The Tudor Siblings

The Tudor half-siblings, children of Henry VIII, are known successively as Edward VI, Mary I and, most famous of all, Elizabeth I. (You can also read about Henry Fitzroy here). The timeline of monarchs gives a lovely linear order in which one by one they take centre stage in the politics of the time and our historical interest but how did they interact? What did they think of each other?

Firstly, let's look at some facts and figures to help us understand the background to this unconventional Tudor family.

The first of these three Tudor children to be born was Mary, in 1516. Her mother was Henry's first wife Katherine of Aragon, the Spanish princess whom Henry had wed a few months into his reign. 

Katherine was a pious catholic and brought her daughter up to be also. Henry had his marriage to Katherine annulled, on the grounds that it had been against God, when Mary was 17 years old. Mary's status as Princess was swiped from under her, as she was also declared illegitimate and she became the Lady Mary. 

The second of these three to be born was Elizabeth, in 1533, daughter of Henry's second wife Anne Boleyn. Her mother was executed when she was only 2 years old. She underwent the same severe demotion in status as Mary had done and was reduced from Princess to the Lady Elizabeth.

Edward was born in 1537 to Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife and the last wife to bear him any children. He had been born into an indisputably lawful marriage (both of Henry's previous wives being dead), legitimate and was the right sex.

So how did the children of Henry VIII get along? What were their relationships like?

Mary I - Daughter of Kathryn of Aragon

Elizabeth and Edward, much closer in age developed a close bond which only strained under the necessary formalisation of their correspondence and interactions with Edward's ascension to the throne.The point at which their relationship changed forever can be pinpointed to the death of their father. Elizabeth and Edward were brought together to be told of their father's death. Apparently the siblings wept uncontrollably and for so long that the servants in the room could not help but weep also. Eventually composure was found and the brother and sister, now aware of the change in their relative positions, would never again be this close.

Edward VI - Son of Jane Seymour

Mary, being 17 years Elizabeth's senior and 21 years Edward's, couldn't have formed a childhood type bond typical of siblings. Mary's attitude toward Edward and Elizabeth differed greatly. She considered Edward her father's legitimate heir and therefore did not experience the same barriers to showing affection as she did towards Elizabeth. Elizabeth however was the personification of the wrongs that had been done to her, her mere existence coming directly as a consequence of the painful events Mary had had to endure. Mary showered gifts on Edward, many of which she had made herself, and showed a genuine, almost maternal way toward him.Towards Elizabeth she was not mean, indeed when Mary became Queen she often appeared with Elizabeth by her side.

Edward and Elizabeth were both protestant in stark contrast to Mary's fervent catholic faith. It was this that had the greatest impact of Mary's relationships with the other two.

During Edward's reign relationships with his sisters were very much a sovereign to subject. Any genuine affection for either of them, which was undoubtedly there, was obscured by his kingly attitude toward them. A serious boy, only 15 when he died, this seems typical of his personality as opposed to specifically how he dealt with his sisters. On matters of religion he was steadfast and he and Mary quarrelled violently over his expected compliance to the new religion and her commitment to the old.


Interestingly, Edward wrote both of his sisters out of the Act of Succession for who would succeed him to the throne favouring, for sound legal reasons, his cousin Lady Jane Grey. When it came to business Edward was very straightforward and emotionless…both his half-sisters were illegitimate and therefore could not inherit the throne.

When it came to Mary's turn to pass on the throne familial ties took precedent and she named Elizabeth her successor, still pleading with her to carry on what she had started and return England to Roman Catholicism. Elizabeth did not and took, initially at least, a rather liberal view of the religion of her subjects.

To go into the events, arguments and plots between the siblings will take another blog, perhaps more than just one, but I hope this 5 mix history fix has given you a good, quick insight into the Tudor Siblings.

Elizabeth I - Daughter of Anne Boleyn

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