Monday, 17 August 2009

Possible portrait of Mary?

Over on Blog, there is an interesting post on a portrait of an unknown woman which some believe to depict Mary. I believe the current owner of the portrait is trying to find evidence to prove that it is of Mary and then he intends to sell.

I agree with other posters on the blog in their criticism of the claim. It seems to me that the owner of the portrait, and historian Linda Porter, primarily want the portrait to be of Mary and lack compelling evidence to back this assertion. Porter’s statement that, ‘Plus which, to me at least, it looks like her’, is not valid evidence to be used for the case that this painting depicts England’s first anointed queen regnant. It is ultimately a rather empty statement that doesn’t contribute anything to be the debate. Porter also argues that a portrait once believed to depict Katherine Howard which was then questioned by historians and now accepted is proof that identify of sitters can come full circle, with historians now accepting long established judgments. [1] In this I would also disagree considering the ‘Katherine Howard’ portrait is still debated amongst historians, with many rejecting the idea that it is of Katherine. In fact that National Portrait Gallery have decided to label the portrait as ‘unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard’. Though the portrait was recently used in the Hampton Court exhibit on the six wives of Henry VIII, the curator Brett Dolman noted that there are ‘no undisputed portraits of Katherine’.[2]

As a poster on the Blog has pointed out, the portrait dates to the 1550s and therefore does not date to c.1537 (the date which the owner of the portrait believes it to belong to). So we can dismiss the notion that is of Mary at the time of her brother’s birth. And I think, owing to the lack of evidence and the presence of a degree of personal interest in this (after all a portrait of a major Tudor royal is going to fetch quite a bit!), we can dismiss the notion that is of Mary. Perhaps the possibility that the portrait depicts Margaret Douglas, countess of Lennox should be explored further.[3]

The full article, from The Times, can be read here:


[1] Porter is directly referring to the current debate surrounding the portrait of an unknown woman by Hans Holbein the Younger, a version of which is housed in the National Portrait Gallery, London. For some time the sitter was believed to depict Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife and Mary’s fourth step-mother.

[2] Statement made in an interview Dolman did with the BBC History Magazine on the exhibit (Vol. 10, no 4; April 2009). Dolman does provide evidence for the portrait being of Katherine but certainly does not present this as something determined, which Porter implies.

[3] Margaret Douglas was first cousin to Mary. Margaret mother was Margaret Tudor, consort to James IV of Scotland and sister to Henry VIII. Mary and Margaret were very close, to the degree that Mary wished Margaret to be her heir and not Elizabeth.

Princess Mary’s lodgings at Whitehall Palace

A while back I made a post on Mary’s connection to Beaulieu Palace, including a recent archaeological dig there that has unearthed a nursery that was probably made for Mary.

This short post looks at evidence of another residence used by Mary – her apartments at Whitehall Palace. The extravagance of her apartments gives us some indication of the way in which Mary was treated and regarded by her father, Henry VIII, who constructed the rooms for her.

The images depicted here are from two paintings of Whitehall Palace. The image on the top comes from a painting of Whitehall made in c.1700 whilst the other is from The Lord Mayor’s Procession on the River Thames (artist unknown, mid-seventeenth century). The building focused upon is the lodgings of Mary which were situated by the riverside gallery and were completed in 1543, five years prior to the death of her father. Her Whitehall lodging consisted of a small courtyard house which the building accounts describe as ‘my lady maries newe lodging’.[1] It was built on the two southernmost bastions of the river wall which were used as bases for two-storey bay windows, with oriel windows set at first-floor level. The intervening wall space was also filled with windows to make the east wall of the lodgings more or less entirely glass on the first floor.

The splendour of Mary’s apartments indicates the favour she enjoyed from her royal father. It was during this year that Mary was re-included in Henry’s succession via a parliamentary statue, despite her illegitimacy. The lodgings may also be a symbol of the steady harmonious relationship between Henry and Mary, which had initially been wrecked by Henry’s repudiation of Katherine of Aragon, his break from Rome, Mary’s own downgrade in status, and Mary’s refusal to recognise the legality of her father’s actions. In June 1536 Henry managed to break Mary’s resolve, and after swearing to recognise Henry’s ecclesiastical status, the invalidity of her parent’s marriage and her own illegitimate status, Mary set to present herself as the king’s obedient daughter. Furthermore it seems that Henry enjoyed Mary’s company and that Mary had established a place for herself at court. Interestingly 1543 was the year Henry married Katherine Parr who was a member of Mary’s household. It is possible that Henry began to take notice of Katherine during visits with his daughter. Such visits were frequent; by February 1543 one contemporary noted that the king ‘was calling at [the princess’] apartments two or three times a day’ [2]. It is therefore possible that these lodgings provided a setting for Henry’s pursuit of his last wife.

