The Eve of Mary Tudor’s Coronation

Mary I Tudor

On the 30th of September 1553, Mary Tudor emerged from the Tower to begin her procession through London. Her journey began at 3’o clock in the afternoon. She was greeted with cheers from the thousands of people lining to see their new monarch. With her were her sister and her stepmother, the Ladies Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves. The Queen’s messengers came out first, followed by trumpeters, esquires of the body, the new Knights of the Bath who’d been invested the day before, heralds, bannerets, members of the Royal Council, Garter knights, and the rest of the nobility. These numbered about five hundred. The nobles were dressed for the occasion, wearing gold and silver, and on their mounts too “which caused great admiration, not more by the richness of the substance than by the novelty and elegance of the device.”

The ambassadors were also dressed for the occasion, and lined up behind the nobles; each of them were accompanied by a lord of the Privy Council. (The French ambassador for example rode alongside Paget, the Imperial Ambassador was accompanied by Lord Clinton. Renard and others rode with Lord Cobham). Other foreigners included the merchants, the Italian ones for example wore “suits of black velvet lined, beautifully trimmed with many points of gold and garnished all around with embroidery of more than a palm in width.” Spanish cavaliers (four in total) followed “attired in cloaks of mulberry colored velvet lined with cloth of silver, with a very fine fringe of gold all about.” Then came the heraldic symbols being carried by her courtiers. The Earl of Sussex, the chief server, carried her hat and cloak then “two ancient knights with old-fashioned hats, powdered on their heads, disguised,” which recalled the people of their country’s old glory when they held Normandy and Guienne. The Chancellor, the Lord Mayor carried the golden scepter, and finally the Earl of Arundel who carried Mary’s sword.

And then came the person for whom they were all cheering and were eager to see, the Queen-to-be herself, Mary Tudor. Coming out in a chariot “open on all sides save for the canopy, entirely covered with gold and horses trapped with gold.”

Linda Porter in her biography of Mary, writes that “she was a small but unmistakably superb figure”. Mary wore a “Gown of purple velvet, furred with powdered ermines, having on her head a caul of cloth of tinsel, beset with pearl and stone, and above the same upon her head a round circlet of gold, beset so richly with precious stone that the value thereof was inestimable.”

Purple was the color of royalty. Mary was the first female King in English history. She knew the power of imagery, so she made sure that her coronation was something that people would always remember. And on the eve of her coronation she spared no expense. One of the things that must also be said about this rich display of imagery is how the queen wanted to present herself to the people. Women in power were still an oddity. Even though her maternal grandmother, the indomitable Isabella Trastamara, had been a Queen in her own right in Castile; England never had such experience. The closest thing to a Queen Regnant they had had been in Matilda FitzEmpress and that ended in disaster. For many years her image was carried through the mud and it wasn’t until she was relegated to the position of King’s mother, and religious matron that she finally got the respect from her English peers. Mary was threading on very dangerous grounds. She knew that if she rode on horseback, as many kings had done before her, she would open the door to more criticism. So she opted for a middle path. One where she would be relegated to the image of queen consort, wearing her hair loose to symbolize her virginity, and ride on litters or carriages, but also one where she would make it clear that she was sovereign of her reign and her authority could not be challenged. Opting for color purple reaffirmed this.

Ladies, Elizabeth Tudor and Anne of Cleves from
Ladies, Elizabeth Tudor and Anne of Cleves from “The Tudors”.

Behind the Queen were her ladies which included the Marchioness of Exeter, the Duchess of Norfolk, the Countess of Arundely, and among many others her sister and stepmother. They were granted a special place, and as members of the royal family (especially Elizabeth) they were treated with great respect. Elizabeth’s new clothes were courtesy of her sister, she had sent her a lot of gifts and gowns so she could pick and choose what she wanted. She and Anne of Cleves both wore cloth of silver that matched the silver trappings of their carriage. Mary had not seen her sister in a long time and she probably wanted to re-establish the bond the two sisters had shared when Bess was a kid, but time –as the motto that Mary would adopt- would reveal to the new Queen, that there was no going back.

As her progress passed through many streets, she was greeted with pageants, salutations (one where a girl dressed as a woman was held up by two men sitting up in a chair so she could greet the queen), and acrobatics.

