Friday, 28 May 2010

There were never such devoted sisters: Mary and Elizabeth




Some time ago I discovered the script for the play, Bloody Queen and the Virgin Queen which, as the title suggests, concerns England’s first two crowned queen regnants. The comedy was initially performed at Warwick Arts Centre in 1997 (I am unaware of how many times it has been subsequently staged). It is an amusing piece, performed by just two actors, during which the two half-sisters discuss their reigns and their relationship. The play conveyed the sore points between the two. Here are a few of the, shall we say ‘disagreements’.


You’re not my sister; your father could be any Tom, Dick or Harry...or Mark


Liz: You’re just jealous Mary. Jealous.

Mary: Jealous? Jealous? Of a Lute Player’s Daughter? Who was you father Lizzie? King Henry VIII? I don’t think so – Mark Smeaton was it? Mummie’s lute player? There’s not a drop of blue blood in your veins – not even your varicose ones – you’re just a glorified commoner!

Liz: Malicious gossip! Of course I’m King Henry’s daughter, of course I am. Look at me, it’s obvious. Look at me! I’m the Spit of him. I look more like King Henry than King Henry looked like himself! I am the Image of my father – everybody said so.

Mary: They wouldn’t dare say otherwise – ‘Oh Good morning your Royal Highness, you know it’s funny but...you don’t half remind me of your mother’s lute player...’ You’d have them strapped to the rack, fingernails out, eyes popped, hung, drawn and quartered. And they call Me the bloody one – Good Queen Bess? More like Good Queen Butcher.


Yes, the subject of Elizabeth’s paternity was raised. Ironic given that Elizabeth appears to have resembled Henry VIII more than any of his other children. But given the circumstances of her mother’s downfall it was not surprising that this could be used against her. Mary was alleged to have announced that Elizabeth was not her father’s daughter and thus her half-sister, but was the child of Mark Smeaton, the musician who had been condemned for adultery with Anne Boleyn and executed in 1536. Mary was neither the first nor the last to allege that Elizabeth was not the child of Henry VIII. During Anne Boleyn’s downfall, the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys incorrectly reported that the infant Elizabeth would be soon declared as the daughter of Henry Norris, one of the other men accused of committing adultery with Anne. In fact Henry VIII never doubted Elizabeth’s paternity and granted her, alongside Mary, a place within the succession. There appears to be no validity behind Mary’s allegations. David Loades has also referred to such remarks as the possibly the product of ‘diplomatic chatter’; did Mary actually say such things or were ambassadors reporting wild rumours? If we accept that Mary did state that Elizabeth looked rather like the former court musician, did she actually believe this? She never acted upon such views and treated Elizabeth, officially at least, as her sister. It is clear that Mary was dissatisfied with having Elizabeth as her heir and her frustration about this situation probably prompted her to voice such sentiments.

And how did Elizabeth respond? According to the Venetian ambassador,

she prides herself on her father and glories in him; everybody saying that she also resembles him more than the Queen does; and he therefore always liked her and had her brought up in the same way as the Queen”.


She was Henry VIII’s daughter; let no one forget it.



Your mother was a bitch who made my life hell!


Mary: She [Anne Boleyn] was an insatiable goggle-eyed whore who slept with her own brother to satisfy her craven sexual appetites!

Liz: You know as well as I do that she was framed.

Mary: She’d a hooked nose, a poxy neck and wanted to kill me.

Liz: I don’t know why you’re so aggressive, she apologised before she was executed. I hardly knew my mother, you did, you could tell me all the nice things about her.

Mary: Nice things! She once thought I’d curtsied to her in church when I was practically being sick in the aisle at the mere sight of her!



