22 June 1536 – The Submission of the Lady Mary

Mary IOn 22nd June 1536,1 following a threatening visit from members of her father’s council and the arrest of one of her household, Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, Mary, finally submitted to her father, Henry VIII, accepting him as Supreme Head of the Church in England and accepting the invalidity of her parents’ marriage:

“Moste humbly prostrete before the feete of Your most excellent Majestie, your most homble, faythefull, and obediente subjecte, which hath so extremely offended Your most gratyous Highnes, that my heavie and fearfull hert dare not presume to calle you Father, ne Your Majesty hathe any cause by my desertes, saving the benignetye of your moste blessed nature dothe surmounte all evelles offences and trespasses, and is ever mercyfulle and redy to accepte the penytente callynge for grace, in any convenyente tyme. Havinge receaved this Thursdaye, at nighte, certene letteres from Mr. Secretary, aswell advisyng me to make my homble submyssyone immedyatly to your selfe, which because I durste not, without your gracyous lycence, presume to doe befor, I latly sente unto him, as sygnefyenge that your moste mercyfull harte and fatherly pyttye had graunted me your blessyng, with condissyone that I should persevere in that I had commenced and begoone; and that I should not eftsones offend Your Majesty by the denyall or reffusalle of any suche artycles and commaundementes, as it maye please Your Highenes to addresse unto me, for the perfite triall of myne harte and inward affectyone, for the perfait declaratyon of the bottome of my herte and stomake.

Fyrste, I knowledge my selfe to have most unkyndly and unnaturally offended Your most excellent Highenes, in that I have not submytted myselfe to your moste juste and vertuous lawes; and for myne offence thearin, which I must confesse wear in me a thousand folde more greevous, then they could be in any other lyving creature, I put myselfe holly and entyrely to your gratyous mercy; at whos handes I cannot receave that punishment for the same, that I have deserved.

Secondly, to opene my herte to Your Grace, in theis thinges, which I have heartofore refused to condiscend unto, and have nowe writtene with myne owne hand, sending the same to Your Highenes hearwith; I shall never beseeche Your Grace to have pyttye and compassyon of me, yf ever you shall perceave that I shall prively or appertly, vary or alter from one pece of that I have writtene and subscribed, or refuse to confyrme, ratefy, or declare the same, wher Your Majesty shall appointe me.

Thurdly, as I have and shall, knowinge your excelent learnynge, vertue, wisdome, and knoledge, put my soulle into your directyone; and, by the same, hathe and will, in all thinges, from hence foarthe directe my consyence, so my body I do holly commyte to your mercye and fatherlye pyttye; desiringe no state, no condissyone, nor no mannore degre of lyvinge, but suche as Your Grace shall appoynte unto me; knoledging and confessynge, that my state cane not be so ville, as ether the extremyty of justice wold appoynte unto me, or as myne offences have required and deserved. And what soever Your Grace shall comaunde me to doe, touchinge any of theyse pointes, ethere for thinges paste, presente, or to come, I shall as gladly doe the same, as Your Majestie cane comaund me. Moste homblye, therfor, beseeching your mercy, most gratyous Soveraine Lord and benigne Father, to have pyttye and compassyon of your myserable and sorowfull child; and, with the aboundance of your inestymable goodnes, so to overcome my iniquitie towardes God, Your Grace, and your holle realme, as I maye feele some sensyble tokene of reconsyllyation; which, God is my judge, I onely desyre, without other respect, to whome I shall dayly praye for the preservation of Your Highenes, with the Queenes Grace, and that it may please him to send you issue. From Hownsdon, this Thursdaye, at 11 of the clocke at nighte.

Your Graces moste humble and obedient Daughter and Handmayd,

Also on this day in history…

  • 1528 – Death of William Carey, courtier, distant cousin of Henry VIII and husband of Mary Boleyn. He died of sweating sickness, leaving behind his wife and two children, Catherine and Henry.
  • 1535 – Execution of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, on Tower Hill. See Bishop John Fisher Executed for more information.

Notes and Sources

  1. Mary’s submission was undated and although in the State Papers it has been filed as “15 June?”, historians such as David Loades, Linda Porter and Anna Whitelock believe that it was signed on the 22nd June 1536. This would make sense because it is a week after Mary was threatened by her father’s council and after one of her household was arrested.
  2. State Papers: King Henry VIII, Volume I, Parts I and II, p457-458

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21 thoughts on “22 June 1536 – The Submission of the Lady Mary”
  1. We can only imagine how Mary felt on writing this. It went against everything she stood for. It’s hard for us to understand why she seems to go overboard in submitting to her father. One would think that a more understated letter would have sufficed, but evidently this was the style that had to be followed at the time.

  2. I’d like to think Mary, in all her heartbreak and despair at having to write such a letter, might have had a bit of, well, not fun exactly, but heaped the purple prose on to her basic letter outline. Perhaps this was a sarcastic, and stemming from her internal fury at being forced to swallow such a bitter pill letter of ridiculous humility toward her father.

  3. I think the reason it’s such a long submission is that everyone involved knew this was going to become an official document, not just a letter from daughter to father, and that after so many years of outright and very public defiance, complete and absolute submission was required; a simple admission of “You win. You’re Head of the Church. I submit,” just wasn’t going to cut it. She was also publicly disavowing her right to the throne, and that could not be done in a simple sentence either.

    I have often wondered if Mary composed this herself or if she was told what to say. She writes “and have nowe writtene with myne owne hand,” but that could mean she merely wrote what she was told to or that she even copied a letter of submission given to her. Either way we know it was under duress.

    I’m sure that her advisers told her that at this point she must above all preserve her life if she were to have any hope of making a difference in the future – whether that meant succeeding to the throne, having some influence at Court, or to serve as a rallying point about which Catholics could secretly gather. But I’m also sure that no matter how reluctantly written or no matter the reasons, Mary felt this was the final betrayal of her mother and all Catherine had stood for and suffered for.

    In Susan Kay’s book “Legacy” about Elizabeth I, after Anne Boleyn’s execution Lady Bryan tells Mary that Henry’s marriage to Anne was annulled (she says with Anne’s consent). Mary is horrified because if Henry and Anne were never married, how could Anne be executed on the grounds of adultery? (Leaving aside the charges of plotting the King’s death, etc.) She realizes exactly how determined Henry is and exactly what she is facing if she continues her defiance. Considering that she submitted barely a month after Anne’s execution, I don’t doubt that mixed with Mary’s celebration at the fall of “the Concubine” was the knowledge of how far Henry would go to get his way.

    1. Interesting point. Mary would also be tortured by the knowledge that this pressure was from the father who once loved her (to the extent that Henry was capable of loving anyone but himself) … she couldn’t blame this latest pressure on Anne. I don’t think that Mary ever forgave herself for submitting.

      1. Especially considering that Jane Seymour was working to restore Mary even before she married Henry.

        “Legacy” is very good for giving 3rd person view and late in Mary’s rein she looks over her regrets. Her biggest one is that submission to her father and she says that the “ink gleamed wetly” on that document ever since she signed it. I imagine it was always something she wished she could undo.

    2. I agree. Submissions were required to be long and grovelling. There are certain laid down formats for submitting to the King and Mary is adding much of the torment that is going on in her heart and soul in this letter. She has also signed a document that must have horified her in which she has to confess that the marriage between her parents was not legal, she is a bastard and Henry Supreme Head of the Church. The letter is in addition to this. I am convinced that her feelings must have been in tormoil and she was making cetain that her father accepted this confession and admission. She had been bullied into it but I am certain it came from the heart.

      I do not agree, however that Anne would have had any feelings of horror over the execution of Anne Boleyn. The evidence shows that she did not like Anne and blamed her for all of her misery. She now saw that hef father was at least in part to blame and demanded her submission. Anne was not looked on kindly by Mary and I can even believe that she was pleased by her step-mother’s disgrace.

      1. Oh, I don’t think she was horrified by Anne’s death – she would have openly celebrated if she could have. But how to reconcile annulment with execution for adultery? Whether the marriage was never legal (Mary’s view) or was annulled and therefore never existed under cannon law (Henry’s view), in the end Anne was not Henry’s legal wife. That Henry could use such a pretext to execute a woman he had turned the world upside down for a decade must have been startling at least.

        Of course the book is fiction. But the annulment would have been made public, Mary would have been aware of it. That fact added to the fact that Henry did not revert to her loving father once Anne was removed (and despite Jane’s so far futile efforts to bring Mary back to court) may have been part of Mary’s finally accepting that Henry could in fact do *anything* to have his way.

        1. I think while she may have been happy at Anne’s demise I think there was a certain level of fear. The fact that he did so to the wife he had torn the country apart for what would stop him doing it to any one else he had once proclaimed to love. For the first time Mary was not just in fear of her position but her life.

          Many kings executed family members – Edward iv his own brother George of Clarence. Both Henry 7th and 8th executed cousins include Margaret Pole who was an elderly woman and Edward vi executed two of his uncles.

        2. In reality, Henry did annul his marriage to Anne before her beheading so that Elizabeth can be declared a bastard and no threat to his children by Jane. Of course, we don’t know whether Anne knew about this or not.

  4. I often wonder how much further Henry would have gone to get Mary to submit to his will if she hadn’t succumbed at this point.

    Would he have dared to harm her do you think? He wasn’t perturbed about disposing of unwanted wives, close friends and favoured councillors if they seemed to fail to do as he required. But actually extending this to his own flesh and bloody….a step too far maybe, who knows, it’s apparent that all boundaries were faint, if none existent, to how far he would go to obtain what he wanted by now .