“The procession paused at Fenchchurh Street to see a costly pageant presented by the Genoese merchants –a triumphal arch inscribed with verses celebrating Mary’s accession, flanked by four great giants. At Gracechurch corner the Hanseatic merchants had set up an artificial mount and a little fountain spouting wine; by some mechanism a man “flew down from the top of the pageant as she rode by.” The most elaborate and flattering of the representations was that of the Florentines, who saluted Mary as “liberator of her country,” and pointedly compared her to the Hebrew heroine Judith who by beheading the tyrant Holofernes delivered her people from the threat of slavery. Holorfernes they meant Dudley, whose beheaded was still a recent memory. Mary was also compared to Pallas Athena, and an inscription told how her fame was so great it reached the stars … At the conduit in Cornhill was “a very pretty pageant made very gorgeously” in which three little girls dressed as women took the parts of Grace, Virtue and Nature. Grace wore a crown and carried a scepter, and when Mary rode by all three children “kneeled down, and everyone of them sang certain verses of gratifying the queen.”” (Erickson)

Once she reached St. Paul’s churchyard, she was greeted with more spectacle. Sir John Heywood who had praised her in the past, sat under a vine and delivered an oration in Latin and English that celebrated her upcoming coronation. There were also a choir of men and boys that sang for her, and then a pageant where children carried burning tapers “made of most sweet perfumes.”

After these ended, Mary called all her councilors and addressed them in a solemn manner:

“Sinking on her knees before them, she spoke at length of her coming to the throne, of the duties of kings and queens, her intention to acquit herself of the task God had been pleased to lay on her to His greater glory and service, to the public good and all her subjects’ benefit. She had entrusted her affairs and person, she said, to them, and wished to adjure them to do their duty as they were bound by their oaths; and she appealed especially to her Lord High Chancellor [Gardiner[, reminding him that he had the right of administration of justice on his conscience. Her councilors were so deeply moved that not a single one refrained from tears. No one knew how to answer, amazed as they were by this humble and lowly discourse, so unlike anything ever heard before in England, and by the queen’s great goodness and integrity.”

Mary Tudor resplandescent

This was a great contrast to their previous masters who had been extremely strict and straight forward. Mary was all of these things, but she also knew how to put a show, having learned from experience and observing many great women in their position behave with dignity and grace (most notoriously her mother, and no doubt the stories she must’ve heard from her about her grandmother Isabella, and her late governess, the Countess of Salisbury). She had been preparing for this role all her life. As Leanda de Lisle writes in her latest biography on the Tudors, she was “a warrior queen, established by God, by blood and by law” and she wasn’t going to disappoint. While she appeared merciful on the outside, she would prove to be just as firm as her ancestors.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock

Mary I takes possession of the Tower of London

Mary I Tudor tudor rose

On the 28th of September 1553 Mary, her sister, her stepmother and her cousin Margaret Douglas, departed from St. James Palace to Whitehall where they boarded the royal barge to the Tower of London. Mary was accompanied by the Lord Mayor of London “and the aldermen and all the companies in their barges with streamers and trumpets, and waits, shawmes and regals, together with great volley shots of guns, until Her Grace came into the Tower, and some time after.'”

Hans Holbein's Portrait of Anne of Cleves
As previously discussed, many of those around her were women. Her closest family members no doubt enjoyed the attention, especially her sister and cousin the ladies Elizabeth Tudor and Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox who had often been referred by Mary’s father as the ‘natural’ daughter of Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland. But now with her cousin on the throne, she was going to receive a better treatment than that of the previous reign and slowly, she would become one of Mary’s most trusted ladies.

Elizabeth Tudor Lady Princess w

As for Elizabeth, her sister had bought clothes for her. In spite of her illegitimate state, which she still viewed her, she wanted everyone to know that she was her sister and most importantly the daughter of their late father and king, Henry VIII, and as such she would be placed above other ladies.

Two days later the sisters, cousin, and their stepmother would emerge for the pre-coronation celebrations and the following day Mary would be crowned Queen, becoming the first Queen of England.

