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Bloody Mary: The Marriage, Reign, and Death of a Queen of England

Bloody Mary: The Marriage, Reign, and Death of a Queen of England

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Read Part 1: Bloody Mary, Queen of England: Ascent to Throne

Mary Tudor, Mary I, nicknamed by her enemies as Bloody Mary, was the third woman to hold the throne of England. She is often remembered for trying to counter the religious reforms introduced by her father, the famous King Henry VIII and subjecting England once again to the pope's authority. Queen Mary I had a life that certainly was exciting: a life full of torment, richness, sadness, passion, and sickness. Here we will delve a little deeper into the story behind Bloody Mary, the “bloodthirsty” Queen, examining her life from her coronation until her death.

A Rapid Loss of Popularity Due to Religious Reform

Crowned Queen of England on October 1, 1553, one of the first measures taken by Mary was re-instating the legal marriage between her parents: Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon . Initially she was as popular as her mother, who was much loved by the people (even after being divorced from Henry VIII). However, the popularity of Mary quickly faded as she soon as she revoked all laws favorable to Protestantism.

Soon after she took the throne, Queen Mary turned her focus to finding a husband. Her haste was due, amongst other reasons, to an obsessive desire to give the coveted crown to a Catholic heir and avoid access to the throne for her sister, the Protestant Elizabeth.

Her religious fervor was also swiftly made apparent, as on November 30, 1554 supported by the Cardinal Reginald Pole, Queen Mary I reinstated the ecclesiastical dominion of Rome over England. Religious persecution lasted nearly four years, in which scores of Protestant leaders were executed. Others were forced into exile, while about 800 remained in the country.

Some of those who were executed include: the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer ; Nicholas Ridley , the Bishop of London; and the reformist Hugh Latimer . Although there is debate about the number of deaths, John Fox calculated in his Book of Martyrs that 284 people were executed for “questions of faith.” These 284 executions were enough for the Protestant historian to name from that moment on, Queen Mary I as “Bloodthirsty Mary” or the more popular “Bloody Mary.”

Detail of an illustration from the "Book of Martyrs" by John Fox, depicting the preparations prior to the burning at the stake of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. ( )

Marriage to Philip II of Spain

The story goes that Mary refused the proposal of Edward Courtenay, the Earl of Devon as she apparently fell madly in love while looking at a portrait of the then Prince Philip II of Spain , son of her first cousin the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V .

Witnessing her enthrallment with Philip, the Lord Chancellor Gardiner and the House of Commons begged her to reconsider and to choose an Englishman, fearing that England would be forced to depend on Spain in the future. But Mary stood firm and on July 25, 1554, just two days after they met, Mary and Philip were wed. The ceremony was held at Winchester Cathedral. At the time Phillip was 26 and Mary 37 years old. For him it was a mere marriage of state, but she really loved him.

Portrait of Mary I of England and Ireland by Hans Eworth. On her chest you can see the famous pearl "La Peregrina" on the necklace that Philip II gave her in 1554 on the occasion of their marriage. ( )

In the marriage contract it was clearly specified that Philip’s Spanish advisors could not interfere in English affairs, nor would England be obliged to fight the enemies of Spain. In addition, Philip would be called "King of England" and all official documents, including Parliamentary minutes, would be signed by both the King and Queen. The parliament could only be convened under their joint authority as well. Coins with the effigy of both were also made. But her marriage to Philip would not improve the Mary’s popularity, as the British did not trust their new foreign king.

Portrait of a young Philip II by Tiziano (1554) ( )

Three months after their wedding, Mary began to suspect she was pregnant and her belly began to grow. However, doctors attributed this to an inflammation due to the retention of liquids. Subsequently she suffered yet another false pregnancy, which was speculated to be due to the pressure to produce an heir, even though her symptoms - which included the secretion of breast milk and vision-loss, seem to suggest some kind of hormonal disorder, (motivated possibly by a tumor of the pituitary gland.)

Portrait of Mary I of England and her husband Philip II of Spain. The couple lived alone for about 15 months. Hans Eworth. ( Wikimedia Commons )

The Kingdom of Ireland, and a War with France

The creation of the Kingdom of Ireland in 1542 was not recognized by the rest of Catholic Europe, but in 1555 Mary obtained a papal bull by which her and her husband were confirmed as the monarchs of Ireland. Thus the Church accepted the link between the kingdoms of England and Ireland.

However, in August of that same year Philip left the country in the direction of Flanders to attend the abdication of his father Emperor Charles V. After a reasonable waiting time, Mary urged her husband to return as soon as possible, but as he was occupied with his new role as the King of Spain, Philip refused to return until March 1557.

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Philip II returned basically to try to convince Mary to support Spain in its war against France, which was allied with the new Pope Paul IV against the Habsburgs. Queen Mary relented and gave her husband a considerable financial backing and the promise of military aid if the French attacked the Netherlands.

In June 1557 Mary declared war on France and in July Philip left England for good: Mary and would never see him again. The English army landed in Calais, a strategic point overlooking the English Channel. But in January 1558, the French captured the city in a surprise attack.

Then the Protestant faction, given that she had violated the marriage contract (for the declaration of war on France at the request of Philip II), launched a campaign opposing the Queen - filling the streets with pamphlets that ignited anger against the Spaniards. The loss of Calais, famine caused by a series of poor harvests, and a new flu epidemic ravaging the country did not bode well for Mary.

The French take Calais in 1558. Oil painting by François-Édouard Picot, 1838 ( )

Tragic Last Years of Queen Mary’s Life

Although she was married to King Philip II of Spain, England did not benefit from lucrative trade with the New World: Spanish jealously guarded their income, and because of her marriage to Philip, Mary could not approve piracy against the Spanish vessels. In addition, persistent rains and floods caused a famine that devastated the country.

Financially, Mary I’s regime tried to create a modern form of government, with a corresponding increase in spending, along with a medieval system of taxes. That is, the absence of duties on imports neglected a key source of income. To solve this problem, Mary drew up plans to carry out a monetary reform, but it was not put into practice until after her death.

Her health gradually worsened and it became necessary to think about succession. Ruling that her husband would never have agreed to take the reins of England, preferences were then given to her sister Elizabeth to succeed her. Despite the notorious Protestantism of her sister and her popularity that threatened Mary, she respected Elizabeth’s life enough to confine her to a palace instead of taking more drastic action at the time.

In early November 1558, Queen Mary I of England made a will. In it she appointed her sister Elizabeth as her successor, with the fervent hope that she would abandon Protestantism. Also in her will she expressed her desire to be buried next to her mother, Catherine of Aragon.

Princess Elizabeth Tudor, the future Elizabeth I, by William Scrots (1546). Mary, despite considerable ideological differences with her ​​sister, respected her and named her as successor to the throne. ( )

Queen Mary I died on November 17, 1558, in the Palace of Saint James, at the age of 42. Despite the specific request in her will, she was buried in Westminster Abbey, far from the grave of her mother (located in the Peterborough Cathedral.)

Years later, her sister Elizabeth who restored Protestantism in England upon taking the throne, would rest beside her.

Some have argued that the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I only became queen due to her older sister, the Catholic Mary, who despite remarkable ideological differences eventually protected the inheritance rights of her sister to the throne of England.

Portrait of Mary I of England, oil on oak panel painted in 1554 by Hans Eworth ( )

Featured image: Detail of Portrait of Mary Tudor. Oil on panel by Antonio Moro. Prado Museum. Madrid Spain. ( Wikimedia Commons )

This article was first published in Spanish at and has been translated with permission.

By Ancient-Origins

Bloody Mary: The Marriage, Reign, and Death of a Queen of England - History

The first woman to rule England in her own right didn’t simply inherit the throne. She seized it with unprecedented ambition from those who sought to thwart her.

Historian Sarah Gristwood describes the ascension of Mary I as a “staggeringly bold” course of action undertaken with little chance of success. Still, she rode into London on August 3, 1553, to widespread acclaim. In the words of one contemporary chronicler, “It was said that no one could remember there ever having been public rejoicing such as this.”

Centuries later, however, the Tudor queen is remembered as one of the most reviled figures in English history: “Bloody Mary.” This is a story of how a heroic underdog became a monarch who was then mythologized as a violent despot—despite being no bloodier than her father, Henry VIII, or other English monarchs. It’s a tale of sexism, shifting national identity and good old-fashioned propaganda, all of which coalesced to create the image of an unchecked tyrant that endures today.

