Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rebel Princess: Mary Rose Tudor

Princess Mary Rose Tudor,
Queen of France,
Duchess of Suffolk
"Nature never formed anything more beautiful." ~ Erasmus

Princess Mary Rose Tudor, the youngest and the favorite sister of England's Henry VIII, was widely considered one of the most beautiful princess of her time. Lively and energetic, she led a rather tempestuous life and the story of her romance with her brother's best friend inspired many novels and movies. Henry's eldest daughter, the future Mary I, and the warship Mary Rose, were named after this princess.

Mary was the baby of the Tudor family. She was the youngest child of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York to survive childhood and she was born on March 18, 1496 in Richmond Palace. As a child, she was particularly close to her brother Henry and shared with him an exuberance for spectacle. She was the star of the court and she loved dancing, masques and parties. When she was 14, her father died. The young princess, who was praised for her clear complexion and long reddish-blond hair, enjoyed an unprecedented freedom at court. In the next five years after her father's death, she spent her time virtually unchaperoned in her brother's court, her brother openly encouraging her to participate in every event.

In 1507, when Mary was only 11, she was betrothed to Charles of Castle, the future Holy Roman Emperor. Charles was the nephew of Mary's sister-in-law, Catherine of Aragon, and the marriage was planned for May 1514. However, changes in the political alliances of the European powers meant this wedding didn't take place. Mary was apparently pleased with this, since she probably had no desire to marry a boy four years younger.

As a child, she had developed an attachment to the charming, attractive, robust and athletic Charles Brandon, her brother's best friend. In 1514, she was 19 years old, stunningly beautiful and willful. Her feelings for Charles Brandon had developed into love. Everyone at court knew of her affection. However, Cardinal Wosley negotiated a peace treaty with France and Henry VIII informed her sister that she must marry the widowed King of France. Louis XII was a man in his fifties, with gout and pock-marked face, and Mary was young and at the height of her beauty. Certainly, it was not a pleasing prospect for her. She was crying and sulking; she didn't want to marry Louis, but as a princess she would do her duty. She had her eyes only for the handsome Charles Brandon and he was obviously attracted to the princess. Mary told her brother that after the marriage was over, she would be free to marry the man of her choice. It was an extraordinary demand for any woman at that time, but Henry loved his sister and he agreed.

Mary believed her brother's promise and married Louis XII by proxy at the Greenwich Palace on August 13, 1514. She enjoyed herself at her wedding festivities and its attendant celebrations. She was given a splendid trousseau, marvelous jewels sent from France, and all the honors due to the Queen of France. All contemporary accounts remarked on her great beauty which made her husband all the more eager to see her.

After less than two months, Mary traveled to France. She was described by the Venetian ambassador as "tall, slender and grey-eyed, possessing an extreme pallor". She wore her glorious red-gold hair flowing loose to her waist. After days of travelling, she reached Abbeville and finally met her husband. They were married in that city, followed by weeks of celebration.

Throughout her marriage, Mary remained a complacent wife, biding her time. But her marriage lasted only for 82 days. Louis XII died suddenly on December 31, 1514. Despite his ill health, he had been notably 'active' during his marriage and this may have contributed to his demise. Now a widow, Mary was put in a strict seclusion in the Palace of Cluny for 40 days while they waited to see if she was with a child. She felt alone and terrified. But this gave Mary time to plan. She knew Charles Brandon would be among the contingent sent to France to escort her back to England. She had heard rumors that her brother intended for her to marry a Spanish prince, so she knew she would have to take matters into her own hands to be with the man she wanted. Luckily for Mary, she had an ally in Francis, the new king.

When Charles arrived in Paris, Francis confronted him about his feelings for Mary. Charles then met with Mary herself, where she told him about her plan. She wanted to marry him, but if he didn't feel the same, she would enter a convent rather than be married off for the second time to a man she didn't love. Charles gave in, even though he knew that his King would be very upset at the turn of events.
In the small chapel of the Palais de Cluny, Mary Tudor did the unimaginable for most princesses, she married the man she chose and defy one of the most powerful Kings in Europe. When Henry found out about the marriage, he was furious and blamed Mary for their impetuous decisions. But Mary was his favorite sister and Charles was his dearest friend. After some time, Henry's anger subsided and couple were forgiven. Mary and Charles were married publicly, with the King and Queen in attendance.

The couple lived an essentially happy and quiet life in Westhorpe Hall in Suffolk. Their first child was a son, Henry, who was named after the King. Their second was a daughter who was named Frances, a female version of the name of the King of France - who helped bring their marriage. Their third child was a daughter, Eleanor.

Good friends with her sister-in-law, Catherine of Aragon, Mary supported her against the King during his "great matter" and rejected her former maid-of-honor Anne Boleyn.

Mary's health began to fail in 1533. She died at the relatively early age of 38 in the spring of 1534. Her husband was not with her as he was arranging Anne Boleyn's coronation as Queen. While her brother ordered requiem masses for her, he showed no other signs of mourning. Her husband didn't even attend her funeral, although it was considered to be a marvelous affair. She is buried at the church of St. Mary, in Bury St. Edmonds in Suffolk.

Mary Tudor was an extraordinary woman who had the guts and determination to defy a powerful and sometimes even "feared" King and brother to follow her heart and marry the man she loved. She was brave and felt secure in her love for her older brother. Probably, in my opinion, she was the only Tudor who was completely satisfied with her life - albeit a struggle to achieve.

Further reading:
Mary Tudor, The White Queen by Walter C. Richardson
Henry VIII: King and Court by Alison Weir


Anonymous said...

Very interesting biography. I'm quite familiar with Henry VIII and his goings on. Seems his sister was strong willed like him.

TheMarquess said...

There is a small mistake - Mary died on 25 June 1533, after Anne Boleyn's coronation, she was ill for quite a while ;)

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