In the space of two months, the Lord has thrown her into the deepest pit of darkness, trying the fortitude of her soul, before reaching down and placing her onto the highest throne she could obtain on this earthly plane.
The death of her saint mother, in near poverty, living in a place nowhere fit for the rightful Queen of England, had been such a hard blow that she had thought she wouldn’t be able to handle it, even more so when she had learned that her father – her father! – had celebrated, him and the Concubine wearing yellow at court –
and her father the King had been knocked from his horse during the celebratory jousts –
and he had died.
Had agonized for near a week. Oh, she had learned all about it, in the weeks afterwards – how his physicians had thought he would wake up, after the first few days, and how his situation has worsened, placing his fate in the hands of the Lord, and how the Concubine had miscarried at such news, and how her allies, followers of the True Faith, still present on her father’s council, had decided to take the future of England into their hands.
The Duke of Suffolk had ridden to Hatfield as soon as her father had breathed his last, carrying the royal seal in his inner pocket, and had made a show of honoring her as the new Queen of England. The Earl of Wiltshire had accompanied him, foolishly thinking there would be a regency for her bastard half-sister, but he had been put in his place by men far worthier than he could ever hope to be –
and she is queen.
Queen Mary I of England.
As it should be.
She is quick to take her rightful place on the throne, exiling the Boleyns and their allies into the countryside, the Concubine in the Tower to heal from her miscarriage – all stripped away from titles and lands they never deserved – accompanied by the heretic Cranmer, and Cromwell as well, all those men who had lead her father astray, breaking the sanctity of a marriage blessed by the Lord himself, and guiding the realm into perdition.
But the Lord had seen fit for such trials to end.
It is her duty to mend the broken, sacred bond between the crown and her people. It is her duty to purge the kingdom from the heresy spreading, encouraged by men falsely pretending to share the word of God, but in truth spreading the lies of the devil. It is her duty to protect her lands from the attacks and desires of their enemies. It is her duty to guide and protect, to love and to cherish, to nurture her people and her lands, and make sure they flourish under her rule.
And this is what she decides to do.
The Lord gives her signs, to make sure she understands her accession to the throne is blessed. The last winter months are a cold, but sunny matter, more than encouraging for the next harvests. It rains frequently, but only during the nights. Her people may roam without obstacles to attend to their business, be it from the poorest peasant to the wealthier lord of the realm. She receives letters of congratulations from her fellow Christian rulers – her cousin the Holy Roman Emperor, His Holiness of course, the Most Christian King of France, the rulers of the Italian city-states – and her nobles bend the knee in front of her.
She is careful as she gets to work. She leans on the Imperial Ambassador to head his advices on the men filling her court, to know who sympathized with her and who favored the Concubine, but also leans on her cousin Lady Margaret Douglas, who knows about the heart of women as well, knew what was happening in the antechambers of the throne.
She fills her retinue with women she trusts – her cousins, Margaret and Frances and Eleanor, and her beloved staff, who suffered much from the disbandment of her household, when she was sent to Hatfield, and new women, whose spirit she is quick to judge, and deems worthy of her presence. There is Anne Stanhope, whom she knows to favor new ideas, and Catherine Parr as well, and the Duchess of Suffolk comes too, from time to time. Those ladies are all aware of the urgent need for reform in the Church, but recognizes the holiness of the Pope, and the sacraments as well. Most of all, they share her sharp mind and quick wit, love to dance and to dress as well, are as fond of games as she is. HatfieldH
She wants a lively court, one that lives in accordance to the principles of the Bible, and this must show in her household. There is a fine equilibrium to strike between old friends and new allies, old supporters and people who care more about their own interests, above everything else, but she has been taught to deal with such choices since her youth, and is glad to be able to put these lessons in practice once more.
She rejoices in the presence of her family and friends, whose kindred spirits are a balm on her soul after those years of suffering at Hatfield. Margaret is her confidante once more, a trusted presence always at her side, giving her all the pieces and bits of knowledge she could not expect to have, after so many years spent among enemies. Her cousin symbolizes comfort and reassurance, and she draws some strength from her, from that Tudor temper that is so familiar.
