ANNA BELFRAGE

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Mary, Mary quite contrary – except she wasn’t

MARY ~Tudor PrincessToday I’ve invited Tony Riches (more about him can be found at the end of this post) to pop by with a guest post about his latest book, Mary – Tudor Princess. And no, this is not a book about the Mary who would go on to become Mary I, but rather about Mary, younger sister to Henry VIII. She rarely gets much more than a passing mention in most history books, and I am pleased Tony has taken it upon himself to shed some limelight on this lady! 

They say you should avoid reading reviews of your books, as there’s no ‘right of reply’ although sometimes the feedback can be thought provoking. One recent example was in a review of my novel about one of my wife’s ancestors, The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham. The male reviewer wondered if, as a man, I was able to understand Eleanor’s female point of view. It’s a good question, as I’ve just spent a year ‘in the shoes’ of Henry VIII’s youngest sister Mary Tudor.

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Mary

I chose to write about Mary because I’d researched her birth and early life for my last book, Henry – Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy. In the trilogy I’d moved forward one generation with each book, so it appealed to me to write a ‘sequel’ which did the same. I’d become intrigued with Mary’s story of how she risked everything to defy her brother when he became King Henry VIII.

When I began the Tudor trilogy, I had little factual information about Owen Tudor, Mary’s great-grandfather. The amount of information increased exponentially by the time I reached the story of Mary’s father, Henry Tudor, as he kept detailed legers of his finances. Some of Henry’s letters also survive, including some to his mother, but they were all rather formal.

This time, I had the advantage of a fascinating book The French Queen’s Letters: Mary Tudor Brandon and the Politics of Marriage in Sixteenth-Century Europe (Queenship and Power)  by Erin Sadlack, which includes all Mary’s surviving letters, many with replies, as well as an insightful analysis of her state of mind at the time. I prefer primary research and found her letters offer an evocative ‘voice’ for Mary, as well as revealing how she felt about people and events.

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Charles V

I wanted to explore Mary’s vulnerability as well as her strengths, and I was assisted in this by her brother, who broke off her engagement to young Prince Charles, future Emperor of Rome, to marry her off to the fifty-two-year-old King Louis XII of France. Although Mary was barely eighteen at the time, Henry saw his younger sister as a small price to pay for a treaty with France.

I enjoyed untangling the many myths about what happened next, from causing the death of King Louis with her ‘passionate exertions’ to her dying of ‘grief at her brother’s divorce from her friend Catherine of Aragon.’ I also had the benefit of knowing a great deal about the people and places of Mary’s world.

The difficulties came when I had to show Mary’s struggles with the dangers of medieval childbirth. I was present at my daughter’s and my son’s births, and there are plenty of historical accounts to draw from, but I believe only a woman can fully understand how it feels to bring a new life into the world.

If you’d like to see how well I’ve done, my new book Mary – Tudor Princess is now available on Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon AU in eBook and paperback. An audiobook edition will be available later in the year.

Thank you, Tony! As I have spent quite an enjoyable weekend reading Mary – Tudor Princess, I’ve written a little review: 

Having previously read Mr Riches’ books about three male Tudors—Owen, Jasper and Henry—I was intrigued to find he had now chosen to write about Mary Tudor. Not the Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, who became Mary I, but the Mary famous for defying her brother Henry VIII and marrying the man she loved when her first husband, King Louis of France, died.

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Mary and Charles Brandon

I must admit to knowing little about Mary prior to reading this book. Yes, I knew she was the grandmother of Lady Jane Grey, yes, I knew she’d married Charles Brandon for love and seeing as I’m a hopeless romantic I rather liked her for that.

Life, however, is rarely romantic. Mary’s life was bordered by losses: that of her mother when she was still a young child, that of her father some years later, that of her impressive grandmother a year or so after her father. Her flamboyant brother did not hesitate to use Mary as a pawn to achieve political gains, which was how Mary also lost her betrothed, the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and instead ended up married to the old and ailing King Louis of France.

As always, Mr Riches presents the historical background in great detail. Clothes, food, furnishings all add vibrancy to the story as does the convoluted political situation. While the book centres on Mary and how the unfolding events affected her, Henry VIII, Queen Katherine, Cardinal Wolsey and the rather delicious Francis I of France all add colour to the narrative—as does Mary’s husband, Charles Brandon. I am in two minds about Charles: did he love Mary as she loved him or was she a convenient stepping stone? I suppose that the fact that he risked his king’s rage to marry her indicate he did have strong feelings for her—at least initially. But where Mary’s life revolves round Charles, their home and their children, Charles’ life revolves around his king and best friend, Henry VIII.  That oh, so sweet story of a secret marriage turns out to be not quite as fluffy and pink as one would have thought…

Mr Riches has done a great job of depicting just how restricted the role of a woman was in the 16th century. From Queen Katherine to Mary, a wife cannot overstep the boundaries set by their husbands or by society. Women may be strong and resourceful, but in Tudor times they were also vulnerable—extremely so, at times. Mr Riches has left us with a portrait of a woman who, from a very early age, knows herself to be a pawn, no more, no less.

