Mary Tudor and Philip- Another match made in hell

Painting of Mary and Philip at Sudeley Castle Photo Credit-
Painting of Mary and Philip at Sudeley Castle Photo Credit-

Mary Tudor was going to be a royal spinster. Under her father’s pronouncement of bastardy, no Catholic prince would have her, and she would take no Protestant suitor. She seemed doomed to live her life alone, bereft of husband and family that she longed for. Then a miracle happened. In 1553, she ascended the throne of England after her brother’s death and the usurpation of Jane Dudley nee Grey. At the age of 37, she became the hottest property on the marriage market of Europe.

Several candidates had been suggested for the Queen’s hand, including Edward Courtenay, the Earl of Devon, who had just been released from the tower. However, Charles V, Mary’s devious cousin and King of Spain, had other ideas. He instructed his special envoy, Simon Renard, to request a private audience with the Queen and formally offer her Philip of Spain’s hand in marriage. Philip was Charles’ son and was ten years Mary’s junior. He thought the match was a good one politically, but was less than enthusiastic personally. However, the prospect of a solidly Catholic husband to provide Mary with the desperately needed Catholic male heir was very appealing to her. Unless she had a child, England’s heir was her half sister Elizabeth. Besides being very Protestant, Mary also had doubts that they were even sisters. She swore that Elizabeth was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and her lute-player, Mark Smeaton. She told her ladies in waiting often that Elizabeth had his ‘face and countenance’.

Philip II of Spain by Titian Photo Credit- Wikipedia
Philip II of Spain by Titian Photo Credit- Wikipedia

When rumors of the Spanish marriage hit the xenophobic English court, they were not pleased with the prospect of a foreign husband for Mary. Stephen Gardiner lead a deputation made up of members of both Houses of Parliament to convince Mary marry an Englishman. Renard was afraid that Mary would bow to pressure and abandon the idea. He should not have worried. When presented with a portrait of Philip, she declared she was ‘half in love’ already.

Despite the misgivings of the English court and rumblings of rebellion it caused, the marriage took place at Winchester Cathedral on July 25, 1554. Philip and Mary had only met two days prior and Philip spoke no English. Mary was delighted with her new husband and ‘very lovingly, yea, and most joyfully, received him.’ Philip returned the affection with good grace, but from the reactions of his courtiers we can only imagine what he thought. Ruy Gomez, Philip’s closest friend and adviser, said Mary is ‘rather older than we had been told. She is not at all beautiful and is small and flabby rather than fat. She is of white complexion and fair, and has no eyebrows.’ He went onto say she ‘dresses badly’ and had lost most of her teeth. It is a fair assumption that these were Philip’s thoughts as well as he most certainly confided in Gomez. Not the most flattering description of your future wife.

"Maria Tudor" by Antonis Mor - Photo Credit- Museo del Prado Catalog
“Maria Tudor” by Antonis Mor – Photo Credit- Museo del Prado Catalog

This seemed to set the tone for the rest of their marriage, as Mary was head over heels for Philip and him seeing her as a political ally. Their marriage was a difficult one and Mary died pining for him several years later. A tragic end to a marriage that brought her so much hope.  (For more on Mary’s marriage with Philip, please see this post: )


Sources available on request