Book Review: Los Grandes – Maria Tudor

Maria tudor los grandes

El libro es mas que otra biografia sobre “Maria la Sanguinaria” como es mejor recordada. Esta biografia es acerca de la Maria historica. Una mujer que nacio en el Palacio de Greenwich en 1516, fue la unica hija que les sobrevivio a sus padres, Enrique VIII y su primera esposa, la Infanta Española Catalina de Aragon. Maria crecio mimada y con un futuro resplandeciente. Su madre era la hija de los Reyes Catolicos y por lo tanto esperaba que su hija heredara el trono de su padre. Sin embargo, la dinastia Tudor era bastante nueva e Inglaterra no tenia bien visto la idea de una Reina gobernante. Maria recibio una educacion de lujo pero esta fue suspendida una vez que Enrique se caso con Ana Bolena, declaro su matrimonio con Catalina nulo, y su hija una bastard.
El libro no excusa las acciones de Maria, pero tampoco da excusas para los otras personas que la rodearon. El siglo XVI era una epoca violenta, mas por los guerras religiosas entre varios grupos Protestantes y Catolicos, y tambien entre el Cristianismo y el Islam. Los autores no buscan dar una nueva interpretacion de Maria, si no reportar los hechos tal y como sucedieron, y presentar su mundo tal y como era. Y a Maria como una mujer que sufrio varias decepciones, las cuales influyeron en su decision de quemar varios Protestantes una vez que ella se volvio Reina. Aunque esto no fue de inmediato, no fue tan popular como se pensaba que iba a ser. Inglaterra estaba cambiando, y su decision de casarse con un hombre once años mas joven que ella, que no fue aceptado por el simple hecho de ser un extranjero, le trajeron muchos problemas. Felipe II, una vez que su padre abdico en su favor en 1556, tuvo menos interes en responder las cartas de su esposa o visitarla.
El libro termina con unas notas tristes, pero duras en cuanta a la vida de esta monarca. Claramente, ponerla como una incompredida heroina y angelita no le hace ningunos favores, pero exagerar su imagen y creer en todo lo negativo (mucho de lo cual era eso: exageracion) tampoco es bueno.

Los Grandes sigue siendo de las mejores ediciones de biografias historicas. No esperaba que me iba a gustar, pero me gusto porque a pesar de estar corta, el libro da a conocer todas los detalles importantes acerca de esta monarca. Tiene una buena documentacion y a la vez entretiene.

The EXECUTION of Mary, Queen of Scots

Janet Kennedy blindfolding Mary, Queen of Scots. Painted by Abel de Pujol. 19th century.
Janet Kennedy blindfolding Mary, Queen of Scots. Painted by Abel de Pujol. 19th century.

Mary Queen of Scots was executed on the eighth of February at Fortheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire. Mary had been found guilty of the famous “Casket Letters” in which she allegedly conspired to kill her royal cousin, Elizabeth, thus committing regicide. She was also guilty in the eyes of many of killing her second husband and cousin, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley. However it is important to note that her mother in law who initially believed she was guilty, no longer did and before her death, nine years before Mary’s execution, she wrote to Elizabeth and Cecil asking for clemency. Margaret Douglas was buried with royal honors, as a Princess. One of the last jewels she commissioned featured her grandson (Mary’s son) with his hands raised out to the sun and two crowns being placed on him which symbolized the crown of Scotland which he already had after his mother had been forced to abdicate on July 1567, and the other was of England, which he would eventually inherit after Elizabeth’s death.

