Saturday, 20 June 2009

Contemporary ballad celebrating Mary’s ‘pregnancy’

Here is a sixteenth-century ballad, dating to Mary’s reign, that celebrates her ‘pregnancy’ of 1554-1555. The ballad, which I have posted here in the original early modern English, is evidently joyful in tone and regards the news of a prospective Catholic heir to indicate divine approval for Mary and her cause, and overall as a significant symbol of hope. The ballad also attacks those who are cynical of the news and who harbour malicious intentions. This was a reference to Protestant opponents who doubted that Mary could conceive and bear a living child. This ballad indicates a level of concern for such talk and also a sense of achievement as the supporters of the piece feel that Mary’s pregnancy ultimately means the end of the Protestant cause in England.

The ballad was designed to be sung and thus broadcasted to many. Such a way of spreading news was necessary in an age where most could not read. The ballad allowed for some individuals who were gifted in reading to memorise it, sing to others and they too could learn the lyrics and communicate it to others. The ballad was printed in London and perhaps the ballad was confined to this area, although the Council at this time was making sure that reports of the pregnancy were sent to bishops across the realm so they could tell the populace. Perhaps part of their campaign involved spreading literature like this across the country?

The Ballad of Joy,
upon the publication of
Q. Mary, wife of King Philip,
her being with Child,
Anno Dom(ni) .15- . [1]

Now singe, now springe, our care is exiled.
Our vertuous Quene is quickned with child.

Nowe englande is happie, and happie in dede,
That god of his goodness, dothe prospir here seede:
Therefore let us praie, it was never more nede,
God prosper her highnes, god send her good sped.

How manie good people, were longe in dispaire,
That this letel
(little) englane, shold lacke a right heire:
But nowe the swet marigold, springeth to fayre,
That England triumpheth, without anie care.

How manie greate thraldoms, in englande were seene,
Before that her highness, was pwblyshed
(published) as quene:
The bewtye
(beauty) of England, was banished clene,
With wringing, and wrongynge, & sorrowes betwen.

And yet synce her highness was planted in peace,
Her subjects wer doubtful of her highness increase
But nowe the recofort, their murmour doth cease,
They have their owne wyshynge
(wishing) their woes do release.

And suche as envied, the matche and the make
And in their proceedings, stoode styffe as a stake:
Are now reconciled, their malis doth slake,
And all men are wilinge, theyr partes for to take.

Our doutes be dissolved, our fancies contented,
The marriage is joyfull, that many lamented:
And suche as envied, like foles
(fools) have repented,
The errours & terrours, that they have invented.

But God dothe worke, more wonders then this,
For he is Auther, and Father of blysse:
he is the defender, his working it is,
And where he doth favoure, they fare not amys

Therefore let us praye, to the father of myght
To prosper her highness, and shelde her in ryghte:
With joye to deliver, that when she is lighte,
Both she and her people, maie Joye without flight.

God prosper her highnes, in every thinge,
Her noble spouse, our fortunate kynge:
And that noble blossome, that is planetd to springe,
Amen swete Jesus, we hartely singe.

Blysse thou swete Jesus, our comforters three,
Oure kynge, our Quene, our Prince that shal be:
That they three as one, or one as all three,
May govern thy people, to the plesure of thee.

Imprinted at London in Lumbarde strete
Signe of the Eagle, by
Wyllyam Ryddaell.


[1] The year is not specified although it obviously dates to Mary’s 'pregnancy'. Her condition was widely known by November 1554, so this ballad must date to sometime after then and before early August 1555 (when Mary fully came out of confinement having realised that the pregnancy was not real).

[2] When the Queen Regnant (or as it had been before Mary, the Queen Consort) was pregnant, it was customary for Te Deums to be ordered in churches across the realm for the safety of the woman and child. Childbirth was notoriously dangerous in Tudor England and there were genuine concerns that Mary and/or her child could die. This provoked discussion about who would act as regent of the country if Mary died and the child lived, and it was decided that the role was Philip’s. However several drafts of the agreement concerning his regency had to be drawn up; the final act deemed that in the case of Mary’s death and the child’s survival, Philip would become de facto ruler of England until the child was of an age to rule. Mary supported this.

[3] ‘Lumbarde strete’, today known as Lombard Street, is situated south east of Gracechurch Street in the City of London. By 1556 only two printers were situated there compared to the fifteen that lived in St Paul’s Churchyard.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Ten random facts about Mary

1) In June 1520, when Mary was just four years old, she was sufficiently skilled on the virginals that her audience were ‘greatly marvelled and rejoiced’. She was also skilled on the lute and harpsichord.

2) During Jane Seymour’s pregnancy with the future Edward VI, Mary sent her cucumbers from her garden to satisfy Jane’s pregnancy cravings.

3) Mary was referred to as the ‘princess of Wales’ by contemporaries during her youth, although Henry never officially bestowed the title upon her.[1]

4) Mary’s godparents were Katherine, Countess of Devon (Edward IV’s daughter and therefore Mary’s great-aunt), Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (who would become Mary’s governess and close friend), Agnes Howard, duchess of Norfolk and Thomas Wolsey, archbishop of York and Henry VIII’s leading minister.

5) Mary was quite short-sighted.

6) In May 1546, Prince Edward (Mary’s half-brother) wrote to his stepmother Katherine Parr imploring her to admonish Mary about her dancing. He asked that Mary ‘attend no longer to foreign dances and merriments, which do not become a most Christian Princess’.

