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Marriage from a different age


Winchester is commemorating the 450th wedding anniversary of Mary Tudor and Philip of Spain. Glyn Redworth reports

WHEN we think of Philip II of Spain, we usually think of the Invincible Armada, and not of a lost King of England. A small and touching exhibition of treasures at Winchester Cathedral reminds us of our misplaced monarch by commemorating the 450th anniversary of his marriage to Mary Tudor, at the cathedral on 25 July 1554. This is supported, in the inner Close, by an exhibition of 450 years of wedding costume and custom from Hampshire, including a replica of Mary Tudor’s wedding dress.

If our King Felipe is forgotten, then "Bloody Mary" is misunderstood. Her desperate humanity is apparent from a Book of Hours loaned by Eton College. Underneath the Annunciation, she has scrawled "My lord I shall desire you to pray for me Mary the Queen."

By March 1558, she thought her prayers had been answered. Thanking God for a Roman Catholic heir, her belief in providence was touching, even naïve, as she had not seen Philip since the summer.

Seven months later, she was forced to add a codicil, devoutly accepting that she would never be blessed with a child, yet still trusting her sister Elizabeth would uphold the Roman Catholic faith.

Philip engages our sympathy, too. His portrait by Titian hangs next to Hans Eworth’s likeness of Mary. Standing in front of a brightly painted backcloth, she stares out at us, dripping with jewels, including her husband’s gift of the Peregrina pearl. Mary’s dumpy magnificence poignantly contrasts with the almost ethereal depiction of a slender Spanish prince who gazes off-stage, as if not to overpower us with an innate majesty. Painted largely in greys and blacks, Titian’s Philip has little need of gaudy signs of outward majesty.

"Cooing and billing, like Philip and Mary on a shilling," wrote one early wag about the 1555 shilling, on which the two monarchs eyeball each other. It is displayed up another flight of stairs in the Treasury, along with the magnificent medal portraits by Jacopo da Trezzo that provided for the coin’s inspiration.

Gender equality is abruptly brought to an end by Giovanni da Cavino’s neo-classical medal celebrating the restoration of Roman Catholicism. A seated Pope Julius reaches out to a supplicant figure representing England, flanked on one side by Philip’s father, the Emperor Charles, and Cardinal Pole, and on the other by King Philip, with the Queen modestly out on a limb.

Mary gets her revenge in the exhibition’s logo, the letters M and P topped by a single crown. Yet she would have been mortally offended. After years of spinsterhood, she revelled in her married status, insisting her husband’s name should come first, even on acts of Parliament.

That Philip was styled England’s King is never explicitly acknowledged in the exhibition. Philip is the only Spanish Roman Catholic to have been head of the Church of England — so far, that is.

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Wedding dresses on display at Winchester

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The Marriage of England and Spain Exhibition runs until 30 September; £3.50. The Wedding Costume and Custom exhibition runs until 31 August; £2.50.

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