The reign of Henry VIII’s first two heirs was short. Edward VI was 9 years old when he inherited the throne of his father and 15 when he died. His portraits followed the pattern of his predecessor and the young king looked in official painting like a mini version of Henry VIII. Dressed in similar luxurious clothes, the boy poses in Henry’s iconic posture looking directly at the viewer.
|Edward VI, 1547, oil on panel, National Portrait Gallery, London|
Edward and his regents were devout Protestants and their goal was to continue the religious reformation Henry had started. As long the Edward didn’t have children on his own however, the next heir to the throne was his Catholic sister Mary, the daughter of Henry and his first queen Katharine of Aragon. When the young king fell seriously ill and the problem of his succession was imminent, he decided to change his father’s law of succession and designated as his heir Lady Jane Grey, descendant Henry VIII’s sister, Mary. Jane remained queen for just a few days and thus she didn’t manage to leave any official portraits from her time in the throne. Mary managed to regain what was hers and became queen of England having as her main aim to re establish Catholicism in her country. The following portrait was probably painted in 1554 and the necklace Mary wears is thought to be the one given to her by Philip of Spain at the time of their wedding. Mary chose a Spanish husband (her mother Katharine of Aragon was also Spanish) ignoring the reactions of her people who feared the presence of a Spanish King on their throne. Mary however was determined and the inclusion of her husband’s wedding presence in an official portrait would certainly send the message.
|Queen Mary I by Hans Eworth, 1554, oil on panel, National Portrait Gallery, London|
The marriage was however unhappy. Philip was constantly absent; it was rumoured that he was not attracted to his wife and the queen had two phantom pregnancies. This is an aspect of Mary that is not particularly stressed as she is most often referred as bloody Mary, the woman who killed thousands of Protestants in her attempt to convert the English to Catholicism. Mary’s story however is among the most tragic of the Tudor dynasty. She was an extremely unhappy individual, rejected by her father in her teens when Henry VIII tried to divorce her mother and marry Anne Boleyn, losing her royal title and always feeling a stranger in a Protestant court; a woman seeking for love but who never found it and who eventually died childless, still quite young, leaving inevitably the throne to her father’s last surviving child: Elizabeth.