnet of Salisbury explained,

She thought it became her, as a good wife, to have the act passed, in which
she might be the more earnest, because it was not thought advisable to move
for an act that should take Prince George into the consortship of the royal dignity.

This decision simply made a lot of sense.  Anne possessed the monarchical ability to get in front of
people and get things done, but George did not.  He would have been as effective as the
Lancastrian Henry VI, a monarch with a decided lack of kingly resolve, and it was this factor that, in
all likelihood, overrode the glaring social displacement inherent in the spectacle of a woman
enjoying a public role and status not shared by her husband.  There is no evidence that George of
Denmark objected to any of these decisions that, for most men of his age and class, could be
considered a humiliating form of emasculation.  Yet George simply pretended that this was not the
case at all, and, until his death in 1708, appeared by the side of his sovereign wife, both cheerful
and deferential.  It was in the performance of this one public role, that of an informal consort to his
wife, that Prince George of Denmark excelled, so much so that the experience hardened into what
appears to us today as a curious yet durable precedent.  


When in late 2011 David Cameron’s government secured the assent of the various commonwealth
nations for a law legalizing gender parity in the British succession, as well as allowing the monarch
to be married to a Roman Catholic, or any other religion, it was one of those very rare moments in
British history when legislation was passed directly affecting the monarchy.  For those of us who pay
attention to such matters, this was a constitutional watershed, involving changes to the 1689 Bill of
Rights and the 1701 Act of Settlement, statutes which had effectively subsumed the lex coronae, or
the law of the crown, into the fabric of a constitution that implicitly recognized parliament’s ability to
enact legislation affecting the monarchy and its ability to get the monarch to sign it into law.  
But these are extremely rare instances; for the past twelve or thirteen hundred years, English and
British Kings and Queens managed their estate, wielded their office, and left their thrones to their
legitimate heirs with very little help from either the common or statute law, even on those rare
occasions when the monarch was deemed unfit to rule or were tossed off their throne.  More recently,
the transition to constitutional monarchy has been accomplished with precious little resort to statute,
as effective control of the “body politic” of kingship passed from the monarch’s body natural to that
modern abstraction known as the “crown.”  In fact, many of the powers and prerogatives outlined so
famously in Bagehot’s Constitutional History, developed independently of any legal or
constitutional process.  
In the main, statutory changes to the monarchy can be divided into two main groupings, concerning
who should be king (or queen), and what powers they may wield.  The first category, who should be
king, was, for most of British history, decided by a revolving door of mechanisms, such as election,
heredity, right of conquest, and statutory title, the final victor in the modern era.  Under the Anglo-
Saxons, whose kings were primarily military leaders, lineage was important, but ability trumped
primogeniture, making royal minorities and female rulers extremely rare in the various Anglo-Saxon
heptarchy kingdoms of the early middle Ages.  By the time Wessex had subsumed the Dane law and
the rest of the heptarchy kingdoms in the tenth century, heredity began to take hold as a serious
determinant, with the result of boy kings like Edgar and Aethelred.  But on two pivotal events of the
eleventh century, conquest reigned supreme with the successful invasions of Canute and William
the Conqueror, who both displaced a native English king with themselves.  For the Normans, the
guiding principle regarding the succession was might equals right, although Henry I tried to leave
his dominions to his only legitimate heir, his daughter Matilda, whose claims were set aside by her
cousin Stephen, whose 1135 election was essentially a repeat of Henry I’s in 1100.  
One of the strategies that both Henry I and Stephen pursued in order to secure their elections was to
issue a charter of liberties, outlining what the Church and their lay subjects could expect from them
if they were to be made king.  Both kings failed to honor the terms of their charters, whose true
legacy was to create this idea of a contractual relationship between king and church and king and
subjects.  But we will set that thought aside for a moment as we continue with our discussion of who
should be king.
According to William Fleetwood, historian, legal scholar, and city recorder of London during
the reign of Elizabeth I, the first instance when the crown met the constitution was with the drafting
of the 1153 Treaty of Westminster, concluded between the Norman King Stephen and his young
cousin, Henry Plantagenet, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and Count of Anjou, the eldest son
and heir of the afore-mentioned Matilda, in which Stephen recognized Henry as his heir in
England.  Now Fleetwood was writing in the sixteenth century, after the triumph of statute law had
transformed England into an empire and its monarch as head of the church.  The context in which
Fleetwood was discussing this particular Treaty of Winchesterwas in the text of a provocative
rhetorical dialogue, The Itinerarium ad Windsor, in which Fleetwood, Thomas Sackville, Lord
Buckhurst, and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, discuss and debate the question of why a woman
by the title of queen should enjoy the same power and prerogatives as their noble progenitors, kings
of the realm.  Now in arguing so, Fleetwood was attempting to impose a sixteenth century
understanding upon this treaty, which, because it had been drafted in consultation with the leading
barons and bishops, he considered to possess the force of statute.  Of course today, when we open
up a dusty old copy of volume one of the Statutes of the Realm, the first one listed is Magna Carta,
not the Treaty of Winchester.  But to Fleetwood, the Treaty of Westminster was a constitutional first,
as it expounded a female inclusive rule of primogeniture that firmly established the right of women
to inherit the English crown, as well as the right of barons and bishops to be a party to such a
momentous decision.
But for the remainder of the Middle Ages, with the advent of statute law in the late thirteenth
century, parliamentary attempts to modify the succession were often hit and miss.  Admittedly, there
were few occasions where there were any disputes regarding the succession, which from Henry II
until Richard II succeeded by a system of male primogeniture.  The occurrence of five royal
minorities between 1216 and 1483 was also accomplished without resort to statute, as were the forced
abdications of Edward II in 1327 and Richard II in 1399. Richard II’s supplanter, Henry IV of the
House of Lancaster, was essentially elected king, as the superior dynastic claims of Richard II’s
designated heir, the youthful Earl of March, were swept aside.  Henry IV remained insecure about
his title, prompting the 1406 passage of a first ever Act of Succession, entailing the crown to Henry’s
lineal and collateral heirs, male and female.  Perhaps if the Lancastrians had been able to perpetuate
a line of capable kings they could have maintained this statutory title, but the utter incapacity of
Henry VI, the third and final Lancastrian king, revived the March claim, in the person of Richard,
Duke of York, who overawed a 1460 meeting of parliament that modified the 1406 succession statute,
and vested the succession in the House of York, employing the same compromise hammered out
three hundred years earlier in the Treaty of Westminster.  The House of York in turn saw its statutory
rights trampled following the traumatic deposition of twelve year old Edward V in 1483, as his uncle
and supplanter, Richard III, signed into law the Titulus Regius, which declared the children of
Richard’s brother, Edward IV, the first Yorkist king, as illegitimate and unfit to inherit.  This would
not be the last statute to make such a declaration.
In turn, when Richard fell of his horse at the Battle of Bosworth, and the crown passed to his
supplanter, Henry Tudor, another less than hereditary monarch decided that he also needed his own
Act of Succession, which his first parliament dutifully passed, after repealing Richard III’s Titulus
Regius, which had bastardized Elizabeth of York, who subsequently became Henry VII’s queen.  
But with the accession of Henry VIII in 1509, whose royal person united the claims of Lancaster and
York, there was no need for any statutory pronouncements concerning the succession, at least until
Henry summoned the Reformation Parliament in 1529, which, for the next seven years, legislated the
Break with Rome, recognized the king as Supreme Head of the Church, and created an independent
English Church that annulled his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who had borne him a daughter,
Mary, in 1516, and married him to Anne Boleyn, who borne him a second daughter, Elizabeth, in
Now there may not have been a Tudor revolution in government, but there definitely was a Tudor
revolution in succession statutes.  Henry’s preference was for a male heir, nevertheless, in early 1534,
parliament passed the First Henrician Act of Succession, which disinherited Henry’s eldest daughter
Mary and vested the succession in the children, male or female, of Anne Boleyn.  The Act also
required all loyal subjects to swear an oath recognizing the invalidity of the king’s first marriage and
the right of Anne Boleyn’s children to inherit.  Henry’s quest for a male heir continued after Anne
Boleyn’s execution for a variety of trumped up charges, and parliament remained responsive to the
King’s statutory needs, enacting a second Act of Succession in 1536, after the King had married Jane
Seymour but before she had given birth to the future Edward VI, which reiterated Mary’s
bastardization as it did the same for Elizabeth while vesting the succession in Henry and Jane’s heirs,
male or female, or any other heirs Henry deigned to designate.  As Edward was the last of Henry’s
children, male or female, by 1543 Henry reluctantly agreed to reinstate Mary and Elizabeth in the line
of succession in a Third Act of Succession, even though they remained statutory bastards.  Beyond
Henry’s own children, the third act ignored the superior dynastic claims of the Stuarts, heirs of
Margaret Tudor, Henry’s elder sister as it vested the succession in the heirs of Henry’s younger sister
Mary, Duchess of Suffolk.  The Act also gave statutory force to Henry’s last will and testament,
which outlined a corporate form of a minority government to rule for his underage successor Edward
These final Henrician succession statutes occupy an ambiguous place in English constitutional
history.  As soon as Henry was dead, the force of the will was seemingly overturned by Edward’s
letters patent, which created a powerful Lord Protectorship for his uterine uncle, Edward Seymour,
Duke of Somerset.  However, as I have argued elsewhere, the will came back into force once again
following the coup d’état that toppled Somerset, as John Dudley, later created Duke of
Northumberland, returned the minority government outwardly to the corporate format outlined in
the will even as he dominated the remainder of the reign as Lord President of the Council.