Mary Tudor coronation engraving painting

There is a lot of opinions regarding whether Mary was just a puppet or a true politician in every sense of the word and the truth was that she was. In Porter’s words “The picture of Mary as a woman who had little grasp of what was going on, who could not work with her politicians is entirely false. From the very beginning, the queen had a clear idea of what she wanted to do and the utter determination to achieve it. She never, even when unwell, shrank from the business of government, and she knew that she must draw on the experience of the men who had tried to deprive her of her throne. Without thier expertise nothing could function.” Furthermore, she was outright mad when Scheyfve and Renard advised her not to trust the lady Elizabeth and banish her from court. They didn’t believe in any of Elizabeth’s excuses for not attending mass, but Mary never wavered in her judgment which proved bad in the end, but her firm opposition to them in this and other matters proves that she was her own person and determined not to be influenced by anyone.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Bloody Mary by Carolly Erickson
  • Mary Tudor by David Loades

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

Behind the Scenes: The Christening of Princess Elizabeth

Anne Boleyn & her daughter

Princess Elizabeth Tudor was christened on the tenth of September 1533, three days after her birth. Her mother was Queen Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second spouse. And although some sources reported that it was with “great regret” that they welcomed their daughter into the world, the couple tried to remain positive with Henry VIII stating that he and his wife “are both young and by God’s grace, sons will follow.” It was the best they could do of a bad situation.

In her book, Antonia Fraser, states that it would have been much better for Anne and her stepdaughter, if she had given birth to a son. With a son in the Tudor cradle the pope and the rest of Catholic Europe, would have been forced to recognize the marriage. And it is highly likely, given that Spain was constantly looking to England as an ally against their ancestral enemy, France; he would have found a form of reconciling with his former uncle. As for the Lady Mary; with a brother in the cradle and the rest of Europe recognizing him as her father’s true heir, she would no longer be seen as a threat anymore and it’s very possible that she would have been married to a loyal noble or an impoverished royal or second son in due time.

Of course, this is all speculation, but given how urgent it was for Henry and Anne to have a son, these outcomes seem highly likely.

Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII

Following his daughter’s birth, Henry cancelled the joust and the letters announcing her birth had to be added an extra ‘s’ for Princess. What made up for their disappointment was the princess’ health. This was a good sign for some, and proof that Anne could sire healthy children.

Prior to her christening, the rivalry between Anne and Katherine intensified when she demanded that she hand over the christening cloth she’d used for her firstborn son [Henry, Duke of Cornwall]. Naturally, Katherine refused. That cloth had been brought by Spain, it was hers and it also held a sentimental value. She was not about to give it up declaring that the mere suggestion of it was “horrible and abominable”.

Anne must have been angered, but in the end it didn’t matter because as Queen, she could have anything she wanted, so a new cloth was made.

The ceremony started very early.

“The heralds carried their tabards. Attendants and serving men bore unlighted torches. Lords and ladies carried the equipment needed for the ceremony: a gold cellar of salt, for the exorcism of the child; great silver gilt basins in which the godparents could wash off traces of the holy oil with which the child was anointed; a chrisom-cloth, to be bound over the crown of the baby’s head after she had been anointed with chrisom; and a taper, to be lit after the baptism was completed.” (Starkey)

Elizabeth was carried into the church by one of her godparents, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Her other godparents, Thomas Cranmer [Archbishop of Canterbury] and the Marchioness of Exeter were close by. The Bishop of London officiated the ceremony, christening the little Princess Elizabeth; and when it was over, she was returned to her mother who received her “joyfully lying on her great French bed with the King by her side.”

Elizabeth-I_Rainbow-Portrait

There was a lot of talk regarding her birth, and what Henry felt. Chapuys was no stranger to gossip and was the one who wrote that the couple felt very disappointed with their daughter’s gender. It would be very naïve to think that they weren’t, but as time went on, Anne showed that she was very committed to her child as her rival had been of hers; and just as Katherine, her faith become a major part of her life –taking refuge in it.

