15 June 1536 – Henry VIII’s Council Threaten Mary

Chapuys and Mary in The Tudors series
Chapuys and Mary in The Tudors series

On 15 June 1536 Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary, received a visit at her home of Hunsdon from members of her father’s council. This visit followed Parliament’s passing of the Second Act of Succession, which made both Mary and her half-sister Elizabeth illegitimate and removed them from the succession, and Mary’s efforts to reconcile with her father. It was, however, not a visit of reconciliation, the men led by the Duke of Norfolk were there to bully Mary into accepting her father as Supreme Head of the Church in England, and acknowledging that she was not the legitimate heir to the throne.

Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador and a man close to Mary, recorded the visit of the council members in a letter to Emperor Charles V:

“To induce her to obey his commands and accede to his wishes, the King sent to her a deputation composed of the duke of Norfolk, the earl of Sussex (Robert Ratcliffe), the bishop of Chester (Roland Lee), and several others, whom she literally confounded by her very wise and prudent answers to their intimation. Upon which, finding that they could not persuade her, one of them said that since she was such an unnatural daughter as to disobey completely the King’s injunctions, he could hardly believe (said the interlocutor) that she was the King’s own bastard daughter. Were she his or any other man’s daughter, he would beat her to death, or strike her head against the wall until he made it as soft as a boiled apple; in short that she was a traitress, and would be punished as such. Many other threats of the same sort did the said deputies utter on the occasion, assisted in their task by the Princess’ governess, who happens to be the same as before, having then and there received orders not to allow the Princess to speak a word to any one, and to watch over her so that she should never be left alone by night or day.”

Fearing for her safety, Chapuys advised Mary to submit to her father:

“I have written to her fully and in detail, advising, among other things, that, should the King, her father, obstinately persist in his determination, should she herself hear from friends at Court or elsewhere that her life was really in danger through ill-treatment or in some other way, my opinion was that she ought to obey her father’s commands, assuring her at the same time that such was Your Majesty’s advice and wish. That in order to save her own life, on which the tranquillity of this kingdom and the reform of the many great disorders and abuses by which it is troubled entirely depended, it was necessary that she should make all manner of sacrifices, and dissemble for some time to come, the more so that the protest previously signed and the cruel violence used were quite sufficient to preserve her inviolable right, and at the same time relieve her conscience, inasmuch as there was nothing in it against God nor against the articles of Faith. That God looked more into the intentions than into the deeds of men, and now she had a better opportunity than when the King’s concubine was alive, since there was a question of depriving the bastard (Elizabeth) and making her (Mary) heir to the Crown. I was certain that, should she go to Court, she might by her prudence and wisdom be able to lead the King, her father, to the right path, availing herself of Your Majesty’s valuable intercession after your probable reconciliation with him. Many other similar things have I written and inculcated upon the Princess in order to persuade her that the best course for her to pursue in case of unusual violence is to yield for the present to the King’s wishes.”

Chapuys went on to write of the King’s fury at Mary’s refusal to submit to him and his suspicion that she was being encourage to rebel against him by “several of his courtiers”. Chapuys described how “certain ladies of the Court” had been called in front of the Privy Council to swear to the statute and how one woman, “herself issued from a noble house, and one of the most virtuous women in England”, had been sent to the Tower. According to Chapuys, Mary’s chief servant had also been imprisoned at “Cromwell’s lodging”, so Mary must have been terrified both for herself and her household. Fortunately, the matter was resolved:

“Thank God that the judges, notwithstanding all manner of threats were unwilling to take a resolution in the affair, and advised that a paper should be sent to the Princess for her to sign, and if she still refused that legal proceedings should then be instituted against her; otherwise I do not know what might have happened. At last the Princess, hearing from several reliable quarters how matters stood, signed the paper without reading it, which will be in future one of the best excuses that she can offer. I need scarcely tell Your Majesty that I had beforehand sent her the formula of the protest for her to write down, and sign separately. I had likewise warned her to make sure first that by complying with her father’s wishes she will be quickly restored to his grace and favour; that I should never have advised her to sign the paper in question save with the perfect understanding that she was not acting against God and her conscience, or again that she could very well promise not to contravene the statutes without in anywise granting them her approval. I do not know yet how the Princess has come out of the difficulty, but whatever has been done I am confident that she has not disregarded my advice. Indeed had she allowed this oportunity to pass there would have been no remedy in her case. As soon as it was known that the Princess had actually signed the paper, there was incredible joy throughout the Court, save in the case of the earl of Essex, who said to the King, “That is a sort of game the playing of which will in time cost me my head, were it for no other reason than the injurious words I addressed to her on the occasion.” Innumerable people, moreover, have sent me their congratulations at the reconciliation of the Princess with the King, her father.”

