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The Many Faces of Mary Tudor (Queen of France) – Guest Post by Tony Riches

I am thrilled to feature a guest post by Tony Riches – the author of wonderful novels of Tudor England including his most recent Mary – Tudor Princess that is next on my TBR list! Tony takes us through the existing portraits of Mary Tudor (including one I had never seen before!) to explain how he developed the cover for this novel.

Over to Tony…

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I chose to write about Mary Tudor (Queen of France, (not to be confused with her niece who became Queen of England) because I’d researched her early life for my last book, Henry – Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy. In the trilogy I’d moved forward one generation with each book, so it appealed to me to write a ‘sequel’ which did the same. I’d become intrigued with Mary’s story of how she risked everything to defy her brother, King Henry VIII.

There are several well-known portraits of Mary and I’d assumed that one of them would be suitable for use on the cover. Then I began researching them and found, that as with most things in life, it’s not as simple as it seems. The best known is the ‘wedding portrait’ with her second husband, Sir Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk:

When I began to look at other portraits, however, I realised all is not as it seems. The image of Mary in the wedding portrait is stylised, wearing the French crown jewels and possibly has overpainting, and in the many copies Mary’s face gradually becomes more bland and generic. ln the pencil drawing of her time as Queen of France she looks quite different:

Although Tudor portraits are sometimes hard to attribute, we can be reasonably confident this is Mary, as the drawing has her French title at the bottom.

Similarly, another pencil drawing of Mary’s time in France has been helpfully annotated in what is thought to have been the hand of her ‘stepson’ King Francis I ‘plus sale que royne‘ which means ‘more dirty than queenly.’

Another controversial portrait, (which was Mary’s main picture on Wikipedia until I changed it). This portrait is used on the cover of at least two books about Mary, yet experts say it is of a quite different princess. The jewels worn in the portrait are the Crown Jewels of Castile and a more likely candidate for the sitter would be Isabella I of Castile.


There is also another well-known portrait of Mary which doesn’t fit well with any of the above, and doesn’t have the French hood, which she was said to prefer:

For my new book, I wanted to explore Mary’s vulnerability as well as her strengths, and needed the cover portrait to reflect this. After trying several ideas, I contacted a professional photographer, Lisa Lucas ( who works with historical reenactors, the Cavalry of Heroes. The brief was to recreate the ‘wedding portrait’ but with Mary looking suitably vulnerable yet still with the confidence of a Tudor princess.


I’m pleased with the result and am already working with Lisa Lucas on my next book (about the life of Charles Brandon).

My new book Mary – Tudor Princess is now available on Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon AU in eBook and paperback. An audiobook edition will be available later in the year.


About Tony Riches

Tony Riches is a full-time author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his website and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.



(Book links)

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  1. Austendw Austendw

    Can you (or anyone) tell me where the “well-known” painting of “Mary” wearing the English hood can be found? Do we know the date of it? And Is there any reason why some identify the woman represented as Mary?

    • A quick search indicated the original portrait was painted around 1516 and that there are enough copies that it hangs many places with at least one being in the collection of the Earl of Yarborough at Brocklesby Park, Lincolnshire). And she is posing with Charles Brandon so it makes perfect sense! 😉

  2. Hi, I made several posts about depictions of Mary Rose Tudor, and about identity of sitter wearing spanish royal jewels on my tumblr. Long story short, it is all Mary Rose but you can only tell when you find the correct version of the drawing. There are only 2 with the 16th century text ‘plus sale que royne‘. The 2nd is nearly impossible to find(much easier is to find pristinely white print of it-where features are distorted). I stumbled on it by pure accident. But the features are match to Wobburn Abbey and to portrait labelled a Magdalene in National Gallery in London-where indeed Mary wears spanish royal jewels and outfit.
    But you can’t tell that easily by comparing Woburn Abbey’s portrait and Magdalen now, partly due to different outfit and angles. But also because in past they made small mistake in restoration of Magdalen’s nose. In old photos nose has slightly different shape and dent across it. By the way that marriage portrait is at earliest 1520s-fashion firmly disproves it’d be done in 1515/1516 and I really wish people would stop calling it wedding portrait.

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