Ironically, Henry’s quest for an ‘ideal’ marriage and a son to make his dynasty be remembered, wouldn’t be accomplished by a son or another marriage, but rather by a daughter; and her refusal to wed.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

It’s a girl! Gloriana is born

Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth
On the 7th of September 1533, Queen Anne Boleyn gave birth to a daughter she named Elizabeth, at Greenwich, the Palace of Placentia.
Anne had gone to her confinement a month earlier, confident that she was going to give birth to a son. An astrologer had made this prediction and no one had any reasons to doubt it. However, Anne would suffer many pains before her labor began.
Months prior to Elizabeth’s birth, Anne had been jealous and complained to Henry about courting other ladies, to which Henry replied that she would have to ‘endure as other worthy persons’ had done before her. In this, he meant his first wife Katherine of Aragon, and possibly his grandmother Elizabeth Woodville who had never raised her voice against her second husband, the first Yorkist King Edward IV’s indiscretions.
There had been many speculations as to what devices Anne used to bring herself comfort, if she believed as those before her had believed, in trinkets and talismans. Given her Evangelical faith, some have said that seems very unlikely, but given this was only 1533 and the Reformation was fairly new and it would be very difficult for its earliest members to disassociate themselves from the practices they’d grown into, it is more likely that she did. Her bedroom was hung with tapestries depicting St. Ursula and her army of virgins and other religious figures that had adorned the chambers of many other queens before her. Starkey and Licence are of the mind she did use medallion to invoke the power of saints to aid her in her difficult labor. She had an army of midwives and ladies ready to attend her, the former would dip their hands in animal fat and other natural oils to smooth the passage of the baby from its mother womb to her legs. The labor turned out to be less difficult and a daughter, contrary to what was predicted -and hoped for-, was born on the seventh of September at 3 o’ clock.
The girl was named after both her grandmothers, Lady Elizabeth Boleyn nee Howard and Elizabeth of York, Henry’s mother and the first Tudor Queen.
Although Chapuys reported that the couple were disappointed of their child’s sex, when Henry entered her chambers he showed no such emotion, and said to his wife: “You and I are both young and by God’s grace, sons will follow.” An ‘s’ had to be added to the pamphlets advertising her birth (originally they had contained the word ‘Prince’). Te Deums were sung in churches and preparations were being made for her Christening at the Church of the Observant Friars (where her sister had also been Christened).

Elizabeth Tudor would face the same fate as her older sister. She would be bastardized, her mother beheaded and for many years, nobody would think of her as a threat, or anything more than a nuisance. However this ‘bastard’ girl would become one of the smartest and most cunning women in the realm; and she would have as a role model another great woman: Katherine Parr.

“In observing Katherine Parr as regent and queen consort, Elizabeth learned a good deal about how women could think for themselves and govern. She greatly admired her stepmother’s literary output and clearly discussed religious ideas with her when they met, which was not nearly often enough for Elizabeth’s liking.“ (Porter)

Besides that, Elizabeth would face many other obstacles which would toughen her resolve to survive and to step up to the plate that she was born to, as Queen of England. To this day, Elizabeth continues to divide historians. Was she as good as they say? Or was it all lies, part of her propaganda machine? The answer isn’t clear. Elizabeth was as cunning, conniving and as ruthless as any other monarch in her time, but she was also a pragmatist who continued with some of her sister’s monetary policies, while opting for a middle ground. Instead of being wholly Protestant, she chose a grayer path. Not many were happy with her policies whoever, and like those before her, she had to face many rebellions. Yet, her reign became one of the most successful of the Tudor period, and the age she lived in even carries her name “Elizabethan” and the myth of the “Golden Age” continues to this day.

Sources:

  • Elizabeth the Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • Boleyn Women by Elizabeth Norton
  • In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter

The Death of Queen Dowager and Baroness of Sudeley, Katherine Parr

Catherine Parr Tudors historical

On the 5th of September 1548, the Queen Dowager, Katherine Parr, died of puerperal fever, at Sudeley Castle. Six days prior she’d given birth to her daughter, Mary Seymour, which she named after her eldest royal stepdaughter.

Following the birth, she became feverish and in her delirium she claimed: “Those that are about me care not for me” referring to her husband, Thomas Seymour, Baron of Sudeley, who was by her side, comforting her the entire time. Jane Grey and other ladies were also with her, reading her the scriptures.

Katherine Parr as Henry's sixth wife according to Amy Licence was more than just a 'nurse' to Henry. She
Katherine Parr as Henry’s sixth wife according to Amy Licence “was a good catch.  At almost thirty-one, she was experienced and wise […]” and according to John Foxe, she possessed “rare gifts of nature, as singular beauty, favor and a comely personage; things wherein the king was delighted’. Ambassador Chapuys  described her before his leave on May 1545 as “worthy of her position”.

