Mary Tudor, born to be queen, was a lady with ancestors that could have made her the Queen of Queens. She was granddaughter of the fierce and wise Queen Isabella of Castile and the great King Ferdinand of Aragon, daughter of the most obedient, brave, pious and gentle Queen, Catherine of Aragon, first surviving royal seed of the most tyrant King of England, Henry the VIII. All that power, all those elements of lineage mixed in her blood, strangely never played to her favor. The sadness, the abandonment, pain, bitterness and desires of vengeance for the life she wanted to have and never reached to enjoy, turned her into a dark figure.
She is called Bloody Mary for her cruel acts against the Protestants, but was Mary Tudor always the cold and bitter woman who lived only for the desire of revenge and her religious obsessions? Is she the example of how cruelty can turn a gentle heart in to a mass of thorns? Let’s look in the mirror of her life, but calling her in a different way, without mocking her existence in the name of an urban legend.
Mary Tudor was born in Greenwich Palace on February 18, 1516. Her arrival was both a joy and a sign of hope for her parents, Queen Catherine of Aragon and King Henry VIII of England, since before her birth the Queen lost many children, including Henry, Duke of Cornwall and Prince of Wales, who lived only 56 days. The King was happy but yet, he still wanted a son, but her mother the Queen, felt blessed enough to be content. After three days of her birth, Princess Mary was baptized into the Catholic faith at the Church of the Observant Friars in Greenwich. The Princess’s godparents included her great-aunt the Countess of Devon, Lord Chancellor Thomas Wolsey, and the Duchess of Norfolk. Henry VIII’s cousin once removed, Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury, stood sponsor for Mary’s confirmation, which was held immediately after the baptism. The following year, Princess Mary became a godmother herself when she was named as one of the sponsors of her cousin Frances Brandon.
Princess Mary was a bright little girl and precocious in many ways. It is reported that in July 1520, when she was just four and a half years old, she performed gracefully with the virginals at court to the joy and admiration of the special visitors that day. When she was nine years old, Mary was addressed in a complimentary Latin oration by commissioners sent over from Flanders on commercial matters, and the Princess replied to them in the same language “with as much assurance and facility as if she had been twelve years old”. Even when she was not the male heir he wanted, the King was fiercely proud of her. Mary showed the high deference of her lineage in all the senses, and for that the King used to call her “The Pearl of his world”.
Since the Princess was showing her immense capacity to capture the interest of ambassadors and business commissioners, the King decided to increase her level of learning by arranging her studies in Spanish, French and Italian. Of course, behind the incredible success of Mary in her education was the hand of her mother. Queen Catherine dedicated hours to Mary’s development at court. She consulted Spanish scholars and tutors, but indeed it was the Queen herself who was the first Latin teacher in Mary’s life. The Princess was also well instructed in music. She played the lute and the virginals with great skills. She was also a great dancer, and her level and proper demeanor in her behavior at court was admirable. Mary was growing in a very healthy and loving environment. According to David Starkey, the immense love, the King felt for his daughter was openly showed on 23 February 1518, when the Venetian ambassador, Giustiniani, had an audience at Windsor. The King ordered the Princess, who had just celebrated her second birthday, to be brought in. Solemnly, Wolsey, ambassador Giustiniani and the attendant lords kissed the child’s hand. Then Mary caught sight of Friar Dionysius Memo, the great Venetian organist, who was then resident keyboard virtuoso at Henry’s Court. ‘Priest! priest!’ she ‘commenced calling out in English’ and would not stop until Memo agreed to play for her. Henry was delighted at the display, which showed that Mary was in truth her father’s daughter: musical, precocious and imperious far beyond her years.”
The Princess and her mother were also very close. There was a special bond between them, something that was unusual among royal families. Queen Catherine was a great mother to her, she dedicated time to her education, but she also spent time playing with her, and of course, Queen Catherine made sure that her daughter developed devotion for the religious life and the compromises that involved her future relationship with the people of the Realm. Mary was a Princess, but the fact that she grew up at court with her parent gave her a personality that was uncommon for royal children. Mary was polite and kind with everyone around her. She played, laughed and ran through the halls and gardens of the palace like any other normal child. Princess Mary was a happy girl. She had her parents beside her and a Kingdom that loved her and protected her. She knew no fear. She had no worries. Indeed, the Princess had a wonderful childhood considering that in those times. Most royal children spent their days and nights among strangers who gave them all… but the essence of the warmth of a true home and family. Queen Catherine made a high standard raising her daughter. She worked hard to make her beloved princess a true heir of the throne of England, just like her parents did with her. She gave Mary the best tutors: Erasmus, Thomas More and Luis Vives, who she patronized personally. By 1523, Princess Mary of England was recognized by many institutions as one of the most well educated Princess in Europe.
