Thursday, June 20, 2013

Family Feud: Mary Tudor and Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn and Mary Tudor in the Showtime series The Tudors

I know June 15th has come and gone, but I've been quite busy studying for finals and finally have time to write a blog about a particular letter written by Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Queen Catherine of Aragon three days and 477 years ago. I know I touched on this stereotype/misconception about Anne Boleyn being an 'evil stepmother' in this post, but would like to explore the subject in fuller detail.

On 15th June, Lady Mary at last succumbed to her father's demands and submit to the Act of Succession which bequeathed the kingdom of England, upon Henry VIII's death, to the heirs of Jane Seymour's body. Mary had felt particularly confident about entering back into her father's good graces upon the death of Anne Boleyn; she had blamed everything, from the poor treatment of her mother to her own personal fallout with her father on Anne. But clearly it wasn't so. Just days after Anne Boleyn's execution, Mary was persecuted now more vigorously than ever. The king's councilors made a trip to her household just to violently threaten her; they called her a traitoress and claimed that if she were their daughter (this may or may not have been said by Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk), she would have long ago been beaten to death for her obstinacy. Nothing like this had ever happened while Anne was alive.

I would not go as far as saying that Anne was a particularly affectionate stepmother to the Lady Mary -- she wasn't at all, but at the beginning, she certainly made an effort to be. We know for a fact that she got on well enough with her other stepchild, Henry's illegitimate son Fitzroy, who was married to her cousin. Anne wrote to Mary offering to intercede with her father the king and have her restored to favor, if only she would recognize her as the true queen of England; Mary replied that she knew of no other queen save her lady mother, but would appreciate it if the king's mistress would recommend her to her father. The queen was infuriated, viewing Mary as an obstacle on not only her path, but her daughter's too, as a rival heir beloved by the people. She asked her Boleyn relatives who served Elizabeth at Hatfield to beat Mary, who they were ordered to watch over and spy on, and she boasted at one point or another that she would have Mary married to some peasant. In the Tower, Anne repented for her treatment of the Lady Mary to Lady Kingston, the constable's wife and one of Mary's friends, and asked that Kingston extend her sincere apologies to Mary. However Mary never forgave Anne even though she did her father the king, and unto her death she would blame Anne and regard her as the bane of all evil. Upon becoming queen of England, Mary's relations with her half-sister Elizabeth would become strained, to say the least, and Mary would compare Elizabeth to her wicked mother and go as far as saying that Elizabeth was another man's child.

However, we clearly cannot blame all of the horrors of Mary's early life on Anne because she was not alive to see to much of it. It was not at her command that the king's councilors verbally abused Mary into submission -- Anne was dead, and so these were quite obviously her own father's orders. Jane Seymour was the queen of England at this time -- yet she is blamed for nothing. The legends that Jane worked tirelessly to reconcile Mary and Henry have very little basis, and even if she helped reconcile them, it was after Mary had already taken the oath of Succession, humiliating herself in order to please her father. Jane, quite wisely, feared incurring the king's disfavor far too much to go out of her way to save anyone, fully aware that now that she was queen, she had to work to save her own self. On a different subject, Jane was not exactly a Catholic hero, either -- there is only the legend that she asked the king very half-heartedly to show the traitors in the North mercy, only to be harshly silenced by him; she never again broached the topic or expressed her opinion regarding anything else. Jane Seymour and Mary Tudor may eventually have become friends, but both women were, quite unlike brazen Anne Boleyn, too afraid of the king to show how they felt about anyone. On the other hand, Mary Tudor would become great friends with Anne of Cleves, Henry's fourth wife, and the sixth queen, Katherine Parr; she and Katherine Howard would have a rather cold relationship. It may have been that Mary was unable to respect a stepmother who was younger than her by nearly ten years, or also that Katherine Howard was the late Queen Anne's cousin.

In conclusion, Anne Boleyn was no afficionado of Mary and being the vengeful and intemperate woman she was, she felt no need to hide this and she treated Mary with cruelty. But she repented this privately, and the fact that she considered her treatment of her stepdaughter while imprisoned in the Tower when there were many other people and matters to think of shows that she sincerely regretted her actions and they weighed heavily on her heart. Mary, who suffered long and hard and wanted so badly to love her father despite the fact that he was more responsible for her cruel treatment than Anne was, could never forgive the queen and can't exactly be blamed for this. But to finally lay to rest the misconceptions and factoid of this family feud, my ruling is that, even though Anne was guilty of acting cruelly toward Mary, her intentions had started out well, and Mary's treatment of Elizabeth perhaps as, to some degree, petty revenge, was unfair too. In the end, both women were in many ways victims of the same man -- their husband and father who broke both their hearts on his bloody path for a male heir. 

1 comment:

  1. jane seymour was a second cousin of anne bolyen