Historian Amy Licence theorizes she could have been infected after the birth by the midwives’ unclean hands which would have made possible the passage of bacteria to her body. (The lack of hygiene during childbirth was not uncommon. If she had lived through the same ordeal now she would have been treated right away and saved but as it was, the only medicine then was based on plants and folklore beliefs that Katherine, given her extensive knowledge of the former would have known very well. It is not known if he midwives or she used any of these methods. In any case it was too late, the fever spread rapidly and claimed her on the morning of September fifth).
Her husband was grief-stricken, unable to believe that she was gone that he later said: “I was so amazed that I had small regard to either myself or to my doings”.

Katherine was buried days later with full pomp and ceremony. Jane Grey acted as her chief mourner, walking behind her coffin with Lady Elizabeth Tilney carrying the long train. Katherine Parr was the first Royal to have a Protestant Funeral. Miles Coverdale headed the funeral which was in English and concluded it with the following eulogy:

“A beautous daughter blessed her arms,
An infant copy of her parents’ charms.
When now seven days this tender flower had bloomed
Heaven in its wrath the mother’s soul resumed
Our loyal breast with rising sighs are torn,
With saints she triumphs, we with mortals mourn.”

Thomas Seymour. Brash, impatient, he aspired everything too soon and that led to his death.
Thomas Seymour. Brash, impatient, he aspired everything too soon and that led to his death.


Her husband and daughter did not survive her for long. Sudeley was arrested at his house while entertaining a guest, and sent to Tower under charges of treason. He was found guilty and beheaded on March 20 1549. Afterwards, their daughter was given over to Catherine Brandon nee Willoughby, Duchess Dowager of Suffolk in whose care she probably died as she disappears from the records a year after.
Despite leaving everything to her husband, the Protectorate took her wealth and this made Sudeley angry, and he ended up conspiring with the Marquises of Dorset (Henry Grey) and Northampton (William Parr -Katherine’s brother), against his brother. The Duchess Dowager of Suffolk begged the Council many times to help her with her charge’s finances but they never took her pleas seriously until 1550 when Katherine Parr’s wealth was given back to her daughter, but by then she was probably sick or dying because she is never mentioned again.

Katherine Parr has gone down pop culture as Henry’s nurse and staunch Reformer but she was so much more than that. She and Mary I’s mother were the only two of Henry’s wives who served as Regents during his absence, and they were two of the most learned women in England who caused great impact on their respective faiths and both were known for being kind and generous. Eustace Chapuys before he left England on the summer 1545, commented that out of all of Henry’s Queens, with the exception of Katherine of Aragon, Katherine Parr was the only one who was worthy of her position. She was a good friend with Mary I, who was encouraged by her to translate one of the gospels of the New Testament and who followed her wherever she went.

Sources:

  • In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence
  • Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of of Katherine Parr, the Last Wife of Henry VIII by Linda Porter
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle

Daughter of Tragedy: The Birth of Margaret Pole

Margaret Pole

Margaret Pole was born at Farleigh Hungerford Castle in Bath on the 14th of August in 1473. Her parents were George Plantagenet -the younger brother of Edward IV- and Isabel Neville -the eldest daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, better known as the “Kingmaker”. As a daughter of York, Margaret Plantagenet was entitled to a life of privilege, however her mother’s sudden death in childbirth and her father’s arrest and execution (after he took the law by his own hands and punished two of his servants whom he suspected had been bribed by the Woodvilles to poison his wife) changed everything. Even before Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond became King; Margaret’s position was very delicate. Her custody, along with that of her brother, was given to Anthony Woodville. After Richard became King, he and her brother were placed under a new protective custody. Although Richard III was the youngest brother, Margaret and her brother Edward, Earl of Warwick were barred from the line of succession since their father had died as a traitor.

George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville in
George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville in “The White Queen”

Nevertheless, Margaret enjoyed a comfortable living. Had Richard not died, it is safe to speculate that he might have married either one to one of his loyal subjects to neutralize possible threats? Perhaps to someone of lower rank whom he knew would not use their spouses’ positions to incite rebellion. With limited data, it is impossible to know for sure. But with Anne Neville being very protective of her father’s legacy and highly popular in the North, it is very plausible that he showed more affection towards them than to his other nieces and nephews.

