The Life and Historical Reputation of Mary Tudor

Chapter 3 : Clouds Gathering

These marital uncertainties seem not to have preyed much on Mary’s mind. She grew up in a succession of houses in the south-east of England as well as spending some time in the Welsh Marches, where, at the age of nine, her household numbered more than 300 persons. The day to day running of the Council of the Marches was left to others but Mary, representing her father’s authority, held court and learned at least some of the rudiments of administration. Whether her father had truly accepted that she would be his only heir is, however, quite another matter. He was proud of her beautiful red hair, her dancing and musical accomplishments but he wanted a son.

By the late 1520s, it was obvious that Queen Katharine would have no more children. If Henry could not accept Mary as his successor, then he needed to put Katharine aside and marry again. He was probably already aware of this reality when he met the alluring Anne Boleyn. His obsession with having a son – and with Anne - would destroy many lives and cause great distress to his daughter during her teenage years. Mary had lived, in many respects, a charmed life up to this point. The contrast with her subsequent sufferings was profound and it is in these long and painful years that we find the key to understanding the adult woman.

We do not know when Mary realised that there were difficulties in her parents’ relationship. It seems to have been kept from her as long as possible but as she was often at court, much to the chagrin of Anne Boleyn, who resented Henry VIII’s affection for his daughter, she could not have been unaware of the tensions that were growing year by year.

The strain seems to have affected her badly about the time she started menstruating, around the age of 15, and thereafter she suffered from period problems for many years. Frequent periods, accompanied by pain and heavy bleeding, confined her to bed on numerous occasions. Her much younger sister, Elizabeth, referred to Mary’s difficulties as ‘your old guest’ as late as the early 1550s. Medical opinion at the time described this as ‘hysteria’, but that was apparently a general term for female problems that are still little discussed today, let alone in the sixteenth century.