The Tudor Society

28 August 1551 – A defiant Lady Mary

On this day in history, 28th August 1551, Lord Chancellor Richard Rich, Sir Anthony Wingfield and Sir William Petre went to Copthall in Essex to see the Lady Mary (future Mary I), half-sister of their king and master, Edward VI.

They had been sent to Copthall to deliver a message to Mary from the king. Edward VI was ordering Mary and her household to desist from celebrating the Catholic mass. Edward also ordered that Sir Anthony Wingfield should replace Robert Rochester as Mary's comptroller.

Mary was furious with the men and refused to obey them or her brother's orders. The men reported what happened in a letter to the king and his privy council. Here is the whole letter:

"A Note of the Report of the Message done to the Lady Mary's Grace by us the Lord Riche and Lord Chancellor of England, Sir Anthony Wingfield Knight of the Order and Comptroller of the King's Majesty's most honorable Household, and William Peeter, Knight, one of his Majesty's two principal Secretaries; and of her Grace's Answer to the same; reported by us all three to the King's Majesty and the Lords of his Majesty's Privy Council at Windsor, the 29th day of August Anno 1551.

First having received Commandment and Instructions from the King’s Majesty, we repaired to the said Lady Mary’s house at Copped Hall in Essex on Friday last, being the 28th of this instant in the Morning, where, shortly after our coming, I the Lord Chancellor delivered his Majesty’s Letters to her, which she received upon her knees, saying that for honour of the King’s Majesty’s hand, wherewith the said Letters were signed, she would kiss the Letter; and not for their matter contained in them, for the matter, said she, I take to proceed not from his Majesty but from you his Council.

In the reading of the letter, which she did read secretly to her self, she said these words in our hearing, 'Ah! good Mr Cecil took much pains here.'

When she had read the Letter, we began to open the matter of our Instructions unto her, and as I the Lord Chancellor began, she prayed me to be short for, said she, I am not well at ease, and I will make you a short answer, notwithstanding that I have already declared and written my mind to his Majesty plainly with my own hand.

After this we told her at good length how the King’s Majesty having used all the gentle means and exhortations that he might to have reduced her to the Rites of Religion and Order of Divine service set forth by the laws of the realm, and finding her nothing conformable, but still remaining in her former error, had resolved by the whole estate of his Majesty's Privy Council, and with the consent of divers others of the Nobility, that she should no longer use the private Mass, nor any other divine Service than is set forth by the Laws of the Realm; and here we offered to show her the Names of all those which were present at this consultation, and resolution; but she said she cared not for any rehearsal of their names, for, said she, I know you be all of one sort therein.

We told her further that the King’s Majesty’s pleasure was we should also give strait charge to her Chaplains, that none of them should presume to say any Mass, or other divine service than is set forth by the Laws of the Realm, and like charge to all her servants that none of them shulde presume to hear any Mass, or other divine service than is aforesaid. Hereunto her answer was thus. First, she protested that to the King’s Majesty she was, is, and ever will be his Majesty’s most humble and most obedient subject and poor Sister, and would most willingly obey all his commandments in any thing (her conscience saved,) yea and would willingly and gladly suffer death to do his Majesty’s good; but rather than she will agree to use any other service than which used at the death of the late King her father, she would lay her head on a block and suffer death. But, said she, I am unworthy to suffer death in so good a quarrel. When the King’s Majesty (said she) shall come to such years that he may be able to judge these things himself, his Majesty shall find me ready to obey his orders in religion, but now in these years, although he good sweet King have more knowledge than any other of his years, yet is it not possible that he can be a judge in these things; for if ships were to be sent to the seas, or any other thing to be done touching the policy and government of the Realm, I am sure you would not think his Highness yet able to consider what were to be done, and much less, said she, can he in these years discern what is fit in matters of divinity. And if my Chaplains do say no Mass I can hear none, no more can my poor servants. But as for my servants I know it shall be against their wills, as it shall be against myne, for if they could come where it were said they would hear it with good will, and as for my priests they know what they have to do, the pain of your Laws is but imprisonment for a short time, and If they will refuse to say Mass for fear of that imprisonment they may do therein as they will; but non of your newe service, said she, shall be used in my House, and if any be said in it, I will not tarry in the house.