Even when Princess Mary was giving steps and signs that she could be a great ruler in the future, the Kingdom under the Command of her Father, and with the intervention of Cardinal Wolsey, had other plans for her. Sadly, like any other Royal Lady of her time, it was expected that she was used to climb and conquer in the lands of power outside the realm. Earlier in time, when she was two years old, she was engaged with the French Dauphine. This marriage arrangement was dissolved when King Henry and King Francis became enemies. Later, when she was six years old she was engaged with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the V, who was 22. Nobody at court believed that this arrangement would endure. On one side, the Princess was too young at the moment — and, everyone knew that Charles was a man of changeable character, incapable of keep his word and acting only when the opportunities were on his favor. As was expected, Charles saw the tedious long waiting for Princess Mary to reach the lawful age of marriage (at the time it was 12) unbearable, so he decided to break his word. Instead, he married Princess Isabella of Portugal. Other arrangements for the Princess’s hand were made, she was also engaged for a time to King Francis’s youngest son, the Duke of Orleans, but this arrangement was also broken. Many more marriage contracts were made in time, and like the others, almost broken in weeks or months. The King had hard times keeping good relationships with the main kingdoms around him, and that of course, affected the future of Mary’s life. The nice part of all this messed up marriage contracts is that the princess was too young to understand these events properly.
While she was growing, she was admired, respected and protected like the most precious jewel of the Kingdom. She was bright, full of light. She danced at court. She amazed everyone with her formidable skills in speech, her innumerable talents and the charm she showed with every appearance at court. Her mother the Queen was proud of her. The King her father was pleased, but sadly for him, that was not enough.
For the last time, Queen Catherine got pregnant, but delivered a stillborn girl. The hopes for a Prince were gone, and the King was devastated. Dark ideas developed in his mind. Of course he had a bastard son with one of his mistresses, but he would never be loved or accepted as King. On the other hand, the King lost his once deep love for the Queen, he felt disappointed. He saw no more reasons to keep his marriage with her, not even the political power nor the reaction or peace of his realm made sense for him anymore. He wanted a son, but he also wanted a new Queen.
As always, the Queen found refuge in the sweet company of her beloved child. Princess Mary gave her mother peace, and the Queen also found the perfect companion during her long hours of prayer, fasting and isolation. Mary learned the deepness devotion and love for the Catholic Faith from her mother, the spiritual guidance that the Queen gave her was strong and profoundly based. The Princess and her mother were attached by highly indissoluble ties: love, blood, lineage and religion. Mother and daughter comforted each other behind the eyes of the courtiers, who always believed that the royal family was happy and content with their important lives. Mary was growing up, and was starting to notice the distance between her parents. Like any other normal child would do, but as a princess, she had to stand above her feelings, endure them, and fight them as much as she could.
One day, a new lady arrived to court. She was ordered to serve Queen Catherine as Maid of Honor — her name, Lady Anne Boleyn. From day one, Anne Boleyn’s exotic looks and commanding presence rose above the other ladies at court, especially in the eyes of the still young and virile King Henry. His majesty kept his deep desires for Anne to himself at first, avoiding even the senses of his Queen, but later in time, Her Majesty started to notice the interest of her husband in this new dark haired damsel. The Queen noticed something else. Lady Anne was not the common lady. She was different. Her behavior at court was outstanding, an incredible artist, dancer, her virtues as lady in waiting were formidable, and the fact that she was all but docile among her other ladies, made her a difficult rival to defeat.
Queen Catherine kept Anne close to her at first, but later, she started to repulse her presence, and decided to keep her a little farther away. Queen Catherine’s closest ladies in waiting started to dislike Anne as well, and they spoke to their mistress about all the rumors at court about the King and Anne. Rumors about secret encounters between them, the King constant visits to Hever Castle, the elevation in ranks of Anne’s father and brother, and the sudden change in Anne’s presence, wearing extreme expensive jewels, exquisite gowns in the French fashion rather than the English dress code. Besides, the King also started to show his favoritism and devotion to Anne in public, which gave the proud lady the strength and freedom to even act boldly above the Queen and her dominion at court.
