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August 28, 1551 – Mary Resists the Council

Mary Tudor, by Hans Holbein
Mary Tudor, by Hans Holbein (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary was in a tough place during her brother’s reign: her fierce Catholicism was increasingly at odds with Edward’s fervent Protestantism. While Somerset was Lord Protector, he shielded Mary from real pressure – but Northumberland was much more inclined to humor the boy king’s desire to force his sister to renounce the Mass. And so it came to pass that the Lord Chancellor and several other members of the Council were sent to Mary to inform her that she was to worship in accordance with the new Divine Service…This is their report of what happened.  

If you squint, you can see her mother in the scene. Mary’s behavior is consistent with Catherine of Aragon’s brilliant advice: “Answer with very few words, obeying the king your father in every thing – save only that you will not offend God, and lose your soul – and go no further with learning and disputation in the matter” (it’s a great letter – you can read it in full here).

One more tiny point, to really set the scene: the Lord Chancellor in question was none other than Richard Rich – so you won’t be surprised at his self-importance (his repeated “I, the Lord Chancellor”) or his weaseling (you’ll need more than two hands to count the number of times he finds it necessary to stress that the words were Mary’s, not his!):

First, having received commandment and  instructions from the King’s Majesty, we repaired to the said Lady Mary’s house at Copthall in Essex on Friday last, being the 28th of this instant, in the morning where, shortly after our coming, I, the Lord Chancellor, delivered his Majesty’s letters unto her ,which she received upon her knees, saying that for the honor of the King’s Majesty’s hand wherewith the said letters were signed she would kiss the letter and not for the matter contained in them, for the matter (said she) I take to proceed not from His Majesty but from you of the Council.

In the reading of the letter, which she did read secretly to herself, she said these words in our hearing, “Ah! Good Master Cecil took much pain here.”

When she had read the letters we began to open the matter of our instructions unto her and I, the Lord Chancellor, began, she prayed to me to be short, for (said she) I am not well at ease, and I will make you a short answer, notwithstanding that I have already declared and written my mind to his Majesty plainly with my own hand.

After this we told her at good length how the King’s Majesty, having used all the gentle means and exhortations that he might to have reduced her to the rites of religion and order of Divine service set forth by the laws of the realm, and finding her nothing conformable, but still remaining in her former error, had resolved, by the whole estate of his Majesty’s Privy council and with the consent of divers others of the nobility, that she should no longer use the private Mass nor any other Divine Service than is set forth by the laws of the realm; and here we offered to show her the names of all those which were present at this consultation and resolution, but she said she cared not for any rehearsal of their names, for (said she) I know you be of all one sort therein.

We told her further that the King’s Majesty’s pleasure was we should also give straight charge to her chaplains that none of them should presume to say any Mass or other Divine Service than is set forth by the laws of the realm, and like charge to all her servants that none of them should presume to hear and Mass or other Divine Service than is aforesaid. Hereunto her answer was this; first, she protested that to the King’s Majesty she was, is and ever would be his Majesty’s most humble and most obedient subject and poor sister, and would most willingly obey all his commandments in any thing (her conscience saved); yea, and would willingly and gladly suffer death to do his Majesty good, but rather than she will agree to use any other service than was used at the death of the late King her father, she would lay her head on a block and suffer death; but (said she) I am unworthy to suffer death in so good a quarrel. When the King’s Majesty (said she) shall come to such years that he may be able to judge these things himself, his Majesty shall find me ready to obey his orders in religion; but now in these years, although he,  good, sweet King, have more knowledge than any other of his years, yet is it not possible that he can be a judge in these things. For it ships were to be sent to the seas, or any other thing to be done touching the policy and government of the realm, I am sure you would not think his Highness yet able to consider what were to be done, and much less, said she can he in these years discern what it fittest in matters of Divinity. And if my chaplains do say no Mass I can hear none, nor more can my poor servants. But as for my servants I know it shall be against their wills, as it shall be against mine, for it they could come where it were said they would hear it with good will. And as for my priests, they know what they have to do. The pain of your laws is but imprisonment for a short time, and it they will refuse to say Mass for fear of that imprisonment they may do therein as they will; but none of your new Service (said she) shall be used in my house, and if any be said in it I will not tarry in the house.

