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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The Wedding of the Century Part II: Celebrating in Style!

0Winchester Cathedral 1
Winchester Cathedral

The marriage of Queen Mary and Philip, Prince of Asturias and King of Naples was no little thing. It was a big event and the date chosen, was in honor of Spain’s patron saint, St James. According to contemporary chroniclers, Winchester Cathedral was “richly hanged with arras and cloth of gold, and in the midst of the church, from the west door unto the roof, was a scaffold erected of timber, at the end whereof was raised a mount, covered all with red say, and underneath the left were erected two traverses, one for the Queen on the right hand, and the other for the prince on the left, which places served very well for the purpose.”

0Mary I dress

Mary and Philip were richly clothed in white and gold. Other sources differ, saying that Mary’s dress was one of rich purple. Purple as everyone will remember, was a color exclusively reserved for royals. Her dress was made in the French style. Besides the purple satin, it also contained wide sleeves “set with pearls of our store, lined with purple taffeta.” Philip for his part was dressed in white doublet and breeches with a “mantle of rich cloth of gold ornamented with pearls and precious stones and wearing the collar of the Garter.” The mantle was “adorned with crimson velvet and thistles of curled gold, lined in crimson satin, with twelve buttons made of four pearls on each sleeve.” Mary’s train was “borne up by the Marchioness of Winchester, assisted by Sir John Gage, her lord chamberlain”. After Mary was given away by the Marchioness and the three Earls of Bedford, Pembroke and Derby, the ceremony began. Gardiner reminded everyone that although Philip was a mere Prince, he had been given the kingdom of Naples, making himself an equal to their Queen. Gardiner also added that this marriage was agreed upon by parliament and the wishes of the realm. While he was not specific about the marriage treaty, it was implied that the true boss in this union would be Mary. She was Queen of England after all, and not just any Queen, but a Queen Regnant. Philip was there to help her make alliances, and make their country stronger, and last but not least, to give England male heirs to preserve both the Tudor and Habsburg line.

While Philip showed frustration with this agreement, it did not manifest right away. At the time it seemed like the two were, according to one Spanish chronicler, “the happiest couple in the world. More in love than words can say.”

After Gardiner finished his speech, the people cheered for them “praying to God to send them joy”. Then the ring was laid on the bible so it could be blessed, then Philip added three handfuls of fine gold. Mary followed suit. Her cousin, Margaret Clifford, opened the Queen’s purse so she could make an offering. The sword of state, came forth, symbolizing the unbreakable vow the two now shared. The mass finished with this last proclamation:

0Queen Mary and Philip of Spain

“Philip and Mary, by the grace of God, King and Queen of England, France, Naples, Jerusalem and Ireland, Defenders of the Faith; Princes of Spain and Sicily, Archdukes of Austria, Dukes of Milan, Burgundy and Brabant, Counts of Habsburg, Flanders and Tyrol.”

The couple then traveled by foot to the Bishop’s Palace where they dined in splendor. The Queen and King sat together under a cloth of state, with the privy councilors and ambassadors, and Spanish Grandees and English courtiers, sitting in separate tables. Edward Underhill reported that every kind of dish was served, with the plates being of pure gold.

To show their union was strong, Philip and Mary danced together, and the Spanish Grandees with “the fair ladies and the most beautiful nymphs of England.” This however is taken by some historians with a grain of salt. John Elder reported this with the intention to make the Spaniards appear like lusty creatures, when in fact, Spaniards reported that they found little appeal in the English ladies.

“They wear black stockings and show their legs up to the knee when walking. As their skirts are not long they are passably immodest when walking, and even when seated. They are neither beautiful nor graceful when dancing and their dances only consist in strutting or trotting around. Not a single Spanish gentleman has fallen in love with one of them.”

And the Spanish ladies thought no better of them, believing that they “are of evil conversation.” Underhill however, wanted to put the Spaniards to shame, and implied that the reason behind the Spaniards’ words was because they were too sour compared to the liveliness of the English.

The truth as they say, is in the eye of the beholder and it can be that both sources are both right and wrong. The Spaniards carried themselves with such grace and manners that might not have appealed to the English courtiers. When Mary’s mother was born, Spain was known for its love of clothing, pageantry, and other rich displays. The Spanish Princess had brought with her, her Spanish fashions which soon became a hit among the English girls. The farthingale became widely used, and while she did adopt English headdresses after she married Henry VIII; she continued with many of her Spanish customs, one of which was to party. Henry and Katherine partied a lot, and many of their picnics, and masques are well known. By the time Philip’s father became King however; Spain gradually changed. The country was united once more, but Charles brought with him a code of conduct he had learned from one of the most fashionable courts in Europe (Burgundy). The Book of the Courtier became the bible of every nobleman, it told them how to behave, dress, and even how to eat. It also had specific instructions for women. With all of this in mind, it should come as no surprise that when Philip and his entourage arrived to England, they found little appeal in its customs and its people, and vice-verse.