She makes numerous changes to the Privy Council – their Graces the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk remain there, for they were primordial in her accession to the throne and are familiar with the inner workings of the realm, but the Boleyns and their allies’ exile from court leave many spots vacant. Nicholas Carew joins the Council, among others, and she tentatively gives a chance to Edward Seymour, on the word of the Duke of Suffolk, under whom he had served during the French campaigns. These men are bound to serve her and the realm, but she is well-aware that they also all serve their own interests. As long as those align with England’s, then she will tolerate their maneuverers and plots, but she will not tolerate incompetence.
The most pregnant thorn in her side she must deal with, in those early weeks, mourning her parents and basking in her God-appointed duty, is that of Thomas Cromwell. She knows her late godfather Cardinal Wolsey, may he rest in peace, thought highly of him, and she is aware he knows the inner workings of the kingdom better than anyone else, but she cannot ignore that he was instrumental in breaking her parents’ marriage and making a bastard out of her. She has to decide whether to begin her reign with blood or with charity, and ponders over the heavenly virtues before reaching a decision. All four cardinal virtues must come in hand when dealing with such an issue, and she tasks Thomas Cromwell with writing a full report on the state of the realm before her accession to the throne, to compare it with what her council informed her of. His work alone is better than what her councilors could come with, and she has him coming to court, in chains, summarizing his report and begging for her mercy in front of a packed assembly, noting who basks at the spectacle and who remains impassible.
Fortune’s wheel is ever changing and she has to know who can put the good of the realm above their own particular interests.
She knows both Norfolk and Suffolk would rather not see him back at court, but where her uncle is honest with her and outright says that Cromwell is dedicated to the crown without hiding his personal distaste of the man, Norfolk is haughty and scornful, and belittles Cromwell’s accomplishments. Neither of them tells her what to do with the man – a low-born son of a blacksmith – but both point out his sympathies for heretics. She has him tried in front of a religious court, and watches thoughtfully as he cannot be convinced of heresy, no matter how sympathetic he comes across for reformist ideas, and makes up her mind.
Cromwell will be given one chance – and one only – to help rule the kingdom, and it will be the block for him if he fails.
Her courtiers whisper of her mercy – hide their disdain at her foolishness, welcoming back a snake in her breast – but she knows that Cromwell knows to whom he owes his survival. Fortunes are made and destroyed by the crown, she is the living incarnation of it, and it is enough that he will be kept in line, especially as George Boleyn is tried for heresy and exiled, his father grounded to his lands, and the Concubine thrown in a nunnery as soon as she is fit to travel. Elizabeth is placed in the care of Mistress Stafford, who follows her husband back to court when Mary finds him a position among the guards. As a soldier, protecting his sovereign is part of his duties, and she can keep an eye on her half-sister that way, making sure that her mind isn’t spoiled by her aunt. Mary Stafford knows what is expected of her, and doesn’t cause any trouble. By the end of the year, the Staffords are granted the title of Lord and Lady, for it fits Elizabeth’s status better that way.
Cranmer is tried for heresy, recants, is stripped of his cardinal hat by the Curia, and has a choice between living quietly in the countryside or leaving England – never to return. She lets him sail away and decides to make Stephen Gardiner Archbishop of Canterbury, for his religious views align with hers.
Her coronation takes place by summer. She is hailed as a renaissance for England, the Virgin Queen saving the realm from the heresy that plagued it, whose role on the throne is to right the wrongs that took place under her father’s reign. She knows the royal coffers are empty, and must work on it to make sure English finances are finally secure – war is the farthest thing from her mind. The old enemy is battling its own troubles, she is not to help her Imperial cousin, and this is the fight for her subjects’ soul that has all her attention.
Blessed be the fruits of her reign, this is the prayer that resonates at her coronation, and she knows what is expected of her, as the mother of the realm.
Here comes the question of her wedding, and although she had dreamed of an Imperial match as a girl, and knows that, had the king done his duty as her father when she was younger, a French match would have been the best alliance for her, such options are no more possible when she becomes Queen.
She has to choose.
