Editor’s Note: Today, Sarah Bryson is visiting us while on her fantastic book tour celebrating the March 15th United Kingdom release of her new history book Le Reine Blanche — Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters. (The American release is scheduled for June 1st.) Sarah returned to primary sources, state papers and letters, to unearth the truth about this intelligent and passionate woman.
In Sarah’s article below, she shares her thoughts of the strained relationship between two Queen Consorts — Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Anne Boleyn, Queen of England. Enjoy!
Mary Tudor and Anne Boleyn
by Sarah Bryson
Anne Boleyn’s rise to become the queen of England created great controversy not just in England, but throughout Europe. There were many that objected to Anne’s marriage to King Henry VIII and her coronation. Many believed that it was Queen Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, who was the only true queen of England. One of the staunchest objectors against Anne Boleyn was Mary Tudor, younger sister of Henry VIII.
Mary and Anne had a tumultuous relationship in the latter years of their lives, both women disliking one another greatly, even going so far as to hurl insults which became public. Yet it was not always like that. In fact, their relationship started nineteen years earlier.
Mary Tudor first became associated with Anne Boleyn when Anne was just a teenager of thirteen years. In 1514 Mary was married to the aging French King Louis XII. She left England and went to live in France to be formally married and crowned Queen of France. As part of her entourage, a number of ladies were appointed to wait upon Mary, including Anne and Mary Boleyn.
Of the Boleyn sisters, it would only be Mary that would travel with her mistress to France, Anne being in the service of Margaret of Austria at the time. Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, requested his daughter’s release so that she may join Mary Tudor in France. Anne joined Mary Tudor’s entourage after Mary had arrived in France.
Much to Mary’s distress the day after her wedding her new husband dismissed most of her ladies. Only a small number of English attendants were retained by the King, one of those being Anne Boleyn.
As a maid to Queen Mary of France, Anne’s duties would have been to pour wine for her, sit and sew with her, to participate in other sporting activities with the queen, to assist her in dressing/undressing and participate in other, less specific, daily activities. As a maid-of-honour, Anne would have been instructed by the ladies-in-waiting, her role to learn as she supported her queen. It would not be wrong to think that during these months Mary would have gained an understanding of her young maid-of-honour and become aware of her character. There are no records stating Mary’s feelings towards Anne at this time, although it is doubtful that they would have been close. Anne was five years younger than Mary and far, far beneath her in social status and position. It is more likely that Mary would have been closer to her ladies-in-waiting who were closer to her in age and higher in rank.
On 1 January 1515 King Louis XII of France died. Mary was sent into mourning and Anne Boleyn one of the few ladies allowed to attend the now dowager French queen. After several weeks Mary dared to remarry without her brother’s permission, taking Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk as her second husband. It is unknown if Anne Boleyn was at the small wedding between Mary and Charles, of which only ten people attended. She would, however, have been witness to the romantic feelings between the pair and would have watched as Mary Tudor took her life into her own hands and married for love.
After gaining her brother’s, the king of England, forgiveness Mary and Brandon returned to England while Anne Boleyn remained in France to serve the new French queen – Claude, wife of King Francis I.
Nothing more is heard of the interaction between Anne and Mary until 1522, a short time after Anne Boleyn returned to England. The theme at Court for Shrovetide in March 1522 was ‘unrequited love’. To celebrate, a series of jousting events were held. The highlight of the celebrations was a pageant held at Cardinal Wolsey’s York Place on the evening of Shrove Tuesday. The pageant was entitled the Château Vert (or the Green Castle). At the beginning of the night, the audience was led into a large chamber hung with arras and brightly lit. At one end of the hall was the ‘Château Vert’. The castle was built of wood and painted green, consisting of three towers. In the towers were eight beautiful ladies, each representing a quality of chivalry. The women were dressed in white satin with their ‘quality’ written on their gowns in yellow satin. They wore headdresses of Venetian gold and Milan bonnets. The qualities the women represented were beauty, honour, perseverance, kindness, constancy, bounty, mercy and pity. Mary Tudor played the lead role of beauty, Anne Boleyn made her debut at Court as perseverance and her sister Mary played kindness.
Opposite these eight women were eight men representing the perfect male virtues: nobleness, amorousness, youth, attendance, loyalty, pleasure, gentleness and liberty. The eight female virtues were protected from assault by eight members of the royal chapel dressed as Indian women representing danger, disdain, jealousy, unkindness, scorn, sharp tongue and off-handedness. A spokesman for the male virtues asked for the women to come down but the vices resisted and the male virtues had to storm the castle by force. Henry led the attack on the castle; the men threw oranges, dates and other fruits thought to bring pleasure. The women were rescued and it may have been that Henry rescued his beautiful sister. After this everyone took off their masks off to reveal who they were and the feasting began.
It is quite possible that Mary recognised the now twenty-one year old beautiful, sophisticated woman Anne Boleyn. It would be a number of years before Anne Boleyn caught the eye of Mary’s brother Henry but when she did, the king’s attention was total. As Henry’s desire for Anne blossomed and his thoughts turned to an annulment of his marriage to Queen Katherine, Mary removed herself from Court in protest. By 1529 she had retired to her home at Westhorpe refusing to accept Anne Boleyn as anything more than her brother’s mistress.
Mary and Katherine had been friends since Katherine had first arrived in England in 1501. Although there were nine years between them, the two women shared a mutual love for their king, common interests in sewing, music, and a strong belief in the Catholic faith. They had dined together, traveled together, both were mothers and both had lost children. Their fortunes had waxed and waned and Mary’s deep love for Katherine and her strong religious belief meant she simply could not accept Anne as anything other than a mistress.
