Elizabeth and Mary Part 2

Engraving of Mary I

If you watched “The Tudors”, you may have been surprised by the scenes of the teenage Mary sharing a bed with her little half-sister Elizabeth, daughter of the woman she viewed as a whore, and showing affection towards her. Were these scenes just figments of Michael Hirst’s imagination?

Well, of course these scenes are fictional, we do not know that any of those loving and affectionate conversations happened but we do have evidence that Mary did dote on Elizabeth and that they had quite a sisterly relationship when Elizabeth was young – see Elizabeth and Mary Part 1 for details on that. But, things changed when Mary became Mary I Queen of England.

The Early Years

When Mary first came to the throne, amidst much rejoicing from her subjects who saw her as the true heir to the throne, everything looked very “rosy” between the sisters. As I said in Part 1, Elizabeth joined Mary in her triumphant march into London to claim the throne and Elizabeth was also given a place of honour at Mary’s coronation. Mary had a special carriage beautifully decorated for Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves, and even gave them gorgeous gowns to go with the decor of the carriage. It really looked like Mary still saw Elizabeth as her sister and as an important person, so what happened?

Tracy Borman in her book “Elizabeth’s Women” writes of how the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth disintegrated as quickly as the short-lived “euphoria” of Mary’s succession. Mary was very different to Elizabeth, both in looks and character, the two main differences being her lack of pragmatism and her belief that as a woman she was weak and needed a husband to help her govern her country. She also gave far too much authority to her councillors, because they were men who knew better than her, and also listened far too much to ambassadors like Simon Renard, the Imperial Ambassador, who loved nothing better than stirring up trouble between Mary and Elizabeth. Renard spent his time trying to convince Mary that Elizabeth was a traitor and a threat, and that she was plotting Mary’s downfall. It didn’t take much to make Mary think the worse of Elizabeth; perhaps she had inherited her father’s paranoia about threats to the throne or perhaps she had never really forgiven Elizabeth for being the daughter of Anne Boleyn. Whatever the reason behind it, Mary believed Renard and even commented that she had always thought that Elizabeth would turn out just like her mother.

As Mary became more paranoid and hostile, Elizabeth was also beginning to resent her half-sister. The very first Parliament of Mary’s reign passed an act which overturned the annulment of Mary’s parents’ marriage, making Mary legitimate. Obviously, this act still left Elizabeth a bastard and took away one of the things that the women had in common, their illegitimacy. Mary was now Henry VIII’s true daughter and rightful heir and Elizabeth was nothing but a royal bastard with no rights. The thinking behind this act and the procedure may well have stirred up the old feelings of bitterness in Mary, as she thought of the end of her parents’ marriage and her father’s passion for Anne Boleyn, and the act itself must have caused Elizabeth to feel a new resentment towards Mary.

From Bad to Worse

Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox

Things went from bad to worse when Mary, who had been listening far too much to Renard’s whisperings, made it known that she wanted to repeal Henry VIII’s statute, which had made Elizabeth next in line to the throne, and instead make her cousin, Lady Margaret Douglas, heir.

Lady Margaret Douglas was the daughter of Henry VIII’s sister, Margaret, and so was a Tudor and did have some claim to the throne but Elizabeth was Henry’s daughter! Mary and Margaret had much in common, being of a similar age and both being of the Catholic faith, and as Mary began to distrust Elizabeth more and more she gave Margaret precedence over her half-sister at court and state functions. This was a public denial of Elizabeth’s place as heir to the throne and a public display of her growing hostility.

Mary finally gave up her plan of repealing Henry VIII’s statute when her councillors advised her that she would be stirring up trouble by alienating Elizabeth. However, Renard and the Venetian ambassador, Michiel, continued being openly hostile towards Elizabeth and I would think that Elizabeth’s nose was already out of joint after her treatment at court. Elizabeth did not show her true feelings though and instead treated Mary with courtesy and respect, which must surely have been an act given Mary’s actions towards her.

Elizabeth’s parentage was not the only sticking point between the sisters, religion was also a huge problem. Mary was intent on returning England to Catholicism but Elizabeth had Protestant leanings. After Edward VI’s death, Mary did allow him to be buried with Protestant rites but insisted on a Catholic mass for his soul and invited Elizabeth and Anne of Cleves to attend. Both women failed to attend this mass and Elizabeth continued to miss mass for the next two months, infuriating Mary with her dismissal of this important religious ritual.