The fact that Elizabeth was the daughter of Anne Boleyn did not prevent Mary and Elizabeth from having an amicable relationship in the later years of Henry VIII’s reign and throughout Edward VI’s reign (though they rarely saw each other during Edward’s reign). But it was a factor that could not be overlooked and, if we credit the reports of the imperial and Venetian ambassadors during Mary’s reign, this became an issue for Mary. To leave the throne to the daughter of a woman whom Mary blamed for causing so much ill in her life – for being her own mother’s usurper – was a difficult pill to swallow. One of her first acts as queen was to announce that her mother’s marriage to Henry VIII had been valid, that she was legitimate, and hence Anne Boleyn had truly been, in the words of Chapuys, a ‘concubine’. Yet again Elizabeth had to respond. As she told the Venetian ambassador, “her mother would never cohabit with the King unless by way of marriage, with the authority of the Church, and the intervention of the Primate of England”. As queen, Elizabeth would refer to her mother on numerous occasions as her father’s wife and as a queen. During her own coronation, Elizabeth’s mother was presented as a queen consort resplendent in her regalia, alongside Elizabeth’s other royal ancestors. Elizabeth also ensured that Katherine of Aragon was never laid to rest in Westminster Abbey in a tomb that would present her as Henry VIII’s true wife as Mary requested. Elizabeth had made her point, and like her sister she had made it well.




You tried to kill me! So much for sisterly love...

Mary: Did you help plot my death? Were you part of the Wyatt rebellion?

Liz: I knew that on was coming, could feel it in my bones.

Mary: Answer!


This one worked both ways :)

In 1554, Elizabeth was sent to the Tower on charges of treason. Evidence linking her to Wyatt’s rebellion, an uprising primarily against Mary’s intended marriage to Philip of Spain, was uncovered. Worse still, there were rumours that the rebels intended to overthrow Mary and replace her with Elizabeth who would marry Edward Courtenay, earl of Devon, the man whom certain individuals had wanted Mary to marry. Some called for Elizabeth’s execution, though her supporters outranked her critics. In the end she was released from the Tower – on the day that her mother had met her end in the same gloomy place – and placed under house arrest.

This was one of the most important and damaging episodes in the pair’s relationship. Elizabeth’s loyalty to her sister was undermined and Mary, who already was uneasy about having Elizabeth as her heir, became more ardent in her displeasure. The extent of Elizabeth’s complicity in the uprising is questionable though clearly she was being sent bits of information. But how much she was being told – whether, for instance, she knew of plans to marry her off to Courtenay and agreed with such plans – remains unanswered. I suspect Elizabeth was guilty of knowing something was afoot and of absenting herself through this escapade, waiting it out to see who would succeed. She took a similar approach in the succession crisis of July 1553. Were Mary’s actions unpardonable? Not really. Elizabeth was a suspected traitor; sending her in the Tower was not an exceptional move. Mary has been criticised for treating her heir in such a fashion, but the fact that her successor may have been involved in treason made the matter incredibly serious. As queen, Elizabeth was prepared to approve of such severity. We all know what happened to Mary, Queen of Scots.



My accession means God loves me, not you!

Liz: Oh, ashes to ashes Mrs Bonfire – at least I didn’t burn every poor soul who wasn’t chanting the Ave Maria or swinging a rosary.

Mary: Well, at least I was up front about it. I didn’t do it for myself Elizabeth, I did it for God.

Liz: Well! He must’ve been tickled pink about that then, mm mmm? He certainly worked in mysterious ways when it came to producing that all important Catholic heir – Air –exactly! Remember Mary? Hot Air; that’s all your pregnancies amounted to – one big Catholic fart! Let’s face it Mary, God’s a Protestant and he wanted Me!


Upon the accessions of both Mary and Elizabeth, respective supporters determined the miraculous event to be a sign of God’s favour for their cause. Catholics proclaimed in 1553 that Edward VI’s demise and Mary’s success in gaining the throne against the Jane Grey faction was a clear sign of divine disapproval for Henry VIII’s actions and of the Protestant Reformation that occurred during Edward’s reign. News of Mary’s ‘pregnancy’ in late 1554 only revived such sentiments; now England would gain a Catholic heir and Anne Boleyn’s daughter would see herself demoted. Order would be established. Mary’s godly work would continue through her child.

Then Mary died. Childless. Who is laughing now, the Protestant retorted. Does not, John Foxe proclaimed, the accession of Elizabeth mark that we, the English, were the Elect Nation? That God intended the English to do away with the allegedly corrupt Catholic Church and became one again ‘true Christians’.

Both Mary and Elizabeth encouraged such rhetoric. Naturally, for they wished to strengthen their position on the throne, provide justification for female rule and see the successful implementation of their religious policies.




Queen Mary the who?


Mary: Well I’m sick, sick, sick of it... ‘I have the heart and stomach of a King’ blah blah blah blah. It’s my turn and I want to talk about me – the Maryian Period.

