Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and the leader of the men.
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and the leader of the men.

Following the execution of her stepmother, Anne Boleyn, in May 1536, Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, the Lady Mary, was in hope of a reconciliation with her father. She had been estranged from her father due to her refusal to acknowledge the annulment of her parents’ marriage and to recognise her father’s marriage to Anne, her refusal to accept her status as illegitimate and her refusal to accept her father as supreme head of the Church in England. Now Anne was gone, Mary hoped that she would be “forgiven all her offences” and that she would be allowed back into her father’s presence.

Her father had other ideas.

On 15th June 1536, King Henry VIII sent members of his council, led by Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, to visit Mary at Hunsdon. The aim of the visit was to persuade 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. However, their idea of persuasion amounted to bullying. Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, 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 Radcliffe), 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.”

You may think that these were empty threats and that Mary was in no danger, what with her being the King’s daughter, but Chapuys certainly feared for her safety and advised her to “make all manner of sacrifices” “in order to save her own life”. He did not see these men’s threats as empty and he had heard that Mary’s chief servant had been imprisoned at “Cromwell’s lodging”. Here is his report to the emperor of his advice to Mary:

“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 describe how Mary followed his advice, and signed the submission to her father “without reading it”, but doing so had a huge impact on Mary and she “fell suddenly into a state of despondency and sorrow”. Chapuys comforted her, though, by explaining that the Pope would not hold it against her and that he would “highly approve of it under the circumstances”. I hope that his words did comfort Mary, but I can imagine how hard it must have been for her to do something that was against everything she believed and that she would have seen as betraying everything her mother fought for.

Also on this day in history…

  • 1519 – The traditional date given for the birth of Henry Fiztroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, in Blackmore, Essex. Richmond was the acknowledged illegitimate son of Henry VIII by his mistress Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount. Click here to read more about him.
  • 1560 – William Somer (Sommers), former court fool to Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I died in Shoreditch, London. He was buried at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch. Click here to read more about Somer.

Notes and Sources

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

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22 thoughts on “15 June 1536 – Mary receives a disturbing visit”
  1. Chapyus was right I feel in persuading Mary to sign the document, he genuinely feared for her life although I dont for a moment think Henry would have executed his own daughter he could well have had her thrown in the Tower possibly just to frighten her, a signature is not worth much made under duress anyway just as a confession made under torture isn’t either, so Mary could have soothed her conscience by telling herself that her own mother would not have wanted her to be a martyr and the Pope himself would have understood which is what the ever prudent Chapyus told her, the portrait of Thomas Howard shows a rather cheerless looking man with gloomy features yet it was said of him that he was of quite an affable nature, he certainly disliked his niece Anne Boleyn and was known to have called her a whore and openly flaunted his mistress Bess Holland who was his wife’s washer woman, it doesn’t seem fair to think of Mary who was after all just a young girl and so tiny to being harangued by all those men, she certainly went through a lot yet most of it was down to her obstinate nature, after she had submitted Henry must have breathed a sigh of relief, he had got rid of two unwanted wives and now his wayward daughter had succumbed to his will he had a new wife and everything was looking rosy for him.

    1. Which must have been a real for surprise fro Mary..It would have been so much easier for her to believe that Anne was her sole enemy.

      Then to discover her doted on father was the real cause of her misery and he was determined to break her to is will..

  2. I honestly wonder, had Isabella been able to see into the future, if she would have allowed Katharine to go to England to become the bride of such a poor excuse of a man. His treatment of first Katharine, and then Mary, his own daughter, was nothing short of monstrous. Placing ALL of the blame on Anne Boleyn shows that he was incapable of taking responsibility for his own actions. He had more excuses for his bad behavior than Carter had little liver pills.

    Has anyone ever noticed the amount of excuses that kept Henry from personal culpability?

    God’s Will
    Anne Boleyn’s fault/Anne did it!
    Heretics have invaded the Church
    The rebels did it
    They made me do it!
    If only she would have submitted, and declared herself a harlot and our daughter a bastard
    She looks like a Great Flanders Mare, I was deceived!
    It says so right here in Leviticus that we were NOT truly married
    They offended God
    I never ordered that, the traitors took it upon themselves to say that in my name

    And so on and so forth. Henry sounds like a goof off middle schooler explaining why he didn’t do his homework.

    1. Not to mention “it’s Wolsey’s fault” (“Amicable Grant”) or “it’s Cromwell’s fault”. (dissolution of the monasteries) Also, when Henry couldn’t arrange things so someone else took the blame, it gets hushed up (for example, the reasons for annulling the marriage with Anne … it was Henry’s fault because he was the one who had the affair with Mary, so the paperwork doesn’t specify the reason)

    2. You are so very rigth.Henry was a never grown Up child in the body of a Man,and he didn’t have any of the skills to be a Good king of England,unlike bis Frost wife and daugthers.
      I think Isabella wouldn’t have let Katherine travel to England,or she would have demanded her immediate return to Spain after Arthur’s death.She deeply loved her,and I think that if she had have the chante to ever meet Henry after what happened,she would have punched his face.
      Regarding Anne,I do not think she was a Saint,bit she has been unjustly blamed for everything,when it was Henry who cheatef on his wife,mistreated Queen Katherine and his daugther Mary,executed 72000 people and ruined the country.
      Did Anne take advantage on Henry’s attention?Perhaps,bit all what happened in England is Henry’s fault,not hers!

    3. Well, Katherine was sent to England to marry his older brother. And as much awful things he did, people tend to forget his youth and was a God send compared to his father.

      “For if a lion knew his own strength, it would be hard for any man to rule him.”

  3. Given the way Henry treated others, IMO, he would have had no qualms about executing Mary.

    Mary may well have inherited from Katherine (some debate over whether illegitimate children could inherit from their mothers) a claim to the English crown via Edward III’s son John of Gaunt and his second wife; Henry VII claimed the crown via John of Gaunt and his third wife. Chapuys noted this claim when writing to Charles and explaining that, since Henry VIII took nothing from his mother Elizabeth of York (citing Edward IV’s pre-contract to another when he married Elizabeth Woodville), Charles had a better claim than Henry VIII. If, however, Charles is excluded by being foreign born (a meme popular in Elizabeth’s reign as excluding Mary of Scotland), then Mary would hold it.

  4. I don’t think Henry would have actually killed his daughter he doted on her when she was younger and don’t forget he had lost so many over the years, children were doubly precious in any age and the infant mortality rate was high, she had infuriated him beyond endurance but it takes a very different sort of man to kill his own child and Henry was proud of all his children, he may have seemed indifferent to them from time to time as when Elizabeth’s mother was beheaded and he seemed to want to forget about her at Hatfield and it was her governess who had to write to Cromwell asking him for more clothes for her charge as she was out growing them, both Mary and Elizabeth suffered from their mothers fall from favour but he always loved them and in fact they always loved him to, they were both proud to have him as a father especially Elizabeth who was always delighted whenever anyone compared her to him.

  5. I have no doubt Mary signed the document as her stepmother had just been beheaded with others and she would have been shocked to the core. No wonder she wrote to him asking to be forgiven for any offences. it doesn’t mean she thought Ann was the one at fault but someone who has just seen a Queen of England brutally and suddenly murdered would no doubt have been frantic about their own position. Henry was a psychopath capable of ordering the murder of the woman he had adored. Why wouldn’t he order the death of a child he had treated abominably for years, keeping her from her own mother in poverty. As for Elizabeth liking her father no doubt she suffered from a form of Stockholm syndrome. Interestingly although she ensured one of his wives was buried in state she did not carry on Henrys plans of a glorious tomb and left him buried in igmoniny in a church floor

    1. But Anne was not his daughter, she was a wife he had grown sick and tired of, Mary was of his blood, the only child who had survived out of his union with Katherine from Aragon, to say he would just send her to the block as easily as he had sent Anne is being a bit unrealistic as is your claim that he was a psychopath, he certainly wasn’t that nor was he a sadist, he was a complex emotional man who really has been very misunderstood for five hundred years, he was under huge pressure to have a son and ensure the Tudor dynasty and the safety of his realm, of course that pressure he exerted on his wives but when he was younger, being idealistic and of a sunny nature he thought the world was his oyster and everything would go right for him, he would have a fine brood of sons and England’s succession would be secured, sadly nature was against him there and then there was the two blows on the head which could have been responsible for the behaviour he exhibited in later years, then there was his weight gain which made him immobile and the pain he suffered from the ulcer on his leg, his ill health made him bad tempered and people went in fear of him, he possibly felt ill done by he had got no pleasure from his marriages and all he had to show for his six ventures into the marital bed were two girls and one boy, Jane died after giving birth to his son and then there was the disastrous one to Anne of Cleve’s, after his fifth wife’s adultery he did turn more into a tyrant then and was said to be very despondent at her death, he was ruthless when the men of the north rose against him yet he had to quell rebellion in his subjects, that’s what all kings before and since have done, he was a king in a violent age yet he wasn’t no Marquis De Sade the young Henry was a completely different person to the one he later became, circumstance ill judgement and ill health combined with bad luck turned him into the Henry of legend.

