Mary I (England) (1516–1558; Ruled 1553–1558)

views updated May 23 2018

MARY I (ENGLAND) (15161558; ruled 15531558)

MARY I (ENGLAND) (15161558; ruled 15531558), queen of England and Ireland. Mary's early life was dominated by her dynastic importance as daughter of Henry VIII (ruled 15091547) and heir to England's crown, involving negotiations for betrothal first to the French dauphin and then to her Habsburg cousin Charles V (ruled 15191556). Although Charles chose another prospective bride, her relationship with him remained one of the most important factors in her life. In 1525 she was created Princess of Wales, but from 1527 the estrangement of Henry VIII from her mother Catherine of Aragon (14851536) undermined her position. Prevented from seeing Catherine after 1531, she was bastardized when the Aragon marriage was annulled (1533) and reduced to a lady-in-waiting to the new heir presumptive, Elizabeth (ruled 15581603). The death of Anne Boleyn (1507?1536) brought further humiliation. After spirited resistance, in 1536 Mary was forced to acknowledge herself a bastard.

Mary's position improved after Henry's final marriage to Catherine Parr (15121548) in 1543 and an act of Parliament in 1544 recognized her as second in line to the throne. During the reign of her half-brother Edward VI (15471553), she faced fresh troubles by stubbornly maintaining the Catholic liturgy. In 1550 unsuccessful efforts were made to arrange her escape to Habsburg territories. Edward's privy council tried to bypass her in making Lady Jane Grey (15371554) queen in 1553, but aided by Catholic advisers, Mary drew on popular provincial outrage at this insult to Henry VIII's bloodline and staged a brilliantly effective coup d'état based in East Anglia. She moved swiftly to restore not only traditional worship but also obedience to the pope (a much less popular cause), although legal problems delayed England's reconciliation with Rome until November 1554. She also insisted on keeping the title of "kingdom" for the island of Ireland, which her father had unilaterally adopted in place of the former papal grant to English monarchs of "lordship" of Ireland. She brushed aside objections to marriage with her cousin Charles V's son King Philip II (ruled 15561598) of Spain, which crystallized in Sir Thomas Wyatt's Rebellion (January 1554). Amidst general panic in London at the rebels' approach, Mary displayed firm courage and rallied support in a major speech at Guildhall. To her joy, Philip arrived to marry her at Winchester Cathedral on 25 July 1554.

Once the old heresy laws were restored (1555), persecution included almost three hundred burnings of Protestants. This was more intense than any previous English antiheresy campaign and uncomfortably reminiscent of recent Habsburg persecution in the Netherlands. Protestant sufferings handed a propaganda asset to her opponents, but Mary obstinately persisted in encouraging the burnings. Her hopes for Catholicism were complicated in 1555, when Cardinal Gian Pietro Carafa was elected Pope Paul IV (reigned 15551559). He was bitterly anti-Spanish and an old enemy of the papal legate in England, Mary's close ally and cousin Cardinal Reginald Pole (15001558). Mary, who wished to be the papacy's most loyal daughter, defied the pope when he revoked Pole's legatine powers and tried to summon him to Rome on heresy charges. Meanwhile her marriage did not produce an heir to secure a Catholic future. Mary's belief that she was pregnant caused national embarrassment and ridicule when the truth became plain in summer 1555. Philip's good nature was strained by the English lack of enthusiasm for his presence. He returned in 1557 only to secure England's help for Spain in war against France (and the papacy). After initial success, the French capture of Calais, England's last mainland European territory, in January 1558 was a bitter blow, and Mary's illness that summer was not her longed-for child but stomach cancer. She knew in her terminal illness that her half-sister Elizabeth would destroy everything she had worked for. Pole died of influenza within hours of Mary on 17 November.

