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Esther and Ahasuerus

Esther before Ahasuerus, Jan Boeckhorst (1605–68)
Esther before Ahasuerus, Jan Boeckhorst (1605–68)

The large brooch pinned to Mary’s chest shows a scene from the story of Esther and Ahasuerus, told in the Old Testament Book of Esther.

Esther kneels before the throne as King Ahasuerus stretches out his sceptre towards her.

After divorcing his wife, Vashti, for disobedience, King Ahasuerus, a Persian monarch, took the beautiful Esther, the adopted daughter of the Jew Mordecai, as his queen. When Mordecai refused to bow down before Haman, Ahasuerus’ chief minister, Haman was enraged and plotted the slaughter of all the Jews in the kingdom. Esther then successfully pleaded with Ahasuerus on behalf of the Jews, and this is the scene we see enacted on Mary’s brooch.

Now it came to pass that on the third day that Esther put on her royal apparel, and stood in the inner court of the king’s house, over against the king’s house: and the king sat upon his royal throne in the royal house, over against the gate of the house. And it was so, when the king saw Esther the Queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight: and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre. Then said the king unto her, what wilt thou, Queen Esther? And what is thy request? It shall be even given thee to half of the kingdom.

The Jews were saved, and Haman their persecutor was hanged on the gallows that had been built to excecute Mordecai.

The story shows, therefore, a wise Jewish queen, Esther, setting right the court of a foolish pagan king, a court that had been thrown into disarray by a controversial, legally questionable divorce. Was Mary going further than a vague identification with Esther? Perhaps the pagan Ahasuerus was to be interpreted as her Protestant father Henry, and the protection Esther secured for the Jews as analagous to her restoration of Catholicism within the realm.

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