Let's Blame It All on Henry VIII: A Lesson On Scotland's Ties To England + Outlander's Connection To Him

Written by: Barbara Wismer

Most of us are familiar with Henry VIII, that guy with six wives, infamous beheader of his enemies (including a couple wives), whose lust for Anne Boleyn led to the break with the Roman Catholic Church and the start of the Church of England.  Arguably the greatest ruler in English history - MOST of English modern history can be traced right back to him.  Yes - there is a lot he accomplished, but there is a lot for which he can blamed too.  Especially as it relates to Scotland, the Stuart family line, and even the Jacobite rebellions!  Here's why....

  • I blame Henry VIII for the small size of the Scottish royal families, so that for successive generations, there was only one heir (often a small child or infant).  My theory is that, without Henry, the Scots royalty might have been more fertile, and more choices for rulers would have been available.
  • I blame him for the English Civil War – as he was the one who explicitly utilized the “divine right of kings” theory! (He used it to justify his actions in breaking with the Roman Church.)
  • I blame him as the root cause for the English crown going to William and Mary, rather than James II, the “rightful” King according to the Jacobites. Yes, 199 years after his death, I blame him for the Jacobite rebellion(s).  
They center everything around Henry VIII too!

 What else can we blame him for? I say we blame him for the unification of England and Scotland, so that after Elizabeth died, there was one king for the “united” Kingdom.
  •  I blame him for that loss of Scottish independence. 
As I re-trace my reasons, a little more history is needed to put things into context. Let's do family trees – oh, what fun! (Yes, Virginia, history is a bit more than dates and family trees. But those things give us a structure to hang our stories on.)

Drawing by Barb Wismer

Point #1: The size of the Scottish Royal Family - too small!

The first born Tudor son, Arthur, was married to Catherine of Aragon in 1501, and died five months after their marriage. Henry became the heir and inherited the throne upon the death of his father in 1509. After attaining the throne, he married Catherine. (There is some suggestion that this was to prevent having to return Catherine's dowry, but there were lots of political machinations between Arthur's death and the death of Henry VII.)

Catherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
But before Catherine married Henry, her father-in-law (Henry VII) had arranged a marriage for his eldest daughter Margaret to the King of Scotland, James IV in 1503. They had a son, who became James V.
Margaret Tudor by 
Daniël Mijtens Public Domain by Wikipedia Commons
James IV King of Scotland National Gallery of Scotland. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
 At any rate, through Catherine, Henry VIII was aligned with the Spanish, and he and Ferdinand (Catherine's father) found excellent excuses to make war against the French. So he sailed off to make war and gain glory.

In the meantime, France was urging its ally Scotland to make war on the English while Henry was out of the country. So Henry's brother-in-law, James IV, (sister Margaret's husband, remember?) invaded England. However, he was then killed at the Battle of Flodden, thus effectively ending any further expansion of the Scottish royal house. Only one son, James V, remained. Eventually, of course, this had severe consequences. If James IV had lived longer, might he not have had more sons? It could have happened.
But let's go on. So when Henry VIII decided he needed to marry Anne Boleyn and divorce his wife Catherine, the Pope (for more political reasons, of course) turned down the request. After several years of twists and turns, Henry finally took the advice of Thomas Cromwell, broke from the Church of Rome and made himself the head of his own Church, the Church of England.

Henry by Hans Holbein the Younger; Anne by unknown Artist
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
Being, of course, the center of his own world, he then demanded that his nephew, James V of Scotland, do the same thing (i.e., break with Rome and join Henry's church.) As you may guess, James V turned down that fabulous opportunity, and so of course there had to be another battle between England and Scotland. The Battle of Solway Moss was again lost by the Scots, and while the king wasn't on the battlefield, the stress of it all led to his death at age 30 from a fever two weeks after the battle. His daughter Mary was six days old.
So, am I right? Henry VIII proved himself responsible for the death at young ages of two of Scotland's rightful kings, thus limiting the succession drastically. So can we blame Henry VIII for limiting the Scottish royal lineage? Sure! Maybe with longer-lived Kings, Scotland would have had a more robust royal house, with more and stronger rulers.