7) Mary first met her husband Philip of Spain in the gardens of Wolvesey, the Bishop’s Palace at Winchester in the evening of the 23rd July 1554. During this relatively private and short meeting (lasting half an hour) Philip spoke Spanish whilst Mary replied in French, having lost the ability to speak Spanish fluently. The couple married two days later at Winchester Cathedral.

8) Mary loved her clothes and tended to prefer expensive and sumptuous fabrics. In the first years of her reign the annual cost of the Great Wardrobe was considerable high owing to her coronation and wedding (at £18,000) but it dropped thereafter to £6,000 which was slightly less than her father’s expenses during the last years of his reign.

9) In June 1536 Mary submitted to her father by agreeing that her parent’s marriage had been invalid, that she was therefore illegitimate and that her father was Supreme Head of the Church. As a reward Henry gave her a ring which contained an image of himself and his new wife Jane Seymour with, on the back, this inscription (in Latin):

‘Obedience leads to unity, unity to constancy and a quiet mind, and these are treasures of inestimable worth. For God so valued humility that he gave his only son, a prefect exemplar of modesty, who in his obedience to his divine father, taught lessons of obedience and devotion’.

10) Mary is not a popular historical figure and is infrequently represented in film and TV productions. However she has been played by a notable character...
Lisa Simpson! The comical portrayal featured in the episode ‘Margical History Tour’; Homer Simpson plays Henry VIII and Marge Simpsons features as ‘Margerine of Aragon’!


[1] Mary was recorded as ‘Marie Principisse Wallie’ in a formal royal document (letters patent of 14 August 1525 granting Sir Giles Greville the chamberlainship of South Wales) but this seems to be incorrectly used. Ultimately she went though no formal ceremony for this title and thus was not style as the ‘princess of Wales’.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Mary and the royal manor of Beaulieu

A few months back, Channel 4 aired a fantastic documentary on Henry VIII’s palaces, which involved the guys from Time Team. They attempted to recover evidence of Henry VIII’s lost palaces and examined the area where the Palace of Beaulieu once stood [1]. Prior to Henry’s building work, the site contained an impressive manor which was granted to Thomas Boteler (or ‘Butler’), Earl of Ormonde by Henry VII in 1491. In 1515 Thomas died and the property was granted to his daughter and coheir, Margaret who had married Sir William Boleyn [2]. William sold the property to Henry VIII sometime in 1515 and by January 1516 the king had already started to rebuild the manor.

When Beaulieu is mentioned in connection to Mary it often concerns her time there as an adolescent or later in life. It was at this royal manor that Mary composed a letter to her father detailing her astonishment that she had lost the title princess owing to his decision to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn in 1533. It was also where the duke of Norfolk was sent to tell Mary that Henry desired her ‘to go to the Court and service of [Elizabeth], whom he named Princess’. In short, this was where Mary was informed that her new half-sister was now considered the king’s legitimate daughter and that she was now the illegitimate ‘Lady Mary’.

In her father’s will Mary was granted Beaulieu along with numerous other properties [3]. And in 1553, just after Mary had been pronounced as queen across the country, Beaulieu was where she was presented with a purse made of crimson velvet and filled with coins from the City of London, as a token of their respect for their new queen.

So Beaulieu became a well favoured residence for Mary. It was also where she declared before the sacrament that she would marry Philip of Spain with the Imperial ambassador and her lady-in-waiting Susan Clarencius being the only ones present. However it is not Mary’s connections as an adolescent or as queen to the royal manor that was examined in the Time Team programme. A much earlier connection was uncovered.

Whilst examining the ruins of the old royal manor in search of Henry VIII’s own apartments, the archaeologists came across another area where the original drainage system was existent and there were signs of previous massive bay windows that characterised the grand rooms of that period. Jonathon Foyle, an architectural historian who was present at the dig, proposed the theory that the rooms found were the royal nursery built for the infant Mary. He argued that the presence of either kitchens or a laundry belonging to rooms above indicated that the chambers belonged to an important individual, like a royal child.

Layout of Beaulieu. The red area to the bottom left marks the spot of the royal nursery.

The dates make sense. Henry purchases the manor in 1515 and work starts in January of 1516. By that point Katherine of Aragon was heavily pregnant and Mary was born in February of that year. Perhaps Henry, anticipating the birth of a male heir, purchased the manor for the child. The home was outside London and situated in the countryside and therefore away from dangers like plague making it a perfect location for the baby. Around £17,000 was spent on the manor between 1516 and 1522, indicating that the improvements were for someone notable [4].

There is also another and more striking indication that the manor has a connection to the infant Mary. Beaulieu is now lost to us but the arms of Henry VIII that formerly belonged to the outer gatehouse of the manor still survives. In the top right a pomegranate is included (the badge of Katherine of Aragon) and instead of being depicted with a slit with seeds poking through to symbolise fertility, a Tudor rose is emerging. It was argued that this represented the birth of a new Tudor, which in 1516 was of course Mary.

The investigation into the manor house provides us with valuable insight into one of Mary’s early residences. The episode can be watched here:
Part 1 -
Part 2 -


[1] Beaulieu is also known as Newhall, Essex.
[2] Sir William Boleyn (c.1451–1505) was Anne Boleyn’s paternal grandfather
[3] For a list of the properties Mary inherited from her father’s will (Beaulieu is given as ‘Newhall):
[4] Figures given in David Loades, Mary Tudor: A Life, p. 138.


Simon Thurley, The Royal Palaces of Tudor England: Architecture and Court Life, 1460-1547 (New Haven and London, 1993), pp. 44-5.

Anna Whitelock, Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen (London, 2009), pp. 56-7, 179.