Liz: The Maryian period! There wasn’t a Maryian period – you didn’t last long enough to warrant an age... six years of sack-cloth and ashes, papism and prudery. (Aside) Everyone thinks you’re Mary Queen of Scots anyway.

Mary: I am not Mary Queen of Scots, I’m Mary Tudor, the first Queen to reign in England. I’m proud of it, it was a wonderful reign.


John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, better known as The Book of Martyrs, is a familiar text to many interested in this period, and particularly Mary’s reign. We know of the attempts during Elizabeth’s reign to portray the policies of Mary I, namely the religious policies, as fundamentally disastrous and immoral. But equally Elizabeth wanted Mary to go unmentioned. The physical demonstration of this was the state of Mary’s grave during Elizabeth’s reign – a messy affair consisting of a simple grave hidden under a pile of altar stones in Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth’s policy was quite successful; how many today remember Mary? How many remember that Mary was England’s first crowned queen regnant? Mary’s reign had hardly been a pleasant time for Elizabeth thus it would be not trial to overlook that period. Plus now with Mary’s death it was Elizabeth’s moment, her time to shine. As queen, Mary had been fully prepared to take centre stage. Elizabeth craved the limelight as much as her. Well one can't expect any less from the daughters of Henry VIII!






In 1603, Elizabeth was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. Her coffin was placed on top of Mary’s – the sister who triumphed in life did so in death. Those who have visited the graves will have found the Latin inscription on the base stating, ‘Partners both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of the Resurrection’. It is easy to find this amusing; it is rather obvious how the pair would have regarded this arrangement! It would also be simple to conclude that the sisters only held a throne and a grave in common - oh, and of course DNA. But despite attempts to present the two as polar opposites, the sisters held more in common than we (and they) would like to admit. Both were courageous; both were ruthless. Both were pioneers who had to fight their way to the throne, in Mary’s case quite literally. Both proved Henry VIII quite wrong.....


Liz: Come on Mary, you were the first Queen to ever reign in England – not an easy job – you were the ground breaker, made my job a lot simpler. All those men – they were all against you.

Mary: Yes, I was brave, wasn’t I? I faced them all.





(Excerpts from Bloody Queen and the Virgin Queen by Deborah Barnard, Jill Dowse, Kate Hale, and Cath Kilcoyne)

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

‘Queen Mary's big-belly’; Phantom pregnancy and the case of Mary Tudor

I have posted this article with footnotes here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/31223998/Queen-Mary-s-Belly-Phantom-Pregnancy





On 24th November 1554 Queen Mary I sent a private message to the papal legate, and soon to be archbishop of Canterbury, Reginald Pole, who had that day arrived at Whitehall. He was told by the messenger that the Queen had felt the child in her womb quicken. Auspiciously she had sensed the moments upon his initial words to her at their greeting: “Hail, thou art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed are thou among women”. This was excellent news; England already had a Catholic monarch, now they were expecting a Catholic heir. Surely this was a sign of God’s blessing; the Queen’s enemies must now understand the error of their ways? As one prayer stated, “Hear us, O Lord, and grant us our Petition: Let not the Enemies of thy Faith, and of thy Church, say, Where is their God?”

Yet no child came. Nine months later her stomach deflated, her breasts stopped producing milk and the foetal moments disappeared. It was deception, an embarrassing and politically damaging sham. It was now her opponents time to rejoice. Where, they retorted, was God’s favour for you now?


Historians frequently state that Mary suffered from Pseudoycesis, that is phantom pregnancy, a biological and psychological condition whereby a woman exhibits various symptoms of pregnancy yet is carrying no child. Mary suffered from this on two occasions and ultimately died childless. Why she suffered from this remains a mystery, as indeed the condition is regarded with uncertainty by medical experts today. In her biography on Mary, Judith Richards provides detail on modern discussion on Pseudoycesis to better our understanding of the condition Mary probably suffered from. This is undoubtedly interesting, but what of contemporary attitudes to false pregnancy? How did Mary’s contemporaries understand this condition; how common was it back then?