Born on February 18, 1516, Mary was not the long-awaited son her parents, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, had hoped for. But she survived infancy and grew up in the public eye as a beloved princess—at least until her teenage years, when her father’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn led him to divorce her mother and break with the Catholic Church. Declared illegitimate, downgraded from the title of “princess” to “lady,” and separated from her mother, Mary refused to acknowledge the validity of her parents’ divorce or her father’s status as head of the Church of England. It was only in 1536, after Anne’s execution and Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour, that Mary finally agreed to her mercurial father’s terms.

Mary I's parents, Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Welcomed back to court, she survived Henry—and three more stepmothers—only to see her younger half-brother, Edward VI, take the throne as a Protestant reformer, adopting a stance anathema to her fervent Catholicism. When Edward died six years later, he attempted to subvert his father’s wishes by leaving the crown to Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey, excluding those next in line—Mary and her younger half-sister, Elizabeth—from the succession. Though Mary could have sought refuge with family members in Europe, she chose to remain in England and fight for what was rightfully hers. Eluding the armies of her antagonists, she rallied support from nobles across the country and marched on London. Mary and Elizabeth rode into England’s capital side-by-side, one as a queen and the other as a queen-in-waiting.

During her five-year reign, Mary navigated the manifold challenges associated with her status as the first English queen to wear the crown in her own right, rather than as the wife of a king. She prioritized religion above all else, implementing reforms and restrictions aimed at restoring the Catholic Church’s ascendancy in England. Most controversially, she ordered 280 Protestants burned at the stake as heretics—a fact that would later cement her reputation as “Bloody Mary.”

The queen also set precedents and laid the groundwork for initiatives—among others, financial reform, exploration and naval expansion—that would be built upon by her much-lauded successor, Elizabeth I. Mary failed, however, to fulfill arguably the most important duty of any monarch: producing an heir. When she died at age 42 in 1558 of an ailment identified alternatively as uterine cancer, ovarian cysts or influenza, Elizabeth claimed the throne.

Prior to England’s break from Rome in 1534, Catholicism had dominated the realm for centuries. Henry VIII’s decision to form the Church of England proved predictably contentious, as evidenced by the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace uprising, which found some 30,000 northerners taking up arms in protest of the dissolution of the monasteries, banning of feasts and holy days, and bloody treatment of clergy who refused to accept the new order. Under Henry’s son, the English Reformation reached new extremes, with legislation ending the practice of Latin Mass, allowing priests to marry, and discouraging the veneration of relics and religious artifacts.

Mary's younger siblings, Elizabeth (left) and Edward (right) (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

According to Linda Porter, author of The Myth of “Bloody Mary," Edward VI “moved much faster and much further than the majority of the population wanted, … remov[ing] a great deal that was familiar and depriv[ing] the congregation of what many of them saw as the mystery and beauty of the experience of worship.” Protestantism, she says, was the “religion of an educated minority,” not a universally adopted doctrine. At its core, Porter and other historians have suggested, England was still a fundamentally Catholic country when Mary took the throne.

Herself still a Catholic, Mary’s initial attempts to restore the old Church were measured, but as historian Alison Weir writes in The Children of Henry VIII, grew more controversial following her marriage to Philip of Spain, at which point they were “associated in the public mind with Spanish influence.” During the first year of her reign, many prominent Protestants fled abroad, but those who stayed behind—and persisted in publicly proclaiming their beliefs—became targets of heresy laws that carried a brutal punishment: burning at the stake.

Such a death was an undoubtedly horrific sentence. But in Tudor England, bloody punishments were the norm, with execution methods ranging from beheading to boiling burning at the stake and being hanged, drawn and quartered. Says Porter, “They lived in a brutal age, … and it took a lot to revolt your average 16th-century citizen.”

During the early modern period, Catholics and Protestants alike believed heresy warranted the heavy sentence it carried. Mary’s most famous victim, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, was preparing to enact similar policies targeting Catholics before being sidelined by Edward VI’s death. According to Gristwood’s Game of Queens: The Women Who Made Sixteenth-Century Europe, “That obdurate heretics, who refused to recant, should die was an all but universal tenet.”

This woodcut from John Foxe's Book of Martyrs depicts the burnings of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

To the 16th-century mind, heresy was a contagion that threatened not just the church, but the stability of society as a whole. Heretics were also deemed guilty of treason, as questioning a monarch’s established religious policies was tantamount to rejecting their divinely ordained authority. The justification for one heretic’s death, writes Virginia Rounding in The Burning Time: Henry VIII, Bloody Mary and the Protestant Martyrs of London, was the “salvation of many innocent Christians, who might otherwise have been led astray.” Even the gruesome method of execution had an underlying purpose: Death at the stake gave recalcitrant heretics a taste of hellfire, offering them one final chance to recant and save their souls.

Mary and her advisors hoped the initial spate of burnings would act as a “short, sharp shock” warning errant Protestants to return to the fold of the “true” faith. In a January 1555 memorandum, the queen explained that executions should be “so used that the people might well perceive them not to be condemned without just occasion, whereby they shall both understand the truth and beware to do the like.” But Mary had grossly underestimated Protestants’ tenacity—and their willingness to die for the cause.

“In mid-16th-century Europe,” writes Porter, “the idea of respecting another person’s beliefs would have provoked incredulity. Such certainties bred oppressors and those who were willing to be sacrificed.”

All that said, inextricable from Mary’s legacy are the 280 Protestants she consigned to the flames. These executions—the main reason for her unfortunate nickname—are cited as justification for labeling her one of the most evil humans of all time and even depicting her as a “flesh-eating zombie.” They are where we get the image of a monarch whose “raging madness” and “open tyranny,” as described by 16th-century writer Bartholomew Traheron, led her to “swimmeth in the holy blood of most innocent, virtuous, and excellent personages.”

Mary stands second from left in this circa 1545 painting titled The Family of Henry VIII. (Royal Collection Trust)

Consider, however, the following: Even though Henry VIII, Mary’s father, only had 81 people burned at the stake over the course of his 38-year reign, heresy was far from the sole charge that warranted execution in Tudor England. Estimates suggest Henry ordered the deaths of as many as 57,000 to 72,000 of his subjects—including two of his wives—though it’s worth noting these figures are probably exaggerated. Edward VI had two radical Protestant Anabaptists burned at the stake during his six-year reign in 1549, he sanctioned the suppression of the Prayer Book Rebellion, resulting in the deaths of up to 5,500 Catholics. Mary’s successor, Elizabeth I, burned five Anabaptists at the stake during her 45-year reign ordered the executions of around 800 Catholic rebels implicated in the Northern earls’ revolt of 1569 and had at least 183 Catholics, the majority of whom were Jesuit missionaries, hanged, drawn and quartered as traitors.

If numbers are the main reasoning behind such sobriquets as “Bloody Mary,” then why aren’t Mary’s family members dubbed “Bloody Henry,” “Bloody Edward” and “Bloody Bess”? Why has the myth of “Bloody Mary” persisted in Great Britain’s collective imagination for so long? And what did Mary do that was so different from not only other Tudor monarchs, but kings and queens across early modern Europe?

These questions are complex and predictably fraught. But several recurring themes persist. As England’s first queen regnant, Mary faced the same challenge experienced by female rulers across the continent—namely, her councillors’ and subjects’ lack of faith in women’s ability to govern, a dilemma best summarized by contemporary Mary of Hungary: “A woman is never feared or respected as a man is, whatever is his rank. … All she can do is shoulder the responsibility for the mistakes committed by others.”

Mary and her husband, Philip II of Spain, seen in a painting by Hans Eworth (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Historian Lucy Wooding says descriptions of Mary tend to have misogynistic undertones. “She’s simultaneously being lambasted for being vindictive and fierce” and “spineless and weak,” criticized for such actions as showing clemency to political prisoners and yielding authority to her husband, Philip II of Spain. Most experts agree that the Spanish marriage had an adverse effect on Mary’s reputation, painting her, however unfairly, as an infatuated, weak-willed woman who placed earthly love ahead of the welfare of her country.

While Mary’s gender played a pivotal role in the formation of her image—especially during her own lifetime, according to Porter—arguably the most important factor in the “Bloody Mary” moniker’s staying power was the rise of a national identity built on the rejection of Catholicism. A 1563 book by John Foxe known popularly as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs played a pivotal role in the creation of this Protestant identity, detailing the torments suffered by men and women burned at the stake under Mary through word-of-mouth accounts and visceral woodcut illustrations. (The accuracy of Foxe’s manuscript remains a point of contention among historians.) The book was enormously popular during the Elizabethan era, with copies even placed in local churches alongside the Bible.

