Guest article by Anthony Ruggiero
The Tudor Dynasty of England, spanning from the late fifteenth century into the early seventeenth century, was a fascinating drama, filled with intrigue, lust and murder. The dynasty’s monarchs were its main characters whose relationships impacted the country socially, economically and politically. Such relationships included Queen Mary I and King Edward VI. Mary Tudor, the daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife, ruled over England from July 1553 to her death in November 1558. Her reign as Queen was marked by her steadfast effort to convert England back to Catholicism from Protestantism, which had been established under her father twenty years earlier and then further intensified during the reign of her younger brother, King Edward VI.
Born on February 18th, 1516, Mary was the eldest child of King Henry VIII, as well as the only surviving child of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and thus was pronounced heir apparent to her father’s throne. During Mary’s childhood she received an education, which was heavily influenced by the Catholic religion that would have a significant impact on Mary throughout the rest of her life. Mary was very close to her mother, who made tremendous efforts in grooming Mary to be a future queen. For example, Catherine took great interest in acquiring an exceptional education for her daughter, such as choosing Thomas Linacre, a renowned scholar, to be her daughter’s instructor. Furthermore, Catherine’s deep religious conviction and charitable acts served as a model for Mary, who frequently visited court to be with her mother.Initially close with both of her parents, Mary’s relationship with her father began to strain when his desire for a male heir increased, his open rejection of her mother became more obvious, and his infatuation with Anne Boleyn intensified. The year 1531, when Mary was fifteen, marked a turning point in Mary’s life when Henry forbade her to see her mother. Henry later broke away from the Catholic Church in order to divorce Catherine and marry Anne. Henry quickly established the Church of England with himself as the supreme head. Mary was declared illegitimate and was replaced as heir apparent by Henry and Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth; she was furthermore banished from court.
Following Anne Boleyn’s fall from grace and execution in May of 1536, Mary, now twenty, was able to reestablish a relationship with her father after he married Jane Seymour in 1536. Mary’s return to favor was also based on her acceptance of the Church of England and her own illegitimacy. Mary recognized that her position was still not secure and would ultimately need to reconnect with her father in order to obtain any form of political standing. Her father repeatedly demanded her to take the oath recognizing him as the supreme head of the Church of England. Faced with no other alternative, Mary accepted her father’s demands and was officially pardoned. In a letter to her father Mary accepted her father’s authority as the leader of the Church of England, as well as the illegality of her parents’ marriage:
I do freely, frankly and for the discharge of my duty towards God, the king’s highness and his laws, without other respect, recognize and acknowledge that the marriage formerly had between his majesty and my mother, the late princess dowager, was by God’s law and man’s law incestuous and unlawful.’
Henry also required that Mary write a letter to the Pope and Charles confirming that her acceptance of Henry’s decree was genuine, and she complied. Following the birth of Henry and Jane’s son, Edward, Mary began to accept the fact that she was not next in line to the throne. After successfully recreating a relationship with her father, Mary was reinstated in the line of succession in 1544, with Edward being first in line, her being second, and Elizabeth third. This was reaffirmed in Henry’s will shortly before his death in 1547.
England’s “precious jewel,” Edward, later King Edward VI of England, was born on October 12th, 1537. Henry VIII’s long awaited heir was finally born. Although Edward’s early life was filled with despair, with the loss of his mother, Jane Seymour, only days following his birth, as well as sickness, Edward was given every luxury a prince of his time was afforded. For example, he was well educated and looked after. Edward was educated in philosophy, theology, the sciences, French, Spanish, and Italian. He was described as having “high intelligence” and a firm understanding of monetary affairs. Prior to becoming king, Edward maintained a strong relationship with his elder sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. Ironically, Edward wrote to Mary in 1546 that he “love(d) her most.”
However, following Edward’s ascension to the throne in January of 1547, Mary and Edward’s relationship began to wane. For example, although Mary maintained land holdings during her brother’s reign, particularly in East Anglia, she still faced opposition at Edward’s court due to her religious beliefs. Mary’s known, staunch belief in the Catholic religion conflicted with her brother’s Protestant beliefs. During this time Mary infrequently visited court due to her brother’s Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. Seymour was a radical Protestant, and during his time as Lord Protector he successfully managed to abolish Catholic Mass. This meant that English citizens could no longer openly practice the religion in a traditional, mass setting practiced by the Catholic Church. Although Mary objected to this, she still managed to keep Catholic Mass in her household. However, after the fall and execution of Seymour for essentially kidnapping King Edward VI and for planning to raise an army to maintain his control in government, the rise of John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland as the new Lord Protector, resulted in further deterioration of Mary and Edward’s relationship. Mary herself stated that the Duke of Northumberland was the “most unstable man in England.” Dudley’s practice of the Protestant religion was more intense, his practices would strongly influence the young king. Dudley demanded conformity to the religious doctrines imposed by the government; furthermore, he recognized that Mary was a symbol for English citizens who were still Catholic who might revert the country back to the Catholic Church. This was evident when Mary was no longer permitted to practice Mass in her household. Evidence of the strained relationship between Edward and Mary was during Christmas of 1550, when Edward lambasted Mary for continuing to practice the Catholic faith, which led to Mary fleeing the royal court in tears. This would later prove to be the last time Mary and Edward would see each other. Charles V attempted to intervene on behalf of his cousin by submitting a request to the Privy Council that would grant her the ability to worship freely. In Edward VI’s, Chronicle, he describes that within the request Charles threatened war with England had they not let Mary continue to freely worship. Although there were fears amongst the Privy Council, who wanted to avoid war, Charles’s conflicts with the French in Italy dampened any threat he made. At this point, Mary considered fleeing England for Spain. However, just as a Spanish ship was docked for her at the coast of Maldon in Essex, Mary had a change of heart; she refused to leave and was determined to maintain her claim to the throne.
