Amongst Mary’s many passions and accomplishments was a deep love of music. Letters, ambassadorial reports, and household expenses reveal just how devoted Mary was to the pastime.

Her enjoyment of music began at a very young age. On the 28th February, 1518, the Venetian ambassador, Sebastian Giustinian, wrote a letter in which he related a meeting between a very young Mary and one of his countrymen, Dionysus Memmo, a musician who was serving in King Henry’s Chapel Royal:

The King caused the Princess (Mary) his daughter, who was two years old, to be brought into the apartment where they were. The Cardinal, he (Giustinian), and the Lords kissed her hand, pro more. Greater honour was paid to the Princess than to the Queen. On seeing the Reverend Dionvsius Memo, who was at a little distance, the Princess commenced calling out in English, “Priest!” and he was obliged to go and play for her.

Just two years later, a four year old Mary impressed visiting ambassadors, as was related to her proud father in a letter:

On the 28th June, St. Peter’s even…they being well accompanied by [the lord Barnes], lord Darcy and other, visited the Princess at Richmond. The Princess welcomed the French gentlemen with most goodly countenance, proper communication, and pleasant pastime in playing at he virginals, that they greatly marvelled and rejoiced the same, her young and tender age considered…

Portrait miniature by Lucas Horenbout, c.1525.

Even when Mary was sent to the Welsh Marches in 1525, as a de facto Princess of Wales, her parents were concerned that she kept up with her music practice. Mary’s governess and kinswoman, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, received these instructions

And likewise to pass her time most seasons at her virginals or other instruments musical, so that the same be not too much and without fatigation or weariness…

On the 8th May, 1527 the French Ambassador wrote an extensive report to Francis I; one of the items that was considered worth mentioning was the musical talent of young Mary, then 11 years old:

She then played on the spinet very well. She is the most accomplished person of her age, to judge from what I have heard…

Though it is believed that Mary would have received instruction in the composition of music, none of her creations have survived. We do get a hint of one, mentioned in Thomas Cromwell’s ‘Remembraunces’ of September, 1533:

the Balade made of the Prynces by my Lady Mary.

You can read more about ‘balade’ here.

It is uncertain whether Mary was able to take comfort in her music during her long disgrace after her mother was set aside. In April 1534, Katherine encouraged her daughter to continue, though seemed unsure whether it was possible or not:

And sometimes for your recreation use your virginals or lute if you have any…
Daughter, whatsoever you come, take no pain to send unto me, for if I may, I will send to you.
Your loving mother,
Katharine the Queen

Sketch by Hans Holbein, c.1536

January 1537 Household Expenses

Itm geuen to Heywood sunte for bringing of my Lades grace Regalles from London to grenewiche – 20d


March 1537 Household Expenses

Itm iii yarde of Satten geuen to mr Paston techyng my lady the vyrgynalles


April 1537 Household Expenses

Itm geuen to Cowte comyng from london and mending my lades grace’s virginalle – 3s 4d

Itm geuen to mr Paston on saynt marke Daye techyng her on the vyrgynalles – 7s 6d

Itm geuen to philip of the p’vey Chambre the same Daye techyng her on the lute – 5s

Itm geuen to my lades grace mynstrells and my lady elysabeth’s the iiiith Daye of the mounth playeng bifore hir grace – 5s


March 1538 Household Expenses

Itm geuen to the Prince’s mynstrells – 10s

Itm geuen to the grey one of the same mynstrells – 7s 6d

Itm geuen to Heywood playeug an enterlude wt his Children bifore my lades grace – 40s


Mary’s devoted ally and friend, the Spanish ambassador Eustace Chapuys, also noted Mary’s musical abilities, writing to the Dowager Queen of Hungary on the 2nd March, 1538 that:

Talking with her and hearing her play on the lute or on the spinet in so admirable a manner that I really believe she is the most accomplished musician that could be found.

December 1543 Household Expenses

Itm pd for lute Stringes – viis vid


Portrait by Master John, c.1544

Katherine Parr shared Mary’s love of music, and it was something the two women bonded over. On the 20th September, 1544, Katherine wrote to Mary:

Wherefore, I despatch to you this messenger, who will be, I judge, most acceptable to you, not only from his skill in music, in which you, I am well aware, take as much delight as myself…

(quare mitto hunc nuntium quem judico fore tibi gratissimum, tum propter artem illam musicae, qua te simul ac me oppido oblectari non ignoro)

Although the records regarding Mary’s personal activities, outside of religion, are more scarce after Henry VIII’s death, we know that as queen she continued to indulge her love of music; in just the first year of her reign, Mary is calculated as having spent 2233l, 17s, 6d on music and performances – almost £1.1million today!

In 1557, the Venetian ambassador, Giovanni Michele, included in his description of Mary that she was:

…very knowledgeable … also of music, especially of the clavichord and the lute. In such excellence, that when you expected little, it made the good players marvel, for the speed of the hand, and for the manner of playing…

(Intendentissima…anco della musica, specialmente del sonar di manicordo et di leuto. In tanta eccellenza, che quando v’ attendeva che adesso poco v’ attende la fatto maravigliare i buoni sonatori, et per la velocita della mano, et per la maniera del sonare)
Portrait by Antonis Mor, c.1554






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