MARY Tony Riches AuthorAbout the author:
Tony Riches is a full-time author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

The male footnote – of a young man in Tudor England

History as we know it is like a very large, very incomplete embroidery, where some of those who have lived and breathed before us have ended up as a minuscule little stitch or two while the vast majority of our ancestors have lived and died without leaving as much as a wrinkle on the tapestry of human history. Many of those surviving stitches represent a male historical person. Now and then, a woman has been colourful enough to make her own mark, like Margaret, Countess of Norfolk, or Elizabeth I. But there’s no escaping the fact that in the annals of recorded history, women are seriously underrepresented and often flit by as mere footnotes.

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Edward VI

Today, I thought we’d spend some time with a male footnote. Think Tudor England and we think Henry VIII (NOT a footnote), we think Anne Boleyn (nope, she wasn’t a footnote either) Jane Seymour (hmm…), Edward VI (the jury is out: footnote or not?) and his sisters, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Plus we’ve all heard of Lady Jane Grey, of course. This devout Protestant teenager was Edward VI’s choice as his heir (and how he and his councillors must have despaired at the fact that there were no male claimants around. At least none that they wanted to promote). Jane ruled for nine days, was ousted from her throne, thrown into the Tower and several months later she was executed, this despite Mary I not wanting to execute the young woman. But Jane had become a safety risk for Mary and all safety risks had to be eliminated.

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Jane (National Portrait Gallery)

Jane had royal blood, her grandmother being Henry VIII’s vivacious sister, Mary. (Now this is a lady after mine own heart who dared her brother’s wrath to marry the man she loved) In difference to Mary and Elizabeth, Jane had never been bastardised. Obviously, Jane was luckier in her father than her female cousins once removed. But then almost everyone was luckier than them in this respect. I’m thinking Henry VIII’s mama didn’t raise him properly, how else to explain how he treated the women in his life? Neither here nor there, so let’s move on.

Edward VI was a precocious young king, well-educated and well-read. He had also been raised to see himself as defender of the Protestant faith as represented by the Anglican church. I imagine he walked about with an inflated sense of self-importance, but ultimately he was a boy masquerading as a powerful king, with most of the ruling done by men like his uncle, Edward Seymour the Duke of Somerset, and the very ambitious Earl of Warwick (soon to be Duke of Northumberland), John Dudley.

Initially, it seems Seymour and Dudley got on. Seymour as Lord Protector was infinitely more powerful, but Dudley soon showed just how capable he was, being instrumental in putting down one of the more serious rebellions during Edward VI’s reign in 1549. Thing is, the reasons for the rebellion could be laid rather neatly at Seymour’s door—he was not quite the ruler England needed—and Dudley soon joined those in opposition of the Lord Protector.

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John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

At the time, Dudley still had the troops he’d raised to put down Kett’s Rebellion. Seymour had no such forces at his disposal, so he panicked, more or less kidnapped the king and carried him off to Windsor. Let’s just say things did not end well for Seymour and Dudley ended up as top-dog and Duke of Northumberland. Dudley and Seymour seemed to reconcile, but some years later, Somerset yet again tried to regain control of the king. This time, he ended up with his head on the block. Bye, bye Seymour, hello Dudley.

Some years later, the young king was now firmly under Northumberland’s control and our ambitious Duke liked having things this way. (Before we go any further I must say I find John Dudley quite the charismatic man. Capable and bright, he carved his own way to the top, had the endearing quality of being a good and loving husband, a good and loving father, and in general seems to have been a good guy to have around. Until he was bitten by the megalomania bug and fell victim to his hunger for more and more power…) England was at peace, the finances had been somewhat mended, and in general things were good. While there were hopes Edward would live long enough to rule in his own right, Dudley and his other councillors did their best to prepare their young liege for the task ahead.

By 1553, it became evident the young king was probably too frail to live long enough to conceive a child to inherit the crown. Yes, he had two sisters, but whether it was Edward’s brainchild or Dudley’s, the young king wasn’t entirely taken with the notion of designating either Mary or Elizabeth as his heir. I’m guessing Northumberland heartily agreed: gifted with as much intelligence as their father, further enhanced by their respective mothers, and an excellent education, neither Mary nor Elizabeth was about to accept being controlled by Dudley. With Elizabeth, Dudley had a potential in—his son, Robert Dudley, and Elizabeth knew and liked each other. With Mary he had nothing. Plus, of course, Mary was Catholic—anathema to a man who had embraced the new faith with a passion. Or with an eye out for what was politically the smartest thing to do.

It was something of a fortunate coincidence that Northumberland had an alternative heir closer to home—and to his family. This is where today’s footnote enters the scene and seeing as we’re at a wordcount of 1 000 before I even introduce him, it’s very obvious he’s no major player.  Peeps, I give you Guildford Dudley, a man so young he’d only recently started sprouting bristles.

