Lady Mary

Written by Lucy Worsley
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

1527. Eleven-year-old Princess Mary, daughter of King Henry VIII and his Spanish wife, Catherine of Aragon, are at the Palace of Greenwich where the visiting French Ambassador raises concerns about Mary’s proposed marriage to Henri, heir to the French throne. The pope has decreed that the marriage between Henry and Catherine is illegal as Catherine had previously been married to Henry’s elder brother, Arthur. Mary is therefore illegitimate.

Mary’s teenage years were traumatic. Shunted from one royal residence to another, parted from her mother, pressurized to renounce her title ‘Princess’, she is half-starved and deprived of company. She is demoted to ‘Lady Mary’ and sent to be lady-in-waiting to her baby half-sister, Elizabeth, daughter of Henry’s second marriage to Anne Boleyn. Mary refuses, and Anne, who will stop at nothing, tries to engineer her downfall by attempting to entrap her into a compromising position with a handsome young man. Who can Mary trust?

I had no idea that Mary went through all this from when she was eleven to twenty-one: ten long years of a poisonous cocktail of abuse, neglect and disinformation at an age when she was at her most vulnerable. There must have been times when she feared for her very life.

This is a gripping first-person account, as Lucy Worsley, with great skill, allows the reader inside Mary’s head as she struggles to understand what is going on, and why her father, who professes to love her, allows these horrible things to happen. Before I’d read Lady Mary, I had little sympathy for Mary, a woman I saw as a religious bigot. Now, I feel pity for the appalling situation she was placed in at such a young age, and admiration for her courage.

Thoughtful girls of eleven plus should find Lady Mary a heart-rending read.