I hope you all enjoyed Part 1 of Claire Ridgway’s guest post on Alison Weir’s “Tudor women” talk (click here if you missed it). Let’s go to Part 2!
Obviously King’s wives were not like the average Tudor woman, but even though they were in charge of large households and budgets, Alison pointed out that the decisions were still made by the King. The queen’s role was to produce heirs and be the perfect model wife for the court.
But, what was the model wife? Here, Alison used Catherine of Aragon’s words when she pleaded with Henry VIII at the divorce hearing, saying that she was his “true, humble, obedient wife.” This summed up what a wife should be and her accepted role in the divine order. Even Catherine Parr applauded this ideal in her book Lamentations of a Sinner, writing that young women should be “sober-minded.” Alison pointed out the mottoes of Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard – “Bound to Obey and Serve” and “No Other Will but His” – these women accepted their role!
Alison emphasised that on marriage a woman became a man’s property and that it was even a man’s legal right to kill his wife on the spot if he caught her in the act of adultery. An adulterous woman brought shame on her family. Here, Alison mentioned Catherine Parr’s brother, William Parr, and his call for his unfaithful wife to be put to death. Fortunately, a divorce was granted instead! But look at Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, both accused of adultery and both executed. The man’s word was law and although Weir stated that Anne was the “victim of a bitter court struggle” and was “framed by her enemies,” the adultery charge stood and Anne lost her life. After Catherine Howard was executed, a law was passed that it was high treason for a woman of dubious past to marry the king.
In Medieval times, people believed that women should not be taught to write unless they were nuns and that the only education they needed was in home-making, to make them fit to be a good wife. However, the Renaissance made education for women more acceptable and Alison gave the examples of Margaret Roper (Sir Thomas More’s daughter), Catherine of Aragon, and Catherine Parr as models of educated and virtuous women. Too much learning could get a woman into trouble though–take the example of Catherine Parr, who was plotted against.
Mary and Elizabeth:
Alison pointed out that the only experience England had had of a female ruler was Empress Matilda in the 12th century and she didn’t last long. Mary I was England’s first real female monarch and she had many difficulties to contend with. For example, she couldn’t even do the ceremony of the Knights of the Bath because she couldn’t get into a bath with a bunch of men! Then, there was the question of marriage because of the traditional roles of husband and wife, with the woman being submissive to the man, yet she was Queen of England!
Alison spoke of how it was Elizabeth I who proved that a woman could rule successfully, but she wasn’t afraid of using her femininity to her advantage and using her feminine wiles to get her own way. The marriage issue was still a problem for Elizabeth though, but she solved it by remaining single while encouraging suitors to gain political advantage. Alison quite rightly noted that Elizabeth paved the way for future queens and that she was “one of the most important women to wield power.”
Alison Weir concluded her talk by stating that although 16th century women were seen as second to men, they still managed to rule countries and run businesses and estates. Life certainly was not easy for Tudor women, but, according to Alison, it did have its compensations and many marriages were loving relationships.
It really was a joy to hear Alison speak and to talk to her afterwards. She has so much knowledge and is happy to share this and answer questions. It was a great night and it raised £600 for the Mary Rose Appeal too.