Posts tagged 1500s.

September 7, 1533: Elizabeth I is born.

The future Queen Elizabeth I, the last monarch of the Tudor Dynasty, was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, who was executed in 1536. By the Second Succession Act, passed by Parliament that same year, she and her half-sister Mary were removed from the line of succession, although both were returned to the line by the Third Succession Act; though she was an illegitimate child for most of her early childhood, Elizabeth enjoyed a first-class education and was a favorite (as were all of Henry’s children) of Catherine Parr, the king’s sixth and final wife.

She became queen at age 25, following the death of Mary I in late 1558. Although not free from problems, which she dealt with mostly with pragmatism and moderation, her forty-four year reign is often described as a “Golden Age”: the arts and particularly theatre flourished (at the head of this flowering stood the era’s foremost playwrights, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare); the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 granted the English a great sense of national pride; there was comparatively little internal religious strife; and the first seeds of the British American colonies were planted during her reign. She never married, and therefore never produced heirs, and so, following her death in 1603, the throne passed to the Scottish Stuarts. 

July 10, 1553: The reign of Lady Jane Grey begins.

On this day in 1553, the disputed monarch, a great-granddaughter of King Henry VII, began her nine-day rule. She came to the throne at age sixteen through the political machinations of her parents, the Duke of Suffolk and his wife, and John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, who sought to keep the throne in Protestant hands and out of those of Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter by his first wife and a Catholic. The 1536 Second Succession Act declared both Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate and removed both from the line of succession. Their half-brother Edward began his reign in 1547, before which the Third Succession Act superseded the Second and returned Mary and Elizabeth to the throne, making the former Edward’s rightful successor. 

The king fell ill in early July of 1553 and, on his deathbed, circumvented the Third Succession Act by naming his cousin Jane Grey his heir. So, backed by a weak claim and a dying king’s will (and her Protestant faith), Lady Jane Grey reluctantly succeeded the throne; her rule was cut astoundingly short when Mary and her supporters marched into London nine days later and deposed the teenaged monarch. By this time, the Privy Council and even Jane’s own father had affirmed their support for Mary as their rightful queen, and the Duke of Northumberland’s supporters had abandoned him as well. Jane and her husband were charged with and found guilty of high treason, although their fates were not sealed until the outbreak of the Wyatt Rebellion, which, like Jane herself, had the support of Protestant nobles but not of the populace (although she had no part in it). To minimize risk - and because Jane’s father, who had previously escaped execution, had taken part in the rebellion, Queen Mary ordered Jane, her father, and her husband executed. She was beheaded in the Tower of London, in the secluded space of Tower Green reserved for nobles and hidden from the public, on February 12, 1554. Her innocence, young age, supposed piety and intelligence, and the honor with which she faced her execution propelled her in the years following her death to the celebrated status of a martyr. 

May 15, 1536: Anne Boleyn is found guilty of treason.

Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second wife after Catharine of Aragon and the wife for whom the king broke away from the Catholic Church, was arrested in May of 1536 and charged with adultery, incest, and treason. Her arrest took place only three years after her marriage to Henry, which had so far produced no male heirs and only one healthy child; the king had meanwhile taken Jane Seymour, who was to become his third wife just weeks after Anne Boleyn's execution, as a mistress. Anne was, according to contemporary accounts, intelligent, witty, and anything but submissive. all traits that Henry found desirable, even exciting, in a mistress, but not in a wife; her confrontational nature combined with her failure to bear male heirs healthy enough to survive past infancy caused their marriage to crumble.

Anne Boleyn’s arrest was based on accusations of her illicit sexual relationships with a court musician, several aristocrats, and Anne’s own brother George; she was charged with both adultery (a form of treason when committed by a queen) and plotting the death of the king (another form of treason). Of her accused lovers, five were found guilty of treason, including George Boleyn, and executed by decapitation on May 17, 1536. Anne was held in the Tower of London and remained there until her own execution on May 19, 1536; her final words were reportedly a prayer:

To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesus receive my soul.

Anne Boleyn was survived by one child, who was the only one of her siblings to survive birth and infancy, who was declared illegitimate and deprived of her birthright not long after her mother’s execution in order to clear the way for her father’s male heirs, and who eventually became one of England’s most famous, most influential monarchs.

April 2, 1513: Juan Ponce de León lands at Florida.

In March of 1513, Juan Ponce de León, the Spanish governor of Puerto Rico, set out with three ships and two hundred men at the urging of Catholic Monarchs. Although there is no (reliable) written evidence that Ponce de León was also encouraged by the king and queen to seek the mythical Fountain of Youth, or that the explorer sought it out himself, it is a widely-held and romantic (though still apocryphal) belief that he set out to find the fountain on the Bahaman island of Bimini and instead discovered Florida. After Ponce de León’s death, the Fountain of Youth legend became inextricably linked to his exploration and to Florida, specifically St. Augustine. Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, a historian who was born over two decades after the explorer’s death, mentioned the fountain briefly in his account of the Florida journey:

Having overhauled the vessels, it appearing to Juan Ponce that he had labored much, he resolved, although against his will, to send some one to examine the island of Bimini; for he wished to do it himself, because of the account he had of the wealth of this island, and especially of that particular spring so the Indians said that restores men from aged men to youths, the which he had not been able to find…

Regardless, Ponce de León and his men arrived ashore on April 2, 1513, in a lush and colorful land he called Florida, both for the abundance of vegetation and because it was Easter season (Pascua Florida). Although he and his expedition are credited as the European discoverers of Florida (and namers of the region, of course), they were likely not the first Europeans to set foot there, and of course, the peninsula was home to hundreds of thousands of Native Americans, who were initially friendly toward the Europeans but quickly became involved in violent skirmishes with them. As governor of Puerto Rico, Ponce de León had been complicit, a leading figure, even, in the severe mistreatment and subjugation of the indigenous people of the island, particularly through the use of the encomienda system, and he likely would have subjected the people of Florida (which he had been contractually given to settle and govern) to the same treatment had he not been mortally wounded in a Calusa attack during his first colonization attempt in 1521.   

January 16, 1547: Ivan IV Vasilyevich (“Ivan the Terrible”) is crowned Tsar of All the Russias.

Ivan IV was the son of Vasili III, Grand Prince of Moscow, a title he acquired upon his father’s death when he was just three years old. Ivan’s mother served as regent for five years until her own death, and eight-year-old Ivan and his younger brother were left in the care (or rather custody) of the boyars, who mostly neglected the boys and fought among themselves for power (one of the families may have even had a hand in Ivan’s mother’s mysterious death). In 1547, the sixteen-year-old Grand Prince had himself crowned “Tsar of All the Russias”, marking the beginning of the Tsardom of Russia, which lasted until 1721, when it was succeeded by the Russian Empire. The tsar was no mere duke - he was an autocrat granted “by the Grace of God” power equal to the emperors of Rome and Byzantium, as was only fitting for a state whose rulers saw it as the “Third Rome”. Ivan was crowned at the Cathedral of the Dormition in Moscow with the symbolically significant “Golden Cap” - Monomakh’s Cap. 

Although granted the sobriquet “Terrible” by English-speakers, Ivan’s Russian nickname, “grozny" means something closer to "fearsome" or "formidable". 

Medusa burgonet, Italy, 1543 (Filippo Negroli)