Jane Seymour: The Death of the Phoenix and the Beginning of Myth

Jane Seymour tomb and depictions

On the 24th of October 1537, twelve days after she’d given birth to Prince Edward, Jane Seymour died of puerperal fever at Hampton Court Palace. She was buried on St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle on the 12th of the following month with Henry joining her ten years later. Despite the lack of monumental greatness that Henry had planned for the two of them, their tombs is marked by a simple slab on the floor telling indicating their resting place.

In popular fiction, Jane has gone down as ‘other woman’ or the ‘submissive’ antithesis of Anne Boleyn –Anne being a shrew and Katherine, being old and overtly pious. But the truth behind the myth of Jane Seymour lie in her actions and the few occasions where she displayed acts of rebelliousness that had characterized her predecessors. Although recent studies have rehabilitated her predecessors, there has been very little to rehabilitate Jane, and this is largely because Jane is perceived as the boring one, the tool, the young Ophelia with no thought or will of her own –who was manipulated by her family- and in some occasions, as the woman who stepped over Anne and –as a consequence- had her hands stained with her blood. Agnes Strickland’s biography on the Queens of England, spends a large portion talking about Anne’s death while at the same time telling what clothes Jane must be picking the day her predecessor was going to her death.

In reality, as one women’s historian put it in her biography on the six wives, Jane had no more freedom than Anne. Could any woman, she asks, have said no to Henry? The answer is of course no. In his biography on Katherine Howard (whose motto of ‘No Other Will but His’ resembles Jane’s ‘Bound to Obey and Serve’) Conor Byrne highlights the sexual and honor politics that are central when it comes to studying this period. It was in the interest of every woman to find a good husband, not just because it was acceptable but also because of what it could bring to their families.

Jane Seymour (Wallis) and Henry VIII (Meyers) in
Jane Seymour (Wallis) and Henry VIII (Meyers) in “The Tudors” s3.

A marriage of that caliber that was proposed to Jane by the King was too good of an offer to refuse. As her predecessor, she would have recognized the benefits that this would mean for her family. And she wasn’t wrong. As soon as she married the King, her eldest brother (who had already distinguished himself since his early career fighting in the first phase of the Italian Wars in the 1520s and being knighted by the Duke of Suffolk around the time, as well as earning and buying important governmental positions) was created Viscount of Beauchamp and Hache, and not only that but Jane stood as godmother for his son. Three days after Prince Edward’s christening, he was elevated to Earl of Hertford and it was around this time that Jane started to feel very ill.

Given how dangerous childbirth was, and that many women had gone through similar ordeals, the fact that she was growing tired, wasn’t that much of a red flag to anybody as she soon recovered. But on the twenty third she suffered her last relapse and this time it became clear to everybody that she wasn’t going to make it. Suffering from child-bed fever, her chamberlain Lord Rutland reported that she was going to be better thanks to “a natural laxe” but this didn’t last.

“The doctors told Henry that if she survived the vital crisis hours that day she would definitely recover. Henry remained with her to the end” William Seymour writes, while Antonia Fraser adds in her biography on the six wives, that Henry had planned a hunting trip to Esher that day but put it off after hearing the news of his wife’s illness. John Russell wrote to Cromwell later on saying that “if she amend not, he told me this day, he could not find it in his heart to tarry.”

But despite the comfort of having her husbaand stay, it didn’t stop the inevitable. Her confessor arrived early on the twenty fourth to prepare the sacrament, and Jane exhaling her last breath, died a little before midnight that same day.

Masses were held to pray for “the soul of our most gracious Queen”. After her death, most of her possessions were bequeathed to her ladies and stepdaughters (the main beneficiary being Mary) and some other jewels went to her younger brothers, Thomas and Henry.

“Could any female subject really give Henry a decisive refusal?” ~Amy Licence, Six Wives and the many Mistresses of Henry VIII p.211

And while it has been previously stated that Jane’s true self can be seen by some of her actions, some might still choose not to believe this, opting instead for the image of the dull, conniving, or innocent traitor. But the truth is that Jane was a woman of her times, one that didn’t have the connections that her first predecessor (Katherine of Aragon) had. If she said ‘no’ to the King, then she wouldn’t have become Queen which would mean that her family would have never benefited, which means that Henry would have looked elsewhere to replace Anne (and that woman would now be in Jane’s position, falling under harsh scrutiny, and likely blamed for her predecessor’s downfall). More importantly what characterizes Jane is not the image that Henry wanted everybody to remember, but rather the image she crafted for herself. As her mother-in-law, she was everything that a consort was ought to be, and everything she knew she had to be in order to survive. If Jane failed to please the King, or worse yet, to give him a male heir, who would defend her? Which faction would come to her rescue? Which powerful nephew would be there to demand Henry not to annul her marriage? The answer is pretty clear. No one.
Jane, like so many ambitious courtiers, played her cards, and so did her family who saw the benefits of such a union, and had she not died, she would have reaped off the benefits of being the mother of the future King of England.