But the Third Act of Succession did not fare nearly as well.  Edward’s successor, the Catholic and
unmarried Mary I, was determined to provide her own Catholic heir to succeed her.  To do this she
needed a husband, choosing her Hapsburg cousin, Prince Philip of Spain.  The prospect of this
marriage created an ambiguous constitutional position for the Queen, concerning the status of her
future husband’s relationship to her royal prerogative.  Parliament dealt with this situation just prior
to the marriage by enacting the Act for the Queen’s Power, which stated that a ruling queen enjoyed
the same powers and prerogatives, and were subject to the same limitations, as their noble
progenitors, kings of the realm.  This statute provided a bolster to the authority of Elizabeth I, Mary’s
successor, who, over the course of her long reign, refused to marry.  Elizabeth compounded this
dynastic uncertainty by successfully evading parliamentary attempts to pass an Elizabethan Act of
Succession.  Elizabeth had no desire to gaze upon the rising sun while she lived, but in the end she
smoothed the way for James VI of Scotland, in direct defiance of the Third Act, which Elizabeth had
effectively allowed to fall into abeyance.  
While the Tudors did much to advance the scope of statute law, the seventeenth century Stuarts were
divine right kings, with little patience or understanding for the power of parliament, especially in
regards to the succession.  We see this most clearly in the attitude of Charles II, restored to the
English and Scottish thrones in 1660 following the trauma of the Civil War and the experiment of the
Republic, when, in the final years of his reign, he waged a successful attempt to block the Whigs in
Parliament from enacting a statute excluding his Catholic brother and heir, James, Duke of York,
from the succession.  But Charles II’s victory in the Exclusion crisis was the last gasp of a truly
hereditary succession.  James II duly ascended the throne, in 1685, and duly slid off of it three years
later, fleeing to France following the successful invasion of his Protestant Dutch son-in-law Prince
William of Orange, who ascended the throne alongside his wife.  Now, because the Stuarts
considered themselves divine right monarchs, they saw little utility in succession statutes.  So,
according to the normal rules of a female inclusive rule of primogeniture, Mary Stuart, the Princess
of Orange, James II’s elder daughter, was the hereditary heir, since the son born to James II and his
queen, Mary of Modena, was deemed to be an imposter, a warming pan baby, and unfit to inherit,
the legal fiction that made the Glorious Revolution settlement possible.  Mary, however, would not
dream of ascending the throne without her husband, who would not further tarry in England unless
he was made king also.  So, amid the compromises hammered out in the Glorious Revolution
settlement, William III and Mary II ascended the throne together, a constitutional first, and last, after
agreeing to the Declaration of Right, later enacted as statute as the Bill of Rights, which imposed a
number of religious, fiscal, and military limitations upon the royal prerogative as it put into action
the contract theory of government espoused by John Locke.  While his English grandfather King
Charles I had fought tooth and nail against parliamentary attempts to encroach upon his prerogative,
and lost his life in the process, William agreed to all this monarchical emasculation because for him
the bigger picture was utilizing England’s resources to combat the Catholic leviathan, Louis XIV of
But the Protestant Stuarts, both William and Mary, and their heir, Mary’s younger sister Anne, were
unable to perpetuate the dynasty themselves, necessitating a further refinement of the Glorious
Revolution Settlement in the 1701 Act of Settlement, which required that the monarch must not only
be Protestant, but their spouse must be Protestant also, effectively barring Roman Catholics from the
throne, which meant that, when Queen Anne breathed her last in 1714, her nearest Protestant heir
was George, Elector of Hanover, a direct descendant of James I, reducing heredity to just one facet of
a parliamentary mandated succession.  Following the 1707 Act of Union, the act became binding
upon all the nations in the newly created United Kingdom, including Scotland, and in 1931, with the
passage of another the Treaty of Westminster, upon the Commonwealth nations also.
This might have been the last 18th century act dealing with the crown and the succession but for the
fact that George III’s two brothers contracted morganatic marriages with commoners, prompting the
passage of the 1772 royal marriages act, which gave the crown veto power over the marriages of
anyone even remotely in the line of succession.  But this was not the first type of act of this kind, for
Henry VIII’s will stipulated that the marriages of his daughters Mary and Elizabeth must receive the
consent of their brother’s privy council, or lose their place in the succession.  Even today, all
individuals in the line of succession must ask the Queen for permission to marry, one of the final
portions of the royal prerogative that the monarch still personally exercises.  
Much like the relationship between statute and the succession, parliamentary attempts to modify the
royal prerogative also have a chequered history.  Magna Carta is of course, the most obvious example
of this, because it wasn’t King John who signed the document enshrined as the first English statute,
whose feudal overlord, Pope Innocent III, annulled it soon after John signed it, but his son, the
minority King Henry III, who reconfirmed it twice during his youth.  But the adult Henry III wasn’t
nearly so thrilled about Magna Carta once he achieved his majority.  In fact, he spent most of the
forty-five years of his adult reign avoiding any oversight on his fiscal high crimes and
misdemeanors. Indeed, Henry’s nobility fought back, with the 1258 Provisions of Oxford and the
series of confrontations and rebellions led by Simon de Montfort, who attempted to saddle the
recalcitrant king with baronial oversight over his policies and his spending.  While Henry III railed
against these attempt to thwart his will, his successors Edward I and Edward III conceded to
parliament the right to consent to taxation, in order to finance their sustained wars of conquest, the
millstone around the necks of all subsequent monarchs until William and Mary, the first monarchs
to receive financing from the civil list, which in modern times transformed the monarch from an
estate manager to a salaried employee of the state.  This was a good thing; most kings and queens
were lousy businessmen; in fact, only the Yorkist king Edward IV and the Tudor Henry VII died
solvent, and, even though Elizabeth left £300,000 in debt, this was a miracle considering the crushing
costs her government faced.  In hindsight, the lack of sufficient income is the most persuasive
explanation for the gradual loss of royal power over the entire early modern period into the 19th
It did not have to be this way.  For instance, in the late 1530s, Henry VIII possessed a unique
opportunity to re-endow the crown with sufficient landed resources, following the dissolution of the
monasteries, and allow the English monarchy to create the fiscal structure to support a homegrown
English absolutism.  But Henry failed to heed to advice of his brilliant minister Thomas Cromwell,
and sold most of this land for a song, which in turn increased exponentially in value for the rest of
the century, an historical irony a cash starved Elizabeth I could well appreciate.  But Elizabeth made
no attempt to modernize the tax code.  While she balanced her budgets with strict economy, her
Stuart successor James I had no fiscal sense whatsoever.  What Elizabeth might have pulled off with
her excellent credit rating, James could not, as parliament rejected the Great Contract of 1610, which
proposed to put the king on a fixed income in exchange for a number of his feudal rights, such as
wardships.  So the essential feudal nature of royal finance lumbered on for the rest of the century,
surviving the Civil Wars and the Restoration to 1697, with parliament settled a fixed amount for the
maintenance of William III’s “civil’ or household expenses, as government departments, such as the
royal courts, and all military expenditures were paid for by parliamentary taxation.
The subsequent diminution of effective royal power for the next century and a half was
accomplished without the passage of any kind of positive law explicitly limiting the royal
prerogative.  While parliaments could no longer be dissolved by royal fiat, George III still dismissed
cabinets, but his immediate successors recognized that the composition of the cabinet must reflect
the dominant party in the House of Commons.  William IV was the last king to fire a government,
while the youthful Victoria exercised a notable flourish of royal power during the Bedchamber Crisis
of 1839, when she successfully thwarted Robert Peel’s attempt to purge her bedchamber of women
married to or related to Whig politicians.  But Victoria learned her lesson; the monarchy retained its
reserve of influence by not exercising prerogatives that a rapidly expanding electorate saw properly
vested in parliament.  It is in this voluntary acquiescence to the locus of executive power that has
allowed the House of Windsor to evolve into the type of service monarchy that appears to have
justified its continued existence in this year of both the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the solid
British showing at the London Olympic Games.  In this sense, the monarchy has come full circle in
its historical mission, as the first kings served their subjects as military leaders and lawgivers, while
its present monarch, and her would be successors in the line of succession, have never been more
popular in their efforts to serve their kingdom.