“Foxe’s account would shape the popular narrative of Mary’s reign for the next 450 years,” writes Anna Whitelock in her biography of the Tudor queen. “Generations of schoolchildren would grow up knowing the first queen of England only as ‘Bloody Mary,’ a Catholic tyrant.”

Porter argues that Mary’s burnings might have become a “mere footnote to history” if not for the intervention of John Foxe historian O.T. Hargrave, meanwhile, describes the persecution as “unprecedented” and suggests it “succeeded only in alienating much of the country.” Either way, after taking the throne, Elizabeth took care not to replicate her sister’s religious policies. Writing in Mary Tudor, Judith Richards observes, “It may have helped protect Elizabeth’s reputation that many [executed] … were hanged as seditious traitors for seeking to restore Catholicism rather than burned as heretics.”

To put it bluntly, says Porter, “Mary burned Protestants, [and] Elizabeth disemboweled Catholics. It’s not pretty either way.”

The myth of “Bloody Mary” is one mired in misconception. England’s first queen regnant was not a vindictive, violent woman, nor a pathetic, lovestruck wife who would have been better off as a nun. She was stubborn, inflexible and undoubtedly flawed, but she was also the product of her time, as incomprehensible to modern minds as our world would be to hers. She paved the way for her sister’s reign, setting precedents Elizabeth never acknowledged stemmed from her predecessor, and accomplished much in such arenas as fiscal policy, religious education and the arts.

Mary in 1544 (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons) A 1554 portrait of Mary by Antonis Mor (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

If she had lived longer, says Gristwood, Mary might have been able to institute the religious reforms she so strongly believed in, from a renewed emphasis on preaching, education and charity to a full reunion with Rome. But because Mary died just five years after her accession, Elizabeth inherited the throne and set England on a Protestant path. Over the centuries, most significantly in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Protestantism became a core component of British identity.

Mary’s reputation, says Wooding, was “very painstakingly constructed after her death [and] had extraordinary longevity because of the fundamental place that Protestant identity came to take in British identity.” Her enduring unpopularity, then, reflects a failure to properly contextualize her reign: Writes historian Thomas S. Freeman, “Mary has continually been judged by the standards of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and not surprisingly, has been found wanting.”

For all her faults, and regardless of whether one falls into the competing camps of rehabilitation or vilification, Mary—the first to prove women could rule England with the same authority as men—holds a singular place in British history.

“She was an intelligent, politically adept, and resolute monarch who proved to be very much her own woman,” argues Whitelock. “Mary was the Tudor trailblazer, a political pioneer whose reign redefined the English monarchy.”

As the Bishop of Winchester observed during Mary’s December 1558 funeral sermon, “She was a King’s daughter, she was a King’s sister, she was a King’s wife. She was a Queen, and by the same title a King also.”

Annotated Bibliography

Carlson, Eric J. "Courtship in Tudor England" History Today. August, 1993.
In his article, Carlson describes the courtship process in great detail. He contends that prearranged marriages had virtually ceased by the time of Mary I's reign. This is helpful in the study of Mary I in that it shows the changes English society was undergoing when Mary instituted her religious policies, possibly making the society even more uneasy about their Queen.

Eakins, Lara E. "Mary I." Tudor England. 3 Mar 1998. <> (27 January 2005).
This internet article focuses mainly upon the failure of Mary to conceive a child and provide a successor to the throne of England. It also provides general biographical information on Mary, but not in any great detail. It is helpful in that it analyzes, in some detail, Mary's attempts to bear a child and the effects this had on her marriage to Philip. This is a good article if one wants to concentrate their study on the personal life of Mary Tudor, rather than the political life.

Guy, John.Tudor England. New York, NY.: Oxford University Press, 1991.
A portion of this book in dedicated to the reign of Mary I and her relationship with her countrymen. It gives useful information concerning how the public viewed their queen. According to the book, she was seen as "pious, politically self-deceived, and as intense as a nun." This information is important when one considers how her subjects responded to her political decisions.

Hanson, Marilee. "Queen Mary I." Tudor England 1485-1603. 1997. <> (26 January 2005).
Good site with pictures, good biographies, primary sources and connections to other Tudor monarchs. [B.A.P.]

Helm, Peter J. England Under the Yorkists and Tudors. London, England : G. Bell & Sons, Ltd., 1968.
This publication dedicates a chapter to Mary I, revealing little analysis of the cause and effects of her reign. It is useful, however, as a source of general biographical information, such as her character, her religious policies, her marriage, etc. It is similar to an encyclopedia article, but with much more detail. For that reason, it can be considered most helpful.

Hughes, Paul, and Larkin, James. Tudor Royal Proclamations. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1969.
This book is an excellent primary source in that it gives the actual proclamations of Mary I. It is very useful because it shows the national confusion that resulted from the conflicting policies of the Tudor monarchs, and how that affected Mary's reign. In viewing these documents, one can see how Mary seemed to ignore the need for cooperation between the government and the governed.

elisale/index.html> (26 January 2005).
Very good site with pictures, detailed chapters about her life, and even music. [B.A.P.]

Lingard, John. The History of England, vol. V. Edinburgh, Scotland: John Grant, 1902.
This book contains two lengthy chapters that go into great detail concerning almost all biographical aspects of Mary's life. It provides some analysis that proves to be most enlightening when studying her personality and her method of thought. I found this book to be most valuable in becoming familiar with the political and personal events of her life.

Loach, Jennifer. "Mary Tudor and the Re-Catholicisation" History Today, November 1994.
In her article, Loach attempts to prove that the reintroduction of Roman Catholicism during Mary's reign has been wrongly perceived as a failure by most historians. She points out that Mary appointed very able clergy who were most dedicated and diligent to the task remaining before them. Also, she contends that Mary insisted on a high standard of clerical education through the establishment of seminaries that would "prove essential to the later success of re-Catholicisation in other parts of Europe." This article is valuable because it differs from the conventional assumption that Mary's attempts at re-Catholicisation ended in failure, and concentrates on the positive aspects of her policies.

Luke, Mary. The Nine Days Queen: A Portrait of Lady Jane Grey. New York, NY.: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1986.
This book gives an insightful view of the attempt by English nobles to put Lady Jane Grey, a distant relative of Edward VI, on the throne of England. It is helpful in telling the story of Mary I, by providing the viewpoint of Protestant nobles who wanted a Protestant monarch, and feared a Catholic one. This book provides motives for those in opposition to Mary as queen of England.

Maynard, Theodore. Bloody Mary. Milwaukee, Wis.: Brice Publishing Co., 1955.
Through his book, Maynard attempts to justify and describe Mary's motivations for returning England back to Catholicism. He contends that even though her methods might not have been correct, she was "by nature of extraordinary honesty and by all natural inclinations notable for her personal kindness." This book is very helpful because it goes into much detail on the personality on Mary herself and thus provides motivations for the politics that she perpetuated during her reign.

Prescott, H. F. Mary Tudor. New York, NY.: The Macmillan Company, 1953.
Prescott gives a different approach to the study of Mary I. The author goes into much detail on the characters of the various personalities that Mary encountered during her life, and how they effected her decisions. He also describes in great detail, the implementation of the plan of Mary to return England to Catholicism through inquisitions and executions. This book is helpful simply because it concentrates on detail that is commonly glossed over in most biographies about Mary. It will soon be republished

Von Ranke, Leopold. A History of England. 2nd reprint ed., New York, NY.: AMS Press, Inc., 1966.
This book provides a section that gives an excellent account of how the government of England adjusted to the leadership of a Catholic queen (Mary I). Von Ranke, the famous German historian who wrote in the 19th century, gives a very insightful account of how nobles and other government leaders adjusted, or did not adjust, to Mary's new religious policies. This book is helpful in that it shows just how much religion effects the policies and practices of a government, and how much upheaval a religious change can bring about.

4. Her Catholic faith brought her trouble

In 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded and Mary had a new step-mother, Jane Seymour. Jane was keen to reconcile Henry and Mary, but in order for Henry to accept his daughter and reinstate her in the succession, he required her to sign a document recognising him as head of the Church of England, acknowledge his first marriage was unlawful and she was illegitimate, and most importantly, deny papal authority.

After much deliberation, Mary agreed to sign the document. She was quickly reinstated at court, with a household, several palaces and access to the privy purse.

Mary’s subsequent step-mothers, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr, also made attempts to restore harmony within Henry’s family. When Henry died in 1547, Mary’s half-brother, Edward, became king: he was a staunch Protestant, and Mary left court in order to practice her Catholic faith less noticeably.