Unfortunately, history is not a matter of what-ifs, and what would have been, we will never know but what we do know is that by giving Henry a male heir, she became immortalized as the ideal wife, mother and consort. And the “Death of Queen Jane”, written many years after, has Jane asking Henry to cut her open so the child could live. In reality, no such thing happened as Henry was away at the time of the birth, and the first C-section wasn’t practice on England until the late 1500s. But it is symbolic of the narrative that was created around Jane.

Henry would go on to marry three more times, but none of these marriages produced any issue. Jane’s son succeeded his father in 1547, but he died young at the age of 15. He was the last Tudor King and first Protestant monarch in England.

Sources:

  • Edward VI: The Lost Tudor King of England by Chris Skidmore
  • Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love by Elizabeth Norton
  • The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour

The Death of Margaret Tudor, Queen Dowager of Scotland

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On the 18th of October 1541, Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, died at Methven Castle, Scotland. She was married thrice, first King James IV of Scotland, then Archibald Douglas the Earl of Angus, and lastly to Henry Stewart, Lord Methven. She had children from her first two marriages: James V and Margaret Douglas. Their offspring, Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley’s union produced James VI of Scotland who became King of England after Elizabeth I died without leaving any issue.

James IV and Margaret Tudor

Being her parents’ eldest daughter, meant that she was going to expect a grand marriage and given that England desperately needed an alliance (following the Perkin Warbeck fiasco whom the Scottish King had backed) it wasn’t surprising who was picked for her. When she arrived to Scotland in 1503 and met her future husband for the first time, they hit it off immediately. The two danced, partied and spent several nights talking about the upcoming wedding ceremony. Margaret urged him to cut his beard, and James agreed. As with her brother’s wife, Katherine of Aragon, Margaret suffered many miscarriages until she finally gave birth to two healthy boys. Of these two, only one reached adulthood and became King after his father’s tragic death in the battle of Flodden in 1513.

Margaret Tudor has been criticized for her decision to marry the Earl of Angus, citing that it made her lose the Regency which her husband had left her with (with the condition that she didn’t marry), and it nearly brought a civil war with her constant fighting with her son’s new regent, the Duke of Albany. Although all of this is true, for Margaret marrying Angus had nothing to do with lust and much less with love. A pragmatic woman like her father and namesake, she wanted someone from a powerful family who could help her rule in her son’s name, and offer her military support in case the other lords turned against her. When she realized the mistake she’d made, she looked for other options. And although her brother was initially supportive of her, when he heard that Margaret had annulled her marriage to Angus, he was furious and heavily criticized her, telling her that she had made a mockery of the sanctity of marriage. This is really ironic considering what he did less than two decades after he had his marriage annulled to Katherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn, and not long after that, annulled his second marriage so he could marry again.

Margaret_Tudor_Portrait

While Margaret wasn’t highly influential in her son’s reign, she was very close to his second wife, Mary of Guise, and comforted her when she lost both of her sons (from her first marriage) in May of that year.

She was buried in St. John’s Abbey in Perth where most of the Scottish monarcha are buried and two decades later, at the height of religious unrest, the Calvinist stormed in the Abbey, desecrated her grave and burned her skeleton. “Her ashes were contemptuously scattered” Porter writes in her biography on Tudors and Stewarts, and therefore “like her first husband, she has no monument.” But her legacy got to live on through both of her offspring when their descendant became King of England, and since then, every monarch that sits on the English throne can trace their ancestry back to her.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Thistle and the Rose by Hester W. Chapman
  • Passion. Murder. Manipulation: The story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

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

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 Edward, Earl of Warwick were barred from the line of succession since their father 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 and Henry needed this marriage to secure his dynasty but Ferdinand felt that the Tudor dynasty would never be secure as long as one of the Yorkists 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

