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. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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 !

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