On my YouTube channel I have posted a video on Whitehall which features Simon Thurley. It gives some idea of what the palace was like during Henry VIII’s reign:


[1] Source from Simon Thurley, The Royal Palaces of Tudor England: Architecture and Court Life, 1460-1547 (New Haven and London, 1993), p. 79.

[2] Susan James, Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s Last Love (Gloucestershire, 2009), p. 77.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Retracing Mary’s steps

A few weeks ago I travelled to the city of Gloucester, one of several places Mary stayed during her route to Ludlow in 1525. Mary was nine years old when she started her journey to the Marches of Wales to represent the monarch in this region. For nineteen months Mary travelled to, stayed in and left Ludlow. Details of her itinerary still survive, although there is some uncertainty regarding the length of visits to various places. However the journal of Prior William More of Worcester Cathedral provides detail about Mary’s stay in that city.

Nearly two weeks ago I travelled to Worcester to see the cathedral in which Mary took mass on at least two separate occasions in 1526. In front of the High Altar is the tomb of King John, an English monarch who like Mary has not enjoyed a fantastic historical reputation!

The Quire with the High Altar in the back

According to Prior More’s account, the young princess made an offering at the mass he conducted in mid to late January 1526 and again on Easter Day of that year.

The High Altar, at which the young Mary celebrated mass.

King John’s tomb in front of the High Altar. Prince Arthur’s chantry is in the background

As Mary was celebrating mass, a controversial figure connected closely to her parents rested nearby. To the south of the high altar is the chantry chapel of Prince Arthur, eldest son of Henry VII, eldest brother to Mary’s father, Henry VIII, and the first husband of Mary’s mother, Katherine of Aragon. Arthur was not a controversial figure in his own right, but his marriage to Katherine of Aragon would prove to be a contentious matter when Henry VIII wished to annul his marriage to Katherine. By 1526 Henry VIII already seems to have fallen for Anne Boleyn and his doubts concerning his first marriage appears to have formulated since his failure to produce a living male heir with Katherine. Little did Mary know that the memory of Prince Arthur, whose tomb she had prayed by, would be evoked the following year for means that would change her life and the course of English history...


I've posted images of Arthur, prince of Wales's tomb on my Flickr page:

New book out on Mary’s historical reputation

The book cover for Susan Doran and Thomas S. Freeman (eds.), Mary Tudor: Old and New Perspectives is now available to see. The book is out this October in the US and out in December in the UK.

The book consists of a collection of essays examining Mary Tudor’s reputation, formed from the reign of Elizabeth I to present day. The book aims to present a ‘more balanced, objective portrait of England’s last Catholic, and first female monarch’.[1]

The articles included:


S. Doran, 'A 'Sharp Rod' of Chastisement: Mary I Through Protestant Eyes During the Reign of Elizabeth I'.

V. Houliston, 'Her Majesty, Which is Now in Heaven: Mary Tudor and the Elizabethan Catholics'.

P. Kewes, 'The Exclusion Crisis of 1553 and the Elizabethan Succession'.

T. Grant, ''Thus Like A Nun, Not Like a Princess Born': Dramatic Representations of Mary Tudor in the Early Years of the Seventeenth Century'.

T. Freeman, 'Inventing 'Bloody Mary': Perceptions of Mary Tudor from Restoration to the Twentieth Century'.


A.W. Taylor, 'Ad Omne Virtutum Genus?: Mary Between Piety, Pedagogy and Praise in Early-Tudor Humanism'.

A. Pollnitz, 'Religion and Translation at the Court of Henry VIII: Princess Mary, Katherine Parr and the Paraphrases of Erasmus'.

T. Betteridge, 'Maids and Wives: Representing Female Rule during the Reign of Mary Tudor'.

W.Wizeman, SJ, 'The Religious Policy of Mary I'.

T.Freeman, 'Bloody Mary? Mary Tudor and the Prosecution of Heresy'.

J.Richards, 'Reassessing Mary Tudor: Some Concluding Points'.

Appendix: List of the Marian martyrs

It is certainly worth looking out for!


[1] This description comes from Whilst Mary, as the synopsis states, was a Catholic monarch, she was technically not the last English monarch who belonged to this faith. James II, who governed the Kingdoms of England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, converted to Catholicism prior to his accession and did not recant his beliefs to inherit the throne. However James ruled a country that had broken from the Catholic Church and in which a separate church (to which James was supposed to head) was established. Mary inherited a country that was officially broken from Rome although she was the last English monarch who oversaw her realm return to the Catholic Church.