They call me “Bloody Mary,” an appellation I abhor. My name has been stained, painted with a black brush by my enemies. For hundreds of years they have called me this. “Bloody.” “Tyrant.” History of little fact and long agenda. Tales told first in barrooms, then around the supper table, eventually in too warm classrooms by men who know less than they imagine, and finally the stories are cast in iron and passed off as truth of printed word. Shadows of truth, as I have been naught but shade these past centuries. Reviled in the name of “religious freedom” I could never have imagined while alive. A freedom that simply did not exist for me or my subjects. Ever.
I was England’s first sovereign queen. Had I been born male, so very much would have been different. My mother would have been praised for furnishing the kingdom with a proper heir and not set aside for a vile whore. I would have been groomed for the throne all my life and risen to it on my father’s death without question. I would have been hailed as a strong leader. Mine would have been called a firm hand. My legend would have been not of “Bloody Mary,” but “Defender of the Faith.”
My earliest memory is of my father. He was a majestic man – the greatest king England has ever known.
Mary Tudor’s earliest and fondest memories were of being carried in her father’s arms. He loved her more than the world, she was sure of it, and she returned that love with a child’s utter lack of reserve. At public functions and private celebrations her guardians would take her to him, where he awaited her with joyful anticipation. She saw his eyes light with pleasure at sight of her, a smile splashed across his ruddy, handsome face. She would throw her arms wide and run to him, for him to sweep her up from the floor in a rustle of silk, linen and fur, and swing her around once before settling her against his shoulder like an arquebus, cradled in the crook of his arm. Her father was a robust man, with strong arms and wide shoulders. He ever smelled faintly of horse leather, for he was a great knight and formidable in the lists. Bards throughout the kingdom told great tales of his prowess with a lance, and even at a tender age Mary knew how skilled he was at unhorsing his opponents. All her life she would love that smell, for it meant safety. In her father’s arms she was safe.
There she held his strong neck, and the ride would begin. Down the center of whatever great hall held the gathered crowd he would stride. Men and women in glittering costume would smile and applaud. Braziers all through the room would throw light and warmth inside heavy, stone walls hung with rich tapestry and wood carvings. Mary was Henry’s only daughter and best beloved of the realm after her father and mother. She was, as her father often said, “The greatest pearl in the kingdom.” Best beloved, and she loved them all in return. They were her family and her people, and therefore they were herself.
Her father would present her to anyone he wished to impress with the beauty of his daughter, and each dignitary so honored would express his or her pleasure at the flattery. Often there were presents, and Mary loved receiving them. A gold pomander. A jeweled ring. A measure of silk. Tokens of affection and regard that defined her world. That world shone with pleasure.
“Are you ready to meet the princess, your majesty?”
Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, stood near the head table at one end of the great hall at Windsor, and turned to the speaker, his interpreter, Montoya, then to the original speaker, Cardinal Wolsey, who stood near the dais, and nodded. Then he returned his attention to the English king, whose proud smile betrayed his expectation of Charles’ reaction to his daughter. His clothing of rich silks and furs glittered with golden and jeweled ornaments, and his eyes sparkled in anticipation of showing off his daughter.
There was never any subtlety to Henry. Everything he thought and felt was there for the world to see, for he thought himself invulnerable. The English. So pleased with their Englishness, and so despising everyone else. Henry behaved as if all of Europe should feel the same. Charles regarded the English king with hooded eyes. Big, loud, rude…his very self-absorption and over-confidence made him vulnerable to manipulation. For the sake of marrying off his daughter to the most powerful man in Europe, he would go to war on behalf of Charles’ own interests, pay for that war from English coffers, and Spain would reap the benefits.
