Mary Tudor suffered several bouts of illness after her return to England. In 1518, Charles Brandon wrote to Thomas Wolsey to tell him that Mary could not leave court because she had an ague (an illness that involved a fever and shivering). Then, in 1520, he wrote to Wolsey again to inform him that “her olde dissesse in her side” (Sadlack 2011) was bothering her and asking if she could come to London to get treatment. Brandon’s letter would suggest that the pain in Mary’s side was a recurring problem. Mary died on 25 June 1533, between seven and eight o’clock in the morning at her home, Westhorpe Hall in Suffolk. In his book Mary Rose, David Loades suggests that the cause of Mary’s death may have been angina. Other theories include tuberculosis. kindney failure and cancer. Another suggestion for the cause of Mary’s death is grief over her brother’s dismissal of Katherine of Aragon and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn. However, it would seem that despite the events of 1533, Mary still loved her brother. She wrote him a letter stating that she “Will be glad to see the King, as she has been a great while out of his sight, and hopes not to be so long again” (Letters and Papers vol. 6, 693).

As Dowager Queen of France and sister of the king, Mary Tudor’s funeral was a lavish affair. Her body was embalmed and for three weeks Mary’s coffin, draped in deep blue or black velvet, lay in state at Westhorpe, candles burning day and night. On 10th July, Henry VIII ordered a Requiem Mass to be held for his sister at Westminster Abbey. A delegation was sent from France and joined the English delegation for Mary’s funeral on 20th July 1533. Mary was interred at Bury St Edmunds and her chief mourner was her daughter Frances, who was accompanied by her husband and by her brother Henry, Earl of Lincoln. Also attending the funeral was Mary’s youngest daughter, Eleanor, and Suffolk’s ward, Katherine Willoughby.

For the journey from Westhorpe to the Abbey Church at Bury St Edmund’s, Mary’s coffin was placed upon a hearse draped in black velvet embroidered with Mary’s arms and her motto “the will of God is sufficient for me”. The coffin was covered in a pall of black cloth of gold and on top of this was an effigy of Mary wearing robes of estate, a crown and a golden sceptre which signified Mary’s status as Dowager Queen of France. The hearse was drawn by six horses wearing black cloth and the coffin was covered by a canopy carried by four of Suffolk’s Knights. Surrounding the coffin, standard bearers carried the arms of the Brandon and Tudor families.

At the head of the procession, walked one hundred torch bearers who comprised members of the local community who were paid and dressed in black for the funeral. Next, came members of the clergy who carried the cross. After them, came the household staff followed by the six horses pulling the hearse. Behind the hearse, came the Knights and other noble men in attendance followed by one hundred of the Duke’s yeomen. Lastly, came Mary’s daughter Frances, the chief mourner, and the other ladies including Eleanor, Katherine Willoughby and Mary’s friends and relatives. Along the way, the funeral procession was joined by other members of the local parishes.

At two o’clock in the afternoon, the coffin was received at Bury St Edmunds by the abbot and the monks. The coffin was then placed before the high altar and surrounded by the mourners in order of precedence, and a mass was said. Afterwards, a supper was held for the noble members of Mary’s funeral entourage.

Eight women, twelve men, thirty yeomen and some of the clergy were appointed to watch over Mary’s body overnight. The next day, a Requiem Mass was sung and Mary’s daughters, her two step daughters, her ward Katherine Willoughby and Katherine’s mother brought forward palls of cloth of gold to the altar. The funeral address was conducted by William Rugg, and the officers of Mary’s household broke their white staffs before finally Mary was interred. Mary’s body lay at peace at Bury St Edmunds until the Abbey was dissolved and she was moved to St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds. In 1784, her remains were disturbed again when her altar monument was removed because it obstructed the approach to the rails of the communion table. Her resting place is now marked by a slab on the floor.

Mary was greatly loved by the people of Suffolk and after her funeral alms of meat, drink and money were given to the poor. As was custom, neither Mary’s brother Henry VIII or her husband attended the funeral. We do not have any record of Suffolk’s feelings regarding the death of his wife of eighteen years. He risked treason charges and the possibility of death by marrying a member of the royal family without the King’s permission, so surely Suffolk must have felt something for his wife. Mary was also remembered by the people of France, who had loved her greatly. Mary Tudor was a fascinating woman, princess, sister of a King, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk. She achieved extraordinary heights throughout her life but sadly passed into relative obscurity.

Mary Tudor Grave from Nathen Amin

Mary Tudor’s grave at St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds. Photo by Nathen Amin.


‘Henry VIII: June 1533, 21-25’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 6, 1533, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1882), pp. 306-313 [accessed 31 March 2015].

Loades, David (2012) Mary Rose, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.