Only recently have I begun to examine the life and career of William Fleetwood (1525-1594),
historian and antiquarian, lawyer, perennial member of the House of Commons, and for over
two decades city recorder of London during the reign of Elizabeth I.  Among the most notable,
as well as obscure, of his manuscript writings was the Itinerarium ad Windsor, a narrative
account of a leisurely journey on horseback from London to Windsor shared by Fleetwood and
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, during the spring of
1575.  According to Fleetwood, the trio discussed how and why women should be able to
possess and execute the kingly office, and their dialogue included a rather startling discussion
of the events leading up to Mary I’s second parliamentary session, which enacted a curious
statute known as the Act Concerning Regal Power, which offered a constitutional description of
the rights, privileges, and limitations of female rule firmly within the parameters of English
kingship.  Until recently, the work only existed in three extant seventeenth century manuscript
I first encountered The Itinerarium ad Windsor in the summer of 1999, while in London
performing research for my doctoral dissertation and subsequent first book, The Lioness
Roared.  As I contemplated how the English kingdom comprehended the accession of Mary I in
1553 as England’s first female king, I wanted to find some kind of legal and constitutional
justification for female rule, and all roads appeared to lead to the Itinerarium ad Windsor.  So, I
spent several days painstakingly transcribing BL Harley 6234, one of the three extant versions.  
Whoever made this copy had terrible handwriting, and I really did not get all of the Itinerarium
down on paper. Following my research trip, I returned home to begin a job as a part-time
adjunct at California State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo California.  During new
faculty orientation, I became friends with a newly hired tenure track professor in the Rhetoric
department who had done her doctoral work at the University of Iowa, where she had worked
with Dennis Moore.  I was familiar with Moore’s work on sixteenth century queenship, so I
emailed him, asking him some questions about the Itinerarium, and he was kind enough to
reply, and in the course our correspondence it came out that he was working on a critical
edition of the Itinerarium manuscript.  So I just came out and asked him if I could have a copy
of this, and he was kind enough to say yes, and it was of immense help to me to have a draft of
his critical edition as I wrote my chapter on the first year of Mary I’s reign for my dissertation.  
Many years later, in the course of my scholarly pursuits, I once again had occasion to look at the
word copy of the Itinerarium that Moore had sent me, and I wondered what he had done with
this critical edition.  So I tracked him down, and as it turned out, he had not done anything at
all with it.  So I proposed to him that he complete it, and let me build a book of contextual
essays around it.  But he was not so sure about this, and he took a lot of wooing, but eventually
“maybe” turned to “yes,” and with the wooing process over, I began compiling a slate of
contributors to write essays for this volume, including J.D. Alsop, Sarah Duncan, and Carole
Levin, while Moore labored to finish his critical edition.  However, I struck out with every
single scholar I approached to write a biographical essay on Fleetwood himself, so I simply
decided I would do it myself.
Fortunately for me, I already had some experience with figuring out Renaissance figures like
Fleetwood, because for the last few years I had been researching and writing on the colorful
and charismatic figure of George Ferrers, Tudor Renaissance lawyer, courtier, historian, poet,
and entertainer extraordinaire.  Within the Tudor hot house communities of lawyers and
historians that both men were a part of, Ferrers and Fleetwood surely knew each other; both
enjoyed the patronage of Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, although Fleetwood’s primary patron
was William Cecil, Lord Burlegh, while Fleetwood’s daughter Elizabeth married Sir Thomas
Chaloner the younger, whose father was one of Ferrers’ literary collaborators and closest
friends, a man who also enjoyed Leicester’s patronage, while Thomas Sackville, Lord
Buckhurst, one of the participants in the Itinerarium discussion, was also a contributor to later
editions of the perennially popular volume, The Mirror For Magistrates, which also featured
Ferrers as a substantial contributor.  Both Ferrers and Fleetwood had followed a career trajectory
common among the sons of the provincial gentry, studying law at the universities before
arriving in London to join one of the Inns of Court, which functioned as finishing schools for
those men who desired a position at court or in government.  For both Ferrers and Fleetwood,
advancement came with the acquisition of a powerful patron- for Ferrers, Thomas Cromwell,
and for Fleetwood, Thomas Audley, both of whom had survived the fall of their joint patron,
Cardinal Wolsey.  But despite these similarities, these two men were worlds apart in terms of
career advancement.  Ferrers was charismatic, vivacious, essentially apolitical, and lacking any
overt or discernible religious passions.  Instead, Ferrers was much more interested in being a
successful courtier, scholar, and literary artist rather than using his legal training to pursue an
administrative or judicial career.  
Like Ferrers, Fleetwood also was noted for his wit and his poetry, and he proved successful in
cultivating the patronage of the great rivals Leicester and Burlegh, as Ferrers had earlier
cultivated Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, and Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset.  But in
marked contrast to Ferrers, Fleetwood was a diehard Puritan and a lifelong jurist whose
religious convictions and legal training informed both his world view and his understanding of
the nature and purpose of history.  He was born in and around 1525, or perhaps ten years later,
the son of Robert Fleetwood of Heskin in Lancashire.  The Lancashire Fleetwood’s did well in
the Henrician land grab that followed the dissolution of the monasteries, which undoubtedly
provided the resources to send Robert to Brasenose College, Oxford, to his legal training, which
he left without taking a degree, a common situation for the sons of the provincial gentry who
attended the universities to study law.  Fleetwood had established himself in London by the
mid 1550s during a particularly tumultuous period of English history, especially for a Protestant
like himself, as the accession of Mary I, England’s first ruling queen, whose primary goal as
Queen was to reunite the English Church with Rome.  Nevertheless, Fleetwood rode out Mary’s
reign without incident as he aligned himself with two imposing and well entrenched civic
organizations, the Merchant Taylor’s Company, which admitted him as a freeman in 1557, and
the Middle Temple, where he was made an autumn reader in 1563.  The two positions nicely
reinforced each other in Fleetwood’s professional life, as the Merchant Taylor’s took advantage
of his legal skills on a number of occasions in the 1560s, employing him as steward for a
number of the company’s manors all over England, and retaining him as counsel in their suit
against the Cloth Worker’s Guild in 1565.  The measure of Fleetwood’s early legal success was
his election to the House of Commons for the borough of Marlborough in Mary’s final
parliament in 1558.  Fleetwood subsequently served as a knight of the shire for Lancaster in
Elizabeth’s first two parliaments, and following his election as City Recorder of London in 1972,
he sat in all subsequent parliaments for the city until his retirement.  Fleetwood also served as a
justice of the peace for a number of shires over the course of his career.  
It was Fleetwood the magistrate that brought him the most notice of his contemporaries.  
Whether motivated primarily by religious passions or a fierce dedication to the preservation of
law and order, Fleetwood proved himself a vigorous enforcer of the penal laws against
vagrants, papists, and Jesuits.  As early as 1559, when he served as a visiting ecclesiastical
commissioner for parliament, he began to establish a reputation for administrative
thoroughness.  In 1576, in fact, he busted into the Portuguese ambassador’s chapel to arrest
supposed spies, which landed him a short stay in the Fleet.  Nevertheless, his due diligence
kept him in the good graces of municipal government, which made him serjeant at law in 1580,
while in 1588 he prepared a report on the proceedings taken against Jesuits, and in the
following year, a treatise on the right of sanctuary for criminals in the churchyard of St. Paul’s
Cathedral, a textbook example of Fleetwood’s use of his scholarly training as a historian and
antiquarian for a blatantly contemporary political purpose.  This of course was known to his
contemporaries, and Fleetwood was later identified as “Leicester’s mad recorder” in the
scurrilous anti- Puritan tract, Leicester’s Commonwealth,
But most of Fleetwood’s extant published work was hardly this exciting, consisting mostly of
dry legal commentaries, as well as the eight volume The office of Justice of the Peace (1658) and
a transcript of a public speech, titled “An Oration made at Guildhall before the Mayor,
concerning the late attempts of the Queen's Maiesties evil seditious subjects,’ 15 Oct. 1571,” as
well as verses added to Thomas Chaloner's “De Republica Anglorum instauranda,” (1579), and
William Lambarde's ‘Perambulation of Kent.” (1576)  But most of Fleetwood’s literary works
remain in manuscript form, such as ‘Observacons sur Littleton’ (Harl. MS. 5225), and “De Pace
Ecclesiæ,” which is no longer extant but mentioned in the preface to The office of Justice of the
And, of course, the Itinerarium ad Windsor.  In this particular work, Fleetwood can be seen to
be advancing both the agenda of his patron , the Earl of Leicester, who comes across in the
Itinerarium as intellectually inquisitive, as well as the interests of his queen, whom he
considered to be enduring a particularly vulnerable period of her reign, as an aging unmarried
queen without a recognized successor.  Because Fleetwood undoubtedly possessed compelling
reasons for writing this work, it is entirely possible that the dialogue described in the
Itinerarium is a fictitious fabrication, and we simply have to take Fleetwood at his word that
this conversation actually took place.  Some scholars, such as David Loades, have dismissed the
Itinerarium as politically motivated fantasy, while others, such as J.D. Alsop, while allowing
that the dialogue may have been embellished, have nonetheless looked for a more
sophisticated explanation for Fleetwood’s motive behind its writing.  
