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The Murder of Mary Tudor

There was a recent BBC History article about Mary Tudor, rightly pointing how she pioneered the idea that a queen could rule every bit as well as a king. Now, whatever the merits or demerits of her reign, there is a fascinating bit of skullduggery I would like to draw attention to in relation to Mary’s death in 1558…

There is a painting still hanging in Chatsworth that speaks of the end of Queen Mary. It shows Sir William Petre (check him against other portraits), and Bess of Hardwick (ditto). Bess is receiving an apple from someone hidden behind her, and passing it to a little girl, seemingly (from the faint lettering) her daughter, who is passing it to Sir William. And he is going to place it in a fruit bowl into which a strange white powder seems to be drifting. From whence is it drifting? Well, in a superb joke by the artist, it comes from a sinister dark hand above, one actually composed of drapery. There was another clue to the murder, too, one so flagrant that someone saw fit to paint it over. It was in the lower middle, where you can see the Lady’s dress strangely cut off. I wonder what secrets THAT part of the painting held?!

Here’s the painting, dated, bottom left as ‘November 1558’, and now coyly named ‘Lady, Gentleman and their Daughter’:

Now here is the thing. Chatsworth was built by Bess of Hardwick, but the painting did not remain in the family’s hands. It passed into the collection of Charles I, and when he died and his goods were sold off, it was lost to her family for another two hundred years, until it came up for auction, and the Duke of Devonshire snapped it up, and restored it to its original home.

As for Bess, she was said to have been of modest birth, but was nevertheless and inexplicably placed at court to study with Princess Elizabeth, and then married to a very highly placed courtier. All in all, she went on to become the second most wealthy woman in England after Queen Elizabeth. All of which is not very compatible with the idea that she was of lowly birth… But perhaps she wasn’t… perhaps the inscriptions in the paintings of the time are right, and Bess was really born at Hever Castle around 1526, and was the secret daughter of Anne Boleyn. You may remember that the official story is that she was flirting with Henry, while playing hard-to-get…

As for Sir William… although very highly placed in Mary’s government, he was promptly pardoned by Elizabeth when she became Queen, and put in charge of her Mint. In charge of the cash that kept her in power…! And the painter of the picture? Well, the painting is correctly attributed to one Paris Bordone, and that, my friends, was the favourite alias of a gentleman called ‘Aly’, whose tale is now being told, for the very first time in 500 years, in a book entitled ‘Aly, Michelangelo’s Son’. For more about the mystery, check his site: www.whatalyknew.com!