It is important to separate two complaints that are often discussed alongside each other in early modern medical handbooks. ‘False conception’ and ‘false/imaginary pregnancy’ are often included together but they were distinct in nature. False conception is where a woman was regarded to have conceived, though she carried a ‘mole’ – a ‘faux germe’ – or some other growth that was not regarded as child and was seen as harmful to her health. ‘Mole pregnancies’ as they could also be called, were the subject of much more literature than imaginary pregnancies whereby the woman was seen to carry nothing within her womb. There was, for instance, a complete study on mole pregnancies, Lamzweerde’s Historia Naturalis Molarum Uteri (1688), though no study throughout the early modern period on phantom pregnancies.

Yet it was discussed in medical handbooks. The leading medical text, Aristoteles Master-piece (1684) referred to women who ‘may have signs or symptoms, coherent with the true, as the depravity of Appetite, puking, swelling, suppression of the Courses, swelling of the Breasts and Belly, so that many are at a plunge to distinguish them’. The physician William Harvey recorded cases of phantom pregnancy he had encountered. One woman had insisted she was pregnant, only for ‘all her hopes to be vanished into flatulency and fatness’.


What was seen to cause phantom pregnancy? Unsurprisingly there was no consensus though some explanations were endorsed more prevalently than others. The symptoms experienced, namely the expanding stomach and the perceived moments of the supposed baby, were often determined to be the product of a build up of matter. One popular notion was that the woman was suffering from excessive wind. This can be seen in the quote from Harvey just provided. Hippocrates once remarked that ‘when the womb is fleshed by wind in the belly, women think they have conceived’. Delusion was said to be another cause; physician Guillaume Mauqeust de la Motte referred to those women who ‘have such an aversion for old-age, that they had rather believe themselves with child, than to confess they are growing old’.


Fortunately we have a case study rather close to Mary that provides some more information. In 1536-37, Honor Plantagenet, Lady Lisle, perceived herself to be pregnant. This was her eighth pregnancy, hence no one doubted her claims, nor indeed was she sceptical. Friends sent goods for the baby and for the confinement chamber ensuring Lady Lisle would experience a pleasant childbirth. Months went by and no baby came. Finally realising her mistake she sought treatment. Her French physician told her that she was suffering from the ‘gather[ing] together many or diverse cold and slemysh humours within your body’, and therefore required purging remedies.


The belief that a woman must be carrying something – some matter that could be expelled – was a common belief. We may argue that part of the popular idea that Mary suffered from a tumour has been propagated by this notion that her stomach was disbanded by something (though we must remember that her stomach returned to its original state after each ‘pregnancy’ and during the embalming process carried out shortly after her death no mass was found in her stomach). There was even the contemporary rumour that the queen had given birth to a ‘mole’ though this notion appears to have been forwarded to discredit her and not backed by other sources. The view that there was some imbalance, some build up of undesirable substances, naturally lead to purging treatments being recommended. Diet was important. Lady Lisle was told not to eat raw food and particularly not to eat ‘cold meats, as powdered beef that is cold, or cold veal’. For surely, it was argued, this had caused those ‘diverse cold and slemysh humours’ to compile. Hot broths were instead recommended. Sugar was also important. Physician Nicholas Culpeper advised that the patient drink a concoction of ‘wine, sweeten it with Sugar’, along with ‘Broaths with the same’ to be used to purge the body of ill humours. Interestingly mixtures sweetened with sugar were also recommended to induce abortion or to strengthen the unborn child and weaken any ‘faux germe’. Interestingly an article in The Independent a few years back remarked:

‘Mary Tudor used a marmalade made of quinces, orange peel, sugar, almonds, rosewater, musk, ambergris, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and mace to help her get pregnant.’


Was Mary unique in experiencing a false pregnancy? It would be easy to point to the case of Lady Lisle and say no. After all, Lady Lisle’s secretary, John Husee, reminded her that ‘your ladyship is not the first woman of honour that hath overshot or mistaken your time and reckoning’. In 1541 Marguerite of Navarre believed she was pregnant, related the news to her brother, Fran├žois I of France, though several months later she reported that she realised she was not and the affair was hushed up. Interestingly, Justine Siegemund, court midwife of the Electorate of Bradenburg in the seventeenth-century, had a false pregnancy. As Husee reminded Lady Lisle, God ‘spareth neither Empress, Queen, Princess ne Duchess, but His handiwork must be suffered and his mercy abiden’.