And after this we declared unto her Grace, according to our Instructions, for what causes the Lords of the King's Majesty's Council had appointed Rochester, Inglefeild, and Walgrave, being her servants to open the premisses unto her, and how ill and untruly they had used themselves in the charge committed unto them, and besides that, how they had manifestly disobeyed the King's Majesty's Council, &c. To this she said it was not the wisest council to appoint her servants to control her in her own house, and that her servants knew her mind therein well enough, for of all men she might worst endure any of them to move her in any such matters; and for their punishment, my Lords may use them as they think good, and if they refused to do the message unto her and her chaplains and servants as aforesaid, they be, said she, the honester men, for they should have spoke against their own consciences.

After this when we had at good length declared unto her the effect of our Instructions touching the promise which she claimed to have been made to the Emperor, and besides had opened unto her at good length all such things as we knew and had heard therin; her answer was that she was well assured the promise was made to the Emperor, and that the same was once granted before the King's Majesty in her presence, then being there seven of the Council, notwithstanding the denial thereof at my last being with his Majesty; and I have, quoth she, the Emperor's hand testifying that this promise was made, which I believe better than you all of the Council. And though you esteem little the Emperor, yet should you shew more favour to me for my father's sake, who made the more part of you, almost of nothing. But as for the Emperor, said she, if her were dead, I would say as I do. And if he would give me now other advice I would not follow it, notwithstanding, quoth she, to be plain with you, his Ambassador shall know how I am used at your hands.

After this we opened the King's Majesty's pleasure, for one to attend upon her Grace for the supply of Rochester's place, during his absence, &c. as in the Instructions. To this her answer was that she would appoint her own officers, and that she had years sufficient for that purpose; and if we left any such man there she would go out of her gates, for they two would not dwell in one house. And, quoth she, I am sickly, and yet I will not die willingly, but will do the best I can to preserve my life; but if I shall chance to die, I will protest openly that you of the Council be the causes of my death; you give me fair words but your deeds be always ill towards me. And having said thus, she departed from us into her bedchamber, and delivered to me the Lord Chancellor a RING, upon her knees, most humbly, with very humble recommendations, saying that she would die his true subject and sister, and obey his Commandments in all things except in these matters of Religion, touching the Mass and the new service. But yet, said she, this shall never be told to the King's Majesty, &c.

After her departure we called the Chaplains and the rest of her Household before us, giving them strait commandment, upon pain of their allegiance, that neither the priests should from henceforth say any Mass, or other divine service than that which is set forth by the Laws of the Realm, nor that they the residue of the servants should presume to hear any.

The Chaplains, after some take, promised all to obey the King's Majesty's commandment signified by us.

We gave like commandments to them and every of them, upon their allegiance, to give notice to some one of the Council, at the least, if any mass or other divine service than that which is set forth by the Laws of this Realm, should be hereafter said in that House.

Finally when we had said and done as is aforesaid, and were gone out of the house, tarrying there for one of her Chaplains, who was not with the rest when we gave the charge aforesaid unto them, the Lady Mary's Grace sent to us to speak with her one word at a window. When we were come into the Court, notwithstanding that we offered to come up to her chamber, she would needs speak out of the window, and prayed us to speak to the Lords of the Council that her comptroller might shortly return. For, said she, since his departing, I take the accounts myself of my expences, and learned how many loaves of bread be made of a bushel of wheat: and I wis my father and mother never brought me up with baking and brewing. And, to be plain with you, I am weary of mine office, and therefore if my Lords will send mine officer home, they shall do me pleasure; otherwise if they will send him to prison, I beshrew him if he go not to it merrily, and with a good will, and I pray God to send you to do well in your souls and bodies too, for some of you have but weak bodies."

What I love about this letter is the insight it gives us into Mary's personality. The courage, determination and spirit that saw her fighting for the throne in July 1553 is evident here in 1551, as is the loyalty of her household. She may be described as "humble", but she is also defiant and will not compromise her faith. Whatever you think of the later Mary I, it has to be said that she had courage and faith in spades.

Notes and Sources

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  1. R

    Is this a long winded way of saying, with respect Your Majesty, get lost, I won’t stop hearing Mass and I won’t take orders from a kid, even if he is the King and my half brother? Ha.

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28 August 1551 – A defiant Lady Mary