Why did two ships of colonists risk a dangerous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 1633 to flee England for America and why did they bring their hopes for religious freedom to St. Clement's Island Maryland? To understand the history of St. Clements one needs to understand there is another part of the story, the history of events in the 16th Century which a few years later would cause the colonists to leave England for America.
Let's call it the European pre-history of St. Clements and quite frankly you might be a bit surprised by what you learn. This pre-history includes a series of international events involving the most powerful monarchies, legendary family dynasties, and mighty empires in Europe beginning with the infamous King Henry VIII of England.
St. Clements Island was the sight of the first declaration of religious freedom to be guaranteed anywhere in the world, a freedom that in time would become embedded in our US Constitution. A little over 100 years earlier Henry VIII set in motion the series of events that would result in this charter.
Events in Europe during the 16th century led to the fall from favor of the Catholics and Puritans in England and the subsequent journey to settle the colony of Mary Land in 1634 where religious freedom would be guaranteed. Monarchies in England, Scotland, France, Spain and Italy and the Vatican in Rome were all to play a role in this decision to settle in the new world.
A web of intrigue led to a mosaic of treachery, murder, assassination, torture, arranged marriages and more in the alliances and enemies that came and went beginning with the reign of Henry VIII in England who was born in 1491, the year before Columbus discovered America, and was King from 1509 to 1547. Let me see if I can't make some sense of the historic actions that led to the landing at St. Clements.
Henry VIII - King of England (r. 1509 - 1547)
First let's talk about the reign of Henry VIII. He was famous for having six wives, two were executed. Early in his career he was given the title Defender of the Faith by the Pope for defending the Catholic Church against Martin Luther. Later he was to turn his nation against the very church he defended. When Henry's first wife was unable to give him a male heir he requested an annulment from the Pope.
He needed the annulment so he could marry Anne Boleyn. The Pope refused and Henry was enraged and threw the Catholic Church out of England, creating a Church of England with the King as Divine Leader. When his second wife Anne failed to give him a male heir she was beheaded. His first three wives each gave him one heir, but only the third wife gave him a male. All three children served as King or Queen of England in the span of just one decade, although the last, Elizabeth, continued serving for 45 glorious years.
Henry's battle with the Vatican became the Reformation Movement against the church and by his death England was a thoroughly Protestant and Reformed nation. During his rein more than 72,000 people were put to death.
Charles V - Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1515- -1556)
Charles was King of Spain and heir to four of Europe's leading dynasties, making him Holy Roman Emperor. His empire included Central, Western and Southern Europe and the Spanish colonies in America. Henry's 1st wife, Catherine of Aragon was Charles' Aunt. Charles grandmother was Queen Isabella I who sent Columbus to discover America.
It was Charles who sent the conquistadores to America and they wiped out the Aztec and Inca Empires, sending tons of gold back to Spain and helping Spain become the most powerful nation in the world. The Spanish Armada was considered invincible on the seven seas.
When his Aunt Catherine asked him to help stop Henry VIII from annulling her wedding Charles sent his army to Italy and took the Pope hostage and preventing him from approving Henry's annulment. This act triggered the Reformation against the Catholic Church and the loss of power by the Catholics in England.
Pope Clement VII (r. 1523 - 1534)
This pope was a member of the powerful Florentine "Medici" family, a dynasty that produced three popes. The Medici family was also responsible for the Italian Renaissance in art and architecture. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Galileo were among the most famous family patrons.
Still the Pope was no match for the power of King Charles and when he was unable to grant Henry the annulment it enraged Henry VIII who undertook a campaign against the Catholic Church to drive them from power in England and to confiscate all churches, shrines and monasteries throughout England and the UK and give them to the new Church of England under the King.
Catherine of Aragon - Henry's 1st Wife
As noted, Catherine was aunt to King Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. She refused to agree to an annulment with Henry which caused the English split from Catholic influence. Her daughter, Mary I became Queen of England.
Anne Boleyn - Henry's 2nd Wife
It was Boleyn who demanded of Henry an annulment from his 1st wife in order to marry him. Her daughter, Elizabeth I became Queen but her only son and heir to the throne was stillborn. Henry had her beheaded for treason against the King.
