The Life and Historical Reputation of Mary Tudor

Chapter 7 : A Changing World

Henry VIII’s death in early 1547 brought about an immediate and important change in Mary’s position. It made her independently wealthy (Henry had left both of his daughters sufficient lands in his will that they both became rich women with a property portfolio that needed to be run as a business) and it also meant that once again, after nearly fifteen years, she was heir to the throne, the second person in the land. As Elizabeth was to discover during Mary’s reign, this was by no means an enviable situation.

The extent to which Mary and those around her might constitute an opposition to the ministers of her brother, Edward VI, who was only nine when he came to the throne, was perhaps implicit from the outset but it did not become obvious right away. For several months, Mary stayed with Katherine Parr but in the spring of 1547 she left Katherine’s household to travel to Essex and East Anglia, which was to become her heartland. Perhaps uneasy at the widowed Queen’s ‘secret’ romance with Sir Thomas Seymour, the younger of the King’s two uncles, Mary had a good excuse for leaving. She needed to inspect her lands in eastern England and ensure that they were properly managed. Years of being essentially her father’s property, with little freedom of action, made her all the more eager to leave her mark on her own estates.

There were other reasons for her discomfort and desire to get away from London. The new regime was determined to propel religious changes towards a set of much more overtly Protestant beliefs that Henry would never have countenanced and which progressively put Mary at odds with the little brother she greatly loved. Appalled by the new prayer book and forbidden to hear Mass, Mary found that the comfort of her religious practices, which had supported her through years of difficulty, was being taken away from her. In the spring of 1550 she seriously considered escaping by sea from the Essex coast and going to live in exile at the court of her cousin, the Emperor Charles V, in Brussels. A ship was sent to rescue her but at the last minute she changed her mind. Her future, for good or for ill, lay in England.

Attempts to persuade her by imprisoning several leading members of her household were met with the same kind of defiance that she had shown her father. ‘You give me fair words,’ she told Edward’s councillors, ‘but your deeds be always ill towards me.’ By the beginning of 1553 the pressure on her had relented. The King was only a few years short of his majority and it was thought unproductive to persecute his sister. She was permitted to come to London to see her brother and arrived with a show of force, for she had a substantial following, in early February. Outwardly, Edward still seemed fond of his sister, even if she would not submit to his will. She could not have anticipated when she left him that his chest infection was more than a minor indisposition, or what he would do when he realised that he was dying.