Monday, 25 May 2009

Medal commemorating the restoration of England to Catholic Communion, 1554 – and possibly Mary’s ‘pregnancy’?

In November 1554, England was officially received back to the Catholic Church. It was the moment Mary had been waiting for and to have this officially confirmed by Cardinal Reginald Pole, a leading churchman, Englishman and close friend of Mary’s, made the event even more significant. It was that month that Pole, after nearly twenty years of exile, returned to England as the papal legate. Mary wished to install him as her archbishop of Canterbury although Thomas Cranmer was still alive at this point thus Mary had to wait till his execution to bestow this on Pole. Nonetheless she did reverse the act of attainder that has been passed against him during Henry VIII’s reign in the parliament that met on the 12th November 1554 [1]. On the 22nd November, Pole landed at Whitehall, having travelled in the royal barge, and met Mary on the steps of the palace. She was accompanied by her new husband Philip and ‘she received him with great signs of respect and affection; both shed tears’ (Porter, p. 331).

The medal depicted here was struck to commemorate England’s return to Rome and Pole’s arrival in England to instigate this. Pole formally absolved the realm of past transgressions on St Andrew’s Day, 30th November, and the ceremony was greeted with much solemnity and emotion by Mary, Philip and the Commons. Mary had achieved the restoration of the old religious order; in the words of her biographer, David Loades, it ‘must have been the greatest moment of her life’ (p. 240). The medal captures this personal triumph.

The medal, made by the Paduan medallist Giovanni Cavino in 1554, depicts an allegorical scene. The symbolic figure of Anglia is depicted knelling before the pope and raising her hand forth, which he supports. By her is Pole wearing full cardinal attire, and to the right of Pole is the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was Mary’s cousin, father-in-law and protector throughout much of her life. Charles had been deeply involved in organising Mary’s marriage to his son Philip and in supporting Mary’s decision to restore England to the Catholic Church, which resulted in his presence on the medal. To the right are Mary and Philip, both crowned. Mary’s eyes remain fixed on Anglia, whilst Charles and Philip look pleasantly on at Mary. Above the whole group are the words ‘ANGLIA RESURGES’ – ‘England, you shall arise’.

On the reverse of the medal is an image of Pope Julius III, the contemporary pope, who Mary enjoyed good relations with. Julius had confirmed Pole’s appointment to England and although he initially pressed for former monastic lands to be resorted to the Church, he eventually conceded that ‘it would be far better for all reasons human and divine, to abandon all the Church property [in England], rather than risk the shipwreck of this understanding’ (Whitelock, p. 247). Unfortunately for Mary, a prosperous relationship with the papacy would eventually cease in the last years of her reign owing to the anti-Habsburg policies of Paul IV. [2]

The commemorative tone of the medal is notable. However there is another message, one which is subtle and hopeful. This can be seen in the figure of Mary. Although it is hard to completely establish Mary’s physique owing to the baggy nature of her dress, it is evident that she is depicted with a round stomach which she draws attention by laying her hand upon. All books that I have come across that include an image of this medal overlook the possibility that the medal is also drawing attention to Mary’s ‘pregnancy’ of 1554/1555. Yet it was around the time of the ceremonies which installed England back to the Catholic Church that Mary confirmed her condition. Personal confirmation came on the very day when she greeted Pole on the steps of Whitehall. His first words upon seeing her were, ‘Hail, thou art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed are thou among women’. Pole later retired and was subsequently greeted by one of Mary’s messengers who claimed that the queen had felt the child in her womb quicken when Pole had spoken the words to her. Quickening, the first moments of the child in the womb, was regarded as a confirmation of pregnancy in the early modern period and also a sign that the child was still alive. For Mary, the possibility of a Catholic heir was a joyous prospect and meant the security of her religious policies. Hence allusions to her pregnancy were entirely appropriate on a medal celebrating England’s return to the Catholic Church. Her condition was made widely known by the end of that month, again indicating the possibility that this medal, created near the end of that year, was purposely drawing attention to her pregnancy.