Mary's brief reign provokes differing assessments. Traditionally mainstream English historiography saw reaction, an unimaginative return to the pre-1529 past. A. G. Dickens stressed Protestant vigor that rendered her task a losing battle, and both A. F. Pollard and G. R. Elton were drawn to the metaphor of sterility in describing the reign. Eamon Duffy has led reassessments of Mary's religious program, stressing elements anticipating Roman Catholic Church reforms after the Council of Trent (15451563), for instance, Pole's proposals for clergy training colleges (seminaries) attached to cathedrals and the provision of instructional literature, some of which drew on initiatives of the early Reformation in England. In secular government, administrative and financial reorganization begun by Edward's government officials continued. Major restructurings of customs revenue and of provisions for national defense were not greatly modified for more than half a century. Philip also encouraged naval expansion, which ironically chiefly benefited Elizabeth and her later wars against him. However the reign is judged, Mary's blighted personal history can only attract sympathy.

See also Edward VI (England) ; Elizabeth I (England) ; England ; Henry VIII (England) ; Philip II (Spain) ; Tudor Dynasty (England) .


Duffy, Eamon. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c. 14001580. New Haven and London, 1992.

Loades, David M. Mary Tudor: A Life. Oxford, 1989.

. The Reign of Mary Tudor. Rev. ed. London, 1991.

Diarmaid MacCulloch

Mary I

views updated May 18 2018

Mary I

BORN: February 18, 1516 • Greenwich, England

DIED: November 17, 1558 • England

English queen

Queen Mary I took power when England faced troubled times. She attempted to restore the Roman Catholic religion, which her father, Henry VIII (1491–1547; see entry), had outlawed. She believed that this step would unify the country that had experienced much religious and political turmoil. The English people supported Mary at first, but they soon began to hate her for her harsh policies toward Protestants. Because she ordered many Protestants to be burned to death for heresy (religious opinions that conflict with the church's doctrines, or principles), she became known as "Bloody Mary." She is remembered as a tyrant who oppressed her people and who failed to create the wise governmental policies that England needed in order to become a more powerful and modern nation.

"In life and death I will not forsake the Catholic religion of the church our mother … [even if compelled by] threats or violence."

Early life and education

Mary was the only surviving child born to Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (1485–1536), whose parents were the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand (1452–1516) and Isabella (1451–1504). Henry desperately wanted a male heir and hoped that after Mary's successful birth Catherine would at last give birth to a son. As the years passed, though, Catherine did not become pregnant again.

Henry provided his daughter with a good education. Her Spanish tutor, Luis Vives (1492–1540), taught her Latin, Spanish, Italian, and French. He also emphasized Christian virtue, instructing the young princess on the importance of obedience to God and the church. Though Mary was intelligent, she was taught to believe that, as a woman, she was not capable of making complex decisions. She learned that her role was to allow men—her father, future husband, or male advisors—to make decisions for her and to follow their authority.

Mary's first few years were happy ones, but when she was only ten years old her father began taking steps that changed her life completely. Frustrated that Catherine had not given birth to a son, Henry wanted to dissolve his marriage and take a new wife. He petitioned the pope, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, to allow this. But the pope refused to make a decision. Finally, after six years, the pope informed Henry that he would not declare the marriage invalid. But by then, Henry's mistress, Anne Boleyn (1507–1536), an attendant at the royal court, was pregnant and he wanted to marry her. So Henry declared that his marriage to Catherine had not been legitimate, and he married Anne.

Loses her royal status

The Act of Supremacy, passed in 1534, declared that Henry was the supreme head of the church in England. The Act of Succession, also passed that year, declared that Mary was not his legitimate child and could not inherit the throne. After Boleyn gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth I (1533–1603; see entry) in 1533, Mary was sent to live in her sister's household as one of her attendants. Boleyn resented Mary and treated her unkindly. She forbade her to attend Catholic Mass or even to go outside for exercise and fresh air. Even worse, Mary was not allowed to see her mother. Mary lived almost as a prisoner.

Henry pressured Mary to take an oath promising loyalty to him as supreme head of the church. She refused, as did her mother. Though Henry could have condemned them to death for this, he feared provoking war with Spain by such an action. Instead, he kept them under watch. In 1536 Boleyn was executed for adultery, and Henry married Jane Seymour (1509–1537). A new act of Parliament declared that both Mary and Elizabeth were illegitimate, making it lawful for the child Seymour bore, Edward VI (1537–1553), to inherit the throne. Mary was placed in isolation and forbidden any contact with friends until she finally agreed, with great reluctance, to sign a document affirming the act.

