29 January 2011

The childhood of Mary I: Happier Days

Though Queen Catherine and King Henry were undeniably disappointed that their new baby was not a boy, these feelings quickly gave way to joy and genuine happiness.

Mary was enchanting to her parents, and the king and queen were exceedingly proud of their little girl.

Only two days after her birth, Mary was christened at the church of the Observant Friars in Greenwich. Mary's godfather was Cardinal Wolsey, Henry's chief minister.  One of the four knights who held a canopy over the baby as she entered the church, was, Sir Thomas Boleyn, Anne's father.

As tradition dictated, Mary would live separately from the king and queen.  Mary was cared for by a very capable retinue of staff, including Katherine Pole as a wet-nurse, four rockers, laundress, and her governess, Elizabeth Denton.  In 1518, this position passed to Lady Bryan.  Mary's household also included a treasurer, chaplain, and even a gentlewoman.  Though Mary's household was very orderly and proper, it was not a home devoid of affection.

For the most part, Mary grew up surrounded by adults.  Her friendship with Frances Brandon, daughter of Mary and Charles Brandon would be an exception.  And though she didn't live with her parents, they were an important part of her life, and were actually affectionate for 16th century monarchs.  Henry bragged over his precocious child, of whom he said "never cried."  Catherine adored Princess Mary.  And though it was certainly resented by Catherine when the beautiful Elizabeth Blount gave birth to Henry's child in 1519, she remained confident of Mary's place in the succession.

Mary's household, like most wealthy households of Tudor days, moved location frequently.  It was usually arranged that Mary would be located in a palace that would be close enough for Catherine to visit frequently. And though Mary and her mother had a very close relationship, the woman who would function as mother to Mary, from day to day, was the countess of Salisbury.  Mary and the countess shared a profoundly close bond.  The countess had been expressly chosen by Queen Catherine to attend Mary. A woman of striking statuesque beauty, the countess was very tall, pale, with the trademark red hair of the Plantagenet's. The countess was 47 when she began as governess to Mary.

The little princess demonstrated a remarkable talent for dance, and especially music.  Astonishingly, at the age of four years, Mary was an accomplished player of the virginals, and later the lute.  Mary was an excellent dancer, and people throughout the court were certainly impressed by Mary.  Music and dance would be favorite pastimes for Mary throughout her life.

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