In May of 1553, Guildford was wed to Lady Jane Grey, first cousin once removed of the ailing king. On that same occasion, Guildford’s younger sister married Henry Hastings and Jane’s sister married the heir of the Earl of Pembroke. A magnificent occasion, I imagine—and not necessarily indicative of Dudley’s devious plotting to continue controlling the crown. After all, these marriages had been under negotiation for quite some time, and at the time they were not much remarked upon.

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Victorian depiction of Guildford. Probably all wrong…

The happy couple seemed to like each other. By all accounts, Guildford was a handsome and charming lad. The sixth son born to John Dudley and his beloved wife, Jane Guildford, he was raised in a household as Protestant as that of the Grey family. Was he as pious as Jane Grey supposedly was? Hmm. Was he as educated? No—but then Jane must be considered something of a 16th century bookworm.

Come summer, the young king was fading quickly. Stubbornly determined not to name either of his half-sisters, he realised he had to name someone as his successor as those hoped for “heirs of my body” weren’t about to show. Ever. Did Northumberland nudge him in the direction of Lady Jane Grey? No idea. But I imagine the serious and pious young king found the equally pious and serious Jane very much to his liking. Promoting this young woman was the smart thing to do for Dudley—especially as Jane was his dear daughter-in-law.

On July 6 of 1553 Edward VI died. Three days later, Jane was informed she was now the queen and transported to the Tower, there to await her coronation. What did Guildford think of all this? Well, what little we do know indicates he was rather taken by the idea of becoming king. In fact, he said as much to his wife but she refused to do so, naming him instead Duke of Clarence, as only Parliament could pronounce her husband king. Guildford sulked, Jane was adamant.

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Mary

In the event, what title her husband was to have was the smallest of Jane’s problems. On July 10, Mary claimed the crown and the English rose like one (well) and hailed her as queen—including the entire Privy Council who’d all signed Edward’s final will designating Jane. Northumberland realised he’s miscalculated and tried to salvage what he could by proclaiming for Mary. Didn’t help much. Other than Guildford and Jane, soon enough both John Dudley and his sons Robert, Ambrose and Henry were incarcerated in the Tower. John Dudley was tried and sentenced to die. In a desperate attempt to save himself, Dudley converted to Catholicism on the eve of his execution. It did not help, and in August of 1553, his head was struck off.

Things weren’t looking all that good for our footnote. There he was, locked up in the Tower and come November he and his wife were tried for treason. They could do one thing only: plead guilty and throw themselves on Mary’s mercy. The queen was prepared to be merciful, fully aware of the fact that both Jane and Guildford were mere pawns. And had Mary not decided to wed Philip II of Spain, who knows what would have happened to our man of the day and his wife.

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Philip II

Ah. I see some of you scratching your head in confusion. What does Philip II of Spain have to do with Guildford’s and Jane’s fate? Well, the English did not fall head over heels and whoop with joy when they were told their queen intended to wed a foreigner—and a Catholic to boot. While they would gladly forgive Mary (at least initially) for being Catholic, many English had embraced the new faith and found it far more to their liking. A Spanish king brought with it the fear of Inquisitions, of being burned as a heretic for your beliefs. Plus, of course, he wasn’t English. Major drawback.

So upset were Mary’s subjects that rebellions broke out. The largest of these was Thomas Wyatt’s Rebellion which had as its objective to depose Mary and replace her with Elizabeth. One of the men involved in this rebellion was Henry Grey, Jane’s father. Need I say more? No, I didn’t think so.

The rebellion was crushed, the leaders were executed (and tortured. Poor Thomas Wyatt himself was tortured repeatedly in the hopes of getting him to admit Elizabeth had been involved in the plot. The brave man said nothing that could be used against Elizabeth) Elizabeth was placed in the Tower. And Mary’s counsellors, including her new, Spanish friends, all bayed for jane and Guildford’s blood. She didn’t want to, but ultimately Mary succumbed to pressure and signed their death warrants .

The evening before their execution, Guildford sent a message to his wife, requesting one last meeting. She refused, saying it would not help them face the morrow. Actually, I think it would have helped Guildford face the axe. I think she was much more convinced of her place in the hereafter than he was. She may have been reconciled to death, but he, I suspect, wanted desperately to live. To see his wife one last time, to hold her and caress her, would have allowed him to pretend there was still hope of a reprieve, still one more night that could, potentially, change fate.

On the morning of February 12, 1554, Guildford Dudley was escorted out to Tower Hill, there to see his fate fulfilled. Not for him an endless sequence of mornings, of waking up in bed and wondering just what this day might bring. Not for him a house full of children and puppies. Guildford Dudley was all of nineteen that long-gone day when he inhaled one last lungful of precious air, placed his head on the block and heard the whistle of the axe descending. Sic transit Gloria mundi, one could say.

So ends the tale of our male footnote. A short, stunted life that left little of value behind. But once he existed, once he had hopes and dreams – like we all do. I wonder how often he cursed his father’s ambition to hell and back as he sat in the Tower and waited and waited for his life to (hopefully) begin. It never did.

NOTE! This excursion into Tudor England takes me very, very far from my historical comfort zone. But somehow, Guildford called to me and I felt compelled to answer…

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