William Cecil and the British succession crisis of the 1560s
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'William Cecil and the British succession crisis of the 1560s' reconsiders the nature of the early Elizabethan polity and Cecil's place in it. Conventional historiography maintains that as principal secretary Cecil was a moderate, cautious, and religiously neutral politician, content to follow Elizabeth I's direction in policy. More recently, Professors Patrick Collinson and John Guy have challenged this interpretation of the Elizabethan polity. Based on a thorough survey of the archives, my thesis explores Cecil's political creed in the 1560s. Three years of research have helped to paint a radically different picture of Cecil to the one traditionally represented: he was a councillor prepared to redefine his relationship with a monarch who refused to abide by the rules of monarchy and select a successor. The eight chapters of the thesis blend two complementary themes. First, that Elizabethan in the 1560s experienced a British succession crisis and not, as Professor Collinson has maintained, an English domestic succession crisis. And second, that the political situation in Britain and Europe - the determination of the continental catholic powers to use Mary Stuart's claim to the English throne as a weapon against protestant England - had a profound impact on the mentality of protestant Englishmen and debate in England. It persuaded Cecil to press for a pre-emptive strike against the French in Scotland (chapter two), which he defended by appealing to the feudal-imperial power of the English monarch; he used the same argument to justify the 'first trial' of Mary Stuart in 1568 (chapter seven). In this British context, Elizabeth's refusal to secure England's future led to parliamentary action in 1563 and a Cecil plan for interregnum by privy council in the event of Elizabeth's death, twenty-two years before its re-emergence in 1585 (chapter four). The régime could not find a diplomatic solution to the marriage between Mary and Lord Darnley in 1565 (chapter five): parliament debated the succession in 1566 and Cecil disobeyed the queen by pressing for a settlement (chapter six). Cecil's approach to the crisis was innovative, and his political creed is profoundly important to any assessment of politics in Elizabeth I's reign.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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