Mary I of England

Mary Tudor

Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon was born at Greenwich Palace on 18th February 1516. The couple had married soon after Henry succeeded to the throne in 1509.

After losing her first daughter in childbirth Catherine's first son died when he was only a few weeks old. Several more deliveries, including two boys, were to follow before the queen gave birth to Mary. Henry told the Venetian ambassador that he and Catherine were both still young and that "if it was a daughter this time, by the grace of God the sons will follow." (1)

Henry and Catherine gave Mary "unusually close attention during her early years because she was the only survivor of Catherine's many pregnancies and because the pretty and precocious child obviously delighted both parents". (2) However, It was very important to Henry that his wife should give birth to a male child. Without a son to take over from him when he died, Henry feared that the Tudor family would lose control of England.

While Mary was not the desired male heir, she was still a valuable asset in the dynastic marriage and diplomatic power game. Mary's godfather, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Henry used the two-year-old to seal the new alliance with France embodied in the Treaty of London (1518). This was followed by the Treaty of Bruges (1521) that provided for the future marriage of Mary and Charles, a man sixteen years her senior.

Sebastian Giustinian recalls that he saw Henry VIII with Mary during this period: "He drew near, knelt and kissed her hand." Henry then said proudly to the ambassador that Mary never cried. Giustinian replied: "Sacred Majesty, the reason is that her destiny does not move her to tears; she will even become Queen of France." (3)

In 1522 Charles visited England and this afforded him some opportunity to observe his six-year-old cousin. At one court occasion Mary danced for him. (4) When Charles subsequently announced he would marry Isabella, the daughter of the king of Portugal, the English and French responded with a proposed universal peace reinforced by Mary's marriage to either François I or his second son, Henri, duc d'Orléans.

Mary's biographer, Ann Weikel, has pointed out: "Many problems arose during subsequent negotiations in 1527, not the least of them Henry's refusal to allow Mary to leave the realm because she was only eleven. To impress the French envoys Mary again demonstrated her skills in language, music, and dancing, but her small stature made them hesitate about the viability of an immediate marriage." During these negotiations one report said they found her "admirable by reason of her great and uncommon mental endowments; but so thin, sparse, and small as to render it impossible for her to be married for the next three years". (5)

Mary Tudor's Education

Catherine of Aragon made sure Mary received a good education. This took the form of supervision and appointment of teachers such as Richard Fetherston rather than direct teaching. They did however study Latin together and when she was sent to Wales to live Catherine wrote to her: "As for your writing in Latin, I am glad that you shall change from me to Master Fetherston, for that shall do you much good to learn by him to write alright." Catherine also asked Mary to send her the work she had produced in Latin after Fetherston had corrected it. (6)

Alan Turing
Mary Tudor as a child (c. 1525)

Queen Catherine invited the celebrated Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives to come to England and commissioned him to write a treatise on the general education of women, and an outline of studies for Mary. Her biographer, Ann Weikel, has pointed out: "Vives delivered a mixed message, for while he advocated the education of women, an advanced idea at that time, he still saw women as the inferior sex. The list of acceptable reading included scripture, the church fathers, but only a few pagan classics, and no medieval romances, because he believed women could be led astray all too easily..... Vives recommended that Mary read the dialogues of Plato, works that endow women with the same virtues as men and develop a notion of women as guardians or governors.... Thus while Mary received an exceptional humanist education for a woman of her era, marriage negotiations and court appearances reinforced the conventional belief that her true destiny was to be a royal wife and mother, not a ruler in her own right." (7)

Anna Whitelock believes that Catherine disagreed with Vives and wanted Mary to succeed Henry VIII. Her views were influenced by those of her mother, Isabella of Castile who had "refused to yield to pressure to alter the Castilian laws that permitted her eldest daughter to succeed her". Whitelock goes onto argue that Catherine was convinced that "female sovereignty was compatible with wifely obedience and there was no good reason why Mary should not succeed her father... Catherine was determined to prepare her daughter for rule." (8)

Anne Boleyn

In 1526 Anne Boleyn become a maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon. She was a good musician and a talented singer. She was also extremely intelligent and her time in the French court provided her with a great deal of interesting conversation. Anne was according to contemporary sources not a conventional beauty. One member of Henry's court wrote that Anne was "not one of the handsomest women in the world" she had a "swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact had nothing but the king's great appetite, and her eyes, which are black and beautiful and take great effect".

Boleyn's biographer, Eric William Ives, has claimed: "Her complexion was sallow and she was noted only for her magnificent dark hair, her expressive eyes, and her elegant neck.... The reason why she was such a sensation was not looks but personality and education. Having been brought up in the two leading courts in Europe she had a continental polish which was unique in the provincial court of Henry VIII. She could sing, play instruments, and dance and she led female fashion." One member of court claimed that "no one would ever have taken her to be English by her manners, but a native-born Frenchwoman". (9)

Henry VIII seemed to find her very entertaining and was often seen dancing with her. Hilary Mantel has pointed out: "We don't know exactly when he fell for Anne Boleyn. Her sister Mary had already been his mistress. Perhaps Henry simply didn't have much imagination. The court's erotic life seems knotted, intertwined, almost incestuous; the same faces, the same limbs and organs in different combinations. The king did not have many affairs, or many that we know about. He recognised only one illegitimate child. He valued discretion, deniability. His mistresses, whoever they were, faded back into private life. But the pattern broke with Anne Boleyn." (10)

For several years Henry had been planning to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Now he knew who he wanted to marry - Anne. At the age of thirty-six he fell deeply in love with a woman some sixteen years his junior. (11) Henry sent Anne a series of passionate love letters. In 1526 he wrote: "Seeing I cannot be present in person with you, I send you the nearest thing to that possible, that is, my picture set in bracelets... wishing myself in their place, when it shall please you." Soon afterwards he wrote during a hunting exhibition: "I send you this letter begging you to give me an account of the state you are in... I send you by this bearer a buck killed late last night by my hand, hoping, when you eat it, you will think of the hunter." (12)

Philippa Jones has suggested in Elizabeth: Virgin Queen? (2010) that this was part of Anne's strategy to become Henry's wife: "Anne frequently commented in her letters to the King that although her heart and soul were his to enjoy, her body would never be. By refusing to become Henry's mistress, Anne caught and retained his interest. Henry might find casual sexual gratification with others, but it was Anne that he truly wanted." (13) Historians have suggested that Anne was trying to persuade Henry to marry her: "Henry found her not easily tamed, for it is clear that she had the strength of will to withhold her favours until she was sure of being made his queen... All the same it must remain somewhat surprising that sexual passion should have turned a conservative, easy-going, politically cautious ruler into a revolutionary, head-strong, almost reckless tyrant. Nothing else, however, will account for the facts." (14)

Anne's biographer, Eric William Ives, has argued: "At first, however, Henry had no thought of marriage. He saw Anne as someone to replace her sister, Mary (wife of one of the privy chamber staff, William Carey), who had just ceased to be the royal mistress. Certainly the physical side of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon was already over and, with no male heir, Henry decided by the spring of 1527 that he had never validly been married and that his first marriage must be annulled.... However, Anne continued to refuse his advances, and the king realized that by marrying her he could kill two birds with one stone, possess Anne and gain a new wife." (15)

Henry VIII divorces Catherine of Aragon

Henry sent a message to the Pope Clement VII arguing that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon had been invalid as she had previously been married to his brother Arthur. Henry relied on Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to sort the situation out. During negotiations the Pope forbade Henry to contract a new marriage until a decision was reached in Rome. With the encouragement of Anne, Henry became convinced that Wolsey's loyalties lay with the Pope, not England, and in 1529 he was dismissed from office. (16) Wolsey blamed Anne for his situation and he called her "the night Crow" who was always in a position to "caw into the king's private ear". (17) Had it not been for his death from illness in 1530, Wolsey might have been executed for treason.