A time of relative happiness followed. Mary got along well with her new stepmother and was again welcome at court. Henry even changed his final will, making her second in line to inherit the throne after her brother. But when Edward became king after Henry's death in 1547, Mary's position was again threatened. Since Edward was only nine at the time he was crowned, he was guided entirely by his advisors. These men were eager to make further changes in the English church, separating it even more from the Catholic religion. They enacted reforms that required all people in England to attend a new, simple worship service instead of the Catholic Mass. Mary was ordered to conform to this new law, but she refused. Only after Mary's cousin, the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500–1558), threatened war did Edward's advisors allow Mary to have Mass said in her private chambers.

Fights for her right to the throne

In addition to reforming religious practices, Edward's councilors wanted to strengthen their own political power. Edward was sickly, and they feared that he might die without producing an heir. John Dudley (Earl of Warwick; 1502–1443) convinced Edward to sign a document that removed Mary's claim to the throne and named Lady Jane Grey (1537–1554), Dudley's daughter-in-law, as his successor.

In 1553, at age sixteen, Edward died of tuberculosis. Mary knew her life was now in danger if she refused to support the succession of Grey, who had powerful lords on her side. But many other nobles were loyal to Mary. They believed that, as Henry's daughter, she had a much stronger claim to the throne. So Mary took a chance. Though Grey had already been named queen, Mary issued a proclamation declaring her legal right to the throne.

Mary raised an army of loyal supporters in Suffolk, in southern England. The army gathered near her castle of Framlingham to prepare to meet Dudley and his force of three thousand men. People throughout the region rallied to Mary's side. Armed gendemen joined her army, which grew to almost twenty thousand men; poorer people sent bread, meat, or beer. Dudley, while camped at Cambridge, begged military help from the French king. But support for Mary continued to grow. While Dudley awaited word from France, one of Mary's officers went to Yarmouth, where Dudley had stationed seven ships to guard the coast. The officer rowed out to the boats and inspired the two thousand sailors on board to mutiny, or rebel. Shouting "Long live our Queen Mary" they joined her forces and brought one hundred large cannons with them.

Edward's Privy Council, which had the duty of proclaiming the next monarch, had by this time met at the Tower of London to await the results of the expected battle. (The Tower of London is a fortress on the Thames River in London that was used as a royal residence, treasury, and, most famously, as a prison for the upper class.) When the council received news of this mutiny, they decided to take Mary's side. On July 18, 1553, they offered a reward for Dudley's arrest. The next day they publicly proclaimed Mary queen. The people of London were overjoyed with this news. People rushed into the streets, shouting and dancing. When Mary came to London two weeks later to be crowned, according to an account quoted by Carolly Erickson in Bloody Mary: The Remarkable Life of Mary Tudor, the streets were "so full of people shouting and crying Jesus save her grace, with weeping tears for joy, that the like was never seen before."

Queen and tyrant

This popularity did not last long. Mary's reign began gently. She arrested the conspirators who had supported Grey, but executed only Dudley and a few others, pardoning the rest. She also told the council that she did not intend to compel her subjects to conform to any religious practice that went against their consciences. But Mary believed that most English people wished to return to Catholicism, and that the leaders who had pushed for religious reforms had done much harm. After Parliament reenacted heresy laws, which stated that convicted heretics should be burned to death at the stake, Mary authorized her government to arrest Protestant leaders and put them on trial.

Mary did not set out to execute heretics out of cruelty. She wanted to put an end to the unrest that had been caused by the conflicts about religion. She believed that the English people would willingly return to Catholicism if they could be made to see that the Protestant faith was heresy. According to Erickson, the queen wrote that "Touching the punishment of heretics, I believe it would be well to inflict punishment at this beginning, without much cruelty or passion, but without however omitting to do such justice on those who choose by their false doctrines to deceive simple persons, that the people may clearly comprehend that they have not been condemned without just cause."

