Women’s Roles in Mary (I) Tudor’s Coronation

Mary Tudor Women in coronation roles

“The coronation marked the high point of the sisters’ relationship during the reign” writes Linda Porter in her biography of Mary Tudor. And it wasn’t just for Elizabeth but for the other women as well.

Women played a prominent role in Mary’s reign, especially during her coronation where the presence of her closest female relatives, emphasized on her intentions to display a dynastic unity. The preparations began on the 27th when she made her formal entry into London, the following day she took possession of the Tower. Two days later, on the eve of her coronation, she emerged from the Tower to go to the palace of Westminster. This last procession was one of the greatest spectacles that Londoners had witnessed. Image was everything in Tudor times; a King had to outmatch any of his predecessor’s ceremony. Being the first female King, Mary had to make a greater effort to outdo her predecessors.

Stephen Gardiner

With a magnificent display of heraldic imagery, the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Oxford followed, carrying the sword, with the Lord Mayor carrying the scepter of gold. Other ancient artifacts were carried out by the Earl of Sussex, and Bishop Stephen Gardiner which were representative of England’s past glory in France.

Mary herself, rode on a golden litter, dressed in a “mantle and kirtle of cloth of gold” and with “circlet of gold set with rich stones and pearls” on her head. Around her four ladies rode on horseback: the Marchioness of Exeter, the Duchess of Norfolk, the Countess of Arundel and Sir William Paulet’s wife, Elizabeth Capel. Then came Ladies Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves were not far behind her, dressed magnificently in silver to match the trappings of their carriage.

Elizabeth was ecstatic to be part of these celebrations as were her stepmother and her cousin, Anne and Margaret. It didn’t take her long to win the hearts and minds of the English people who enjoyed seeing their queen-to-be’s younger sister smile and wave at them. It was a great contrast to her sister Mary. While she understood the importance of these displays, like her paternal grandfather she preferred to tend to matters of state then waste her time in these festivities.

Anna Whiltelock and Judith M. Richards point out something important during these celebrations and that is that Mary rode in a litter with her hair loose and a golden circlet as you would expect from a Queen Consort not a female King. She didn’t carry the sword or rode on horseback like her predecessors. This is not a sign that she intended to be a submissive queen, but rather it was a strategic move to quiet her detractors who were ardently against the idea of female rule. As Claire Ridgway wrote in the Anne Boleyn Collection, Mary was responsible for gendering the monarchy and being the first to strike a balance between her role as a woman and as a King. Leanda de Lisle in her latest book, talks how Mary was a great precursor of Elizabeth when she rode to London for the first time (following Jane Grey’s surrender), taking charge of her own destiny and later inspecting her troops before she spoke to them the year after that, when they faced Wyatt’s rebels. By presenting herself as a protector, as a mother, while at the same time being firm and strict, Mary was able to silence her detractors and squash down the fears of many men who feared that she would turn their world upside down.

Elizabeth, not surprisingly having learned from her example and her mistakes, would go on to do the exact same thing during her coronation when she was represented as a defender of the faith, and upholder of moral values and justice and a mother to her people.

Mary Tudor coronation engraving painting

The following day, on the first of October, Mary was crowned Queen of England. Women continued to play an important part in her reign, especially her sister, cousin and stepmother. The latter would be buried at Westminster (the only one of her father’s wives to be buried there) and given honors worthy of a royal. As for Elizabeth, she would be suspected by her sister and her councilors for her alleged involved in the Wyatt Rebellion and many other plots to overthrow her sister. This would create a rift between the sisters and their cousin, Margaret Douglas that would culminate when whispers began of Mary changing the succession in favor of their cousin. (Though this never came to be). During Elizabeth I’s reign, Margaret would take Elizabeth’s position, being blamed for her imprisonment during her sister’s reign, and placed under house arrest for conspiring in marrying her eldest son (Lord Darnley) to the Queen of Scots.

Working with the first queen regnant, these women felt more important since they were closer to court politics than ever before, and those who proved their loyalty to the Queen were amply rewarded. At the same time though, Mary was a Tudor through and through and like her predecessors, she wasn’t going to tolerate anyone with a different opinion from her own.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Mary Tudor as ‘Sole Queen’? Gendering Tudor Monarchy, Historical Journal by Judith M. Richards
  • Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s MostS Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
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