Mary Queen of Scots
The daughter of King James V of Scotland (nephew to Henry VIII of England) and Marie of Guise from France, her father died when she was six days old. Henry VIII immediately sought to arrange a marriage between the infant Mary and his son Edward, Henry's only male heir by his 3rd wife Jane Seymour and future King of England, but the Queen Mother Marie of Scotland stopped him, earning her the wrath of King Henry.
At nine months Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland but was kept in hiding by her mother. At age six her mother had arranged for a marriage in France to Dauphin Francois, heir to the French throne, and Mary went to live with her future father-in-law, Henri II in France. When she was 16 in 1558 she married Francois who became King Francis II of France when his father died the next year.
One year later, in 1560, her young husband the King died. Her mother-in-law, Catherine Medici of the Italian family became Regent and another son, the King's brother Charles IX, inherited the throne leaving Mary an 18 year old widow and former Queen of France. Mary returned to Scotland.
After her return Mary, who was a devote Catholic, defied Elizabeth and married Lord Darnley, her 1st cousin, who was then murdered. Her next marriage was to the alleged murderer of Lord Darnley. During this time Mary tried on many occasions to overthrow Queen Elizabeth and claim the throne. Elizabeth refused to have her cousin put to death but eventually her advisors did have Mary executed for treason.
Ironically, direct descendants of Mary were Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette of France who were also put to death for treason during the French Revolution.
Elizabeth I - Queen of the Golden Age (r. 1558 - 1603)
Three children of Henry VIII ruled England beginning with Edward VI (1547-1553), Mary I (1553-1558) and Elizabeth (1558-1603). Because none had heirs Elizabeth I was the last of the Tudor dynasty which became extinct upon her death in 1603. The crown of England then passed to Henry VIII's Paternal Great-grandson, James VI of Scotland, son of Mary Queen of Scots, and he became James I of England.
After her predecessor Mary I had restored power to the Catholics and began a campaign to burn the Protestants at the stake Elizabeth then restored power to the Church of England. Her difficulties with her cousin Mary in Scotland led to the Pope excommunicating Elizabeth from the Catholic church. When Mary was put to death the King of Spain, still the most powerful empire in the world, attacked England with the dreaded Spanish Armada of over 100 ships.
Elizabeth sent her small navy to meet the armada while she rallied the British troops on the shore and somehow Elizabeth won the battle ending forever the Spanish dominance of the world. William Shakespeare rose to fame during the Golden Age of Elizabeth's reign and she was one of the most beloved Queens of England.
Her closest advisor who helped save her before she became Queen and served throughout her reign was Sir William Cecil. William groomed his son Robert Cecil to take over for him when he died and Robert stepped in to serve the Queen, coordinate arrangements at her death, the end of the Tudor dynasty, and manage the transition to James I as the first Stuart king.
Robert Cecil - Advisor to Kings and Queens
Robert succeeded his father William in Queen Elizabeth's court and after her death he arranged for the transfer of the throne to King James I, son of Mary Queen of Scots, and thus united England and Scotland under the new Stuart King. It was Robert who encouraged his friend George Calvert to work for King James I. With Cecil's influence Calvert became involved in politics rising in the King's court to the position of Secretary of State, one of the top advisors to the King.
James I - King of England and Scotland (1603 - 1625)
James I was the son of Mary Queen of Scots and Paternal Grand Son of Henry VIII and was the first Stuart king after the end of the Tudor dynasty, the first King of England and Scotland. Because his mother spent so many years in prison while trying to overthrow Elizabeth before being put to death, James had not seen her since he was 14 months old.
Quite odd by English standards, James managed to alienate both the Protestants and Catholics by persecuting Catholics and writing about the Divine Right of Kings along with a book on witchcraft. James had been raised a Calvinist in Scotland.
It was James who made George Calvert his Secretary of State and gave him the title Lord Baltimore for helping settle unrest in Ireland. James also was unable to adjust to the English parliament and his feuds laid the seeds for the Protestant overthrow of the next monarch, his son Charles I. Finally, it was James who granted Calvert rights to the Avalon settlement in Newfoundland and rights to all of Newfoundland after a colony was established.
