The Life and Historical Reputation of Mary Tudor

Chapter 2 : An Idyllic Childhood

Katharine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s Spanish wife, was 31 years old when Mary was born and might have been expected to produce more children. Certainly her husband hoped so, but Katharine’s gynaecological history was depressing. She and Henry had been married nearly seven years and during that time she had endured four miscarriages, one stillbirth and the death of a son at the age of six weeks. Mary was to be the only one of their children that survived. As such, she was much-cherished.

Though given her own household, as befitted a royal child, she was often in her parents’ company and both seem to have been very fond of her. Given what befell her subsequently, her childhood, or certainly the first ten years of it, seems almost idyllic. Her education was supervised by her mother and she proved an apt pupil. Mary was raised by humanist educators, reflecting the intellectual fashion of the times. She was a competent Latin scholar and a good linguist in general, as well as being very musical, which pleased her father.

Her first public engagement by herself came at the tender age of four when she received visiting French diplomats while her parents were away in France at the famous meeting between Henry VIII and François I near Calais, known as the Field of Cloth of Gold. Mary, guided by the Duchess of Norfolk and her own lady governess, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, acquitted herself in exemplary manner. At Richmond, she entertained her guests

with the most goodly countenance, proper communication and pleasant pastime in playing at the virginals.’

And all this because, at the age of two and a half, she had been betrothed to the Dauphin of France. As she had not accompanied her parents across the Channel, the French had been anxious to ascertain that their future King’s prospective bride did not suffer from some defect which Henry VIII wished to conceal. Of course, such betrothals were the stuff of foreign policy and no one took them especially seriously as a long-term commitment.

Little did the young princess know that she would never marry during her father’s lifetime or that her first fiancé would die years before she did. Princesses were diplomatic fodder and Henry was more than happy to offer his daughter’s hand to her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, just two years later.