Unfortunately for Mary, the joy turned to despair when the pregnancy revealed itself to be fake in the summer of 1555 [3]. And with this came significant concerns about the succession and thus the sustainability of her religious policies. However references to the future worries about the succession that would plague the rest of Mary’s reign are practically nonexistent in this insightful medal from Mary’s Annus Mirabilis.

The medal has been recently included in Eamon Duffy, Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor (New Haven and London, 2009), plate 4.


[1] The bill of attainder against Reginald Pole was passed on the 19th May 1539. In January of that year his brother, Henry, Baron Montagu had been executed for allegedly plotting against Henry VIII (and he too was included in the bill along with their mother, Margaret Pole). Reginald Pole was in the Observant Franciscan house of Montili at Carpentras when this occurred.

[2] Divisions between Paul IV and Mary were also created when the Pope pressed for Pole to be sent to Rome to be tried on charges of heresy. Mary ultimately refused and her refusal to do so contributed to Paul IV’s demonstrations of gratification when he learnt of her death in November 1558.

[3] Limited work has been done into Mary’s ‘pregnancies’, although historians mostly agree that she suffered from cases of pseudocyesis, otherwise known as ‘phantom pregnancy’, whereby an individual exhibits signs of pregnancy but is ultimately not pregnant. For an interesting discussion into the possible biological and psychological causes of this see Judith Richards, Mary Tudor (Oxon, 2008), p. 173.


Eamon Duffy, Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor (New Haven and London, 2009), pp. 43-5, plate 4.
David Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life (Oxford, 1992), pp. 237-40.
Linda Porter, Mary Tudor: The First Queen (London, 2007), p. 331-33.
Judith Richards, Mary Tudor (Oxon, 2008), pp. 169-73.
Anna Whitelock, Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen (London, 2009), pp. 247-53.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Mary's Coronation. Part 2 - Ceremony

In a previous post
I looked at Mary’s image throughout her coronation procession. This post will examine her coronation ceremony, which was the first for a queen regnant in England. By looking at the ceremony we can uncover the messages Mary was trying to promote, namely how she gave the populace an indication of her future policies.

Mary’s coronation was recorded in the Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary, and especially of the Rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyat. It occurred on ‘the first daie of October, 1553’, the day after her procession through London. According to the account:

"..she cam first by water to the old palice [1] and ther tarryed tyll about xi of the clocke, and then went to the churche on foot apon blew cloth being rayled on every syde..."

As mentioned in the previous post on Mary’s image, there was some disagreement amongst contemporary commentators about how Mary was dressed in the coronation procession. Interestingly on the day itself there was no confusion. She wore a ‘chrymesyn vellvert gown’ with a crown on her head, whilst her hair was left loose. The colour of the gown was significant and the fact that contemporaries noted it precisely indicates its importance. Mary had chosen to dress in a colour worn by the male monarch at his coronation instead of adopting white and gold, colours which the queen consort traditionally wore when she was crowned. Yet Mary was not a queen consort nor did she wish to present herself as such. She was a monarch in her own right and to illustrate her authority she chose to be crowned like a king. It is important to remember that Mary had no precedent to tell her how an English queen regnant was to be crowned, thus she was forming her own standard. She was stating that despite her sex she would govern with the same authority as her male predecessors. There was another reason behind her attempts to emphasis her power. Technically Mary had inherited the throne as a royal bastard; her father had illegitimated her and whilst he had provided her with a place within his succession and her right to govern was supported by the overwhelming majority, she was still not considered under law to be Henry VIII’s legitimate child. The accession of an illegitimate individual, even one whose right to succeed had been confirmed by parliament, was rather unprecedented [2]. Whilst she had received support she understood that her illegitimate state could be used against her – in fact it had been used against her by her brother and Jane Grey’s supporters. Mary rectified this by passing a parliamentary bill that stated her parents had been legally married. But this occurred after her coronation so Mary was to be crowned whilst illegitimate, something which she personally regarded as unjust. Therefore her attempts to enforce her authority were in defiance to her father’s judgement, her brother’s judgment and also those who had sided with Jane Grey. And it was also an indication of the decision on her parents’ marriage that she knew parliament would shortly reach.