Her council protests at the idea of an imperial match, be it from Portugal or from Flanders, from Savoy or from Italy. She refuses to even consider French options – be it the de Guise or the Lorraine, none of them appeal to her. It won’t be someone from her own nobility either – she needs to strengthen England’s position in Europe, not have her realm cower on itself.
She follows her grandparents’ footsteps. On her mother side, it had meant uniting Castile and Aragon. On her father’s side, it had meant blending York and Lancaster in a new Tudor line, Plantagenet blood coming back to itself rather than being spilled on the battlefield, rather than children disappearing from the Tower, never to be seen again. Scotland requires a papal dispensation, as James is her cousin, but His Holiness is too relieved at the perspective of a Catholic marriage, an alliance to purge the British Isles of the heresy spreading there, that he doesn’t think to refuse it.
Of course, Margaret is very much in favor of that particular alliance, almost giddy with excitation about it, but Mary only watches her with amusement, knowing full well that her cousin is very much in love with the younger brother of the Duke of Norfolk. She has to decide whether that marriage will come to pass, and decides to let love rein freely. It is celebrated one year after her accession to the throne and she cannot help but smile at the happiness that surrounds her closest friend and confidante.
The wedding requires months of negotiations and preparations. Both participants enter it willingly, knowing that the union of the crown will be born from it, but there are separations to be kept, until their issue comes of age. She is the Queen regnant of England, and James V of Scotland is to be her Prince Consort, with no power in English affairs, no matter his Tudor blood. On the other hand, she is to be queen consort of Scotland, not to weight on its government’s decisions either. Those delimitations are heavy work for their lawyers and statesmen, but it gives them ample time to strike a correspondence et become familiar with one another.
She delights in his courtship – eighteen months of it. James visits England twice, for three months each time, and she goes to Scotland once, for three months as well. This is her first official visit and she is happy to see her aunt, of whom she didn’t have any memories, but the highlight is of course the tender court James pays her.
They marry in October 1537 and it is the most joyful celebrations the realm has known since the wedding and joint coronation of her parents. This marriage is made in good faith, their people agree to it – more or less reluctantly, but all know what is expected to come of it. Their joint courts spend the winter months in York – a compromise, between Edinburgh and London, as the rest of their lives are bound to be.
It is, for Mary, the most joyful time of her life so far – Queen regnant, happily married to a man she loves and who loves her as well, her council working in her stead for the good of the realm above their own selfish interests. Oh, she knows James strays and has other lovers, but he is discreet, and doesn’t pick them among her ladies, nor even among her court. He prefers Scottish roses for his adventures, and makes sure to end the last one as their wedding finally takes place. He has eyes only for her, when they are together, and a great passion binds them together.
She knows she ought to practice temperance in her marriage – restraint, self-control, moderation in the appetition – as in the rest of her life, but she cannot resist the temptations of the flesh. And why should she? She is married, loves her husband, who knows his way around a woman’s body, and all expect of her to bear children and give their union an heir. It is known that a woman’s pleasure in bed is more conductive to childbearing, and both James and her are very dedicated to that outcome. They remain in York together and, on the first anniversary of their marriage, as it is now obvious she is pregnant, spend more time there until the birth.
Prince James, future King of the united Crowns of England and Scotland, is born in May 1539, after eighteen hours of labor that leave Mary exhausted and in need of weeks of rest before being able to attend the kingdom’s business again. Her son – her son! her firstborn, and a son! – is probably her greatest victory until then. It is celebrated all across the British Isles, and satisfaction never leaves her again.
In the most uncharitable part of her mind, she spits on her father’s memory. All those hardships he put her through, staining his marriage to her sainted mother, making her a bastard, forcing her to serve her half-sister, all for naught, as she is the rightful Queen of England, and gave birth to a little boy who will unite Scotland and England.
Her son is the sign her marriage has been blessed by the Lord – her whole life, her accession to the throne, her reign. In a show of goodwill, she gives the title of baroness of Pembroke to her sister, and relishes the concubine from the nunnery she spent the last three years in, reading sacred scriptures. Elizabeth is placed back into the care of Mistress Boleyn, to whom she grants a ladyship – only for Bess’ sake. Mary keeps an eye on the woman, making sure she doesn’t leave the few lands constituting the barony of Pembroke without a good reason, but otherwise let her be.