Loades, David, ‘Mary (1496–1533)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 31 March 2015.

Sadlack, Erin (2011) The French Queen’s Letters: Mary Tudor Brandon and the Politics of Marriage in Sixteenth-Century Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

On 30 June 1514 Derard de Pleine wrote to Margaret of Austria regarding Mary’s appearance and personality:

‘Madame the Princess [Mary], until I had seen her several times. I can assure you that she is one of the most beautiful girls that one would wish to see; it does not seem to me that I have ever seen one so beautiful. She has a good manner, and her deportment is perfect in conversation, dancing or anything else. She has no melancholy, but is very lively. I am sure that if you could see her you would never rest until you had her with you. She has been well brought up, and it is certain that Monseigneur has been spoken of favourably to her, for by her words and her manner, as well as by what I have heard from those about her, it seems to me that she loves Monseigneur marvellously. She has a picture, which is a very bad likeness, of him, and there is not a day passes in which she does not wish to see him ten times over, so I have been told; and it appears that if one wishes to please her, one has only to talk of Monseigneur.

I might add that she has a good figure, is well grown, and of medium height, and is a better match in age and person for Monseigneur than I had heard before seeing her, and better than any other Princess whom I know in Christendom. She seems quite young, and does not show that in two years she will be far enough advanced for Likerke and Fontaine.’

De Pleine goes on to say that,

The Princess is so well qualified that I have only to say again that alike in goodness, beauty, and age there is not the like in Christendom.’ (Mumby 1913 p. 254-255).

Previously on 5 February 1512, when Mary was just fifteen years of age, the great humanist scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam, had described her,

‘But O thrice and four times happy our illustrious Prince Charles who is to have such a spouse! Nature never formed anything more beautiful; and she excels no less in goodness and wisdom.’ (Letters & Papers Vol 1. 1050)

The Venetian Ambassador to the English court described Mary as ‘a Paradise—tall, slender, grey-eyed, possessing an extreme pallor.’ (Loades 2012). Thomas More, lawyer, humanist and later Lord High Chancellor of England added to this saying that Mary was ‘bright of hue.’ (Fisher 2002, p. 21).

On 5 March, just before Mary’s eighteenth birthday, Philippe Sieur de Bergilies, ambassador to the court of Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, had the honour of seeing Mary on the first Sunday of Lent, dressed in the Italian fashion. He wrote that ‘never man saw a more beautiful creature, nor one having so much grace and sweetness, in public or private.’ (Richardson 1970, p. 106).

Lorenzo Pasqualigo, wrote to his brothers from London on 23 September 1514 describing Mary as ‘very beautiful, and has not her match in all England, is a young woman 16 years old, tall, fair, and of a light complexion, with a colour, and most affable and graceful.’ (Mumby 1913, p 282 -283.)

Italian chronicler Pietro Martire d’Anghiera described Mary as ‘beautiful without artifice’ and saying that ‘the French couldn’t stop gazing at her because she looked more like an angel than a human creature’. (Carroll 2010).

Then on 2 November 1514, on Mary’s arrival in Abbeville, France, she was described by one observer as,

‘very handsome, and of sufficiently tall stature (de statura honestamente granda). She appears to me rather pale, though this 1 believe proceeds from the tossing of the sea and from her fright. She does not seem a whit more than 16 years old, and looks very well in the French costume. She is extremely courteous and well mannered, and has come in very sumptuous array.’ (Calendar of State Papers Venice, Vol. 2 508).

In a letter written to Antonio Triulzi, the Bishop of Asti regarding Mary’s arrival at Abbeville, the writer promises the bishop that Mary,

‘She is generally considered handsome and well favoured, were not her eyes and eyebrows too light; for the rest it appears to me that nature optime suplevit: she is slight, rather than defective from corpulence, and conducts herself with so much grace, and has such good manners, that for her age of 18 years—and she does not look more—she is a paradise.’ (Calendar of State Papers Venice Vol 2 511).

In another letter written over 8 and 9 November, she is described as,

‘The Queen is said to be from 17 to 18 years old, of handsome presence, not stout, has a beautiful face, and is cheerful.’ (Calendar of State Papers Venice Vol 2, 509).


Marco Antonio Contarini wrote to Mafio Liom, having seen Mary in March 1515 after the death of her husband King Louis XII, that Mary was ‘the most attractive and beautiful woman ever seen.’ (Calendar of State Papers Venice Vol 2 600).

In 1527, Guillaume Gouffier de Bonnivet, Lord Admiral of France, would describe Mary as ‘the rose of Christendom’. (Richardson 1970, p. 205).

Even accounting for flattery it is most certainly undeniable that Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York was one of the most beautiful women of her time.

