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Tudor Family Drama, Castles, and Pembroke

The Tudors aren’t what you might immediately think of when you think of Pembroke, but through Framlingham and Fotheringhay, the College is connected to some significant moments in what was a very dramatic Royal line.

Trial of Queen Mary, Great Chamber, Fotheringhay Castle (The British Library)

The Trial of Queen Mary, Great Chamber, Fotheringhay Castle (The British Library)


Fotheringhay was given to Catherine of Aragon by Henry VIII. At the time it was in need of restoration, having decayed since Richard III’s death at the Battle of Bosworth. Catherine restored it at considerable expense, and after her time as Queen ended, Henry granted the castle to his subsequent wives.  Its primary use was as a prison hence it’s involvement in the last days of Mary, Queen of Scots.  Queen at age 6, Mary had a tumultuous life, most of which was spent in France or in Elizabeth’s custody, and weathered several plots against her, as well as outliving two husbands and marrying a third.

The marshy landscape of Fotheringhay made it a secure location, and it was here that Mary was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth.  Mary’s trial in 1597 had a forgone conclusion, and she was quickly found guilty.  Despite this, Elizabeth remained reluctant to sign the death warrant, and Mary wasn’t executed until February 1588. Her body remained at Fotheringhay until July, when it was buried at Peterborough Cathedral until her son James became James I of England and transferred her body to Westminster Abbey.

Following Mary’s death the castle decayed, and was dismantled entirely by 1682.  It is now a flat mound surrounded by a ditch, with a small section of masonry wall remaining.

Fotheringhay was inherited in 1334 by Mary de St Pol, who, as many readers will know, is the Foundress of Pembroke.


Framlingham Castle

Framlingham Castle

Framlingham is the site of another of many dramatic moments in Tudor history, this time featuring a different Queen Mary; it was here that Mary I was told she was Queen of England.  Hers was not a simple sucession; her very ability to rule was in question thanks to Henry VIII’s many marriages and divorces, and her brother King Edward was keen to ensure further Protestant rule.

Framlingham’s Tudor history began after the Howard estates were restored in the 1500s; they had inherited it in 1483 through John Howard, the 1st Duke of Norfolk, but lost it after his death at the Battle of Bosworth (the same battle that caused Fotheringhay to be granted to Catherine of Aragon, and crowned Henry VII).  The disgrace of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, sent Framlingham into the hands of Mary Tudor, who fled there after the death of her brother.  Edward VI had tried to change the line of succession set out by his father; he intended for the throne to pass to the male heirs Lady Jane Grey, who was granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary, but she had not produced any heirs at the time of his death.  She was therefore made successor at the last moment, and was announced Queen in July 1553. Accounts say that she was reluctant to take the throne, and perhaps with good reason; she was later executed.

Mary did not accept this and seized power the same year, having first gathered her forces at Framlingham. There was little resistance to her claim, and the popular opinion seemed to be in her favour.  She was at Framlingham when she heard that Edward VI had died.

Framlingham returned to the Howards in 1613, but was in a derelict state.  The misfortunes of Theophilus Howard led him to sell the castle and estate to Sir Robert Hitcham in 1635; he died the following year, leaving the Castle to Pembroke.

Trivia: Henry VII was born in Pembroke, Wales; although not related to our Pembroke, the Tudor line did start in a Pembroke!

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