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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.

Contrasting Monarchs

I’ve been busy promoting my new book, which is a history of Florida that emphasizes its women. You can order it at the website of the University Press of Florida. I’m writing this column, however, prior to going to Arkansas for the inauguration of its Women’s Hall of Fame. It’s gratifying to see that even its current conservative governor has come to realize it’s important for young women to know of those who came before them. So many struggle to invent the wheel, completely unaware that some other women did this decades ago. Or even centuries ago.

The new book is titled They Dared to Dream: Women Who Shaped Florida History. From that title, people often assume that it is a collection of individual bios, probably mostly contemporary. I tried to change the title to Always There: Women Throughout Florida’s History, but that didn’t happen. So when I speak or do interviews on the book now, my first goal is to direct attention to prehistoric women and the Europeans who followed. Audiences continue to gasp when I point out something that is old news to Florida historians: Not until 2055 will the American flag have flown over Florida for as long as the Spanish flag did.

The Spanish flag came down at the capitals in Pensacola and St. Augustine in 1821, and the book includes the eyewitness report of Rachel Donelson Jackson, wife of the territory’s first governor, Andrew Jackson, who was in Pensacola. Much earlier, at the very beginning, there were women with Ponce de Leon in 1513. If we count from that date (and subtract the years of British governance in the 1700s), we have parts of four centuries – and women were always there. Some were powerful, both here in the New World and the Old.

So this is a sidebar that was cut from the book. I habitually overwrite and give editors a chance to decide what they like best. They decided that this was too far afield, but I hope that you will find it appropriate to “In Context.” So, as I head for the airport, please ponder.

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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 these southern Europeans also invaded to the north, trying to force the Dutch, Danes, Germans, and others to return from Protestantism (based on “protest,” of course) to traditional Catholicism.

England broke from Rome and its papacy in the 1530s, at about the same time as Hernando de Soto explored Florida. (By the way, his wife, Isabella Bobadilla, governed Cuba in his absence.) Protestantism had begun in Germany with Martin Luther; indeed, the Spanish referred to all non-Catholics as “Lutherans.” England’s break from Catholicism, however, was not because of the profound philosophical differences that grew on the continent with the Protestant Reformation. Instead, England’s change was almost entirely that of one person – which serves to demonstrate the power of the era’s monarchs. It happened because the pope refused to allow England’s Henry VIII to divorce Katherine of Aragon, his longtime 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 young 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, 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 had her mother beheaded. Charmed by another Englishwoman, Jane Seymour, the king claimed – in an era when people still believed in witches -- that Anne was an agent of the devil. Queen Jane, also pregnant at marriage, bore a son, Edward. When Henry died in 1547 -- after wedding a total of six women and executing two of them – 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. Already at age 25, she showed more maturity than most of her ancestors, male or female. She wended a careful path through the religious fanatics, including some who tried to depose her in favor of her Catholic 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 – and she had many suitors, including her half-sister’s widower, Phillip of Spain, as well as Sir Frances Drake, the great English explorer. Her navy defeated Spain’s powerful armada in 1588, and England would 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. Princess Mary had been kind to the child who was generally considered a bastard, and in her old age, Elizabeth remembered that. She had herself buried next to Mary in Westminister 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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