On the 25th June 1533, Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk, died at her country home at Westhorpe Hall, Suffolk, at around half-past seven in the morning. She was just 37 years old.
Mary Tudor was the youngest surviving child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Throughout her life she had been plagued by unidentified illnesses. Frequently suffering from ‘agues’, toothaches and a recurring “dissease in her side”, Mary’s health had always been fragile (Ridgeway, TheTudorSociety.com). In January 1533, Mary wrote a letter to her brother, King Henry VIII, in which she mentioned how she was “sick and ill at ease” from a recurring disease (Bryson, La Reine Blanche). This quite possibly could have been the “dissease in her side” of which had plagued her for most of her life. Historian David Loades writes that the letters that Mary had sent in her final months were signed by a “very shaky hand”, an indication of her increasing fragility (Loades, Mary Rose).
So what killed Mary Tudor? Historians have attributed many different ailments to her death, including problems with her kidneys, cancer, and angina. Some historians also believe that that it was the stress of her brother’s divorce from his first wife Katherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn, who Mary Tudor despised, to be one of the causes of her death. On the 1st June 1533, Anne Boleyn was coronated at Westminster Abbey. Mary did not attend, whether from ill health or contempt for the new queen.
In May, 1533, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk rushed from London to Westhorpe to be with his wife, perhaps aware that her end was nearing. Sadly, he was summoned back to court soon after, and probably did not see his wife again before her death. However, Mary was surrounded by two of her three surviving children at her passing – her youngest daughter Eleanor, and her son Henry, Earl of Lincoln of whom would die just one year after his mother. Both of her children were teenagers at this time.
Back in London, Henry VIII had ordered the court to go into mourning for his favourite sister. However, as David Loades suggests, that due to Mary’s frequent absences from court, as well as her strong opinions about the new queen, no one, besides her family and friends, were “particularly concerned about her passing” (Loades, Mary Rose). The people however, deeply mourned Mary’s death. A French envoy had written to the King of France on the 30th June 1533 that she had been “so much beloved in the country and by the common people”, and was remembered for her kindness, generosity and public support for the beloved Katherine of Aragon.
A post regarding the funeral of Mary Tudor is coming soon.
Bryson, Sarah, La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters (Amberley, 2018).
Loades, David, Mary Rose: Tudor princess, Queen of France, the extraordinary life of Henry VIII’s sister (Amberley: 2012).
Ridgeway, Claire, 25 June 1533 – The death of Mary Tudor, Queen of France (TheTudorSociety.com).