Almost everyone in England considered heresy to be the most horrible type of crime imaginable. For at least 150 years, Protestant and Catholic rulers had ordered heretics to be burned at the stake. In fact, Mary's father had ordered ninety heretics executed during his thirty-seven-year reign. Even John Knox (1505–1572; see entry), a Protestant reformer and one of Mary's most extreme critics, approved of this punishment for heretics. "It is not only lawful to punish to the death such as labor to subvert the true religion," he wrote in a passage quoted by Erickson, "but the magistrates and people are bound to do so."

Bishop John Hooper's Death

The execution of Bishop John Hooper (1495–1555) showed the extreme suffering of death by burning. Not wanting to spend too much money on wood for the fire, the local authorities in charge of his execution bought only a little wood that was still green. When the fire was lit, it burned Hooper's feet but it did not reach higher. Then the wind almost extinguished the flames. Since there was not enough wood to keep a good fire going, the authorities had to send for more. But this was also green, so the slow fire burned just a little and did not kill its victim. By this time Hooper's legs had almost entirely burned, but his upper body had not been touched. He begged for more fire. When the kindling was lit a third time, the flames finally reached the bags of gunpowder he wore near his waist. But the wind blew them away before they could explode and kill him. He remained standing in the flames, and witnesses could hear him praying as his arms, torso, and throat finally started to burn. He beat his arms on his chest, asking God to receive his soul, until one arm fell off. He had been standing conscious in the flames for forty-five minutes before he finally died.

Although condemned heretics knew that their deaths would be terribly painful, many of them welcomed their executions. They believed that, after death, their souls would go immediately to God. When two or more victims were burned together, they often reassured each other that they would soon be feasting together in heaven. They were proud to die in such a horrible way. Some of the victims told their supporters that they would not cry out in pain while being burned in order to demonstrate their unshakable religious faith.

What was different about Mary's policy, however, was the scale of persecution. So many Protestants were burned at the stake during her reign that the English people grew disgusted by the suffering. About three hundred people—powerful individuals who preached against Catholicism, uneducated people, and even teenagers—were burned to death as heretics while Mary was queen. Because the executions were public, many people witnessed the agonies of those who were burned. Sometimes the flames moved swiftly and the victim died in a relatively short time. Some condemned persons were able to wear a little pouch of gunpowder around their necks or waists, hoping that the flames would ignite it and the explosion would kill them quickly. But in many cases—for example, if the wood did not burn well or if the wind blew the flames away from the stake—the victim took a long time to die. John Foxe (1516–1587), who wrote accounts of these deaths in his Book of Martyrs, described executions in which the flames burned the victims' legs or arms completely off while the person was still conscious.

Marriage to the king of Spain

Mary further angered her subjects by arranging a marriage with Philip II (1527–1598; see entry), who became the king of Spain in 1556. Everyone agreed that the queen should have a husband, not only to father an heir to the throne but also to help the queen rule. But the English resented the idea of Spanish control. Mary's advisors urged her to marry an English nobleman instead, but Mary accepted Philip's proposal soon after she was crowned. Deeply disappointed in this decision, the council and Parliament forced Mary to accept strict limits on Philip's power as her husband. Parliament refused to let Philip be publicly crowned king of England or to enjoy the usual rights of a king. Furthermore, if Mary died without giving birth to a child, Philip would have no right to the English crown.

When the marriage took place in July 1554, Mary was already thirty-eight years old, and she was not in good health. Philip was only twenty-seven. The marriage was not a happy one. Philip remained in England for only ten months after the wedding. During this time Mary announced that she was pregnant. She experienced the usual symptoms of pregnancy and awaited the birth of a child. But after more than nine months, no child came; she had only imagined that she had conceived. The queen urged her husband to return to England, but Philip was busy conducting a war against France. In 1557 he finally returned, but only to seek Mary's support for the Spanish military campaign. England had suffered two years of bad harvests and was facing financial problems. But Mary agreed to give Philip money and troops, a move that increased resentment against her. The situation grew even worse when the town of Calais, England's last possession in Europe, fell to the French. Mary's subjects blamed Philip for this disaster.

In late 1557 Mary again believed herself to be pregnant. But as before, the queen had not in fact conceived. In worsening health, Mary prepared to die. She changed her will to name her sister, Elizabeth, as her successor.