However, this did not sate the young king, who persistently demanded her to drop her faith and convert or risk being cut out of his will and the line of succession: Mary refused equally persistently, aware that her actions could spell serious trouble.

4. Her Dad Used Her

As Mary’s dear old dad sat around waiting for a son, he figured he might as well use his daughter as way to forge alliances. At just two years old, he pledged Mary to the prince of France. Then when she was six, Mary was set to tie the knot with her own cousin. By the time she was a teenager, Mary already had been engaged to three different men.


The bloody reign of Queen Mary I

Why the first queen to rule England in her own right is remembered as a bloodthirsty religious fanatic.

Queen Mary – aka Bloody Mary – who killed more than 300 people for not conforming to her religious beliefs. Source:Supplied

She may have been the first queen to rule England in her own right, but Mary I left behind a dark – and bloody – legacy.

Branded a Catholic tyrant and religious bigot, her ferocious persecution of Protestants during her five-year reign, in a vain attempt to restore Catholicism in Britain, threw the country into chaos.

The queen, who died on this day in 1558, beheaded traitors, murdered heretics and had pregnant women burnt to death in the name of her religious fanaticism.

Over 300 dissenters died during her reign – a barbaric statistic that has dominated accounts of her rule since, and caused her to be known posthumously as Bloody Mary.

But what caused the royal to transform from a political pioneer who redefined the monarchy to a disgraced, stubborn and vengeful queen?

Mary was the queen from 1553 until her death in 1558. Source:istock

Mary, born on February 18, 1517, was the only surviving child of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

After Mary’s childhood as the presumed heir, Henry VIII divorced Catherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn, effectively bastardising his daughter and declaring her the product of an incestuous and illegal marriage.

She was denied access to her mother – who was sent by Henry to live away from the court – and following the birth of her half-sister Elizabeth (future Elizabeth I), an Act of Parliament declared 17-year-old Mary illegitimate, removing her from succession to the throne.

Only after she agreed to recognise Henry as head of the church – and following the Third Act of Succession in 1543 – was Mary reinstated as heir.

Nevertheless, the future queen remained a devout Catholic.

When her nine-year-old half-brother Edward VI inherited the throne in 1547, he confronted her beliefs, prompting her to declare she would rather lay her head on the block than forsake her faith.

Following his death in 1553, on July 19, Mary was proclaimed queen – a crowning that was met with dancing in the streets, the pealing of bells, toasting and merrymaking.

Mary was proclaimed Queen in 1553. Source:Supplied

“Mary’s accession had changed the rules of the game, and the nature of this new feminised politics was yet to be defined, yet in many respects Mary proved more than equal to the task,” Anna Whitelock wrote in a 2014 article for BBC History Magazine.

“In April 1554, Mary’s parliament passed the Act for Regal Power, which enshrined in law that queens held power as 𠆏ully, wholly and absolutely’ as their male predecessors, thereby establishing the gender-free authority of the crown.”

Yet only five years after England erupted in an outpouring of joy, Mary died detested and reviled throughout the country.

Her aim as queen was greater than simply establishing herself as a female monarch: she wanted to exact her revenge on Protestant England.

She first cemented her ties to Catholic Europe by marrying King Philip II of Spain in 1554, a union that was supposedly loveless and extremely unpopular among the public.

As her reign progressed, Mary grew more and more fervent in her desire to restore English Catholicism.

The queen soon moved from simply reversing her father’s and half-brother’s anti-Catholic policies to actively persecuting Protestants.

She restored papal supremacy, abandoned the title of Supreme Head of the Church and reintroduced Roman Catholic bishops.

And in 1555, she revived England’s heresy laws and began burning offenders at the stake, with her father’s longtime adviser Thomas Cranmer – archbishop of Canterbury – her first victim.

Drawing of a female heretic that confessed to heresy, about to be burnt at the stake. Source:News Corp Australia

Mary defined heresy as the church did. Labelling Mass as blasphemy and the Pope as the anti-Christ was treasonable offence, and those displaying such tendencies deserved to be burned.

The queen was determined that these burnings be carried out to produce maximum effect – but her plan to cleanse England of the Protestant curse rapidly turned into a frenzy of killing.

Hundreds of men, women and children were burnt at the stake, reportedly more than the Spanish Inquisition and the French Chambre Ardente combined.

The vengeful monarch polluted the streets of England with the smell of sizzling flesh, prompting thousands to flee and a nation to recoil from their leader.

For three years, in town squares all over the country, bodies dangled from gibbets and heretics were executed without mercy.

From then on, the queen was hated her Spanish husband distrusted and slandered, and she herself blamed for the vicious slaughters.

Possibly from cancer, she died on November 17, 1558, and because of her failure to bear a child, she left the crown to Elizabeth.

England returned to its Protestant faith, and all that remained of Mary’s reign was its reputation as the bloodiest in history.

The Counter Reformation in England – Restoration of Catholicism

Mary’s prime goal from the time of her accession was to restore Catholicism. There were factors both in her favour and against:

In Mary’s Favour:

Protestantism had only been the official religion in England for six years, Catholicism had been the official religion for hundreds of years before.

The Protestants had not received the support of the people when they tried to replace Mary with Jane Grey.

Many Protestant leaders had fled to Europe when she became Queen.

Against Mary:

Henry VIII had closed the monasteries and sold the land to nobles and courtiers.

Mary was not married and at the age of 37 was almost beyond childbearing age. Next in line to the throne was her sister Elizabeth, a Protestant.

Although many Protestants had fled to Europe there were still many in England who would protest strongly against a return to Rome.


In 1554, Mary married Philip II of Spain. Spain was a Catholic country and Philip joined Mary in her bid to restore England to Rome. However, the marriage was not popular, the people had no wish to be governed by a foreigner and there was racial tension between the English and Spanish merchants in London. Thomas Wyatt led some 3,000 men from Rochester in Kent to London in protest against the Queen’s marriage and her anti-Protestant policies.

In 1555 Mary announced that she was pregnant and that the baby was due in June 1555. Many believed it to be a phantom pregnancy and they were proved right when no baby arrived. We now know that Mary probably had cancer of the womb.

Catholicism enforced

The Catholic service, Holy Communion, and the elaborate fixtures and fittings of Catholic churches taken away during Edward’s reign were immediately restored. In 1555, Parliament passed a set of Heresy laws that made it a crime to be Protestant in England. All Protestants who refused to convert to Catholicism were to be burnt. One of the first to go to the stake was John Rogers who had translated Tynedale’s Bible into English. The Bishops, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer followed soon afterwards. In all Mary was responsible for the burnings of 227 men and 56 women, mostly in the South East of England.

The Loss of Calais

In 1557 Philip persuaded Mary to commit England to helping him fight against France. Mary duly declared war on France. However, the move was disastrous for England and for Mary. The French invaded and reclaimed Calais, England’s last possession in France and the people were fed up with paying higher taxes to pay for a war that had only been started to help Spain.

Was the reign of Queen Mary I of England really a failure?

Queen Mary I of England, or Bloody Mary, was a short-lived English Queen from 1553 to 1558 (and lived from 1516 to 1558). As daughter of King Henry VIII and sister of Elizabeth I, she is often overlooked – or seen as a failure. More intriguingly, in contrast to her father and sister, she was not Protestant but Catholic. Here, we tell you about this Tudor Monarch.

See past Tudor history writing from the author on King Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI (here ), and the person who could have been king instead of Henry VIII (here ).

Mary I as painted by Master John in the 1540s.

Mary I of England was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. After an early life marked by religious and personal strife at the hands of her father, Mary inherited the English throne upon the death of her half-brother Edward VI in 1553. She married Phillip II of Spain in July 1554, with the hopes of forging an alliance with her Spanish family and producing a Catholic heir. When the latter failed and by the time Queen Mary I of England died in late 1558, history forever lamented her “Bloody Mary,” for her ferocious persecution of English Protestants and attempt to reverse her father’s Reformation which was promptly completed by her Protestant successor and half-sister, the more renowned Queen Elizabeth I of England, or Gloriana, during her unforgettable forty-five year reign.

The Tudor dynasty lasted from 1485 to 1603 and played an extraordinary role in turning England from a feuding European backwater still engrossed in the Medieval Ages into a powerful Renaissance nation that would dominate much of the world and lead to the formation of even stronger nations and revolutionary philosophies. Yet, typically only three monarchs are given credit for this: Henry VII, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I. In between the transition of power from Henry VIII to his second daughter, Elizabeth I, Mary I is dismissed despite her direct relation to two of the most influential and powerful nations at the time: Spain and England. Was her ‘bloody’ reign as unfruitful as historians claim?