MQS pink young

“This was the last captive princess of romance, the dowager queen of France, the exiled queen of Scotland, the heir to the English throne and (there must have been some among the silent witnesses who thought so), at this very moment, if she had her rights, England’s lawful queen. This was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. For a moment she held all their eyes, then she sank back into the darkness of her chair and turned her grave inattention to her judges, She was satisfied that her audience would look at no one else.” (Mattingly)

There have been many movies and historical fiction about Mary, but none have come any closer to understanding the real Queen of Scots. Mary was a very tragic figure, born in a turbulent time when the wars of religion were starting to tear her country apart, she was orphaned when she was less than two months old and crowned less than a year later with many Regents, including her mother. Marie de Guise was from the prominent de Guise family who many saw as “upstarts” and eyed with suspicion. At one point they conspired to marry their widowed daughter to the King of England who showed a strong interest in her. Mary’s mother had given birth to two healthy baby boys, and that was enough to attract the King of England, her uncle. But the King of France wisely chose to stall their ambitions and instead turn them to another suitor. The King of Scots. Scotland is seen as a backwards country in contrast to the greater countries of England, France and Spain but this can’t be further from the truth. Under the last three Stewarts, Scotland prospered greatly and became a center of culture, architectural greatness and a beacon of patronage for intellectuals. Mary’s parents always traveled the countryside. James V like his ancestors, made sure that the people knew him and had personal contact with him. This was a great contrast to the Kings of England who would normally processed and greet their people on important occasions and then go back to their usual routines. Mary, being her father’s daughter, followed the same protocol, but she was less successful. By the time that Mary returned to Scotland, shortly after Francois II’s death, she returned to a different country. The political and religious landscape had changed. Scotland had been overtaken by new religious and radical thinkers who advocated for a separate church, and national unity, forsaking Scottish identity in favor of an English one. Although Elizabeth and her councilors are credited to using religion to create dissent in Mary’s kingdom; she was not the first one. Henry VIII was the first one to pursue this policy, so did his son under the Protectorate of his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. Then his sister ascended the throne and although she was Catholic, she still used religion as a way to undermine Mary’s mother’s regency and coax many of the country’s Catholics, including those that were undecided to rebel against Marie de Guise’ rule. When Elizabeth I came to the throne, the work had been half-done for her, she was just there to finish what the others started.

Mary and Darnley’s marriage was disastrous and although she had reasons to get rid of him, so did others whom he had angered with his brash behavior. Both she and Danrley were descendants of Henry VII through their eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland. Mary descended from her first marriage to James IV of Scotland and Darnley through her second to the Earl of Angus. The only saving grace was their son, James VI who was born in June 1566. Her decision to marry her captor, the Earl of Borthwell has puzzled historians for centuries. Some have used it as proof that she was incapable of ruling, and that she thought of herself a woman more than she did a Queen. This mirrors closely the film that was done about her where she was played by Vanessa Redgrave, which portrayed her as exactly that –as a vulnerable and indecisive individual. And yet, these historians and producers ignore the many other tragic events in her life that led her to make such a decision. In an age where female virtue was everything, Queens could not afford to admit they had been raped. If they had, this could be used against them by their enemies who would use it to discredit them. Unfortunately for Mary, it soon became common knowledge. Everyone had spread the word that when she sought to escape, Bothwell had routed her and with an army bigger than her own, she had limited choices. She could defy him and she and her women would die, or likely be raped, or she could agree to his terms.

MQS Black

“Bothwell’s views on female rulers were, like those of some of his fellow nobles, much closer in private to the bigoted public utterances of John Knox. Bothwell’s rape of Mary proved her weakness and her agreement to marry him, as many Scottish and Northern English heiresses who had been similarly kidnapped and raped could attest, was inevitable … His marriage to Mary took place according to Protestant rites in a muted and brief ceremony in Holyrood House, conducted by the bishop of Orkney on 15 May … the French ambassador du Croc noted her deep depression.” (Porter)

Given how many of her friends described their marriage, it was likely that he had taken her by force first and ashamed of her condition, she was forced to wed him. Not long after she also found that she was pregnant. Had she not done this, she would have been worse treated by a society where already condemned her for being a female monarch. Mary eventually escaped and won some victories but decided to go back to England, naively thinking that her royal cousin would help her regain her throne. That decision sealed her fate and the rest as they say is history.