She focuses most of her attention on the religious troubles that come to life everywhere in Europe. Her beloved husband is a strict Catholic, and harsher than she is on heretics. He sometimes frowns at the company she keeps – the Duchess of Suffolk, Catherine Parr, Anne Stanhope among others – but doesn’t say anything, just as she doesn’t comment on his retinue, and the methods he uses to stomp heresy in Scotland. She feels comfort in knowing that all major powers battle through the same issue – her cousin the Emperor, the King of France, and most of all His Holiness.
Besides, she is balancing that particular issue even among her closest circle. Margaret is as staunch a Catholic believer as she is, whereas Frances and Eleanor are less preoccupied by religious matters, contrary to her Good Nan and Catherine Parr, but all their opinions make for lively debates that help her sharpen her arguments when facing her council.
She has to work both with and around her council. Most of them agree on the need of a reform of the Catholic Church, but there are some men who are tempted by the sirens of Calvin and Luther, and she won’t have those spreading heresy in her realm. Cromwell, to her surprise, is surprisingly efficient in that matter. Now that she stopped his plans for the dissolution of monasteries – and what would have happened to the poor and the indigent, if it had come through? – he follows the path she sets without trying to deviate from it. It is of course difficult to find money to fill the royal coffers, especially as she doesn’t want to raise special taxes, but they make do. He works around a new system, and makes it clear war would bankrupt England without hopes from coming back. War is not part of her plans – she believes much more in diplomacy and the network of correspondence that she is slowly building across Europe, as well as building a court where the arts and the letters can flourish freely – so she doesn’t have to go across her nature. She is tempted by architecture, though, and works mostly on Whitehall Palace, to indulge into that particular desire of hers.
She makes a grand tour across England, once her boy is born, to show herself to her loyal subjects – and enjoy a better weather. As much as she loves to be close to her husband – and how those two years together truly changed them into one unit – she much prefers a warmer weather. Sometimes, she thinks she would have been happier in Spain, but those are only fleeting thoughts. Besides, James comes to join her in various destinations, and his lovemaking is always more intense after they have been separated for a few months. She is not afraid to say that passion still burns bright between them, and it comes to no one’s surprise when the fruits can be reaped once more.
A little Katherine is born by mid-Summer 1541, and childbirth is as exhausting now as it was the first time. It is not the pain that she fears, for she knows it is one of the hardships of being a woman, but rather the fatigue that settles over her for weeks afterwards. She doesn’t like to leave the affairs of the realm into the hands of her Privy Council, no matter how assured of the loyalty of her councilors she might be – at least the Duke of Suffolk, and Nicholas Carew, as well as Thomas Cromwell, who would die for her – but everyone urges her to do so, her physicians, her ladies, even her husband, so she takes the time she needs before being more forceful in the royal matters.
In the meantime, she takes care of her growing household. Many families wish to place their daughters at her service, and she has to make a choice when sending out invitations, carefully balancing between old and recent nobility, those who always supported her and those whose support is more recent. The Duke of Norfolk tries to use his position to his advantage and she indulges him when she is in the mood – such as accepting one young Katheryn Howard, who is better with her than in her previous household. It causes for quite a ruckus when she falls in love with one Thomas Culpepper, attending to her secretary, and the two of them elope, but she gives her blessings to a wedding, once it’s clear the boy doesn’t try to use her for his own gains. Norfolk is frowning at the mouth at the development but cannot say anything about it – not to her face anyway, and she giggles endlessly about it with her dear Margaret, both reminiscing about her cousin’s adventurous time with one Thomas Howard before Mary had finally given her blessings to their marriage.
Those years are uneasy with France, but there is no skirmish with their old enemy. James is eager in maintaining the peace with Scotland’s eldest ally, and her council absolutely refuses to side by the Holy Roman Empire as her cousin battles both the Turks and the French. She is uneasy at not doing much, until the Duke of Suffolk reminds her that the Emperor never battled for her either, when she needed his help – much more than he ever needed hers. The reminder stings and she treats him coldly for a few days before admitting the truth of his words.