Early Years

For the first half of King Henry VIII’s reign, Mary was revered as the rightful heir to the English throne. She was ensured an outstanding education by her mother and referred to “his pearl in the world,” by her father. Several marriages were negotiated for little Mary, including the infant son of King Francis I of France and her 22-year old first cousin, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. By the time Mary reached adolescence, she had reportedly developed as a pretty and well-proportioned lady with a fine complexion that resembled both of her fine-looking parents.

Out of Catherine’s seven pregnancies, only Mary survived beyond infancy. Because of her mother’s failure to produce a living male heir, Henry VIII had fallen passionately in love with Anne Boleyn and sought a divorce from Catherine on the grounds of her previous marriage to his late brother, Arthur, which Henry interpreted as violating a biblical verse (Leviticus 18:16) and was therefore, cursed in the sight of God. The evidence was their lack of male heirs, he insisted. Catherine stood her ground by asserting that her marriage to her brother was not consummated and hence was annulled by a previous pope, Julius II. Her firm resolution to not only keep her position and title as Queen of England but refuse to acknowledge her marriage as void which would render her daughter both illegitimate and unable to inherit the throne suggests that Catherine believed her daughter to be capable of ruling in her own right. This perspective can be further supported by the example of her celebrated mother, Queen Isabella I of Castile who also ruled in her own right and both united and centralized Spain as we know it today. In contrast, Henry’s mother never exercised much political influence as queen, and her husband had no intention of sharing power with her.

Mary’s Problems in the 1530s

Henry’s efforts to divorce Catherine, known as the “King’s Great Matter,” complicated Mary’s life and future. From 1531 onward, Mary fell ill with irregular menstruation and depression, possibly caused by the stress of her parents’ situation or a sign of a deep-seated disease that would affect her later life. She was forbidden from seeing her mother, allowed only one brief visit in five years. After breaking from the Church of Rome, Henry finally married his pregnant mistress, Anne Boleyn, in 1533. That same year in September, with the disappointing birth of a girl they named Elizabeth, Mary was formally stripped of her title of Princess and demoted to “Lady Mary,” and on Anne’s persuasion, was placed in her half-sister’s household as a servant to the baby Elizabeth. Mary would not see her father for two and a half years, having been banished from court as well.

Despite her banished mother’s worsening health, Henry still forbade Mary from visiting her. Catherine of Aragon died on January 7th, 1536 at the age of 50, most likely of cancer. Mary, described as “inconsolable” at the news of her mother’s death was still forbidden from attending her funeral by her father. Mary saw no future for her in England at this point and wrote to her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, Charles V, begging him to help her flee to Spain. Only four months later, Anne Boleyn was imprisoned in the Tower of London on charges (most likely trumped up) of treason, adultery, and even incest with her own brother. She was beheaded on Henry’s orders on May 19, 1536.

Even with her mother’s usurper out of the picture, Henry would not reconcile with his daughter until she recognized him as Supreme Head of the Church of England, renounced papal authority, and both acknowledge the unlawful marriage of her parents and her own illegitimacy. At first resisting as far as “God and [my] conscious” permitted, she was frightened into signing a document by Henry that met all of his demands on the probable penalty of a traitor’s death if she refused. The reward of signing that hated document was a decade of peace. Her place at court, household, and estates were restored and King Henry VIII had finally sired a baby boy through his third wife, the sympathetic and meek Jane Seymour.

A new King… and Queen

In 1544, Henry returned Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession through the Third Succession Act behind their half-brother, Edward VI. When Henry died in January 1547, the nine-year old Edward succeeded him. While Mary remained away from court and faithful to Roman Catholicism, her equally committed Protestant brother intensified the Protestant Reformation in England and pressured Mary to comply and convert. A plan was even formulated by her cousin, Charles V, to smuggle Mary to mainland, Catholic Europe, but this did not end up happening

On July 6, 1553, Edward VI died at the age of 15, possibly from tuberculosis. Fearful that his half-sister would overturn his reforms, Edward defied his father’s will and the Succession Act by naming his cousin and fellow Protestant, Lady Jane Grey, as his heir. Informed of this, Mary fled into East Anglia where Catholic adherents and opponents of Lady Jane’s father-in-law, the ambitious John Dudley, resided. On July 10, Lady Jane was proclaimed queen by Dudley. Two days later, Mary assembled a military force and support for Dudley collapsed. Both Dudley and Jane were imprisoned in the Tower of London. Mary rode into London on August 3, surrounded by 800 nobles and gentlemen as well as her half-sister Elizabeth. The citizens of London wept joyfully and Mary read passionately from the Bible: “If God be with us, who could be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Mary I as Queen

Mary endured extreme joys and sorrows to claim the throne of England. Threats were made against the faith she learned at her mother’s knee as well as to her own life. Now age 37, Mary would spend the remainder of her life searching to avenge it. By that time, her legacy would only be tarnished and maligned. Is there anything worth noting during her reign that challenges the nickname, “Bloody Mary?”

One of her first acts as queen was to find a husband and produce a Catholic heir to prevent her Protestant sister from ascending to the throne. Charles V suggested a marriage to his only son, Prince Philip of Spain, which Mary agreed to. The alliance proved unpopular with the English people and the House of Commons, and a rebellion broke out lead by Thomas Wyatt with the intention of deposing Mary and replacing her with Elizabeth. On February 1, 1554, Mary first demonstrated her resilience and capability as a political leader by rallying the people of London against Wyatt’s Rebellion. During her booming speech, she referred to the people as her “child” and loved them “as a mother doth her child.” Wyatt surrendered and was executed along with ninety rebels. Another example of her skilled capability as a negotiator came when Mary desired to reverse the Dissolution of the Monasteries that had occurred in 1536. However, this threatened the contemporary owners of monastic and ecclesiastical lands that acquired them. As a compromise, Mary permitted the ecclesiastical lands to remain with their owners and merely eliminated the Edwardian reforms to the church.

As a female monarch in a very patriarchal age, Mary negotiated with her desire to form an Anglo-Spanish alliance with the hopes of a Catholic heir and to please her uncertain people and council. The issue revolved on Mary’s status as queen regnant and holding a traditionally male position with contemporaries believing that a good Catholic wife should submit wholly to her husband, making Prince Philip not only head of his realm but head of his household. Mary resolved this through the marriage treaties that defined Philip’s authority as king consort of England. Mary was represented as a king and queen. England would not be obliged to provide military support to Philip’s father in any way and Philip could not act without his wife’s consent or appoint foreigners to office in England.

Policy during her reign

The loss of Calais overshadowed Mary’s previous military victories. Calais fell to the French in January 1558, although it wasn’t formally lost until the reign of Elizabeth I under the Treaty of Troyes. Calais was expensive to maintain and the queen meanwhile enjoyed the successes such as the Battle of Saint Quentin. While her half-sister was often reluctant to engage in war, Mary relished it, and possibly wanted to imitate her grandmother, the warrior queen Isabella I of Castile.

Mary had inherited the economically strived realms of her father and half-brother. Mary has been credited for her reforms to coinage, extension of royal authority into the localities, managed her parliaments, and made significant reforms to the navy. Mary drafted plans for currency reform but they were not implemented until after her death. The queen had a progressive commercial policy that was embraced by English merchants. Her government restructured the book of rate in 1558, leading to an increase in revenue.

Moreover, Mary’s failed ability to produce an heir was no fault of her own as thirty-seven was a late age to marry in the sixteenth century and she had only ruled for five years.

The most infamous aspect of her reign at last was her religious policy. At the start of her reign, her first Parliament declared her parents’ marriage valid and abolished Edward’s religious laws, known as the First Statute of Repeal. Church doctrine was restored including clerical celibacy. By the end of 1554, the Heresy Acts were revived. Under these Acts, almost three hundred Protestants were burned at the stake, one of them being the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who had annulled the marriage of her parents twenty-three years earlier. Nearly 800 wealthy Protestants fled England, including John Foxe. It is interesting to note that the burnings of Protestants did not take place until after the marriage of Philip and Mary, which begs the question of whether Philip influenced his wife’s decisions. Most of the burning victims were from lower classes in the south-east of England. The public burnings were unpopular and Mary’s advisers were divided as to whether or not they were necessary and effective. The question remains to this day as to who was responsible for the burnings, due to a lack of conclusive evidence and the attempt at deflating blame by those who wrote about it. Only the fact exists that she could have halted them and did not.