Sources:

  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana of Castile by Julia Fox
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty by Leanda de Lisle

The Wedding of the Century Part I: Mary I and Philip of Spain

Mary I and Philip of Spain

Mary married Philip on the 25th of July 1554 at Winchester Cathedral. The marriage was officiated by Stephen Gardiner. There is no source that speaks about the color of Mary’s dress, but thanks to the inventory, we know that her dress was one of rich purple (purple as everyone will remember, was a color reserved for royalty) with her husband-to-be wearing a robe “ornamented with pearls and precious stones” wearing the collar of the Garter, his breeches and doublet white “and over all a mantle of rich cloth of gold”. Mary’s train was the last one to arrive at half past ten “with all her council and nobility before her”. Her train was carried by the Marchioness of Winchester who was assisted by Sir John Gage, her lord chamberlain. The sword of state was carried by the Earl of Derby and she was attended by a “great company of ladies and gentlewomen very richly appareled.” Philip for his part was attended by the great noblemen of his Spanish court (the Grandees) and other courtiers who “were richly attired that neither His Majesty’s nor his Highness’ court ever saw the like.”

0Mary I dress

Even the heavy rain could not offset the glorious spectacle that was witnessed by English and Spanish courtier, and other guests of honor alike. While pop culture has been unkind to Queen Mary (I) Tudor, it is important to remember that Mary was the first Queen Regnant and as such, she was the subject of many attacks. But she was not a love-sick girl or crazy fanatic. Her policies, although ruthless, reflected the grim reality of the period. And her marriage with Philip reflects her own independence. Before the wedding began, the Bishop of Winchester made a speech in which he reminded his Spanish guests about the marriage treaty which clearly stated that although Philip was Prince of Asturias and King of Naples, he would have little control over English affairs, unless he was given royal permission. He also added that the wedding had been approved by parliament and was done in accordance to the wishes of the realm.

Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England, Stephen Gardiner. Left (Tudors), right (Wolf Hall).
Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England, Stephen Gardiner. Left (Tudors), right (Wolf Hall).

“With a loud voice Gardiner said that, if there be any man that knoweth any lawful impediment between these two parties, that they should not go together according to the contract concluded between both realms, that they should come forth, and they should be heard.” Then he asked “in English and Latin” who should give the Queen away and the “Marchioness of Winchester, the Earls of Derby, Bedford and Pembroke” gave her away “in the name of the whole realm.”

Afterwards, they heard Mass then went to the Bishop’s Palace where they “dined most sumptuously together” and enjoyed the rest of the celebrations. Over the following weeks, it was reported by a Spaniard visiting the English court, that Mary and Philip appeared “the happiest couple in the world, more in love than words can say” adding that he never left her side “and when they are on the road he is ever by her side, helping her to mount and dismount.” Philip played his role to perfection, as did his wife. But as the weeks turned to months and these turned to years, it became evident that the couple was anything but happy.

Sources:

  • Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation and Murder by Leanda de Lisle

A Faithful Admonition to the Professors of God’s Truth in England

Queen Mary I of England, Ireland and France
Queen Mary I of England, Ireland and France

On July 20th, 1554, John Knox published a controversial pamphlet in which he not only denounced the Catholic Church and England’s first Queen Regnant, Mary (I) Tudor. The pamphlet titled “A Faithful Admonition to the Professors of God’s Truth in England” accused the Queen of being an “incestuous bastard” and compared her actions (of restoring the Catholic Mass) to those of Queen Jezebel. For those who can’t remember, Jezebel was the queen of the biblical King, Ahab. The prophet Elijah denounced her pagan ways and warned the King not to let her invite her priests to their land, but the King was so enchanted with her that he refused. So after her “reign of terror” began against the good God-fearing people of Israel, Elijah began plotting against her. One day he found the answer to his prayers by throwing her out the window. When she fell, the dogs came forward to lick her blood off her corpse. It was a gruesome end to this pagan queen.

John Know was the leading figure of the Evangelical movement in Scotland, he was a pupil of the late George Wishart who died for his beliefs in 1546, this event angered many in Scotland and led to Cardinal Beaton's brutal murder and left Knox as the leader of the movement.
John Know was the leading figure of the Evangelical movement in Scotland, he was a pupil of the late George Wishart who died for his beliefs in 1546, this event angered many in Scotland and led to Cardinal Beaton’s brutal murder and left Knox as the leader of the movement.

Clearly, John Knox was comparing himself to the prophet Elijah, and Mary to Jezebel. To many Protestants, the Catholics were pagans because they worshiped idols and people like Mary, had to be stopped. But there was also a misogynist element to it. Mary was the first woman to ever rule England –the only other woman who came this close was her ancestor, Lady Matilda. And because of this she was constantly under attack. When John Knox accused her of being another Jezebel, he said she was worse than the original pagan queen, because she (Jezebel) had “never erected half so many gallows in all of Israel, as mischievous as Mary has done in London alone.” And he went on to criticize her intended marriage with Philip of Spain (who coincidentally arrived on England that day), saying:

“Oh England! If you obstinately will return into Egypt:  That is, if you contract marriage, confederacy or league, with such princess as maintain and advance idolatry … if for the pleasure and friendship of such princes, you return to your old abominations, before used under the Popery, then assuredly, Oh England! You shall be plagued and brought to desolation by means of those whose favors you seek, and by whom you are procured to fall from Christ and to serve the Antichrist.”

Queen Jezebel
Queen Jezebel

Knox’s use of the bible was enough to scare any follower and turn them against their new Queen and her intended marriage with the Prince of Asturias and King of Naples. But as her father. Mary was determined to get her own way.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor byy Anna Whitelock