Death and legacy

After Mary's death on November 17, Elizabeth became queen. Mary's attempts to return the country to Catholicism had failed, and England's alliance with Spain quickly ended. Elizabeth and her advisors steered the country back to the course that Henry and Edward had begun, confirming England's break with Catholic influences.

Though Mary had hoped to eliminate anti-Catholic feeling in England, her policies had the opposite effect. During Elizabeth's reign and afterward, the country became more strongly Protestant. It became illegal for an English monarch to be a Catholic or to marry a Catholic. Once loved by her subjects, Mary ended her reign as a despised tyrant. The day of Mary's death was a national holiday in England for two hundred years.

Historians consider Mary a ruler who did not understand that times were changing. She held fast to a belief that religion and obedience to the Catholic Church were the most important principles in life. She did not realize that her subjects were beginning to question this view and to demand changes in their type of government. She ruled as earlier monarchs had done, believing themselves to be immune from criticism because their religion gave them supreme authority. Though Mary, as queen, demonstrated the strength of her convictions, she failed to create policies that would strengthen England.

For More Information


Erickson, Carolly. Bloody Mary: The Remarkable Life of Mary Tudor. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978.

Ridley, Jasper. Bloody Mary's Martyrs: The Story of England's Terror. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2001.


Forbush, William Byron, ed. Foxe's Book of Martyrs. (accessed on July 11, 2006).

"Mary I: Queen of England." Tudor Place, (accessed on July 11, 2006).

"Queen Mary I." Tudor Monarchs. (accessed on July 11, 2006).

Mary I

views updated May 21 2018

Mary I (1516–58), queen of England (1553–8). Few lives can have been sadder nor few reigns more disastrous than that of Mary Tudor, victim of the dynastic and religious tensions in her family. Her birth to Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII after three miscarriages and a dead infant son was the occasion for great rejoicing and it was presumed that a brother would follow. He did not, and Catherine's only other daughter in 1518 was dead at birth. Though Henry was proud of Princess Mary, his marriage was breaking down and Catherine took refuge increasingly in her religion and her Spanish ladies-in-waiting. Mary seems to have been a lively little girl, ‘promising to become a handsome lady’, according to one observer in 1522. From birth she was a pawn in the diplomatic game and in 1518, at the age of 2, was betrothed to the dauphin of France. Before she was 3 she accosted the admiral of France at a reception: ‘are you the Dauphin? if you are, I wish to kiss you.’ But two years later there was a marriage treaty with the Emperor Charles V and by 1523 rumours that she was to marry James V of Scotland. By this time the shadow of a possible divorce was falling across her: Henry had a healthy son by a mistress, the five years Catherine was his senior were all too apparent, and remarriage was increasingly discussed.

The effect of the annulment of her parents' marriage in 1533 was shattering. All her sympathies were with her mother, whom she was allowed to see only rarely until her death in January 1536. Unless the plea was conceded that she had been conceived in bona fide parentum, Mary was illegitimate, losing any claim to the throne and precedence at court. In the hard dynastic world of 16th-cent. Europe, her matrimonial prospects plummeted. Worse followed. The execution of Anne Boleyn and her father's remarriage to Jane Seymour brought no respite, since the king continued to demand that she acknowledge that her mother's marriage had been invalid and recognize his own ecclesiastical supremacy. Desperate plans to flee to the continent and seek the protection of the emperor were mooted. But in June 1537, with the assistance of Thomas Cromwell, she submitted, was granted her own household again, and restored to precarious favour. The birth of a half-brother Edward in October 1537 appeared to remove any chance that she would ever be queen.

The remaining years of Henry's life were quieter for Mary and she was on good terms with his last wife, Catherine Parr. But her troubles had taken a heavy toll. She had lost much of her youthful vivacity, was often unwell, and in 1542 her life was said to be in danger. But she hunted, danced, was fond of dress, and enjoyed music, and the carousel of marriage plans never stopped. In 1541 her old governess of many years, Margaret, countess of Salisbury, went to the block, but in 1543 a statute restored Mary to the succession, after Prince Edward and any children Catherine Parr might have. From 1547 Edward VI's reign brought new trials. The king's two chief advisers, Somerset and Northumberland, promoted protestant doctrines and the young king grew up an eager reformer. When the Act of Uniformity of 1549 forbade the use of the mass, Mary continued to hear it and was warned. She replied that, in her conscience, ‘it is not worthy to have the name of law’. Charles V gave her powerful support and the overthrow of Protector Somerset afforded temporary relief, but Edward, as he grew older, appeared even more determined than his ministers to bring her to heel. In March 1551 he summoned her before the council, declared that he ‘could not bear it’, and was told in reply that ‘her soul was God's and her faith she would not change’. Her release from this stalemate came with the first signs of the illness that killed Edward on 6 July 1553.

