Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Family Feuds: Anne Boleyn and Mary Tudor

The above video comes from a beautifully-made series of online videos by Owen George Emmerson about the historiography of Anne Boleyn and this one in particular chronicles the notorious feud between Anne and her stepdaughter, the future Mary I. I tend to think that Anne's policy of hostility came after Mary's rejection of a peace between them, rather than being the sandwich before and after the rejection, as Owen argues here. I'm also fairly sceptical about the claims that Anne had instinctively disliked Mary from the get-go and think that it's only after 1533 that we can begin to see Anne even taking much notice of Mary, presumably because with the birth of Elizabeth, Mary now formed a potential threat which Anne was anxious to neutralise. That she failed to do so is hardly surprising and I think Anne consistently underestimated how strongly Mary felt about her. Certainly, she seemed utterly surprised by the virulence of Mary's reactions and, predictably, that surprise turned into anger. In any case, Owen's video focuses primarily on the feud from Mary's point-of-view, so it is obviously going to focus more on the hostilities, rather than the failed peace initiatives. My own gut instinct is that the role of Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, in all this has been consistently downplayed and that, in fact, his influence over Mary was both malign and unhelpful and probably helped to trigger the worst results of her flamboyant moods and tragic psychosomatic illnesses, which Owen discusses here. All things considered, however, I'm a big fan of this video and couldn't agree more with Owen's conclusion that it was Henry who was the author of Mary's misfortunes, not Anne.

For Anne Boleyn's own reflections on her relationship with Mary at the end of her life, read here.


  1. I agree that this is great, but what I really wish someone would delve into more is why the elder Mary Tudor and Anne didn't get along. Was it just because Mary was understandably loyal to Catherine or did something in particular happen between Anne and Mary? If it's the latter then I feel like history is missing out on a classic cat fight.

  2. Mary's point-of-view is, I think, fairly understandable, in that - as you say - she was Katherine's daughter, Anne was Katherine's replacement. Mary had not seen much of her mother prior to their separation in 1531 and so Katherine assumed almost saintly, iconic status in Mary's head and so any amount of compromise with her supplanter was basically a fundamental "no" for Mary, even if basic human sentiment wasn't factored into it. (After all, who easier to blame for the break-up of their parents' marriage than the new wife?) I think that as time went on, Henry's actions against his daughter grew so strict that blaming Anne became a necessary psychological defence for Mary, lest she be forced to admit that the father she idolised was capable of such cruelties himself. Moreover, with the hysterical and intrigue-loving Chapuys constantly whispering rumours of poison in her ear, it's not easy to see why Mary's hatred of Anne turned into something so imbalanced and virulent.

    Anne's attitude is a good deal more difficult to figure out, because none of her confidantes wrote down her thoughts on the matter, unlike Mary, who had Chapuys as her faithful chronicler. There are some great cat fight one-liners from Mary, when she answered invitations from Anne to meet by referring to her as her father's mistress or greeting her by the title "Madam" rather "Your Majesty," "Your Grace" or, even, "The Lady Anne." In one dispute, a friend of Anne's saw Mary curtseying outside the Chapel in Anne's general direction and she immediately reported this to Anne, who seemed mortified that she hadn't noted Mary's gesture and also thrilled that it had finally happened. Mary sent back a stingingly bitchy report deriding the Queen's pretensions and pointing out that she had actually been curtseying to the Host - "to her Maker and to mine." And that she couldn't have been curtseying to the Queen in any case, because the only Queen in England was Katherine and she was miles away!

    I think Anne was frightened by what Mary's claims might do to Elizabeth's security and that she was also piqued by Mary's refusal to fall to her famous charm offensive, which deployed with almost military precision against the unresponsive princess for most of 1535 and early 1536.

  3. Actually, I was referring to Mary Tudor Brandon. It sounds like there was some bad blood there and I've wondered if it was just because Catherine must have been something of a mother figure to Mary or because something nasty happened between Mary and Anne later.

    For Anne and the younger Mary, it's not really that different from other step-relationships - it's just that they were under a microscope and the stakes were much higher.

  4. My apologies. I thought you meant Mary Tudor as an adult.

    There's no real evidence that Katherine of Aragon acted as a sort of mother figure for the young Princess Mary. She was seldom at Court between 1509 and the time of her marriage and prior to that, between the time of the death of Mary's own mother in 1503 and Katherine becoming queen, they almost never saw each other. The surrogate mother figure in Mary's life was probably one Lady Guildford. Put simply, I think Mary was fond of Katherine and loyal to her, but that basic snobbery also played a major part in how she felt about Anne becoming first lady and outranking Mary herself at Court. Professor Ives in his 2004 bio of Anne, however, hypothesises that Anne may have disapproved of Mary's elopement with the Duke of Suffolk and Mary never forgave her for her prim disapproval.

  5. Well, if Anne was born in 1507 as you've hypothesized it's hard to imagine Mary holding such a grudge for a 7-year old's disapproval.

    Snobbery seems more likely, but since I like both women, I'd like to think that there was some nastiness on both sides - again, understandable, some people just don't like each other.

  6. I totally agree with you about Henry being responsible for the ill treatment of Mary and the damaged person she became. Yes, Anne was the "other woman" and there was a very difficult relationship between her and Mary, but Henry was the one who treated Katherine of Aragon so abominably and who then used threats to get Mary to sign the oath of sucession. Poor Mary.


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