This letter was written on 22 June 1536. In it, Princess Mary acknowledges the annulment of her parents’ marriage, her own illegitimacy, and her father’s position as head of a new English church.
Mary refused to write this letter for several years, throughout the drama of the annulment and her father’s remarriage to Anne Boleyn. Henry VIII suspected her behavior was encouraged by her mother; he deliberately separated Mary and Katharine of Aragon, banishing both from court.
In the summer of 1536, on the advice of the Spanish ambassador, Mary succumbed and wrote this letter. She always regretted it.
It did, however, serve its purpose. The death of Katharine of Aragon in January of that year, Anne Boleyn’s execution in May, and Henry’s third marriage to Jane Seymour encouraged a rapprochement between father and daughter.
‘Most humbly prostrate before the feet of your most excellent majesty, your most humble, so faithful and obedient subject, who has so extremely offended your most gracious highness that my heavy and fearful heart dare not presume to call you father, deserving of nothing from your majesty, save that the kindness of your most blessed nature does surmount all evils, offences and trespasses, and is ever merciful and ready to accept the penitent calling for grace, at any fitting time. Having received this Thursday, at night, certain letters from Mr Secretary to whom I had lately written advising me to make my humble submission immediately to your self, which I dared not, without your gracious licence, presume to do before, and signifying that your most merciful heart and fatherly pity had granted me your blessing, with the condition that I should persevere in which I had commenced and begun; and that I should not again offend your majesty by the denial or refusal of any such articles and commandments as it may please your highness to address to me, for the perfect trial of my heart and inward affection, for the perfect declaration of the depths of my heart.
First, I acknowledge myself to have most unkindly and unnaturally offended your most excellent highness, in that I have not submitted myself to your most just and virtuous laws; and for my offence therein, which I must confess was in me a thousandfold more grievous than it could be in any other living creature, I put myself wholly and entirely at your gracious mercy; at whose hands I cannot receive that punishment for the same which I have deserved.
Secondly, to open my heart to your grace, in these things which I have before refused to condescend to, and have now written with my own hand, sending them to your highness herewith, I shall never beseech your grace to have pity and compassion on me if ever you shall perceive that I shall, secretly or openly, vary or alter from one piece of that which I have written and subscribed, or refuse to confirm, ratify or declare the same, wherever your majesty shall appoint me.
Thirdly, as I have and will, knowing your excellent learning, virtue, wisdom and knowledge, put my soul under your direction, and by the same have and will in all things henceforth direct my conscience, so I wholly commit my body to your mercy and fatherly pity; desiring no state, no condition, nor no manner or degree of living but such as your grace shall appoint unto me; knowing and confessing that my state cannot be so vile as either the extremity of justice would appoint to me, or as my offences have required and deserved. And whatsoever your grace shall command me to do, touching any of these points, either for things past, present or to come, I shall gladly do the same as your majesty can command me.
Your Grace’s most humble and obedient daughter and handmaid, Mary.’
The following document accompanied the above letter:
‘The confession of me, Lady Mary, made upon certain points and articles written below; in which I do now plainly and with all my heart confess and declare my inward sentence, belief and judgement, with due conformity of obedience to the laws of the realm; so, minding for ever to persist and continue in this determination without change, alteration or variance, I do most humbly beseech the king’s highness, my father, whom I have obstinately and disobediently offended in the denial of the same up to now, to forgive my offences therein, and to take me to his most gracious mercy.
First I confess and acknowledge the king’s majesty to be my sovereign lord and king, in the imperial crown of this realm of England; and do submit myself to his highness and to each and every law and statute of this realm, as it becomes a true and faithful subject to do; which I shall also obey, keep, observe, advance and maintain according to my bounden duty with all the power, force and qualities with which God had endued me, during my life.
I do recognize, accept, take, repute and acknowledge the king’s highness to be supreme head on earth, under Christ, of the church of England; and do utterly refuse the bishop of Rome’s pretended authority, power and jurisdiction within this realm, formerly usurped, according to the laws and statutes made on that behalf, and by all the king’s true subjects humbly received, admitted, obeyed, kept and observed.
And I do also utterly renounce and forsake all manner of remedy, interest and advantage which I may by any means claim by the bishop of Rome’s laws, processes, jurisdiction or sentence, at this time or in any way hereafter, by any manner of title, colour, means or cause that is, shall or can be devised for that purpose.
I do freely, frankly and for the discharge of my duty towards God, the king’s highness and his laws, without other respect, recognize and acknowledge that the marriage formerly had between his majesty and my mother, the late princess dowager, was by God’s law and man’s law incestuous and unlawful.’