The Tudor Society
The Tudor Society

February 1516 – Birth and Christening of Mary I

Tudor History Tours with the Tudor Society

MaryIIn the early hours of 18 February 1516, Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII, gave birth to a healthy baby girl at the Palace of Placentia, Greenwich.

It was Catherine's fifth pregnancy - she had given birth prematurely to a stillborn daughter in 1510, the couple's son (born in January 1511) died when he was just fifty-two days old, another baby boy was either stillborn or lived for just a few days in 1513, and a third baby boy was stillborn in 1514. It must have been such a relief for the couple to have a healthy baby girl.

Sebastian Giustinian, the Venetian ambassador, in his letter reporting Mary's christening, wrote of Henry VIII's reaction to the birth:

"His majesty then made me draw nearer, having, however, in the first place, returned many thanks to your highness for this compliment, saying. "We are both young; if it was a daughter this time, by the grace of God the sons will follow [...]"1

Mary's birth showed that the Queen could carry a baby to term and this obviously gave the King hope for the future.

Mary was baptised on 20 February 1516 in the Church of the Observant Friars at Greenwich. The little princess was carried to the font by the Countess of Surrey and her godparents were Catherine Courtenay, Countess of Devon and daughter of Edward IV; Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury and daughter of George, Duke of Clarence; the Duchess of Norfolk, and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.

An account of Mary's christening can be found in the British Library's Harley MS 3504 (folio 232) and here an excerpt from Letters and Papers based on that:

"The Princess was born on Monday, 18 Feb. 1515, 7 Hen. VIII. at four in the morning, at Greenwich; christened on Wednesday next. From the court gate to the church door of the Friars was railed and hung with arras; the way being well gravelled and strewed with rushes. At the church door was set a house well framed of of timber, covered with arras, where the Princess, with her godfather and godmother, adobe. There she received her name Mary. Then they entered the church, which was hung with cloth of needlework garnished with precious stones and pearls. She was preceded by a goodly sight of gentlemen and lords. Then followed the bason, borne by my Lord of Devonshire, supported by Lord Herbert; the taper by the Earl of Surrey, the salt by the Marquis of Dorset, Lady Dorset bearing the chrism. The Lord Chamberlain followed, with the Lord Steward on his right. Then the canopy, borne by Sir David Owen, Sir Nich. Vaux, Sir Thos. Aparre, and Sir Thomas Boleyn, under which was the Princess, borne by the Countess of Surrey. The Princess was assisted by the Duke of Norfolk at the head, and the Duke of Suffolk at the feet. Next, the Lady Katharine, the Duchess of Norfolk, &c. The Lord Cardinal, godfather, Lady Katharine and the Duchess of Norfolk, godmothers, at the font. The Countess of Salisbury at the bishopping. Then Te Deum sung by the King's chaplain. Order of returning to court described, in which Lord Burgevenny, the Archbps. of Armagh and Dublin, the Bps. of Durham and Chester, and the Earl of Derby, took part."2

You can read all about Catherine of Aragon's pregnancies in an article I wrote for The Anne Boleyn Files - click here.

Notes and Sources

  1. LP ii. 1585
  2. LP ii. 1573

There are 2 comments Go To Comment

  1. Stephanie Mann /

    Were there indications that the two boys who had been born alive were not healthy babies before their deaths? The first Henry died after his baptism and his death was a shock, wasn’t it? I’m asking because of the interpretation that Mary’s birth showed that “the Queen could carry a baby to term”–wasn’t that already established? Thank you.

    1. Claire Ridgway / Post Author

      We don’t know much about Catherine’s pregnancies. We know that she gave birth to a stillborn daughter in January 1510 and that was 33 weeks after her marriage to Henry VIII, then we have the birth of Henry, Duke of Cornwall, on 1st January 1511, and he died at 52 days old, then we have another baby boy who was either stillborn or didn’t live long, then a stillborn son at 8 months, then Mary and then another stillborn daughter at 8 months.
      I can’t remember whether Catherine took to her chamber for Henry, Duke of Cornwall’s birth, or whether he was slightly early, and whether the other son was early, I’ll have to check.

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February 1516 – Birth and Christening of Mary I