"Portrait of James V of Scotland (1512 - 1542)" by Corneille de Lyon
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

 Point #2: The “divine right” of Kings

Yeah, our pal Henry (being a modest soul) decided that God was not only on his side, but sitting in heaven approving anything Henry wanted to do. Granted, he didn't invent the theory, which came from the medieval ideas of the world. In the Middle Ages, an organized cosmology decreed that God in his heaven granted earthly authority to the King, and spiritual authority to the Pope. Everything in its place. Henry just decided to ignore the second portion of that theory, and determined that he could do whatever he wanted because, as King, he answered to no one on earth and only to God in Heaven. 

This, of course, bolstered his actions in breaking with the Pope and, essentially, gave him license to do anything and everything that he wanted. To be sure, this idea was expanded upon and utilized by other kings, notably James VI of Scotland and Louis XIV of France. James VI became James I of England (see below), and his belief in this God-given destiny of kingship was to prove disastrous to his son, Charles I.  

Among other problems, this belief led to the English Civil War (see: Oliver Cromwell), and the beheading of Charles I. Again, I think if Henry hadn't needed to use it to justify his marriage with Anne, it might not have been so prevalent. Of course, given the character of these other kings (James and Louis), I could be wrong and they would have used the theory for their own purposes anyway. But I like blaming Henry for it all! 

Point #3: Henry is responsible for the Jacobite Rebellions

Click here for The Jacobite History Lesson on the Outlander Cast podcast

I've got another reason to blame Henry and it is for the brutal and bloody way he enforced his new Church. People who still considered themselves Catholic and practiced Catholicism were hounded, dispossessed, exiled, and most often, killed. There was no choice – you were either with Henry or against him (a very dangerous place to be). From Henry's time up until the Civil War (only a bit over 100 years later), there were numerous Catholic plots and rebellions. To say that people were passionate about their religion at the time is to understate the situation drastically. Henry enforced submission, and cruelly put down opposition. So, naturally, even those who disagreed mildly moved to hardened enmity. (That's human nature.) 

And this is in a time when the fate of one's soul – your eternal experience! - was a central concern to everyone. I don't believe that we can, today, truly understand that worldview. (But, on second thought, looking at the current state of the Middle East today, perhaps we can see those attitudes regarding religion and religious practices.) 

 This is not to say that non-Catholic teaching and thinking wasn't becoming more and more widespread. Because yes, the Protestant Reformation was in full swing well before Henry decided to hitch his wagon to that particular star. But even the least cynical person can see that it truly wasn't religious or intellectual sympathies that pushed Henry on that path. And while there had been religious riots and massacres, (slaughter on both sides), it was Henry and his political/marital aspirations that brought England, heretofore only exposed to Protestantism among the noble intelligentsia, into the fray. And Henry jumped England into a bloodbath. That level of tyranny inevitably leads of revolution. 

Even after the Civil War ended and Charles II was called to become the King, he died without legitimate children. Meaning his brother James became King James II. And James was suspected of being a “secret Catholic”. Hence the machinations that led to his abdication (fleeing to France was considered 'abdication'.) Again, the objections to him as a ruler were mainly centered on his religious background. (So we begin to see why the Jacobites considered him the rightful king.) Thanks again, Henry!

James II by John Riley
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons  

    Point #3: The loss of Scottish Independence

 But let's get to the meat of the matter. Because the above reasons and motivations that I've listed above might be fairly simplistic, and a high-level skimming of the real depth of the history involved in those years. I know that. The main reason I blame Henry is because his actions as a father and a King directly influenced his daughter Elizabeth to refuse to marry, and thus, refusing to have children. This led in a straight line to having the only legitimate heir to Elizabeth, according to tradition and precedence, was the King of Scotland.  So he became the new King of a unified England and Scotland. It's all Henry's fault. 