The musicians playing softly in the shadows off to the side fell silent and a herald trumpet sounded, a crisp series of notes announcing an important arrival. All those nearby looked to Charles expectantly, for the time had come for him to meet his future bride. A formality, since the marriage treaty was what it was and wouldn’t be affected regardless of how this meeting went. The purpose of his visit was less the betrothal than it was England’s declaration of war against France that would follow, and that was the way of things. But also the way of things was that life was filled with pomp and formality, and without ceremony the ordinary folk would never know what to think about anything. Nor often the extraordinary folk, for that matter, and one after all must have the cooperation of the nobility, who could cause so much trouble if they wished it. So Charles turned with a wide smile to have a glance about for the girl he expected to marry six years hence, and prepared himself to appear pleased regardless of how pretty or plain she might be.
Across the enormous hall, she stood with her mother, his aunt, in the arch of the doors at the far end. Even at this distance he could see the joy shine in her. Her sunny smile brightened everything around her. Not just pleasure for the moment, but eternal happiness for everyone in the room and perhaps in all the world. She looked across at him, and he could see her instant affection for him. It touched his heart, though he was a man of twenty-three and she but a child of six.
She started toward him, the throng parting before her and her mother the queen. She strode at Catherine’s side, without need of holding a hand, as confident and pleased with herself as her mother. As she drew closer, Charles saw her eyes were lit with genuine intelligence. That was to be expected, since her mother was Spanish. Indeed, she was his mother’s sister. Fine intellect could hardly be avoided in his own cousin.
As for her looks, Mary’s face was too square for true beauty, but she was a comely enough child and her smile wide and infectious. She might grow to a handsome woman, and with her joyous demeanor there was no reason to believe she shouldn’t. He couldn’t help but smile in return, for she seemed to expect it of him. Her eyes never left him, and when she arrived at the dais she gave a perfect little curtsey. When she stood again she gave a bit of a bounce of barely contained energy. Such life in this child! As Queen Catherine presented her to him the girl’s hands lifted a little as if she expected him to pick her up. He was almost tempted to do so.
Instead he bowed to her and took her small hand in his large one callused by years of riding and war campaign. He kissed a tiny knuckle and greeted her as was proper. She returned the greeting as properly and perfectly. She asked after his health and the ease of his travels, and he replied as graciously, saying his journey had been a pleasant one though that was a lie. It was never pleasant crossing the water to Portsmouth.
“Would you care to hear me play the virginal for you?” The sincerity of her desire to play delighted him.
Charles allowed as he would be most pleased at that. From the corner of his eye he noticed Henry’s glowing countenance. The English king’s chest pushed forward like a knight in the lists about to charge, and his already ruddy cheeks were even more pink with pride. Charles had noticed the small keyboard instrument prominently positioned and had been told she expected to play for him. In all politeness, he would have brought it up himself if she’d not asked.
With a bright smile reminiscent of her father’s, Mary went to the instrument and sat herself before it happily to play. Charles was relieved to see she played well, with a facility rare for such a young musician, even a girl, who would be expected to play well. For how else would she spend her days but to learn the graceful arts? Her fingers were a child’s, and played with the simplicity of a child, but they were light on the keys and the tune she plucked was a lively one. She had a flair, a style that was almost dance, and her happiness shone through in the music. It lightened his habitually morose heart in a way that made him wish he could feel this way all the time. Impossible, but one could dream.
Throughout my life, Charles was a delight and my mainstay. They called him ugly, with a jaw too heavy and a dull look of stupidity in his eye, but I knew him to be as intelligent a man as any I’ve ever known, and with a stalwart heart unmatched in any realm. Those years I dreamed of being his wife were joyful to me, though I was sorely disappointed to learn he’d married another.
Mary looked out the carriage window toward Ludlow Castle in Wales. It had been a terribly slow journey from London, with stops in Coventry and Thornbury. There had been a pageant and gifts for her along the way, and much ado made of her passage, with crowds waving and cheering whenever she passed through a town of the least size. Everyone was to know of the new Princess of Wales, and that for the first time in history the succession was designated to a daughter. Even tiny clusters of hovels here and there brought out the curious if the road passed near enough, and on learning who occupied the lead carriage most burst forth with spontaneous affection. These small groups Mary loved the most, for she could hear their individual voices and the words they shouted to her. An old wife blessing her, a young man extolling her piety. She blessed them in return, and waved as she passed. Her heart filled to bursting with good will.
But the journey wore on and she was glad to finally be at Ludlow. She was heartily sick of traveling, for even in the yearly progress there was opportunity to rest. Now she looked eagerly to the castle to know what comforts it might offer this weary wanderer.
The castle loomed above the trees, a vast stone fortress surrounded by a goodly amount of wooded acreage. The small village of Bewdley stood below the drawbridge, and of course the peasantry turned out to see their princess pass. Princess of Wales. That was Mary, since recently her father had come to acknowledge she might be his only child to survive. Mary had no brothers, her mother had stopped having babies, and without a legitimate prince to inherit the throne the kingdom might fall into disarray after her father’s death for the number of potential claimants. That would never do-for all her father had established in his kingdom, and his father before him, to come to nothing.
Some said it would be impossible for Mary to sit on her father’s throne. They said it was against God’s law for a woman to rule men. But Mary knew better, and felt in her heart they were wrong. God’s will must be done, and if Mary had not been meant to rule there would have been a prince to take the throne. After all, Mary’s grandmother had been queen in her own right. Isabella, Queen of Castile. Everyone knew Mary would be a fine queen one day, and as she gazed up at the walls of her property, and listened to the well-wishes of her father’s people, she looked forward to learning the things she would need to know to fulfill that destiny.
That was the very purpose of this trip. She was to represent her father’s authority in this distant corner of his kingdom, where customs were strange, the people dressed and spoke oddly, and her court would bring a taste of civilization to this backward land. The carriage rumbled across the wooden drawbridge and clattered across paving stones through the gatehouse, and into the bailey of the castle. There she waited for her council and guard to open the carriage door. She descended with one leather-clad hand supported on the riding glove of chamberlain Sir John Dudley, filled with bright anticipation of the months ahead. As she was escorted through the newly renovated great hall on her way to her privy chamber, her head aswarm with excitement and curiosity, there were bits of broken stone and sawdust everywhere about. She barely noticed, and paid no attention to the mutterings of her council and her retinue behind her. She was exhausted, and quite ready for sleep.
“Pray to God for a miracle, Philip. The king must have an heir.” John Dudley and Philip Calthrop stood near the dais in the presence chamber. The furnishings were sparse compared to the lavishness of Henry’s London palaces. This room felt cold and hard. Mary’s chamberlain and vice-chamberlain whispered to each other though nobody could hear them over the murmur of voices while they all awaited the girl.
They all thought of her as “the girl,” and not even so very much a princess. This exercise in Wales was proving a waste of time, and nobody believed Henry would succeed in foisting a female heir on them. It was, after all, called a kingdom. Were it a queendom, he was certain it would be named that. The very sound of it was awkward and unnatural.
“Whatever do you mean?” asked Calthrop.
“She can’t possibly ever rule England.”
“And why not?”
Dudley peered at Calthrop, and wondered whether the man was genuinely stupid or merely putting on a face of loyalty to his mistress. “You know bloody well why not. ‘Tis wrong for a female to rule. Against God’s plan. Furthermore, I remind you she’s promised to the Emperor. If, God forbid, the king should depart the earth tomorrow, allowing her to ascend the throne would be to hand the entire realm over to Charles. Which, of course it would please the Empire no end to subsume England and make her naught more than an outpost of Spain to surround and cow the French.” He shrugged his shoulders in an irritated gesture. “It would be disaster for us. We’d all be speaking Spanish by Christmas, I vow.”
Calthrop chuckled at the levity, dry as it was, then shook his head, adding a glance about the room so as not to appear too much in conversation with Dudley. He said, “You’ve no need to worry about that, sir. She won’t be marrying the Emperor, I’m afraid.”
Dudley’s eyebrows went up. “And why do you say that?”
“Because word has come he’s to marry someone else.”
Dudley blinked, but wasn’t all that surprised. He’d known for years Henry’s interest in alliance with Charles had waned and he was hoping for a way out of the marriage treaty. “So, who is the Emperor going to marry?”
“Isabella of Portugal.”
“Ah.” Good. “But if the princess inherits the throne, it matters not who she will marry. Or, rather, it matters all too much; she’ll be ruled by her husband and it will go badly for us all.”
“Well, then, the thing to do would be to have an eye for who she would marry, yes?”
Dudley grunted a noncommittal reply, and fell into a fit of thinking. Calthrop spoke truthfully, he thought.
A pair of trumpets announced the arrival of the princess, and everyone in the room came to attention. The ten-year-old princess entered through the archway from the direction of the castle chapel. More than likely she’d spent the greater part of the morning at Mass, as had many of the dozens of attendants and functionaries in her household. Like her mother, Mary devoted most of her energies to spiritual matters. Mary had always been close to Catherine-too close, to Dudley’s mind-and had been raised to piety of a degree more Spanish than English. She even dressed more in the Spanish style than a proper English princess ought. Dudley considered himself devout, but even he couldn’t match the utter, abject devotion of Catherine and her daughter.
With the aid of a small stepstool, the girl took her seat on the dais, nearly dwarfed by the enormous chair of ancient Welsh oak, and gazed out over the gathering of council, supplicants, guard, and onlookers, all of whom waited expectantly for her to speak. She was small, but seemed not childlike at all. Like a queen in perfect miniature, her tiny feet clad in embroidered silk slippers resting on the stool as if they were squarely on the floor. With a square face not unlike her father, she seemed almost mannish, and Dudley had to admit that was a mark in her favor for the role she played here in Wales. A year ago, when she’d first arrived, she’d been wide-eyed and unsure. Now she appeared a small adult, familiar with what was expected of her and poised to make her own thoughts known. Not that it was her own thoughts she would speak today, for her counselors had nearly total sway in these decisions. But she spoke them as if they were her own, a skill she’d only acquired since bringing this court to Wales. Perhaps this expedition into the hinterlands was serving a purpose after all.
Welshmen in awe of finding themselves in the presence of royalty stood before her, waiting to be called forth. They brought suit in the court, to be heard by the blossoming princess. All was orderly, all predetermined by her council. Dudley observed her polished manner. Royal. She gave the impression of control, and satisfied those who saw her. In truth, that had been one of Henry’s goals in sending her. Unfortunately, those who did not attend her, did not observe her, and who did not recognize her authority were the ones she needed to sway and could not. Each case brought before the court was dispatched with alacrity. As the afternoon wore on, issues were resolved exactly as expected.
Once the proceedings had wound down and the last suit concluded, while Mary conferred with one of her ladies to her left Calthrop whispered to Dudley, “What of the fugitive?”
Dudley held up a finger for the vice-chamberlain to wait for his reply while the rest of the court withdrew from the room and Mary returned to her privy chamber with her women. Then he turned with Calthrop to follow the others into the great hall. He said in a low voice under the general murmur, “Holed up in Bewdley still. The presence of her royal highness is not impressing these savages in the least, and they’re adamant their sanctuary will hold.”
“He’s killed two people. His wife’s parents, for God’s blood! These people kill each other and steal from each other more than any I’ve heard of in England, I vow!” Calthrop was a rather plain man, and more gentle than most. He more than anyone on the council struggled with understanding the primitives living in the far reaches of the realm. These Welshmen spoke an uncivilized language, and their laws were as unformed, but Calthrop insisted on thinking of them as equal to the English. Dudley found little patience with this sort of naiveté.
“They’re an independent lot, indeed. They’ll govern themselves rather than be ruled from England. Particularly by a little girl.”
“Something must be done about it. This lawlessness cannot continue.”
“It hasn’t helped that Henry’s own functionaries still question her warrants.” And they would surely continue to, no matter what authority Henry might bestow on his daughter.
“You don’t say! Who, then this time?”
“Brereton’s kinsman, Randolph. He looks after the man’s affairs, and has questioned a warrant for a deer to be taken from Shotwick Park.”
Calthrop sighed at the pettiness of the behavior, and Dudley was quite in agreement. “Only one deer,” he said. “One would think he could let them have one deer for the sake of averting rebellion.” He made a clucking sound of disparagement with his tongue, then added, “You know that sort of thing only undermines her authority, and thereby also weakens the king’s. If only they would see that. If only they would also see that weakening the king’s authority does naught but weaken themselves.”
“Tell it to those who would have as much of that authority for themselves as they might garner and to hell with the crown. If she appears weak, there will be those to take advantage. Particularly at his eventual death.” He crossed himself and added, “God forbid.”
The vice-chamberlain also made a perfunctory sign, then allowed as that was true. The murderer who had taken refuge in nearby Bewdley was a spectacular example of locals denying the king’s authority.
Dudley continued. “The landholders in Bewdley, and some elsewhere, threaten to withhold their taxes.”
Calthrop paused in the gallery and said in a low, shocked voice, “They’ll end up in chains, is what!”
Dudley paused with him and murmured close, “They threaten to run off into the woods.”
“And all join Robin Hood’s band of merry men?” Calthrop chuckled at his own joke, and Dudley smiled in appreciation though he didn’t find the idea terribly amusing. It was all too possible, given the insane stubbornness of the Welsh.
“Robbing from each other, more than likely, for the truly rich won’t come near.”
Calthrop laughed out loud at that, for it had been a running joke for the past year that Wales was no place for the civilized. The entire court had suffered during their exile from the gentle society of England, and living among these tight-fisted, clannish, incomprehensible louts had worn on everyone. “I will be glad to go home one day.”
Dudley’s eyebrows raised. “You may get your wish sooner than you think.”
Calthrop tilted his head in enquiry.
“Indeed. We may be returning home before much longer. The Welsh are proving themselves too unruly, and his majesty is likely to recall his daughter for a failed mission.”
The vice-chamberlain didn’t have a ready reply for that, so Dudley added, “You can see why I say Mary cannot ever rule England. She hasn’t the authority, and won’t so long as she remains female.”
Calthrop had even less reply to that, and only gaped at Dudley, who left him and proceeded on to the great hall for his supper.
There Dudley found the princess just arrived at her table, having entered directly from her privy chamber, in a dark mood far removed from the cheer she’d demonstrated earlier. Instead of the bright and confident persona she’d displayed in the presence chamber so shortly before, she now bore a countenance of dark eyes and tight, white lips. Calthrop’s wife, who served as one of Mary’s ladies, making her way through the throng of courtiers taking their seats now that the princess was seated, passed near and Dudley gestured for her to wait. She paused in her exit from the hall, and he asked her what troubled her mistress.
She glanced toward the head table with soft, sympathetic eyes, then told Dudley, “She’s only a moment ago had word that Charles has ended their betrothal.” She glanced at Mary again. “I’m afraid she’s not taking it well at all.”
“Did she think he loved her?” Dudley thought it terribly silly for women to imagine they were loved by their husbands. It made for much difficulty in managing what should be a purely economic and political arrangement. He’d often expressed the opinion that marriage would go so much more smoothly if only women weren’t involved in it. But for the moment he held his tongue on that account.
The gentlewoman replied, “She’s still a girl, John. She’s spent half her life expecting to marry the Emperor, and now he’s forsaken her. She’s too young to fully understand the complexities of this, and one can hardly blame her for being disappointed. In fact, I could hardly blame her for tears, were there any.” An edge entered her voice and an eyebrow raised ever so slightly. “But the princess is well mannered, and has said nothing against the Emperor. She shows better form than I would expect to see in a man so used.”
Dudley blinked at the sharp comment, but let it go. He gazed across the room at Mary, who’s own gaze focused on the plate before her though she didn’t seem to see it, and he said, “Well, perhaps it’s for the best.”
Calthrop’s wife said, “One can only hope.”
Dudley had meant that it was for the best that Mary wouldn’t have a Spanish husband, but he sensed the silly woman was thinking something entirely different.
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