Mary's Stepmothers

"While my father lives I shall be only the Lady Mary, the most unhappy lady in Christendom."

Anne Boleyn may have disliked Katherine of Aragon but she hated Mary. She had an easy time over turning Henry's affection toward Katherine but to his daughter she found a harder bond to sever. In the early days after Katherine had been sent away Henry continued to see Mary. He visited her at her residences, she still came to court, they played music and hunted together. Both Henry and Mary enjoyed hunting. He had given her a goshawk as a child and taught her how to hunt, but evidence of their changing relationship happened after a hunt when they stood in the field. At the appearance of members of the Boleyn family Henry told Mary to leave, which she willingly did. In time it was easier to give into Anne's continued arguments that Mary needed to be taught a lesson than to resist. Henry stopped seeing his daughter and followed in Anne's lead to "pull down this high spirit." Anne once stated that Mary "will be the cause of my death unless I get rid of her first" and there is some evidence that she might have plotted to have Mary poisoned. But no matter how much Anne complained about Mary and no matter how much Mary resisted calling Anne Queen or giving up her title of Princess to Elizabeth, they remained at a stalemate. It resided with Henry to decide either of their fates. By the year 1536 Henry had tired of Anne and by May she was in the Tower, accused of adultery with among others, her brother and her musician. These accusations were most probably false but Henry was expecting a way out. He was in love with one of Katherine of Aragon's former ladies, Jane Seymour, and was anxious to marry her. Anne was hurriedly tried and sentenced to death. The day before her execution she requested Lady Kingston, wife of the Lieutenant of the Tower, to go to Mary and kneel before her and "beg her to pardon an unfortunate woman the many wrongs she has done her." Anne Boleyn was executed on May 19.

Jane Seymour was 27 years old when she married the King. She had been a lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon and later to Anne Boleyn. She was an ally of Mary and began the campaign to reconcile Henry with her. When Henry agreed, Mary was brought to court to the presence of the King and Queen. The story goes that Mary entered, curtsied, then walked closer to the royal pair, curtsied again and asked her father's blessing. Henry took her up by the hand and said to the assembled crowd, "Some of you were desirous that I should put this jewel to death." "That had been great pity," said Jane, "to have have lost your chiefest jewel of England." Poor Mary, who although having been threatened with death, had not heard it from her father in person, and she promptly fainted away. Jane was greatly accommodating to Mary allowing her to sit near her at table and allowed her to walk beside her and not behind her. She was not able to change Mary's title back to Princess but she did much, in a short time, to bring back to Mary some of the status she had lost. She was also the only wife to fulfill Henry's greatest wish, that of a son.

Prince Edward was born on October 12, 1537. With Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn dead, Mary had no hesitation in accepting Edward as the rightful heir. She was given the honor of being Edward's godmother and performed this service in the presence of the high nobles and of her 4 year old sister Elizabeth whom she led by the hand in the procession from the chapel. Unfortunately just 12 days after the birth, Queen Jane died from complications from childbirth. Now Mary was chief mourner and she rode a black draped horse from Hampton Court to Windsor Castle to participate in the funeral. Mary must have surely mourned this kind woman who did so much for her.

In the interval between 1537 and 1540 Mary watched as Henry carried out his dissolution of the monasteries. In keeping with his new title of Head of the Church of England it was not seemly to have religious houses who held allegiance to the Pope, now called the Bishop of Rome. These abbeys, monasteries and nunneries had through the centuries become very wealthy and the inhabitants had been drawn into a more secular lifestyle not much different from the landed gentry. It was first a type of reform that attacked only the smaller monasteries that had few inhabitants and inadequate resources. It was profitable to close them But this led to the closing of all the religious houses and appropriating their property and wealth back to the crown. Henry gave the land to leading nobles and the former monks and nuns went back to secular lifestyles. These acts helped to settle Protestantism in England as the new religion stressed that the worship of relics and pilgrimages as superstious practices. To Mary, though, the dissolution of the monasteries represented all that was wrong with her father's country and against all her teachings. She was known to give charity to displaced nuns and monks who came to her.

Mary was also a continuing pawn in Henry's match making. During this time she was a proposed bride to the Dauphin of France, Dom Luis of Portugal, her cousin the Emperor Charles V, Charles Duke of Orleans and the Duke of Cleves. Unfortunately for Mary, who longed for the romantic ideal of marriage and children, she was never married during her father's life, partly due to the fact that Henry could never decide on a dowry and also the fear that a foreign prince who married Mary might try to force a claim to the crown. She began to believe, in watching the matrimonial messes her father made, that things might be better for her if she never married. She continued to fill her life with her books, playing her instruments - at which she excelled, riding, hunting and looking after the young Elizabeth and Edward. But she had an overriding feeling of uselessness which manifested itself in illnesses which in turn worried prospective bridegrooms who sent envoys to inquire about her frailness and ability to bear children.

