The Spanish Match is the term used to describe the circumstances behind the marriage between Mary I and Philip of Spain, the future king of Spain on the abdication of Charles V. The Spanish Match was not popular in England and was one of the reasons for the Wyatt Rebellion of 1554.


After Mary’s triumphant entry into London after the failure of the Duke of Northumberland’s attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne, there were those in government who wanted the issue of succession settled once and for all. The will of Henry VIII had stated clearly that if Mary died without an heir, then Elizabeth would be the legitimate successor. For the likes of the Lord Chancellor, Stephen Gardner, this was not something he looked forward to, as Elizabeth was a Protestant. Mary shared his fears and very soon after her coronation, Mary started to make plans for a marriage that would ensure the continuation of Catholicism in England and Wales.


One of the English candidates put forward for marriage was Edward Courtenay. He was the great-grandson of Edward IV and as a Plantagenet he could claim that his lineage make him a suitable candidate. However, his background made people suspicious as to his intentions. Through no fault of his own, Courtenay had spent a number of his early years in the Tower of London – his father, the Marquis of Exeter, had been executed in the reign of Henry VIII. Ironically, this background evoked much sympathy from Mary who experienced an equally less than happy childhood. While in the Tower, Courtney did what he could to educate himself – but what he could not learn was social interaction. When he was released from the Tower, he was out-of-his depth in the Royal Court and became the object of many jokes. He did not help himself. Courtney believed that he had the favour of Mary and acted like a Prince, ordering men to kneel in his presence. Courtney’s one powerful supporter was the Lord Chancellor, Stephen Gardner who believed that Courtney was an excellent candidate for the Queen’s marriage.


There is little doubt that Mary liked Courtney – she made him Earl of Devon – but not to the extent that she viewed him as a future husband.


Mary seems to have had grander plans. She viewed her position as Queen of England as one that would attract the best candidates in Europe. There were plenty of candidates but the most suitable was Philip of Spain, the son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. While Philip seems to have been less than enthusiastic, his father was not. Charles wanted to extend Habsburg influence and also wanted to present the Empire as being too powerful for Valois France to challenge. By becoming King of England, Philip would have achieved both as far as Charles was concerned. Charles had already decided to abdicate and spilt his empire between his brother Ferdinand and Philip. Philip would get Spain and the Spanish Netherlands and the addition of England would serve to surround France – seen by Charles as being the natural enemy of the Empire.


An official proposal of marriage was presented to Mary on October 10th 1553. After deliberating for two weeks, Mary decided to accept the offer. Philip was, in fact, an obvious choice for Mary. She had frequently sounded out his father, Charles V, for advice. Philip was a staunch Catholic and Spain was considered to be one of the wealthier regions of Europe as a result of her colonies in the New World. Philip was also a learned man who placed great value on education, like Mary.


Mary must have been surprised at the lack of public support for her marriage to Philip when it was announced. She completely underestimated how much the English were not willing to tolerate a foreign king. However, it also seems that she was unconcerned about the public reaction to her planned wedding to Philip. The Privy Council was only formally told of the planned marriage on November 8th. On November 16th a group of MP’s and Privy Counsellors visited Mary in an attempt to persuade her to rethink. This she refused to do. Mary blamed her Lord Chancellor, Stephen Gardner, for persuading this group to approach her.


On December 7th, the Privy Council accepted the terms of the wedding agreement. In an attempt to regain some credibility with Mary, Gardner worked long hours to produce an agreement that would allay fears of England having a foreign king. In April 1554, Parliament approved the agreement.


The agreement, which Philip played no part in formulating, gave him the title King of England but little else. English law was preserved and upheld in every respect and no one from Spain or the Empire was permitted to hold any English office. Any child from the marriage was also bound by these laws. If the marriage produced no child or if Mary was to pre-decease Philip, neither he nor his heirs would have a claim on the throne of England.


The agreement was accepted by Charles V and signed on January 12th 1554. He persuaded his son to accept it. In private, Philip criticised the marriage agreement and informed his closest advisors in Madrid that he would not be bound by the restrictions placed on him.


The prospect of the Spanish Match was one of the reasons that provoked the Wyatt Rebellion of January/February 1554.


The Wyatt Rebellion was enough for Charles and Philip to be wary about the marriage. Even though an agreement had been signed, the Imperial Ambassador, Renard, expressed his concerns about Philip’s safety in England. Mary was given less than detailed information about Philip’s plans and she became nervous that the agreement would not be finalised. Philip was expected in England in February 1554 but he did not arrive. A whole household of over 300 persons, including bodyguards, was prepared in May – but sat in idleness, as Philip still had not arrived. Philip himself kept his movements secret. Mary based herself near Southampton to greet her future husband – but she had no idea as to when he would arrive. Philip eventually arrived in late July and met Mary for the first time at Winchester on July 23rd. He brought with him his own household, making the one created for him redundant. Many young Englishmen who had hoped to be included in Philip’s household found no place in the one he brought with him. The unseasonable incessant rain in an English summer seemed to summarise the whole episode. For many observers, Philip did not want to be in England; many people in England did not want him here – and he was about to marry the Queen.


The marriage took place in Winchester on July 25th 1554, just two days after meeting for the first time. Philip with his men arrived at Winchester Cathedral at 10.00 while Mary and her entourage arrived at 10.30. The Lord Chancellor, Stephen Gardner, who was also Bishop of Winchester, conducted the marriage ceremony. The service was conducted in both Latin and English. Mary’s wedding ring was a plain gold hoop – as she wished for.


Many were surprised with how pleasant Philip was and it seems to be the case that he did what he could to be civil and pleasant to as many people as was possible. Observers claimed that it was not reciprocated and that few who got near to the new king tried to hide their feelings for him. It might explain why at the end of August, Philip had arranged for a ship to be ready to take him back to Spain.


Parliament did little to make the new king feel welcome. In particular Parliament insisted that Philip should not be formally crowned as King of England – something that greatly offended him.


After becoming King of Spain, Philip spent a great deal of time in Spain looking after problems associated with his kingdom and empire. This gave him the excuse not to be in England for any length of time. The domesticity that Mary was thought to desire – whereby she was with her husband and he with her – never occurred and the marriage also failed to produce an heir. Therefore, on Mary’s death Elizabeth became the legal successor to the throne. 

Related Posts

  • The foreign policy of Mary I, Mary Tudor, followed an expected pattern. Even before being crowned queen, Mary was known to be supportive of the…
  • Mary I is also referred to as Mary Tudor or "Bloody Mary". Mary's father was Henry VIII and her mother was Catherine of Aragon, Henry's…
  • Philip II's foreign policy was to affect much of Europe. In many senses Philip II had too many responsibilities and not enough financial clout to…