    2. Henry was originally buried as you know correctly as was Jane Seymour, in the vault under the choir, a place of honour, not ignominy. He started his tomb but it was wildly extravagant, very expensive and not very politically correct under Edward and his council who began to dismantle it. Mary had limited resources so concentrated on the beautification of high alters and shrines including the national shrine at Westminster Abbey seen today. Her burial of Anne of Cleves was personal and in honour of her status. Her shrine is lovely but no were near as expensive as what Henry wanted. His tomb was further removed at the Civil War and left with no marker before 1820. Both Henry and Jane were coffined and vaulted not placed in the tomb, which was not unusual. Most people were placed in the vault not the memorial tomb. It was not ignominious to be buried in the church floor, it was an honour. Henry and Jane were placed in the choir, clise to the alter, tbey could not have been more honoured in this burial.

  6. We cannot know what Henry would have done with Mary had she persisted in defying him. He killed friends, close relatives, wives, anyone who got in his way. At the very least, a long deprived stretch in prison was in front of her. Henry had to show he could get compliance from his womenfolk or be a laughingstock across Europe.

  7. Alot of this pain and sorrow could have been avoided if the TOO proud Q K of Aragon had just “stepped down” – Henry probably would have treated her the wonderful way Anne of Cleves was treated – Q K you should have just “sucked it up”, walked away, and, well, lived like a “Queen” – at least you would have seen more of your daughter Mary (personnally, I would have been glad to get rid of the “Pig”

    1. Hello Jean, yes with hindsight I think I would echo your sentiment but if you see this through Katherine’s eyes, there was nothing wrong with Henry or her marriage which for over 20 years had been good and wholesome. She was the proud roysl daughter of a proud queen, of a proud race and a deeply pius Catholic, who saw the crown, marriage and Mary as her husband’s heir as divine law. She could not give in, that would not have been her nature or belief. As Mary, Katherine was in denial about Henry. She did not want to believe that it was his fault, she preferred to believe that he was misled, by his advisers, by the Lady Anne, by Wolsey, by evil counsels, by anything but himself. This was the tragic reality of Katherine. I completely agree, it is a great shame that Katherine did not agree as there was an honourable settlement that could be worked out to avoid further discomfort and suffering. Had Henry and Katherine been childless maybe she may have agreed but any annulment threatened her daughters inheritance rights, although some cases could be made to protect children from being declared illegitimate, when the couple marry in ignorance and don’t discover the error, the marriage can be found null and void without it affecting the children. In these cases a better dispensation can also be granted making the marriage good. With cooperation between Henry and Katherine, you never know something may have been resolved that enabled both parties to save face. Very dangerous for Mary and all concerned that Katherine did not agree and a lot of suffering for herself. A great shame.

  8. “Watching, Thinking & Praying (2010) by Fr. John Abberton, says: “He (Henry) became utterly convinced of his position as the divinity appointed King of England, and he saw this kingship embracing the spiritual well-being of his people. He was ‘Head of the Church’. There could be no opposition to Henry’s rule over the English Church ….he was the divinely appointed Head of the Church in England.”
    Henry had encountered defiance: Katharine refused to stand aside; More & Fisher had defied him; Wolsey had worked against him; the world had been turned upside down for a woman who had betrayed him; some of his closest friends cheated on him’ and his daughter would not obey him.
    Personally I think Father John has called it: Henry struck at Mary because she would not accept him as this divinely appointed sovereign and when she finally did, he was magnanimous, her father and friend. But this is his sticking point. On this, Henry stands.