No image of Mary from her coronation survives although in this Great Seal of Mary I and Philip of Spain, 1554, she is depicted with her hair lose, in official robes, wearing a crown, touching the orb and with the sceptre in her hand. This gives us some idea of the way she looked at her coronation.

Mary was determined to be crowned ‘according to the olde custome’ as opposed to the manner in which the Protestant Edward VI had been crowned. According to the Imperial ambassador, Simon Renard, "the bishops and priests [were] in full canonical dress" which was a move away from the attack on rich clerical vestments that had occurred in the previous reign. Mary objected to being anointed with the oils used in her brother’s coronation, arguing that they had been tainted by their use in a Protestant ceremony. Thus she wrote to the bishop of Arras in Brussels for a new ‘uncontaminated’ supply of holy oil. Years later when Elizabeth I was preparing her own coronation she complained that the holy oils used for Mary were now ‘grease and smelt ill’. They may have become rather stale, or perhaps Elizabeth was taking a page out of her sister’s book and removing elements that were connected to the previous opposing regime.

I’ve noticed a rumour on the internet stating that Mary refused to sit in the coronation chair because her Protestant brother had used it for his coronation. This is false – changing the holy oil was one thing but objecting to using the chair that was used for every crowned monarch after Edward I was certainly not something she did. As stated previously, Mary was keen to emphasis her right to rule and to govern like the kings that came before her. To remove such a vital element of the coronation ceremony – sitting in King Edward’s Chair – was unthinkable.

At the start of the ceremony two noblemen led Mary to each corner of a built dais so the whole congregation could see her. The man who presided over the ceremony and crowned her was the religious conservative Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester who Mary made her Lord Chancellor. Once Mary had been shown to the congregation he stated aloud:

“Sirs, Here present is Mary, rightful and undoubted inheritrix by the Laws of God and man to the Crown and Royal Dignity of this realm of England, France and Ireland, whereupon you shall understand that this day is appointed by all the peers of this land for the consecration, injunction and coronation of the said most excellent Princess Mary; will you serve at this time and give your wills and assent to the same consecration, unction and coronation?”

To which the crowd responded "Yea, yea, yea! God save Queen Mary!"

A sermon was subsequently delivered by George Day, bishop of Chichester, who had been imprisoned in 1551 after he had refused to replace alters in churches in his diocese (and released upon Mary’s accession). His sermon called upon the populace to be obedient to their sovereign. Mary then knelt in front of the altar, pledged that she would always defend her subjects and administer justice in her lands. She then swore the oath, although there is some ambiguity about its wording. According to Anne Whitelock, Mary feared that the coronation oath would be tampered with in order to make her state that she would promise uphold the current faith in England (therefore the Protestant Church of England). Thus to the oath she added the term ‘just and licit laws’ to indicate that she would uphold those laws which she regarded as lawful. In that sense she was not bound to maintain her brother’s church and had flexibility in instituting her religious objectives.

After then prostrating herself before the high altar, she was anointed by Bishop Gardiner with the holy oils. She was then dressed in the robes of state, handed the sword, sceptre and the orbs to indicate her power, and then crowned with the crown of St Edward the Confessor. She also had a personal crown made, which may have been later used by Elizabeth. Anne Whitelock notes that this specially made crown was ‘a vast yet simple designed crown with two arches, a large fleur-de-lis and prominent crosses’ (p. 196).

There were limits to Mary’s attempts to have her coronation completely resemble a king’s. A king was supposed to have the ceremonial spurs placed upon him although this was regarded as unseemly for a queen to do, thus Mary just touched them. Then there was the question of making new Knights of the Bath. It was traditional for the monarch to create new knights at the time of the coronation and this involved a ceremony in which the naked knights would be plunged in a bath and the monarch would kiss their shoulder. But as Renard notes, “the Queen being a woman, the ceremony was performed for her by the Earl of Arundel, her Great Master of the Household”.

The whole ceremony lasted from around eleven o’clock to four o’clock that afternoon. Immediately following the ceremony she attended the sumptuous coronation banquet. Overall the day had gone off without a hitch.