Even then, Mary's succession was by no means certain. Edward had declared Lady Jane Grey his heir and on 9 July she was proclaimed queen. Mary had already fled to Kenninghall in East Anglia, where she had estates and much support, and on 10 July proclaimed herself queen. Northumberland's support collapsed within days and on 7 August Mary entered London to begin her reign. She was 37.

She had triumphed against all odds and it is not surprising that she attributed it to her steadfastness in her faith and to the help she had received from her co-religionists in Europe. She may have misjudged the widespread support she received at home for enthusiasm for the old religion, whereas it is more probable that it was recognition that, despite all the twists and turns of policy and fortune, she was Henry VIII's obvious heir, by birth and by his last will.

Mary had, as the imperial ambassador Renard pointed out, no experience of government at all. Until the spring of 1553 it did not look at all likely that she would ever be called to reign and, even then, the general assumption was that she would be guided by a husband. She turned at once to Renard for advice. The twin objectives of her reign were to restore the catholic faith and to negotiate a marriage which would hold out some hope that the succession would not pass to her half-sister the Princess Elizabeth. Roles were now reversed. In the dark days for catholics in the reign of Edward VI, Mary's known resistance was a beacon of hope: now Elizabeth played the same part for reformers in Mary's reign, though, characteristically, she played it with more finesse and pliancy.

Healing the breach with Rome was not simple. The mass could be celebrated and certain bishops were soon suspended—Cranmer, Hooper, Latimer, Ridley—while Gardiner and Bonner, who had spent most of the previous reign in prison, were restored to their sees of Winchester and London. But many of the ecclesiastical changes had been introduced by statute and would require a parliament to abrogate them. Mary's first Parliament in the autumn of 1553 made a beginning by declaring her mother's marriage legal and by repealing most of Edward VI's religious legislation. But the gentry and aristocracy showed little enthusiasm for disgorging the monastic estates they had acquired, even when urged to do so voluntarily.

In view of her age and the need for an heir, marriage had to be arranged at once. Mary had a sentimental regard for her cousin Reginald Pole, whom she cannot have seen since she was 15, but he was committed to his life in the church. The claims of Edward Courtenay flickered for a moment and died. A young catholic, he had spent fifteen years in the Tower, was released and created earl of Devon, but proved, on closer acquaintance, a sore disappointment. When the Emperor Charles V suggested his son Philip, who had just become a widower, Mary was attracted by the Spanish connection and agreed readily. Wyatt's rising against the Spanish marriage—part of a wider conspiracy which misfired—threatened for a moment, but Mary stood firm and it collapsed. Princess Elizabeth was sent to the Tower under suspicion of complicity, but no evidence against her could be found. Philip himself arrived in the summer of 1554. Though he behaved with courtesy, his Spanish courtiers were in private disparaging: ‘the queen is not at all beautiful,’ wrote one, ‘small and rather flabby than fat … a perfect saint and dresses badly.’ Another, more pointedly, observed that he did not envy Philip his duty: ‘to speak frankly it will take a great God to drink this cup.’ At first the marriage seemed to have fulfilled its main purpose. Later in 1554 Mary announced herself pregnant. In the summer of 1555 an ornate cradle was prepared and rockers appointed. But no child arrived and in August 1555 Philip left for urgent business in the Low Countries.

