She seems to have been a singularly precocious child, and is reported in July 1520, when scarcely four and a half years old, as entertaining some visitors by a performance on the virginals. When she was little over nine she was addressed in a complimentary Latin oration by commissioners sent over from Flanders on commercial matters, and replied to them in the same language "with as much assurance and facility as if she had been twelve years old".1 Her father was proud of her achievements. About the same time that she replied to the commissioners in Latin he was arranging that she should learn Spanish, Italian and French. A great part, however, of the credit of her early education was undoubtedly due to her mother, who not only consulted the Spanish scholar Vives upon the subject, but was herself Mary's first teacher in Latin. She was also well instructed in music, and among her principal recreations as she grew up was that of playing on the virginals and lute.
It was a misfortune that she shared with high-born ladies generally in those days that her prospects in life were made a matter of sordid bargaining from the first. Mary was little more than two years old when she was proposed in marriage to the dauphin, son of Francis I. Three years afterwards the French alliance was broken off, and in 1522 she was affianced to her cousin the young emperor Charles V by the Treaty of Windsor. No one, perhaps, seriously expected either of these arrangements to endure; and, though we read in grave state papers of some curious compliments and love tokens (really the mere counters of diplomacy) professedly sent by the girl of nine to her powerful cousin, not many years passed away before Charles released himself from this engagement and made a more convenient match.
Lady Mary, c. 1521-1525.
By Lucas Horenbout. NPG.
In 1526 a rearrangement was made of the royal household, and it was thought right to give Mary an establishment of her own along with a council on the borders of Wales, for the better government of the Marches. For some years she accordingly kept her court at Ludlow, while new arrangements were made for the disposal of her hand. She was now proposed as a wife, not for the dauphin as before, but for his father Francis I, who had just been redeemed from captivity at Madrid, and who was only too glad of an alliance with England to mitigate the severe conditions imposed on him by the emperor. Wolsey, however, on this occasion, only made use of the princess as a bait to enhance the terms of the compact, and left Francis free in the end to marry the emperor's sister.
It was during this negotiation, as Henry afterwards pretended, that the question was first raised whether Henry's own marriage with Catherine was a lawful one. Grammont, Bishop of Tarbes, who was one of the ambassadors sent over by Francis to ask the princess in marriage, had, it was said, started an objection that she might possibly be considered illegitimate on account of her mother having been once the wife of her father's brother. The statement was a mere pretence to shield the king when the unpopularity of the divorce became apparent. It is proved to be untrue by the strongest evidence, for we have pretty full contemporary records of the whole negotiation. On the contrary, it is quite clear that Henry, who had already for some time conceived the project of a divorce, kept the matter a dead secret, and was particularly anxious that the French ambassadors should not know it,…