By the spring of 1553, King Edward VI’s health began to rapidly deteriorate. Determined to ensure that the throne was not passed to his Catholic sister, Edward created a latent patent entitled, “My Device for the Succession.” This document excluded both Mary and their sister, Elizabeth, from the succession on the grounds that they were born illegitimate. Instead, the throne would be passed to Lady Jane Grey, the granddaughter of King Henry VIII’s sister. Furthermore, Edward and Northumberland stated their reasoning for supporting Jane was their fear and disdain at the thought of Mary and Elizabeth marrying foreigners, and that the country would ultimately be controlled by a foreign power. They reasoned that Jane, who was married to Northumberland’s son, Guildford Dudley, would produce an English heir and maintain the lineage of the throne. The Duke of Northumberland also knew that Edward did not have much longer to live, he acted swiftly to ensure that Mary did not attempt to take the throne by trying to lure her to court in order to arrest her for continuously refusing to convert. However, Mary was informed of her brother’s impending death and Northumberland’s plot, and instead fled from her residence in Hudson in Hertfordshire, which was closer to court, to Kenninghall, in Norfolk, East Anglia where she had land and estate, as well as political support. It was there where she eventually learned of Edward’s death, at the age of fifteen, and that Lady Jane Grey would be pronounced Queen. However, the announcement of Jane Grey was not entirely welcomed by those in the country. For example, one account made by Gianfrancesco Commendone, the secretary of the Cardinal of Imola, described that while Jane Grey was being led to the Tower to await her coronation, there were mixed feelings of disdain and no cheering among the English citizens. Support of Jane Grey was also created out of fear. Another account made by Spanish merchant, Antonio de Guaras, stated that any person who questioned the legitimacy of Jane Grey, and why Mary was not pronounced queen, would have their ears cut off in order to cause intimidation and ensure the obedience of the English citizens.
Following news of her brother’s death, Mary sent a letter to the Privy Council demanding them to recognize her as Queen, which was mandated in her father’s will:
You know, the realm and the whole world knoweth; the rolls and records appear by the authority of the King our said father, and that King our said brother, and the subjects of this realm; so that we verily trust there is no good true subject, that is, can, or would, pretend to be ignorant thereof.
However, the council rejected her claim and instead, Northumberland and his troops marched towards Kenninghall. Mary managed to escape and moved southward in East Anglia. During this time, Mary gained a large amount of support by both English Catholics and those who supported her claim to the throne as the rightful heir because she was the daughter of King Henry VIII and was legally next in line according to the Act of Succession and Henry’s will, and those, like Thomas, Lord Wentworth, a well-liked and followed nobleman, who despised Northumberland. Mary also received political support from nobleman such as the Earls of Pembroke and Arundel, both members of the Privy Council, who persistently advocated for Mary’s right to the throne as the daughter of King Henry VIII as prescribed in his will. Mary’s overwhelming support eventually caused Northumberland to surrender; the Privy Council turned against Jane Grey and proclaimed Mary as Queen on July 19th, 1553. Northumberland was arrested and later executed by Mary for attempting to prevent her from succeeding to the throne. Mary, the once scorned Tudor rose, now thirty-seven, rode into London in August 1553 officially as Queen.
Hanson, Marilee. “Letter of Princess Mary to King Henry VIII, 1536 – Primary Sources” https://englishhistory.net/tudor/letter-of-princess-mary-to-king-henry-viii-1536/, 2015.
Mary Tudor, Letter From Mary To The Members of Edward VI’S Privy Council, 1553. In The Reign of Mary, edited by Robert Titler, 1983,
Loades, The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government, and Religion in England, 1553-1558.
Sharpe, Kevin. Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth-century England. 2009.
Titler, Robert. The Reign of Mary I. London: Longman, 1983
Titus, Casey. 5 Fascinating Facts about King Henry VIII’s Son, King Edward VI. History Is Now Magazine, Podcasts, Blog and Books | Modern International and American History. 2018.
Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen. London: Bloomsbury, 2009.