When all these considerations are taken into account, the timing of the Itinerarium seems
highly auspicious for the message it creates.  1575 was the year of Kenilworth, the nineteen day
extravaganza thrown by Leicester for the Queen that represented his final campaign to win
Elizabeth’s hand in marriage.  In doing so, Leicester deployed a team of A-list talents to write
plays and passages, such as George Gascoigne and George Ferrers, who wrote the lady of the
lake’s oration which greeted Elizabeth immediately upon her arrival.  But three months
previous to Kenilworth, in March, is when the Itinerarium’s conversation allegedly took place.  
Leicester comes off as grave and learned in the Itinerarium, while the historical discussion of
female rule built an argument that the Queen could hardly find fault in, as Leicester inquired of
Fleetwood and Sackville,
why the Queene our mistris should have and execute the like
and the same prerogative sand other regall preheminences as
have bene given onely by Parliament unto Her Highenes’ most
noble progenitors being kings . . . .
Fleetwood and Sackville’s dialogue can be seen as a prologue to Kenilworth, building a rock
solid legal justification for female rule as it creates an image of Elizabeth’s queenship both
autonomous and sovereign; as if to tell the Queen that marrying Leicester would do nothing to
compromise her royal authority in any way, and allow her to become the “mother” to the heir
that her kingdom so earnestly desired from her.  Ironically, this was accomplished by a
description of the events leading up to Mary’s second parliamentary session, which met in the
spring of 1554 and enacted both the queen’s marriage treaty to Philip of Spain, and the earlier
described Act Concerning Regal Power.  According to Fleetwood, the origins of this particular
act arose when Mary was presented with a book that argued that because all the statutory
limitations placed upon English kingship only applied to kings, and not queens, Mary could
assume the unencumbered royal prerogative of William the Conqueror, and do “what she list.”  
But Fleetwood described Mary as unimpressed with this logic, and threw the book into the fire
as her Lord Chancellor, Bishop Stephen Gardiner of Winchester, drafted the legislation that
became the Act Concerning Regal Power.  
This brings us to the matter of the individual who allegedly wrote this disingenuous treatise
and so incensed Queen Mary.  He was never identified by name, but, according to the
Itinerarium, the individual was Cromwell’s man, had done time in the Fleet, been arrested
upon Mary’s accession but was soon released, and although a man “of no grete compass’ was
nonetheless both skillful and wise.  While both James Alsop and Dennis Moore have pondered
the individual, “the chancellor of the dukedom of Mediolum,” who delivered the treatise to the
Queen, the individual who actually wrote it remains to be identified.  I think it was George
Ferrers.  This is my case.  Ferrers first powerful patron was Cromwell, and in 1542 while sitting
as MP in the commons for Plymouth, he was arrested for debt, causing Henry VIII to make his
famous pronouncement of the theoretical relationship between king and parliament as he
affirmed the right of immunity from prosecution for sitting members of parliament.  During
Edward VI’s reign Ferrers later attached himself to the Dukes of Somerset and
Northumberland, from whom he enjoyed favor and patronage, most notably his “reign” as
Lord of Misrule over Edward’s final two Christmas courts. . According to the online John Foxe
project, Ferrers was arrested shortly after Mary’s accession in August 1553 only to be present at
her coronation two months later.  The Following January Ferrers fought bravely for Mary
during Wyatt’s revolt.  However, in early 1554 Ferrers was also involved in writing essays for a
volume entitled a memorial of suche princes, the proto-type for the later Mirror For Magistrates,
which Stephen Gardiner censored prior to publication, in all likelihood because its primary
contributor was William Baldwin, a Protestant hot-head who had written a number of anti-
Catholic tracts during Edward’s reign.  The following year, Ferrers failed to attend parliament
after leveling some rather wild accusations against John Dee and others for trying to forecast the
date of the Queen’s death.  It is hard to understand why Ferrers would have done this unless it
was seen as some kind of last ditch attempt to regain favor with the Marian regime following
the censorship of the memorial and perhaps the ill advised treatise given to the Queen in the
spring of 1554 that had upset her so.  Why Ferrers?  Ferrers possessed both the historical
knowledge and the legal training to write such a treatise- he had translated Magna Carta into
English back in 1534, and much later, during the 1571 parliamentary session, Ferrers allegedly
penned a tract in Latin outlining the English succession from the Lancastrians and Yorkists
down to Mary Queen of Scots, by then in protective custody in the north of England.  It was
during this session that Ferrers and Fleetwood undoubtedly once again came face to face as
both were appointed to the House subsidy committee.  The reunion was probably not all that
cordial, as Fleetwood was determined to see Mary Queen of Scots brought to justice as Ferrers
served as an informant for John Leslie, Bishop of Ross, Mary’s chief agent in England.  If there
was any animosity, it was probably muted by the fact that both men enjoyed Leicester’s favor,
and four years later, both men were engaged in employing their talents for Leicester’s political
purposes, which is perhaps the reason why Fleetwood chose to keep the identify of his
Itinerarium mystery man a secret.  
The question merits further investigation, but if suffices to say that the dialogue contained in
the Itinerarium ad Windsor, despite is flaws, inconsistencies, and unnamed actors, remains a
powerful and reasoned historical defense for the concept of female rule in England.
Presented at the annual meeting of the Queen Elizabeth
I Society and the  South Central Renaissance
Conference in New Orleans, La. March 2012.
I presented this paper at the annual meeting of the Queen Elizabeth I Society, March 2013, in Omaha Nebraska.  This
paper was awarded the Agnes Strickland prize for best conference paper.

The dialogue contained in William Fleetwood’s 1575 manuscript Itinerarium ad Windsor revolves around a
fascinating and illuminating historical defense of English queenship.   This defense was based upon a judicious
yet disingenuous use of historical source material that achieves the didactic objectives of its author, despite his
protestations of objectivity, to create a rock solid justification for female rule at a critical moment in time during
the reign of Elizabeth I.  
Five hundred plus years later, it is difficult to say with precision just what Fleetwood’s agenda was for writing
the Itinerarium ad Windsor, or who his target audience might have been for the circulation of the manuscript.  
What is much more certain is that, at the moment the Itinerarium’s conversation allegedly took place, Fleetwood
was keenly aware that Elizabeth I faced a plethora of domestic and international threats.  The last of the Tudors,
Elizabeth’s life was all that held back the dynastic uncertainty of a contested succession, should she die without
heirs. By early 1575 she was over forty, and it was becoming acute for the queen to marry since no one knew how
long she might remain fertile, if indeed she was able to conceive a child at all.  Attempts to convince the Queen
to marry had been going on practically from the moment the crown was placed on her head in 1558.  Seventeen
years later, Elizabeth was not only reluctant to marry, she refused to name an heir at all.  
In this precarious constitutional position, Elizabeth had survived smallpox, assassination attempts, and a 1569
rebellion led by Catholic Northern earls that represented the most formidable domestic threat yet to Elizabeth’s
security. The next decade brought new foreign perils; in 1570 Pope Pius V issued the papal bull regnans in
excelsis, which declared Elizabeth a heretic and her throne forfeit. The following year the Ridolfi Plot had aimed
to assassinate Elizabeth and replace her with the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots.  During the 1571 and 1572
parliaments, in his position as House of Commons floor manager for the Privy Council, Fleetwood was in the
thick of a parliamentary consensus that wished Mary tried and executed, which Elizabeth had manifestly refused
to do.  