Slowly but surely, Lady Anne Boleyn would change the lives of Mary and her mother, in ways that they never even imagined in their worst nightmares. After a time of romance play dates between Anne and the King, the terrible news arrived to the ears of the Queen. His Majesty wanted a divorce, based on the grounds that by marrying his brother’s wife, he broke God’s law, and by that, he was being condemned to be incapable of having male heirs. The Queen was devastated. After years of love, loyalty, happiness, conquers and devotion to her King, she is asked for a divorce. But she was determined to keep her rank and her place in England.
A battle trying to debate the King’s Great Matter began, the King was moving all his pieces on his favor, and was willing to break with Rome only to marry Anne and have his wishes fulfilled. On the other side of the battlefield, was the Queen, almost abandoned. Even when she won arguments and grounds along the way, she was indeed fading away. She already lost the love of the King and that was her major disadvantage. Her stubbornness in the end gave her a greater sorrow. Queen Catherine was separated from her daughter Mary, and forbidden to see her again.
This was a cold blow for the Queen, and for Mary, something impossible to understand and deal with. Mary was close to her teen years, and at this time, wise enough to feel the pressure, the pain, the despair and the sadness of being separated from her mother and father, and from the life she knew and loved. She still had her own court, her beautiful home in Ludlow, but the walls were cold, the air dense and the scenery turned gray without the light and joy she had before. For the first time she was alone. Her health deteriorated sometimes. She suffered from pains in her stomach, and to add more damage to her health, she forced herself to fast and avoid eating sometimes for more than a day when she was deep in her prayers. Like her mother, Mary began to seek for answers and for comfort in her faith.
Sadly for the young Princess Mary, things went from bad to worse. After long years of bravery and determination, her mother, the Queen, lost the battle against Anne Boleyn. The King banished his once Queen of Hearts from court, and from his life, and then placed the Crown upon the proud and beautiful Lady Anne. This marked the end of all hopes for Catherine and her daughter. Many times, the now Dowager Duchess of Wales asked to see her daughter, and her maternal wishes were denied cruelly over and over. For Mary, the separation was unbearable. The only connection she had with her mother was the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, who visited her in Ludlow from time to time, and told her news about her. It is believed by many historians, and is also my personal point of view, that Mary’s heart started to change at this point. Being separated from her mother, and from the life she knew and cherished in such a hard way, is difficult to endure. Mary developed a huge and immeasurable hate towards Anne Boleyn. For Mary, she was the only cause of all her misery and her mother’s. This hate towards Anne and towards all related to her grew and grew every single day. Mary never recognized Anne as Queen of England, and when she was forced to make the submission to that fact by the King’s invoices, her only reply was: “I recognize no Queen of England, except my mother, and I will not accept a Queen of England, except my mother”. The proud princess had no idea of the high cost of the stubbornness.
For a time, after the marriage of the King with Anne Boleyn, the royal status of Princess Mary remained untouched. She was still the King’s heir, even when Anne was already pregnant, and showing her condition. However, in September 7, 1533, all changed. They were expecting a son, but Anne delivered a healthy baby girl. This was not too much of a bless for King Henry but indeed he was hopeful, happy and proud enough to give her the status of Princess of England, and take all the privileges of Mary and passed them on to her. Elizabeth was now the only heir of Henry the VIII, and Mary… by default, was a bastard.
