Let’s get back on track today with our series on Anne Boleyn and the relationship that she had with other main Tudor personalities. I’ve already looked at Anne and Catherine of Aragon (see Part 1 and Part 2), and now I’m going to look at Anne’s relationship with Henry’s daughter by Catherine, the Lady Mary (Princess Mary as she had once been), the future Mary I or “Bloody Mary” as she is commonly known.
Now, whatever your thoughts on “The Tudors”, you have to admit that this TV production has done a very good job at portraying Mary in a more sympathetic light. If you ask the general public about Mary – go on, get on the streets and ask – those people who have actually heard of her just know her as the English queen who executed loads of Protestants, as “Bloody Mary”, a bitter and twisted woman. But, the Mary of “The Tudors” is so different from that stereotypical view of her and we gain a new understanding of her personality.
I know “The Tudors” is not real and there are many many inaccuracies but I think it helps us to understand what turned Mary from a young girl with hopes and dreams of romance to the harsh, bitter zealot that she became.
Mary had so much to cope with, including:-
- Her parents’ marriage breaking down
- Being made illegitimate and being stripped of the title of “princess”
- Having a rather questionable future
- Having a new and unsympathetic stepmother who obviously resented and disliked her
- Hearing her mother’s views of Anne Boleyn
- Being banned from seeing her mother
- Coping with a new stepsister who takes her place in her father’s affections and who usurps her place as princess and heir
- Being ordered to join Princess Elizabeth’s household
- Having to deny her faith and being threatened by her father into accepting that he was the Supreme Head of the Church of England and that her parents’ marriage was “incestuous and unlawful”
And those were just the issues she had to contend with as a result of Henry’s relationship with Anne Boleyn! Mary suffered much more later.
No wonder Mary resented “the concubine” Anne Boleyn – wouldn’t you?
But what was their relationship like and did they really hate each other?
If we are to believe Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, Anne Boleyn planned to poison Mary to get rid of the girl who was so popular and intelligent and who was such a focus for those who disliked the woman who had usurped Catherine’s rightful place as Queen.
But, we cannot rely on Chapuys because of his hatred for Anne, a woman he never referred to by name but by the name “concubine” instead. There is no evidence that Anne tried to poison either Mary or Catherine, although it is said that she mentioned to her brother George that she would consider putting Mary to death if the King ever left her as Regent while he was away in France!
We know from evidence that Anne often ranted about Mary and threatened to curb “her proud Spanish blood”, but Anne was a quick-tempered woman who felt backed into a corner and was just lashing out. Imagine Anne’s position: she is Queen of England but there is still a woman who declares herself to be the “true queen”, and who is still embroidering her servants’ liveries with “H&K”. This woman’s daughter is refusing to acknowledge Anne as the new queen, was once the legitimate heir to the throne, is a pretty and popular princess, and could be a real threat to Princess Elizabeth. Wouldn’t you be paranoid and defensive? I think Eric Ives is right when he says that any rantings and ravings from Anne were borne out of self-defence, rather than any malevolence.
There is evidence that Anne did try and forge a relationship with the defiant Mary. On one occasion in 1534, she visited Elizabeth’s household by herself and asked to see Mary. Anne offered to welcome Mary back at court and to help reconcile her with her father if Mary would accept her as queen. Mary’s impudent reply was that she knew of no queen apart from her mother but that she was pleased if the king’s mistress wanted to intercede on her behalf! How Anne must have wanted to slap her face! Anne id in fact try to reason with her, but to no avail.
At another time, according to “legend”, Anne and Mary were both in Eltham Palace chapel at the same time. According to the story, an attendant told Anne that Mary had acknowledged the Queen before leaving the chapel and Anne, embarrassed at not noticing and pleased that Mary acknowledged her, sent a message to Mary apologising for not noticing and saying that she desired this to be the start “of friendly correspondence”. Mary swiftly replied that she had knot acknowledged Anne and that the queen could not have sent her this message because it was from Lady Anne Boleyn, not Catherine! A spirited reply!
Anne tried again when Catherine was dying. She asked Lady Shelton to tell Mary that the queen desired to be kind to Mary and when Catherine died Anne sent a further message saying that if Mary would obey the King she would find a second mother in Anne. Again, Mary did not take kindly to this and replied that she would obey her father only as far as her conscience would allow. I don’t think we can blame Anne for giving up at this point!
As I have already said, you cannot blame Mary for resenting her stepmother and sticking up for her mother. She was only 17 when Henry married Anne and it must have hurt her deeply. We can only imagine what she heard about Anne from her mother and it must have seemed that her mother’s cruel treatment and her own abasement were down to Anne. Mary had gone from being the apple of her father’s eye to being deliberately ignored and slighted, in favour of her stepmother and stepmother. How Anne must have fit the role of “wicked stepmother” from Cinderella in Mary’s eyes!
Eric Ives writes of how Mary rejoiced in Anne’s inability to produce a son and did not hide her resentment of the Queen and I wonder how much Catherine was involved in turning Mary against Anne. Mary did seem to blame Anne alone, rather than her father, and Linda Porter wonders if Catherine absolved her husband from blame and heaped all of it on Anne. This may explain why an impressionable Mary sought to keep her father’s affection while refusing to accept his new wife and she must have blamed Anne for Henry’s pressure on her to “conform” and his punishments when she didn’t. Perhaps she believed that Anne had bewitched her beloved father and that he was not to blame.
It is sad that these two women could not get past their difference and build a relationship. Linda Porter writes of how much the two of them had in common and how “in other circumstances, Mary and Anne might have respected each other and even been companions”, after all, they both loved fashion, music and dancing, and were both highly educated. But, I’m not sure that either of these women was to blame for the resentment and bad feeling that existed between them. Only one person was to blame and that was Henry. The fact that he continued to abase Mary and treat her cruelly after Anne was dead and gone testifies to this.
Henry VIII put intolerable pressure on his teenage daughter. He saw her as a defiant and obstinate child who needed to be disciplined and broken. How any loving parent can treat a child in the way that Henry treated Mary, I just cannot begin to understand. Ives talks of how Henry’s treatment scarred Mary for life and Porter talks of the ill health that Mary suffered due to her circumstances. She even felt that her life was in peril at one point when Henry sent a deputation to try and persuade her to sign the articles accepting her father as Supreme Head of the Church and her parents’ marriage as unlawful. The Earl of Essex threatened her, saying that:
“since she was such an unnatural daughter as to disobey completely the king’s injunctions, he could hardly believe 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 boiled apple.”
However much Mary blamed Anne for everything, she surely must have seen that her father was culpable after he carried on treating her this way and also playing with her feelings by continually setting up marriages for her and then changing his mind. Only one person is accountable for the broken woman that became Mary I of England, and that is Henry VIII.
What do you think about these two women and the King who linked them? Is Anne to blame for how Mary turned out? Is Henry to blame?
- My very fried brain – sorry!
- “Mary Tudor: The First Queen” by Linda Porter
- “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” by Eric Ives
Check out the BBC History Magazine Friday Quiz at http://www.bbchistorymagazine.com/quiz/history-quiz-4.
P.S. My thoughts are with those who lost loved ones in 9/11 – never forgotten.