On Wednesday morning, on the eighth of February, Mary walked out from her small chambers to the private Hall.

“Elizabeth had instructed that Mary die in the privacy of the hall …. But Elizabeth ordered that the Queen of Scots be denied her request for her servants to accompany her.” (Lisle)

Elizabeth did not want to make a martyr out of her royal cousin. She had been reluctant to sign her death warrant; she did not want others to talk about her death and make her out to look like a victim because that would have made her feel guiltier. Yet Mary was not going to give her fellow monarch that satisfaction. She chose to wear as (ironically) Elizabeth’s mother had done for her execution, a red petticoat which symbolized martyrdom. “Far meaner persons than myself have not been denied so small a favor” she told the Earls of Kent and Shrewsbury before they led her to the Hall.

Samantha Morton as Mary, Queen of Scots in Elizabeth the Golden Age.
Samantha Morton as Mary, Queen of Scots in Elizabeth the Golden Age.

Her last words after she was blindfolded were: “In te Domine confide, nonconfundar in aeternum” (In you Lord is my trust, let me never be confounded). The executioners were largely inexperienced and also crude, and roughly pushed her head against the block and then the Earl of Shrewsbury gave the signal. In the words of her physician, they “butchered her like those with which they cut wood”. Thus ended the life of the Queen of Scots, as tragically as when it began.


  • Tudors vs Stewars: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • On this Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The True Life of Mary Stuart: Queen of Scots by John Guy
  • Mary, Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser
  • Tudor. Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • Armada by Garrett Mattingly

10 January 1480: Margaret of Austria is born

Margaret of Austria was born on January 10th 1480 to Mary Duchess of Burgundy and Maximilian Habsburg. As such she and her brother were the most sought-out brides and grooms.
Margaret of Austria was born on January 10th 1480 to Mary Duchess of Burgundy and Maximilian Habsburg. As such she and her brother were the most sought-out brides and grooms.

On this day in history Margaret of Austria was born. She was youngest sister of Philip “the handsome”. Her parents were Mary Duchess of Burgundy and Maximilian Habsburg. As a result, she was one of the most sought-out brides. Both she and her brother grew under the supervision of their step-grandmother Margaret of York, Duchess Dowager of Burgundy who had married Charles “The Bold” their grandfather in 1468. After he died, their mother had become the ruling Duchess but greedy nobles sought to ally themselves to France and France itself, believed that it could take advantage of the situation and claim Burgundy for his own but to the surprise of everyone, Margaret proved to be made of sterner stuff. Her father’s daughter after all, she took charge of the duchy and arranged for her stepdaughter’s marriage to none other than Maximilian. (Previously, there had been talks to marry her to France, and her older brother, George Duke of Clarence after he had become a widower. Edward IV opposed this match and proposed his brother in law, Lord Rivers instead. Though Margaret was fond of Anthony, having chaperoned her to Burgundy when she went to marry Charles, and staying with him before her visit to England in 1480 concluded ; and sharing a passion for letters, religion and the arts; she felt that he was not the ideal choice for her stepdaughter who was after all one of the most sought out royals.)

“The duchy of Burgundy was rich in trade and culture. It had also once been huge, originally straddling much of the northeastern France and most of what we now think of as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Geography alone made Burgundy and France uneasy neighbors…” (Fox)

Mary of Burgundy unfortunately died in 1482 when Margaret (named after her step-grandmother) was only two and her brother three. Her death left Margaret of York in a weak position since she believed she was better equipped to be regent for her step-grandson who was now Duke of Burgundy but her stepson-in-law won the upper hand and with little support from her brother Edward IV who had signed a treaty with France at the time, Margaret had no choice but to see her beloved new home be signed over to the French. But luckily for her, her step-granddaughter’s betrothal to Louis XI’s son Charles did not last. Maximilian was then kidnapped and had to be ransomed, and although the two reached a truce and split their duties, ruling the duchy in the name of Philip; Margaret Habsburg was sent to France so she could be reared to become the future Queen of France. However once Charles became King, he abandoned the match in favor of Anne of Brittany and Margaret was returned to Burgundy along with her dowry (which included some of the lands that had been ceded to France) and her education was once again under the supervision of her indomitable step-grandmother.