Let us consider. The daughter of Henry and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was the pampered princess for the first 30 months of her life. While her father had the hopes of having a son with Anne. But once those hopes were dashed, suddenly she became a bastard child. The daughter of an adulteress! And what kind of psychological pain would she have suffered to know that her mother was beheaded! By her father! She had to learn early the tricks of survival, of “going with the flow”, of keeping her head down as she literally hoped to keep it on her neck! Growing up, she experienced periods of becoming accepted at Court (her next stepmother Jane Seymour brought both Mary, Catherine of Aragon's daughter, and Elizabeth to court, in an attempt to “mother” them.) During the reigns of other “mothers” she was alternately banished and returned to court. 

Elizabeth I by Steven van der Meulen Licensed under Public Domain via Commons 
No matter where she was, she had to appear loving and submissive to the MAN WHO KILLED HER MOTHER. That's gotta do a job on your psyche, don't you think? Further, that murdering person was her father, and her King. Hard to imagine the twists and turns her young mind had to take to even begin to appear to accept what he had done. But that's what she had to do, in order to just survive. 

Perhaps we might imagine that she would have had to believe the lies about her mother, in an attempt to perhaps justify her father's actions. After all, she was so young when her Mother was killed, she wouldn't have even had memories of her. But in her whole lifetime we never hear of Elizabeth repudiating or renouncing Anne. She was raised by the governness appointed by her Mother, and who likely had good things to tell the eager daughter about the mother she never knew. 

And in later life, she was noticeably close to her Carey cousins, the son and daughter of her mother's sister Mary Boleyn Stafford. Elizabeth always honored her mother and, I suspect, longed for the mother she never had. For a terrific discussion of just this question, see http://beingbess.blogspot.com/2012/08/death-could-not-separate-them-how.html, which I found while researching to find evidence to back my theories. 
Mary Boleyn
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons
In contrast, all her comments about her father were clearly designed to help her politically. She often used the relationship with her father (“I am the lion's cub”) when her right to rule was doubted because she was female, or when she was being pushed to marry so that she could be “guided” by a man. And so, all through her growing up years, she saw people killed for loving the wrong person, or for failing to get permission to marry, or having drops of royal blood, or simply for just disagreeing with Henry. 

Henry delayed writing his will, and when he did write it, he ignored tradition and precedent and completely ignored the children of his eldest sister Margaret. (Those Scottish kids, y'know.) He willed the throne to his sickly son Edward, then Mary, then Elizabeth. After that Henry thought the children of his younger sister Mary should take the throne if all named before died childless, effectively “disinheriting” the Scottish branch of the family.

Portrait of Edward VI of England by Circle of William Scrots
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons  

So Edward died at age 15, and was likely persuaded/coerced into signing a will which ignored his father's existing will, and designated his cousin Jane Dudley (h'mmm – daughter-in-law of the Chief Minister who ran the country in Edward's name – what a coincidence!).

Jane was not only the granddaughter of Henry's sister Mary, she was a staunch Protestant. It was thought that her background, and her religion, could prevent the country from going “back to Catholicism” if Mary Tudor became Queen. And so Lady Jane Dudley (nee Grey) was Queen for 9 days, until Mary Tudor and her followers overthrew the usurpers (which is a whole other story.)  And, indeed, Mary (now infamously known as “Bloody Mary”) did try to wrench England back to Catholicism.

Maria Tudor1by Antonis Mor
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

After a Protestant rebellion, and jealous of Elizabeth's popularity, Mary threw her in the Tower for a couple of months, and it had to have been a harrowing five years before Mary died and Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1558.

With such a childhood, it's no wonder that poor Elizabeth resolved never to marry, never to have children. It's believed she made this resolution at quite a young age (8) – and we can certainly see why! Throughout her long forty-four year reign, Elizabeth was often forced by politics into performing violent acts, but she always resisted as long as possible from having to behave the way her Father did. She was also terrified to write her will, naming an heir, because then opposing forces could clearly make that heir a rallying point and try to depose her.

And one of those potential heirs was Mary, Queen of Scots. First cousins once removed, according to ancient inheritance rules (and in direct contrast to Henry's will, which ignored the Scottish connections from his sister Margaret's marriage) Mary truly was the legitimate heir to Elizabeth. And for years, Mary had declared herself “the LEGITIMATE Queen of England”, since, as a Catholic, she considered Elizabeth a bastard. To Mary Stuart of Scotland, after the death of Mary Tudor, she was the real Queen of England. Talk about your rallying point!