In conclusion

Historians have been divided on whether Mary I’s five year reign was a success. For the public, her image has been tarnished through the nickname of perpetual infamy: “Bloody Mary,” overshadowing her accomplishments. Mary’s reign was the shortest of the Tudor monarchs (except for Lady Jane Grey, who only ruled for nine days) and would probably not have a lasting effect were it not for Elizabeth. Elizabeth, unlike Mary, was not raised to rule and subsequently learned from Mary’s successes and failures and built upon the foundations of Mary’s reign as one of the greatest English monarchs of all time.

Queen Mary&rsquos Life (1553-1558) | British History

The below mentioned article provides a short review on Queen Mary’s Life (1553-1558). After reading this article you will learn about: 1. Queen Mary’s Difficulties 2. Counter-Reformation: Its Impact on England under Queen Mary.

1. Queen Mary’s Difficulties:

Self-seeking Duke of Northumberland had impressed upon Edward VI the need for a Protestant succession and persuaded him to leave the Crown to Lady Jane Grey, grand­daughter of Henry VII, who was married to North­umberland’s son. Northumberland proclaimed Lady Jane Grey Queen on the death of Edward VI.

Mary had to gather round her followers to get the throne for herself as per Henry VIII’s will. North­umberland marched against Mary who was then in the eastern countries, famous for Ket’s rebellion. The Council, in absence of Northumberland, de­clared Mary Queen.

As Mary entered London, there was much rejoicing and her accession (1553) was very popular. Her popularity was all the greater because the violence of the Reformers had roused great opposition and most of the nations were glad to accept Roman Catholicism as England had in the last years of Henry VIII’s reign.

Mary was the first woman to rule England and was thirty-six years old. One of her first acts was the execution of North­umberland and sending Lady Jane and her husband to the Tower.

Mary was a staunch Catholic. She was the daughter of Catherine of Aragon and she looked back upon her past life from her girlhood, in a bitter sense of humiliation. The cruel treatment of her mother by her father Henry and the persecution that she herself had suffered at the hands of her father and later from Duke of Northumberland, regent of Edward VI, were memories that burnt deep into her soul.

She possessed her father’s stub­bornness and his courage. She was, in fact, a kind-hearted, generous woman, with love of music and dancing. It was the failure of her marriage and the obstinate Protestantism of her subjects that made her sad and sour.

Mary, being a fervent Roman Catholic, was determined to re-establish papal power in her kingdom. She also dreamt of restoring Church pro­perty, but she little knew the character of the men who grew rich out of Church properties under Henry VIII and Edward VI.

For implementing her policy she needed the support of a husband, and the obvious choice, in her eyes, was Philip son of Emperor Charles V, the greatest of the Catholic princes in the world.

But her choice was far from popular in England, for the nation was proud of their indepen­dence and did not take kindly to the prospect of a foreign king, particularly one who was renowned for the persecution of heretics.

Mary was, however, firm in her choice and when a Parliamentary depu­tation protested against her choice, she bluntly told them that she would choose as God inspired her. Mary hoped, this marriage would remove the dan­ger of the accession of Mary Stuart in Scotland.

The nation saw in the queen’s choice the prospect of England’s becoming a Spanish dependency, introduction of Inquisition as in Spain, restoration of papal authority, crushing of Reformation, and the eventual position of toeing the line of Spanish war against France.

The proposed Spanish marriage led to Sir Thomas Wyatt’s insurrection in 1554, the object of which was to dethrone Mary in favour of her sister Elizabeth, who was to be married to Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire. But it was Courtenay himself who divulged the plot to Mary. Wyatt’s insurrection was suppressed, many executions followed. Among the victims were Lady Jane Grey and her husband.

Mary had already released Gardiner and made him her Chancellor. The Prayer Books were sup­pressed, the Acts passed under Edward VI were re­pealed and Bishops Latimer, Ridley, and others were deposed, and married clergy were expelled from their sees.

The Mass was restored. These steps virtually brought England back to the position where she had been under Henry VIII in matters of religion. These steps were not unpopular. But the question of Spanish marriage roused a spate of opposition.

The suppression with success of Wyatt’s insurrec­tion was practically a turning point in the reign of Mary and as leniency was considered no longer safe, a determined policy of restoration of Catholicism and completion of the marriage was taken up.

In two successive Parliaments Mary could not persuade the members to carry out her wishes and repeal the Act of Supremacy. A new Parliament was summoned and instructions were sent out to Sheriffs and Lord-Lieutenants to see that people chose members ‘as old laws require, and of wise, grave and Catholic sort’. The third Parliament was more submissive to the queen.

In the meantime, the same year (1554) Mary was married to Philip of Spain and the presence of latter in England perhaps overawed the members of the Parliament. Cardinal Pole who was attainted and sent into exile was freed by the Parliament which now reversed the attainder. Cardinal Pole granted absolution to the Parliament.

The Parliament also restored the Six Articles’ Act and re-introduced Latin Mass. Lollard statutes passed under Henry IV and Henry V were revived. The Parliament then repealed the Act of Supremacy which re-united England to Rome. But the Parliament could not be persuaded to restore the abbey lands or to repeal the statute of Praemunire.

It restored annates to the Pope after a severe struggle. This same Parliament re-enacted the statute De Heretico Cumburendo which Somerset had repealed (1555).

The next year (1555) persecution of the Protes­tants began. With the re-enactment of the law of heresy, there began the burning of Protestant mar­tyrs which gave Mary’s reign an evil reputation.

Embittered by the neglect of her by Philip who had returned to the Continent when he found that there was no chance of his getting any real power in England, disappointed by the lack of any heir and incensed by her jealousy of Elizabeth, Queen Mary began persecution of the Protestants in the thought that they would recant or at least the burning of their bodies would save their souls from perdition.

Marian persecution went on unabated during the years 1555-58. First to suffer was John Rogers. Three hundred persons of both sexes were burnt to death.

The Protestant bishops Hooper, Taylor, Sanders, Bradford, Latimer, Ridley were put to death. Latimer and Ridley were put to death in presence of the Vice-Chancellor at Oxford. Thomas Cranmer, the former Archbishop of Canterbury who recanted his Protestant faith was burnt at Oxford, for the queen refused to spare his life.

So perished the Protestant martyrs, in the same spirit in which More and Fisher and other nameless many, had died for the Catholic faith. Charles V, Emperor and father- in-law of Mary, bearing the temper of the people, advised moderation. But Mary was relentless.

Gardi­ner and Bonner at first supported the policy of persecution but soon became tired of it and viewed with suspicion the action of the Spaniards who were the real instigators of Marian persecution. But Mary honestly believed that she was serving the cause of Christ in persecuting the heretics and in her letters to the Council tried to stir up the bishops to even greater zeal.

Such was the pitilessness of persecution that in Guernsey where a pregnant woman was brought to the stake and in her terror gave birth to a child, which a compassionate spectator attempted to save, was snatched by others and thrown into the flames with the assent of the royal officers supervi­sing burning of the heretics, for the child was infected with the poison of heresy.

But in spite of the burning of the Protestants Mary could not stamp out Reformation in Eng­land. Religion, after all, is a matter of conscience and persecution did never succeed in sweeping out any religion. Reformation in England was regarded with mixed feelings before Mary had actually come to power, but her persecution sealed it with the blood of the martyrs.

A peasant woman was prophetic when she remarked that the burning of the Arch­bishop had burned the Pope out of England for ever. The imperial and French ambassadors, Catholics though they were, were shocked by the burnings. Even Philip warned Mary that she was proceeding at too great a pace.

The complaint of Spanish instigation by a section of writers, is not borne out by evi­dence. But nothing would check the fanatical zeal of the woman. Consciousness of the failure of her policy, disappointment in life and the lack of an heir, and all that made her lose her balance and her policy earned her the appellation Bloody Mary.

Towards the end of her life, Philip who had in the meantime become the king of Spain, came to England on a short visit, the purpose of which was to embroil England in a Spanish war against France. The war began under peculiar circumstances and at the instance of eighty year old Pope Paul IV.

The Spaniards had subdued Italy and conquered Naples, the native city of Pope Paul who called upon the French king to expel the Spaniards from Italy. Pope also declared Philip an excommunicate. By joining this war on her husband’s side, Mary was fighting against the head of the Catholic Church to which she had reconciled England.

Further, she was thereby taking side of her excommunicate husband. These were as contrary to her policy and belief as unpopular with the English nation. The result of the war was the loss of Calais the only remaining continental possession of England.

Failure of her policy and work, and lastly the loss of Calais came as serious disappointments to the queen. She became conscious that her life’s work would all be swept away by a Protestant successor. Worry and disappointment prematurely aged her and by the time she reached her middle forties she was completely exhausted.

