Sunday, 28 February 2010

Some links of interest

Last June, Professor Eamon Duffy discussed his work Fires of Faith: Catholic England Under Mary Tudor in an interview for Blackwell’s Online Podcast. The podcast is still available to listen to. You can access it either via iTunes (dated 15/06/09) or through Yale University Press’s website:*&sort=sort_date/d&ds=British+and+Irish+History&m=11&dc=216

Prof. Duffy will be doing a talk on the same work this Oct for the Suffolk Book League. The date of the talk has yet to be announced:

I have started a twitter account where I will post various updates about talks/events/books on the subject of Tudor history:

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Spot the difference

Top image - Queen Mary I enthroned and flanked by angels. Coram Rege Rolls. 1553 (KB 27/1168/2).

Bottom image - Queen Elizabeth I by unknown artist. Late sixteenth-century/early seventeenth-century. NPG 5175.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Happy birthday Mary!

On this day in 1516 the subject of this blog was born! Like her father and half-sister, Mary was born at Greenwich Palace and christened in the church of the Observant Friars (seen near the right in the sixteenth-century image of the palace posted below).

Mary was the only child of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon that survived infancy. Though not the son desired, Mary was a healthy child and her birth prompted hope that the royal couple could proceed to have another healthy infant. Despite the joy exhibited at her birth the Venetian ambassador, Sebastian Giustinian, still offered his condolences to the new father over the disappointment of the child’s sex. [1] Fortunately Henry VIII did not take offence and subtly reminded the ambassador that both he and his wife were young and, “if it was a daughter this time, by the grace of God the sons will follow”. An earlier report by Giustinian also reveals that news of Ferdinand of Aragon’s death reached the English court whilst Katherine was in labour and her husband naturally withheld the news until after Mary’s birth.

Not only did Mary turn out to be a healthy baby but she was allegedly a rather well behaved one as well. As Henry later boasted to Giustinian, “By God, Mr. Ambassador, this baby never cries”.[2]


[1] In fact, Giustinian even delayed his formal ‘congratulations’ for some hours because the baby turned out to be a girl!

[2] Though an angel in her father’s eyes, little Mary’s behaviour was not always appreciated by others. On one occasion when Henry VIII was showing off the two-year-old Mary in front of several dignitaries she spotted Dionysius Memo, the Venetian organist, and started exclaiming loudly ‘Priest! Priest!’ in order to gain his attention and get him to play for her. Henry thought this was adorable; onlookers thought Mary was little better than a spoilt royal brat!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The strange case of Mary Baynton

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. But in the sixteenth-century, posing as another, particularly an important individual, was a dangerous act. We all know what happened to Arnaud de Tilh and Perkin Warbeck.

In 1533, an eighteen-year-old girl named Mary proclaimed in public the prophecies of her aunt, Mary Tudor, former queen of France, who foretold that her young niece would one day face great hardship. ‘Niece Mary, I am right sorry for you, for I see here that your fortune is very hard. Ye must go a-begging once in your life, either in your youth or in your age’ [1]. The young girl took this advice to heart and vowed to escape abroad ‘to mine uncle the emperor’, and avoid the impending hardships she faced at the hands of her father, the king.

Yet the girl who proclaimed such prophecies was not the daughter of Henry VIII. She had probably never even met him nor Mary, former queen of France, the ‘aunt’ of whom she spoke of. The storyteller’s name was Mary Baynton and for some months she went around impersonating Princess Mary.

Posing as a figure, even one that was currently alive was nothing new. Mary Tudor’s own grandfather, Henry VII, had faced two imposters, one claiming to be Richard, duke of York (youngest son of Edward IV). But why did Mary Baynton decide to pose as the young Princess Mary and why did she choose that moment?

Unfortunately we knew little about Mary Baynton’s life in order to deduce her exact motivations. Yet contemporary movements and sentiments may help us try to understand her bold behaviour. We know that Mary was the daughter of Thomas Baynton of Bridlington in Yorkshire [2]. Aged eighteen, she turned up in Boston, Lincolnshire and addressed herself as the king’s daughter, Princess Mary. By this time Henry VIII had married Anne Boleyn, had his marriage to Katherine of Aragon declared null and void, was expecting the birth of his first child with Anne and had established himself as the supreme figure of authority in the realm, assuming control of the English Church [3]. In short Mary Baynton belonged to a turbulent age. Yet she chose to involve herself in current events instead of keeping her head low. Whether she was the ‘self-deluded lunatic’ as some have dubbed her or was propagating a clear political and religious objective remains uncertain [4]. Ultimately Mary Baynton was knowledgeable about current affairs.

Perhaps Baynton exploiting the current situation for financial purposes? In the guise as Mary she called upon people to give her money so she may pay for her voyage to the Spanish court. She also claimed that the king had completely abandoned her and she was left to shift for herself, a reference to the real Mary’s downgrade in status. Subsequently she was given money although the amount of such sums and the individuals who assisted are unknown to us (though she allegedly attracted the attention of 'diverse and sundry persons, as well as men and women'). She evidently was of a concern for the authorities as she was subsequently arraigned and examined by Nicholas Robson, Thomas Brown and Robert Pulvertoft. She seems to have recanted her claims and disappeared from accounts, likely leading a more unassuming lifestyle.

The story of Mary Baynton is not just an interesting piece of trivia. It illustrates how individuals away from the central power of Westminster, were aware of contemporary developments. Evidently there was a degree of uncertainty for Baynton to succeed in gaining the trust of various individuals in her claims to be Mary. The real Mary was of course not in the north of England but at Hatfield, her own household having been disestablished in late 1533. Perhaps this piece of information was known to some of Baynton’s supporters but, desiring to show contempt for the monarch’s recent actions, they nonetheless supported this controversial figure. This story also indicates to us the prevailing and widespread sympathy for the real Mary’s plight, even as far away as the north of England, an area which Mary never visited. It is no coincident that two years after Baynton publicly declared herself to be Mary in a Lincolnshire town an uprising fuelled by dissatisfaction over the monarch’s actions emerged from the same region. And these rebels listed prominently amongst their demands their desire for Mary to be declared legitimate and granted a place within the succession. The Baynton episode was certainly not as grave a threat to the Crown as the Pilgrimage of Grace, though arguably it acted as a sort of pre-warning to the major events of 1536-37.

[1] James Gairdner (ed.), Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign Henry VIII, Vol VI (London, 1882), 1193.
[2] Sharon L. Jansen, Dangerous Talk and Strange Behaviour: Women and Popular Resistance to the Reforms of Henry VIII (London, 1996), p. 131.
[3] The L&P place the interrogation of Mary Baynton shortly after the birth of Princess Elizabeth. However these records obviously mark the time Baynton was arraigned for her offence; she likely had been operating for some time beforehand. Perhaps the birth of Elizabeth, who Henry VIII perceived at that point to the first of his legitimate heirs, prompted the authorities to act swiftly against Baynton (and of course her alleged success in gaining supporters was viewed as perturbing by the crown).
[4] M.H. Dodds and R. Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536-1537 and The Exeter Conspiracy, 1538: Vol I (Cambridge, 1915), p. 87.