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Henry VIII

Mary Tudor


Henry VIII

Henry VIII


Henry VIII

Henry VII


Anne Boleyn

Anne Boylen had strong opinions about religion. She tried to persuade Henry to give permission for bibles to be published in English. Anne also introduced Henry to the books of Protestant writers such as William Tyndale. She pointed out that in Obedience of a Christian Man, Tyndale had argued that kings had authority over the church. Anne also became close to Thomas Cromwell, who supported the ideas of Tyndale. (18)

Antonia Fraser, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) has argued: "The truth can never be known for sure. One can only say with certainty that Henry VIII made love to Anne - fully - some time before the end of 1532. All the rest is speculation. As to the act itself, was it a success after so many years? Once again we have no means of knowing... As has been suggested, matters had probably been going in that direction for some years, with Anne the sole focus of the King's lust, by whatever means she satisfied it." (19)

Birth of Elizabeth

Henry discovered that Anne Boleyn was pregnant. As it was important that the child should not be classed as illegitimate, arrangements were made for Henry and Anne to get married. King Charles V of Spain threatened to invade England if the marriage took place, but Henry ignored his threats and the marriage went ahead on 25th January, 1533. It was vital to Henry that his wife should give birth to a male child. Without a son to take over from him when he died, Henry feared that the Tudor family would lose control of England.

Elizabeth was born on 7th September, 1533. Henry expected a son and selected the names of Edward and Henry. While Henry was furious about having another daughter, the supporters of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon were delighted and claimed that it proved God was punishing Henry for his illegal marriage to Anne. (20) Retha M. Warnicke, the author of The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) has pointed out: "As the king's only legitimate child, Elizabeth was, until the birth of a prince, his heir and was to be treated with all the respect that a female of her rank deserved. Regardless of her child's sex, the queen's safe delivery could still be used to argue that God had blessed the marriage. Everything that was proper was done to herald the infant's arrival." (21)

The 17-year old Mary was declared illegitimate, lost her rank and status as a princess and was exiled from Court. She was placed with Sir John Shelton and his wife, Lady Anne Sheldon. It has been claimed that "Mary was bullied unmercifully by the Sheltons, humiliated, and was constantly afraid that she would be imprisoned or executed." (22) Instructions were given to Sheldon that if Mary used the banned title of "Princess", she was to have her ears boxed "as the cursed bastard that she was". However, there is evidence that Lady Sheldon seems to have been reluctant to exercise the full rigour of her instructions, and was sharply criticized by both Norfolk and Rochford for her leniency." (23) Alison Plowden has concluded that the treatment Mary received "turned a gentle, affectionate child into a bigoted, neurotic and bitterly unhappy woman." (24)

Mary bravely stood up to her father. "Henry tried to increase the pressure when he visited Hatfield in early 1534, making his seeing Mary conditional on her renunciation of her title. Mary again resisted, but counting correctly on her father's love, the eighteen-year-old dramatically presented herself... Henry acknowledged her and his train followed suit. Nevertheless, although Mary could still exploit her father's affection, she could not alter the course of events caused by Henry's marriage to Anne." (25)

In March 1534 Pope Clement VII eventually made his decision. He announced that the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn was invalid. Henry reacted by declaring that the Pope no longer had authority in England. In November 1534, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy. This gave Henry the title of the "Supreme head of the Church of England". A Treason Act was also passed that made it an offence to attempt by any means, including writing and speaking, to accuse the King and his heirs of heresy or tyranny. All subjects were ordered to take an oath accepting this.

Mary refused to take the oath as it would mean renouncing her mother, Catherine of Aragon. On hearing this news, Anne Boleyn apparently said that the "cursed bastard" should be given "a good banging". Henry told Cranmer that he had decided to send her to the Tower of London, and if she refused to take the oath, she would be prosecuted for high treason and executed.

According to Ralph Morice it was Cranmer who finally persuaded Henry not to put her to death. Morice claims that when Henry at last agreed to spare Mary's life, he warned Cranmer that he would live to regret it. He also told Jane Seymour, who also interceded for Mary, that she was a fool to do so because Mary would be an enemy to any children which he and Jane might have. Henry decided to put her under house arrest and did not allow her to have contact with her mother. He also sent some of her servants to prison. (26)

Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn by Hans Holbein (c. 1535)

Catherine of Aragon became seriously ill in December, 1535. She died at Kimbolton Castle on 7th January, 1536. Her doctor claimed that she had been suffering from "slow poisoning". She was buried at Peterborough Abbey on 29th January 1536. Ambassador Eustace Chapuys reported to King Charles V: "The King dressed entirely in yellow from head to foot, with the single exception of a white feather in his cap. His bastard daughter Elizabeth was triumphantly taken to church to the sounds of trumpets and with great display. Then, after dinner, the King went to the Hall where the Ladies were dancing, and there made great demonstrations of joy, and at last went to his own apartments, took the little bastard in his arms, and began to show her first to one, then to another, and did the same on the following days." (27)

Thomas Cromwell

Unfortunately for Anne Boleyn she fell out with one of her main supporters, Thomas Cromwell. As Eric William Ives has pointed out: "The fundamental reason for this was disagreement over the assets of the monasteries: Anne's support for the redeployment of monastic resources directly contradicted Cromwell's intention to put the proceeds of the dissolution into the king's coffers. The bill dissolving the smaller monasteries had passed both houses of parliament in mid-March, but before the royal assent was given Anne launched her chaplains on a dramatic preaching campaign to modify royal policy.... Cromwell was pilloried before the whole council as an evil and greedy royal adviser from the Old Testament, and specifically identified as the queen's enemy. Nor could the minister shrug off this declaration of war, even though, in spite of Anne's efforts, the dissolution act became law." (28)

Henry VIII continued to try to produce a male heir. Anne Boleyn had two miscarriages and was pregnant again when she discovered Jane Seymour sitting on her husband's lap. Anne "burst into furious denunciation; the rage brought on a premature labour and was delivered of a dead boy." (29) What is more, the baby was badly deformed. (30) This was a serious matter because in Tudor times Christians believed that a deformed child was God's way of punishing parents for committing serious sins. Henry VIII feared that people might think that the Pope Clement VII was right when he claimed that God was angry because Henry had divorced Catherine and married Anne.

Henry now approached Thomas Cromwell about how he could get out of his marriage with Anne. He suggested that one solution to this problem was to claim that he was not the father of this deformed child. On the king's instruction Cromwell was ordered to find out the name of the man who was the true father of the dead child. Philippa Jones has pointed out: "Cromwell was careful that the charge should stipulate that Anne Boleyn had only been unfaithful to the King after the Princess Elizabeth's birth in 1533. Henry wanted Elizabeth to be acknowledged as his daughter, but at the same time he wanted her removed from any future claim to the succession." (31)

In April 1536, a Flemish musician in Anne's service named Mark Smeaton was arrested. He initially denied being the Queen's lover but later confessed, perhaps tortured or promised freedom. Another courtier, Henry Norris, was arrested on 1st May. Sir Francis Weston was arrested two days later on the same charge, as was William Brereton, a Groom of the King's Privy Chamber. Anne's brother, George Boleyn was also arrested and charged with incest. (32)

Arrest & Execution of Anne Boleyn

Anne was arrested and was taken to the Tower of London on 2nd May, 1536. Four of the accused men were tried in Westminster ten days later. Smeaton pleaded guilty but Weston, Brereton, and Norris maintained their innocence. Anne and George Boleyn were tried separately in the Tower of London. She was accused of enticing five men to have illicit relations with her. Adultery committed by a queen was considered to be an act of high treason because it had implications for the succession to the throne. All were found guilty and condemned to death. The men were executed on 17th May.