Taken ill in August, 1558 she lingered for several weeks and the end came on November 17. ‘The Catholic reaction was over, since Mary, for all her good qualities, never understood the feelings of her people. By trying to burn out heresy in her kingdom she had lost her subjects’ love, and driven Protestantism deep into the foundations of English society.’

‘Honest but mis­guided, courageous but unfortunate, the first Tudor queen had failed to solve the problems of a new age’.

2. Counter-Reformation: Its Impact on England under Queen Mary:

Counter-Reformation also called Catholic Reformation was nothing counter to Reformation as such, but it was a counter move­ment to bring back those who had left the Catholic fold. It was intended to arrest the progress of the Reformation movement by reforming the Catholic Church itself.

The Council of Trent, in its various sittings, between 1545 and 1563 defined the Catholic doctrine more clearly and recognised the need for reform. Through reform it sought to revitalise the Catholic Church and thereby win back the wavering allegiance of many who had leaned for the time to the Reformed doctrines.

The Popes like Pius V or Sixtus V were men entirely different from the easy-going popes of the Renaissance. They placed the interest of the Church above art, literature or even temporal power. There was almost a revival of the great days of the medieval papacy.

This change was accompanied by drastic reforms in the discipline of the Church. Reformed clergy, Jesuit order, Inquisition and the Council of Trent were the factors that made Counter-Reformation a terrible force in Europe and it gradually spread into England.

The clergy were reformed from within. Much of their worldliness, scandalous living, greed and selfishness were removed and sincerity and devoutness restored. Sale of office and indulgence, was prohibited. The clergy were not to be absent from their dioceses and must be away from worldly pur­suits.

The society of Jesus, founded by Ignatius Loyola, became the vanguard of the Catholic cru­sade against the heretics and infidels all the world over. The elaborate system of education and training of the Jesuits enabled them to train and prepare the young to a life specially devoted to the papal service.

There had been no such enthusiastic preachers and teachers since the days of St. Dominic. They also devoted themselves to the task of recover­ing what had been lost to the Catholic Church. Their discipline, and obedience to superiors were soldier like.

They spread themselves all over Europe and England and succeeded in arresting the progress of Protestantism in countries like Spain, France, Poland, Italy and parts of the Netherlands. They were rightly regarded as the soldiers of the Counter- Reformation.

The Court of Inquisition—an eccles­iastical court punished the guilty clergy and sup­pressed heresy. The Court of Inquisition carried on a ruthless torture of the Non-Catholics in Spain and earned a great notoriety. Inquisition in other Catholic countries did not succeed to the extent it did in Spain, where none who had stepped into it came out without a sentence of-Execution.

The Inquisition was the sword of the Counter-Reforma­tion. The Council of Trent, a great convocation of the bishops held its sittings during the period 1545- 63 and clearly defined the Catholic doctrines. It emphasised that Church was the only authority to interpret the Holy Scriptures. Besides the Bible, the long standing customs of the Catholic Church formed the basis of the Catholic Christianity.

It reaffirmed with great emphasis the indispensability of the Seven Sacraments and confirmed the miraculous character of the Eucharist, i.e. the doctrine of Transubstantiation. If the Jesuit missionaries were the soldiers of the Counter-Reformation, Inquisition its sword, the Council of Trent was its shield.

The champion of the Counter-Reformation movement was Philip II. He was devoted to the cause of the papacy and took it as his mission of life to reconvert the countries that had gone out of the Catholic fold, with the help of arms if necessary. Yet it must be said that whereas the waverers could be forced back to the Catholic fold, sincere and honest Protestants could not be reconverted.

The peculiarity of religious persecution at all times, is that, it succeeds to a degree but never succeeds enough to liquidate the religion it persecutes. The Counter-Reformation, likewise succeeded partially. Where it succeeded well, was in bringing about a spirit of honesty an sincerity, morality and piety among the Christians, the Catholics in particular.

The Counter-Reformation cast its shadow in England during the reign of Mary who was zealous Catholic and married to Philip II, the champion of the movement itself. But more terrible storms had broken out on the Continent.

True that she derived her inspiration from the Counter-Reformation movement in Europe, but her neglect by Philip, her lack of an heir and her bitter memory of the cruel treatment of her mother by Henry VIII—all these made her sour and sad and she grew into a cruel fanatic.

To try to find Spanish instigation behind her policy of Protestant persecution is to go against facts. For, Charles V had advised her moderation, Philip, her husband warned her against proceeding in too great a pace. Mary’s single ambition was to restore England to the papal obedience and to save, as she saw it, her country from the moral sin, as also, to restore Catholic faith in England.

By a series of measures she reversed what had been done under Edward VI for Reformation. Restoration of the Six Articles’ Act, re-introduction of the Latin Mass, repeal of the Act of Supremacy, re-enactment of the law of heresy had while brought back Catholicism as it was at the death of Henry VIII, re-united England to Rome accepting the Pope as the supreme head of the English Church.

All this might have been tolerated by the nation, for these measures were passed by the Parliament which represented the nation, although subservient to the queen.

But Counter-Reformation in its cruel aspect began to show itself in the policy of persecution Mary began to follow from 1555 till the end of her rule. The burning of Protestant martyrs like Hooper, Taylor, Sanders, Bradford, Latimer, Ridley, and others were put to death. Thomas Cranmer, Archbi­shop of Canterbury was asked to recant which he did, but the queen would not spare his life.

He was also burnt to death. Persecution of heretics was Jin accepted principle of the Counter-Reformation, but burning of the sincere Protestants numbering more than three hundred had sealed the fate of Catholicism in England. As a peasant woman remarked with the burning of the Archbishop, the Pope was burnt in England.

It is true that at the initial stage Mary’s steps against ultra-Protestantism of Edward’s reign were more or less popular. But when she herself launched upon a similar career of extreme Catholicism, the people moved away from the Catholic Church. This had the effect of placing Protestantism on strong foundations in England.

It became clear, that the English nation was conservative in their religious belief and would not tolerate any extremism in this regard. England had so far little sympathy for Protestantism on the Edwardian model, yet the antipapal and anti-clerical nationalism which Henry VIII had so successfully exploited continued to be as strong as ever.

Her rule, besides that of Edward VI, the rule of a devout Spaniard had well-nigh ruined the achievements of the first two Tudors, and by trying to burn out heresy in her kingdom she had lost her subject’s love and driven Protestantism deep into the foundations of English society.

In another sphere Marian persecution brought about a profound change. Her cruel persecution, more cruelly perpetrated by her officers, led to the dawning of humanitarianism out of which emerged a general attitude of toleration of other’s faith and burning of heretics.

Queen Mary I: Journey to the Throne

The Tudor Dynasty of England, spanning from the late fifteenth century into the early seventeenth century, was filled with many colorful monarchs who impacted the country politically, economically, and socially. One of those monarchs was Mary Tudor, the daughter of King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Mary ruled over England from July 1553 to her death in November 1558.

Her reign as Queen was marked by her steadfast effort to convert England back to Catholicism from Protestantism, which had been established under her father twenty years earlier and then further intensified during the reign of her younger brother, King Edward VI. This religious issue, as well as early experiences during the English Reformation, would significantly impact her life, as well as her policies as queen.

‘The Family of Henry VIII: An Allegory of the Tudor Succession’, attributed to Lukas de Heere. Mary is shown on the left next to her husband, Philip of Spain.

Born on February 18th, 1516, Mary was the eldest child of King Henry VIII, as well as the only surviving child of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and thus was pronounced heir apparent to her father’s throne. During Mary’s childhood she received an education which was heavily influenced by the Catholic religion that would have a significant impact on Mary throughout the rest of her life. Mary was very close to her mother, who made tremendous efforts in grooming Mary to be a future queen. For example, Catherine took great interest in acquiring an exceptional education for her daughter, such as choosing Thomas Linacre, a renowned scholar, to be her daughter’s instructor. Furthermore, Catherine’s deep religious conviction and charitable acts served as a model for Mary, who frequently visited court to be with her mother.

Initially close with both of her parents, Mary’s relationship with her father began to strain when his desire for a male heir increased, his open rejection of her mother became more obvious, and his infatuation with Anne Boleyn intensified. The year 1531, when Mary was fifteen, marked a turning point in Mary’s life when Henry forbade her to see her mother. Henry later broke away from the Catholic Church in order to divorce Catherine and marry Anne. Henry quickly established the Church of England with himself as the supreme head. Mary was declared illegitimate and was replaced as heir apparent by Henry and Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth she was furthermore banished from court.