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

Cousins at War: The Lady Mary’s Final Victory

Mary i and Jane

From the 18th to 20th of July 1553, the odds fully turned in Mary’s favor when an important ally found his way into her camp. The 16th Earl of Oxford, John de Vere was a complex man. He was a Protestant and a great military leader, whose experience no doubt, gave Mary the boost she needed to issue her proclamation where it goes as follows: “By the Queen. Know ye all good people that the most excellent Princess Mary, eldest daughter of King Henry VIII and sister to King Edward VI, your late sovereign Lord, is now by the grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, defender of the Faith and very true owner of the Crown and government of the realm of England and Ireland and all things thereto justly belonging, and to her and no other ye owe to be her true Liege, men…” Then she denounced Jane Grey’s usurpation, pinning all the blame on her father-in-law instead of her cousin, and declared herself the rightful queen. “… Most false traitor, John, Duke of Northumberland and his accomplices who, upon most shameful grounds, minding to make his won son King by marriage of a new found lady’s title, or rather to be king himself, hath most traitorously by long continued treason sought, and seek the destruction of her royal person, the nobility and common weal of this realm…” This is not surprising given that Mary knew the power of propaganda and she knew that a House divided, as during the Wars of the Roses with the case of the House of York, made everyone in her family look weak. And if people knew the nuts and bolts behind the usurpation, they wouldn’t blame the Duke, but instead look at Mary’s family. This would look very bad for the Tudor Dynasty. If a monarch couldn’t control her own brood, then how could she rule over a country? And it was much easier to use “bad councilors” as scapegoats rather than holding the royals accountable for their actions. Mary’s father had done it many times. Whenever he did a bad decision, someone else was blamed, be it his spouse, his in-laws, or his councilors.

Mary I Signature

The proclamation ended with a rallying cry calling all the “good people” to join “her said armies yet being in Suffolk, making your prayers to God for her success … upon the said causes she utterly defied the said Duke for her most errant traitor to God and to this realm” then she signed it as “Mary, the Quene”.

When Jane heard what happened, she was out for blood. She ordered her troops to march against the rebels in Buckinghamshire, naming William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, one of the two commanders. She gave him specific instructions to deliver “punishment or execution as they deserve.” The message was clear. Her cousin the Lady Mary Tudor might be older, more experienced and have the support of almost all the commons in the realm, but Jane Grey was no passive teenager. She was not going to give up so easily, and until her cause was fully lost, she was going to keep acting as she had done for over a week. Nobody who saw Jane, saw a timid girl, but a strong teenager who continued to carry out her duties as the unofficial queen. On the morning of the 19th, a Christening ceremony at Tower Hill where Lady Jane had been asked to stand in as godmother by one of her servants, a man named Edward Underhill. Her goddaughter was named after her husband, Guildford. Jane was too busy to attend so she sent her mother’s cousin, the Lady Throckmorton, instead. Other proxies were sent for her father and other family members, including William Herbert who excused himself from the ceremony, claiming he had to meet the French Ambassador to convince him of sending troops to fight off Mary’s common forces. In reality, William Herbert was pondering on his own future and where he would fit in all of this conspiracy if Mary won. How would she deal with the traitors? The Marquis had felt an air of unease the day before when he heard the news of Mary’s proclamation and the Earl’s defection. Although he had been given specific instructions to deal with the rebels, the Marquis chose not to comply. He and a number of other councilors gathered at Baynard’s Castle where they discussed a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Nobody wanted another civil war like the one that had split the country in two over one hundred years ago. The men gathered their things and rode to Cheapside where they declared Mary Tudor the lawful Queen and read her proclamation. The crowd went “mad with joy” the Imperial Ambassador reported. “From a distance the earth must have looked like Mount Etna.”

Jane Grey juxtaposed

Jane and her family also knew that everything was over. That same day, the council’s soldiers headed to the Tower to arrest the Duke of Suffolk. Jane’s father had heard of the council’s betrayal and rushed to tell his daughter the news. Jane did not lose her composure. Using the same irony she’d used against one of Mary’s maids when she mocked her Mass, she told her father that she was blameless and she only took the crown because he gave convincing arguments to her. If he hadn’t, she would have never done it. Her father was forced to take down the canopy of state, and other symbols that were representative of her reign, and agreed to the Council’s demands. Jane had gone from a guest at the Tower, awaiting her coronation, to a prisoner.

