Friday, April 14, 2017

Mary I: Her Mother's Daughter

by Samantha Wilcoxson

Katherine of Aragon as the Madonna
painted by Michael Sittow
We all inherit a few habits and characteristics from our mothers – for better or worse. This is no less true for Queen Mary I and her mother Katherine of Aragon. The interesting thing about the similarities between these women is that one is remembered rather fondly and with great sympathy, while the other has been branded with the label ‘Bloody Mary.’

Katherine is widely admired for her refusal to back down when Henry VIII decided to set her aside. A bold combination of stubbornness and faith gave Katherine the strength to remain steadfast, regardless of what Henry put her through. She was never disrespectful, often saying that she would honor her husband’s will in all things, save where her conscience demanded that she followed God. Similar words would be used by her daughter. Henry appreciated the sentiment from neither.

Mary stood up to her father, much as her mother had, continuing to proclaim her love and respect for him while at the same time demanding that no title besides Princess was appropriate for her. Henry had long separated Mary from her mother, but she had her governess, Margaret Pole the Countess of Salisbury, at her side to bolster her up (at least until that great lady’s execution in 1541). The two of them refused Henry’s request for Mary’s royal jewels and denied Anne Boleyn’s status as queen.

Henry decided to break up Mary’s household in order to bring her into line. Margaret Pole was crushed to have Mary removed from her care and offered to cover all household expenses if Mary was left with her. Henry refused and instead forced Mary to serve in the household of her infant half-sister. This time may have seemed like the nadir of Mary’s life, but the knowledge of her mother’s courage in even worse circumstances gave her the strength to go on.

Katherine of Aragon
1st Queen of Henry VIII
After Henry’s death, Mary's life changed, but the challenges did not cease. With young Edward VI surrounded by reformist advisors, the faith that had seen Mary through tough times put her at odds with the brother she loved. Katherine had given Mary an example in this as well. When faith was all that Katherine had left, abandoned by her husband and her health failing, she had demonstrated to her daughter that it was all she needed. Mary also clung to her faith, having mass held within her household long after it was outlawed by Edwardian statutes. She was prepared to be a martyr for her faith.

Mary probably had not expected to be queen once she had a brother so many years younger than herself. Yet, when Edward died in 1553, Mary proved that she had inherited the strength of a true queen from her mother. Katherine had never doubted that Mary should be Henry’s heir and that he had no need for a son. Henry had clearly disagreed, but Mary’s chance came anyway.

Both Katherine and Mary could be submissive and pious, believing deeply in the specific roles that God had assigned to them. However, they could each be bold and courageous when they believed God’s will was being thwarted. Katherine proved this when she served as regent for Henry in the war against Scotland and in the battle for her marriage, and Mary proved it in her journey to the throne.

Queen Mary I
Daughter of Katherine of Aragon
Few anticipated any serious challenge from the Lady Mary when the council schemed to place her cousin, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne in her place. Sure, Mary had clung stubbornly to the mass against Edward’s wishes, but she had also done her best to stay away from court and live quietly. Edward’s Devise for the Succession had not had the chance to make its way through Parliament, but it was expected that his sisters could be subdued if necessary. If they thought that they would easily neutralize Henry VIII’s daughters, they were heartily disappointed.

Mary had submitted to many humiliations in her life by this time. She was 37, unmarried and childless, since neither her father or brother wished to legitimize her position or give her the power of a husband at her side. But when it was her turn for the crown, she proved, once again, that she was Katherine of Aragon’s daughter.


As it turned out, she had little opposition. Edward’s councilors may have convinced themselves that Jane would be easily accepted, but the people still had fond memories for the Princess Mary and sympathy for her shoddy treatment. Jane’s reign was ended within a fortnight, and Mary was queen, just as her mother always knew she would be.

Additional Reading
Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock
The First Queen of England by Linda Porter
The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

All images in the public domain through Wikimedia Commons
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Samantha Wilcoxson is the author of the Plantagenet Embers Trilogy. Queen of Martyrs, the final installment in the series was recently released featuring Queen Mary I.

An incurable bibliophile and sufferer of wanderlust, Samantha lives in Michigan with her husband and three teenagers. You can connect with her on her blog or on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads

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