And after this we declared unto her Grace according to our instructions for what causes the Lords of the King’s Majesty’s Council had appointed Rochester, Inglefield, and Walgrave, being her servants, to open the premises unto her and how ill and untruly they had used themselves in the charge committed unto them and besides that, how they have manifestly disobeyed the King’s Majesty’s Council etc. To this she said it was not the wisest counsel to appoint her servants to control her in her own house, and that her servants knew her mind therein well enough, for of all men she might worst endure any of them to move her in any such matters, and for their punishment my Lords may use them as they think good. And it they refused to do the message unto her and her chaplains and servants as aforesaid, they be (said she) the honester men, for they should have spoken against their own consciences.

After this when we had at good length declared unto her the effect of our instructions touching the promise which she claimed to have been made to the emperor, and besides had opened unto her at good length all such things as we knew and had heard therein, her answer was that she was well assured the promise was made to the emperor, and that the same was once granted  before the King’s Majesty in her presence, then being there seven of the Council, notwithstanding the denial thereof at my last being with his Majesty. And I have, quoth she, the emperor’s hand testifying that this promise was made, which I believe better than you all of the Council; and though you esteem little the emperor, yet should you show more favor to me for my father’s sake who made the more part of you almost of nothing. But as for the emperor (said she), if he were dead I would say as I do, and if he would give me now other advice I would not follow it; notwithstanding, quoth she, to be plain with you, his Ambassador shall know how I am used at your hands.

After this we opened the King’s Majesty’s pleasure for one to attend upon her Grace for the supply of Rochester’s place during his absence etc as in the instructions. To this her answer was that she would appoint her own officers, and that she had years sufficient for that purpose; and if we left any such man there she would go out of her gates, for they two would not dwell in one house. And (quoth she) I am sickly, and yet I will not die willingly, but will do the best I can to preserve my life; but if I shall chance to die I will protest openly that you of the Council be the causes of my death. You give me fair words, but your deeds be always ill towards me. And having said this she departed from us into her bedchamber and delivered to me, the Lord Chancellor, a ring upon her knees most humbly, with very humble recommendations saying that she would die his true subject and sister, and obey his commandments in all things except in these matters of religion touching the Mass and the new service, but yet, said she this shall never be told to the King’s Majesty.


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August 28, 1551 – Mary Resists the Council
Published inOn This Day


  1. Suffiyah Davies Suffiyah Davies

    What a wonderful read but sad at the same time, for poor Mary her life was never destined to be a happy one, but it does show her mother Catherine taught and advised her well.

    Mary Tudor however sad they made her life, the one thing they couldnt take from her was her inner strength and determination.

    Suffiyah Davies

  2. maggiec75 maggiec75

    Mary Tudor made several major mistakes as queen that the Elizabethan propagandists made much of, as have centuries of historians who followed the C of E side with every bit as much rigor and intransigence as Mary followed the Church of Rome. I think, however, even had her reign been blameless–no Philip II of Spain, the equivalent of Henry Darnley, I’ve always thought–and no burnings at Smithfield, though they were amazingly few compared with Elizabeth’s executions during her very long reign–Mary would still be maligned simply for her religious beliefs, as is Stephen Gardiner, who thought Anne Askew–and Katherine Parr–were heretics. In the views of the mid to later 16th-century folks on many levels, they were indeed heretics.

    I can easily imagine what a horror it was for Mary to be forced to sit through a protestant religious service after she had been denied attending Mass. Rather like I would feel today if I could no longer attend Mass at my parish church–ironically, the Co-Cathedral of Saint Thomas More–and was forced to attend whatever folks do at First Baptist Church.

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