#WednesdayFact – Mary was offered a better deal by Anne Boleyn

Jun14,2023 #Jane Seymour

#WednesdayFact – Did you know that Mary would have been better off accepting the deal offered her by Anne Boleyn than what she got while Jane Seymour was queen?

It’s true!

Let me explain in more detail…

This is something that came up in my recent “Henry VIII and His Six Wives” event, in the talk and Q&A sessions historian Gareth Russell did with us. Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary, was in an incredibly difficult situation during the Great Matter, her father’s quest for an annulment of his marriage to Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon. Her mother stood firm against the king, refusing to accept the annulment her demotion from queen to Dowager Princess of Wales, and the king’s resulting supremacy of the Church, and she encouraged Mary to stand firm too, even if it meant they were martyred.

Poor Mary! She loved both her parents. Mary stood firm and handled the situation by blaming Anne Boleyn, her wicked stepmother.

Henry VIII punished Mary for her defiance by separating her from her mother, making her join her younger half-sister’s household, and by keeping her away from court and ignoring her. Anne Boleyn did try to persuade the girl to see sense, as she saw it, reaching out to her on at least three occasions. On 7th March 1534, the imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, reported to the emperor that Anne sent a message to Mary while she was visiting Elizabeth, inviting Mary to “visit and honour her as Queen”, assuring her that if she did so, “she would be as well received as she could wish” and that “it would be the means of her regaining the good pleasure and favour of the King, her father, and of her being treated as well or perhaps better than she had ever been.” Unfortunately, Mary refused, pointing out that “she knew not of any other queen in England than Madame, her mother” and referring to Anne as the king’s mistress. According to Chapuys, Anne was furious and was “fully determined to put down that proud Spanish blood, as she called it, and do her worst”.

When Catherine of Aragon was dying, Anne sent a message to Mary saying, “that if she would lay aside her obstinacy and obey her lather, she would be the best friend to her in the world and be like another mother, and would obtain for her anything she could ask, and that if she wished to come to Court she would be exempted from holding the tail of her gown.”. Then, after Catherine’s death, Anne wrote to Lady Shelton, who was in charge of Elizabeth and Mary’s household, and the letter was left where Mary could read it. In the letter, Anne instructed Lady Shelton not to put any more pressure on Mary to obey the king, writing:
“What I have done has been more for charity than for anything the King or I care what road she takes, or whether she will change her purpose, for if I have a son, as I hope shortly, I know what will happen to her; and therefore, considering the Word of God, to do good to one’s enemy, I wished to warn her before hand, because I have daily experience that the King’s wisdom is such as not to esteem her repentance of her rudeness and unnatural obstinacy when she has no choice. By the law of God and of the King, she ought clearly to acknowledge her error and evil conscience if her blind affection had not so blinded her eyes that she will see nothing but what pleases herself.”.
As Eric Ives, notes, “Anne tried to frighten and warn her at the same time”.

I’m not trying to condone Anne’s role in Mary’s ill-treatment in any way. Henry VIII was very much in charge, but Anne definitely supported the way he treated both Catherine and Mary, and, as Chapuys states, Mary was “so eager to escape from all her troubles and dangers that if he were to advise her to cross the Channel in a sieve she would do it”. She was under an extraordinary amount of stress and it affected her health, both mentally and physically. However, Mary’s treatment got worse after Anne’s death.

Following Anne’s execution and her father’s marriage to Jane Seymour, Mary wrote to her father hoping for a reconciliation:

“Begs his daily blessing. Though she understands, to her inestimable comfort, that he has forgiven all her offences and withdrawn his displeasure long time conceived against her, her joy will not be full till she is allowed to come to his presence.”

Henry VIII reacted by sending members of his council to put Mary firmly in her place. He wasn’t interested in a reconciliation until his daughter submitted completely to him. The men sent to Mary bullied her and one of them even said, “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.” It was after that visit that and the imprisonment of one of Mary’s ladies, that Chapuys, fearing for Mary’s life, persuaded Mary to submit to her father. Once Mary had accepted her father as supreme head of the Church in England, the annulment of her parents’ marriage and her status as illegitimate, she was welcomed at court and restored in her father’s affection.

Jane Seymour may have been privately sympathetic to Mary’s plight, but she had nothing to do with Mary’s return to court. She attempted to speak to Henry once about Mary, but was put in her place and told to think only of the future of her own children. She did not try again. As historian Gareth Russell points out, Jane received Mary at court with open arms and with the gift of a diamond, but only “after Mary
had done everything Anne Boleyn had wanted Mary to do so badly”, and Anne had offered Mary far more than a diamond, she offered her a better status. Now I’m not saying that Mary should have accepted Anne’s offer, I admire her for sticking to her guns, I’m simply pointing out that Jane had nothing to do with Mary’s restoration. Jane also sadly did nothing to restore her husband’s relationship with Elizabeth.

I think Chapuys has to take the credit for Mary’s restoration and Catherine Parr was the one that brought the family back together properly. And Henry VIII has to take the blame for the awful treatment dished out to his daughter.

Notes and Sources

  • LP vii. 296.
  • Ibid., x. 307.
  • Ibid., x. 1083.
  • Cal. S.P. Span., 1534-35, p. 72.
  • Ibid., 1536-38, p. 12, p. 44.
  • “Jane Seymour: A Political Queen?”, talk by Gareth Russell, “Henry VIII and His Six Wives event, May 2023, ClaireRidgway.com.
  • The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p. 199.

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One thought on “#WednesdayFact – Mary was offered a better deal by Anne Boleyn”
  1. To be fair Anne was being very generous with her errant stepdaughter but Mary would have none of it, it’s sad to consider that this unhappy girl made herself more miserable through her own obstinacy, she appears rather unworldly, loving the father though deploring his treatment of her mother, she thought it was all Anne Boleyn’s doing, it is easy to blame the woman who split her parents up and this naivety was apparent when after her execution, Mary wrote a very warm letter to the king asking to be brought into his presence, she had a rude awakening! On hearing of Anne’s arrest trial and death she must have been overjoyed and thought to herself the wicked stepmothers gone, now her father will be her loving parent once more, it was all Nan Bullens fault, she did not realise or chose not to, that her father was very much his own person, he was a king first, she underestimated completely his strength of will and thought maybe that he had indeed been bewitched it was a very superstitious age, belief in witches and fairies and curses was set firmly in the Tudor persons mind, Henry V111 in anger said once he believed he had been seduced into his marriage to his second queen by charms and spells, the Christian world thought so to and now with Anne gone, the catalyst of her fathers ill behaviour towards her and her mother, Mary hoped to live in the bosom of the kings contentment once more, the shock hurt and also disbelief she must have experienced would have made her view her situation and indeed her relationship with the king through much more knowledgeable eyes, in that moment she must have finally grown up, I agree she would have had a much better deal with Anne than with Jane, Anne had said she could walk beside her this was from the First Lady in the land, this was an honour and with Jane yes she spoke up for Mary but was soon silenced, she was only allowed back to court after she had agreed her fathers supremacy and the invalidity of her parents marriage, it was an act which broke her but she could not have her fathers blessing without her subjugation to his authority, Mary is a very sad figure in English history and she does deserve our sympathy.

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