Meanwhile the work of reconciliation to Rome went on. It was a joyful day for Mary in November 1554 when Pole returned at last from the continent and pronounced absolution from the sin of schism, and in March 1556 he succeeded Cranmer as archbishop of Canterbury. The supreme headship of the church was revoked by Parliament in December 1554 and acknowledgement made of the authority of the pope, who had sent Pole ‘to call us home again into the right way from whence we have all this long while wandered’. Three statutes against heresy were revived. Mary's instincts at first had been for patience towards protestants and the overwhelming advice she received was not to drive too fast. But as opposition developed, her attitude stiffened. A first victim, John Rogers, a London preacher, went to the stake at Smithfield in February 1555, and was followed by John Hooper, former bishop, at Gloucester, and by Robert Ferrar, deposed bishop of St David's, at Carmarthen in March. Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer, and some 300 others followed. Moderate catholics were dismayed: ‘haste in religious matters’, wrote Renard to Philip, ‘ought to be avoided. Cruel punishments are not the best way.’ But Renard's influence was in decline. There has been much discussion of the responsibility for the burnings, and Gardiner, Bonner, Philip, Pole, and Mary have been named in turn. Of these Mary was probably the gentlest, but she bears the main responsibility since she alone could certainly have stopped them.

In 1554 one of the Spanish entourage wrote that Philip ‘fully realises that the marriage was concluded for no fleshly considerations but in order to … preserve the Low Countries’. Though the articles of marriage forbade England going to war to assist Spain, that was the intention, and in June 1557 Mary declared war on France. By an ironic twist, the emperor and Philip had quarrelled violently with the new pope, Paul IV. Mary found herself denounced by the pope as ‘the wife of a schismatic’, Cardinal Pole's legation was revoked, and he was summoned to Rome to answer charges of heresy. In January 1558 the French seized the initiative and besieged Calais. The great outpost of empire, English for more than 200 years, surrendered within a week.

There was little comfort in the short time remaining to Mary. Philip's second and last visit in 1557 had lasted a bare three months. But in January 1558 Philip was told by Mary that she was once more pregnant and the arrival of the child imminent. This time she deceived nobody but herself. On 30 March she made her will ‘thinking myself to be with child’ and conscious of the dangers of childbirth. That was no danger but there were others. Philip urged her to come to terms with her sister Elizabeth, an improving asset. Mary begged him to let the matter wait until he returned and not to be angry, ‘for I have already begun to taste your anger all too often, to my great sorrow’. By the summer she was obviously ill and more and more people were paying their respects to Elizabeth. In October Mary added a sad codicil to her will, ‘as I then thought myself to be with child’. She died on 17 November 1558, twelve hours before Cardinal Pole, telling her ladies that while she dozed fitfully she had seen ‘many little children like angels, playing before her’. Her husband wrote politely, ‘I felt a reasonable regret at her death’ and the first act of her sister's first Parliament was to reclaim the governorship of the church which Mary had so enthusiastically abandoned.

Among Mary's first words as a toddler had been ‘priest’ and she was buried, not in royal finery, but in the plain garb of a religious order. Her failure was total and she died with no earthly hope. Modern historians have pointed to the constructive achievements of her reign—reform of the currency, attention to the navy, reorganization of the customs. Mary herself would have counted them as nothing against the collapse of her grand design. Her reign had begun full of promise, with a spontaneous rising on her behalf and a joyous welcome. The loss of Calais might have been redeemed, though contemporaries were too close to see it, as later commentators did, as a blessing in disguise. But the burnings discredited the church she loved, sowed a harvest of hatred, and dogged the catholic cause for centuries to come. Mary did more than anyone else to make England a protestant nation.

J. A. Cannon


Loades, D. , Mary Tudor: A Life (Oxford, 1989);
Marshall, R. K. , Mary I (1993);
Ridley, J. , The Life and Times of Mary Tudor (1973);
Tittler, R. , The Reign of Mary I (1983).

Mary I

views updated May 23 2018

Mary I

Mary I (1516-1558) was queen of England from 1553 to 1558. Her reign marked a reversal of Edward VI's Protestant policies and a return to Catholicism.

Born on Feb. 18, 1516, at Greenwich Palace, Mary was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. The birth of the little Spanish Tudor bitterly disappointed Henry VIII, who hoped for a son and heir. Nonetheless, he took courage and expressed the forlorn hope at her christening that "If it was a daughter this time, by the grace of God the sons will follow." Mary became a good student and an accomplished linguist. She learned Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and Greek. She studied astronomy, natural science, and mathematics and became familiar with the works of Erasmus, More, and Vives. Like all Tudors, she was musically inclined; she played the lute, virginal, regal, and spinet. She also danced and embroidered.