With the birth of Elizabeth, the entire world of Mary crashed down. Separated from her mother, unrecognized by the father that once called her the “Pearl of his world”, she was now reduced to a simple lady in waiting to her own sister. Mary had to suffer in silence. She was forced to obey the King and forget that he was her father. She was forced to forget that she was a princess, and simply act like if her rank and the marriage of her parents never existed. Now she had to serve in the household of her half sister as a maid. And to make things worst, her feelings towards Anne Boleyn were dark, and they grew bitter day after day. But if only Anne and Mary met each other in good terms and positive circumstances, they would had been great friends, and this is why:
Mary Tudor and Anne Boleyn had many things in common, even if you can not believe this. Mary Tudor was a fan of fashion as well as Anne, not in the same levels but both adored expensive gowns, jewels and good taste in their wardrobes. Both Anne and Mary were highly educated, and their passions for religious matters were detonators in their lives, perhaps not in the same dimensions, but religion was something deeply important for them. Anne was determined, stubborn, gentle when it was needed, and strong as a wild hurricane when the occasion called for it. Well, Mary was the same. The difference is… that for Mary things were different, and the major part of her courage was diminished by threats, bad treatment and neglecting. Anne Boleyn and Mary Tudor were both great examples of talent, charisma and dominion of the court. Anne was like that until her last day on earth, but Mary lost that charm early in her youth. Physically, they stood on their own grounds. Anne Boleyn was not the normal standard of the English girl type. She was not pale as was the rule of the time. Her skin was olive tanned, her eyes dark brown and her hair as black as raven’s wings. That attribute gave Wolsey the muse to call her the Dark Crow. (Of course he had his own personal reasons to compare her with that mysterious and sometimes treacherous black bird). Anne Boleyn was not the most beautiful woman in England, but in fact, she had a charm, a talent of seduction and lovely exotic looks that made a King move the world just to be with her. Mary Tudor on the other hand, was also different, perhaps not a seductress like Anne Boleyn, but beautiful in her own way. There are many descriptions of Mary, mostly in her days as Queen of England. In her youth; she had a gentle, sweet, delicate and soft presence, not a total beauty but pretty to the eyes. She was short of stature, with an oval face and light brown hair. She did not look like her mother and father, and she had her own features, related more to her ancestors in Spain rather than her English ancestors. Too much in common between these two women, and yet, born to be enemies.
To Mary, Anne Boleyn was the personification of all that is evil an unholy. In her eyes she was the cause of her mother’s downfall, and the main reason for her father’s neglecting towards her. To Queen Anne, Mary was a burden difficult to bear. Even when she managed to keep the King’s feelings towards his eldest daughter cold, she knew she was a breathing threat to her safety as Queen of England. Blood is blood, and she knew the King was a man of changeable character. She was between two options, make peace with her or in time… make her the most hated person for King Henry the VIII. There were rumors, many of them created by Eustace Chapuys and other enemies of the Boleyn clan, that the Queen wanted Mary and her mother dead, and that she was already plotting against their lives. There are not proofs of this. Even when in times when the Queen was under the influence of too much wine or bad moods, she made open declarations of her desires to get rid of them… and her plans to order their executions if the King went away long enough to make her regent in his absence. Anne had only one scary prophecy on her mind, one she openly discussed with her closest allies: “Mary is my death, and I am hers”. This was more an expression of fear, rather than hate in the side of Anne, the only thing she needed to take that fear away… was a son.
Queen Anne disliked Mary beyond measure but, she tried to make peace with her. She knew it was better to take this chance rather that keep the distance, this new state of mind came of course because she was not the mother of a Prince yet, and to keep the King pleased was of course a better way to conquer more grounds at court, earn allies and fix her status at court, she wanted to be loved by all…not by only some. In March 1534, Anne sent for Lady Mary to come see her while she was visiting her daughter Princess Elizabeth. The Queen offered to invite her back to the English Court and also a reconciliation pact with her father King Henry VIII if she would just accept their marriage and acknowledge her as the Queen of England. Lady Mary promptly responded with a cruel insult, “I know no Queen in England but my mother. But if you, Madam, as my father’s mistress, will intercede for me with him, I should be grateful.” Anne did not lose her temper with Lady Mary as she pointed out the absurdity of the request and repeated her offer to Lady Mary in a less gentle tone, but still soft enough to be taken in good will. But Mary refused to answer Anne, she just simply turned her back on her and leave, Queen Anne was in rage.