This lack of solidarity, and Renard’s continued whisperings about Elizabeth and how her non-attendance was a sign that she was plotting against Mary and defying her, resulted in Mary demanding that Elizabeth should attend mass on the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin. Tracy Borman writes of how Elizabeth, who had heard that Mary was beginning to distrust her and believe that she was disloyal, wrote back to Mary asking for a private audience with her. At this audience, Elizabeth, always the wonderful actress, threw herself both figuratively and physically at her sister’s mercy, weeping on her knees in front of the Queen and begging her forgiveness for any offence that she had caused. She pleaded ignorance of the Catholic faith and its doctrines to excuse her behaviour and asked Mary to help her learn by sending her books. This was a clever ploy because it put the onus on Mary to help her, it massaged Mary’s ego and Elizabeth never actually promised to turn to the Catholic faith!

Mary would not back down over the mass of the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin and even though Elizabeth complained of violent stomach cramps as soon as she arrived at church Mary did not let her go home. Mary was obstinate and stubborn and Elizabeth was just going to have to comply, but somehow Elizabeth managed to get away with missing more masses in the future!

As you can see, these two half-sisters had a very volatile relationship but it did get worse as Elizabeth replaced the executed Lady Jane Grey as the figurehead of rebellions and uprisings. In my next post I will write about how the sisters’ relationship deteriorated to the point where Elizabeth very nearly lost her life.

23 thoughts on “Elizabeth and Mary Part 2

  1. I refused to watch the Tudors after they cast a brunette for Henry! (I am dying to read Ms Borman’s new book and Alison Weir’s “The Lady In The Tower”). I thought the film “Elizabeth” with Cate Blanchette was trash, but there was one very perceptive scene where the dying Mary (Kathy Burke) was seen in almost total darkness, except for a fire, and she oozed hatred towards Elizabeth, because she was dying and Elizabeth would inherit the throne and undo Mary’s awful attempt at restoring Catholicism. It was chilling.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Fiz. They’re both great books, you’ll enjoy them. I’ve just seen some photos of Jonathan Rhys Meyers on the set of Season 4 and they have made his hair go grey but he is far from the obese, ailing and smelly Henry of real life!
    I thought the first Cate Blanchett film was ok as entertainment but I didn’t enjoy the second one. I much prefer the two series with Helen Mirren and Anne-Marie Duff. I remember that scene though and you’re right – pure hatred and very chilling.

  3. I really admire how Elizabeth learned how to “play the game” at court and survive during Mary’s reign. She lacked the ability to trust herself and relied on others too much. Elizabeth may have procrastinated (we all have our faults) but she knew how to rule England as a woman and have her subjects know that she was in charge. She seemed to have learned from Mary’s mistakes and the other hardships she had to endure.

  4. Hatred tinged with Madness on Mary’s side? That is also a possibility although under the circumstances of her youth she could have been pushed over the edge. However, interesting to note that he grandmother, Isabella of Portugal became completely unhinged after the birth of her daughter, Isabella of Castilla and was encarcerated for most of her life. Catherine of Aragon’s older sister, Joan was also tainted by the curse of madness and after producing various children by Philip of Flanders was also encarcerated. Mary’s granmother, isbalella of Castille together with her husband Ferdinand of Aragon introduced the inquisition into Spain on a huge scale. The religious fanatiscm of Isabella must have rubbed off onto Catherine of Aragon who passed it on to her daughter, but what other genes did she pass on. And we all know that Mary eventually married Philip of Spain who was the grandson of Joan the Mad!!!
    Pitted against all that Elizabeth did a very good job in keeping her neck and going on to become a great queen,

  5. Hi Lisa,
    Tracy Borman makes the point that Elizabeth spent Mary’s reign watching Mary and learning from her mistakes. Mary was the first Queen Regnant since 1141 when Matilda reigned and this reign had been disastrous as had been the times when Edward II’s wife Isabella and Henry IV’s wife Margaret of Anjou seized power. Elizabeth needed to learn from Mary’s actions and mistakes if she had any chance of being a good queen and showing the world that a female could reign successfully. It’s a shame that Mary was not more like her grandmother Isabella of Castile who was one of the greatest monarchs in Spanish history, instead Mary was quite weak in that she always deferred to men.

