‘God save the Queen! God save our good Queen Mary!’
When these words rang out over England, Mary Tudor thought her troubles were over. She could put her painful past – the loss of her mother and mistreatment at the hands of her father – behind her.
With her accession to the throne, Mary set out to restore Catholicism in England and find the love of a husband that she had long desired. But the tragedies in Mary’s life were far from over. How did a gentle, pious woman become known as ‘Bloody Mary’?
Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I is the final book in Samantha Wilcoxson’s Plantagenet Embers series. It tells the story, in the third person, from the point of view of Mary I. Mary was the eldest daughter of King Henry I and England’s first ever queen regnant. Although part of a series, the book also works perfectly well as a standalone.
Samantha Wilcoxson has a unique writing style which makes her stand out from other Tudor storytellers. She gets into the mind of her main character and writes Mary’s story as if she’s seeing it through the queen’s own eyes. If Mary did not see something happen, then the reader does not know about it until the queen is informed. This distinctive writing style makes the book a personal journey, both for the subject and the reader.
Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I tells the story of Mary I, from the time of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine Parr, to her own death.Telling the story through Mary’s own eyes, we follow her personal and public relationships, through her brother’s reign and the usurpation of Lady Jane Grey until she is sitting on the throne herself.
The novel demonstrates the human side of Mary I, her fears, insecurities and compassion, and her innate need to be loved; by her sister, her husband and her people. It shows her as a child of the Reformation, just as much as Elizabeth I, but on the opposing side. She is a queen struggling to do the right thing by her conscience and her people.
This compassionate portrayal helps to explain how the descent into the burning of protestants was not a plan, but a consequence of cumulative events and Mary’s own fear of displeasing God. Mary cuts a sad and lonely figure, desperate for love and constantly disappointed; by her father, her sister and, ultimately her husband.
With no children of her own, Mary doted upon Edward and Elizabeth in a way their father never would. She made her way now through the small, crowded room to her father’s other bastardized princess.
Elizabeth performed a perfect curtsy for her sister before letting her guard drop and offering a smile.
“I pray you are well, sister.” Elizabeth said with a sincerity of one unaware of the former bad feelings one has had toward them.
“My thanks to you and to God for seeing that I am indeed restored to health and am able to see a good friend and my dear father united in marriage.” As she said it, Mary was surprised to find that she meant it.
“I wish them great happiness,” Elizabeth agreed without emotion.
“You will find Katryn to be a loving mother, and she may be a calming presence for our father,” Mary encouraged her.
“Undoubtedly, you shall be proven correct.”
Sometimes Elizabeth’s habit of saying only what was expected could annoy, but Mary knew that she was simply doing her best to play her part to perfection. It was an effect of the quick succession of stepmothers and the gruesome connection between marriage and death that the young girl had witnessed.
What I love about this book is that it is Mary’s story. Elizabeth is a peripheral figure, making few appearances and always in her sister’s shadow. Philip of Spain is an unsympathetic character, desperate to get away from a marriage that he doesn’t want. The only character who is symbiotic with Mary is her cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole, she sees him as an equal, in faith and outlook and he’s the only one she seems comfortable with.
Brilliantly researched, this is a sympathetic portrayal of a queen, known in many history books as Bloody Mary, who is often vilified and criticised for the burning of Protestants. Samantha Wilcoxson doesn’t just go with the flow, but manages to examine the queen’s life, loves and personal tragedies. In doing so, she shows us why the name of Bloody Mary is too simplistic for this complex woman who went through so much adversity before she ascended the throne.
Queen of Martyrs, The Story of Mary I is a wonderful, compassionate story of a frequently misunderstood woman. Samantha Wilcoxson’s writing style makes this an intimate portrayal of the Tudor queen, giving the reader a deep, personal relationship with the book and its subject, the queen’s story staying with them long after the last page has been turned.
Picture of Mary courtesy of Wikipedia.
My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley in September and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.