The Queen found the courage to forget the girl’s attitude, and once again tried to build a peaceful relationship with her. There is another encounter recorded between the Queen and her stepdaughter, this time in Eltham Palace’s Chapel. An attendant told Anne that Lady Mary had acknowledged her as the Queen of England by curtsying to her. Anne had not been able to see it and she came to be embarrassed at not noticing that Lady Mary had acknowledged her as the Queen of England. She was deeply pleased that Lady Mary had acknowledged her as the Queen of England and ended up sending a message to her where she as the Queen greeted her warmly and to apologize for not seeing her curtsy towards her and that she desired that “this may be the entrance of friendly correspondence”. The Lady Mary replied that “it was impossible for the queen to have been there for my mother was not; I kneeled yes, but for the altar”. This was the last time Anne tried to make peace with Mary. The Queen was so furious, that in private as well as in public, she started to make horrible remarks against the Lady Mary. She called her names, and made fun of her strict fashion. She said that she would make Mary her lady in waiting, and then she would marry her to some varlet. She threatened to curb “her proud Spanish blood”, but again, the Queen was just ranting to express her frustrations with Lady Mary and there is no evidence to suggest she carried out any of her threats against Lady Mary. However, Queen Anne did tell her aunt Lady Anne Shelton who was in charge of Lady Mary’s care to starve her if she continued to eat a large breakfast in order to avoid having to eat dinner in the Great Hall and pleading illness to have supper brought to her chamber. Queen Anne also proclaimed that she should box Lady Mary’s ears as “the cursed bastard she was” if she tried to use the banned title of princess for herself. Queen Anne ended up having Mary surrender her jewels to her, for she felt they must now adorn Princess Elizabeth for she was now the king’s lawful heiress to the throne of England, until the time that she had a brother.
All this slowly twisted Mary’s soul. She felt abused and worst of all, alone. And to add more bitterness, the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys made sure that the hate that Mary felt for Anne were stronger every day. His own despise for Anne was greater than his conscience. He had no idea of the harm he was inflicting in the already torture heart of the young girl. Chapuys, who openly did not accept Anne for who she was, cared nothing for her, and despised her and disgustedly ended up referring to her in his official communications as “the concubine” and that “whore” or with polite disdain “The Lady” and Princess Elizabeth as “the brat” or “the little bastard”, told Lady Mary that Anne was planning to have her murdered. It was a terrible lie, but one that Lady Mary, in her hysterical state, was inclined to believe. She refused to go when word came that Princess Elizabeth’s household was moving from Hatfield to The More, as she believed that she would be taken and quietly murdered. This led to the royal guards have to actually seize and throw her into her litter. Her distress from this would have naturally made her ill.
This cruel treatment not only increased Lady Mary’s hate towards Queen Anne, but is also made her feel almost nothing for her half sister. Mary barely paid attention to her, and was cold and behaved like a stone when she was around the little princess. So much despise towards an innocent child, was not a good sign at all. Later in time, Catherine of Aragon died, to Mary’s sorrow, she had no chance to neither say goodbye to her mother nor lay eyes upon her. This left a profound scar on Mary’s heart, one that would never disappear.
But where was King Henry the VIII while his daughter was suffering so terribly? Yes, he was making no action, he was doing nothing, no towards Anne, nor even to protect Mary against his wife’s “threats”. The King did not make efforts to ease Mary’s low life style either. He gave her no money and her health was not well watch as it was before. Only once, the King made contact with Mary after his marriage with Anne. He sent the Duke of Norfolk to Hatfield House, with a message for Mary; the King wanted her to join her sister’s ladies in waiting during a visit at White Hall Palace. Mary responded that “the title of princess belonged to herself and no other.” Norfolk made no answer, declaring “he had not come to dispute titles but to accomplish the King’s will.” When Mary was told that she would be allowed to take very few servants with her, Margaret Pole, her longtime governess and godmother, who had been in Mary’s entourage since the princess was three years old asked if she might continue to serve Mary at her own expense and pay for the whole household. Her request was refused. King Henry wanted Mary, like Katherine, to be separated from those she trusted to encourage her submission.
The King was angry at Mary. He hated her Spanish pride because that was the reminder of the nightmare he had to endure while Catherine refused to let him go. Thanks to all the power he had now, not only as King, but as Supreme Head of the Church of England, he thought that everyone, including his “loved ones” were supposed to obey him whatever the circumstances… even if those were to face death. After this incident, the King never spoke to Mary again during the reign of Anne.
Then, like if faith were giving Mary a taste of sweetness, the days of Anne Boleyn as Queen of England finished. Her failure to produce a male heir, her talent to make the King burst with rage and the sudden love between the King and the young Lady Jane Seymour, send her to an unjust and cruel death. To Mary, this bloody event was a deliverance from all the darkness she endured while Anne lived. After Anne’s execution, The Lady Mary sent a letter to Thomas Cromwell:
“I perceived that nobody durst speak for me as long as that woman lived, which is now gone. whom I pray to our Lord, of his great mercy to forgive.”
Mary never forgave Anne for all her miseries. The hate she felt for her would live on forever. The wounds she inflicted on her were too deep to heal. Now, her fate was again in a limbo, she just could pray for hope.
END OF PART I
READ PART II Here