Dowry of Mary

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Dowry of Mary (or Dowry of the Virgin, Our Lady's Dowry, and similar variations) is a title used in Catholic contexts to refer to England.[1][2][3]

Early use[edit]

The title originated in the Medieval period, when devotion to the Virgin Mary in England was particularly strong.[4][5] It was believed that England belonged in some special way to Mary, who was seen as the country's "protectress" and who through her powers of intercession acted as the country's defender or guardian.[6] According to the short film Saint Edmund Arrowsmith by the company known as Mary's Dowry Productions, this title in reference to England first appeared in 1051. Though the title's precise origin is unknown, it had become widespread by the middle of the fourteenth century, and around the year 1350 a mendicant preacher stated in a sermon that "it is commonly said that the land of England is the Virgin's dowry".[6] Around fifty years later, Archbishop Thomas Arundel, discussing Mary and the Incarnation, wrote that "we English, being ... her own Dowry, as we are commonly called, ought to surpass others in the fervour of our praises and devotions".[7] By the reign of Henry V, the title dos Mariae, "dowry of Mary", was being applied to England in Latin texts[8] and according to chronicler Thomas Elmham, English priests sought the intercession of "the Virgin, protectress of her dower" on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt.[9]

Depictions in art[edit]

The Wilton Diptych (c. 1395).

The Wilton Diptych, completed around 1395, depicts Richard II kneeling before the Virgin and Child. Carried by a nearby angel is the Cross of St George, the staff of which is surmounted by an orb featuring a minuscule map of England.[10] An altarpiece from the same era showed Richard handing the orb to Mary, with the inscription Dos tua Virgo pia haec est, "This is thy dowry, O Holy Virgin".[11][12]

In the wake of the English Reformation, the notion of England enjoying a special association or relationship with Mary became an important aspect of recusant Catholic spirituality.[13] The residents at English College in Valladolid, Spain owned a painting which depicted Mary being handed a scroll carrying the words "We will remain under the shade of your wings till the wickedness passes" by a group of kneeling Jesuits. The painting's superscription read Anglia dos Mariae, "England, Mary's dowry".[14] At a college in Seville it was reported that students had raised a painting of Mary carrying the superscription "Anglia Dos Mariae. England is the Dowry of Our Lady".[15]

Papal recognition[edit]

Pope Leo XIII referred to England's association with the title in 1893. Addressing a group of Catholic pilgrims from England in Rome, he spoke of "the wonderful filial love which burnt within the heart of your forefathers towards the great Mother of God ... to whose service they consecrated themselves with such abundant proofs of devotion, that the kingdom itself acquired the singular and highly honourable title of 'Mary's Dowry.'"[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Womersley, David (2010), Divinity and State, Oxford University Press, p. 16. ISBN 978-0-19-925564-1
  2. ^ Nichols, Vincent et al. Firmly I Believe and Truly: The Spiritual Tradition of Catholic England (2011), Oxford University Press, p. 21. ISBN 978-0-19-929122-9
  3. ^ Cummings, Brian et al. (2010), Cultural Reformations: Medieval and Renaissance in Literary History, Oxford University Press, p. 117. ISBN 978-0-19-921248-4
  4. ^ Bogle, Joanna (1992), A Book of Feasts and Seasons, Gracewing, p. 159. ISBN 978-0-85244-217-3
  5. ^ McNally, Terrence J. (2009), What Every Catholic Should Know About Mary, Xlibris, p. 76. ISBN 978-1-4415-1051-8[self-published source]
  6. ^ a b Saul, Nigel (2011), For Honour and Fame: Chivalry in England, 1066-1500, Random House, p. 208. ISBN 978-1-84792-052-2.
  7. ^ Boss, Sarah (2004), Mary, Continuum International Publishing Group, p. 118. ISBN 978-0-8264-5788-2
  8. ^ Hilton, Lisa (2009), Queens Consort: England's Medieval Queens, Phoenix Books, ISBN 978-0-7538-2611-9
  9. ^ Saul, Nigel (2011), For Honour and Fame: Chivalry in England, 1066-1500, Random House, p. 209. ISBN 978-1-84792-052-2.
  10. ^ Strong, Roy (2000), The Spirit of Britain: A Narrative History of the Arts, Random House, p. 2. ISBN 978-0-7126-6495-0
  11. ^ Gordon, Dillian et al. (1998), The Regal Image of Richard II and the Wilton Diptych, Harvey Miller Publishers, p. 24. ISBN 978-1-872501-72-7
  12. ^ Lavezzo, Kathy (2003), Imagining a Medieval English Nation, University of Minnesota Press, p. 177 ISBN 978-0-8166-3734-8
  13. ^ Espinosa, Ruben (2011), Masculinity and Marian Efficacy in Shakespeare's England, Ashgate Publishingp. 14. ISBN 978-1-4094-0116-2
  14. ^ Shell, Alison (1999), Catholicism, Controversy, and the English Literary Imagination, 1558-1660, Cambridge University Press, p. 206. ISBN 978-0-521-58090-8
  15. ^ Highley, Christopher (2008), Catholics Writing the Nation in Early Modern Britain and Ireland, Oxford University Press, p. 20. ISBN 978-0-19-953340-4. "Anglia Dos MariÆ. Ingland is the Dowry of our ladye."
  16. ^ Morris, John; Smith, Sydney (1896), Historical Papers, Catholic Truth Society, p. 157.