It is my contention that Fleetwood’s primary objective in writing the Itinerarium was to theoretically shore up
the authority of English queenship at a particularly vulnerable moment in Elizabeth’s reign.  As an avid
antiquarian, Fleetwood was aware of the power of British queenship long before the arrival of the Romans.  The
long shadow of British queen consortship hangs over the Itinerarium dialogue, which Fleetwood makes clear
with his reference to Cordelia, daughter of Lear, derived from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth century History
of the Kings of Britain, who makes the transformation from consort to regnant after restoring her deposed father
and then subsequently succeeding him.   While Cordelia may have wielded the power of a king, since the time
of her reign in the misty British past, queens were more commonly comprehended as the wives of kings.  While
Fleetwood attempted to argue in the Itinerarium that the words king and queen mirrored each other in meaning,
“and this word queene , in the same tounge is in effect of the same force, referring the same to the femall sex,”
queens consorts, while crowned, remained auxiliary to the office of king, without any other form of legitimizing
agent but the production of male heirs, something both Mary and Elizabeth had failed to do.  From the Anglo-
Saxon invasions to the accession of Mary I in 1553, English queen consorts varied in their exercise of queenly
power, but such power was always perceived as derivative from a king.  Only one rare occasions were the
succession rights of women ever discussed over the long medieval epoch that followed the Norman conquest of
The chequered history of sixteenth century English queen consorts also failed to invest the meaning of the term
queen with the kind of power that Fleetwood was trying to conjure up in the Itinerarium.  Indeed Henry VIII
deflated the sacred nature of English queenship in terms of his consorts when he had his marriage to his first
queen, Catherine of Aragon, annulled, though she had been crowned queen alongside him at the time of his
coronation. Worse, only three years after Anne Boleyn’s coronation, he had her executed. Had Jane Seymour
survived the birth of her son he might well have had her crowned queen, but she did not, and Henry did not
bother to have any of his subsequent three consorts crowned, leaving English queenship in an ambiguous state
upon the accession of England’s first queen regnant, Mary I, in 1553. Thus the term queen, which Fleetwood and
his cohorts grappled with in the Itinerarium dialogue, came possessed with multiple meanings and considerable
historical baggage.  The question itself that Leicester poses – why Queen Elizabeth should have the same
prerogatives and pre-eminences as kings when they were not given to kings and queens – after being tipped off
by his kinsmen that he needs to come up with a good question, allows Fleetwood to invest this term with as
much legitimate power and prerogative that his self-proclaimed indifference towards his sources provided for
In fact, Fleetwood has more than enough historical ammunition for the question at hand, and Buckhurst literally
launches him back into the dialogue with “Goe to, Master Recorder!”   Fleetwood goes through the rhetorical
motions of disclaiming his ability to make sufficient answer before he launches into an etymological discussion
that owes its internal logic to a legal understanding of the meaning of queen.  In fact, like a lawyer trying a case,
Fleetwood is performing alchemy on his source material, through his legalist interpretations, as he makes the
claim that the words king and queen were synonymous in their meaning.  For evidence, Fleetwood trots out
Henry VIIII’s second Act of Succession (23 Henry 8, cap. 7), a rather ironic and provocative form of defense, given
what the act says about Elizabeth’s claim to the throne.  
Earlier in the dialogue Buckhurst had mentioned this statute, when he stated, “by the lawe of the crowne of
England, it hath bene accustomed that the crowne ought to succeed and goe to the eldest daughter when the
femalls are heritable,’ etc.”    But this statement comes at the end of a tedious and verbose diatribe, which is
mostly concerned with justifying why both of the King’s daughters should be removed from the succession.  
Following this, the Act states that if there was a daughter by a legitimate wife “the Crowne of Englond hath ben
accustomed and ought to succeed and go in case where there is heire female inheritable to the same.”   This is a
small but highly significant portion of the act. The act also gives Henry the right, if he has no living legitimate
children, to name whom he wishes as next monarch.  While a small portion of the act squarely addresses the
critical issue that Fleetwood employs it for, the rest of the act would have been antithetical to Elizabeth in1575,
perhaps another motivation for the injunction for discretion voiced at the beginning of the dialogue.  Indeed, by
privileging the act in his legal calculations, Fleetwood may have been hoping that his gamble in deploying one
small portion of it would pay off, in case the dialogue was ever meant for Elizabeth to see, which is certainly
possible, given Leicester’s intimate relationship with the Queen.
Conversely, it is easy to see why Fleetwood found the act such a tantalizing piece of historical evidence.  Much
like the preceding  the 1534 Act of Supremacy, which recognized Henry VIII’s imperial title of head of the
church, and the 1554 Act for the Queen’s Regal Power, the Second Act of Succession pronouncements on female
succession rights were not, in theory, making new law, but recognizing and announcing that its tenets had
always been the law of the land.  But it is unclear which is the horse and which is the cart here; as Fleetwood
takes us on a grand tour of the history of female inheritance in England; was he imposing a sixteenth century
legalist understanding of female inheritance upon an unknowing middle ages, or was he suggesting that the
body of precedents recounted in the Itinerarium led the king-in-parliament to believe that a female inclusive
rule of primogeniture had always been the law of the land?
To accomplish this end, Fleetwood takes considerable liberties with the history of the twelfth century, in his
discussion of the rivalry between Maud (or Matilda) and King Stephen.  Henry I (r. 1100-1135), the third Norman
king, had attempted to compel his barons and prelates to recognize his daughter Matilda as his heir following
the death of his only legitimate son.   This was a common enough practice for continental monarchies, but
unprecedented in Norman England, which did not operate under any recognized rule of succession.   Thus,
when Stephen usurped the throne, he was merely following the same model laid down by Henry I himself, in
what was essentially an elective process.  Matilda subsequently challenged Stephen, pursuing a civil war that
she eventually bequeathed to her eldest son Henry, who resolved the issue with Stephen with the Treaty of
Winchester, and duly succeeded him as King Henry II.
But this long and complicated dynastic conflict is quickly disposed of in the Itinerarium.  Stephen’s eighteen
year reign is described as an “interruption” until “the judgment fell out for her part” even though when Stephen
died in 1154, Matilda did not succeed in England even though she was still very much alive.   Nevertheless,
Leicester is convinced that, “the female hath had and enjoyed the crowne of England by just and lawfull title,”
but when he asks about the grounds of Stephen’s title, Fleetwood ignores the elective principle to argue that
Stephen also claimed the throne through the female line, through his mother Adele, eldest daughter of William
the Conqueror, even though Stephen was her third son.  None of the contemporary chronicles describing these
events that would have been available to Fleetwood mentions Stephen’s supposed hereditary claim through the
female line, but instead emphasize the elective nature, as well as the claim that Henry I had a deathbed change
of mind, and had designated Stephen as his heir in place of his daughter.   But such fluid rules of succession
have no place in the Itinerarium, which operates according to the legalistic principles and theories of sixteenth
century Tudor England.  Indeed, it would not have been politic to mention such a wild card as the elective
principle, as the Itinerarium seeks to prove that Elizabeth I’s title and power rest upon solid, and timeless, legal
principles.  It is left to Buckhurst, then, to make the connection between Stephen’s hereditary claim and Henry
VIII’s second Act of Succession.  When the dialogue then returns to Fleetwood, one wonders whether he was
being facetious when he states that his arguments were “always grounded upon authorities and presidents and
not on reason I invented myself,” immediately following this rather imaginative reading of twelfth century
succession patterns, including a reading of the Treaty of Winchester that implies that a representative sampling
of nobles and prelates imposed the settlement on Stephen and Henry, in a manner that Elizabeth’s parliaments
wished they could impose upon their queen.  
After demonstrating the twelfth century legality of female royal inheritance, Fleetwood jumps forward two
centuries to recount the House of York’s royal pedigree through the female line.
Nevertheless, female inheritance rights fall to the wayside in the very next passage as Edward IV’s heir,
Elizabeth of York, forgoes her superior claim to marry Henry VII and achieve “the most happy conjunction of the
House of Lancaster and Yorke.”  Leicester fails to see the contradiction here to conclude that,

Yow see now by this argument what the lawe of the crowne is:
that a woman may lawfully inheritte the regall office and dignitie
of the crowne as may a man.

But after Buckhurst briefly describes the contradiction between the Old Testament daughters of Zelophehad and
a Roman law mentioned by St. Augustine, Leicester comes out of nowhere to offer a brief but pointed panegyric
to the Queen.

God be thanked that of His mercy hath now raised up unto us a woman
for our queene, who is of such wisdome, learning, and clemency, gravitie,
judgement, goverment, and other noble and princely vertues, as have not bene
seene in many men. God increase her daily with His most holy spirit, and
make her an old mother. Amen.

Fleetwood, however, quickly changes the subject to bring the dialogue to its climax, as he directly addresses
Leicester’s original question, particularly concerning the power to correct and punish, as he introduces the figure
of Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and Mary I’s lord chancellor.  By 1575 Gardiner had been sufficiently
vilified in the pages of John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments as the scourge of Protestants, but Fleetwood is only
interested in Gardiner as a legalist, and his portrayal is remarkably benign in the Itinerarium.  Tellingly,
Fleetwood refers to him as Doctor Gardiner, rather than Bishop Gardiner, emphasizing his learning, rather than
his clerical position.  Like Leicester, Buckhurst, and Fleetwood, Gardiner did not doubt that his Queen enjoyed
the same prerogative as her kingly predecessors, and, according to the account in the Itinerarium, had drafted
The Act for the Queen’s Regal Power only to “remove some scruple out of simple heads.”  Actually, the bill had
actually originated in the Commons, not the Lords, but as he described the concerns of MP Ralph Skinner
Fleetwood makes the crucial connection between royal power and statute law.  Skinner warned that to pass the
bill in its present state would grant the Queen the prerogative of William the Conqueror, who had seized
England and made it his private fief before the advent of statute law, which to sixteenth century observers began
with Magna Carta.  Skinner suggested that the Queen wanted this unencumbered royal power she could hand it
over to her future husband, Prince Philip of Spain, whose marriage treaty with the Queen was also being
considered for ratification by parliament during this session.   After the bill was amended to make the Queen
subject to the limitations to the royal prerogative imposed by statute law, Fleetwood comes to the rescue of Mary
I’s reputation as the Queen rejected outright the argument, after reading a book, which suggested that, because
statute law only addressed kings and not queens, she could,

take upon her the title of a conqueror over all her dominions.