There is one man on whom she keeps leaning, much to the displeasure of her husband, and it is the Imperial Ambassador. Eustace Chapuys had been a loyal servant – and then friend – to her when she was the most unhappy and miserable, and he has remained at court ever since her accession to the throne. His advice is more for her own good than to further along the plans of his master, she can see as much, and even if she felt inclined to fool herself, it wouldn’t be possible. Her ladies – her cousins, her ladies-in-waiting – keep a watchful eye on him, as does her privy council. There is a lot of grumbling that accompanies his never-ending presence at court, but she ignores it, as long as plots for power do not impede the inner workings of the realm.
Mary miscarries in February 1542, a situation that has her crying tears of blood. She knows she worries her household and council at her extreme reaction, but she cannot help remember her poor mother. Her husband is quite taken aback by her sobs, until he finds a way to soothe her mind and enter her couch willingly, careful during intercourse. It is not long before she is pregnant again and she gives birth to another girl in December 1542, whom James insists on calling Mary. She is of a mind to call the child Margaret, to honor his mother, but their relationship is frayed, and so she bends to his will. Besides, she does appreciate having a daughter named after her. Worry starts to grow that they only have one son – still in excellent health, but so young, and she knows what happens to the eldest son of the Tudor line – but James doesn’t comment on it. She is still young, and they both know they still have many years before them.
In those years, she still keeps an eye on her sister and her wretched mother. Anne Boleyn seldom shows her face at court, only when invited at major evets on behalf of Elizabeth, but little Bess is welcome, and Mary enjoys having her around. While she is here, she remains in the care of her aunt Lady Stafford, whom shows herself a dedicated woman. She is part of Mary’s retinue as well, as a lady-in-waiting, at first as a reward for the care she offered Elizabeth, and then because of her own nature. Mary remains defiant of Boleyn women, but as years pass by without any of them trying to enter the royal couch, she lets her guard down a little.
She has two more miscarriages in the three years that follow, a fact that saddens her greatly. Her husband is content enough with their little Prince and they begin the search for a young bride. They both agree that it is best not to pick someone they are related to, not for their son, and so settle on the eldest of the King of Sweden. Princess Katarina is of the same age as little Prince James and, despite Sweden being a Lutheran country, the match is agreed on. Their own Princess Katherine is to wed the young Charles, son of Ferdinand of Austria, while little Mary is promised to the first son of Henri of Valois and Catherine de Medici. The boy, called Francis, is born by 1544 and all parties agree on the match going through.
Mary doubles down on the war on heresy during the lone years after the birth of her third child. She feels as if the Lord is warning her, and takes it upon herself to make sure her people remain good Catholics. James encourages her in that way of thinking, persecuting the heretics in Scotland, as they both witness the troubles that grow stronger in France. They tentatively start building a fleet to discover the Americas for themselves, impressed by the riches the Holy Roman Emperor comes up with, but remain careful to steer away from the wars on the continent. Her only involvement turns into the loss of their last territories in France, which she laments about for months, James doing little to soothe her – he had, after all, insisted that it was a bad enterprise right from the start.
Finally two more sons are born, one William in 1546 and another, a little Henry, by early 1548. William is betrothed to the young Elizabeth of France upon his birth, and they wait a little before settling on another Imperial match for little Prince Harry, with the young Anne of Austria, daughter of Maximilian II Holy Roman Empire. The French and Imperial alliances are mostly balanced that way, and Mary feels more secure in knowing that her children’s future is well assured.
Five living children mean that the future of England and Scotland is set in stone. One heir, two spares, two princesses should it come to this, and all of them are lively and bright, raised to rule various lands. They travel a lot among the two royal courts, both James and Mary making sure they are familiar with Scottish and English culture. It is more important for their eldest son, of course, but they want all of their children to love and respect the countries they are growing up in, and will live in, at least for their boys. The girls must not go away without fond memories, and Mary makes sure all her children have the same kind of splendid childhood she had.
