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Greed, Lust, and Murder

The Tudor dynasty was one of the most dramatic and troubled of all English royal families. Ruling during extremely turbulent times, and with a precarious claim to the throne, the dynasty was founded by Henry VII, who usurped the throne in 1485 with the battlefield murder of Richard III.

Henry’s son, the infamous Henry VIII, changed England forever when his desire for a divorce led him to break with the Roman Catholic Church and create the Church of England. Originally a young, handsome, and thin prince, as king, Henry VIII’s court has been described as “an area ridden with intrigue, betrayal, treachery, and deceit” by Tracy Borman. From his brutal and greedy seizure of the monasteries, to his gargantuan appetites for food and women, Henry didn’t believe anything should be denied him. Ironically, Henry’s grotesque behavior placed England on the course toward the Protestant enlightenment, thus laying the groundwork for the tolerant country known today as the bedrock of stability.

Henry’s daughters (Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I) were the first women ever to sit on the English throne. Though Mary’s reign was an unmitigated disaster (her attempt to bring England back to the Roman Church earned her the sobriquet “Blood Mary” because of the almost 300 Protestants she had burned at the stake), Elizabeth stands as one of the greatest of all European monarchs. Her reign is best summed up by E.N. Williams, who wrote “Where the independence of England was gravely threatened by the Catholic powers of France and Spain, she maneuvered in the twilight zone between diplomacy and war with outstanding skill; stretching narrow resources to the limit, she struck with success wherever danger loomed. She preserved the unity, the independence, and the peculiarity of England, and there can be no doubting her greatness.”

This lecture provides a broad sweep of all five Tudor monarchs, encompassing their loves, personalities, art, architecture, and literature, all of which has come down to us today in many and surprising ways. In spite of their extreme shortcomings, there wouldn’t be an England today without the Tudors.