Then might she at her pleasure reforme the monasteries, advance
her frendes, suppresse her enimies, establishe religion, and do what
she liste.

After reading the tract several times, Mary summoned Gardiner, who confirmed her opinion that the book was a ”
lewd and devilish device,” a potent example of the queen choosing the right course after taking counsel.  Was
this the point Fleetwood wished to impress upon Queen Elizabeth I?  
Of course, for Fleetwood to legitimize Elizabeth’s possession of the throne, he needed to do the same thing for
Mary I.  Religion is not a factor here; the argument remains legalistic, not to be sidetracked by any other
theoretical considerations.  Thus, one of the most positive historical descriptions of Mary I during Elizabeth’s
reign is contained in the Itinerarium ad Windsor, which presents England’s first ruling queen as a monarch fully
cognizant of her power under the law, “for truely she was a most noble and gratious princesse, and all her
intentions were (as she thought in her conscience) for the best.”
But for Fleetwood, the cornerstone of the Itinerarium’s defense of queenly power is contained in the discussion
of the medieval concept of the King’s two bodies.   In brief, the theory recognized that the monarch contained
two bodies within their person, their body natural, which lives and subsequently dies, and the body politic of
kingship, which is eternal, and subsumes the body natural of the monarch upon their accession to the throne.  It
originated in the attempts of medieval common lawyers to adapt the corpus ecclesiae mysticum, which allowed
the Church and monasteries to acquire property and move through time as permanent corporations, to construct
the theory of an eternal and corporate body politic of kingship.  But the concept did not actually enter the law
books until the 1561 Duchy of Lancaster Case, first initiated during Mary’s reign, concerning whether the
underage Edward VI could alienate duchy lands, which were held to be part of the private estate of the
monarch.  But the justices upheld Edward’s grant as the gift of his body politic, which was “utterly void of
infancy and old age, and other natural defects and imbecilities . . . .”   Queen Elizabeth was none too pleased
with the verdict, not seeing the larger picture of a case that ultimately provided a significant constitutional
bolster to her authority as monarch.  But Fleetwood obviously saw the connection, citing the direct precedent for
it, decided more than two centuries earlier, when the jurists of the now adult Edward III decided that the
underage king was capable of making permanent grants during his minority.  The language in this case was used
verbatim in the Duchy of Lancaster Case, which with Fleetwood was undoubtedly familiar as he prepared the
index for the second edition of Plowden’s reports, and would not have ruffled the Queen’s feathers as a reference
to the Duchy of Lancaster Case may have done.  
Like minor kings, England’s first female monarchs faced questions concerning their ability to wield the office of
king.  Implicit in the Itinerarium’s dialogue is the idea that possession of the body politic of kingship washes
away all former infirmities, such as being a woman. Indeed the entire discussion in this final section of the
Itinerarium is completely theoretical and abstract; as the term king is the sole one used, even though at that
moment in time when this dialogue was supposed to take place, England’s king was in fact a woman.  
It was in the midst of the discussion of the ‘king’s two bodies” that Fleetwood and his companions arrived at
Windsor, bringing to a close a rather brief dialogue that in reality was hardly long enough to have lasted the
several hours horseback ride from London to Windsor.  As Leicester offered his thanks to Fleetwood and
Buckhurst, he left them armed with a dialogue that represented a remarkable historical exposition of both the
inheritance rights of women and their ability to wield the powers of the kingly office fully possessed of the
body politic of kingship.  If Elizabeth I ever had a chance to peruse this manuscript, it is easy to imagine the
pleasure she might have taken in most of its arguments. She might have had “the heart and stomach of a king,”
but as a queen she knew she had the right to rule, like her ‘most noble progenitors being kings.”
Princess of Wales?  Mary Tudor and the History
of English Heirs to the Throne”
This paper was delivered March 14, 2015, at the
annual; meeting of the Queen Elizabeth I Society,
Raleigh, North Carolina.
 As all of you undoubtedly know, February 18th, 2016 is the 500th anniversary of the birth of Queen Mary I
of England.  I have already begun to celebrate this event by presenting you all with this paper today,
which is an abridged version of an essay I wrote for my colleagues Sarah Duncan and Valerie Schutte,
who are compiling an edited collection in commemoration of this momentous occasion in English history.  
If all goes well the book will be published on or close to the date of Mary’s birth next year.
  To those of you familiar with my work, you know that I do not shy away from looking at a historical big
picture.  This is precisely what Sarah asked me to do, to look at the big picture of the English succession
and think about Mary’s place in the big history of English heirs to the throne. So I did.  And you know
what?  Mary’s role as an heir to the throne was complicated.  On the one hand, when she became
England’s first queen regnant in 1553, Mary benefitted from widespread belief and acceptance that she
was her brother Edward VI’s “natural” heir, according to divine and natural law.  But Mary also enjoyed a
parliamentary title, by virtue of the Third Act of Succession (1543) and the statutory force of her father’s
will, even though she had been bastardized by earlier acts of succession.  Additionally, Mary’s place at
the head of an army, after defeating an attempt to displace her in the succession, was also perceived as
containing elements of election, both divine and temporal, as stated in the endless placards that greeted
her arrival in London, “vox populi, vox Dei,” “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”  
  But long before all this happened, before Anne Boleyn, and the tumultuous effects that the English
Reformation had on her life, during the first seventeen years of her life, Mary enjoyed a more traditional
type of recognition as heir, without any explicit statutory backing, in which for a time she functioned as a
de facto Princess of Wales, performing a role usually reserved for male heirs to the throne.
  Now, prior to the accession of Mary’s half-brother Edward VI in 1547, the succession to the crown
unfolded outside the bounds of any written or oral form of law; Mary’s own status as heir was universally
recognized spontaneously upon her birth in 1516 without any need for either legal definition or statutory
backing.  Prior to the Glorious Revolution of 1688/89, the English succession operated under a number of
mechanisms; election, conquest, various scenarios in which heredity and kinship were factors, and
combinations of all three mechanisms, all of which came into play during Mary’s 1553 accession.   
  But for there to be even a notion of female rule, there need to be a lack of male heirs.  This was not a
problem for the Plantagenet kings of the high and late Middle Ages, who enjoyed an unparalleled
succession of viable male heirs, as primogeniture seemingly emerged as the primary determinant of the
succession.  Hand in hand with the idea of a recognized male heir was Edward I’s (r. 1272-1307) creation
of his eldest son and heir, the future Edward II, as Prince of Wales in 1301, following the conquest of the
principality and the deposition of the last native Welsh princes, which, for the next seven hundred years,
became the primary means of designating English royal heirs.
  But Princes of Wales never actually went to Wales to be an in residence prince until the reign of the
Yorkist king Edward IV, who took positive steps to ensure the succession rights of his own heir, the
future Edward V (1470-1483?).  When he was eight months old, Prince Edward was formally created Prince
of Wales.  But Edward IV invested the role even further, by sending his son to actually live in Wales as
the titular head of both a regional council and a princely court in Ludlow while he was still an infant.   
Henry VII, the first Tudor king, duplicated this precedent for his eldest son and heir Arthur, although he
waited until Arthur had reached his third birthday before formally investing him in an impressive
ceremony that included a ceremonial barge ride down the Thames.  Henry also created a regional council
in the Welsh marches in the prince’s name, although Arthur did not actually go to live in Wales until 1501
when he was fifteen, the first occasion in English history when a Prince of Wales actually went to Wales to
rule as prince, rendering the position both a title and an office.  
  Arthur returned to London in November 1501 to wed his newly arrived bride Catherine of Aragon, the
daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.  Shortly afterwards Arthur returned to Wales with his bride
to reassume his duties as prince, but by April 1502, Arthur was dead.  In February 1503 Henry VII created
his remaining son, the eleven year old Henry, Duke of York, as Prince of Wales.  Not feeling quite so
dynastically secure this time around, Henry VII kept his heir close at hand and on a short leash for the
remainder of his reign, as his son would do with his own male heir.
  Like his father, dynastic security was a top priority for Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547).  Thanks to a papal
dispensation, Henry VIII married his brother’s widow shortly after his accession and immediately began
attempting to propagate the dynasty, with decidedly mixed results.  On 31 January 1510 Catherine gave
birth to an un-named premature stillborn daughter.  But a year later she gave birth to a son, Henry, who
was immediately created Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall amid great rejoicing.   Seven weeks later
the prince was dead.  