In 1528 Henry VIII requested Pope Clement VII's dispensation for the marriage of Mary to her half brother, the illegitimate Henry (1519-1536), Duke of Richmond and Somerset, the natural child of Henry and his mistress Elizabeth Blount. When the Pope agreed on condition that Henry give up his plan for nullifying his marriage to Catherine, Henry balked and the project was dropped.

Mary did not like her father's new wife, Anne Boleyn, who reciprocated in kind. Mary was forced to leave her own household and become a member of that of her half sister Elizabeth. She lost her title of princess and was declared illegitimate via the Act of Succession (1534). During Catherine's last days Henry refused to let mother and daughter see one another. With the appearance of Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, Mary's life altered. She took the oath of supremacy, revisited the palace, and entered into amicable relations with Henry. She was god-mother to Edward, Jane's son, and chief mourner at Jane's funeral.

Mary got along well with Henry's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves (1540) but not with his fifth, Catherine Howard. She attended Henry's marriage to Catherine Parr (July 1543). By the parliamentary Act of Succession of 1544 she was restored to the royal succession. During the reign of her half brother Edward VI she refused to subscribe to the new Protestant service; resolutely she declared in council that "her soul was God's and her faith she would not change." On Edward's death on July 6, 1553, she became queen but not without disposing of the Duke of Northumberland's plot to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne.

Mary was 37 on her accession. She was an attractive woman, delicately featured, thin, short, well-complexioned, nearsighted, and deep-voiced with a grave demeanor. Her pro-Catholic and pro-Spanish policies immediately became apparent. She restored the Catholic Church but did not restore the monasteries to it and married Philip (later King Philip II of Spain) on July 25, 1554. Announcement of her marriage precipitated three insurrections, including Wyatt's Rebellion, which was not extinguished until the rebels were at the gates of London (February 1554).

Statutes against heretics were reinstituted. Prominent Protestants such as Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, and Hugh Latimer, as well as lesser folk, suffered the heretics' death: burning at the stake. About 300 died. Many Protestants fled to such places as Geneva, John Calvin's home. Calvin's protégéJohn Knox, the Scottish reformer, called Mary "that wicked Jezebel of England." Later writers called her "Bloody Mary."

Philip left England in 1555 after a 10-month stay; he did not return until March 1557 for a sojourn of 3 1/2 months. He convinced Mary to join Spain's war against France. The war went badly for the English. Early in 1558 the French took Calais, the last English possession on the Continent. Mary, disappointed at her husband's absence, her failure to produce an heir, and the loss of Calais, died on Nov. 25, 1558. Stubborn, temperamental, and soured in spirit by the opposition of her people and bodily ills, she was nonetheless true to her faith and to those faithful to her. Her uncompromising attitude toward Protestantism, and Elizabeth's triumphs have ensured that she be remembered as the least successful Tudor sovereign.

Further Reading

The best biography of Mary is H.F.M. Prescott, A Spanish Tudor: The Life of "Bloody Mary" (1940; rev. ed. titled Mary Tudor, 1953), which is a soundly researched, fascinating work. See also the older, Catholic study of J. M. Stone, The History of Mary I, Queen of England (1901), and Beatrice White, Mary Tudor (1935). □

Mary I

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Mary I (1516–58) ( Mary Tudor) Queen of England (1553–58). Daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. During the reign of her half-brother, Edward VI, Mary remained a devout Catholic. On Edward's death, the Duke of Northumberland arranged the brief usurpation of Lady Jane Grey but Mary acceded with popular support. Her marriage (1554) to the future King Philip II of Spain secured a Spanish alliance. The union provoked a rebellion, led by Sir Thomas Wyatt, and hostility intensified after England lost Calais to France (1558). Mary's determination to re-establish papal authority saw the restoration of heresy laws. The resultant execution of c.300 Protestants, including Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, earned her the epithet ‘Bloody Mary’. Mary's sister succeeded her as Elizabeth I.

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