Daughter of the Renaissance: The Education of a Christian Princess and future Queen Regnant of England.

Mary I signature Tudor

The myth of Bloody Mary is one of the most enduring myths in history, with some historians and pop culture fans still seeing her as one of the vilest monarchs in history. But is Mary I deserving of this nickname?

The short answer is no. Mary’s actions and views, while despicable to us, reflect her time-period. On top of that, they also reflect the deadly inheritance she received as being a member of a ruling House who wasn’t yet fully established.

The Tudors’ right to the throne was contested by many. And while her paternal grandfather squashed every rebellion and defeated both pretenders, there were still many threats abroad and within her realm. It didn’t help that the wars of the religion had made her position more unstable, and thus, heightened these threats.

Along with this myth comes the assumption that Mary was ignorant. For those of you who are still adhere to this notion, I am sorry to disappoint you but that is simply not true.

Mary Tudor child

“She had clearly an early aptitude for music and dancing and grew to be highly accomplished in both. At the age of four she could play the virginals and she later learned the lute and the regal. Playing these instruments as she grew up, and the comments on her ability seem to have been more than the studied politeness of official observers. Dancing was also a vital accomplishment for royal ladies, and Mary’s enjoyment of it began early. She learned to dance at least as well as any lady at her father’s court. After Henry’s death, her brother Edward VI would criticize Mary for her unseemly devotion to his pastime at which she excelled.
Mary also became an accomplished linguist and had evidently learned some French by 1520, when she so impressed the French lords sent to inspect her. Again this may have been, like the musicianship, a skill inherited from her father, who used it to communicate with the emperor’s French-speaking diplomats throughout his reign. There would have been no need for such a young child to converse at any length, only to demonstrate that she could exchange pleasantries and formal greetings. As an adult she relied on her French for communication with the imperial ambassadors at a time when they were almost her sole support and, later for speaking to her husband. She may have picked up some Spanish from those around her mother, overhearing the conversations of Katherine with people like her confessor and her ladies-in-waiting, but the numbers of those who had, long ago, accompanied Katherine from Spain were dwindling, and the queen did not regularly use her native tongue anymore except with her priests. Mary could, though, read Spanish; in the 1530s, when their worlds changed so dramatically and Katherine needed to be very careful in her letters to her daughter, she wrote to Mary in Spanish. The princess, however, does not seem to have spoken it well, and she did not used it in public.” (Linda Porter, Myth of Bloody Mary)

Mary was a daughter of the Renaissance just as her half-sister was a product of the Reformation. Like her, she tried a middle approach at the beginning of her reign when she issued a proclamation on the 8th of August 1553, in which she stated that everyone was free to practice as they wished, so long as they did it in private. Wyatt’s rebellion however convinced her that was no longer possible. After the executions of Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley, and her father, Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk and Marquis of Dorset, and her marriage to Philip of Spain (then Prince of Asturias, King of Sicily and Naples), she doubled down on the Protestants.

While the Protestant faction continued to call others to war, Mary I remained invested in re-funding and founding universities that would once again promote the liberal arts and other forms of Humanist thinking.

Linda Porter and Anna Whitelock have written outstanding biographies on her where they deconstruct the many myths surrounding this controversial figure. Anna Whitelock highlights the challenges she faced being the first female ruler of a country who was still unready for a female monarch given that they believed it would end in anarchy. The events of Matilda vs Stephen and the wars of the roses were still fresh on their minds.

Mary ordered the old Humanist curriculum to be reinstated in the universities and like her maternal grandmother, she sought to root out of corruption from the Catholic Church. Using some of the language found in the book of common prayer, she encouraged several Catholic leaders to write religious texts in the hopes that this would make England a Catholic kingdom again. This started with a proclamation she issued in March of 1554, where her stance towards uneducated and incompetent church officials became clear:

“… to deprive or declare derived, and remove according to their learning and discretion, all such persons from their benefices or ecclesiastical promotions, who contrary to the … laudable custom of the church, have married and used women as their wives.”

Mary I and Philip II

Edward VI’s previous statutes had caused division between all academic circles, Mary intended to remedy this by issuing new ordinances and supporting the institutions financially. The dean of Oxford thanked for the endowments she made on this and other institutions of higher learning, as well as founding several under her husband’s name.

Mary’s policies made some of religious officials uneasy. She wanted to be another Isabella, who although despising her unofficial position as head of the Anglican church, meant to have complete control over the church by reforming it from within and appointing leaders who were like-minded as her. Mary might have also seen this as a good strategy against the growing number of Reformists in England. While some Reformists had supported and England still had a large population of Catholics; Protestantism wasn’t going to go away easily. She figured the best way to combat an idea was by giving the people a better idea.

Mary’s interest in education didn’t distract her from her usual pastimes which included gambling, various forms of music, poetry, and art. Humanism played man at the center of everything, and besides higher learning, it was often tied with art, music, and poetry. And being true to this creed, Mary’s court was filled with music, dancing, art, and just about everything that Mary was used to.