Mary lived in a society where there were no certain ways of determining pregnancy. It seems incredible to us that a woman may go through nine months thinking she was pregnant and could only be sure when the child was in her arms. But pregnancy remained mysterious. Contemporaries understood it was very possible for a woman, and indeed her midwife or if she was wealthy her male physician, to believe she was pregnant for months – even up to eleven months – before discovering she was not. Eighteenth-century Scottish physician, Alexander Hamilton remarked that false pregnancy was something that ‘imposes on the skilful physician’, the implication that even expertise does not mean this condition could easily be determined. Another physician of the same century, Gerard van Swieten, observed, ‘there is no circumstance where a physician’s reputation runs so great a risk, as when he is employed to determine concerning pregnancy’. With no means of being able to see the child within the womb and the ability to attribute symptoms of pregnancy to other ailments, there was nothing certain about pregnancy.


By understanding early modern beliefs on phantom pregnancy, we can comprehend how Mary could come to perceive herself to be pregnant twice, and on both occasions have the backing of her physicians. Yet despite contemporary understand that pregnancy was not something that could be determined with absolute precision before the arrival of the child, that did not mean Mary was immune to ridicule or condemnation. Naturally, her enemies exploited the situation. When Mary’s pregnancy was announced the authorities made use of this to promote the notion that God had shown favour for the Queen and the Catholic Church. Pole’s words to Mary are important here; like the Virgin – whom Mary is compared to repeatedly during her life – she has been blessed. The child would be the country’s saviour. With such hopes dissipated, the critics could respond effectively.


The episode proved not only useful to contemporary critics. In 1688 another Queen Mary - Mary of Modena, consort to James II – gave birth to a healthy boy. Yet despite experiencing a real and successful pregnancy, rumours quickly spread that the infant was not her child, but had been smuggled into her bedchamber via a ‘warming pan’. Like Mary Tudor, her pregnancy was doubted. Interestingly the example of Mary Tudor’s phantom pregnancy was endorsed by critics to weaken Mary of Modena’s and thus James II’s positions. In the same year a pamphlet emerged in London entitled ‘Idem Iterum: Or The History of Q. Mary’s Big-belly’. The reader was told,

‘Some said this Rumor of the Queens Conception was spread for a policy; some other affirmed, that she was deceived by a Tympany or some other like Disease, to think her self with Child, and was not; some thought she was with Child, and that it did by some chance miscarry, or else that she was bewitched; but what was the truth thereof the Lord knoweth, to whom nothing is secret. One thing of mine own hearing and seeing I cannot pass over unwitnessed.

There came to me whom I did both hear and see, one Isabel Matl, a Woman dwelling in Aldersgate-stree in Horn-Ally, not far from the House where this present Book was printed, who before witness made this Declaration unto us, That she being delivered of a Man-Child upon Whitsunday in the morning, which was the 11th. day of June, 1555. there came to her the Lord North, and another Lord to her unknown, dwelling then about Old-Fishstreet, demanding of her if she would part with her Child, and would swear that she ne'er knew nor had any such Child. Which, if she would, her Son (they said) should be well provided for, she should take no care for it, with many fair Offers if she would part with the Child.

After that came other Women also, of whom, one they said should have been the Rocker; but she in no wise would let go her Son, who at the writing hereof being alive, and called Timothy Malt, was of the age of Thirteen years and upward.’


The implication was clear. If one queen could attempt to pass off another’s child as heir, then what could stop another? In a world with no ultrasounds or DNA testing, almost anything was believable.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

“[she] changes every day”; Mary Tudor and fashion

(To see this post with original footnotes and with some images, I have created a pdf document which you can read here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/30947190/She)


For many, the sixteenth-century French hood is deeply associated with Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. Political allegiances are seen to have been displayed in the way in which individuals of status dressed. Thus the pro-French Anne, whom also spent considerable time in that country, adopted French fashion. Her predecessor and rival, Jane Seymour, is associated with English dress. To reinforce this perception further, in 1537 Lady Lisle attempted to gain a place for one of her daughters in Jane’s household. She succeeded in gaining a place for daughter Anne, but was told that the queen had commanded she lose ‘her French apparel’. Jane, it can be argued, was removing all traces of her predecessor and propagating herself as a modest woman who dressed in the more conservative English fashion than the supposedly bawdy French style.