Margaret was the only one of her siblings to live to old age. During Henry VII’s reign she was married to Sir Richard Pole. The marriage was a happy one, and the couple had many children. Her brother was not so lucky. Being one of the Plantagenet males, Henry was fearful that he could be used against him as he  was used against Richard III, so he placed him in the Tower of London. He remained there until his execution in 1499, after he was implicated in a plot with the pretender Perkin Warbeck.

There is no record of what Margaret felt or if she was present for his execution. Probably not. Given all that she had been through, she could say very little for fear of upsetting the new regime. Oddly enough, his death was also the result of the King of Aragon’s insistence. His youngest daughter, Katherine, was betrothed to the Prince of Wales. Henry needed this marriage to secure his dynasty. Ferdinand felt that the Tudors would never be secure on the throne as long as one of the Yorkist males with a stronger claim lived.

Katherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor in
Katherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor in “The Tudors”

Regardless of this, Margaret became a good friend of the Spanish Princess since her arrival until her death. As a reward for her friendship, she was awarded the Earldom of Salisbury, becoming Countess in her own right. In 1538 however she and several members of her family were implicated in the Exeter plot and three years she was executed in one of the most gruesome scenes in Tudor history. As Lady Mary Tudor’s governess, the Countess influenced her in more ways than one and the former Princess never forgot about her and neither did she. During her execution, Margaret’s last words were about the King, his son and of course, her former charge, the Lady Mary.

Sources:

  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
  • Tudor by Leanda de Lisle

Elizabeth I’s Glorious Speech at Tilbury

Elizabeth I armada

On the 9th of August 1588 Queen Elizabeth I delivered the speech that has catapulted her to fame. It has been recreated many times in pop culture: movies, TV, and the literary genre. But until you read the real thing, you realize the full impact of her words and how smart she was at presenting herself as England’s rightful monarch:

Elizabeth Blanchett

“My loving people, we have been persuaded by some, that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes for fear of treachery, but I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful, and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself, that under God I have placed my chief strength, and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects. And therefore I am come amongst you as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport; but being resolved in the midst, and heat of the battle to live, or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my Honour, and my blood even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and of a King of England too. And think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my Realm, to which rather than any dishonor should grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your General, Judge, and Rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field”

There was no battle on English soil that day as it had been feared. The Spanish ships continued to sail North, getting hit by more bad weather. While Elizabeth I’s speech is impressive it is also reminiscent of her sister’s, England first regnant Queen, Mary I, and in more ways than one, Elizabeth’s predecessor. Mary I’s speech at the onset of the Wyatt rebellion is so similar where she swears she will give her life for her country and as Tudor biographer Lisle points out: “She had already negotiated an inspection of her troops highly successfully” and the year before “when Mary was poised to take her crown from the Jane Grey, she had ridden ‘out from Framlingham Castle to muster and inspect the most splendid and loyal army’. A contemporary described Mary’s troops drawn up in battle line … She was mounted on a white horse and the men feel on their knees as she approached.”

Elizabeth R 124 copy
This by no means downplays Elizabeth’s success; as her sister, Elizabeth knew the importance of imagery and that day she was described as “armed Pallas” and compared to the warring goddess Athena. This doesn’t mean she was clothed in full armor as depicted in below from the movie “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”. It was simply an allusion to her manner of speech and behavior during this time. Elizabeth wore traditional clothing with her ladies also dressed traditionally “in diamonds and cloth of gold”. And there was another figure we have to thank for Elizabeth’s success besides Mary I, her last stepmother Katherine Parr who in Porter’s words Bess “learned a good deal about how women could think for themselves and govern”. With these women as her examples, Elizabeth rode fearlessly to inspect her troops and gave one of the best speeches of her life. Though she was a woman, she said, she had the heart of a King and by saying these words she kept conventional wisdom that women’s place was by her father or husband’s side or at the home, while also maintaining the Anglican mantra that as monarch she was the head of the church and therefore God had called to her to do a special job, one she could not ignore. Like in her coronation when she presented herself as Deborah, the female warrior of the bible, Elizabeth was presenting herself both as a woman, aware of her place, but also as a monarch and head of the church who would put God and country first.
Just a sidenote: In the new calendar, the speech is on the 19th. The English did not begin to use the new calendar until much later so some historians often have problems setting the dates, however I decided to mention this as it is very important when studying this period.
Sources:
  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • The Life and Times of Elizabeth I by Alison Weir
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

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