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

600 Queen Mary

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

COA Six Wives of Henry VIII

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

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

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

Mary Tudor 4

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

600 Mary I coronation

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

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

0Tudor tombs elizabeth mary

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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James V: The Legacy of the Thistle and the Rose

James V

10 April 1512: James V of Scotland was born at Linlithgow Palace. He was the only surviving child of James IV and Margaret Tudor-eldest daughter of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York.

James V has gone down in history was one of the most “unpleasant and rapacious, priest-ridden” monarchs. His father has also gotten the same treatment. James IV lost his life -along with half of the Scottish nobility- in the battle of Flodden. James V was not so unlucky, but a month after the horrible defeat (yet again) of Scottish forces by English forces; he fell ill. Sensing his death he made arrangements, appointing Cardinal Beaton, the Earls of Argyll, Huntly and Moray as his daughter’s Regents. There is a myth that was proliferated to make it appear as the Stewarts -especially Mary, Queen of Scots- were the worst things that happened in the history of the world. This was that on the day of his death, James V’s last words were “It started with a lass, it will end with a lass”. In her biography of the Tudor and Stewart dynasties, Linda Porter points out that at the time of his death, James V would be so sick that he would be unable to move his lips, let alone speak!

James IV and Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.
James IV and Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

James V was no fanatic but he did enforce harsh laws against his population. In this he was no different than other monarchs. He married two times, first Princess Madeleine of France and later Mary of the notorious and ambitious Guise family. With the latter, he had many children although only one survived, and she became the first Queen Regnant of the British Isles: Mary I Stewart of Scotland otherwise known as Mary, Queen of Scots.

“Until more balanced judgments appeared in recent years, James V was dismissed as the most unpleasant of the Stewarts, a rapacious, priest-ridden seeker of international recognition … But such a view overlooks his achievements: The cultural riches of his court and the importance he placed on good government .. Though half a Tudor by birth, [James V] was entirely a Stewart in his approach to kingship and more than equal to the prolonged rivalry with the uncle that he never met.” (Porter)

While people continue to view him according to Tudor historiography; the real James V as the rest of the Stewarts, was an incredible, fascinating man. His father had started great architectural projects that were largely influenced by Burgundian architecture. He surrounded himself with musicians and scholars, and when he met his young bride, Princess Margaret, she was surprised to find a great spectacle and pageantry waiting for her that lasted for almost three days. Their marriage ceremony was also very grand. James V inherited his father’s taste for architecture and war. Not one to engage openly against other countries, he nonetheless continued to aggrandize his navy by building better and bigger ships, and it was during his reign that Scotland earned the reputation as one of the most illustrious courts in Christendom. James V had been impressed by the French court when he went to visit there to marry his first wife (Madeleine) and he wanted his country to be on part with the other major Christian powers. Although James V’s childhood was surrounded by ambitious and rapacious courtiers who kidnapped him and held him hostage -such as his first stepfather, the Earl of Angus- he was nonetheless a strong and effective King who traveled the countryside often and loved to be seen by his people. He was not as learned as his uncle, Henry VIII, but he surrounded himself with many who were, and invited many scholars to his court to encourage the Humanist current among his subjects.

Not surprisingly his daughter has been given the same treatment. Until recently this has changed but there are some who still follow the popular view. Mary, Queen of Scots was James V only legitimate heir. In the words of Plantagenet Somerset Fry, it would "have been better if she had not been born". This goes to show how the myth of the "evil" and "ineffective Stewarts" still predominates. Furthermore, he adds, she was "hot-tempered" and lacked "political judgment."
Not surprisingly his daughter has been given the same treatment. Until recently this has changed but there are some who still follow the popular view. Mary, Queen of Scots was James V only legitimate heir. In the words of Plantagenet Somerset Fry, it would “have been better if she had not been born”. This goes to show how the myth of the “evil” and “ineffective Stewarts” still predominates. Furthermore, he adds, she was “hot-tempered” and lacked “political judgment.”

His daughter’s Regents soon encountered problems because of the Scottish Reformation. Although Mary I of Scotland returned to her native land after the death of her husband and her mother (who was her last Regent); by then, the Reform movement had grown too strong. Scotland was split between Catholics and Protestants. The latter fought ardently as the former. John Knox was their best known leader and he penned many pamphlets against the “monstrous rule of women”, criticizing female Catholic rulers (while abstaining himself from criticizing the Protestant Queen, Elizabeth I). Mary, contrary to popular myth and the words of Plantagenet Somerset Fry who perpetuated this in his book; was an active Queen who like her forefathers traveled the countryside, loved riding, reading, composed verses and poetry, and was a Renaissance Tomboy who would not be afraid to use men’s clothes when playing tennis. Her decision of marrying her cousin Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley however proved her undoing. To this day it is unclear if she was her murderer (many historians have begun questioning the authenticity of the Casket letters). Trying to escape, she was captured by Bothwell and in spite of her armed guards, his men overpowered her and it a Queen in a time when women were little more than property and when family honor meant everything, she had to swallow her anger and her “shame”, and deny that he had raped her and to achieve that, she married him. As everyone suspected, he fled when her enemies captured her and miscarried their twin children. She escaped thanks to her allies and fought to regain her kingdom (even after she had been forced to abdicate in favor of her infant son, James). But her forces lost a major battle at Langside and this convinced her cause was lost. And what she did later proved to be the greatest mistake in her life: Pleading to her cousin Elizabeth I for help. Unlike the  romantic take on Mary’s story in the famous 70’s movie Mary, Queen of Scots; the two women never met. As soon as Mary stepped into England, she was aprehended and for the next two decades she was transferred from house to house under the guise that it was for her own protection. Finally, her involvement in the Babbington plot, doomed her and convinced her cousin that she had to go. She was exectued on February 1587.

James VI of Scotland and I of England.
James VI of Scotland and I of England.

What seemed like a defeat for the Stewarts proved to be anything but.  Fate, true to Mary’s motto “In my end is my beginning”; favored James V’s grandson -James VI. James VI became King of England in 1603 after Elizabeth I died. Nearly a hundred years later, the last monarch of the Stewart dynasty through an act of parliament officially united both Crowns creating what is now known as the United Kingdom.  James V might have lost the battle that day when he was taken by illness; but his line was far from finished. In his end was his beginning, his daughter’s beginning, and in her end was her son’s beginning and the beginning of the Stewart dynasty as the rulers of a United Britain.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • Tudor. Passion. Murder. Manipulation by Leanda de Lisle
  • On this Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • The Kings and Queens of England & Scotland by Plantagenet Somerset Fry