ABOVE: Portrait miniature of Mary by Lucas Horenbout, c.1525
In 1525, when Princess Mary was 9 years old, she was sent to preside over the Council of Wales and the Marches. Though she was never formally titled Princess of Wales, she was sometimes referred to as such in letters. The title of Princess of Wales has only ever been held by the spouse of the Prince of Wales, never in its own right. Ostensibly, though, she was fulfilling the same role, though given her young age, Mary was only there in a ceremonial and figure-head capacity; she had a council who was actually overseeing the governance of the region.
It isn’t entirely clear the reason why Mary was given this role. It has been suggested that Mary’s mother, Katherine of Aragon, was infuriated when Henry VIII bestowed the semi-royal title of duke of Richmond on his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, and so Henry VIII gave Mary this role in order to placate Katherine. But it is also likely that it was a way to distinguish Mary as his heir still, and to enforce royal authority on the tumultuous Welsh Marches.
But England hadn’t had a Prince or Princess of Wales in a long time. Though Mary’s uncle, Arthur, had been invested as Prince of Wales in 1498, he only established a household in the region after his marriage in 1501, and he died shortly thereafter in 1502, some 23 years earlier. Before that, the last Prince of Wales to have a presence and council in the region was Edward V, before his ascension and (presumed) death in 1483. The point being, it wasn’t entirely clear on what the rules and customs were, and if they were different given that Mary was a woman and had not been granted the formal title.
Which is why, in November 1525, John Vesey, bishop of Exeter, and the other members of Mary’s council wrote to Wolsey, enquiring as to the form and degree of celebration that should be undertaken for Christmas. Mary was to celebrate Christmas with her household at Ludlow Castle, rather than with her parents in London. It would be indecent to have an extravagant affair given the youth and informal status of Mary, but it would also be improper and embarrassing for a celebration to lack royal dignity and élan.
We don’t know what Mary’s Christmas looked like in 1525, but hopefully Wolsey gave Vesey the go ahead on all the suggestions and Mary was able to have a joyous Christmas despite the distance between her and her beloved parents.
‘To the most reverend father in God, the lord Cardinal his good grace.
Please it your Grace, for the great repair of strangers supposed unto the Princess’ honorable household this solemn feast of Christmas, we humbly beseech the same to let us know your gracious pleasure concerning as well a ship of silver for the almsdish requisite for her high estate, and spice plates, as also for trumpets and a rebeck to be sent, and whether we shall appoint any lord of misrule for the said honorable household, provide for interludes, disguisings or plays in the said feast, or for banquet on Twelfth Night; and in likewise whether the Princess shall send any New Year’s gifts to the King, the Queen, your Grace, and the French queen, and of the value and device of the same: beseeching your Grace also to pardon our busy and importunate suits to the same in such behalf made. Thus, our most singular good lord, we pray the Holy Trinity have you in his holy preservation.
At Teoxbury, the 27th day of November.
Your humble orators—John Exon’, Jeiliz Grevile, Peter Burnell, John Salter, G. Bromley, Thomas Audeley.’