Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Issue #11 of the Anglotopia Print Magazine in 2018. Support great long-form writing about British History, Culture, and travel by subscribing to the Anglotopia Magazine. Every subscription helps keep Anglotopia running and provides us to the opportunity to produce articles like this. You can subscribe here.
Mary I began her life as a much-cherished and respected Tudor princess but during her adolescence was rejected by her father, King Henry VIII, declared illegitimate and isolated from the royal court. A devout Catholic, Mary took the throne from the pretender Lady Jane Grey after just nine days and began a campaign to restore Catholicism to England and undo the transformation to the Church of England her father King Henry VIII has begun. The method Mary chose was extreme persecution, and during her reign she had approximately 300 Protestants burned at the stake. Mary I ended her life as first Queen Regent of England, much-reviled and much-deserving of the sobriquet Bloody Mary.
- Mary I was born on the 18th of February 1516 at Greenwich Palace.
- The first child of Henry VIII, Mary I succeeded as Queen of England Ireland on 19 July, 1553, following the disastrous nine-day reign of Lady Jane Grey
- Mary I was married on 25 July 1554 to Philip of Spain, son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and later King Philip II of Spain.
- Mary died at St. James Palace on the 17 November 1558 of cancer having reigned just five years.
The only child of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, to survive childhood, Mary was doted on by her parents and enjoyed a lavish and loving childhood. Mary was extremely well-educated, and by the age of nine could read and write Latin and also studied French, Spanish, music, and dance. All was not well with Mary’s parents, however, and realizing that Catherine of Aragon was unable to provide him with a male heir, Henry VIII had Mary, and Catherine sent to Ludlow Castle in Wales where she held her own court.
Eager to secure the continuation of the Tudor dynasty with a male heir and, perhaps, already in love with Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII appealed to Pope Clement VII to have his marriage to Catherine annulled. The Pope refused, and yet Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn in 1533, who was already pregnant with his child. In May 1533 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, declared Henry and Catherine’s marriage void, Henry broke with the Roman Catholic Church altogether and declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Mary became Lady Mary, and her newborn sister, Elizabeth took her position in the line of succession.
It is thought that Mary was treated badly by her father during the next few years during which time she was persecuted by Anne Boleyn and was frequently ill. Little did Anne Boleyn know that her own daughter Elizabeth would suffer the same fate as Mary in the years to come. Despite the fact that her mother was gravely ill, Mary was not permitted to visit Catherine, and in 1536, Catherine died leaving Mary inconsolable.
Following her mother’s death, Mary was encouraged by her Catholic advisers to acknowledge her mother’s divorce and made an oath of loyalty to her father as the Supreme Head of the English Church. In the years that followed, Henry VIII worked his way through his next five wives with Mary enjoying a fairly stable place at her father’s court. In 1543, Henry married his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, who convinced him to bring his family back together and return Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession after Edward.
When Mary’s half-brother Edward VI, a partisan Protestant came to the throne, Mary was harassed for her religious beliefs, but her response to these hardships and ill-treatment was to cling ever more fiercely to her Catholic faith. Edward died aged just 15, and following a disastrous attempt by the Duke of Northumberland to maintain a Protestant England by planting Lady Jane Grey on the throne, Mary finally claimed her throne. Having proven her popularity, Mary rode into London on the 3rd of August 1553 with her sister Elizabeth in tow. Her accession took place on the 1st of October 1553 at Westminster Abbey.
At first, Mary’s reforms were relatively mild although she did slowly begin to restore Catholicism in England by re-introducing Mass, reinstating deprived Bishops and expelling married members of the clergy. Next, Mary reinstated old heresy laws that declared that anyone who practiced or believed in a religion different from that of the sovereign was committing treason. Finally, at the age of 37, Mary made it known that she intended to marry Philip of Spain, the eldest son, and heir of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. She hoped that the union would produce a child who would become her Catholic heir, effectively removing Elizabeth from direct succession. This decision was very unpopular both with parliament and the public and a revolt began.
Thanks to the reinstated heresy laws Mary was able to legally have any member of the aristocracy who challenged her beheaded and around 300 Protestant ‘heretics’ burned at the stake. The first executions took place in early February and included prominent Protestants John Rogers, Laurence Saunders and the Archbishop of Canterbury who was forced to watch fellow clergymen Bishop Ridley, and Bishop Latimer burned at the stake before he himself succumbed to the same fate. Even Mary’s new husband Philip of Spain warned against these atrocities despite the fact that he was doing a very similar thing in the Netherlands at the same time.
The marriage of Mary and Philip was childless, and Mary suffered two ‘false pregnancies’ in 1555 and 1557 during which time she showed symptoms of pregnancy without actually being pregnant. Philip left England after just 13 months of marriage and returned only once in order to convince Mary to send England to war with France, an expedition that led to the loss of Calais after a tenure of 211 years. England received no share in the Spanish monopolies in New World trade and Mary’s popularity continued to plummet as the burning of Protestants at the stake became even more frequent.
In ill health and finally accepting that she would never have a child, Mary withdrew to St James’ Palace where she died during an influenza epidemic on 17 November 1558. It is thought that Mary may have suffered from ovarian or uterine cancer, and it is this cancer that may have killed her. Mary was interred in Westminster Abbey on 14 December 1558 in a tomb she would eventually share with her sister, Elizabeth.
Her posthumous sobriquet, Bloody Mary, says much about Queen Mary I’s legacy. The first woman to claim the throne of England, Mary was a popular queen during the early years of her reign and was loyally supported by the Roman Catholic’s of England. Mary has been seen as a bloodthirsty tyrant throughout most of history thanks in part to writings published in the years following her death that became popular with English Protestants. Mary’s unpopularity wasn’t only due to the horrendous executions carried out in her name, a mixture of failed crops, military failure in France and her failure to produce an heir combined to turn the public against her. Now, viewed through a more scholarly historical lens, Mary is seen as a bloody queen, but a queen who began the economic reforms, military growth and expansion of the British Empire that made the Elizabethan era glorious.
###Film & TV
- The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)
- The Tudors (2007) TV series
- The Virgin Queen (2005) TV series
- Elizabeth (1998)
- Lady Jane (1986)
- Elizabeth R (1971) TV series
- Marie Tudor (1966)
- Pearls of the Crown (1937).
- Tudor Rose (1936)
- Marie Tudor (1917)
- Edwards, John (2011) Mary I: England’s Catholic Queen
- Whitelock, Anna (2010) Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen
- Duffy, Eamon (2009). Fires of Faith: Catholic England Under Mary Tudor
- Ridley, Jasper (2001). Bloody Mary’s Martyrs: The Story of England’s Terror
- Tittler, Robert (1991). The Reign of Mary I
- Loades, David M. (1989) Mary Tudor: A Life
- Erickson, Carolly (1978). Bloody Mary: The Life of Mary Tudor
- Prescott, H. F. M. (1952). Mary Tudor: The Spanish Tudor
###Locations to Visit
- Mary and King Philip II took their honeymoon at Hampton Court Palace in London.
- For a time Mary held her own court at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire.
- Mary also lived in both Hatfield House in Hertfordshire with her half-sister Elizabeth and Hunsdon House in Hertfordshire following her mother’s death.
- The Palace of Beaulieu in Boreham, Essex was granted to Mary I upon Henry VIII’s death, as stated in his will. The property is now used as a private school.
- Mary assembled a military force and launched her attack on Lady Jane Grey’s supporters from Framlingham Castle, Suffolk.
- Mary died at St James’s Palace in London and is buried in Westminster Abbey