As I mentioned previously James VI, King of Scots was the heir of Elizabeth I of England via the principle of primogeniture. Even though he did eventually become King James I of England it wasn’t as cut and dried as it seems. Henry VIII had barred the Scottish line in his will and an Act of Succession. There was also a law on the books barring foreigners from inheriting property. Some ministers thought to get around that last rule by claiming that Scotland was a part of England as many Scottish kings had paid homage to English kings which demonstrated that Scotland was a fiefdom of England.
If James VI of Scotland was barred from the succession who else were the possible heirs to Elizabeth’s throne? One was Lady Catherine Gray the younger sister of the ill-fatted 9 day Queen, Jane Gray. She was the senior heir of Henry VIII’s sister Mary. Catherine Gray married Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, a descendant of King Edward III of England. They married and had their first son, Edward, Lord Beauchamp, and this infuriated Queen Elizabeth who often feared that those who saw her rule as illegitimate would replace her on the throne with one of these hires.
For that reason Elizabeth had Catherine and the Earl of Hertford thrown in the Tower of London. Evidently they were not watched too much because they were able to have another child, Thomas, while imprisoned in the tower. Since the only witness that this marriage had actually occurred had died, Elizabeth considered the marriage illegal and had the couple separated and Lord Beauchamp was considered illegitimate. However, after Catherine’s death in 1568 many considered Lord Beauchamp to be Elizabeth’s heir.
Another candidate was Infanta Isabella of Spain, daughter of King Felipe II of Spain and Princess Elizabeth de Valois of France. Infanta Isabella had a stronger claim to the throne than Elizabeth I. As we have seen the Tudor dynasty descends from a third marriage of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, son of King Edward III of England. At first the children of that union were born illegitimate but later legitimized with no succession rights. Isabella, on the other hand, descended from the first two legal marriages of John of Gaunt.
John of Gaunt’s first marriage was to Blanch of Lancaster (a descendent of King Edward I of England) and their daughter, Philippa, married King John I of Portugal. From them descended Isabella of Portugal wife of Holy Roman Emperor Karl V (Carlos I of Spain) the grandparents of Infanta Isabella of Spain. John of Gaunt’s second marriage to Infanta Constance of Castile produced a daughter, Catherine, who married her cousin, King Enrique III of Castile. Catherine of Lancaster’s great-granddaughter Catherine of Aragon, first of the six wives of Henry VIII of England, was named after her. From this line descends the Kings of Spain culminating in the English heir, Isabella of Spain.
By the end of 1602 when it became apparent that Elizabeth I was dying the need for her to name her successor was crucial. The problem was that not many wanted to point out to the queen that she was dying, it had also become treason to discuss the succession issue!
Stay tuned for Part III!