  9. Mary was obviously shocked and frightened by all of these men bullying her, but she was better educated than most of them, and it showed in her clever responses. However, it was not going to change anything, her father was determined that Mary must submit to his demands, his righteous demands as he saw them as her King and father, which in the light of the sixteenth century Henry had a good point. From the view of Henry Viii, Mary, his beloved daughter, legitimate or not, whom had been his heir, but who was now his subject, had blatantly defied him, defied his orders concerning the supremacy and his divorce from her mother, had caused him no end of trouble, questioned his royal titles and he could not accept her defiance any further. Mary had asked for pardon and blessings and to be taken back into her father’s good books. Children were meant to obey their parents, until she was married, as a young woman Mary was subject to her father’s authority, if she wanted to be reconciled she had to submit, end of.

    I don’t believe that Henry would actually kill Mary, having exiled her and having disowned and legally declared her illegitimate, he did not view her as a threat or traitor, even though some of her actions could be seen in this light. However, Chapyus was genuinely shocked and concerned about her life, he wanted to protect her as his own child. He had acted as a surrogate father to her, felt a familial duty to her and he now encouraged Mary for her safety, for her sanity and health, especially if the visits and bullying continued. Chapyus may have had another reason, his mission here was different, he no longer fought Anne Boleyn and Katherine was dead, the Emperor would not interfere with English politics after the death his aunt and Anne’s death changed everything as well. Mary may have been mistaken in the person behind her persecution being Anne, but now Anne Boleyn was also dead, alliances with the Empire no longer seemed doomed and relations with the King and his nephew had already improved. Chapyus was genuinely concerned about Mary, but he was also a diplomat and a realist.

    Mary by accepting her lot and signing this document, along with the spiritual get out clause, that Chapyus wisely advised her about, a protest apart that she signed in duress could be absolved by the Pope, consented with her mind, not her heart or soul. She was also placing herself in a position of advantage by being allowed back to court. Mary was also protecting her friends who were working through Queen Jane Seymour to talk Henry into placing Mary back in the succession. Henry had no intention of doing that, he would arrest and question Mary’s supporters later that year, but with Mary reconciled to the father who had adorrd her, back in his good books, close to him, there was always a chance to be back at some point in the future. Henry was flexible, he acted on convenience, he could be talked around and would place Mary back in the succession in 1544. Chapyus was being wise and canny enough to see the bigger picture, to help Mary see the reality of her situation and how she might use her new role back at court positively, but still protect her own position. This made Mary stronger, it also made her more aware of the world and that her father had changed, that she could not trust many people, how to play the game and how to survive. It was a hard lesson, but at least now Mary understood were she stood and she would never forget.

    1. I think it says a lot about Henry that Chapuys feared for Mary’s safety and so persuaded her to sign the submission. I think with his actions against Thomas More, Bishop Fisher, the Carthusian monks, Anne Boleyn and the men that were his friends and loyal servants, that Henry had shown himself capable of atrocities when he felt that people had betrayed him. I think Chapuys was convinced that Mary could well pay for her stand with her life.

      1. Hello Claire, I completely agree. All those ruthless acts, many before head/brain injury, all show Henry was now highly dangerous and Chapyus was on the spot during all of these things. He was only too aware of the risk of not submitting to Henry’s knew idea of monarchy without limits (almost said rule of law, but he did use the law to justify all vthese atrocious and outrageous deaths) and he had real evidence that he should be afraid for Mary, her safety and her friends safety. Chapyus was a very astute and deeply feeling person, he was a concerned and wise man, he had seen enough to tell him that he could not risk Mary, he was genuinely afraid for his charge.

      2. I had read somewhere that Mary didn’t sign it until she received word from the Pope that she was absolved for signing under duress. Is that true? Did he ever officially absolve her for signing?

        1. I don’t think she was absolved by the Pope, but Chapuys recorded that “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” and Jonathan Michael Gray, in his book “Oaths and the English Reformation” notes that Mary’s submission to her father didn’t actually contain an oath and that there is no evidence that she swore the oaths to the succession or supremacy, and her final submission “was not made before God”.

  10. Mary lived with the emotional fallout for the rest of her life. I’m not sure she ever got over it.
    As to Henry, his behavior was not so unusual for a monarch. There are far worse examples of
    issues between kings and their children over the centuries. A monarch cannot have children openly opposing policy. It makes the monarch look weak, it forms an opposition party, which can be quite dangerous. Mary, at 18, may have realized this, or not. Standing out for her rights as her mother wished might have made her feel better, but in the long run would have been politically unwise.

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