18 February 1516 – The birth of a fair princess

Posted By on February 18, 2016

Mary IIn the early hours of 18th February 1516, at Greenwich Palace, “was borne a fayre prynces and christened with great solempnitie, and named Mary.”1 This little girl was the future Queen Mary I.

Mary was Catherine of Aragon’s fifth pregnancy and although King Henry VIII must have wanted a living son, when Sebastian Giustinian, the Venetian Ambassador, congratulated him on the birth and commented that “the State would have been yet more pleased had the child been a son”, Henry did not speak of his disappointment but, instead, expressed hope for the future, saying, “We are both young; if it was a daughter this time, by the grace of God the sons will follow.”2 Unfortunately, sons did not follow. Catherine’s final pregnancy ended in the premature birth of a stillborn daughter in November 1518.

You can read more about Catherine’s pregnancies in my article The Pregnancies of Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon

Mary was baptised on 20th February 1516 in the Church of the Observant Friars at Greenwich. The little princess was carried to the font by the Countess of Surrey and her godparents were Catherine Courtenay, Countess of Devon and daughter of Edward IV; Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury and daughter of George, Duke of Clarence; the Duchess of Norfolk, and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.

Also on this day in history…

  • 1503 – Henry Tudor, the future Henry VIII, was created Prince of Wales.

Notes and Sources

  1. Hall, Edward (1809) Hall’s chronicle: containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, printed for J. Johnson; F.C. and J. Rivington; T. Payne; Wilkie and Robinson; Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme; Cadell and Davies; and J. Mawman; London. p.584.
  2. Calendar of State Papers Relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 2: 1509-1519, 691, p285.
  3. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume II, 1573.

9 thoughts on “18 February 1516 – The birth of a fair princess”

  1. Sheila says:

    At the time of the christening it was safe to have Plantagenet blood. All those years later it was not and the Countess of Salisbury was beheaded.

  2. bruno says:

    I like the portrait above very much.
    It is, if I am not msitaken, attributed to “Master John” and painted when Mary Tudor was about 28.
    At the time she looks quite different from what Antonio Moro or Hans Eworth showed us years after.
    I mean, even if already tight-lipped, this princess can indeed be called “fair” in her own right.
    Her look is languishing rather than bitter.
    I think she was praised for her physical charms when young.
    So not a bad choice to give the role to Sarah Bolger … ?
    This beautiful lady shows a delicate and tender very young girl

  3. Esther Sorkin says:

    Happy 500th birthday! IMO, Mary deserved better than the “bloody Mary” nickname (she was much more merciful than her father — who would have executed someone in Elizabeth’s spot, even if there was no proof of treason on her part) Anyone who wants to learn more about Mary may try to access the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s piece about her today for free (I am signed up for the “biography of the day”)


    1. bruno says:

      I certainly agree with u (for poor Jane Grey, I guess she had no choice, things having gone much too far in order to weaken the legitimate power) .
      Thank u too for this link

  4. Christine says:

    She was a renaissance Princess being taught well in music and dancing and in her youth was praised for having a beautiful complexion and the long red hair of the Tudors, she was also a good horsewoman and highly intelligent, all the Tudors were I find it very sad she had a brilliant future mapped out for her but then Lady Luck bring so fickle chose to take it away from her.

  5. Jane says:

    Indeed it is difficult to reconcile the two sides of Mary Tudor, the kind, beautiful and talented young girl, who in spite of everything was noted for her tenderness towards the baby Elizabeth, with the Bloody Mary who burned heretics. I am Catholic myself but in my area there are shocking memories of one of her victims, Joan Waste, a poor blind girl who was burned at Derby for the heresy of getting people to read the Bible to her in English. It seems Mary was much embittered by her experiences, yet even so she tried very hard to avoid executing Jane Grey for as long as she could. And she was a shrewd enough stateswoman to recognise that her successor had to be Elizabeth.

    In fairness to Mary I should point out that Elizabeth also left a bloody trail through my fair county which was the birthplace of Anthony Babington and saw the butchery of the Padley Martyrs. My own ancestors managed to keep their heads on their shoulders and their intestines where they should be, but were crippled by the fines for recusancy.

    1. Christine says:

      Yes Elizabeth could be cruel to and during her reign the Catholics were persecuted, the trouble is that the law was strict regarding heretics and the punishment was burning, therefore Mary was not actually responsible for that law, it was what the law decreed, I don’t know why they ever had that as a form of execution as I’m sure just a hanging would have done, the great trouble they went to building the pyre and then the awful stench and screams and smoke hangs around for days afterwards even if it rains, totally unnecessary I feel.

