Merry Mary Marries

Queen Mary I of England wed King Philip II of Spain on 25 July 1554 at Winchester Cathedral, and although she was personally very happy, it was one of the worst political moves should could have made.


Mary’s Lord Chancellor, Stephen Gardiner, and the entire House of Commons begged the queen to wed an Englishman instead of the Spanish prince because they did not want England to become another satellite  of the Habsburgs empire. English Protestants were afraid (rightfully so) that if Mary wed Philip then she would try to strong-arm the populace into becoming Catholic again. The very idea of marriage between Mary and Philip was enough to foment widespread discontent. Nevertheless, the 37 year old Mary was determined to marry the 27 year old Philip. An insurrection, now known as Wyatt’s rebellion, broke out in the north, and the queen had to murder her cousin Jane Grey in order to present a stable enough government to lure Philip to England.

The country may have been in turmoil, but the queen’s wedding itself, however, was splendid. provides a description printed at the end of Leland’s Collectanea, edit. 1774, vol. ii. “Copied out of a book of presidents collected by Ralph Brooke, York herauld, now remaining with sir Edward Dering; examined this 28th of Feb. 1634, by us, William Le Neve, Norroy, and Edward Whitley.”

First, the said chnrch was richly hanged with arras and cloth of gold … The quire was allso richly hanged with cloth of gold, and on each side of the altar were other two rich traverses as aforesaid, for the queenes majestie and prince … he prince, richly apparelled in cloth of gold, embroidered, with a great company of the nobles of Spayne, in such sort as the like hath not been seen, proceded to the church, and entered in at the west door, and passed to his traverse, all the way on foot; and to the church he had no sword borne before him … [then] came the queenes majesty, accompanied with a great number of the nobility of the realm, the sword being borne before her by the earl of Derby, and a great company of ladyes and gentlewomen very richly apparelled; her majesty’s train was borne up by the marquesse of Winchester …  and so proceeded to the espousals … Then all the people gave a great shout, praying God to send them joy; and, the ring being laid upon the book to be hallowed, the prince laid also upon the said book iij. hand-fulls of fine gold; which [Margaret Clifford] seeing, opened the queen’s purse, and the queen smilingly put up in the same purse. And when they had inclosed their hands, immediately the sword was advanced before the king, by the earl of Pembroke … [and after the wedding mass] so proceeded to the hall, where they both dined under one cloth of estate.

The marriage was, from Mary’s perspective, perfect. She is reported to have adored her husband. Philip was much less enthralled with his wife, but that was more a factor of his age and thinking all English people were rubes compared to the sophisticated courtiers of the continent than any fault of Mary’s. At the time Spain was the empire on which the “sun never set” (the English stole the phrase later) and Philip was making a real sacrifice in moving to the dreary backwaters of London.


Mary and Philip’s marriage was childless. The queen, desperate to have an heir and erase some of her suffering at the hands of her father, would have only two false pregnancies before her death on 17 November 1558. If the medical speculation that Mary had endometriosis is correct, then Henry VIII’s decision to deny his daughter an early match doomed her to the infertility she would probably have otherwise avoided.

The widowed Philip proposed to Elizabeth I shortly after Mary’s death, but Henry VIII’s youngest daughter had no desire to make any man her master. She had seen the kerfuffle caused by her sister’s wedding to the ‘wrong’ groom and had seen enough of how vulnerable women – even queens – were to the whims of their husbands. Philip comforted himself by marrying a different Elizabeth — Elisabeth of Valois – and was much happier with a 14 year old bride than he was with one who was in her late 30s.


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