Mary Tudor, Queen of France, was the younger sister of King Henry VIII. Born to King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York in 1496, Mary was one of eight children and one of only three to survive to adulthood. Tragedy struck Mary at just seven years of age when her older brother and heir to the throne, Arthur, died in 1502. Less than a year later, Mary's mother Elizabeth of York died trying to give Henry VII another son. Then, when Mary was eight years old, her older sister Margaret, then fourteen, left England for Scotland to marry King James IV. Mary and her older brother Henry were the only two siblings left in England and it has been suggested that during this time, growing up together, they formed a close bond which survived until Mary's death.
Mary received an education fitting of her status and most likely learnt Latin and French, as well as how to dance, sing and play musical instruments. It has been reported that Mary Tudor was the most beautiful Princess in all of Christendom. When she was eighteen, her brother Henry VIII negotiated for Mary to marry the fifty-two year-old King of France, Louis XII. It has been suggested that Mary, before she left England, made her brother promise that for her second husband she could have a man of her choosing. The marriage did not last long and the ailing Louis XII died only four months after marrying his beautiful young bride. Wasting little time, Mary took Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, as her second husband. They married in secret in France - some suggesting that it was a love match, others proposing that Mary married again so quickly so that her brother, or even the new French King Francis I, could not use her as a marriage pawn.
Charles Brandon had committed treason by marrying Mary because he did not gain the King's permission. After some negotiations with the help of Thomas Wolsey, right hand man of the King, and the promise to return Mary's marriage dowry and pay an annual fine, the couple returned to England and were married for a second time at Greenwich. From the time Mary returned to England, she would be known as the Dowager Queen of France rather than the Duchess of Suffolk.
Mary had four children, two girls and two boys: Henry Brandon, who was born on 11th March 1516 and who died young in 1522: Frances, who was born on 16th July 1517 and who died on the 20th November 1559 (Frances was the mother of Lady Jane Grey); Eleanor, who was born in 1519 and who died on 27th September 1547; and Henry, 1st Earl of Lincoln, who was born in 1523 and who died on 1st March 1534.
Mary was an infrequent visitor at court after her return from France. She attended a few major events at court, but she did not approve of her brother's attempt to annul his marriage to his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, in an attempt to marry Anne Boleyn. Mary was a friend of Katherine and did not like Anne, and she did not hide her disdain. Mary did not attend her brother's wedding to Anne Boleyn and she did not attend Anne's coronation.
Mary Tudor suffered several bouts of illness after her return to England. In 1518, Charles Brandon wrote to Thomas Wolsey to tell him that Mary could not leave court because she had an ague (an illness that involved a fever and shivering). Then, in 1520, he wrote to Wolsey again to inform him that "her olde dissesse in her side" (Sadlack 2011) was bothering her and asking if she could come to London to get treatment. Brandon's letter would suggest that the pain in Mary's side was a recurring problem. Mary died on 25 June 1533, between seven and eight o’clock in the morning at her home, Westhorpe Hall in Suffolk. In his book Mary Rose, David Loades suggests that the cause of Mary's death may have been angina. Other theories include tuberculosis and cancer. Another suggestion for the cause of Mary's death is grief over her brother's dismissal of Katherine of Aragon and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn. However, it would seem that despite the events of 1533, Mary still loved her brother. She wrote him a letter stating that she "Will be glad to see the King, as she has been a great while out of his sight, and hopes not to be so long again" (Letters and Papers vol. 6, 693).
As Dowager Queen of France and sister of the king, Mary Tudor's funeral was a lavish affair. Her body was embalmed and for three weeks Mary's coffin, draped in deep blue or black velvet, lay in state at Westhorpe, candles burning day and night. On 10th July, Henry VIII ordered a Requiem Mass to be held for his sister at Westminster Abbey. A delegation was sent from France and joined the English delegation for Mary's funeral on 20th July 1533. Mary was interred at Bury St Edmunds and her chief mourner was her daughter Frances, who was accompanied by her husband and by her brother Henry, Earl of Lincoln. Also attending the funeral was Mary's youngest daughter, Eleanor, and Suffolk's ward, Katherine Willoughby.
For the journey from Westhorpe to the Abbey Church at Bury St Edmund's, Mary's coffin was placed upon a hearse draped in black velvet embroidered with Mary's arms and her motto "the will of God is sufficient for me". The coffin was covered in a pall of black cloth of gold and on top of this was an effigy of Mary wearing robes of estate, a crown and a golden sceptre which signified Mary's status as Dowager Queen of France. The hearse was drawn by six horses wearing black cloth and the coffin was covered by a canopy carried by four of Suffolk's Knights. Surrounding the coffin, standard bearers carried the arms of the Brandon and Tudor families.
At the head of the procession, walked one hundred torch bearers who comprised members of the local community who were paid and dressed in black for the funeral. Next, came members of the clergy who carried the cross. After them, came the household staff followed by the six horses pulling the hearse. Behind the hearse, came the Knights and other noble men in attendance followed by one hundred of the Duke's yeomen. Lastly, came Mary's daughter Frances, the chief mourner, and the other ladies including Eleanor, Katherine Willoughby and Mary's friends and relatives. Along the way, the funeral procession was joined by other members of the local parishes.
At two o’clock in the afternoon, the coffin was received at Bury St Edmunds by the abbot and the monks. The coffin was then placed before the high altar and surrounded by the mourners in order of precedence, and a mass was said. Afterwards, a supper was held for the noble members of Mary's funeral entourage.
Eight women, twelve men, thirty yeomen and some of the clergy were appointed to watch over Mary's body overnight. The next day, a Requiem Mass was sung and Mary's daughters, her two step daughters, her ward Katherine Willoughby and Katherine's mother brought forward palls of cloth of gold to the altar. The funeral address was conducted by William Rugg, and the officers of Mary's household broke their white staffs before finally Mary was interred. Mary's body lay at peace at Bury St Edmunds until the Abbey was dissolved and she was moved to St Mary's Church, Bury St Edmunds. In 1784, her remains were disturbed again when her altar monument was removed because it obstructed the approach to the rails of the communion table. Her resting place is now marked by a slab on the floor.
Mary was greatly loved by the people of Suffolk and after her funeral alms of meat, drink and money were given to the poor. As was custom, neither Mary's brother Henry VIII or her husband attended the funeral. We do not have any record of Suffolk's feelings regarding the death of his wife of eighteen years. He risked treason charges and the possibility of death by marrying a member of the royal family without the King's permission, so surely Suffolk must have felt something for his wife. Mary was also remembered by the people of France, who had loved her greatly. Mary Tudor was a fascinating woman, princess, sister of a King, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk. She achieved extraordinary heights throughout her life but sadly passed into relative obscurity.
Sarah Bryson is the author of Mary Boleyn: In a Nutshell. She is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours and currently works with children with disabilities. Sarah is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. Visiting England in 2009 furthered her passion and when she returned home she started a website, queentohistory.com, and Facebook page about Tudor history. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing, Tudor costume enactment and wishes to return to England one day.
- 'Henry VIII: June 1533, 21-25', in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 6, 1533, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1882), pp. 306-313 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol6/pp306-313 [accessed 31 March 2015].
- Loades, David (2012) Mary Rose, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.
- Loades, David, ‘Mary (1496–1533)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18251, accessed 31 March 2015.
- Ridgway, Claire (2010) Princess Mary Tudor, viewed 31 March 2015, http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/princess-mary-tudor/4814/.
- Sadlack, Erin (2011) The French Queen’s Letters: Mary Tudor Brandon and the Politics of Marriage in Sixteenth-Century Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.