The passion between her and James turns into something calmer but deeper over the years. The birth of little prince Harry marks a turning point for them, as all are awed at her eight pregnancies, and five living children, in eleven years – a much better outcome than her poor mother’s pregnancies, or even her father’s adventures. She is tired and needs rest at that point – wants to spend more time governing her realm, without having to lean so much on her council. Besides, she is growing older by now, and her physicians do not expect her to have any more children, not considering how difficult on her body each pregnancy is.
She throws herself into the arts at her court, and basks in the glorious epitomes written about her reign. England is not as great as France or the Empire might be, but it isn’t bankrupt, heresy is mostly stamped, arts and culture flourish there. She still dances as vigorously at the day of her wedding, laughs with her ladies-in-waiting until well into the night, gambles a bit too much for a Catholic queen, but her confessor cannot do anything about it, and rides at least one hour a day.
Her beloved firstborn marries his betrothed in early spring 1553, both short of their fourteen birthday. No one expects them to consummate the wedding, not before a year or two at least, especially as the girl is a bit frail, but at least they can both put a face behind the handwriting, and speak to one another. They have been exchanging letters since they had both started to learn Latin, and Mary had made sure her son had familiarized himself with Swedish at least a little, to make sure the young Katarina wouldn’t be completely lost on her arrival on English soil. The Princess is bright and of comely stature, and Mary immediately dotes on her, feeling a bit wistful – it could have been her, in other circumstances.
Her last pregnancy comes as a surprise, but a little princess is born in July 1553, and she decides to call her Isabella. Eyebrows are raised at the Spanish name, but the girl is Mary’s little blessing, and she spoils and pampers her much to her husband’s amusement. The girl is of sick health and her parents decide on an Italian wedding where, it is assumed, the warm and sunny weather will be better for her than England’s. Cosimo I de Medici, Duke of Florence, has a few sons close in age to little Princess Isabella, and they settle on the young Ferdinando, a bit older by four years, but the match is deemed good enough. Shall he die before his time, there is another son to honor the match, something all of them agree on.
By 1553, one Elizabeth Tudor, Baroness of Pembroke is also of an age to be married – has been for some time now, but the council has waited until the wedding of her eldest son with Princess Katarina of Sweden had passed before turning its attention onto the Baroness. This is one topic Mary has been keeping an eye on, as everything else that pertains to her half-sister’s life, and she keenly studies the pretender for months before coming to a decision. Young Robert Dudley comes from an ambitious family but he is clearly besotted with Bess – and she with him. This seems to be a love match, as there are quite a few around her, and she gives her blessing to it as her last daughter is born. As a wedding gift, Elizabeth becomes Marquess of Pembroke, with more lands added to the title – and she considers the matter now settled. So does Anne Boleyn, as she bows deeply in front of her after the ceremony, paying her respects – and Mary as a hard time recognizing the woman who ruined her mother’s life, who still dresses as a widow, almost twenty years later. Maybe she truly loved her late father, then – and those are her last thoughts on the topic.
It does help that no one talks about the Great Matter anymore at court – heresy is stamped, the Church has been reformed, in England and in Scotland alike – and all her close friends, cousins, ladies-in-waiting focus on many other topics than Henry the Eight’s great betrayal. Mary has to shoulder her beloved cousin when Thomas Howard died unexpectedly from a fall from his horse, and fears for the health of Margaret for many months before Stuart and Tudor tempers come to the surface again, helping her live through this terrible grief.
Her own beloved husband dies of consumption by winter 1558 and their eldest becomes King James VI of Scotland. He rules in his own name while she rules across her lands, and the loss weighs heavily in her heart. She had come to love James greatly over the years, and ache with each passing breath. Still, she is made of stern composition, and rules for one more decade, having seen the birth of her first two grandchildren, one Edward and one Eleanor, before passing her last, secure in the knowledge that she leaves her kingdom in good hands.
England remains of the true faith, a realm of arts and letters. She might have lost Calais, but from her marriage came the union of the crowns, a far greater achievement than anything her father ever did. She had a loving, dedicated husband, a fulfilling marriage, healthy children more or less happily married or engaged, a loving family, and, all over her reign, she set wrongs right.
Everything is as it should be.