  6. Hi Jenny,
    Poor Mary, I guess she could have had some of the “madness gene” but I think her awful childhood made her a very damaged woman. I think “The Tudors”, although it has so many glaring mistakes and inaccuracies, was good at the way that it portrayed Mary and showed the childhood she had. She had so much to deal with – bitterness and grief over her parents’ marriage and the Anne Boleyn saga, losing her mother after seeing her treated so cruelly and being banned from visiting her, losing the status of princess and being made illegitimate, feeling threatened by her father and his councillors and being forced to compromise her faith, being given the hope of marriage and then having it taken away again, feeling threatened by her brother into giving up her beloved Mass…the list goes on and I think if I had gone through half the experiences she had then I would be a complete wreck! No wonder she suffered with ill health.

    I think Elizabeth was very clever in the way that she dealt with Mary and making that agreement with Mary that if there were any allegations against her that she would have the opportunity to have an audience with the Queen to put her case across. I think she also knew her half-sister well and knew how to appeal to her.

  7. Hi Claire,

    Yes Isabella of Castilla is held up to be one of Spain’s greatest monarchs (I live in Spain) but she was also responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews and Moors even though they had converted to Christianity (under duress of course). Spain under the Moors was considered to be the cntre of learning in the Middle Ages, where people of all religious backgrounds went to study mathematics, astronomy, etc. The Moors of those days were extremely advanced and bathing was a necessary part of their everyday life. Under the restrictions of the Inquisition, anyone caught bathing was a herectic and therefore confined to tortutre and the flames of the “autos de fe” (Acts of Faith). This was the grandmother of Mary and Mary also introduced the Inquisition into England .
    Many people fled Spain (the Sephardic Jews went basically to Turkey) and it is only in recent times that Spain has apolised for the past. By ridding Spain of teh Moors (who were not all sweetness and light I will admit), Isabella tookl Spain back at least 500 years!!! And it never recovered – It had a short time as Top Dog in teh Americas stakes but by the time Philip II (Mary’s husband) had come to the throne it was on its way downhill and especially after the Armada, never recovered. Mary Tudor was Philip’s 2nd wife – He went on to marry twice more and finally produced a son from his 4th wife who was not only his cousin but his niece (Habsburg).

  8. Thanks for all the information on the Moors and Isabella.
    Yes, it’s funny that Mary is known as “Bloody Mary”, yet Isabella is known as a fine monarch! I guess it’s like Henry VIII – although he’s known for being married six times and executing two of his wives, he is generally revered and yet he may have been responsible for 72,000 deaths!
    I too live in Spain (about an hour from Granada and the wonderful Alhambra) and I do find it interesting when my son learns about Ferdinand and Isabella in history at school. It’s wonderful to see things from a different perspective. We have Moorish remains around our village, including a mill and the terracing they introduced for agriculture and it is sad that Spain went backwards when they left, just like England when the Romans left.

  9. Hi Claire,

    Replying to your comment psoted at 3.50 a.m. I am inclined to agree with what you say. I think the huge diffference between how the two sisters reacted is that Mary was quite “old” i.e. in heer late teens/early 20s????? when the Bolyn affair cropped up. Before that she was treated as a Princess of the Realm and her father keeping the “status quo” as “Defender of the faith”. Her mother was educated to expect affairs but not as the Boleyn one was to turn out. Mary would have been kept in the dark.

    Meanwhile Elizabeth from a very early age got similar treatment and kids can adapt far better than older people which is why I am sure Elizabeth did so.

    As I mentioned in a previous post, Henry was completely au fait with the workings of the church of the time and knew of a number of precedents for annullments of marriage nd thought he was on a winner. (Eleanor of Aquitaine being one very good example) but he was on a dodgy wicket with the Pope of the time who was priisoner of Katherine of Aragon’s nephew , the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V of Austria and Charles I of Spain.

  10. And Henry also liked to think of himelf as a poet and composer – but the famous one (not written by him) is the poem on the fate iof his wives (and in order)

  11. Claire, i just love how you bring this subjects about Elizabeth!
    About Mary as queen, i tried to put myself in her place, i can’t accept when people says she wasn’t strong, because in my point she was, to survive her father’s reign, to endure the years under Anne’s as queen and Henry before her accept of the annulament,it have been so hard for a just 17-20 year-old young woman, she suffered during Anne’s(for the moer Anne treid to be her friend and then her paranoia started)she suffered until she accept that she was a bastard at her father’s eyes, under her brothers government,she just wanted to feel all the love she had when she as royal princess, and she tried to find this in Philip,but she did not, as firts women in right to rule all for her was difficult, if she had received the crown early, when she was a young women all could be different. But Mary was old, ill-advice,and in hope of something who never came, a child. It’s so much frustration to one single person, and this makes the difference about how you see the things.
    Elizabeth had the youth and a great vision, she knew how to act after being in danger under both her siblings reigns. She learnet not only by Mary’s mistakes, but from all tudor dinasty for sure. Thats why she become the great queen and women she was.