By 1531 Henry VIII had openly separated from his wife and took Anne Boleyn with him wherever he went. Ambassador to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, Eustace Chapuys, wrote that Anne Boleyn ‘had been accused by the Duke of Suffolk of undue familiarity with a gentleman who on a former occasion had been banished on suspicion.’ This gentleman was Sir Thomas Wyatt, poet, courtier and long-time friend of the Boleyn family. From his poetry, we can conclude that it is quite probable that he had a crush on Anne. However, there is no evidence to suggest that Anne returned these feelings. While there turned out to be no truth in this rumour, Henry was furious at his best friend for making such an accusation and banished him from court. Retaliating to this accusation Anne Boleyn made one of her own declaring that Brandon was sleeping with his daughter Frances! Despite being banished from court Brandon spoke with the Treasurer of the King’s Household, in the hopes that together they could persuade the king against marrying Anne Boleyn.
On 6 June 1531 Eustace Chapuys also wrote that, ‘Suffolk and his wife, if they dared, would offer all possible resistance to this marriage; and it is not two days since that he and the treasurer, talking of this matter, agreed that now the time was come when all the world should strive to dismount the King from his folly, for which they see no better means nor colour than the immediate issuing of that happy sentence which is so much delayed. It will find here many supporters, and therefore should be pressed bluntly.’
In 1532 things went even further when Mary Tudor spoke publicly about her opposition to the marriage and where her loyalties lay, speaking about Anne Boleyn in unfavourable terms. Unfortunately what Mary said remains unrecorded however her words resulted in a quarrel between some of the Duke of Norfolk’s men, Uncle to Anne Boleyn, and Brandon’s men. On 23rd April Carlo Capello reported that…
‘At the moment of his arrival at the Court, one of the chief gentlemen in the service of said Duke of Norfolk, with 20 followers, assaulted and killed in the Sanctuary of Westminster Sir (D’no) William Peninthum (sic) chief gentleman and kinsman of the Duke of Suffolk. In consequence of this, the whole Court was in an uproar and had the Duke of Suffolk been there, it is supposed that a serious affray would have taken place. On hearing of what had happened, he (Suffolk) was on his way to remove the assailants by force from the sanctuary, when the King sent the Treasurer [Thomas Cromwell] to him, and made his return, and has adjusted the affair; and this turmoil displeased him. It is said to have been caused by a private quarrel, but I am assured it was owing to opprobrious language uttered against Madam Anne by his Majesty’s sister, the Duchess of Suffolk, Queen Dowager of France.’
The murderers were pardoned and then in 1533, the Duke of Norfolk demanded that Brandon relinquished the office of Earl Marshal to Norfolk that Brandon had held since the death of Norfolk’s father in 1524. Henry VIII complied with this request and in turn granted Brandon the Warden & Chief Justice of the royal forests south of Trent. This loss of position must have furthered Mary and Brandon’s resentment to Norfolk and added to Mary’s growing disdain for Anne Boleyn.
After these events, Brandon also removed himself from Court and it took the influence of Thomas Cromwell and even a visit from the king to smooth things over. Brandon returned to Court, choosing to keep his mouth shut on all matters related to Anne. Mary continued to stay away.
On Sunday 1st June 1533, the visibly pregnant Anne Boleyn was crowned queen of England. Wearing a gown of crimson velvet edged in ermine and a purple velvet mantle with her hair loose and hanging to her waist, Anne made the journey barefoot from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey under a canopy of cloth of gold. Brandon was to play a role in Anne’s coronation and it was his duty to walk before the future queen carrying her crown. During the coronation, he stood close to the Anne holding a white staff of office. Afterward, a great banquet was held at Westminster Hall where Brandon acted as Lord High Steward & Constable. It had been his responsibility to organise all the details of the coronation, including Anne’s procession through London the previous day. Wearing a doublet covered in pearls and riding a charger covered in crimson velvet Brandon rode through the wedding feast. The banquet consisted of eight hundred people and approximately thirty-two dishes. However much Brandon may have personally disapproved of the marriage he did his duties to the fullest and for now, bided his time.
Mary Tudor did not attend the coronation nor would she live to see Anne Boleyn’s dramatic fall from grace. On 25 June 1533, just twenty-four days after Anne Boleyn’s coronation, Mary died. It is unknown as to what illness she succumbed; only that she had been ill for some time leading up to her death.
We can only wonder what Mary thought of the thirteen-year-old Anne Boleyn that came into her service in France since there are no surviving records. Just over a decade later Boleyn had risen through the ranks to capture the attention and heart of King Henry VIII. What Mary thought of this all is very clear. Her resentment and dislike for Anne Boleyn were evident in her actions and her words. Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, was a woman of strong religious devotion and that, together with the strength of her love and loyalty for her sister-in-law Queen Katherine, meant she never accepted Anne Boleyn as her social equal.
Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1871).
Croom Brown, Mary, Mary Tudor Queen of France (London: Methuen, 1911).
Ives, Eric, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005).
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509–47, ed. J. S. Brewer, James Gairdner and R. H. Brodie, (His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1862–1932).
Hume, Martin, The Wives of Henry the Eighth and the Parts They Played in History (London: Eveleigh Nash, 1905).
Weir, Alison, Henry VIII King & Court (London: Vintage Books, 2008).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Tudor, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She has run a website dedicated to Tudor history for many years and has written for various websites including ‘On the Tudor Trail’ and here at Queenanneboleyn.com. She has been studying primary sources to tell the story of Mary Tudor for a decade. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment.