Oh, Drama! Tudor Court Revels and Mary Boleyn by Christine Morgan [Article]

I  was happy to hear from Christine when she saw my post on the Tudor History Summit Facebook, and even more happy when her submission involved Mary Boleyn! This part of her thesis really made me think about pop cultural protrayal of people in this time era and how I will often get caught up in the storyline and assume that is basically how it happened. Obviously this is to an extent, I know historical fiction writers take a lot of liberties ;).

A word from the author,

I chose to write this section based on the glamour and literal drama of Tudor court because, not only was pageantry what Henry VIII was famous for, but this particular production features Mary Boleyn in front of the court and ambassadors as a main character. The pageant Chateau Vert is immortalized in pop culture and TV as the event where Henry VIII met and fell in love with Anne Boleyn. However, this production was actually all about wooing Mary. The affair between Henry VIII and “the other Boleyn girl” has led to many historians’ theories and “what-ifs,” but it should be noted that their affair was very real and lasted several years. In total, the influence of Boleyn women over Henry VIII spanned 14 years and produced 1 (maybe 2?) Tudor children. This event was the start of the Boleyn saga and I cannot, for the life of me, understand why no one has written about it yet! Enjoy!

Oh, Drama! Tudor Court Revels and Mary Boleyn

*An excerpt from “Mary Boleyn: A Great Whore, Infamous Above All,” by Christine Plough; a thesis analyzing the influence, agency, and legacy of Mary Boleyn.

 The increased emphasis of revels under Henry VIII’s reign trickled into court politics where participation in revels became an important tool for families and individuals to assert their position at court and in royal favor. For women especially, participation must be analyzed with the knowledge that Henry VIII frequently included and featured his mistresses in court entertainment. Mary Boleyn is no exception and the only recorded appearance she made in a court entertainment was as the featured women in the pageant Chateau Vert. This pageant was performed at York Palace, the home of Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s main advisor, on March 4, 1522. The revel included over a dozen members of noble and high-ranking men and women at court. Chateau Vert was the last in a series of three days of revels and jousts to impress Spanish ambassadors who had traveled to England to facilitate the Anglo-Imperial Treaty of 1522. In this treaty, among other things, Henry VIII was negotiating a marriage between his daughter, Princess Mary, and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. However, Henry VIII was not the only man at court attempting to impress the Spanish. In fact, it was Henry VIII’s closest advisor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who was using this event to forge his own relationship with the Spanish ambassadors.

In his account of the pageant, biographer Edward Hall lists the noble male participants in Chateau Vert as Henry VIII, Charles Brandon, Nicholas Carewe, Anthony Kingston, Anthoney Knevet, Nicholas Darrel, Anthony Browne, and the Earl of Devonshire. [1] In contradiction to previous historians’ claims that Hall lists the complete noble cast, Hall’s account does not, in fact, accurately list all the noble women who participated in Chateau Vert. The women are, however, mention by the Master of Revels, Richard Gibson, who kept a record in the accounts of the office of the Great Wardrobe, which details the costumes made for the following women: Mary Tudor Dowager Queen of France, the Countess of Devonshire, Jane Parker, Mistress Browne, Mistress Danet, Mistress Karre (Mary Boleyn Carey), the newly arrived Anne Boleyn, and an unnamed lady of the court.[2] This list includes an entry for the Children of the Chapel as well, but those actors were most likely men.

Hall describes the set pieces and decorations as depicting a love story in which a lady has rejected the love of a man. The costumes, banners, and set pieces of this production are surprisingly intimate and seem almost unbefitting thematically for such a public court performance on such a political occasion, which usually featured more elements of tradition and ceremony.[3] Although the characters are based on biblical virtues, it is my conclusion that this pageant was written to stand alone and, based on the costumes and set pieces, to explicitly portray the theme of unrequited love.

The plotline of the pageant as described by Hall involves eight noble ladies who portray the Virtues Beauty, Honor, Perseverance, Kindness, Constance, Bounty, Mercy, and Pity. The Virtues were held captive in the pageant, which was built to resemble the exterior of a castle. Below the Virtues on a lower platform stood their captors, the Children of the Chapel dressed as Danger, Disdain, Jealousy, Unkindness, Scorn, Malebouche [sic], and Strangeness. Finally, the noble men appeared in disguise dressed as Ardent Desire, Amorous, Nobleness, Youth, Attendance, Loyalty, Pleasure, Gentleness, and Liberty and proceed to save the Virtues from captivity by launching an assault of fruits on the castle, thus chasing away the Children of the Chapel. The pageant was concluded with a dance and a surprise reveal of identity.[4]

***

Although Henry VIII most certainly participated in Chateau Vert, he did not appear as the lead character, “Ardent Desire,” which is uncharacteristic of this king who loved attention and pomp. Instead, historian Marie Axton has argued that he appeared as “Loyalty.”[5] The importance of Henry VIII playing this role would point to his efforts to impress the Spanish ambassadors by implementing the subliminal message that he was faithful to his then wife, Katharine of Aragon, the aunt of Emperor Charles V. Another major theory put forth by historians is that Henry VIII commissioned this pageant and its disguises in an attempt to win Mary Boleyn Carey as his mistress. If both of these theories are accurate, the character, “Loyalty,” was both political grandstanding and an attempt to discreetly win the affection of a woman.

This attention to discretion is in keeping with the pattern of secrecy Henry VIII kept around his affairs in the earlier years of his reign. The evolution from Henry VIII’s attention towards Mary to his later attention towards Anne is an indication that the pageant was not intended to focus on Anne as several historians have suggested. Instead, this display better supports the theory that the pageant was performed to subtly engage Mary Boleyn Carey, who played the role of “Kindness.” If the theory of Mary Boleyn being the object of the pageant and the King’s affection is correct, then the theme of rejected or unrequited love can be interpreted as meaning Mary was not initially responsive to Henry VIII’s advances.

***

While the script, if there ever was one, no longer exists for the Chateau Vert, some of its music still remains in the archives. Although not officially attributed to the pageant, the song “Yow and I and Amyas”[6] survives in the papers of William Cornish (sometimes “Cornysh”) who was the Master of the Children of the Chapel from 1509 to 1523. The song, composed by Cornish, has been linked to Chateau Vert based on the description of scenery included in the lyrics as well as the names of the featured characters, which are included in the storyline of the composition.[7]

Cornish’s arrangement tells the story of a knight named “Desire” who has arrived at a castle to save a lady, “Pity.” The lyrics include a line about the knight having to explain his arrival to “Strangeness” and being assured by “Kindness” that the lady “Pity” would escape with him. The piece is structured into two stanzas of the narrative followed by a repeated chorus where “Desire” implores “Pity” to escape with him into the “green wood.”  Here is an excerpt of the song:

Yow and I and amyas

Amyas and yow and I

to the grene wode must we go Alas

yow and I my lyff and amyas (repeated refrain)

The knyght knokett at the castell gate.

The lady meruelyd who was therat.

To call the porter he wold not blyn.

The lady said he shuld not com In.

The portres was a lady bryght.

Strangenes that lady hyght.

She asked hym what was his name.

He said desyre yor man madame.

She said desyre what do ye here.

He said Madame as yor prisoner

He was cownselled to breffe a byll.

And shew my lady hys oune wyll.

Kyndnes said she wold yt bere.

and Pyte said she wold be ther.

Thus how thay dyd we can nott say.

we left them ther and went ower way.[8]

While this song may seem to be a quaint ditty or even a lucky peek into storytelling and court revels, its value runs much deeper. Only two previous historians have mentioned this song but neither took the opportunity to analyze its immense significance.[9] Beyond offering a rare look into court drama, the song represents a pivotal moment in Mary Boleyn’s life in that this is an event that makes it easier for historians to identify the true start of her affair with Henry VIII. The first hint at Mary Boleyn Carey’s prominent placement in this particular pageant comes from analyzing the simple, but revealing storytelling. Of the twelve noblemen and women who represented virtues, the song only mentioned four by name and made those roles active: Desire, Strangeness, Kindness, and Pity. Of those four, one was a male (Desire) and one was part of the Children of the Chapel (Strangeness), leaving only two featured roles for the noble women of court. Mary Boleyn Carey appeared before the court and played the featured role of “Kindness.” There is no lyrical nod at all to Anne Boleyn or her role “Perseverance,” further disproving the theory that Anne Boleyn was of importance at this time.

Secondly, this song tells a story from start to finish, leading to the conclusion that there were no subsequent songs for this pageant; its story is complete. With this in mind, it is significant that Mary be given a featured role, an honor that was not given to the king’s sister and fellow participant, the Dowager Queen Mary Tudor. While the Boleyns had spent almost a decade working to increase their power and influence at court, this is the very moment that they stepped into the wings while Mary diverted everyone’s gaze and accepted the spotlight.

Footnotes:

[1] Hall, 630-31. Edward Hall was employed by Henry VIII to not only write the history of previous kings, but to also attend court events and record their extravagance or the important men and women in attendance. The Tudor monarchs were all obsessed with making large displays of wealth in an effort to appear more legitimate as rulers. Edward Hall’s accounts are likely geared towards shows of wealth and strength of networks between Henry VIII and his subjects.
[2] Revels 1522, in Revels: Miscellaneous 1519, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 3, 1519-1523, 1548-1559. Every complete list of noble participants has listed women and men and cited Edward Hall. However, the names of ladies comes from a completely different primary source. which leads me to believe that this incorrect citation was made once and then simply copied into other secondary works. Neither Mistress Browne nor Mistress Danet are referred to with their first names, however it is generally supposed that both women were named Elizabeth.
[3] Dillon, “Hall’s Rhetoric of Performance,” 12-14.
[4] Hall, 631.
[5] Marie Axton, “The Tudor Mask and Elizabethan Court Drama,” in M. Axton and R. Williams, eds., English Drama: Form and Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 29-31.
[6] A form of Latin, meaning “loved.”
[7] Streitberger, 113. Court Revels 112-4 and PRO SP1/29 (ff. 228v-237r).
[8] This song can be heard at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVfeZYPUeN8
[9] For example, Streitberger.

mary-boleyn

Advertisements

I'm a lover of all things Tudor, and historical - fiction or fact. My aim is to bring together writers of all calibers to share their work with like minded people!

One thought on “Oh, Drama! Tudor Court Revels and Mary Boleyn by Christine Morgan [Article]

  1. Your extract has been very enlightening with the description of the Chateau Vert, featuring Mary Boleyn Carey playing the role of “Kindness”. Although I was aware that such revels were part of Tudor court life, my knowledge of them went little beyond a vague idea of how they were organised so I now feel I have a better understanding of this form of entertainment, popular in the days of Henry VIII. Although Anne Boleyn is better known to the world, probably more for the manner of her death than her life, Mary was certainly a favourite of Henry VIII’s before he cast his eyes in the direction of her younger sister.

    You have obviously researched this subject very well and the footnotes you provided give further interesting information..I hope your thesis will help to dispel some of the myths which exist about the Tudor era and while I love to read historical novels, I prefer those where available facts are included and only the unknown details are left to the imagination of each author.

Leave a Reply