Queen Mary of England was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. She was born at Greenwich on February 18th, 1516. Mary’s life was troubled early on with the public divorce and multiple marriage disasters of her father King Henry.
King Henry VIII vastly altered the life of his eldest living child and uprooted the easy life that Mary had always enjoyed in her early years. Mary’s mother Catherine of Aragon was discarded in favor of Anne Boleyn. Henry divorced his first wife claiming the marriage was not valid. The dissolved marriage of her parents put Mary at a disadvantage. She was stripped of her title of Princess and legally considered a bastard. This changed everything.
In today’s post I will share a letter she wrote to King Henry in order to mend fences, show her obedience, and to save her life. Catherine of Aragon’s even urges her daughter in a letter to obey her father’s wishes with strong and powerful words brought from fear and the instinct to survive. Mary would become Queen of England and Ireland after the death of her half-brother.
Catherine of Aragon was the daughter of King Ferdinand II and Isabella of Spain. They were powerful rulers that profited greatly from Spanish conquest when Europe first traveled to the American Continent. Catherine ensured that Mary had the best education that could be offered. The young girl was taught to read and write in languages such as Latin from an early age. She enjoyed music and games. Mary from the beginning was extremely close to her mother growing up. The relationship would face sorrow because Henry VIII didn’t allow his wife and daughter to see each other.
Mary would be kept away from her mother and never saw Catherine of Aragon after her father married Anne Boleyn. According to the BBC, Mary’s mother was displaced by the the claims her marriage wasn’t lawful in the eyes of god or the Catholic Church.
“Her life was radically altered when Henry divorced Catherine to marry Anne Boleyn. He claimed that the marriage was incestuous and illegal, as Catherine had been married to his dead brother, Arthur. The pope disagreed, resulting in Henry’s break with Rome and the establishment of the Church of England.”
The repercussions of King Henry’s new marriage lowered the status of Mary. She would be considered illegitimate. This was quite a demotion for a girl who was considered an important member of the royal family. Henry VIII had the years before sent his daughter to reside over the council of Wales and the Marches.Mary had her own court at Ludlow Castle, an honor usually only given to the Prince of Wales, a male heir. The people even called her the Princess of Wales; although, Henry never officially gave her the title. Life had been promising, welcoming, and pleasant in these years. It would radically change when Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn. This caused Mary to have to wait on others versus being waited on. It was quite a shock of treatment for a girl who had never known anything but privilege. All of Mary’s household was shut down and servants fired. The former princess was sent Hatfield, Hertfordshire to serve her half-sister Princess Elizabeth, the new-born daughter of Henry and his second wife Anne Boleyn.
Catherine of Aragon attempted to reconcile her daughter and Henry VIII by urging Mary to accept her father’s wishes shortly after Elizabeth’s birth. Catherine advised her daughter to acknowledge the illegitimacy of her parents marriage and to please her father by conceding to his demands. This was done because Catherine genuinely feared for her daughter’s life.
The below letter was written in April of 1534.
“Daughter, I heard such tidings today that I do perceive if it be true, the time is come that Almighty God will prove you; and I am very glad of it, for I trust He doth handle you with a good love. I beseech you agree of His pleasure with a merry heart; and be sure that, without fail, He will not suffer you to perish if you beware to offend Him. I pray you, good daughter, to offer yourself to Him. If any pangs come to you, shrive yourself; first make you clean; take heed of His commandments, and keep them as near as He will give you grace to do, for then you are sure armed. And if this lady [Anne Shelton] do come to you as it is spoken, if she do bring you a letter from the King, I am sure in the self same letter you shall be commanded what you shall do. Answer with few words, obeying the King, your father, in everything, save only that you will not offend God and lose your own soul; and go no further with learning and disputation in the matter. And wheresoever, and in whatsoever company you shall come, observe the King’s commandments. Speak you few words and meddle nothing. I will send you two books in Latin; the one shall be De Vita Christi with a declaration of the Gospels, and the other the Epistles of St Jerome that he did write to Paul and Eustochium, and in them I trust you shall see good things. And sometimes for your recreation use your virginals or lute if you have any.
But one thing I especially desire you, for the love that you do owe unto God and unto me, to keep your heart with a chaste mind, and your body from all ill and wanton company, not thinking or desiring any husband for Christ’s passion; neither determine yourself to any manner of living till this troublesome time be past. For I dare make sure that you shall see a very good end, and better than you can desire. I would God, good daughter, that you did know with how good a heart I do write this letter unto you. I never did one with a better, for I perceive very well that God loveth you. I beseech Him of His goodness to continue it; and if it fortune that you shall have nobody with you of your acquaintance, I think it best you keep your keys yourself, for howsoever it is, so shall be done as shall please them.
And now you shall begin, and by likelihood I shall follow. I set not a rush by it; for when they have done the uttermost they can, than I am sure of the amendment. I pray you, recommend me unto my good lady of Salisbury, and pray her to have a good heart, for we never come to the kingdom of Heaven but by troubles.Daughter, whatsoever you come, take no pain to send unto me, for if I may, I will send to you.