In 1540 Henry wed Anne of Cleves to bring about an alliance with a German principality. Henry needed an ally when France and Spain signed the Treaty of Toledo in 1539 and became threat to England. Henry had sent his court painter Holbein to Cleves to paint Anne and her sister. Henry was very taken with her portrait. She was chosen and sent to England. When Henry first saw her in person he was greatly disappointed. She was in her early thirties with a long nose and no social graces. Her German clothes were unfashionable, her education was lacking and the couple found they had nothing in common. Too late to back out of the marriage, they were married January 6th, 1540. Mary had been one of the ladies sent to welcome Anne on her arrival in England and they eventually became friends. Anne agreed to Henry's request for a divorce and she was content to stay in England with gifts of land and property and live the life of a woman of leisure. She was generous to the new Queen, Catherine Howard, and continued to call on Mary. She held out some hope, after Catherine Howard's disgrace, that Henry might take her back but this did not happen. She lived her life quietly, attending Mary's coronation in 1553. When Anne died in 1557, Mary had her buried in Westminster Abbey.

Henry had already found a replacement for Anne. He was infatuated by one of Anne's appointed ladies in waiting, Catherine Howard. She was a cousin of Anne Boleyn and the niece of the Duke of Norfolk. What the King did not know was that she was a woman with a past. She had had liaisons before her marriage to the King and thought she could continue after her marriage. She found the King old and unappealing and planned to give the King a prince by her lover.

At the beginning of this marriage Mary did not get on with Catherine. The new Queen was about five years younger than her stepdaughter and Mary found it hard to offer her the reverence she had given her two previous stepmothers. Because of this Catherine had two of Mary's maids dismissed. After this bad beginning there seems to have been a truce between them. Mary sent Catherine a New Year's gift and Catherine also returned with presents. This was to be short lived, When the scandal of Catherine's infidelity became known all three of Henry's children were sent off into the country. Catherine was executed in 1542 and Henry was brokenhearted.

In 1543, eighteen months after Catherine Howard' s execution Henry married his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, Lady Latymer. She was twice widowed of elderly husbands and was now rich. She served as a gentlewoman of the Chamber to Catherine Howard. She was educated and devout. Sir Thomas Seymour (Jane Seymour's brother) was attracted to her and proposed marriage. She was also attracted to the handsome rake but by then the King had taken an interest in her as well. Seymour backed off. It has been suggested that Henry married Catherine as a mother for his children. She was also a nursemaid to the obese King, and did not complain when asked to tend his ulcerous leg. After the wedding they went on a honeymoon progress through the southern shires and Home Counties accompanied by Mary. Catherine wanted to make the court a center of learning. She believed that high born ladies should not waste their days but fill them with reading, writing and study. She kept musicians and was a patron of the artist John Bettes. She enjoyed flowers and decorated her chambers as well as other apartments in the palace.

Mary delighted in her new stepmother. Catherine regarded her as a sister instead of a daughter being only four years older than Mary. Mary was now more frequently at court since the 1530's. She showered Mary with jewels and money and most importantly treating her as a royal princess. Catherine suggested to Mary that she undertake a translation of Erasmus' paraphrases of the New Testament. Mary enjoyed this work and had finally found a kindred spirit to express her hopes and fears with. Catherine understood Mary's depression at the unsettled state of affairs regarding any match for her. "While my father lives," said Mary, "I shall be only the Lady Mary, the most unhappy lady in Christendom." Catherine was concerned for Mary's health and sent her medications and other treatments. She even gave Mary pocket money because Mary had developed a taste for gambling and had taught Elizabeth to play dice.

Catherine was interested in all of Henry's children and Elizabeth benefited from her new stepmother. Elizabeth also undertook to translating French devotional works that she gave as a Christmas present to Catherine. The new Queen wanted most to bring Edward back to Court to be able to see more of his father. As heir to the throne he needed to learn the working of the Court and also to be given small assignments such as welcoming an ambassador. Edward delighted her with his interest in books and she took an interest in his schooling. But like all people in power she had enemies. In 1546, because of her arguing on religious matters, it was put that she was backing heretical teachings. The King was sufficiently worried and ordered an enquiry into the conduct and beliefs of the Queen's household. If evidence was found she was to be arrested. Catherine was advised to throw herself on her husband's mercy. Instead she found a way to speak to her husband before the counselors arrived. She stated that she was beyond understanding on theological matters and would defer to him in all things. By the time her enemies arrived with a warrant for her arrest the King raged against them and sent them packing. He was now reconciled with Catherine and she knew how to keep her head. (Mary at the age of 28, 1544 by Master John)

By Christmas the King was gravely ill and knew he was dying. Mary was at his side and he told her he was unhappy that he had not had her married as he had wished. He died on January 28, 1547. After his death Catherine married her former suitor Thomas Seymour. Prince Edward became King Edward VI.

 

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