    Poor Mary, it’s quite possible she would have made herself sick to her own death with all the worry and fear if this situation carried on for much longer, ridding Henry of the problem. It is no wonder she became such a misguided and disturbed soul in later life, she had her father to thank for that legacy.

    1. This is a very interesting thought Dawn 1st. How far would Henry and his henchmen have been prepared to go. Everyone else who refused to submit were executed. Would even he have gone so far. I think the threat from Spain protected Catherine and Anne somewhat. Not that they overtaxed themselves in coming to their defence, but Chapuys was a great support to them. He seems to have acted as a father figure to Mary and saved her from even more abuse by encouraging her to submit in word if not in spirit. She never forgave herself, though.

      1. That’s another good point Mary Heneghan, the threat of Spain was there from start to finish of the whole Great Matter, all those years, but Spain actually didn’t seem to do much, unless I’m wrong, they certainly didn’t invade anyway.

        So was Aunt Katherine and cousin Mary, whom he broke off his betrothal to, not worth more than a token effort… it does appear so to me. After all Emperor Charles had bigger fish to fry like creating his vast Empire and running it, it stretched far and wide, which in the grand scheme of things was more important than distant relatives he had met was how many times, once, twice? He held up the annulment, yes, by taking Italy and the Pope, but that’s about it, then Henry broke with Rome., and he never did seem to come to the aid of Katherine and Mary with any meaning after that, or maybe I’m over simplifying the situation…

        I think you are right, it was Chapuys that was ‘the Rock’ behind both Katherine and Mary, he may have been a ‘gossip’ but he was completely loyal to them both, and possibly hoped if Mary did as she was commanded to do there may have been a faint chance that she would one day be Queen and take England back to Rome, which she did. He retired before this came about, but I think he lived long enough to see it happen. It is a pity he could not have been around to guide and support her longer through her unhappy state, then maybe she wouldn’t have not become so damaged. Poor girl.

        1. Yes, Chapuys did live to see Mary on the throne and to see her married to Philip of Spain. I would love to have heard his reaction to the realization of what he worked so hard toward.

          One also wonders if Charles V’s intercession would have been more concrete if the threats against Catherine and Mary had materialized into more definite action – say, being arrested, lodged in the Tower, tried, or up to an execution warrant issued. Henry and Charles played an interesting game of chicken with these 2 women’s fate in the balance, neither willing to do much more than bluster and keep the other monarch on his toes.

          I’m reading “That Other Juana” by Linda Carlino about Charles V’s mother Juana la Loca (a reputation it appears now that may have been undeserved) and I plan to follow that up with Carlino’s “A Matter of Pride” which is about Charles V. We read so much English history that it’s interesting to get the other side’s POV.

  5. I believe I had a rather naive and wholly American 21st century reaction to reading the letter at first. It sounded so preposterous I assumed it had to be in part, a joke. But after reading all of your more thoughtful comments, I see it was deadly serious, and done to form. I should have thought it through. I’m very glad that all of you are posting your own ‘take’ on the letter, and other correspondences and actions taken in this past time. Thank you!

  6. Would you believe that Henry would have cut Mary’s head off if she hadn’t signed it? Oh, yes, he was making moves to do that to his own daughter. The submission was her last chance to save herself. In final acts of protest, Mary did not read the submission before signing it and Ambassador Chapuys gave her a protest to sign along with it, saying it would invalidate the submission and preserve her conscience. All the same, Mary never forgave herself for signing the submission.

    The grovelling tone of the letter was not unusual for the times. People really abased themselves or laid on the flattery really thick when they were writing letters to win favours or forgiveness.

  7. Poor Mary ! What a hard pill to swallow ! To write such a letter after so much suffering and humiliation – i supose that is what made her so cruel later on in life !

  8. Mary made her submission with reluctance, but she must have been glad that she could now be reconciled with her father. Jane had tried to get Henry to approach his daughter, but he insisted on this acceptable submission first. It was Eustace Chapyus who persuaded Mary to accept everything, even though she was being asked to say that she was not true born and Henry was the Supreme Head of the Church, two false beliefs which she couldn’t say in good conscience. However, Chapuys persuaded the Princess to sign because it would save her life and he was afraid for her. I don’t believe Henry would actually have harmed Mary as he may still need her if he had no sons, but he was losing patience. Chapuys assured Mary that she could make ‘a protest apart ‘ which is a holy oath that she signed the document under duress. She could also receive absolution for the sake of her soul.

    Jane was delighted that her step daughter had accepted her father’s conditions and hoped to see her restored at court and as princess. She wrote to Mary who thanked her for her letters and wrote to offer her service to the new Queen as a loving and humble daughter. Soon afterwards they made a visit to Mary and a few weeks later she was received back at court and had her own rooms and status once more at the heart of the palace of Hampton Court and Richmond. Once more she was addressed with respect and by people kneeling and her every wish was made. The only thing was now she was Lady Mary, but it was hoped that too would change.

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