The near escape of Princess Mary Tudor

In the summer of 1550, Princess Mary and her continental supporters, the Imperial Habsburgs, hatched a plan to spirit the recusant princess out of an increasingly Protestant and intolerant state. Ships from the Imperial navy were kept at anchor off the coast of Maldon whilst sloops made their way up the Blackwater estuary to the Essex market town to rendezvous with Henry VIII’s eldest daughter.

Had their plan been successful, Princess Mary would have been brought to the Emperor Charles V’s territories in the Low Countries and safely returned to the Catholic fold. But would she also have missed out on acceding to the throne three years later? And could this had left Queen Jane on the throne for far longer than her tragic nine day reign?  

In September 1549, Princess Mary sent a secret message to her cousin and patron, the Habsburg Emperor Charles V. It asked for his help in a plan to flee England and seek safety in the Emperor’s Catholic realms. This desperate plea had been a long time in coming; Mary’s fear of the aggressively Protestant regime led by her brother, Edward VI, had grown over the years.

Mary I (Mary Tudor) by Master John By Master John (floruit 1544-1545) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

She had written that the Council “send me orders forbidding me the mass”. Of greater concern to her was her likely fate if her sickly brother died, and she pleaded that “I would be far better out of the kingdom, because as soon as he were dead, before the people knew it, they would despatch me too.”

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Three Queens of England united in grief

It is an iconic image symbolising the continuity, stability and tradition at the heart of Brtiain’s monarchy. The photograph depicts three Queens in mourning at the Windsor Castle funeral of George VI, the King-Emperor who had died nine days earlier on 6 February 1952. But this is not a collection of foreign royals assembling to pay their respects to the British monarch. This is a unique image of three Queens of England (or, more properly, Queens of the United Kingdom) whose lives (and reigns) overlapped.

The most senior member of the three was Queen Mary, the Queen Consort of King George V and the mother of George VI. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, had been the Queen Consort of King George VI and the mother of Queen Elizabeth II, the third of the three royals.

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