Mary Tudor has always been known as ‘Bloody Mary’, the name given to her by later Protestant chroniclers who vilified her for attempting to re-impose Roman Catholicism in England. Although a more nuanced picture of the first queen regnant has since emerged, she is still stereotyped, depicted as a tragic and lonely figure, personally and politically isolated after the annulment of her parents’ marriage and rescued from obscurity only through the good offices of Katherine Parr.
Although Henry doted on Mary as a child and called her his ‘pearl of the world’, her determination to side with her mother over the annulment both hurt him as a father and damaged perceptions of him as a monarch commanding unhesitating obedience. However, once Mary had finally been pressured into compliance, Henry reverted to being a loving father and Mary played an important role in court life.
As Melita Thomas points out, Mary was a gambler – and not just with cards. Later, she would risk all, including her life, to gain the throne. As a young girl of just seventeen she made the first throw of the dice, defiantly maintaining her claim to be Henry’s legitimate daughter against the determined attempts of Anne Boleyn and the king to break her spirit.
Following the 500th anniversary of Mary’s birth, The King’s Pearl re-examines Mary’s life during the reign of Henry VIII and her complex, dramatic relationship with her father.
The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and his Daughter Mary by Melita Thomas is an in-depth look into the life of Mary I, in her formative years. It tells the story of England’s first queen regnant, during the life and reign of her father, Henry VIII.
This is a wonderful book, giving an insight into the years of Mary’s life which are rarely considered, when she went from being a pampered princess of two adoring parents to an adolescent declared a bastard by her own father. The author paints the picture of a young woman who had gone through more trials and emotions imposed by her father than any daughter should have to bear. The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and his Daughter Mary evokes sympathy and understanding for the extremes of life experiences that Mary I had to endure, once her parents’ marriage had broken down. From being denied the company of her mother, the attention of her father to being bullied and belittled, in fear of imprisonment, and worse.
On St George’s Day 1527, the French ambassadors went to see Mary at Greenwich. After dinner, Henry led them into a hall in which Mary, Katharine and the French queen were present, with a large comapny of ladies and gentlemen. The proud father told the ambassadors to speak to his daughter in Latin, French and Italian, and she was able to respond in all three languages. She also wrote in French for them, before performing on the spinet. The ambassadors agreed the young lady was very accomplished for her age, which was eleven years and two months. Contrary to the previous description of her as tall, Turenne thought although she was very pretty, she was so ‘thin, spare, and small’, that she could not possibly be married for another three years. From the opposing descriptions of her, we can perhaps infer that none of them is terribly accurate – those who wanted her to be considered ready for marriage described her as tall and robust, while those who wished to delay matters spoke of her as small.
Every aspect of Mary’s early life is examined in detail, from her pampered childhood, surrounded by courtiers and loving parents, to the loneliness of an out-of-favour, illegitimate daughter. Her various marriage prospects are a constant theme throughout the book, demonstrating how Mary was used as a bargaining chip in Henry VIII’s constant diplomatic wranglings between Francis I of France and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.
Melita Thomas’ research is impeccable, her arguments and theories are backed up by primary sources, including memoirs, letters and treaties. The focus is entirely on Mary, her relationships with her family and courtiers and the way her father’s policies and marriages affected her life. It examines every aspect of Mary’s life in impeccable detail; her education, court life, her relationships, health and daily routine. It is a sad tale, of a father who demanded absolute obedience, and never considered the consequences of his actions on the mental well-being of his children.
Well-written and beautifully presented, The King’s Pearl: Henry VIII and his Daughter Mary, is a perfect and essential addition to any Tudor library.
About the author
Melita Thomas is a co-founder and editor of Tudor Times, a website devoted to Tudor and Stewart history. Her articles have appeared in BBC History Extra an Britain magazine. The King’s Pearl is available from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. and will be available from Amazon US from 1st June 2018.
Heroines of the Medieval World, is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018. It can also be ordered worldwide from Book Depository.
©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly