Just finished reading Anna Whitelock’s Mary Tudor: England’s first queen. A very well written book, walking the very difficult tightrope between academia and popularity. Still find it very hard to get to grips with Mary I as a person, but this probably does as much as can be done in the way of humanising her. A couple of points to think about in terms of legal history, in terms of constitutional law in the (novel) situation of a queen regnant, and then the ramifications of a the doctrine of unity of persons in the context of a married queen.
Recently, I have been studying plea rolls for illustrations (serious and humorous). My ‘patch’ is the medieval rolls, but I have enjoyed having a look at some of the depictions of Mary (alone and with Philip) on the first membrane of legal rolls. These range from the cartoonish (CP 40/1170 m.1 – cartoonish profile) to the lavish, coloured and gold-blinged (see, e.g. KB 27/1172 – also featuring Philip with a rather phallic symbolish sword). Most of the KB 27 images are standardised, those at the beginning of the reign bearing close resemblance to those of Edward VI. Like her brother, who, until his very last roll, (KB 27/1167 m.1) was not depicted with a state sword, Mary generally holds the less masculine orb and sceptre.Her first roll, KB 27/1168 (1553), however, shows her with a sword. Perhaps this appeared fitting, given her then-recent heroic efforts to gain her crown. She also has a sword in KB 27/1188 – her very last roll, in 1558, in which, intriguingly, Philip is not depicted. On all other occasions after their marriage, Philip has the sword.
One can imagine that a lot of thought went into just how to portray Mary and her husband without giving offence to either in terms of precedence. At first, Philip is on the right, the dominant side, as on the coins which were circulated, though positions are switched from KB 27/1180 m.1 (Michaelmas 1556) onwards – an interesting change which it is tempting to tie to an abandonment of hope for an heir and Philip’s absence from his wife (note though that his reappearance in 1557 did not change the positions). The spouses are usually shown looking at each other, though never very happily. Mary, in fact, comes closest to looking happy in the triumphant first membrane of KB 27/1168 (1553) – which has a beautiful colour picture of her with angels and a dove.
Those responsible for decorating the Marian KB 27 rolls show none of the medieval humour – we look in vain for grotesques and chimeras. There is a touch of subversive fun on some Common Pleas rolls – e.g. CP 40/1170 m.1 has a cartoon profile of the queen, and there is a splendid demonic creature on CP 40/1174 m.1, but, generally, it looks as if the mood of the times was not conducive to visual wit and humour.