  For the first six years of his reign, Henry had no officially recognized or sanctioned heir.  Henry’s
continuing hopes for his dynasty were further dashed by the birth of another son n November 1513, also
named Henry, who only lived long enough to be styled Duke of Cornwall before expiring after just a few
hours of life.  Over a year later, in January 1515, Catherine gave birth to still yet another un-named
stillborn son.
  For the remainder of his life, despite his strenuous efforts to produce a male heir, Henry had little
choice but to contemplate the possibility of a female succession.  Prior to Mary’s birth, Henry VIII’s
closest heir was his oldest sister, Margaret, recently widowed as queen of Scotland and the mother of
the underage king James V, whose great-grandson James VI succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603.  But
Margaret, wife and mother to aliens, was problematic as an heir to Henry VIII’s throne.  After Margaret’s
husband James IV was killed at Flodden Field (September 9, 1513), she encountered difficulty ruling as
regent for her son, underscoring for Henry VIII the liabilities of female rule.  
  Henry had another sister, Mary (b. 1496), whom he married to the elderly Louis XII of France in 1514.   
Among the various issues addressed during the negotiations for her possible marriages, Mary’s place in
the succession was not mentioned, although Mary herself may have alluded to her dynastic importance in
a letter to Henry, shortly after Louis XII’s death, in which she threatened to enter a convent, making him
and the realm sorry, presumably by threatening to withhold her reproductive capabilities.   Soon after,
Mary married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, creating a home grown cadet branch of the Tudor
dynasty that would later be inserted into the line of succession at the end of Henry’s reign in place of the
Stuart claim.  But for the first seven years of Henry’s reign, it was not at all clear who would become king
should Henry VIII die prematurely.
  Mary’s birth immediately resolved this succession dilemma.  While Henry and Catherine remained
outwardly optimistic of future sons, Mary was unequivocally her father’s heir, as suggested by the double
references to “princess” in the proclamation announcing her birth, “the right high, right noble and
excellent Princess Mary, Princess of England,” which acknowledged her status as both the King’s
daughter and as heir to the throne.   Lacking either siblings or other potential collateral heirs of any kind,
Mary’s position as royal heir was as singular as her father’s was during the final years of Henry VII’s reign.
  Like so many male heirs before her, Mary was expected to perform on the public stage of the royal
court as soon as she awoke to consciousness, assuming a regal gravitas even as a small child, receiving
distinguished guests, writing formal letters, demonstrating her talents in music and dancing, and
behaving impeccably within the fishbowl environment of the royal court.   Even before her third birthday,
in October 1518, during the celebrations surrounding her betrothal to the French dauphin, Sebastian
Giustinian wrote to the Venetian Doge of Mary’s presumably flawless performance, wearing “cloth of
gold, with a cap of black velvet on her head, adored with many jewels,” as Cardinal Wolsey slipped a
diamond engagement ring on her finger.
Like Edward V, Arthur Tudor, and her own father before her, Mary’s education as a potential future
sovereign was of the utmost importance, betraying her future status as monarch and indicative of the
increased scope of Renaissance humanism, which was at the core of Mary’s curriculum as it was her
father’s.   As Retha Wanicke has suggested, Henry was every bit as interested in the education of his heir
as was her mother, much of which reflected the emphasis on chastity and morality that had proved to be
such a winning strategy for her grandmother Isabella of Castile as well as her own mother, who enjoyed a
wide ranging popularity as queen consort.
  While Mary’s education was reflective of the intellectual trends of Renaissance monarchy, to her father
and his subjects the most important task Mary could accomplish as her father’s heir would be to produce
the next generation of English heirs, to continue the dynasty through the female line, a responsibility
Mary endeavored to fulfill once she became queen in 1553.  Soon after her birth, like any other royal heir,
male or female, Mary was on the marriage market, with betrothals in 1518 to the French dauphin, in 1521
to Holy Roman emperor Charles V, and in1527 to Henri, Duke of Orleans, second son of Francis I, while in
1524 a match was briefly considered with Mary’s cousin James V of Scotland.   All of the negotiations
implicitly acknowledged Mary’s status as her father’s heir.   While no one expected Charles to be
permanently resident in England once they were married, Orleans and James V were much more
problematical as potential consorts, with Henry wishing for both candidates to come reside in England, a
condition neither the Scots nor the French would ultimate agree to do.  But all Mary’s potential husbands
expected to be a king of England.  Much like Isabella’s decision to make her husband Ferdinand king
consort of Castile, Henry VIII’s own jurists considered that Mary could do the same, which is in fact what
she later did, with parliamentary approval, when she married Prince Philip of Spain in 1554.    
  But Henry VIII may have wanted to keep his succession options open.  In 1519, Elizabeth Blount, one of
Catherine of Aragon’s ladies in waiting, gave birth to an illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, whom Henry
acknowledged.  By 1525, Catherine of Aragon had not conceived for seven years, leaving Mary and
Fitzroy as Henry’s only progeny unless he was to remarry.  Mary and Fitzroy represented both sides of
the Tudor succession dilemma- Mary, legitimate but female, Fitzroy, illegitimate but male.  Both received
honorific acknowledgments of their dynastic importance.  
  1525 was a pivotal year for both.  Fitzroy was created Duke of Richmond and Somerset in an
ostentatious ceremony complete with a barge ride up the Thames reminiscent of Arthur Tudor’s in 1501.  
Later in this same year Fitzroy was created Lord High Admiral of England, as well as Lord President of the
Council of the North, and Warden of the Marches towards Scotland, replicating both Edward IV and Henry
VII’s efforts to vest royal heirs with vice-regal like authority even though, like minor kings, actual
authority was wielded by council acting in his name. Nevertheless, while Fitzroy received the titles
signifying his close blood relationship to the Tudor royal house, he reserved the most prestigious of
roles for his daughter, by replicating the experience of Edward V and Arthur Tudor by sending her to
Wales in 1525 at the head of a regional council.  The instructions issued for her journey remarked that “by
reason of the long absence of any prince making continuall residence eyther in the principalitie of Wales
or in the marches of the same,” identifying Mary as a “prince” in the Machiavellian sense- as the ruler of
a principality.   There were multiple motivations at play for Mary’s two year “progress” through the Welsh
marches; while W.R.B. Robinson has argued that the impetus to send Mary to Wales was to fill a
temporary vacuum in royal authority in Wales, Jeri McIntosh has suggested that the original impetus was
to enhance Mary’s position as heir after Charles V, Mary’s now perennial husband to be, scored a major
victory over France at Pavia.   
  But an equally important consideration was that Mary was given practical experience in the forms and
functions of wielding royal authority, something not even her brother Edward VI enjoyed while their
father was alive. While Mary was not designated a “formal” Prince of Wales like many of her male
predecessors, she was nonetheless a prince resident in Wales at the head of a council that represented
the interests of the crown, a singular experience for Mary not duplicated by any subsequent heir to the
throne, male or female.  It also represented the pinnacle of Mary’s tenure as de facto princess of Wales,
as her father remained committed to obtaining a legitimate male heir.
  Henry’s efforts to secure an annulment from Catherine of Aragon eventually resulted in the first
statutory pronouncements concerning the succession since Henry VII’s first parliament.  By the time the
First Act of Succession was enacted in 1534, the Reformation Parliament (1529-1536) had already
legislated the Break with Rome, which allowed an independent English Church to declare Henry’s first
marriage invalid and marry him to Anne Boleyn, who gave birth to a daughter, the future Elizabeth I, in
1533.   The Act recounted the dissolution of her parent’s marriage, effectively debarring Mary from the
succession as it recognized the children of Anne Boleyn and subsequent wives as heirs.   
  Anne Boleyn suffered the same dynastic failure as Catherine of Aragon, and parliament remedied the
situation, following Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour, with a second Act of Succession (1536), which
reiterated Mary’s illegitimacy as it also declared the marriage of Henry and Anne Boleyn invalid,
rendering Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth also unfit to inherit.  Statutorily, this recreated the scenario of 1509-
1516, when the King did not have a clear cut successor.  However, the Act allowed Henry to appoint
further heirs by will, an unprecedented situation that may have been inserted so Henry would have the
option of designating Fitzroy as his successor.  Fitzroy, however, died in July 1536, just as the act was
being passed by Parliament.  Fitzroy’s place in the succession was more than amply filled with the birth of
the future Edward VI in October, but Jane Seymour died of complications shortly afterward.  