  12. Hi Jessica,

    It is very easy to feel sorry for Mary in the beginning. She was initially the “golden child” and extremely well educated although she spent much of her time away from her parents at Ludlow. (That’s where Katherine of Aragon’s first husband, Arthur died). In her youth she was showered with love – I think the rejection in her teens, early 20s plus the fact oon how her mother was treated and they were ahrdly ever allowed to see each other, which turned Mary into a sad and lonely lady. She had been mooted for teh wife of Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor)/Charles I of Spain but nothing came of that and was crying out for love and married his son very late in life and the son was only interested in the crown (Phlip II). Also she was pushed and shoved around by various men of her father’s and brother’s groups for so many years that it is no wonder she had no strategy. Unfortunately, the herectic burnings (some say Philip was against this – but definitely a policy of her mother) turned the tide of oponion against her. She was Catholic and would never surrender but the English people still preferred her top Lady Jane Grey who, in theory, should have been more to their liking as far as religion was concerned.

  13. Hello Jenny, i’m sorry for my english, i’m not north american, i’m brazilian so maybe i ‘ll make some mistakes…

    i have always feel sorry for Mary especially in her time as queen, she trusted man who suffered in the years of Henry and Edward, they believe that with Mary they could back their days and punish those who make them suffer(if i’m wrong correct me please) and unfortunatelly i think Mary was too lost and with her self esteem to low, i think that besides Queen Anne B and Jane grey, Mary I is one of the biggest tragic figures from tudor history in my point.

    I never heard anything about Katherine being involved with burning of “heretics” i always find her very pious, even towards her enemies like Anne, who she claimmed to her ladies to not curse her but pray for her because of her time would come.

    PS:I post again because some how in “Name (required)” appeared “Jenny”s name instead of “Jessica” my name, dont know why…

  14. Hi Jessica,

    Your English is really good – I wish I could say that about my Portuguese (brazilian or the other kind)
    I don’t claim that Katherine was involved with burning of heretics but her parents certainly were and Katherine was an extremely strict Catholic.

    I agree with you in that inmany ways we should feel sorry for Mary. Up to her late teens she was the “golden” `princess and then cast down to almost nothing. The fact that Henry deliberately seperated her from her beloved mother could not have helped in any way and I personally feel that she did inherit some of the “melancoly” of her aunt Joan (known as Juana La Loca) and her grandmother, plus her grandmother’s very strict religious ways.

    As a Royal family, the Tudors did not last long – 3 generations? But they certainly have caused controversy over the years.

    However, in the annals of history Mary will always be overshadowed by her younger sister, Elizabeth, who, as a chld, learned, very quickly how to adapt to the circumstances of the day in which to survive – but I am sure (werll know) she had many “ghosts in her cupbaord”

    What I think is great about what >Claire has set up is that we are communicating from all over the world on subjects that interest us. Far better that “Face book” or “Twitter” – Claire please keep going!

  15. Hi jenny!
    Thanks about my english, i really try,portuguese is a hard language to learn, but go ahead!!
    i think that the only person who is not overshadowed by elizabeth is her fathe rHenry VII, because edward VI, Mary I and Henry VII remais in shadows beside those two big figures from tudor history.

    i just wanted to make more justice for Mary, i don’t think she did somenting different from other kings, her own grandmother,Isabella is called as a great queen and a very strong woman(with the strong i agree) to me, her own father as claire said was much more bloody than Mary. Also peole forget things Mary made in art and diplomacy with russia for exemple,also she opened the gates for Elizabeth,to one day rule England.
    don’t know if you gonna agree with me but it’s just my opinion.

  16. Hi everybody,

    Jessica has made a very good point about opening the gates to Russia – Not many people know that! And there were a good deal of explorers to the north during her reign as well.