Anne went to the scaffold at Tower Green on 19th May, 1536. The Lieutenant of the Tower reported her as alternately weeping and laughing. The Lieutenant assured her she would feel no pain, and she accepted his assurance. "I have a little neck," she said, and putting her hand round it, she shrieked with laughter. The "hangman of Calais" had been brought from France at a cost of £24 since he was a expert with a sword. This was a favour to the victim since a sword was usually more efficient than "an axe that could sometimes mean a hideously long-drawn-out affair." (33) Anne Boyleyn's last words were: "Good Christian people... according to the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it... I pray God save the King, and send him long to reign over you... for to me he was always a good, a gentle, and sovereign Lord." (34)

Jane Seymour

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer issued a dispensation from prohibitions of affinity for Jane Seymour to marry Henry the day of Anne's execution, because they were fifth cousins. The couple were betrothed the following day, and a private marriage took place on 30th May 1536. Coming as it did after the death of Catherine of Aragon and the execution of Anne Boleyn, there could be no doubt of the lawfulness of Henry's marriage to Jane. The new queen was introduced at court in June. "No coronation followed the wedding, and plans for an autumn coronation were laid aside because of an outbreak of plague at Westminster; Jane's pregnancy undoubtedly eliminated any possibility of a later coronation." (35)

Alan Turing
Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein (January, 1536)

Historians have claimed that Jane Seymour ignored Elizabeth but treated Mary, with respect. "One of Jane's first requests of the King was that Mary be allowed to attend her, which Henry was pleased to allow. Mary was chosen to sit at the table opposite the King and Queen and to hand Jane her napkin at meals when she washed her hands. For one who had been banished to sit with the servants at Hatfield, this was an obvious sign of her restoration to the King's good graces. Jane was often seen walking hand-in-hand with Mary, making sure that they passed through the door together, a public acknowledgement that Mary was back in favour." (36) In August, 1536 Ambassador Eustace Chapuys reported to King Charles V that "the treatment of the princess Mary is every day improving. She never did enjoy such liberty as she does now." (37)

Prince Edward

Jane Seymour gave birth to a boy on 12th October 1537 after a difficult labour that lasted two days and three nights. The child was named Edward, after his great-grandfather and because it was the eve of the Feast of St Edward. It was said that the King wept as he took the baby son in his arms. At the age of forty-six, he had achieved his dream. "God had spoken and blessed this marriage with an heir male, nearly thirty years after he had first embarked on matrimony." (38)

Mary reacted with relief to the birth of Prince Edward. As her father now had a male heir she was at last safe. Mary happily accepted the decline in her political importance. (39) Edward was christened when he was three days old, and both his sisters played a part in this important occasion. In the great procession which took the baby from the mother's bed-chamber to the chapel, Elizabeth carried the chrisom, the cloth in which the child was received after his immersion in the font. As she was only four years old, she herself was carried by the Queen's brother, Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford. Jane was well enough to receive guests after the christening. Edward was proclaimed prince of Wales, duke of Cornwall, and earl of Carnarvon.

On 17th October 1537 Jane became very ill. Most historians have assumed that she developed puerperal fever, something for which there was no effective treatment, though at the time the queen's attendants were blamed for allowing her to eat unsuitable food. An alternative medical opinion suggests that Jane died because of retention of parts of the placenta in her uterus. That condition could have led to a haemorrhage several days after delivery of the child. What is certain is that septicaemia developed, and she became delirious. Jane died just before midnight on 24th October, aged twenty-eight. (40)

Henry VIII now attempted to find a husband for Mary. However, he was unable to find a suitable candidate. Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves was too brief to alter Mary's circumstances, but after Henry married Catherine Howard in 1540, Mary frequently resided on the queen's side of court, even though the two women were not particularly friendly. When Catherine was arrested and her household dissolved late in 1541, Henry sent Mary to Prince Edward's household. Mary had another serious illness in May 1542 with a strange fever and heart palpitations. During this period Mary described herself as the "unhappiest woman in Christendom". In July 1543, Henry married Catherine Parr. (41)

Alan Turing
Mary Tudor by Master John (1544)

Queen Catherine Parr was an excellent step-mother. Antonia Fraser, the author of The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) points out: "It is greatly to her credit that she managed to establish excellent loving relations with all three of her step-children, despite their very different needs and ages (the Lady Mary was twenty-one years older than Prince Edward). Of course she did not literally install them under one roof: that is to misunderstand the nature of sixteenth-century life when separate households were more to do with status than inclination. At the same time, the royal children were now all together on certain occasions, under the auspices of their stepmother... But the real point was that Catherine was considered by the King - and the court - to be in charge of them, an emotional responsibility rather than a physical one." (42)

Of all the step-children, Mary enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Catherine. "Separated in age by only four years, the two women enjoyed a love of fashion, and having both received humanist educations, they shared intellectual interests as well.... Friendship and a shared interest in humanist studies also bridged the gap between their divergent religious views... Mary had accepted her father's ecclesiastical settlement in 1536, but her attachment to the Catholic faith, while strong, was a conventional one tempered by humanist criticism. She practised her faith privately and although she gave alms generously, she had never indulged in public exercises of piety such as the visitation of shrines and pilgrimage sites." (43)

King Edward VI

Henry VIII died on 28th January, 1547. The following day Edward and his thirteen year-old sister, Elizabeth, were informed that their father had died. According to one source, "Edward and his sister clung to each other, sobbing". Edward VI's coronation took place on Sunday 20th February. "Walking beneath a canopy of crimson silk and cloth of gold topped by silver bells, the boy-king wore a crimson satin robe trimmed with gold silk lace costing £118 16s. 8d. and a pair of ‘Sabatons’ of cloth of gold." (44)

King Edward VI
King Edward VI (1546)

Edward was only nine years old and was too young to rule. In his will, Henry had nominated a Council of Regency, made up of 16 nobles and churchman to assist Edward VI in governing his new realm. It was not long before his uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, emerged as the leading figure in the government and was given the title Lord Protector. Thomas Seymour (Lord Sudeley) was furious that his brother had risen so far so fast. To increase his power he secretly married Edward's stepmother, Catherine Parr. Edward wrote in his journal: "The Lord Seymour of Sudeley married the Queen, whose name was Catherine, with which marriage the Lord Protector was much offended." (45)

The Duke of Somerset was a Protestant and he soon began to make changes to the Church of England. This included the introduction of an English Prayer Book and the decision to allow members of the clergy to get married. Attempts were made to destroy those aspects of religion that were associated with the Catholic Church, for example, the removal of stained-glass windows in churches and the destruction of religious wall-paintings. Somerset made sure that Edward VI was educated as a Protestant, as he hoped that when he was old enough to rule he would continue the policy of supporting the Protestant religion.

Somerset's programme of religious reformation was accompanied by bold measures of political, social, and agrarian reform. Legislation in 1547 abolished all the treasons and felonies created under Henry VIII and did away with existing legislation against heresy. Two witnesses were required for proof of treason instead of only one. Although the measure received support in the House of Commons, its passage contributed to Somerset's reputation for what later historians perceived as his liberalism. (46)

In 1548, Sudeley sought to win Edward's affection and gain acceptance as his intimate adviser. He regularly visited Edward's bedchamber. When the Duke of Somerset discovered what was happening he "put a special watch on all doors leading into the king's privy chamber in order to prevent Sudeley's clandestine entry". One night Sudeley found the door to Edward's bedchamber bolted; enraged, he shot dead the king's barking dog. Somerset was given copies of letters that Sudeley had been passing to Edward. "Somerset found such correspondence intolerable" and "arranged for Sudeley's attainder in parliament and execution" on 20th March 1549. (47)

Edward Seymour was blamed by the nobility and gentry for the social unrest such as the Kett Rebellion. They believed his statements about political reform had encouraged rebellion. His reluctance to employ force and refusal to assume military leadership merely made matters worse. Seymour's critics also disliked his popularity with the common people and considered him to be a potential revolutionary. His main opponents, including John Dudley, 2nd Earl of Warwick, Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton and Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton, met in London to demand his removal as lord protector. (48)

Seymour no longer had the support of the aristocracy and had no choice but to give up his post. On 14th January 1550 his deposition as lord protector was confirmed by act of parliament, and he was also deprived of all his other positions, of his annuities, and of lands to the value of £2,000 a year. He was sent to the Tower of London where he remained until the following February, when he was released by the Earl of Warwick who was now the most powerful figure in the government. Roger Lockyer suggests that this "gesture of conciliation on Warwick's part served its turn by giving him time to gain the young King's confidence and to establish himself more firmly in power". (49) This upset the nobility and in October 1551, Warwick was forced to arrest the Duke of Somerset.

Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, pleaded not guilty to all charges against him. He skillfully conducted his own defence and was acquitted of treason but found guilty of felony under the terms of a recent statute against bringing together men for a riot and sentenced to death. (50) "Historians sympathetic to Somerset argue that the indictment was largely fictitious, that the trial was packed with his enemies, and that Northumberland's subtle intrigue was responsible for his conviction. Other historians, however, have noted that Northumberland agreed that the charge of treason should be dropped and that the evidence suggests that Somerset was engaged in a conspiracy against his enemies." (51) Although the king had supported Somerset's religious policies with enthusiasm he did nothing to save him from his fate. (52)

As he was such a popular figure the authorities feared that Somerset's execution would cause disorder. On the morning of 22nd January, 1552, people living in London were ordered to remain in their houses. For added protection, over a 1,000 soldiers were on the streets of the city. Despite these measures large crowds gathered at Tower Hill. (53) He showed no sign of fear and he told those assembled that he died in the knowledge that he was "glad of the furtherance and helping forward of the commonwealth of this realm". (54) He also urged those present to follow the reformed religion that he had promoted. Edward wrote in his journal: "The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine in the morning." (55)

John Dudley, 2nd Earl of Warwick, now became Edward's main adviser. It has been claimed that the secret of Warwick's power was that he took Edward seriously. To be successful he "knew that he must accommodate the boy's keen intelligence and also his sovereign will". By this time the king clearly "possessed a powerful sense that he and not his council embodied royal authority". However, foreign observers did not believe that Edward was making his own decisions. The French ambassador reported that "Warwick... visited the King secretly at night in the King's Chamber, unseen by anyone, after all were asleep. The next day the young Prince came to his council and proposed matters as if they were his own; consequently, everyone was amazed, thinking that they proceeded from his mind and by his invention." Dale Hoak agrees and suggests that "Warwick was skillfully guiding the king for his own purposes by exploiting the boy's precocious capacity for understanding the business of government." (56)

Christopher Morris, the author of The Tudors (1955) believes that by the age of fifteen he was exerting control over his kingdom: "There were sporadic rebellions, but they were less dangerous than the risings against Henry, and they were all put down. The machinery of government was monstrously misused but it did not come to a standstill. England was to have a corrupt and an unjust government but not an ineffective government. There was a seemingly untroubled point of rest in the very centre of the storm. It was the mind of a small orphan boy who was the last Tudor king of England. And yet we know his mind better than that of any other Tudor, for we have his own full journal of his reign. It might be called the first of all English diaries. On certain matters, notably the trial of Somerset, the boy's journal is much the best surviving evidence. It is arguable that potentially Edward was the ablest of all the Tudors." (57)

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

In April 1552 Edward VI fell ill with a disease that was diagnosed first as smallpox and later as measles. He made a surprising recovery and wrote to his sister, Elizabeth, that he had never felt better. However, in December he developed a cough. Elizabeth asked to see her brother but John Dudley, the lord protector, said it was too dangerous. In February 1553, his doctors believed he was suffering from tuberculosis. In March the Venetian envoy saw him and said that although still quite handsome, Edward was clearly dying. (58)

In order to secure his hold on power, Dudley devised a plan where Lady Jane Grey would marry his son, Guildford Dudley. According to Philippa Jones, the author Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010): "Early in 1553, Dudley... began working to persuade the King to change the succession. Edward VI was reminded that Mary and Elizabeth were both illegitimate, and more importantly, that Mary would bring Catholicism back to England. Dudley reasoned that if Mary were to be struck out of the succession, how could Elizabeth, her equal, be left in? Furthermore, he argued that both the princesses would seek foreign husbands, jeopardizing English sovereignty." (59)

Under the influence of the Lord Protector, Edward made plans for the succession. Sir Edward Montague, chief justice of the common pleas, testified that "the king by his own mouth said" that he was prepared to alter the succession because the marriage of either Princess Mary or Princess Elizabeth to a foreigner might undermine both "the laws of this realm" and "his proceedings in religion". According to Montague, Edward also thought his sisters bore the "shame" of illegitimacy. (60)

At first Jane refused to marry Guildford on the grounds that she had already been promised to Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford, the son of Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset. However, her protests were overcome "by the urgency of her mother and the violence of her father, who compelled her to accede to his commands by blows". (61) The marriage took place on 21st May 1553 at Durham House, the Dudleys' London residence, and afterwards Jane went back to her parents. She was told Edward was dying and she must hold herself in readiness for a summons at any moment. "According to her own account, Jane did not take this seriously. Nevertheless she was obliged to return to Durham House. After a few days she fell sick and, convinced that she was being poisoned, begged leave to go out to the royal manor at Chelsea to recuperate." (62)

Death of Edward VI

King Edward VI died on 6th July, 1553. Three days later one of Northumberland's daughters came to take Lady Jane Grey to Syon House, where she was ceremoniously informed that the king had indeed nominated her to succeed him. Jane was apparently "stupefied and troubled" by the news, falling to the ground weeping and declaring her "insufficiency", but at the same time praying that if what was given to her was "‘rightfully and lawfully hers", God would grant her grace to govern the realm to his glory and service. (63)

On 10th July, Queen Jane arrived in London. An Italian spectator, witnessing her arrival, commented: "She is very short and thin, but prettily shaped and graceful. She has small features and a well-made nose, the mouth flexible and the lips red. The eyebrows are arched and darker than her hair, which is nearly red. Her eyes are sparkling and reddish brown in colour." (64) Guildford Dudley, "a tall strong boy with light hair’, walked beside her, but Jane apparently refused to make him king, saying that "the crown was not a plaything for boys and girls." (65)

Jane was proclaimed queen at the Cross in Cheapside, a letter announcing her accession was circulated to the lords lieutenant of the counties, and Bishop Nicolas Ridley of London preached a sermon in her favour at Paul's Cross, denouncing both Mary and Elizabeth as bastards, but Mary especially as a papist who would bring foreigners into the country. It was only at this point that Jane realised that she was "deceived by the Duke of Northumberland and the council and ill-treated by my husband and his mother". (66)

Mary, who had been warned of what John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, had done and instead of going to London as requested, she fled to Kenninghall in Norfolk. As Ann Weikel has pointed out: "Both the earl of Bath and Huddleston joined Mary while others rallied the conservative gentry of Norfolk and Suffolk. Men like Sir Henry Bedingfield arrived with troops or money as soon as they heard the news, and as she moved to the more secure fortress at Framlingham, Suffolk, local magnates like Sir Thomas Cornwallis, who had hesitated at first, also joined her forces." (67)

Mary summoned the nobility and gentry to support her claim to the throne. Richard Rex argues that this development had consequences for her sister, Elizabeth: "Once it was clear which way the wind was blowing, she (Elizabeth) gave every indication of endorsing her sister's claim to the throne. Self-interest dictated her policy, for Mary's claim rested on the same basis as her own, the Act of Succession of 1544. It is unlikely that Elizabeth could have outmanoeuvred Northumberland if Mary had failed to overcome him. It was her good fortune that Mary, in vindicating her own claim to the throne, also safeguarded Elizabeth's." (68)