However there had been a notable absence – the archbishop of Canterbury. Whilst Mary was being anointed as England’s first queen regnant, Thomas Cranmer was in the Tower having been arrested for his involvement in attempting to place Jane Grey on the throne. There was of course another reason for his imprisonment; it is notable that he was then sharing lodgings with a number of other Protestant clergymen. From Mary’s point of view it was absolutely inconceivable that she would be crowned by this man and in the end she managed to orchestrate his absence and replace him with Bishop Gardiner (who had been imprisoned himself during Edward VI’s reign). Mary was clearly stating that it was a time for ‘out with the old, in with the new’. Or perhaps more accurately, out with the new and back with the old.

Overall Mary’s coronation had been a triumph and a time for genuine celebration. Yet after the festivities finished Mary faced the difficult task of living up to the image she created for herself – that of an independent queen regnant who would govern like any man before her. She would face significant problems, even be the subject of a damning critique against female rule [3]. But by and large she made everyone know who was boss. We can hardly expect anything less of a Tudor!


[1] A reference to Westminster Palace
[2] William I was also illegitimate and it is possible that Edward the Martyr’s parents were not married.
[3] John Knox’s infamous, The first blast of the trumpet against the monstrous regiment of women(1558), which argued that women by their nature were unfit to be authority figures, was originally written in response to the rule of Mary I.


Primary documents

John Gough Nichols (ed.), The Chronicle of Queen Jane, and of Two Years of Queen Mary, and especially of the Rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyat (London, 1850), pp. 27-32.
Letter from Simon Renard to Philip of Spain, 3rd October 1553, in Royall Tyler (ed.), Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 11: 1553 (London, 1916), pp. 261-272.

Secondary sources

David Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life (Oxford, 1992), pp. 205-6.
Judith Richards, Mary Tudor (Oxon, 2008), pp. 137-9.
David Starkey, Elizabeth: Apprenticeship (London, 2000), p. 274.
Roy Strong, Coronation: A History of Kingship and the British Monarchy (London, 2005), pp. 192-3, 197-222.
Anna Whitelock, Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen (London, 2009), pp. 195-7.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Mary’s betrothal to Henri, duc d'Orléans, 1527

I thought it would be interesting to do some occasional posts on various images of or connected to Mary.

When most people think of Mary they frequently picture the notable portraits of her as queen – namely the wonderful Hans Eworth of Antonis Mor images. The very young Mary can often be overlooked, although admittedly we have few images of her as a preadolescent.

This image of Mary is from a marriage contract between herself and Henri, duc d'Orléans (second son of François I of France). Henri is depicted on the left and between himself and Mary is Hymenaeus, the God of marriage. The marriage contract was ratified on the 18th August 1527 and signified a peace treaty between Henry VIII and François. There had previously been discussion of a marriage between the widowed François and the eleven year old Mary, although it was decided that the eight year old Henri would be her prospective husband.

Mary had previously been betrothed to Henri’s elder brother, the dauphin of France (the heir to the French throne) although the match broke when Henry repudiated the peace treaty between England and France and betrothed Mary instead to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (who was Katherine of Aragon’s nephew, hence Mary’s first cousin). After Charles subsequently abandoned Mary to marry Isabella of Portugal, Henry turned back to France and the treaty of Amiens was made.

Accompanying this newfound friendship between France and England was the exchange of honours. François installed Henry as a knight of the Order of St Michael in November 1527 and in the same month Henry made the French king a knight of the Garter. The statutes of the Order of the Garter that was presented to François can be seen to the left. At the bottom there is a woman holding together the Tudor rose and the French fleurs-de-lis, indicating the unity between the two kings. She is Concord and it has been suggested that she is representing Princess Mary, whose marriage to the French prince would cement the treaty.

Ultimately Mary and Henri did not marry – talk of the marriage dissolved with the alliance and when Mary’s status was attacked by father’s decision to annul his first marriage. The year in which Henry VIII officially annulled his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and Mary was subsequently illegitimatised marked Henri’s marriage to Catherine de’Medici. Both Henri and Mary would go on to be monarchs – Henri became his father’s heir in 1536 and ruled as Henri II (1547-1559). Despite the peaceful tone of the treaty that once promised Mary and Henri to each other, the pair would ultimately engage in conflict and it was to Henri that Mary lost Calais.