Mary Tudor by Jean Perreal

A possible portrait of Mary Tudor by Jean Perreal 


Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice
(London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1871).

Carroll, Leslie, Notorious Royal Marriages: A Juicy Journey Through Nine
Centuries of Dynasty, and Desire (New York: New American Library, 2010).

Fisher, Celia, The Queen and the artichoke: A study of the portraits of Mary Tudor
and Charles Brandon (The British Art Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 20-27, 2002).

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509–47,
ed. J. S. Brewer, James Gairdner and R. H. Brodie, (His Majesty’s Stationery
Office, 1862–1932).

Mumby, F, The Youth of Henry VIII: A Narrative in Contemporary Letters
(Boston New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913).

Richardson, Walter C., Mary Tudor The White Queen (Great Britain: University
of Washington Press, 1970).

On June 22nd 1528 tragedy struck. Mary Boleyn’s husband William Carey became gravely ill and sometime during that fateful day he died of the sweating sickness. The sweating sickness had first struck in the 15th century and appeared on and off, one of the worst times being in 1528. The symptoms appeared to be something like influenza or phenomena, with the patient having pains and aches all over the body, headaches, a great thirst and also breaking out in a horrible sweat. Many people that caught the sweat were dead within twenty four hours. It is unknown where William Carey was buried; Alison Weir suggests that it may have been in a mass grave in which others whom had died of the sweat were also buried. This could be plausible considering the fear and worry that existed about catching the sweat during the time. Unfortunately there are no records or details which tell of Mary’s feelings towards the death of her husband. Nonetheless it was a great loss for Mary as she was now a widow with two young children and little means of supporting herself. From this time until 1534 it is difficult to track Mary’s whereabouts and there are very few records as to her activities.

Upon William Carey’s death Mary Boleyn was not only left a widow but she had little means of supporting herself without a husband. In addition to this Josephine Wilkinson in her book “The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress” states that Mary’s father, Thomas Boleyn, turned his back on his oldest daughter as she was no longer mistress to the King and therefore not a means of advancement for the family. One cannot say for certain what Thomas Boleyn’s feelings were regarding his son in laws death or the feelings towards his newly widowed daughter. Perhaps if Mary had once been the mistress of King Francois I of France Thomas was ashamed of her behaviour and that is why he all but disowned her. Or maybe he was upset that she had been unable to hold the attention of the English King for longer. Maybe he was disappointed that Henry VIII did not recognise either of Mary’s children as his bastards. Maybe he saw little prospects of an advantageous marriage for Mary now that she was in her late twenties. Or maybe he simply put his efforts and attention towards his second daughter Anne who was by now the mistress to Henry VIII. Once again this is all speculation and we do not, and perhaps may never, fully understand the reasons why Thomas Boleyn did not willingly support his newly widowed daughter.

The months following her husband’s death must have been a difficult time for Mary. It would appear that Mary appealed to the King for assistance as Henry VIII wrote a letter to his mistress Anne Boleyn, Mary’s sister. In the letter he states that…

“As touching your sister’s matter, I have caused Walter Welze to write to my Lord [Viscount Rochford] my mind therein, whereby I trust that Eve shall not have power to deceive Adam; for surely, whatsoever is said, it cannot so stand with his honour but that he must needs take her his natural daughter now in her extreme necessity” (Wilkinson 2010, p. 114).

In addition to this letter Henry VIII also granted the wardship of Mary’s son Henry Carey, to her sister Anne. Although this may seem unusual for a child to be taken away from his mother in today’s age, it was quite common during the Tudor period. It also meant that Mary no longer had the pressure or financial burden to provide for her son. Instead Mary’s sister, who was in a better financial state as the mistress to the King, would be able to provide a suitable education and upbringing for the young Henry Carey. It is unknown what happened to Katherine Carey, oldest daughter of William and Mary. It is very probable that she stayed with her mother during the period following her father’s death.

Frustratingly we do not know where Mary Boleyn lived during the period following her late husband’s death. In her book “Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings” Alison Weir proposes that Mary returned to her home in Hever Castle. This may have been an awkward time for Mary if she only begrudgingly had the support and assistance from her father. The thoughts and feelings of Elizabeth Boleyn, Mary’s mother, regarding her oldest daughter are unknown. We do not know if she accepted her daughter back with loving arms or if she showed the same cold hostility as her husband did to their oldest child. Once again if only one small record had been left then perhaps a whole new understanding of this time may be relieved!

No word is made of Katherine but it is presumed that she stayed to be raised by her mother, quite possibly at Hever Castle. Mary was luckily granted an annuity of £100 on December 10th 1528 by the King which had previously been granted to her husband. This provided Mary with a financial means to support herself and her young daughter.

