Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thursday in History: Condemned

This day in history is "get rid of your political enemies" day in England. In 1002, Ethelred II ordered the ousting (or death, he wasn't picky, really) of any Danish people in the country, and in 1553, Queen Mary I ordered the death of Thomas Cranmer and her distant cousin Lady Jane Grey. Both of these monarchs were solidifying their power and ridding the country of those who they were sure would take it from them if given the chance. It didn’t really work out for either of them.
The decades leading up to the early eleventh century saw the people of England threatened by invaders from the north. It was long before standing armies came into vogue, and so raids by opportunistic Danish clans were hard to defend against. Ethelred’s name means “noble counsel,” but when he ordered the St Brice’s Day massacre of Danish settlers, this brought on attacks from the King of Denmark himself, who chased Ethelred away took his crown.
Henry VIII went through many difficulties to make sure he had a male heir. A daughter with his first wife wasn't going to cut it, and the only way out of that marriage was to break with the church. Henry wasn't planning on starting a religious renaissance, but many of his subjects embraced his new church, to the point of being willing to die for their beliefs. Really, the only thing he wanted was to be in charge of the church so that he could say who he had divorced and who he was married to. Unfortunately, though he died with the hope that his son Edward would be a strong and healthy ruler, the prince died a mere six years after his father, and Henry's daughter took the throne.
It's not hard to imagine Mary's feelings. Her father was so disappointed that she wasn't a boy that he went so far as to defy the pope and had the audacity to declare himself the mouthpiece for God on earth. That sort of thing has got to make a girl feel like she has something to prove.
Especially when her cousin Frances does her best to make sure that she never takes the throne. Poor Jane Grey, who did not inherit much of her grandmother’s Tudor spirit, was only obeying her mother when they crowned her queen after Edward’s death, but it’s hard to explain that to an armed mob who comes to assert that it’s the daughter of the king that should rule, not the granddaughter of the king’s sister.
The first thing Mary did once she had the throne was to make sure that her subjects knew that her father's nonsense was over, and everyone was going to be Catholic again. But there were quite a few people that were loving the new ways, among them the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who had helped her father divorce her mother.
Ethelred’s Danish problem wasn’t solved when he ordered that they all be killed; it led to his exile. Mary’s Protestant problem wasn’t solved when she ordered that they be executed; she died without heirs and her Protestant sister took the throne. So I guess the lesson here is: you probably shouldn’t condemn of lots of people to death if you want to keep your crown. Or, at the very least, it’s bad luck to do it on November 13th.

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