    2. bruno says:

      Jane, I find it a nice way to indicate how much this glorious past still has deep consequences for many British.
      Yes you are right, hard job to say what queen was “worse” than the other when it comes about official religion.
      The fact that Mary Tudor was a grand-daughter to the “Very Catholic” Isabel and Ferdinand certainly did not help her popularity among British .
      The Tudors were all the more ruthless sovereings that their legitimacy was rather new.
      But – I know, you will say I “get a fix” – I do think both daughters did much better than their father anyway (he tending to make ill use of his power to “solve” his obvious personal problems), who costed so much to his subjects (on the contrary of his own father).
      Yes when seeing this young dance-loving princess we can be taken by sadness or thankful to how she (and later her sister) prepared their future as dutiful queens.
      They could have done worse – as women and with such a fickle father their own legitimacy was even less firmly settled .

  6. BanditQueen says:

    Happy 500th Birthday to the true Queen of Tudor England, Henry’s heiress until he got the hots for Anne Boleyn. Unlike Elizabeth Mary actually was Princess of Wales and went to Ludlow to rule through the appointed council. Happy Birthday to the true Princess of England as she would have been Queen, but for the obsession of her foolish father to have a male heir only. Mary was raised to be Queen, but ten years after her birth Henry decided that he wanted to end his marriage to her mother as Anne promised him a son. Yet the 11 year old Mary was made Princess of Wales, meaning that Henry was still uncertain that he could ever have a son. Mary was popular and intelligent, she was lovely and she was kind, she was creative and fair minded and she would have made a great Queen if she had succeeded much earlier. Henry also should have honoured her betrothals and not used the girl as a political pass off against his changing alliances. Mary deserved much better when it comes to the lack of respect both her father and step mother showed her. It was no wonder that Mary became harsher later in life, although she does not deserve as many have said the false label of Bloody Mary, a name given after the Popish Plot, invented by English extreme Protestants a century and a half after her death.

    Mary was aptly played by Sarah Bolger in the Tudors, she was strong and she was proud, but she was also a young woman who had been torn apart by her parents divorce and the treatment given to her on the orders of Anne Boleyn. She was no better off after Anne’s death for several months as her father now demanded her total submittion, although of course before he would bring her back to court as Jane Seymour wanted. She had no choice but to accept, denying her heritage, her mother and her faith. However, Henry did honour her again and she was brought back into favour, thanks to Jane Seymour, even if she was not yet restored to the succession. This would not happen until 1544, when both Mary and Elizabeth were restored to the succession before Henry went off to war in France.

    I would love to speculate for a time about what sort of Queen Mary would have made if she had have remained as Henry’s heiress and not been displaced. She would most likely have married into France or Spain by the time that she was eighteen, would have children that could succeed to both her crown and the lands of her husband; have a greater and wider role in Europe and would have made a peaceful succession in 1547, possibly as the mother of several sons and daughters. England would still have been a devouted Catholic country, Mary was in favour of Catholic reform, without breaking from Rome, she oversaw several reforms within a more English Catholic Church, she restored several shrines and no doubt within a true Catholic England would have founded many religious houses and collages and extended education and commerce. I think she would have been a fair ruler and a wise one. Mary saw the rebuilding of ships to restore her fathers navy, bigger and richer than previously known, based on Spanish designs. Three prototypes existed in her reign, many more would have been built had she ruled for longer. Her natural alliances would have been toward Spain,although as Spain extended into Germany and the Netherlands, she may have played a role as peace maker in these lands were religious differences abounded. One of her children may have ruled here rather than the reactionary Phillip II. Yes, as a Catholic ruler she may still have dealt harshly with heretics, that seems to have been part of their role and all rulers treated heresy as a major crime, but many fewer people would have been burned as many fewer would have been attracted to those beliefs as they would not have left Rome and allowed foreign preachers into England under her father. Mary would have been a lawgiver, she would have been a fair and compassionate ruler, much more so than Elizabeth, she would also have been a good mother and wife and overseen our expansion into the colonies. Some things would have been inevitiable such as the development of the English Language, Shakespeare, the expansion to America and India, many other things, such as the Bible into English may or may not have taken off, her father had already done this; we would have possibly have had a more Spanish culture, we would also have seen many of the later technical changes, but we would be writing of Mary the Great, not Elizabeth who if she existed at all would be a mere footnote in history.

    So Happy Birthday Mary; had you not been accepted as Queen, then Elizabeth certainly would not. Happy Birthday; Happy and peaceful joy in heaven.

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