John Dudley

News of Mary’s victory reached Northumberland and his men that night. He felt angry and betrayed. He had suspected of the council’s betrayal since they asked him to go away to lead a small force against Mary. But he had not expected things would fall down so quickly. Realizing he was lost, and that he was going to be –not only Mary’s scapegoat- but the Greys’ scapegoat as well, he began to cry and sent someone to the new Queen, in the hopes that she would take pity on him. He told the vice-chancellor of Cambridge that their new monarch was a “merciful woman” and read her proclamation the following day, declaring her the rightful Queen. It was over. Mary had won. She was informed of her victory on the 20th. Mary, as her supporters, were overjoyed. She rode on a white horse, and made an inspection of her troops at four o’clock in the afternoon.

“An inspiring sight awaited her. The standards were unfurled, the military colors were set up and battle lines divided into two, under Wentworth and Susssex. For the first time as Queen, Mary saw her forces arrayed…” (Porter)

And like her maternal grandmother before her, she showed herself fearless, giving an inspirational speech “with an exceptional kindness and with an approach so wonderfully relaxed as can scarcely be described” that won everyone’s affections. After she finished with her inspection, she ordered a large detachment of cavalry to stream forth. The Lady Mary was delighted to hear the sounds of cavalry, and the cries of her men who did not stop cheering for their new Queen. She demonstrated an exceptional charisma, and she was ready to fight if needed be. Thankfully, it had not come to that. Lord Paget and the Earl of Arundel had come to tell her of the latest events, adding that the Duke of Northumberland had also surrendered. Bonfires were lit, people cried out to the sky, “men ran hither and thither, bonnets flew into the air, shouts rose higher than the stars, and all the bells were set a-pealing” wrote an anonymous Italian staying in London at the time, echoing the Imperial Ambassador’s words that the earth seemed to be shaking with joy.

Mary I signature Tudor

This was something unprecedented. Mary had won the throne without shedding one drop of blood. To her it must have felt like déjà vu. Her grandfather Henry Tudor, then Earl of Richmond, had won the crown through bloodshed, and he owed it largely in part to the military expertise of the 13th Earl of Oxford, another John de Vere who had always been a staunch Lancastrian and upon knowing that the royal Lancastrians were dead, he ran to Brittany to join Henry Tudor (who was considered by many, the last Lancastrian scion). While there were other factors that contributed to her grandfather’s victory, the Earl’s military expertise can’t be denied. He was there with Henry, helping him rally more men to his cause and after he won, his title was restored. Mary’s ally was Protestant unlike her, but despite this, he joined her because as his predecessor, he viewed her as the legitimate successor to Edward VI. And it was his decision to join her that became a turning point in this conflict. Mary having an army of commons was one thing, but soldiers mutinying, and an Earl who was well known for his military expertise joining her, was another. Mary thanked God, owing her victory to Him, saying that she “wanted the realm cleansed of divisive parties” and thanks to Him, she had done so. Mary’s struggles were far from over though, and so were Jane’s. The two cousins would still be pit against each other, and as Mary’s reign faced many rebellions, it became clearer that only one  of them could live.

Sources:

  • The Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle

Mary Tudor and Jane Grey: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Mary I and Jane Grey

On the 11th of July 1553, the country was split in two over the issue of Mary Tudor and Jane Grey. People were undecided as who to support. One part of the country was rallying to Mary -those in East Anglia who knew her very well- and another one with Jane and were doing everything in their power to ensure the coup was successful. The Privy Council sent back Mary’s messenger with an uncompromising rebuke informing her that it was Jane who was the rightful queen, not her and by rebelling against her rightful sovereign, she was committing treason. But Mary was not going to be easily deterred. She was the daughter of Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, she had been next in line after her brother Edward VI. If the Council was not going to respect her father’s will, then she was going to make them.

Mary Tudor played by Sarah Bolger in
Mary Tudor played by Sarah Bolger in “The Tudors” s.4

As tensions began to mount, Jane issued a proclamation in which she warned people of the severe punishments her reign would inflict on those who dared to oppose her and to show that she meant business, the boy who had cried her cousin’s name the day before, had his ears cut off.

Jane Grey played by Helena Bonham Carter in the movie
Jane Grey played by Helena Bonham Carter in the movie “Lady Jane”. The movie perpetuated the Victorian myth of the passive Jane opposite her evil parents, especially her ruthless mother Frances.