Mary I blue background

Today, some of her accomplishments remain overshadowed by the violent aspects of her reign in her final years, and the sorrow she faced following Philip’s departure, and finding out she wasn’t pregnant but was yet again the victim of another phantom pregnancy. Mary I died on November 1558 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, in the Lady Chapel the following month. It didn’t take long for her accomplishments and policies to be forgotten and attributed to her sister. Besides Whitelock and Porter, other historians and biographers have done their part in rehabilitate her by separating fact from fiction, destroying the myth of Bloody Mary, while still being critical of her.

Sources:

  • Lisle, Leanda. Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. Public. 2013.
  • Duffy, Eamon. Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor. Yale. 2009.
  • Loades, David. Mary Tudor. Amberly. 2011.
  • Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. Random House. 2010.
  • Erickson, Carolly. Bloody Mary:  The Life of Mary Tudor. Robson Books. 2001.
  • Edwards, John. Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen. Yale. 2011.
  • Porter, Linda. The Myth of Bloody Mary. St. Martin Press. 2008.

 

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500 Years ago the ‘Right noble and Excellent Princess Mary’ was born

600 Queen Mary

On the 18th of February 1516, Princess Mary Tudor was born. Her parents were King Henry VIII and his first Consort, Queen Katherine of Aragon. The long awaited Prince turned out to be a girl. While this was a minor disappointment on her parents, they were nevertheless joyful and considered this as a sign of good will. After all, Henry had replied to the Venetian Ambassador “If it was a daughter this time, by the grace of God, sons will follow.”

COA Six Wives of Henry VIII

Immediately after her birth, the child was cleaned and presented to her parents. Two days later she was christened at the Church of the Observant Friars. Following tradition, her parents were not present. Her godparents were Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (who was fast becoming a favorite of her father), the Duchess of Norfolk and her grand-aunt, Catherine of York, Countess of Devon. Present at the ceremony were an army of courtiers; gentlemen, ladies, earls and bishops who were in awe of their new Princess.

After she was blessed, she was given the name Mary, her paternal aunt who had risked royal wrath a few years back, but had worked things out with her brother. Henry had always felt closer to his younger sister than his older one, and now was honoring her even further by naming his only surviving child after her.
Afterwards, she was plunged three times into the basin of holy water, then anointed with holy oil, dried, swaddled and finally taken to the high alter where it was proclaimed:

“God send and give good life and long unto the right high, right noble and excellent Princess Mary, Princess of England and daughter of our most dread sovereign lord the King’s Highness.”

Mary Tudor 4

Mary’s life would not be without struggle. She was constantly under suspicion and despite her father’s actions -influenced by her last stepmother, Katherine Parr- to restore her and her half-sister to the line of succession, she still had many enemies and her troubles continued well into her brother’s reign. Following her half-brother’s death, she rallied  the people to her cause after she found out the King had taken his sisters out of the line  of succession in favor of their cousins, the Grey sisters.
Mary’s popular revolt was astounding because she reclaimed her birthright without the need for bloodshed. After Mary’s forces became too much for the new regime, the Council turned their backs on her cousin and her family, and sent her a letter, pledging their allegiance to her.

600 Mary I coronation

Mary was declared Queen and she entered the city of London triumphantly. Months later she was crowned Queen of England, becoming the country’s first female monarch.

Mary’s reign however wasn’t easy. Once more she faced a lot of disagreement and tragedy, as well as an inability to bring what her dynasty needed the most: a male heir. Mary’s phantom pregnancies became an embarrassment to her, and her contributions became forgotten and attributed to her sister (who also appropriated her motto on her coronation progress). To make matters worse, her wishes to be buried next to her mother (as well as having her mother’s body moved to Westminster) were never carried out. She was given a modest plaque. Her eulogy changed to fit the new rhetoric of Elizabeth’s reign being a godsend as opposed to Mary’s. And after her sister died, her successor James Stuart, created an elaborate monument and put the two sisters together. But only Elizabeth’s effigy was included, Mary was once again absent except in the plaque that read:

0Tudor tombs elizabeth mary

“Partners both in throne and grave. Here rest we, two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hopes of the resurrection.”

David Loades lists Mary I’s achievements in a BBC History Magazine article he did in honor of England’s first Queen. These include:

  1. Preservation of the Tudor succession
  2. Strengthening of the position of Parliament by using it for her religious settlement.
  3. Establishment of the “gender free” authority of the crown
  4. Restoration and strengthening of the administrative structure of the church.
  5. Maintenance of the navy and reforming the militia.

In her book “Mary Tudor. Princess, Bastard, Queen”, Anna Whitelock adds more, saying that she refounded various universities. Linda Porter in her biography “Myth of Bloody Mary” also adds that she established a curriculum that brought an emphasis to Humanism, and forced every priest to serve their parish” and had very little tolerance for those that didn’t bend their knee to royal authority.

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