The Tudor Society

13 October – Mary I’s secret meetings with ambassadors in disguise

On this day in Tudor history, 13th October 1553, Queen Mary I wrote a very interesting letter to the imperial ambassador, Simon Renard. In it, she asked the ambassador to meet with her secretly, and she'd encouraged him previously to come to her secretly and in disguise.

Why? What was going on? And why did Mary seem to trust the emperor and his ambassadors more than her own council?

Find out more about the situation in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 13th October 1549, Edward VI’s council abolished his uncle Edward Seymour’s protectorate and membership of the Council. It was the beginning of the end for Seymour and you can find out what he’d done to provoke his downfall, and what happened next, in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1499 - Queen Claude of France, wife of Francis I, was born in Romorantin-Lanthenay. Claude was the eldest daughter of Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany.
  • 1534 – Alessandro Farnese became Pope Paul III.
  • 1536 - Lord Darcy reported to Henry VIII that the East Riding, West Riding, North Riding and “all the commons of Yorshire” were “up” in rebellion.
  • 1579 – Death of Sir William Drury, soldier and Lord Justice of Ireland, at Waterford, during Desmond's Rebellion. He was buried in Dublin, at St Patrick's Cathedral.
  • 1591 – Death of Sir Edward Waterhouse, administrator, at his estate, Woodchurch in Kent. Waterhouse served Elizabeth as Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the Green Wax in Ireland from October 1586 to October 1589.


On this day in Tudor history, 13th October 1553, Queen Mary I wrote to the imperial ambassador, Simon Renard. She wrote:
“Sir: If it were not too much trouble for you, and if you were to find it convenient to do so without the knowledge of your colleagues, I would willingly speak to you in private this evening, as you four are to come to-morrow. Nevertheless, I remit my request to your prudence and discretion. Written in haste, as it well appears, this morning, 13 October. Your good friend, Mary.”

It’s an interesting letter because Mary wants to speak to Renard secretly, without the knowledge of his colleagues. Why? What was going on?

In her biography of Mary I, historian Anna Whitelock explains how Renard had “an unprecedented role as secret counsellor and confidant” to the new queen and that he built on Mary’s close relationship with her cousin, Emperor Charles V, whom Mary trusted and whom she addressed in letters as “her very dear and well beloved good brother”. It appears that Mary trusted the emperor and his ambassadors more than her own council and advisors. On 23rd September 1553, the imperial ambassadors wrote to the emperor saying “She could not trust her Council too much, well knowing the particular character of its members” and describing how they had visited the queen secretly, passing “through the park and a garden, unperceived by anybody, except for two of her servants and Dame Clarentius (Clarence), whom she trusts”.

And Anna Whitelock describes how Mary encouraged Renard to come to her in disguise and after dark and notes how unusual it was for a monarch to consult a foreign ambassador in secret about affairs of the kingdom.

But it’s not surprising that Mary had a good relationship with Charles V and his ambassadors. They had been her support in dark times, such as when her father put pressure on her to accept his supremacy and her illegitimacy back in 1536 and when she felt threatened during Edward VI’s reign, in 1550, when she was in trouble for celebrating the mass. It had been the emperor and his ambassadors who’d come up with a plan for her to flee England by sea. Mary got cold feet and didn’t go ahead with the escape plan, but the emperor had fully supported her and protected her. Charles had always had her back and ambassadors like Eustace Chapuys had been good friends and perhaps even a father figure to Mary.

And now here she was queen in her own right, but she knew how fickle men could be, she’d seen privy councillors betray Lady Jane Grey and change sides to Mary, just a few months ago. She was also thinking of marriage and it was the emperor she turned to for help, as the man she trusted. She wanted to make a match that he’d agree with, and it was marriage that she was discussing with his ambassadors in secret, knowing that her English councillors might not be supportive of her ideas. Her plans to marry the emperor’s son, Philip of Spain, were met with opposition from some, and even led to Wyatt’s Rebellion in early 1554. There was concern that England might become just another of Philip’s territories and that he’d involved England in his war and use the treasury to fund his campaigns. Many preferred the idea of an English consort for Mary, but Mary trusted the emperor and she put her foot down. She was able to rally support against Wyatt’s Rebellion and marry her choice of man. She was a determined lady.

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13 October – Mary I’s secret meetings with ambassadors in disguise