This shows Jane as an active participant in the coup, willing to do everything that was required of her to defend her family and her position. Jane might not have wanted the crown but now that she was close to becoming the first Queen of England, she saw it as her duty to defend it with everything she got. To her this was more than just ambition. As with Mary, she saw herself as a religious crusader and she viewed Mary’s religion as evil and contrary to what she had been taught. When she had been a few years younger, she and her mother Frances visited their cousin Mary and she mocked one of her servants for praying before the altar asking how could they believe that God lived in the bread “when the baker made it?”

The real Lady Mary Tudor
The real Lady Mary Tudor

Not surprisingly, Mary Tudor is also seen in a narrow light, thanks in part to the Book of Martyrs and Hollywood movies where she is portrayed as the opposite of Jane and her sister Elizabeth. Mary was as Jane, a woman of her times. And a very proud woman whose lineage told her that it was her, and not Jane who was the rightful Queen. She had prepared her entire life to fight for what she considered was rightfully hers and by all means it was since her father had restored her and her sister to the line of succession, falling right behind their brother Edward. When the Privy Council passed her over in favor of the Grey sisters, Mary decided that she was not going to wait any longer. She was the first one to inform the country that her brother was dead and they wanted to crown Jane Queen instead of her, and she began to calling all her allies and the common people to come and fight for her.

The real Lady Jane
The real Lady Jane

Although Jane signed many proclamations with Jane the Quene; it was clear that she and the Council were in for a hell of a fight. Mary, against all odds, was gaining lots of supporters. Her cousin had abandoned her, he had his own affairs to look out for and he did not believe that his cousin could win without any significant support. As far as he knew, Mary Tudor’s quest for the crown was a thing of the past. So you can imagine his surprise, and the Council’s surprise when they received information of the“innumerable companies of the common people” that were coming to support her from Norfolk and Suffolk. And that had been in only five days. Who knew how more supporters she would gain in the following days?

Jane however, put on a brave face. She was not going to be cowed by Mary’s common force. She called on the people to fight the next day on the 12th, offering them ten pence a day if they joined her.

Sources:

  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder by Leanda de Lisle
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery by Eric Ives
  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter

The Confession of the Lady Mary Tudor

Lady Mary played by Sarah Bolger in "Tudors" season 3. In this scene she is forced to sign the dreaded act which she says will haunt her to the end of her days.
Lady Mary played by Sarah Bolger in “Tudors” season 3. In this scene she is forced to sign the dreaded act which she says will haunt her to the end of her days.

On the 22nd of June 1536 the King’s eldest daughter, the Lady Mary Tudor, signed the document titled “The Confession of Me the Lady Mary” in which she accepted that she was never the trueborn daughter of Henry VIII of England but a product of incest born out of the unlawful union of her mother, Katherine of Aragon and her father the King. The Confession was signed twelve days after she had explicitly said no to her father’s ministers who had done the impossible and bullied her to get to accept. It was Chapuys and Cromwell who finally convinced her by telling her that if she didn’t sign then she would be deemed a traitor and tried as such. To her father, blood ties didn’t matter when the security of the realm was at stake. The articles of the confession go as follows:

  1. First, I confess and acknowledge the King’s Majesty to be my sovereign lord and King, in the Imperial Crown of his realm of England, and do submit myself to His Highness, and to all and singular laws and statues of this realm, as becometh a true and faithful subject to do.
  2. I do recognize and accept and take and repute and acknowledge the King’s Highness to be Supreme Head in Earth under Christ of the Church of England and do utterly refuse the Bishop of Rome’s pretended authority, power and jurisdiction within this realm heretofore usurped.
  3. I do freely, frankly recognize and acknowledge that the marriage, heretofore had between His Majesty and my mother (the late Princess Dowager) was by God’s law and Man’s law, incestuous and unlawful.

Signed Mary Tudor

The Confession would haunt Mary for the rest of her life. In signing it, she felt that she was not only betraying what she believed in, but her mother who never wavered in her faith and stopped calling herself Queen and fought for her daughter’s right to be her father’s heir. No doubt, Mary was doing this for survival and the two men must have made a point that she would do more good to her cause alive than dead, especially Chapuys who had grown very close to the young woman.

Lady Mary and her father Henry VIII at her re-introduction at court.
Lady Mary and her father Henry VIII at her re-introduction at court.

Following her surrender, she was welcomed back in court. Those who believed they had beaten the former princess would soon be disappointed. If anything, it reshaped her character making her prouder, more resilient and optimistic about her future.

Sources:

  • The Myth of Bloody Mary by Linda Porter
  • Inside the Tudor Court by Lauren Mackay
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock