The Life and Historical Reputation of Mary Tudor

Chapter 5 : Capitulation

In the summer of 1536, after Anne’s execution, Mary believed that she would be entirely restored to her father’s favour (she had only seen him once in nearly three years) but she had completely misjudged the situation. Mary’s supporters in the old Catholic families who had resisted the break with Rome may have helped engineer the execution of Anne Boleyn. Certainly they had welcomed it. But Henry was not going to turn the clock back and he was determined to bring his daughter to heel. It took Thomas Cromwell to spell this out to Mary, who had ignored the threats of a deputation of aristocratic thugs sent by Henry VIII to get her to bend to his will.

‘I think you the most obstinate and obdurate woman that ever was’, he told her.

By this time, the end of June, 1536, Mary was worn with illness and stress. Fearing that Cromwell would abandon her and that she might suffer the same fate as Anne Boleyn, she signed a submission, stating that she would obey the laws of the realm, acknowledging her father as head of the English Church and, most bitter of all, that her mother’s marriage had been unlawful. The psychological pressure brought to bear on her had been intense but her capitulation came at great personal cost. It is, in my view, the key to understanding Mary Tudor.

For the rest of Henry VIII’s reign she lived quietly, mostly away from court, with her much younger half-siblings, to whom she was something of a mother-figure. She took an interest in Elizabeth’s education and was generous with gifts of toys and clothing. Gradually, her allowance and her servants were restored to her, at least in part, but marriage, the one possibility that would have removed her from her father’s clutches, was never seriously considered. She told the French ambassador at around the time of Henry’s ill-fated fifth marriage, to Katherine Howard, that she was destined to remain ‘only Lady Mary, the unhappiest lady in Christendom.

It was not until 1542 that Henry, still smarting from the Katherine Howard debacle, decided that he wanted his elder daughter back at court permanently. He had a fine new mansion built for her at Whitehall, with floor to ceiling glass windows that overlooked the river Thames. Since 1536 she had lived graciously but not ostentatiously. Now she could indulge her taste for the latest French fashions and jewellery in a more public setting. She also loved to dance and to gamble, though she was often unsuccessful with the cards. This does not sound like the humourless bigot of popular imagination.