Helen Poole is a favourite with our u3a – what makes her presentations engaging are her breadth of historical and artistic knowledge and her amusing asides. Helen herself admits that she is always researching her subjects and introducing new elements.
This particular talk focused on the relationship between the Tudors and Spain, their allegiances and wars, starting with the ill-fated arrival of Catherine of Aragon, aged 16, in England to marry the young Tudor prince, Arthur. Catherine was the fifth and youngest surviving daughter of King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella of Castile. The third cousin of Henry VII, the latter hoped to secure the Tudor dynasty with this alliance.
When Arthur died in 1509, she became Henry VIII’s first wife – and the rest is history, as they say. She had an influential role at court, briefly being appointed regent in 1513 while Henry was campaigning in France. Although giving birth to a health daughter, Mary, in 1516, her subsequent miscarriages meant the Henry’s roving eye alighted on fresh-faced Anne Boleyn, bringing about an annulment of the marriage in 1533 and a break with the Catholic church in Rome. Catherine was buried at Peterborough Cathedral in 1536 and her grave, decorated with flowers and pomegranates (her symbol), carries the legend “Katharine Queen of England”, a title she was denied at the time of her death.
The death of Henry VIII and the accession of his son by Jane Seymour, Edward, to the throne in 1547 marked the end of an era and should have been a time of stability and prosperity. When Edward died only eight years later, however, the country was thrown into disarray as his half-sisters Mary Tudor and then Elizabeth endeavoured to make their mark both in terms of allegiances with France and Spain and through religion. As one of the longest reigning queens, Elizabeth brought prosperity to England against a backdrop of intrigues and plots and established its supremacy on the seas through raids on the Spanish coast.
The Tudor period saw the gradual evolution of England’s medieval army into a larger firearm-wielding force, supported by powerful ships and formidable gun forts to protect the country from the threat of invasion. By far the most dangerous threat to the Tudor line during Elizabeth’s reign was the Spanish Armada of 1588, launched by Elizabeth’s old suitor Philip II of Spain and commanded by Alonso de Guzmán El Bueno, the seventh Duke of Medina Sidonia. The Spanish invasion fleet outnumbered the English fleet but was defeated by bad weather in the English Channel, poor planning and logistics, and the skills of Sir Francis Drake and Charles Howard, later first Earl of Nottingham and Baron of Effingham.