“While my father lives I shall be only the Lady Mary, the most unhappy lady in Christendom.”

Anne Boleyn may have disliked Katherine of Aragon but she hated Mary. She had an easy time overturning Henry’s affection toward Katherine but to his daughter she found a harder bond to sever. In the early days after Katherine had been sent away Henry continued to see Mary. He visited her at her residences, she still came to court, they played music and hunted together. Both Henry and Mary enjoyed hunting. Evidence of their changing relationship happened after a hunt when they stood in the field. At the appearance of members of the Boleyn family Henry told Mary to leave, which she willingly did. In time it was easier to give into Anne’s continued arguments that Mary needed to be taught a lesson than to resist. Henry stopped seeing his daughter and followed in Anne’s lead to, “pull down this high spirit.” Anne once stated that Mary, “will be the cause of my death unless I get rid of her first,” and there is some evidence that she might have plotted to have Mary poisoned. But no matter how much Anne complained about Mary, and no matter how much Mary resisted calling Anne queen, or giving up her title of Princess to Elizabeth, they remained at a stalemate. It resided with Henry to decide either of their fates. By the year 1536 Henry had tired of Anne and by May she was in the Tower accused of adultery, with among others, her brother and her musician. These accusations were most probably false but Henry was expecting a way out. He was in love with one of Katherine of Aragon’s former ladies, Jane Seymour, and was anxious to marry her. Anne was hurriedly tried and sentenced to death. The day before her execution she requested Lady Kingston, wife of the Lieutenant of the Tower, to go to Mary and kneel before her and, “beg her to pardon an unfortunate woman the many wrongs she has done her.”

Jane Seymour was 27 years old when she married the king. She was an ally of Mary and began the campaign to reconcile Henry with her. When Henry agreed, Mary was brought to court to the presence of the king and queen. The story goes that Mary entered, curtsied, then walked closer to the royal pair, curtsied again and asked her father’s blessing. Henry took her up by the hand and said to the assembled crowd, “Some of you were desirous that I should put this jewel to death.” “That had been great pity,” said Jane, “to have have lost your chiefest jewel of England.” Poor Mary who although having been threatened with death, had not heard it from her father in person, and she promptly fainted away. Jane was greatly accommodating to Mary allowing her to sit near her at table and allowed her to walk beside her and not behind her. She was not able to change Mary’s title back to Princess but she did much, in a short time, to bring back to Mary some of the status she had lost. She was also the only wife to fulfill Henry’s greatest wish, that of a son.

Prince Edward was born on October 12, 1537. With Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn dead, Mary had no hesitation in accepting Edward as the rightful heir. She was given the honor of being Edward’s godmother and performed this service in the presence of the high nobles and of her 4 year old sister Elizabeth whom she led by the hand in the procession from the chapel. Unfortunately just 12 days after the birth, Queen Jane died from complications from childbirth. Now Mary was chief mourner and she rode a black draped horse from Hampton Court to Windsor Castle to participate in the funeral. Mary must have surely mourned this kind woman who did so much for her.

In the interval between 1537 and 1540 Mary watched as Henry carried out his dissolution of the monasteries. In keeping with his new title of Head of the Church of England it was not seemly to have religious houses who held allegiance to the Pope, now called the Bishop of Rome. These abbeys, monasteries, and convents had through the centuries become very wealthy and the inhabitants had been drawn into a more secular lifestyle not much different from the landed gentry. It was first a type of reform that attacked only the smaller monasteries that had few inhabitants and inadequate resources. It was profitable to close them, but this led to the closing of all the religious houses and appropriating their property and wealth back to the crown. Henry gave the land to leading nobles and the former monks and nuns went back to secular lifestyles. These acts helped to settle Protestantism in England as the new religion stressed that the worship of relics and pilgrimages as superstitious practices. To Mary the dissolution of the monasteries represented all that was wrong with her father’s country and against all her teachings. She was known to give charity to displaced nuns and monks who came to her.

Mary was also a continuing pawn in Henry’s match making. Unfortunately for Mary, who longed for the romantic ideal of marriage and children, she was never married during her father’s life time, partly due to the fact that Henry could never decide on a dowry, and also the fear that a foreign prince who married Mary might try to force a claim to the crown. She continued to fill her life with her books, playing her instruments – at which she excelled – riding, hunting and looking after the young Elizabeth and Edward. But she had an overriding feeling of uselessness which manifested itself in illnesses which in turn worried prospective bridegrooms who sent envoys to inquire about her frailness and ability to bear children.

In 1540 Henry wed Anne of Cleves to bring about an alliance with a German principality. Henry needed an ally when France and Spain signed the Treaty of Toledo in 1539 and became threat to England. Henry had sent his court painter Hans Holbein to Cleves to paint Anne and her sister. Henry was very taken with her portrait. She was chosen and sent to England. When Henry first saw her in person he was greatly disappointed. She was in her early thirties with a long nose and no social graces. Her German clothes were unfashionable, her education was lacking and the couple found they had nothing in common. Too late to back out of the marriage, the wedding was on January 6th, 1540, which was attended by Mary and Elizabeth. Mary had been one of the ladies sent to welcome Anne on her arrival in England and they eventually became friends. Anne agreed to Henry’s request for a divorce and she was content to stay in England with gifts of land and property and live the life of a woman of leisure. She was generous to the new queen, Katherine Howard, and continued to call on Mary. She held out some hope, after Katherine Howard’s disgrace, that Henry might take her back but this did not happen. She lived her life quietly, attending Mary’s coronation in 1553. When Anne died in 1557, Mary had her buried in Westminster Abbey.

Henry had already found a replacement for Anne. He was infatuated by one of Anne’s appointed ladies in waiting, Katherine Howard. She was a cousin of Anne Boleyn and the niece of the Duke of Norfolk. What the King did not know was that she was a woman with a past. She had had liaisons before her marriage to the King and thought she could continue with them after her marriage. Mary did not get along with Katherine. The new queen was about five years younger than her stepdaughter and Mary found it hard to offer her the reverence she had given her two previous stepmothers. Because of this Katherine had two of Mary’s maids dismissed. After this bad beginning there seems to have been a truce between them. Mary sent Katherine a New Year’s gift and Katherine also returned with presents. This was to be short lived, When the scandal of Katherine’s infidelity became known all three of Henry’s children were sent off into the country. Katherine was executed in February of 1542 and Henry was brokenhearted.

Henry, Will Somers & Mary

During the remainder of 1542 and the beginning of 1543 Mary was often at court presiding over court feasts as if she were a queen. Marriage negotiations continued with the French, Portuguese and the Emperor. Philip, Prince Palatine of Bavaria, came in person. He presented Mary with a diamond cross, spent time talking to her and even kissed her, but his Protestant religion was a problem. Even so, Mary said she would obey her father if he wanted her to marry the prince. The prince continued his suit for the next few years but Mary knew that Henry would not allow her to marry outside of England. Instead Henry was considering marriage for himself.

In July 1543 Mary and Elizabeth attended the wedding of Henry and his sixth wife, Katherine Parr, Lady Latimer, recently widowed of her second husband. She had served as a gentlewoman of the Chamber to Katherine Howard and her mother had been a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon. She was educated and devout. Sir Thomas Seymour (Jane Seymour’s brother) was attracted to her and proposed marriage, but by then the King had taken an interest in her as well and Seymour backed off.  After the wedding they went on a honeymoon progress through the southern shires and Home Counties accompanied by Mary. Katherine wanted to make the court a center of learning. She believed that high born ladies should not waste their days but fill them with reading, writing and study.

Katherine Parr by Master John

Mary entered a period of three and half years of stability and delighted in her new stepmother. Katherine regarded her as a sister instead of a daughter being only four years older than Mary.  She showered Mary with jewels and money and most importantly treating her as a royal princess. Katherine suggested to Mary that she undertake a translation of Erasmus’ paraphrases of the New Testament. Mary enjoyed this work and had finally found a kindred spirit to express her hopes and fears with. Katherine understood Mary’s depression at the unsettled state of affairs regarding any match for her. “While my father lives,” said Mary, “I shall be only the Lady Mary, the most unhappy lady in Christendom.” Katherine was concerned for Mary’s health and sent her medications and other treatments. She even gave Mary pocket money because Mary had developed a taste for gambling and had taught Elizabeth to play dice. Elizabeth and Edward benefited from their new stepmother. Elizabeth also undertook to translating French devotional works that she gave as a Christmas present to Katherine. Edward was brought to court.  As heir to the throne he needed to learn the working of the Court and also to be given small assignments such as welcoming an ambassador. In February 1544, Parliament passed the Act of Succession reinstating Mary and Elizabeth after Edward and his heirs, although they were still illegitimate.

Queen Katherine narrowly avoided disaster in 1546. She started to debate with Henry about religion. Stephen Gardiner, Archbishop of Winchester, began a campaign claiming Katherine’s ideas were seditious. The king was sufficiently worried and ordered an inquiry into the conduct and beliefs of the queen’s household. If evidence was found she was to be arrested. Katherine was forewarned and advised to throw herself on her husband’s mercy. Instead she found a way to speak to her husband before the counselors arrived. She stated that she was beyond understanding on theological matters and would defer to him in all things. By the time her enemies arrived with a warrant for her arrest the king raged against them and sent them packing.

By Christmas the king was gravely ill and he made changes to his will. If Edward, Mary and Elizabeth died childless, the crown would pass to the Grey and Clifford families, descendants of Henry’s sister Mary. He died on January 28, 1547. In May Katherine married her former suitor Thomas Seymour. Prince Edward was now King Edward VI.

Books about the six wives: The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir, The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser, Six Wives by David Starkey