Mary HASTINGS

Born: 1552

Died: AFT 1584

Father: Francis HASTINGS (2º E. Huntingdon)

Mother: Catherine POLE (C. Huntingdon)


Daughter of Francis Hastings, 2º E. Huntingdon, and Catherine Pole. Niece of Edward, baron Loughborough. Her father was a descendent of the Duke of Buckingham; well her mother was a descendent of the Duke of Clarence. This made her a cousin to the Kings of England.

When the second Earl died, he left his oldest son, Henry, 3rd earl of Huntingdon, the responsibility for supporting his younger brother and sisters, and arranging their marriages. The dowager Countess Catherine assisted in this financially. In 1562 she leased him all her lands except the manor of Lubbesthorpe, where she lived until her death, for an annuity of £960 and his promise to double his sisters’ dowries. Henry, the new Earl, contracted a marriage for one of his sisters, either Lady Elizabeth or Lady Mary, to Lord Bobelec, the Earl of Oxford's heir. The agreement provided for a dowry of 1000 marks and a jointure of £1000. Edward de Vere was supposed to marry one of the sisters within a month of his eighteenth birthday. Before that date, however, Oxford died and the new Earl became the ward of William Cecil, Lord Bughley. He married Burghley's daughter, Anne Cecil, instead.

Lady Mary, still unmarried and in her late twenties, may have been a maid of honor at the court of Queen Elizabeth in 1581 when Dr. Atkins, an English physician living in Muscovy, suggested her name to Tsar Ivan the Terrible of Russia in reponse to his interest in beginning negotiations for an English bride of royal blood. Mary qualified, being a Plantagenet descendent distantly related to the Queen. It is uncertain when she was told of her role in the matter.

Ivan was at that time married to his seventh wife, a woman he planned to discard if the match with an English "princess" could be arranged. Ivan sent an ambassador, Theodor Andreevich Pissemsky, to England to negotiate the marriage and an alliance against the King of Poland. He was to report on the height, complexion, and measurements of the proposed bride and procure a portrait of her. Ivan was looking for a stately appearance, and would also require that Mary and all her attendants convert to the Orthodox religion.

Queen Elizabeth, who wanted exclusive English access to the port of St. Nicholas, deliberately delayed committing herself with the ambassador, who arrived in England in Sep 1582, at first telling him that Mary Hastings had recently had smallpox and that a face-to-face meeting and a portrait would be intrusive. In May 1583, however, she could put him off no longer. There are two accounts of the meeting, one from the ambassador himself (translated) and one by Sir Jerome Horsey, who was not present. They differ widely in some areas but agree that the meeting was in the Lord Chancellor's garden. The Lord Chancellor was Sir Thomas Bromley, but while the Ambassador's account says the garden was at Bromley's country house, Horsey places it in the gardens at York House, near Charing Cross in the city of Westminster. According to the Ambassador, he was allowed only an interpreter, Dr. Roberts, and did not actually speak to Lady Mary. There was a party of ladies in the garden and Lady Mary was pointed out to him. She was walking at the head of the group, between the Countess of Huntingdon (her brother's wife, born Catherine Dudley) and Lady Bromley (Elizabeth Fortescue). The two groups circled the garden several times, passing each other, so that the Ambassador could get a good look. Horsey's version, in which the Ambassador throws himself on the ground before the Tsar's betrothed and declares she has the face of an angel, seems unlikely. What the Ambassador did say was, “It is enough”. He reported to the Tsar that “The Princess of Hountinski, Mary Hantis is tall, slight, and white-skinned; she has blue eyes, fair hair, a straight nose, and her fingers are long and taper”. Some translations make her eyes grey. The long-awaited portrait was completed in time for him to take it with him when he returned to Russia. He embarked on 22 Jun 1583 along with England’s new ambassador to Russia, Sir Jerome Bowes. Bowes's instructions were to dissuade the Tsar on grounds of Mary's poor health, scarred complexion, and reluctance to leave her friends.

Until Ivan's death on 18 Mar 1584, Mary (at least according to Horsey) had to put up with being called “the Empress of Muscovia”. Mary herself died, still unwed, before 1589, by which date a bequest in her will was being contested.

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