William Cary


Castelli, J, ‘Sir William Stafford of Grafton’, viewed 25th November 2011, Available from internet <;.

Weir, A 2001, Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings, Ballantine Books, New York.

Wilkinson, J 2010, Mary Boleyn The True Story of Henry VIII’s Favourite Mistress, Amberly Publishing, Gloucestershire.

21st June 1529: Katherine of Aragon’s Famous Speech

On this day in history Queen Katherine of Aragon gave a passionate speech to her husband King Henry VIII at the Legatine Court at Blackfriars. The Legatine Court was set up to examine the validity of King Henry VIII’s marriage to Queen Katherine of Aragon. The court was presided over by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey from England and Cardinal Campeggio, the Popes representative from Rome. At the opening of the court Henry VIII declared his love for Katherine but also his concerns about the validity of their marriage as he felt he had disobeyed God by marrying his brother’s widow. When it came turn for Katherine to speak she did not stand and defend herself to the Court, instead she went to Henry and fell to her knees before him saying….

“Sir, I beseech you for all the love that hath been between us, and for the love of God, let me have justice. Take of me some pity and compassion, for I am a poor woman, and a stranger born out of your dominion. I have here no assured friends, and much less impartial counsel…

Alas! Sir, wherein have I offended you, or what occasion of displeasure have I deserved?… I have been to you a true, humble and obedient wife, ever comfortable to your will and pleasure, that never said or did anything to the contrary thereof, being always well pleased and contented with all things wherein you had any delight or dalliance, whether it were in little or much. I never grudged in word or countenance, or showed a visage or spark of discontent. I loved all those whom ye loved, only for your sake, whether I had cause or no, and whether they were my friends or enemies. This twenty years or more I have been your true wife and by me ye have had divers children, although it hath pleased God to call them out of this world, which hath been no default in me…

When ye had me at first, I take God to my judge, I was a true maid, without touch of man. And whether it be true or no, I put it to your conscience. If there be any just cause by the law that ye can allege against me either of dishonesty or any other impediment to banish and put me from you, I am well content to depart to my great shame and dishonour. And if there be none, then here, I most lowly beseech you, let me remain in my former estate… Therefore, I most humbly require you, in the way of charity and for the love of God – who is the just judge – to spare me the extremity of this new court, until I may be advised what way and order my friends in Spain will advise me to take. And if ye will not extend to me so much impartial favour, your pleasure then be fulfilled, and to God I commit my cause!”

After her speech, instead of returning to her seat Queen Katherine of Aragon turned and left the court ignoring the calls for her to return. Apparently as she left Katherine stated that “On, on, it makes no matter, for it is no impartial court for me, therefore I will not tarry. Go on.”

Talk about a brave woman!

Catherine of Aragon Legatine Court

On the 22nd April 1515 Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk wrote a desperate letter to Henry VIII pledging his loyalty and service after his secret marriage to Henry’s sister, Mary Tudor. Brandon believed that the English Council was out to destroy him and metaphorically throws himself at Henry’s feet promising to endure any punishment that the king wished of him.

‘Most gracious Sovereign Lord, So it is that I am informed divers ways that all your whole council, my Lord of York excepted, with many other, are clearly determined to tympe your grace that I may either be put to death or put in prison, and so to be destroyed. Alas, Sir, I may say that I have a hard fortune, seeing that there was never none of them in trouble but I was glad to help them to my power, and that your grace knows best. And now that I am in this none little trouble and sorrow, now they are ready to help to destroy me. But, Sir, I can no more but God forgive them whatsoever comes to me; for I am determined. For, Sir, your grace is he that is my sovereign lord and master, and he that hath brought me up out of nought; and I am your subject and servant, and he that hath offended your grace in breaking my promise that I made your grace touching the queen your sister; for the which I, with most humble heart, will yield myself into your grace’s hands to do with my poor body your gracious pleasure, not fearing the malice of them; for I know your grace of such nature that it cannot lie in their powers to cause you to destroy me for their malice. But what punishment I have I shall thank God and your grace of it, and think that I have well deserved it, both to God and your grace; as knows our Lord, who send your grace your most honourable heart’s desire with long life, and me most sorrowful wretch your gracious favour, what sorrows soever I endure therefor. At Mottryll, the 22nd day of April, by your most humble subject and servant, CHARLES SUFFOLKE.’

Brandon had not have worried, the couple returned home ten days later landing at Dover on the 2nd of May. They were met by Henry VIII and a great retinue at nearby Birling House. The King warmly greeted the couple and accepted his younger sister’s explanation that it was her that was responsible for the marriage and not Brandon. Charles Brandon and Mary were married for a third time at Greenwich on the 13th of May in front of Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon, firmly back in the King’s favour.

Master of the Brandon Portrait

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk