Mary I and Philip of Spain Visit Reading, Berkshire: 2nd August, 1554

As the newly-wedded royal couple pulled up their horses to a slow stop, they were greeted by Robert Bowyer, the Mayor of Reading, as they entered the town. 

With a retinue of servants and carts of their personal belongings behind them, their eyes would have flickered across the landscape of the southern end of the town as they approached. They met the Mayor of Reading on Silver Street, near the forked junction that still exists today. Spede's map of just over fifty years later shows that there were small rows of houses on either side of the road, interrupted by a patchwork of green spaces beyond, with small trees and grazing animals. There were many roads on Spede's map that still exist today - including London Street, Minster Street and Duke Street. But these were probably either roughly cobbled or not much more than dust-tracks. (1)

Mary I, c.1554 Public Domain
The grey stone, box-like spire of St Giles' Church, built in the twelfth century, could be seen in the distance above the rooves of the small white and silver-timbered houses against the blue sky. The gilded decorations at the tip of each corner of the spire and in the centre glinted in the August sunshine. (2) 

The inhabitants of the town had emerged from their houses and workshops along with the town's officials and burgesses to show their affection for the new king and queen. (3) Only a year before, Mary had deposed Queen Jane, who had succeeded to the throne after having been declared heir by Mary's brother, Edward VI, on his deathbed. Mary believed that she was the rightful queen, rallied support and took over London. Jane was denounced as a pretender, was deposed in July 1553, and executed. With the support of the people, Mary was crowned in October. 

Philip II of Spain, c. 1550 Public Domain
Reading's townsfolk would have cheered and waved excitedly on seeing the approach of the royal party, although the recent marriage between Mary and the Spanish Philip wasn't a popular one. Mary had insisted that Philip receive the same authority as her, even having coins minted with both their profiles depicted. The people though, were cautious and suspicious that England might be drawn into Spanish wars in Europe and some distrusted their alliance with the new king. Still, a royal party was a cause for excitement and we can be sure they received a warm welcome to Reading.

Philip and Mary had married only a week before, in an elaborate ceremony on a warm but rainy day at Winchester Cathedral on 25th July, officiated by Bishop Gardiner, who had risen to prominence during her father's reign. 

The queen and Philip pulled up to meet Robert Bowyer, a man in his mid-forties who, as well as being the town's Mayor, also worked as a tanner. He lived in Reading during the reign of every Tudor monarch from Henry VIII, first appearing as Mayor in the records in 1538. He would die in 1575, under the reign of Elizabeth I. (4)

He held in his hands the mace of the town, which it was customary to present to the visiting monarch and represented the royal power. Bowyer knelt before the couple and then stood, raising the gold, ornamental mace with its decoratively carved box-like tip to his lips and kissed it. He passed it up to Mary, who smiled deferentially and passed it back to the Mayor, requesting that he also pass it to her husband, to enforce his authority as her consort. The Mayor did as he was asked, and Philip with his blonde beard and high-collared ruff passed it back to him in perfect protocol. (3)

After a brief chat and the customary welcomes - and maybe even an introduction to Bowyer's wife Elizabeth who may have been in the crowd, they would have looked over the skyline towards their next destination: down towards the wide, dusty London Street, marked by dwellings on either side and the imposing pale, stone walls of Reading Abbey standing tall and bright, in the distance beyond. They were headed for the royal palace at the Abbey. Mary's father had reduced this famous building, the site of solemn royal burials and lavish Medieval royal weddings -  to nothing more than a small royal lodgings with some stables. He had taken the gold, plate and tapestries for himself in the name of religious reform and disbanded the monks - executing the last Abbot, Hugh Cook, in 1539 at the door of his own gatehouse, on charges of treason.  

Reading Abbey today, Public Domain
With solemnity, Bowyer mounted his horse. He tucked the mace into his chest and rode in front of the party, leading them safely to the Abbey. They would have passed the Market Place - with its huddle of timbered shops that housed shoemakers, butchers and tanners -and the town's Medieval mill over the river nearby. Mary may have looked over at St Lawrence's Church on the left hand side, as they entered the Abbey grounds. At the Abbey, the diary of the Reading's Corporation records that the couple were gifted with 'four greate fatt oxen' - paid for of course, by the townspeople. (3)

On arrival, it's likely that the royal newlyweds were also saluted with trumpets and entertainers, who had also performed on Edward VI's arrival to Reading just two years' before. (5)

Reading would remain loyal to Mary, providing two years' later forty men, wearing 'blew cots with red crosses, that cost 6s and 4d... for the public service'. (6)

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(1) Spede's Map of 1611, John Spede. Accessed 9 April 2020.
(2) The spire of St Giles was damaged in 1643, during the English Civil War. It was rebuilt, but the present day spire is Victorian. Spede's map from 1610 shows the outline of the spire: four tall walls with decorations at the corner of each, and one in the centre. This is the spire Mary and Philip would have seen in 1554. See The History of St Giles, Reading. Accessed 9 Apr. 2020. 
(3) John Doran, The History and Antiquities of Reading, Berkshire 1835. - quoting from the Corporation Diary. page 18.
(4) History of Parliament Online, Robert Bowyer, 1511-76. Accessed 9 April 2020.
(5) John Doran, The History and Antiquities of Reading, Berkshire 1835. - quoting from the Corporation Diary. page 17.
(6) Ibid., page 19.

Note: the evidence doesn't state whether Philip and Mary came to Reading on horseback or under a canopy, in a horse-drawn carriage. I've had them arrive on horseback, as her brother did in 1552: the records state that on this occasion King Edward 'staid his horse' as the Mayor approached.