“Without Precedent: Mary I, The Itinerarium ad Windsor, and The Act for Regal Power”

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In the proclamation announcing her accession Mary assured her subjects that they would find her their ‘benign and gracious sovereign lady, as other most noble progenitors have heretofore been’. Given the circumstances of her accession, it was something of an audacious claim. Though triumphing in the succession crisis as Henry VIII’s daughter and the legitimate Tudor heir, Mary’s status as England’s first crowned queen was a matter of great speculation and uncertainty. Mary’s accession had changed the rules of the game and the nature of this new feminized politics was yet to be defined. Debate ensued on a number of fronts but ultimately Mary remained the final arbiter and proved true to the words spoken in her first proclamation. This chapter will focus on the Act for Regal Power – the origins and passage of which are described in a vivid section of the Itinerarium ad Windsor. The reasons for the Act have been debated but according to Fleetwood it was in response to a proposal that since no ‘queen’ was expressly referred to in the ancient statutes, Mary was urged to take on the full force of a conqueror, become an entirely unbridled queen above statute law and independent of parliament. She could then use her authority ‘at her pleasure’ to, as Fleetwood writes, ‘reform the monasteries, advance her friends, suppress her enemies, establish religion and do whatever she list.’ It would, in other words, be an absolutist monarchy, a monarchy without statutory limitation. Regardless of who instigated the proposal Mary gave it short shrift. She threw the book into the fire and Stephen Gardiner Lord Chancellor drafted what became the Act for regal power. The act put pay to an absolutist plot that had been made possible by the unprecedented accession of a queen regnant and formed part of the ongoing debate as to the nature of monarchy and the practice of queenship. Despite the unprecedented and anomalous accession of a queen regnant, the Tudor polity remained one ruled by law. The challenge of inaugurating female kingship could not have been in safer hands. Mary chose to follow the precedents of her male progenitors and displayed a political astuteness normally attributed to her sister, Elizabeth. Thanks to Mary, John Aylmer could confidently assert that ‘it is not in England so dangerous a matter to have a woman ruler, as men take it to be’. As this chapter will argue parliamentary queenship was Mary’s most significant and oft-overlooked legacy to her sister Elizabeth, to subsequent defenders of female monarchy and to queens thereafter.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSixteenth Century Journal
Publication statusIn preparation - 2013

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