Yet how distinctively separate were French and English styles viewed by contemporaries? Was English style really conservative? Did those women who espoused it purposely do so to portray themselves as modest women – even as conservatives in religion? And were figures like Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour really that rigid in their dress sense? Could not women adopt English, French, and indeed other continental fashions, because they simply liked the style; because such styles were becoming fashionable elsewhere?

What about Mary Tudor? By looking at her dress sense we can develop some idea of contemporary taste and whether individuals did endorse clothing for political effect or just because the items in question were fashionable at the time.



Mary adored clothes and jewels. During her years of disgrace (1533-1536), a number of her fine gowns and jewels were taken away in punishment over her refusal to recognise her new demoted status. She complained bitterly and was reduced, the imperial ambassador claims, to ‘send[ing] a gentleman to the King, her father, begging him to provide her with the necessary articles.’ Her subsequent vast expenditure on clothes, namely as queen, was in some respects a way of compensating for that experience. Yet there was also a sense of sheer joy in fashion. In 1554 the Venetian ambassador remarked that Mary 'seems to delight above all in arraying herself elegantly and magnificently.’ She ‘changes every day’. In the later years of her father’s reign, when she was back in favour, she would pay great attention to her inventory of jewels. We find her hand in the inventory of 1542-46, carefully documenting all the items bestowed upon her. The pleasure was not only in receiving. Mary indulged in the customary practise of awarding articles of jewellery and clothing as gifts. One ‘grene Tablet garneshed wt golde hauyng the Picture of the trinite in it’ was given to ‘my laday Elizabeth grace’, her half-sister, whilst she granted one Mistress Ryder a ‘rounde tablet blacke enamelled wt the Kings Picture and quene Janes [Seymour]’ on the occasion of this woman’s marriage. Philip also received gifts of clothing from his wife. For their wedding, Philip wore a mantle of gold cloth that Mary had given him. The mantle was set with numerous precious stones.


Evidently Mary inherited her predecessor’s gowns and jewels. This is remarked upon by the Venetian ambassador:

‘She also makes great use of jewels, wearing them both on her chapron and round her neck, and as trimming for her gowns; in which jewels she delights greatly, and although she has a great plenty of them left by her predecessors, yet were she better supplied with money than she is, she would doubtlessly buy many more”.


Given that Mary was already spending a pretty sum on her wardrobe, her desire to spend more indicates the great desire she had to look good.


What type of styles, materials and colours did Mary prefer? Fortunately there exists an excellent study that provides insight into this. Alison Carter, who wrote her MA thesis on Mary’s wardrobe, observes that her accounts as queen reveal huge quantities of velvet and satin. Velvet was the most expensive and Mary frequently called for ‘Jean Duplic’ and ‘Lukes’. ‘Jean Duplic’ was possibly doubled-pilled velvet from Genoa, and ‘Lukes’ was rich velvet from Lucca, Italy. We know that Anne Boleyn had ordered shoes made of this black Genoa velvet. There also appears to be large quantities of crimson and purple velvets ordered for Mary. She also favoured black, again like Anne Boleyn. Alexander Samson remarks that we see ‘a discernable shift from the crimson and murrey dyes popular in 1554 to russet shades by 1557’ throughout her reign. Clearly Mary took notice of contemporary trends.



In the portrait of Mary by ‘Master John’ dated to c.1544 - a portrait which she commissioned – she is depicted in a gown of the French style. As Carter notes,
‘Its characteristics were square neckline, tight-fitting bodice, trained skirt, which from the 1530s had an inverted V opening at centre front, and wide oversleeves worn with ‘false’ foresleeves’.

Though Mary is depicted in the c.1544 portrait wearing this, they first actual reference to a ‘ffrenche gowne’ in her accounts dates to 1546. However five gowns mentioned in accounts of 1538 may have also been in the same style. By 1540 Mary also stops wearing the gable hood; she purchases her last one in January of that year.


For Carter, the ‘grandeur of the French gown lent itself to the rather conservative taste of the English court and more or less fossilized there long after it had passed out of fashionable French dress’. Of course what was considered conservative in England was not necessarily shared elsewhere. Clearly certain Spanish visitors during Mary’s reign did not perceive English women to dress or behave modestly. Furthermore one contemporary remarked that Mary was a saint who dressed very badly, the implication that she overdid it with the grandeur.