However, Chapuys added the following note to his report:

“It appears, however, that after signing the paper as above said, the Princess fell suddenly into a state of despondency and sorrow; but I have since removed all her conscientious scruples by assuring her that not only will the Pope not condemn her action, but will highly approve of it under the circumstances.”

Mary’s submission cost her dearly, she must have felt that she was betraying her mother, Catherine of Aragon, and her God. The submission was against everything she believed in and held dear, and it is little wonder that she felt so bad.

Notes and Sources

  • Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 2: 1536-1538, Note 70

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9 thoughts on “15 June 1536 – Henry VIII’s Council Threaten Mary”
  1. Chapuys used the word “bastard” against the WRONG member of the Tudor family. It belonged, without doubt, to one Henry Tudor.

    Poor Mary!

      1. By the time this was happening, Henry Fitzroy had already died. I believe he died only a couple months after Anne Boleyn was executed. No reason to claim him illegitimate by then.

    1. Surely he is just saying that she will be illigitimate in the eyes of the law. Bastard was not a swear word- well it may have also been– it was used to describe a child not born in legal wedlock. I also think that Henry got it wrong as when he and Katherine had Mary they still both believed they had a lawful marriage so the child was concived and born in good faith. She should still have been seen as legitimate.

  2. Having seen the fire damaged paper in the Man and Monarch exhibition catalog I find it hard to believe she signed without reading it. She was fore end to sign after every sentence in the paper.

    1. She may well have still followed Chapuys’ advice and just signed where she had to. it would have been far easier to stomach if she didn’t read it all.

  3. I do not believe that Henry ordered Norfolk to insult or directly threaten Mary; Norfolk was something of a bully for all of that and did not need much to prompt him. It was clear that Mary was not going to get the reconciling that she hoped for and she suddenly realized that her father was as much behind her mistreatment as her late enemy: Queen Anne Boleyn. She was faced with the disturbing fact that she may have to choose to save her own life: never mind worrying about if her mother’s marriage was legal or not. Henry was Supreme Head of the Church and his bang on his head had injured his brain somewhat: he was starting to change in his personality and become more ruthless. The law now demanded that everyone declare him in all of his royal titles or face death.

    Chapryus was right when he told Mary that the Emperor was not interested in intervening in Enlish affairs now that his aunt: Queen Katherine was dead. The Emperor had other considerations and Mary was effectively alone, apart from a small group of influential supporters at Court, including Queen Jane. The Emperor was going to keep an eye on Mary and would protest her treatment through Eustace Chaprys but there was nothing she could do. If she wanted to reconcile with her father and protect her own life: Mary had to act smart: sign the document and then make a protest via the Holy See. This is called a Declaration Apart. It means she publically signs the document and then privately asks for pardon and protests the action by making a declaration that she signed under duress. In this case she can ask for absolution from the Holy Father and if she gets a chance in later life make her declaration to set this aside. That is what she did as Queen through Act of Parliament: reversed everything back to 1529 and declared her parents marriage legal.

    Mary took his advice and then signed the submission; most likely without reading it. It was a wise move and she did not need to read it: she knew what it contained. She did not need to upset herself any more than the paper itself did. She bravely signed it and then made her protest. Henry accepted it and formally she was reconciled to him and to his wife. Henry was her father and king and he had the power of life and death over her. What would you have done?

    Mary was a young woman who had endured every indignity going. All she wanted now that Anne Boleyn had gone was a peaceful life: to return home and to be with her father again. She must have been terrified as much as anything. These men that he had sent were powerful: they could tell Henry anything that they wanted to and he would have believed them: they were close to him. Chapyrus was absolutely right and went to see Mary in order to save her life. She trusted him and she did as he suggested. Reality set in. Mary had no choice. If she wanted any sort of life at all she had to forget all she believed and submit to her father.

  4. very interesting and clever what mary did ,she really used her head ,though I suppose she had no choice but in the end she did get her mothers marriage legalised and that’s admirable of her.

  5. I do think signing this affected her health…she must have had so many roiling emotions and she did feel it a betrayal of her mother, I think. No wonder she developed illness later on.

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