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July 16, 1551 – Mary’s Refusal (the Ultimate “Bless Your Heart”)

Romola Garai as Mary in Becoming Elizabeth

Several years ago, someone explained to me that “Bless your heart” is actually a savage insult in the American South. Today’s post is a letter that contains a classic Tudor-era “Bless your heart.”

It’s Mary’s response to her brother Edward’s command that she conform to his Church of England and no longer hear Mass. Now, Edward had been trying to put pressure on her for a long time, and this command actually followed a meeting between the two of them in which Mary made clear that she would rather die than give up her religion and that she had a lot of support – basically, establishing the stakes. Mary then retired from court, and Edward wrote her a follow up letter as if this discussion had never happened. Mary’s response is simply a reiteration of how much she loves and admires him, how much she appreciates the time and care he it must have taken him to write her himself… but that she has “no more to answer.” And oh, by the way, she wishes him life, health, and happiness…


My most excellent and noble prince, and my most benign and good brother,

I do most humbly thank you for your great goodness, favor, and liberality, which, as well by your majesty’s own letters as by the report and declaration of your counsellors, the lord great master, the lord privy seal, and your grace’s secretary, I perceive it hath pleased you to determine towards me. Whereunto I have no more to answer, but that I shall ever remain your majesty’s most humble sister and servant, according to such letters as I have written to your highness, and to such advertisement as I have given unto your grace by your said counsellors; which is correspondent and agreeable to my first mind and answer, made at the first opening of the matter unto me. From the which, as I neither have varied from the beginning, nor will vary hereafter, so, if any man have said the contrary, I assure your grace that he hath done it without my consent or commission.

Thus I beseech our Lord to send your majesty long life, with good health and perpetual felicity.

From Richmond, the 16th of July,

Your majesty’s humble sister and servant.

Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain: From the Commencement of the Twelfth Century to the Close of the Reign of Queen Mary, Volume 3


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July 16, 1551 – Mary’s Refusal (the Ultimate “Bless Your Heart”)
Published inOn This Day


  1. Brian Sweeney Brian Sweeney

    I had some friends who told me about the southern way of insulting someone while seeming to compliment them—for example, ” She carries al her extra weight so well, bless her heart, ” You just called the woman fat but made it sound nice,

  2. maggiec75 maggiec75

    It is indeed the all purpose and endlessly appropriate Southern insult, made in a matter-of-fact tone tinged with a little regret as the speaker gently fingers her heirloom pearls: “Oh, don’t mind Mary Sue. She always means well, bless her heart.”

    And thus Mary Sue is forevermore dismissed as a blithering idiot to whom we pay no mind.

    I’ve been doin this sort of thing for sixty years. It never fails.

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