Having been stripped of her title of princess, Mary, now seventeen, was placed in the household of her infant sister, Elizabeth, in December of 1533. During this time, Mary developed a close friendship with Spanish ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, who made multiple unsuccessful attempts to intervene on her behalf at court. Furthermore, Mary also experienced various bouts of illness. Mary was denied any communication or meetings with her mother, despite the fact both suffered from illness during that time. Mary and Catherine were able to send secret messages to each other through the help of loyal servants and physicians. In her letters, Catherine stressed that Mary listen to her father’s commands, but to uphold the Catholic faith. Mary heavily relied on her Catholic faith to emotionally get her through that critical time.

During this time, Mary publicly refused to recognize her father’s marriage to Anne, her own legalized illegitimacy and his claim to be head of the Church of England. When the Act of Supremacy was issued in 1534, Mary refused to take the oath the document required. This legally meant that her refusal was a sign of treason. Although she could have been arrested, charged and possibly executed, Henry refused out of compassion for his daughter. Catherine would eventually succumb to her years of illness and die on January 7th, 1536. Mary was described as “inconsolable” at the loss of her beloved mother. Mary also realized that she was in more danger now that Henry’s pregnant wife, Anne, was officially recognized as the sole queen of England, and that if their child was a son, then he would be recognized as the rightful heir to the throne. However, this would not be the case Anne soon suffered a miscarriage, and swiftly fell from the King’s good grace, before eventually being executed in May of 1536.

Despite the turn of events, Mary, now twenty, was able to reestablish a relationship with her father after he married Jane Seymour in 1536. Mary’s return to favor was also based on her acceptance of the Church of England and her own illegitimacy. Following the execution of Anne Boleyn, Mary recognized that her position was still not secure and would ultimately need to reconnect with her father in order to obtain any form of political standing. Her father repeatedly demanded her to take the oath recognizing him as the supreme head of the Church of England. Faced with no other alternative, Mary accepted her father’s demands and was officially pardoned. In a letter to her father Mary accepted her father’s authority as the leader of the Church of England, as well as the illegality of her parents’ marriage:

“I do freely, frankly and for the discharge of my duty towards God, the king’s highness and his laws, without other respect, recognize and acknowledge that the marriage formerly had between his majesty and my mother, the late princess dowager, was by God’s law and man’s law incestuous and unlawful.”

Henry also required that Mary write a letter to the Pope and Charles V confirming that her acceptance of Henry’s decree was genuine, and she complied. Her close confidant, Chapuys, also wrote a letter to Charles explaining the strategy of Mary’s acceptance in return Charles would inform the Pope that she swore out of necessity for her life, but her heart was still Catholic. Following the birth of Henry and Jane’s son, Edward, Mary began to accept the fact that she was not next in line to the throne. After successfully recreating a relationship with her father, Mary was reinstated in the line of succession in 1544, with Edward being first in line, her being second, and Elizabeth third. This was reaffirmed in Henry’s will shortly before his death in 1547.

Despite being placed back in the line of succession, Mary’s living situation following Henry’s death once again became dangerous. Although Mary maintained land holdings during her brother’s reign, particularly in East Anglia, she still faced opposition at Edward’s court due to her religious beliefs. Mary’s known, staunch belief in the Catholic religion conflicted with her brother’s Protestant beliefs. During this time Mary infrequently visited court due to her brother’s Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. Seymour was a radical Protestant, and during his time as Lord Protector he successfully managed to abolish Catholic Mass. This meant that English citizens could no longer openly practice the religion in a traditional, mass setting practiced by the Catholic Church. Although Mary objected to this, she still managed to keep Catholic Mass in her household.

However, after the fall and execution of Seymour for essentially kidnapping King Edward VI and for planning to raise an army to maintain his control in government, the rise of John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland as the new Lord Protector, resulted in Mary’s situation becoming even more dangerous. Mary herself stated that the Duke of Northumberland was the “most unstable man in England.” Dudley’s practice of the Protestant religion was more intense, demanding conformity to the religious doctrines imposed by the government furthermore he recognized that Mary was a symbol for English citizens who were still Catholic who might revert the country back to the Catholic Church. This was evident when Mary was no longer permitted to practice Mass in her household.

Charles V attempted to intervene on behalf of his cousin by submitting a request to the Privy Council that would grant her the ability to worship freely. In Edward VI’s Chronicle, he describes that within the request Charles threatened war with England had they not let Mary continue to freely worship. Although there were fears amongst the Privy Council, who wanted to avoid war, Charles’s conflicts with the French in Italy dampened any threat he made. At this point, Mary considered fleeing England for Spain. However, just as a Spanish ship was docked for her at the coast at Maldon in Essex, Mary had a change of heart she refused to leave and was determined to maintain her claim to the throne.

By the spring of 1553, King Edward VI’s health began to rapidly deteriorate. Determined to ensure that the throne was not passed to his Catholic sister, Edward created a latent patent entitled, “My Device for the Succession.” This document excluded both Mary and their sister, Elizabeth, from the succession on the grounds that they were born illegitimate. Instead, the throne would be passed to Lady Jane Grey, the granddaughter of King Henry VIII’s sister. Furthermore, Edward and Northumberland stated their reasoning for supporting Jane was their fear and disdain at the thought of Mary and Elizabeth marrying foreigners, and that the country would ultimately be controlled by a foreign power. They reasoned that Jane, who was married to Northumberland’s son, Guildford Dudley, would produce an English heir and maintain the lineage of the throne. The Duke of Northumberland also knew that Edward did not have much longer to live he acted swiftly to ensure that Mary did not attempt to take the throne by trying to lure her to court in order to arrest her for continuously refusing to convert. However, Mary was informed of her brother’s impending death and Northumberland’s plot, and instead fled from her residence in Hudson in Hertfordshire, which was closer to court, to Kenninghall, in Norfolk, East Anglia where she had land and estate, as well as political support.

Lady Jane Grey

It was there where she eventually learned of Edward’s death at the age of fifteen, and that Lady Jane Grey would be pronounced Queen. However, the announcement of Jane Grey was not entirely welcomed by those in the country. For example, one account made by Gianfrancesco Commendone, the secretary of the Cardinal of Imola, described that while Jane Grey was being led to the Tower to await her coronation, there were mixed feelings of disdain and no cheering among the English citizens. Support of Jane Grey was also created out of fear. Another account made by Spanish merchant, Antonio de Guaras, stated that any person who questioned the legitimacy of Jane Grey, and why Mary was not pronounced queen, would have their ears cut off in order to cause intimidation and ensure the obedience of the English citizens.

Following news of her brother’s death, Mary sent a letter to the Privy Council demanding them to recognize her as Queen, which was mandated in her father’s will:

“You know, the realm and the whole world knoweth the rolls and records appear by the authority of the King our said father, and that King our said brother, and the subjects of this realm so that we verily trust there is no good true subject, that is, can, or would, pretend to be ignorant thereof.”

However, the council rejected her claim and instead, Northumberland and his troops marched towards Kenninghall. Mary managed to escape and moved southwards in East Anglia. During this time, Mary gained a large amount of support from both English Catholics and those who supported her claim to the throne as the rightful heir because she was the daughter of King Henry VIII and was legally next in line according to the Act of Succession and Henry’s will, and those, like Thomas, Lord Wentworth, a well-liked and followed nobleman, who despised Northumberland. Mary also received political support from noblemen such as the Earls of Pembroke and Arundel, both members of the Privy Council, who persistently advocated for Mary’s right to the throne as the daughter of King Henry VIII as prescribed in his will. Mary’s overwhelming support eventually caused Northumberland to surrender the Privy Council turned against Jane Grey and proclaimed Mary as Queen on July 19th, 1553. Northumberland was arrested and later executed by Mary for attempting to prevent her from succeeding to the throne. Mary, now thirty-seven, rode into London in August 1553 officially as Queen.

‘Entry of Queen Mary I with Princess Elizabeth into London in 1553’ by John Byam Liston Shaw

Mary’s early life was filled with much turbulence, as she faced many hardships during her father and brother’s reign. During her father’s reign she had to deny her legitimacy and to publicly change her beliefs, when she argued for them during her brother’s reign she once again faced opposition. Despite these hardships, Mary did eventually become Queen.

By Anthony Ruggiero. I am a High School History Teacher for University Neighborhood High School in Manhattan, New York. I have always had a strong interest in Tudor England, which sparked my interest in History and to become a teacher

Watch the video: Bloody Mary Mary I of England (July 2022).


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