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, Professional Genealogist
A probable correction to the ODNB account of Mary, daughter of Henry
VII, and Queen of France.
Even if the earlier date of birth is not definitely established, I think the
text should be amended to reflect the evidence that her birthday was 18
March, and the past arguments about the year.
From: "Chris Phillips"
Sent: Saturday, March 05, 2005 10:27 PM
Subject: Date of birth of Mary, daughter of Henry VII of England
Last month there was an interesting discussion about the possibility that Henry VII and Elizabeth of York had a son who was said to have been born prematurely and died after the death of his sister Elizabeth in 1495.
One factor connected with this question is the date of birth of the next daughter, Mary. A number of published sources say that Mary was born 18 March 1495/6. The article by David Loades in the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says she was born in the first half of 1496, probably in March (apparently following the original edition of the DNB, published in 1893).
Complete Peerage, on the other hand, gives the date as 18 March 1494/5 [vol. 12, part 1, p. 459], citing Mary Croom Brown, "Mary Tudor Queen of France", pp. 2-3 (1911).
It seems that there's no difficulty about her birthday, 18 March, under which her birth is recorded in "the Calendar prefixed to Queen Elizabeth of York's Psalter in the Library of Exeter College, Oxford" according to Mary Croom Brown (though apparently the same document is referred to by Maria Perry in "Sisters to the King" (1998) as Mary's grandmother's Book of Hours - the Beaufort Hours - British Library, Royal 2 A XVIII).
The year is given as 1495 in the psalter, so that the date might naturally be interpreted as 18 March 1495/6.
However, Mary Croom Brown (pp. 2, 3) argued that "the new fashion of reckoning the year as beginning in January was already in use in private documents", and adduced several other pieces of evidence to support the alternative interpretation of 18 March 1494/5:
(1) A privy seal of Henry VII, which she transcribes as: "de Termino Paschae anno xi regis nunc: Anne Skeron nutrici dominae Mariae l s. pro quarterio unius anni finiti ad festum Sancti Johannis Baptistae ultim."
Anne Skeron, the nurse of the lady Mary, is paid for a quarter of a year which finished at the feast of St John the Baptist [24 June] last.
Apparently this had previously been used in support of the March 1495/6 date by Mrs Green, in "Lives of the Princesses of England", in the belief that both the feast day and the preceding quarter fell in the 11th year of Henry VII, and therefore in 1496 (it is one of two pieces of evidence cited by the original DNB).
But Brown argued that, as the record dates from Easter Term 11 Henry VII (1496), the feast of St John the Baptist last must have been 24 June 1495, placing the birth around March 1494/5. If there's a flaw in this argument, I can't find it.
(2) Brown adds that at the beginning of 1499 Henry refused to give his daughter in marriage to the Duke of Milan because she was only 3 years old [citing Calendar of State Papers Venice, vol. 1, 790]. If "the beginning" implies before 18 March, this is consistent with the earlier date but not the later.
(3) Brown also points out that when in 1514 the contract for her marriage to Prince Charles of Castile was repudiated, Henry VIII stated in a letter to the Pope that at her betrothal (17 December 1508) she had scarcely (vix) attained the age of 13 years [citing Letters and Papers Henry VIII, vol. 1, 5319]. If she had been born in 1495/6, she would have been three months short of her 13th birthday.
(4) In addition to Brown's evidence, later authors mention a letter
written by Erasmus in 1523, describing his visit to Eltham in the company of Sir Thomas More (dated variously to the late spring or early summer/autumn/winter of 1499), in which Mary was said to have been aged 4 [P. S. Allen, ed., Opus Epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami, vol. 1, p. 6 (1906)]. (This is cited without comment in the original DNB, despite its inconsistency with the date of birth suggested there.) But it's worth noting the lapse of time before he recorded the visit in writing, and the fact that he did apparently get the ages of two of the other children wrong by a year.
Finally, to add to the confusion, Brown mentions that in 1514 an official statement seems to have made that she was 16, as a counter to suggestions that she was too old for Charles of Castile. Evidently this explains the date 1498 given for her birth by Burke's Peerage (at least previously - I don't know whether the error persists in the current edition).
We could wish the evidence to be clearer - for example, it would be nice to have more information on Brown's claim about the use of 1 January in
private documents - but on the whole the case for 1494/5 seems stronger than that for 1495/6 to me. In particular, I don't see any way round Brown's
argument that "24 June last" in a document dated Easter Term 1496 must refer to 24 June 1495, not 1496. If anyone can spot a flaw here, I'll be interested to hear it!
As far as the ODNB goes, it seems to be an unfortunate case of information from the first edition being accepted at face value, but the evidence presented in the first edition being simulataneously suppressed. The lack of any discussion is particularly unfortunate in view of the fact that, of the modern biographies cited, Walter Richardson's ("Mary Tudor The White Queen", 1970) considers 1494/5 "more probable" than 1495/6, and Maria Perry's ("Sisters to the King", 1998) seems to follow Richardson, though Perry seems a bit confused about dates (describing Perkin Warbeck's abortive landing at Deal as shortly before Mary's birth, though it took place in July 1495).
The ODNB account does not refer to either Brown's biography of Mary or the Complete Peerage article.