Charles Giry-Deloison, ‘A Diplomatic Revolution? Anglo-French Relations and the Treaties of 1527’, in David Starkey (ed.), Henry VIII: A European Court in England (London, 1991), pp. 77-87.

David Starkey, 'The Order of the Garter and St Michael', in David Starkey (ed.), Henry VIII: A European Court in England (London, 1991), pp. 94-99.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The case of Perotine Massey

Perotine Massey is not a familiar name to many. When we think of the Protestants persecuted during Mary’s reign we often reflect on the prominent victims like Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury. Perotine was no one ‘special’. So why is she, or more accurately her death, so controversial? Is it because she was a woman? No – women could be arraigned and condemned for a variety of crimes and Perotine was certainly not the first nor the last female burnt for heresy in England. Was it her status? Again no, for she was from a modest background as were numerous other martyrs. So what made Perotine controversial? The answer is that she was pregnant at the time of her death.

Here are the details on Perotine supplied by John Foxe in his Book of Martyrs. She was the daughter of one Katherine Cauches (or ‘Cowchen’) and she lived with her mother and one sister called Guillemine in St Peter Port, Guernsey. A woman in her community had stolen a silver cup and tried to sell it to Perotine but knowing that it was actually the property of anther, Perotine informed the actual cup’s owner. The thief was arrested and Perotine was also questioned for any impossible involvement in the robbery. Sufficient evidence could not be found for her involvement but she was instead accused of not attending church. Was she perhaps accused by the disgruntled thief? Regardless, the case was brought to the dean of Guernsey and on 14th July 1556 she was examined before a number of local important figures (amongst them the dean). Either on the 17th or the 27th July she was condemned as a heretic, and burnt at the stake. She was strangled beforehand but the rope broke. Whilst on the stake she gave birth to a boy and one eyewitness (a ‘W. House’) initially saved the baby but the bailiff, Helier Gosselin, insisted that it too should die. As a consequence the infant was thrust into the flames.

It is a horrifying story. But is it true – and if so why did they still execute her and why, when she gave birth at the stake, did they not save the baby?

And if it is false, why invent such a story in the first place?

Reasons as to why the story was mentioned – or even invented – by Foxe is obvious. The murder of a newborn infant was regarded as heinous to contemporaries, as it does to us, thus those responsible for this were cast as unjust and brutal. This is exactly the manner in which the Protestant Foxe wished to present Mary and the Catholic Church. But that does not necessarily mean he invented it. Not all of what Foxe recorded was inaccurate – no one doubts, for example, that Cranmer was sent to the stake even after recanting his Protestant beliefs regardless of the fact that his recantation should have saved him.

The issue of the pregnancy though raises questions. During the early modern period there was a plea known as ‘benefit of belly’. This was where a pregnant woman who had been condemned to death could raise her condition and as such the execution would be stalled until after the child’s birth. The existence of this plea indicates that the unborn child was not regarded as culpable of its mother’s sins and as such was not to share her fate. She could still remain in prison, and in most cases she was not guaranteed a full pardon. But nonetheless the child was still to live.

So why was Perotine sent to the scaffold? Perhaps her pregnancy was not known to herself or to the officials. Pregnancy in the early stages was hard to determine with much certainty during the sixteenth-century, and obvious signs like the cessation of menstruation could be regarded instead as a symptom of a general ailment. If the female criminal was pregnant she needed to raise the condition first and then be examined. But if she did not know of her pregnancy then she could not do this. There was also the possibility that she could tell the officials of this, be examined by a groups of matrons and have her pregnancy denied. This may sound odd to us but there are cases of women being sent to the scaffold although they claiming to be pregnant but were declared not to be so by others. Cathy McClive records the death of one female criminal who was hanged and dissected in 1666 outside the Louvre. The woman had previously pleaded that she was pregnant but this was overruled. The crowd was said to have been shocked when during the execution it was discovered that she was had been around four months pregnant.

According to Jasper Ridley in Bloody Mary’s Martyrs (2001), Perotine did not tell the judges at her trial that she was pregnant although it is hard to deduce whether this was consciously done or whether she really didn’t know about her condition. But why did the bailiff, once the child was born, decide to condemn the child with the mother? The bailiff was asked the same question years later during the reign of Elizabeth I. He was tried for his actions and his response was that the child had been in the woman’s (and therefore the ‘heretic’s’) womb and therefore shared her sin. This was not regarded to be a just reason and subsequently he was condemned for murder. But Elizabeth pardoned him.

In my opinion the story of Perotine would have made many uneasy because regardless whether the contemporary was Catholic or Protestant the death of a newborn infant was viewed as unacceptable. The charges were so damning that one Catholic writer and Elizabethan exile, Thomas Harding stressed that she had not told the judges at her trial that she was pregnant and had she done so she would have not been sent to the stake. Importantly he did not deny that Perotine had existed or that had given birth at the stake; rather he was challenging the idea that the Catholic Church had anything to do with the death.

The case of Perotine reveals certain problems within the system of persecuting heretics during Mary’s reign. Mary and leading Church officials could of course not involve themselves in every case of heresy – this had to be left to local officials. Therefore the system rested on the belief that local officials could oversee the burnings in a correct and appropriate manner. But as Linda Porter in her biography on Mary notes, ‘some local administrative and justices were as zealous as individuals in pursuing heretics’ and as such the system was capable to be abused (p.361).

So does that mean that Mary is not to blame for the death of Perotine or any other cases of abuse within the system? Should we blame instead zealous officials like the Guernsey bailiff? It is hard to decree that Mary was directly responsible for this case and we have no idea whether she was even informed of it. It is true that she was not there to personally administer the death of the child and it is extremely unlikely that she, along with most contemporaries, would have issued the death of an infant. But before we put the case down to the corruption of those directly involved, it must be remembered that there did exist those close to the political centre that urged caution. Amongst them was the Franciscan friar Alfonso de Castro, who was part of Philip of Spain’s household. Whilst he was a supporter of the method of burning heretics, Castro urged that time needed to be taken to convert the Protestants – in essence that burning should be the final option and the authorities should spend as much time as possible trying to make the person recant. In other words it was not to be a rushed affair, like the case of Perotine.

So Perotine did exist and today a plaque in her honour (along with her mother and sister who were burnt alongside her) can be seen on the Tower Hill steps in St Peter’s Port. She may not have been the most famous Marian martyr, and today her name is frequently left out of books on Mary and the church during this period. But her story was regarded as important enough for Foxe to raise it and for Harding to attack. Ultimately I don’t perceive the case of Perotine to be an example of Mary’s supposed brutality, nor do I think it is fair to use such situations to form a complete judgment of Mary’s church. But speaking as someone who favours a more balanced portrayal of Mary and her church, I wonder whether it is not amiss to ignore certain flaws of the system just as it is illogical to deny this queen of any achievements.


John Foxe, Acts and Monuments. Available from:

Cathy McClive, ‘The Hidden Truths of the Belly: The Uncertainties of Pregnancy in Early Modern Europe’, Social History of Medicine 15:2 (2002).
Glyn Redworth, ‘Castro, Alfonso de (c.1495–1558)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
Jasper Ridley, Bloody Mary’s Martyrs (London, 2001), pp. 152-3.
Linda Porter, Mary Tudor: The First Queen (London, 2007), pp. 350-62.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Mary’s Coronation. Part 1 – Image

Mary’s coronation was extraordinary when we consider the problems she had faced actually getting to the throne. But there was another reason for its importance – it was the first coronation of a queen regnant in England. Whilst Matilda, daughter of Henry I, had fought unsuccessfully for the throne in the twelfth-century and Jane Grey was proclaimed queen in July 1553, neither was officially anointed as sovereign. Thus Mary was the first women in English history who was crowned queen in her own right.

This naturally raised problems. Everyone had been used to a male fulfilling this role – and the existence of a queen regnant raised a number of questions regarding the extent of her power, how much power her prospective husband should have, etc. And the coronation itself was bound to be different.

