England,  ER,  Western Europe

Elizabeth and Mary- Were there ever such devoted sisters

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

The relationship between Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Tudor was complex to say the least. Mary had been the cherished only living child of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, and the presumed heiress of England. Then Henry VIII’s lust for a legitimate son and his wife’s beautiful maid of honor, Anne Boleyn, turned Mary’s world upside down. Her honors and titles were stripped along with any friendly adherents, her Lady Governess and tutors. Instead of being Princess of Wales, as she was named by Henry in 1525, Mary was declared a bastard child of an incestuous marriage and sent to serve her younger half sister. The same younger half sister who was supplanting her in inheritance and her father’s affection. She was even denied the company of her mother, and Katherine died before Mary could tell her goodbye. Mary would have been justified to resent or even hate her younger half sister, but incredibly a fondness developed between the two of them. Mary lavished attention and gifts on Elizabeth in her childhood and praised her precocious wit. Mary wrote to her father saying, “My sister Elizabeth is in good health and, thanks be to Our Lord, such a child toward as I doubt not Your Highness shall have cause to rejoice of in time coming.’

However, as Elizabeth grew older the old quarrel that divided their mothers’ began to rear its ugly head between the two sisters. Elizabeth grew to be a coquette like Anne Boleyn, and that could not help but stir painful memories for Mary. Elizabeth also had been raised in the New Learning, where Mary was staunchly of the Old Faith. Mary often remarked in private that she doubted Elizabeth was Henry’s child remarking, “{she} has the face and countenance of Mark Smeaton”, one of the men accused of adultery with Anne Boleyn. The only one accused who was not of noble blood as it would happen. Elizabeth would only remark their differences stemmed from religion. That had to have been a part of it, but there was probably more underneath it. In any case, they were dangerous rivals.

When Mary came to the throne, Elizabeth was given a place of honor. She attended the coronation in glittering white behind the new

Elizabeth I in coronation robes by Unknown- Photo Credit- The National Portrait Gallery
Elizabeth I in coronation robes by Unknown- Photo Credit- The National Portrait Gallery

ly crowned queen. Soon relations between the two began to deteriorate. The ever present ambassadors from the Imperial Court of Charles V of Spain, Simon Renard and Jehan Scheyfve, warned that Elizabeth’s popularity with the people was dangerous. Mary was in the mood to be generous, but it did get her thinking. Elizabeth was the heir presumptive until Mary had a child of her own, and Mary was past the childbearing age of the time. She could not bear to see her kingdom, which she was working diligently to reconcile with Rome, left to a heretic. Mary began to mount the pressure on Elizabeth to formally convert. Elizabeth did go to mass but under duress claiming illness and clutching her stomach in pain, but it was enough for Mary….for the time being.

When Mary decided to marry Philip of Spain, the men of Kent rose in rebellion at the thought of a foreign marriage. The stated goal was they were going to save the Queen from her “evil advisors”. The underlying goal was thought to be to depose Mary and put Elizabeth on the throne. The rebellion failed, but Elizabeth was now in hot water. She was questioned and cross questioned, until on March 17, 1554 the men of the privy council arrived to take her to the tower. She begged for the opportunity to plead her case Mary via letter. The lords consented, and she spun out a letter until the tide had turned and they could not sail. The second page of her letter was nearly blank, but she was obviously afraid to leave it so. Anything could be forged under her signature. So she hastily marked it out with cross hatches and signed the bottom. The lords duly delivered the letter to Mary and explained the delay and she reacted with fury. She raged, “Such a thing would never have been allowed in my father’s time. I would he could come back, if only for a month, and give my counselors the rebuke they richly deserve.” Elizabeth left for the tower the next day.

The “Miraculous Preservation of the Lady Elizabeth, now Queen of England”, has her sitting on the tower steps in the rain refusing to go in because Traitors Gate was not fit for a princess to enter. Punching a hole in that bit of propaganda, David Starkey points out they could not have used Traitors Gate as it was low tide. However, I still enjoy the image of the legend with the terrified princess sitting in the rain, the men at arms weeping and doffing their caps, then she rises with newfound courage and says, “Here landeth as true a subject, being prisoner, as ever landed at these stairs. Before Thee, O God, do I speak it, having no other friend than Thee alone.” Where ever she entered, Elizabeth must have been terrified. Her mother had met her end here as well as so many others. It must have felt as though their spirits huddled close to her as she walked in the gates and heard them clang behind her. Not to know if she would ever walk out.