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Maria de Salinas was a lady-in-waiting and close friend to Katherine of Aragon; indeed, she probably came to England with the Spanish princess in 1501 for the marriage to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales. Katherine and Maria were very close and the Spanish ambassador complained of Maria’s influence over the queen, especially after she tried to persuade Katherine not to cooperate with the ambassador and encouraged the Queen to favour her English subjects.
In June 1516 Maria married the largest landowner in Lincolnshire, William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby. The wedding was a lavish affair – attended and paid for by the King and Queen. It took place at Greenwich Palace and the couple were given Grimsthorpe Castle, in Lincolnshire, as a wedding present. The Queen even provided Maria with a generous dowry of 1100 marks.
Maria remained at court for some years after her wedding, and attended Queen Katherine at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Henry VIII was godfather to Maria and William’s oldest son, Henry who died in infancy. Another son, Francis, also died young and their daughter Katherine, born on 22nd March 1519 and named after the queen, would be the only surviving child of the marriage. With her father holding over 30 manors in Lincolnshire alone, and an annual income of over £900 a year, Katherine was one of the great heiresses of her generation.
Little Katherine was only 6 or 7 when her father, Lord Willoughby, died in 1526. For several years afterwards Maria was embroiled in a legal dispute with her brother-in-law, Sir Christopher Willoughby, over the inheritance of the Willoughby lands. It seems William had settled some lands on Maria which were entailed to Sir Christopher. The dispute went to the Star Chamber and caused Sir Thomas More, the king’s chancellor and a prominent lawyer, to make an initial redistribution of some of the disputed lands.
This must have been a hard fight for the newly widowed Maria, and the dispute threatened the stability of Lincolnshire itself, given the extensive lands involved. However, Maria attracted a powerful ally in Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and brother-in-law of the King, who called on the assistance of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry’s first minister at the time, in the hope of resolving the situation.
Suffolk had managed to obtain the wardship of Katherine Willoughby in 1529, intending her to marry his eldest son and heir Henry, who had been made Earl of Lincoln in 1525, and so had a vested interest in a favourable settlement for Maria. Suffolk’s acquisition of the de la Pole estates had given him a prominent position in East Anglia; with properties these added to young Katherine’s lands in Lincolnshire, he would create an impressive power base.
Whether or not the young earl of Lincoln was a sickly child (as he died in 1534) is uncertain; however the marriage was not to be. Suffolk had been married to king Henry VIII’s little sister, Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, but she died in September 1533. The 50-year-old Duke of Suffolk caused a great scandal when, only 3 months later, he married 14-year-old Katherine himself. She was Suffolk’s 4th wife.
The marriage made Suffolk the greatest landowner in Lincolnshire and, despite the age difference, it does appear to have been successful. Katherine and Charles were to have 2 sons. The 1st, Henry, was born in 1535 and the youngest, Charles, was born in 1537.
Although Suffolk pursued the legal case with more vigour after the wedding, a final settlement was not reached until the reign of Elizabeth I. The combined properties of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and Katherine made Suffolk the greatest magnate in Lincolnshire. He added to their properties by purchasing monastic land and built a fine house at Grimsthorpe Castle. His prominence in the county meant Suffolk was instrumental in suppressing the Lincolnshire rebellion in 1536 (part of the Pilgrimage of Grace), a consequence of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Along with her mother, Katherine was an official mourner at the funeral of Katherine of Aragon in 1536. Sadly, it was only 3 years later, in 1539, that Queen Katherine’s former lady-in-waiting, Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby, passed away.
Katherine served at court, in the household of Henry VIII’s sixth and last queen, Katherine Parr. A stalwart of the Protestant learning, Katherine used her position to introduce Protestant clergy to Lincolnshire, even inviting Hugh Latimer to preach and Grimsthorpe Castle. It was she and Sir William Cecil who persuaded Katherine Parr to publish her book, The Lamentacion of a Sinner in 1547.
In the early 1540s Suffolk played a big part in Henry’s wars with France and Scotland; in 1544 he successfully prosecuted the siege of Boulogne and was rewarded in February 1545 with the lands of Tattershall College, which he was allowed to purchase for less than half price.
