There’s a well-known conversation starter that goes: If you could share a meal with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
For years my response was, Diana, Princess of Wales for I always believed that it would be an awe-inspiring opportunity to simply be in her presence. It would also grant me the honour of telling her how amazing her sons turned out to be – she should be so proud. My heart breaks a little more whenever I think that she’ll never meet her grandchildren; she would have been such a loving and devoted grandmother.
Now, after studying Tudor England for the last few months, I feel I may alter my response. I’ve become absolutely fascinated by the Tudor family – a royal story with little historical comparison. Their ancestral tale is riddled with all kinds of drama, much like modern families, but with a lot more bloodshed. I suspect many would assume I’d want to tea with the infamous Anne Boleyn; break bread with the great Queen Elizabeth I or her desperate cousin, Mary Queen of Scots; or even dine with the iconic King himself (Henry VIII) – you know, the usual cast of characters. I’d contend, however, that the most fascinating person of the Tudor period, and one who I think is often unfairly overlooked, is Henry’s first born, Lady Mary.
Mary, dubbed forever in the history books as “Bloody Mary”, was completely shunned by her larger than life father solely on the grounds that she was born a girl. When Henry started his campaign to have his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, he all but brushed Mary off. He called her a bastard child as, thanks to him marrying the wife of his dead brother, he believed he was essentially childless in the eyes of God as he had not yet fathered a surviving male heir. And although Mary was Henry’s legitimate child, under the law of succession, she could not rightfully inherit the royal throne – she was “damaged” because she was born female.
Even though Mary did go on to become Queen after the death of her half brother King Edward, she was scrutinized and criticized by almost everyone. She took the crown in her late thirties, by which time she was bitter and angry and, not surprising to me, had adopted many of her father’s cynical and tyrant-like traits. Not as much history has been written about Mary when compared to her father and half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I yet, I would argue, Mary’s story is more than worth telling. No doubt she carried a lot of hurt and resentment at being dealt a lifetime of BS thanks to the ego of her father. I think she is a victim that time forgot. If I were able to sit down and have a meal with her I’d ask her how she managed to get through her father’s unrelenting reign of supremacy and to tell me stories about her mother and what type of woman she was.
While I’ve learned a great deal about English history in the past couple of months, I would argue it’s the events that transpired between the lines which are most intriguing of all. In my eyes, Mary Tudor exemplifies this point.