In April 1534, Catherine of Aragon was in exile at The More and Mary was in the service of her newborn half-sister Elizabeth. She was increasingly put under pressure to take the oath to the Act of Succession, recognising that her parents’ marriage was invalid and that she herself was illegitimate. Catherine feared for her daughter’s life and perhaps also for her own life. Catherine writes to Mary advising her to obey Henry except in matters that would offend God.
Daughter, I heard such tidings today that I do perceive if it be true, the time is come that Almighty God will prove you; and I am very glad of it, for I trust He doth handle you with a good love. I beseech you agree of His pleasure with a merry heart; and be sure that, without fail, He will not suffer you to perish if you beware to offend Him.
I pray you, good daughter, to offer yourself to Him. If any pangs come to you, shrive yourself; first make you clean; take heed of His commandments, and keep them as near as He will give you grace to do, for then you are sure armed. And if this lady [Anne Shelton] do come to you as it is spoken, if she do bring you a letter from the King, I am sure in the self same letter you shall be commanded what you shall do. Answer with few words, obeying the King, your father, in everything, save only that you will not offend God and lose your own soul; and go no further with learning and disputation in the matter. And wheresoever, and in whatsoever company you shall come, observe the King’s commandments.
Speak you few words and meddle nothing. I will send you two books in Latin; the one shall be De Vita Christi with a declaration of the Gospels, and the other the Epistles of St Jerome that he did write to Paul and Eustochium, and in them I trust you shall see good things. And sometimes for your recreation use your virginals or lute if you have any.
But one thing I especially desire you, for the love that you do owe unto God and unto me, to keep your heart with a chaste mind, and your body from all ill and wanton company, not thinking or desiring any husband for Christ’s passion; neither determine yourself to any manner of living till this troublesome time be past. For I dare make sure that you shall see a very good end, and better than you can desire. I would God, good daughter, that you did know with how good a heart I do write this letter unto you. I never did one with a better, for I perceive very well that God loveth you. I beseech Him of His goodness to continue it; and if it fortune that you shall have nobody with you of your acquaintance, I think it best you keep your keys yourself, for howsoever it is, so shall be done as shall please them.
And now you shall begin, and by likelihood I shall follow. I set not a rush by it; for when they have done the uttermost they can, than I am sure of the amendment. I pray you, recommend me unto my good lady of Salisbury, and pray her to have a good heart, for we never come to the kingdom of Heaven but by troubles.
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. 1
Catherine and Mary would never see each other again, but Mary followed her advise at least until after her mother’s death in January 1536. Mary submitted to her father’s will in June, and it is quite possible that he would have had her executed if she had not done so, so therefore we can only be amazed that she held out as long as she did.
- Hanson, Marilee. “Letter of Katharine of Aragon to her daughter, Princess Mary April 1534”http://englishhistory.net/tudor/letter-katharine-aragon-daughter-princess-mary-april-1534/, February 24, 2015