Your loving mother”
This letter was written on June 22nd, 1536. In it, Princess Mary acknowledges the annulment of her parents’ marriage, her own illegitimacy, and her father’s position as head of a new English church. Mary refused to write this letter for several years, throughout the drama of the annulment and her father’s remarriage to Anne Boleyn. Henry VIII suspected her behavior was encouraged by her mother; he deliberately separated Mary and Katharine of Aragon, banishing both from court.
In the summer of 1536, on the advice of the Spanish ambassador, Mary succumbed and wrote this letter. She always regretted it.It did, however, serve its purpose. The death of Katharine of Aragon in January of that year, Anne Boleyn’s execution in May, and Henry’s third marriage to Jane Seymour encouraged a rapprochement between father and daughter. — EnglishHistory.net
‘Most humbly prostrate before the feet of your most excellent majesty, your most humble, so faithful and obedient subject, who has so extremely offended your most gracious highness that my heavy and fearful heart dare not presume to call you father, deserving of nothing from your majesty, save that the kindness of your most blessed nature does surmount all evils, offences and trespasses, and is ever merciful and ready to accept the penitent calling for grace, at any fitting time. Having received this Thursday, at night, certain letters from Mr Secretary to whom I had lately written advising me to make my humble submission immediately to your self, which I dared not, without your gracious licence, presume to do before, and signifying that your most merciful heart and fatherly pity had granted me your blessing, with the condition that I should persevere in which I had commenced and begun; and that I should not again offend your majesty by the denial or refusal of any such articles and commandments as it may please your highness to address to me, for the perfect trial of my heart and inward affection, for the perfect declaration of the depths of my heart.
First, I acknowledge myself to have most unkindly and unnaturally offended your most excellent highness, in that I have not submitted myself to your most just and virtuous laws; and for my offence therein, which I must confess was in me a thousandfold more grievous than it could be in any other living creature, I put myself wholly and entirely at your gracious mercy; at whose hands I cannot receive that punishment for the same which I have deserved.
Secondly, to open my heart to your grace, in these things which I have before refused to condescend to, and have now written with my own hand, sending them to your highness herewith, I shall never beseech your grace to have pity and compassion on me if ever you shall perceive that I shall, secretly or openly, vary or alter from one piece of that which I have written and subscribed, or refuse to confirm, ratify or declare the same, wherever your majesty shall appoint me.
Thirdly, as I have and will, knowing your excellent learning, virtue, wisdom and knowledge, put my soul under your direction, and by the same have and will in all things henceforth direct my conscience, so I wholly commit my body to your mercy and fatherly pity; desiring no state, no condition, nor no manner or degree of living but such as your grace shall appoint unto me; knowing and confessing that my state cannot be so vile as either the extremity of justice would appoint to me, or as my offences have required and deserved. And whatsoever your grace shall command me to do, touching any of these points, either for things past, present or to come, I shall gladly do the same as your majesty can command me.
Your Grace’s most humble and obedient daughter and handmaid, Mary.’
The following document accompanied the above letter:
‘The confession of me, Lady Mary, made upon certain points and articles written below; in which I do now plainly and with all my heart confess and declare my inward sentence, belief and judgement, with due conformity of obedience to the laws of the realm; so, minding for ever to persist and continue in this determination without change, alteration or variance, I do most humbly beseech the king’s highness, my father, whom I have obstinately and disobediently offended in the denial of the same up to now, to forgive my offences therein, and to take me to his most gracious mercy.
First I confess and acknowledge the king’s majesty to be my sovereign lord and king, in the imperial crown of this realm of England; and do submit myself to his highness and to each and every law and statute of this realm, as it becomes a true and faithful subject to do; which I shall also obey, keep, observe, advance and maintain according to my bounden duty with all the power, force and qualities with which God had endued me, during my life.
I do recognize, accept, take, repute and acknowledge the king’s highness to be supreme head on earth, under Christ, of the church of England; and do utterly refuse the bishop of Rome’s pretended authority, power and jurisdiction within this realm, formerly usurped, according to the laws and statutes made on that behalf, and by all the king’s true subjects humbly received, admitted, obeyed, kept and observed.
And I do also utterly renounce and forsake all manner of remedy, interest and advantage which I may by any means claim by the bishop of Rome’s laws, processes, jurisdiction or sentence, at this time or in any way hereafter, by any manner of title, colour, means or cause that is, shall or can be devised for that purpose.
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.’
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- Letter of Princess Mary to King Henry VIII, 1536. (2019, March 16). Retrieved from https://englishhistory.net/tudor/letter-of-princess-mary-to-king-henry-viii-1536/
- An Audience with Queen Mary, 1557 (n.d.). Retrieved from http://eyewitnesstohistory.com/queenmary.htm
- History – Historic Figures: Mary I (1516 – 1558). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/mary_i_queen.shtml
- Mary Tudor, Queen of England , Bloody Mary. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://scotlandsmary.com/mary-tudor/