  In this same year, after defying her father for several years, Mary formally acknowledged her statutory
bastardization in writing as the price of reconciling with her father and returning to court.   Nonetheless,
the belief that Mary remained her father’s hereditary heir was not quite so easily rooted out of the
kingdom’s political sensibilities, as suggested by the opinion of Robert Aske, one of the ringleaders of
the Pilgrimage of Grace, a rebellion brought about partly in response to the changes wrought by the Act
of Succession, who “grudged” Mary’s removal from the succession, as he and “al the wisseman of those
partes” denied that parliament could legislate away legitimate inheritance rights.
  While Henry did not give up on trying to obtain further male heirs, his final three marriages produced
no further issue.  Perhaps mindful of how his subjects viewed Mary’s place in the succession, in 1544 the
king-in-parliament passed the Third Act of Succession, which reinstated Mary and Elizabeth, with
qualifications, back into the line of succession.    Nevertheless, they remained bastards in law, like their
late brother Fitzroy, although it is a fair assumption that a critical mass of English society had continued
to comprehend Mary as a hereditary claimant to her father’s throne regardless of this parade of statutory
  By this time Mary was 27 years of age, a rather advanced age for an unmarried female heir to the
throne.  Indeed, the tumultuous twists and turns of her role as heir took its toll upon her marriage
prospects; there were no serious negotiations until she was queen, and able to choose her own
husband.   This was in stark contrast to her status prior to her parent’s divorce, in which marriage and
producing male heirs were intimately bound up in her position as her father’s successor.  
  In the final years of her father’s reign, however, the Tudor succession offered a pretty clear picture of
an essentially female succession following Edward, as outlined in Henry VIII’s final will, with the
descendants of Mary Brandon (the French Queen), all of whom were female, to follow Mary and Elizabeth
in the line of succession.  Perhaps in recognition of Edward’s singular position as the last surviving male
Tudor, Henry failed to formally create Edward Prince of Wales or send him to the marches as the titular
head of a regional council, which made Mary, rather than either Edward or Elizabeth, the child of Henry
VIII with the most practical experience in royal administration prior to their accession.
  Upon Henry VIII’s death (December 28, 1547), nine year old Edward VI succeeded (r. 1547-1553)
according to the terms of his will, which outlined a conciliar regency of executors to rule for the king until
he was eighteen, a body similar in its corporate arrangement to the royal councils that ruled during Henry
VI’s fifteenth century minority reign.  The difference here is that Henry VI’s heirs, his uncles John, Duke
of Bedford, and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, were integral players in his government.  In fact, the royal
male kinsmen of underage kings had always played major roles during the minority reigns of Richard II,
Henry VI, and Edward V, for better and for worse, while Mary and Elizabeth were denied any formal role in
their brother’s government, despite their status as his closest heirs.
  Nevertheless, Mary’s position as Edward’s heir exerted its own power, as she enjoyed a cloth of estate
as she travelled to London ostentatiously with large armed retinues to periodically visit her brother.   She
was, like her sister Elizabeth, essentially a landed magnate endowed with considerable income; a 10,000
pound dowry, and in Mary’s case, a landed estate made up of thirty-two manors, which allowed her to
develop quasi- political affinities of her own in Essex and East Anglia.   
  Mary’s position as heir was complicated by religion in ways that no previous royal heir had ever faced.  
While Mary could not be considered a “Catholic” at the beginning of her brother’s reign, she swiftly
emerged as the defender of her father’s religious settlement, rendering her a lightning rod among
English Catholics.  Over the course of Edward VI’s reign, the minority governments of Edward Seymour,
Duke of Somerset, and later John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, deployed the king’s authority as
supreme head of the church to legislate a full-blown Protestant Reformation, actions Mary opposed as
Edward’s statutory heir, arguing that changes in doctrine and ceremony should wait until the king
achieved his full majority.   
  By the spring of 1553, as Edward VI began wasting away from the consumptive disease that eventually
killed him, he and Northumberland hatched a plot to divert the succession from Mary and Elizabeth to
Lady Jane Grey, the eldest granddaughter of Mary, the French Queen, and Northumberland’s daughter-in-
law, the final sordid chapter in Tudor attempts to direct the succession.  The primary motivations were
both religious, as Mary was widely anticipated to reinstate Catholicism, and political, as Northumberland
feared probable retribution from a Marian regime.  But in the final draft of Edward’s “Device for the
Succession,” there was the additional fear stated that an unmarried queen would put the kingdom’s
security at risk, particularly if they married a foreign prince, which justified Elizabeth’s removal also.   In
contrast, fifteen year old Lady Jane was safely married to an Englishman, and would presumably begin
producing male heirs to perpetuate the dynasty, which explains why she, rather than her still living
mother, Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, was chosen to succeed Edward.
  But as Edward VI’s jurists warned him, his attempt to divert the succession by letters patent was
insufficient in law; to remove Mary and Elizabeth from the succession would require a parliamentary
statute.   But neither Edward nor Northumberland could wait for the calling of a session that would, in all
likelihood, require an uphill battle to convince  Parliament to deprive Mary and Elizabeth once again of
their royal inheritance.
  So Edward and Northumberland resorted to a tactic not used since the twelfth century, when the
Norman king Henry I “nominated” his daughter Matilda as his heir, and compelled his tenants-in-chief to
swear oaths in support of her candidacy in a form of election.  In this sense, Edward also “nominated”
Jane Grey as a more satisfactory hereditary heir, one of the major theoretical justifications behind Henry
of Bolingbroke’s 1399 usurpation.  Jane explicitly explained these factors in a letter sent to the Marquis
of Northampton on July 11, the day after her accession, which cited the late king’s royal authority, her
election by all those who had subscribed to Edward’s devise, and the added excuse of Mary’s
illegitimacy, for the legality of her accession.   Indeed, two days earlier, reformed cleric Nicholas Ridley,
Bishop of London, preached a sermon highly reminiscent of Robert Stillington’s on the eve of Richard III’
s 1483 usurpation, preaching that both Mary and Elizabeth’s illegitimacy made them unfit to inherit.  
  Military power also played a significant role during the struggle for the crown following Edward VI’s
death (July 6, 1553), as it had in the successions of 1066, 1399, 1461, and 1485.  For the “Device” to
succeed, Northumberland needed to have custody of Edward’s sisters when Jane was proclaimed, as
Richard Duke of Gloucester had secured possession of Edward IV’s sons prior to his usurpation.  Like
Gloucester in 1483, Northumberland was in possession of a sufficient show of force to enforce Lady Jane’
s accession within London when he sent word to Mary and Elizabeth to come to London to see their
brother.  Both had been informed of Edward’s death, however; Mary took flight to the safety of East
Anglia.  On July 10, Jane was formally declared queen in London.  Mary had already fired back, however,
writing to Jane’s Privy Council the day before protesting her legal claim to the throne, which “the whole
world knoweth; the rolls and records appear by the authority of the King our said father.”  At the same
time, Mary understood that there would be a military component to the contest, promising pardon to
those who recognized her “just and right cause.”
  Indeed, to Mary’s contemporaries, the most compelling component of Mary’s candidacy was her
hereditary position as her father’s daughter, which was bolstered by the armed forces that
spontaneously gravitated towards her standard as she began her march towards London.  In the eyes of
a critical mass of her subjects, this carried much more power than statutory pronouncements upon the
succession, as Robert Wingfield reported, “one would not believe how rapidly and in what large numbers
both gentleman and ordinary folk gathered from the shires.”   The belief that the rightful hereditary
claimant had triumphed was clearly evident in the spontaneous rejoicing evident in London that
accompanied her accession, with bonfires, bell-ringing, and banquets, all reported by a rather dazed
Imperial ambassador who had previously discounted Mary’s ability to succeed her brother.  
  But the final component of Mary’s succession was the belief that she had been divinely elected, an idea
reflective of the providential world view held by Mary and her contemporaries.  Indeed, for many
contemporaries Mary’s lightening transformation in the weeks following Edward VI’s death defied a
rational explanation.  Not surprisingly, her success was widely perceived as an act of divine
intervention.  Mary’s Yorkist cousin Reginald Pole put into words what many contemporaries undoubtedly
believed, writing to her that her triumph could not be explained “without the aid of any other forces or
resistance save that which the spirit of God roused in the hearts of man.”   Like William the Conqueror,
Henry of Bolingbroke, and her grandfather Henry VII, Mary entered London with the divine aura of a
conqueror.  Mary herself never discounted the role she believed God played in her accession, and
neither did Elizabeth when she became queen.  
      But God did not work alone to make Mary queen.  From the moment of her birth her father’s subjects
recognized her as his undoubted hereditary successor, spending the first seventeen years in that
capacity, which included an apprenticeship as a resident Prince of Wales.  While the first two Henrician
Succession Acts had removed her from the succession, the third one put into statutory form what most of
her father’s subjects had always believed to be just and true, that she was, and had always been, her
father’s heir.  This plain and massive fact goes a long way to explain why Mary overcame the odds against
her, as she swept into London to claim her throne on a tide of hereditary legitimacy, divine providence,
military muscle, and the statutory blessings of parliament.