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’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 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol6/pp306-313 [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 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18251, 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.