The problem for Dudley was that the vast majority of the English people still saw themselves as "Catholic in religious feeling; and a very great majority were certainly unwilling to see - King Henry's eldest daughter lose her birthright." (69) When most of Dudley's troops deserted he surrendered at Cambridge on 23rd July, along with his sons and a few friends, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London two days later. Tried for high treason on 18th August he claimed to have done nothing save by the king's command and the privy council's consent. Mary had him executed at Tower Hill on 22nd August. In his final speech he warned the crowd to remain loyal to the Catholic Church. (70)

As soon as she gained power, Queen Mary ordered the release of the Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Bishop Stephen Gardiner and Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall and other Catholic prisoners from the Tower of London. "Raising them up one by one, she kissed them and granted them their liberty." (71) Norfolk was restored to his rank and estates. However, he was in a poor state of health and one contemporary commented "by long imprisonment diswanted from the knowledge of our malicious World". (72)

Sir Thomas Wyatt Rebellion

Queen Mary told a foreign ambassador that her conscience would not allow her to have Lady Jane Grey put to death. Jane was given comfortable quarters in the house of a gentleman gaoler. The anonymous author of the Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary (c. 1554), dropped in for dinner, finding the Lady Jane sitting in the place of honour. She made the visitor welcome and asked for news of the outside world, before going on to speak gratefully of Mary - "I beseech God she may long continue" and made a fierce attack against John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland: "Woe worth him! He hath brought me and our stock in most miserable calamity by his exceeding ambition". (73)

Jane, together with Guildford Dudley and two more of his brothers, stood trial for treason on 19th November. They were all found guilty but foreign ambassadors in London reported that Jane's life would be spared. Mary's attitude towards Jane changed when her father, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, joined the rebellion led by Sir Thomas Wyatt against her proposed marriage to Philip of Spain. Based at Rochester Castle, Wyatt soon had fifteen hundred men under his command.

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, aged 80, agreed to lead the Queen's army against the rising led by Wyatt. As David Loades, the author of Mary Tudor (2012), pointed out "that venerable warrior, the Duke of Norfolk, set out from London with a hastily assembled force to confront what was now clearly a rebellion". (74) Unfortunately, most of Norfolk's troops consisted of the London militia, who were strongly sympathetic to Wyatt. On the 29th January, 1554, they deserted in large numbers, and Norfolk was forced to retreat with the soldiers who were left.

When Mary heard about Wyatt's actions, she issued a pardon to his followers if they returned to their homes within twenty-four hours. Some of his men took up the offer. However, when a large number of the army were sent to arrest Wyatt, they changed sides. Wyatt now controlled a force of 4,000 men and he now felt strong enough to march on London.

Queen Mary
Queen Mary, portrait by Hans Eworth (1554)

On 1st February, 1554, Mary addressed a meeting in the Guildhall where she proclaimed Wyatt a traitor. The next morning, 20,000 men enrolled their names for the protection of the city. The bridges over the Thames within a distance of fifteen miles were broken down and on 3rd February, a reward of land of the annual value of one hundred pounds a year was offered to the person who captured Wyatt.

By the time Thomas Wyatt entered Southwark, large numbers of his army had deserted. However, he continued to march towards St. James's Palace, where Mary Tudor had taken refuge. Wyatt reached Ludgate at two o'clock in the morning of 8th February. The gate was shut against him, and he was unable to break it down. Wyatt now went into retreat but he was captured at Temple Bar. (75)

Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Although there is not any evidence that Jane had any foreknowledge of the conspiracy, "her very existence as a possible figurehead for protestant discontent made her an unacceptable danger to the state". Mary, now agreed with her advisers and the date of Jane's execution was fixed for 9th February, 1554. However, she was still willing to forgive Jane and sent John Feckenham, the new dean of St Paul's, over to the Tower of London in an attempt to see if he could convert this "obdurate heretic". However, she refused to change her Protestant beliefs. (76)

Jane watched the execution of her husband from the window of her room in the Tower of London. She then came out leaning on the arm of Sir John Brydges, Lieutenant of the Tower. "Lady Jane was calm, although, Elizabeth and Ellen (her two women attendants) wept... The executioner kneeled down and asked for forgiveness, which she gave most willingly... she said: "I pray you dispatch me quickly." (77)

Jane then made a brief speech: "Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact, indeed, against the queen's highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and desire thereof by me or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocency, before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day' and therewith she wrung her hands, in which she had her book." (78) Kneeling, she repeated the 51st Psalm in English. (79)

Paul Delaroche, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey (c.1840)
Paul Delaroche, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey (c.1840)

According to the Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary: "Then she kneeled down, saying, 'Will you take it off before I lay me down?' and the hangman answered her, 'No, madame.' She tied the kercher about her eyes; then feeling for the block said, 'What shall I do? Where is it?' One of the standers-by guiding her thereto, she laid her head down upon the block, and stretched forth her body and said: 'Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!' And so she ended." (80)

Stories circulated as to the piety and dignity on the scaffold, however, she did not receive a great deal of sympathy. (81) As Alison Plowden has pointed out: "The judicial murder of sixteen-year-old Jane Grey, and no one ever pretended it was anything else, caused no great stir at the time, not even among the militantly protestant Londoners. Jane had never been a well-known figure, and in any case was too closely associated with the unpopular Dudleys and their failed coup to command much public sympathy." (82)

Philip of Spain

At the time Mary became Queen she was thirty-seven, small in stature and near-sighted, appeared older than her years and often tired, because of her generally poor health. Her first parliament reinforced the Act of Succession of 1543 by declaring the validity of the marriage of her mother, Catherine of Aragon, so that the issue of "Mary's legitimacy could not be associated with the abolition of the royal supremacy and the restoration of papal authority." (83)

Almost from her infancy Mary had "hawked around Europe and offered to every prince from Portugal to Poland". As she had been described by her own father as illegitimate, she did not obtain a husband. She felt humiliated and now she was Queen of England, she had much more to offer. Mary also needed an heir. The Protestant attempts to overthrow Mary had also made her feel insecure. To protect her position, Mary decided to form an alliance with the Catholic monarchy in Spain. This gave her the "prospect of a Catholic heir, reunion with Rome, her martyred mother's Spanish dynasty." (84)

Mary was the first woman to rule England in her own right. It soon became clear that Mary was not going to be ruled by her Privy Council. Her first move was to put her marriage into the hands of her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Therefore her councillors found that Mary had excluded them from the marital decision-making process. This is something that no previous king had done. (85)

Charles V, with little concern for Mary, seized the opportunity to increase his influence over England by proposing his son Philip II as her husband. According to Simon Renard, the Spanish ambassador, Mary disliked the idea and reached the decision with the greatest reluctance. (86) "She was disgusted at the idea of having sex with a man; but the Emperor and his ambassador were strongly in favour of a marriage which would unite England with the Emperor's territories in a permanent alliance." (87) This move was opposed by Bishop Stephen Gardiner, her Lord Chancellor, who wanted her to marry Edward Courtenay, a man he thought was more acceptable to the English people. (88)

Mary was determined to produce an heir, thus preventing her sister, Elizabeth, a Protestant, from succeeding to the throne. In negotiations it was agreed that Philip was to be styled "King of England", but he could not act without his wife's consent or appoint foreigners to office in England. Philip was unhappy at the conditions imposed, but he was ready to agree for the sake of securing the marriage.

Queen Mary
Queen Mary, portrait by Antonis Mor (1554)

Philip arrived in England on 19th July, 1554. Their first meeting turned out fairly well in spite of the obvious age difference (Mary was 38 and Philip was 27). The ceremony took place at Winchester Cathedral on 25th July 1554, two days after their first meeting. (89) Mary taught Philip to say "Good night my lords and ladies" in English but this was probably the limit of his proficiency in the language. He spent little time in England and was alleged to have several mistresses in Spain. "Whether he was really as promiscuous as alleged, we do not know, but it is unlikely in view of his rigid piety. On the other hand a man who very seldom saw his wife could well keep a mistress - or a succession of mistresses - without ever feeling called upon to acknowledge the fact." (90)

Soon rumours began circulating that Mary was pregnant. In April 1555, Elizabeth, who was held under house arrest, was summoned to Court to witness the birth of the expected child that summer. However, no child was forthcoming and Mary still did not have an heir. (91)

In deciding to marry Philip of Spain, the only son of Emperor Charles V, Mary made her first and most serious political error. "She either failed to comprehend or chose to disregard the depth of an English xenophobic sentiment which was made all the more powerful for being combined with anxiety about the potential power of a male consort. The prospect of a foreign ruler created considerable opposition in parliament and throughout the realm." When the speaker of the House of Commons suggested she marry an English subject, not a foreign prince, Mary angrily told him that she would not subject herself in marriage to an individual whom her position made her inferior. (92)

Heretics during Mary's Reign

Mary appointed Bishop Stephen Gardiner as her Lord Chancellor. He had been imprisoned during the reign of Edward VI. Over the next two years Gardiner attempted to restore Catholicism in England. In the first Parliament held after Mary gained power most of the religious legislation of Edward's reign was repealed.

In November 1554, Mary's distant cousin, Reginald Pole, returned from exile, to become Archbishop of Canterbury. He shared Mary's devotion to the Catholic Church and wished to see England restored to full communion with Rome. Pole and Gardiner persuaded Parliament to revive former measures against heresy. These had been repealed under Henry VIII and Edward VI.

In early 1555 Lord Chancellor Stephen Gardiner took part in the trials and examinations of John Hooper, Rowland Taylor, John Rogers, and Robert Ferrar, all of whom were burnt. He was also present in the summer of 1555 at meetings of the privy council which approved the execution of heretics. David Loades claims that "the threat of fire would send all these rats scurrying for cover, and when his bluff was called, he was taken aback." (93) Cuthbert Tunstall, the Bishop of Durham, participated to some degree in the trials of notable protestants, he condemned no one to death and seems to have been on the whole unconvinced by the policy of persecution. (94)

Thomas Cranmer had been Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Edward VI. As soon as Mary gained power she ordered the arrest of Cranmer and he was questioned about the Lady Jane Grey coup. He was arrested on 13th November, on charges of joining with John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, to seize power. At his trial for treason he admitted that he "confessed more… than was true". Found guilty, his household was broken up, much of his goods sold off and most of his protestant books apparently destroyed.

Cranmer, Nicolas Ridley, John Bradford, and Hugh Latimer were taken to Oxford to stand trial for heresy. Bradford was executed on 1st July, 1555. At his trial on 12th September, Cranmer made the distinction between obedience that he owed to the crown and his complete rejection of the pope. After this a string of witnesses appeared who confirmed that Cranmer was the symbol of everything that had changed in the church between 1533 and 1553. On 16th October, Cranmer was forced to watch his friends, Ridley and Latimer, burnt at the stake. (95)

Thomas Cranmer
Thomas Cranmer by an unknown artist (c. 1550)

On 24th February, 1556, a writ was issued ordering the execution of Cranmer. Two days later Cranmer issued a statement that was truly a recantation of his religious beliefs. When this did not bring a reprieve, he issued a further statement on 18th March. Diarmaid MacCulloch makes the point: "It is worth noting that he signed this when there was no possibility of his being pardoned and spared. What happened next, his dramatic reversal of his recantation, was therefore not simply an act of spite by a desperate man who felt that he had nothing to lose by defying the regime and the old church." (96)

On 21st March, 1556, Thomas Cranmer he was brought to St Mary's Church in Oxford, where he stood on a platform as a sermon was directed against him. He was then expected to deliver a short address in which he would repeat his acceptance of the truths of the Catholic Church. Instead he proceeded to recant his recantations and deny the six statements he had previously made and described the Pope as "Christ's enemy, and Antichrist, with all his false doctrine." The officials pulled him down from the platform and dragged him towards the scaffold. (97)

Cranmer had said in the Church that he regretted the signing of the recantations and claimed that "since my hand offended, it will be punished... when I come to the fire, it first will be burned." According to John Foxe: "When he came to the place where Hugh Latimer and Ridley had been burned before him, Cranmer knelt down briefly to pray then undressed to his shirt, which hung down to his bare feet. His head, once he took off his caps, was so bare there wasn't a hair on it. His beard was long and thick, covering his face, which was so grave it moved both his friends and enemies. As the fire approached him, Cranmer put his right hand into the flames, keeping it there until everyone could see it burned before his body was touched." Cranmer was heard to cry: "this unworthy right hand!" (98)

It was claimed that just before he died Cranmer managed to throw the speech he intended to make in St Mary's Church into the crowd. A man whose initials were J.A. picked it up and made a copy of it. Although he was a Catholic, he was impressed by Cranmer's courage, and decided to keep it and it was later passed on to John Foxe, who published in his Book of Martyrs.

Jasper Ridley has argued that as a propaganda exercise, Cranmer's death was a disaster for Queen Mary. "An event which has been witnessed by hundreds of people cannot be kept secret and the news quickly spread that Cranmer was repudiated his recantations before he died. The government then changed their line; they admitted that Cranmer had retracted his recantations were insincere, that he had recanted only to save his life, and that they had been justified in burning him despite his recantations. The Protestants then circulated the story of Cranmer's statement at the stake in an improved form; they spread the rumour that Cranmer had denied at the stake that he had ever signed any recantations, and that the alleged recantations had all been forged by King Philip's Spanish friars." (99)

In a three year period over 300 men and women were burnt for heresy. The executions usually took place on market day so they would be seen by the largest number of people possible. Supporters of the condemned heretic would also attend the execution. In some cases people demonstrated against the idea of killing heretics. If caught, these people would be taken away and flogged. Christopher Morris, the author of The Tudors (1955) has argued: "The punishment of death by burning was an appallingly cruel one, but it was not this that shocked contemporaries - after all, in an age that knew nothing of anaesthetics, a great deal of pain had to be endured by everybody at one time or another, and the taste for public executions, bear-baiting and cock-fighting suggests a callousness that blunted susceptibilities." (100) During this period around 280 people were burnt at the stake. This compare to only 81 heretics executed during the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547).

The Death of Queen Mary I

In the summer of 1558 Mary began to get pains in her stomach and thought she was pregnant. This was important to Mary as she wanted to ensure that a Catholic monarchy would continue after her death. It was not to be. Mary had stomach cancer. Mary now had to consider the possibility of naming Elizabeth as her successor. "Mary postponed the inevitable naming of her half-sister until the last minute. Although their relations were not always overtly hostile, Mary had long disliked and distrusted Elizabeth. She had resented her at first as the child of her own mother's supplanter, more recently as her increasingly likely successor. She took exception both to Elizabeth's religion and to her personal popularity, and the fact that first Wyatt's and then Dudley's risings aimed to install the princess in her place did not make Mary love her any more. But although she was several times pressed to send Elizabeth to the block, Mary held back, perhaps dissuaded by considerations of her half-sister's popularity, compounded by her own childlessness, perhaps by instincts of mercy." On 6th November she acknowledged Elizabeth as her heir. (101)

Mary died, aged forty-two, on 17th November 1558.

Primary Sources

(1) Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great (1958)

The Princess Mary, only child of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was twenty-seven at the time of her father's death. For the past fifteen years her life had been very unhappy. She had most dearly loved her mother, and had seen her divorced so that the King could marry her lady-in-waiting, the disagreeable and dazzling Ann Boleyn. She was an ardent member of the Roman Church, and she had seen the English Government throw off papal authority and her father style himself the Church's Supreme Head. She had vowed passionately she would never call him so, and a fearful dispute was joined in which the King did not contend with her himself but banished her from his presence and left her to the mercy of his ministers. On her mother's death she succumbed to his will, avowing her own birth illegitimate and accepting the King as Supreme Head of the Church. These sufferings had made her old before her time and had given a twist to her unselfish and affectionate nature, the results of which were yet to show themselves.

The King's obsessive desire for the son whom his first twenty years of marriage had not given him was the source of the energy with which he shouldered through the breach with Rome; its immediate inspiration was his passion for Elizabeth's mother. Thin, black-eyed, excitable, tart and witty, Ann Boleyn made gentleness and amiability appear insipid. The French Ambassador Du Bellay said that the King's infatuation for her was such, that only God could abate his madness. For six years she refused to gratify his passion, keeping the lustful and domineering King in a white heat of desire. When the divorce was all but accomplished she yielded to him, and the marriage was performed secretly that the coming child might be the heir to its father's throne.

The marriage was celebrated in the dark of a winter's morning, but the coronation procession was made in brilliant weather on the last day of May. In her ruby wreath and her robes of glittering silver, "a woman clothed with the sun", Ann was borne on her way, the King's wife, to be crowned Queen and five months gone with child. Her long-sustained effort had resulted in an enormous triumph.

Her child proved to be a girl, and from that hour her influence began to wane. Two miscarriages diminished it further. The shrewishness, verging upon hysteria, to which she was driven by the dreadful sense of failure, paved the way for a successor of meek, adoring tenderness. The situation grew rapidly worse and alarm only sharpened her overbearing temper. When she discovered the King making love to her lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, she burst into furious denunciation; the rage brought on a premature labour and she was delivered of a dead boy. In Sir John Neale's words, "she had miscarried of her saviour".

Her reckless behaviour had provided ample means to destroy her. She was at Greenwich after the fatal miscarriage, where she was suddenly arrested and brought to the Tower in the month of May. The only description of the Queen with her child Elizabeth belongs to the days immediately before the arrest....

The Queen was charged with having committed adultery with five men, of whom one was her brother, and condemned on a verdict of high treason to be beheaded or burned alive at the King's pleasure. The Lieutenant of the Tower reported her as falling into fit after fit, alternately weeping and laughing. Some mercy was shown to her by the bringing over from Calais of a notably skilful headsman who used a sword instead of an axe. The Lieutenant assured her she would feel no pain, and she accepted his assurance. "I have a little neck," she said, and putting her hand round it, she shrieked with laughter.

On May 19 she was beheaded on Tower Green, a few minutes before noon. The guns of the Tower were fired to mark the act and the King, who was hunting in Richmond Park, paused beneath an oak tree to catch the sound. That night he was at the Seymours' house in Wiltshire, whence he married Jane Seymour the next morning. Meanwhile the head and body of Ann Boleyn had been put into a chest made for arrows and carried a few paces from the scaffold into the, chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where she was buried in a grave beside her brother's. Her daughter was not three years old.

The child was a lively little creature with reddish golden hair, a very white skin, and eyes of golden-brown with brows and lashes so fair as to be almost invisible. Though headstrong, she was remarkably teachable. Her excellent governess, Lady Bryan, said that she was spoiling the child at present because she was in pain with cutting her double teeth, but once this was over, Lady Bryan meant to have her behaving very differently.

The question of how the King would now regard her was an anxious one to those in charge of Elizabeth. Lady Bryan wrote with pathetic eagerness to the great minister Cromwell, saying she was sure that when the Princess had got over her teething, the King would be delighted with his little girl. Meanwhile, she was in dire need of clothes.

Her mother had dressed her beautifully, and in the mercer's account for the last year of Ann Boleyn's life, included in the lists of the Queen's dresses, are the kirtles made for "my Lady Princess": orange velvet, russet velvet, yellow satin, white damask. One of the last items was green satin for "a little bed". But the account had been closed in April 1536, over a year previously, and Elizabeth had outworn and outgrown almost everything she had; she wanted gowns kirtles, petticoats, smocks, night-gowns, stays, handkerchiefs, caps. "I have driven it off as best I can," Lady Bryan wrote, "that by my troth I can drive it off no longer; beseeching you, my Lord, that ye will see that her Grace hath that which is needful for her."

(2) Philippa Jones, Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010)

In June 1536, Elizabeth was formally proclaimed illegitimate. With this turn of events, it seemed possible that the Lady Mary and her father might become reconciled. Instead, Mary found herself under more pressure than ever, first to acknowledge the King as Head of the Protestant Church in England when she was herself staunchly Catholic, and also to accept that his marriage to her mother, Catherine of Aragon, had been unlawful, thereby making Mary illegitimate. Heartsick and disillusioned, in July of that year Mary finally agreed to these demands, although she begged Spanish Ambassador Chapuys to tell the Pope that she had only agreed under duress and remained a true Catholic at heart and the lawful child of her father and mother in the eyes of God.

Mary's outward show of obedience was enough to satisfy Henry. Accompanied by the new Queen, he visited Mary at Hunsdon, where Jane presented her stepdaughter with a diamond ring and the King gave her an order for 1,000 crowns. As long as Mary remained dutiful, the days of poverty and neglect were over, it seemed. Chapuys, happy to see Mary back in the King's graces, wrote: "It is impossible to describe the King's kind and affectionate behaviour towards the Princess Mary, his daughter, and the deep regret he said he felt at his having kept her so long away from him... There was nothing but... such brilliant promises for the future, that no father could have behaved better towards his daughter."

Mary was permitted to return to Court and given a household suitable to her standing as the King's daughter, albeit an illegitimate one. Elizabeth, stripped of the title of princess, still shared an establishment with Mary, who was now the principal mistress of the household. Mary's servants, driven away during her days of torment, were allowed back.

Queen Jane treated Mary well, befriending her husband's oldest child, and returning some of the signs of rank that Mary had been denied while Anne Boleyn had been alive. Jane had been a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon and had much admired her.

One of Jane's first requests of the King was that Mary be allowed to attend her, which Henry was pleased to allow. Mary was chosen to sit at the table opposite the King and Queen and to hand Jane her napkin at meals when she washed her hands. For one who had been banished to sit with the servants at Hatfield, this was an obvious sign of her restoration to the King's good graces. Jane was often seen walking hand-in-hand with Mary, making sure that they passed through the door together, a public acknowledgement that Mary was back in favour. In August, Chapuys wrote, "the treatment of the princess Mary is every day improving. She never did enjoy such liberty as she does now.' Meanwhile, Henry, wary of relying on Jane to give him a son, raised the question of the 20-year-old Mary's marriage - the next best thing to a son, after all, would be a healthy grandson.

In October 1536, an anonymous letter to the Cardinal de Bellay, Bishop of Paris, described Mary and Elizabeth's situation at Court: "Madame Marie is now the first after the Queen, and sits at table opposite her, a little lower down ... Madame Elizabeth is not at that table, though the King is very affectionate to her. It is said he loves her very much."

Mary appeared to show great affection towards her little sister Elizabeth during this time, giving her small gifts from her own privy purse. Mary wrote to her father, who was now in the happy position of being able to be gracious to both his daughters.

(3) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985)

Queen Mary was thirty-seven when the death of her half-brother brought her to the throne, and the catholics rejoiced at the prospect of a reign in which the old faith would be restored. Success seemed certain, for the Queen herself was popular. She had shown her courage by raising her standard in the face of what must have seemed formidable odds, and for years before that she had resisted all the efforts of Edward VI's ministers to persuade her to abandon her faith. When a deputation of Councillors waited on her in August 1551 and urged her to change her attitude, she proudly refused, and took the opportunity to remind them that her father had "made the more part of you out of nothing". Her courage, her pride, and her stubbornness were typically Tudor, but Charles V's ambassador thought she was too accessible and too innocent of the arts and subterfuges of politics. "I know the Queen to be good", he wrote, "easily influenced, inexpert in worldly matters, and a novice all round", and the years that followed were in many ways to confirm this judgment. For Mary politics were an aspect of religion and morality. Principle came first and she could see no virtue in compromise. The simplicity of her approach, combined with her natural stubbornness, explains why this well-intentioned woman became a symbol of intolerance and cruelty.

Student Activities

Mary Tudor and Heretics (Answer Commentary)

Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Henry VII: A Wise or Wicked Ruler? (Answer Commentary)

Henry VIII: Catherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn?

Was Henry VIII's son, Henry FitzRoy, murdered?

Hans Holbein and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

The Marriage of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon (Answer Commentary)

Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves (Answer Commentary)

Was Queen Catherine Howard guilty of treason? (Answer Commentary)

Anne Boleyn - Religious Reformer (Answer Commentary)

Did Anne Boleyn have six fingers on her right hand? A Study in Catholic Propaganda (Answer Commentary)

Why were women hostile to Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn? (Answer Commentary)

Catherine Parr and Women's Rights (Answer Commentary)

Women, Politics and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Historians and Novelists on Thomas Cromwell (Answer Commentary)

Martin Luther and Thomas Müntzer (Answer Commentary)

Martin Luther and Hitler's Anti-Semitism (Answer Commentary)

Martin Luther and the Reformation (Answer Commentary)

Joan Bocher - Anabaptist (Answer Commentary)

Anne Askew – Burnt at the Stake (Answer Commentary)

Elizabeth Barton and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Execution of Margaret Cheyney (Answer Commentary)

Robert Aske (Answer Commentary)

Dissolution of the Monasteries (Answer Commentary)

Pilgrimage of Grace (Answer Commentary)

Poverty in Tudor England (Answer Commentary)

Why did Queen Elizabeth not get married? (Answer Commentary)

Francis Walsingham - Codes & Codebreaking (Answer Commentary)

Sir Thomas More: Saint or Sinner? (Answer Commentary)

Hans Holbein's Art and Religious Propaganda (Answer Commentary)

1517 May Day Riots: How do historians know what happened? (Answer Commentary)


(1) Garrett Mattingly, Catherine of Aragon (1941) page 169

(2) Anna Whitelock, Mary Tudor: England's First Queen (2009) page 17

(3) Ann Weikel, Mary Tudor : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(4) David Loades, The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government and Religion in England (1991) pages 22-23

(5) Ann Weikel, Mary Tudor : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(6) Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 98-99

(7) Ann Weikel, Mary Tudor : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(8) Anna Whitelock, Mary Tudor: England's First Queen (2009) page 25

(9) Eric William Ives, Anne Boleyn : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(10) Hilary Mantel, Anne Boleyn (11th May, 2012)

(11) Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) page 57

(12) Henry VIII, letter to Anne Boleyn (1526)

(13) Philippa Jones, Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010) page 19

(14) Christopher Morris, The Tudors (1955) page 79

(15) Eric William Ives, Anne Boleyn : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(16) David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003) pages 430-433

(17) George Cavendish, The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey (1959) page 137

(18) Eric William Ives, Anne Boleyn : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(19) Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 186-187

(20) Patrick Collinson, Queen Elizabeth I : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(21) Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) page 168

(22) Philippa Jones, Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010) page 23

(23) David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (2003) page 517

(24) Alison Plowden, The Young Elizabeth (1999) page 45

(25) Ann Weikel, Mary Tudor : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(26) Jasper Ridley, Henry VIII (1984) page 274

(27) Ambassador Eustace Chapuys, report to King Charles V (January, 1536)

(28) Eric William Ives, Anne Boleyn : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(29) Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) page 191

(30) G. W. Bernard, Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions (2011) pages 174-175

(31) Philippa Jones, Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010) page 25

(32) Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989) page 227

(33) Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 254

(34) Anne Boleyn, statement on the scaffold at Tower Green (19th May, 1536)

(35) Barrett L. Beer, Jane Seymour : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(36) Philippa Jones, Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010) page 27

(37) Ambassador Eustace Chapuys, report to King Charles V (August, 1536)

(38) Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 278

(39) Ann Weikel, Mary Tudor : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(40) Barrett L. Beer, Jane Seymour : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(41) Ann Weikel, Mary Tudor : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(42) Antonia Fraser, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1992) page 371

(43) Ann Weikel, Mary Tudor : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(44) Dale Hoak, Edward VI: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(45) Philippa Jones, Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010) page 46

(46) Barrett L. Beer, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(47) Dale Hoak, Edward VI: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(48) Barrett L. Beer, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(49) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) page 92

(50) Jennifer Loach, Edward VI (2002) pages 101-102

(51) Barrett L. Beer, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(52) Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great (1958) page 37

(53) John Guy, My Heart is my Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots (2004) pages 212-215

(54) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) page 92

(55) Edward VI, journal entry (22nd January, 1552)

(56) Dale Hoak, Edward VI: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(57) Christopher Morris, The Tudors (1955) page 97

(58) Dale Hoak, Edward VI: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(59) Philippa Jones, Elizabeth: Virgin Queen (2010) page 86

(60) Thomas Fuller, The Church History of Britain: Volume IV (1845) pages 138-9

(61) Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Tudor Princesses (1868) page 136

(62) Ann Weikel, Mary Tudor : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(63) J. M. Stone, The History of Mary I, Queen of England (1901) page 497

(64) Richard Davey, The Nine Days' Queen: Lady Jane Grey and her Times (1909) page 253

(65) Alison Plowden, Lady Jane Grey : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(66) J. M. Stone, The History of Mary I, Queen of England (1901) page 499

(67) Ann Weikel, Mary Tudor : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(68) Richard Rex, Elizabeth: Fortune's Bastard (2007) pages 35-36

(69) Christopher Morris, The Tudors (1955) page 113

(70) S. J. Gunn, Edmund Dudley : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(71) Anna Whitelock, Mary Tudor: England's First Queen (2009) page 181

(72) Michael R. Graves, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(73) Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary (c. 1554)

(74) David Loades, Mary Tudor (2012) page 145

(75) Jane Dunn, Elizabeth & Mary (2003) pages 134-136

(76) Alison Plowden, Lady Jane Grey : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(77) Rowland Lea, diary entry (9th February, 1554)

(78) Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary (c. 1554)

(79) Alison Plowden, Lady Jane Grey : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(80) Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary (c. 1554)

(81) Jane Dunn, Elizabeth & Mary (2003) page 137

(82) Alison Plowden, Lady Jane Grey : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(83) D. G. Newcombe, Cuthbert Tunstall : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(84) Christopher Morris, The Tudors (1955) page 127

(85) David Loades, Mary Tudor (2012) page 10

(86) Simon Renard, letter to Charles V (28th October, 1553)

(87) Jasper Ridley, Bloody Mary's Martyrs (2002) page 54

(88) David Loades, Mary Tudor (2012) page 141

(89) Richard Rex, Elizabeth: Fortune's Bastard (2007) page 45

(90) Linda Porter, Mary Tudor: The First Queen (2007) page 318

(92) David Loades, Mary Tudor (2012) page 12

(93) Alison Plowden, Lady Jane Grey : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(94) David Loades, Mary Tudor (2012) page 178

(95) Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth the Great (1958) page 54

(96) Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(97) Peter Ackroyd, Tudors (2012) page 279

(98) John Foxe, Book of Martyrs (1563) page 219 of 2014 edition.

(99) Jasper Ridley, Bloody Mary's Martyrs (2002) page 137

(100) Christopher Morris, The Tudors (1955) page 102

(101) Ann Weikel, Mary Tudor : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)