Judith Richards in her excellent article, Mary Tudor as ‘Sole Quene’?: Gendering Tudor Monarchy (1997), notes that reports regarding the coronation procession that occurred on the 30th September 1553, were mixed. The eyewitness accounts don’t add up – one contemporary noted that she wore ‘a gown of blew velvet, furred with powdered armyen’ whilst another stated that she wore a white gown and had her hair worn lose to emphasise her virginity. Others recorded that her hair was up and adorned with jewels. These disagreements may seem trivial. But Richards raises an interesting point when she notes that such differences tell us a lot about the uncertainties felt by contemporaries watching the coronation procession. They were witnessing something unseen in England – the coronation of a female ruler and it seems that no one could agree on what manner Mary should present herself. Namely, whether she should have dressed in the same colours and in the same style as a king would at his coronation procession (that is to wear blue or purple velvet), or to follow the style of the queen consort (to wear white and wear her hair loose).

So evidently the day was a puzzling as well as an exciting event. It seems that Mary did wear her hair loose – and she proceeded to have herself depicted as such in the first plea roll portrait of her (dated Michaelmas, 1533):

(Another example of Mary wearing her hair lose - a golden rial dating to c.1553/1554)

The coronation celebrations lasted over several days. On the 28th September 1553 Mary moved to the Tower (where the monarch traditionally resided before their coronation). She travelled there in a decorative barge accompanied by her sister, Elizabeth, and there was music and the sound of cannons firing to salute her. The following day she created 15 new Knights of the Bath, including the young earl of Surrey (later Thomas Howard, 4th duke of Norfolk) and William Courtenay, Earl of Devon who was a proposed marriage candidate for Mary. A number of these men were loyal allies, including William Dormer who was father to one of Mary’s most trusted ladies – Jane Dormer. Importantly, a number were religious conservatives (like Dormer). Clearly Mary was providing a taste of what was soon to come.

The 30th September marked the day of the coronation procession which started around two o’clock that afternoon. As Freda Winifred described, it ‘passed by way of Fenchurch, Gracechurch, Cornhill, Cheapside, St. Paul’s Churchyard, Ludgate and Fleet Street to Whitehall Palace’. Travelling with Mary was Elizabeth and her one time stepmother, Anne of Cleves, emphasising family solidarity. The procession was a time when the public could show their acclaim for their new monarch and throughout the procession Mary would have been greeted with fantastic displays, including some set up by various groups of merchants of the city. This included the Florentines who staged a display which compared Mary to Judith who triumphed over Holofernes (who was meant to represent the duke of Northumberland in this demonstration).

Throughout the procession Mary displayed herself as the queen consort would at a coronation, which indicates that she understood the similarities between her role and a consort’s – namely that she was a wife of sorts although in this case not to a monarch but to her country. The idea of a queen regnant wedded to her realm instantly provokes the image of Elizabeth I who famously declared that she had entered such a marriage. But despite Mary’s later decision to marry, she too believed that she had entered into an important union with her country and one which could not be affected by a temporal marriage:

“I am already married to this Common Weal and the faithful members of the same, the spousal ring whereof I have on my finger [the coronation ring]...”

(Mary’s speech in the Guildhall, 31st January 1554 recorded in John Protector, The History of Wyat’s Rebellion: With the Order and Manner of Resisting the Same (London, 1554))

Thus Mary, even as early as her coronation, was attempting to compromise the role of queen regnant with the well known one of queen consort. But unlike the consort whose role was reliant on her husband, Mary was determined to emphasise her own authority and how it was not aligned with another. And this can be found in the coronation ceremony itself when Mary managed to secure a Catholic ceremony for herself despite the fact that the country she inherited was, officially at least, separated from the Catholic Church and that her archbishop of Canterbury was one of the most notable and dedicated advocates of religious reform in the country...


Judith Richards, Mary Tudor (London, 2008), pp. 134-39.

Judith Richards, ‘Mary Tudor as ‘Sole Quene’?: Gendering Tudor Monarchy’, The Historical Journal, 40, 4 (1997).

Winifred Roll, Mary I: The History of the Unhappy Tudor Queen (New Jersey, 1980), pp. 130-34.

J.M. Stone, The History of Mary I Queen of England: As found in the public records, despatches of ambassadors in original private letters, and other contemporary documents (London, 1901), pp. 255-56.