Thursday, 11 January 2018

Nothing Succeeds Like Succession?

With the story of Lady Jane Grey making its way onto BBC Four and Woman’s Hour, why did Edward VI not simply bequeath the Throne to Elizabeth?

Well, Edward was a serious Protestant, who had been brought up, or who was growing up, in a fully Protestant, and not solely an anti-Papal, intellectual environment. One of the less well-known facts about Martin Luther is that, by then a generation into his revolt, he supported Catherine of Aragon against Henry VIII.

As did William Tyndale, who effectively went to the stake at Vilvoorde rather than return to an England that he did not regard as having really become Protestant at all. Like Luther, Tyndale held that some king who wanted to get divorced because he had got his bit on the side pregnant was not quite what the movement was about.

By Edward’s time, however, serious Protestants had often gravitated to London, Oxford and Cambridge. The Boy King was surrounded by them, and he took a strong interest in their teachings. Both of his half-sisters were kind to him. But he almost certainly did believe that they were both bastards. 

Hence, when it came to the succession, he excluded the Protestant one, of whom he was also personally fond, as surely as he excluded the Catholic one. His father had never really been married to either of their mothers, and that was that. What was a good Protestant boy to do?

Mary went on to defeat Jane, of course, and then to be succeeded by Elizabeth. Thus it was established that the Church of England really was what Henry had intended it to be, rather than what Edward, and the advisers who had hailed him as the new Josiah, had wished to make it.

If Elizabeth I could be the Supreme Governor or the Church of England, against the express wishes of her undeniably legitimate half-brother as informed by the finest Protestant scholarship, then the Church of England was not really part of Protestantism at all, as huge numbers of English Protestants were soon to conclude for themselves.

It was just there to regularise the sexual habits of the Royal Family. It will do so again this year. Within one generation, it will have same-sex marriage, because that will be what a member of the Royal Family wants. The Bible will not enter into it.

People think of Mary I as a failure for having failed to prevent a Protestant Succession, as such, in England. But she succeeded far more than almost anyone ever quite appreciates.

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