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542–1587) by Rowland Lockey(after)
Date painted: 1610–1620 Oil on panel, 56.5 x 58 cm

When Mary Stuart had to flee Scotland and abdicate her throne in favor of her young son, James VI, Elizabeth for her own security had to imprison Mary. It still took Elizabeth almost nineteen years before Mary was finally executed.  My point is that, even a very real threat like Mary of Scotland could not make Elizabeth act like her father.

Unfortunately for Scotland, Elizabeth died unmarried and childless. By that time, it was clear to all that the next legitimate heir was James VI, Mary's son and King of Scotland. So he went south and became James I of England. And thus were England and Scotland unified, the previously-unrealized goal of countless battles – and only realized because one man was an ego-driven, psychopathic tyrant, and his daughter therefore refused to marry and have children. So, yes, let's blame it all on Henry VIII!

The first Jacobite - Winner by Default

James I, VI by John de Critz, c.1606 
Licensed under Public Domain via Commons  

Do you blame everything on Henry VIII like I do?


  1. I've read all the same history and I agree with you, but if James I united England and Scotland, why didn't the English treat the Scots like Equals? So much of Outlander is about how badly the English treated the Scots. I know religious differences were the ignition point, but as far as I know James I tried to allow both religions to leave in peace with each other. What advantage did England have to hold Scotland? The same could be said for Ireland, but the Royal family never married any Irish so the throne never crossed with Irish blood.

    1. Trying to state this as delicately as possible. But - what attitude other than arrogance would you expect from an empire-building, warrior nation? Especially when that nation's history was clearly a warlike takeover effort dating back to the days of Robert the Bruce! It only took them 297 years to accomplish this.

  2. James II has abondoned his crown when he was escaped in France. Anfd He was'nt a good king. The English has the rigth to defend oneself. The Scots and Catholics were' not above the laws.

  3. Point 1: James II have three Children.
    Point 2: The civil war that is Oliver Cromwell it takes the blame.
    Point 3: James II was abdicted. And His son James has refused the Crown. He refused to convert. I love Scotland and Scotish but they are responsible what they arrive.
    They tried to invade England many time and with James VI Scotland and England was reunited ( Is not the fault of Enfglish) The scots are critized to English to impose a Protestant King but they wanted to do the same but with a catholic King.
    Charles Stuart was responsible of Culloden and these consequences. If He was'nt escaped maybe the english would have been most clement with the jacobites rebels.

    1. I do think everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and of course there were many other persons and activities that led to the unification of England and Scotland. My semi-humorous attempt at "connecting the dots" and pointing back to Henry VIII was not intended as an in-depth look at the history, but simply an interesting take on what happened. And, hopefully, to lead to other thoughts of what might have happened, had Henry not been the way he was.

  4. While you can blame much on Henry VIII, Scotland as a minion of England goes back to the 13th century when Edward I," Longshanks," made himself Lord Paramount of Scotland after arbitrating between two families with claims to the Scottish throne. That title made him fuedal overlord of the country. Edward chose John Balliol to be king of Scotland, then set about to undermine his authority. When the Scots rebelled, he moved English forces in to conquer and control. This constant warfare continued for many years, gaining Edward the nickname "Hammer of the Scots." William Wallace started a freedom movement which eventually led to Robert the Bruce becoming king; his dynasty lasted about 65 years until the Stewart/Stuart families came to power. The Scottish nobility fought for power among themselves and against the authority of the king for many years, making a stable, economically sound country impossible. And, of course, England at the back door was continually interfering in the political dynamics because Catholic Scots aligned themselves with Catholic France against Protestant England.

    1. Oh absolutely! It was a long terrible history, and the internecine warfare between the Scottish nobles left the country wide open to English interference. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I just thought that it might be interesting to look at Henry VIII and see what could be traced to his influence in the long, sad story of Scottish nationhood.


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