As queen Mary took to wearing two sorts of garments – gowns in the French fashion, like before, and looser fitting gowns (she did wear a gown of this type during the period of mourning for her father but starts wearing these more frequently as queen). In 1554 the Venetian ambassador observed that she often wore, ‘a gown such as men wear, but fitting very close, with an under-petticoat which has a very long train; and this is her ordinary costume, being also that of the gentlewomen in England’. The gowns could be fastened at the front. As Alexander Samson summarises, the use of such gowns may have coincided with the period in which she believed herself to be pregnant:

‘This new style was increasingly favoured by Mary, possibly as a result of her phantom pregnancy, the absence of a stomacher making it a more comfortable garment for a woman with a distended abdomen. She was described on the 27th November 1554, appearing at Whitehall: "in the chamber of presence... the Quene sat highest, rychly aparelid, and her belly laid out, that all men might see that she was with child. At this parliament they did laboure was made to haue the kyng crowned and some thought that the Quene for that cause, dyd lay out her belly the more. On the right hand of the Quene sat the king"’.



What was Mary attempting to do with her style of dress? Was she intended to propagate her religious and political sympathies, or just adopting the fashion of the time?


Carter argues that Mary pioneered the ‘Gloriana image’ associated with her predecessor and half-sister, Elizabeth I. ‘Mary was, I believe, a supreme and yet generally unacknowledged exponent of that image, able to dress with the utmost sumptuosity and yet propriety, with a “taste for dress” as Beatrice White perceptively comments “that never degenerated into the baroque or ridiculous”. Mary dressed to impress, and found enjoyment in this. Recently Susan James has argued that Mary lacked any particularly interest in art itself, but was interested in using it for political means. If that was the case, and I think this needs to be questioned, fashion was regarded in a much different light. It was far more ‘personal’ and meaningful to her.


This enjoyment in fashion extended to Mary’s numerous stepmothers, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour included. Jane may have worn the English gable hood, indicated in portraits of her, but there is the possibility that she adopted other headdresses. As her wardrobe accounts as queen are limited, and in fact don’t mention gable hoods at all though we know she must have worn them, we cannot determine with precision that she only wore certain styles of dress. Clearly Jane, like her stepdaughter and her predecessor Anne Boleyn, adored sumptuous materials; she owned numerous gowns and tended to favour tawny, crimson and yellow. As queen Jane readily accepted the jewels and garments of her predecessors. She may have attempted to control what her maids like Anne Basset were wearing, but she could not deter the popularity of French dress in England. She inherited Anne Boleyn’s gowns and jewels and did so gladly, just as Mary, throughout the rest of Henry’s reign and upon her own accession to the throne, inherited the goods of her predecessors. Ultimately Mary went with the fashion. And if the fashion was for French, then she would acquire that style.


What happened though when Mary went to war with France as queen? Would not the wearing of French influenced attire be inappropriate? Alison Carter identifies Philip’s arrival in England with the subsequent popularity of facets of Spanish dress. Spanish styles had, she argues, been incorporated into the few festive displays held at Mary and Philip’s court and this had an impact on its popularity amongst the nobility. Contemporaries remarked that before Philip’s arrival, male dress in England was influenced by the Italian style; after it became more Spanish. Mary too, and her women, were influenced by Spanish dress; her gowns become, Carter states, ‘remarkably similar in style and decoration under a unifying European, but predominately Spanish influence’. Carter portrays Mary as a woman frequently incorporating the most fashionable styles in her own dress, thus she did not move away entirely from French styles. The move to Spanish dress is evident yet predates England’s declaration of war on France in 1557. What dispels the notion that Mary was motivated particularly by political events in her style of dress is that fact that in 1558 she orders seven French kirtles for loose gowns.



A few months after her death, several of Jane Seymour’s ladies returned to wearing the French hood. It was after all the fashion; gable hoods were becoming terribly outdated. Like these women, Mary was aware of current trends and wished to display herself as befitting her status. Mary may have been the monarch’s illegitimate daughter, specifically verified as so in the 1536 Act of Succession, and was for eight following years not included in the succession, but she was nonetheless a leading lady at court and the daughter of the monarch. She dressed well and understood the importance of dressing to impressive. Mary was first lady at court during the rare occasions that her father was without a queen. Did she perhaps take this time to further her knowledge on public presentation? Possibly and this would have been no hardship. For Mary, looking good was a pleasure and a duty.