Amid preparations for another expedition to France, Suffolk died at Guildford in August 1545; the cause of death is not known. He would have been in his early 60s. Suffolk’s son and heir, Henry, was just 10 years old. Katherine was granted his wardship in May 1546, for the sum of £1500 and he was sent to the household of Prince Edward to continue his studies. It must have been a cause of great pride for Katherine when Henry and Charles were both knighted at Edward VI’s coronation, with Henry having the honour of carrying the orb during the ceremony.
In 1549 Henry and Charles were enrolled at St John’s College, Cambridge, in order to finish their education.
It was in the summer of 1551 that an outbreak of sweating sickness struck Cambridge. Henry and Charles moved to Buckden in Huntingdonshire, in a futile attempt to escape the disease. For it was at Buckden, on July 14th 1551, and with their desperate mother moving between the 2 sickbeds, that the boys both passed away within minutes of each other. Charles became the 3rd Duke of Suffolk when he survived his brother by about half an hour. The boys, who had shown great promise at Cambridge, were buried together at Buckden.
Following the deaths of her sons by Suffolk, Katherine no longer had a financial interest in the Suffolk estates, which went to the heirs of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister. However, Katherine still had her own Willoughby estates to look after and in order to safeguard these, Katherine married her gentleman usher, Richard Bertie, in 1552. This marriage appears to have been made for love and with mutual religious beliefs; unfortunately for the couple, Katherine was unsuccessful in her attempts to gain the title of Lord Willoughby for her 2nd husband.
The couple had a difficult time navigating the religious tensions of the age and, during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, in early 1555, even went into exile on the Continent, travelling through Wesel, Strasbourg and Frankfurt. And at the time of Mary’s death, in 1558, they were staying at the court of the king of Poland. They returned to England the following year. During the reign of Elizabeth I, Katherine resumed her position in Tudor society; however, her relations with the court were strained by her tendency towards Puritanism.
Katherine used her position in Lincolnshire and extensive patronage to help disseminate the Puritan teachings. The records of Katherine’s Lincolnshire household show that she employed Miles Coverdale – a prominent critic of the Elizabethan church – as tutor to her two children by Bertie. The couple’s 1st child, a daughter, Susan, was born in 1554 and was still a baby when she went into exile on the continent, with her parents. A son, Peregrine, was born in Wesel in Cleves in 1555, whilst the family was still exiled from England.
Susan went on to marry Reginald Gray of Wrest in 1570. Reginald would be restored to the family title of Earl of Kent in 1572, but died in March 1573. They couple had no children and the Dowager Countess of Kent would marry again in 1581, to Sir John Wingfield, a nephew of the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick. they had 2 sons.
Peregrine Bertie spent his teenage years in the household of Sir William Cecil, a good friend of his mother and Queen Elizabeth’s principal secretary. It was there that he met and fell in love with Mary de Vere, orphaned daughter of John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford. Despite opposition from Katherine and the bride’s brother Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, the couple married sometime in late 1577, or early 1578. The marriage appears to have been happy and loving, and produced 5 sons and a daughter.
Peregrine succeeded as the 13th Baron Willoughby of Willoughby, Beck and Eresby on the death of his mother and would serve Queen Elizabeth, both as a soldier and administrator, until his own death in 1601.
Katherine had been a strong supporter of the Protestant faith; numerous books carried her coat of arms, or were dedicated to her, including works by Erasmus and William Tyndale. The family’s adventures on the continent were retold in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, and even in popular Elizabethan ballads.
Katherine Willoughby, Dowager Duchess of Suffolk and 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby, died after a long illness, on 19th September 1580, at Grimsthorpe Castle. She was interred with a fine, alabaster tomb in Spilsby Church, in her native Lincolnshire. Her husband, Richard, died 2 years later and was buried beside her.
My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.
You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.
Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia
Sources: Susan Wabuda, Oxforddnb.com; Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII; Retha M. Warnicke, Oxforddnb.com; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; Ladies-in-Waiting: Women who Served at the Tudor Court by Victoria Sylvia Evans; The Earlier Tudors 1485-1558 by JD Mackie; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence; Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman.