On this day in Tudor history, 28th August 1551, in the reign of King Edward VI, the king’s half-sister, Mary, future Mary I, received a visit from a delegation of men.
The men had been sent by the thirteen-year-old King Edward VI.
Thirty-five-year-old Mary was being defiant and disobedient. She was ignoring Edward’s orders and was breaking the laws of the land.
What was she doing?
She was continuing to celebrate the Catholic Mass in her household.
Let me explain exactly what happened on this day in 1551…
On this day in Tudor history, 28th August 1551, Lord Chancellor Richard Rich, Sir Anthony Wingfield and Sir William Petre went to Copthall in Essex to see the thirty-five-year-old Lady Mary (the future Mary I), half-sister of their king and master, thirteen-year-old Edward VI.
They had been sent to Mary’s home to deliver a message from the king, who was unhappy with Mary’s defiance of his religious legislation. Back in March 1551, Mary had ridden through London in a huge procession, all of the participants wearing a rosary. This display had been her protest against Edward’s outlawing of the Catholic mass. Mary, had of course, continued celebrating the Mass in her household and now, on this day in 1551, Edward was ordering them to desist. He also sent orders that Sir Anthony Wingfield should replace Robert Rochester as Mary’s comptroller.
Mary was understandably furious with this delegation and refused to obey Edward’s orders. The men reported back to Edward and his Privy Council on what happened that day. They explained that Mary received Edward’s letter on her knees, saying that “she would kiss the Letter; and not for their matter contained in them, for the matter, said she, I take to proceed not from his Majesty but from you his Council.”
As she read the letter to herself, she commented “Ah! good Mr Cecil took much pains here”, so obviously thought that the letter had more to do with William Cecil than her brother.
The men then told her that they had instructions too, and as Lord Chancellor Rich began to read them, she interrupted him, asking him to be brief, saying “I am not well at ease, and I will make you a short answer, notwithstanding that I have already declared and written my mind to his Majesty plainly with my own hand.”
Rich explained to the king and council how they then “told her at good length how the King’s Majesty having used all the gentle means and exhortations that he might to have reduced her to the Rites of Religion and Order of Divine service set forth by the laws of the realm, and finding her nothing conformable, but still remaining in her former error, had resolved by the whole estate of his Majesty’s Privy Council, and with the consent of divers others of the Nobility, that she should no longer use the private Mass, nor any other divine Service than is set forth by the Laws of the Realm”.
They went on to say that none of her chaplains were to use any form of service apart from what had been set out by the laws of the realm, and that none of her servants should hear any mass or service other than the one that was lawful. Rich reported Mary’s reaction to this:
“First, she protested that to the King’s Majesty she was, is, and ever will be his Majesty’s most humble and most obedient subject and poor Sister, and would most willingly obey all his commandments in any thing (her conscience saved,) yea and would willingly and gladly suffer death to do his Majesty’s good.
But rather than she will agree to use any other service than which used at the death of the late King her father, she would lay her head on a block and suffer death. But, said she, I am unworthy to suffer death in so good a quarrel. When the King’s Majesty (said she) shall come to such years that he may be able to judge these things himself, his Majesty shall find me ready to obey his orders in religion, but now in these years, although he good sweet King have more knowledge than any other of his years, yet is it not possible that he can be a judge in these things; for if ships were to be sent to the seas, or any other thing to be done touching the policy and government of the Realm, I am sure you would not think his Highness yet able to consider what were to be done, and much less, said she, can he in these years discern what is fit in matters of divinity. And if my Chaplains do say no Mass I can hear none, no more can my poor servants. But as for my servants I know it shall be against their wills, as it shall be against mine, for if they could come where it were said they would hear it with good will, and as for my priests they know what they have to do, the pain of your Laws is but imprisonment for a short time, and If they will refuse to say Mass for fear of that imprisonment they may do therein as they will; but none of your new service, said she, shall be used in my House, and if any be said in it, I will not tarry in the house.”
So, Mary was suggesting that Edward was not old enough to make a judgement on this issue and that all she was doing was following the service that was being used at her father’s death.
The men went on to criticise the men in control of her household, men who had been appointed to her by the king’s council. These men were Sir Robert Rochester, Edward Waldegrave and Sir Francis Inglefield, who had recently appeared before the privy council and had been ordered to stop Mary’s household from celebrating the mass. They had refused to comply, saying that they were willing to risk imprisonment. Rich and his men told Mary that they “had manifestly disobeyed the King’s Majesty’s Council” and “how ill and untruly they had used themselves in the charge committed unto them”, to which Mary replied that “it was not the wisest council to appoint her servants to control her in her own house, and that her servants knew her mind therein well enough, for of all men she might worst endure any of them to move her in any such matters; and for their punishment, my Lords may use them as they think good, and if they refused to do the message unto her and her chaplains and servants as aforesaid, they be, said she, the honester men, for they should have spoke against their own consciences.”
When Edward’s messengers then explained how they’d been order to replace Rochester, Mary told them that she was old enough and capable enough of appointing her own household officers, adding that if they did replace Rochester with another man, “she would go out of her gates, for they two would not dwell in one house.” Mary continued: “And, I am sickly, and yet I will not die willingly, but will do the best I can to preserve my life; but if I shall chance to die, I will protest openly that you of the Council be the causes of my death; you give me fair words but your deeds be always ill towards me.”
She then left the men for her bedchamber, but came back with a ring, which she delivered to Lord Chancellor Rich on her knees, telling him that “she would die his true subject and sister, and obey his Commandments in all things except in these matters of Religion, touching the Mass and the new service.”
She left them again and the men called Mary’s chaplains and household to them and ordered them “upon pain of their allegiance” that the priests should not celebrate the mass and the servants should not hear it. The chaplains agreed and the men also ordered them to report anyone who did celebrate the mass to the king’s council.
As then men left, one of Mary’s chaplains stopped them, saying that Mary wanted to speak with them “out of the window”. It was concerning Robert Rochester, her comptroller. According to Rich, she “prayed us to speak to the Lords of the Council that her comptroller might shortly return.” She explained that since he had been called to court, she had been doing the household expenses herself and was “weary” of her office and so wanted Rochester back. She said: “if my Lords will send mine officer home, they shall do me pleasure; otherwise if they will send him to prison, I beshrew him if he go not to it merrily, and with a good will, and I pray God to send you to do well in your souls and bodies too, for some of you have but weak bodies.”
She then let the men leave to go back to court and report everything to her half-brother and his council.
I know Mary has gone down in history as Bloody Mary for the persecutions of her reign, so I think it’s good to flesh her out a bit more and to look at the pre-accession Mary. Last month, in talks, I looked at the Mary of summer 1553, when she was rallying men to her cause and was ready to fight for the throne, and here we are two years earlier, seeing courage, determination and defiance. There was no way she was going to compromise her faith, she preferred to obey her God than her king. She had courage and faith in spades, don’t you think? And she was a woman who inspired loyalty in those around her. Her household were willing to go to prison for their support of their mistress and their God. I’m not condoning any of what happened in her reign, I just think it’s good to get a more rounded view of her.