Around this time, the 1490s, Margaret and her brother became betrothed to King and Queen of Aragon and Castile’s offspring, Juan and Juana. While Juana was sent abroad to marry Philip, Juana was sent to Spain to marry her charming husband, Juan, the heir of the Catholic Kings.

Philip "the Handsome" and Margaret of Austria
Philip “the Handsome” and Margaret of Austria

“It was these children [Margaret and Philip] who Ferdinand and Isabella thought would be suitable partners for Juan and Juana … Conveniently sited on France’s doorstep, Burgundy was a promising ally for Spain, and Maximilian hoped to count on formidable support should the French attack those lands that remained.” (Fox)

In addition, Margaret was asked to help her youngest sister in law whom she instantly formed a friendship with, Katherine of Aragon, to practice her French since Elizabeth of York advised the Queen of Castile that it would be easier for their offspring to communicate .

“In July 1498, the Spanish ambassador reported, “The Queen and the mother of the King wish that the Princess of Wales [Catherine] should always speak French with the Princess Margaret who is now in Spain, in order to learn the language, and to be able to converse in it when she comes to England. This is necessary, because these ladies do not understand Latin, and much less, Spanish.” (Gristwood)

The match was a happy one.  It was later said that Juan who was always weak, died because of the number of times the couple had sex. This is likely false, but at the time it was believed that too much sex could weigh down on the couple, especially on a young man. After Juan’s death, the Catholic Kings were devastated since he was their only son. They made Margaret stay since she was not Dowager Princess of Asturias and was pregnant wit their grandchild. Unfortunately the child was a stillborn girl. Margaret returned home, devastated. However she soon recovered, putting on a brave face for her brother and his wife Juana whom she seemed to be good friends with. But Juana unlike Margaret who had enjoyed a happy (albeit short) union with her brother; did not have that luxury wit Margaret’s brother. Philip was not only abusive but he also sent home more than eighty of her servants after she became his wife and locked her up and had one of his former nannies and governesses abuse her by giving her complete mastery over his wife’s household. He cut back on her expenses and at one point, even Isabella of Castile was worried that he could be physically abusing her though Juana was careful not to say anything to her mother’s confessor.
In spite of this, the couple had many children and Margaret was present during her nephew Charles’ christening and presided over many of the ceremonies celebrating his birth.

Her second (third if you count her betrothal to Charles before he was King) marriage was to the Duke Philibert of Savoy. There she became an influential figure, the one she has come to be known by now. At Mechelen she established a great court and was known for being a great religious matron and matron of the arts and letters as her step-grandmother and namesake had been.

When he died in 1504, she continued to rule his dukedom and two years later when her brother died, she took up the mantle of Charles’ protector and Regent. As one of the most learned women of her day, she held one of the greatest European courts in Savoy in the renovated palace of Mechelen. Anne Boleyn was sent there in 1513 to be part of her household. And it was here where Anne first learned about refinement and started her education; but she was eventually recalled by her father after England had severed its ties from Spain temporarily in favor of France.

In Isabel, Margaret of Austria is portrayed as a vivacious, well-intentioned young woman who wins the hearts of everyone. This is not very far from the real Margaret who was known to be very charming and elegant.
In Isabel, Margaret of Austria is portrayed as a vivacious, well-intentioned young woman who wins the hearts of everyone. This is not very far from the real Margaret who was known to be very charming and elegant.

Margaret died in November 30, 1530 at the age of fifty.


  • Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood
  • Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox
  • The Anne Boleyn Files and On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Freelance History Writer blog