Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Birth of Mary Tudor, Queen of England



Above: Mary Tudor, 1544.

On this day in history, 18 February 1516, Katherine of Aragon gave birth to her only surviving child Mary at the Palace of Placentia at Greenwich. It was Katherine's fifth pregnancy - she would endure a final stillbirth in November 1518. Understandably Henry VIII was disappointed by the birth of a daughter, and at thirty it appeared unlikely that Katherine would bear a male heir. The king did put a brave face on it, however, informing the Venetian ambassador that "sons will follow" by God's grace.

After a promising childhood, Mary's world was plunged into difficulties in 1527 when her father decided to annul his marriage to Katherine, for he was in pursuit of the attractive Anne Boleyn and hoped that she would provide him with a son. Understandably, Katherine refused to accept that she had been little more than Henry's whore since 1509, and by her stubbornness contributed significantly to the English Reformation which was to gather storm in the 1530s. Cruelly, mother and daughter were separated after 1531 and never saw one another again. This deeply affected Mary, and when she finally accepted Henry's religious and political changes under coercion in 1536, she viewed herself as betraying Katherine.

Mary is now remembered as "Bloody Mary" because of the perceived bloodiness of her reign. I have argued elsewhere, following the views of most modern historians, that this is an unfair view. If Mary had been born a son in 1516, it is almost certain that her parents would have remained together, and the history of England would have been very different. As it was, she was born a girl, a heartbreaking event for her father although Katherine unconditionally loved her.


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