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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

“Bloody Mary” and “Good Queen Bess:” Constrasting Monarchs

I had intended to join the buzz last month about the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s 1513 voyage, but the University Press of Florida has been slow to produce the book I’ve written on Florida women. I trust they will have it out soon, but meanwhile I cut words. Among the sidebars I had to pitch is the below. I had included as a demonstration of the real power that some women held in an era long before democracy.

It is no myth that Spain’s Queen Isabella personally financed Columbus’ 1492 expedition, and both she and her daughter, Juana, were co-equal monarchs with Ferdinand. France did not allow female monarchs, but Catherine de Medici, originally of Italy, was the effective ruler of France as regent for her son, who still was a child. England had two fully empowered female monarchs, and here is the sidebar explicating them. Even if it doesn’t see print in Gainesville, I’m happy that it will in LaGaceta.


Exploration of the New World was significantly slowed by the religious warfare that absorbed Europe throughout the 1500s. Especially the French and Spanish royal families diverted resources that could have gone to scientific study of this unknown part of their universe, choosing instead to spend money and lives attempting to stop the spread of Protestant ideas. Not only did they allow no dissent in their own countries, but they also invaded the northern part of the continent trying to force the Dutch, Danes, Germans, and others abandon to the new Protestantism and return to Catholicism.

England broke from Rome and its papacy in the 1530s, at about the same time as the de Soto expedition in Florida. The break, however, was not because of the era’s profound philosophical differences. Instead, England’s change was almost entirely that of one person – which serves to demonstrate the power of monarchs. It happened because the pope refused to allow England’s Henry VIII to divorce Katherine of Aragon, his wife and a member of Spain’s royal family.

King Henry and Queen Katherine had six children, but only one, Mary, survived infancy. She was a teenager when her father fell deeply in love with Lady Anne Boleyn. Anne became pregnant and managed to convince the king that he should divorce Katherine and marry her -- something that he had not done for previous mistresses who had borne his children, including Anne’s older sister.

When the Vatican would not grant the divorce, Henry created the Church of England, declaring himself its head. He used his new “theology” to confiscate Catholic property, persecuting and executing those loyal to Rome. Abandoning Katherine, he married Anne and had her crowned. Queen Anne bore a girl, Elizabeth, whose childhood was even more unhappy than that of her half-sister, Princess Mary.

Henry fell out of love with Anne as quickly as he had fallen in, and Princess Elizabeth was just three years old when her father executed her mother. Another Englishwoman, Jane Seymour, charmed him, and the king claimed that he had fallen under Anne’s spell because she was a witch.

Queen Jane, also pregnant at marriage, bore a son, Edward. When Henry died in 1547 -- after wedding a total of six women – Edward, because he was male, became king at age ten. He was a sickly child, though, and died in 1553, bringing Mary to her rightful place as monarch.

She had grown up a devout Catholic, much influenced by her Spanish mother. Age 37 and still unmarried when her reign began, she opted to wed King Phillip II of Spain in 1554. It was an unmitigated disaster: she did not bear an heir or even have much chance of it, as Phillip (Felipe in Spanish) spent very little time in England. Worse, Mary followed his influence in waging war against the Protestant Reformation. She lost the last remaining land that England had on the continent, and so zealously persecuted English Protestants that she was known as “Bloody Mary.” Almost no one mourned her 1558 death.

Elizabeth then came to the throne with her life lessons learned very well, and already at age 25, she showed more maturity than most of her ancestors. She wended a careful path through the religious fanatics, including Catholics who tried to depose her in favor of her cousin, Scotland’s Queen Mary. Instead of allowing herself to get caught up in the fine points of Christian dogma, Elizabeth focused on the secular world and put England on the path to global success. She supported commerce, education, and the arts, including Shakespeare, and her 1558-1603 reign so improved the lives of the peasantry that they dubbed her “Good Queen Bess.”

The key to her success may well have been that she refused all offers of marriage. She had many suitors, including her half-sister’s widower, Phillip of Spain, as well as Sir Frances Drake – who attacked the Spanish colony at Florida’s St. Augustine on her behalf. When Elizabeth’s navy defeated Spain’s powerful armada in 1588, England would go on to dominate the 1600s just as Spain had the 1500s. The Elizabethan era has been known ever since as England’s Golden Age.

Although their reigns could not have been more contrasting, the half-sisters shared a traumatic youth. Teenage Princess Mary had been kind to the little child who was generally considered a bastard, and in her old age, Elizabeth remembered that. She had herself buried next to Mary in Westminster Cathedral, where the inscription reads: “REMEMBER BEFORE GOD ALL THOSE WHO DIVIDED AT THE REFORMATION BY DIFFERENT CONVICTIONS LAID DOWN THEIR LIVES FOR CHRIST AND CONSCIENCE SAKE.”

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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