Charles I - King of England and Scotland (1625 - 1649)
Charles was the first monarch to get a special dispensation from the Pope so he could marry Henrietta Maria, daughter of King Henry IV of France and his Italian wife Marie de Medici of the Medici family dynasty. Henrietta was the first Catholic princess to marry a Protestant prince in Europe. It was a tenuous position for Charles to be head of the Church of England when his wife was Catholic, daughter of the French King and a member of the Italian Medici family.
His authoritarian Protestantism surprised both Protestants and Catholics alike as he rigidly enforced his right to raise his children outside the Catholic faith and was aggressively responding to challenges against the Church of England, thus causing both Puritans and Catholics to seek colonies in the new world.
English colonies already existed in Jamestown (1607), Plymouth (1620) and Avalon in Newfoundland (1621) before he became King while Mary Land (1634) would be settled during his reign but Charles had very little interest in the new world. However, he did demonstrate his loyalty to his father's advisors by continuing the grants to the Calvert family for Newfoundland, and when that was not successful he allowed Calvert to try again in Mary Land. In time his feud with Parliament would result in Oliver Cromwell leading a revolt that captured London taking Charles prisoner and he was beheaded in 1649.
Henrietta Marie, Queen of England
As noted, the complexity of Henrietta's position required a special dispensation from the Pope and seemed to calm friction between England and France. However, her devotion to being Catholic was unsettling to the English and a source of conflict with the Church of England. The Mary Land colony was named after her and she encouraged Charles to incorporate religious toleration in the new colony to assure those being persecuted in England would be free in America.
She even is reported to have given a piece of the True Cross of Jesus to the colonists to protect them on their trip, a relic still in Southern Maryland and brought to the Blessing of the Fleet. Her Medici family in Italy was responsible for saving and protecting many of the ancient relics, manuscripts and art work of the early period of Christianity.
When King Charles abolished Parliament it was Queen Henrietta that raised money and troops for the King from the Catholics of England and Europe, an action that alarmed the king's court over the growing influence of Catholics in the English monarchy. The Queen was safely moved to France during the revolt and beheading of Charles and she spent the rest of her life working out of a convent helping to protect the rights of Catholics and trying to influence her sons who became king.
Sir George Calvert - 1st Baron of Baltimore
This friend of Robert Cecil and loyalist to Queen Elizabeth and King James I worked his way up through the court to become Secretary of State under James. With his family long devoted to protecting religious freedom in England Sir George had a deep belief that the colonies offered the best opportunity to establish a haven for religious toleration where it was free of the Church of England and the religious battles raging throughout Europe. Shortly before King James died Calvert resigned from the court to settle the colonies and declared he was a Catholic, a surprise to all those who worked with him over the years.
Sir George had been an investor in the East India Tea Company approved by Elizabeth 1600 and in the Jamestown venture of 1607 so when James granted him a colony in Newfoundland named after the legendary Avalon of King Arthur days Sir George devoted his life and resources to making it successful. The ancient Avalon was the community where the new Christianity was first incorporated into the Druid and Celtic ways in the 4th century.
Calvert purchased two boats, the Ark and the Dove and in 1621 sent the first settlers to the new world. He hired a famous English pirate John Nutt to defend the new colony from the French raiders. Some time earlier he had saved Nutt from being put to death for piracy.
Calvert personally made two trips on his ships the Ark and the Dove to Newfoundland but by 1628 realized the climate was too harsh. He returned to England and consulted with Cecil and others before requesting from King Charles I a charter for the area north of the Potomac River extending to the 40th parallel, just above the future location of Philadelphia. During plans he consulted with Captain John Smith, the first Governor of Jamestown, who had explored the territory north of Jamestown after establishing the Virginia colony.
Calvert also recruited a Jesuit Priest, Father Andrew White, in 1628 to help organize the new settlement even though Father White had been banished from England for conducting Catholic services. Father White secretly helped Calvert draft many of the charter documents he wanted including the guarantee of religious freedom, the first colony in the world to offer such freedom.
After successful negotiations with the King aided by the support of the Queen Henrietta Marie, Sir George Calvert died just five weeks before the grant was approved. It would be up to his son Cecilius, named after Robert Cecil, to fulfill the dream of his father.
(Part 2. to follow)