    I have read most of the books mentioned but I would like to also mention another (unfortunately no dead) writer by the name of Dorothy Dunnett and her Lymond Series – Some of the books in the series deal with parts of Mary Tudor’s reign and whilst the books are novels, a lot of what seems almost impossible, did actually happen. I do have to say that I prefer reading to TV or the cinema. At least with reading, one can conjure up in one’s own imagination what things were like. I gave up on TV years ago so I haven’t seen the latest Tudor series although am updated by friends what is going on. And cinema has never really been my “thing” although I do remember the first film of Elizbath with Kate Blanchett when there is a very short clip of teh French prince in a coach en route to Edinburgh and you can see it is a modern road. It’s just an eyeblink but it’s there.

  17. Hi Jennifer,
    You and Jessica are making some wonderful comments, thank you. I must look Dorothy Dunnett up on Amazon, they sound interesting so thank you for the recommendation.
    Yes, I too prefer reading to TV, I’ve always been a reader. What other historical fiction do you like?

  18. By the way, do you guys want a forum setting up on this site? Let me know if you’d use it because I don’t want to set one up and then it be like a graveyard!

  19. Hi Claire,

    Dorthy Dunnert wrote a number of seial books – One is the Lymnond Series based around the time of Mary Queen of Scots from Baby to when ashe marries the Dauphin but each book seems to be set in various parts of the world. She also Wrote another series known as the Ncol series based about a century before. As a one off she wrote a novel “King Heerafter” based on MacBeth. I also know that she wrote other types of books under another name but I never got wrote to reading them. I have to admit that I was very cyncial when reading some charters but then when i researched the goings on, she was correct – She mizes real peole with fictional ones. I know she has/had a remendous following in the States.

    When it comes to History I tend to read “factural books” as well as fictional ones. Love antthing from the rime of William the Conqueror upwards although have to sat that from Victoria (who I have nick-named “Tricky Vicky”), British History does not have the appeal fro me although I have to say that the Hannoverians were a colourful lot. I have also started reading up on Spain’s history working my way backwards this time.

    Thank you for offering to set up a forum for me but to be honest as far as coputers are concerned, a a duffer, so I don’t know whether I could handle that.

  20. Hi Everyone,

    As I have said I am a duffer with computers so can only use the basic knowledge that I have. I did manage to get into The Elizabeth 1 Trivia but foudn no mention at the “Bisley Boy” affair. Bisley is based in Gliurcester and once had a Royal hunting lodge where Eliabeth used to stay. According to legand Elizabeth way sating there in 1542, caught the plaue and died. Her guardians of the time were freaking out as Henry was on his way to visit Elizabeth and supposed substituted a ted-headed boy for the so.called deceased Eliazabeth.
    I theory that could have worked taking into consideration the following points:

    1) Elazabeth never married although under all other circumstances we agree that she did have a fear of such an arrangemnet
    2) Claire says that she was not completly bald but we have to admit that she took to wearing wiigs at a very early age which could mean that her hair was failing out and thjis could possibly be sue to teh fact that from an very early age in her reign she used led cosmetics which would have caused that inman or woman.
    3) As a red head myself I know that true redheads are the last of the hair colours to change. I personally have had aunts over 80 with still shocking red hair and not false. I am 58 and still have red hair – not a strong red but red and a number of hairdressers in Spain have asked me how I have managed to get the colour which is natural.
    4) The fashion of the time could also be another pro-argument in the sense that ladies fashions did not show the bust and the body part went into a V beyound the sexual parts.
    5) If the “Boy of Bisley” was effemeinate then he could have kept the female voice in any case (maybe castrated?)
    6) It was in the interest of a certain number of important people that the Tudor dynasty conntinued as it was on rocjy ground so if this was the case, then the “person” would have been greatlky protected.
    7) The fact that Elizabeth would only see Dr. Wendy (who was possibly in on the secret) is another plus to this.
    8) Sher refused a post mortem

    HOWEVER, after saying all above, for me it is just another different focus –

    There is very little information on the BISLEY boy although in the 80s and 90s in Madrid (at least) last century this particular idea was pushed forward quite heavily.

    BUT if this is true then a nymber of councullors must have been in on this one. The Tudor were in one way a two generation “hit wonder” and the corwn eventually fell to Elizabeth’s nephew, son of the Cathlica Mary whom whe beheaded btu who was taken fro his mother at an ealy age and indoctrinated into Protestanism – And he turned out to be bisesxual whose “house” didn’t last that many generations either.

    Just a thought !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.